Monday, December 31, 2007

No, the victim does not subscribe to the wish-fulfillment theory, and I advise you not to, neat and fashionable and delightfully punitive as it may be.Reality is grander than that. Reality has more style. There. For those of you who cannot live without one, a moral to this tale. "Reality has style," concludes the embittered profesor who became a female breast. Go, you sleek, self-satisfied Houyhnhnms, and moralize on that!
--The Breast

Sunday, December 30, 2007

...Marlowe's problem is that he tries to wield women's inscrutability for
dramatic effect. His men do unexpected things because they're tormented, or
heroic, or power-mad, and unpacking his men's little mysteries will yield
interesting conclusions about torment, heroism, and lust for power. Isabella and
Zenocrate are mysterious, but reflecting on their little mysteries will just
leave you thinking, "Oh, women." ...Trying to make your tragic women
clear the larger-than-life bar by using their feminine mystique (ooh,
enigmatic!) is weird and disconcerting.
"It would appear," I tell Dr. Klinger, "that my analysis has 'taken'; a tribute to you, sir." He chuckles. "You were always stronger than you thought." "I would as soon never have had to find out. And besides, it's not so. I can't live like this any longer." "Yet you have, you do."
--Philip Roth, The Breast

Saturday, December 29, 2007

HOW TO BE BAD: I review the Shakespeare Theatre's productions of Tamburlaine and Edward II. Also, I learn that you shouldn't do best-of lists before the New Year; I think this is better than the Book of Jane review, and should've been the fifth entry in my best-of-published-Eve list.

Friday, December 28, 2007

AFRESH, AFRESH, AFRESH: Best of 2007. I'm going to New Jersey tomorrow, and it's unlikely that I'll do more than maybe a kitchen-adventures post between now and the champagne. So I'm doing my best-ofs list now. (2006, 2005, 2004)

Best books read (nonfiction): Rene Girard, The Scapegoat
Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of WWII
Richard Klein, Cigarettes Are Sublime
Philip Roth, Reading Myself and Others
Ye gods, slim pickin's here. I'm going to cheat and name St. Aelred's Spiritual Friendship as the fifth-best, since I don't think I understood it the first time around.

Best books read (real books): Albert Camus, The Plague
Edmund White, Nocturnes for the King of Naples
Tadeusz Borowski, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen
Tim Powers, Last Call
Philip Roth, Everyman

Best movies watched for the first time (thus Withnail & I doesn't count--but I need to tell you that if you buy the DVD, you get an awesome poster!):
The Battle of Algiers and Nobody Knows (tie, because they're in the same post, so I feel like I can get away with it)
The Queen
The Chimes at Midnight
The Importance of Being Earnest
Sullivan's Travels

honorable mentions: A Night to Remember--an exceptionally well-paced Titanic movie; I was shocked at how strongly it affected me--and Ratatouille, an intensely sweet, conscientious kids' flick.

Best blog posts: This was a strange year for me and the blog. I wrote a lot less, partly because I was focusing on finishing the novel and partly because I was practicing the better part of valor for once. (I say it so you don't have to!) So this list isn't quite up to previous standards, hence the category below. Still, here it is, six of the best (and yes, as the phrase suggests, this is a punishment):
That's what you get for having fun (random notes about New Haven and theology and humiliation and... hamburgers)
Age of Apocalypse: medieval manuscripts as comics
The Man-Mary (This post, I think, should be treated as a thought experiment rather than a position statement. When I think about it as A Defense Of The Male Priesthood I think it's tinfoil; when I think about it as a way of using gender roles to illuminate modes of Christian life, I think it's kind of awesome. And also, I know you haven't heard back from me yet, if you emailed me about this post--I totally read your email and thought it was terrific [everyone who emailed me about this post said something amazingly helpful] and I will try to respond soon...ish.)
All alone at the '64 World's Fair: The Politics of Dancing takes on "Ana Ng" (and more)
You're gonna need someone on your side (a prayer to St. Simon of Cyrene)
Voice-casting the New Testament

Best things I wrote (nonfiction, non-blog):
"O tell me the truth about love" (homosexuality and the Catholic Church--a reply to Luke Timothy Johnson)
"Grace Is the Hardest Pillow" (I review Kathy Shaidle's poetry collection Lobotomy Magnificat)
"The Sacred Cardoon" (I review a show of Spanish art, "El Greco to Picasso")
"Naked but not Exposed" (I review an Edward Hopper retrospective)
"Job Wears Prada" (I bite the shins of a chick-lit rewriting of Job)

Best new candidate for political office who isn't Ron Paul: Shamed! Shamed! Shamed! I swear I'll give you money next month!

Best new blog I haven't told you about yet: The Cigarette Smoking Blog. I'm biased, but I think this blog about "Conservatism, Catholicism, Yale, film and music, one cigarette at a time" is always fun and intermittently brilliant (which is more than I can say for my own, that's for daggone sure). Film noir, cheatin' songs, and counterpleasures, with Wilde on her side. I don't think undergraduates should blog. But if they must blog, they should blog like this.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tonight the blogwatch let me down...

Dark October 316: "the unspeakable abyss of God's love"

Disputations: Advent Medea and more....

First Things: Basic Christmas homily from Fr. Neuhaus, but some elements of this struck me--the helplessness of the unborn and infant Christ; & the connection between the need for bodily resurrection and the Real Presence in the Eucharist. The latter reminded me of some stuff from A Grief Observed, about the way even grief replaces the true beloved with the lover's unwittingly Stepfordized image of her....

And tentacle chandeliers!!!!! Via The Corner.
Later in life, a man would expect to find in his wife the one thing that he could not expect to find among his peers--honesty. Parrhesia, unflinching frankness with one's fellows and superiors, was an infinitely rare and precious commodity. It could be had only from the only two authoritative figures who stood to one side of political life--from a philosopher and from one's wife.
--Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

But what to me is all this quintessence of dust?
--Withnail and I

Monday, December 17, 2007

PROFESSIONALISM. Apparently I totally didn't notice when my review of The Book of Jane was published on Nat'l Review Online.
Some say there’s a fine line between genius and madness. The Book of Jane is a chick-lit rewriting of the Book of Job.
This movie proves you don't need to have a good plot.
--DVD commentary on Withnail & I

Saturday, December 15, 2007

She had thought one
thousand years
the limit of her time,
but is confounded
she even harbored such fancies.
Now her long
absent lover has harrowed
and driven her soul
to the grave: "Never,"
she swears, "will I mention
his name again," but no
sooner said and her
heart kindles like tinder.
--from "Distant Dove," Judah Halevi, tr. Gabriel Levin

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Show me the way to the next blogwatch bar....

Abhay Khosla on the City of Glass comic; me, less ecstatically but still noting its awesomeness, on ditto. eta: HA, I just read to the end of this post, and it's distilled Abhay spectacularo. Seriously, he grabs one of the reasons "we still like comics," and this post as a whole is one of the reasons I'll always like Abhay's stuff. Click on the link for the bubblegum wrapper, too.

Dappled Things is going off the air. Awww!! You'll be missed.... While looking for the City of Glass review, I found this post from him, which is really powerful and something I very much needed right now, about living in imperfect communion:
...The acts of piety and witness of prayerfulness and Christian sacrifice that have impressed me most have not been those of the walking saints (because, in a way, I expect it of them), but rather of the obviously flawed people whose relationship with God and the Church is visibly messed up. When I learn that one of them is in the perpetual adoration chapel everyday, or that they have practiced heroic acts of charity toward a neighbor, or they faithfully say the rosary even though it's been years since they could go to Communion: this fills me with great hope -- for them, for me, and for all sorts of people who might be tempted to think that God and the Church have written them off.

more--you should really read the whole thing

Mark Shea: Heretic saints. (The post is actually about something else.) More on this from me in a bit.

