I Shall Gasp And Pant

My morning run didn’t go as well as I had hoped. My hip was tight at the start, but that loosened up; the problem was breathing. I just couldn’t get enough air into my lungs, or oxygenate it rapidly enough to fuel a decent pace. Time was 10:38, and most of those seconds were spent in despond.

Resistant Musings

One of the conventional slogans that partially-informed readers parrot about postmodern thought and post-structuralism holds that it means ‘anything goes’, that it erases the distinction between right and wrong. But as a matter of demonstrable fact, specifically modern hermeneutics hasn’t advanced ‘correctness’ or general consensus on matters of interpretation over the past 250 years or so. Before Schleiermacher, people argued about interpretations, and today people still disagree about interpretation, and the kinds of argument have changed, but modern hermeneutics hasn’t brought about widespread resolution of interpretive problems.

And judgements of right or wrong that effectually change people’s minds begin from positions that were generally reckoned wrong before the argument convinced its readers, which (past) ‘wrongness’ was not obviated by the hermeneutics of correct interpretation. Likewise, proposals that do not Change people’s minds are always deemed not simply ‘wrong’, but ‘wrong for specifiable reasons’ — by postmodern thinkers as well as modernists.

In other words, the ‘anything goes’ and ‘no right or wrong’ bogeymen bogeypersons are the sham axioms that many of us have always maintained them to be, and ‘modern’ hermeneutics brings none of the benefits it is alleged to produce. This is why I am banging my head against differential hermeneutics.

Back, To the Future…

Margaret and I had a relaxing midweek visit to Wallingford, where we stayed at the Town Arms (whose very agreeable landlords practically became extended family). We unwound, we ate well, we tramped from church to church (on which more later), and relished the last few days of summer before we put our heads down and turn back to the coal face.

Welcome to Wallingford

All the walking may have helped relax and strengthen the groin muscle/ligament nexus that had been bothering me, so that even though I didn’t run Wednesday morning, my mile this morning went by in an improved 10:32. That’s nowhere near my triumph of the sub-ten-minute mile, but since my running has been intermittent since that day I’ve been working my way back into shape.

‘Who Can But Feel Shame…?’

The news has recently called our attention to special events at cathedrals, a session of ‘crazy golf’ in Rochester, and a Helter Skelter in Norwich. These extraordinary installations have been planned to get people into cathedrals, on the premise that someone who has never set foot in a cathedral before (or never in that particular cathedral) would be more likely to come in for a second time (say, for Sunday Mass) if they had been once to get in a quick eighteen holes of crazy golf.

Now, Margaret and I are far from antithetical to crazy golf. Viz. —

2012-06-25 14.16.56

(We played this course in Ayr, where Margaret triumphed gloriously over her determined spouse.) We love the absurd activity and the mild competition. We also love cathedrals. (Not so keen on helter skelters, but….)

But all this provokes a fair question about whether the characteristics of this sort of summer recreation reasonably converge with the point of cathedrals. There’s an inaccurate but often overcooked claim that cathedral naves were normally used as large open indoor spaces for all sorts of secular purposes, so that having a golf course in your nave is just harking back to ancient practice, from before a time when people got overly fastidious about the sanctity of church spaces. Add to that the apparent urgency of getting people into cathedrals (for any purpose whatever), and the case seems to be strong indeed.

I’m not convinced that they do so converge, and I haven’t seen any evidence that people who like funfair rides then take up church attendance, or even cultivate a more favourable attitude toward the church. Someone who’s been deeply disturbed by sexual abuse scandals, for instance, may not be mollified by crazy golf. There are lots of plausible reasons for not going to church, and I haven’t quite seen round the way that casual recreation might counteract any of them. Let’s allow, though, that by disarming the suspicion that church people are too stuffy and no fun does some good for the church’s standing in the community.

