“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, July 04, 2005

santayana, the fourth

It is Santayana’s luck that he is not tarred, as Heidegger is, with sympathy for fascism, even though Santayana abundantly exhibited same. But the other side of that luck is that Santayana has sunk into relative and undeserved neglect.Undeserved on a number of levels. Simply on the level of sheer delight, Santayana ranks high as a writer. Here, for instance, is his criticism of Bertrand Russell’s politics: Russell's "mind and conscience" are "those of a rebel or reformer. He feels no loyalty to dominant things but enthusiasm for possible ideal contrary things. . . . Nothing can be established in this world merely because it is ideally possible: it must flow from what precedes, it must be derivable from physical forces actually afoot." We take that phrase from the review of Santayana’s letters in the Winter 2005 Sewanee Review, which – should you bump into an issue – you should read. Or, again, here is Santayana on myth and science – elucidating a point which, frankly, LI has some disagreement with, but elucidating it beautifully:

The laws formulated by science—the transitive figments describing the relation between fact and fact—possess only a Platonic sort of reality. They are more real, if you will, than the facts themselves, because they are more permanent, trustworthy, and pervasive; but at the same time they are, if you will, not real at all, because they are incompatible with immediacy and alien to brute existence. In declaring what is true of existences they altogether renounce existence on their own behalf. This situation has made no end of trouble in ill-balanced minds, not docile to the diversities and free complexity of things, but bent on treating everything by a single method. They have asked themselves persistently the confusing question whether the matter or the form of things is the reality; whereas, of course, both elements are needed, each with its incommensurable kind of being. The material element alone is existent, while the ideal element is the sum of all those propositions which are true of what exists materially. Anybody's knowledge of the truth, being a complex and fleeting feeling, is of course but a moment of existence or material being, which whether found in God or man is as far as possible from being that truth itself which it may succeed in knowing.

The true contrast between science and myth is more nearly touched when we say that science alone is capable of verification. Some ambiguity, however, lurks in this phrase, since verification comes to a method only vicariously, when the particulars it prophesies are realised in sense. To verify a theory as if it were not a method but a divination of occult existences would be to turn the theory into a myth and then to discover that what the myth pictured had, by a miracle, an actual existence also. There is accordingly a sense in which myth admits substantiation of a kind that science excludes. The Olympic hierarchy might conceivably exist bodily; but gravitation and natural selection, being schemes of relation, can never exist substantially and on their own behoof. Nevertheless, the Olympic hierarchy, even if it happened to exist, could not be proved to do so unless it were a part of the natural world open to sense; while gravitation and natural selection, without being existences, can be verified at every moment by concrete events occurring as those principles require. A hypothesis, being a discursive device, gains its utmost possible validity when its discursive value is established. It is not, it merely applies; and every situation in which it is found to apply is a proof of its truth.

Santayana was a curious cat. Perhaps because he is a cat with only one life in the public consciousness (revolving around that damned quotation – those who forget to read any of Santayana’s books seemed doomed to repeat his one famous quotation), he’s been immune from the fingerpointing that has attached to Heidegger’s Nazi loyalties. It is, one supposes, Santayana’s luck. Like Pound, Santayana spent WWII in Italy. Like Pound, Santayana was a fascist sympathizer. Like Pound, Santayana harbored a dislike for Jews that peppered his correspondence. But unlike Pound, he didn’t feel called upon to diffuse his views over the radio waves. Instead, he lived in a convent during the war.Nevertheless, we think that Santayana is a philosopher one should read. American political philosophy is pretty bare: there is Rawls, edifying and inedible; there is Strauss; there is Thoreau. Santayana is the only conservative philosopher who can be compared to Ortega y Gasset or Coleridge or Constant. Being captured by the conservative movement – and having his name put in the sub-title of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative mind – has not done Santayana a lot of good, since his concept of order is radically independent of the Burkean tradition. Partly this is because Santayana absorbed so richly the idealistic currents of the 19th century that he couldn’t imagine that the human vocabulary or mind could do anything but distort the facts of nature – for him, too, nature is behind the veil of Maya. This freed him, in a curious way, to propose a naturalism neutered of its anti-traditional import. Santayana, like Stephen Jay Gould, saw no reason that the acceptance, on the one hand, of a scientific narrative that put humans wholly in nature as animals that had evolved, should lead to the rejection, on the other hand, of that magisterial, as Gould puts it, that encodes the mythical. LI will talk about this in a later post.

Meanwhile, it is the fourth of July. For this fourth, the Observer has a very special report on the American financed resurrection of Saddam Hussein’s prison system, a state of things for which we are sending men and women to kill for. And to die for. Shall we mark the fifth year of the Bush elevation with mournful silence -- or just curse him out loud, up and down, sideways and backwards, inside out and through every back entrance? Every insult chased with a good goddamn. We recommend the later. Set off a firecracker and curse the Republican darkness.

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