Welcome to the latest incarnation of Maverick Philosopher. This post will remain at the top of the queue to give new and some old readers an idea of what this site is and isn't, what goes on here, and what is not permitted to go on here. Like the site itself, this introductory page is under permanent construction and reconstruction. It will take shape bit by bit over the coming weeks and months.
1. Why 'Maverick Philosopher'? Since I am a philosopher and what is done here is mainly philosophy, it is appropriate that 'philosopher' be in the title. As for 'maverick,' this word derives from the name of the Texas lawyer Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870) who for a time was a rancher who ran cattle that bore no brand. These unbranded animals of his came to be known as mavericks. The term was then extended to cover any unbranded stock and later any person who holds himself aloof from the herd, bears no 'brand,' resists classification, strives to be independent in his thinking or mode of living, is religiously or politically unaffiliated, and the like. (Cf. Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, p. 473.)
To understand Simone Weil, one must understand her beloved master, Plato. So let's interpret a passage from the Phaedo dialogue, and then compare it to some statements of Weil.
At Stephanus 83a we read, "...the perceptions of the eye, and the ear, and the the senses are full of deceit." (tr. F. J. Church) The point is presumably not that the senses are sometimes nonveridical, but that they tie us to a world that is not ultimately real, and that distracts us from the one that is. From the context it is clear that the point is not epistemological but axiological and ontological. It is not that the senses are unreliable, whether episodically or globally, in respect of the information they provide us about an external world of spatiotemporal particulars. They are reliable enough in providing us such information. The point is rather that the senses deceive us into conferring high value on what is of low value, and into taking as ultimately real what is derivatively real.
It would be a mistake, therefore, to read the passage as an anticipation of the modern problematic of the external world from Descartes to Kant to G. E. Moore and beyond. The problem is not how we can come to have knowledge of an external world given that what is immediately given are only our ideas and representations, ideas and representations the contents of which would be the same whether or not there is an external world The point is much deeper. The Platonic inquiry calls into question, not human knowledge of a physical world taken to be ultimately real, but the reality and importance of the physical world itself as correlate of the outer senses.
On the same page of the dialogue, we read that ". . . nothing which is subject to change has any truth." 'Truth' is here used ontically as equivalent to 'being' or 'real existence.' The mutable is not ultimately 'true' or ultimately real. Why not? Because it is subject to change. The idea is not that the mutable is a mere illusion, but that it lacks plenary reality, and that lacking full reality it lacks plenary value. I should add that what lack plenary reality and value cannot play for us a soteriological role.
There are thus four ancient themes here, each of which is contested by the moderns qua moderns and the contemporaries qua contemporaries. There is the idea that impermanence argues relative unreality. There is the levels-of-reality theme which I most recently discussed in connection with John Anderson back in January. There is the theme of the intertwinement of reality and value which finds expression much later in the history of thought in the scholastic slogan ens et bonum convertuntur (being and good are convertible) which I take to mean that what is is good just in virtue of its being and in the measure that it possesses being, and that what is good is good in virtue of its being and in the measure that it possesses being. Thus things in themselves are not axiologically neutral such that their value predicates are subjectively imposed; it is rather the case that thing in themselves in their mind-independent reality are good because they are and in the measure that they are. Finally, there is the theme that our salvation is bound up with our knowledge of what is ultimate real and thus ultimately good.
One who can sympathize with these four themes has Platonic intuitions. I suggest that any arguments one develops in support of these three theses will be no more than articulations of these deep intuitions or spiritual insights which one either has or does not have, depending, to allude to Fichte's famous saying, on what kind of person one is. (. . .was für eine Philosophie man wähle, hängt ... davon ab, was man für ein Mensch ist.)"What sort of philosophy one chooses dependns on the sort of human being one is." (Thus a superficial fellow like Rudolf Carnap or David Stove is, predictably, a miserable positivist.)
A little farther down, around the middle of St. 83, we read, ". . . when the soul of any man feels vehement pleasure or pain, she is forced at the same time to think that the object, whatever it be, of these sensations is the most distinct and the truest, when it is not." Plato's point is not that the senses deceive us about what is really there in the sense world, but that the senses deceive us into thinking that the sense world is a world of true being or ultimate reality. Compare the allegory of the cave in the Republic.
