Monday, August 23, 2010

COLOR PHOTOGRAPHS OF RUSSIA AND SURROUNDING, from a century ago. Via the Rattus.
THROUGH BLUE-TINTED GLASSES: My review of Red Families vs. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture is in the 8/30 issue of the Weekly Standard. The online version is subscribers-only for now, but I'll let you know if that changes.

I'm not thrilled with this review. I don't think I quite nailed the problem(s) with the book. I don't like doing negative reviews as a rule, and especially not negative reviews of work by people who have done good work--I don't remember reading any non-"red vs. blue" writing from June Carbone, but I've read things by Naomi Cahn which I really liked--but this book is just not good. I'm right about the lack of qualitative data a.k.a. letting people from radically different worldviews speak, letting them explain themselves rather than being explained by those who are not complicit in their choices, but I don't think I really explained the problem too well. I hope the review includes my praise for Cahn and Carbone's criticism of the contemporary American economy; the whole book should have been just that stuff. But I guess then nobody would have read it.
THE SURVIVOR'S-GUILT GUIDE TO COLLEGE: My column for Inside Catholic.
It's that time of year again: Sultry heat punctuated by thunderstorms, back-to-school charity drives at church . . . and the publication of endless "college survival guides" for incoming freshmen.

At first glance, this clich├ęd phrase might seem a bit overstated. College isn't exactly the ascent of Everest, is it? And advice like, "Don't sleep through your classes" and, "Pack a selection of warm- and cold-weather clothes" does not really seem to warrant the drama of the word "survival."

But I've been on a year-long kick of reading college novels, both novels about professors and novels about students. And in among the themes I expected to find -- the attempted creation and inevitable defeat of a tolerant, liberal utopia, for example; or the humiliation of reason by forces ranging from sex (Philip Roth's hysterical short novel The Breast) to ancient religion (Donna Tartt's sublime, lurid Secret History) -- one entirely unexpected theme emerged.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I'VE GOT MY OWN IDEAS ABOUT THE RIGHTEOUS KICK: A couple lightly-sketched points about the exchanges between Ross Douthat and Andrew Sullivan on marriage, in which my Busted Halo interview was quoted and discussed. I've only read the one post of Sullivan's, so if he has already replied to the points made below, I apologize and would love to be pointed to the relevant posts--I've been out of town and he posts so much that I have a hard time keeping up!

1. Sullivan argues that in order to accept my or Douthat's understanding of marriage, you have to accept the entirety of Catholic teaching on sexuality, and therefore our opposition to gay marriage is narrowly sectarian and unavailable to those who don't share our entire set of religious beliefs.

I disagree! I mean, I get that both the New York Times and Busted Halo juxtaposed my beliefs about God and my beliefs about marriage. That was their framing. It has never been mine. When I actually lay out my own beliefs about marriage, I don't use religious language. While I'm skeptical that any moral claim can be made in entirely secular terms all the way down--in other words, eventually you do have to discuss your fundamental metaphysical beliefs and deepest loves/loyalties--I think the case against gay marriage is about as secular as the cases against, say, torture or the death penalty. In other words, I think we can talk for a while before you get to God, and that's what I try to do. (Similarly, when I talk about being gay and Catholic, I try to open up some space in the discussion for people who are themselves celibate for religious reasons but nonetheless support gay marriage.)

Sullivan really can't just assert that my argument can only be accepted by those who accept the entirety of Catholic sexual morality. He has to offer an argument or evidence to that effect, beyond the argument ad celibatem.

A clunky postscript: Obviously, I also disagree with the idea that Catholic celibacy requires people like me to "cease to exist, really, as sexual beings," but you all know that already because I am constantly saying it! But that really is a sectarian discussion, so bracket it, me lads, bracket it....

2. Sullivan and I may have more common ground than he realizes. I do think we need to find some way of acknowledging and even honoring the good work done by gay couples in supporting one another and the children many of them are raising. I do not think that cultural project requires pretending that men and women, or gay and lesbian and heterosexual relationships, are fungible. I certainly do not think that cultural project requires pretending that only bigots think gay relationships aren't the same as marriage, or that only retrograde Vatican lackeys think that gay activists should not attempt to remove sex difference from our understanding of marriage and the cultural norms surrounding marriage.

And so what's interesting to me about Sullivan's post is that he agrees that the future is really wide open and we don't know what comes next. Neither he nor I has a really super clear, ten-point plan for how our society can do better at supporting all families without pretending that two men are the same as a man and a woman or two women. So I wonder why he is so adamant that while norms of monogamy may or may not shift in various complex ways, any legitimate future must include gay marriage. Why is that the (one?) non-negotiable?

