Friday, September 03, 2004

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Yeah, so shoot me

So, I'm not so good at this "regular blogging" thing. Or I'm lazy. Well, that may keep me from ever having anything like, you know, a readership. But otherwise, what does it matter? It's free, after all, and I won't be graded on it. And without a readership, I don't have to worry about ugly things like comments. Just kidding, all you multitudes eager to comment! Comment away, multitudinously if you like.

I've been reading the City of God. Okay, an abridgement thereof. I really need to get hold of the whole thing; I *like* those digressive chapters that the evil, reductionist translators have dared to excise. Irrelavent to his main points my foot! Not that I should be biting the hand that feeds me; oh well. This all goes in with my dad's adjurations to the effect that I should learn Latin. I know, *I'm* the Catholic, *he's* the Latinist of the family. Go figure.

I sometimes wonder if, literarily speaking, the fact that we're entering a post-Latin phase of Western culture is kind of a significant watermark. And in my own, admittedly unsupported opinion, we *are* post-Latin in that respect and going to stay that way. Sure, you can yell at me for historical determinism or materialism or Marxism - that is, for pretending that history has some sort of unstoppable momentum and is not simply a record of things that people have chosen to do or been required to endure. And you can then pound the table and insist that if we shake off this "water over the bridge" mentality as regards the death of Latin, we could well revive it.

Well, just because Marxist history is all wet, doesn't mean that we can actually take the reins of history into our own little hands. After all, while history is not controlled by impersonal sociological forces, it *is* controlled by God and not by us. So, does God want Latin to be the language of learning anymore? He clearly decided to take it away from us for a while. Is He going to give it back?

I don't know. We shouldn't be certain either way. But, never minding the larger implications of a large-scale survival, or non-survival, of Latin (because I don't know enough to comment on it) its vanishment from the literary scene seems to have caused a remarkable shift in literary and rhetorical style. Even across the language gap, I can see a greater stylistic commonality between St. Augustine and English writers of the early nineteenth century, than between writers of etc. and writers of today. A certain formality and precision of phrase that is now relegated to the driest academic writing or the most ironic of modern literatteurs, was merely obligatory for an Englishmen - or American - writing in the 1840's or whatever. They would certainly never have said "or whatever"...and I do not doubt that this precision is inherited directly from the line of great Roman masters of rhetoric. As much as men of the day practically boasted at having forgotten their schoolboy Latin, it still infected them.

Right now is, I suppose, the place to go lamenting over the greatness that was lost and go all elegiac. I've heard any number of such elegies on the advance of barbarism, and maybe it's just a "Latinist thing" that I'll come to sympathise with as I learn the language...but I doubt it. The fact is that, as pilgrims on earth, Catholics cannot allow themselves to cling to any inanimate worldly possession, however beautiful, however unburdensome, and however useful. The Latin language may be all three, but if God wills that we should lose it, we should not only accept it, but accept it with as few sighs and groans as we can manage - and if possible, with a complete lightness of heart. After all, even the most wonderful languages are nothing next to a single soul; they are just wind, and like all other winds will blow away sooner or later.

Anyway, in my own crude and barbaric way, I like the modern sort of loose, "self-centered" style (that is, one that does not "feed", so to speak, on a continuous influence from Latin, but just adheres to a rather sloppier aesthetic all its own). Why shouldn't I? If it lacks a certain grandeur and eloquence, it's still not bad. And we're more or less stuck with it anyway. Even the elegiasts of Latin are not that much more Latinate in their diction and so forth than I am. One nice thing about this modern style is that it reminds me a bit of St. Paul. I know I'm going out on a limb there, having only the vaguest acquaintance with the Greek originals, but it seems to me that even antique English translations of St. Paul's epistles have something "modern" about the style of writing - a lack of rigidity, and a willingness to take structural liberties with the language, which is neither good nor bad in itself, but is simply a different literary approach. And when I look at Fr. Ronald Knox's comments on St. Paul's style, I see that, without showing disrespect to the Apostle, he found it rather convoluted and alien to his own idea of how an epistle ought to be written. Reading St. Paul myself, I find no such separation. To be sure, any man of earlier times could have gotten past this barrier of language to understand the meaning, in many cases far better than myself, but I still think that this is a benefit of our modern style, for Christians anyway.

So, there's my sloppy, barbarian blog post for the day.