Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Love in Man is Fear of Fear. Love in Woman is Hope without Hope. Man fears all that can be taken from him, a Woman's Love includes that, and then Lies down beside it. A Man's love is built to fit Nature. Woman's is a Kiss in the Mirror. It is a Farewell to the Creator, without disturbing him, the supreme Tenderness toward Oblivion, Battle after Retreat, Challenge when the Sword is broken. Yea, it strikes loudly on the Heart, for thus she gives her Body to all unrecorded Music, which is the Psalm."
--Masie Tuck-and-Frill, in Ladies Almanack
THE TORTURE COLONY: "In a remote part of Chile, an evil German evangelist built a utopia whose members helped the Pinochet regime perform its foulest deeds." (via A & L Daily)
THE YELLOW EYES OF FRANCIS DOLARHYDE: Sean Collins posts about an Entertainment Weekly list of "twenty scary movies"; I infest his comments-box. Also includes my recantation re: "The Thing."

Post titled because of how thoroughly Ratty freaked me out when I'd just finished reading Red Dragon and she said, "Look behind you!" MOST GULLIBLE, yes, I know.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It has been noted by some and several, that Women have in them the Pip of Romanticism so well grown and fat of Sensibility, that they, upon reaching an uncertain Age, discard Duster, Offspring, and Spouse, and a little after are seen leaning, all of a limp, on a Pillar of Bathos.
--Djuna Barnes, Ladies Almanack

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

DO PARALLEL LINES MEET? There's a scene in David Lodge's novel How Far Can You Go?--published in this country, unfortunately, as Souls and Bodies--in which a gay character and a straight character confront one another, and have a conversation in which neither one of them ever allows the subtext to become text. Because the subtext is, At least you don't have to--!

I thought of that scene last week, when I heard about a young pregnant woman whose parents told her that if she did not abort, and this is verbatim as far as I can tell, "You're dead to us."

And I remembered how many gay people have heard this from their own parents--I need both hands to count, just for people I know personally--and it was hard to avoid vertigo as the sweet Christian women around me talked about what an awful thing this is to say to one's child. And I thought about the immense, shocking, unacknowledged suffering occasioned by both heterosexuality and homosexuality in this culture, and I wondered whether anyone could do justice to both... since I can't think of anyone at all who ever has.
THE OLD DARK HEARST: Two points on re-watching Citizen Kane: 1) The fashionable consensus now is that it's overhyped. I suppose if you mean that it's not the best movie ever made, then okay. But it is about as good as The Bride of Frankenstein--and if you know me, you know that's very high praise. It's a terrific, engaging movie, and it's not Orson Welles's fault that you already know about Rosebud. I'll go ahead and say that even though it rips off and cheapens Heart of Darkness (I owe that connection to Ratty) it still attains a weird tinsel greatness of its own.

2) Perhaps more interestingly: Val Lewton's Seventh Victim is a horror movie made with the techniques of noir. Citizen Kane is the opposite. From the spooky old-dark-house opening to the extreme camera angles to the Chute de la Maison d'Usher-ish sequence with the jigsaw puzzle, this movie is made like a horror film where the monumental horror image is the poster of Kane's face. (Not Kane himself--he isn't the monster at the end of this book.)
A NEW HAVEN AND A NEW EARTH. So in a conversation about how 1) how it's a total cop-out to praise loyalties only insofar as they're chosen and unzippable, and 2) "vocation" complicates the concept of "choice" anyway--you don't choose what you hear even when you choose how you answer, I mangled Ingmar Bergman to get what I think is my new right-wing bumper sticker:

WHY I WOULD NEVER PLAY "I WOULD NEVER": Uh, hello. I realized that this post, written in a state of post-debate lethargic, self-indulgent wrath, broke at least two of the rules for not being awful on the Internets: 1) Don't psychoanalyze anyone, especially but not exclusively people you don't know, especially if you think your take on them is so very clever; and

2) Don't tell people you "genuinely don't understand how" they believe what they do. Nothing's more frustrating than being told you're not merely wrong but unimaginable. I don't find any defenses of a Christian abortion-neutral perspective even remotely persuasive given the events of the Gospels, but yeah, I'm not so desperately ingrown that I can't imagine why someone would believe otherwise, and I shouldn't've affected that intellectual naivete.
THE SERENITY PLAYER: In which I tell you why you should read The Glass Bead Game.
...There is no term in this book that is not interrogated: not the serenity Knecht offers a distraught Plinio, nor the exalted experience and self-direction he claims for himself at the end of the book. No final answer is given to the book's underlying question: What is the life of the mind for?

After all, the stupidity of a stupid man is exercised in a restricted field; the stupidity of an intelligent man has a much wider diffusion, and a far greater effect, aided as it is by the element of surprise.
—Peter Ustinov, introduction to Great Operatic Disasters

Via the Rattus.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Via Mark Shea.

I'm going out of town this afternoon, and won't be back until Tuesday, so blogging will be sparse--but when I get back I hope to have a cornucopia of bloggy goodness to spill before you all!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

MATCH ME, CHENEY: Am I the only one who gets a real Sidney Falco vibe from John McCain these days? Pawning what he perceives as his soul, to be redeemed later. It doesn't work that way.

Of course, the same criticism could be made of Barack Obama, the Christian who won't acknowledge that Mary was not pro-choice. I know Protestants keep quoting the Isaiah lines about how God knew the prophet before he was formed in his mother's womb, but aren't the Annunciation and Visitation much more obviously pro-life Scriptural moments? I genuinely don't understand how you get to be a Christian who's okay with abortion. If you disagree with legal requirements, okay: That's a case I can understand, although I'd love to know how you recognize the unborn child as a creature protected by morals but not by law. But that is not at all where Obama is, for real.

