Tuesday, July 27, 2010

EVERY DAY IS SELF-PARODY DAY. So far in Decadence and Catholicism we have had three, count 'em three, figure skaters! Two young men for whom various people conceived homoerotic passions, and also Huysmans's hagiography of St. Lydwina, skating's patroness. I don't even know anymore. My life is just a series of bad rhymes at this point.
Through its incitement to androgyny and to the performance of gender roles presumed to be inappropriate to one's anatomical sex, inversion is also figured [in Huysmans] as a subversion of nature in favor of text.
--Decadence and Catholicism

Interesting in itself; and also, forcing a separation of nature and text in this way seems to me to be the opposite approach from e.g. the theology of the body/"language of the body" approach. See also here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

In the nineteenth century, an era steeped in the language of religious and Platonic eros, two men or--even less suspiciously--two women could sustain such a sexually ambiguous relationship with impunity. They might even regard the relationship as more intense because more pure, so to speak. Thus we find Edmond Lepelletier pointing to Letinois as evidence of Verlaine's elevated affection for other men, rather than of his homosexuality. He even tries to desexualize Verlaine's love for Rimbaud, but with no great persuasiveness. Modern biographers, however, are loath to believe that such a homosexual desire can exist happily, and this disbelief strikes me as homophobic. Even today, the figure of the homosexual is so saturated with sexuality in the popular imagination that the very possibility of religious faith or chaste devotion in gay men is held to be highly improbable. Like everyone else, homosexuals eroticize religion, eroticize fatherhood, eroticize friendship, and eroticize aesthetics, but only through the utmost discretion are they allowed to get away with it. Gay men as a rule are not permitted to sublimate.
--Ellis Hanson, Decadence and Catholicism, yes I'm finally reading it

Monday, July 19, 2010

...It's counterintuitive, but Johnson's story suggests that the desolation in Schostakovich's music, resonating with the desolation in their hearts, served to bolster the spirits of the Russian populace at the time. The premise postulated by Johnson and neuroscientist Raymond Tallis, who co-hosted the event, is the oft-repeated idea that music, by conferring a narrative structure to emotion, brings emotion closer to thought. "There is something about seeing your own mood reflected that allows you to let go of that feeling," says Johnson.

But it is not so simple. As Tallis, who was standing in for an absent Robert Winston, pointed out at the start of the evening's conversation, there is a complex interplay between the emotion the composer attempts to write into the music, that conveyed by the music, the listener's interpretation, and the listener's mood. This was resoundingly reflected in the results of an experiment carried out on the evening's audience.

more (via the Rattus)
"HEIDEGGER'S INVOLVEMENT IN POLITICS IS VERY REGRETTABLE." Ratty's right; you must watch this. (Tons of cussin' so be forewarned.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

DECADENCE AND THE A.M.E. CHURCH: A few thoughts, not a review, about Passing Strange. It's the story of a young black man from LA who seeks himself, or meaning, or something, through Amsterdam and West Berlin and finally home. ETA: It's at the Studio Theater through August 8.

1. I loved this! I loved it well beyond reason. I loved it in part because it really connected with the audience Friday night. I get that it's easy to be cynical about whitefolk toe-tappin' at musicals about black identity. But that isn't what happened here. What happened was more like when I went to see Marlon Riggs's film Black Is/Black Ain't, and at the end credits we heard the opening strains of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing"... and the whole theater, black and white and read all over, started to sing.

If this city is your heart then this play will take you home.

2. The insistent decadent aesthetic was amazing! I don't know if I've ever seen such a complete assimilation of decadence to the American experience, which is so often presented as sincerist, outside a specifically gay narrative... with one exception. The fact that the exception is Invisible Man should tell you how thrilled I was by the way this play and this production negotiated the ways in which masks melt into the skin, culture can but can't be rejected (one of the characters makes the point I made somewhat idiotically here!), and America is an absent but inescapable parent.

I loved that even the complacency and hypocrisy of the mainstream black church was presented as a possible vehicle for becoming "real." It didn't work for the narrator, but I genuinely didn't feel like the play blamed Mr. Franklin (the PK, who uh... maybe I think plays the organ, if you see what I'm sayin' here) for being a halfway house rather than a home for the narrator. There was just a lot of generosity in this script. Everyone's masks were honored even though the show also acknowledged the genuine poignancy and power of the rhetoric of "realism."

It's really fascinating to compare this play to Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll, which I also saw at the Studio. Christianity is a named thing here, a live option in a certain sense, which it never is for Stoppard's characters. And yet the specific form of Christianity is kind of intriguing: Words like identity, meaning, and love are very much central to the Christian possibility, but words like sin, grace, redemption, forgiveness, and salvation are totally absent. That's in no way a criticism of the show! I mean it says so much and works so well.

