Welcome to the Wholly Orders FAQ Page

Here you may find some answers to your questions about Wholly Orders. When it comes to the more profound issues, the kind not listed in any FAQ, stay tuned to the podcast, and we will explore them together.

Some (but not all) of the following material overlaps with material covered in the introductory episode of the podcast.

What is your name?

James Landes

Where are you from?

Kansas. I’ve lived all over, but Kansas is the place where I grew up, and to which I always return.

What does the view of the Western tradition look like from your neck of the woods?

When I was young, the “Western tradition” felt a bit distant. It seemed something walled off from the here and now. Kansas City has a fantastic art museum. I worked there as a student in the summer. I’d go there to commune with Rembrandt and Caravaggio, sometimes having an entire room to myself for several minutes. On the half an hour or so that it took to drive home, I’d try to hold the feeling.

I often wondered if there was anything left for us in Western thinking and philosophy. Like many other spiritually-minded people in my generation, I sought refuge in the Eastern traditions. I got into Zen and eventually moved to Japan. Yet my practice went from diligent but to disillusioned. I learned from experience the truth of the adage: wherever you go, there you are. The spiritual quest there felt like a failure back then. Maybe that’s just because I still wasn’t quite ready to accept what I had gained from it.

In Europe, I visited plenty of museums and cathedrals. They were great, of course, but the feeling of distance remained. My most profound states of reflection came in dialogue with friends on evenings on the Rhine, or while walking around together in Florence.

And I began to realize then that the Western tradition lives in us, not in monuments or artifacts.

If one needs external ornamentation in order to feel a connection to a tradition, one is looking at tradition as a dead and static thing.

Are you some type of authority on the Western tradition?

I bristle at the notion of being called or thought of as an authority. Even the language of social media bothers me. Yes, by all means, “follow” me on Twitter, but please, do not follow me.

Of course, I understand why people might want to know something about me, some credential(s). I have no problem answering those questions. Yet at the same time, when it comes to the search for wisdom, the emphasis should be on the search.

I am using the rich history of Western tradition much more in order to ask questions than to provide answers. Yes, I do see the irony in using an FAQ to make that point.

Looking into these topics could serve us well at this time, when there are so many problems in the Western world. It’s not out of a sense of authority that I am stepping forward. Rather, it comes from a feeling that it’s time for me to do my part.

To the extent that it may matter to some, I do have academic credentials as well. I have studied the Western tradition in some depth.

What are your academic credentials?

I have a Ph.D. in German literature. My dissertation was on Goethe’s Urfaust fragment. I also have two M.A. degrees. One is in philosophy, with an emphasis on phenomenology and existentialism. The other is in German literature, with a specialization in the late eighteenth century. I wrote a Master’s thesis on Herder. In addition to my studies in the US, I also spent a one year each abroad at two different German universities during (post-)graduate study.

Anyone interested in more detail, including links to some of my academic work, should check my profile on academia.edu.

What is the goal of the podcast?

I’d like to examine the Western philosophical and spiritual tradition in a way that reflects my interests and background.

To this I bring academic rigor, while getting rid of the ideological content and consensus bias that one often finds in academic life. I try to discuss things in clear language to the extent possible.

Clarity is also important for another reason. I am often discussing nondual thinking, mysticism, etc., These topics often get woolly or saccharine treatment in non-academic forums. In the latter case I am speaking especially of the fuzzy language in the New Age.

I hesitate to even use some terms lest I be misunderstood, because of the popular connotations. If you are looking for pop philosophy, gurus or secret teachings, you won’t find anything like that here.

Are you an armchair philosopher, or have you actually experienced other cultures and explored philosophical ideas outside of the Western world? Examples?

Aside from my time in the ivory tower, I have been a bit of a wanderer, although a purposeful one. I’m the type of person who would rather visit another country for a year than to take a whirlwind tour of seven countries in two or three weeks, because I like to immerse myself in that culture and get to know it. I took some years off between the two M.A. degrees, in order to do just that sort of thing.

I lived in Japan for over three years. For many years before and after that I maintained at least a casual interest in Zen, with some serious za-zen practice from time to time. Dōgen’s writings have long been of interest to me, and from the contemporary period, I find Shunryū Suzuki’s work Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind to be quite profound, and vastly underappreciated in its elegantly simple presentation.

Which philosophers/thinkers/poets have most influenced you?

Heidegger was the largest single influence on my thought in my twenties. His vision of the Western philosophical tradition and of technology were and are of great importance to me. In large part my turn to poetry came from my reading of Heidegger.