I don't reckon it's where McCain is, either. On judges, if he really has to choose between judicial-restraint guys who'd overturn both Roe and campaign-finance, how could he resist his legacy? I don't at all get the sense that this man understands the Constitution; nor do I get the sense that he can explain his positions to people who disagree.

I expect I'll post an election playlist; you can assume that "Goon Squad" is much higher than it should be. Pray to St. Thomas More, St. Rose of Lima, and Dorothy Day.
DISTILLED SPIRITS: Holy cats, you guys.
JUST MAKE ME SOMETHING SOMEBODY CAN USE: It occurred to me that my earlier post on crisis pregnancy counseling--specifically, the issue of complicity with the client vs. complicity with the "system"--might shed some light on what my admittedly over-abstract discussion of conservatism looks like in practice.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

THINGS I'M READING: The NY Sun retrospective at Culture11... anytime you namecheck J. Jonah Jameson you get my attention!

Helen Rittelmeyer's senior essay: "Decadence, Christianity, And Oscar Wilde's Conversion to Catholicism." Profound and provocative. Your must-read for the day.

Nicola Karras's reply to objections.

PoMoCon praising Nalin Ranasinghe's literary look at Plato. I must read this!!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

THE DIAMOND MINES AGAIN: I was totally fascinated by this Slate piece on children's books about poverty or "financial ruin." I would recommend any Ramona book to anybody, but yeah, Ramona and Her Father is heart-rending and wonderful.

Of course if ruin is what you're looking for, A Little Princess is the best possible choice; I would also add all of the Blossom Culp books, with their scrappy protagonist whose momma boils roots to eat, and Jane Langston's Transcendentalist tale The Diamond in the Window, in which the whole narrative is driven by the children's desire to save the family home.

I wrote about The Toothpaste Millionaire here, and would recommend the same author's Pushcart War. Also would recommend the Henry Reed and Great Brain books, and Own Back Ltd., published in the US as Witch's Business. The HR and GB books are more about capitalism and creativity than about poverty really, but OBL is fairly hardcore about the intersection of business and inequality.
LADYBLOG LADYBLOG FLY AWAY HOME: The responses to my post asking for nominations for a he-Austen are really fascinating!

Also, Judith and Hanukkah. Posted especially for my aunt Judy and for the Oksperson.
"That squid is there for one reason, and that's to push its right-wing conservative agenda," Denver, CO viewer Mary Foley said.
--The Onion, "900-lb. Giant Squid Joins Cast of 'The View'"

Sunday, October 12, 2008

COULD THERE BE A HE-AUSTEN? I ask the question, at Ladyblog. (I also talk more about archetypes and Project Runway.)
AS TERRIBLE AS AN ARMY WITH BANNERS: You know, it's kind of amazing to look at this week's Project Runway and ask, "What does this show think a bride should be--or, at least, symbolize?" What does it mean to be a bride?

My take: Leanne's dress makes the bride a force of nature. She is carried forward by the tide. It's an amazing, innovative dress whose ultimate symbology is nonetheless completely traditional--maybe even more gendered than I would want it to be!--and its impact comes from that symbology.

It's perfect. And it's intensely conservative. It is the PoMoCon of dresses!

Kenley's dress comes close in its awesomeness. It also draws from nature (swans--not that I would ever want to be a swan's bride!). It also seeks that place where a woman is analogized to the animal world at precisely the moment when she's exercising a sacred choice. I question Kenley's ability to translate that insight into a beautiful dress, but her insight is absolutely real, and makes her dress unquestionably the second-best of the challenge.

Korto got that woman = curves. She got that woman = abundance. Seriously, so much of the history of fashion can be summarized in those two equations!

But she made her model look lumpy. Curves in "all the right places" are sexy, whether the curves are from an hourglass figure or from pregnancy. Curves somewhere else fall into the Uncanny Valley of femininity: not masculine enough to have the sexiness of a chick in a suit or a motorcycle jacket, but feminine in all the wrong places. Korto created a wedding dress for The Twilight Zone.

Jerrell, whom I love (his Olympics costume was so amazingly perfect that I thought this equally costumey-but-plausible-denial!-we're-not-costumey challenge would really let him shine), hid the woman under layers of soiled sheets and jeweled frippery. Both aesthetic choices are basically the definition of wrong for a wedding.

I don't always agree with the judges. But here, I really think the Leanne-Kenley-Korto-I'm sorry! order was about right.

[eta: Oops! Of course, the judges picked Kenley over Leanne. I can't agree with that from what I can tell from photos, but yeah, I do think both of them did well.]
A NEEDLESS ALEXANDRINE: One of the many reasons I recommended that post from Helen about aesthetics and conservatism is that she not only describes but demonstrates how traditions can be performed well or poorly. There is a standard, which is outside of the tradition itself narrowly construed but might be understood as "the spirit of the tradition," which neither disrupts or disavows the tradition nor performs it by rote.

You can make the analogy to Vatican II yourself, I'm sure!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A QUESTION WITH NO SATISFACTORY ANSWER: What does it mean that Nicola Karras's how-I-turned-Right post doesn't mention anything that might be called a "woman's issue"?

I'll note that she posted it on an all-lady blog, which sort of complicates the situation. But I'm trying to imagine a black conservative's similar "political autobiography" with no mention of race; or (I am nothing if not provincial!) a gay conservative's etc etc. Even on an all-black or all-gay blog, I think the "identity" questions would've been treated explicitly.

What does that mean?

I think it does mean something, despite the obvious problems of extrapolating from a sample size of NICOLA.
I don't want to be your tiger
'Cause tigers play too rough;
I don't want to be your lion
'Cause lions ain't the kind you love enough;
I just wanna be
Your blogwatch bear...

