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Book III

Not to jump the gun—I know we haven’t really done Book II yet—but I wanted to get a few thoughts down while they were still fresh in my mind.

The thing that strikes me over and over again about the Confessions is what a physical book it is—how obsessed Augustine is with the physical world and his physical self, even as he strives to understand that world and that self as being nothing without God. Nowhere is this physicality more evident than in his use of words related to eating.

It starts in Book I (I.ii.7, p. 7 in the Wills translation):

It was your sustenance I drew from fleshly milk, since neither my mother nor my nurses were filling their own breasts with it. You yourself dispensed this baby food through them. . . . The wish to supply me came from the natural instinct you planted deep in them, so that doing me good did them good, a good they did not provide themselves but passed on from you. . . .

In Book III he speakds of how “my innocent heart had devoutly drunk in that name with my mother’s milk, and stored it deep within, so that nothing, however learned or elaborate, could entirely carry me away if I lacked that name.” (III.iii.8, p. 46) And it goes on and on. . . .

Perhaps because milk figures rather prominently in both passages I’ve quoted, I was put in mind of nothing so much as this bit from JD Salinger’s short story “Teddy”:

“I was six when I saw that everything was God, and my hair stood up, and all that,” Teddy said “It was on a Sunday, I remember. My sister was only a very tiny child then, and she was drinking milk, and all of a sudden I saw that she was God and the milk was God. I mean, all she was doing was pouring God inton God, if you know what I mean.”

Drat and blast, I must leave for work. Greg has talked about Augustine’s views on the uses and abuses of language, and of the contradictions inherent in his own use of it. In what ways do Augustine’s views on food and eating mirror those of his views on language?

More at some point! I’m off to the salt mines again now.

 

Comments

And can I add to the question, how is A adapting biblical physicality to interpret himself? (I’m thinking of the woman in childbirth in Galatians, the spiritual milk/real food of Hebrews, etc.)

Perhaps at this point we’re (‘cept J) working with questions and developing our ideas, to come back to them in a few days and see how A develops & argues.

(Or we’re struggling to keep up with this pretty pansyass reading schedule. I mean, even the librarian rushes off to Yellowstone & to work before she finishes… :) )

All quotes from the Henry Chadwick translation.

I think you are right, physicality (food, love, the thrill of stealing, the jostle of crowds, the spectacle of theatrical shows and gladatorial fights, the pain and anguish of shame that he feels now and ocassionally felt then) permeates the entire book.

It is there in the passion/lust he feels “During the celebration of your solemn rites within the walls of your Church, I even dared to lust after a girl and start an affair that would procure the fruit of death.” Book III.iii.5. Also, “She seduced me; for she found me living outside myself, seeing only with the eye of the flesh, and chewing over in myself such food as I had devoured by means of that eye.” III.vi.11

In the various passtimes he spends himself on “I wanted only to hear stories and imaginary legends of sufferings which, as it were, scratched me on the surface. Yet like the scratches of fingernails, they produced inflamed spots, pus, and repulsive sores. That was my kind of life. III.ii.4 (This particular passion could be seen as a direct result of his education… the his passion for lies of literature have conditioned him to seek the lies of theatre, to waste his life on emotions that are not emotions.)

It is there in his pious desires to return to God: “My God, how I burned, how I burned with longing to leave earthly things and fly back to you. III.iv.8

what struck me about the first reference to breast milk… was how God is in control of the instinct to feed a child.

So I was welcomed by the consolations of human milk; but it was not my mother or my nurses who made any decision to fill their breasts, but you who through them gave me infant food, in accordance with your natural order. You also granted me not to wish for more than you were giving, and to my nurses the desire to give me what you gave them. For by an impulse which you control their instinctive wish was to give me the milk which they had in abundance from you. For the good which came to me from them was a good to them; yet it was not from them but through them. I.vi.7

And this drinking from the fount of his mother’s breast keeps him close to God’s orbit. (Monica does play a central roll in brining Augie around.)

The milk was given in love and selflessness, rather than lust and selfishness. It was given as prompted from God.

This tension is going to run through the book… who prompts us to good?, how does this prompting happen?, how is it spoken of? What are we to make of instincts? Clearly the instinct to feed a child is a good one… yet, what of the others? If, indeed, God is the real author of the book of Augustine’s life, what are we to do with free will?

Just for reference’s sake, because I want to come back to L’s post later: I am really liking this medium for book discussion. We can return to previous conversations or start new ones at any point in time. Downside: there’s less pressure to draw conclusions and form cogent arguments.