Tuesday, March 27, 2012

IT'S A WISE CHILD...: Saturday night I watched The Return (Возврашение), a recent Russian flick in which two boys go on a camping trip with their recently-returned, long-estranged father and his dark secrets. It's a small movie which punches far above its weight class due to the very true-to-life performances of the two boys, whose relationship undergoes multiple shifts in power dynamics over the course of the movie, and to the color-drenched cinematography. Russia looks just gorgeous here, alive and young and scary. The movie is shot in a way I realized I associate with contemporary horror movies: Everything is bleached or drenched, lots of sickly yellows and drained grays and deep, plush blues. The textures are so finely-notched that you can feel them under your fingertips.
THE BLOGGER AT "THE GROOM'S FAMILY" wants you to ask her anything about the intersection of Jews and Christianity! Personally I'd be interested in her take on Christianity in Jewish Terms, a very pomo essay collection from which I got much more theological meat than I expected.
WHILE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING FOR THE PREVIOUS POST, I found this really nice description of the cinematography in Martha Marcy May Marlene:
I could go on and on about the precise little steps the story takes in doling out, and not doling out, information, or the way the lovely camerawork always seems to be sinking forward as if we're being sucked into an abyss, or the way the background's focus is always fuzzy but not really in a dreamy way, more like a concussion, more like the world beyond the immediate senses is closed off and unreachable, or the way it clicks together piece after piece until the puzzle we're staring at in the very end is simultaneously incompressible and horribly fathomable, to but I don't want to spoil anything for anybody where this wonderful movie's concerned.

I WOULD RATHER NOT GO BACK TO THE OLD HOUSE: I have a post at the spoilerous blog, comparing the endings of Silent House and Veronica Mars season one.
Life is melodramatic, if you look at the whole sweep of it!
--one of the girls from Metropolitan, which I saw tonight for the first time

Thursday, March 22, 2012

...Because the expected answer to this question is always a type of job, it reinforces the idea that the way to find identity and value is through career. Our society is already saturated with messages that the title on your business card is directly connected to your worth as a human being. When kids are bombarded by the questions about which job they’ll eventually hold, it trains them to view adult life through the lens of their place in the workforce.

Similarly, it undermines the concept of vocation. Recently I saw a coloring book where kids could choose to decorate the picture that represented what they wanted to be when they grew up. Among the options were a nurse, a lawyer, a veterinarian, a police officer, a firefighter, and a mom. It was disturbing to see the fruits of a worldview that has no understanding of the difference between a vocation and a job, with motherhood listed alongside ways to get a paycheck. And when a child is constantly encouraged ponder her future career—with the issue posed, as it often is, as one that will define her life—it channels her discernment efforts toward whether she wants to be a musician or a teacher, rather than the more important question of whether she’s called to married life or religious life.


ETA: I like this comment!
I’m all for abolishing “what do you do?” from the grown-up lexicon. When an adult find themselves unemployed, underemployed or in a dead-end job, or even someone who owns their own business and severely struggling, it’s a very uncomfortable conversation stopper.
but for kids? Why that would wipe out the beautiful opportunities for children to respond to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with, “An octopus!” or “A dinosaur.”
We can’t have that!
COLOR PHOTOS OF AMERICAN CHILDREN, 1940S. Via Flavorwire. Last one is my favorite.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A FOOTNOTE on Spinoza and The New Jerusalem. And Unequally Yoked has one post on it so far. (In the latter case, linking is not endorsing! I would not frame most of these issues the way UY does.)
THREE MYTHS ABOUT THE CHURCH TO GIVE UP FOR LENT. From the unimportance of monsignors to the crucial witness of martyrs. I'd say 95% of public discussion of Catholicism in this country assumes the truth of all of these myths.

(Also, if PG Wodehouse shuffled back onto this mortal coil, I'd like to think his next book would be called The Unimportance of Monsignors.)
PRAYING THE ROSARY THROUGH ART: Crisis has posted the entire series. Really, really nice choices. The joyful mysteries; sorrowful; glorious.
It was getting late
with the warm fuzz
of the wine
well worked into our minds
when the first sign
of the Kingdom of Heaven
in a back room
with only the paid help
as witnesses
and the quality
of the gift
passing unnoticed
because of our

--"The Jesus Poems: Cana," by this guy

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"THE SECRET OF NIMH": A Kindertrauma tribute!
"THE DEATH-HAUNTED ART OF FRIENDSHIP": Catholic Lane has been generous enough to let me do a whole series on this topic! The introductory installment is here. Please do let me know if there's something I should be sure to look at or something you'd especially like me to touch on.
OCCAM'S RAZOR IS THE WORST RAZOR! Some thoughts on revisiting The New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza, which has been revived at the DCJCC's Theater J and will play through April 1. My review of the original production is here, so these are just some scattered additional notes. (Oh, and here's a post about a Philadelphia production, over at The Groom's Family!)