Project Rungay: Wow. OK, assuming they're right about how it looks when it's moving (my television has taken a vow of telebacy), Leanne's wedding clothes are pretty amazing. You all know that I am for the most part a Korto fan (really a Jay fan--he changed the way I think about color--and a bit of a Laura Bennett fan) but wow, she was janked this week, except for the predictable but pretty bodice on the bridesmaid's dress. Leanne by contrast never produces awful stuff, but her "noodles" are consistently unpretty and fussy to my eyes. They're wonton-wrapperish. They're... I'm not sure I want to go here on the blog, but they're labial. It's not what I want out of, like, a blouse.

But in this challenge she shone. It's a silhouette I'm usually completely "meh" about--poofy and then not poofy underneath, meh--but not this time. Even from the PRG photos I can see a wavelike motion, and imagining it, I get almost a Japanimation feel, that anime-influenced thing where the hair and dresses wave and flow--think the unicorn's/Lady Amalthea's movements in The Last Unicorn, or (don't judge me!) Jean Grey's hair in the opening credits to X-Men: Evolution. Lovely. Just lovely.

Kenley's clothes were fine. Yes, it looks like the Alexander McQueen dress, and he did it so much better--the shaky, gauzy uneven underhem rather than Kenley's symmetrical whipped-cream Dairy Queen skirt; the furry feathers, rather than Kenley's more costumey feathery feathers (costumey is OK for a wedding, but Kenley didn't take this far enough past a regional production of Swan Lake); the amazing shoes and headdress, which of course Kenley couldn't've gotten; the more hardcore, hoopskirty silhouette, although I might have to retract that criticism if I see Kenley's dress in action. But really what she made was fine. The bridesmaid's dress was boring but pretty.

In completely different news, Ta-Nehisi Coates has had a lot of amazing posts recently. Not that this is unusual. I'm just noting that if you're not reading him every day, you should be. McCain for Mob Rule 2008; Sympathy for the Weathermen; Obama's new chapter in the book on black masculinity, and its dangers; Appalachia vs. TV (this post might not be what you expect); I just think his instincts are really, really good.

We disagree on a lot of things. But go read his blog, because it's awesome.

Friday, October 10, 2008

WHAT LIES BENEATH that really, really long conservative-philosophy post: a review of the fantastic comic Three Shadows; lots and lots more comics reviews, superhero and art-comics and in-between; and a blogwatch.
SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: Here, Helen Rittelmeyer says a lot, and doesn't wander off for decades the way I do below. If you want some sense of the intellectual situation on the Right, but you don't want to fight through the weeds below (or even if you do!), I highly recommend her post. I don't endorse everything--if you want to know what I think, I'm always a pretty good source--but this is an awesome post. Helen's always a few steps beyond, like Madness.

I want somebody to shove
I need somebody to shove
I want somebody to shove me.

--Soul Asylum, and yes, I'm ashamed to type that, but the 1990s were hard on all of us. It's a fun song.

Once upon a time, an undergraduate posted her "political autobiography," under the title, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy."

...And then they exploded.

So far, the comments-boxing has punched blithely away at foundationalism, antifoundationalism, traditions, traditionalism, communities, communitarianism, communities unless they're full of hippies, Tom Eliot's translations, Godel, things that aren't Godel, James Dobson for some reason, and things that look like Godel when seen from a long way off.

And now I will take my turn, commenting or maybe just riffing on various things said by various combatants. (I promise not to mention Godel anymore though.) What follows are my thoughts on conservatism as love story, conservatism as complicity, and... you know... other stuff. And while I'm both postmodern and conservative, I'm pretty sure I'm cattercorners to whatever "postmodern conservative" is supposed to mean at their blog, so, you know, forewarned.

It's such a weird post, you know? (And do read it first if you're interested, or else I don't think this post will make any sense.) Nicola Karras gives these two really big, intricate apparati, and says that her post is the story of how they're hinged together, and yet we never get to see the hinge! Now, I'm honestly not sure that a blog post of any length can really draw a hinge (an epiphany) in ways that make sense to strangers. I would rather write a novel. But if a blog post is what you're gonna do, I'm gonna need some sketches or cartoons or Silly Putty impressions of a hinge.

AT THE DARK END OF THE STREET: Here, let me re-post the thing I posted in Nicola's comments, way back in the halcyon days of Thursday:
To the extent that this is a love story in which the beloved(s) remain intentionally unnamed, I can understand your interlocutors’ frustration! WHOM one loves (whether a person, a Person, or a persona e.g. a tradition) makes an enormous difference....

I can guess at a few possible beloveds; and you say yourself that this is a story of the shape of your thoughts rather than their content, but obviously it’s really difficult to separate shape from content, and I wonder if your decision to attempt the separation wasn’t a mistake.

I'm hoping that this reading of Nicola's post is reasonably accurate. Because there are several different ways to read it, and a love story with a beloved (or beloveds) she can actually name would be the best one. A love story in which the identity of the mystery date hasn't been revealed, but she thinks it might, and she's going on a detective search--that's also good. I hope it doesn't end up like this existentialist detective story!

There are at least two other possible genres for her autobiography, and I think some of her interlocutors may have assumed too quickly that her post falls into one of these two categories. Now, after reading her second post, I'm not totally sure their criticisms are unfounded ("My realization was not of the truth of anything in particular, but in the fact that I could have meaning without the certainty of truth. ...But meaning also comes from the search"), but it's possible she is just expressing herself in a way I'm misreading; we'll see!

(I'll say right now that if Will Wilson is citing my post on the "birthday cake of existence" in defense of that particular line, he's misunderstanding it. My post is about how you seek. It assumes that you will keep searching. It's an affirmation that your ethics sometimes should affect your search for a metaphysics--not a rejection of the need for a metaphysics, nor a rejection of the need for that metaphysics to affect your ethics in turn! I mean, sure, meaning also comes from the search, but that meaning is either a) epistemic conditions which imply metaphysical ones, come on! or b) fluffy feelings. In a beautiful and functional Socratic-traditional community, it's often hard to tell a) and b) apart, and I'm hoping that's why Nicola hasn't yet begun to reflexively distinguish them.)

