Saturday, March 31, 2007

YOU'RE GONNA NEED SOMEONE ON YOUR SIDE: Catholics talk a lot about the need to pick up your cross and follow Christ. And that isn't wrong. But I wonder if they notice that Christ Himself didn't carry His cross alone?

He had St. Simon of Cyrene, a.k.a. some dude. He had someone he didn't know, not an apostle, not anyone expected--just a guy, shanghai'd into carrying the Cross that would bring life to sinners. Someone needed him--and responding to that need is what made him a saint.

It's kind of terrifying to me how ashamed we are by our neediness. We are dependent. We are on our knees at the foot of the Cross. Like the man said, we can't do it by ourselves any longer. And we feel awful because we can't save ourselves. We feel (I feel) deep, miserable, abiding shame because we think we should be Pelagians. We genuinely believe we should be able to save ourselves by being sinless.

Oh, good luck with that, honey. You let me know how that works out for you.

Maybe it would be easier to ask for help.
Claudia waved one hand in the air to get everyone's attention. "I think that's a myth," she announced. "There is no lesbian in the world that could hate men the way straight women do."
--Dorothy Allison, "Talking to Straight People," Skin: Talking About Sex, Class, and Literature

Friday, March 30, 2007

WE ALL FEEL BETTER IN THE DARK: Unless we're watching the movies Netflix has sent me recently. Why did I put together such a depressing line-up?? Anyway, the report:

The Battle of Algiers: Documentary-style movie about terrorists vs. torturers in the last years of French rule in Algeria. The black and white graininess is amazing--b&w is made for faces--and the characters are totally compelling. I don't really have anything to say about this other than that you should watch it. ...Ennio Morricone did the music, if that helps.

Maborosi: Hirokazu Koreeda on thanatos or the rapture of the deep. The movie is gorgeous--very comic-booky, like color-drenched Jaime Hernandez, maybe Chester Square-era--and the lead actress, Makiko Esumi, is deerlike and strangely beautiful. I got a slight Audrey Hepburn vibe from her: the same ability to be ridiculous and then suddenly graceful. (She's a model, apparently, and her modeling photos look pretty normal, but she had a real otherworldly air in the movie.) But yes, this is an intensely depressing movie. The Netflix blurb tried to make out like it ends with hope, but I didn't really see that--I saw "life goes on," yeah, but that's not the same thing.

Nobody Knows: More Koreeda cinemisery. Based on the true story of several children whose single mother abandoned them in a small Tokyo apartment. It doesn't have the distinctive look of Maborosi, but the child actors are terrific. It's really well-paced, especially given that it's more than two hours long. And more or less unrelentingly painful. ...The title is really grim as well, since one of the noticeable things about the movie is how many people--including adults--knew about the children's situation but do nothing or virtually nothing to help them. Anyway, this is a pretty amazing movie, and you should see it if you can take it.

Grey Gardens: Does what it says on the tin: "Documentary pioneers the Maysles brothers (Gimme Shelter) capture poignant moments in the lives of Edith Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) and her middle-aged daughter, Little Edie -- relatives of Jackie O -- at their decaying estate, Grey Gardens. The ladies shut out their bleak present by recalling richer times and lost loves, and while Little Edie confides that she'd like to leave, the camera captures a co-dependency destined to continue."

I can see why so many people are into this movie: It has enough layers and themes that you can pick out whichever ones speak most personally to you. For me, it was about the unchosenness of family; but also the way that we make choices, and then deny to ourselves that we ever made them, pretending that the outcomes were always inevitable.

And also about living in fantasy--Augusten Burroughs has a quick, sharp note about that, in his autobiography Dry (which you should check out): "I have accepted Pulitzer Prizes, Academy Awards, met wonderful people, and had healthy relationships, all in my mind, all while drinking." Grey Gardens is gentler than that; but still....

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mirrors on the ceilings, and blogwatch on ice...

The Agitator: A reader asks, "Is there an organization advocating against paramilitary raids as a specialty? More generally, who [ACLU?] can one support that in some way is fighting against these daily raids?"

Church of the Masses: Pictures from Gethsemane.

Grylliade: More horror songs! (And yes, the title of this post is also a suggestion.)

Hit & Run: "When I went into [Stasi chief Erich] Mielke's office, I saw it had the number 101, which in 1984 is the number of the torture chamber. 1984 was banned in the G.D.R. but of course, Mielke and Honecker had access to banned material. The guide told me that Mielke wanted this number so much that even though his office was on the 2nd floor, he had the entire first floor renamed the Mezzanine so that he could call his room 101."

