Saturday, August 30, 2008

THREE KINDS OF MULTIVOCALITY: This post mentioned the idea of multivocality, and now I think maybe I should explain what I meant by it.

It's obvious that our world is characterized by conflict, by conflicting loves and loyalties and definitions and norms.

There are at least three ways to respond to that conflict.

#1: Heighten both sides as much as possible, and then reconcile them in some beloved. This is the basic philosophical movement of the Catholic Church. Everything gets raised to a fever pitch--reason is amazing! but so is mysticism! Celibacy is witness to Heaven--but so is marriage! The individual is so important that his life must be defended even before he has any self-consciousness; and yet the self must be offered up as a sacrifice. It's like everything in the world gets turned up to 11.

#2: Acknowledge conflicts, and reconcile them in the sovereign self. This is what I did back when I was a feminist. I loved all those "I wear makeup, but I'm totally a feminist!" anthologies which were such a hallmark of the 1990s. You could do whatever you wanted to do as long as you a) acknowledged that most of your persona was a subset of patriarchy and b) decided that a) was okay because you were a self-actualized self-esteeming Selfette.

#3: Just state completely conflicting personae and worldviews as compellingly as possible, and then stand back. This is the Shakespeare tactic. It's why he's raw material for philosophy, rather than himself being a philosopher--it's simply not true that Measure for Measure and Hamlet take place in the same universe, or Love's Labour's Lost and King Lear.

I think there are ways to get past this anatomy; Sexual Personae, for example, gets in on all three of these options, without (IMO) ever developing a viable fourth alternative. But I don't know... I wish leftists would acknowledge that almost all of their attempts to wrestle the past end up in option #2, and if I don't like that, I'm not some kind of simplistic moron who can't fathom more than one side of a fight.

"After all, I'm not a progressive," she said with a wry grin.
CHASTE GIRLS ARE EASY: Some postscripts to my paean to chastity, below.

First: When I reflected, I found that the cruel intensifying of drama I associated with sex really only took place in heterosexual couples. Gay guys seemed to do okay. You all know that I don't recommend gay sex! But I need to be honest, and say that sex between gay guys didn't seem to ratchet up the melodrama nearly as much as sex between girls and guys.

...I don't, and I say this with a strong feeling of picked-last-in-volleyball, have a reading on how sex between dykes affected their worldviews.

Second: It's easy to mock Gilbert Chesterton's shtik about the people who say they disagree with the doctrine of the Trinity, but what they mean is that they're sleeping with their neighbors' wives.

But I think even people who disagree with me might be able to agree that if you're having sex out of wedlock, there are a lot of philosophical and religious traditions which say you're doing something wrong, and therefore you might be less open to those traditions.

Some people really love traditions that tell them, "You're wrong!" But others find it hard to say, "You know, we really need to stop doing this--I'm not sure if it's right, and I need to know what I'd think of [insert worldview here] if I weren't going against it every time you and I get in bed."

If you're going to seriously consider sacrificial worldviews at all, it might make sense to get away from the personal situations which would make those sacrifices harder. At least for a little while. A semester is not that long, you know? Ars longa vita brevis and all that--give up a semester of sex for a lifetime of knowing you weren't swayed away from the right philosophy by your hormones.

Third: You know, if you're a girl and you had sex in college and it didn't distort your experience, that's great. If you're all, "Hey, I had such great sex with my boyfriends, and now I'm a Sister of Life and they're rum-running anarchists and staid fathers of three respectively," keep in mind that all advice is based on desperately stupid generalities. The institution of the advice columnist is inherently flawed, inherently tuned toward the majority rather than toward the interesting. So if you think I'm not talking about you, maybe I'm not.

On the other hand, maybe I disagree with your self-assessment of your collegiate escapades. God knows I go back and forth about how I should talk about my own college years.

Fourth, and maybe most importantly: The Busted Halo guide is, I think, a guide to leaving college intact.

If you think maybe you need to leave college broken--like I did, although admittedly I entered it even less fruitfully broken--it won't help you.
This type of hope has been subjected to an increasingly harsh critique in modern times: it is dismissed as pure individualism, a way of abandoning the world to its misery and taking refuge in a private form of eternal salvation. Henri de Lubac, in the introduction to his seminal book Catholicisme: Aspects sociaux du dogme, assembled some characteristic articulations of this viewpoint, one of which is worth quoting: "Should I have found joy? No... only my joy, and taht is something wildly different.... The joy of Jesus can be personal. It can belong to a single man and he is saved. He is at peace... now and always, but he is alone. The isolation of this joy does not trouble him. On the contrary: he is the chosen one! In his blessedness he passes through the battlefields with a rose in his hand."

Against this, drawing upon the vast range of patristic theology, de Lubac was able to demonstrate that salvation has always been considered a "social" reality. Indeed, the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of a "city" (cf. 11:10, 16; 12:22; 13:14) and therefore of communal salvation. Consistently with this view, sin is understood by the Fathers as the destruction of the unity of the human race, as fragmentation and division. Babel, the place where languages were confused, the place of separation, is seen to be an expression of what sin fundamentally is.

--Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi
HOW TO GO TO COLLEGE. Busted Halo has a guide for freshmen here. It might not surprise you to learn that my own college experience is evidence against at least half the items on their list. I'd be pretty interested in other people's reactions to my reactions, since I know my college experience was weird.

