Tuesday, June 30, 2009

As other lifestyles become more acceptable, you must choose whether to get married and whether to have children. You develop your own sense of self by continually examining your situation, reflecting on it, and deciding whether to alter your behavior as a result. People pay attention to their experiences and make changes in their lives if they are not satisfied. They want to continue to grow and change throughout adulthood.
--Andrew Cherlin, Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today

Notice how the last two sentences say exactly opposite things! Throughout this book (which is generally good), Cherlin uses "grow and change" to mean "place preexisting wants and personality traits above role and obligation." It's kind of obvious that sticking it out, placing role and obligation first, might change you more--challenge you more, certainly.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

LOYALTY BINDS ME: Some notes on Alan Bray, The Friend. The first thing to say is that I love this book. It's a study of the culture, rituals, ethics, and tensions of same-sex friendship in England, from 1000 AD through, essentially, the death of John Cardinal Newman.

I could not love this book more if it were made out of chocolate and shaped like Sophia Loren, with a cameo by Iron Man.

But now that I've got that out of my system: This is such a heartfelt book, and such a humble one. Alisdair MacIntyre rabbits on about how some virtues are necessary products of certain practices (like, chess isn't chess if you cheat); this book demonstrates how history as a practice can inculcate, or reflect, or strengthen, a genuinely spiritual humility. Bray can be wry, he can be pointed, but he's always ready to submit his preferred conclusions to the uncertainty of the evidence. This is basically the opposite of a polemic; it's a complication.

Okay... there are some twitches. Bray frequently, but super-briefly, falls into a utilitarian-universalism, where the *~*real*~* purpose of Christianity is friendship/reconciliation/social order. (To put the three terms in order from most awesome to least.) This is a complete anomaly from someone who generally goes out of his way to acknowledge alternate readings. It's a misunderstanding of tradition-in-general and English-Christianity-in-particular, since few robust traditions are simple enough to have one "real" purpose, one "central" concept. A tradition builds persona (see below!) precisely by being much more complex than this.

And Bray does have occasional fits of rhetorical Protestantism. I don't have any idea whether that reflects his actual beliefs--for all I know he was as Catholic as Morrissey when he wrote this book. But at least twice, to take the most notable example, he writes that a vowed same-sex friendship might be considered "more Christian" because it did not require the gatekeeping approval of a priest. I totally agree with him that a Christian pledge of love does not become less Christian in the absence of a dogcollar, but that isn't what he says; if you turn what he does say inside-out, like a glove, it imples that sacraments which require a priest are less Christian than those which don't. I doubt Bray himself would really argue that the Eucharist is less Christian than marriage! So I read this as a verbal tic, signifying a genuine defensiveness about the ability of the laity to sanctify their lives and loyalties, but not meant to be read too literally.

Speaking of the Eucharist, I love how thoroughly Bray has placed this sacrament at the heart of his book. Anyone interested in Eucharist as love-feast and as quintessential Christian prayer cannot afford to miss this book, for real.

Similarly, you can't read this book and then attend an ordinary American Mass without wanting to cry at the loss of the Kiss of Peace. The "handshake of peace" is a horrifying sign of how far we have come from the world of Bray's book.

This is not "weaponized" history. I think it does provide hope and succour for those of us who wish to create a fruitful, joyous, and sublime way of life for contemporary gay Catholics; but I'll talk tomorrow about some of the tensions and cautions this book outlines for that project. Bray's own position I think will be clear to anyone who reads the afterword, but even there, he speaks with the bone-deep humility of a historian who has fallen deeply in love with his subjects and will, therefore, respect their memory by not getting in the way. He doesn't put his own heart over their faces.

This book overlaps, at the very end, with the very beginning of Roden's Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture. It made me want to re-read Roden, to play the two off against one another.

I'll close by saying that he's a terrific stylist. I especially love his trick of ending each chapter with a cliffhanger!
SHE LOOKS LIKE AN ANGEL... BUT I GOT WISE/SHE'S THE DEVIL IN DISGUISE!: Some exceptionally scattered thoughts on tradition and conservatism. These are propositions for discussion, not settled beliefs of mine. [I'll add links to older posts later, and remove this parenthesis.]

