Tuesday, June 30, 2009
I agree. God knows, when I was a review editor I had to put up with all sorts of people importuning me on behalf of books and authors. I figured that came with the territory and I like to think I handled it with grace. I know I was never snarky about it.
Choice of attention - to pay attention to this and ignore that - is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be.- W. H. Auden
Monday, June 29, 2009
Burckhardt's The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy is probably the only book I've read three times. His Force and Freedom ought to be mandatory reading for Americans these days.
I have posted this picture before. It is a watercolor Debbie did of a red Bartlett pear. Debbie is out somewhere painting right now. I said to her this morning that I thought the pear worked because it was a painting of the pear and not just a painting. My point was that, when she did it, she was more engaged with the pear than she was with making a painting. My further point is that the creation of art has to do primarily with apprehension of the world and what is in the world and only secondarily with the creation of an art object, poem, etc. Comments, please.
However, those acts of self-realisation are increasingly thwarted in organised society. When people learn to cooperate, a struggle ensues because we become disconnected from the products of our labour. The ever-more complex modes of production manifest in capitalism lead to the deepest sense of alienation. We lose touch with the land, though can't give up on the expectation that work will fulfil us, even when it abuses and empties us.
There is one theory regarding the origin of the word religion that has it deriving from religare, meaning "to bind back." Religion, in other words, properly understood, is that by which we maintain our connection to things and to time passing and past. I have never myself felt especially alienated, but, as I have frequently pointed out, I am uncommonly shallow.
Authentic religion, then, is characterised by being kenotic – that is other-oriented and self-emptying; unknowing – like Socrates who did not seek to prove anything but to bring about a change of mind based upon a realisation of wise ignorance; and spiritual – in the sense of being a labour of love through which someone comes to see the transcendent in the everyday.
Yesterday afternoon, I attended a Tridentine Mass that was celebrated in my parish. Precisely because it was in Latin and sung - in other words, precisely because it was not the prosaic and wanly literal exercise that is the vernacular Mass - it moved the mind and heart to contemplate the mystery one senses - but cannot hope to define - lurking behind being. Starting in October, there will be a Tridentine Mass at my parish every Sunday at noon.
Lining the gravel roads and the golf-cart paths were little winsome bronzes of flute players, rows of grateful, grinning kiddies, clusters of hand-holding tots, some with banjos, some with fishing rods; and large bronze statues, too, like the centrepiece of the circular drive in front of Michael's house, a statue of Mercury (god of merchandise and merchants), rising 30 feet, with winged helmet and caduceus, and all balanced on one tippy-toe, the last of the syrupy sunset lingering on his big bronze buttocks, making his bum look like a buttered muffin.
And the view from Cleveland: Director Timothy Rub leaving Cleveland Museum of Art to head Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
Sunday, June 28, 2009
I suppose if Richard Dawkins had any sense of humor, particularly in regard to himself, he would realize that, increasingly, he is making a public fool of himself.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Deep down, after all, celebrities are human, too.
I had the privilege of chatting with Harry a couple of times many years ago after I wrote a piece about him that he liked. He was an immensely charming and funny guy. I miss him.
The group has worked in some 60 countries, he says, to help prevent the kind of cultural and environmental devastation caused by projects like the Three Gorges dam on China's Yangtze River.
Friday, June 26, 2009
I'm not sure why any of this our business or what bearing it has on his ability to be an effective governor, but, like it or not, a public matter it has become.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
A lot to agree with - and plenty to disagree with. Good to see Alan Rickman get his due - twice. Hannibal Lector is vastly more interesting than Darth Vader. And what about Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher? Heartwarmingly creepy in my view.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
“The Catcher in the Rye,” published in 1951, is still a staple of the high school curriculum, beloved by many teachers who read and reread it in their own youth. The trouble is today’s teenagers. Teachers say young readers just don’t like Holden as much as they used to. What once seemed like courageous truth-telling now strikes many of them as “weird,” “whiny” and “immature.”"... beloved by many teachers who read and reread it in their own youth." That's a problem right there. I never liked the book or Holden - which I guess amounts to the same thing.