That's due to my situation, and I know that. My impression is that Yale is (or was--I just turned thirty, and now I'm even older) much, much more lax about class attendance than many other universities. Yale is right, of course, but that doesn't mean you can get away with skipping classes at Doesn't Matter just because your administration has an awful educational philosophy. There are also obvious class issues; it's easier to do college the way I did if you're not work-study, although I saw a lot of people do it my way without the money, so don't assume that a radical reshaping of worldview is a luxury good. Beyond all that--the BH guide is completely right if you want to achieve the goals with which you entered college.

If the goals with which you entered college felt, even to yourself, hollow and inadequate; or if they were soon revealed to be so; and if you are able to find some other, intense, personal community in which to pursue truth... here are some additions and corrections to the BH guide.

They Say: 1. Be Generous With Your Friendship But Stingy With Your Trust
"The friends you have back home didn’t get to be your friends overnight. It took months — or, more likely, years — to establish those friendships."

I Say: Yeah, I agree with BH that colleges harbor their share of criminals, and far more than their share of drama queens. And I missed out on or lost time with some good friendships by trusting the wrong people. On the other hand, I don't know that "stinginess" is the right metaphor here, ever. You're dealing with people who are radically different from you, and if you're lucky, you'll reshape one another. Can you be stingy with yourself in philosophy?

I also agree, actually, that you can have a friend you don't trust in every situation, but I'd like more clarity on what that means.

They Say: 2. Go to Class!
"Seems obvious—it IS why you’re at college—but you wouldn’t believe how many freshmen skip their way out of school. Do a little math and figure out how much it costs for you to have your butt in that chair per hour."

I could not agree less. Look, it obviously depends. If you will flunk out unless you go to class, go to class! (Unless you and those to whom you're responsible will benefit from whatever you do when you flunk out, in which case, talk to other people who have taken the collegeless route and then if it really seems like it might work, I won't say you nay.) Apparently schools which aren't Yale are really hardcore about class attendance, for some creepy high-school reason I can't fathom. But if that's how your school is, obviously, don't get kicked out, and try not to skate. If you try to skate you will fall, because undergraduates can't gauge how thin the ice is underneath them; if you try not to skate, you might skate.

If you can't follow the material without going to class, go to class. The only class for which I had perfect attendance and for which I always did the reading was my freshman year class in "Plato's metaphysics"--it was so ridiculously over my head that the only way I could manage "...decent work for a freshman" was to work my tail off.

Otherwise, go to class when it interests you. But seriously, if you're at a college with Yale's relative (and late-90s--again, I'm older than I've ever been) insouciance toward attendance, and Yale's intense focus on extracurriculars, then you're wasting the money that sent you there if you don't take advantage of the amazing extracurricular opportunities you've been given. Know the policies that will affect your student career. But also know that, to use the cliche, the most important lessons are usually learned outside the classroom. Don't waste your extracurricular time.

They Say: 3. For the First Few Weeks Live Like a Monk

This I actually think is decentish advice, not that I ever took it. Chastity, poverty, and obedience are very, very worthwhile ways to begin your college career.

About chastity, by the way, though: Look, you're an American undergrad in 2008. You will have drama. Chastity will make that drama much, much more fruitful for you.

No joke: If you are hardcore about chastity, you can fall in love with your professors much more fruitfully. You can have all kinds of ridiculous, hurtful interpersonal drama, which I guarantee you'll have anyway, but without the pregnancy scares and with a less-awful emotional intensity (it'll still be sufficiently awful) and with a much larger range of possible objects of drama. You can get ridiculous about someone else with a much lesser chance of tanking your academic performance.

...I know you won't believe me, but I'm totally right. Chastity means that when you fall hard for somebody you're likelier to come out without horror on the other side of heartbreak. And if there's no heartbreak, well--then you all can get frisky when you graduate.

They Say: 4. Sleep is Good

I Say: You know your own body best. If you're so anxious, mind racing, that you can't work when you don't sleep, then yeah, BH's advice is right. If you're me, then you can get six hours a night at best through the semester, then spend the break with your face planted firmly in a pillow. You're young and all-nighters may be totally available to you--they were to me--but do try to understand your own rhythms and needs. Know yourself, keep an eye on your moods and your relative energy/listlessness levels, and try not to rely solely on fried food and coffee for sustenance.

They Say: 5. Get Involved…but Not Too Involved

"The college experience is about so much more than classes. Campus activities and organizations are a great way to expand your horizons and connect with other students who share your interests. Every club, activity and association will be vying for your time. Be choosey. If you tend to be a 'joiner,' be careful not to over-commit yourself."

I don't even know what to say. Sure, most extracurrics are as pointless as most classes. But if you find something worth diving into headfirst, and you can still be a student (see above re: don't get kicked out), why not do it? Extracurrics are likely closer to what you'll be doing in the so-called Real World than your classes are, anyway.

They Say: 7. Fight Homesickness Without Going Home

This is the first of several BH bits of advice with which I agree wholeheartedly. I wish I'd been more homesick as a freshman. I was much too callow to understand what my home and my family meant to me. Homesickness is a sign of genuine, if conflicted, self-understanding; but I agree that going home in response to it is more likely to exacerbate it than to help you reconcile your past and future.

I also agree that you should ask for help. Don't assume it's hopeless, whatever "it" is. Your dean, your RA, your health department, your mental health counselors--seriously, if you think you need them, talk to them.

And yeah, some people at your college will steal your stuff if you let them. Don't let them.

They Say: 12. Too Much of a Dangerous Thing
"You might be tempted to tune this advice out because you’ve heard it so many times but…DON’T! I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve known who’ve bombed out because they drank too much! ... Underage drinking is a bad idea. Don’t do it."

