Reformacja w Polsce, Reformation in Poland

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(We welcome James R. Rogers to Open Book. Mr. Rogers is an Instructor and Doctoral Candidate at U. of Iowa in Political Science.)

The fall of 1992 completes the second year of publication for the new, semi-interesting journal The Responsive Community: Rights and Responsibilities. The journal is the for something called "The Responsive Community," which is an organization of "progressive" communitarians devoted to correcting the hyperindividualism of modern liberal theory.

This journal is sta_ed by some impressive notables including the likes of Amitai Etzioni, Mary Ann Glenden, Robert Bellah, and Nathan Glazer. This isn’t too shabby for intellectual _repower.

Still, for all of their interesting chatter about the need for a policy re-emphasis on the much forgotten fact that man is a social creature, they tend to speak in generalities, even with the release of their communitarian platform.

At present, their program for "progressive" social renewal seems to be limited to jawboning o_enders back into their proper social roles. Ironically, this leaves these self-proclaimed progressives sounding a lot more like a caricature of their reactionary cousins than the reactionaries themselves.

To wit, in a recent issue of their journal, Gregory Curtis, president of the Laurel Foundation, takes on the lack of "moral seriousness" in popular culture. His foil in this discussion is Francis Ford Coppola’s _lm, The Godfather, Part III.

Curtis argues that "Although The Godfather, Part III bears witness to the cinematic virtuosity of its creators, its plot re_ects a lack of moral seriousness that corrupts the entire venture." (Remember, this guy is a liberal.)

For Curtis, moral seriousness "requires the maker of popular culture to work within the context of the moral and ethical sensibilities developed as the result of the best (that is, the most lasting) accumulated experience of human communities."

Curtis complains about the thematic heart of the _lm: At the center of the _lm is Don Michael Corleone’s attempt to extricate himself and his family from all organized-crime activities–to go straight once and for all. Corleone’s struggle for personal redemption is obstructed at every turn by the mob and even by supposedly legitimate businesses in which Corleone wished to invest. So far, so good, but Coppola isn’t serious about the redemption business. He treats it as he would any other plot device–that is, trivially–and his _lm slips away from him.

But in this last point, Curtis misses the touching and realistic portrayal of the "redemption business." That is, its fragility and contingency for folk like Corleone.

Curtis complains that Coppola doesn’t treat the theme of personal redemption "with respect," which, for Curtis, would be to portray Corleone as making "a clean break with the past." Yet it is Curtis’s own belief in "clean breaks" that trivializes redemption. That is the myth of self-creation; the myth that humans can disconnect themselves experientially from their personal histories.

Yet aside from some eccentric Anabaptist sects and old-time Methodism, the story of redemption told on a personal level is not that of "clean breaks" but is rather one of the old man struggling with the new man. As with all utopian theories, "progressive" communitarianism denies the lasting marks of the curse on the human soul and embraces the Pelagian error that humans can have "clean breaks" with their pasts. But the story of personal redemption, particularly in the Jewish and Christian traditions, is that there are no such "clean breaks." Original sin leaves its marks permanently.

In this light Coppola portrays Corleone’s struggle to _nd grace–and leaves the viewers in a respectable state of ambiguity as to whether he really _nds it or not. Thus, in a touching scene with the cardinal who would become Pope John Paul I, Corleone is gently nudged to confess his deepest sin: that he killed his own brother; a sin against both blood and water.

But did he _nd grace? Corleone seems changed, but there is no simplistic "clean break." The last scene of the movie leaves us in suspense. The aging don is sitting quietly in a beautiful garden outside his home. His death is one of quiet bliss: He is alive, then goes to sleep, slumping forward a little in death. It is the picture of a blessed death, but the curse is still present: A skinny scavenger dog shares the scene with the don. Thus ambiguity follows Corleone, as it does all of us, to the grave.

It is this ambiguity–the will to ignore the e_ect of original sin on the human soul–that Curtis and the other progressive communitarians seek to avoid. But in so doing they cut themselves o_ from the reality of personal continuity and from the implications that has for political and social renewal. For all its brilliance, "progressive communitarianism" remains an oxymoron. The only true community rests with those who recognize the delicate interplay between certainty and ambiguity in personal and social redemption. That is, with those who recognize that man cannot be remade in another’s image.