To find reality the soul must "gather herself together" and "stand aloof from the senses" using them "only when she must . . . ." Pleasure and pain, desire and fear (aversion) must be avoided since they pin the soul to the body, and by pinning it to the body, pin it to the changeful world of sense. Inner purification and meditation, by which the soul "gathers herself together," are necessary for the philosopher's approach to the Real. The true philosopher aims at a separation of the soul from the body, and so must not fear death. We fear death because we love the body and its pleasures.
There is a reality outside the world, that is to say, outside space and time, outside man's mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties.
Corresponding to this reality, at the centre of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world.
Another terrestrial manifestation of this reality lies in the absurd and insoluble contradictions which are always the terminus of human thought when it moves exclusively in this world.
The first statement conveys the Platonic conviction that ultimate reality is beyond the world of sense. But Weil goes beyond Plato and deeper into mysticism by holding that the reality beyond the sense world is inaccessible to human faculties. At St. 84, Plato has Socrates say that (intuitive) reason is the faculty whereby we contemplate what is "true and divine and real."
The second statement conveys the Platonic thought that the soul's longing can never satisfied by any sense object.
The third statement suggests a way of arguing that the sense world cannot be ultimate: if we take it to be such we land among insoluble aporiai.
Thomas Merton, Journals, vol. 4, p. 57 (10 October 1960):
The superb moral and positive beauty of the Phaedo. One does not have to agree with Plato, but one must hear him. Not to listen to such a voice is unpardonable, it is like not listening to conscience or nature.
The influence of the senses has in most men overpowered the mind to that degree that the walls of time and space have come to look real and insurmountable; and to speak with levity of these limits is, in the world, the sign of insanity.
The following review article is scheduled to appear later this year in Studia Neoscholastica. The editor grants me permission to reproduce it here should anyone have comments that might lead to its improvement.
William F. Vallicella
Peter van Inwagen, Existence: Essays in Ontology, Cambridge University Press, 2014, viii + 261 pp.
This volume collects twelve of Peter van Inwagen's recent essays in ontology and meta-ontology, all of them previously published except one, “Alston on Ontological Commitment.” It also includes an introduction, “Inside and Outside the Ontology Room.” It goes without saying that anyone who works in ontology should study this collection of rigorous, brilliant, and creative articles. One route into the heart of van Inwagen's philosophical position is via the theory of fictional entities he develops in chapter 4, “Existence, ontological commitment, and fictional entities.”
One might reasonably take it to be a datum that a purely fictional item such as Sherlock Holmes does not exist. After all, most of us know that Holmes is a purely fictional character, and it seems analytic that what is purely fictional does not exist. Van Inwagen, however, demurs:
The lesson I mean to convey by these examples is that the nonexistence of [Sherlock] Holmes is not an ontological datum; the ontological datum is that we can use the sentence 'Sherlock Holmes does not exist' to say something true. (105)
So, while many of us are inclined to say that the nonexistence of Holmes is an ontological datum in virtue of his being a purely fictional entity, one wholly made up by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, van Inwagen maintains that Holmes exists and that his existence is consistent with his being purely fictional. One man's datum is another man's (false) theory! To sort this out, we need to understand van Inwagen's approach to ficta.
I'm with Gray. This July will be the 50th anniversary of Barry Maguire's Eve of Destruction. It has been a long and lucky half-century eve, and by chance, if not by divine providence, the morning of destruction has not yet dawned with the light of man-made suns. Now take a cold look at the state of the world and try to convince yourself that we are making moral progress and that war and violence and ignorance and hatred and delusion are on the decline. I won't recite the litany that each of you, if intellectually honest, can recite for himself.
The 'progressive' doesn't believe in God, he believes in Man. But right here is the mistake. For there is no Man, there are only human beings at war with one another and with themselves. We are divided, divisive, and duplicitous creatures. We are in the dark mentally, morally, and spiritually. The Enlightenment spoke piously of reason, but the light it casts is flickering and inconclusive and its deliverances, though not to be contemned, are easily suborned by individual passions and group tribalisms. And just as it is certain that there is no Man, it may doubted that there is any such thing as Reason. Whose reason? There are two points here. The first is that reason is infirm even on the assumption that there is such a universal faculty. The second, more radical point, one that I do not endorse but merely entertain, is that there may be no such universal faculty.