3. Oh Lord, the pastiches were so perfect! This is a musical, so yeah okay it gets sentimental in the end. But before then, the pastiches of bougie church life ("Baptist Fashion Show") and '79/'82 punk (wow I don't even know which song this was, but the lyrics "I'm a business motherfucker" probably help you remember it!) and '80s West German punk style are just so loving and forgiving.

4. Rock 'n' Roll is much more cross-generational than this play. There is no next generation here. There is no pregnancy, no child, no humiliation as our own rebellions are deployed against what we really do think is now our greater wisdom as adults! There's no need to show what it feels like to grow up.

And yet unchosen obligation is still the throbbing heart of this show. When it gets sentimental, which believe me, it jumps into with all its musical-theater gross Grizabella make-it-cute heart... even so it's at least sentimental about unchosen loves. In fact, the play is adamant that the most blunt forces in love are most powerful, love without understanding, mother and son beyond any kind of intellectual or even intelligible connection. She is his and at last he is hers and and no one can tell anybody why. Motherhood is handcuffs locked on both ends. (There's no mention of the protagonist's father. I honestly didn't notice this until at least the intermission, even though it's my actual job. I think that speaks to a level of realism in the play itself; it isn't playing to the skybox.)

But yeah, I kind of missed the depiction of what might happen to this guy, with his complex relationship with unchosen obligations in general and parenthood in particular, if he became a parent. Why is this play so contracepted? Aren't there more interesting stories to be told in the unchosen future?
ONE GOD, THREE OPINIONS: OK, unsurprisingly it looks like I can't get the more reviewy version of my take on The New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza published for money before the play's run ends. But my wallet's loss is your wallet's... also loss, since I cannot let you guys go without telling you why you have to see this terrific play!!!

It's showing at the DC Jewish Community Center until July 25 and seriously, people, I can't tell you. If you like this blog and you live in the area, eat some ramen so you can afford this play.

Here you can find my somewhat more personal and somewhat less reviewy take on the play. I just loved it. Y'all, if you see it, link me to your thoughts and reviews!

(As always, Blogger is adding an extra "tail" to my posts, so be sure to use this link and not whatever happens if you just go to my main secondary site.)
IT'S ALL IN THE WRISTS. If you want to know what I mean when I use the phrase "la nouvelle Heloise," here's a visual aid. An icon of submission as command, that Mobius strip of self-possession I described in my Inside Catholic column on Abelard and Heloise.
If it were any more real, it'd be fictional.
--Passing Strange (now at the Studio Theater!), Stew and Heidi Rodewald; the line recurs but it's always earned

Friday, July 16, 2010


My "Contemporary Christian Music" post garnered an "I Write Like HP Lovecraft."

"Romoeroticism": I Write Like Dan Brown (!!!!!).

The first page or so of New Wineskins: I Write Like David Foster Wallace.

And an unpublished (so far) review of that Spinoza play: I Write Like James Joyce.

There is no humility without humiliation, people.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

THEY ALL WANT LITTLE PIECES OF THIS YEAR'S GIRL: Over at the blog where I post stuff which is too long or spoilery for here, I've posted a ridiculously long thing about lesbianisms and why I was way too quick to talk as if every girl's experience was like mine. Toward the end there's some language which is a bit more explicit than what I want to have on the blog, as well. But overall the main point here is that I really, really needed to be more open to the fact that my experience is not The One Universal Lesbian Experience (In HD!) and I hope people whose experiences and interpretations of those experiences are radically different from mine will still write in to me.
THE CREATION OF A PRIVATE LANGUAGE is also, of course, an important way in which tradition functions to make an institution more like a person, and an individual's acceptance of an abstracted, often difficult or subordinate, role more like a specific relationship of love between two people.
"WHY ARE YOU STANDING OUT HERE IN THE COLD?" A lovely little confection. I note that Ratty and I have a bunch of these... although the only ones I can think of right now are based on people thinking I'm stupid!

Link via the Rattus.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

KITCHEN ADVENTURES: GENERAL JINJUR. Postscript since I forgot to write about this in the sorrel/beets post. I already told you all about learning to make crispy baked wontons. Last week I went absolutely crazy for them! I seriously could eat these things three meals a day.

This time I filled all the wontons with the same stuff: chopped button mushrooms from the store (the Mushroom People at my farmer's market weren't in town, whimper, but otoh this is a great recipe to use up cheaper 'shrooms), chopped garlic, a bit of dried rosemary, cream cheese, s&p, and fresh ginger. Fold up, rub w/olive oil, bake in oven for maybe 8 minutes at 375 (until mostly golden, with some crispy and blistery bits), tell yourself that this time you will wait until they're cool enough to eat, plant your face in them anyway and burn the roof of your mouth again.

These were fantastic, incredibly easy (they sound fussy but aren't, at all, and you can make them in big batches assembly-line style), and the ultimate snack-turned-meal. I would replace popcorn for movies with these. Also, if you cover the leftover wrappers carefully they won't dry out so fast; I got about three days from this package with virtually no waste, eating about 16 wontons a day. (Sixteen was the number which fit onto my baking tray, four rows of four.)