We may also allow, though, that some of the purposes of the cathedral aren’t immediately compatible with secular frivolities. You may have noticed that there’s a lot of palaver these days about ‘sacred space’, about ‘thin places’ where everyday concerns melt away and the presence of deeper presences allegedly take on greater prominence; it would seem odd to suggest that crazy golf makes a cathedral seem more ‘sacred’ or ‘thin’. The function of a cathedral isn’t entertainment, either; even on a charitably expansive account (say, ‘helping people shed their worries and experience the relief and joy that come from reconciliation with God’), playing crazy golf or riding down a helter skelter doesn’t seem predictably to correlate with ‘experiencing something akin to holy joy’. Sometimes I find crazy golf very frustrating indeed, and I’m uncomfortable with the prospect of riding a helter skelter (though I can’t say I’ve tried, within a cathedral or without).

John Henry Newman, as an Anglican travelling around Europe, observed of the superstitions and political scheming and (especially) the questionable means deployed to draw people into the Roman Catholic Church, ‘Who can but feel shame when the religion of Ximenes, Borromeo, and Pascal is so overlaid?’ Is it fair to ask, ‘Who can fail to feel shame when the religion of Hooker, Donne, and Pusey is so overlaid?’ (Or fill in with the names of your favourite profound Anglicans.)

On one hand, obviously, one may justly so ask. Try to imagine Cranmer or Andrewes or Wilberforce preaching from a roller-coaster, or in the midst of an Aunt Sally contest. (Indeed, ‘sanctity’ was the characteristic Newman held up as the English Church’s bulwark against Romanism.) General solemnity and sanctity ordinarily attend — if they do not necessarily define — Christian worship.

On the other hand: Newman eventually crossed over to join the Roman Catholic Church, however much he may have deplored the mummery and politics he perceived in it. And the cathedrals of England have been restored to normal functioning by now, so [probably] no [lasting] harm done.

Still, it would be heartening to see more completely into reasoning that supports the connection between extravaganzas and the gospel so forcefully proclaimed by the saints, at the cost of their lives. ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and… putt’? Bonhoeffer didn’t think so.

Sunday Stromateis

• Since I’m blogging again, more or less, it seems as though I should rely more on Flickr as my medium for online images, so I spent some time uploading to and titling and tagging photos in my Flickr feed. I’ll devote mindless moments to retrospective Flickring, too, so the Facebook years should be covered in Flickr as well.

• Testing Greek Unicode on this server: ?? ???? ?? ? ?????…. Okay, that will need attention.

• I did run this morning, though heavy legs and rough breathing (see what I did there, Greek readers?) after a two-week layoff meant an embarrassingly slow time. I’ll miss Wednesday too, so next Sunday will be slow again, but I trust that diligent application will bring me back to times that are closer to my recent plateau. (This morning, 11:04 — I told you it was bad).

Lyotard, Drifting From Power

Just re-reading Lyotard’s Driftworks for my hermeneutics monograph project, and admiring all the more some of his observations. In ‘Adrift’, the preface to the collection, he notes (with regard to criticism, but it applies much more generally) the phenomenon of wayfinding when you’re out of place: ‘…when you enter a foreign city and follow the arrows indicating the Zentrum, the centro citta, until you lose them, the absence of indication indicating that you are at the center…’* So with hermeneutics, right? If you’re doing it the officially approved way, it’s just ‘hermeneutics’, but if you’re Black or a feminist or a Marxist or just somebody who acknowledges divergence in interpretation, you need a modifier, an arrow pointing toward the centre and implicitly indicating ‘This ain’t the centre, we do things differently here’. If you’re an officially normal, acceptable interpreter you can just say what you want (because it comes pre-approved, it speaks from the centre).

Likewise, a bit later, he notes ‘desire baffles knowledge and power’, and again it’s in a context in which he’s making a different point with which I don’t necessarily agree. But he’s surely correct to suggest here that you can’t out-think desire, you can’t out-will desire. If you think you are, if you think you can, then desire is just playing a different game with you than the one you thought it was playing.