The 'progressive' refuses to face reality, preferring a foolish faith in a utopian future that cannot possibly be brought about by human collective effort. As Heidegger said in his Spiegel interview, Nur ein Gott kann uns retten. "Only a God can save us."
You say God does not exist? That may be so. But the present question is not whether or not God exists, but whether belief in Man makes any sense and can substitute for belief in God. I say it doesn't and can’t, that it is a sorry substitute if not outright delusional. We need help that we cannot provide for ourselves, either individually or collectively. The failure to grasp this is of the essence of the delusional Left, which, refusing the tutelage of tradition and experience, goes off half-cocked with schemes that in the recent past have employed murderous means for an end that never materialized. Communist governments murdered an estimated 100 million in the 20th century alone. That says something about the Left and also about government. What is says about the latter is at least this much: governments are not by nature benevolent. It may be that man is by nature zoon politikon, as Aristotle thought: a political animal. But what may be true of man cannot be true of the polis.
Human desires regularly show themselves to be highly competent when it comes to the seduction of reason and the subornation of conscience.
A man murders his wife and the mother of his child in order to collect on a life insurance policy. Why? So that he can run off with a floozie who shook her tail in his face at a strip joint and then pledged her undying love. Upshot? The man does life in orison prison, the child grows up without parents, and the floozie moves on to her next victim.
(O felix erratum! Actually, prison would be a good place for orison if you were 'in the hole,' where I would want to be, and not in the general population ever having it proved to one that "Hell is other people." (Sartre, No Exit))
Pace the Buddhists, the problem is not desire as such, but desire inordinate and misdirected.
Buddha understood the nature of desire as infinite, as finally unsatisfiable by any finite object. But since he had convinced himself that there is no Absolute, no Atman, nothing possessing self-nature, he made a drastic move: he preached salvation through the extirpation of desire itself. Desire itself is at the root of suffering, dukkha, on the Buddhist conception, not desire for the wrong objects; so the way to salvation is not via redirection of desire upon the right Object, but via an uprooting of desire itself.
The suggestion was made that I give a little talk to the monks of Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery outside of Abiqui, New Mexico. I thought I would offer a few words in defense of the monastic life, not that such an ancient and venerable tradition needs any defense from me, but just to clarify my own thoughts and perhaps help others clarify theirs either by way of agreement or disagreement with mine. I will attempt three things. I will first list some convictions I hold to be of the essence of religion. Then I will suggest that the monastic path is an excellent way to implement these convictions. Finally I will ask myself why I am not a monk.
The Essence of Religion
There is much more to a religion than its beliefs and doctrines; there are also its practices. The practices, however, are informed and guided by certain central convictions whose importance cannot be denied. Religion is not practice alone. Now it is not easy to define religion, and it may be impossible. (Religion may be a family-resemblance concept in Wittgenstein's sense.) In any case I will not attempt to define religion by specifying necessary and sufficient conditions of the concept's application. But as I see it, most of the following are essential (necessary) to anything that deserves to be called a religion, and all of them are essential to Christianity. What I offer is a characterization, not a definition.
1. In first place, and not just in the order of exposition, is the belief that there is what William James calls an "unseen order." (Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 53) This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions. It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection. It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents. So it lies beyond the discursive intellect, as it does beyond the senses. One can reason about it, and reason to it, but one cannot access it directly via the discursive intellect. It is accessible from our side via mystical and religious experience. An initiative from its side is not to be ruled out in the form of revelation.
Compare the first item in Simone Weil's Profession of Faith: "There is a reality outside the world, that is to say, outside space and time, outside man's mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties."
2. The belief that there is a supreme good for humans and that "our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves" to the "unseen order." (Varieties, p. 53) The Unseen Order is thus not merely a realm of absolute reality, but also one of absolute value and an object of our highest and purest desire.
Compare the second item in Weil's profession: "Corresponding to this reality, at the centre of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world."
3. The conviction that we are morally deficient, and that this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the Unseen Order. Man is in some some sense fallen from the moral height at which he would have ready access to the Order which alone is the source of his ultimate happiness and final good. His moral corruption, however it came about, has noetic consequences. That is, our ability to know the saving truth has been impaired by our moral deficiency.