Julian Sanchez: Interesting post on negative vs positive liberty, though I'm pretty sure the last sentence only makes sense if you substitute "rights" for "the right." (Insert "a lot of things make sense if you do that!" joke here....)

The Rat: RD Laing on the stranger with my face.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

HOW DOES IT FEEL NOW YOU'VE BEEN UNDRESSED/BY A MAN WITH A MIND LIKE THE GUTTER PRESS: So, "Wilde," starring Stephen Fry as aforementioned and Jude Law as co-respondent. Some thoughts:

1. It was a lot less sentimental than I expected. Admittedly, this is a bar so low Namor gets drunk here every night, but still. I loved the first and final scenes. Only the on-the-nose use of "The Selfish Giant" conformed fully to my expectations.

2. No, let's back up. Before I talk about this movie at all, I should really say that biopics and biographies of all kinds creep me out like whoa. These projects say so much more about their creators than about their subjects--and so often lack all self-overhearing--that I feel like I'm pawing through the underwear drawer of an entire culture. I feel about biographies the way some people seem to feel about fanfiction: Isn't this really distressingly derivative?

3. OK, but so given that, "Wilde": Fry is unexpectedly awesome. I like him always, but kind of thought the political/cultural weight of the project might sink him. And it almost does. I think possibly he has too much dignity in this role. But he also has this brilliant face, where you can see thoughts moving under a still surface--I don't know how you do that. And he does a thing where he bites his lower lip, which I don't remember as a Fry tic but which works perfectly here: Check it out esp. in the scene with the first kiss-this-guy moment.

Jude Law was made for this, as well. He's so pretty that I always forget that he can act. His accent felt really fake to me--and for all I know it's his real one, and he's been Upper-Class Twit of the Year fifteen years running, but still it felt fake (and not an in-character kind of fake)--but man, he was perfect as Lord Alfred Douglas.

But I think that to do what it seemed to want to do, the movie needed to be a four-handed piece: Wilde, Douglas, Constance, and Robert Ross. And while that's super awesome and much more what I'd want than a pure Wilde/Douglas movie, I thought both the writing and the acting for Constance and Ross weren't a match for Fry-Wilde and Law-Douglas. Constance just comes across as totally inscrutable and bland (and there's a weird acting/lipstick choice where she seems to be smiling in the Wildes' prison conference, which just doesn't work at all). Ross is ridiculous, a spaniel, and while that actually intrigued me (you totally understand why no one listened to him when he told Wilde to drop the feud with the Marquess; and his ridiculousness underlines the sacrifice-dignity-for-love theme), still the character needed to be stronger or more memorable in order to carry the weight the script required of him. He does get the very last line in the aftertitles, quite poignant.

Also, it was pretty interesting to watch this right after "Edward II," since the plots are vaguely similar. The juxtaposition suggests that you can completely Bizarro-World reverse the personalities of Constance/Isabella and Ross/Mortimer and still get the same result--from a secular perspective. But "Wilde" is much less secular than "EII."

4. I had expected the movie simply to ignore the religious drama of Wilde's life. It doesn't. Instead, it sets up that drama beautifully in the first half of the movie--and then totally drops it. What?? Both the themes and the pacing of the movie are badly thrown off by the decision to bring in the Marquess's atheism, Ross's Catholicism, and Wilde's awesome Cath-symp provocations... and then forget them.

Overall: If you don't already want to see this movie, don't bother. If you do already want to see it, don't take it off your list. It's significantly better than it needed to be.
Fights blogwatch with
bigger blogwatch--

Family Scholars: Hee!

The Rat: "For Couples, Reaction to Good News Matters More than Reaction to Bad." [You're taking relationship advice from a rat?--ed. We treat them all as equals, just like any other pest!]

Friday, March 23, 2007

DAPPLED THINGS will have a print edition! You can subscribe here to the Catholic lit/arts magazine foolish enough to publish one of my short stories.
AND THE SHADOW BEHIND WALKED WITH HIM: This week's Horror Roundtable looks at the best horror songs. How awesome. I can't confine myself to only one; so here are ten. These are off the top of my head, without rifling through the tape/CD collection. And I've declared ballads (e.g. "The Twa Corbies," "Allison Gross") off-limits, because we'll never get out of here otherwise. So, in no real order (except for the last, which is my favorite):

1. Delta 5, "Shadow." Classy, glossy stalker song.

2. Young Marble Giants, "Final Day." Not the ultimate apocalypse song--but the two contenders for that title, "99 Luftballons" and "The Man Comes Around," aren't really horror songs, whereas this might be. It's subtle, creepy and whistly, a whimsical and shivery song.

