Archives for May 2007

A “writer and geek” named Jerry Seeger reports on his progress through Lost in the Cosmos.

Aphorism of the Day

Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on this…

The late Pope John Paul II stressed the connection between art and truth. But he also said, “Christ came to reveal man to himself,” and compared the artist’s work as being similar to Christ’s in this regard. So while the artist does indeed have an obligation to the truth, I would say that the second quotation indicates the right characterization of this obligation. Art doesn’t teach, it reveals. It brings revelation. It’s the difference between a wise man and a prophet – the artist is closer to the latter, wild-eyed and quite possibly alarming.

Better blogging next week, Lord willing.

Jo Gulledge and Walker Percy Talk About Carl Sagan

JG: Half-jokingly, you were going to subtitle Lost in the Cosmos: Why Carl Sagan Is So Lonely . .. . a statement obviously directed at scientists in general who try to “dissolve the uniqueness of man” and make him like all other species. This brings up the problem again and again of the doctrines of evolution and creationism. While the evolutionists don’t pretend to see their view as the “eternal truth,” scientists, like Carl Sagan and others, see the status of evolution as a logical theory — even though it is not provable in a traditional scientific method. While he can’t be proved wrong, your book points to some of the holes in his theory which caused Sagan to write and ask about Lost in the Cosmos.

WP: Yes, he wrote me he’d read somewhere that I’d written a book in rebuttal to his writings and questioning the fact that he’s left God out of the Cosmos. He said if I could show him any cited evidence that God was ever there or ever in a being, he would have to consider it. He just said he’d like to read the book. He reminds me of a pathologist who finished an autopsy and said to his students: “Where is the soul?”

JG: So he hadn’t read the book yet?

WP: No, he hadn’t, so I sent him a copy.

JG: Most reviewers come up with the idea that it is a rebuttal of Sagan, but it isn’t against him personally. It only mentions Sagan one time.

WP: I only mention him in one question and one footnote. People like to latch onto something, and the two most obvious names are Donahue and Sagan. They’re featured in different parts of the book. But you know where the loneliness comes from? It comes from a triadic creature, scientist, whether it be Einstein or Darwin or Sagan, who tries to explain the whole world by dyadic theory and mostly succeeds. Darwin was trying to do it — thought he’d succeeded. Darwin’s theory of evolution is purely dyadic. Organisms compete, then small, accidental changes occur, which survive through adaptation and survival of the fittest. But notice that there is a curious moment taking place while you’re explaining the whole world by dyadic theory: you yourself are getting more and more removed from it. There you are sitting making up these theories, but how do you fit in? So you feel a little isolated and so end up with these fanciful notions of ETIs and talking chimps. Sagan wrote books which appear to explain not only the whole Cosmos but the human condition, how humans got to where they are, through his theories about the reptilian brain and cortex brain as computer and so forth. But why is Carl Sagan so anxious to find an ETI (extra-terrestrial intelligence)? Because the triadic scientist gets lonely. If everything gets put in the sphere of immanence, the sphere of dyadic interaction, one gets more and more isolated. Where does one fit in? Then he has a problem of reentry. How does one lead his life? Well, one way to it is to communicate with extraterrestrials. If one is a great scientist like Einstein, one simply does science. If not, then one starts longing for encounters with extraterrestrials. What people like Sagan don’t realize is that humans are far more mysterious than any extraterrestrial they’ve yet imagined. It’s a fanciful idea of Sagan having explained the whole Cosmos and the human position, then trying to find an ETI to tell it to, to communicate with.

Conversations With Walker Percy, p. 296-8 (reprinted from The Southern Review, 20, Winter 1984).

Doubletake: Robyn Leary interviews Walker Percy.

Today in Porn, Beginnings Edition

Yesterday’s News Today, I know. But last week’s Observer had a cheery profile of “nude model and fetish enterpreneur” Sativa Verte. A few highlights…

“When she graduated from Canfield High in 2002, she was already packed. Like so many aspiring actresses and models before her, Ms. Verte said, she ‘literally threw my cap off, got in my car and hustled my butt out here.’ Five years later, she says she can hardly walk to the corner store without some lewd old man recognizing her, thanks in part to her appearance on Fuse TV’s contest, Pants-Off Dance-Off.