Ordinary People

by James R. Rogers

Pity the harpsichord. So con_ning did musicians _nd the keyboard instrument’s lack of dynamic range–its inability to play loud or soft at a _nger stroke–that the successor instrument’s boast over the harpsichord was its very name: the pianoforte. In Italian, quite literally, the "soft-loud." In the modern era, the name has been shortened to the now familiar piano.

One prestigious music dictionary put it bluntly: The harpsichord lacks "the dramatic and expressive qualities of the pianoforte." The lack of this potential–the potential to be very loud or very soft, to be dynamically dramatic–doomed the instrument to near extinction after the invention of the piano.

Who can blame musicians for throwing over the harpsichord and embracing the piano? In so doing they were acting only as good moderns. After all, the modern conceit–an aptly egalitarian conceit–is that within us all, somewhere, lies the potential for striking expressiveness if only we dare to experience it. The modern soul writhes angrily and resentfully against the monodynamism of "ordinary" life, against the small life of pattern and the commonplace.

Indeed, that true artists should expose and explode the meaninglessness of such pitiable lives–at least in how they live and work if not in the actual lives of those they sneer at–is the de_ning platitude of "truly" artistic and expressive circles. (The only exception to the rule is, of course, that this community leaves unacknowledged and undiscussed the monumental triteness of its own central public sentiment.)

In addition to its mean-spirited condescension, this celebrated gloss on ordinariness–this well-toed party line of the self-proclaimed creative element–caricatures unrecognizably the lives of billions of unknown souls. Indeed, the desire to deny and destroy the ordinary, the pattern of ordinary life, just because it is ordinary, is fatuous and puerile.

Thus, Rameau’s harpsichord composition, "Gavotte Varieé," like every other piece written for the harpsichord, is con_ned by the technical limits of the instrument. Yet I know of no composition that exceeds its passion.

The con_nement of the instrument is not the enemy of the form, but rather is its very environment. Rameau _lls the form, writes through the form, and so breathes deep passion into the piece because of the form. The monodynamism of the instrument limits nothing worthy of expression. (And, indeed, the cheap titillation of many, if not most, Romantic-era compositions perhaps issues from the fact that the piano and full symphonic orchestras induced composers of the period to substitute the cheap thrill of dynamics for a more subtle, yet more profound, passion.)

The tragedy of the modern soul is that it fails to understand this. And so it declaims the truly profound and beautiful ordinariness of life’s patterns as empty and vain.

This is one of the lessons of Henry James’s story, "The Beast in the Jungle." The life of the central character, John Marcher, was not to be one of the harpsichord–one of con_nement–but was to be a life of pianoforte. As the one con_dante in his life, May Bartram, puts it: "You said you had had from your earliest time, as the deepest thing within you, the sense of being kept for something rare and strange, possibly prodigious and terrible, that was sooner or later to happen to you, that you had in your bones the foreboding and the conviction of, and that would perhaps overwhelm you."

And it was mere ordinariness against which Marcher rebelled. Like so many others today, including ever increasing numbers of criminals who seemingly brutalize their victims as a form of exhibition, Marcher felt that it "wouldn’t have been failure to be bankrupt, dishonoured, pilloried, hanged; it was failure not to be anything."

The neglect of the pedestrian details of life, however, ends in tragedy for Marcher. Too late of a satisfying life, he recognizes that his very belief in the personal possibility of pianoforte, the eschewing of a monodynamic life, had denied him the chance to live truly in the small: "One’s doom, however, was never ba_ed, and on the day she told him his own had come down she had seen him but stupidly stare at the escape she o_ered him.

"The escape would have been to love her; then, then he would have lived. She had lived–who could say now with what passion?–since she had loved him for himself, whereas he had never thought of her (ah how it hugely glared at him!) but in the chill of his egotism and the light of her use."

Not Love–love in general and in the abstract–but love of her, May; the dreary, monodynamic life of love in the particular–of growing old together–was Marcher’s path to living. But Marcher couldn’t see it because he knew, he just knew, that true life and true passion are pianoforte. And in so knowing that, he spurned both.




Misreading Foucault’s


by James R. Rogers

In his letter to Stephen Spender, T.S. Eliot wrote that the literary critic, in order to criticize a work truly, must undergo three moments: surrender of self to the text, recovery of the self, and then–and only then–criticism in light of the _rst two moments.

While I abuse Eliot’s sentiment by applying it not only to works of poetry and _ction, but also to works of non- _ction, in judging a work of criticism–that is, in reading a critic critically–I _nd it useful to begin with Eliot’s dictum that "You don’t really criticize any author to whom you have never surrendered yourself."

