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By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:25 AM

I've not posted much in the way of poetry on here recently, so to remedy that, here is a fun little poem from my metaphysical poet “friend,” George Herbert. There is something melancholy about Herbert's lyrics, especially when you compare them to the lines of fellow metaphysician, John Donne, but that is not to complain so much as to observe.


WHO sayes that fictions onely and false hair
Become a verse ? Is there in truth no beautie ?
Is all good structure in a winding stair ?
May no lines passe, except they do their dutie
Not to a true, but painted chair ?

Is it not verse, except enchanted groves
And sudden arbours shadow course-spunne lines ?
Must purling streams refresh a lovers loves ?
Must all be vail’d, while he that reades, divines,
Catching the sense at two removes ?

Shepherds are honest people ; let them sing :
Riddle who list, for me, and pull for Prime :
I envie no mans nightingale or spring ;
Nor let them punish me with losse of ryme,
Who plainly say, My God, My King.

Now hath Aprill eeked unto the Yeare

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 9:33 PM
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

Ey've desyghed thate Standard Engelishe is nought reallie al that much funne. It woode be better to ewse excyting, soote Chaucerian spellings to keepe all of ye from bordomme and and sew on. The spelling of kommon words was much more interesting before those nastie dyctionarie writers went and standardised it al, Ey saye.

It is Aprill now and I longen for something different thanne a pilgrimmage to the Oxford Dictionaries! Anon, all new postes will observe the great renaissance of late middle Engelishe once againe. Or maybe I shouldst go back further and ewse Olde Engelishe from before the Normanes came and rooined our greate Germanyck language. Too badde I do not ken howe to wright Olde Engelishe!

In othere news, Ey have decided to goon backe to Windowes for my operating systemme. Ey think it I shall find it harkens to mie needes much better than Aepple Macintoshe systemme (despighte Aepple now hath reached thirtee yeares of ayge). Ey've seked the beste systemme for mannie yeares now, but ye will shurely understande that Ey've ne'er founde anythyng better thanne Windowes.

Ain't Y'all Thinking Nothing Unlike This?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 1:22 AM

This is an excellent article on the problems of sloppy English writing. I wouldn't suggest it says anything unique, but it does say it well. If nothing else, it was worth reading the whole thing just for this gem at the end:

Tony Long, copy chief at Wired News, believes that all business majors should be required to study Latin and minor in English lit.

Amen, Tony. I couldn't agree more.

On the Meaning of a Written Work

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 2:31 AM

The article was merely a call for increased awareness of this serious identity and intellectual property issue that has so far remained unknown to many. Nevertheless, in the May 7, 2005 Post-Dispatch, a letter to the editor slammed the piece, asking me, “Do you harbor the same querulously anti-free-enterprise bias against people who invest in property on the premise that it will gain in value to their advantage?” (Bradshaw 33). Now, clearly, the letter writer had seen my piece as encompassing a lot more area than I did. To him, I had written a piece that attacked the very essence of American free market capitalism. A Reader Response critic would not overlook this, but a genetic critic (or a formal critic, for that matter) would surely take issue with that interpretation of my work, just as I did.

So, the question is, did I somehow “compass more” than I meant to? Well, to the extent that one could argue my article was written poorly, perhaps I would cede that it is possible. If, as Hirsch says, no “determinate verbal meaning” exists if the author has “bungled,” writing something confusing would essentially create a vacuum where the author will be rightly misconstrued (23). Conversely, Hirsch and Pope are right to assert so long as the work is properly and clearly constructed, the reader is not justified in attributing more than the author – in the example that would be me – intended in a work such as this. Attributing more opinions to me than I expressed eliminated that reader’s ability to “understand” my work and therefore his ability to actually judge my opinion (27). In somewhat of a reversed version of what Hirsch said the critic Cleanth Brooks did (25), the letter writer attributed the antithesis of his own apparent feelings to me and then responded to that projection rather than sticking to my “probable” (and, for that matter, relevant) “attitudes,” as Hirsch puts it.