First, the play is still fantastic, Alexander Strain is still ridiculously compelling despite playing a guy who is kind of a jackass (albeit a jackass under unbearable pressure), and they've toned down the cartoonishness of Rebecca a bit, which I doubt will pacify the people who didn't like her character the first time around.

I still don't understand why Spinoza is so in love with simplicity. Why is a belief, a God, a proposition, or an argument better because it is simpler than other possibilities? Why force a cube-shaped faith on a mountain-shaped world?

The focus on simplicity or unity, along with the strange, unsettling paeans to philosophy as a love with no beloved (or in which the beloved is totally unable to love you back), made me feel like this was all just backsliding into Platonism. Didn't we try this already?

Last time I'm not sure I noticed that both Spinoza and his Gentile Juliet, Clara, do the adolescent thing where they think they're in love with you because you deserve it so much. Everything about Spinoza's pedestal love of Clara is done so well--it's painfully endearing, it's totally wrongheaded, it's relatable, and it captures at least half of the problems with his philosophy. Plus Strain uses his voice really well, shifting perfectly from the ringing tones of the confident genius to a rougher, lower, more intimate register with Clara.

One benefit to the philosopher of having a definite, obligatory community is that he has to deal with everyone's questions, even the ones he doesn't like or see the point of. The Jewish community, because it includes so many people who are totally unlike Spinoza, can provoke and challenge him in a way that a community made up solely of his friends or equally-intelligent philosophers could not. (This, by the way, was one major failing of the "talk back" panel afterward, in which Leah Libresco very ably moderated two academic philosophy-types. We didn't get to talk back! It was insufficiently Jewish--specifically Jewish questions weren't raised at all, actually--and since the audience, full of feisty old Jews, didn't get to ask questions, the panelists were able to stick to their own preferred topics and approaches.)

Spinoza at one point comes very close to echoing this gnomic utterance of the squid!

I was weirdly reminded of this article about David Foster Wallace's use of popular self-help books and his fight against what in AA circles is called "terminal uniqueness" and which I think is called by Catholics spiritual pride. Spinoza by the end of this play has been through many shattering experiences: his father's death, his realization that he will die young of tuberculosis, and then the awful events of the play itself. But the thing is, none of the suffering or humiliation he undergoes happens because he's wrong, or in the wrong. That at least he's spared. And so in the end, when he thanks the congregation (aka us the audience) for what he's gained from what he's been put through, even this is not a gesture of full humility.

So. That's what the play made me think about. What about you?
BODY AND SOUL: What makes the difference between a tradition and a cliche?

Sucker Punch, at the Studio Theater through April 8, is your basic boxing movie translated to 1980s race-riot Britain. This is definitely not a criticism! The play is full of life and although its situations are all ones we've seen before, they feel completely fresh and new.

This is a story about the temptations of success, the pull of communal loyalty, the inevitable destruction of youthful hopes, and the waste and pity of violent, thwarted masculinity. So... it's a boxing movie, is what I'm saying. A terrific one. Predictable (the broken-down white coach has a drinking problem) yet still able to take the audience on an emotional journey. I heard actual sniffles by the end. The climactic fight scene, staged in slow-motion, is incredibly intense and physical. The actors are all fantastic--I'm pretty sure the only one I'd seen before was Dana Levanovsky, one of the stars of That Face. This is a raw, real play, and if it works familiar territory... isn't that where most of our lives are led?

I immediately thought of Wesley Hill's book (not Catholic but we will overlook that for the moment) and less-immediately thought of two kids' books I loved, The Satanic Mill and The Wicked Enchantment. I wrote about them in an old piece which is very flawed but with whose basic thesis I still agree, here. (The 2009 date is when it was reprinted--I'm pretty sure it was originally written in 2002.) Other books I'd push: Kathy Shaidle's Lobotomy Magnificat, Tim Powers's Declare, and Alan Bray's The Friend. You guys doubtless have your own candidates!
[T]here is no progress in love. It will always be a surprise.
--from Pascal Bruckner's new book, The Paradox of Love, reviewed here; want to pay me to review this?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

HONEY, IT'S LATE, TIME TO PUT THE CLOUD OUTSIDE. Via Jesse Walker. I think actually the windows are my favorite part, but the indoor cloud is great too.
In no well-regulated community, under a proper system of police, could the Virgin feel at home, and the same thing may be said of most other saints as well as sinners.
--Henry Adams, according to this guy