[Or thanks to her appearance in a big ol’ Observer profile, complete with sweet ‘n sassy photograph, written, no doubt, by someone who is neither lewd nor old, but hiply disinterested.

“Having fled Ohio, she was studying to be a pharmacist at S.U.N.Y. in Farmingdale. But boredom took hold, and one day she was watching MSNBC when she saw a report on ‘how British Columbia is the new pot haven, dah dah dah …. ‘ She got in her car. Upon reaching Vancouver, she booked a room at a bed-and-breakfast that advertises itself as ‘a hemp-friendly haven for travelers. The B&B was called Sativa Sisters…It follows that the proprietress of Sativa Sisters was a former model. Ms. Verte admired her success—’This was an empowered woman’—and decided to try modeling. To that end, she bought a whole new wardrobe. ‘On the way home to New York, I got robbed,’ she said. ‘All that stuff I had just paid for, got robbed. I pretty much got into nude modeling because obviously I didn’t have all these nice new clothes I just bought.'”

[Aw, ain’t that cute? Girl couldn’t help it!]

“Ms. Verte allowed that she was sexually curious long before her clothes got stolen. As a girl, she discovered a collection of Playboys in the attic. ‘It moved from Playboy to Penthouse,’ she explained. ‘And in Penthouse, I seen girls inserting icicles and being spanked, and I’m like, Wow.’ Of her early exposure to sex, she said: ‘I don’t regret that at all. At least I’m not one of those stupid girls who’s like, ‘How did I get pregnant? Was it Jesus?’”

[I have always admired the Observer for its ability to report with a straight face. Thank heaven she is not one of those stupid girls, and all because of Penthouse. (Of course, it’s worth asking how exactly Penthouse helped in this department, since I’m pretty sure the connection between sex and babies is not something the magazine chooses to highlight.) And while I imagine the phraise ‘I seen girls inserting…’ is a typo, it’s a pretty damning one. “I seen girls doing all this stuff, and that’s why I’m not stupid!”]

“‘People are into watching girls go to the bathroom, so I did that.’ She said she doesn’t allow her face to be in the bathroom clips, because she finds it embarrassing. ‘The bathroom stuff actually makes me the most money, so I can’t really complain.'”

[No, you can’t, sister. Because we know it takes money to make it in New York. No complaining!]

She’s also logged some footage to accommodate bondage fetishists. “It’s not something I’d show my parents!” she said.
(Dad’s a musician, Mom’s a homemaker. They don’t approve of her career choice, Ms. Verte said. “But you can’t please everyone.”)

[No, you can’t please everyone. So, you may as well please Mr. Please Pee So I Can See instead of Mom and Dad. After all, he’s a paying customer.]

Aside from the few explicit scenes she’s filmed with members of the opposite sex—in each case the guy was her boyfriend, she insists—Ms. Verte said she doesn’t have many regrets. She said she’s very happy with her life, but has applied to acting schools for the fall. “My parents would help me with it, so why not try it?” she said. “But personally, I just want to go back to school for pharmacy and only take modeling jobs for really super-professional people.”

[I’m so happy, I can’t wait to stop!]

For all her libidinous endeavors, Ms. Verte, who is currently single, has only had two boyfriends. “I know this sounds weird, being 23 and having as much experience on the road as I do,” she said, “but I’ve seriously only had two partners.”

[Aw, see what we mean? Sweetness and light!]

How good is The WIfe’s pot roast?

So good that it almost made me forget that, half an hour earlier, Second Daughter dumped a glass of water on the keyboard of the ol’ laptop. (This is being written on the backup.)

Happy Birthday, Walker

Veni Sancte Spiritus

VENI, Sancte Spiritus,et emitte caelitus lucis tuae radium.

COME, Holy Ghost,send down those beams,which sweetly flow in silent streams from Thy bright throne above.

