Sunday, September 24, 2017

Abelard on Understanding the Trinity (Notes:72)

Unlike a lot of the figures discussed in series of notes, Abelard is one of those medieval figures whose life we both know a lot about and who’s living significantly impacted his work. Born in 1079, he was the son of a minor Nobleman in Brittany. He gave up his rights as the elder son so he could become a scholar. But, while studying under a number of well-known scholars, he managed to make enemies of all of them. Essentially, Abelard was a show-off and arrogant who was openly dismissive of scholars many years his senior and in accomplishment. Soon, though, he developed a reputation of his own and set up a school; his pupils were attracted to his magnetisms and sought him out, some even camping out in the nearby countryside to be close to him. In short, his students loved him as much as his former teachers loathed him.

When in his mid-thirties, Abelard ended up in Paris teaching at the Cloister School. Inexplicitly, though, he soon fell in lust with a woman named Hellenize. Abelard was completely carried away: he abandoned all pretense of teaching or taking his students seriously and he even allowed his love songs to be sung in public. Soon, though, Hellenize was pregnant and she gave birth to a boy. Returning to Paris to try and make amends to Hellenize’s family. He said that he would marry Hellenize but only if the marriage was kept secret so as his reputation as somebody of the mind was kept intact. Unfortunately for Abelard, Hellenize did not go along with this plan: she thought that her uncle would never go along with such a plan but, more idealistically, she thought that it would mean a death of his profession—philosophy—if he were to marry her. Hellenize said that she would rather be his mistress than his wife.

But, Abelard insisted, though, and they were married. Meeting in secret, though, proved to generate difficulties with Hellenize’s uncle and so Abelard moved them to a convent in the countryside. But, even there, Abelard’s passion overtook him and they would meet in secret to fornicate wherever there was a moment of seclusion. After some ups and downs with professions, though, Abelard was castrated by henchmen under the employ of Hellenize’s uncle, who thought that Abelard was forcing her to become a nun. Once castrated, Abelard took to the monastic life and returned his dedication to the mind while Hellenize became a nun.

From this point on, Abelard and Hellenize take widely different paths. Hellenize still loved Abelard but requited that she would not speak of their affair anymore; eventually, she became head nun of her convent, though we are unsure if she ever found happiness in her profession. Abelard, meanwhile, embarked on an epic reformulation of the Christian doctrine.

Of his project, he wrote his first book in 1120, but just a year later it was condemned and he was forced to “cosign the book to the flames”. Such didn’t stop Abelard, though, who wrote a second treatise which was twice as long as the first and added a great deal more controversial material. This manuscript, though, was left unfinished as Abelard started a third treatise. It was this third treatise which “did Abelard in” as it came to the attention of the Beernaert of Cleo (?). In short, Beernaert convinced an ecclesiastical council in advance to condemn Abelard’s writings as heretical. So, Abelard appealed to the Pope and left for Rome. Though Abelard has connections in the Papal entourage, things did not go his way; in July of 1141, Pope Innocent the 2nd excommunicated Abelard and his followers. Pope ordered that Abelard be confined to a monastery and perpetual silence, which prevented him from teaching, and for his books to be burned. Thankfully, though, thanks to the intervention of Peter the Venerable, though, the excommunication was lifted, and Abelard was even able to teach again (he was even reconciled with Beernaert). Abelard would remain under Peter’s protection until his death just a year later.

When it comes to Abelard’s philosophy, though, Abelard had three main pillars of thought; one, he placed special attention on the Trinity in the context of understanding human knowledge. Two, Abelard maintained that pre-Christian philosopher recognized the Trinitarian nature of God. Not that they could have recognized it but that they did in fact recognize it, that it was possible for people to come to understand the Trinity by themselves. Third, Abelard promoted the use of philosophical techniques to defend the idea of the Trinity. Here was the idea that just because God is beyond human comprehension does not exclude sloppy thinking.

To get into a bit more detail, though.

(1)    It is difficult to make out how Abelard sees the relationship between Faith and Reason, but one can make out that he denies the possibility of any genuine conflict between the two. To Abelard, Reason is limited when it comes to thinking about God. As a result, we need to rely on authority and accept it as a fulcrum to our limitation of understanding. Abelard saw this as a counterweight to the excessive belief in the power of dialectic; of which, Abelard thought that many so-called dialecticians were merely pseudo-dialecticians. To Abelard, these people were practicing an irrational kind of rationalism because they do not acknowledge any limits on the power of human reason and any rational person would place a limit on human reason. For Abelard, we must accept things on authority before we can understand them rationally. In short, he accuses many dialecticians as rejecting authority simply because they cannot make sense of it. To Abelard, part of understanding God is using analogies, what he calls “similitudes”, that which allows us to catch a side-ways glance at a God normally beyond our understanding.