Having said that, whether the historicist is correct across the board is a topic that is possible to quibble with. My op-ed was standard prose written to relay specific, factual information and then provide an opinion on the very narrow subject of that information. On the other hand, had my piece been something more art-like, such as a poem or a drama, it may, in fact, be possible for my work to exceed the area I knowingly plotted for it (or, indeed, in mediocrity, failed to fill). The reason for this distinction is that poesy is something that relays an experience and that must be actively “translated” into meaning by the reader; it is intended to evoke a sense of “having experienced thus and so” in the reader not to relay simple, cold facts. Therefore, if I write a haiku and someone gets a sense of meaning out of it beyond what I “compassed,” that is somewhat more reasonable than the above incident, for my poetry is purposely designed to have less firm boundaries.

Whereas non-fiction prose is often intended to relay a specific, objective conclusion, poesy is conversely open-ended. To ask what the meaning of a really good drama, such as Hamlet, is seems almost as absurd as to ask what the meaning of the nightly news is. Good poesy creates a bubble of experience, not a set of propositions. As such, it leaves at least some of the meaning to the one entering that experience. Yet it must be conceded that in making this argument I have “compassed” this wider swath of area, where the “meaning” is conveying an experience, within the classification of that which is poetry, even if the precise “meaning border” of a poetic work is not fixed. This is why I only hesitantly question the truth of Pope’s statement above. It still seems to be mostly true; it is just a bit more of a grey area in poetry than fact-focused prose.

In the end, it still remains that normally the author has a definite purpose, and, at the least, the reader owes it to the author not to claim the author meant more than he or she clearly did. If an objective meaning does indeed exist, Hirsch’s argument of tying that meaning to the “meaner” seems entirely appropriate (23). Whether the piece itself somehow means more in a Reader Response sort of way should be overlooked to allow proper response and judgment of the original work in sich.

Works Cited

Butler, Timothy. “Domain name games will unravel the Internet.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 28 Apr. 2005: B7.

Bradshaw, Ben. Letter. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 7 May 2005: 33.

Hirsch, E. D. Jr. “Objective Interpretation.” Contexts for Criticism. Donald Keesey Editor. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education: 2003. 17-28.

The MacIntyre Adventure

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 3:57 AM

For my philosophy independent study, Modern Ethical Theory, we are using exclusively primary sources. I always enjoy sticking to primary sources, so I'm pretty happy about that. I will say, however, that my present read, After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre, is really slow going. It isn't that it is hard to understand, nor that it is uninteresting. For some inexplicable reason, however, my reading speed just plummets every time I read it. I'm rather glad to be moving on to something else after this week. On the other hand, he does make a lot of good points, and as someone who rather likes Thomistic thought, I appreciate MacIntyre's work to defend the philosophy of Aristotle over Kantian, Utilitarian and general emotive theories. I just wish I could figure out why I move through the text so slowly.

Oh, The Wells Fargo Wagon... Brought Books!

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 2:38 AM

I needed to order some books for my Contemporary Moral Theory course and while I was at it, I ordered some books I just wanted to read as well. Here's what came today via the Wells Fargo Wagon UPS:

Books I Need
  • Already Purchased Elsewhere: Writings on an Ethical Life by Peter Singer. I bought this one a few weeks ago. I've read most of the selections required for the course already. Singer is probably the best known living philosopher, the professor of bio-ethics at Princeton, and a general nut case. I mean that in the most respectful way possible. While he advocates policies such as infanticide and euthanasia, I respect the fact that he reaches these policies by taking the philosophy that many secularist people claim to adhere to (which is really just a form of utilitarianism) and following it where it goes without a lot of bias. I don't like his conclusions, but I agree with him that if you accept actions such as abortion, it is hard to argue against more controversial ideas such as infanticide.
  • A Theory of Justice by John Rawls. This book is going to represent Kantian Morality in the course.
  • After Virtue by Alasdair McIntyre: This book will be the champion of Aristotelian philosophy for the course. (In other words, he's the Good Guy! :D)
  • Lexical Aids for Students of New Testament Greek by Bruce Metzger: I've managed without it so far, but my Greek instructor advised me that now would be a good time to pick up a copy of this, so I piggy-backed it on the philosophy order.
Books I Wanted
Stocking up on reading for the fall, and perhaps part of the winter, depending on how much time other books, like those above, end up requiring.
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (Trans. John Ciardi): This translation of the Comedy got good marks from a number of highly respectable poets, such as Archibald MacLeish. I've never read all of Purgatorio and Paradiso so now is my chance. This edition looks to have very nice, extensive notes. T.S. Eliot said that there were not three literary greats — that Shakespeare and Dante are too far above the rest. I'm not sure I'd go that far, there are others, like Aeschylus and Homer that ought not be forgotten, but his point is well taken.
  • Babylon Rising: The Secret on Ararat by Tim LaHaye and Bob Phillips: I read the first book in this series last year and I want to know what happens next. It might not be the best written series in the world, but it is good enough to read a bit more.
  • Impeachable Offense (Left Behind: End of State) by Neesa Hart: I can't say I respect the Left Behind machine any more for releasing spin off series, but here's another book I read the first one of, which was fairly decent, and now I want to see what happens next.
  • The Rising: Before They Were Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins: The first prequel to Left Behind. Yeah, the series has gone on too long, but I understand the prequel is suppose to be pretty good, and I've gone this far, I might as well finish what I started.
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: I've never read the whole book, but I've read parts long ago. It did not do anything for me, but a good friend of mine was telling me how this was surely the best book in English literature, so I thought it was well past time I read the whole thing and gave it a fair chance. I respect the said friend's taste very much, although I remain skeptical until proven wrong on this one.

