Editorial: Volume 6.1

In “Choose Something Like A Star,” Robert Frost writes,

So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

What is something like a star? In the Ptolemaic cosmos, the stars were images of the beautiful and the incorruptibleheavenly bodies untouched by the decay of those who lived on earth. Though we and Frost live after the Copernican and Galilean revolutions, we can still appreciate the stars as images of the old dispensation. To “choose something like a star” is to choose something beautiful, mysterious, elevated, enduring, something above the praise and blame of an easily swayed mob. To gaze at a star, Frost informs us, “asks of us a certain height.” Not only are the stars themselves lofty, but they also call out a certain loftiness in us. Their elevation evokes our own.

The editors of Ramify and the authors in this present volume aspire to such loftiness. We wish to fix our minds and our readers’ minds on some things like starson questions and texts that are not simply fashionable but enduring and perennial. All the articles in this present volume encourage in the reader a certain height, a certain intellectual ascent. This volume is an exercise in stargazing.

Nature itself is an object worthy of our gaze. Fred Erdman’s review of Interpreting Nature: The Emerging Field of Environmental Hermeneutics raises important questions about the intersection of hermeneutics and environmental philosophy. Erdman wonders particularly about the relationship between science and hermeneutics, given that hermeneutics has the power not only to interpret but also to manipulate scientific facts.

Leta Sundet asks us to consider the perversion of our gaze when our curiosity about evil and suffering becomes voyeuristic and sadistic. According to Sundet, Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov presents such curiosity as a spiritual transgression of which the reader himself is guilty. Against this bleak revelation, Sundet suggests that Dostoevsky offers the reader the same opportunity Alyosha offers Ivanto seek repentance and be made innocent again.

In the pre-modern world, analogies, like the stars, revealed a permanent reality. Pre-modern thinkers accepted the great chain of being, a harmonious image of an ordered world, with each object in its own distinct place but also sharing a family resemblance. Louise Cowan reminds us that analogies draw on that resemblance and assert an ontological connection between objects. Thus, as Cowan points out, to say that God is a father is to say something true, not merely figurative or symbolic. There is a real likeness between the natural and the supernatural realms. According to Cowan, metaphors are the inventions of clever poets, but analogies are the discoveries of genuine likeness. The analogies of older poets ask of us a certain height as we look from one link on the chain of being to the next.

Indeed, the beautiful, lofty figures of Greek myth perennially inspire poets. Rhett Forman’s poem “Peleus” demonstrates that inspiration as it delights in the ecstatic motion of ship and sea and celebrates the titular hero’s love for the Nereides, the daughters of Poseidon. Forman’s poem, a loose translation of Catallus’s “LXIV” in the style of H.D.’s “Helen,” tells an ancient story with fresh language, showing that old wine can be put into new wineskins.

Frost concedes to his star some degree of mystery: “We grant your loftiness the right / To some obscurity of cloud.” Shakespeare’s Henry V is a work of enduring fascination largely because the lofty prince is so mysterious and obscure. However, as Frost informs the star, “But to be wholly taciturn / In your reserve is not allowed.” Moryam Van Opstal seeks to shed light on Henry’s obscurity by exploring the parallels between Shakespeare’s play and the book of Joshua. Henry, unlike Joshua, does not faithfully serve God, nor does he rely on miraculous intervention; instead, he is a virtuous pagan, willing to address God in difficult situations but ultimately trusting in his own abilities and seeking the good of his own nation. Van Opstal argues that, though Henry is not the mirror of all Christian kings, he is also not the devious Machiavellian that some critics make him out to be; he is a prudent king in the tradition of Romulus and Numa.

Stellar beauty may be found in surprising places. Jake Crabbs helps us wonder anew, or perhaps for the first time, at the beauty of common law. Common law, Crabbs contends, is poetry because, like a poem, it uses beautiful language to express “the universal and the eternal.” A return to the beauty and universality of common law would, Crabbs suggests, be a welcome antidote to the ugliness of modern legislation.

Of course, human beings, though full of longing for the permanency of the stars, do not, in fact, share that permanency. Erika Kidd meditates on human frailty, pondering how Augustine understands intimacy with our fellow man, given the reality of death, which seems to put an end to that intimacy. Would it not be wise to protect our hearts from the inevitable hurt that will follow when we become attached to mortal beings? Does God wish us to distance ourselves from the fragile and instead embrace him? In answer, Kidd argues that, for Augustine, “the God who weds beauty to fragility is Christ” whose “heart holds all our more fragile offerings of charity.”

Jamie Lobstein, also reflecting on Augustine, ponders the perennial relationship between God and man: “How,” Lobstein asks, “does God speak to the human soul?” He argues that, for Augustine, God speaks through man’s very nature. Our primary abilitieswill, rational mind, and desiresare “breadcrumbs” left by God that lead us out of the dark wood of disordered love to our true home with Him.

Finally, Gary Borjesson, reflecting on the patient-therapist relationship, shows us that stargazing need not be a solitary activity. Despite the inequality between therapist and patient, Borjesson argues that genuine friendship between them is possible, perhaps even necessary. He shows how the friendship between therapist and patient can help the patient see himself and reality as they truly are. The therapist-friend seeks to free the patient from his passions and his unconscious conditioning, to be governed, as the Western tradition has taught, by his reason. A man free in this way is able to look beyond the praise and blame of the mob or his own unruly nature and apprehend himself and reality rightly.

The exercise of right reason requires that we recognize our place in the great chain of beinganchored to the earth but able to look at the heavens above. The articles found in this volume enact Frost’s stellar exhortation; through them, we invite you to gaze at the stars with us.

Tiffany Schubert
Editor In Chief
Feast of St. Helena
18 August 2017

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