Yeah, I can't agree with this even one little bit. Again, pay attention to yourself, your patterns. Don't flunk out! But... man, I'd be lyin' like a rug if I said I regretted drinking underage. Drinking underage led me to do some very stupid things, and some things I genuinely regret. It also led me to do some fairly awesome things, and to do and say some things I needed to do and say. I guess what I'd say instead of "don't!" is, "Read The Secret History, and keep in mind that there's always death under Dionysos' ecstasy." And pay close attention to how your words and actions affect others.

They Say: "Just because you’re not a good arguer that doesn’t make you a bad Christian (or Jew or Muslim or Buddhist)!"

That's definitely true. Again, this comes down to who you are, and to what extent you perceive your preexisting beliefs to be adequate. It's ridiculous to say that every person in the world, regardless of educational background or intellectual capacity or vocation, should be able to win a debate with Richard Dawkins.

On the other hand, if you are drawn to intellectual discussion of your faith, maybe there's a reason. If you're troubled by the questions people around you raise, maybe that's something you need to investigate. If you can be humble about your own ability to discern the truth, while still being valiant and ardent in your pursuit of truth, then I think you might have eros for truth, and that is a terrific thing.

Mistrust yourself. Pursue truth and beauty (and, because I'm me, I need to tell you to pursue sublimity). That is the very best way to go to college.
RECONCILING THE SEEMINGLY DISPARATE: I posted a ton of links on MarriageDebate today, and I will feel bad if no one goes and checks them out. Don't make me emo! ;_; WOE.

No, actually, there's a lot of interesting stuff up today, all circling more or less silently around the question of sex differences. If you disagree with the links--or with my assessment of their underlying common theme--BLOG ABOUT IT, so I can link you on the site!
THE SILLY PUTTY CHURCH: I guess you all already know exactly what I think of Nancy Pelosi's ardent-Catholic-abortion shtik. (more) It's "I'm a good person," it's We Are Church, and you know, if I'm church, I think maybe church isn't that great.

It's also how a nearly three-quarters majority of American Catholics (in that order, apparently) end up supporting torture.

I was once privileged to hear a discourse on the nature of conscience in the Church, in which the obvious righteousness of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was marshaled to support the potential okayness of gay sex. The Magisterium: so inconvenient!

"The creatures outside looked from Giuliani to Biden, and from Biden to Giuliani, and from Giuliani to Biden again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Me, I'm not devout. I have a rosary kicking around in my bookbag and daggone if I don't always find some excuse not to hike it out and spend twenty minutes fitfully contemplating my Lord. I'm not ardent. I am lucky if I pray twice in a day, not counting when the ambulances and the cop cars go by. I'm not a good Catholic. I don't say this with a kind of reverse pride. I think it's creepy, and you guys can point out that I've written for money about praying the rosary even though I do it much, much less than 99.99% of the people who do it for free. I say this as someone who needs to go to Confession, someone who (Ratty can attest) consistently puts off confessing until I've spiraled low enough that I can't ignore it anymore. I hang on by the fingernails and skate on thin ice and hope like hell--or, you know, I hope I hope like purgatory.

I'm completely convinced that the people who say they're good, they're ardent, they're devout, are people who try hard to do the right thing and believe what they say they believe and don't lie, and in many cases do a lot more concrete good in the world than I do. I just... I can't agree that what they support is Catholic--at least, not in the way that Morrissey is Catholic.

Friday, August 29, 2008

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES: This post reminds me that back in 2000, when Bush II was the candidate of a "humble foreign policy" (not that I entirely know what that would mean), some members of the Party of the Right kicked around "COME GET BOMBED AT OUR CLINTON FAREWELL PARTY" as an election-night boozefest slogan.
I TRUST YOU ARE ALL RECOVERED FROM YOUR HANGOVERS. Some things around the web about the Democratic convention, which I didn't watch.

Jesse Walker's Shorter Barack Obama.

Some notes on applause.

A libertarian video I can't watch on this computer... but it intrigues me: Dems back away from free trade.

The bits I liked from the Reactionary Epicurean's liveblogging:
8:16pm I'm amazed again by how perceptive Yuval Levin's aritcle on 'Science and the Left' is. They don't actually respect science, but it's an important part of their identity to believe that they do. ...

9:23pm "We are on the right side of history." I had no idea they were still into Hegel.

scroll down (and if all the "they"s in the bits I quoted put you off, seriously, click--guy and I disagree on many a thing, but he's not a McCainiac by a long shot)

The bits I liked from the Democratic convention: the parts where they denounced torture. (and more) Seriously, since this has, horrifically, become a minority position in this country, the Dems win my admiration by not caving--at least, you know, in their rhetoric. More on this in a bit.

And Mickey Kaus notes Dems vs. teachers' unions. I do share the skepticism of... someone... some blogger... who?... of Kaus's "one size fits all" testing-based approach. But the Booker/Fenty stuff rings completely true.
FAIRYTALE IN TOKYO: Recently watched Tokyo Godfathers, based on Claw of the Conciliator's 2006 recommendation. (And yes, now you know exactly how long it takes something to go from the bottom of my Netflix queue to the top.) It's about three homeless people who find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. I really, really liked it, despite its sentimentality--the particular combination of sentimentality and harshness and melodrama and gentleness reminded me oddly of Sullivan's Travels. An old-fashioned approach to moviemaking.