And a call for submissions to a book about how the theology of the body has changed lives. Via Shea.
"Hurry now to your friend's house and his wine,
as drinks go round like the sun
to his right. The wineglass purifies
the wine's ruddiness--even rubies
are put to shame by its coral glow.
It beholds and keeps secret the splendor of its vintage
until it can no longer conceal it."
But wine imbibed banishes all my troubles;

this is the sign of the covenant
drawn up between us--while a colorful band
of singers and musicians press round me,
each more striking than the other.
--Judah Halevi, "Wine Songs #2," in Poems from the Diwan tr. Gabriel Levin

Monday, December 10, 2007

"When American life is most American it is apt to be most theatrical."
--Ralph Ellison, via Ratty

Saturday, December 08, 2007

HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING, glory to the squid-born king!
Oh yeah, I had sexual intercourse with her. But not in the Biblical sense.
--A Bit of Fry and Laurie

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"NAKED BUT NOT EXPOSED": I review the National Gallery of Art's Edward Hopper exhibit for Commonweal.
The money gets divided--
the blogwatch gets excited--

Disputed Mutability: Have I mentioned that I end up quoting every other post from this hemi, demi, quasi ex-gay lady? Here, she visits a "Love Won Out" conference, and manages to nail a lot of what I found most awful. She finds the words for the things I struggled to express. RARGH, I can't figure out how to quote stuff, so just: If you want to hear about the irrelevance of "origin stories," the creepy fungibility of LWO's concept of "love," and the fact that compassion requires listening, cliquez-vous ici. She's so honest and awesome and smart.

Watchmen movie site: Analyses and general Mooreness. I'm on the second page sounding dumb.
The Jews of The Magic Barrel and the Jews of The Assistant are not the Jews of New York City or Chicago. They are Malamud's inventions, a metaphor of sorts to stand for certain possibilities and promises, and I am further inclined to believe that when I read the statement attributed to Malamud which goes, "All men are Jews." In fact, we know this is not so; even the men who are Jews aren't sure they're Jews.
--Philip Roth, "Writing American Fiction," in Reading Myself and Others

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Reductio ad absurdum, which Euclid loved so much, is one of a mathematician's finest weapons. It is a far finer gambit than any chess gambit: a chess player may offer the sacrifice of a pawn or even a piece, but a mathematician offers the game. --G.H. Hardy, something I don't know what

Friday, November 30, 2007


Aelred: Well, so I'm a moron. For some reason I thought, on first reading, that St. Aelred didn't grasp or address the sacrifices necessary for friendship. In fact, he says that friends should endure "crucifixion" for one another (with all that implies).

One, I'm an idiot, and two, you absolutely should read Spiritual Friendship, which I think is the most amazing neo-Platonist document I've read barring The Confessions which is kind of an unfair comparison. Aelred understands Plato's method as well as his conclusions; so if it's the Platonic method you love--which you should, since that's the point--you should read Spiritual Friendship immediately after The Symposium. It's actually more neo-Platonist than The Confessions.

St. Therese: So I had a conversation with the friend who had recommended Maurice and Therese, after I dissed it on the blog. And I figured out that there are different kinds of friendship. The M & T one is... based on mutual love of Christ and trust of one another, without face-to-face contact--almost like internet friendships.

I'd promoted Aelred over M & T, but that misses the point. Aelred lives out a model of philosophical friendship, where mutual pursuit of truth binds people together over distance and time. I think Aelred has a lot of insights that are especially applicable to people whose closest friends aren't Christian. He talks about friendship that isn't explicitly, necessarily, centered on Christ, whereas Maurice and Therese are entirely about their common purpose in Christ.

Morrissey: So yeah, I dissed You Are the Quarry, and I was right. It's frequently awful.

But I didn't realize that some parts of it are addictive. I'd say tracks 2 through 10 or 11 are... the kind of thing I end up listening to a lot, whether or not I like it. It isn't anywhere near the artistic achievement of Ringleader of the Tormentors, much more like the pop interest of Viva Hate and Your Arsenal. But I was wrong to suggest that Southpaw Grammar was better--it's desperately boring, and I can't imagine listening to it for fun--and I'll also say that Vauxhall and I is good enough, though not great. I really like it. The only truly great Morrissey album is Ringleader, though the early ones come close.

I think I will go back to listening to "You Have Killed Me" now.
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS: Arden Forest has a very awesome list of 10 favorite non-Psalms Bible passages, here.
KITCHEN ADVENTURES: BUTTER MAKES IT BETTER. I learned to cook brussels sprouts! It only took two tries.

#1: Trimmed sprouts (=cut off the top and bottom, and discarded whichever leaves came away when I did that) and roasted them at 400 with french-fry sliced small yellow potatoes tossed in olive oil. Stirred after ten minutes and added a sweet onion chopped into quarters. The result: delicious roasted onion, okayish fries, and unhelpful sprouts--blackened and unpleasantly crispy on one side, not cooked enough on the other. It's possible that other people's ovens would do this dish better.

#2: Trimmed sprouts. Boiled salted water, then added sprouts and cooked 10 minutes. Let sprouts cool and halved them. Cooked sprouts in saucepan with a startling amount of butter, some whole milk, Parrano cheese, and (in this order) black pepper, cayenne, and dried basil. (I think they cooked about six minutes, but I could be wrong--basically, cook until pliant and tasty.) Eaten on top of thick, buttered oatmeal toast.

This was delicious. Scarily yummy. A thinner bread wouldn't work; but then, neither would a thick roll.

Parrano is a thickish, melty cheese, dark yellow, with a grainy sharp quality that distinguishes it from various yummy cheddars but puts it roughly in that category. You'd use Parrano for a macaroni and cheese. It's tangy and "cheesy," doesn't disappear into a dish, but doesn't continue to assert itself the way goat cheeses do. Basically, if you eat a sharp white cheddar and think, "Yeah, but it could be deeper, or darker," then this might work for you. So that's the kind of cheese I used--I think a lighter or more obvious cheese would totally work, though. You could probably use my old standby, Sargento's shredded Mexican cheese blend, with no harm done.

#3: Same as above, except that I chopped the boiled sprouts instead of halving them, used just melty cheese (I forget what kind) instead of milk and cheese, and had them with buttered pasta. This wasn't quite as good as the above, but I think that's mostly because brussels sprouts in butter want to be eaten with toast, not spaghetti. They need something they can stand up to. This was still a wonderful dish, but I did think toast would have been a better match for the delectable creamy vegetables.
That a passion for freedom--chiefly from the bondage of a heartbreaking past--plunges Lucy Nelson into a bondage more gruesome and ultimately insupportable is the pathetic and ugly irony on which the novel turns. I wonder if that might not also describe what befalls the protagonist of Portnoy's Complaint.
--Philip Roth, "Document Dated July 27, 1969," in Reading Myself and Others. I don't think this is the only or best possible reading of either novel (and I suspect Roth would agree), but it's really interesting. My super short post about When She Was Good.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

UH... AND HAPPY THANKSGIVING, AND STUFF: Pretty Bird Woman House, a shelter for Native American victims of domestic violence, was vandalized and burnt, and could really use some help. Via Minisinoo, who adds: "This is legit; there's been plenty of talk about it on the native Listservs, and our NAS department is gathering funds. Both the above links tell you how you can donate. If you happen to be in college and it has a Native American Studies department and/or an Inter-Tribal Student Council (ITSC), they may be collecting funds as well. Due to the rural nature of many reservations, assistance for abused native women is hard to come by. Even if you have no money to give, at least go and read the articles, as many people are unaware of the abuse situation facing so many native women."
Thank you very much for the Blogwatch Times,
Thank you very much, thank you very very much...

Dark October 618: More Bible verses!

Hit & Run: A case of conscience?

The Horror Blog: Great horror movie taglines. My favorite is from a postcard advertising 28 Days Later, and turns out to be well-timed: BE GRATEFUL FOR EVERYTHING, FOR SOON THERE WILL BE NOTHING.

Via Sean Collins, who adds more here.
The artists of the Middle Ages painted allegories, we say. What really happened was that they saw more clearly than we do, and painted what they saw--angels and devils, beasts, and half-human monsters like me.
--Gene Wolfe, Pirate Freedom, via Claw of the Conciliator; reminds me of my post about genre as realism.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

IRONY AND AGONY, SIDE BY SIDE ON MY PIANO KEYS: Gravity & Waggery (aka Claw of the Conciliator--admit it, the man can pick blog titles!) brings a fun challenge: Pick ten passages from the Bible which are especially meaningful or striking to you. I did this more or less off the top of my head--ask me tomorrow, and the answers might be somewhat different--and included a bonus at the end, plus the post below this one, because the Bible doesn't say I have to work in base 10. If you guys do this, link back to me so I can find you!--I'd love to see other people's.

