Reflections on Leaving Oxford

Sweet dreams are made of this… (Source)

I have, by the merciful grace of God, passed my M.Phil in Theology at Oxford. I could not have done so without the abundant help of my supervisors and tutors, principally Dr. Sarah Apetrei, as well as the many friends and family who supported me throughout the course of my studies there. Latterly this endeavor has caused me to neglect my blogging, for which I must beg pardon of my readers. Editing, submissions, an examination, travelling, and the arduous business of moving back across the Atlantic has distracted me. So has the bittersweet task of saying goodbye to so many friends, men and women I will miss in the years to come.

Oxford is most beautiful in the Spring. Photo taken by author.

I can understand why our soon-to-be-Saint Newman had so much trouble getting Oxford out of his blood. The place is a mirage in silver and stone. To have dwelt in such a dream-city for so long a time, to have been part of its inner life, to have shaped it according to one’s own character and to be shaped by it in turn, to watch the sun and the rain succeed in their seasons over streets imbued everywhere with a boundless sense of eternity…yes, I can see why Newman was always looking for a path back to this northern Eden. A Papal angel kept him from the gate. More prosaic barriers have turned me aside, namely, the prospects of an academic career in America.

But, in some way, the greater grief is leaving the United Kingdom. Shakespeare called Albion a swan’s nest in a stream. Having traveled from London to Birmingham, from Cardiff to York, from Tenby to Bournemouth, from Cambridge to Edinburgh, from Bath to Stratford, from Walsingham to Wakefield, in short, across the whole face of this country, I can start to see what he means. Britain possesses a peculiar beauty in grey-green and gold, something delicate and immortal that only reveals itself to an attentive foreigner. I shall miss it.

The St. Sepulchre Chapel, Winchester Cathedral. Photo taken by author.

More than that, I’ll miss the many friends I made in my two years abroad. Not just English either, though there were plenty of those – but also Canadians, Russians, Australians, Irish (both orange and green), French, Armenians, Italians, Romanians, Scots, Sri Lankans, Welsh, Poles, Chinese, and even some of my fellow countrymen. The story of my time in Oxford would not be complete without them. I will feel the absence of each, some more keenly than others.

St. Stephen’s House in the snow, January 2019. Photo taken by author.

I suppose this is as good a time as ever to take stock of some of my travels through life at large. I am 24 years old. I have visited 12 countries beyond the borders of the United States:

The United Kingdom
France
Ireland
Belgium
The Netherlands
Italy
Austria
The Czech Republic
Hungary
Romania
Bermuda
Vatican City

And 14 if one includes layovers and train connections in Germany and Switzerland. I have stood at the banks of the following rivers:

The Thames in London
The Thames in Oxford (Isis)
The Thame in Dorchester (before it becomes the Thames)
The Cherwell
The Liffey
The Seine
The Amstel
The Arno
The Rhône
The Saône
The Tiber
The Danube
The Lys
The Usk
The Avon in Bath
The Loire
The Cam

I have spent quite a lot of time in churches. A few favorites in England include the Oxford Oratory, the York Oratory, the Birmingham Oratory, Magdalen College Chapel, Worcester College Chapel, Oriel College Chapel, Merton College Chapel, St. Stephen’s House Chapel, St. Etheldreda’s, Holborn, and the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. My single favorite church in England remains the Brompton Oratory, as it has been since that first June day I stepped into its vast and holy darkness, four years ago.

A favorite country church – St. Swithun’s, Compton Beauchamp. Full of delightfully ironic Georgian monuments and a complete refurbishment by Martin Travers in the 1930s. The setting is beautiful, too. (Source)

I have so far managed to get to the following Cathedrals (and Abbeys) in England, of which the first two are my favourites:

Winchester Cathedral
Gloucester Cathedral
Norwich Cathedral
Oxford Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral
York Minster
Wakefield Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral
St. Giles’s, Edinburgh
Westminster Cathedral
Westminster Abbey
Bath Abbey
Malmesbury Abbey

Plus some lovely country churches – East Coker, Burford, Stow-on-the-Wold, Binsey, and my very favorite, St. Swithun’s, Compton Beauchamp.

In Ireland, Silverstream Priory remains the most spiritually nourishing place I have ever been; its beauty and its holiness are always palpable.

