Wing to Wing: A Reload

Recently I suggested returning to reading through an excellent book on marriage. Hopefully, for the foreseeable future, I’m going to be blogging my way though in exhaustive detail through the book Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. This is a repost of some introductory remarks about this book and then look ahead, via the table of contents at what is in store for us over the upcoming weeks.

Leon Kass, by virtue of his tenure on the President’s Committee on Bioethics has become a somewhat polarizing figure. I had the distinct pleasure of having him teaching a class at the U of Chicago some few years ago in a class on .. of all things, ethics and science. He was (and still is) an amazing discussion leader. His ability to “sum up” and hone in and restate the jumbled thoughts of undergraduates. His wife Amy was even more sought for her courses by those Humanities and Social Thought undergraduates.

This book is not what one might expect. It doesn’t put forth any particular viewpoint in any obvious way. The majority of this book comprises a collection of essays or short excerpts bequeathed to us as part of the heritage of Western civilization. For example, contributing essays or excerpts are drawn from: Darwin, Erasmus, Keirkegaard, Homer, Herodotus, Shakespeare, Franklin, Tolstoy, and Frost. The structure of this book is as follows, after a short introductory remarks, the readings and discussions are drawn up in seven larger/basic sections:

  1. Where are we Now? This section is comprised of essays by modern critics, anthropologists, and scholars who examine and critique the state of modern courtship and marriage. Contributors are Stone, Bailey, Bloom, and Blankenhorn. Arguably this might be the most controversial or biased section of the book.
  2. Why Marry?The book then pushes forth with a firm defense of the institution of marriage. Contributors range through history: Darwin, Aquinas, Erasmus, Bacon, Austen, Keirkegaard, Tucker, Meilaender, Borowitz, and Muir.
  3. What about Sex?Next, sexuality itself is examined via writings of Homer, Genesis, Rousseau, Herodotus, Kant, Riezler, and May.
  4. Is this Love?What is this (little) thing we call love? Answers are sought from Divakaruni, Plato (2 contributions from the Symposium, The Song of Songs, De Rougemont, Shakespeare (2 entries), Rousseau, Rilke, and Lewis.
  5. How Can I find the Right One?If Marriage is good, and love is a thing we are beginning to have a glimmer of understanding, Courtship must be considered. Advice from Miss Manners (Martin), Genesis (2 entries), Abraham, Pitt-Rivers, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Franklin, Rousseau, Tolstoy, and Austen is on offer.
  6. Why a Wedding?When one considers wedding, May, De Rougemont, a variety of wedding ceremonies and vows are included (including Anglican, Lutheran, Jewish, Muslim, and “Contemporary” vows), and an essay by Kass and Kass on the patronym.
  7. What Can Married Life Be Like?Finally, what are the blessings one might obtain in marraige? These include contributions from: Homer, Aristotle, Jewish Midrash, Kipling, Ballou, de Toqueville, Rousseau, Capon, Tolstoy, and Frost.

In each of chapters, each of the readings is introduced by a very short (page or less) introduction explaining the context of the reading selected, why it was selected and perhaps some assistance in understanding how the writer operates if the dialectial methodology is unfamiliar to most, e.g,. the formalized dialectical methods of the scholastics as is used in the example drawn from Aquinas. Continue reading →

Wing to Wing: Aquinas on the Benefit of Marriage

Well, I was hoping to read through this book as a regular series, but at long last I’m returning to it. However, my ability to stick to a schedule should be doubted enough that I will, this time, not attempt to assign such essays to a “day of the week”, but instead when I get time. But this means we can (finally) continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays.

This weeks essay is from the section entitled “Why Marry.” This the second selection from this section is drawn from the writings of Thomas Aquinas. It makes for an interesting read, if nothing else, but for the dialectical methodology, which hearkens to a perhaps less busy more careful age. Aquinas argues or reasons in the following way:

  • A thesis is proposed
  • Then enumerated objections are raised. These objections are all the objections that might (or have) been raised against the thesis.
  • Next, he provides his answer
  • And finally he answers the objections each in turn.

We continue below the fold. Continue reading →

Wing to Wing: Three Easy Pieces

It’s Monday Wednesday (note new day), which now means we continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays. Today, because we have to very short pieces to discuss (the two essays combine for about 3 pages and I’ll throw in an additional 2-3 page introduction to the next section). These three “easy pieces” discussed in detail below the fold are:

  1. The first essay is short, entitled “I Do” from a short essay by David Blankenhorn originally published in 1997 by First Things.
  2. The second is the introduction to the “next section” (the prior essay is, as a reminder, the last of the section on “where are we now”). This new section is entitled, “Why Marry” and comprises a collection of defenses of the institution of marriage.
  3. The third then, is the first essay in that new section, a brief set of notes by Charles Darwin in which he considers diagrams pros and cons of marriage (and it is noted, shortly after putting these thoughts to paper, he married Emma Wedgewood and by all accounts had a happy marriage).

So on to our easy pieces. Continue reading →

Wing to Wing: Hot Potato

It’s Monday Wednesday (note new day), which now means we continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays. Today’s essay is one which is probably familiar (with a certain amount of heat be it love or hate). That is to say, the text is abstracted from Mr Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, from the chapter on relationships. Because of the quantity of ink, print and digital which has been spilled on Mr Bloom’s book, instead of going in depth on this issue today I’m going to attmpt a short abstraction of one of the main points.

Modern relationships of our youngsters have implicit in their current state a fundamental contradiction. One the one hand, love has been abstracted to eros, to physical sexual attraction. At the same time, it is also held as a common notion that marriage and lasting relationships must be built primarly (or completely) on love as their basis. At the same time, demonstrations, protestations, and other public demonstrative acts aligned with courtship, i.e., balladeering at windows or from the prior week’s essay “calling, are minimized and set aside. Thus we have a situation where our young people find themselves seeking to base a lifetime relationship (or any sort of relationship) on a thing which they diminish at the same time.