Monday, June 22, 2009
I have a hard time with lists like this. I can think, off the top of my head, of two volumes I would have to have: Wallace Stevens and Cavafy. Probably Le grand Meaulnes, to remind me of who I was when I was young. I can't imagine living without Keats. Or Chaucer.
But, speaking of Le grand Meaulnes, I happened upon this.
I would suggest that the key to the book lies in working one's way back from the last couple of sentences: "Admirtal Meaulnes had left me one joy; I felt that he had come to take it back from me. And already I could imagine him at night, wrapping his daughter in his cloak and setting out with her for new adventures."
The book isn't about Meaulnes. It is about Francois, the narrator - and, by extension, the reader.
“If you practise for ten years, you may begin to please yourself, after 20 years you may become a performer and please the audience, after 30 years you may please even your guru,” he once said. “But you must practice for many more years before you finally become a true artist.”
I remember seeing him years ago - at the Academy of Music, I believe. I remember enjoying the concert immensely, but details are otherwise strangely vague. I must have been high as a kite that night.
This is not to suggest that Joyce's book is flawless. I still agree with J.B. Priestley: "Joyce was not taking the novel anywhere; he has to be enjoyed but then bypassed. ... In terms of the novel, Joyce is an eccentric with astonishing gifts and of unquestionable genius. He is not so much a novelist as a unique combination of fantasist, humorist, scholar, poet. ... most of what we have been told about Joyce as a great modern master of the novel , changing the course of fiction, opening a way for later novelists, is nonsense. [His] are the astonishing creations of a comic poet of genius, who did whatever appealed to his idea of prose narrative in depth; and in those works he is unique and inimitable."
"Pity the poor American car when Congress and the White House get through with it — a lightweight vehicle with a small carbon footprint, using alternative energy and renewable resources to operate in a sustainable way. When I was a kid we called it a Schwinn."See also this about government financial acuity. Post bumped.
Meanwhile, in Richmond, Va., An Unhappy Hour at the Poe Museum for detective story fans. (Hat tip, Paul Davis.)
As the subject of a big retrospective, Bacon's life certainly has a narrative power. And without anything by Giacometti or Picasso to remind us of the poetic power that can be discovered in the anti-naturalistic figure, Bacon's brutalist paintings are going to strike many observers as the only representational alternative available to an artist in our terrible times. The lack of delicacy or sensitivity-- the lack of imagination in the handling of color or line--becomes not the artist's weakness but ours, a reflection of the troubles of the age. Bacon's work is a blunt instrument, and museumgoers who begin to feel threatened or manipulated may well conclude that this is what Bacon intended. They may not be wrong. ... Bacon is another specialist in sensory deprivation. There is a Stockholm Syndrome quality about these exhibitions. They give us so little, and what we are meant to discover is that we could not possibly be satisfied with anything more.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Some members of the faithful may find this shocking and disturbing, but it strikes me as what faith is all about - really thinking through the content of your act of faith, letting your thoughts lead you where they may. Genuine faith is neither easy nor pretty.
Characteristically outstanding work from Bryan.
Some random afterthoughts of mine:
Sunnstein himself seems safely ensconced in a like-minded set, and his book sounds like another Malcolm Gladwell-style offering of cocktail-party talking points.
It would almost seem as if I prefer the company of those I disagree with, but I think it is more the case that most people tend to conform and do so by following the course of least resistance. I am reflexively nonconformist. "Which way are you going?" someone once asked Albert Jay Nock. "The other way," Nock replied. My sentiments exactly.
"Most people think little," Somerset Maugham observed, and most people's views are fashion statements of one sort or another. I know plenty of people who get their opinions from the New York Times exactly as they get their suits from Brooks Brothers - because both are presumably high-end, fequented by the "best people," etc.
