Category Archives: Culture and Review

On Latin

By The Rhetor

An article in The Spectator discusses the benefits of learning Latin for those training their minds.  I of course agree with its thesis. Many will ask why learn Latin, why not a more relevant language i.e. Mandarin (and this example is given in the article). The wonderful thing about Latin – from a Western, and specifically Anglophone, viewpoint – is the way in which it is  as similar as it is foreign to our own linguistic experience. Further more the english speaker can relate more readily with the ideas expressed by the Latin. Latin then, forces you to construe familiar ideas in unfamiliar ways. Mandarin in contrast is a language which expresses a wholly different cultural experience and indeed presents a whole group of different challenges for the learner. I am not suggesting that one should not learn Mandarin, it is an incredibly useful language to learn, however we should not be so willing to proclaim Latin dead.


Does class matter in comedy?

By Mysterion

This week Danny Cohen, the new controller of BBC 1, has called for more sitcoms to feature blue-collar characters. Naturally this has sparked debate about whether class matters in comedy. Someone on a Guardian blog posted this comment:

Middle Class, Working Class, does it  really matter as long as it’s funny?

Well, yes and no. A working class comedy is not necessarily better than a middle class sitcom by itself, that comes down to factors such as writing and casting. However I would say that a working class comedy has the potential to be a better sitcom. What really makes a great sitcom is the idea that the characters are trapped within their situation. This idea lends itself far better to sitcoms with working class characters than middle class ones. Aspirational working class characters are well-worn in sitcoms. One only has to look at Harry in Steptoe and Son, always trying to escape his circumstances, or Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses, trying to get rich quick. Their comedy lies within their attempts to leave their impoverished circumstances, and can be repeated week after week by returning to the status quo. It cannot be as easily done is shows as say, My Family. There are exceptions of course, but I would say working class characters have the potential for better comedy. I would also suggest, if I may, that Blackadder became funnier as his class standing diminished. As for the changes, well if it means more shows like Only Fools and Horses and less like Miranda, it can only be a good thing.

Re: Re: Is there some objectivity in music and art?

by Leveret

A fascinating development as reported and reflected upon by Charles Moore: Continue reading

Re: Is there some objectivity in music and art?

by Leveret

A few people have asked me what the below picture, featured in my post about the objective quality of art, was:

It’s My Bed, a conceptual ‘work’ by Tracey Emin. The content of My Bed is the artist’s unmade bed replete with sheets stained by bodily discharges and littered with used prophylactics, underwear stained by menstrual bleeding and empty booze bottles. Continue reading

Is there some objectivity in music and art?

by Leveret

Last week my spouse and I had lunch with another couple at the river. The husband was holding forth on the subject of art appreciation. “If someone thinks that stick-figures are the pinnacle of art, than who can say otherwise?” he challenged.

“Surely you don’t mean to say that a drawing a stick-figure is the cultural equal of, say, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?” I ventured.

“Well, why not, if that’s what you like?” he said “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

This kind of postmodern belief – cultural or artistic relativism, is deeply ingrained. What is good and beautiful and worthy depends wholly on the point of view of the person making the assessment – nothing has inherent or objective value in relation to anything else. Continue reading

Why do we like music?

by Leveret

Our recent discussions about scientism and logical positivism remind me of something I have been thinking about for a long time. What is the empirical basis for admiring beauty? In recognizing the beauty of other humans, the answer is easy – the things that we look for (symmetry, good skin etc) are markers of good physical health and good genes.

What, however, is a comparable basis for our appreciation of music? Continue reading

Re Modernity and Religion

by Leveret

TR just posted a long quote from Adler. The crux of the quote is that far from destroying religion, science makes it more authentic by stripping superstition away from religion. The quote was posted without comment, save that it was ‘interesting’ given an (ostensible) increase in fundamentalism in recent years.

This is not the whole story, however. While I would argue that science, as we understand the term today, was developed from and is at the heart of Western Christianity (and Catholicism in particular) scientism is a very real enemy of religion.

What does scientism mean? Webster’s defines it as “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities).” Scientism, then, is an abuse of the scientific method that rejects, out of hand, the possibility of revelation (what TR might deride as ‘superstition’), because it cannot be weighed or measured or tested in a lab. Scientism expels philosophy, once called (rightly) the Queen of the Sciences, on the same grounds.

Scientism poisons everything it touches. It poisoned Darwinism by spawning eugenics. It poisoned economics by inspiring the catastrophe of Marxism. It poisons religion by stripping away revelation and leaving behind fuzzy, content-free ‘faiths’ such as Anglicanism and Presbyterianism.

The public debate between Religion and Science today is really a conflict between Religion and Scientism. The wages are the coarse and clumsy rhetoric of the so-called New Atheists and their leader Richard Dawkins. Here’s a great quote from the London Review of Books:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince.

Here is another worthy quote from the Capuchin priest Father Raniero Cantalamessa:


The refusal of scientism must not of course induce to the refusal of science or to diffidence in confrontations of it, as the refusal of rationalism does not lead to the refusal of reason. To do otherwise would be to wrong faith, even before wronging science. History has painfully taught us where such an attitude leads.

The scientific vision of reality, together with man, even takes Christ away from the center of the universe with one blow. He is reduced, to used the words of M. Blondel, to “a historical incident, isolated from the cosmos as a false episode, an intruder or a lost soul in the crushing and hostile immensity of the Universe.”

The influence is perceived also in the religious field. There are widespread forms of religiosity in which contact and syntony with the energies of the cosmos has taken the place of contact with God as way of salvation. What Paul said of God: “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), is said of the material cosmos.

In certain aspects, it is a return to the pre-Christian vision which had as its scheme: God — cosmos — man, and to which the Bible and Christianity opposed the scheme: God — man — cosmos. The cosmos is for man, not man for the cosmos.

There is, however, a profound difference: in ancient thought, above all Greek thought, man, though subordinated to the cosmos, has a very lofty dignity, as the masterful work of Max Pohlenz, “Greek Man,” brought to light…, today instead they seem to take pleasure in lowering man and stripping him of every pretext of superiority over the rest of nature. Beyond an “atheist humanism,” at least from this point of view, it seems to me that one should speak of an atheistic anti-humanism.

Whole homily here. As they say, read the whole thing.