Veni, pater pauperum,veni, dator munerum, veni, lumen cordium.

O come, Thou Father of the poor;O come, Thou source of all our store, come, fill our hearts with love.

Consolator optime, dulcis hospes animae, dulce refrigerium.

O Thou, of comforters the best, O Thou, the soul’s delightful guest, the pilgrim’s sweet relief.

In labore requies, in aestu temperies, in fletu solatium.

Rest art Thou in our toil, most sweet refreshment in the noonday heat; and solace in our grief.

O lux beatissima, reple cordis intima tuorum fidelium.

O blessed Light of life Thou art; fill with Thy light the inmost heart of those who hope in Thee.

Sine tuo numine, nihil est in homine, nihil est innoxium.

Without Thy Godhead nothing can have any price or worth in man, nothing can harmless be.

Lava quod est sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium.

Lord, wash our sinful stains away, refresh from heaven our barren clay, our wounds and bruises heal.

Flecte quod est rigidum, fove quod est frigidum, rege quod est devium.

To Thy sweet yoke our stiff necks bow, warm with Thy fire our hearts of snow, our wandering feet recall.

Da tuis fidelibus, in te confidentibus, sacrum septenarium.

Grant to Thy faithful, dearest Lord, whose only hope is Thy sure word, the sevenfold gifts of grace.

Da virtutis meritum, da salutis exitum, da perenne gaudium, Amen, Alleluia.

Grant us in life Thy grace that we, in peace may die and ever be, in joy before Thy face. Amen. Alleluia.

[More here]

This and this by this guy.

Movie Chat

Morris: For most men, a woman’s body is the most beautiful thing they will ever see.

Venus: What’s the most beautiful thing a woman sees? Do you know?

Morris: Her first child.

– Venus

(In delivering Morris’ lines, it helps to be an aged, yet still magnificent, Peter O’Toole.)

Ketner on Percy and Peirce

To descend to more particular similarities, we might first notice that when we initially come to realize our personhood, we find that we are in a world, as Percy in Lost in the Cosmos (p. 96) phrases it, as opposed to just an environment. An environment, in his sense, is a setting in which only efficient causal relations are to be found. A world, on the other hand, along with environmental factors, also includes significance, meaning, interpretation, understanding, and selves. These additional factors Percy places under the heading of triadic behavior, or sign-use. Percy’s discovery was that such triadic relations cannot be reduced to conglomerates of dyadic relations. Or, worlds are not reducible to environments. In this point Percy is actually an independent rediscoverer (see Percy’s “The Delta Factor”) of the almost identical principle noticed by Peirce about 1866. I have traced aspects of these two parallel discoveries elsewhere (“Peirce’s ‘Most Lucid and Interesting Paper’: An Introduction to Cenopythagoreanism”) in considerable detail.

It is a major confirmation of my thesis that Percy, after a period of intense immersion in the literature of existentialism, rediscovered this point independently. Only later did he come to realize that Peirce had worked it out almost a century earlier. That the two thinkers are so close on this fundamental point is a major confirmation, and hence perhaps the principal point of comparison that tends to support pragmaticism really being an existentialism.

— Kenneth Ketner, in A Thief of Peirce, Appendix II: “Pragmaticism an Existentialism?” p. 291-2.

Deliver Us, Lord

I don’t usually pay much attention to the folks who say that Hollywood is a deeply evil place that delights in assaulting the true, the good, and the beautiful as represented by the Roman Catholic Church. Now, I may have to rethink my position:

License to Wed. Starring Robin Williams as a priest doing marriage prep for John Krasinski and Mandy Moore. I adore Krasinski in The Office. He deserves better. We all do.

Happy Birthday, Bob

Bring It On

The apocalypse. The end of days. Whatever. It was one thing when the kids covered Foreigner. Even Madonna. But when a prepubescent Fergie takes on The Pretenders, it’s time for the seventh sign and all that.