(Oh, and! Read this, because it's awesome; and because it delineates points of agreement and dissent within a group often wrongly believed to be monolithic; and because I think it's really, really smart and provocative; and because it reminds me of my best friend; and because it answers so very many objections so quickly; and because it's awesome!)

When the ship runs out of ocean and the vessel runs aground,
Land's where you know the boat is found.
And there's nothing unexpected about the water running out;
"Land!" is not a word we have to shout.

--They Might Be Giants, "Women and Men"

The first story Nicola's challengers think she's telling boils down to, "You had an existential crisis and then discovered that: language. 'Descartes knew only that he existed, and that he spoke French.' And because this revelation was so startling to someone raised in a vat of rationalist cliche, you immediately assumed that this very thin 'tradition' meant you had to be a 'traditionalist,' thus a conservative. You fell until you hit the floor, and the floor was made of words instead of the rationally-accessible Platonic forms you were expecting, and so since language is a tradition you started hating the government."

Take this moment to decide
If we meant it, if we tried
Or felt around for far too much
For things that accidentally touched...
Know the things we need to say
We'd said already anyways
Parallelograms collide
On walls that we repainted white

--The Weakerthans, "Sun in an Empty Room"

The second story is more like, "By the power of Greyskull, I have MEANING!"--a Nietzschean willed denial of the crisis, in which conservatism is asserted because why not?, and then you deny that you ever asserted it rather than discovering it, because if it was all just will to power then you're still falling in empty space.

In both of these stories-I-hope-Nicola's-not-telling, she then stops, once the immediate crisis is over and she has found some form of tradition (and thus community) to cling to. And this is why I think she needed to be more explicit about the nature of the beloved, if there is or might be one; because it's this beloved who could make demands of her, who could ask her to sacrifice, rather than allowing her to rest in the complacence of a preexisting tradition.

I think Nicola is trying to describe--to use my terms rather than hers--how she came to conjoin sublimity and morality, the same weirdness of the Jews which Clive Lewis describes in the introduction to The Problem of Pain. But Yahweh is shaped exactly like a hinge, and Nicola hasn't given us any hinge-alternative.

So that's my meta-comment. Now for some very slightly less meta comments.

ALL MY FRIENDS ARE OXYMORONIC; ALL MY FRIENDS WAKE UP ALONE. (Or, "Resolved: A coherent conservatism is both necessary and impossible." Or, as Andrei Navrozov once said, "The Party of the Right is a group of people who prefer a bad paradox to a good cliche." Or, "The question mark was part of the title.")

Conservatism is inherently in conflict, inherently deconstructive. If the basic move of deconstructionism is to heighten both sides of a paradox, not in order to let one side triumph but in order to strengthen or deepen or make more sublime the paradox itself, then conservatism--the self-conscious defense of givenness, the rejection of the tide of history in the name of tradition, the Socrates who praises Aristophanes, the attempt to defend love in the arena of rationalism and constraint in the arena of license--is the ultimate deconstructionist practice.

And so when anyone reflective says, "I am a conservative," what she means (or what I mean, anyway!) is, "I see the unresolved conflicts of the conservative worldview as more important and more compelling than either the conflicts or the resolutions of liberalism and leftism." I would rather talk about the individual as a paradox, not a hero. I know that love and marriage are in conflict, and I don't want either of them to win. I know that the market works against liberty and against community--but I also know that government solutions are usually just a matter of switching around the victims and the victimizers, thus turning people who once merely suffered into people who, far worse, oppress. I am pretty sure that all societies are structures of sin, and that if you tell me we can get to a society that isn't, it's because you want me to sign on to a society whose sins are even worse than the horrors of the current age.

Conservatism is complicity. But conscious complicity is far, far more open to right action, self-sacrifice, and even positive change, than complicity denied. If you say complicity is eternal this side of Heaven, you can't do the standard champagne-socialist thing of forestalling any sacrifices on your own part until the revolution comes. There won't be a revolution, or if there is, it won't help, and so you need to make yourself a gift now.

You'll notice that I'm using fairly Christian language here. There's a reason for that. If the Left's great temptation is complicity denied or payment deferred, the Right's great temptation is complacency: complicity affirmed as a good, rather than accepted as an evil.

And so not only must a conservative understand herself to be (in her conservatism) essentially conflicted. In order to be halfway decent, she must also have something outside conservatism with which her already-conflicted conservatism is further challenged and in several places defeated.

Obviously I think Christ, the radical, is the best opponent of conservatism (and, you know, of everyone!). That's one reason, of many, why I'm so incredibly sympathetic to L'Hote/Freddie's position, especially as expressed here. But I do think there are many, many other possible opponents, which is one reason why--since Nicola is not yet a Christian!--I want her to name her beloveds if she can do so without violating a confidence. She mentions duty--to whom?--and compassion--requiring what?

I HEARD IT FROM STEVEN SMITH, AND STEVEN SMITH HEARD IT FROM ALLAN BLOOM, AND ALLAN BLOOM HEARD IT FROM LEO STRAUSS, AND LEO STRAUSS HEARD IT FROM MOSES! But of all the things that have been said in these threads, this thing, from the very provocative and interesting blog L'Hote, is by far the weirdest to me:
If you are aware that you've made a choice to embrace the traditional, you can't possibly accept the traditional in the same way that those heady champions of "the '50s" simulacra did. For them there were not choices of identity, there was the way the world was. A person in those days would be baffled at the notion of "exploring the traditional." Explore what? There's no need for exploration if what you've lived is really what is.


I... but... he... *deep breath* Yes. There are some defenses of tradition which defend it for its unthinking, unreflective nature, its inability to change, its obviousness, its inability to introspect.

Those defenses are wrong.