"Belief is clinging to a rock," that oddly wise fellow Alan Watts once said. "Faith is learning how to swim." We need faith if we would plunge into the sea of uncertainty that is life, but most people are timorous and cling to the bogus certainty of cherished formulae.
Finally, I would draw your attention to some questions raised by Larry Lamb, one of Bryan's commenters: "What about legitimate convictions? What about bona fide absolutes? What about true values that require stalwart defence?"
... David Hiltbrand review Luis Alberto Urrea's latest: A Mexican teen's funny, heroic quest.
... Glenn Altschuler on How media have molded modern Jewish religion.
... Sandra Scofield on A walking tour of misery in an Indian town.
See also Rachel Simon on homes and hearts.
by E. E. Cummings
my father moved through dooms of love
Saturday, June 20, 2009
He faults all these reports for all relying on “non-peer reviewed, unsupportable studies rather than the relevant peer-reviewed literature” and for “featuring non-peer-reviewed work conducted by the authors.”Shouldn't this concern all scientists?
Friday, June 19, 2009
If there was any doubt about Mr. Prescott's judgments, he defined his positions in an essay written after his retirement and published in The Saturday Review. First of all, he said that "all critics practice a craft which consists of personal, subjective opinion tempered by experience and wide reading." It was, he said, "not only inevitable but fitting and proper that they should disagree among themselves."
Then he named the contemporary novelists he thought were "worthy of thoughtful attention," but who were "excessively overpraised" by his colleagues. On Mr. Prescott's list were William Faulkner ("the most distinguished of these intermittently brilliant authors"), John O'Hara, Robert Penn Warren, John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow, John Updike, J. D. Salinger, William Styron, Henry Green, Graham Greene, Laurence Durrell, Gunter Grass and Vladimir Nabokov.
In contrast, he said, there were novelists who were "more significant and truthful interpreters of life." Their novels "represent the best fiction of the past 25 years." On this list were John P. Marquand, James Gould Cozzens, Louis Auchincloss, Conrad Richter, John Hersey, Joyce Cary, C. P. Snow Rumer Godden and Evelyn Waugh.
Debatable for sure, but there is much to be said for that list of writers he thought were "more significant and truthful interpreters of life."
But Debussy, who styled himself musicien Francais, based his early cantata La Demoiselle élue on Dante Gabriel Rossetti's poem "The Blessed Damozel" and preferred Turner to Monet.
“They’re wild animals, and they’re predators,” Mazzotti says. “Treating them with that small amount of respect and intelligence is the best thing we can do to live with them.”
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Every old skin in the leather world, infect the whole stock company of the old house of the Leaking Barrel, was thomistically drunk, two by two, lairking o' tootlers with tombours a'beggars, the blog and turfs and the brandywine bankrompers, trou Normend fashion, I have been told down to the bank lean clorks?
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
See also Roger Miller's review: The Un-PC bar code.
Post bumped. (By the way, had it come my way when I was The Inquirer's book editor, I would have run Roger's review. Bawer's While Europe Slept was reviewed when I was book editor.)
Dave Lull sends along this: memo from europe.
As it happened, I had problems with the book. Of course, space in newspapers is at a premium these days, and the idea of running what would at best be a mixed review of a first novel did not appeal. So the review was canceled.
The novel did get a brief, discouraging review in Publishers Weekly, which you can read at the Amazon page to which I linked.
Now I happen to pretty much agree with that review, but a question keeps popping up in my mind: Is it good for literature that papers no longer have space to pay attention to first novels?
If a person of note writes a novel, it will likely get some attention because of the author's celebrity. Ditto for a writer known for writing something besides fiction. But the journeyman writer who has published stories here and there, and who gets a novel finished and published is likely to see that book ignored, unless some reviewer decides it's really good and manages to persuade an editor to run a review of it.