1. There's a difference in kind between a stereotype and a role. Actually, this one I'm fairly sure of; I'm just not sure how to cash out what that difference in kind really looks like. I've been using gender stereotypes vs. gender roles as a possible way into this question.

One possibility is that stereotypes are abstractions, character descriptions, whereas roles are characters. The Hysterical Woman is a cruel and insipid caricature; Eddie Monsoon is a wonderful monster. (Similarly for The Prude vs. Saffy Monsoon.)

I'm not sure that's quite accurate. I do think a preexisting personal representation of the role being somehow approached by our actions is part of the difference. That's what the saints are for. They break the conventions in keeping the Commandments, in Chesterton's very nice phrase, and thereby expand the possibilities for the rest of us. They show us new roles. Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, these aren't stereotypes.

This of course doesn't help you when you can't find precedent for what you perceive as your vocation. And since I believe very strongly that vocation isn't a choice, I am still searching for other, more illuminating ways to cash out the difference between stereotype and role.

2. One way to tell that something is a tradition is if it can't be defended by reason alone. I've already written that tradition's primary purpose is to create a persona--to simultaneously give a place or institution an ethos, and give it a personality, making it a possible object of love. (Specifically, at least in the contexts where I've encountered traditional institutions, the institution becomes a fictive woman. It would be shockingly cheap [and cheaply shocking] to wonder if Germany's problem wasn't the idea of the Fatherland--but is there anything to be salvaged from this idea that fictive womanhood is better for us than fictive manhood?)

Anyway, putting gender questions aside, this definition of tradition should immediately show you the many points on which it is vulnerable.

a) Fictive womanhood is fictive. (Long cat is loooooooong!) There is no actual, individual, percept-rich "America" or "Marianne" or "Israel" or "Church." Reason-alone will always sever the cords of language and longing which held together shadow and substance... making it impossible for us to argue that the imperceptible (the persona) should be considered the substance, not the shadow.

b) Fictive womanhood is a fantastic alibi! This is why Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France is simultaneously so central to my understanding of tradition's role, and so troubling. If we agree that tradition makes France an ethos and a beloved, must we agree that Marie Antoinette is the personification of that persona? Or to bring this down to the twentieth century: If tradition, then figurehead--whether monarch or dictator?

This is the darker side (the back!) of my post about how tradition gives grace to our necessary subordinations and submissions: Tradition, of course, can give graceful cover to our unnecessary subordinations as well.

c) Cultures lack an architecture. There is no science--and precious little art!--by which we can tell which elements of tradition are load-bearing. In any particular case, I can argue rationally that this element can be removed without destroying the iconic resonance, the persona, of our tradition. And in fact, I can always point to many, many cases in which prior rejections of traditional elements did not fatally damage what we now consider to be the nature of that tradition. This is both a strength of tradition--its ability to adapt, to recreate a cultural persona as adeptly as you and I recreate our own public faces when we undergo severe personal change, remaining recognizable to our friends despite the massive internal damage and recovery--and, in a rationalist age, a weakness. No individual fort can be defended, even though the attackers insist they're on our side.

d) Finally... how can you prove that your beloved should be loved? This is one of the very few questions where I can't think of a medieval Christian philosopher who has really provided a hard-and-fast, cash-value answer... which is a point in favor of medieval Christian philosophers. Never use an argument when a stained-glass window would suffice.
edited: de mortuis.
As in our own time the permafrost of modernity has at last begun to melt--and a more determinedly pluralistic world has bounded back into an often troubling life--the world we are seeing is not a strange new world, revealed as the glaciers draw back, but a strange old world: kinship, locality, embodiment, domesticity, affect. All of these things, but I would add that at times we are seeing them in something as actual--and as tangible--as the tomb of two friends buried in an English parish church. We did not see those tombs because they did not signify; but they are beginning to signify again.
--last lines of The Friend (not counting the afterword)

Friday, June 26, 2009

IT'S THE CIRCLE OF LIFE!: 1. Conservative, moralizing politician gets caught [EDITED to remove unnecessarily crass description; "gets caught" pretty much covers it...].

