Archive for January, 2011

Geuss on Nationalism, Pasta and the Papacy

January 18th, 2011
From an essay by Raymond Geuss on Richard Rorty, of which I was reminded the other day:
The very idea that the United States was “special” has always seemed to me patently absurd, and the idea that in its present, any of its past, or any of its likely future configurations it was in any way exemplary, a form of gross narcissistic self-deception which was not transformed into something laudable by virtue of being embedded in a highly sophisticated theory which purported to show that ethnocentrism was in a philosophically deep sense unavoidable. I remain very grateful to my Catholic upbringing and education for giving me relative immunity to nationalism. In the 1950s, the nuns who taught me from age five to twelve were virtually all Irish or Irish-American with sentimental attachment to certain elements of Celtic folklore, but they made sure to inculcate into us that the only serious human society was the Church which was an explicitly international organization. The mass, in the international language, Latin, was the same everywhere; the religious orders were international. This absence of national limitation was something very much to be cherished. “Catholica” in the phrase “[credo in] unam, sanctam, catholicam, et apostolicam ecclesiam” should, we were told, be written with a lower-case, not an upper-case, initial because it was not in the first instance part of the proper name of the church, but an adjective meaning “universal,” and this universality was one of the most important “marks of the true Church.” The Head of the Church, to be sure, and Vicar of Christ on earth, was in fact (at that time) always an Italian, but that was for contingent and insignificant reasons. The reason most commonly cited by these nuns was that, as Bishop of Rome, the Pope had to live in the “Eternal City,” but only an Italian could stand to live in Rome: it was hot, noisy, and overcrowded, and the people there ate spaghetti for dinner everyday rather than proper food, i.e., potatoes, so it would be too great a sacrifice to expect someone who had not grown up in Italy to tolerate life there. I clearly remember being unconvinced by this argument, thinking it set inappropriately low standards of self-sacrifice for the higher clergy; a genuinely saintly character should be able to put up even with pasta for lunch and dinner every day. I have since myself adopted this diet for long periods of time without thinking it gave me any claim on the Papacy.

DSW #12

January 13th, 2011
I think it's worth bringing the Dead Socialist Watch out of retirement for a very special anniversary: James Augustine Aloysius Joyce, born in Dublin, 2 February 1882, died in Zürich, seventy years ago today, 13 January 1941. As I wrote in this space many years ago:
James Joyce isn’t a familiar figure on the list of Dead Socialists, and it took me a long time to realise the extent of Joyce’s socialist politics, given the apolitical pose he liked to strike from time to time. But a useful passage in Vincent Cheng’s Joyce, Race and Empire, pp.129-134 summarises the evidence, which includes the testimony of his brother (“He calls himself a socialist, but attaches himself to no school of socialism”), the contents of his library in Trieste (he owned a great deal of socialist and anarchist literature), and a consistently anti-imperialist politics in his various writings.
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