4. The conviction that our moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready, or perhaps any, access to the Unseen Order. Proximately, we need the help of others; ultimately, we need help from the Unseen Order.
5. The conviction that adjustment to the Unseen Order requires moral purification/transformation.
6. The conviction that help from the side of the Unseen Order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.
7. The conviction that the sensible order, while not unreal, is not plenary in point of reality or value, that it is ontologically and axiologically derivative, and as derivative defective. It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the Unseen Order.
Each of these seven convictions is an element in my personal credo. Can I prove them? Of course not. But then nothing of a substantive nature in philosophy, theology, or any controversial field, can be proven. But each of the above convictions is rationally defensible. So while not provable, they are not matters of mere faith either. They can be argued for, their negations are rationally rejectable, and there are experiences that vouch for them. (See Religious Belief and What Inclines Me to It.)
The Monastic Path
I will now suggest that the monastic life is perhaps the best way to realize existentially the above convictions, but also to have the sorts of experiences that tend to provide evidence for the convictions. One lives the convictions, and by living them is granted experiences and intimations that validate the convictions.
Let us suppose that you accept all or most of the above seven propositions, in their spirit if not in their letter, and that you also share with me the meta-conviction that these first-order convictions are to be lived (existentially realized, realized in one's Existenz) and not merely thought about or talked about or argued over.
Then it makes sense to go into the desert. The negative reason is to escape the manifold distractions of the world which keep one scattered and enslaved to the ephemeral, while the positive reason is to live a life focused on the the absolute and unchanging Source of all reality and value. The entrance into the monastery signals that one is truly convinced of the reality of the unseen (#1), it supreme value for us and our happiness (#2) and the relative unreality and insignificance of this world of time and change and vain ambition (#7).
To live such a focused existence, however, requires discipline. We have a fallen nature in at least two senses. First, we are as if fallen from a higher state. Second, we are ever falling against the objects of our world and losing ourselves in them, becoming absorbed in them. (Compare Heidegger's Verfallenheit, fallingness.) Here we find the ontological root of such sins of the flesh as avarice, gluttony, and lust. Given our fallen and falling nature, a monastic institution can provide the moral discipline and guidance that might be difficult if not impossible to secure on the outside, especially in a secularized and sex-saturated society such as ours has become. The weight of concupiscence is heavy and it drags us down. We are sexual beings naturally, and oversexualized beings socially, and so we are largely unable to control our drives to the extent necessary to develop spiritual sight. The thrust of desire confers final reality upon the sensuous while occluding one's spiritual sight. Sensuous desire, especially inordinate sensuous desire, realizes the things of the senses while de-realizing the things of the spirit.
Here, as I see it, is the main reason for sexual continence. We are not continent because we are undersexed, or prudes, or anti-natalists, or despisers of matter. (Certainly no Christian could despise the material world, and a Christian such as Kierkegaard who at the end of his life waxed anti-natalist veered off into a personal idiosyncrasy.) The continence of the loins subserves the continence of the mind and heart which in turn are probably necessary, though certainly not sufficient, for a Glimpse of spiritual realities. (I say 'probably necessary' because divine grace may grant sight to the committed worldling nolens volens.)
And then there is the great problem of suggestibility. We are highly sensitive and responsive to social suggestions as to what is real and important and what is not. In a society awash with secular suggestions, people find it hard to take religion seriously. Here is another reason why a community of the like-minded may be necessary for most spiritual seekers. They provide reinforcement and the requisite counter-suggestions. (It is worth noting that if cults can 'brainwash' their members, whole societies can go off the rails and brainwash their members.)
Why Am I not a Monk?
"If you think so highly of the monastic life, what are you doing on the outside?"
A fair question deserving a straight answer. I didn't come to religion; I was brought up Roman Catholic by a pious Italian mother and pre-Vatican II nuns and priests. But I had a religious nature, so the training 'took.' But I also had a strong intellectual bent and was inclined philosophically from an early age. So I couldn't avoid asking, and not just intellectually, but existentially as well: how much of this is true and how do I know? The ferment of the 1960s only intensified my cognitive dissonance as the religious upbringing clashed on the one side with my philosophical questioning, and on the other with the secular and counter-cultural suggestions of the 'sixties. I remember in 1965 listening intently to the words of Bob Dylan's Gates of Eden and trying to discern its compatibility, if any, with Catholic teaching. (By the way, attending a Dylan concert in those days was like going to church: the audience remained dead quiet, hanging on every word.)