(2)    Abelard insists that the Doctrine of the Trinity can be grasped by Reason, at least to a certain extent. Abelard believed that in pre-Christian philosophers, one could grasp certain understandings of the Trinity in a kind of deflected manner, that some had grasped certain elements of the doctrine. It was this aspect which forced him to cosign his first treatise to the flames; the idea that pagan thinkers like Plato could understand select aspects of the Trinity was repulsive to many Christians and wiped away a sheen of religious exceptionalism. So, therefore in his second work, he devotes a great deal of time justifying his attention to pagan writers. Abelard says, then, that pagan writers knew this by claim of Reason. This is connected to Abelard’s stance on monastic reform; he would chastise his followers in saying that even pagans led more righteous lives than this, as Christians we must do better. Such constant nagging didn’t always go down well with his monks who, as one-story reports, tried to murder Abelard. In any case, according to Abelard, pagans knew that God was “power, wisdom, and goodness”. These three aspects were likened to the Trinity. Furthermore, these pagans knew that ‘the word’, the second person of the Trinity that is Wisdom, was ‘generated’ or ‘begotten’. Pagans also recognized the word was co-eternal to the one it was generated; Abelard, through a dubious reading of Plato, even argued that the third person, the Holy Spirit, was someone who was split, so to speak, from God. All of this would be controversial enough, but Abelard takes it a step further and claims that gentile philosophers before Christ were even ‘Saved’, that is, they were admitted into that perfect union with God by reading Paul. Abelard justified all of this by relying on the truth of illumination: if pagans had the truth, it is only because God showed it to them. Such a framework does not unduly exult human reason but gives credit to God.

(3)    When grasping the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, Abelard argues that we should not argue something we do not understand. Instead, we should work to form a rational account of the Trinity which works to dissolve its apparent paradoxes. It is here where we can approximate the use of God through various analogies and careful argumentation. In arguing this, though, Abelard must steer clear of two heresies: one, Tripheism. This is where one argues for the existence of three gods instead of the trinitarian nature of the single God split into three different but united forms. The second is Modalism, and this is where one argues that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not three distinct persons, but three different modes or ways in which God is understood or acts at different times. To Abelard, what is needed to understand the Trinity, is an account of sameness and difference. We must find how the same God can be three different persons without falling into heresy. Abelard, then, rejects Boethius’s account of sameness and difference and maintains that we must find a different, better way of accounting for sameness and difference. For Abelard, then, he has recourse to a collection of analogies: he says to think of a signet ring that somebody has used to press an image onto wax. Are the image and the wax one in the same or different? In one sense, they are the same—they are a waxen image, one would not list them as two different things—wax and an image—if one was conducting an inventory check. Yet, in another sense, they are different: after all, certain things are true of the wax which are not true of the image and vice versa. The waxen image is made from wax, but the waxen image is not made from wax; the wax has an image pressed on it but the waxen image does not have an image pressed on it. The ways in which the wax and the image are the same are what Abelard calls “essential sameness”; the ways in which the wax and image are different, is what he calls “difference in property”. So, taking this analogy, we can apply it to the Trinity. The three persons are essentially the same, just as the wax and image are one concrete item, but father, son, and Holy Spirit are one concrete item—God. Just as the wax and image differ in property, so does the Trinity. For example, something is true of the Son which is not true of the Father, namely, that the Son is begotten while the holy ghost is preceding.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.8): The Friar’s Tale (Chaucer Journal)

Now it is time for a change of pace. Let’s brush away the awkward heteronormativity of the past and embrace something else, something like… moral lessons on money and extortion. Yeah.

                Chaucer’s The Friar’s Tale is one of a summoner, someone who works for the church and summons wrongdoers to stand-trial for their wrongdoings. Thing is, this summoner is an extortionist who charges people with false sins and then demands that he pay them for the charge to be erased. One day, though, he meets another young extortionist; the two pledge loyalty to one another, like a twisted kindergarten friendship before the summoner learns that his newly found friend is actually a fiend from Hell! Spooky. But, our summoner is unphased and the pair go scam hunting. While hunting, the summoner tries to extort money from a little old lady but the lady curses the summoner to Hell. Since the summoner had recently pledged himself to the fiend, the demon is obligated to drag the summoner to Hell. The end.