Also, the characters don't have those giant Hello Kitty anime eyes. They often looked, to my desperately uneducated eyes, somewhat like the uglier caricatures in ukiyo-e. So if the eyes creep you out, don't worry, Netflix this anyway.
EROS AND EDUCATION: I know this is ridiculously late, but I've been distracted and all August humid-hazy in the brain. Here are some clarifying comments I made to X. Trapnel of Books Do Furnish a Room, about our brief dust-up. (Me, him, me.)

1) "I totally agree [that it's still possible for people with radically divergent premises and even languages/definitions to pursue truth together], and I'm sorry this particular approach to meta-discussion didn't highlight that agreement. BUT--and this is why so much philosophy goes so wrong--good debate on morals & politics (I still prefer 'virtue' as the word for this stuff) can only take place when there's a rich context of story and persona. If I want to talk about marriage (to use the easiest example to hand) I need to talk about the Song of Songs, not just more abstract nouns, and I need to create some sense of my persona in your mind.

"That's necessary b/c persuasion is leadership. We need to create some kind of relationship in order for you to understand what I'm saying. Huckabee (or the rhetorical strategy I'm calling 'Huckabee'!) fails here b/c he basically rejects any attempt to create a relationship with people who don't already share his conclusions. That's ridiculous, it's retreat, just the opposite of leadership.

"This is why a) good philosophical dialogues are superior to good philosophical treatises, and b) just about all of the work that has to be done to 'resurrect' virtue-talk must be done at the level of culture, not politics as such. (So Huckabee/'Huckabee' was already quite handicapped.)"

2) "I think we disagree on what aesthetics is, and where its limits are. Possibly I can clarify by saying that I'm talking about aesthetics as a philosophy of love, not a philosophy of taste? [edit: Should be, not solely as a philosophy of taste.] I mean, I disagree with you about 'de gustibus' anyway, but I think you can keep believing that and still end up on my side here."

[note: Of course it's possible to dispute taste! The guys at Project Rungay do it all the time, and often convince one another or their readers.]

[and here I say that leadership is not only about showing people something new to love, but also about revealing the secret identity of the beloved for whom they're already longing:] "I'm very OK with showing people how their own longings (aesthetic!) are answered by my worldview."
A LINK FOR THE CIGARETTE SMOKING BLOGGER. And, really, for the cigarette-smoking blogger in us all. Via Sean Collins.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

VAMP: At Virginia Postrel's new blog "Deep Glamour: At the Intersection of Imagination and Desire," she muses:
Beyond the ordinary factors that give the Democrats an advantage this year, Barack Obama's glamour poses a huge problem for the McCain campaign. To destroy glamour, you have to change perceptions. You can try sober realism. But that lacks emotional punch. To strike at glamour's emotional core, horror and ridicule work better. Instead of telling the audience to ignore its desires and be rational, they replace desire with dread or derision. What was once inspirational becomes terrible or absurd.


To which a commenter acutely replies: "I don't think horror diminishes glamor, horror is a glamor of its own. Watch some vampire films if you doubt that."
"THE NIGHTMARE WORLD OF A VIRGIN'S DREAMS": I'll be posting every week at Ladyblog, a group blog at the newly-launched Culture11 site. Go check it out! A couple of the Yale Mafiosi are on board as well--Helen "Cigarette Smoking" Rittelmeyer and Nicola "Iqra'i" Karras.

My first post is about Repulsion.
"For in the final analysis every important cultural gesture comes down to a morality, a model for human behavior concentrated into a gesture."
--The Glass Bead Game (Joseph Knecht on classical music)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

TEAR IT UP, PTERODACTYL: When Tim Gunn called Blayne's creation "like some kind of pterodactyl from a gay Jurassic Park" I finally knew what I want to be if I grow up.

...This isn't the real Project Runway post. That's about color and it will be here soonishish.
Since the end of the Middle Ages, intellectual life in Europe seems to have evolved along two major lines. The first of these was the liberation of thought and belief from the sway of all authority. In practice this meant the struggle of Reason, which at last felt it had come of age and won its independence, against the domination of the Roman Church. The second trend, on the other hand, was the covert but passionate search for a means to confer legitimacy on this freedom, for a new and sufficient authority arising out of Reason itself. We can probably generalize and say that Mind has by and large won this often strangely contradictory battle for two aims basically at odds with each other.
--The Glass Bead Game

Thursday, August 21, 2008

HEARTS FULL OF YOUTH! HEARTS FULL OF TRUTH! SIX PARTS GIN TO ONE PART VERMOUTH! Megan McArdle on lowering the drinking age, and reducing DUIs.

Also, FKS is right that these recipes for happiness are worth reading (in order); and some of them would make nicely provocative debate resolutions....
Men like Abelard, Leibniz, and Hegel unquestionably were familiar with the dream of capturing the universe of the intellect in concentric systems, and pairing the living beauty of thought and art with the magical expressiveness of the exact sciences.
--Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game, tr. Richard and Clara Winston

More from this later, but for now, I just liked the inversion of our--or my--expectations. I mostly hear "thought and art" praised for their "magical expressiveness," whereas when the sciences get praised on aesthetic grounds it's usually for their "living beauty".... I have no idea what this was in the German, and whether the connotations are carried over with any grace or fealty, but I like this sentence as translated.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

CAESURA: Radio silence will end either Friday or Saturday; I'll also reply to your emails then. Thanks so much to everyone who's written, esp. about the "How to Make Your Child a Gay Activist" piece! I'm sorry it's taking me so long to reply, but I will get to everyone this weekend.