To be sure, even with a surrender prior to criticism, the work may be found poor. And if found poor, the critic who has _rst surrendered can explode the work. The critic who has not _rst surrendered, who has not been inside the work, can at best only critically chisel from the outside.

Rachel Hadas’s review of Umberto Eco’s novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, in a recent issue of The Partisan Review exempli_es the danger of criticism without surrender. Her most serious criticisms fall wide of their mark. In Foucault’s Pendulum, Eco, an Italian semiotician and author of the widely acclaimed novel, The Name of the Rose, touches upon the comedy and tragedy of the all-too-human desire to construct a distinctly human reality. Or, better, the desire to construct a theory of reality manageable by and owned wholly by the human mind.

Through three hapless book editors, initially out just to have some sport at the expense of occultists and New Age kooks, Eco takes the reader into a bizarre and inverted world–a world constructed of a huge, all-encompassing conspiracy that began with the Templar Knights of the Crusades and reaches through cabalists, Masons, Rosicrucians, Gnostics (both old and new), the Illuminati, and folk of similar ilk.

Many critics, including Hadas, have expressed tedium with Eco’s attention to the minutiae of these beliefs. "Surely," the critics lament, "no serious story can be told through this world of crackpots."

What the critics mean is that the beliefs of these crackpots are so crazy (which they are) that they _nd it inconceivable that any large number of people could take them seriously. If only it were so! Yet even a little knowledge of history is su_cient to motivate Eco’s supposition.

After all, so serious did many Americans treat the "Masonic threat" in the last century that a large political movement arose to oppose Masonry. (Most of us best know Masons through the Shriners–those guys who wear goofy hats and drive tiny cars in parades.) And in fringe American political movements one can still hear tales of "Jewish-Masonic" conspiracies. In the Soviet Union such crackpot theories had more than just a fringe constituency.

Since most of us are quite unfamiliar with these types of folk and with what they believe, Eco must introduce the uninitiated into how they talk and behave. The so-called minutiae are necessary to give the reader a real feel for this very real, very eccentric world. And this Eco does with panache. As the conspiracies are described one after another, chapter after chapter, it becomes pretty clear that Eco intends to wear down and disgust the reader with these gnostic absurdities.

Just because the characters in Eco’s story are o_-the-wall doesn’t mean that Eco writes an untelling story. In fact, it is through these bizarre characters and scenes that Eco has his three editors–and with them his readers–reappraise what they think they know about the human condition.

Hadas most seriously misreads Eco’s story, however, when she accuses him of an infantile and pedantic nihilism: "The one heroic gesture in the novel is of the gran ri_uto variety: the dangerous admission that there is no meaning." Here she cites editor Casaubon’s late statement that "I have understood. And the certainty that there is nothing to understand should be my peace, my triumph. But I am here, and They are looking for me, thinking I possess revelation They sordidly desire."

Yet taking this statement to be nihilistic is to read the line without bene_t of the book’s previous 640 pages. The book embraces and celebrates both practical reasonableness and even grace, though that obliquely. The "understanding" that doesn’t exist isn’t the things common folk understand, but it is "gnosis," or secret, occult wisdom accessible only to the few who have "puri_ed" their minds su_ciently.

Through the course of the book, Casaubon comes to realize that the answer to the question, "Bin ich ein Gott?" ("Am I a god?") is no. He recognizes that the human mind is too weak to construct a world. And when we have the pretense to try, when we engage in the Pelagian error of self-salvationism, we only recapitulate the Fall and the chaos it caused.

This is the true wisdom which the character Diotallevi understands only at death’s door; namely that the pretense of human autonomy spells death: "[My bodies’] cells no longer obey. I’m dying because I convinced myself that there was no order, that you could do whatever you liked with any text. I spent my life convincing myself of this, I, with my own brain. And my brain must have transmitted the message to them.  . . . I’m dying because we were imaginative beyond bounds."

It is this will to gnosis–that is, to be a human yet to believe oneself "ein Gott"–which is the "understanding" that Eco repudiates. The lesson is not that understanding doesn’t exist, but that we humans can know only as humans and not as God. The lesson is "that seeking mysteries beneath the surface reduce[s] the world to a foul cancer."

If Hadas had surrendered to the text rather than rested satis_ed to criticize from without, then perhaps she would not have criticized Eco for preaching nihilism when, in fact, he teaches quite the opposite.



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