If I write this out someday, it should be in a work that takes ‘desire’ as its topic, spells it out as an effect on interpretation (this will probably appear in the future monograph) and then shows the unconquerable wildness of desire as a theme in biblical literature, so as to point out that if anyone were to be an expert about desire, it should be the exegetes — who, in their earnest desire to control interpretation, instead belie their claims to knowledge about desire by enacting in their repudiation just what desire wants them to do.

* He goes on to say ‘and rather that there is no center’, but hashing that out would involve drifting away from my point here.

You Can’t Get There From Here

No, of course you can get from Oxford to Cambridge (and back) — but it’s annoyingly complicated, involving a choice among (a) train in to London, then out to Cambridge; (b) coach from Oxford to Cambridge, a long ride stopping numerous times and navigating every roundabout possible along the route; or (c) Margaret just learned that some people take the airport coach to Heathrow, and then take the coach out to Cambridge.

One might think there to be a rationale for a rail route between these two locations, but that route — the Varsity Line — was axed under the Beeching reforms (as also most routes that don’t ultimately fit an hub-and-spoke routing model). Now there’s a government scheme for an expressway between the two cities, because auto transport is the wave of the future, and some advocacy for reviving the rail route, but for the time being, travelers without their own transport have the three not entirely palatable choices.

All that being said, once we get to Cambridge we will have a splendid time at the patronal feast for Little St Mary’s, seeing SSH alumnus Fr Gregory, spending more time with Fr Robert, and enjoying the excellent navigational skills of a driver for Stagecoach.

Called On Account Of…

I just started out on my mile despite the pit-a-pat of the beginning of showers — I thought I could get it in before the heavier rain — but within about twenty strides I turned back. The tendon/ligament inside my thigh was prominently uncomfortable, and I decline to risk aggravating it (especially in slippery weather).

Just A Reminder

Anyone who’s thinking that Trump will be a white knight for a No-Deal Britain, offering a trade haven to make up for the loss of EU trade arrangements, should take a quick look at his modus operandi in past deal-making. He typically zeroes in on a perceived weakness, and exploits it to gain favourable terms for his side of any deal. He lies. He makes vague promises for the future, which he has no intention of fulfilling. And even when he makes contractual arrangements, he feels free to walk away without upholding his side of the bargain.

Of course, he would never do that to the UK.…

Peak Values

I’ve been distracted for a day or so by the discovery of the Digital Diamond Baseball game, available through Steam. Among the many virtues of this baseball sim lies in its openness to user-prepared content (if you don’t see this as prime AKMA-bait, you don’t know me that well). The game itself offers many recreated seasons, and users have generated more, but I wondered whether there was a Hall of Fame team option (it looks as though there’s something similar, but I haven’t taken the time to investigate yet).

That then reminded me of my own past research into sabermetric questions, when I was calculating (by hand, children) career performance probabilities for a baseball sim on which I was working decades ago. I’m persuaded that for a simulation game, nobody really wants a simulation of a player’s full career; too many tremendous athletes have had long intervals of decline (or long intervals of development) for which they ought not be remembered. Some might want recreations of a player’s single best season, but that rewards one-hit wonders and penalises players who were consistently excellent, but without a single extraordinary season.

The answer, then, must be an averaged peak-performance profile for each player. That leaves two vital questions still to answer: ‘How many seasons count toward (or against) someone’s “peak”?’ and ‘Consecutive years, or best X seasons regardless?’

Right now, I’m inclined toward a six-consecutive-year peak value. I haven’t looked at any of my favourite ballplayers’ statistics, so I’m not biased by my desire to see Joe ‘Burrhead’ Dobson represented at his best; I was wavering between five and seven years, and split the difference. And consecutive years, because… I don’t know, anything else feels like cheating, cherry-picking.

Roving Preacher

Today I didn’t run my mile, for several reasons. Yesterday, running to a cab, I felt as though I might have tweaked something in my midsection (and I’m disinclined to take chances with injury). Further, I was polishing my homily for the patronal feast at St Laurence, South Hinksey (attached below). And of course, since I hate running, these were eminently sound rationales for staying at home.

I did get to St Laurence, though, and had a delicious lunch thereafter, and came home and sat like a lump for the rest of the day.
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