Your Honor, I'd like to introduce into the evidence: Saint Justin Martyr. And, you know, all Catholic philosophy ever. And midrash. If even traditions backed up by God Almighty can introspect and challenge themselves and wrestle angels and change--change with fidelity to the covenant!--why would not mere human traditions have the same ability? To deny the ability of tradition to understand itself as a choice ("I set before you life and death; choose life therefore, that you and your descendants might live"--and life is the covenant) is to assume what must be proven, that all choices are assertions of self rather than submission to the beloved. Moreover, it's to assume another thing that must be proven, that reflection is corrosive--that analysis can only exist without synthesis, when I'd argue that it can only exist with synthesis.

I wrote a while ago about how the Catholic Magisterium has acted as a spur to intellect throughout the ages--giving us understandings of justice, mercy, rationality, coherence, compassion on which even atheists still rely--but I can't find that right now, so, you know, just read Cur Deus Homo.

[and here I excised a really long riff about conservatism-as-fanfiction, which I swear I will post somewhere sometime soon because I kind of love it, but it's a distraction right now.]

It's possible that this is obvious to me and, I think, to Nicola, precisely because we're both members of the Party of the Right--the most paradoxical, introspective, Socratic-traditional undergraduate organization north, south, east aaaaaaaaaand west of the Pecos! My first experience of a self-proclaimed tradition (with the partial exception of the Jewish services and day camp I attended sporadically as a child) was an experience of a tradition both rigorous in its self-questioning and beautiful enough to withstand even the sharpest questions. The Party seduced when she couldn't reply rationally (or rationalistically) to a challenge; and when you smelled her perfume suddenly your challenge became a lot less important than just keeping her in your arms a little longer.

So, you know, I'm used to that.

(possibly my posts on tradition as persona would be helpful here--everything on January 31 should give you what you're looking for)

WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE?: One thing I really like about Nicola's posts is that she is very very clear about what or whom she doesn't love. Seriously. I think a lot of people are misunderstanding her as saying she loved faut de mieux. I think a lot of people misunderstand me as saying that, when I talk about my conversion, especially when I get all "my love of women prepared me for love of Christ!"

The experience of falling and the experience of falling in love are related but separate things. For me... I keep falling and then falling in love and then the former and then the latter and then everything at once, possibly because I'm scatterbrained! But I'd like to say, as someone whose situation is really quite different from Nicola's, that just because you say, "I have no idea who I'd be or what I'd do if I didn't believe in God," that doesn't mean, "I have to love somebody, so I guess it'll just be God, because that's so convenient for my rationality!"

I'm not really sure how to convince someone of that fact. Again, you can't reason your way to an epiphany. The novel I'm working on right now is about that experience of falling in love with God--how that love both responds to and challenges all our former questions--and I think that will be more convincing than I can be right now. I'll just say that if someone says, "Through love I became a [X]," where X is any philosophical stance, you are probably wrong if you assume she ended up where she is faut de mieux or, to coin a phrase, even though she should know better.

So what is the project of postmodern conservatism? Is it, as I think Freddie understands it, to justify conservatism in the language of postmodernity? Or is it the first steps towards overcoming?

from Nicola, because I like it a lot, and I'm not sure whether my love of it makes it more or less attractive to her!

HONEY FOR THE BEARS: And finally, I hate myself for even writing this post, when I should be attempting to starve the beast of undergraduate blogging. I can resist anything except etc etc.
LIFELINES: THREE SHADOWS. The sudden loss of a child is as inexplicable as it is horrifying. But equally devastating is a death foretold--the bad diagnosis, the crossfire of hope and terror, the attempts to somehow accept the catastrophe before it’s even happened.

Three Shadows (a comic by Cyril Pedrosa, originally in French but now available in English) is a fable in which a father tries to cheat fate. Louis, Joachim’s father, is living in a rural idyll which is disrupted when the silent, menacing shadows come on horseback. They stay far away at first, faceless and inky like Picasso’s Quixote. But then the family dog disappears, and it becomes clear that the shadows mean business.

Louis defies his wife’s advice and tries to take Joachim out of the country, hoping that the shadows won’t be able to follow. As a result of his actions, he’s imprisoned, shipwrecked, cheated... and nothing he does can keep the shadows away. Even turning himself into a kind of golem, with his son hidden in his tightly-closed fist as if in a second womb, can’t give the child protection.

The book is peopled with fortune tellers and slave traders, shipboard murders and storms at sea, but through all the adventures the inevitability of the boy’s death only becomes clearer.

The shadows at last reveal themselves to be the three Fates of classical mythology. When Joachim tries to thank them for sparing his father’s life, they reply, “Do not thank us. We decide nothing.” The blankness of fate leaves no one to blame for life’s horrors--and no one to thank for life’s beauties and mercies. Nor can the Fates offer any information about the afterlife: “...I cannot tell you what awaits you on the other side. Of that I know nothing. ...It is only life that ends here and now.”

The boy accepts this, accepts his own death, despite his father’s fear and denial. His words to his father underscore the hardest truth about parenthood: “There’s no room for me to grow inside your fist. It’s boring here. Please let me out. I’m not afraid of the shadows anymore.” At last Joachim crawls out of his father’s giant hand, and in a snow-swept, desolate landscape he faces the Fates--now turned from faceless shadows into beautiful cloaked women—with calm and a quiet sadness.

Pedrosa got his start in animation, and worked on Disney’s Hercules and The Hunchback of Notre Dame; echoes of that style can be seen in his huge, bearish father, willowy mother, and stumpy little boy. But Three Shadows has a scrawly, sketchy, rough line, which can be playful or frightening as the story demands. Pedrosa has a terrific sense of pacing and page layout--when to zoom in, when to switch perspectives, when to pull back to give a sense of impending disaster. He occasionally uses white-on-black to give the most mythic scenes an even more otherworldly, afterlife feel.

