Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I'm not in love with the modern world
I'm not in love with the modern world
It was a torch to drive the blogwatches back to the trees...

Family Scholars: "A Republican lawmaker is sponsoring General Assembly legislation that would make Virginia the first state to prohibit anonymous sperm donations." This is one of the possible approaches I suggested in my article on "third-party reproduction" (use of surrogates, egg donors, and sperm donors), which... might be online or might not. I am not sure if it is the best thing to do, but I'm very open to the possibility, and I hope the Virginia debate clarifies the issues. It looks like this may be the first debate on third-party reproductive issues informed by the voices of children conceived using these methods. More here and here ("victory over nature" or "victory over parenthood"? or both?).

Get Religion: Ted Haggard is kind of relentlessly not interesting to me. The hustler who outed him, by contrast....

Hit & Run: At last, a news item combining two of my favorite things: markets, and wolves. (Other girls had a horse phase; I had a wolf phase. We will pause now for a chorus of, "It shows!")

Holy Whapping:
8:00 PM. The Wonderful World of Scola Presents King Solomon's Mimes. The well-known cardinal introduces this showing of the classic adventure tale of love, death, lost gold, white greasepaint and really awful experimental liturgical dance. Starring Marcel Marceau as Alan Quatermain and vice versa. ...

9:00 PM. Monk. Obsessive. Compulsive. Discalced. Detective. Today's episode: Fr. Monk Does the Lavabo and Prolongs Mass for Three Extra Hours. Starring Tony Shalhoub. ...

10:30 PM. Father Ted: CSI: Miami. Rerun.

more (via La Welborn)

Indexed: I lol'd. Via the Club for Growth.

The American Scene: In which, if I were Ross, I would make the argument that porn might have lovely theory, but the practice is inevitably colonized by Hell. It's sort of a "Communism is pretty in theory but not in practice" argument. Now me, I don't agree with either of those claims--I think the labor theory of value sucks like few theories of value have sucked before, and porn is more or less defined by its crapulence--but maybe we can at least agree that the pornography industry is not actually made up of you and your feminist friends taking low-res photos in your basement. There is actually a thing out there called "the pornography industry" and it's a lot worse than Wal-Mart. And hey, maybe the nature of sex might even explain why....

Monday, January 29, 2007

WOMEN WITH SHADOWS. Amy Welborn on pro-life fiction. [ETA: Actually, both Amy's post and this one are more about abortion in fiction generally, not stuff that could be labeled "pro-life."] Comments also interesting--from Spike Milligan to A.S. Byatt--and I expect Cacciaguida would agree with the name-checking of Die Frau Ohne Schatten. I'd add David Adams Richards's novel Mercy Among the Children, and Jaime Hernandez's short comic "Flies on the Ceiling: The True Story of Isabel in Mexico" (maybe the most sad and frightening comic I've ever read). As long as we're here, I'll say that I have a published short story, "Why Can't He Be You?", which takes place at a conference for ex-abortion clinic workers, although that story is really more about the aftermath of conversion than it is about abortion.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Cupid, blogwatch your bow,
And let your arrow go
Straight to my lover's heart...

Godstime: New blog focusing on youth ministries. From JB, old-time friend of this blog. Very awesome. Via Amy Welborn.

And a review of Finder: Sin-Eater, a really excellent comic. Via Journalista.
Long before his final illness, he'd asked his rabbi to conduct his burial service entirely in Hebrew, as though Hebrew were the strongest answer that could be accorded death.
--Philip Roth, Everyman

Monday, January 22, 2007

THE BONFIRE MOTETS. Beautiful--a must-read post, really.
...What has always struck readers of the Continental Rationalists from Descartes to Kant is how all these Rationalists divide reason from desire (usually called by them, tellingly, the passions, meaning feelings that overwhelm us rather than longings that express our inmost nature). De Lubac, on the contrary, sees reason and desire as parts of the same whole, subsumed under the wider image of "heart," encompassing them both. And because desire is inherently outward in its aim, thereby testifying to a deficiency in the self, the same holds true of reason.
It may come as a surprise to some, but today--Monday, January 22--is a day of penance according to the particular law of the Latin rite in the United States.