10. Matthew 1:1-6: The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah....
Because all the women mentioned in Jesus' genealogy are foreigners or adulteresses. Women are brought in specifically to link Jesus to the "other." Hegel's "woman as the irony of the community" again....

9. Psalms 22:14: I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is wax, it is melted within my breast....

8. John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

7. Romans 6:4: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from death by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For whatever reason, almost every short story I write (not the novels) turns out to be about death--whether death as an object for philosophy, death as an occasion for guilt-stricken grief, death as an obstacle or death as a doorway. I honestly have no idea why this obsesses me so much. But I know one reason baptism makes sense to me is that it is baptism into the Crucifixion in order to be baptism into the Resurrection.

6. Genesis 8:21: And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done."
Because I think about this a lot. (This is the political entry.)

5. Song of Songs 2:4: He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his banner over me was love.
[and also 3:1-3: Upon my bed by night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
"I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves."
I sought him, but found him not.
The watchmen found me,
as they went about in the city.
"Have you seen him whom my soul loves?"]

4. Luke 24:35: Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
One of the epigraphs for the next novel. (The other one is from Audre Lorde's autobiography--from memory, it's something like, "It is the final dream of children to remain forever untouched.")

3. Psalms 42:1-2: As a hart longs for flowing streams,
so longs my soul for thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?

2. Psalms 85:10: Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Shorter Cur Deus Homo.

1. Revelation 2:17: To him that overcometh I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving him that receiveth it.
The only passage I'm not quoting from the RSV, because the version which first struck me is the version I need in order to make you see what I see here. I found this in CS Lewis's Problem of Pain. It needs the Nietzschean "overcometh" as well as the new name written.

bonus (11): Matthew 5:13: "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men."
For itself; but also because I'm slowly working on a thing about zombies.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
--Luke 14:11

Friday, November 09, 2007

IN THE AFTERMATH OF A KIDNAPPING. Via the Christian Persecution blog.
"With these on your feets, every day is the fox hunt, with you as the quarry!"
"COP TALK": I'm at Reason Online, talking about cops who spew e-vitriol.... "Many police departments across the country have experienced similar bulletin board crises over the last few years, putting police officers' freedom of speech in conflict with the public's need to be protected from, well, cops who get off on using Tasers."
MORE OF OTHER PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT AELRED (come to the spiritual-friendship discussion this Sunday!)--this time from the best chapter in the best thing Andrew Sullivan's written, "If Love Were All" from Love Undetectable: Reflections on friendship, sex and survival:
Such a conviction about the essential congruity between virtue and friendship was central to the work of Aelred of Rievaulx. For Aelred, true friendship seems at times a kind of mystical delirium, an essential step toward knowledge of and acquiescence to God's love. For Aelred, "nothing more sacred is
striven for, nothing more useful is sought after, nothing more difficult is discovered, nothing more sweet experienced, and nothing more profitable possessed." Reading him is to be aware of a world where asexual and unromantic friendship nevertheless reaches an intensity that can only be called ecstatic. He describes the union of friendship as a kind of "spiritual kiss"....

It would be easy to see this as a form of erotic sublimation--from a celibate monk at that. But that, I think, would be to condescend to Aelred's spiritual sincerity. For Aelred, the spiritual union is, indeed, like an erotic union in its bliss, but not sexual in the corporeal sense. He expresses the old truth about spiritual ecstasy--that such ecstasy is not a sublimation of sex,
but rather than sex is an intimation of such ecstasy. And such ecstasy, by definition, cannot obliterate the demands of virtue, since it is impossible without it: "For what more sublime can be said of friendship, what more true, what more profitable, than that it ought to, and is proved to, begin in Christ, continue in Christ, and be perfected in Christ?"...

This, of course, is a demanding standard, perhaps too demanding. Most friendships, after all, do not rise to the level of complete virtue. They require a constant capacity for forgiveness and flexibility, and the complicity of friends in each other's faults need not amount to a capitulation to evil. Both Aelred and Cicero concede this at other times. They understand that, even
in the best of friends, there will be many moments of failure, even vice, and although a good friend will not want to encourage a friend in such weakness, he will inevitably tolerate it at times, listen to it, even provide a form of human solidarity with it....

But this leads to a paradox. How can one completely trust another imperfect human being, whose faults are all too obvious and who could therefore betray you at any time?
TWO COMICS LINKS via Journalista: Ooooohhh, gangsterous.

And I'm going to try to make it to this
November 9 (Washington DC): Join Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel and Chris Ware for a discussion on the graphic novel moderated by Daniel Raeburn, at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center’s Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater at 16th and Q, beginning at 8PM.

so let me know if you think of anything for me to ask esp. Alison Bechdel!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

PUTTING THE "MORE" IN MEMENTO MORI: November is the month Catholics dedicate to remembrance and prayer for the dead. Daniel Mitsui honors it in his inimitable way--scroll, O man, while your time remains!
You know who was nuts about Aelred?

Cardinal Newman.

The best secondary source book I've found in The Great Senior Essay Hunt has been "Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture" by Frederick Roden. (What a title! Available on Googlebooks!) He has a ten page discussion of Aelred & Newman that struck me in two ways.

1. I LOST MY METAPHOR -- CAN I HAVE YOURS? Aelred of Simon: "The rule of the order forbade our speaking, but his countenance spoke to me, his gait spoke, his very silence spoke." Are certain kinds of self-denial also like silence speaking?

2. These two quotes get filed together in my mind: John Dalgairns, talking about Aelred: "The very object of Monasticism is to give a proper outlet to devotional feelings, which are stifled in the world, because it would be fanatical to indulge them; it must therefore be made up to a great extent of
external actions. To throw oneself at the feet of another, and call oneself a miserable sinner, in a convent is part of the rule."

No prizes for guessing which one comes next... "For my part, I think the only difference between them is that if you are a Catholic and have this intensity of belief you join the convent and are heard from no more; whereas if you are a Protestant and have it, there is no convent for you to join and you go about in the world getting into all sorts of trouble and drawing the wrath of people who don't believe anything much at all down on your head." (Flannery O'Connor)

Good luck with your talk!

Guess who passed her generals exam, and is now ABD? *throws confetti*

Go congratulate her!
TWO LINKS: Via Ratty, Gangsters Anonymous (with interesting stuff about "weakness"); and, via E-Pression, Johnny Marr is a visiting music professor at Salford University.
Most nothing is not nothing at all: it is usually a determined nothing, as Hegel says--nothing in relation to something that it is not but that delimits it, fixes its terms, gives it a margin.
--Cigarettes Are Sublime

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

D.C. AREA PEOPLE: This Sunday, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., I'llbe leading a discussion at St. Matthew's Cathedral of spiritual friendship--how our friendships with others can be modeled on and strengthen friendship with Christ. The discussion will be based on St. Aelred's book SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP, but you do NOT have to have read the book to come and participate!

The discussion is sponsored by Always Our Children, the cathedral's gay & lesbian ministry. St. Matthew's is at 17th and Rhode Island, a short walk from the Dupont Circle metro:

We'll be in the West Conference Room, in the basement. I will also be making chocolate-covered strawberries (MMM), so let me know if you're definitely coming so that I know about how many to make. If you want to get a head start, this is the handout I'll be using:
but again, you don't need to have read anything to come and participate in the discussion.

I hope to see lots of you there! Please email me if you have any questions--and definitely forward this to anyone you think might be interested!
"GRACE IS THE HARDEST PILLOW": I review Kathy Shaidle's poetry collection, Lobotomy Magnificat.
Filling a lack hollows out an even greater lack that demands even more urgently to be filled.
--Cigarettes Are Sublime

Monday, November 05, 2007

ADDICTIVE AND HELPFUL GAME: Rice for vocab sk1llz. It took me 180 grains of rice before I was confronted with a word I genuinely didn't recognize. ("Secern"?? Is that a thing?)
THE RAT IS SMARTER THAN YOU. I recently learned that the working title of Brazil was 1984 1/2--which is hilarious, yes, but focuses on the way the movie is derivative of past dystopias (paleo-futilism?), rather than on the dream that gives the movie its poignance.