The Ghent Altarpiece. Seeing this for the first time last February in Saint Bavo’s Cathedral was one of the best moments of my two years abroad. (Source)

My travels on the Continent have been full of their own various ecclesiastical delights, so I’ll only mention a few highlights. My favorite cathedral in the world is St. Bavo’s, Ghent, which represents the perfect fusion of Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, and 19th Century styles. In France, the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal in the Rue du Bac, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, Lyon Cathedral, Notre-Dame de Fourvière, and Saint-Just in Lyon are a few holy places I will not easily forget. Recently, I visited De Krijtberg in Amsterdam, which is the best example of painted Neo-Gothic I have seen beyond the Sainte-Chapelle. Italy is too full of wonderful churches to count, as are the old Hapsburg lands. If I were to choose a favorite in each, I suppose I would have to list the Chiesa Nuova (St. Philip Neri’s home and final resting place) in Italy, as well as Stift Heiligenkreuz in Austria, the Matthias Church in Hungary, and St. Vitus Cathedral in the Czech Republic. Though, to be fair, I visited several of these a few years ago rather than on this late sojourn in Europe.

The cloisters, Gloucester Cathedral. America’s greatest fault probably lies in having no Medieval structures in situ. Photo taken by author.

I list these travels not out of any boasting, and, perhaps, not even for my readers. If anything, I do it for myself. I am more interested in remembering these places; writing about them has given me occasion to reminisce, to try and recapture something of the pleasure they gave me once.

I have been very blessed in life. I praise the Good Lord for allowing me the chance to see a bit of the world, to have done useful work, to have read interesting books, to have seen beautiful things, to have drank some good wine, and to have known such wonderful people. What more can one ask for in this brief life?

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Proceedings of the 27th Annual Conference for Wonka Studies

Problematic. (Source)

Editor’s Introduction

When the definitive cultural history of our late capitalist political moment is written, much will be said about the seminal influence of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This 1971 film, emerging in the context of the Nixon administration, the War in Vietnam, and an ongoing reassessment of America’s place in the social, political, and ecological world, is still as fresh and potent as the first day it opened in theaters. Taken collectively with its originating text by Roald Dahl and subsequent re-make by Tim Burton, the Wonka Cycle constitutes one of the fundamental cinematic expressions of postmodern anxiety and self-reflexivity. Can it be any surprise that this complex contemporary fable has spawned a burgeoning field of scholarship?

While none of this will surprise Wonka specialists who seek out this volume, the lay reader may be surprised to know the extent to which Wonka as a text has risen to its prominent status in such a short time. For the benefit of such a reader, I will provide a brief literature review of the field.

Wonka Studies was initiated in 1987 with the publication of Jonathan Mortman’s “Oompa-Loompas of the World Unite: A Marxist Reading of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (Forth 03, Fall 1987). Much has transpired since Mortman’s widely-acclaimed essay; the field has since evolved into an important sub-discipline of cultural and critical studies. The convening of the first Conference for Wonka Studies at Blippensbild College in 1992 disseminated various advances in Wonka scholarship made in the wake of Mortman’s intervention. Yet it was not until the following year that we start to see the first Wonka Studies seminars open on a test-case basis in various major research universities.

Scholars are divided as to the true political position of the Wonka Cycle. Heidi Zolker and Brian Stafford-Jones famously argued in their 1994 missive, “Oompa-Loompa Rights are Human Rights” (Force 17, Spring 1994) that the musical sequences of the film contain a carnivalesque critique of capitalist labor relations. This view would have become the established orthodoxy had not Leopold Öngg published his magisterial “Of Wonka and Wankers: The Golden Ticket as Phallocentric Signifier of Biopower” (Oberflächlichenstudien 03, Summer 1996). Drawing upon the insights of Foucault and Derrida, Öngg argued that the incentive-structure inscribed into the plot of Willy Wonka took an inherently apologetic stance towards the forces of patriarchal capital. Without denying the subversive elements identified by Zolker and Stafford-Jones, Öngg suggested that the anti-capitalist performances were akin to the economic logic of early National Socialism. “Wonka is a Strasserite. Behind and, indeed, beneath the Chocolate Factory, lurks the gas chamber,” wrote Öngg in a memorable and much-quoted phrase.

