Synaxes of Eclexys

Katolik Shinja asked me for my ideas on the Syanxis meme:

We are then able to assemble, as it were, our own personal synaxis (gathering together) of saints. What are yours, and why?

He went on to specify four synaxes: saints, literary, musical, and philosophical.

Though I’ve answered similar questions as part of the Friday 5, I went ahead and answered anyway. Here are my synaxes, which include individuals both alive and dead:

Saintly: Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Murray Gell-Mann, and of course Galileo. Plus a translator for old Galileo.

Let’s face it, these guys are the saints of the new era. From them we get many of the miracles that are essential to our world, imagination, way of life, and health, and the importance of science, invention, and unfettered imagination. And besides, I can think of only a couple of Christian Saints I’m particularly interested in meeting: Augustine and Francis, and I couldn’t even talk to them without a translator’s aid.

Philosophical: Soren Kierkegaard, Kong Fu Tse (Confucius), Gemisthus Plethon, Michel Foucault, and Ernest Schumacher. Plus translators.

A lot of these guys have strong values and strong, honest, important, and dangerous doubts. Schumacher would be the one to steer them onto a particularly fruitful course, I think.

Musical: Charlie Parker (whom I appreciate more and more as time goes by); John Coltrane; Sonny Rollins; Sidney Bechet; and Hamiet Bluiett.

This would be a hell of a sax quintet. I’d be in the front row bootlegging every damned second of it.

Literary: I’m imagining a composite monster here, maybe an AI made up of five consciousnesses that could compose these amazing hybrid novels, without all the personal stuff they’d actually fight over as individuals getting in the way. Let’s see: Ralph Ellison; George Orwell; Maureen McHugh; Bruce Sterling; and Olaf Stapledon.

Sadly, only one woman listed in any of my Synaxes. Unfortunately I don’t know any female saxophonists of note (Ms. Dulfer is not of note), or philosophers, or major scientists of more note than those mentioned above. Ursula K. Le Guin was almost on my list, but having recently read some McHugh I have her on my mind.

I tag nobody, but anyone who wishes can take a hack at this. Let me know if you do!

9 thoughts on “Synaxes of Eclexys

  1. Confucius sould have been on my list of poltical philosophers, although Chuang Tzu us my favorite Chinese philospher.

    Interesting that you put Orwell on your list and I put Huxley on mine. I’m a big fan or Orwell, but I think it’s pretty clear that, with the exception of North Korea, the world is turning out a lot more like Brave New World than 1984.

  2. I’m very interested in Confucius himself, much less so in the tradition that was built upon his writing. In his introduction to his marvelous translation of The Analects, he points out that Confucianism is for many Easterners what Christianity is to many Westerners — a complicated tradition that is inseparable from the source text. In his experience, Chinese read the Bible in the way Westerners read Confucius — without all that weight of history and tradition and cultural reference. Very interesting. Me, I’d like to read some of Mencius, at least, so I know more about that branching tradition that came after. But I have no interest in the Sung Li Hak.

    I think you’re right in one sense — in that increasingly prurient entertainment and sensualist hedonism is a widespread form of dumbing-down the population. But I don’t think sensualism itself necessarily need do so. One can be a sensualist without being a hedonist.

    I also think the world is becoming more like Orwell than you might think. Though the totalitarianism of INGSOC is certainly missing from most places save North Korea, Burma, and a few others, I think that in other ways the contemporary West resembles 1984. Not in the material goods, but definitely in the way history and news and “reality” is being managed. The Bush Administration’s attitude toward “reality” may sound postmodern to us, but in fact it’s rather more modernist, in a way that reminds me of Orwell.

    Case in point: is America at war with Iraq right now? Is there a civil war in Iraq right now? I think when there was a Civil War in progress in America, its existence probably wasn’t denied abroad, was it? Maybe I’m wrong.

    I think, rather, the present situation blends Orwell, Huxley, and in a scary way, the HG Wells of The War In The Air.

  3. Excellent points about sensualism (a charge often levied at Catholics), hedonism, Newspeak, and the Cheney-Rumsfeld Administration:

    The Bush Administration’s attitude toward “reality? may sound postmodern to us, but in fact it’s rather more modernist, in a way that reminds me of Orwell.

    That’s great! I wish I had written it!

    Also, I think you’re dead right about the blending of the Orwellian and Huxleyan dystopias. I never thought of it that way, and I thank you for pointing out the obvious. Pretty scary, huh?

    I feel I must make something clear: the War Between the States, known is some parts as the War of Northern Agression, was technically not a Civil War, since the South only wanted secession, not to take over the North.

    I was corrected many times by my Spanish-speaking friends, most of them commies or com-symps, when I hazarded to discourse on the guerra civil in my homeland. Now, Spain, they had a bona fide Civil War.

    Although I grew up in the North, on the border of your lovely homeland, three-quarters of my ancestry lies in the South. My father, whose middle name is Lee for you know whom, is a dyed-in-the-wool Southern patriot. I use to think he was a monster for all his Confederate regalia. Not any more. He has never had a problem with his black brother-in-law, or his gay half-brother. [I have to admit to being less progressive than my old man, at least with the latter uncle.] My Dad always pointed out that his namesake Gen. Robert E. Lee advocated freeing the slaves, something the monster Lincoln never did. [Gen U.S. Grant marched South with his wife’s slaves in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, which only freed the slaves in rebellious territories.]

    Okay, I realize I’m getting very tangential with this. The mere thought of Lincoln, a president worse even than Bush II, always does that. Good night.

