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Showing posts from September 12, 2010

on belief and practice

In the History of Oracles, Fontenelle – with his native deadpan delivery, a style that had more in common with Defoe than with the salon - describes Cicero’s criticism of the theory of sacrifice propounded by some of the stoic philosophers: that in the moment of sacrifice, the oracular portion – the heart, the liver, etc. – was changed by the god, depending on the sanctity of the sacrificer, or the favor a particular priest had with the gods. Of course, this passage contains a muffled echo of Fontenelle’s own times – it is the choked laugh that makes for the deadest of deadpan styles. Fontenelle indirectly acknowledges the obvious parallel between the stoic theory and the theory of the transmutation of the host only by making a point about Cicero’s ability to get away with criticizing the terms of sacrifice without being regarded ‘with horror’ by the people. “There is reason to believe that, among the pagans, religion was only a practice, to which speculation was indifferent. Act like

superstition and its trace

“D.C. who, in his village in Romania, wrote his reminiscences of his childhood, having told his neighbor, a peasant named Coman, that he would not be forgotten in his book, the latter came to see him early the next day and said: “I know that I am not worth much, but even so I don’t think I have sunk so low as to be talked about in a book!” The oral world, how superior it was to our own! Beings (I mean, the people) only lived in the true as long as they had a horror of writing. As soon as they caught the prejudice, they entered into the false, they lost their ancient superstitions in order to acquire a new one, worse than all the other ones combined.” - Cioran LI has been madly pursuing a small point in Vico, from which we would like to grow a larger point about the belief system of the culture of the limited good. But we don’t ourselves quite understand our point, since it concerns a separation between the significance of ‘creation’ and that of ‘nature’ that may seem too thread subtle

a small displacement...

And so LI moved to Paris… Lucretius might have been a hard taskmaster when it came to superstition, calling upon man to surpass the “flaming limits of the world” and not to piss himself before the vain phantom of the angry gods – but he did have a fearful appreciation of the power of love, with its invisible, hounding movement. “Hence into the heart distilled the drop/Of Venus’ sweetness, and numbing heartache followed./For if what you love is absent, none the less/ Its images are there, and the sweet name/Sounds in your ears.” Amen to that! Lucretius, drawing an ascetic’s conclusion from the naturalist stance, taught us to resist the drop of Venus’ sweetness – or so some claim. LI, however, drew the opposite conclusion – we have had more than enough of numbing heartache in our life, and so we didn’t hesitate to follow A. to Paris, merrily throwing away clothes and books, giving away our paltry possessions, and in general reducing the hurly burly of our, shall we say, middle aged exis