I'd hoped to make dessert wontons filled with chopped strawberry, cream cheese, dried rosemary and cinnamon, but that didn't work out. I'll try it later though!

More Gay Catholic Whatnot posting later, maybe not tonight but very soon. Plus whatever else shambles over the transom....

Sorrel thing: The idea here was to make a sorrel soup, but that didn't really work. I think as a condiment, for example a sauce for chicken or (in a smaller quantity) salmon, this might be perfect. On its own it was thick and, more importantly, unbalanced: too tangy.

Anyway, I chopped up a bunch of fresh sorrel, a small tomato, and maybe three medium cloves of garlic. I blended that with sour cream and (if memory serves) cumin and fresh tarragon, and maybe a small amount of dried rosemary. Then I cooked, salted, and ground some black and white pepper over it.

To do this as a soup I would substitute heavy cream for the sour cream. I think that would balance the tangy sorrel. This was tasty but not quite on-target.

Beet thing: Vastly more labor- and time-intensive, but also much better!

I set the oven for 375, peeled two small beets and one large, quartered the small beets and cut the big one into chunks of that size. I foiled a baking tray, put the beet chunks on it, and rubbed them with olive oil. They went in the oven for a guesswork amount of time, maybe 20 mins? Your oven will vary since mine is old and cantankerous. Meanwhile I chopped two medium cloves of garlic and a big chunk of jalapeno, and got them a bit past golden-brown (that was an accident--I was aiming for golden--but it didn't mess up the flavor at all) in a saucepan w/a bit more olive oil.

I pulled the beets out of the oven. The chunks which were already tender (easily sliced w/a dull knife) came out onto the cutting board; the ones which were still hard got cut into smaller pieces and went back in the oven. While the harder pieces were finishing I did a fine-ish chop on the softer pieces. Then finished chopping the remaining beets. The beets went into the saucepan with cumin and salt, and I covered all of that with water. I brought it to a boil, then turned it down to medium heat and simmered it. I experimented with cover-on or cover-off cooking and ultimately, I think, overestimated how much of the water I wanted to cook off, but that didn't affect the taste.

Then I blended the beet mixture, returned it very briefly to the heat just to make sure it was nice and hot, and scraped it into a bowl. It was a mash, not a soup, really. A bunch of dollops of sour cream went on top, and then some fresh tarragon and lots of freshly-ground black and white pepper.

This is sooooooooo good! I'm eating it now. The jalapeno is noticeable but not at all assertive, and the garlic is mild but welcome. The cumin is delicious. The tarragon seemed too strong at first bite, but as it started to cook a bit in the heat of the dish, or maybe as it blended in more with the other ingredients, it started to really "play well" with the pepper. And of course beets and sour cream are a classic combination. This is a super beety dish which isn't at all overwhelming; it's balanced. I'm really happy with it. The only issues, as I noted, are that this is a LOT of work and time for a lunch dish.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

INTERNATIONAL HOUSE OF BEINGCAKES. Whoa. I was pacing anxiously just now and thought to myself, "Have I spent the past ten years obsessively arguing that language is the house of being, and that every attempt to understand that phrase without a Jewish or Christian theological grounding ends up in Heidegger's Rektoratsrede?"

This is what I think about after watching a lot of late '80s men's figure skating, apparently. The majestic hair must do something to my brain.

"I did study with Strauss, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm a Straussian. I haven't said I'm a Straussian."
Although its roots are traced back to the ancient world of mythology, the real birth of figure skating occurred in Stuart England.
--James R. Hines, Figure Skating: A History

Oh LOL, of course I would fall for the Restoration-era sport! ...And the one whose motto seems to be, "Girls, Lisa. Boys kiss girls."

(edited to fix quote and tags)

Friday, July 02, 2010

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHNNY WEIR. Here, have a planet.

(Do I have any readers who love figure skating? I haven't been posting about it because I have nothing to say other than things like, "Look, another amazing performance from Lucinda Ruh! Is she part-orchid or what?", and similarly unprofessional flailing for various other skaters. But why not email me about your favorite programs etc? I'll post links if you've got 'em.)
Valkenburgh: You spoke about philosophy with a simple girl? About what Plato thinks and what Aristotle thinks?

Spinoza: No, about what I think and what she thinks. Plato and Aristotle? You start listening to them and before you know it you're believing in rabbits out of hats, or the Virgin Birth!

--David Ives, The New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch Spinoza

Lines from memory, almost certainly wrong in several places, and I admit they come across as a bit on-the-nose on the page like that. But a) obviously you know why I had to quote this, given my own trajectory! and b) the lines totally work onstage, in Theater J's fantastic, standing-ovation-worthy production. GO SEE THIS NOW. More soon.