Some Baseless Speculations about Christianity and Words and Speaking and Writing, With Regard to Hearts, and Regarding Dostoyevsky, Clumsily Conceived, Part 1

For Yuri. Something somewhat speculative & savagely sloppy, regarding acts of writing in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, and possible anticipations, in the Christian tradition, of what seems to be Dostoyevsky’s attitude about writing there.

I am trying to work this thought out as I write about it. By way of framing, at the outset, what I’m getting at, I should note that, in part four of this little series (broken up because of length), I have written that

the literary activity of [the earliest Christians] is not, however, undertaken in order to be a virtuoso or contribute to a body of literature for a culture or civilization, or as an abstract expression of creativity merely to be appreciated, or as a form of play, or as a product to entertain, but in order to change the hearts of hearers, urgently, immediately, and to build up the hearts of Christians who have received these words within a network of communities.

There are a number of motives that bring one to write in The Brothers Karamazov, but this intention to enliven and to change and to enlarge hearts seems to separate good from bad writing there; writing there does not seem to be a unified activity, seems only superficially connected across its occurrences, and the meaning and value it is represented as having is, I suggest, better categorized by the character of the writer, the impulse flowing from the heart of the writer, and the purpose bringing that one to write, than by any category of literary activity.

This may seem odd to note, but Dostoyevksy seems to be making this point himself, and, occasionally, to emphasize it. 

Looking at early Christian practices regarding writing, antecedents within Jewish writings, and templates within the early Christian patristic ascetical corpus, are helpful at framing this distinction.

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Excerpt #21 — Gregory Palamas on the Cross-Purposes of Spiritual-Ascetical Strivings and Literary Activity

This excerpt is too long to conscientiously include in the upcoming post I was going to cite it in, so I’m shaving it off and leaving it here.

Needless to say, the spiritual aspirations of ascetical practices and the cultivation of interior stillness are so far removed from our rabidly online existence and culture of online commenting that it seems clear that the very virtues that most of these fora lack and need are at massive cross-purposes with them.

The excerpt below is of interest in looking at various motives for writing, or not writing, and at least one kind of concern and purpose that runs afoul, in principle if not in practice, of the purposes that can often attend to writing. Also of concern is the understanding of words, and speaking, and the highest aims one ascribes to both — and whether writing is ever more than a proxy for that.

This formulation is, perhaps, approaching what many today would consider extreme (in rhetoric, if not in actual sentiment — though it is not far from the attitude of those who pull out of social media altogether, or who get rid of their cell phones), but for that very reason, helpful.

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Excerpt(s) #20 — Seneca, Letters 58 & 65 on the Scale of Nature, and on the Ideas and on Form: Stoicism Compared & Contrasted with Aristotle & Plato

In recent excerpts, we have looked at passages relating to what is meant by the language about form, first from Plato, then Aristotle on Plato, and then Cicero on the path from Socrates through Aristotle, have been cited. There is nothing exhaustive about this inventory of excerpts, though they are helpful. Here, we look at Seneca.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. — A.D. 65, usually simply known as “Seneca”, or else “Seneca the Younger” to distinguish him from his father, Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Elder) usually follows after Cicero (106 B.C. — 43 B.C.) in modern histories of Roman Stoic philosophy. Stoicism is, of course, Greek in its origins, but became a Latin inheritance, and was, perhaps, better suited to the temperament of Latin culture than was Platonism. The chronological priority Cicero enjoys in the Latin Stoic tradition, however, is overshadowed by the priority of influence that Seneca enjoys as a source for our knowledge of Stoic ethics [1], if not Stoicism itself. (Sadly, some significant sections of Cicero have been lost.) Stoicism is often touted as more practical, more pragmatic, than Platonism; perhaps accordingly, it may not come as a surprise to learn that the Stoic Seneca was, as is often noted, a senior advisor to the emperor Nero. He was forced to commit suicide in A.D. 65 because of his suspected involvement in plotting against the emperor; his Letters were likely written during retirement after A.D. 62.

Seneca was a rather eclectic Stoic, however. Arguments have been made to include him in the history of the Platonic tradition. [2] Certainly both his familiarity and engagement with the larger Greco-Roman philosophical tradition makes him fit to be included in this series of excerpts, which largely focus on Plato, and which are largely preparatory for other work here.

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The Genealogy of Secularization

Jan Bremmer is an impressive figure. (–but do not confuse him with the political scientist Ian Bremmer, whom you should follow on Twitter.) I was first acquainted with Jan’s work as a ravenous undergrad taking courses on the classics, when a professor suggested a book of his along with Walter Burkert’s standard tome. He has quite a large list of publications under his belt (you can browse the selection), having written some of the standard secondary texts on ancient Greek (pagan) religion, and branching out into early Christianity and myths and ritual worship in general.

About fifteen years ago Dr. Bremmer took to writing a remarkably concise set of notes, in the form of a narrative, titled “Secularization: Notes Toward a Genealogy“, published in a collection of essays titled Religion: Beyond a Concept edited by Hent de Vries. (The article may be visible in Google Books, and this is great, because the pages of the upload didn’t scan well near the spine.) Continue reading

Work and Time

Preparation protects us from being sneak-attacked

by the long slog of work-over-time; Continue reading