Saturday, March 10, 2012

INSEPARABLE: I review A Separation for First Things. Please take their headline lightly (otherwise it's pushier than I intended), and I should have proofread this piece better! But the main thing is that this is a terrific movie which you all should see if you get a chance... if you like depressing familial naturalism, I guess. Yours 'til the kitchen sinks etc etc.
MY AMCONMAG ARTICLE ABOUT THE CULTURE OF FEAR OF DIVORCE is online! Like I said, I'm basically happy with how this turned out.
If America has endured a “divorce revolution” since California passed no-fault divorce in 1969, we’ve now entered the counterrevolutionary phase. Divorce rates have fallen from their peak in the early ’80s, the deep pain often felt by children of divorce is openly acknowledged, and young Americans typically express both fear and a moral horror at divorce. They are determined not to repeat the mistakes of previous generations; avoiding divorce is a constant anxiety, even obsession.

But as with most purely reactionary cultural movements, the revolt against divorce has been much better at targeting what it rejects than figuring out what it’s for. In a strange, sad twist, the divorce counterrevolution has only weakened our marriage culture more.

Here are three things we’ve ignored as we make divorce (and divorced people) the scapegoat for broader problems of family breakdown.

THE COMMENT SECTION FOR EVERY ARTICLE EVER WRITTEN ABOUT PETA. Yes, it goes 0 to Israel in 60 seconds; and there's much, much more. Via Rod Dreher.
SCOTS WITH STICKS COME. Scots with stocks come. Scots with sticks and stocks and glocks come.

Via Unequally Yoked.
IT'S A LONG ROAD FOR A BOX OF CHOCOLATES: Words from a champion... skier? Possibly a skier. I don't sport.
...All of this means it’s the ideal occasion for the “Long Road” speech. As in, it’s a long road we’re traveling, people. As parents cheering from the sidelines we can’t help but want our kids to succeed at everything they do, on every outing. We understand that real progress is often a barely perceptible crawl, and that what we really want for our kids is long term success in life, not in a silly sporting event. But still, we secretly hope for success every time. Wouldn’t it be easier to just have the good days and put off the agony of defeat indefinitely, or at least until adulthood?

I can say from experience that the fantasy of child stardom is not all its cracked up to be. The pros are, of course, an early sniff of glory and an instant endorphin hit of success. Up into my early teens I won every ski race I entered. I fell and got up, and won. My boots got stolen from the car so I borrowed a friend’s mother’s boots, and won. A big kid in ski boots stepped on my bare toes and broke them the day before a race, and the next day I won. You get the picture. Yay me.

But then one day, I didn’t win. And I kept not winning, like it was my new job, until it felt my world had crumbled. I had three close friends who resided solidly in my rear view mirror during my young days of untrammeled fabulousness. All three of them scooted past me and made their ways on to the US Ski Team while I ground my gears. They were teaching me the lesson I had taught them long ago—that sooner or later you’ll get your butt kicked, so you’d better know how to deal with it. I did not appreciate the lesson. ...

Not that true success has anything to do with “making it” in a sport or not. There is no “it”, no achievement that confers success on you. It really is all about finding what matters to you and going after it with all you’ve got. How often do we get to do that?

The long-term view is a very tough perspective for a young person to have. One kid going through an exceptionally frustrating bout of character building summed it to his parents as follows: “I know that this is making me a better person. But right now it sort of sucks.”

He’s right. And there’s no way around it. Dwelling on disappointment is neither healthy nor productive, but disappointment in itself isn’t such a bad thing. It means you have some skin in the game. Coaches and parents may seem to be discrediting the right to be disappointed, and diluting the value of a competitive spirit with default comments like “just have fun,” and “keep smiling.” I still cringe a bit when I interpret those words as admonishments. But as a quasi grown up, I get the broader intent, the reminder to keep your eye on the bigger prize, on enjoying the process. Enjoy the things you get from having the dream, making the effort and going out each day with a goal to get just a little better.

The House of Life,

An avarice
of sleep. Of bright

Had tender eyes,
the demoiselle
of dusk.

Rehearsing love,
the beads of avenir.


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

"DEAR EVE TUSHNIK...." I feel like I shouldn't enjoy this as much as I do. Via Mark Shea.
"THE GUILTY CAN FORGIVE--THE INNOCENT TAKE REVENGE!" Before the first movie in the National Gallery of Art's Robert Bresson series started, we were warned that it was uncharacteristically melodramatic. Maybe that's why I liked it so much! I find Bresson's "mature" style emotionally battened-down to the point of catatonia, and it's really hard for me to get on board with his work, whereas in the early movie Les Anges du Péché (The Angels of Sin--!!!) I was totally engaged and found the characters and their dilemmas really compelling.

