The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
7.4 (Fall 2007)
The previous issue of Praesidium (Summer 2007) may be viewed by clicking here.
John R. Harris, Ph.D.
Thomas F. Bertonneau, Ph.D.
Helen R. Andretta, Ph.D.
Michael H. Lythgoe
Lt. Col. USAF (Retd.)
© All contents of this journal (including poems, articles, fictional works, and short pieces by staff) are copyrighted by The Center for Literate Values of Tyler, Texas (2006), and may not be cited at length or reproduced without The Center’s express permission.
A Few Words from the Editor (see below)
Much of this issue is devoted to examining our strange hopes–often that we may be shocked, ravished, or otherwise amused–for the future, and to the suspicion that such hopes are not an encouraging commentary upon the present.
John R. Harris
The past four decades have abounded in catastrophic scenarios, with the emphasis shifting every few years yet a panicking prognosis always strident. What are we really afraid of—and what ought we really to fear?
The author is less concerned with likely advances in miraculous gadgetry than with how a transformed, high-tech society is likely to respond to delicate political questions and perennial needs of culture such as religion.
The High Hills: Frederick Delius and the Secular Sublime
Thomas F. Bertonneau
Delius was a complex, often difficult human being. This essay traces his ultimately self-defeating struggle to meld the sublimity of music and Nature into a Nietzschean assertion of autonomy—a failure which implies a triumph beyond the composer’s understanding.
J. S. Moseby
Strictly speaking, nothing “happens” in this social/architectural daydream. Rather these are prose poems in the tradition of Baudelaire… and perhaps even of Plato.
A Few Words from the Editor
I would scarcely be believed if I asserted that neither Mark Wegierski nor I had any prior knowledge of what the other intended to compose for this issue of Praesidium. The happy coincidence of themes is really natural enough, however. Mark’s interests have typically run toward the future, while my tendency is to scrutinize the past for some clue about how we have reached our present position. It was indeed perhaps inevitable that one day I should decide to bend my investigations slightly forward as Mr. Wegierski assembled yet another prognostication from his superior awareness of movies, websites, board games, science fiction, and other pop-cultural outlets of expressions addressing tomorrow.
I should have to say, too, that we have both run true to form. The Wegierski essay appearing in this issue indexes notions of space travel or extraterrestrial challenge to reigning political ideologies. The future, I believe Mark would say (and I would utterly agree), will never transform us in the sense of lifting us out of preexisting cultural categories, but can only open up new vistas whose landscape those categories will soon determine—for better or for worse. For my part, I discovered that I could not transcend the insight (repeated perhaps too often in my piece) that moral choice will influence our tomorrows infinitely more than super-conductors or time-machines. To be sure, these two preoccupations—the cultural and the moral—are narrowly related: both share the conviction, for example, that technological wonders of themselves really offer no durable escape from our major problems unless accompanied by a new cultural or personal outlook. I suppose I would emphasize that culture cannot change unless its individual representatives insist upon alterations; while perhaps Mr. Wegierski would say that individuals are built by their culture. The chicken or the egg….
Into this mix falls an extraordinary work of fiction—not a short story, but an unbridled vision of how two contrasting cities of the future might look—shadowed by a few reflections on how the transformed physical environment may transform its creators, in return. I admit that I encouraged Mr. Moseby to offer me this work once he reviewed some possible themes with me: I instantly recognized a likely resonance with the two essays I have mentioned. Sure enough, the flight of fantasy probably declares even more powerfully than the essays that our technology, no matter how miraculous, will always return the ball to our court—will always be more mirror before what we are than window upon what we might be. The fact is that we will never really be anything very different from what we are—that is, unless our technology “advances” so far that it usurps the power of decision-making from us, leaving us emasculated and lobotomized. But then, you know, we humans have always entertained a tendency to self-destruction… so that, too, would be nothing new under the sun.
The Moseby story does not squint at this unpleasant possibility (discussed in both essays). It is haunted, however, by a constant awareness that a certain density of people-per-area or a certain predominant height of ceiling or color of housing can have immense consequences upon the community’s perception of life. To me, that is the story’s “message”—or, to be less Philistine in my choice of critical terms, that is its signifié, its enduring echo. Whatever we build tomorrow—and we may well be able to build just about anything—is what we shall have to occupy and dwell in for years to come. The unlimited freedom of conception will be, and always is, severely circumscribed by the physical fact of creation.
There remains Dr. Bertonneau’s essay, which is not the second half of a two-part discourse on misunderstood composers but simply a second tribute to the most neglected art, quite possibly, of our time. I asked the author for a brief summary of the essay for use on the “contents” page, and received instead rather more detail than I could fit thereon. Here, however, it fits perfectly: “Frederick Delius was a self-consciously Nietzschean composer who sought to represent in music the underlying beauty of the purely natural order, but in spite of himself, he seems to have testified that intrinsic to all beauty is a spark of the divine—a kind of atheist’s faux pas. This ironic reversal of intention might explain why modern and postmodern musicologists have disdained Delius’s works. Delius is, at the very least, a supreme musical artist whose music all culturally literate people should know. Delius stands at an important crossroads of music and literature.”
So what has Mount Parnassus to do with Mount Palomar ? Nothing much, I’m afraid—not unless we forge a connection. In this issue’s context, I suggest that Dr. Bertonneau’s piece may remind us a) that we are losing our taste for “the finer things” as we eagerly plan space stations, and b) that an heroic individualism which undertakes to reconstruct the universe without God, rejecting its own finitude and corruption, can only re-enact the tragedies of what it considers a quaint, unusable past.