Also, if you scroll down, there's a really funny thing about pumpkins.
ZOMBIE VOODOO PIRATES!: So, Tim Powers's On Stranger Tides.

The good: zombie voodoo pirates! Plus lots of action scenes, which aren't my thing really, but Powers does them incredibly well--action-adventure revealing character and possessing pathos.

Two great characters, the puppeteer John Chandagnac and the pirate Phil Davies. And maybe Blackbeard, although he's more a... character-shaped horror, than a character.

As usual, Powers just punishes his characters; you can't have fantasy of salvage without wrecking everything first. I love how he does that.

The bad: There are two women in this novel. One is a shrieking adulteress, and the other is completely passive for 95% of the book. LOL NO. I totally understand why the second character is passive; but it doesn't work, because again: only two women. I know this is a pirate book, thus mostly full of men, but see, that's why you don't make your one major woman basically a pawn or prize.

This is also the first Powers novel where I've ever found him tendentious or moralizing. (On a very related note, this book also includes the only Powers character I thought was just misconceived from start to finish, the utterly OTT Freudian curdle Leo Friend.) If I were to speculate wildly (and apparently here I go!), that might be because Powers thought he was writing a voodoo novel, when in fact he wrote a very Catholic novel about voodoo, and that disjunction between authorial intent and execution might have caused a lack of self-overhearing. I felt the author leaning on me during some of the moralizing passages. Which was totally unnecessary, since Powers can get all his moral effects just through heartbreaking horror scenes, which he writes wonderfully. (On Stranger Tides is almost as much horror novel as action-adventure, I think; Powers crosses genre a lot, and horror is usually the secondary one.)

So... look, it's zombie voodoo pirates! If that makes you want to read it, you probably should. If you're ambivalent, read other stuff by him first--Declare is still the standout among the Powers books I've read, but Last Call is also really, really good, and I think most people would like The Stress of Her Regard much more than I did.
Like writing, smoking belongs to that category of action that falls in between the states of activity and passivity--a somewhat embarrassed, embarrassing condition, unclean, unproductive, a mere gesture.
--Cigarettes Are Sublime

Saturday, November 03, 2007

THE MAN-MARY: Some thoughts on a possible feminist reading of the all-male priesthood.

I should begin this discussion by saying I'm not convinced this is the right approach, at all. Its sharp divergence from the usual (and, to me, thoroughly unpersuasive) "in persona Christi" explanations may indicate a fundamental problem in my approach. I am presenting this solely as what someone like me sees when she looks at the priesthood. It is entirely possible that the set of "people like me" is 1; or that I'm wrongheaded from the start!

Still, my New Haven visit made me think hard about the priesthood and women. This is not a question that had ever exercised me. I frankly find it hard to care. I know that sucks and is unhelpful; if you care, I guess all I can do is say that St. Therese of Lisieux also considered that she had a calling to the priesthood, and ended up understanding that calling in a very different and analogical way.

I can also, though, say that I don't know that opening the priesthood to women would be a feminist act. This gets into a lot of tangled questions of "What is feminism?", so let me be totally clear: The following discussion assumes that motherhood is a thing, a real thing in the world, and that no theory should overcome it (though I think we all know, after the 20th century, that theory can overcome all human loyalties).

Assuming that motherhood is a thing--I think it's a thing of being radically available to your children. Maybe radically disposible to them. Certainly radically open to their needs.

And this is precisely what priests are to the faithful. I'm getting this from a thing by Fr. Richard Neuhaus, I think in The Public Square vol. 1, where he defends priestly celibacy by saying that priests are "radically disposible." Like Kleenex. Or... like David's self-as-libation, poured out for God.

I think a feminist Catholic could legitimately say that women are already treated as available, as disposible, even as Kleenex. A woman priest, therefore, would just be a cliche. Of course a chick is here to serve you! That's not radical at all. A male priest is new and different and needed--a radically disposible male, not a female. A man-Mary, whose only word can be, "Fiat voluntas tua."

Again, I don't know that this is the defense I'd make. I welcome all y'all's comments on this (and on my other posts today, of course). But I do think this idea of priestly vocation gets fairly close to what actual priests I've known have said about what their lives are like; and it overturns the standard gender roles in a way that might be instructive, even if this ultimately isn't the best way to think about priests and women and Christ.
THE PASSION OF NEW EVE (Or, I Am the Last of the Famous International Playboys): I also ended up thinking about the story of Eve's creation. We have two creation narratives: God creates all humankind in His image; and God creates male and female. And female comes second. That sucks, right?

Like it did for Jacob and David.

Second children, last children--these are the ones God fixes upon, again and again. Is Eve yet another youngest son? Is His whole point that family placement is overturned, because the humble will be exalted and the exalted humbled?

I think this is likely more valid than the priest=Mary thing I'm about to post, in part because this fits in with Mary as second Eve. All the weight of the Incarnation is placed on Mary--not on Joseph; he's called to accept the fait accompli. Mary's choice has weight, I believe, at least in part because Eve's did. The littlest one's voice can save the world or throw it down. God does this again and again. It's almost as if He were making a point....
HOLD MY HAND A LITTLE LESS: The above posts were all provoked by two things: 1) I'm writing a novel about a transgendered (FTM) Yale student from a Catholic family, and that student's feminist friends; and 2) because of that novel, I went to a discussion at the Yale Women's Center: "I Agree with Eve: Women and God."

(The title is due to some kind of creepy evangelical thing, where people wore t-shirts with some dude's face and the logo, "I Agree with Adam," where Adam is an evangelical dude, so when people ask you about your t-shirt you can, I guess, share the Gospel. Because that will totally work.)

Anyway--I have all kinds of minor observations of the Women's Center (IT IS OKAY TO DISAGREE, OMG--you don't have to act like disagreement is nuclear warfare!)--but the main thing this meeting made clear to me is that feminist analysis can't understand Christianity from within because feminist analysis is power analysis, and Christianity makes power at best a contested and conflicted category. Power isn't what a Christian seeks. So you can say what you want about Christian history; but Christian theology just doesn't lend itself to feminist analysis, because receptivity, docility, servanthood, all of these aren't negative categories for Christians.

"Ardent sweetness" isn't an oxymoron for us.
IN MY OPTIMISTIC MOMENTS, I THINK THIS IS THE MOST INTELLIGENT COMMENT ON POLITICS I'VE HEARD IN MONTHS: "I'm really convinced that the future will be a struggle between anarchy and chaos."
ABJECTION, YOUR HONOR!: Thoughts on two books I skimmed, and one I actually read.

first volume of James Agee's film criticism: I can't remember the title of this. It's... hrm. It's easier to read a lot of Agee at once than to read a lot of James Wood at once, at least for me; but there's still that same sense that he's straining to fit his prose to his persona. I don't know--it's entirely possible that I'm just insufficiently sympathetic to that persona. I mean, Wilde probably does the same thing, it's just that when he does it I don't care. ...And on a lower level, Agee's less enamored of stylization than I am, I think. I suspect he'd deny that, though.

Rargh, why am I approaching this book the wrong way around?? What I should say is that his phrases are so much fun, so often; that when he dispraises something I liked (I can't think of a good example here--maybe Double Indemnity?) he always picks up on real flaws, not made-up ones; that he has a sentimental rigorousness that makes up for his... you know... sentimentality; and that he watches movies through a theological lens, always.

This line, for example, more or less summarizes one big reason I'm a Catholic: "As the audience watches from a hill, with the eyes at once of a helpless outsider, a masked invader, and a still innocent defender, a mere crossroads imparts qualities of pity and terror which, to be sure, it always has, but which it seldom shows us except under tilted circumstances."

Julia Kristeva and Catherine Clement, The Feminine and the Sacred: Why can't these women follow a thought from beginning to end?? A desperately frustrating book. There are some terrific anecdotes ("Louisa of the Nothingness" is alone worth the price of admission), but nothing is ever pursued with ardent need to know the truth. Please do not let your belief that pursuit of wisdom is phallocentric damage your actual ability to hold up your end of an argument!

