Monday, 16 October 2017

Toomas Karmo: Open Letter to the Innermost House Foundation

To accompany this small writeup on the Innermost House Foundation, I choose not to reproduce photos of Innermost House itself - for photos, the reader should visit - but a graphic on themes which will be found on due reflection to touch on the Innermost House mission. From top right, clockwise: a /usr/xterm  window configured to display some private flat-ASCII (plain text) casenotes on Russian affairs; the Munich memorial to a wartime White Rose dissident trial (from; a /usr/bin/xterm window configured to display some flat-ASCII (plain text) private casenotes on the concept of healing; the memorial to victims of repression which currently stands in Lubyanka Square, opposite secret-police headquarters (from As is usual with Web publications through blogger and blogspot, the graphic can be enlarged through mouse-clicking.

Quality assessment:

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his  grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 3/5. Justification: There was enough time to write out essential points, but not enough time for being very careful or thoughtful. (It was necessary this week to upload two, in a subtle way mutually supporting, pieces - this one, and also a piece on the Garrison memorial, in that memorial's  dark potential University-of-Toronto surveillance, and also FSB-SVR-surveillance, setting). With two pieces to write, time runs short.

Revision history:

All times in these blog "revision histories" are stated in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time/ Temps Universel Coordoné,  a precisification of the old GMT, or "Greenwich Mean Time"), in the ISO-prescribed YYYYMMDDThhmmZ timestamping format. UTC currently leads Toronto civil time by 4 hours and currently lags Tallinn civil time by 3 hours.

  • 20171017T1953Z/version 3.1.0: Kmo added a top-of-posting graphic, intended to reinforce what he judges to be pertinent Innermost House themes. He reserved the right to make further tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.1.1, 3.1.2, 3.1.3, ... .  
  • 20171017T1557Z/version 3.0.0: Kmo finished converting his fine-grained outline into a short full-sentences essay. He reserved the right to make further tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.0.1, 3.0.2, 3.0.3, ... .  
  • 20171017T0408Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo uploaded a fairly polished fine-grained outline. He hoped to covert this into a short full-sentences essay by UTC=20171017T1600Z.
  • 20171017T0002Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo only had time to upload a coarse-grained outline. He hoped over the coming four hours first to upload a fine-grained outline, and then to convert the outline into a short full-sentences essay.

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past months shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity, at any rate when coupled with my erstwhile, out-of-date, Web-authoring uploading browser, to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different downloading browsers. Some downloading browsers have sometimes perhaps not correctly read in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets" (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing or right-margin justification. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

I was initially suspecting I would be able to make this the week for uploading "Part P" of my long essay on the "Philosophy of Perception, Action, and 'Subjectivity'". However, events have conspired to delay that anticipated upload by at least a week. This week I have to deal with unexpected, welcome, incoming American correspondence, from the Innermost House Foundation. 

The Foundation continues philosophical initiatives of Emerson and Thoreau. Before reading the not-very-adequate writing that I have to offer on my own part, as a sort of respectful open letter to the Foundation, I would urge my readers to spend at least a few preliminary minutes examining the Foundation's Web outreach at Special attention should be devoted to three things: 
  • to the images, both still and ciné, of the physical Innermost House (as viewed from the outside, a classic Thoreauvian cabin; but as viewed from the inside, a cosmos of minimalist elegance in the quiet perfection of its hearth, of its book case, of its writing alcove, of its washing and food-preparation spaces, and of its sleeping loft: my hero Thoreau was, by contrast, a scruiffy, none-too-elegant bachelor, who is said to have lugged his washing from cabin (I have hiked this modest hike) down to Concord, where his Mum took care of it);
  • to the page on "Craft", namely
  • to the page on "Connections", namely
Having written this autumn on the Foundation, I unexpectedly received a reply this past week, from Foundation officer "N.N." My replies to much of what N.N. asks  (he wonders, for instance, how I learned of the site) will be not quite right for insertion into the public glare of a blog, being in fact in some respects merely dull. I do, on the other hand, feel I should blog for the general public benefit, by way of an open letter, my attempt - however clumsy, however abbreviated - to answer the most important of N.N.'s sequence of questions. Here I quote verbatim: 

You speak of our "witness." That interests me. I wonder if you would be willing to say a little more of what you mean? You clearly foresee dark times ahead, and Innermost House is significantly a response to such times. What is the nature of our witness? What purpose do you believe it is meant to serve? 