  4. Not going to waste too much time poking the crazy person with a stick, Gord, but as we usually hear from neo-confederate apologists and their ilk, there’s a small bit of truth in some of that rot. Much like when dealing with, say, Turks that deny the Armenian Genocide, you have to sift it out.

    (1) Emancipation – Lincoln recognized early on (see: Cooper Union Speech) that the pro-slavery factions were determined not achieve a compromise, but rather to violently suppress any dissent. The Emancipation Proclamation was written to weaken the South, and as a diplomatic tool to wreck support for the South among the nations of Europe. Despite the folderol blathered by the NeoCon(federate)s, the war was, in fact, about slavery. The South wanted it – hence the talk about “states’ rights”, still used today as code for segregationist sentiments. Lincoln’s proposal was for a gradual shift away from slavery, but even that was too much for the South. Ironically, it was Booth’s assassination of Lincoln as an effort to punish him that allowed the passage of the 13th amendment – public sentiment swung violently against the former Confederate states, despite Lincoln’s statements before his assassination that he wanted “…malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.”

    (2) Habeas Corpus – True, and most historians agree that it was a bad idea. But bad ideas abound in wartime – Eugene Debs was imprisoned for speaking out against WWI, FDR sent Japanese-Americans to internment camps – but what sets Bush apart from the others is his insistence that his powers as president are not limited in any way by the Constitution. And we’re not even at war right now.

    I see Lincoln as a human being, flawed, but possessed of a moral character that put him far above many other presidents. I don’t insist upon looking at Lincoln as a saint, simply because I believe you’ve got to see all of a person to understand them. Lincoln was, in my opinion, one of the greatest American presidents. The American Civil War was just that – a civil war. It was not a “war of northern aggression” – the first shots fired were Confederate, at Fort Sumter. The Confederate states ignored the Constitution and the principles of Democracy so they could continue the barbaric practice of chattel slavery.

    Again, Gord, I’m not going to waste my time trying to teach this pig to sing. Just laying down some acorns in hopes he’ll root among them.

  5. Adam,

    I’ll ignore your ad hominem attacks (“pig”) and your begging of the question (I am “crazy” and thereby so must be anything I say). I’ll just say that your regurgitation of what every American was told in school was not very enlightening.

    Questioning Lincoln and the North does not equal an apology for slavery, which was unquestionably a great evil. Nuanced positions were, and are, possible, like the anti-slaveholding, anti-abolitionist, pro-Union one taken in Orestes A. Brownson, The American Republic, written in 1865.

    Bush is merely following in the footsteps of his party’s first president, with a touch of Wilson and Truman (two other terrible presidents) thrown in.

    Fort Sumter, by the way, was in South Carolina. The South was trying to secede, not take over the North. That is not a civil war.

  6. I really should know better than to do this…

    To me it seems more fruitful to compare Dubya to Andrew Jackson, the founder of the Democratic party. Like Bush, Jackson scandalized his contemporaries by abusing the patronage opportunities of his office. Like Bush, Jackson believed in pre-emptive “defensive” warfare. (And like Lincoln, Jackson chastized southern states that wanted to exempt themselves from or nullify federal laws that were deemed inconvenient or unfair.) Unlike Bush, both Jackson and Lincoln knew something about how to fight a war. Lincoln at least displayed an ability and willingness to learn on the job.

    I can’t agree that the states retain a legal or moral right to secede from the Union. That right is not spelled out in the Constitution, nor in any meta-document which all states obey whether in or out of the Union. To assume that such a sovereign right exists is, just like the assumption of inalienable human rights, a fiction of human culture. But if you believe in human rights, then I think any corporate right such as a state’s right must derive from the underlying human rights of the inhabitants. I can’t imagine any inherent right of a state to secede that would not equally apply to an individual’s supposed right to declare himself immune from any law he doesn’t like.

    Did the slaves have the right to walk away from their plantations? Most would say so, at least in a theoretical human-rights sense. But that right was only theoretical at the time. I say that a state which does not acknowledge the rights of its inhabitants can’t plausibly claim parallel rights for itself in relation to other states. Would the secessionists have granted those secessionary rights to their slaves? No. Did they have the right to coerce slaves to sacrifice their limited federal citizenship? That is, did the secessionists have the right to deprive their slaves of the right to have their status deliberated by a growing and modernizing Union? Where and by what arbitrary principle do you draw the line?

    I support Lincoln because I can’t imagine any good coming from having let the Confederacy secede. Nothing good for the slaves, nothing good for the Union, nothing good for the continent, and in the long run probably not much good for the free white citizens of the Confederacy either. To permit the southern states to secede would have meant that the Constitution was written in sand, and all negotiation among the remaining states would forever have been blackmailed by the threat of further secession. So too would all negotiation among the states of the Confederacy itself. The concept and practice of federalism could not have survived, in my opinion. I know that’s a libertarian wet-dream for some, but I don’t share it, and to my mind the threat contained within secession in the American context is tantamount to declaring civil war.

    Sometimes a civil war might even be justified. But in this case? No. The southern states had legitimate economic grievances with the Union, but those grievances were chiefly a consequence of the South’s failure to industrialize with the rest of the west, depending instead on slavery to give its agricultural goods an economic edge just as unfair to non-slave nations and states as the northern-biased protectionist tariffs the South hated so much. The Confederacy’s economic model basically consists in a declaration of intent to have a permanent labor advantage over free nations in perpetuity. It would never have been able to exist in the peaceful amity of shared values with any free nation in the west. Better to destroy it being born.

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