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6.26.2007

Rounding out my year of dwelling in the Athens of the North, as Edinburgh was called during the Enlightenment, I have experienced the shortest night of my memory. Around eleven o'clock last night, I closed the curtains to a sky streaked with the dark blue of a finally setting sun. I fully intended to drop off to sleep immediately after, but as I usually do, found myself still putting around after two in the morning. Between the curtains, which I had not closed as well as I should have, I noticed something unusual. There was unnaturally natural light streaming through. I opened them wide only to find the sky streaked with the same blue they had been filled with but three hours before. Had there been any night at all? If so, I had closed my curtains to it, only to find morning rising just as sleep found me - morning in the middle of the night. Long live Scotland.

6.23.2007

Not much has been happening, which is good for the dissertation, but bad for the blog.

Yesterday, I went into Glasgow with Linsday and Jess in order to take the latter to a performance of some orchestral Russian stuff. Rachmaninov headlined with his second piano concerto, and it was good to hear it live. Almost as fun as being able to bust out my tweed heels, which replaced the tennies in a Burger King ten minutes before the performance. Short-lived posh, since the concert hall is literally right across the street from the bus stop. We didn't have far to go once the music had stopped.

Other than that, the days have mostly consisted of scribbling notes down at the NLS only to come home again and type them all into my laptop. Next week will be organizing and preliminary writing - so much excitement! and perhaps I will plan myself some sort of Trip to break up the monotony.

6.15.2007

The Stoic sage is willing to give some "preferred" thing, e.g., health, freedom, or life, because he sees it genuinely as without value since only the whole order of events which, as it happens, includes its negation or loss, is of value. The Christian martyr, in giving up health, freedom, or life, doesn't declare them to be of no value. On the contrary, the act would lose its sense if they were not of great worth. To say that greater love hath no man than this, that a man give up his life for his friends, implies that life is a great good. The sentence would lose its point in reference to someone who renounced life from a sense of detachment; it presupposes he's giving up something.

Central to the Judaeo-Christian notion of martyrdom is that one gives up a good in order to follow God. What God is engaged in is the hallowing of life. God first called Israel to be a "holy nation" (Exodus 19.6). But the hallowing of life is not antithetical to its fulness. On the contrary. Hence the powerful sense of loss at the heart of martyrdom. It only becomes necessary because of sin and disorder in the world: because, e.g., a Nebuchadnezzar or an Antiochus Epiphanes requires that Israelites worship idols or otherwise violate the Torah. Or, to turn to the paradigm Christian case, that Christ's teaching led to his crucifixion was a consequence of evil in the world, of the darkness not comprehending the light. In the restored order that God is conferring , good doesn't need to be sacrificed for good. The eschatological promise in both Judaism and Christianity is that God will restore the integrity of the good.


Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self (218, 219)

6.08.2007

When the fog hangs over the city like an opiate, it takes more strength of will than I possess to crawl out of my room and walk the fifty minute distance to the National Library of Scotland. I will do it, not by strength of will, but strength of shame: I have been talking about the NLS for the last week and a half, and have only been there once. Oh, the work not getting done all because of a little fog!

(Strangely, it puts me in the mood for Narnia. Possibly because of the desire for escape coupled with a yearning for childhood tales round a warm hearth with a cup of tea.... Perhaps it's about time to visit Oxford.)

6.03.2007

If you are a tourist in Edinburgh, the first thing to do when walking into the Elephant House is to go to the back and peer out the window. Perhaps it is the distant view of the castle between the buildings. Perhaps it is the depth of the street below, so out of synch with the street at the front - high and low. Whatever the reason, that is the rule. Or so I observed yesterday afternoon as I sat with my Ossian essays, fancy ink pen, and notebooks so full of quotations that they have ceased to be useful. I finished my latte and glass of water rather quickly in comparison with the three hours that I occupied the small table, and as it passed six o'clock, I couldn't help feeling remarkably in the way. Plenty of tourists were hoping for seats and unable to find them, and there I was without a bit of food or drink on the table. I took heart - the poet in the corner was still seated there with his laptops and Truman Capote, and he had been sitting there long before I arrived. Thoughts like this were frustrating distractions from David Hall Radcliffe's more pertinent ideas on Macpherson's influence in the eighteenth-century development of British pastoral poetry and the concept of culture. 'There was little precedent for cultural relativism in ancient or early modern literature, which tended to regard the domain of manners and custom as largely fortuitous and not amenable to rational understanding.' Yes, but what about the bloke at the table across from me who looks like a cross between Christian Bale and Phil Johnston, only petite and with a high-pitched voice? And what of the woman at that other table who does not look like Amy Dibello, but somehow reminds me that I ought to write to her? And what about the server flitting between the tables, who has said nothing but who is clearly not having the best of days?

I have done little but study for the last week and a half since returning from Prague, and even before that there was little but books in my world. And yet, one can see how easy it is to surround one's person with the relevant material for hours on end, and still find that all there is to show for the time is a new blog entry, a revised sketch of the tattoo I've been putting off for years, and a fresh cup of tea.
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