So philosophy took over the role in the pious youth's life that religion had played. That kept me away from any conventional religious vocation. And so it kept me out of the monastery. For one cannot join a monastery in general; it must be either Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox or Buddhist or whatever, and to do that in good faith and with a clear intellectual conscience one must accept the central doctrinal content of those religions. But that content was exactly what to my mind needed examination. Athens at that point got the upper hand over Jerusalem. So why am I not a monk? Because of Athens.
But now, as I approach the end of the trail, I see ever more clearly the vanity of any philosophy that does not complete itself in something beyond it. But what? The empty discursivity of reason needs to be filled and completed by a direct spiritual seeing. Concepts without intuitions are empty. (Kant) So philosophy needs completion by mystical intuition, but this is rare and sporadic and fragmentary here below, mere Glimpses; to sustain us in the between times we need faith grounded in revelation.
Starbuck's CEO, Howard Schultz, wants his baristas to write "Race Together" on coffee cups to facilitate a conversation about race between baristas and customers and presumably also among customers.
Now this is profoundly stupid — assuming it is not just a cynical try at boosting sales. I'll be charitable and assume the former.
Anyone who has been paying attention will have noticed that we agree on less and less, and not for a lack of 'conversations' about the issues that divide us. The notion that more talk will help is foolish when what we need is less conversational engagement and more agreement to avoid divisive issues, together with the resolve to interact as well as we can on the common ground that remains — such as love of coffee.
As it stands, a maxim, and true as far as it goes. But in need of qualification which, when added, makes it a maxim no longer. Brevity is essential to the maxim as it is to the aphorism and the epigram.
Closer to the truth is the following. Teaching, we learn; but only up to a point beyond which studying without having to teach is much to be preferred if the goal is an advance in understanding and erudition.
I never knew logic so well as after having taught it for a couple of years. But then the maxim lost its truth.
A graduate student in philosophy asks about histories of philosophy:
Suppose I wanted, over time, to work through a text or series of texts. Which ones are worthy of consideration? I've heard good things about Copleston's 11 volumes. There's also Russell's history of western philosophy and Anthony Kenny has done a history as well. Do you recommend any of those (or perhaps another)? I should say that any history text will not supplant primary sources; it would be an addition to them.
While Bertrand Russell is entertaining, I can't recommend his history. He wrote it for money, or rather he dictated it for money. (When he was asked why he wrote a blurb for a certain book, he said that he had a hundred good reasons: the author paid him $100.) For a taste, consider the following passage from Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1945), p. 427. I found it here, but without a link and without a reference. So, exploiting the resources of my well-stocked library, I located the passage, and verified that it had been properly transcribed. Whether Russell is being entirely fair to the Arabs is a further question. In fact, I am pretty sure that he is not being fair to Avicenna (Ibn Sina) who played a key role in the development of the metaphysics of essence and existence.
Arabic philosophy is not important as original thought. Men like Avicenna and Averroes are essentially commentators. Speaking generally, the views of the more scientific philosophers come from Aristotle and the Neoplatonists in logic and metaphysics, from Galen in medicine, from Greek and Indian sources in mathematics and astronomy, and among mystics religious philosophy has also an admixture of old Persian beliefs. Writers in Arabic showed some originality in mathematics and in chemistry; in the latter case, as an incidental result of alchemical researches. Mohammedan civilization in its great days was admirable in the arts and in many technical ways, but it showed no capacity for independent speculation in theoretical matters. Its importance, which must not be underrated, is as a transmitter. Between ancient and modern European civilization, the dark ages intervened. The Mohammedans and the Byzantines, while lacking the intellectual energy required for innovation, preserved the apparatus of civilization, books, and learned leisure. Both stimulated the West when it emerged from barbarism; the Mohammedans chiefly in the thirteenth century, the Byzantines chiefly in the fifteenth. In each case the stimulus produced new thought better than that produced by the transmitters -- in the one case scholasticism, in the other the Renaissance (which however had other causes also).