This is why.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

LAW ENFORCEMENT AGAINST PROHIBITION. Small, basic profile article. Reminded me of the excellent 2002 Reason piece, "Battlefield Conversions: Reason talks with three ex-warriors who now fight against the War on Drugs."

I got nothin' else. Just, you know, go listen to The Essential Dolly Parton. Because she is so thoroughly awesome; and it's her birthday.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Blog and watch,
Time and space--

Disputed Mutability: What does a Christian owe the lover to whom he's made a vow? --powerful discussion.

And this is just one of those American things, like the vulture in As I Lay Dying--just because it shuffles its feet all over my country doesn't mean I have to agree with it. "Of course, Jack does not exhibit all of Christ's traits. He embraces the efficacy of violence, and how horrific means can be justified by a noble end." Oh, you think? --No, I'm seriously disturbed by this article, and would very much appreciate any links replying to it.

Also, I watched Breaker Morant last night. It was amazing. If anyone wants to argue that it isn't an inherently anti-war movie, please email me, because I get the impression that anti-pacifists are really into it, and I don't know why.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

AN INTERESTING THING I HAVEN'T READ: Oasis, new magazine on living the Christian faith in Arabic societies. Via Amy Welborn. (For some reason the text on the website is huge on my screen--this happens with a few other sites too--so I will have to wait until I'm at a different computer to check it out. If anyone knows how to fix this problem, let me know....)
But strength still goes out from your thorns
and from your abysses the sound of music.
Your shadows lie on my heart like roses
and your nights are like strong wine.

--Gertrude von le Fort

via Claw of the Conciliator

Monday, January 15, 2007

BLOG OF IRAQI JOURNALISTS WORKING FOR THE MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPER GROUP. Via Unqualified Offerings, who excerpts here. (FWIW--at this point, I really don't think I deserve an opinion on Iraq; the only informed political decision I could make is prayer, which is probably all I should ever have done. Anyway, go away and read the journalists' blog.)
HAY UNA DISCOTECA POR AQUI?: OK, I'm just a country mile behind the world, but I am listening to the Pet Shop Boys' Fundamental for the first time and it is made of gold-plated awesome.

...And yes, I know what it's about, they're not exactly being subtle. As Quentin Crisp and Jesus might say, no one escapes my love.
AND HIS MOTHER GOES TO MEETINGS, WHILE HIS FATHER PULLS THE MAID: Uh, on a totally different note from the posts below, I've recently become addicted to Desperate Housewives. (Some spoilers for s2 follow.) I've only watched the first two seasons--and yeah, the second season is weaker than the first (more on that in a moment), but really, this is a great series. It's really, really rare that I find a TV show--or really anything popular, sigh--that I think genuinely respects women. The women in DH are crazy people, yeah, but awesome crazy, in a way we can root for. I was kind of reminded of Absolutely Fabulous; which is pretty much my highest compliment. (OK, yes, AbFab is much better. That's not the point.)

It's also (and I don't think this is unrelated) a deeply conservative show, at least in the first season. It's bourgeois without being complacent. And it manages (again, more in the first season) to evoke empathy for people on both sides of real, painful conflicts. Even Andrew the sociopath and even Susan the child-woman (yeah, not a fan of hers) have a deep poignance and resonance. It's a ferociously pro-motherhood and pro-marriage show, it's moralizing in that noir way, and it takes religion (especially Catholicism, she noted with a fierce partisan nod!) very seriously. It's also, and I'm not sure why it took me until now to mention this, totally hilarious. I would recommend at least the first season to everybody.