3. Martin Tielli, "I'll Never Tear You Apart." The tiger waits/in the bushes by the lake.

4. Jane Hohenberger, "Tooth Fairy." The only song I've ever seen someone cut off midplay because it was too scary. Her smooth gums gleam/with no teeth between,/Lisping, "You are mine! mine, mine mine mine...."

5. Diamanda Galas, a whole bunch of songs, including "You Must Be Certain of the Devil"; that one with the eight legs of the Devil crawling up her spine; and the one that starts, "Deep in my heart/I love you so," which I think might be called "Tony."

6. Dead Kennedys, "The Prey." Heh-heh-heh.

7. Two songs quoting Blake's "The Sick Rose"--that one from Coil (can't remember the name...), and the Raincoats' "Oh Oh La La La."

8. Nina Simone, "Sinnerman."

9. Siouxsie and the Banshees, "Gun." I don't know, I get a real Burroughs-Los Bros. Hernandez-SF-horror cartoony vibe from this.

10. Oh, you knew it was coming: The Cramps, "Eyeball in My Martini." I discuss its theological implications here. (The missing line is, "What's this burden that I bear?")

Hmm, this list seems to veer randomly from slow-and-creepy to camp-horror. I guess I'm in that kind of mood. ...And yeah, I really do love "Don't Fear the Reaper," too. Oh! and "Thriller," yeah! And "The End," and that Siouxsie song with the zombie rhumba ("Join Hands"?), and "Zombie Jamboree," and hey why not count "I Put a Spell on You," and and and and.... (HR link via Sean Collins.)
DISPUTATIONS WRITES: "The idea of each of our sins, however slight, being complicit in every evil experienced by everyone who ever lived is striking to me, too. That's why it became its own post, instead of just the two-paragraph intro to another post I'd originally planned.

"I'm not sure that it's *true*, though. I came by it through manipulating a principle of apocalyptic literature, and I'm not even sure I understand the principle as it applies directly to literature. Whether it has any metaphysical application at all, I don't know.

"But at the very least, pretending that it does preserves and highlights the simply stinky badness of sin, without which we're all (at best) Pelagians."
AWESOME NUN: "...As a former orphan, however, her heart ached in a special way for poor young children in the capital city, especially those whose parents had been jailed. In those days, whole families were thrown into prison together, leaving the children bereft of any education or normal opportunities for socialization, and exposed to all manner of abuse.

"'You almost had to put them back in the womb and let them be born again, in order to make them normal,' she said. 'But it's amazing, even in a very quick time, what a huge difference love and care in their lives can make.'"

I love this, too: "Had this been a project of the community, I would have been under holy obedience. Now I could do things my way.'"


(via Amy Welborn)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

PRISONER RAPE AND THE WAR ON DRUGS: "Stories from Inside offers first-hand accounts by 24 prisoner rape survivors, all of whom were sexually assaulted while serving time for a non-violent drug-related offense. The report also offers an overview and analysis of the war on drugs, highlighting how it affects the sentences and prison experiences of hundreds of thousands of Americans and making policy recommendations."

The report is here (PDF). Link via Hit & Run. I'll keep linking to my old piece on prison reform until you read it....
"STRUGGLING ALONE"--First Things pc about the author's friend, a same-sex attracted college student seeking to live out his Christian faith in chastity. You can get my thoughts on the psychological stuff discussed in the pc here, here, and here; but the description of the near-total opposition and lack of support this guy faced on campus was really poignant, and is the reason I'm linking to this. Sexual orientation is considered a fundamental fact of one's identity, whereas religious faith is mere clothing, something to be discarded or reshaped in light of one's sexual desires.

Before I left New Haven, I tried to get Yale's guidebook for incoming freshmen to list the New Haven Courage chapter alongside its several "gay-affirming" resources. I left NH before I learned if I'd succeeded for the 2001-2 school year, and even if I did, I'd be shocked if that listing lasted into 2002-3.

FT link via Amy Welborn.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

GUILTY PARTY GIRL: Last night I finished Rene Girard's study The Scapegoat, and then (re-)watched Derek Jarman's Edward II. It was a pretty awesome juxtaposition--Jarman's movie (it's been yonks since I read the play, so I'm confining comments to the movie for now) is all vengeance, no mercy. I'm pretty sure the love... rhombus, at the center, is an example of "mimetic desire," too, even though I still don't really know what that is. (I sometimes felt like Girard was trying to make everything mimetic desire, which seemed... unnecessarily confusing.)