2. Conservative Christian commentator wails about how could he? with much throwing of the fiftieth stone. I would never!

3. Liberal commentator (Christian or not--all look same!) inveighs against the obvious Schadenfreude and piling-on of aforementioned conservative Christian types. Drink if they cite "Judge not, lest ye be judged"; drain your drink if they bother looking up the chapter and verse. Drain somebody else's drink if they specify that they're atheist and they really, really think adultery is bad, and they'd totally shame the initial bad guy as much as you would, but they just can't help themselves in pointing out the hypocrisy!

4. Bitchy blogger notes that patting yourself on the back for your rejection of pride might actually be... prideful. Thus, she judges your judgeyness of others' judging of sexual sin! It would be so awesome if this action were virtuous!

5. Lather, rinse, repent.

I know so many good people, I mean, where do I start?

UPDATE: [edited: ehhh, changed my mind about this.]

FURTHER UPDATED: Doesn't change what I say in this post, but this does offer context and assorted whatnot.
TURN YOUR WATCH, TURN YOUR WATCH BACK/ABOUT A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS: I only remember two songs from my childhood, listening to "Q-107, Washington's Top 40!" I remember "Karma Chameleon," which for some reason I associate with the yellow schoolbus taking me to Jewish day camp.

And I remember "Billie Jean," on the playgrounds of Shepherd Elementary--a school named after a segregationist, where I doubt I knew fifteen other white kids, but the white kids I did know were almost all in the gifted-and-talented program, because that's the way racism works. That's why, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has said so often, you can't fix police brutality by painting the Policeman Barbies black. "Meritocracy" in a post-colonialist world is the worst caricature of Calvinism, where you're pre-damned and you're supposed to like it.

...Anyway. "ABC, easy as 1-2-3" was part of the old hand-clapping rhyme I learned, which sometimes ended, "We got the power!" with the Black Power fist. Nobody ever thought it was weird that a white girl did that ending. Nobody ever thought it was weird that black kids and white kids would pull their eyes up for the "Chinese, Japanese, Indian Chief!" rhyme.

(Sometimes we ended the ABC rhyme, "Now you got the chicken power!" I don't know what that signified!)

On Thursday, I was on my way to my volunteer stint with the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center when an older black woman stopped me to ask if I'd heard: Had I heard that Michael Jackson died? I wasn't sure it was true until I got home, but I could pretty much hear in her voice that it was real.

Michael Jackson was part of the culture which formed me, and that's just inescapable, no matter your ultimate judgment of everything we heard about after the '80s.

Sean Collins does the caveats a lot better than I could.
INSIDE OF A CATHOLIC, IT'S TOO DARK TO READ. Summer books recommendations... hey, I'm in this!
What one then sees is a diverse set of practices that cannot be reduced to a single overarching motive but nonetheless employed the same rhetoric: practices of peacemaking, of countenance, of kinship. The same rhetoric that could ease the reconciliation of enemies could also enable the acceptance of a gift, or bind the affection of friends. It could enable adversaries to lay down a quarrel, without losing face. It could ease the passing of a gift, by its tactful indication that (as the language demonstrated in which a gift was offered) the giver also knew the limits beyond which the obligation it might create would not be pressed. And it could sustain by its binding force a true affection that might one day grow cold, through the infirmity of our natures. ...

The story I have set out to tell in this book is drawing near its end; but one final question remains, to which I now turn. What happened to the world I have described?

--The Friend

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Vatican II: The Final Reckoning!"

I think this might even beat the "Happy Saint Blaise Day!" throttling scene from Soultaker....
"I'M WITH CUPID": My review of Design for Living at the Shakespeare Theatre. With bonus Edward Albee!