And, for now, that is that. I have a few more philosophy books I'll need to order within a few weeks, but those listed in the first section should keep me on track through October, I believe.

Book Meme

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 1:04 AM

Christopher tagged me to do a book meme. This was rather fun. I've tagged five more people below, but even if you are not tagged, consider giving your answers below or on your own blog. :)

1) How many books have I owned?

I'd have to answer the same as Christopher. I have no idea. What can I tell you? I can say that my book collection is growing, not shrinking, because I do not believe in disposing of books and I also cannot resist a good deal on books (I bought six or seven books in the clearance area of Borders a few weeks back).

2) What was the last book you bought?
I purchased the Rule of Four at Costco for $4.25 a week or two ago.
“Princeton. Good Friday, 1999. On the eve of graduation, two students are a hairsbreadth from solving the mysteries of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Famous for its hypnotic power over those who study it, the five-hundred-year-old Hypnerotomachia may finally reveal its secrets — to Tom Sullivan, whose father was obsessed with the book, and Paul Harris, whose future depends on it. As the deadline looms, research has stalled — until an ancient diary surfaces. What Tom and Paul discover inside shocks even them: proof that the location of a hidden crypt has been ciphered within the pages of the obscure Renaissance text.”

I read the prologue, and it sounded pretty good. For the price, how could I pass it up? It is $7.99 at Amazon.

3) Last book that you’ve read.

The last book I read was iCon: The Greatest Second Act in Business by Jeffery Young and William Simon. I'm going to post my final thoughts on that book later. You can find some half-way-through impressions, here.

I am presently reading two books. I am reading Brad Thor's State of the Union and C.S. Lewis' the Screwtape Letters, with Screwtape Proposes a Toast. The former I saw at the grocery store's mainline back in June and was intrigued by the endorsement quote by Dan Brown on the front. I went back the next week and they no longer carried it. I finally got it at Borders, which, like Amazon, but unlike the grocery store, was selling it for the cover price rather than at a discount ($7.99). It has a pretty good plot, after you get past the initial disorientation of each early chapter jumping to a new character. Now, I want to know what will happen. Sadly, its language and some events are a bit crude for my taste; while most pop novels use some language, this one has a particular penchant for the f-word. Unlike the Da Vinci Code, I'd have major reservations about recommending it for that reason.

The Screwtape Letters is such a good book. Several years ago, I read a good chunk of it one day at the bookstore when I was waiting to meet someone. Last Christmas I was given a copy, but only have recently found time to return to the world of Uncle Screwtape and his nephew, the newbie tempter Wormwood. I've finished the main part of the book and have ten pages left in Screwtape Proposes the Toast, which was written by Lewis much later in his life. Like everything Lewis wrote, the Letters are both enjoyable and thought provoking.

I had planned to borrow my mother's copy of Philip Yancy's the Jesus I Never Knew to read next, but she doesn't know where it is right now. I'm thinking about moving to C.S. Lewis' Miracles next, as a substitute.