This central question – whether Wonka is a communist or a fascist – occupied much of the debate throughout the nineties. The important interventions by Julia Linley (Forts 16, Summer 1997), Oswald Glover (Forks 28, Fall 1998) and Eric Breedlove (Folks 30, Winter 1999) all respond to this controversy in some way.

Yet starting in 2002 with the rediscovery of early middle French theory, Wonka scholars began to move away into more reflexive and less strictly partisan approaches to the material. At the same time, more attention was given to the gender and class dynamics outside the Factory itself. Ernest Grenouille’s “We Are All Grandpa Joe” (Färt48, Spring 2003) was an important model of this “Humanizing” Turn. The wider socio-political, cultural, and economic troubles of the new millennium also found their place in the new scholarship. The significant upshoot of articles about Slugworth in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis (Karawasi 2009; Davison 2009; LeBocq 2010) are just one example among many.

Recent work has been equally attuned to our political moment. That much was clear to all the attendees and presenters at the 27th Annual Conference for Wonka Studies, which convened at South Mercury University and Ladies’ Seminary from 6-9 February, 2019. The essays included in this collection form the core of a radically self-conscious response to our era. For instance, Hilda Davis-Davies argues in her powerful intervention, “The Queering of Violet Beauregard,” that that character undergoes what is actually a transfiguration into a radically non-heteronormative and (more importantly?) non-speciesist physicality. Violet Beauregard thus becomes a model of praxis, and not without a certain jouissance. Jean-Claude LaMerde brings a psychoanalytic lens to the famous Augustus Gloop scene in his “Gloop/Narcissus: A Neo-Lacanian Reading.” LaMerde dares to ask, “Is the chocolate river in fact an objet a?” Fistula Pepper responds to the broader need to make Wonka Studies more interdisciplinary with her Film studies essay, “From Wonka to Cremaster: Interrogations of Late Capitalism in Cyclic Film.” Her comparison of these two masterpieces opens new cultural insights.

Yet all of the twenty-one essays published here break new ground. The future of Wonka Studies as a discipline is bright as a Golden Ticket.

Vincent Hingendingus,
State University of Marshwater

Table of Contents

I. There is Nothing Outside the Factory: Derrida’s Of Grammatology and the Factory as Spatial Arbiter of Semantic Meaning in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Nils Ländstroop

II. “I’ve Got Another Puzzle for You” : Strategies of Negotiated Subalternity and the Representation of the Racial Other in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Leonora Hedley-Hadley

III. Does Charlie Bucket Punch Down?

Fergus Fripp

IV. “I Want It Now!” : Veruca Salt as Model of Radical Feminist Praxis

Joanna Cornwallis

V. “If You Are Wise You’ll Listen to Me” : Critical Re/Readings of Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Brutus Catflap

VI. The Chocolatier’s Two Bodies

Stephen Piker

VII. To Win is to Suffer: The Final Confrontation in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as Turnerian Rite of Passage

The Rev. Dr. Aldo von Krefeld-Lipniz

VIII. The Queering of Violet Beauregard

Hilda Davis-Davies

IX. Gloop/Narcissus: A Neo-Lacanian Reading

Jean-Claude LaMerde

X. “Is the Hurricane A-Blowing?”: The Willy Wonka Boat Ride as Bourgeois Representation of 1960’s Radicalism

Alfonse Catelli

XI. Eco-Geographies of Consumption in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Sharon Oldbeck

XII. “Pure Imagination” and the Impure Imaginary of Late Capitalism

Cynthia Abschreiber

XIII. A Thousand Candied Plateaus: Latent Rhizomatic Constructions of Subjectivity in the Wonka Cycle

Pokey O’Clanahan

XIV. Post-Oedipal Constructions of Parenthood in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Karl Eimer

XV. “The Candy Man Can” : Gender and Linguistic Power in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Butch McCracken

XVI. The Factory as Simulacrum: Landscape, Consumption, and Constellations of Subjectivity in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Cvetko Dmikoviç

XVII. Wonkavision and the Ship of Theseus

Angus Leroy Huntingdon III

XVIII. From Wonka to Cremaster: Interrogations of Late Capitalism in Cyclic Film

Fistula Pepper

XIX. Spectacles of Sweetness: Touring the Chocolate Factory with Guy Debord

Plum Darndot

XX. A Journal of Courage: A History of Wonkastudien

Wolf Vielfraß

XXI. Decolonizing Wonka Studies

Becky Carrington Hughes

Life Update: Doctoral Studies

Old Main. Photo taken by author, March 2019.