In the second season, some of the pacing is off. And the show decreases both its conservatism and its empathy. Sometimes the lessened conservatism really works--I think it's part of what was going on in the tragically underutilized Bree-and-Justin sub-sub-subplot. And sometimes the lessened empathy works too--Sister Mary Hotpants was probably my favorite subplot of the entire second season, and she's really just a villain. (ZOMG, the church catfight is better than chocolate!!!) She doesn't have an inner life. But that's okay because she's hilarious and provokes a lot of fun, interesting stuff from the main characters. ...But, and maybe I won't be able to back this up if people challenge me on it, I felt like the first season was less willing to encourage viewers to root for the Wisteria Lane ladies against women in equally complex and vulnerable situations. The Solises'-birthmom storyline was the one where I really felt that most strongly: The birth mother is in a morally dubious, complicit, vulnerable position, not unlike Gaby Solis, so why is she a class-based caricature? Ugh.

Nonetheless. For the most part, this show is funny, sharp, and--I hate that this is so rare--actually in favor of, you know, women. And so I am in favor of it.
THE ART OF WAR: LEE MILLER. Lee Miller is my favorite photographer ever, which probably makes her my favorite visual artist ever. (I have this theory that photography is the visual art most like literature, just as architecture is the visual art most like music. Yeah, now's not the time to explain.) This post is all stemming from a conversation w/Ratty while I was in Princeton over New Year's.

She started as a fashion photographer and Surrealist. But this post is about her war photography. She photographed London in the Blitz, and then went into Europe with the US Army (on assignment for Vogue, if memory serves). She was one of the first Americans to see the death camps.

Her WWII photographs basically do everything right. They're intensely tied to their historical moment. The people and things they depict are intensely themselves. But they're also freighted with emotional and existential weight--her photos are about us, now, as well as being about them, then. I have a xerox of one of her pictures on my wall: the silhouette of a beautiful opera singer, singing in the bombed-out ruins of (I think) the Dresden opera house. It's a picture of Germany in World War II; it's also a picture of the Fall. It's an amazing composition, all blackness and angles and off-centered shaken, broken beauty--but the artistry doesn't call attention to itself. The artistry doesn't leach out the subject matter and make it suddenly a photo all about Lee Miller. (I feel like, and maybe this is a cliched opinion I should reconsider, Robert Mapplethorpe's photos tend to vampirize their subject matter and become photos all about Mapplethorpe--diminishing the photos' possibilities rather than deepening them.) Miller's astonishing grasp of (especially) framing and angular lines gives her photos poignance. You're lifted out of them first by their often horrifying subject matter; then by her brilliance; but she always, always returns you, lets you go back into the photo with a deeper sense of sympathy and a sense of deeper layers of meaning in the picture and the experience it depicts.

That deepening of sympathy happens even when maybe Miller didn't want it to. She has one excruciating photo of a dead blonde teenager--the daughter of a prominent SS official, I think. (My copy of The Lives of Lee Miller is loaned out at the moment.) The girl and her family all killed themselves in advance of the Allies' troops. Miller's caption: "This is a good German. She is dead."

Yeah. And yet--it's completely impossible to look at that sprawled, humiliated, film-star perfect body, and stop at the caption's wry cruelty. Miller shot the girl with the dignity and instinctively empathetic quality of the subjects of portraits. The photo is complicated and it hurts, where the caption is meant to duck away from the hurt.

I think Miller's Surrealist background really helped her war pictures. Partly, it's just that Surrealism is emotionalist, all breathy and shuddery and blood pulsing beneath tender skin. You're immediately put on terrain drawn from dreams, not documentaries.

But also, the Surrealists had a talent for making things look completely themselves and yet also mysterious, pregnant with some unseen and non-obvious meaning. Magritte's textures are totally realistic. When he paints fur, it looks like it would feel like fur. There's a thisness in Surrealism, like that Chesterton quote:
That strangeness of things, which is the light in all poetry, and indeed in all art, is really connected with their otherness; or what is called their objectivity. ...According to Aquinas, the object becomes a part of the mind; nay, according to Aquinas, the mind actually becomes the object. But, as one commentator acutely puts it, it only becomes the object and does not create the object. In other words, the object is an object; it can and does exist outside the mind, or in the absence of the mind. And therefore it enlarges the mind of which it becomes a part. The mind conquers a new province like an emperor; but only because the mind has answered the bell like a servant. ...For this feeding upon fact is itself; as an organ it has an object which is objective; this eating of the strange strong meat of reality.

