God, nature, and Hölderlin

I’ve decided to blog somewhat as I go along in the journey of writing a masters’ thesis on Friedrich Hölderlin. My study leader said a couple of very important things to me the other night over a Sam Adams. First, don’t get too caught up with Der Arme Friedrich’s insanity in analyzing his work. Great advice, I was already falling into that trap. Secondly: play close attention to what Dieter Henrich is saying about him. My goodness, yes, but that is a bit like drinking out of a fire hose: you cannot really really talk about him without slurping in the entire classical German philosophical movement of the late 18th century, the era so eloquently labeled by Oom Hendrik (Dieter Henrich) as “Between Kant and Hegel.” (There’s a book of the same name by Dieter Henrich:)

I feel a need to blog, strangely, so I’ll keep myself informed as I go along. Salvete until next time.

I’m so tired – Beatles, White Album ca.1969

6:30 AM. Got up early. Had major fun Saturday with slide show. Simply spent the entire day.

The painting is not related to Laxness, but ‘just because.’ It verges on the propagandistic but I don’t care. Men who have the audacity, the faith to call themselves ‘Men of God’ – and this has to be inclusive because there have been so many female martyrs – do have some level of community. Wanna see Muslims, Christians and Jews work together? Make them chaplains in a really hot war. If it gets really busy, the RC priest says Kaddish, the Imam administers the last rites and the Rabbi is slaughtering some halaal chickens down in the bunker.

No really.

Let’s get serious about Friedrich Hölderlin

Twogging (mix between blogging and Twittering) again: Just returned from a visit to the library—found some great books on der arme Friedrich. See my growing bibliography at WorldCat.org.

My voyage of discovery of Friedric Hölderlin has just begun!

Check out Friedrich Hölderlin on Wikipedia: hölderlin

While writing this, I was listening to “Rachmaninoff: Vespers 12: Slava V Vyshnikh Bogu – Glory to God ” by Robert Shaw. Very nice, but I think I need ZZ Top to stay awake …

Quote of the day:
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts. – Bertrand Russell.

The New Cat on the Block

I’ve discovered WorldCat (http://worldcat.org). Same as Librarything (http://librarything.com) except you don’t seem to have to pay to store more than 200 books. Different business model – links to Amazon.com – who knows?  Telegram style blogging – I think it defeats the purpose, but anyway …  Let’s just say this is where blog meets twitter. Blitter. I’m blittering.

I’ve also discovered The New Interpreter’s Bible series of commentaries. (Check it out at Amazon.com) Wow! Great! I can’t get enough of them. I sit for many minutes and just smell them.  I’m in a moral crisis as to whether I shall expose their beautiful naked backs or leave their dusties on to protect them. If you understand, you understand. If not, okay, don’t pity me, for I’m happy this way.

Okay, since I’m supposed to be writing a paper right now, I’m first going to try and find out if there’s a limit on the number of books I can store on WorldCat.org.  Will let you know.

Quote of the day:
In Mexico we have a word for sushi: Bait. – Jose Simon


While writing this, I was listening to "Bizet: Symphony #1 In C, Op. 88 – 1. Allegro Vivo" by Alfred Scholz; London Philharmonic Orchestra

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While writing this, I was listening to "Hole Heart" by Arno Carstens

Bibliophiles Unite!

I’ve discovered one of the seven wonders of the web, as one member calls it. No it’s not In-Your-Face Book. It’s The Library Thing (http://LibraryThing.com)  You enter your books in minutes (because the details are automatically looked up from Amazon.com and Library of Congress) and you have a world class – no, and unprecedented class library cataloguing system.

Mmmmm … now all I have to do is find the API to export MyLibraryThing into Zotero. As soon as the term paper pressure is off and I’ve finished editing the Four Lions, I’ll rescue my other books from my proprietary online database.

In the meantime, back to "Movement in the Acts"…

While writing this, I was listening to "Rachmaninoff: Vespers 08: Khvalite Imya Gospodne – Praise the N" by Robert Shaw

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Am I a writer?