                In all, it is a nice god-fearing tale any Catholic or even protestant should feel at home in reading to their young. In fact, it is almost quaint.

                How would one re-enact this tale, then? As far as our Pilgrim Literary contestant is concerned, it is through tweets; enter Hugh Fryer’s (ugh) tale!

                Per the norm, the tale is re-told but with a modern aesthetic. Fryer tells his tale as a bystander looking on as he watches some shady business unfold, he tweeting developments as they happen supposedly in real-time. In this scenario, the summoner is a repo man, an occupation crooked even at the best of times. The devil in disguise is an unnamed mysterious stranger. From here, the tale, more or less, unfolds as it does according to Chaucer; instead of being dragged to Hell, though, the repo man is kidnapped by mafia thugs. Even the mid-story interruption by another tale-teller is represented thanks to conflicting tweets from another account, a clever way to represent inter-textual conflict.

                My response to “Hugh’s” tale is indifferent. I think it was clever of them to use tweets in the way that they did; the storyline, when read, had a voyeuristic element that Chaucer’s original lacked. Really, it was a fusion of thriller and suspense. So, there is a lot to praise. Yet, the tale was also repetitive; reading nothing but tweets can get monotonous. I cannot hold this element of the tale against it since many stories are told through nothing but text—like the Harry Potter based fan-fiction—but it still was something I didn’t think highly of all the same.

                But, it was original. So I will gladly give this tale a 7/10.

Summery Link:

Friday, September 22, 2017

Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.7): The Wife of Bath’s Tale (Chaucer Journal)

Undoubtedly the most famous of Chaucer’s tales, The Wife of Bath’s tale is one for any lover of literature. Critics still fiercely debate its feminist qualities and why is apparent. Told by a tale-teller who has had no less than five husbands since the age of twelve, the ensuing story is one of gender-role, womanly independence, and what it means to have a healthy relationship.

                The tale begins by inverting the Arthurian narrative. Here we see a knight who rapes a lady. As punishment, instead of being executed, he is sent off for a year in search of answering a single question—what is it that women want most in life? Through his travels, he encounters many answers. Eventually, though, and fortunately for him, he encounters the lady who claims to know the true answer. Returning to court, he utters his response: what women want most in life is to oversee their man (more or less). Correct! The knight’s life is spared but in return, the old woman who told him of the correct answer demands that the knight marry her; so, it is done but the knight is displeased. His new elderly wife so posits before him the following: the knight may have her young and beautiful but unfaithful or he can have her old and ugly but faithful. The knight knows not which answer and responds that she should be the one to choose. Of course, this is another test and in allowing the woman to choose—i.e., what woman want most in life—the knight is blessed with restored wife who is young and beautiful but also faithful. The end. They lived happily ever after.

                Clearly, this story is cut above any of the previous tales. It’s subject matter is weighty, it is not afraid to invert the standard, and it tackles gender and gender-roles, not to mention the gritty reality of knighting, head-on. This is to say that this is not your daddy’s Arthurian fable.

                I will spare you the back and forth on the theory, scholarship, and interpretations on this tale. Now is hardly the place. What is relevant to our investigation is that this is one of Chaucer’s best-known pieces and the turf where the ‘serious’ are separated from the ‘casual’ when it comes to Chaucerian studies. So, because of this, any modern re-telling would need to really pull out the big guns to impress.

                The modern tale-teller does fine. It is nothing over-the-top but I feel they hit their mark well.

                Choosing to use the username “Wife of Bath” instead of identifying themselves in any ostentatious manner, the contemporary tale-teller uses the device of a woman’s magazine advice column. She pretends to receive a letter from a woman frustrated that her husband can never take her hints about what she desires and then proceeds to relate to the fictional woman a story about a playboy—the Knight from Chaucer’s tale—who must figure out what woman want most in life prior to regaining his job after being suspended for sexual harassment.

                This tale is told plainly. There are no images, no GIFs, no videos, no audio. It is just good old-fashioned text. But, this work to its advantage. If we must suspend our disbelief and pretend that the tale is an advice column for woman, then this suits the subject matter; after all, does not Chaucer’s story essentially function as a woman-to-woman real talk session? Sure, the magical quality is retained and the ‘beautiful ideal’ is swapped for a ‘supermodel’, but as a recontextualization, the tale works wonderfully; there is no confusion, the logical threads are clearly perceived in relation to the original tale, and most importantly, the story feels correct.