The Semiotics of the Fall

From Lost in the Cosmos, “A Semiotic Primer of the Self,” Section XI:

If the sign-user first enters into an Edenic state by virtue of his discovery and constitution of the world by signs, like Helen Keller or any normal two-year-old, and if aboriginal sign-use is a joyful concelebration of the world through an utterance in which the ancient environment of the Cosmos is transformed and beheld in common through the magic prism of the sign, it is also, semiotically speaking, an Eden which harbors its own semiotic snake in the grass.

The fateful flaw of human semiotics is this: that of all the objects in the entire Cosmos which the sign-user can apprehend through the conjoining of signifier and signified (word uttered and thing beheld), there is one which forever escapes his comprehension–and that is the sign-user himself.

Semiotically, the self is literally unspeakable to itself. One cannot speak or hear a word which signifies oneself, as one can speak or hear a word signifying anything else, e.g., apple, Canada, 7-Up.

The self of the sign-user can never be grasped, because, once the self locates itself at the dead center of its world, there is no signified to which a signifier can be joined to make a sign. The self has no sign of itself. No signifier applies. All signifiers apply equally.

You are Ralph to me and I am Walker to you, but you are not Ralph to you and I am not Walker to me. (Have you ever wondered why the Ralphs you know look as if they ought to be called Ralph and not Robert?)

For me, certain signifiers fit you, and not others. For me, all signifiers fit me, one as well as another. I am rascal, hero, craven, brave, treacherous, loyal, at once the hero and asshole of the Cosmos.

You are not a sign in your world. Unlike the other signifiers in your world which form more or less stable units with the perceived world-things they signify, the signifier of yourself is mobile, freed up, and operating on a sliding semiotic scale from — ∞ to ∞.

The signified of the self is semiotically loose and caroms around the Cosmos like an unguided missile.

From the moment the signifying self turned inward and became conscious of itself, trouble began as the sparks flew up.

No one knows how such a state of affairs came to pass, except through the wisdom (or folly) of religion and myth. But, semiotically speaking, it is possible to describe the consequences.

As a consequence of the unprecedented appearance of the triad in the Cosmos, there appeared for the first time in fifteen billion years (as far as we know) a creature which is ashamed of itself and which seeks cover in myriad disguises.

One semioticist defined the subject of his study as the only organism which tells lies.

The exile from Eden is, semiotically, the banishment of the self-conscious self from its own world of signs.

The banquet is still there, but it is Banquo in attendance.

The self perceives itself as naked. Every self is ashamed of itself.

The semiotic history of this creature thereafter could be written in terms of the successive attempts, both heroic and absurd, of the signifying creature to escape its nakedness and to find a permanent semiotic habiliment for itself–often by identifying itself with other creatures in its world.

Among Alaskan Indians, this practice is called totemism. In the Western world, it is called role-modeling.

The question must arise: What is the nature of the catastrophe of the self? Is the catastrophe nothing more or less than the breakthrough itself, the sudden emergence of the triadic organism into a dyadic world? And is the predicament of the self the price of naming and knowing? Or is the catastrophe a subsequent event, a bad move in the exercise of its freedom by the sign-user? Is it a turning from the concelebration of the world to a solitary absorption with self?

It is fruitful to speculate on the possible nature of other intelligences (ETIs) in the Cosmos, if they exist.

Presumably, they too have achieved the triadic breakthrough. Might they not have achieved the world of signs without succumbing to the terrible penalty? Might there not exist preternatural intelligences who do not necessarily share the shadow-life of the earth-self?

Much of current speculation about the nature of ETIs–what level of technology have you achieved?, etc.–is misguided. The first question an earthling should ask of an ETI is not: What is the level of your science? but rather: Did it also happen to you? Do you have a self? If so, how do you handle it? Did you suffer a catastrophe?

"C’mon, Dad…"

“C’mon. Dad. C’mon, Dad. Dad, c’mon. Dad, right now. Dad, c’mon. Dad. C’mon Dad…”

It’s shocking to me that perseverence is regarded as a virtue that must be instilled, when it is so clearly native to every three year old on the planet.


There is a chance, however slim, that some of you out there have not seen this or this. Godsbody is here to help. Slighty bawdy, excellent fun.