My dear friends and readers,

I am pleased to announce that I have accepted an offer to pursue a Ph.D. in History at Pennsylvania State University in State College, PA, having been awarded a University Graduate Fellowship. I will be working with Dr. Ronnie Po-chia Hsia, known for his scholarship on transnational Catholic reform and mission work in the early modern world. I have had the chance to meet with Dr. Hsia a few times now, and I am really looking forward to engaging with him and the rest of the faculty. The graduate cohort really impresses me, too. On a recent trip to State College, I was happy to discover that my future colleagues in the doctoral program were not only brilliant, but very friendly as well. All in all, it’s a great opportunity. I’m both honored and excited to join the intellectual community there.

My work will probably focus on what I currently study: Catholicism in the long 18th century, with a thematic focus on discourses of the supernatural and gender as well as a regional focus on Western Europe, especially France. My hope is to become more global as I advance in language skills and crystallize my theoretical and methodological foundation.

For me, going to Penn State is something of a homecoming. My ancestors lived in central Pennsylvania for generations. My father grew up in State College, and I still have some family in the area. There are photos of me as a kid standing behind the lion paws at the Palmer Museum of Art; my new office will be located in an attractive old Spanish revival building just across the street. I take this coincidence as a sign of Providence. I thought the same thing when, walking into the Corner Room for lunch, I discovered a large sign over the bar with the words “Haec Olim Meminisse Juvabit” – the motto of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society. There’s a sense of circularity in the journey to Happy Valley.

I’m very grateful to everyone – family, friends, mentors, recommenders, advisors, and others – who have helped me along to this point. I truly could not have gotten here without so many incredible people supporting me. And of course, I am grateful to those heavenly friends who interceded for me along the way – especially at key moments of this last application process. With them, please pray for me as I commence the final act at Oxford and begin a new chapter in my life at Penn State.

And yes, I realize what this means – the Amish Catholic returns to Amish country. Go figure.

Time to weitermachen. (Source)

An Oxonian Blog Worth Reading

The dreaming spires of Oxford. (Source)

I have just discovered that Once I Was a Clever Boy, a blog I used to enjoy but was sorry to see in hiatus, has returned. John Whitehead, the blog’s author, is a friend and a Brother of the Little Oratory here in Oxford. He hasn’t put up any new content recently. Nevertheless, there was a long time when for whatever technical reason – either on John’s end or mine, I was never sure – the blog was totally inaccessible. I’m very happy to see it’s back, and I look forward to more content from this quintessentially Oxonian blog.

Newman and Divine Providence

Bl. John Henry Newman, Doctor of Conscience and Doctor of Tradition, remains one of my dear friends in Heaven. Some of his prayers and devotions are as puissant today as they were when they were first composed. I am consoled by and draw courage from this extended passage of the Meditations and Devotions:

I have always thought this portrait captures the humanity and essential kindness of Cardinal Newman. (Source)

GOD has created all things for good; all things for their greatest good; everything for its own good. What is the good of one is not the good of another; what makes one man happy would make another unhappy. God has determined, unless I interfere with His plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it me.

God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not. There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways by which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our souls are very different from each other. Thus God leads us by strange ways; we know He wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind; left to ourselves we should take the wrong way; we must leave it to Him.

Let us put ourselves into His hands, and not be startled though He leads us by a strange way, a mirabilis via, as the Church speaks. Let us be sure He will lead us right, that He will bring us to that which is, not indeed what we think best, nor what is best for another, but what is best for us.

O, my God, I will put myself without reserve into Thy hands. Wealth or woe, joy or sorrow, friends or bereavement, honour or humiliation, good report or ill report, comfort or discomfort, Thy presence or the hiding of Thy countenance, all is good if it comes from Thee. Thou art wisdom and Thou art love—what can I desire more? Thou hast led me in Thy counsel, and with glory hast Thou received me. What have I in heaven, and apart from Thee what want I upon earth? My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the God of my heart, and my portion for ever.

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.

O Adonai, O Ruler of Israel, Thou that guidest Joseph like a flock, O Emmanuel, O Sapientia, I give myself to Thee. I trust Thee wholly. Thou art wiser than I—more loving to me than I myself. Deign to fulfil Thy high purposes in me whatever they be—work in and through me. I am born to serve Thee, to be Thine, to be Thy instrument. Let me be Thy blind instrument. I ask not to see—I ask not to know—I ask simply to be used.