Pedrosa also manages the difficult balance needed for any mythic narrative, making his characters iconic without draining them of particularity and personality. Louis is an archetypal protective father, anguished by his confrontation with his own helplessness. He’s also a man with weaknesses, fears, family stories and sayings, layers of complexity which make him feel real. Scattered, untranslated phrases in Portuguese give the story a sense of place.

Three Shadows is reminiscent of some of Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar stories. Like Hernandez, Pedrosa can do humor and horror--sometimes both at once, as in the bizarre, funny interlude in which the Fates get drunk trying to win a man’s life in a card game. Pedrosa can tell big stories about small lives. In Three Shadows, he has created a sad, strange, and lovely story, a haunting comic which offers solace in the face of unanswerable pain.
THE SQUID STAYS IN THE PICTURE: Comics reviews! These are a) not all the comics I've read lately--I really don't have anything to say about Cable & Deadpool except "that was fun!" or Deadpool Classic except "wow, Rob Liefeld is really as awful as everyone said!"; b) not all the comics I've read lately--the very best one will get its own post; and c) in order of how well they satisfied the expectations with which I approached them, from least to most. So this is a mix of superheroics, art comics, and in-betweens.

Let's go!

Iron Man: War Machine. As Edward Gorey says, "About the Zoat, what can be said? There was just one, and now it's dead."

I thought this comic was from the early 1980s--you know, the part where it was still kind of the '70s--until someone dropped a reference to "Hammer Time" and I checked the dates and sat there gobsmacked that this kind of tomfoolery was still going on in the 1990s! The art is action-superhero standard, the exposition is in that awful no-fun place in between Stan Lee wigginess and Grant Morrison/Fabian Nicieza-style pseudo-science macguffinry, there's just no style or flair to this at all. Also, when they go to Asia? The Japanese corporate type has a carved dragon on his desk. For reals. You can almost hear the gong in the background!

Ultimate Iron Man. Orson Scott Card pens a rather strange origin story, involving genius children (you're shocked I know) and what I think is a doomed attempt to get around the racial-politics problems of the "Iron Man and his black sidekick War Machine" setup. It isn't awful, but I don't think there's anything here that I want to incorporate into my own personal fantasy version of what an awesome Iron Man origin story would look like. (And Tony's alcoholism gets a cartoonish "Jekyll and Hyde via pseudoscience" treatment--I'd almost prefer the usual maudlin angst!)

The art is fine. It's sleek. It's not great.

The Museum Vaults. A comic commissioned by the Louvre (for real), exploring the nature of art, art history, collection, copying, and similar museum-related concerns. I think they were aiming for somewhere in the Steven Millhauser-to-Borges spectrum, but fell into that trap where people think that because you're saying something in comics, you don't have to be as innovative as if you were doing prose--the perception that the medium itself makes something innovative. I don't think I got anything from this really.

On the other hand, it really did handle a lot of interesting topics, if only glancingly. It's entirely possible that I was reading this too shallowly, and a more enthusiastic reader would find it more provocative. Maybe leaf through it in your local comicopia and see what you think....

Catwoman: Crooked Little Town. I... had no investment in the Catwoman mythos/brand, going in, and I still don't. So I'm not sure how to review this really. It did not convert me? If you don't need that, maybe it's awesome?

The pictures are faboo, especially the very lovely ladies! Tons of eye candy, in that neato keen animation-y style you can see on the cover. The story is a reasonably satisfying pulp crime tale. There's one unexpected twist at the end where Catwoman was surprisingly ruthless. (Surprising to me, anyway.) There are bonus lesbians if that helps.

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted, Dangerous, and Unstoppable. This is Joss Whedon's X-Men, which means if you want to read them you probably already have. I'll say that they haven't replaced Morrison as my intro-to-X-Men comics. They're interesting while they last, and yes, a lot of the dialogue is fun. And I like Emma and Scott as a couple, so that particular aspect doesn't bother me, although I don't know that Whedon really gets the most out of the two of them. If you are one of the people who are troubled by the way Whedon dispatches his female characters who aren't Buffy, AXM will give you a fairly important additional piece of evidence there, via a really startling plot twist which seems to give one X-Woman a truly awful send-off. (This being the X-Men, she might already be back for all I know--I'm not caught up.)

Anyway, for me, that plot twist was definitely not a reason to complain about the series. It was the most memorable thing that happened in these volumes. It's a shocking twist with a real old-school sf/horror feel to it. So I am going to get over my general unsympathy for Whedon's work, and especially his brand of feminism, and say that I liked this twist a lot.

That Salty Air. Another one I'm not entirely sure how to review. It's a deeply personal fable about grieving, set in a poverty-stricken seaside area and on the sea itself. I picked this up because several things about it were evocative for me: the rough-hewn faces, the title (which I really love), the idea of grief as the sea--you have to go out there, you can try to attack it, in the end you must be reconciled to it, and even when you appear to have returned to land its salt and sharpness still pervade your life.

The problem is that I knew all of that going in, and I'm not sure how much the book added to it. Given how personal this project clearly is, I may just have been the wrong person to read it--again, I'd suggest checking it out if you are interested. But for me... the ocean-monster scenes, especially, weren't unearthly or horrific enough. I didn't get enough sense of the sea as somehow both familiar and alien, the sea creatures as monstrous and yet not really malevolent. I wanted more squid, is what I'm saying.

I only just now realized, typing this, that the fisherman and his wife in the book stand in parallel to the artist, making a profession of the journey out onto the sea of grief. That's kind of awesome.

The Order: The Next Right Thing and California Dreaming. The best new superteam since the X-Statix! So, of course, it was swiftly canceled. I hate you too, Marvel.

Anyway, these are two very fun volumes, featuring a California-based superhero team led by Tony Stark's AA sponsor; Pepper Potts; and a scary PR lady. The situations are fun and interesting, the dialogue improves even cliched storylines (the Britney-a-like who gets empowered [get it? get it?] could've been painful to watch, but instead she gets awesome lines like, "Oh my God, I'm fighting a bear, y'all! I'm punching a bear in the face!"), and the characters are extra double super sympathetic. I liked all of them, I think. This comic earns its "ordinary people are the true heroes" shtik. (Also, the AA stuff doesn't feel fake to me and definitely isn't maudlin or exploitive--cf. the title of the first volume--which is more than I can say for some people's comics, Orson Scott Card.)