                Yeah, the tale lacks flair but that is fine. I am happy with it as is and give it a 7.5/10.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Enchanted Assemblages: The End?

Well, it has been a nice ride, but this is the end of Enchanted Assemblages.

Wait, what?! I hear you exclaim; was it not just a week or so ago that there was a triumphant EA post? This is true; understand, though, that these posts I schedule months in advance. As I create content, things change while I focus on other projects; the content you see published every few days, was originally scheduled long ago and so as I push ahead, some things get left behind. It is part of this cycle of change which happened to EA.

Over the course of the 2017 spring semester, I returned to university after my protracted break. There, I took an excellent course on the poet John Milton. This course was not something I had planned on loving. To be honest, I had only taken it because one of my other courses was cancelled by the university and this one filled in the time slots which my original pick satisfied. So, I figured I would enroll, get an easy "A" and have plenty of time to devote to EA as part of a research seminar I had enrolled.

What I didn't plan on happening was loving John Milton, his life, his works, and the engagement with him in general. I took great pleasure in the course; this is why you have seen the appearance of the "Milton Journal" tag and Renaissance page, because I wanted to share my passion despite the fact that my main focus is still medieval oriented literature and history.

Early in my research seminar, for instance, I had listed my term project as EA and had planned on working diligently on EA for that whole term. But, as I grew to love Milton, as I learned more about his life, I knew that I had to re-orient; I just didn't have the passion for EA that I had for Milton and knew that I would be unhappy if I tried to pigeonhole EA when what I wanted was to simply work on an innovative Miltonic project.

So, this is what I did: I took aspects of EA and applied it to a new Milton project.

Dear reader, the labor I have invested in EA has not gone to waste, and if you were looking forward to playing the kind of game which EA would have shaped up to be, then you can find its spiritual successor in this Milton game.

I want to introduce you, then, to The Milton Underground!

The Underground is a Click Adventure, clickventure for short. Players explore an original narrative and game world while engaging in close reading "text challenges". Learn about Milton's life and discover why you are there while using literary theory to push yourself to the next level. Complete with an in-depth gameplay manual and open-world schematic, the Underground is a game for any lover of literature or D&D fan.

I will admit, though, that other projects have kept me busy. As a result, there is not a whole lot of content. After all, though this project is something that I loved working on during the school term, I still must think about what is going to be best for my future, and my time these days, I have found, simply do not allow much for clickventures. Even so, there is enough content to get the general idea of the game and the sort of experience offered. I will try and get more content up when I am free, but I want to stress that it can be played now and represents the kind of experience which EA would have blossomed into had I perused it to completion.

What does this mean for EA, then, does it mean that it will never again see the light of day? I honestly do not know. Presently, I have no plans on reigniting EA. I have the Underground to think about, and do not want to abandon it; I may not have a lot to time right now to work on the game, but I will have time here and there in the future, and so do fully plan on adding more content once my priorities shift.

Additionally, I do not think that having two clickventures organized around the same precepts would be very original or worth my while to produce. If I was to revive EA, I would want to reform it into a new clickventure, something unique from the Underground. I have at least one idea on how this may work but that would cost a not insubstantial amount of money which I simply do not have at the moment. Besides, the name itself, Enchanted Assemblages, I may appropriate for use in a different project (more on this later). So, in all, the prospects for a revived EA do not look bright. I do not say that it is impossible, however; let's admit it, part of my passion is creating these New Media, digital humanities artistic projects. Sooner or later, my existing projects will come to an end and I will have time to uptake new endeavors. At that time, EA may have a second life. Until then, though, we will simply have to be patient.

At this time, then, I would like to apologize to anyone who was earnestly looking forward to EA. It is always a shame when a game is cancelled, all the more if you were expecting it to be a full swing. Alas, my priorities shifted, and even if Milton is not your forte, then you can take comfort that at some point in the future, you can enjoy, possibly, a revamped EA experience.

In any case, stay tuned, friends, because I have major news which you will not want to miss!

Again, the link:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.6): The Man of Law’s Tale (Chaucer Journal)

Onwards to the next great adventure!

                What is it this time around? Well, more heteronormativity, unfortunately. More Christian-mongering, and more Islamophobia. Oh, well.