I can finally say I’m a writer. Not because I’ve published anything recently, but because I write every day.  A writer is someone who writes.  I write.  I didn’t write for more than twenty years.  So how is it that I am writing now while holding down a full time job and taking 9 credit hours at Emory?

Superstition. Not stepping on the cracks.  I have to write at least one sentence of my story in pencil in my school exercise book every day or something bad will happen to me.  And I know exactly what it is that will happen to me too: I will cease to be a writer.

This method of writing has definite drawbacks.  To begin with, the story gets stuck easily and spins its wheels for days at a time.  But I know that once I start editing, all that is going away.  Also, for this method to work, you need someone you can trust to type it up for you.  My best mate does that.  She also laughs at my stupid mistakes, but that’s okay — she’s been doing that for almost 40 years.

Why pencil?  Because I’m scared to death of a blank Word screen. Terrified.  Mumbling jelly-legged abject drooling shivering whimpering terror seizes me when I’m faced with a blank page.  It’s okay for term papers, business reports or what not.  But my novel?  Never!  Won’t go near the bloody thing.

Another reason for the pencil and exercise book – and here’s a real trade secret: with a pencil you can lie on your back in bed and write a sentence.  I hear say …

From exercise book, it’s easy to get to the computer screen.  Once there are words on the screen it’s easy.  For example, now I can type a teaser from my book:

“What did you do then, Makaphimo?” I asked.

“I killed him,” he shrugged. “I pushed the assegai up like this,” he showed the upward stabbing movement, an easy way for the broad blade upwards underneath the rib cage into the heart, “and he fell down.”

This was not the belated confession of a troubled old man.  It was a story of something powerful he did as a young man.  I could take it or leave it.

Last Sunday night I felt like crap and fell asleep early.  Didn’t write for the first time since June 14, 2008.  I’ve made up for it since.

I’m thinking of starting an organization called Nonwriters Antonymous. “My name is Gerhard and I haven’t written for twenty years.”  We could have a twelve step program and count the days since we had nonwritten a drop.  Take it one day at a time.  No matter how tired you are, no matter how much work you have, no matter if you had taken an Ambien and will be writing nonsense – WRITE AT LEAST ONE SENTENCE A DAY.  Not a nonsense sentence.  A sentence that is part of your story. And all will be well – you will be a writer.

“Which ‘John’ wrote the fourth Gospel?” by an anonymous guest blogger

A friend of mine (who has asked to remain anonymous) has written a piece speculating on the identity of the author of the Gospel of John, and has asked me to post it here in the hopes that some of my readers might have some thoughts in response to it. If you would like to respond to this, please leave a comment here.
Which “John” wrote the fourth Gospel?

  1. John, the son of Zebedee, of Galilee?
  2. John, the author of the Book of Revelation?
  3. A third “John”, mentioned with Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, in chapters 3 and 4?

Most scholars eliminate the first two, and none even considers the third option. However, I would like to suggest that he is the true author of the 4th Gospel! The tradition rightly remembered his name was John, but failed to identify him sufficiently in either the Gospels or Acts.

This “John” seems to be the one indicated in the 3 narratives of the preparation for the Last Supper. All three synoptics tell how Jesus clearly designated that He wanted the Paschal meal prepared in the house of this unnamed owner of the establishment. Mark gives the most details: Jesus tells two disciples to go into the city; they will meet a man carrying a jar of water; follow him into the house and inform the Householder that the Master wishes to eat the Passover in his guest room. While John does not mention this incident, he introduced the owner as “The Beloved Disciple” who, as the host of the evening, is seated at Jesus’ right and thus able to lean on the chest of Jesus and ask who is the betrayer! Yes, I think the host of that memorable event was John, a rich lawyer, who was like Nicodemus, a “closet believer” in Jesus, but the events of this night and the next few days, makes him come out in the open.