The art is fine; you won't notice it, but you definitely won't hate it.

Mad Night. A ridiculous, creepy romp! Murders are taking place on an isolated college campus, and the only people who can solve the crimes are a foul-mouthed girl detective and her wimpy photographer sidekick! Add in lady pirates, youth elixirs, owls, dungeons, evil puppets, evil children, and really awesome character designs (from the Betty-and-Veronica pinup chix to the shivery warped features of the baddies), and you have a very fun little genre cocktail. Yum yum.
She's my bus seductress, she smells of old cash,
Drinks Guinness off-duty, eats blogwatch and mash...

Light on Dark Water: "The Truth Hurts So This Should Be Painless"....

Megan McArdle: A reading list for an economic crisis. You know, in case you happen to run into one somewhere.

Postmodern Conservative: Ten songs for mass transit.

Claw of the Conciliator tipped me off to a fascinating interview with John K. of Propagandhi and (more relevantly to my interests!) the Weakerthans, in the current issue of Winnipeg's Geez magazine. Includes quite a bit of stuff about his religious upbringing and its influence on his songwriting.... Not online, but you can order it here.

And this poem, which I found via this interview with Helen Rittelmeyer, is much weirder and more awesome than it might at first appear. Check it out!
LADY WISHFORT. Why, if she should be innocent, if she should be wronged after all, ha? I don't know what to think, and I promise you, her education has been unexceptionable. I may say it, for I chiefly made it my own care to initiate her very infancy in the rudiments of virtue, and to impress upon her tender years a young odium and aversion to the very sight of men; ay, friend, she would ha' shrieked if she had but seen a man till she was in her teens. As I'm a person, 'tis true. She was never suffered to play with a male child, though but in coats. Nay, her very babies were of the feminine gender. Oh, she never looked a man in the face but her own father or the chaplain, and him we made a shift to put upon her for a woman, by the help of his long garments, and his sleek face, till she was going in her fifteen.
--William Congreve, "The Way of the World," V.v

(see it here!)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

yes, I'm going to post something about that yale vs freddie thing soon, probably tomorrow night (Friday). among other things, I think both sides are partly wrong, and I don't know that the post of mine Will keeps linking does all the work he wants it to do....

if you don't care about that stuff, keep in mind that tomorrow will also bring posts on congreve, the weakerthans, and lots and lots of comics.

but right now I'm tired. come and stick pins in tomorrow!

Saturday, October 04, 2008


1. Put the scenes from RDJ's screen test in the film

2. Include that "No Handlebars" fanvid (I feel weird about including a link, but if you're having a hard time finding it, email me)

3. DVD commentary by Samir Khader

4. Force Marvel to re-release "Armor Wars" at all, and "Demon in a Bottle" in a paperback version; also re-start The Order (more on this soon)

...Yeah, I think that's it. I think I'm going to watch it again now.
QUESTION TIME. At Ladyblog, I take on gay marriage as natural-lawyering; Peter Beagle as ethical philosopher; and Ann Landers as obvious agent of subversion. All in one post! Comment or I shoot the unicorn.
A novel of Dostoevsky's is not a tranquil, smoothly developing episode, but a collection of the fifth acts of many tragedies.
--Dmitriy Merezhkovsky, somewhere, I got this from the Rat

Friday, October 03, 2008

CORRESPONDENCE AND COMMENTS-BOXING: An interesting little thread--too short, but maybe there will be more soon:
...The problem, as in your link, is the tendency to talk about the the negative consequences of Rorty’s philosophy rather than creating a meaningful argument for why he is wrong.

There is an exterior world, but that world is removed from us by our consciousness. We have many reasons to believe that this consciousness is an imperfect or incomplete tool for understanding the exterior world. And as long as that disconnect exists, there can be no perfect one-to-one correspondence notion of truth. That is not to abandon the project of philosophy or even to question the utility of questions about truth. But it does ensure a certain cap on the degree of certainty we have about anything, and I think that simple fact--that, by all accounts, we have a consciousness medium which acts as an intermediary between the world “out there”--fatally undermines the correspondence theory of truth.

Of course, such a theory of truth is possible if we haven’t abandoned god, as I take it you haven’t. I just have never found a convincing critique of Rortian/postmodern concepts of the limits of truth claims that don’t require some degree of divine revelation.

and it gets better!

And if you want way too much more on this tangle of topics, a really old, related batch of posts from me starts here; also of course there is ye olde senior essaye, which is less concerned with truth claims, but does maybe give a sense of where I generally come from on these questions; and here I defend overturning the birthday cake of existence (more here--and good grief, how that post would've been helped if I'd just discussed philosophy as a practice and tradition, rather than a DVD user's manual!)
SKIRTING THE ISSUES: My review of the Shakespeare Theater's all-male Romeo and Juliet (closes 10/18! tickets still available! act now while supplies last!):

Love does not alter when it alteration finds; and neither, apparently, does D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre’s all-male interpretation of Romeo and Juliet.

That’s how it would’ve been in Shakespeare’s day, don’t you know? The women characters are all played by men in wigs and dresses, who drop occasionally into deeper voices for comedic effect. Other than that, this is a really well-done, entirely standard production of R & J in which the only innovation is that Romeo drowns Tybalt in a barrel.

The sex-switching doesn’t do much in the end, but it does work well in at least two ways.

