Editorial: Volume 3, Issue 1

The issue before you is the third of our still nascent journal. The journal is motivated by the belief that the Western tradition informs us, as products of that tradition, even as it is sustained by our participation in it. Yves Congar, in The Meaning of Tradition, observes, “If we remembered nothing it would be impossible to advance; the same would be true if we were bound to a slavish imitation of the past. True tradition is not servility but fidelity.” A great strength of the Braniff school, and by extension its journal, is the understanding that this tradition is neither static nor confined, that our participation in this tradition is defined not by servility, but fidelity. The articles that follow present a small sampling of the vast fabric which constitutes the Western tradition. From the journal’s first inclusion of original poetry and visual artwork, to a re-thinking of the ancient Greek gods, these articles and works of art present the rich tapestry of tradition into which we are woven, and in which we continue to weave.

Weaving, as John Alvis explains, is a “craft which creates strength in fabric by crossing the strands of the warp with the strands of the woof.” In Aeschylus’s Oresteia, Athena herself—the patroness of weaving—is engaged in weaving the theological and the political with the ethical, crossing the familial and the political with the human-divine divides, and thereby practicing the weaver’s art of creating strength through diversity. Her art could serve as a model for the Braniff school’s belief that the various academic disciplines, when in dialogue with one another, find strength in their crossing—coming from and resulting in the vast fabric of the tradition.

Adam Cooper’s discussion of Delta Wedding approaches the Fairchild family “in its little Delta world” and, “by analogy, fundamental aspects of what it means to be part of the human family.” By showing how the warp of the universal weaves itself into a world of human particularity, therefore, Delta Wedding recovers for us “more drowned shades of our human experience” than the particulars of the story could seem to possess at first glance. But the particulars are not lost in the universal, for it is the novel’s tapestry of common things, run through with “a continuous thread of revelation,” that makes it a genuine pattern for profoundly internal and transformative experiences.

The human experience, however, is found not in isolation, but rather within the context of its tradition, being formed by tradition’s invisible bindings. These bindings, when they are revealed, present a fuller understanding of the individual who has been formed by them. The new light cast by seeing a single individual more clearly calls for a re-examination of the tradition as a whole. Traditional wisdom is driven to new articulations by a desire to understand and to understand more fully what is already understood. Jared Brown’s re-examination of Paul’s letter to the Romans through the lens of its rhetorical situation provides a deeper understanding not only of Paul’s letter, but also of the Western world he helped to form, and by extension those who continue to be formed by it.

If individuals who contribute to their tradition are, on the one hand, like threads in the fabric they constitute, then Hegel’s ‘absolute knowing’ is an attempt to transcend the limitations of a view-from-within and see the whole of history as if from a weaver’s perspective. Daniel Arioli argues that by seeking the “suprahistorical vantage point” toward which Hegel pushes, the human being may find unique freedom. This freedom is found in Hegel’s Geist, which promises not omniscience, but “a knowledge of itself as all things and all things as itself.” This difference-in-identity, by enabling the particular to transcend itself, allows for history to be seen as a whole. The whole of history unfolds the tradition, but it is the individual who must understand the tradition as other, all the while remaining shaped by the tradition.

If weaving is the principle of strength through diversity, it is the unity of the parts that presents its strength. Scholarship’s technical means, as strands in the fabric of the intellectual life, certainly have their place; but it is the whole fabric, not its individual strands, that stands as the goal. In approaching and re-approaching a text such as 1 Henry IV, the whole should not be sacrificed for the parts. John Briggs reminds us that it is not “discovering the means of decoding, making, or remaking texts and applying that knowledge to particular social and political ends” that should take precedence (although these too are necessary), but rather “the discussion of ends, meaning, and significance.” These limitless questions of ends, meaning, and significance are what continue to motivate the tradition, which in turn informs our humane interests. Technical interpretations have their place as strands within the larger fabric, but it is only by continuing to “take up and take on” the formative thoughts and texts of past generations that the weaving of the tradition continues to unfold itself.

Andrew Osborn’s poem, Man Carrying “Winnowing Fan,” imagines Odysseus performing the odd journey, or “junket into idiom,” that the gods have demanded of him: to carry an oar so far inland that a people of “loam-dark wine and unsalted bread” will mistake it for a winnowing fan. To carry a thing from one realm of meaning to another: this is what metaphor originally means. Tradition, similarly, is “something given to us across a distance,” simultaneously retaining, losing, and recovering meanings along the way. Odysseus’s metaphoric voyage reminds us of the engulfing Ocean from which idiomatic islands of human culture arise and on whose streams even “land-locked minds” rock back and forth between everyday uses of words and things and their deeper, stranger possibilities. The poem undulates with the “sea’s deep rocking” that an “infant intuits . . . but . . . will forget as she wakes and learns / to walk and weave and grows wise / to her people’s indigenous customs,” suggesting how even in that forgetting there looms the possibility of new recoveries of an original human intuition. As Sarah Francis, whose imaginative “maps of memory” grace our pages, writes, “to truly remember a place” (whether a clear and quiet lake, Odysseus’s Ithaka, or the ocean that an infant intuits) “is somehow to miss it, to . . . ache for it.” She describes her papermaking—the weaving of pure materials into a richly textured background for a work of art—as part of memory’s healing process.

Though theoretical knowledge presents an end in itself, it does not exist alone; rather, it always remains so interwoven with practical concerns that tradition continues to inform even the reason that seeks to re-form it. The rocking to and fro between the theoretical and the practical, between the technical and the broadly human, draws back while pushing forward. In the political this rocking is also felt; so that Nathan Sheely’s re-thinking of Calhoun presents the theoretical woven within the practical-political, revealing that the two are not easily separated. Navigating the political divide between ideology and practical necessity discloses the impossibility of forgetting the particular or of re-writing the past. Only through practical wisdom can the proper applications of theoretical insight be discovered here and now.

Through the crossing of the varied strands of tradition (some new, some old—yet re-made), we present to you, our readers, our third issue. Motivated by fidelity, we seek to take up as rightful heirs the weaving, which is our tradition. Avoiding servility, we seek to take up the limitless questions of ends, meaning, and significance that continue to motivate the tradition into which we have been cast.

Peter S. Hermanson
Editor in Chief

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