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
8.2 (Spring 2008)
The previous issue of Praesidium (Winter 2008) 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.)
Praesidium 8.2 (Spring 2008)
In the second part of his essay, Mr. Trainor argues that the Romantic poet Coleridge was virtually alone in his generation of English intellectuals to notice the empirical assumptions underlying both scientific rationalism and evangelicalism.
The Tyranny of Numbers John Matthew Fox
Mr. Fox finds in eating disorders merely the most dramatic form of a pathology afflicting our entire culture: the obsessive mission to reduce reality to weights and measures.
Freedom Grows on Trees: A Eudemonist Economics (Part II) John R. Harris
The second part of this essay builds upon Part One’s praise of the Southern Agrarian economists to suggest how we might find more happiness in modern suburbia by growing more of our food and controlling more of our lives.
iBrain: The Future of Mind Power Rosalinda Nava
Tongue-in-cheek or prophetic? This unveiling of the “iBrain” really does little more than introduce the Cochlear implant to the iPod.
Most definitely tongue-in-cheek: a “scoop” from the avant-garde brain-storms of Academe gone a-conferencing.
“OLD KING COLE”: article abstract David Z. Crookes
… And still more high jinks: the abstract of a scholarly article that might as well be written in hieroglyphs.
A Stone Map and Requiem on the Frontier of Day (poems) Michael Lythgoe
Lines on paper do not define the life cycles of communities any more than a coffin can store away the life of an individual.
Epimenidean Vignettes (short stories) Peter Singleton
Perhaps the conte philosophique—short as a fable, explicitly allegorical, a complex message lurking beneath its disingenuous surface—is less a lost art than one never found. These vignettes seem to create their own tradition.
I had anticipated the Spring edition’s being little more than a continuance of the Winter’s. Both Mr. Trainor’s essay and my own had proved much too long for the covers of Praesidium 8.1. I know that Mr. Trainor would have preferred to see his work appear intact—as, indeed, would I mine. Some day soon, perhaps The Center can offer longer essays, or series of essays, as e-books available for “download” from its website. (What a mouthful of barbarisms! But one must drink the tasteless brew of this neurotically self-renewing brave new world, or go thirsty.) In the meantime, I must beg our readers to browse through the Winter edition if they find themselves confused by 8.2’s points of departure. I personally consider Sean’s paper to be of very special insight, having myself just attempted (with some success) to link several seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English authors to the empiricism of Bacon and Hobbes in a literary survey course. (Bunyan’s emphasis of Bible-reading contrasts powerfully with Langland’s of natural law; and Rasselas’s Imlac describes the poet’s craft in chapter X as if a white coat and microscope were as ancillary to the Muse as quill and ink.)
As winter mellowed into spring, however, something far less expected than thunderstorms and pollen forcefully announced its presence: new submissions, most of them short, several ironic in intent. Their brevity made them eligible for what would otherwise have been an inn with no room. As for their satiric inspiration, I am inclined to believe that it has more than one source. Educated people of good will tend to crack subtle jokes among themselves when hard pressed by Yahoos rather than to grab a club (or that other weapon particularly favored by Yahoos). It is impolite to go looking for trouble, and unfair to hold tree-dwellers to the standard of erect bipeds… yet one has to vent a little frustration, or else explode, when one’s long-cherished neighborhood is zoned only for apehouses. Besides, things in academe have reached such a state that reality and farce are almost indistinguishable. The “intelligent intellectual” suffering through these desperate times really has little more to do in pursuit of gentle mockery than to record the Ivory Tower’s own echoes. I would be willing to wager that readers unwarned by my opening comments here will require a hundred words or so from the barbed pens of Bertonneau and Crookes to realize that a seriously intended document from our smoking culture’s Maginot Line is not before them. The satirist in such cases, then, is simply being honest and allowing fact to declare folly.
A further case in point: Rosalinda Nava’s introducing us to the “iBrain”—not yet commercially available, but sure to attract a devoted following in the not-too-distant future. I had originally read Ms. Nava’s piece as yet another satire, then understood that only its first paragraphs, perhaps, were aimed in this direction. (In our e-mail exchanges, Linda showed a commendable interest in factual accuracy and high probability.) Our entire culture, one may say, has grown as nutty as its nutty professors. In our pursuit of convenient amusement, we may well be prepared to start equipping ourselves internally with gadgetry. The step would flow logically from the progressive fight against thinking which we have chronicled and analyzed faithfully over the years in the pages of Praesidium; for since the contemporary human is most often forced to think when in quest of amusement, but since thought itself is hard, supplemental appendages assuming the burdens of calculation are and will continue to be in great demand. Functional stupidity is tomorrow’s goldmine.
At this point, I will note what may not be quite obvious and well deserves stress: that we feature two pieces this quarter by young persons who have either just finished an undergraduate degree (Trainor) or are still working toward it (Nava). It appears that “the next generation” so deplored by those of us who remember the well-bound, well-edited book has not wholly given up thinking, after all, hard though it is. People eventually sicken of ease, and bright people sooner than others: there is much ground for hope in that observation.
John Matthew Fox’s piece was also a pleasant surprise. I rather disagree with his prescription that we let ourselves slip into “a Dionysian exuberance” as a means of exorcising the number’s power over our slightest movements; it seems to me, rather, that an overdose of such exuberance during the decades of my lifetime has sent our culture into a neuralgic retreat to numbers. (I think of Valéry’s Monsieur Teste, that ultra-rational Cartesian who was a stabilizing antidote to a chaotic era.) Yet Mr. Fox has done us a great service just to remind us that our tin-pot determinism—our statistics, our genomes, our demographics, our formulas and focus groups and “idols” and “icons”—are not the hobbies of a healthy mind in its leisure. They are genies and rabbit’s feet and tea leaves that, one and all, dispense with the moral need to form a plan and stick to it. That we should have boxes and boxes of such things in our cultural closet must raise a warning.
Finally, I thank Lt. Col. Lythgoe and Peter Singleton for providing creative ballast as they have for many years now. In a sense, Praesidium is all about the vital importance of the creative spirit, even though few of our works are strictly creative. We cannot see what extends beyond this life, after all: we can only imagine. ~J. H.