Oh, and both authors tend to treat race in a way I think you can treat sex, but not race: as if culture, especially racially-linked culture, is a poetic concept, an image available to philosophical and poetic thought, rather than a purely and cruelly culturally-constructed category. And actually, I wonder if this book might be a helpful corrective to people who think sex and race are both purely and cruelly culturally-constructed: Do you really think black women's blackness can be discussed the way all women's womanhood can be discussed?

There's also a creepy discussion of the difference between biological life and "biographical" life, life with meaning, which I think suggests that women can rightly withhold meaning from their biological children. (Which I think becomes a defense of abortion, although that act is certainly never explicitly discussed.)

I really liked Hegel's thing, which I only know about because of Clement, of woman as "the irony of the community."

Richard Klein, Cigarettes Are Sublime. This is the one I read all the way through. You'll be seeing several quotations from it in the days to come. It's Klein's attempt to delineate exactly what he got from smoking cigarettes, possibly in the hope of quitting.

I'm not sure what to say about it. I love its passion for the sublime, over and against the beautiful. I love its brassiness and bitchiness.

It is very scattershot. The chapters--especially the one on Casablanca, and maybe the one on Carmen--tend to waver off into vaporous clouds of association, rather than coherent thoughts. Klein unwittingly makes clear one of the ways his cigarette-sublime differs from the more obvious sublimity of alcohol: Cigarettes are a way to swing out of the ordinary for a moment, have a little ekstasis on the cheap, and then generally swing right back in. Even if The Symposium had been written in the modern age, for example, I can't imagine cigarettes having the same effect on the company that drinking did. Alcohol tends to go places--whether or not they're places you want to go, or should go (Thirteen Steps Lead Down, and all that)--rather than returning you to status quo ante.

Still, Klein's very much worth reading if you're interested in cigarettes, or sublimity, or both. I got a lot out of it. It won't tell you about facing the Big Light; but its little fire is also intriguing.
GAUDI COUNTS TWICE: So I was organizing my art bookshelf the other day (yes, only one shelf, I haven't been doing this whole "visual art! who knew?" thing for very long...), and I realized that all my art books have one of two themes: Spain vs. God, and The Twentieth Century: Could It Have Been Prevented?
I read your book, The Madwoman and the Saint, with Sudhir Kakar, and I like the way you show that one cannot bypass desire by confining it within pathology.
--Julia Kristeva, in Kristeva and Clement, The Feminine and the Sacred

Monday, October 22, 2007

I'm in New Haven. Posting will be light until I return, on Halloween. I should have quite a bit of fun stuff then, though.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Come back, come back to Blogwatch...

Abhay Khosla: The sordid origin of Skippy peanut butter. No, really--a heartbreaking post.

Alias Clio: Something I would not have noticed: "Rather like War and Peace, or Gone With the Wind, it opens with a party. Indeed, as with most 'social novels', much of the book's action takes place at parties--at least, that portion of it which does not happen in staff quarters or on the battlefield."

Church of the Masses: Abp Niederauer on Flannery O'Connor: "...the Christian realist's hope that this time it might be better, but not easily, and not likely for long."

Daniel Mitsui: A glorious foot; and mummies.

For Keats' Sake: Some acute comments on "The Paschal Four" (my take here).

Hit & Run: "In a new report, the Government Accountability Office cites 'thousands of allegations of abuse, some of which involved death,' in 'residential treatment programs' for 'troubled youth.' The report was released yesterday at a House hearing where the parents of Aaron Bacon, a teenager who died at a Utah boot camp in 1994, testified." (more)

Sean Collins: More Bowie sketchbook. Includes glam-rock smoke rings.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Creamy Carrots and Onion: Chop a couple carrots into coins, and coarsely chop up some yellow onion. Saute the coins, a good heaping dollop of chopped garlic, and whatever dried herbs or spices you're using, all in olive oil. (I think I used dried basil--because I'm trying to get rid of it--and sage, cayenne, and black pepper.) Cook until the carrots are... you know... cooked.

Quickly throw in your onion and saute until barely cooked. (I like very sharp onion; other people might want to add the onion earlier.) Add some heavy cream, stir, and add your favorite chopped melty cheese. I used Parrano. Cook until you want to eat it, then plant your face in the dish.

the verdict: Look, this is ugly. It's basically creamy glop with carrots. But you're aiming straight for the pleasure jugular. I loved this. It was so rich I couldn't finish it, but it reheated perfectly the next day.

Basically, I wouldn't serve this at a dinner party; but I'd definitely cook it on some wintry night when I needed cheesy, creamy comfort.

Roasted carrots and... stuff. Like the recipe above, this is a (significantly) modified version of a Food and Wine dish. I don't know why it really didn't work; F&W has been good to me before.

Anyway, I chopped two big carrots in half crosswise, rolled them in olive oil, spiced them (in approximate order of how much: black pepper, cumin, cayenne, curry powder, cinnamon), and roasted them on a foiled baking tray for ten minutes at 375. Then I split the bigger carrot pieces in half lengthwise, added canned garbanzos, chopped garlic, big chunks of yellow onion (like... eighths?), and more olive oil and spices, stirred everything, and roasted for ten more minutes. Then stirred again, and the carrots still didn't seem quite done, nor did the other stuff seem especially roasted, so I roasted for another ten minutes. Then scooped everything into a dish.

the verdict: Messy (and yes, I could've chopped the carrots and onions smaller after roasting--I would have, if I were attempting to serve this to company, but the dish would still have looked sloppy, I think) and oddly metallic in taste.

These are the same carrots I used for the previous dish, but maybe there is something wrong with them, and I couldn't tell because of all the cream?? Did I manage to over-roast them? They did seem glazy and brown in places, but that's caramelization, right?, which should make them sweeter and roastier, not metallic. Or maybe the flavor combination doesn't work (despite all the spiciness, this dish was bland overall), or... something. The near-total failure of this dish is mysterious to me. I will say that the garbanzos were the only really yummy part of the dish, and since my main goal here was to learn whether F&W is right that canned garbanzos roast well, the magazine was definitely vindicated on that point.

I tried putting parmesan cheese on this after the first several bites. The cheese wasn't awful (it's a bland dish! you can't clash with the flavors in a dish that's already not super flavorful) but it made the dish messier without notably improving the taste.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Mysterium Fidei, Latin for "Mystery of Faith," is the new collection of art from Daniel Martin Diaz. In this collection of oil paintings, drawings, and prints, Diaz contemplates human suffering and one's undying faith in the afterlife. His mystical imagery reflects the influences of Byzantine iconography, Retabalos, Ex Votos, the Illuminati, ephemera, alchemy, and 16th-century anatomical engravings.
Check out the "Exorcism" series.

Via Holy Heroes!!
OUR WEIRD LORD: I'm only about 2/3 of the way through the new Dappled Things, but I thought I'd mention my two favorite pieces so far: Matthew Alderman's quick, fun essay + picture "Quid Tum?", and Timothy Barr's poem "The Paschal Four."

The latter is definitely flawed--it won a high school poetry contest, and has the kind of strenuous cleverness you might expect from a HS poetry contest winner. The imagery at points becomes relentlessly clotted, juxtapositions jostling for attention. But you know, I still really liked it, because it gets the weirdness of the Incarnation, the horror-movie elements of Catholicism, without sacrificing (I think) theological acuity. Basically, this guy needs to read the tabloid news for a few years, and then he'll be awesome.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

BOO, YOU WHORE!: A review of Mean Girls. Spoilers and possible TMI follow.

The short version is, this is diet no-carbs Cruel Intentions, and although I laughed a lot during the movie, I ended up hating it, I mean really disliking it a lot. Whereas despite my problems with the ending of CI, I basically did OM NOM NOM that movie and all its pomps and all its works.

