Small Rebellions

I consider myself a person of small rebellions.

I have mentioned I am not always engaged in politics as I should like to be; I have also brought up the problem of the cult atmosphere, whether in full-fledged form or simply in the idea that one should circumscribe one’s life to a narrow circle.  This perhaps makes me sound like I am a wannabe revolutionary; I suppose this is true, but not in the obvious ways.  I have sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street movement, but am having difficulty with the destructive without construction aspects of it.  I am much more of a revolutionary in G.K. Chesterton’s sense (but I will write about that another day).

This means that I (as unapologetically as possible) happily study medieval literature and philosophy — together, not in separate disciplines — which confounds both the usual academic internal boundaries and also the call of practical people to study what is useful.  (Such often have an historically limited understanding of what is useful.)  I did my PhD for the purpose of studying the material and learning how to do so better.  When, some weeks before my defense, there was a crisis that might have led to having to rewrite my entire dissertation and possibly even failing my degree, I calmed my fretfulness and panic by considering that I had fallen into the trap of mistaking my ends.  The end of my years as a doctoral student is marked by the diploma, but my end, my telos in studying it, was for the purpose of reading about Dante and Boethius and learning to understand them better.  And if nothing else, I do understand them better; including Boethius’ point that all titles and honours are gifts of Fortune, and may be taken away by her.  But what one learns is one’s own.

A small rebellion: with a very negative external examiner’s report, I went forward to defend my thesis, because what was important to me was what I discovered in the process, the end I sought.  I am glad I succeeded, and will convocate two weeks from now, and rejoice in the gift of Fortune as she rejoices in her giving.  (A point learned from Dante.)  But this experience taught me something about myself, in a small way, that these small battles — even at the time I kept telling myself that in future I would look back and laugh at this series of mishaps — are what create the habits of soul and activity that form our character.

As for the clubs and cults and schools of philosophy: I follow them along so long as they seem to be leading me the right way.  But that doesn’t mean I’ve necessarily swallowed them entire.  This surprises people sometimes, that I will turn aside when it’s time to turn aside, perform a small rebellion against their narrower order.  This might lead to greater rebellions later, as I search for the way to the greater revolutions, Dante’s Empyrean.


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