(And yes, if you want to take this article as my partial rebuke to Jamie Kirchick, you may.)
Confusion was widespread in those years, but Empson countered it with a peculiarly British conception of ambiguity: “When I was crossing the fighting lines during the siege of Peking, to give my weekly lecture on Macbeth, a generous-minded peasant barred my way and said, pointing ahead: ‘That way lies death’”. Empson’s response was foggy, gnomic but swift: “Not for me, I have a British passport”.
--that same article about Angleton; whole piece is pretty fascinating

Monday, June 22, 2009

HOW IS ALAN BRAY SO AWESOME??? I'll write a real post on The Friend soon, but for now, just know that I'm in love with this book. As Mark Shea would say, "Check thou it out!"
...Norman Holmes Pearson, formerly an instructor in the English Department at Yale University before becoming a major element in the OSS, was wholly approving. As a student of literary criticism, he was naturally attracted to the subtleties of a text-based system that put a crucial emphasis on recognition of thematic and structural patterns. New Criticism, as the practice was called at Yale, concerned itself not with literary history and the personality of authors, but with the specific use poems made of language on the page. It fostered an interest in multiple levels of meaning, ambivalence, paradox, wit, puns and the peculiarities of Sprachgefühl: all devices on which cryptic codes or obscure messages might draw. In fact, when he described the whole Double Cross system, Pearson made it sound like a poem elucidated in class, its ironies nicely balanced, its contrasts wittily shaped. The power produced by this kind of close reading was intense, and as a result he was delighted to welcome as one of his new assistants in the OSS a graduate of Yale who had studied these mysteries: James Angleton. Based in Europe, educated at Malvern and clad in bespoke English tailoring, James Angleton fitted comfortably into an Anglophiliac Yale. The photo on the cover of Michael Holzman’s book makes him look remarkably like T. S. Eliot. Yet his full name, James Jesus Angleton, sets free its own vitalizing American ambiguity. He was the son of the US-born James Hugh Angleton and Carmen Mercedes Moreno from Nogales, Mexico. And though he never used his Mexican name in later life, that “Jesus” marks him, by our standards, as a Chicano: from a British perspective he seems exotically transatlantic.

Holzman’s brisk, uncluttered book offers valuable access to previously untapped material on Angleton, who became the first head of the Counter-intelligence Staff of the CIA. In particular, it makes incisive use of his years as a student of English at Yale and the influence on him of the New Critics and modernist poets of his day. Previous biographers such as Robin Winks have pointed out that at Yale he was co-editor of the literary journal Furioso. But Holzman takes a more spirited line, publishing two of Angleton’s grating undergraduate poems and a list of his correspondence with writers such as T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, I. A. Richards, William Empson, Ezra Pound and Louis MacNeice. These famous poets all “took this young man very seriously” and he, in return, was greatly impressed by their writings, particularly the book that became a crucial text of New Criticism, Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity. For Empson, ambiguity is the central aspect of language. Not a minor stylistic flourish, it is an unavoidable linguistic feature permanently in place and in effect seems to exploit the fundamental characteristics of language itself. This means that “opposite” meanings will always illuminate and invade the primary meanings of ordinary words, so that “in a sufficiently extended sense any prose statement could be called ambiguous”. Thus, Empson argues, a word may have several distinct meanings; several meanings connected with one another; several meanings which need one another to complete their meaning; or several meanings which unite together so that the word means one relation or one process . . . what often happens when a piece of writing is felt to offer hidden riches is that one phrase after another lights up and appears as the heart of it; one part after another catches fire.

My philosophy? Metaphysics. What is metaphysics? There's a long, complicated explanation for that question. But to make it simple: A metaphysician doesn't believe you're dead when you die.
--The Dead Talk Back

Yes, I'm watching MST3K on YouTube. I'm reminded of the friend of mine who did interviewing for prospective Yale students. One eager little high-school senior said he wanted to study physics--at which point my friend got a devilish grin and asked, all atremble with temptation, "Have you ever heard of... metaphysics?"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

FOLLOW SALAM PAX ON TWITTER. (Who? "I became the profane pervert Arab blogger....")
UPLIFTING: Over the weekend I watched Up in 3D. It was fantastic! (Very mild spoilers follow.)

