Sunday, May 31, 2009
Gray, as we have seen, is not much interested in humanity, that plague on the planet as he calls us. ‘The single greatest threat to global ecological stability comes from human population growth’, he writes in ‘An Agenda for Green Conservatism’ (1992). A ‘crowded world choked with noise and filth’, he continues, will not only lead to ecological collapse but will deny ‘the human need for solitude and wilderness’.But why would someone who thinks of us a plague on the planet care about our need for solitude or wilderness? Sounds phony to me.
... Karen Quiñones Miller on Coloson Whitehead: One teen's uncompelling summer of '85.
... David Hiltbrand looks at Murder set amid the world of hip-hop.
... and, in case you missed it yesterday, me on Robert Littell: The menace and terror of Stalin.
Also: Travel Bookshelf: Expert advice, quirky Parisian hotels.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Friday, May 29, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
“Annihilating flatters something obscure, something original in us. It is not by erecting but by pulverising that we may divine the secret satisfactions of a god. Whence the lure of destruction and the illusions it provokes among the frenzied of any era.”
R.T. of Novels, Stories, and More and I have been exchanging emails regarding Cormac McCarthy's The Road - proof positive that two people can have widely divergent views of the same book and remain on speaking terms. R.T. has just posted PART ONE – Revisiting Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD.
This was the time when AT&T, which legally owned your phone, would let you have one in any color as long as it was black. So tasteful people like Mark, or more likely the decorator he surely must have hired, bought colored plastic shells to fit over them. A large glass “window” decorated with Miro-like fi sh separates the apartment from the veranda. (When I was a kid growing up in dingy tenements in a small city in upstate New York, I would see places like this in movies and think, “That must be how real people live.”)
... what does Cioran offer us? An alternative, I would argue, to the shuffling and reshuffling of pieties, to the superficial investigations of language and politics, to the long academic boredom that has settled over philosophy.
Piers Paul Read and I have resumed our email correspondence concerning his new novel, The Death of a Pope. (The initial exchange is here. And here is the website for the book.) Feel free to comment.
My last question was this:
FW: I have sometimes made the point in lectures that there is a creative dimension to reading: The reader must exercise his own imagination in order to realize what the author has written.
FW: This brings to mind, for some reason, what Sister Elizabeth says to Father Luke at the conclusion of the retreat he gives the nuns: "It has been most instructive for our younger sisters to hear a voice from the past." Now, if there is any institution for which the past, in Faulkner's phrase "isn't even past," it's the Roman Catholic Church. But Sister Elizabeth seems typical of many in today's church is not seeming to understand that tradition is, as Chesterton put it, "a democracy of the dead," extending the franchise to our ancestors. Might one problem of people like Uriarte be that they are imprisoned in the present? Might the Devil be the supreme temporizer? Of course, many people, coming up this exchange, will think us strange for evil talking as we are about the Devil.
PPR: Didn't T.S. Eliot talk about temporal provincialism, and Chesterton say that one of the advantages of being a Catholic was that it saved one from being a child of one's time? Of course the Church talks about reading the signs of the times, and that is what many of the Liberationists thought they were doing. But their discernment, in my view, was wrong: and many people suffered as a result - both physically and spiritually.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
"...he had to bid farewell to a part of himself, his life as a libertine, and that seemed to him close to masochistic torture."
"Amelie was living under the despotic reign of her mother's grief."
Reading Lovers I swore on several occassions that I was in the middle of Laughter and Forgetting or Life is Elsewhere.
The link is fixed. Elberry is right that the one I mistakenly linked to was funny, but Dave didn't send it, and it wasn't long.
I did note this, though: "... conservative social critics have been blowing the apocalyptic bugle at every large-scale tech-driven social change since Socrates’ famous complaint about the memory-destroying properties of that newfangled technology called “writing.”
Socrates, famously put to death for "corrupting youth," was a conservative social critic? And all those newspaper people deploring blogs, they're all conservative social critics? Who knew?
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
... Tolkien aimed for directness and authenticity. He did so by imitating poetic meters used by the early Norse—meters that (much like those in Old English) depend on alliteration (rather than rhyme) and a spacing of pauses and beats.
... Faith in the future.