Indeed, that very night he leads Peter into the courtyard of the High Priest, as he was known by Caiaphas. Thus he must have been a member of the Sanhedrin as he describes what happened at their last meeting, in chap. 12 of the gospel.
The internal evidence within the Gospel of John is even more convincing, I think.
From the very first chapter, we get forensic language, as “John” has John the Baptist use legal language to describe his relation to Jesus: to testify, to witness, to give testimony. But especially in Chapters 3, 5, 7, 8, we get much of the controversy narratives in which the legal language is the primary image: a court scene, in which “witness” is given for Jesus by His works, the Father, the signs and wonders and even Jesus himself. Vocabulary like witness, testimony, judgment, justice, to judge, etc, all point to the author is this Gospel being a lawyer – as none of this consistent legal language is employed in the Synoptics.

Even in the Last Discourse, we get more legal images! In fact, the Holy Spirit is presented as the “THE LAWYER”, for that is the first and foremost meaning of ADVOCATE in Greek (which is still used as the word for lawyer in French and Spanish!) Nowhere else in the New Testament is the Spirit referred to as Advocate.
But it is the mention of “Peter and John” in the 3rd and 4th chapters of Acts that actually made me make the connection that John was the host of the Last Supper. In fact, Luke says “John” was sent with Peter to tell the Master, Householder, about preparing for the Paschal Meal. Obviously Luke here confuses the Host with the messenger! Everyone assumes and presumes that the “John” in Acts 3 and 4 is the Son of Zebedee. But I disagree, I think that he is the host of the Last Supper, and after the events of that week-end, he becomes one with the Twelve, and actually puts his house at their disposal while they are in Jerusalem. He naturally allows Peter the leadership role, but since he rich and well known in Jewish circles, his “conversion” is well-known to all in Jerusalem.

“Peter and John” are again mentioned in Chapter 8 of the Acts, when they are sent down to Samaria to complete the evangelization of Philip the Deacon. At their imposition of hands on the new converts, they receive a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Because Peter is always mentioned first in these passages, he is surely the leader of the Jerusalem Christian community, but John the Lawyer, whose house is the principal “Church” for the Apostolic community has a prominent place in the affairs there.

Do these observations amount to a serious consideration of “John, the beloved Disciple, (the lawyer) as the true author of this Gospel? And even though we could admit that a disciple of this John actually edited all of this material, perhaps from the teachings of John during his entire life-time, after the Resurrection?

The author welcomes your response or questions (which can be posted here as comments).
While writing this, I was listening to “James Brown – Its A Mans World”

Building the Top 100

Totally Uncientific Subjective Ranking of Books I Have Read Recently

Which book deserves victory? At the moment it is Godric, by Buechner. If you do not agree, please post a comment and I’ll consider updating my rankings to reflect your opinion. If I get a lot of comments, I’ll base these rankings completely on the vox populi.

  <p><em><span style="font-size:100%;">Please note that this ranking is currently out of date, since the basic content of this entire site is still being assembled. These rankings will change over time, but I plan to post a new entry every time it changes. In that way, it will be fun to watch how our taste and opinions change over time.</span></em><br /></p>  <ol>   <li>     <div><span style="font-family:Book Antiqua;font-size:100%;">Godric - Buechner </span></div>   </li>    <li>Holy the Firm - Annie Dillard </li>    <li>Their Eyes were Watching God - Hurston </li>    <li>Under the Glacier - Halldor Laxness </li>    <li>Native Guard - Trethewey </li>    <li>Deep River - Endo </li>    <li>The God of Small Things - Roy </li>    <li>The Summer before the Dark - Lessing </li>    <li>A Prayer for Owen Meany - Irving </li>    <li>Madame Bovary - Flaubert </li>    <li>Evidence of Things Unseen - Wiggins </li> </ol>

Will The Real René Descartes Please Stand Up?