Really, one of the best children's movies I've ever seen--maybe even second-best after the indescribable Last Unicorn. I'd say it's tied with The Great Muppet Caper. It's a beautiful story of love and grief, of fulfilling one's dreams and sacrificing them, of hope and wanderlust and discovery and homecoming. I think maybe the Kevin-the-bird arc is the subplot which defines the movie's heart: Obligations mean that sometimes a beautiful creature wanders into your world, and you fall in love with her, and then you let her go home.

It's poignant, hilarious, full of the "sense of wonder" and yet simultaneously very aware of life's limits. I loved Ratatouille, the only other Pixar flick I've seen, but this was just in a different ballpark.

I will say that I don't think of myself as someone with a fear of heights, but there are a lot of scenes in which a small child almost plummets to his death, and... I had a hard time. A lot of careful breathing and "it's just a movie!", there.

And, as I said to friends who'd watched the movie with me, "Maybe not today--maybe not tomorrow--but SOMEDAY, we'll get a children's movie or a superhero movie without Daddy Issues." I thought the choices around the divorce subplot were somewhat clumsy at the very end, even though they were pretty undeniably emotionally effective.

Nonetheless, highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

EATING PEOPLE IS WRONG. Proving too much?
She said to herself, "Is not the gown the natural raiment of extremity? What nation, what religion, what ghost, what dream, has not worn it--infants, angels, priests, the dead; why should not the doctor, in the grave dilemma of his alchemy, wear his dress?"

Friday, June 12, 2009

IT'S THE FEAST OF ST. ONUPHRIUS, which should be my chance to show you guys the stark Ribera portrait. Google image search turns up only a bunch of art-print-on-demand sites, but you can at least get the basic idea.

Also, David Bowie sketchbook time!!! My immediate thought with the Seth sketch was, "Whoa--William F. Bowie!"
No one could intrude upon her because there was no place for intrusion. This inadequacy made her insubordinate--she could not participate in a great love, she could only report it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

THE SEASONS COME, THE SEASONS GO: Notes about various things which have spanned my personal, furry-book boundary between spring and summer. In roughly chronological order.

Edmund White, The Married Man. At least one reviewer believed this to be White's best book. I can't imagine how that could be true.

It's a fairly standard account of gay love and death, enhanced by a few terrific turns of phrase and obviously by the subject matter, and nearly destroyed by a midsection devoted to hating America.

No, for real, give me a moment: I don't like Providence, RI either. And I even can see that perhaps the overdone buzzsaw-whine of this section was meant to be unattractive--we're shown, for example, that the narrator is busy destroying the tacky home he's subletting, and his dog menaces the local children while reeking horrid smells from some kind of gland in his ass... and yet, despite that, the dog is a Mary Sue (everyone loves him in the end! Except me!) and no matter how valid your critique of America is, fifty pages of humorless whining is really, really tiresome.

Once the book leaves New England, everything gets better, but really the best parts of this book are a fairly good novel, whereas Nocturnes for the King of Naples is a masterpiece. Read that instead.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring: This is a movie set at a Buddhist hermit's retreat. It is one of those gems thrown onto the shore by my Netflix account, so old and random that I have no idea why I ever requested it.

It's predictably beautiful, predictably recurrent, and perhaps predictably tragic. But there's a portrayal of penance (in the Fall section) which I hope will stick with me as long as I live. I don't know if it can even be called penance, really: It's punishment transformed into sublime beauty, and yet there's no explicit notice of forgiveness. Can there really be penance in a world where no God nor afterlife will offer complete reconciliation, complete and therefore unimaginable healing of our irrevocable acts? (The first section really hammers this home, as well, and does a great job of preparing us for the Fall section.)

I'd show this to a catechism class, if anyone would let me teach one. I think it's an amazing jumping-off point for a discussion of guilt, penance, forgiveness, loyalty, and sublimity.

I'd also very strongly recommend this to fans of The Mission, for the obvious compare/contrast.

E.F. Bentley, Trent's Last Case: Both Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers wrote gushing blurbs for this fairly standard, well-written mystery. It is okay. The very last revelation is quite fun. I guessed 1 1/2 of the twists before that one, which, given my record with Christie (only one accurate guess ever), suggests that this is perhaps not so unexpected as all that.