It is one thing to argue that the model of universal secularisation is mistaken, and to show – as the authors do very effectively – that the decline of religion in Europe is not going to be repeated worldwide. It is another thing altogether to suggest that an American kind of religiosity is spreading nearly everywhere.
One problem is the conception of religion the authors deploy.
Nearly always, religion for them means monotheism – more specifically, Christianity and Islam. Polytheistic and non-theistic religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism are allowed a few pages, but only in order to argue that “American methods can work” even for them.
I have at times been critical of John Gray, but this is an excellent, well-balanced review. I have always thought it interesting that secularists should find America's persistent religiosity peculiar, given that so many of its colonies were established for religious reasons. Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman may not have been conventional churchgoers, but they sure were religious. Also, with its veneration of saints, Catholicism is much more compatible with polytheism than Evangelical Protestantism. My neighborhood has lately been graced with a large number of immigrants from Mexico. Their religiosity may not be conventionally American, either, but it is genuine and deep. Our Lady of Guadalupe rules. Gray hits the bull's-eye with this:
God is Back may not show that the American way of religion is uniquely well suited to the modern condition. Where this urgently relevant book succeeds triumphantly is in demolishing the myth of an emerging secular civilisation.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
I have been exchanging emails with Piers Paul Read about this book (an exchange begun after I had written my review) and he has agreed to let me reproduce it here. What follows is just the beginning:
I found this rather heartening, since many people seem to be always on the lookout for some hero to do God's work, whereas God is fully capable of doing His own work using the people who come to hand, as it were.
FW: I did feel at the end, when Kate cries, that she does on some level "get it." This morning, at Mass, I kept thinking for some reason of Monsignor Perez. He is vain - very preoccupied with the details of ecclesiastical preferment. And yet he has a sincere and simple faith that prompts him to set in motion a chain of events that will thwart evil.
Then there is Cardinal Doornik - who would never have assented to what Uriarte really has in mind - but who can wrap his conscience around breaking a vow ... for what he perceives to be a higher good. Doornik shares with the good people in the book their imperfections, though unlike the others he cannot rise above them.
Uriarte is different from all of the rest. He is so smooth, so self-possessed and self-confidant. He has indeed achieved a kind of bloodless perfection. Somerset Maugham says somewhere that perfection is a trifle dull. In Uriarte you have created a character who leads one to think that perfection can also be more than a trifle menacing.
So how would you describe the moral divide separating Uriarte from the others?
PPR: Is there such a great moral divide between Uriarte and Cardina Doornik and Monsignor Perez? I would have thought they were all united in the sin of pride. Uriarte is ahead of the others - a Luciferian figure - and, despite their basically good intentions, he pulls them down in
his wake. The most neglected virtues these days, it seems to me, are humility and chastity. I have tried to suggest that it is a hatred of chastity as well as pride that motivates Uriarte, something Kate realises towards the end of the novel.
FW: I have sometimes made the point in lectures that there is a creative dimension to reading: The reader must exercise his own imagination in order to realize what the author has written.
We seem to have imagined Monsignor Perez somewhat differently - or did I discern a sympathy that you may have been unaware of consciously? At any rate, I imagined Perez as a sad and somewhat lost soul, who at least has enough of a moral sense ... to have his confession heard by priest he knows is not a temporizer.
I even sensed a certain sad, lost quality to Doornik. I suppose what I amn wondering is this: Do these characters affect the reader more sympathetically than you perhaps intended?
Uriarte, on the other hand, is definitely Luciferian as you say, which is what makes him such a compelling figure. Were your book to be made into a film, what a great role Uriarte would provide some actor (Benicio del Toro perhaps - he's already played Che Guevara, a far less interesting figure than Uriarte).
We are the same age, so both of us remember when there was no "traditionalist" branch of the Church. That "branch" was the Church. The Death of a Pope portrays a Catholic Church that is not only at odds with the world, but also with itself in some sense. If this is a correct perception about the book, it would also seem to follow that the book is reminding us that forces are at work on behalf of the Church far greater than any individual, whether Pope or parishioner, can
ever muster. Is this correct and if so, could you elaborate?
This is where we are so far. I will continue to update and bump the post up.
This sure is long.
... A star, his foibles, and his flaws.
... From war to noir, and it's a wild ride.
... Susan Balée on Colm Tóibín: Homesick in a new world.