                We move on to the Man of Law’s tale. It is a story of betrayal and all of the above. It starts with the sultan of Syria hearing of a beautiful Christian princess to wed, Constance. Since a suiter must be Christian to wed her, this sultan converts to Christ along with his subjects. He asks for the woman’s hand in marriage and receives it; soon after their wedding, though, the sultan’s family slaughters Constance’s family in what was bound to be a rather sucky honeymoon. So, Constance flees in a boat, washes up on Northumberland some time later, and marries a good Christian man. Unfortunately, the devil beguiles a knight, some murder happens, and Constance again flees to Rome where she’s tight with some imperial homies. More time passes, her old husband returns to her after learning of some deception which happens along the way, and everybody lives happily ever after (except Constance’s husband’s mother, who is killed by her son for messing with his marriage). Fantastic.

                As a tale, it feels inflated. This is something I have come to notice about the stories in The Canterbury Tales. So many of them simply feel like at least a quarter, if not half, of the content could have been left out and still retain the basic idea of the story. Undoubtedly, in the future, when I have given this tale a thorough close reading in its original Middle English, I will feel differently. For now, though, it seems ponderous and slightly phoned in as the content is little different in theme from some of the previous tales—morality, Christianity, and some good old fashioned moralizing on husbandry (the old definition, that is).

                But, that is just my own take on the tale. Let’s see what the modern take is as told through the contest hosted on Pilgrim Literary.

                Told by Hamish Campbell, this rendition of The Man of Law’s Tale uses short paragraphs, a short gif, a brief video, and a handful of images to recreate the plot. This time around, instead of sultans and knights, we have CEOs and entrepreneurs. Gone are letters and here are emails and hacking. Though the conversion narrative remains the same, Campbell injects some humor into the narrative by offering curt asides on the lawfulness of certain legal practices and how they clash today; namely, it is not very legal to drag a corpse to an MP’s front door and demand action.

                In all, Campbell’s re-telling is amusing but not particularly creative, I feel. At least as far as I have seen in some of the previous entries. This is not to say that her submission is bad, just that it is a little on the stilted side. She spends too long simply rearranging some pieces instead of reimaging the pieces; in my mind, what makes for an original iteration on a classic is a willingness to retain the core of the original text while remolding it in a new design which is noticeable modern, something strikingly a corpus of different techniques. Though I do see this here with the different pieces—gifs, images, text, video—it is in service of a lackluster narrative and makes me notice the degree of disintegration.

                At the end, I give Campbell’s take a 6.5/10.



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.5): The Cook’s Tale (Chaucer Journal)

There is not a lot to say about this tale: the story is simple and comedic but vulgar and lacks the sophistication of the previous tales.

Meet “the cook”. He is an apprentice who likes to gamble and drink but with his master’s money. One day, the master has gotten sick of his underling wasting away his hard-earned cash and fires his lazy bottom. The apprentice, then, moves in with his buddy whose wife is a prostitute. The end.

Not much, as I said. The crux of this tale lies in shock value. The final lines in Chaucer’s original, after all, reads “Whose wife kept as a respectable front / A shop; but earned a living with her cunt” (114). It is vulgar but short and sweet. I supposed that back in the middle ages this was top of the line when it came to obscene literature, though it holds up not so well today in our world of late capitalist enterprise and culture industry.

In any case, and unfortunately, the modern response to The Cook’s Tale is unimpressive.

Told by a Roger Fleming via a stand-up comedy act, I simply didn’t know what was supposed to be amusing about his routine. Habitually, he apologized for certain vulgar or obscene aspects of his act, aspects which really were not that obscene compared to other stand-up comedians’ acts, and never seemed to go that extra mile; the act never felt authentic. Moreover, it simply wasn’t funny. He was going through the motions. I don’t know. Maybe I am being too harsh but it just was not for me.

I will give Fleming props, though; the idea of a stand-up comic fit the short format of the cook’s tale well. Though the content simply wasn’t to my liking, the medium was and kept things different. So, I will give Fleming’s rendition a 5/10 instead of the lower score I had intended for it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Chaucer Filmography

Do you like Chaucer? Do you like films? Do you like films adapted from Chaucer's works?

This is probably a hard question to answer since Hollywood is not exactly clamoring to make hundreds of Chaucer movies. In fact, you maybe have not even seen a film which concerns Chaucer (perhaps, besides, Heath Ledger's "A Knight's Tale").

If you to want to get the low down on some such texts, though, I would recommend checking out this link; it is a filmography of some film adaptations of Chaucer's pieces.Each entry is annotated with descriptions of the film and some technical details.

See also, the various other medieval oriented projects at the bottom of the linked page.

Have fun!