There are more things in the blogosphere, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your vocabulary.
I paraphrase Shakespeare in an epigraph because it is a classy and erudite thing to do. And my latest blogosphere discovery, Varieties of Unreligious Experience, is one of the classiest and most erudite weblogs I’ve found.
Of course, it also makes me want to quote James Thurber — specifically, his University Days description of Bolenciecwcz, the star football player: “(F)or while he was not dumber than an ox, he was not any smarter.”
That’s how Varieties often makes me feel. And contrary to what you might think, it’s a good feeling. More on that in a while.
I’ve worked with words for decades, but my vocabulary, syntax and style are those of a journeyman journalist — a hack, some would say. But the language of Varieties’ author, who calls himself Conrad H. Roth, probably a pen name, is from academia — a well-studied academia — and is anything but workaday. And he’s still in his mid-20s. I am in awe.
Consider his entry of March 18, 2007, which starts with a quotation from John 21:25 and discusses the process of translation and his preference for “a new language” that retains the flavor of the original and doesn’t pretend not to be a translation. The entry goes on to cite the 18th century German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher and the anonymous fifth-century philosopher known as the Pseudo-Dionysius, shortly after which Roth writes . . .
. . . Furthermore, for the Pseudo-Dionysius, it is the ugliness of angelic symbols that prompts us to make the Platonic ascent towards God, just as for Schleiermacher it is the incongruity of semantic usage that prompts us to appreciate the alterity of the original language.
Wow. Now that is compact writing. But not impenetrable. Because if you read the entire entry, about 2,000 words, and look up all the literary, historical, philosophical, theological, etymological and other references you don’t understand (as I had to), you’ll follow — and appreciate — what he is saying.
Here are some other entries you may appreciate:
• Chalybea, which talks of a 20-page poem he wrote by that name, an ode to his birthplace, the London suburb of Hampstead, and its once-iron-rich waters: “Chalybea to me was an object of love, a face half effaced peering out from a wall, a goddess presiding over the iron and the waters of time, and of the unfinished act — ‘Her who has thy thirst subdued.’” (June 26, 2006)
• Obitur dictum, words in passing about the death of Norman Mailer, controversial writer and “old fugger”: “That will teach him to go licking Chinese toys, won’t it?” (Nov. 11, 2007)
• Hunters in the Snow, poetry spun from William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Hunter in the Snow,” which itself was inspired by Pieter Brueghel’s 1565 painting “Hunters in the Snow.” (July 31, 2006)
• Decameron 8.9: pun and pumpkin, which traces the roots of the word ‘word’ back to ‘gourd’ — medieval schoolteachers carved Latin words into squashes to help children remember. (Oct. 2, 2007)
• Pinky, an examination of why one traditionally raises one’s pinky while drinking tea. (Sept. 2, 2007)
• Comedy of Errors, a hike into Arizona’s Agua Fria National Monument: “I think I’ll stick to books from now on.” (March 27, 2007)
• Why blog, sinners? Just read it. (Nov. 3, 2006)
• And finally, N is for Neville, a reference to Edward Gorey’s darkly humorous alphabet book The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an entry in which Roth seems to slide from humor into a dark musing about this Ikea world, again asking the question — why blog? — and seeming to come up with a different answer.
We hope he isn’t tempted to give up Varieties of Unreligious Experience. As a vehicle for words and ideas, it is a luxury model, maybe like one of his homeland’s Aston Martins — quick, powerful, although sometimes hard to handle.
Because if more people in this world were made to realize they’re sometimes no quicker than an ox, not cruising along in eternally all-knowing righteousness, maybe we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.
– Sid Leavitt
NOTE: The nameplate on Roth’s blog leaves the word ‘unreligious’ uncapitalized, but I’m not sure why, unless it is to give the word a commonality — more precisely, commonalty — that accentuates the capital quality of ‘Experience.’