Copleston is good, and you might also consider Hegel. He will broaden you and counteract the probably excessively analytic atmosphere which you now breathe. But the Swabian genius is quirky and opinionated just like Lord Russell. When he comes to the medieval period in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, he puts on his “seven-league boots” the better to pass over this thousand year period without sullying his fine trousers. (Vol. III, 1)
Summing up the “General Standpoint of the Scholastics,” he has this to say: “...this Scholasticism on the whole is a barbarous philosophy of the finite understanding, without real content, which awakens no true interest in us, and to which we cannot return.” “Barren,” and “rubbishy” are other terms with which he describes it. (Vol. III, 94-95) The politically correct may wish to consider whether the descendants of Hegel should pay reparations to the descendants of Thomas Aquinas, et al.
Op-ed commentary at The New York Times is abominably bad. But there are a couple or three exceptions, one of which is the work of Ross Douthat. This from For Poorer or Richer:
But the basic point is this: In a substantially poorer American past with a much thinner safety net, lower-income Americans found a way to cultivate monogamy, fidelity, sobriety and thrift to an extent that they have not in our richer, higher-spending present.
So however much money matters, something else is clearly going on.
The post-1960s cultural revolution isn’t the only possible “something else.” But when you have a cultural earthquake that makes society dramatically more permissive and you subsequently get dramatic social fragmentation among vulnerable populations, denying that there is any connection looks a lot like denying the nose in front of your face.
But recognizing that culture shapes behavior and that moral frameworks matter doesn’t require thundering denunciations of the moral choices of the poor. Instead, our upper class should be judged first — for being too solipsistic to recognize that its present ideal of “safe” permissiveness works (sort of) only for the privileged, and for failing to take any moral responsibility (in the schools it runs, the mass entertainments it produces, the social agenda it favors) for the effects of permissiveness on the less-savvy, the less protected, the kids who don’t have helicopter parents turning off the television or firewalling the porn.
This judgment would echo Leonard Cohen:
Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure /
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor.
And without dismissing money’s impact on the social fabric, it would raise the possibility that what’s on those channels sometimes matters more.
Yesterday, the Typepad version of Maverick Philosopher shot past the three million page view mark. This, the third main version of MavPhil, commenced operations on 31 October 2008. The first main version took off on 4 May 2004.
To be exact, total page views at the moment are 3,003,886. That averages to 1,290.33 page views per day with recent averages well above that. Total posts come to 5,749, total comments to 7,594.
The two million page view mark was reached on 19 July 2013.
I thank you one and all, man and bot, for your 'patronage.'
My pledge: You will never see advertising on this site. You will never see anything that jumps around in your visual field. You will not be assaulted by unwanted sounds. You will never have to read anything against a black background. I will not beg for money with a 'tip jar.' This is a labor of love and I prize my independence.
I also pledge to continue the fight, day by day, month by month, year by year, against the hate-America, race-baiting, religion-bashing, liberty-destroying, terror-appeasing fascists of the Left. As long as health and eyesight hold out.
I will not pander to anyone, least of all the politically correct.
If you are tempted by the thought that truth is relative you may want to consider whether it could be relatively true that there are beliefs, that different people have different beliefs about the same topic, that some hold that truth is non-relative, that others hold that being-true and being-believed-by-someone are one and the same property, and so on.
To reject moral equivalentism is not to embrace 'Manicheanism.' To reject robust interventionism in foreign policy is not to subscribe to 'isolationism.' To think otherwise in either case is to make a mistake. Most leftists make the first mistake; many conservatives the second.
I am teaching chess to some women who have joined our club, "The Lost Knights of the Superstitions." Nice title, eh? At once both romantic and self-deprecatory with an allusion to the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine and Jacob Waltz, the 'Dutchman' himself who was not Dutch but Deutsch.
The following excerpt from an article by Lubomir Kavalek may help inspire the newly recruited distaff acolytes of the Royal Game.
Vera Menchik (1906-1944) was the first women's world champion who could play successfully against the best male players. She almost stirred an international conflict. Three countries claimed her: she was born in Moscow, played chess mostly for Czechoslovakia, married an Englishman and died in London.
