Adamnesia and the Misplaced Object of Virtue
At the other end of the spectrum of literary economy is our own Señor Dávila, who only says those things that must be said, and in the fewest possible words consistent with a rigorous and austere beauty. And if other people were saying these things, he would gladly step aside and move on to other subjects. Here, for example, on this blog, you won't ever find me speculating on who will win the election in 2016, because there are millions of other bloggers and worse servicing that market.
The writer who does not torture his sentences tortures his reader.
The first step of wisdom is to admit, with good humor, that there is no reason why our ideas should interest anybody.
To write honestly for the rest, one must write fundamentally for oneself.
Prolixity is not an excess of words but a dearth of ideas.
Write concisely so as to avoid making the reader sick.
Clarity is the virtue of a man who does not distrust what he says.
Mere talent is in literature what good intentions are in conduct. The road to tenure is paved with good intentions!
And so on. We've adverted to some of those aphorisms before, but words do not communicate, they remind. In this case me.
So, what is the problem MacIntyre raises? To put it succinctly, it is the question of whether or not morality is convergent. For if it isn't, then we are ineluctably in the land of relativism and moral chaos. Moral chaos would be the norm, which in turn evokes the Stark Fist of the State in order to tame.
For it would also mean that man cannot govern even -- and therefore especially -- himself. Democracy would be analogous to multiples of zero, for 300 million ungovernable souls would be no different than one, only worse -- because they can do so much more damage than the loon wolf.
A related point for MacIntyre is the fragmented nature of morality. I'm going to paraphrase, but it is as if we once had the thing itself, but this thing has broken into a thousand pieces, such that this or that group or person picks up the pieces he needs -- not in order to transcend himself, but often in order to do precisely the opposite: to provide an excuse, a permission slip, or an alibi.
Here again the Terse One has many pointed things to shove between our ribs:
There are two kinds of men: those who believe in original sin and idiots.
The fool, seeing that customs change, says that morality varies.
The same fool does not content himself with violating an ethical rule: he claims that his transgression becomes a new rule.
But A decent man is one who makes demands upon himself that the circumstances do not make upon him.
And The higher part of ethics does not deal with moral behavior, but with the quality of the soul.
Besides, Evil, like the eyes, does not see itself. May he tremble who sees himself as innocent.
But if you should fail, hey, just invoke a right to that which you failed to achieve: The preaching of progressives has so corrupted us that nobody believes that he is what he is, but only what he did not succeed in being.
In any event, forgive them Father, because they know not what they do. No, really, for the leftist cannot lament the disappearance of something of which he is ignorant.
Let's get back to this idea of the Fragmented Object of Virtue. It so happens that this touches on a central mishnah of the Rabbis, if I can find it. Which I can't. Something like a cosmic fall that results in all these shards of light.
You know how a hologram works? Break up the holograph, and each fragment will contain the whole until the point that the image becomes fuzzy, indisctinct, and discontinuous. The original image will still be there, only unrecognizable. Like our constitution.
Here is how Rabbi Kushner expresses it in Honey From the Rock: there existed "A light so powerful that it shattered earthly vessels," and is "imprisoned in the shards of this created world, waiting for us to free it. Returning itself to the Creator."
This is no doubt what Petey has in mind with the gag about those banged-up and thunder-sundered images of the One on p. 248. And it is also all over -- you guessed it -- Finnegans Wake. Indeed, this is one of its central themes, starting in the third paragraph and then ad gnosiam:
"By its fall, the shell of the Cosmic Egg has been shattered.... Finnegans fall from the ladder is hugely symbolic: it is Lucifer's fall, Adam's fall, the setting sun that will rise again, the fall of Rome, a Wall Street crash. It is Humpty Dumpty's fall, and the fall of Newton's apple.... And it is every man's daily recurring fall from grace...." (Skeleton Key). The whole thing is structured around the Fall, the Wake, and the Rise (or fallagain, wakeagain, and riseagain).
We will continue our quest for the nonlocal Object of Virtue tomorrow.