The longer version: This movie is kind of based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman. And Wiseman is a DC native, who... hey, taught me self-defense (or attempted to--you'd think "eyes, knees, groin, throat" is easy, but you'd be really, really wrong) and ran a workshop at my high school which is the first (and, until now, only) place I'd talked about being felt up in the darkroom. (I should note that this was after I helped to found the gay/straight alliance at my school, so a) LOL WHUT?? and b) even someone who was kind of a harpy of political correctness really didn't feel okay talking about that incident, which was ultimately silly and minor and had, literally, no effect on my school participation, because I was addicted to photography. So you know, if you're like Katie Roiphe and think the rape statistics must be wrong because nobody you know had that happen to her... maybe you're not the person they tell.)

Anyway, my point is that Wiseman is awesome, and although I haven't read her book yet, this review of Mean Girls should in no way be read as a slam on Wiseman's book. I respect her a lot.

Whose story?: There are some really funny quips about race ("I only date girls of color"; "I'm from Michigan") and gay stuff. I love that they named the dykey girl "Janis Ian"... although, you get three guesses whether she's really gay or not. The first two don't count.

But you know whose story this isn't, ever?

The gay kid. (Check out the prom scene with Janis Ian and her dance if you don't believe me.) The "hostile black hotties" (or "standoffish black hotties"--I can't remember--the black girls who all sat together in the cafeteria). The "cool Asians."

The fat girls.

Yeah, I mean, the demi-demi-dykey, less-awesome Winona Ryder/Ally Sheedy girl reacts like she's been accused of eating babies every time someone even begins to suggest that she might be gay.

This is the story of a girl played by Lindsay Lohan, who has a crush on a guy played by ...a nice white guy I haven't heard of. And that's great, cute white rich straight girls are people too and all that, but... one does get tired of this story. I understand that this kind of Little-Red-turned-wolf story requires a fairly boring character at its center, since she has to be naive and malleable at the start in order to learn her life lesson by the end. But I don't think that excuses the movie from being so desperately predictable in its casting, nor from treating the less cute-white-rich-straight-girls mostly as set dressing. (I think Kevin G, not the gay friend--despite some of his awesome lines--is the exception, since I can't think of an occasion where Kevin gets shoved out of the way so the focus can remain on a more "mainstream" character.) Nor from letting the Lohan character act as self-esteem fairy at the end, princessing that even the fat girl and the wheelchair girl look beautiful tonight, while they beam in needy adoration.

I'm pretty sure this movie thinks it's progressive. Which brings us to our next point.

Whose fault?: So there's totally a scene where the (male) principal and Tina Fey's character hold a consciousness-raising session in the gym, girls only.

What do the boys get? Is high school girls' cruelty--so often centered around dating, "slut" labeling, sexual posturing and sexual fear--solely the girls' issue? I think you might want to talk to the boys in front of whom the girls are posing. And that would still be true even though the movie never touches on the real hard stuff, like date rape.

Now I get why Veronica Mars was supposed to be so groundbreaking....

Girl trouble: There are a lot of fun throwaway moments in this movie--Regina's little sister as an ass-shaking zombie; "That's why her hair is so big! It's full of secrets!" (the movie really is funny)--and you know, I love Amanda "Lilly Kane" Seyfried in anything. And there are right-on cultural criticism moments, like the Playboy Halloween outfits and the "cool mom" shtik. (The moviemakers might not realize that the first five minutes of the flick don't actually make it not an advertisement for homeschooling.)

But yeah: I felt like this was the saccharine version, which made excuses for the real racial, class, and sexual hierarchies it pretended to decry. I hated this a lot, and it made me appreciate the awesomeness of Cruel Intentions even more than I already did.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

SOMETHING I LEARNED FROM THIS MONTH'S FOOD AND WINE: There lives a man in this country named Peter Apathy, and he sells hot dogs made of reindeer.
O LITTLE TOWN OF DEATH-LEHEM: Movie reviews, with spoilers for Black Christmas. Or, really, a quickie review and a bit of a rant.

Terror Train: "Featuring Jamie Lee Curtis and David Copperfield." Fo' reals, yo. This is so much fun!!

Look, it's a bog-standard "frat/soror prank gone wrong-->bullied victim wreaks serial-killer havoc" plot. But it's briskly paced. JLC brings, as always, a sense of interiority to an otherwise blank character--you always feel, with Our Jamie, that she's thinking. There are some really nice moments hitting the theme of homosocial friendship gone wrong: We all know frat pranks are a horror movie staple, but it's really good to see a horror movie actually try to figure out why. And the bit parts are individualized, the way they tend to be in older movies (my constant example for this is The Manchurian Candidate)--the scene where the one train guy explains that he's a Free Will Baptist is by itself worth the price of (Netflix) admission.

Black Christmas: This one... I have more to say about.

First of all, it got there first, and respect is due. Its camerawork is intense, scary, the pans and cuts and shakycam coming at the exact right places. And it's more or less impossible to make a bad Christmas-themed horror movie--the pretty lights and spooky carols are right there in front of you!--especially if you have Margot Kidder playing a hard-drinking, kinda slutty sorority girl. She's hilarious and came near to stealing the movie. ...Moreover, there are plot elements where Black Christmas was an innovator, although to say more would be to give it all away.

But you guys know me--I don't always like the first-place finisher. I had two basic problems with this movie, one minor and one major.

The minor is that this '70s flick was trying too hard for an edgy tone. I didn't buy--and didn't want to watch--scenes where the sorority-boyfriend Santa cussed and insulted women in front of little children. I didn't buy that no child would even giggle (am I wrong? I wasn't paying the kind of attention to this movie that I would have given, you know, a Kurosawa flick), let alone tattle or hide. I didn't buy that no sorority girl would get sentimental about innocent ears and step in to protect them. I didn't like that actual child actors were used in a scene that was entirely about the "edginess" of the lame soror/frat people and the edginess-by-transitivity of the filmmakers.

But that really is minor. There were several "edgy" scenes I liked--the drunk house mother, the "It's a new exchange--FE" shtik.

The bigger thing is that I felt like the symbolic elements weren't used for more than set dressing.

Look: This is a horror movie that takes place at Christmas. This is a horror movie, taking place at Christmas, in which an abortion storyline is really important. Why are neither of these elements used symbolically?

Christmas is used aesthetically (spooky carols and colored lights, plus obviously the movie's brilliant title). But I don't otherwise know why the movie takes place then. I mean... no joke, I love spooky carols and colored lights! But what is Christmasy about this movie??

Take Gremlins for a counterexample: Not only do you have Billy's girlfriend's story about her father in the chimney, but you have the themes of consumerism (Japan fear) and greed (Mrs. Deagle)--fellow-feeling vs. Chri$tma$$, family vs. a toy store full of Gremlins. That isn't actually getting at particularly deep issues, but... I totally know why the movie is set at Christmastime. It isn't just for the (amazing) effect of Silent Night, Holy Night wafting over the fire-strewn, devastated town. The aesthetics play into the movie's symbolic language.

Black Christmas not only fails to make Christmas a symbolic element--it also adds abortion, basically the rejection of or contrast to Christmas symbolism (I mean, look, think about this as a writer and not as a political person and you see what I mean), and yet that doesn't become a symbolic element either. Jess's plan to abort her baby is a huge plot element (it's part of why the police suspect Peter), it's a huge characterization element (it shows her admirable determination [and her "good girl" status, I think] and Peter's controlling cruelty), it's an audience element (we get on Jess's side because we see her being humiliated when she has to explain her situation to the cops--and yes, of course this made me sympathetic to her as well, how could it not?)... but it's never a symbolic element.

I don't know why you'd make a movie where such obvious, interesting, supercharged symbols never get to go off. What do you gain by making Christmas a decoration, abortion a macguffin? I have no idea.

Am I wrong?? Did I miss the thing where Black Christmas actually let these two ferocious, opposed elements send up fireworks? I'd love to think so, since Margot Kidder is everybody's good-time girl, and totally makes up for Olivia "She's No Mercutio, I Tell You What" Hussey.
TOWARD AN EXPLANATION, NOT AN EXCUSE, FOR POSTMODERNISM: Humanism: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are [redacted] equal...."

Personalism: "No, no, no. You can't get there that way. Follow me."

