Saving and the Self

In his “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts” of 1844, Karl Marx wrote:

The less you eat, drink, and read books;
the less you go to the theater,
the dance hall, the public-house;
the less you think, love, theorize,
sing, paint, fence, etc.,
the more you save your capital:
the greater becomes your treasure
which neither moths nor dust will devour.
The less you are, the more you have;
the less you express your own life,
the greater is your alienated life:
the greater is the store
for your estranged being.

My twenty-year-old self clipped that passage and tucked it away in a folder. I think it impressed me at the time that he was able to put his finger on a psychological reality that was true, even if it really didn’t extend to his (deeply flawed) economic or political analysis.

The reference to the moth, regardless if it was intentional, echoes a passage from James 5:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

And James may be calling to mind the passage from Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Marx is not talking about commodities or acquisitive action; rather, he’s talking about experiences and participation. He’s talking a life in community with others. The quotation serves as a nice check on one’s priorities.

The Literal Meaning of Genesis

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In his short work entitled The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Saint Augustine provides excellent advice for all Christians who are faced with the daunting task of interpreting Scripture in the light of scientific knowledge:

In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture.

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Notes on Polygamy

detail of “Bathsheba” by Hayez

There’s something irresistible about the endnotes of a good book. In the course of an argument, one comes to trust a writer’s judgments and his judiciousness about sources—precursors, precedents, and pathfinders. So a favorable mention of an author or book in an endnote or an annotated bibliography provides further lines of exploration of the topic at hand, often yielding a genealogy of sound thought.

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The Fairest Idea

hs-2014-04-a-small_webParagraph 17 from Centuries of Meditations by Thomas Traherne (1637–74):

To know GOD is Life Eternal. There must therefore some exceeding great thing be always attained in the knowledge of Him. To know God is to know goodness; it is to see the beauty of infinite love: to see it attended with almighty power and eternal wisdom; and using both those in the magnifying of its object. It is to see the King of Heaven and Earth take infinite delight in giving. Whatever knowledge else you have of God, it is but superstition. Which Plutarch rightly defineth to be ‘an ignorant dread of His divine power, without any joy in His goodness’. He is not an object of terror, but delight. To know Him therefore as He is, is to frame the most beautiful idea in all worlds. He delighteth in our happiness more than we; and is of all other the most lovely object. An infinite Lord, who having all riches, honors, and pleasures in His own hand, is infinitely willing to give them unto me. Which is the fairest idea that can be devised.

HT: David Bentley Hart.

Calendar of Hymns

DSC_0002  I recently discovered a copy of this wonderful book, A Calendar of Hymns: 52—and One More—Hymns for the American Christian Year, compiled by Frederic Fox and published by Doubleday back in 1961. It included several gems as well as few new hymns that I wasn’t familiar with. The presentation was lovely, with brief introductions on the left and hymns on the right, and seemed well suited for family use. It turned out that there was a copy on Amazon for a few bucks—well worth it!

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The Santa Barbara Alternative

Santa Barbara is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is nestled against the backdrop of several 4,000-foot peaks of the Santa Ynez Mountains, and its unique south-facing view of the Pacific Ocean is framed by Santa Cruz, the largest and tallest of California’s Channel Islands chain.

If one factors in the hospitable climate and the pleasing vernacular architecture (Spanish Colonial Revival), it perhaps comes as no surprise that the literary critic Edmund Wilson would refer to its lifestyle as “living and rejoicing in life among the primordial magnificence in the world.”

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Vigilante Copyeditor

As an editor by trade, I see printed words all around me that don’t conform to the standard conventions of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  It doesn’t particularly bother me.  I am more amused than bothered: I simply can’t be that persnickety.  Plus, I know enough about the history of the English language to know that errors can sometimes be revealing like defects or imperfections in the mirror of everyday experience.  But in this New York Times video a vigilante copyeditor has highlighted those imperfections in an unlikely place, raising editorial fastidiousness to new heights. It’s a hymn to unintended layers of language in a quiet courtyard.