Sunday, February 11, 2007

Augustine in Pasadena

I returned today from a Liberty Fund conference held in Pasadena, CA, devoted to a discussion of "conversion" in Apuleius's "Golden Ass" and Augustine's "Confessions." Apuleius's whacky and at times downright obscene picaresque novel seemed more fitting in a setting of palm trees and endless boulevards than Augustine's often dark portentous broodings. The sentiment at the conference was decidedly pro-Apuleius, although I suspect that was less to do with the surroundings than the era. I found myself wondering throughout the conference whether an "Apuleian" or an "Augustinian" worldview is created or given. Augustine shows every sign that he would have been Augustine in some way regardless of his era and place. His restlessness and ceaseless introspection point to a person who would have made a kind of spiritual odyssey to conversion regardless of the setting; Apuleius would probably been relatively at home in our time, especially given his evidently earthy love of the worldly.

There were a number of people at the conference who simply could not enter into a sympathetic reading of Augustine. One of their recurring criticisms was his apparent detestation of the world (I think that is too strong a formulation, but clearly he does not love the world in itself and for its own sake). I don't believe that these critics would likely ever be persuaded or work their way toward an Augustinian worldview. One wonders, in this sense, if Augustine (and anyone, for that matter), isn't always simply writing for the "converted." In that case, is conversion a real change, or is it something that was already there?

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