(Meditations and Devotions “Hope in God – Creator”)

Faber’s Oxford Poems: Part I

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A view of the Bodleian Library from Radcliffe Square. Photo taken by author.

Fr. Frederick William Faber, that great son of St. Philip, was one of the many Oxford converts. He was a Balliol man who later became a fellow of University College, where he embarked on an ecclesiastical career as an Anglican. Later, of course, he came to the Church of Rome and founded the London Oratory. But as I am now settling back into Oxford, I thought it might my readers might enjoy a few of his poems about life at the University. I’ll probably break the collection up into a few different posts. Although Faber was later famous as a hymn-writer, in his youth he was a Romantic poet who won the admiration of none other than Wordsworth, whom he met in the Lake District. Faber’s style may be rather too Victorian for our tastes today. They also represent his spirituality at a very immature stage, when he was still an Anglican. The contrast between “College Chapel’s” rather pathetic final line and Faber’s “Muscular” pose in “College Hall” amuses, to say the least. But occasionally, as in “College Garden,” his sensuality and yearning anticipate the best of the Decadents who came at the end of the century. Finally, I’ll add that Faber’s romantic attachment to the legends and traditions of the English medieval monastics once again confirms my point that there remains an abiding affinity between the Oratorian and Benedictine charisms. 

College Chapel

A shady seat by some cool mossy spring,
Where solemn trees close round, and make a gloom,
And faint and earthy smells, as from a tomb,
Unworldly thoughts and quiet wishes bring:
Such hast thou been to me each morn and eve;
Best loved when most thy call did interfere
With schemes of toil or pleasure, that deceive
And cheat young hearts; for then thou mad’st me feel
The holy Church more night, a thing to fear.
Sometimes, all day with books, thoughts proud and wild
Have risen, till I saw the sunbeams steal
Through painted glass at evensong, and weave
Their threefold tints upon the marble near,
Faith, prayer, and love, the spirit of a child!

College Hall

Still may the spirit of the ancient days
Rest on our feasts, nor self-indulgence strive
Nor languid softness to invade the rule,
Manly, severe, and chastethe hardy school
Wherein our might fathers learnt to raise
Their souls to Heaven, and virtue best could thrive.
They, who have felt how oft the hour is past
In idle, worldly talk, would fain recall
The brazen Eagle that in times of yore
Was wont to stand in each monastic hall;
From whence the Word, or some old Father’s lore,
Or Latin hymns that spoke of sin and death
Were gravely read; and lowly-listening faith
In silence grew, at feast as well as fast.

College Garden

Sacred to early morn and evening hours,
Another chapel reared for other prayers,
And full of gifts,smells after noon-day showers,
When bright-eyed birds look out from leafy bowers,
And natural perfumes shed on midnight airs,
And bells and old church-clocks and holy towers,
All heavenly images that cluster round.
The rose, and pink acacia, and green vine
Over the fretted wall together twine,
With creepers fair and many, woven up
Into religious allegories, made
All out of strange Church meanings, and inlaid
With golden thoughts, drunk from the dewy cup
Of morns and evenings spent in that dear ground!

College Library

A churchyard with a cloister running round
And quaint old effigies in act of prayer,
And painted banners mouldering strangely there
Where mitered prelates and grave doctors sleep,
Memorials of a consecrated ground!
Such is this antique room, a haunted place
Where dead men’s spirits come, and angels keep
Long hours of watch with wings in silence furled.
Early and late have I kept vigil here:
And I have seen the moonlight shadows trace
Dim glories on the missal’s blue and gold,
The work of my monastic sires that told
Of quiet ages men call dark and drear,
For Faith’s soft light is darkness to the world.

My First Year at Grad School in Twelve Musical Selections

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A still from Farinelli. This was the year I both became an 18th century scholar and discovered Castrato arias. (Source)

12. “Somebody That I Used to Know” only Vaporwave.

11. “Sumer is Icumen In,” from The Wicker Man (1973).

10. “Demons,” by Alex and “Sleep Games,” by Pye Corner Audio.

9. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake theme.

8. Psalm 129 from King’s College Choir, Cambridge.

7. The soundtrack from Le Roi Danse.

6. “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman.