As Mickey Kaus might say, if he were me: Too bitchy? Or not bitchy enough?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

AS I LIVE AND BREATHE, YOU HAVE KILLED ME: So I did go see David Morrison at Theology on Tap. These are some very scattered impressions, and not at all a round-up of everything he talked about or a responsible review of his talk--more an update of my post about his book (he's working on a new edition) and a set of notes on things that struck me. In chronological order of where these impressions occurred in the talk.

Are you gonna go/to the Sodom and Gomorrah show? First, one of the very few things I hated about Beyond Gay was the "scared straight" sections, in which statistics about AIDS, depression, etc were trotted out in a fatalistic, infuriating way reminiscent of DARE anti-drug propaganda. In his talk at the Four Fields, Morrison seemed to be going down that road as he began to talk about how many friends he had lost to AIDS and how that experience was part of the beginning of his journey to the Church. It seemed, as he spoke, as if he were going to say that he was glad he'd been scared off that path before it was too late--as if there's anything admirable about running away when things get tough.

He really didn't, though. Instead he gave a much more nuanced description of how the close-up with mortality made him begin to question whether his life had meaning. I felt pretty awful for not listening to him more charitably, especially since he'd quite humbly made it clear that he was actually doing a lot of caring for people with AIDS during that time (although I still maintain that the current edition of Beyond Gay comes off badly in this regard, and I hope the revisions change that).

Is that all there is to a fire?: I did find myself thinking a bit about my own first prayers, when Morrison described his. Not counting a childish (hey, I was like eight) demand that God show himself or I wouldn't believe in him, the first time I prayed I'm pretty sure I just said, "Lord, cure my unbelief" (possibly without the "Lord"), on my knees before bed.

Nothin' happened.

Is that all there is?

So, like, St. Paul gets knocked off his daggone horse. David Morrison gets reasonably quick service, with God making His presence known as soon as he began seriously to pray. Me? Not so much.

But I am nothing if not annoyingly persistent. So I did keep praying. Meanwhile, as nothing in particular seemed to be happening in response to these prayers, I kept on with the philosophical stuff that had gotten me on my knees in the first place--clearing away a huge heap of misunderstandings, building the scaffolding I'd need to understand any experience of God I did end up having, basically teaching me the language I'd need to know before I could even grasp that God was talking rather than just, you know, static on the line. And eventually (I seem to recall it took a week or two?? could be wrong--at the time it seemed long, and now seems ridiculously short and easy compared to others' years of seemingly fruitless searching, begging, and interrogating) I did come for the first time to the recognition of the Creator God, the maker or speaker of things in the world, and that was what I needed at the time. The rest of the getting-Catholic stuff followed more or less swiftly from there, and it was a while, I think, before I had intellectual doubts rather than just deep mistrust and the fear of hurting others and myself by entering the Church.

...Uh, this was supposed to be about David, right? SELF-ABSORBED CAT FINDS HERSELF FASCINATING.

Mission bell: After he began to pray and read the Bible, Morrison had to figure out where to park himself, churchwise. He'd had mixed/not-great experiences growing up Southern Baptist, and it sounds like his partner had had worse experiences with evangelical fundamentalism, so those were off the table.

And so he remembered the Episcopalian ministry to people with AIDS, with which he'd worked in the past. So that's where he went.

Unsurprisingly, I was reminded of the recent discussions at Amy Welborn's place, about mission, the ways Catholics can evangelize and the ways we probably shouldn't. Amy tossed off a tart one-liner to the effect that, you know, you could always try the corporal works of mercy.

And I was also reminded of a post somewhere or other, which I now can't find and am probably misremembering, about feeling really frustrated with the ways in which evangelization gets done, or something like that, and wondering if it wouldn't be best if Christians just lived Christian lives and didn't actively seek to witness to others. And because my inner monologue (monologue! monologue! mono--d'oh!) can get very bitchy at times, I'd thought to myself, "Oh yeah, because Christ totally told us to go out and make next-door neighbors of all nations."

(...This post isn't showing me in a very good light, is it??)

And then, I was reminded of the parable of the Good Samaritan, from the week's Gospel readings.

So... yeah, actually. We are called to make neighbors of one another. And, as David's story shows, that call is not separable from our call to make disciples of one another.

You'll notice that I could have reached the same conclusion with a lot fewer steps if I'd remembered the old St. Francis line, "Preach the Gospel unceasingly; with words, if necessary." But I am slow.

I can get it for you wholesale: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's rejection of "cheap grace" was a huge turning point in Morrison's life, specifically w/r/t homosexuality. And while I think that language gets appropriated very quickly and easily, such that "he jests at scars who never felt a wound" and straight people get to tell gay people we're seeking "cheap grace" if we don't accept a fairly deep and humiliating sacrifice, I really did like how Morrison presented the idea in this talk: I felt like he was challenging all of us to look at all of the places in our lives where we were seeking cheap grace.

No kind of love/is better than others: I also really, really liked Morrison's point that there's no perfect analogy for the love and friendship he shared with his partner before he became Catholic. It was eros, but also philia, but also and very deeply storge, and the eros didn't crowd out the other stuff. To reject a couple specific metaphors, I don't think eros is like a deep red dye, indelibly staining the entire fabric of a same-sex love relationship. But I also don't think it's like a red thread in cloth, which you could, with time and effort, unpick from the rest of the fabric. It's just... there, and it has to be sublimated, into care and ardent sweetness and protection and admiration, or whatever complex blend and interplay of loves you speak in your perhaps untranslatable heart.

I have something else I'm thinking about, as well, but my thoughts on that are so desperately unformed that I'm not going to inflict them on you all just yet. Thank Heaven for small mercies, y'all.
PLAGUE MASS: Finally, a post about The Plague, probably the best book I've read this year. This is going to be pretty scattershot.

The first thing I noticed was how suspenseful and well-paced it is. I mean, the plot is right there in the title, so the only surprises can come from pacing and from how Camus works the changes on his novel's situation. In both areas The Plague excels. This might be an artifact of the translation (I was using Stuart Gilbert's--don't know if that's considered good or not), but the descriptive and lyrical passages seemed especially well-placed. This is just a really, really well-constructed novel.

The different aspects of the plague and the quarantine also included some surprises: the theme of lovers' exile, for example. This is so perfect and right. A book as Job-like as The Plague should invoke the deeply Christian metaphor of separated lovers. It's unexpected and poignant and humanist in the best way.

The characterizations are mostly affecting and "real." I had a thing that is partly a problem of characterization and partly a problem of theology/the book's existential stance, and I'm not sure which end is larger. On the basic characterization end, I know Christians say the darnedest things, but while I found it easy to accept that a priest would give the Job's-comforters speech as a sermon, I found it a lot harder to swallow that his sermon would explicitly link Job to Pharaoh. This seemed like pushing things in a way that made it unnecessarily obvious that Fr. Paneloux (like the faithful women in the novel) is being portrayed much more from the "outside" than the other major characters. It made the book seem like it was just avoiding Job, which I think it ultimately isn't, although my theological/existential angle is that I don't think the book fully grapples with a) God's trial and response and b) the fact that it's in the Bible.

I initially thought that the book also ignored or merely gestured at the related problem, of whether this kind of charitable-heroic atheism saws off the branch it sits on. The Plague is a novel set entirely within the clash between happiness and suffering; there's no alternative framework, no sense of (for example) good/evil as a possible different way of understanding the world's obvious self-opposition. Whenever happiness/suffering is the only ethical framework presented, I think of the statue of Comfort erected by the mercy-killers in A Canticle for Leibowitz. It seems obvious to me that if you take suffering as the sole evil and happiness as the sole good you begin to step down the path where the weak are killed because they suffer and they get in the way.

I don't think The Plague goes into that arena at all. But it does draw out other, more nuanced and emotional problems of the happiness/suffering framework--can you call a man to sacrifice his own happiness to do work that will rarely even "fix" things, but merely provide witness and compassion, suffering-with? And I do think The Plague begins to move into the question of whether it's possible to sustain a Christianized anthropology--a sense of what's valuable, heroic, worthy of love and pity rather than contempt, in human lives--without a Christian theology. All this through deeply affecting, memorable portrayals of character and situation, characters full of the unnecessary evasions and corners and histories of real people.