I have a review in today's paper also, but am linking to it separately.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
... Overheard on a train from Lords of the Blog. (Now if Maxine wanted to write a mystery novel, there's a good opening gambit.)
... introducing Ercument Buyuksumnulu. I much prefer Maxine.
... Richard and Judy and other sales figures.
... British Library offers test drive of e-readers. Wait for the Kindle.
... A CrimeFest round-up.
Some may find interesting what I had to say a few years regarding the sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia: Toll the bell, close the book, quench the candle ...
That is what hooks us on poetry - that discovery that words can be music. I can still recite the poems I have always known and I can still memorize poems with comparative ease. It bothers me that don't bother to do so more.I remember astounding my parents, when I was I suppose 8, by memorising the lengthy narrative poem Edinburgh After Flodden (by W.E. Aytoun), of which I understood very little - it was the music I was memorising (as when I learnt the prologue to Henry V at a similarly precocious age).
I met Shawn McBride after a reading once. We did, of course, attend the same high school. And I meant what I said about his book.
Friday, May 22, 2009
I certainly don't think one should seek to be admired. But I'm not sure one should seek to be loved, either. Nice if it happens, of course. What is important is learning to love, which can often mean the acceptance of not being loved in return.
I notice that Myers does not address this part of Allen's piece:
Then there's P.Z. Myers, biology professor at the University of Minnesota's Morris campus, whose blog, Pharyngula, is supposedly about Myers' field, evolutionary biology, but is actually about his fanatical propensity to label religious believers as "idiots," "morons," "loony" or "imbecilic" in nearly every post. The university deactivated its link to Myers' blog in July after he posted a photo of a consecrated host from a Mass that he had pierced with a rusty nail and thrown into the garbage ("I hope Jesus' tetanus shots are up to date") in an effort to prove that Catholicism is bunk -- or something.
But he does say this:
Contrary to Allen's claim that we aren't interested in criticizing the important elements of religious belief, we are: We go right to the central issue of whether there is a god or not. We're pretty certain that if there were an all-powerful being pulling the strings and shaping history for the benefit of human beings, the universe would look rather different than it does. It wouldn't be a place almost entirely inimical to our existence, with a history that reveals our existence was a fortunate result of a long chain of accidents tuned by natural selection.I, however, as a person of faith, do not thing of God as "pulling the strings." That's a parodistic notion of God. And given how finely tuned the world is to make itself accommodating to us it is hard to regard it as "a place almost entirely inimical to our existence." But then Myers is a biologist, not a philosopher.
Nock understood that man is lazy, which is not quite the same as slothful. He called this “Epstean’s Law” after a friend who’d said to him over lunch: “I tell you, if self-preservation is the first law of human conduct, exploitation is the second.” Or as Nock rephrased it: “Man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion.” And for Nock, the state is the foremost instrument of Epstean’s Law, allowing powerful men to feed off the creativity, productivity, and labor of others under the veneer of legalisms. Every state, according to Nock, was born in conquest and exploitation. In other words, the state “claims and exercises the monopoly of crime.” This is why Nock had such contempt for businessmen claiming the language of free enterprise even as they petitioned and cajoled the state into rigging the system in their favor: “The simple truth is that our businessmen do not want a government that will let business alone. They want a government they can use.”In 1968, during my Goliard days, I gave a lecture on Nock at Rockford College. I have been a fan since my early 20s and have, right behind, a shelf with most of his books on it. This is a fair and balanced appraisal. Nock's quietism is indeed as dubious as it is tempting.
Have to admit: The dude looks cool in those shades.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
There is something unmistakably late twentieth century in Hinton's love for Tao and Ch'an, and in his way with it. Sometimes he overly domesticates this ancient wisdom, making it sound like a familiar form of progressive orthodoxy, as when he congratulates Taoism for being "deeply ecological" and "radically feminist." As with Rexroth, these Chinese poets can sound distinctly New Age. Just as often, though, Hinton makes the Chinese poets sound like late Heidegger, as when he writes of their interest in "dwelling," or translates the central Taoist concept tzu-jan as "occurrence appearing of itself," echoing Heidegger's translation of the Greek physis as "things ... insofar as they originate and come forth from themselves."