Blog posts on deck: why I connect aesthetics and leadership; three kinds of multivocality; maybe some thoughts on "Project Runway." Probably some other stuff.

In the meantime, enjoy your respite from all things me!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

HEY, AUGUST 15--A.K.A. FRIDAY--is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It's a Holy Day of Obligation. Go to church!

If you're Christian but not Catholic... take some time on Friday to think about Our Lady as Ark of the Covenant; or her lifting-up after such great sorrow as a parallel to Christ's lifting on the Cross; or her Heaven, with her Son.
DON'T READ A PUNCHLINE AS A TREATISE, would be my immediate reply to BDFAR's dismissal of the mixed-sex-dorms question. It's really not the point I was making; in fact I purposely chose a ridiculously trivial situation to link because the situation in the previous link (torture) was so obviously untrivial.

My less-immediate reply would be, read the article. And then tell me that it wasn't a shopworn paste-up of reasons no one should care about sex difference. "I live in a house ruled by pure reason!"

I get why undergraduates would say that stuff; but what's the adults' excuse?

...fwiw, I can think of benefits to this situation, which should also suggest that I don't view it as a huge horrific problem. Guys should have some sense of girls' use of "feminine protection" (LOL, I want a pink Derringer) and that having a uterus is not some kind of bizarre sci-fi complication sprung upon them by gods unknown. On the other hand, come on, I challenge anyone above the age of 22 to deny that the Boston Globe article normalizes naivete. Not because it defends chicks rooming with guys, but because of the way in which it does so.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

RESURRECTED WORDS BATTLE ZOMBIE WORDS: So of course someone put his finger squarely on the weakness of my Parmenides/Huckabee post: What now?

Well, I want to say a few things. I'm going to do my thing first, because this is my blog, and then if I think it will help to respond to my interlocutor I'll do so; otherwise I'll yield the floor.

First: Does BDFAR actually disagree with my premise? That is, does he actually think that "reason" or "nature" or "happiness" or "pleasure" are either a) a basically uncontested category in American politics, or b) a good-enough basis for politics? I'm going to say that the first three are radically contested, and the fourth is a frankly gross basis for politics. Does he disagree?

I honestly don't know how you can look out your window and not think that virtues have become brain-eating zombie words. But if somebody wants to say, "Oh yes! We have all kinds of virtue beliefs in common, and those are the most important ones!", well shoot, I'd love to listen.

Second: Of course we do actually share an enormous amount in common. When I talk about marriage I can say "Song of Songs" and most people know what I mean. This is important for the next point, but it isn't really the same as having a cultural consensus on marriage, as--again--I think almost anyone would agree.

On the one hand, I want to beat up the leftist postmodernists with copies of Donald Davidson's "On the Very Notion of a Conceptual Scheme"--you really can't get away from Shakespeare, sweeties! (which is not at all what DD meant to say, because he's naive about language, but it's still kind of obviously true)--but on the other hand, of course, the Left arises out of the same tradition and the same facts about the world that produced Shakespeare, and is thereby almost as universal as he is. (Not quite as, because he's multivocal, while the Left by definition tends to flatten all voices into one voice. I'm sorry your philosophy arose after the Enlightenment screwed up philosophical practice. Desperately not my fault, though, y'all.)

[eta: Sorry!--that previous paragraph was not at all in direct response to BDFAR, and I wasn't assuming that he (?) is in any unusual or interesting way "on the left"; I don't know his political beliefs.]

Third, and most excitingly: All anyone can ever do is present descriptions of how persuasion happens. This meta-discussion is vastly less interesting (and likely less fruitful philosophically) than simply persuading; but every now and then maybe it has to happen.

So here's what Huckabee should do, a.k.a. what everyone should do.

Get on your hands and knees. Humbly feel around for shared premises. Listen, listen quickly!

Talk about why you believe what you believe, in terms which you think might be persuasive to people who don't already agree. This ridiculously basic step is the one Huckabee missed, of course. He was a Rortyan without a secular canon--Rorty writes as though of course we all draw the same lessons he drew from Western lit, and Huckabee shows the same naivete about the Bible. I'm not sure which of them comes across as more provincial: Rorty with his canon which can never get outside the boundaries set by some projected self-shadow he called Nabokov, or Huckabee with his Bible which can never get outside the boundaries set by the Washington Times. Neither one of them exemplifies self-overhearing, to be frank.

So yeah--feel around, on your hands and knees, for words. If you find a word that might work, pick it up and wave it around and see where it catches the light: sublimity, beauty, honor. Maybe people who are allergic to talk of good and bad, or wrong and right, can hear those words when the light glints off them just right.

Eventually I think you should look for the light source; but then, I would say that, and I don't think it's a desperately useful thing to say in this conversation. For the moment let's just go with feeling around on the floor, listening, feeling with your palms until some shard of something really hurts. Pick that thing up. Look at that thing. That's the thing your culture teaches you to avoid. That's something worth looking at.

Fourth: To resurrect a word, you need to be a leader. That's actually the definition of leadership: resurrecting a word for a community.

John Keegan's Mask of Command is the most profound study of leadership I've read; the only other option is Plato's Symposium. Philosophy cannot proceed--maybe ever, but certainly in our day--without leadership, and therefore it cannot proceed without authority.

Where do words take meaning? From our culture, from our wants? From our beloveds? Or perhaps from some other--some Other--who pushes somehow beyond self and culture and beloved?