In responding, I write as a Catholic in the theological traditions of G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), Peter Maurin (1877-1949), and Dorothy Day (1897-1980). This tradition is nowadays articulated in the Catholic world by the "Distributist" and "Catholic Worker" movements, as at and

I write also as a Cold War survivor, mindful in a pained way during many of my waking hours, day upon sombre day, of Estonia's one Reich occupation (1941-1944) and two Soviet occupations (1940-1941, 1944-1991). 


The Innermost House witness seeks in my judgement  to serve a purpose of love, more specifically the purpose of breaking chains (of setting prisoners free). It calls to mind the ancient Hebrew prophets, and their close modern equivalents - in the 20th-century Reich, the White Rose (, and in the 20th-century Union, the repressed dissidents (among them the Isaiah-or-Jeremiah figure who was Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (Александр Исаевич Солженицын; 1918-2008)). The Innermost House witness is in my judgement an affirmation that spiritual freedom is possible even under adverse cultural conditions.

(A) Just as we were not free back in the 20th century if we allowed into our brains and hearts the Soviet "General Party Line", or generalnaya liniya (formally the генеральная линия), or its Reich equivalent, so we are in the present day not free if we allow into our brains and hearts the General Party Line of consumerism.

The latter-day Line - an exhortation to hedonistic, somnanbulistic, egoism - is urged on us in various ways.

It forms a backdrop to our politicians' various, ostensibly and superficially competing, forms of vote-scrounging, in a perversion of authentic parliamentary government - "Vote," in all cases, from the exalted Donald Trump right down to the most pitiable municipal councillor, "for the Great Me, in whom you see a reflection of the Great You, in all its self-seeking."

It is arguted intellectually (somewhat as the генеральная линия was argued intellectually by the "theoreticians" in the Union's various Departments of Philosophy) by the extensive "Business" sections of our contemporary bookstores.

It is urged in crudely hypnotic sound-and-image techniques (already explored with verve and skill, back in the Reich, on monochrome celluloid, by cinéaste Leni Riefenstahl) over our contemporary airwaves and Web.

(B) We are again in the present day not free if we allow into our brains and hearts the General Party Line of consumerism's principal contemporary competitor, religious fundamentalism (be it Christian or non-Christian - and if Christian, then be it Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, or Catholic).

Freedom consists in living in truth.

Freedom in this sense can be lost in the midst of contemporary material culture, and can equally be lost in the church pew. Visible, institutional, Catholicism can function, despite its authentic charisms, as one of the "principalities and powers" from which the authentic Bride of Christ, the Church not-here-fully-visible, is to set us free.

Conversely, freedom in this sense can be gained even behind the barbed wire of the Stalag or gulag, or even in the teeth of ecclesial repression.

Living in truth involves mindfully - reflectively, deliberately, wakefully - living our dual nature, both (a) as sentient animals immersed in what now proves to be a radically fragile biosphere and (b) as analyzing and valuing subjects, engaging with that same fragile biosphere in transcendence.

People live under the first heading when they (e.g.) diligently, mindfully, mend some article of clothing, or diligently, mindfully, plant seeds.

People live under the second heading when they engage, in a duly diligent, mindful, self-effacing, way, in science and scholarship. Still more important, however, than such scientific and scholarly missions - vital though these are - is a trio of activities by no means confined to élites: (1) the diligent thinking-through of practical problems (as when we plan a garden or devise a tool: many people can do this); (2) loving service to others (as when we help nurse the sick, comfort the homeless, or administer a municipality: again, many can do this, including those lacking advantages of intellect and education); and (3) prayer (this is even more open to everyone than are the abundant concrete, materially effective, opportunities for loving service - as can be seen from, for example, the contemplative lives of homeless Saint Francis of Assisi and homeless, mentally ill, Saint Benedict Joseph Labré).

The two kinds of living are not sharply distinct. It is in many cases in and through living under the first heading that people come to "have Life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10) under the second heading. Many people can therefore truthfully say, even in the spirit of John 10:10: I do not find myself saying many prayers. And yet my life - its labours, its sufferings, its joys (including its moments of apprehended beauty) is itself a prayer. 

Innermost House - in its shelves of classics in their fine bindings; in its austerely meatless meals, cooked over coals in what looks like a Rumford hearth; in its communion with the forest or savanna fauna of California; and to my mind above all in its celebration of crafts, as documented at - affirms the possibility, under the current adverse cultural conditions, of making our lives a prayer.

[This is the end of the current blog posting.]

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