I know my position raises more questions than it answers. So does Sullivan's! (And mine has, you know, millennia of art, popular songs, philosophy and yes, theology and liturgy behind it. But who's counting?)

I have no idea how much of this particular post Douthat might agree with. But with any luck it will at least open up a bit of space in the dialogue. I thought Douthat's Times op-ed was really good given the length restrictions, a refreshing break from the stale repetition and uncharitable misreading which characterizes much of the gay-marriage debate, and I'm encouraged by the openness with which Sullivan engaged with him. More please!

More on gay marriage, gay people, and the Church tomorrow.
DEAL OR NO DEAL: Just finished The Second Mark, Joy Goodwin's terrific book ostensibly about the Salt Lake City Olympics pairs skating scandal. Its actual subjects include, among many other things, the rocky transition from the Soviet Union to the "new Russia"; a brief history of modern China, as told by small children in a cold climate; the ways culture and politics affect our aesthetic judgments; the messiness of skating judging at the best of times; and the ways--good, bad, and very much both at once--in which women understand, accept, and adjust to suffering.

All of this in fluid and unobtrusive prose. I checked it out of the library because it promised background on Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, the Chinese pairs champions, but I'd recommend it even to people with no especial interest in figure skating. (But if you want to know why Shen and Zhao are so great, try this, this, and this!)
Camp is to my mind extremely valuable as a specifically queer mode of expression, a potentially subversive mode of humor but also a backhanded mode of worship. Camp is not the same as parody. Even Susan Sontag, in her famous essay on the subject, recognized in camp a paradoxically genuine devotion for the institution that is ostensibly ridiculed. Just as drag queens adore the tragic divas that they travesty, so ecclesiastical camp springs to the defense of the one true Church.
--Decadence and Catholicism

Saturday, August 14, 2010

WHO KNEW THE SUBSPECIES THEME WAS SO GREAT? A very fun collection of horror soundtracks and clips, via Fascination with Fear.

And Arbogast on Film does that "Images of Film" thing: shadowplay. Awesome.
JESUS CAMP: So, a few scattered thoughts on Decadence and Catholicism, now that I've finally finished it.

If you're interested in its subject, you should read it! I enjoyed Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture more, partly b/c Roden quotes more than Hanson does and therefore gets out of the way more, and partly b/c I just think e.g. Gerard Hopkins and Eliza Kearney are more talented than John Gray and--yeah, I'll say it--Verlaine. Although I do want to read Ronald Firbank now. Anyway yeah, there's a lot of good stuff in this book.

It does have its deficiencies. Hanson is often overly abstract for my taste. Quote more, bubbitz less. I disagree with some of his interpretations of Wilde's work, and think he's being overly defensive in response to (what I agree are) overly Catholic-apologetic readings of Wilde.

Hanson sometimes writes like two specific kinds of undergraduate: the Objectivist who thinks people only ever act out of self-interest (in Hanson's case, "pleasure"), and the *~*edgy*~* pomo for whom pursuit of truth is only interesting if it can be cast as an especially complex form of lying. Both of those stances allow Hanson to achieve some real insights, about e.g. the pleasures of shame or sacrifice and the ways in which confessions can serve to conceal the self as much as reveal it, but when he gets too insistent I find I have limited patience. If shame is only another shade of self-indulgence then personal choice and pleasure are valorized to an extent I find banal. ...Also, the epilogue is intermittently petulant. I'm sorry John Paul II was more popular than you.

But I didn't expect an orthodox perspective when I opened this book, so really, I got exactly what I came for, and I'm grateful for that. Again, if you're interested in the decadents or in the erotics of Catholicism, you should read this.
To be 1890 in 1890 might be considered almost normal. To be 1890 in 1922 might be considered almost queer.
--Carl Van Vechten, quoted in Decadence and Catholicism

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"KUMARI LOVES A MONSTER: A romantic picture book of young girls who have fallen in love with monsters." I especially like the sample page with the housework.

And if you'd like a soundtrack, Sesame Street has you covered!
Although the remark is witty and ironic, Wilde recognized the potential of beautiful performative acts, such as taking Communion, to determine the imaginative framework through which the world is perceived.
--Decadence and Catholicism

I like this b/c it reminds me of "The Snow Queen," with the glass in Kay's eye. (Want to know what the "remark" was? Read the book!)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

THIRD VERSE SAME AS THE FIRST: In which I am interviewed about Gay Catholic Whatnot. This is a two-page condensation of a phone interview which I remember as being almost two hours long, so it sort of jolts around a lot; also, for "intimate" read "infinite"! (Freudian slip?) You might check out the "outtakes" as well. The interviewer was really good at persistently tracking me to my lair and making me justify my assertions, although again, you don't necessarily get the full force of that because of the length constraints.