Philosophy, as eros, is precisely the eros for this other option, this hidden god, this Other. Apollo yearns for Dionysos, always, always.

Thus every resurrected word will lead--if we follow her--back to her tomb and then to her Savior.
BUT YOU'VE GOTTA HEAR WHAT'S ON THE B-SIDE!: I missed my chance to link you to Bernini's St. Laurence when the linkin' was hot. But there he is.

He was a smartmouth. I'm honored to be named after the same thing he was. (I'm "Laura Eve" in my even-less-professional life.)

And because the Catholic Church is exactly as awesome as you always wanted Her to be... he really is the patron saint of rotisserie operators.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Triple-X blogwatch, the double-X eyes...

Sean Collins revisits Watchmen--which is what I'd be doing too, if I could find my copy! Whine. Anyway, interesting comments.

Cigarette Smoking Blog: Oh, blender, won't you help a first offender?--shattery noir photos, very fun.

And I owe Books Do Furnish a Room a reply, but that probably won't happen tonight. Soon!

Friday, August 08, 2008

IT'S JUST A GLAZE, DEAR: KITCHEN ADVENTURES. (I'm so sorry.) I made a ridiculously good roasted chicken thing a couple weeks ago. Here's what I did:

I turned the oven to 350, took a half a chicken, and loosened its skin. I rubbed cumin, ground ginger, and a bit of cinnamon into its flesh. Maybe cayenne too, I can't quite remember. Then I got a small bowl and put in (in about this order) honey, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, and a bit of olive oil. I stirred that quickly with a fork--I'd say "whisked" but I'm not sure of the technical definition of whisking--until it all got incorporated into one glazy sauce. That went all over the chicken.

Then the chicken went into the oven on a foiled baking tray for about twenty minutes. After that, I kept checking the bird now and then, turning it, shlupping the glaze over it, etc., until it was done, which I think took no more than forty minutes total. I may also have added chopped mushrooms to the tray for the last fifteen minutes or so.

When it was all ready, I let it rest for about ten minutes, then began feasting. Soooooo good! All the flavors worked really well together and didn't feel at all overwhelming. The leftovers were great the next day, too.
ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP: PARMENIDES AND HUCKABEE BATTLE THE BLOB!: This very good post by Ryan Anderson is an opportunity for me to finally explain what I meant by saying that all culture rests on religion, “and by religion I mean an understanding of the nature of love”; and culture can't be separated from politics.

It’s pretty easy to jump from that statement to Huckabee’s, “I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that’s what we need to do--to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.”

I think it’s fairly boring to say, “I don’t want conversion by the sword.” It’s unjustifiable on Christian grounds (sorry, St. Augustine, for the most part I think you’re the squiggly neon shoelaces of the world and I love you to little sparkly bits, but that wasn’t your finest hour) and, really, after JPII and his insistence on the rights of conscience, do we still need to have this discussion? So I will bracket it, because this is my blog, and instead talk about the ways in which Huckabee is right, and Richard Rorty is right, and Alisdair MacIntyre is right--because these are three guys I would far prefer to use as scratching posts, so defending them will be an exercise in humility.

All natural-law talk is virtue-talk at heart. Certainly in the realm of politics this is true. There are some things Reason can’t explain; for everything else, there’s natural law. If you believe anything remotely close to that, you are a virtue-talker.

MacIntyre is right on two counts: First, that virtue-talk is necessary to translate religion (“an understanding of the nature of love”) into politics and culture. Second, that virtue-talk has broken down in our culture, and is merely a threadbare proxy for much more fundamental clashes of worldviews.

These two things are both true because virtues are names. I don’t mean that virtues have names. I mean that virtues, in both the cultural and the political arena, are names. If I say that a certain behavior is “dishonorable,” of course everyone nowadays asks, “By what standard of honor?” So too with “chaste,” so too with “cruel,” so too with “courageous,” so too with everything. Marriage, fidelity, kindness, justice--no noun can stand on the solid ground of universally-acknowledged meaning nowadays.

And therefore our Constitution cannot stand on that ground either. If you think I’m wrong… define “cruel and unusual punishment.” Every word in that phrase except “and” is not merely contested as a matter of political practice, but contested as a matter of basic, irreconcilable philosophical and theological worldview.

In other words: If the Eighth Amendment has meaning, rather than being a fight club of not merely competing but mutually exclusive meanings, then it must have meaning in reference to some underlying Truth which infuses meaning into our words “cruel” and “unusual” and “punishment.”

If the One is not, then nothing is.

Plato’s Parmenides is right that all of Socrates’ vaunted Forms rested on some underlying conception of reality: the One. Without some kind of consensus--however limited--on the One, no Form made sense.

Huckabee is right that without some underlying cultural consensus on basic definitions of justice, mercy, rights, marriage, compassion, cruelty, and even reason itself, whose definition is anything but obvious, we cannot possibly have a coherent national politics. Politics is a conversation punctuated with gunfire. If we don’t even understand the words the other side is speaking, the gunfire will of necessity get more frequent, and the conversation less so.

Rorty is right that there’s a way out, and that way is aesthetic in nature. When the Good and the True have collapsed into a hundred muttering and squabbling goblins; when the One is a longed-for rag of memory no more puissant than Prester John; still the Beautiful and--one hopes even more so--the Sublime call to us.

This is why the ultimate political evil of our age isn't cruelty, and isn’t even selfishness. The ultimate political evil of our age is sentimentality, which leaches the meaning from meaningful things; or, to use its secret name, banality.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR CHILD A GAY ACTIVIST: This is something I've had kicking around the hard drive for a while, and, well, better extraordinarily late than extraordinarily never. This is based on any number of true stories, with style somewhat ripped off from the Screwtape Letters....

