663: Time is Our Tyrant.

Time, as we know it, is a very recent invention. The modern time-sense is hardly older than the United States. It is a by-product of industrialism — a sort of psychological analogue of synthetic perfumes and aniline dyes.

Time is our tyrant. We are chronically aware of the moving minute hand, even of the moving second hand. We have to be. There are trains to be caught, clocks to be punched, tasks to be done in specified periods, records to be broken by fractions of a second, machines that set the pace and have to be kept up with. Our consciousness of the smallest units of time is now acute. To us, for example, the moment 8:17 A.M. means something — something very important, if it happens to be the starting time of our daily train. To our ancestors, such an odd eccentric instant was without significance — did not even exist. In inventing the locomotive, Watt and Stevenson were part inventors of time.

Another time-emphasizing entity is the factory and its dependent, the office. Factories exist for the purpose of getting certain quantities of goods made in a certain time. The old artisan worked as it suited him with the result that consumers generally had to wait for the goods they had ordered from him. The factory is a device for making workmen hurry. The machine revolves so often each minute; so many movements have to be made, so many pieces produced each hour. Result: the factory worker (and the same is true, mutatis mutandis, of the office worker) is compelled to know time in its smallest fractions. In the hand-work age there was no such compulsion to be aware of minutes and seconds.

Our awareness of time has reached such a pitch of intensity that we suffer acutely whenever our travels take us into some corner of the world where people are not interested in minutes and seconds. The unpunctuality of the Orient, for example, is appalling to those who come freshly from a land of fixed meal-times and regular train services. For a modern American or Englishman, waiting is a psychological torture. An Indian accepts the blank hours with resignation, even with satisfaction. He has not lost the fine art of doing nothing. Our notion of time as a collection of minutes, each of which must be filled with some business or amusement, is wholly alien to the Oriental, just as it was wholly alien to the Greek. For the man who lives in a pre-industrial world, time moves at a slow and easy pace; he does not care about each minute, for the good reason that he has not been made conscious of the existence of minutes.

This brings us to a seeming paradox. Acutely aware of the smallest constituent particles of time — of time, as measured by clock-work and train arrivals and the revolutions of machines — industrialized man has to a great extent lost the old awareness of time in its larger divisions. The time of which we have knowledge is artificial, machine-made time. Of natural, cosmic time, as it is measured out by sun and moon, we are for the most part almost wholly unconscious. Pre-industrial people know time in its daily, monthly and seasonal rhythms. They are aware of sunrise, noon and sunset, of the full moon and the new; of equinox and solstice; of spring and summer, autumn and winter. All the old religions, including Catholic Christianity, have insisted on this daily and seasonal rhythm. Pre-industrial man was never allowed to forget the majestic movement of cosmic time.

Industrialism and urbanism have changed all this. One can live and work in a town without being aware of the daily march of the sun across the sky; without ever seeing the moon and stars. Broadway and Piccadilly are our Milky Way; out constellations are outlined in neon tubes. Even changes of season affect the townsman very little. He is the inhabitant of an artificial universe that is, to a great extent, walled off from the world of nature. Outside the walls, time is cosmic and moves with the motion of sun and stars. Within, it is an affair of revolving wheels and is measured in seconds and minutes — at its longest, in eight-hour days and six-day weeks. We have a new consciousness; but it has been purchased at the expense of the old consciousness.

(Aldous Huxley, “Time and the Machine.” In: The Olive Tree and Other EssaysLondon: Chatto & Windus, 1936, pp. 122–124).

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663: Time is Our Tyrant.

649: He is in Heaven.

You do not rise from the reading of one of Chesterton’s appreciations with that feeling of being armed which you obtain from the great satirists and particularly from the masters of irony.

He wounded none, but thus also he failed to provide weapons wherewith one may wound and kill folly. Now without wounding and killing, there is no battle; and thus, in this life, no victory; but also no peril to the soul through hatred.

Of the personal advantage to himself of so great and all-pervading a charity, too much cannot be said; but I believe it to be a drag upon his chances of endurance upon paper — for what that may be worth — and it is worth nothing compared with eternal things. Christendom would seem to be now entering an ultimate phase in the struggle between good and evil, which is, for us, the battle between the Catholic Church and its opponents. In that struggle, those will stand out in the future most vividly who most provoked hostility. To his lasting advantage in the essential things of the spirit, of his own individual soul, he did not provoke it.

He was aided in the preservation of such serenity by the gradualness of the approach he made to the right side of the battle. His name and writings were already familiar before his conversion, to a general public, which had no idea of the Faith. They were thus familiar and accepted long before he threw down the last challenge by fully accepting the Creed, the Unity and the temporal disabilities of Catholic allegiance. He had before his reception acquired, as it were, a privileged position which permitted him to be still listened to after he had crossed that frontier of the Faith beyond which lies all that his fellow-countrymen oppose.

Herein he was blessed and may be justly envied by those who are condemned by their Faith to exclusion and exile. In the appreciation of a man rather than of a writer virtue is immeasurably more important than literary talent and appeal. For these last make up nothing for the salvation of the soul and for an ultimate association with those who should be our unfailing companions in Beatitude: the Great Company. Of that Company he now is; so that it is a lesser and even indifferent thing to determine how much he shall also be of the company, the earthly and temporal company, of the local and temporarily famous.

What place he may take according to that lesser standard I cannot tell, because many years must pass before a man’s position in the literature of his country can be called securely established.

We are too near to decide on this. But because we are so near and because those (such as I who write this) who were his companions, knew him through his very self and not through his external activity, we are in communion with him. So be it. He is in Heaven.

(Hilaire Belloc, On the Place of Gilbert Chesterton in English Letters. London: Sheed & Ward, 1940).

649: He is in Heaven.

561: A Dark Night of the Soul.