Surrealism isn't anti-realism--it's maybe even the opposite of anti-realism. It's a genre in which things are always both themselves and shadows of something bigger.

I'm struck by the fact that a Surrealist was one of the greatest depictors of a conflict about, in large part, what it is to be human, who is human, and what it means that we can do almost anything to a living human. I don't have anything really to say there. I just think it's striking.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

THIS WAY FOR THE GAS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: Three very scattered points on this excellent collection of short fiction by a Polish Holocaust survivor.

1. This book is a lot better than it has to be. With any book about actual horrors, the subject matter alone will command attention. This Way for the Gas is spare and almost affectless, which I guess you'd expect, but an individual sensibility and talent comes through very strongly.

2. There's a lot of portrayal of complicity. Specifically, the narrator (whose name and circumstances link him with the author, Tadeusz Borowski) often gets through the horror of Auschwitz by laughing at others worse off than himself. It's ferocious and effective, never hammered on too hard, never overdone, just an unmerciful picture of how one person changed. ...There's also a lot of emphasis on how life worked in the death camps: the ways people found to create some kind of structure or community in a place designed to prove that humans can be made completely helpless, and anything at all could be done to them.

3. For whatever reason, I kept contrasting the portrayal of nature in these stories with Shusaku Endo's Silence, about a missionary in Japan during a period of intense persecution. In Silence, the narrative is really tightly internal, tied to the missionary's thoughts and confusions, but now and then it will swoop outward and focus intensely on a tree or rain or earth, sort of stare at that for a little while and then sink back into the missionary's skull. This Way for the Gas weaves description into the narrative. I'm not sure if that's a Japanese vs. Western difference. The effect on me, as a reader, was that Silence made me feel more trapped, and made nature and weather seem more "outside," more "other," wearying and deadly but also somehow kept apart from the cruelty of men. This Way for the Gas made me feel as if nature itself was being corrupted, enlisted to hurt humans.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

With a bit of a mind-flip
You're into the blogwatch...

Awesome article on Hitchcock's music. Via A&L Daily.

"Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year." Via Ratty. I agree with her that the last section is the most striking.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

KITCHEN ADVENTURES: CHEESE SALES. I really need to learn that "on sale" is not the same as "cheap." Nonetheless!

First of all, I stuffed these cute little Mexican sweet peppers with Gruyere. Basically, I just snipped off both ends of a lot of peppers, stuffed 'em with wodges of Gruyere, rubbed olive oil on the peppers, and roasted them in a 375 oven for a while--I forget how long--stirring once. This was delicious, but I had expected the peppers to be kickier. Instead they were sweet and even kind of bland. Jalapeno matchsticks (stuffed into the peppers with the Gruyere) would have been a big help... but jalapenos are never on sale.

And then there were two variations on lazy man's macaroni and cheese: one with asadero (yum--a little tart) and one with Wensleydale (amazing!--total melty comfort food).

Later in the week, there should be a report on snails. Why were snails on sale? ...Oh, and real posting very soon, people. For now you just get links and cheese.
Oscar Wilde, poet, playwright, gay icon and deathbed convert to Catholicism, has been paid a rare tribute by the Vatican. His aphorisms are quoted in a collection of maxims and witticisms for Christians that has been published by one of the Pope's closest aides. ...

Father Sapienza said that he wanted to "stimulate a reawakening in certain Catholic circles". Christianity was intended to be a radical cure, not a humdrum remedy for the common cold: "Our role is to be a thorn in the flesh, to move people's consciences and to tackle what today is the No 1 enemy of religion--indifference."

In love's blogwatch domain...

Family Scholars: "Should we two mommies tell our child who our sperm donor was?"

ShoeBlogs: "With these upon your feets the Donatists and the Pelagians would not stand the chance."

The Rat: A drink for the Withnail & I drinking game!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

THE WITHNAIL & I DRINKING GAME. ZOMG. "The rules for the Withnail and I drinking game are very simple... just match Withnail drink-for-drink...."
The temple bell dies away
The scent of flowers in the evening
Is still tolling the bell


Via Claw of the Conciliator