I welcome email about this post, including challenging or hostile email.

If you end up here via Google, please, please check out my sidebar under "Sicut cervus: Resources on God and homosexuality." This is a fairly bitter piece, but there's an enormous amount of love and support out there for you, and if you can't find it, please email me and ask me for more.


Let's say you, like many Christian parents, have a child with strong and lasting homosexual longings.

Someone--maybe not Jesus, but Someone--definitely enjoys it when people who are trying hard to love one another and act well toward one another end up deeply hurting themselves and each other instead. Someone loves it when Christians trying to bear witness instead cause confusion, disappointment, and pain to those they love; when Christians, trying to support family values, destroy their own families. Someone enjoys it when Christians, seeking to love and support their children, hurt those children deeply.

How do you help that "Someone"? How do you make it as hard as possible for your child to accept Christian chastity and humility, rather than seeking solace in gay pride?

Let's begin at the beginning....

1. Worry about whether your kid is too girly or too tomboy. Worry a lot. You can start when she's still in the womb! Is your little princess kicking just a bit too hard? It's never too early to start fretting about whether she'll be one of those... you know... rugby girls.

Make sure you tell your kid exactly how, and how often, he or she steps out of the most rigid gender lines. You don't need to try to shame your kid. At earlier ages, children usually want to conform, so just being told they're not normal can make them feel properly... abnormal.

2. Let your kid think your love is conditional. Again, you don't even have to say this out loud. Many kids just assume, unless they're told differently, that they'll only be loved if they do what you want.

Best of all, your child will guess that God's love is conditional too.

What about when your child tells you he's gay?

3. Find someone to blame.
The best person to blame is yourself, of course. It's your fault. Blaming an ex-spouse is also good; blaming the child is even better.

Don't forget your child's friends. Don't trust them for a minute. They provide nothing of value--better your child should be entirely alone, dependent only on you for approval. (If your son introduces a boyfriend, remember that no matter how it might look, he doesn't love your child at all--so it's not as if you have anything in common.)

If you need help figuring out whom to blame, there are countless Christian sources that discuss "causes" of homosexuality. Spend a lot of time with these resources--ideally, more time than you spend with your child. These resources address the most important question: Where did this problem come from?

4. Use the right phrases. "Risky lifestyle" is a good one; also "disease." "So disappointed" works, especially if you haven't been diligent enough about step #2.

The best, of course, is that oldie-but-goodie, "You're dead to me."

You might not think you'd say that. But oddly, many people do. Perhaps the Holy Spirit inspires them to find the overdone--might we even say, campy?--phrase most likely to devastate their children.

These phrases are like Jif--kid-tested, mother-approved! They'll help your child trust in other people and in God. After all, tough love is the best kind.

Under no circumstances consider any of the following: "I love you, sweetheart--I always have, and I always will"; "I don't know if you want to talk about this more, but if you do--now, or ever--I'm always here for you"; or, worst of all, "Okay, well. Okay. Huh. But you're still bringing the sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, right? You know your mom always burns them."

5. Now is a good time to bring up the Church's teachings. Your kid has probably spent months to decades gearing up for this moment, expecting the worst, braced for rejection. He's in a tight-wound emotional state, pulse racing, trying to speak clearly and coherently.

This is the best time to tell him about intrinsically disordered impulses, Leviticus, and Romans. He's ready and willing to hear you. Besides, if you follow steps #4 and 8, you may never get another chance to talk to him.

6. The only good gay is an ex-gay! For minors, why not try ex-gay camp? Send your kid to a remote location, where he'll enjoy outdoorsy, macho, sweaty activities with other virile, same-sex attracted boys. That'll cure him! (The best camps don't let the kids listen to anything but Contemporary Christian music--none of this fairycake Mozart business.)

If you can't find a good camp, at least try counseling. Your daughter can still learn to be a Real Woman--with dresses and everything! (Jesus likes it when girls wear dresses.) Be sure your kid understands that if she doesn't become heterosexual, she has no chance of being chaste.

What about the long term?

7. "Help" is a four-letter word.
Don't tell anyone what you're going through. Especially, don't seek out other people in your situation. They couldn't even raise their own children properly--surely they can't help you with yours! Besides, if you get support, you might forget to focus on the important stuff, like whose fault this is.

8. "Sorry" is for sissies. Whatever you and your child said in the heat of emotion reflected your deepest feelings--so there's no need to try to reconcile. Your kid doesn't care what you think, anyway--why would he want to hear from his mother after years of estrangement? Why would he want to know you still think about him every night?

9. Most importantly, don't pray. Don't pray for your kid. Don't pray for yourself. Don't pray that you can model Christ's love to your child. Don't pray that your child will be a source of grace and blessing for others (including his boyfriend or her girlfriend--definitely don't pray for God to bless those awful people!). If you absolutely must pray, just pray that your child will realize exactly how wrong he is and exactly how right you are.

That's what Someone would want.
TIME IS LIKE A DREAM/AND NOW, FOR A TIME, YOU ARE MINE: Yet more reader comments on NFP and liturgical time (not using names b/c I haven't asked permission, but if you see this and don't mind, email me and I'll add your name back in):

Hi Eve,

It may interest you that if you go to Ethiopia today, you'll find that few weddings take place during the fasting seasons (Lent, Advent, Apostles, Dormition,...) and during the rainy season (mid-June to early September). Even the non-Orthodox (Muslims, Protestants, and Catholics) will tend towards avoiding these dates so that their Orthodox friends (about 50% of the population) can attend the wedding.

