31 August 2014

10 questions - Pater Edmund, O. Cist.

The second thinker kind enough to respond to my 10 questions is Pater Edmund, O.Cist.

Pater Edmund Waldstein is a monk at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, which, as Wiki states, is the "oldest continuously occupied Cistercian monastery in the world."

Pater Edmund also blogs at Sanencrusis, a blog that is consistently exceptional in its conveyance of beauty and thoughtfulness. As you might discover on the "about" page on said blog, Pater Edmund "is related to theologian Michael Waldstein, jurist Wolfgang Waldstein, political theorist James Burnham, and Hollywood actress Jane Wyatt." I try not to hold that pedigree against him.

Pater Edmund and I began interacting on blogs and later via email, and despite coming from radically different intellectual postures, I just can't stop reading the good father's words.  He, like one should (but unfortunately doesn't) expect from those reared in the Thomist tradition, is a careful and exact listener and reader, and so charitably interacts with his interlocutors that you might well consider him the polar opposite of yours truly.  He espouses integralism, but in a way that is infuriatingly dedicated to the workers and downtrodden of the world, and his Thomists Reading Marx forum on Facebook is one of the most insightful discussions of Marx's thought I have ever encountered.  Pater Edmund is sincerely willing to learn from and take what he considers baptizable from the Left, something I continually find surprising and refreshing.  He also reads widely, which lends itself to his being a talented conversationalist.  

Here are Pater Edmund's answers to my 10 questions:

1. A friend offers to make all social/vocational/financial
arrangements in order that you may spend 3 months in the location of
your choosing. Anywhere in the world. Where would you go, and during
what season?

PE: I would go to Qom in Iran. I was actually hoping to go to a conference there earlier this month, but sadly I wasn’t able to make it in the end. A friend of mine was there, however, and read my paper. Now my friend is back, and is quite euphoric about the Islamic Republic, and its resistance to the hedonism, secularism and other evils. He says that Shi’ite clerics there were very learned, and had not only read Plato, but could actually claim to have implemented some Platonic thinking in real politics—the dream of all anti-liberal philosophers. I guess I would go in the winter time.
2. A friend who has suffered considerably in recent years asks you to
recommend a novel that you found moving, and/or which helped frame how
you view human life. Which novel would you recommend?

PE: It would depend a lot on the friend and the kind of suffering, as the effects of literature depend so much on the disposition of the reader. Books I have recommended recently are Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, P.G. Wodehouse’s Piccadilly Jim, and Maurice Baring’s The Puppet Show of Memory. The last name is strictly speaking an autobiography rather than a novel, but has many of the virtues of a good novel, and I have found it an eminently comforting book—if I only get to pick one, that’s the one.
3. You may have any (living) musician or group of musicians in the
world come perform a concert at the location of your choosing for you
and your friends and whomever else you would invite. What musician(s)
at what venue would you choose?

PE: I would have the Concentus Musicus and the Arnold Schönberg Choir under the direction of Nicolaus Harnoncourt do Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Blessed Virgin in St Mark’s in Venice, as actual vespers, not a concert.
4. If you had to work with your hands in order to make a living
(trade, craft, manual work of some sort) what tactile vocation would
you like to do?

PE: I would be what is called in German a Lackierer, that is someone who paints (as in, puts the paint on) machine parts (for cars I think it’s called an “auto body painter” in English). This is because I sometimes correspond about St Thomas Aquinas with a man in Germany who does this. He always meditates on an article of the Summa while spraying the paint on. I can imagine doing that.
5. Describe a garden, or a field, or a forest that was or is important
or notable in your life.

PE: As a teenager I lived about seven kilometers from Gaming in the Limestone Alps of Lower Austria. I used to walk down to Gaming through the woods and fields. I remember once there was fresh snow everywhere. The snow had stopped falling, but the wind would sometimes blow clouds of it off the trees. It was very still. On the hillside opposite me a herd of deer appeared, moving silently through the snow. I have never forgotten that moment.
6. You may have a meal and drinks with any living person on earth with
whom you have never had a conversation. Name the meal, the drinks, and
the person.

PE: Usually I don’t like meeting people for the first time. I would much prefer to have a meal with someone I already know. I was once at a three day conference with one of my favorite novelists (Marilynne Robinson), but was too shy to introduce myself. But OK, I’ll say Mary Karr, the American poet. Food: Marillenknödel. (I like the Austrian habit of having something sweet as the main dish). Drinks: White wine from the Wachau.
7. Name a painting that has moved you (and perhaps tell us why).

PE: Vermeer’s The Art of Painting. Again, I associated it with my teenage years. I used to go look at it, and was fascinated by the lack of self-consciousness that Clio shows (youth being an uncomfortably self-conscious age). I actually still have a paper I wrote about it in high school:
In one of the smaller rooms of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna there hangs a small painting by Vermeer. It shows an artist sitting with his back toward the viewer, painting a girl dressed as Clio, the muse of history. The left of the painting is dominated by a curtain, partly flung back, which gives the viewer the impression of a scene suddenly revealed. The figures have not yet noticed his presence. He holds his breath not wanting to break the spell. What is the spell? It is not the spell of the Rembrandt self-portraits in the last room which the viewer has already spent so much time looking at—those dark mysterious eyes like wells, those furrowed brows. No eyes look at the viewer from this painting. The girl, bathed in beautiful afternoon sunlight from a source obscured by the curtain, is looking dreamily down. She has lost all self-consciousness, as has the painter, completely absorbed in his task. The girl’s brow is completely smooth and unfurrowed—in contrast to the large map of the low-countries behind her, crumpled and creased as though by many wars. One Particularly large crease which juts out in the middle, about where the Spanish Netherlands meet the United Netherlands, throws the later into shadow—the shadow of Protestant error. This idea is emphasized by chandelier which hangs above the map. It is decorated with double-headed eagle of the house of Habsburg, but the candle sockets on it are empty. The light of the true faith, always protected and upheld by that venerable house, shines no more over Holland. The viewer can hold his breath no longer. He lets it out in a long sigh. “It’s like a picture!” he says. His companion snorts, “It is a picture, you silly ass!”
8. A student tells you that she plans on memorizing one poem, and
intends to recite that poem at least once a week for the rest of her
life. She asks you for your recommendation for said poem. What poem do
you recommend?

PE: Antigone’s penultimate speech in Antigone. No, just kidding. The Dies Irae.
9. Describe your ideal quotidian evening? [Nothing special, but as you like things to go.]

PE: Vespers at 6 in the Abbey Church of Heiligenkreuz. Followed by supper in our baroque refectory, one of my confreres reading out a 17th century diary of a priest fleeing from the Turks. After supper 20 minutes of e-mail. Then “recreation,” in which the brothers sit around and chat. An older brother, a good raconteur is telling stories of monastic life in the 50s. Another brother is solving the Saturday Die Presse crossword, and periodically interrupts to ask for help. Then the bell rings for a reading from the Holy Rule followed by Compline, which closes with the solemn Cistercian Salve Regina. Then Rosary in the infirmary chapel, and Benediction followed by a singing of the antiphon Mane nobiscum Domine, quoniam advesperascit. Then I go to bed. I read a few minutes in a book that is neither too exciting nor too difficult to follow (currently Maurice Baring’s R.F.C. H.Q., 1914-1918), and then fall asleep.
10. You are on a nose-diving plane that is obviously going to crash,
bringing about your certain death. You intuit that you have between 30
and 60 seconds before you lose consciousness. What words come to mind
during this last bit of time you are alive?

PE: Hail Mary.

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