The writing is very easy and pleasant. The paleoconservatism is not my imagination--finance, and abstracted capitalism generally, are thoroughly demonized; but perhaps more interestingly than that, this book made me realize that if you beat up on deracinated cosmopolites you will necessarily also target anyone who would be unwelcome in the heartland. Some people are deracinated for a reason.

I really did like seeing the beginnings of new technologies, e.g. the page-and-a-half (?) description of fingerprint powder. I'd also recommend the fingerprint passage to anyone who wants to learn how to do exposition in a fun way.

Tom Stoppard, The Invention of Love: Thin Victoriana.

I was honestly the worst audience for this, but really, just reading the biographies of the men involved would give you a more complex picture of this era. This is AE Housman filed down to almost nothing, which is poignant I guess, but deeply self-comforting for our own era. Is there a fight here? I mean, is there any kind of tension whatsoever, with at least two competing sides? I don't see it.

Wilde, a simplistic movie, did better with Wilde; the most interesting thing in the Stoppard, for me, was the use of the ancient gods. He does that in Rock 'n' Roll, too. Is this just a sentimental sediment of Christianity, or are the gods doing something else and irreducible?

The House that Screamed/La Residencia: So you can see this on IMDB tv, as I did, because it was featured on "Movie Macabre"--a series I think all red-blooded Americans will remember as "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark." Revisiting the series has been something of a disappointment for me.

But this installment is... memorable. I suspect the Spanish title really translates as "The Residential School," in which case... yeah. It's Catholic abuse exploitation a-go-go. Smokin' hot chicks in corsets getting whipped and so forth. It's impossible for me to recommend this, but star Lilli Palmer is amazingly beautiful; I was genuinely, if miserably, fascinated to see how the Spanish production team worked out any cultural anxieties about the power of the Church (yes, there is a scene where nice reform-school girls saying their prayers are intercut with a bad reform-school girl getting beaten); and I think the whole cultural positioning of this movie is sickly fascinating given What We Now Know about how horrific the residential schools really were. This seems like the kind of movie you only make in that slipping-off-the-tightrope cultural moment when you know the Church has become complicit in horrible crimes and yet you haven't acknowledged those crimes, so it's still kind of B-movie, popcorn.
AVOID FOOD PRODUCTS that make health claims. For a food product to make health claims on its package it must first have a package, so right off the bat it's more likely to be a processed than a whole food. Generally speaking, it is only the big food companies that have the wherewithal to secure FDA-approved health claims for their products and then trumpet them to the world.
--Michael Pollan, "In Defense of Food," which I found in Best Food Writing 2008

"Food rules" are really better understood as velvet ropes, which you duck under even though you respect them--I'd eat a Swiss Cake Roll right this minute, I love Coca-Cola with an unholy passion, and I only stopped eating Chicken McNuggets because the outlet closest to me stopped giving me free processed honey--but as far as food rules go, this seems like a sound one. Cooking is an art, and defending it in utilitarian terms shocks my conscience as much as defending Mozart because it makes your baby have a higher IQ.

Monday, June 08, 2009

BUT SHE'S TOO ROUGH AND I'M TOO DELICATE: A reader writes, after my Catholic and Feminist review:
I share your disappointment that the book didn't tackle the real fascination of "Catholic and/or/but feminist," which is the dynamic of submission in feminism: what kinds are privileged (sorry, English major), who says so, why, etc.

Take Morrissey. One of the weirdnesses of his persona is that he is avowedly feminist, and yet he totally possesses, in Laura Mulvey's eternal phrase, "to-be-looked-at-ness." Just as much as any woman in von Sternberg or Hitchcock, he is completely constructed as an image to be consumed by the audience. He chooses to position himself as powerless and for-your-pleasure (or, according to St. Morrissey, as a Northern Woman). And while I've read about why he might like Factory girls or Northern Women as a viewer, has anyone really accounted for why he would choose aesthetic submission for himself?

Of course, I'm not trying to suggest a real equivalence. Aesthetic submission can be worn lightly because it's a pose, and authenticity is the enemy (or irritant) of art. Religious submission is another matter entirely. But in the sense that the aesthetically submissive must choose that for themselves, maybe there is something of a model there for a submission that does not become dominating and coercive and violent, as feminists fear. Or maybe it does, and Moz and Grace Kelly really are just so much siren song luring us into degradation. (Morrissey might like that.)