5. “Pur Ti Miro,” by Monteverdi.

4. The Little Match Girl Passion, by David Lang

3. The Farinelli soundtrack.

2. Michael Nyman’s “The Garden is Becoming a Robe Room,” “Prospero’s Magic,” and “Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds.”

1. Various Arias from Handel, especially Rinaldo‘s “Il Vostro Maggio” and “Lascia Ch’io Piangia” as well as most of “Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne.”

 

The Voice of Arthur Machen

GreatGodPanBeardsley.jp

The title illustration of Machen’s The Great God Pan and the Inmost Light (1896), famously rendered by Aubrey Beardsley (Source)

Arthur Machen (1863-1947) was one of the greatest horror writers in the English language. His particular brand of esoteric paganism, the dangers of the occult, the sinister truth lurking behind folktales, and a highly-developed knack for evoking eldritch terror – all of these elements exerted a profound influence on the development of weird literature. Those who enjoy Lovecraft will recognize much in Machen that later made its way into Lovecraft’s own corpus. The dark bard of Providence held Machen in high esteem.

Machen was also a deeply spiritual Christian, best but imperfectly classed as an Anglo-Catholic. His strong sense of the mystical life found its fullest expression not in his horror stories, which do indeed bear some mark of his sacramental worldview, but in his later writings. A Welshman, he was fascinated by the Grail legend and connected it with his idea of an ancient, vividly supernatural “Celtic” Christianity.

AMachen.jpg

Portrait of Arthur Machen (Source)

Machen is a favourite of mine. I cannot recommend his stories highly enough – especially The Great God Pan, “The Novel of the White Powder,” “The Shining Pyramid,” “The Ceremony,” and “The Lost Club.” He is far scarier than some of his better-known contemporaries such as M.R. James or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

He also figures prominently in some of my research. I recently came upon a recording of his voice from 1937, in which he speaks of Chesterton, Dickens, Thackeray, and the art of fiction more broadly. Some of my readers may find this as enjoyable as I do, and so I provide a link here.

Springtime Sophiology from St. Nicodemus

GateAddisons

Gate on Addison’s Walk, Magdalen College, Oxford. Photo by author.

Now there are of course those who do not use the senses and the subsequent meditation on creation and Holy Scripture to rise through them to the knowledge and love of God, who both spoke the Scriptures and created the world. On the contrary, such people use this sense perception simply for human aggrandizement, for the marvel and mere pleasure of the corruptible beauty in creatures, and for other bodily purposes. Or, at least, they simply remain on the level of the limited purposes of the creatures and of the Scriptures. They thus neglect to proceed further, to rise to the catholic and comprehensive view of things, to God’s wisdom through which all things are known and in which all the reasons for each creature are to be found, according to St. Maximos. “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth…When he established the heavens, I was there” (Prv. 3:19, 27). St. Basil the Great too had something to say on this point: “There are indeed certain reasons why the primordial wisdom of God was laid as a foundation to nature at the time of creation.” Now, those who do not rise – through the reason endowed in nature and in the Holy Scriptures – to the hypostatic Logos of God, those who do not love Him “through whom all things were made” (Jn 1:3), as most of the worldly philosophers do not, all of these people act contrary to the Creator’s purpose in nature and in Holy Scripture. And according to the wise and most insightful Kallistos, the thought of such people has lost its natural tendency and has become unnatural. This has occurred because they use the means as ends in themselves, and the causes as results, and they love the gifts more than the Giver and the creatures more than the Creator, as St. Augustine has said. Since creation was not created for itself, but for the vision and glory of its Creator, it is not proper that it should be seen and admired for its own sake, but rather for the sake of its Creator. It is the same with the mirror which one does not look at for its own sake, but for the sake of the one reflected in it.

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St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (Source)

We may add, finally, that the secondary goal and purpose for the creation of the senses is so that the material body may be able to enjoy through them material nourishment, growth, and life. Truly, I do not know what to marvel at most: the “palace” that is so intricately constructed or the “king” who dwells therein. But of these two, I must certainly marvel most at the master artist and the Creator who with infinite wisdom not only created both of them, but also united the mind and body in such perfect harmony.

Quoted from Chapter One of A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel by Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, Trans. Peter A. Chamberas, Paulist Press, 1989, pages 73 and 74.