The movie takes place in a convent of nuns whose special charism is ministry to women in prison. Many of the nuns are ex-cons themselves. There's fierce Mother St. John, a hard-bitten but deeply humble lady who reserves her tenderness for her cat; well-meaning Anne-Marie, a daughter of privilege with all the self-involved stupidity privilege can breed, but also with a sort of springtime sunniness of nature which evokes empathy even as you want to shake her; Therese, a convict to whom Anne-Marie feels a special and intense pull; and the Mother Superior, working to exercise leadership in a hothouse world of gossip and point-scoring disguised as spiritual direction.

Therese, wrongfully convicted of a crime committed by her lover, speaks the line I used as the post title (which is a better way of describing my problem with Silent Hill, as well!), and the treatment of forgiveness in the movie is rich and insightful. The nuns' humility, pride, complicity, sincerity all come through clearly. The movie has a few noir touches or sequences but is mostly straightforward drama. If you like Dostoevsky and also nuns, you should give this a spin.
THE BOOKS OF "AMONG OTHERS." I've read maybe 28 of these, but my real interest is in the changing--often sublimely weird--conventions for sci-fi pulp paperback covers. Via Jesse Walker.
Lent is a penitential season, but also an invitation to a closer intimacy with God. The Pentateuch presents the forty years of wilderness wandering as a punishment for unbelief, but the prophets offer a startling complementary vision of the desert as a privileged time of intimacy between God and Israel, a romantic season in which God wooed Israel as his bride (Jeremiah 2:2, Hosea 2:16).

The two aspects are inseparable; the time of privileged closeness to God must also be a penitential experience of wilderness wandering.

One night in his study with brandy in one hand and a cigar in the other, [my father] asked quietly, "Do you honestly think, my daughter, that dancing has progressed since the time of the Greeks?"

"No," I replied snappily. "Do you think you write any better than Euripides?" That ought to hold him, I figured.

He looked at me long and slow. "No, my dear," he said, "but we have Euripides' plays. They have lasted. A dancer ceases to exist the minute she sits down."

As Father spoke I understood death for the first time. I was a child of fourteen but I realized with melancholy that oblivion would be my collaborator no matter how fine my work.

--Agnes de Mille, "The Swan," in Dance to the Piper

Saturday, March 03, 2012

...On Sunday evening, Jan. 29, in Germantown, Fowler called his flock together to confess, forgive and repent corporately in a special service he called "Grace Applied."

"We have prayed so long for this service," Fowler began as hundreds of past, present and future church members and leaders filled the seats of the worship center. "Your Holy Spirit has prepared the hearts of many, many people who have a desire to be here tonight."

Fowler had prepared for the service by writing a declaration of confession and forgiveness for the congregation to read aloud together. He also set the stage with three chairs, three basins of water and three white towels.

Fowler introduced three special guests and asked them to join him on stage.

more, via GetReligion (I have no idea what the backstory is here!)
A reader writes in response to Thursday’s post, “Why Are They Here?”:

I feel that I am a faithful Catholic- attend Mass, pray regularly, try to follow the Church in all things. But I fall short on this with one issue- I do disagree about the Church’s stance on homosexuality and gay marriage. My beloved sister is a lesbian, is married (in her state and in the Episcopalian church) to her partner of 15 years. They have 2 beautiful children. I have prayed over this issue, talked to my priest, talked to my husband, read extensively. I know intellectually that what I feel goes against Church teaching. But I cannot/ do not look at what my sister is doing as wrong. I’m happy she found someone she loves to spend her life with. I love her children, and I’m so happy that they exist. My sister and her partner are raising them wonderfully.


So, in a way, I could understand where some of those posters on Jezebel are coming from. Sometimes conservative Catholic bloggers will talk about how they struggled with a Church teaching, but the post always ends with how they changed, and saw the light, and saw the truth and beauty in the Church’s teachings. But what are you supposed to do when that doesn’t happen?

more; comments are a mixed bag but there's some stuff I think my readers would appreciate there too
The memory of the martyrs has historically played an important role in the Christian imagination. It is extremely important that the martyrs not be sentimentalized. They are not always especially good, virtuous, or innocent folk. Ironically, to idealize the martyrs, or victims generally, is to rob them of their common humanity. What makes murder so terrible is not that the victims are virtuous, but that it is murder, the taking of human life in contravention of the law of God. By analogy, we might also say that what constitutes a martyr is not necessarily possession of the Christian virtues, although many martyrs have possessed these in abundance, but rather his or her witness to Jesus Christ. Indeed, William Cavanaugh argues that it is not so much a person’s subjective intention that makes him or her a martyr — motives may well be ambiguous — as simply the church’s recognition of a life that shows forth the reality of Jesus. Paradoxically, the death of the martyr serves as a confirmatory sign that the world belongs not the principalities of the present age, but to God.
--Joseph Mangina, but I found it here