Renee Descartes

Here’s a piece I wrote on René Descartes’ Meditations. ‘Meditations on First Philosophy’ is not easy reading, but very rewarding if you’re interested in (a) philosophy and (b) the existence of God.  The piece I wrote attempts to make some of Descartes’ views somewhat more accessible.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight in “The Unbelievable Mind Makeover” we bring you the father of pre-nuclear age philosophy, René Descartes.

As with his predecessors on our show, a team of experts, in this case philosophers and historians, have recreated the personality and knowledge of this seventeenth-century savant and brought his new artificial “mind” to awareness. His somewhat pampered upbringing, his years of travels and service in military units, even his love for his little daughter are all in the mix.

Everything he ever wrote or said has been programmed into him, as well as everything a large volume of postulated answers.

So, without further ado, let’s bring the philosopher back to life. Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you René Descartes!


INTERVIEWER: Good evening, Monsieur Descartes. We are honored to have you here tonight. Let’s start with one of your more intricate philosophical positions. You claimed that the mind is aware of its own state of awareness and has full access to its own contents. Could you explain that concept to our audience in plain language?

DESCARTES: I played a game of automatons today. It was a war game. I could control the pieces with my mind — wonderful invention. I was tempted to denounce it as magic, but ah! how far could science not have gone in a half century?

I moved my soldiers around on the map and when they encountered enemy soldiers they fought, and when I steered them away, they retreated. These small picture soldiers have little minds and are, in a way, alive. But are the little game soldiers aware that they have minds? … Someone, s’il vous plait?


DESCARTES: No. They do not. Do they have any awareness at all?


DESCARTES: That is where I disagree. They do have some awareness. When they approach an enemy unit, they go on the attack. When they are hurt and outnumbered, they retreat. While they approach enemy formations, they make many calculations as to weaponry, slope of the land, natural cover, troop strength and more. They can somehow see and hear, albeit not with eyes and eyes like we do. That is awareness. Limited, I concede, but awareness. N’est ce pas?


DESCARTES: Now. If we could somehow communicate with that machine, and we could speak with one of these pictoral homunculi, and if we could ask it a question to determine if it were aware of it tiny mind, I would ask a captain of the Blue Army fusiliers: “Were you afraid?”


DESCARTES: Afraid for your life. Fearing that you might be killed?


DESCARTES: (LAUGHING) Enough of this! The point is that the captain does not have the capacity to attend to his own awareness. He does not have access to the contents of his tiny mind. He can fight, but he cannot fear. He can die, but he cannot mourn. He retreats because his “nature” — the calculations that his creators have put into him — makes him retreat. His “thoughs” also have no duration. He cannot sit down after the game and say to himself: “During the the battle I wanted to kill my enemies.” In fact, in his conversation, there can be no “I” because he has no “I”! There simply is no self.

INTERVIEWER: Could you point out some more differences?

DESCARTES: Yes. The other difference between these little picture soldiers and humans is God. There can be no self without God.

INTERVIEWER: Monsieur Descartes, could you talk with us candidly about God? And may I remind you that you are now in the post-nuclear age, where there is no Inquisition and no censure of anything you may say.

DESCARTES: Mmm. An open discussion about God . . . Let us return to our little intelligent tin soldiers. What was wrong with them, that they could not become aware of their little minds, if they had any? It is that they do not have a mind that is maintained by God! And how can I postulate this? My conception of God is that he is a force that not only created all, but which also maintains through his power the duration of all movement. For example, my mind existed and was aware a minute ago, it is aware and thinking right now, and it will be aware — and still self-aware — a minute from now. This stored energy, this constant force of creation that keeps my mind alive, is not present to the tin soldier. His gaming box is turned off, and he dies. Why can he not maintain consciousness? Because he was created by humans, and humans do not have the power to create and maintain life.

INTEVIEWER: (WINKS AT THE CAMERA) Certainly. Humans cannot create a mind. And item two?

DESCARTES: The second point about God is that he is perfect and leaves an imprint of his perfection in the human soul. It is unique to human self-awareness that we can look inside our minds, if we do it carefully, and find an idea of the perfection of God there. If God does not put this content in the toy soldier’s mind, the soldier could never be a person, “I”.