My readers: so much fun!
The woman who presents herself to the spectator as a "picture" forever arranged is, for the contemplative mind, the chiefest danger. Sometimes one meets a woman who is beast turning human. Such a person's every movement will reduce to an image of a forgotten racial memory; as insupportable a joy as would be the vision of an eland coming down an aisle of trees, chapleted with orange blossoms and bridal veil, a hoof raised in the economy of fear, stepping in the trepidation of flesh that will become myth; as the unicorn is neither man nor beast deprived, but human hunger pressing its breast to its prey.
--Djuna Barnes, Nightwood

Friday, June 05, 2009

"WE'LL BURN THAT BRA WHEN WE COME TO IT." My Inside Catholic book column, on Florence King's When Sisterhood Was in Flower.
"TOWARD A BIOETHICS OF LOVE." Helen Rittelmeyer's provocative piece on "what conservatism can offer disability activism":
My sister’s genetic disorder is too unusual to have a name. If it seems like the person I’m talking to won’t understand a medical description—grand mal seizures, nonverbal, severe-to-profound mental retardation—the layman’s version is that she’s a 10-month-old mind trapped in a 20-year-old body.

I am not often asked whether there is a cure. When I heard the question for the first time, only a year ago, my answer, which appalled the questioner, was that my family probably wouldn’t be interested in one.


There's a discussion here if you want comments-boxing. I'm not sure I have anything useful to say yet. I will note that when Christ appeared to the apostles in His glory, the glorified body still bore the wounds of crucifixion.... Anyway, I'd really, really like to hear other people's thoughts on this, so if you have links to send, send 'em--I'll do a link round-up soonish.
THE TORTURE DEBATE (AS A BATMAN COMIC): Cussin', bad taste, bad spelling, and gallows humor. You're welcome.
I SHOULDA BEEN A PAIR OF RAGGED CLAWS: A friend sent me this link with the note, "Here is a giant centipede that reminds me of you." (Scroll halfway down the page.)

Post title via Tom Eliot and Alison Bechdel....
Art cannot be subordinate to its subject, otherwise it is not art but biography, and biography is the mesh through which our real life escapes.
--character of Oscar Wilde, in Tom Stoppard, The Invention of Love

Monday, June 01, 2009

VERY EXPENSIVE STONE. Sorry--as you can probably tell, the post below was unfinished. My computer crashed. I want to do a longer post looking at a bunch of Mangan's columns, because she's a vivid writer and a good opponent even where I disagree, but I don't have time right now. For some children's-book recommendations from me, you can go here, here, and (with caveat) here. Also, I don't think I mentioned the Bagthorpe books for some reason; read those too!

Meanwhile, 1) it's the feast of St. Justin Martyr, patron of philosophers!


2) I have very vague, and possibly false, memories of an article making the case that the Slits scene in Derek Jarman's Jubilee "elected Thatcher" (by being emblematic of the '70s glorification of public disorder, which isn't the only reading of Jubilee, but whatev). Did I dream this, or does someone else remember the article? I need it for a thing.
DON'T GET CAUGHT: Lucy Mangan's list of indispensable children's fiction is... worth fighting.

I love The Borribles more than life, and I think Mangan makes the case for them in her arm's-length review. The third volume is skippable, but The Borribles and The Borribles Go for Broke are somewhere beyond children's classics.

She's made me really want to read Rumer Godden's A Doll's House,
PUTTING THE "PALE" BACK IN PALEOCONS: Of course within 15 pages Trent's Last Case gives us a "raving crowd of Jews." I couldn't tell you why. (Oh, no, right--I remember! It's because the early twentieth century heralded a beautiful new era when Jews would reign over their Gentile oppressors! ...You know, because that's what happened!)

Oh paleoconservatism. How you won't be missed.
Between what matters and what seems to matter, how should the world we know judge wisely?
--E.C. Bentley, first line, Trent's Last Case