First of all, James Davis’s Juliet is amazing. Davis has played adapted Shakespeare drag before--as Julia in 2 Gents (i.e., of Verona) and Lady Capulet in Shakespeare’s R and J--and he’s the standout of this production. He’s all nose and knees, all coltish, breastless edge-of-fourteen. He makes Juliet seem young again. He can chew his wig just the same way every girl chewed her hair when she was just starting middle school--and he can deepen his voice to suggest a level of introspection and intelligence perfectly befitting the character. Director David Muse, in an otherwise unilluminating interview for the theater’s brochure, notes that Juliet was the hardest casting decision; and it’s entirely to his credit that it’s the one he got most obviously right.

Juliet’s tragedy is that she’s an exceptionally precocious, beautiful, intelligent idiot, sophisticated and philosophical and barely adolescent. Somehow the gender confusion in Davis’s performance reflects the inherent conflict between Juliet’s aptitude for abstraction and her lack of maturity. A man who won’t ever grow into his gown makes a terrific girl who hasn’t quite grown into her brain.

(It’s too bad Finn Wittrock’s Romeo can’t match her. He’s all floppy hair and callowness, the Renaissance male equivalent of writing her name in glitter paint on his Trapper Keeper. Romeo is already the dumber one--as is typical for Shakespearean romantic couples--so casting a less-accomplished actor, or perhaps directing him in a more standard-issue style, is just unfair.)

Second, there are moments when the Shakespeare Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet suggests that there might be different archetypes appropriate for men and women--and that Juliet, so often portrayed as an innocent destroyed by a cruel social conflict, might be something more sinister. Juliet as a man, especially in the balcony scene, has echoes of Tadzio, the beautiful boy from “Death in Venice” whose secret name is mortality.

The bright boy called death is a well-known homosexual archetype; but the femme fatale, the heterosexual equivalent, is often a woman well past girlhood. Interestingly, her age often makes her an equal match for her prey—her sex is what makes her vulnerable, what makes her male target think they’re punching in the same weight class. If Juliet is a boy, she’s a boy whose kiss is death; and there is an already-established convention for that, from Dorian Gray to Suddenly, Last Summer.

Unfortunately, the Shakespeare Theatre’s production isn’t willing to commit to this interpretation--or any unconventional interpretation--of the show. The gender-switching makes for a few politicized laughs (Juliet on marriage: “It is an honour that I dream not of”), but overall it offers no especial insight into the play. The tensions and attractions between Romeo and Mercutio, Mercutio and Benvolio, and Romeo and Benvolio are just as ambiguously homosocial/homoerotic as they always are. The Nurse is wonderfully draggy, but that doesn’t really change her character, which I suppose is commentary in itself. Akiva Fox’s brochure commentary on male violence suggests that the gender dynamics should matter, but the production doesn’t bear that out in any unexpected way. The audience seemed generally a bit deflated when it was over, maybe because they’d been expecting something more provocative.

The sad thing is that this is a really great production if you ignore the gimmick. The direction for both of my favorite speeches is subpar--Juliet’s horrified speech about what it will be like to awaken in her family tomb is a little too histrionic; Mercutio’s amazing, play-changing Queen Mab speech, on which an entire and much better all-male production might have been hooked, comes across as manic-depressive rather than otherworldly and Hitchcockian. But almost everything else is fantastic. There are many musical interludes, and they’re all well-done, catchy and evocative and fun to watch. Benvolio is great, Mercutio is fine, and the production allows both the teens and the adults to be just as stupid as they really are in the play. No one will be governed by reason; no one will be ruled by wise counsel. There’s even a nice touch where the chorus, at the very beginning of the play, speaks in their normal masculine voices without wigs, emphasizing the male authorship and viewpoint of the play. (This goes nowhere, maybe because it can’t go anywhere useful; Shakespeare’s women are so smart and real that they are basically the reverse of the academics’ “male gaze.”)

This is a fine production. It’s violent and smarter than its characters. It’s able to see that the Nurse is both practical and melodramatic, and Juliet is both highly intelligent (her “What’s in a name?” speech comes across as almost Heloise-level Scholasticism...and simultaneously a parody of that Scholasticism) and highly silly. (I think it’s Shakespeare’s fault, rather than the production’s, that the most obviously complex characters are women.) It gets that weird, compelling Shakespearean combination of genre convention and genre challenge.

It just doesn’t tell us anything about men and women. In fact, in its ostentatious refusal to shape the interpretation around the all-male gimmick, it pretends that nothing interesting can be said about that difference. “Back in Shakespeare’s day, they did all-male performances because they had these weird beliefs about gender archetypes; but now we know that a man can be just as much Juliet as a girl!”

This would be a better production if it had the courage of its commercialism.

1. Grilled cheese sandwich with munster, sliced Jonagold apple, freshly-ground black pepper, and fresh oregano. Butter both outside surfaces of the sandwich and cook in a pan.

verdict: om nom nom nom! Delicious, though I sliced the apple a bit too thin.

2. Condiment made by sauteing diced apple in olive oil until browned, then cooking it in red wine with cinnamon, sugar, cayenne, and I think cumin. Then refrigerated overnight.

verdict: intriguing! Tangy, really flavorful, would be great with pork. Meat is pricey, though, so I had it on buttered toast, which was good but sub-optimal.
Fiction that unlike New Weird, Steampunk, or Slipstream, is at its core not only about squid, but about the symbolism of squid as color-changing, highly-mobile, alien-looking, intelligent ocean-goers. As a powerful ecosystem indicator, the squid is a potent symbol for environmental rejuvenation. Squidpunk is almost exclusively set at sea and must contain some reference to either cephalopods or to anything that thematically relates to squid, in terms of world iconography and tropes. Squidpunk is never escapist or whimsical. It is always serious and edgy. This combination of a hard punk aesthetic with the fluid propulsion system common to the squid has produced a unique literary hybrid beloved by Mundanes and Surrealists alike.

The bitchiest person I know is my sister. She lives in Des Plaines, Illinois--which she refers to as "The City of Destiny."
--David Mamet, "True Stories of Bitches"