The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive. Witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints. Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.

(Flannery O’Connor, Letter to Betty Hester, September 6, 1955).

561: A Dark Night of the Soul.

549: The Monotonous Clapper of an Immense Mill.

The result of this modern way of thinking was called philosophy; and everything opposed to antiquity, especially every attack on religion, was included under that name. The original personal hatred to the Catholic creed was gradually turned into a hatred against the Bible, the Christian Faith, and finally, all religion. Nay, more, this hatred to religion, naturally and consistently enough, extended to all objects of enthusiasm: it stigmatized imagination and feeling; morality and love of art; the future as well as the past; debased man to the level of a mere physical being, bowed under the yoke of necessity, and converted the infinitely diversified music of the universe into the monotonous clapper of an immense mill, which, turned by the stream of chance, was a self-grinding mill, without miller or architect, a pure perpetuum mobile.

One species of enthusiasm was, however, generously left to the poor human race, and indeed, made the indispensable criterion of all high intellectual refinement: this was an enthusiasm for this great, splendid philosophy, and especially for its priests, and its mystagogues. France was so happy as to be the seat and nursery of this new faith, which consisted of pure science. In the new Church, poetry was decried, yet poets were still found in it, who, for the sake of effect, made use of ancient ornaments, and ancient lights, yet thereby incurred the danger of warming the new system of the world with ancient fire. The more cunning members of this fraternity, knew immediately how to throw cold water on their hearers when they became warm. These new illuminators laboured incessantly to disenchant nature, the earth, the souls of men, and the sciences, of all poetry; to obliterate every trace of the holy; to vilify by their sarcasms the recollection of everything ennobling in human history, and to divest the world of all ornament and variety.

In Germany, the business was carried on in a more skilful manner. The new enlighteners reformed the whole system of education; sought to give to the old religion a new, rationalist, and vulgar sense, while they carefully effaced from it all mystery and miracle. They exhausted all the resources of erudition, in order to cut off recourse to history, while they kindly endeavoured to exalt history itself into a good bourgeois household picture of domestic manners. God was made the passive spectator of this great affecting drama, acted by the learned; and was at its close, solemnly to entertain and admire the poets and the players! The common people were a peculiar object of predilection to these enlighteners, and they were fashioned by them into a polite enthusiasm; and thus a new European fraternity — the philanthropists and illuminés — arose. Pity that nature remained still so marvellous and inconceivable; so poetical and so infinite, in despite of all these attempts to modernize her! Did any ancient superstition in a higher world, or in what related thereto, emerge to the surface of society, a cry of alarm was immediately raised on all sides, and if possible, the dangerous spark was smothered in its ashes by philosophy and wit; still was toleration the watchword of these illuminators, and in France especially, was synonymous with philosophy.

(Novalis; quoted in James Burton Robertson, “Life and Writings of Novalis,” The Dublin Review, Vol. III, 1837, pp. 294–295).

549: The Monotonous Clapper of an Immense Mill.

526: Em Casa.

Há lugares que é preciso visitar de dia e há lugares que só de noite abrem sua alma. Assim é Ouro Preto. As igrejas em cima das colinas tornaram-se silhuetas escuras. Na praça deserta, já não se vê o gládio que do teto da Penitenciária indica o monumento de Tiradentes. Não saem fantasmas de meia-noite da fechada igreja de São Francisco de Assis, mas sabe-se atrás dela o cemitério. De longe, um último par de sapatos martela as pedras da ladeira. Extintos todos os ruídos do mundo. Calma. Enfim, interrompem-na os sinos (sinos noturnos como nunca os ouvi desde já tantos anos na Europa). Sinos de São Francisco de Assis, sinos da Penitenciária, respondendo, e enfim, os últimos, os sinos do Carmo, ao lado de minha casa. Assim adormeci: em Ouro Preto, no Brasil, em casa.

(Otto Maria Carpeaux, “Ouro Preto (8 de julho de 1711)“, O Estado de S. Paulo, Ano 5, No. 238, 8 de Julho de 1961).

526: Em Casa.

522: Silence Was Never Written Down.

“Words fly, writing remains” (Latin). A man’s spoken words may be unnoticed, or forgotten, or denied; but what he has put down in black and white is tangible evidence against him. Therefore “Think much, say little, write less” (Italian). Give Cardinal Richelieu two lines of any man’s writing and he needed no more to hang him. Fabio Merto, an archbishop of the seventeenth century, has oddly remarked, “It is nowhere mentioned in the Gospels that our Lord wrote more than once, and then it was on the sand, in order that the wind might efface the writing.” “Silence was never written down” (Italian); and “A silent man’s words are not brought into court” (Danish). “Hear, see, and say nothing, if you wish to live in peace ” (Italian).

(Walter K. Kelly, Proverbs of All Nations. London: W. Kent & Co., 1861, pp. 168–169).

522: Silence Was Never Written Down.

499: Dare We?

Within three years of leaving Iowa, where she had prayed for desire of the Lord to claim her like a disease, she was diagnosed with lupus. Stricken, she returned to her mother’s farm in Milledgeville, her base of production for the novels Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away, and the short-story collections A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge, the latter published posthumously. Health and sex and adventure had been taken from her, and in their place was a vision, her world, blast-lit and still reeling under the first shock of creation. “The air was so quiet,” she wrote in “The River,” “he could hear the broken pieces of the sun knocking in the water.” It was a gift. And we are left with a question: Without this terrible narrowing-down, would she have achieved the greatness she prayed for? This illness, this thing that confined her, that hauled her, crutches clanking, into a premature spinsterhood, and finally killed her at the age of 39, can we call it by the name of grace? Dare we?

(James Parker, “The Passion of Flannery O’Connor,” The Atlantic, November 2013).

499: Dare We?