This is what reading is all about - a passionate encounter that enables you to come to know yourself in relation to the world.
Somebody should send Richard Dawkins a copy.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Members of the same sex compete with one another for the best (or the most) mates, and competition favors those who can signal their superiority over their opponents. The most famous example of such a signal is the peacock’s tail, whose extravagance distinguishes its owner from less showy birds and functions as a fitness indicator, proclaiming his health and strength to potential female partners.How do we know that that is what the peahen sees in the peacock's tail? Aren't all peacocks' tails much the same? Or is the peahen able to differentiate subtleties not readily observable by us. If so, how do we know that? Is it not possible that the peacock's splendor is meant to the draw attention of a predator away from the peahen and her nest?
Artistic ability, Dutton concludes, signals exceptional intelligence, wit, wisdom, dexterity, imaginativeness, and the rest of the qualities that (health and attractiveness aside) proclaim their owners’ superiority ...There are plenty of artists who, apart from their specialized talent and skill, are not especially bright or witty or wise or exceptional in any other way.
... the epistemological critique of religion — it is an inferior way of knowing — is the flip side of a naïve and untenable positivism. And the critique of religion’s content — it’s cotton-candy fluff — is the product of incredible ignorance.
Monday, May 18, 2009
"Fine ladies, men of fashion – the London world – ever anxious to make as much of its money as it can, and then wholly unwise (it is not now very wise) in discovering how the most was to be made of it – ‘went in’ and speculated largely. As usual, all was favourable so long as the shares were rising; the price was at one time very high, and the agitation very general. After a time, the shares ‘hesitated,’ declined, and fell; and there was an outcry against everybody concerned in the matter."
I've always loved the part of MacFlecknoe when the kind of dullness decides who shall be his successor:
Shadwell alone my perfect image bears.
Mature in dullness from his tender years;
Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he
Who stands confirmed in full stupidity.
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.
Evidence is what eventually settles science. But in the meantime, one should also be wary of sleights of hand. The multiverse is a hypothesis for which there is no evidence, and perhaps can never be any evidence.So, if there is no evidence yet, it is not yet science.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
I think these lines are wonderful. It was a blessing to have come upon them as I did.
In the green winter night
That is dark as the cypress bough, the pine,
The fig-tree and the vine
When our long sun into the dark had set
And made but winter branches of his rays,
The heart, a ghost,
Said to our life farewell—the shadow leaves
The body when our long dark sun has gone ...
Indeed. I haven't got involved with Twitter or Facebook or other such things. I've always been the standoffish type who watches what's going on from a safe distance. The web has always seemed to me a kind of enhanced phone line. Still, I think the flip side of the cult of the self Bryan has correctly warns about is the connection that can be made with so many kindred spirits around the world. But for the internet I would not have come to know Dave and Judith and Nige and Maxine - and Bryan himself, to mention only a few. This ability of individuals to connect with others globally has a potential I don't think of any of us can yet fathom.
Link is fixed.What primarily seems to motivate atheists isn't rationalism but anger -- anger that the world isn't perfect, that someone forced them to go to church as children, that the Bible contains apparent contradictions, that human beings can be hypocrites and commit crimes in the name of faith.
The Australian aborigines, I believe, regard dream time as governing our lives. I don't have much of a dream life myself, so I can't say.As I brewed the tea, I wondered whether the dream time was more real than the day time I'm in now.
... Exploring the life of Garcia Marquez. (I remember an interview where Garcia Marquez explained that his friendship with Fidel Castro was entirely based on their mutual love of fishing and fish recipes. As someone who has never criticized Fidel's bouillabaise, I quite understand.)
... Breezy bits of history's sound bites. (Proof, if any was needed, that the New Deal is the nearest many reporters can come to believing in eternal life.)
Welcome to the world of light made lapidary,
shades of pale slate casting tender cerulean hues
variously cobalt basalt, indigo outerglow, slow-dawning
blues. Accept this delicate hypnotopia lovingly rendered
for the singular Individual in that malltitudinous queue.- Judith Fitzgerald
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Sign me up for the "sceptical party," please.
Overy left the Labour party in 1997, when Blair was elected prime minister, and now describes himself as a nonaligned member of the (nonexistent) sceptical party. His central political position — which is not really right or left — is that we need to resist the overweening claims of the state.