And although there are scapegoats and victims in the movie, it was largely about one thing that I really felt was missing from Girard's book: guilty victims. I know he's hammering on the innocence of the scapegoats for a reason; but if you're going to have a comprehensive theory of victimization, and/or of Christian reconciliation (he seems to work hard to avoid the terms "mercy" and "forgiveness"), I really want to know what happens to the guilty people. I, uh, I take a personal interest, you know?

As for Edward II: The music is terrific. Tilda Swinton, for once, is awesome as a kind of Queen Bree van de Kamp, Homicidal Heterosexual Terrorist. I usually dislike Swinton's acting in general and her roles in Jarman movies in particular--he seems to use her as a Javanese shadow-puppet figure of Woman. And I have no problem with characters as silhouettes; but I do have at least potential problems with stories in which the men are allowed individuality, but the women get only iconicity. And that's happening in Edward II, I think, but I don't mind it because Swinton is so crazily compelling. ...Movie definitely falls into the typical Jarman traps described here. Despite the rancid atmosphere, it slid into sentimentality and self-pity, and I probably shouldn't've liked it as much as I did....

As for The Scapegoat: Although my fur was up and my claws out for the first half of the book, I eventually felt like I understood where Girard was going, and was pretty amazed by it. Still have problems with it, need to read it at least one more time, etc etc. Comments, recommendations and so on w/r/t Girard more than welcome. Am working on story about Herod now.

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
--Matt. 11:12
UNDER THE SPREADING CHESTNUT TREE: If I'm understanding this thing from Disputations correctly (apologies for broken block-quotes)--

"Moreover, in each of our earthly sins we create a spiritual sin that is of a piece with Satan's fall. When I sin, I am in a certain way joining with and endorsing the devil's fall. Which is to say (if what happens in heaven happens on earth) that I am joining with and endorsing all the evil, moral and natural, that we experience in this life. War, famine, disease, death: it's all a small price to pay for me not helping my wife fold laundry."

--then every time we sin, we're complicit, specifically, in the suffering of those we love. In every sin, we're saying, "Do it to Julia!"

This particular acre of metaphysics isn't my field; but the post was striking to me, so I figured I'd throw this thought out there for your comments.
"IF I SEE YOU IN THIS DREAM AGAIN, I'LL KILL YOU." And more awesome designs from Spike Press. Via Journalista.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Beat on the brat with a blogwatch bat, oh yeah--

Not actually a blogwatch, really just two links from Hit & Run: Kultur-Terror vs. Godzilla!... and Jim Webb on incarceration rates. Here's my 2003 piece on prison reform.
"THE SACRED CARDOON": I review the current Spanish art show at the Guggenheim. It is excellent, and it is closing March 28, so you should go see it now if you can....

This is another good review, focusing on different elements of the show.
A CHOSEN SON: Disputations on St. Joseph.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

In Manhattan's desert twilight, in the death of afternoon,
We walked hand-in-hand down Blogwatch, like the first men on the moon...

My eternal Saint Patrick's Day post. A lot of people think the obvious American wannabe-ness, the green beer and all that, somehow make St Patrick's Day less awesome. I don't; why shouldn't there be a holiday that's really about America and immigration, even if it pretends to be about Ireland?

Amy Welborn: The Pope speaks with kids in a juvenile detention center. And why The Merchant of Venice is just unplayable now. (The Pacino version was about as good as I think you can get, really, and it was painful.)

Horror Roundtable: The best horror-movie soundtracks. My votes go to, probably in this order, Suspiria; Can of Worms Wide Shut; and La Chute de la Maison d'Usher. Via Sean Collins. (I'm not sure I'd count Vertigo as a horror movie--although I'm not sure I wouldn't--which is why it doesn't appear here.)

And I haven't yet read this First Things piece about Stephen King. But Pet Sematary and The Shining are among the most powerful novels I've ever read. The Dead Zone, Cujo, Christine, and even Misery have some pretty amazing moments. (Don't talk to me about IT.) Here--Stephen King and Dorothy Day, together at last!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

So we knocked a blogwatch back...

The Agitator: America, Land Beyond Parody.

Family Scholars: David Blankenhorn's new book, The Future of Marriage.

"He Do the Police in Different Voices": Eliot's discarded title for The Waste Land. I did not know that. Via First Things.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

UNCOMMON-LAW MARRIAGES: I review Andrew Koppelman's Same Sex, Different States: When Same-Sex Marriages Cross State Lines for the New York Post.
"For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
--Luke 14:11

Thursday, March 08, 2007

FOR A GOOD TIME CALL: Finished Tim Powers's most recent novel, Three Days to Never. Good stuff. Time-travel story about (I think) the difference between repenting something and erasing it--sort of the felix culpa played out in individual lives.