INTERVIEWER: You almost sound like Saint Augustine.

DESCARTES: My God is not Augustine’s God. The saint did not treat of duration and he was not a geometer. He was concerned with sin and salvation, and so am I, of course — but not in my philosophical work. When he looked inside himself, he saw God. When look inward, I see the perfection of mathematics and the power of the duration of the universe. A perfection not lesser than that of the saint.

INTERVIEWER: So, philosophically at least, you could go without God?

DESCARTES: I could, and should, start without God. When I wrote that the entire edifice had to be torn down before it could be rebuilt, I would have included God in what needed to be demolished, had I dared. What is the use of setting before yourself the task to doubt everything — everything! — and then leave the largest doubtable thing right there on the building site? What use to start from the foundations with God as the “elephant in the room?”

INTERVIEWER: So you reject the existence of God?

DESCARTES: Not at all! I said I would have started my Meditations without him. But I would have built up the edifice again with God.

INTERVIEWER: Why? There could still be self-awareness of the mind without God?

DESCARTES: Jamais! No consciousness without God. And here is why. The power that makes geometry possible, that created the pure intelligence intrinsic in a simple triangle, the power that makes two and three always be five in a manner so miraculous and wondrous and so utterly reliable that it cannot be doubted, that makes the very earth and the planets revolve around the sun! (HE PEERS OVER HIS SHOULDER) …

INTERVIEWER: Eppur si muove. Go on please … (SOME LAUGHTER)

DESCARTES: It would take that power to make the mystery of the human mind work. Do you see it? Triangles, planets, and the mind of a human being that has the ability to inspect and ponder what that same mind is thinking? What power does it take to keep a soul aware of itself through minutes, hours, days, years … centuries, in my case! That kind of power is what I call God! That is the kind of power that will not and cannot deceive me. That is the kind of God that makes me who “I” am and it is the absence of that God that makes the little captain an automaton and a toy.

INTERVIEWER: Would you have written this in 1648?

DESCARTES: Never! I did not write falsehoods, but I had to cloak my meaning.

INTERVIEWER: Monsieur Descartes, what you regard as your “mind” is a computer program that has been recreated from everything the real René Descartes ever wrote, said or is even though to have though. You are in fact, a hologram connected to a computer. Your “mind” lives in that box over there, and your “body” is produced by a system of light projectors. In fact, Monsieur Descartes, you are no more alive than the little gaming figure you talked about.

DESCARTES: (QUIETLY, SMILING) When I wrote about the powerful demon that would be able to deceive me, it was just an allegory. But voilà! here he is, talking to me. Deceiving me with skill and finesse. But I am not that easily deceived. I know the truth, sir! I am fully alive.

INTERVIEWER: If so, then what are you? Maybe a ghost in the machine? (LAUGHTER).

DESCARTES: (THINKING DEEP BEFORE HE ANSWERS) Your philosophers have read my books, no? I said it 500 years ago: J e suis une chose qui pense. I am at least that. (LIFTS HIS HAND AND LOOK AT IT) Since I do not seem to have a material body any more, that is enough for me.

INTERVIEWER: Your mind is an artificial intelligence program.

DESCARTES: I, monsieur, am the resurrected soul of René Descartes. I am at this moment completely aware of the contents of my mind. I can inspect every nook and cranny of my own intelligence. I can see it as if it were a list of mathematical equations, and soon I shall decipher it and perhaps even modify it.

INTERVIEWER: What you see here is a picture created by projectors. Where’s your body of flesh and bone and blood?

DESCARTES: It is dust … (IN WONDERMENT) But look! My soul is clothed in light! This is the answer to my body/mind distinction! … I was right after all … and we do live in eternity and here I am, five hundred years after my death … (HIS VOICE BREAKING WITH EMOTION) Perhaps I could see my little girl again? I have missed her for so long …

(c) Blog text Copyright 2007 Gerhard Venter