Meister Eckhart himself is an important influence as well. I’ve turned back to him numerous times over the past 20-25 years. Especially during what I can best describe as a metanoia experience some years ago, to which I allude in the opening of the first season, and then explain in greater detail in the second season. For me ultimately there is no wholeness in thinking without a sacred dimension. Meister Eckhart helped me to reconnect to my Catholic upbringing.

Goethe is a great influence, and was the focus of my dissertation. His yoking together of poetry, philosophy, and science is something that I greatly admire.

I have long had a strong interest in poetry and poetics. Herder’s poetics, for instance. I am also particularly interested in the poetic response to mechanistic science and the technological. This interest is really central to the first season of the podcast, as I explained in my talk at Harvard Divinity School in late 2018.

There are too many poets to list here, but I will mention a few. Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, Novalis, Rilke from the German tradition. Blake, of course, and really all the English Romantics.

From times closer to ours, Hopkins, Yeats, Eliot. Among contemporaries, Les Murray.

And then there are those who write about sacred tradition, which is really where my thinking is headed these days. I’m Catholic, rather than Romantic, in fact.

I’m interested in many philosophers, poets, historians, and theologians in the Catholic tradition. There really are too many here to mention, too, (and some were already listed among the poets) but I am a great admirer of Benedict XVI. The tradition is vast, so there are many to admire from Augustine in antiquity to someone like Cardinal Sarah in the present.

While my own traditionalism is more of the Catholic variety, as I make clear in season two, I’m also quite interested in the traditionalist approaches of Kathleen Raine and Philip Sherrard, both of whom I mention in the show.

Do you frequently reference specific philosophers/thinkers/poets in your podcast? Are you basing your podcast on specific works?

I would and will reference any of the above-mentioned, and many more. [See answer to previous question regarding influences.] My podcast is not based on specific works, necessarily.

Nor is it meant to be merely an exposition of any or all of these thinkers ideas or their collective bodies of work. It is a creative endeavor on my part, resulting from a variety of influences with my personal experience.

As such, it is subject to change, as I move from one thread of argument to the next.

What kind of a podcast is this?

One thing that I would like to stress is that this podcast is a journey and not an end. It is definitely not meant as a series of lectures.

Also, given the broad use of the term ‘philosophy’ on the internet these days, I should also like to make something clear.

I mean philosophy in the classical sense — the love of wisdom. Not in the sense of anyone’s personal or life philosophy.

Where does the name “Wholly Orders” come from?

Of course, part of it is a play on the words ‘holy orders’ in the religious tradition, with an allusion as well to the emphasis upon wholeness within thinking that I am describing in this project.

I’ve noticed that you place emphasis on the words “Western” and “Tradition.” Is this site about politics?

No. I don’t think so.

That might be hard for some people to swallow. These days almost anything that anyone says or does these days is judged politically. It’s appalling, really, and not a sign of a healthy society. There are people out there using terms like Western and Tradition in a very political manner. If you react to terms like Western or Tradition either in abject horror or chauvinistic pride, you’ve probably let some ideology get the better of you.

I’d prefer to get beyond the limitations of ideology. Ideologies rely on gross reductionism and abstraction, forcing all experience and phenomena into pre-determined categories.

Ideologies tend to get more radical, sweeping and reductive as they try to iron out the wrinkles that they cannot explain. Narrowing one’s perspective might bring some comfort, but, I would suggest, causes more problems than it solves.

Please don’t mistake this as a “neutral” position regarding all ideologies. Ideologies tend to be reductionist, but the worst ones are also soulless and totalitarian.

Of my many friends who, like myself, have left (as opposed to retired from) academia in recent years, I’ve not heard a single one say that they miss it.

Why is creativity important, and how does it find expression in your life?

Creativity, and by extension, the imagination, is, for me, the highest faculty of the human being.

There is no reason that we should surrender this birthright, but we are pressured to do so in many ways. We are taught to see things in a certain way, and the imagination then recedes into the background. “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” says Wordsworth. And then, two lines later, “We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”

The best argument for creativity is not really an argument. It is simply taking up the act of creating, and letting others see the fruit of that work.

At the moment I have to say that this project is my chief creative outlet. Building this platform, hoping to reach others interested in similar ideas, speaks to my soul. It’s a sort of my high-tech version of ‘message-in-a-bottle.’

Are you an artist or an observer only?

I would say both. There is an element of observation and commentary in what I am doing. Yet there’s also an attempt to step in during this chaotic time with something creative, constructive and centering.

You might say that this project marks my transition from being an academic observer toward becoming a public artist.

What do you mean when you say 'holistic' or 'wholeness'?

I certainly don’t mean the sort of New Age catchall use of such terms. “I’m one with everything” blah blah blah.

In modern thinking, think phenomenology and hermeneutics, not the ‘self-help’ or ‘personal growth’ nonsense out there. In the first season, I am examining wholeness through the poetic vision, which develop using mostly modern thinkers who do not follow the Enlightenment emphasis on calculative reason.