Also finally saw The Chimes at Midnight, which was fantastic--I'll blog more about the movie, and about Falstaff, probably this weekend.
BUT LAST NIGHT THE PLAN FOR A FUTURE WAR WAS ALL I SAW ON CHANNEL 4: More or less via Gene Healy, a post in which I re-read my March 2003 archive and look at what I got wrong. It doesn't quite work, because I didn't spell out my changing views on Iraq very clearly (on the blog or, in some respects, to myself--see below). But you can look here and here, plus blogwatches here, here, here, here, to see what I posted then. The post where I came closest to spelling out my thoughts is actually from February, here.

The main thing that leaps out at me is that I thought I was being pessimistic about both war and not-war/status-quo/continuing-crisis. That isn't true. I was much too hopeful about the possible effects of war, and much too unwilling to accept that continuing-crisis might be the best of the bad options.

The blog posts don't get at the other bad features of my reasoning at the time: arrogance, and willful self-delusion about whether/to what extent the Iraq war was "pre-emptive." (That February post is a great example of the latter, in which I just totally refuse to engage the question.) But I wouldn't call those "mistakes" so much as sins.

I'm saying all this solely with regard to my own reasoning, not as a comment on other people's positions. But it should give you some idea of why I post on foreign policy hardly at all these days: I have a stronger sense of how much I don't know; and if I were somebody else, I'd see no reason to listen to me given my track record.

This is probably the best post I've made about war.

Monday, March 05, 2007

THE SPOILS OF EGYPT: No matter how interesting or acute its analysis in other respects, I mistrust any Christian discussion of same-sex attraction that leaves out the good parts.

I know some people's experiences are very different from mine, but my experience of Sapphism was and is shot through with beauty, compassion, friendship, generosity, and forgiveness, like golden threads in cloth. Other people get that stuff without the problematic sexual stuff, but I can only work with the memories and experiences that I actually have, and many of my most intense experiences of recognizing beauty and being halfway okay at loving people come from being in love with ladies.

That's why I say that I'm "acting on my lesbian desires" when those desires prompt me to be less-horrible-than-usual about seeking Christ and serving Him and other people. Keep what you can, leave what you must, you know?

My fingers are dreaming and rolling in plunder
Of someone who waits only in memory,
Who calls in the rain and sighs in the thunder....
CLAW OF THE CONCILIATOR chooses the best Christian science fiction short stories. Comments-boxing ensues!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Nearly a decade ago, at 14, Isshag started publishing a handwritten community newsletter about local events, arts and religion. Once a month she'd paste decorated pages to a large piece of wood and hang it from a tree outside her family's home for passersby to read.

But after western Sudan plunged into bloodshed and suffering in 2003, Isshag's publication took on a decidedly sharper edge, tackling issues such as the plight of refugees, water shortages, government inaction in the face of militia attacks, and sexual violence against women. Her grass-roots periodical has become the closest thing that El Fasher, capital of North Darfur state, has to a hometown newspaper. More than 100 people a day stop to check out her latest installments, some walking several miles from nearby displacement camps, she said.

more (via Virginia Postrel)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Once I knew a girl who looked so much like Judy Garland
that people would stop and give her blogwatch...

Hit & Run: Radley Balko comments on a Georgia bill to restrict "no-knock" raids. And an article I haven't read on private education in the Third World.

Sean Collins gets the last word on Eyes Wide Shut. I agree with him on some points and disagree on others, but honestly, if you care about the movie I suspect you will be better served just by the dialogue between us than by my attempt to fix it in place by responding again--so from here on, you're on your own! Link includes creepy pix of naked chix, so, you know, forewarned.

Some bishop surnamed Vasa says:
...The Candidates recite the Creed and then add their personal attestation and commitment. It is this personal commitment which constitutes the heart of their conversion to the Catholic Faith. The phrase which is added is this: “I believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.” It is a moment of great freedom; a moment of abandonment of oneself into the hands of God and into the teachings of the Catholic Church. It is an unconditional “yes” to Jesus while at the same time recognizing that we may never completely know all that this “yes” entails.

lots more (via Amy Welborn)
And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man, and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, "Do you see anything?" And he looked up and said, "I see men; but they look like trees, walking." Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly.
--Mark 8:22-25

Such a compelling moment, not only because of the humiliating nature of the healing touch, but also because this is a healing that proceeds in stages, rather than all at once. I'd guess that Jesus has that whole uncanny "Do you see anything?"/"I see men; but they look like trees, walking" exchange with us pretty often.