Hobby Horses

John Gray discusses the reissue of A Guide to the Classics or How to Pick the Derby Winner in the Literary Review.

For both authors, the point of betting on the horses was not so much profiting from the wager as the satisfaction that came from picking the winner.

9781845409371-1

Walker Percy Wednesday 147

percycovercroppea

Carl Sagan is right in ridiculing the absurd pseudosciences now so popular. He is admirable in his defense of science as a reliable and self-correcting method of attaining truth.
Yet the fact is that nowadays there is no piece of nonsense that will not be believed by some and no guru or radio preacher, however corrupt, who will not attract a following.
Question: Why are people these days generally indifferent to science and yet willing to believe any absurd claim and any rascal who puts it forward?
(a) Because there is a need in humans for myth, for symbols, to construe and order a confusing and hostile environment—just as there is a need for food, water, shelter, and sex—and the abstract truths in science do not provide this myth.
(b) Because, as Chesterton said, when man stops believing in God, he will believe in anything at all.

(CHECK ONE)

00000

SÖREN KIERKEGAARD MADE a very strange statement. He said that Christianity first brought the erotic spirit into the world. In his arcane style, which often seems designed as much to obfuscate as to enlighten the reader, he wrote: “Sensualism, viewed from the standpoint of Spirit, was first posited by Christianity.” Which is to say, not that sensuality had not existed in the world before in paganism, perhaps in its most perfect expression in Greece, “but not as a spiritual category.” It existed rather as an expression of harmony and unison. “In the Greek consciousness, the sensuous was under the control of the beautiful personality or, more rightly stated, it was not controlled, for it was not an enemy to be subjugated, not a dangerous rebel who should be held in check.” But in the Christian era the sensuous-erotic becomes “a qualified spirituality, that is to say, so qualified that the Spirit excludes it; if I imagine this principle concentrated in a single individual, then I have a concept of the sensuous-erotic genius. This is an idea which the Greeks did not have, which Christianity first brought into the world, even if only in an indirect sense.”
The highest expression of the sensuous-erotic genius, in Kierkegaard’s view, was Mozart’s Don Giovanni: “Mozart is the greatest of classic composers and Don Giovanni deserves the highest place among all classic works of art.”
What is arresting here is Kierkegaard’s view that the Don is to be understood not merely as a roué, a dirty old man reverted to his animal appetites, a sinner, or even as a good pagan, a Greek hedonist, but rather as the inspiration of the flesh by the spirit of the flesh.”
Nor is the “sensuous-erotic” to be understood in modern biological terms as the sex drive and need-satisfaction, but rather as the sensual “spirit” and therefore, in Kierkegaard’s word, as the “demoniac.”
It is this “demoniac” spirit of the erotic which is “posited” by Christianity.
Presumably, Kierkegaard would have no difficulty explaining that national characteristic which has astounded so many foreign visitors to this country: that the United States is at once the most Christian of nations (at least in numbers of churchgoers) and at the same time the most eroticized society in all of history.”

9780312253998_custom-879fe996d0c45da2a69a358283ae164595a77f96-s6-c30

A Companion to Michael Oakeshott

cover