4) 5 books that have meant a lot to you.
I'm going to take the Bible out of the running, like Christopher did. Let's see:

  1. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
  2. Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
  3. the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  4. New! Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
  5. the Orestia by Aeschylus

5) Tag five people that haven’t played yet.
I don't remember seeing this meme elsewhere, other than just now at WIT, so I'm just going by who Christopher tagged as to decide who to avoid.

iThink therfore iCon

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:32 AM

Taking on a different theme after my summer reading that has been mostly composed of light theology, “Christian life” and fictional books, I'm reading the new biography of Steve Jobs, iCon: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business.

It is an interesting book so far that is very hard to put down. The book is detailed, insightful and well crafted in its storytelling. In a way, it reminds me of On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple, Gil Amelio's book, which was co-authored by William Simon, the co-author of this book as well, in its insights into the operation of Apple. There is another similarity between the two books: they both paint Jobs as visionary but also as general nasty.

I think everyone knows Jobs is suppose to be fairly unpleasant to work with (and was more so in the past), but I cannot help but wonder if this book tries to tip the scales in that direction more than necessary to tell the story. It seems like many of Jobs' smart moves are attributed to luck, while even necessary actions that were unfortunate are made to sound mean spirited. If Jobs and a given person have different ways of retelling an incident, the book seems to always turn against Jobs.

For example, the book spends a good deal of time talking about how the original Macintosh failed to sell as many units as Jobs had predicted (one in a set of events that led to the show down between Jobs and Scully, which was the beginning of the dark ages at Apple that ended only when Jobs returned). On the other hand, while the book notes that the Mac was selling very well after Jobs resigned, it seems to act as if that was not Jobs doing. On the other hand, I think an unbiased observer would agree that Apple's good years in the late 80's were essentially coming from the company burning up the last bits of the vision it had been endowed with by Jobs. The book likewise does not seem to appreciate how good the design of NeXTSTEP was, and instead talks about how Jobs focused too much on how the machine looked. In fact, it compares the NeXTcube to a beautiful but mentally lacking “starlet.”

We'll see how it turns out. I am enjoying the book, but I simply think it is too harsh on Jobs. I'm only half way through it, so I'll have to blog later on about how the second half paints him.

Should We Take Offense at the Da Vinci Code?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 7:33 PM

On Sunday, I provided a critique of a musical for its immoral view, now I'll defend a book that is commonly attacked by Christians — I'm just trying to keep y'all on your toes. I've touched on the Da Vinci Code before, but not since I finished the book last month. I'd like to make a few observations. First, however, let me say this: I am going to spoil some of the plot; and I do mean seriously spoil it (unless you are like my friend who figured out what was going on far earlier in the book than I did). If you've been holding out from reading the book, and you think it might be possible to be convinced that you should read it (Hi Mark :)), stop reading this entry and go pick up a copy of the book. Right now.

Ok, so the rest of you are either so against the Code that you know you won't read it, or you have already read it. I went into the book expecting to disagree with it. I read some of the “decoding” pieces that show its problems, before I ever cracked it open. (I also bought a small book down in the Ozarks on the same, which I have not read just yet.) Let's lay out what I see as the major accusations against the book:

  1. Jesus' Marriage to Mary Magdalene.
  2. The Novel's Claim of Being Factual.
  3. Vilification of the Catholic Church.

Jesus' Marriage to Mary Magdalene: This book is not the first to assert this, nor does it assert it any more powerfully than any other case I've seen for this. However, it is central to the story, since the story asserts that the Holy Grail is really all about the descendants of Jesus (including, we find out, Sophie Neveu, one of the main characters).

The question is whether anyone is actually going to be convinced that this is a factual assertion (and therefore that the church is incorrect) merely by reading this book. I don't think they will. Maybe a few people who are indifferent might take up the view, but really I doubt it. A close observation of the book will reveal something interesting: the boldest Sangrail claims are those made by the man who eventually is revealed to be the villain of the story: Sir Leigh Teabing. While protagonist Robert Langdon seems to be in agreement with Teabing, this is an interesting observance.

Moreover, the church is not accused of lying. Langdon seems to believe in the sincerity of the church's view — at least the modern church leaders' view — despite his disagreement with them. The matter is never presented as something where one side is truthful and the other is deceitful, unless you really want to read it that way. The book does suggest that the early Christian leaders of Constantine's time, especially, changed doctrine dramatically and forced out supporters of Magdalene, but this is about as far as an actual church conspiracy pans out in the story.