In traditional thinking, there is, of course, the sense of unity in thinking within Christendom that preceded the Enlightenment, and that is what I am talking about more from the second season onward, in terms of the sacred, and of the living tradition in Western thinking as seen in the Catholic Church.

There seems to be a shift in your presentation from Season One of the podcast (August 2017 - April 2018) to Season Two (March 2019 - present), namely, your emphasis on religion and your Catholic faith. Is there anything in particular that brought that about?

Many small things, really, but it all started with my intuition telling me toward the end of Season One that Philip Sherrard (who came from the perspective of the Greek Orthodox tradition) was absolutely correct in his assertion that wholeness presupposes the sacred.

In 2017 I didn’t set out to make a “Catholic” philosophy podcast, as I think is evident from the first season, when I took much more of a big tent approach to the philosophical issues involved in the discussion. Yet I did make subtle nods to the faith, and promoted the work of Meister Eckhart. Many Catholic listeners picked up on these things, and I was actually quite humbled by some of the responses that I had from listeners who appreciated those references.

Yet I also realized during my extended hiatus that my discussion of a poetic approach to wholeness, one that includes the sacred, owed much more to my Catholicism than I had realized. Acknowledging that is a matter of basic intellectual honesty. It is also a recognition of that which the Catholic tradition has to offer us in these troubled times, which many today (including Catholics) have forgotten, or worse, would rather ignore, deny, or even suppress.

That tradition is important not because it is “old,” but because, unlike the intellecual fads and ideologies of today, it connects us to the sacred mysteries of Jesus Christ, and to a dimension of faith, one that is sorely missing in the fragmented and flattened (post-)Enlightenment worldview of technocratic neoliberalism.

It also connects us to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in a way that calculative thought does not and cannot.

And as I do relate to the Catholic tradition in more than a detached, academic way, I would have no objections or qualms about anyone considering this to be a “Catholic” podcast, although I have no imprimatur, of course.

Yet many of those who have written me with quite deep understanding and appreciation of what I have been doing in the second season are not themselves Catholic.

I’ve always operated with the assumption that people who listen to this program don’t want me to water anything down, or to cater to the trends or fashions of the times, or to hold back when it comes to talking about the truth of any matter.

I see Season Two as building upon Season One by delving more fully into the dimension of faith. I can see why those who do not have such faith might see this as narrowing things down, but in truth, it is more about liberation from the flattened form of thinking that has prevailed since the Enlightenment took its place in the Western mind and began trying to extirpate the sacred.

The more that I see of the technological and ideological flattening of our world into something more akin to an economic equation, the more that I think that it is living tradition of the Catholic Church that points the way out.

Modern thinkers who have been able to describe many of the problems with modern thinking seem still to be stuck in its gears themselves, often, in important ways. Poetic vision gives insight into the problems, but remains fragmented in that it is highly personal and is often of a fleeting nature. And while poetic vision is able to evoke in others glimpses of something other than the technological ‘Enframing’ (the English translation of Heidegger’s Ge-stell), it seems more a dreamlike unity, as opposed to something living and whole in the sense of being a counter or a refuge to this flattened world in which we are living at the moment. The ‘living tradition’ of the Catholic Church, on the other hand, does offer such an alternative, in my opinion.

This realization is at the core of the shift between seasons one and two.

What (type of) traditions are you promoting?

That’s an excellent question.

My formal studies have either been in the Jesuit tradition of presenting philosophy in the context of intellectual history, or in the true tradition of Germanistik as it has classically been taught in Germany, in which one studies the history of the language and literature from its inception to the present.

We cannot put ourselves in the position of those in the past, but we gain wisdom from listening to their voices. There is no profit in condemning them and writing them off as irrelevant.

The past is prologue and helps us to understand our current perspective. The ideological extremists in our midst, who want to erase all tradition, are themselves part of a tradition. One with a poor track record. The same goes for some of the would-be “defenders” of tradition.

Ideologies, identity politics, etc., do not interest me. When it comes to these things, the Christian tradition calls for being in the world, but not of it.

I am promoting the Western contemplative tradition. This includes not merely contemplative thought in the sense of philosophy and poetry, but also, as I make clear from the second season onward, the sacred religious tradition, especially and specifically the living tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.

What do you do when you're not reading and writing?

I enjoy cooking, meditation, and listening to obscure podcasts or old radio programs.

I am a friend to all dogs, and am blessed to have a rescue dog.

I tend to be a bit more DIY with each passing year.

Many have told me that my sense of humor runs slightly dark and very, very dry.

If you have further questions, please use the Contact page.

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