Not to review such books is to leave a gap in literary dialogue of rather gigantic proportions. So I thought I would take some time here to discuss what I liked and what I didn't about Chest Pains.
The story centers on Gordon Clay, a failed bass player who teaches at a community college someplace in the boonies of California. Gordon is 42, seems older, lives with two cats, and is not in the best of shape. In fact, he's been having chest pains, though his heartaches are as much emotional as physical. (One of his students, a tone-deaf postulant nun named Sister Cecilia, gets him to the doctor.)
One night, Gordon gets a phone call from a woman in the town - though at first he thinks she's calling long distance - who sounds just like and has the same name as Carrie, his one true love from whom he split years before. This other Carrie happens to be married to another guy named Gordon Clay. This Carrie thinks her Gordon has snatched their kid.
OK, pretty coincidental all round. But it could work. But only if everything else works. And little else does.
Using his need for exercise as a pretext, Gordon visits the local playground to see if he can meet up with the new Carrie. One mother thinks he's getting too chummy with the kids and soon Gordo is getting a warning from the playground gendarme to keep his distance. I had two problems with this. One, I don't think mothers in general have yet become quite as paranoid as this suggests. Second, if you get a warning from a cop, heed it.
Eventually, Gordon meets a Polynesian single mom called Mikilauni Kukula. She's a knockout, he's smitten, and she, improbably, takes to him. (I don't know what Polynesian immigrant communities are like - I didn't even know there were any - but the one here is portrayed in a manner that is not exactly flattering.)
The action has mostly to do with Gordon's friendship with Sister Cecilia, who leaves the convent, but whose spirit remains buoyant, and his involvement with Mikilauni, which naturally does not go all that smoothly - though smoother than it deserves.
When we're with Gordon by himself, he and the novel come alive. The interaction of the college faculty is also good. The faculty members may be more caricatures than characters, but they are well drawn and effective caricatures. The problem is, whenever Gordon steps out of his house or his office, he seems to enter some fantasyland where everything is a little askew and nothing quite convinces. The incidents and turns of plot seem tacked on as needed. They are not organically connected to the characters and action. That action, by the way, pretty much just comes to a stop. There is no real sense of anything having been resolved at the end.
There is one other thing, which, while incidental, draws enough attention to itself to be seriously annoying. If you're going write about the Catholic Church, have some Catholic proof your book. The church mentioned at the beginning of Chapter Two would be called Our Lady of Lourdes, not Our Lady of the Apparitions of Lourdes. There is no part of the Mass called the Transubstantiation. Transubstantiation is Thomas Aquinas's hylomorphoic explanation of what takes place at the Consecration. People visited with the stigmata are called stigmatics, not stigmatists. Such slips cancel versimilitude for anyone who knows better.
There is some good writing in these pages, and a genuine sense of the absurd is on display from time to time. I can easily imagine someone else reading this book and enjoying it more than I did. And even though I didn't particularly like it, I do think it shows promise.
Well, if you have a vision while still in possession of your body, I would imagine there would be brain waves in connection with it.
For Péguy, both fidelity and hope are not static habits or concepts, but dynamic, living forces. It was an insight he had learned and developed from an early friend, Henri Bergson. Mere abstract doctrines of fidelity or hope may themselves become obstacles to the spirit. By contrast, real hope is the forward thrust of life; someone who is in despair, literally without hope, cannot be argued back into another attitude. Hope can only be received from God; it reconnects the hopeless person “to the source, to a reawakening in him of the child.”
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
For those of us who regret the hegemony of the Classicists' Classics, the chewy Anglo-Saxonisms of Mirkwood and its surrounds are a vindication. We always knew these other gods and monsters were cooler.
Gerard Manley Hopkins and Percy Grainger would be pleased.
Regarding the videos I recorded at the poetry conference: They are have some technical difficulties uploading them, but I feel sure they'll have them up soon enough. I am hardly in any of them, so I can, without boasting, say that they are quite worthwhile.