It is mind boggling to consider the cognitive dissonance which apparently does not occur. Holding at the same time hope for lasting relationships built on love in a culture which also practices and esteems “hooking up” and “friendships with benefits”. If any readers think both of these are compatible and/or acceptable notions … how do you do it? How are these two things held up at the same time?


My criticism of my prior essay, must fall on myself and Mr Bloom, for we aren’t doing a proper “world-view” study of these youngsters. For I too am deriding this feature, yet not seeking understanding. I think in the near future, I’m going to return to the Wright book noted in that essay and try to put it to work on some cultural divides.

Wing to Wing: The Rise and Fall of Romance

It’s Monday, which now means we continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays. We continue with the first reading … and first major section, second essay. This essay is from Passionate Attachments: Thinking About Love an anthology by Gaylin and Person itself, the selection here is authored by Lawrence Stone.

The main notion behind marriage today in the Western world is romantic love. However, in a historical context this is an anomaly and looking at our society today … likely short lived. Shakespeare, Austen and the like coupled with rising universality of literacy gave rise to an ideal of romantic love as the reason to marry. More specifically, this is not to say romantic attachment never has been the reason for marriage. It is just that now it is virtually universally taken as a given that this reason to marry has public affirmation and admiration.

A short quote:

It is also possible to say something about the changing relationship of passionate love to marriage. For al classes who possessed property, that is the top two-thirds economically, marriage before the seventeenth century was arranged by the parents, and the motives were the economic and political benefit of the kin group, not the emotional satisfaction of the individuals. As the concept of individualism grew int he seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, slowly became accepted that the prime object was “holy matrimony”, a sanctified state of monogamous married contentment. This was best achieved by allowing the couple to make their own choice, provided that both sets of parents agreed that the social and economic gap was not too wide, and the marriage was preceded by a long period of courtship. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, individualism had so far taken precedence over the group interests of the kin that the couple were left more or less free to make their own decision, except in the highest aristocratic and royal circles. Today individualism is given such absolute priority in most Western societies, that the couple are virtually free to act as they please, to sleep with whom they please and to marry and divorce when and whom they please to suit their own pleasure. The psychic cost of such behavior, and its self-defeating consequences, are becoming clear, however, and how long this situation will last is anybody’s guess …

In my own reflections on differing traditions, hermeneutic and how to choose between them, discernment according to the wisdom of the desert Fathers (4-5th century ascetics monastics) it was thought that it was in community, in discussion, and at the very least consultation with a personal adviser was required for proper discernment. Choosing of mate and whom to marry is exactly the sort of important decision for which discernment is key. Rejection of today’s individualism, here as well as in other matters where discernment is probably an important corrective for the ills of our age.

Wing to Wing: From Calling to Dating to ??

It’s Monday, which now means we continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays. We continue with the first reading … and first major section. The first major section of the book is entitled “Where are we now? Assessing our situation”. In the introduction, our editors start out with a stark portrait (in their own admission open to challenge and perhaps overdrawn), yet perhaps too some truth will be seen in comparison with earlier ages. How does this portrait look:

Not so today, Now roughly half the nation goes to college, but very few — women or men — seem to go with the hope or even wish of finding a marriage partner. Many do no even expect to find a path to a career … Sexually active — in many cases, hyperactive — they bounce about from one relationship to another; … On the one hand, they practice strict scrutiny of ordinary speech for taints of sexism, and they rein in even innocent flirtation, which they have trouble distinguishing from sexual harassment; sensitivity training is in many places de rigeur. In addition, their legitimate fears of sexually transmitted disease, as well as their quasi-religious preoccupation with the condition and uses of their bodies, have taken much of the joy and ease out of the courtship dance …. On the other hand, many people are perfectly content to “hook up” for a night with someone they just met, or with whom they have been drinking too much, at a party. The young men, nervous predators, act as if any woman is equally good; they are given not to falling in love with one, but to scoring in bed with many. And in this sporting attitude, they are now matched by some female trophy hunters.

But many of the young, and more particularly many of the women, strike us as sad, lonely and confused. They are, to be sure, very pleased with their new educational and professional opportunities, and with their greater freedom and independence. But in private matters, in relations with men, most of them are, we suspect, hoping for something more. …

So … from that, we proceed to a short historical essay by Beth L. Bailey, entitled From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America. Find a short summary and remarks below the fold. Continue reading →

Wing to Wing: What’s the Point?

It’s Monday, which now means we continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays. In the introduction, the Editors of this anthology (husband and wife Leon and Amy Kass), tell us the reasons for their project and rational behind collecting much of what they have collected. Up front it must be emphasized that (and their words suffice best):

It should go without saying — but today it must, alas, be said — that we do not offer these “old” or “great” texts as authoritative, or authorities. We choose them not because they are old or because they are “traditional”. The “great books” disagree too much among themselves to constitute a single coherent traditional teaching. Rather, we offer them in the wisdom-seeking — rather than wisdom delivering — spirit, as writings that make us think, that challenge our unexamined opinions, expand our sympathies, elevate our gaze, and introduce us to possibilities open to human beings in everyday life that may be undreamt of in our philosophizing.

Below the fold, I attempt in my crooked prose to summarize some of the points made in their introduction.

Continue reading →

Wing to Wing: An Introduction

As I mentioned last night, over the upcoming months, I’m going to begin a Monday “feature”. On Monday’s, for the forseable future, I’m going to be blogging my way though in exhaustive detail through the book Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. Today I’m going make some introductory remarks about this book and then look ahead, via the table of contents at what is in store for us over the upcoming weeks. Continue reading →