Between Easter and the June rains, there's usually a bit of April and June, and the whole of May. Interstingly, May (or the Ethiopian somewhat equivalent - Ginbot) is associated with negative superstitions, which means that late April and early June is heavy wedding season. Some folks end up going to more than one a day!

A significant portion of the Orthodox observe the fasts to some extent or another. It's palpable to any visitor. Restaurant menus change, butchers and dairies scale down, and there's a relative serenity in the air.

Also not (quite) on board with the sharp separation at the end between pragmatic discipline and spiritual discipline...

I thought you might like this little mnemonic verse on the Forbidden Times of Marriage (Pre-VII):
Advent bids thee to refrain,
Hillary sets thee free again,
Septuagesima bids thee stay,
Six days from Easter says thou may,
Ascension pleads thy chastity,
But thou may'st wed at Trinity.

The feast of St Hilary falls on 13th January, the Octave of the Epiphany, marking the end of the Christmas season. Septuagesima Sunday fell 70 days before Easter (the third Sunday before Lent) and Trinity, of course, is the first Sunday after Pentecost)

and Cacciaguida (who already gave me permission):
...On the pragmatic/spiritual point: it's traditional ascetic teaching that a mortification undertaken as such, for God, has somewhat greater spiritual value than one encountered, either passively (a bumped head, a stubbed toe) or in the course of a legitimate secular pursuit (we write the article when we'd rather blog or watch a movie, etc.). But the latter can be offered up as well, so I can't see that the difference is as big a deal as your correspondent makes it.
THIS IS GOING TO STING A LITTLE. In which the Pope talks about the only story I will ever be able to tell. Every sentence of this excerpt is amazing:
In the modern era, the idea of the Last Judgement has faded into the background: Christian faith has been individualized and primarily oriented towards the salvation of the believer's own soul, while reflection on world history is largely dominated by the idea of progress. The fundamental content of awaiting a final Judgement, however, has not disappeared: it has simply taken on a totally different form. The atheism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is--in its origins and aims--a type of moralism: a protest against the injustices of the world and of world history. A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering, and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God. A God with responsibility for such a world would not be a just God, much less a good God. It is for the sake of morality that this God has to be contested. Since there is no God to create justice, it seems man himself is now called to establish justice. If in the face of this world's suffering, protest against God is understandable, the claim that humanity can and must do what no God actually does or is able to do is both presumptuous and intrinsically false. It is no accident that this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice; rather, it is grounded in the intrinsic falsity of the claim. A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope. No one and nothing can answer for centuries of suffering. No one and nothing can guarantee that the cynicism of power--whatever beguiling ideological mask it adopts--will cease to dominate the world. This is why the great thinkers of the Frankfurt School, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, were equally critical of atheism and theism. Horkheimer radically excluded the possibility of ever finding a this-worldly substitute for God, while at the same time he rejected the image of a good and just God. In an extreme radicalization of the Old Testament prohibition of images, he speaks of a “longing for the totally Other” that remains inaccessible--a cry of yearning directed at world history. Adorno also firmly upheld this total rejection of images, which naturally meant the exclusion of any “image” of a loving God. On the other hand, he also constantly emphasized this “negative” dialectic and asserted that justice--true justice--would require a world “where not only present suffering would be wiped out, but also that which is irrevocably past would be undone”[30]. This, would mean, however--to express it with positive and hence, for him, inadequate symbols--that there can be no justice without a resurrection of the dead. Yet this would have to involve “the resurrection of the flesh, something that is totally foreign to idealism and the realm of Absolute spirit”[31].

via Mark Shea

Why haven't I read Spe Salvi yet?

Friday, August 01, 2008

OPERA--THE SUN LOVES IT! Via Ratty, a Guardian article on the Sun's promotion of the tabloid nature of opera; and a comments thread in which readers compete to summarize operas in Sun-style:
(Die Walkure)

(Peter Grimes)


(Tristan & Isolde)

(Un Giorno di Regno)



(Unfortunately, the summary for Jenufa is weak, even though--as one reader notes--the plot has more than a whiff of EastEnders.)

Best lines from the original Sun piece, showcasing its new opera-tickets deal ("Hear a tenor for less than a tenner!"):
Elitist broadsheet The Guardian wrote an article last week sneering at the fact that lowly Sun readers should dare to grace the Royal Opera House.

Blow them. They can have a night in with their mung bean sandwiches and discuss existentialist feminism. We’ll be down the opera having a knees-up.

PEOPLE SHOULD GET BEAT UP FOR SKATIN' LIKE THE LEAFS. Never before have I had a dream involving:

* my mother asking me, in deeply troubled tones, why I had changed my beliefs, no longer believing in the maximization of utilitarian happiness for the average person (she had an example involving grocery shopping), at which point I explained that I now cared more about "various kinds of excellence" than about happiness;

* Canadians lion-racing (in fact, I suspect this is the first dream of mine in which the Canadian anthem has featured under any circumstance);

* a stand-up comic asking for definitions of tradition, which led to the Reactionary Epicurean using my tradition/addiction shtik... which in turn led to all of us getting heckled by a six-fingered man for "drinking from the keg of hatred every day."
WHEN I WAS CRUEL: My article on Alan Moore's A Small Killing is up at Inside Catholic.