Menchik won the first official women's world championship in London in 1927 and defended the title six times in tournaments with an incredible overall score of 78 wins, four draws and one loss. She also defeated the German Sonja Graf in two world title matches in 1934 and 1937. Menchik played positionally most of the time, but she could deliver a nice tactical blow.
21.Rd7! (A beautiful decoy. The rook deflects the queen, allowing a spirited queen sacrifice: 21... Qxd7 22.Qxh5! gxh5 23.Bh7 mate. White would have a decisive advantage after: 21...Qxh2+ 22.Qxh2 Nxh2 23.Rxe7 Nxf1 24.Bxg6! e5 25.Nxf7 Kg7 26.Nxe5+ Kf6 27.Rxb7.) Graf resigned.
The Czechs honored Menchik with a postage stamp designed by Zdenek Netopil. He could not make up his mind, but eventually let her smile. It was issued February 14, 1996. Menchik held her world title for 17 years, the longest of any woman. Last year, she was inducted into the Chess World Hall of Fame - the first woman among chess giants.
During the 1929 Karlsbad tournament, the Austrian master Albert Becker founded the Vera Menchik Club. He suggested that anyone who loses to the lady should become a member. He was the first victim, but there were others. Among her most famous casualties were dr. Max Euwe and Sammy Reshevsky. Out of 437 tournament games against male opponents, she won 147.
She didn't fare well against the very top players. She was hammered by Jose Raul Capablanca (9-0), Alexander Alekhine (7-0), Mikhail Botvinnik (2-0), Paul Keres (2-0), Reuben Fine (2-0) and Emanuel Lasker (1-0).
In 1921 Menchik's family moved from Moscow to England. Vera was 15. When she saw bottles of milk left outside of English homes, Menchik said: "In Russia, they would immediately be stolen." The quote didn't make it to Elizaveta Bykova's biography of Menchik. Bykova had a different idea of what should be taken.
In the mid-1960s the most celebrated folk musician of his era bought a house for his growing family at the southern edge of the Catskills, in the nineteenth-century painters’ retreat of Woodstock. He was a “protest singer,” to use a term that was then new. His lyrics—profound, tender, garrulous—sounded like they were indicting the country for racism (“where black is the color where none is the number”), or prophesying civil war (“you don’t need a weatherman to know the way the wind blows”), or inviting young people to smoke dope (“everybody must get stoned”). Fans and would-be acolytes were soon roaming the town on weekends, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Eccentric-looking by the standards of the day, they infuriated local residents. Nothing good was going to come of it. One of the town’s more heavily armed reactionaries would later recall:
[A] friend of mine had given me a couple of Colt single-shot repeater pistols, and I also had a clip-fed Winchester blasting rifle around, but it was awful to think about what could be done with those things. . . . Creeps thumping their boots across our roof could even take me to court if any of them fell off. . . . I wanted to set fire to these people. These gate-crashers, spooks, trespassers, demagogues were all disrupting my home life and the fact that I was not to piss them off or they could press charges really didn’t appeal to me.
The folk singer was Bob Dylan. The reactionary old coot with all the guns . . . well, that was Bob Dylan, too. At age 25, he was growing uncomfortable with the role conferred on him by the music he’d written at age 20. “I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of,” he would later write in his memoir Chronicles.
And it ends like this:
If Dylan was the voice of a generation, it was not of the generation we think. He belonged to the generation before the one that idolized him, as did The Band. For them, the pre-baby boom frameworks of meaning were all still in place, undeconstructed and deployable in art. One of history’s secrets is that revolutionaries’ appeal in the eyes of posterity owes much to the traits they share with the world they overthrew. They secure their greatness less by revealing new virtues than by rendering the ones that made them great impracticable henceforth. There is no reason this should be any less true of Dylan. His virtues are not so much of the world he left us with as of the world he helped usher out.
Some, like Jesse Jackson, are still stuck inside of Selma with the Oxford Blues again.
Oxford Town is both topical and timeless. It is about the enrollment of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi in the fall of 1962. But neither Meredith nor Ole Miss are mentioned. This allows the song to float free of the events of the day and assume its rightful place in the audio aether of Americana.