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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Edwards’

The Machinery of the Universe

July 1, 2015 | by

Poe’s vision of the cosmos and the art it inspired.


Alfred Jensen, Physical Optics, 1975, oil on canvas, 7'2" x 12'9". Image via Pace Gallery

Since adolescence, Edgar Allan Poe had been picking fights with science. His second collection of poetry, published when he was all of twenty, opened with a mischievous sonnet needling what he called that “true daughter of Old Time”:

Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?

By the time Poe wrote Eureka: A Prose Poem, the last major work he published before his premature death in 1849, his attitude toward certain men of science had softened. He eagerly absorbed—and sometimes rejected—theoretical works by the brilliant astronomer Sir John Herschel, the popular scientist J. P. Nichol, and the towering, eccentric naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, to whom Eureka was dedicated. He was still capable, on the other hand, of caustic put-downs such as the one he attributes early in the book to a scientist from the distant future. It’s in that figure’s prophetic voice that Poe chews out most of his contemporaries for “their pompous and infatuate proscription of all other roads to Truth than the two narrow and crooked paths—the one of creeping and the other of crawling—to which, in their infinite perversity, they have dared to confine the Soul—the Soul which loves nothing so well as to soar in those regions of illimitable intuition which are utterly incognizant of path.” Read More »

The Other Election

November 8, 2012 | by

Computers, phones, radios, televisions, and carrier pigeons are chirping with talk of Tuesday’s hard-fought presidential election. The election is a time-honored American tradition. But long before there were exercises of democracy to occupy our collective attention, Americans were preoccupied with a different kind of election entirely.

The Pilgrims brought their belief in predestination with them to Plymouth, and the Puritans planted the doctrine in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Many are called, they argued, but few are chosen. Those chosen by God for salvation receive mercy, while the reprobate receive the justice they deserve.

The question of whether or not one had been elected for salvation filled one’s wakeful days and dreaming nights. Read More »


Mrs. Crist

August 16, 2012 | by

In early July, 1971, just out of journalism school, I took off for Paris. My intention was to spend a year or so freelancing. To this end, I carried with me assignments from two very small magazines and a sealed envelope, which I’d been given by Judith Crist, lately my critical-writing professor at Columbia’s School of Journalism.

“Give this to Murray Weiss at the International Trib,” she instructed.

Weiss was the editor in chief of that august journal and, she said, formerly a colleague of hers at its long-defunct but still much-admired progenitor, the New York Herald Tribune.

“What’s in it?”

“Don’t worry, just give it to him.”

A week or so later, in the Trib offices on the rue de Berri, I handed it over to Weiss’s no-nonsense assistant. “It’s from Judith Crist,” I said meaningfully—not the twenty-two-year-old nothing standing before her.

She walked briskly to the office beyond, and, after a long beat, like in a too-obvious movie, there came a roar of laughter. “Send him in!”

Weiss was behind his desk, holding the letter, still looking much amused. He half rose to shake my hand. “Listen,” he said, chuckling, “this is very nice of Judy. But, no, I’m not going to fire our film critic and hire you.”

Read More »