This is the rare novel of ideas where both the novel and the ideas are done right.
Can someone tell me what controversial procedures have been used at Guantanamo Bay? As far as I'm aware there is not a shred of hard evidence — and certainly no proof — that torture or even enhanced interrogation methods have been employed there.


Air Force Lieutenant General Randall M. Schmidt, appointed to investigate abuses at Guantanamo Bay, said, “For lack of a camera, you could have seen in Guantanamo what was seen at Abu Ghraib.”


Detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been left chained in their own urine and feces for a day or more.
more (I think the easiest way to find this is to search for "Guantanamo")

...that's the links I happened to have already on my hard drive, without searching. So, you know, not exhaustive. Probably searching here would also prove informative.

Monday, October 08, 2007

THAT'S WHEEEERE YOU'LL FIIIIIIIIIND ME: Things I'm planning to do this week include:

Tuesday: hearing David Morrison (author of Beyond Gay, or, as I prefer, Extra Double Super Gay) at Theology on Tap--Ireland's Four Fields, Cleveland Park metro, happy hour at 7 pm and speaker at 7.30 pm.

Friday: watching The Mission at St. Matthew's Cathedral, 7 pm in the North Conference Room. St M's is at Dupont Circle metro.

Saturday: hearing the Suspicious Cheese Lords ("a male a cappella ensemble"), also at St. Matthew's, 7.30 pm. Featuring sacred music from the Renaissance. "Admission is free, and voluntary donations at the doors are welcome."

Hope to see some of you all there.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"DISTORTIONS": I have a short story in the current issue of Dappled Things. Find it here! It's sf-ish; very longtime readers may remember it as "What You Can Do for Your Country." In my head, its title will always be "tl;dr"--not because it is, but because that's pretty much what it's about.

Monday, October 01, 2007

THE HARSH TRUTH OF THE CAMERA EYE: Movie reviews. Mostly very short....

Max Headroom: It can't possibly be as awesome as you want it to be, right?

It is awesomer.

Divorce, Italian-Style: I Netflix'd this on reader recommendation after that post I did about Ten Commandments-themed movies. (So yes, you're getting a rough sense of how long it takes a movie to wander to the top of my queue.) The reader noticed that I didn't have any comedies listed, and suggested that this might fit the bill.

At first I was wary--it seemed like the movie might be going for an "aren't wives just awful? so tacky..." shtik; but by the end I found the movie funny and satisfying. There's a great sense of time and place, too--the scenes in which La Dolce Vita comes to the tiny Sicilian town's cinema are fantastic and hilarious.

Chariots of Fire: Also suggested as a Ten Commandments-y movie, "Keep holy the Sabbath" being a major plot point and all. This... hm. It was really well-done (except for the annoying soundtrack-flashbacks in which characters re-articulated the Themes of the Movie, sigh), but really not my thing. I suspect athletic and religious types would get much more out of it.

The "...and then what happened?" final titles were pretty fascinating in that each of the main characters did get a life that the movie suggests they would have considered good.

Videodrome: Literal-minded Cronenberg flick about, like, the television age, and porn. Desperately not my thing despite the presence of Debbie Harry. I will say that I don't think this is as good as Dead Ringers (also not my thing, but legitimately troubling and memorable and unique), because of the literal-mindedness.

(And Dead Ringers had some pretty amazing color control, if I recall correctly.)

Opera: Dario "Suspiria" Argento takes on Verdi's Macbeth!! This was fantastic.

I mean, okay: It doesn't have what philosophers would call "a point." It's a horror flick about bad stuff happening at an opera, and it's Dario Argento, so, you know, a crow eats an eyeball and stuff like that. (Although the "menaced in her panties!" scenes were kept to a refreshing minimum.)

But the music, of course, is amazing; the colors are supersaturated; the camera is all swooning and swizzling and enthralling. It was worth watching some really crap Argento (see below) to get this doomy, glittery showstopper.

The Stendhal Syndrome: Speaking of crap Argento. The idea (hallucinations based on great art + police detective being stalked by the criminal she's hunting) seems perfect for Argento's style, and the opening scene in the Uffizi gallery is great. But the Stendhal-syndrome stuff is fairly minimal, and nothing interesting replaces it. Plus it's very, very, very, very rapey, and... I hated that, I hated having it on my tv set all fetish-like and going on and on. Bah.

Demons: Not actually Argento--he produced, but somebody else directed. Starts out hilarious and fun, and I think if I were more of a gorehound I would have thought it was great popcorn-horror. It's basically '80s music + gore. So, you know, if that sounds good to you... that's what it is.

Trauma: More Argento. Serial killer, electroshock, repressed memories, anorexia. I found it unmemorable (oh snap!) except for the lovely, Evanescence-avant-la-lettre closing credits song.
One fine day
You're gonna watch me for your blog...

Arabist: Saudi religious police attacked by girls....

Church of the Masses: Intriguing line from a post on creating heroic characters--one sign of debilitating sentimentalism in Christian artists: "SENTIMENTALISM IS THE PROBLEM FOR US CHRISTIANS. We want to show that God is basically in charge of the world so everything is really okay. We want to give God the benefit of the doubt."

ComixTalk: Doing unexpected things with word balloons.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

OH JULIET. The caption below this picture--not the one superimposed on it--is, like, my new motto.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

WHY HELLO THERE. I will be in New Haven 10/21/07-10/29/07. If you're in that area, and think you can pull together some kind of thing where I speak (about the stuff in my Commonweal piece, I think), drop me an email.... I promise I won't cuss a lot.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Looking for a unique opportunity to serve your community on Capitol Hill? The Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center is training new volunteers for 6 weeks starting Saturday, Oct. 20 from 9am to noon. If you or a friend feel called to this ministry or would like more information, please call Ann Wink at 202-546-1018 or

This is the center where I volunteer. It's a really great place; if you've been thinking you need some more corporal and spiritual works of mercy in your life, you might consider it.

an article I wrote about CHPC

"Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me."
--Matthew 18:5

Friday, September 21, 2007

The blogwatch is not over yet.
The blogwatch is not over yet.

Uh, I really do have stuff to say, I promise. Sometime this weekend, I'll post about The Plague aka the best book I've read so far this year, and also put up a slew of movie reviews. I may also ramble a bit about Pier Vittorio Tondelli and some other authors. Oh, and there will be another stock-and-soup adventure!

But for tonight, this is all you get. (And next week will be very hectic for me--which will either mean lots of blogging fueled by caffeine and adrenaline, or an acute lack of blogging fueled by ambition, distraction, and fainting in coils.)

Cinecon has moved. Find it here, with a whole passel of reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival.

Jimmy Akin interviews Tim Powers about Three Days to Never. (!) Via Mark Shea. ...Wait wait, Powers has a voodoo novel?? WANT.

Millinerd has been added to the blogroll. This is neither a nerdy hatmaker nor one-thousandth of a nerd, but rather, a blog on matters spiritual, aesthetic, historical, and theological. Not necessarily in that order. Try this thing about "spicy saints" to see if you want more.

Paleo-Future: "Similar notions were apparently the main themes of the Century of Progress International Exposition held in Chicago in 1933. ...Upon entering the Hall of Science, one was confronted by a large sculptural group featuring a life-sized man and woman, their 'hands outstretched as if in fear or ignorance.' Between this couple stood a giant angular robot almost twice their size, bending down, with a metallic arm 'thrown reassuringly around each.' The visitor to the fair need not have searched far for the meaning of this image. It could be found in the Exposition motto: SCIENCE FINDS - INDUSTRY APPLIES - MAN CONFORMS."

The Corner: "But if we overly advantage unchosen obligations (taking as a decisive feature of our place in society, say, not only the fact that we are all born into families but the fact that some are born to the rich and powerful and others not) we run the risk of institutionalizing injustice. So modern liberalism has sought to deny the significance of unchosen obligations, inventing for itself a creation myth by which all human relations result from an original (contractual) choice in some state of nature, which would make only chosen obligations legitimate ones. This has done a lot of good, but it doesn’t change the fact that some of our most important obligations—particularly those in the family—remain unchosen yet binding and essential." (more--really good stuff)