The Novel's Claim of Being Factual: The novel begins with a page of “facts.” Now, this does indeed add an air that is perhaps not appropriate to the story. But, I cannot argue with it. The facts it states on this page are perfectly true. It does not claim that the rest of the novel is some how pure fact, on the contrary, here is what the book's web site says:
If you read the “FACT” page, you will see it clearly states that the documents, rituals, organization, artwork, and architecture in the novel all exist. The “FACT” page makes no statement whatsoever about any of the ancient theories discussed by fictional characters. Interpreting those ideas is left to the reader.
Given that the characters are fictional, the events are fictional, etc., it is hard to see how anyone could read this and really think that everything being reported was fact. Those that do, will probably fly over to the Louvre because they believe the Holy Grail is really hidden in that building, just as it is in the book's epilogue.

As a side note, the only one of the facts I think Brown takes perhaps a bit too much liberty on is the Priory of Sion, which, as far as I can tell, exists, but is more of a 20th century con man's creation than a legitimate organization.

Vilification of the Catholic Church: The book supposedly casts the Roman Catholic Church in an evil light. This is a reasonable impression… if you only read the first quarter or half of the book. During a lot of the plot, it looks like the monk Silas and Bishop Aringarosa are the “evil” villains of the story. Their mysterious colleague, “The Teacher” also claims to be a clergyman and it would be hard to ever doubt that “the Teacher” is very much a villain.

However, as the plot becomes clearer, we see what really happened. The Teacher is a villain, but he is not part of the church at all, he is the devious Sir Leigh Teabing. Aringarosa, as a desperate man being forced to reckon with a future wherein his organization, Opus Dei, has been ejected from the church, has seized on to the Teacher's offer to help him find the Grail, since Aringarosa believes that would allow him to keep Opus Dei within the Roman Catholic Church. Blinded by the circumstances, he naively entrusts the Teacher with his protege, Silas, who has a violent past, but escaped that when he came under the care of a young Aringarosa many years ago, and was led to Christ.

Aringarosa, is, as I said, naive. He trusts the Teacher's assertion that there will be no killing involved in obtaining the Sangrail and trusts that the Teacher is in fact a believing member of the church. By the end, I believe the unbiased reader will find himself feeling sorrow at the death of Silas and the downfall of the bishop.

Therefore, while the book makes some assertions, which, if taken as truth, are disturbing, it does not vilify the Catholic church. Moreover, it is one of the best reading novels I've had the pleasure of ever opening up. If you read it as fiction, it ought not be any more offensive than other fiction that assumes a non-Christian view of the universe, such as Star Trek, for example.

Wild Rereading

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:25 AM

I started reading Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge, a few years back; some things happened, and I put the book down for about six months after the first 50 or so pages. I then picked it back up on a week that turned out to be immensely wild and therefore only got 20 more pages read before I moved on to something else. Given that I couldn't remember what the first 70 pages said, I started over the other day, after finishing Philip Yancey's Rumors of Another World (an excellent book, by all counts, I would say).

I'm not sure what to make of Eldredge's book. I like parts of his thesis and he is a pretty decent writer (though not a Yancey caliber one), but too much of it centers on our problems of the present being the fault of someone else. Particularly, he talks about a man's need to get The Answer (“do I have what it takes?”), and our fathers' general failure — actively or passively — to answer that, giving us The Wound. The Wound, he says, is then attempted to be cured through various means such as becoming a type-A personality, becoming a Nice Guy or seeking out a woman to validate where the father failed to.

The problem, I think, with Eldredge's idea is two fold. First, he makes the Wound and its symptoms/cover-ups so broad that every man turns out to have it. Second, I'm uncomfortable with how he links so many people's major problems all to their fathers. No doubt neuroses do come of our relationships with others, especially parents and family, but one must be careful to avoid making one cause too broad of answer. Ultimately, all of the things he discusses come from our fallen nature; the inevitable problems between a child and parent are simply part of that larger issue.

Still, I'm not done with the book, so we'll see how he wraps things up in the back 100 pages.

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