November 30, 2011

David Foster Wallace

Heather King references a David Foster Wallace book in her post title here and mentions a New York magazine article:
Eugenides got to know Wallace, with whom he’d had a ­rapid-fire correspondence about religion after the publication of Infinite Jest. Like Eugenides, whose search for faith is a major element of The Marriage Plot, Wallace quietly sought out spiritual answers and flirted with joining the Catholic Church, as Karr later did. (When they were together, they tried to pray every day.) He told Eugenides those letters held a lot of meaning for him.
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Heather has some sharp pictures of her Christmas decorations on her blog:



November 29, 2011

RSS Roundup

Some interesting tidbits found here and there... On "iPad madness" Pat Snyder writes:
I cannot blame readers alone for this electronic indulgence, though. The iPad bug had been building over two months of schlepping a laptop to graduate school classes in positive psychology – a field that ironically (1) teaches that buying more gadgets does not bring lasting happiness but simply sentences us to a “hedonic treadmill” and (2) warns against being a “maximizer” – that person who goes nuts trying to make the right choice out of way too many choices.

“Are you someone who has trouble choosing just the right dish on the menu?” the professor had asked. “Do you get stuck looking for the very best solution?” He urged us to become “satisficers” instead – people who do not agonize but go for the “good enough” choice.
From Brother Charles at A Minor Friar on the new translation:
I certainly notice how I hear the Latin behind the English (is that the right metaphor?) I hear the mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa in the new English Confiteor, the double dicens before the words of consecration in the way we now say 'saying' instead of 'said.' And of course I hear the calix sanguinis mei and the pro multis. Does this mean anything that I should hear the Latin under the English? I guess that goes to some of the hard questions at hand. What does Latin mean for western Christianity? Is it a historical accident? Or does God mean for it be that way? I think most folks I know would subscribe to the former theological assumption. For a sort of sed contra on a similar question on the history of human language and revelation, go read the Pope's infamous Regensburg speech, not the part that caused all the trouble, but the part about the Septuagint.
From Msgr. Pope:
I, like you, have read with interest the reactions of many to the new translation, after its first week of use. Most of the remarks I have read are quite positive. A smaller, though not insignificant number, are negative, some strikingly so...There is one strain of negative reaction I would like to address however, since it goes to the heart of a common misunderstanding of the Liturgy. The negative reaction basically stated is:

I can’t easily understand what Father is saying in those long, run-on sentences. It doesn’t make sense to me and I get lost in all the words.


...But here we come to an important insight that, though it is not politically correct, is still true: The priest is not talking to you. He is not directing the prayer to you, and the first purpose of the prayer is not that you understand it perfectly. The prayer is directed to God, (most often, to God the Father). The priest is speaking to God, and is doing so on your behalf, and that of the whole Church. And God is wholly able to understand the prayer, no matter how complicated its structure.

Too often in modern times we have very anthropocentric (man-centered) notions of the Sacred Liturgy...Intelligibility, while not the most important thing, IS important... But, frankly, it is not essential. Otherwise the faithful could not validly attend Mass in foreign lands, and the Mass could not be offered in Latin.

November 28, 2011

Fr. Barron's Documentary

Watched some of Fr Barron's Catholicism project on EWTN. Nice. Preferable to the book, since when he's discussing some overly familiar aspect of the Faith I can zoom out/zone out and let the amazing photography flow over me. It's part travelogue, or virtual pilgrimage, and I wondered, while he explained dark night of the soul so confidently, whether he'd ever really experienced it. It seems like the vast majority of us haven't and yet that seems to be the key to life because it gets us close to God. To see the prison wall where that great spiritual giant, St John of the Cross clambored down was something else. Or to see Lourdes, or the convent of the great St Teresa of Avila. Pretty cool.

The Sea



"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul...- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can... There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me." - Moby-Dick

Let's Play...Why's My Bookbag or E-Reader Equivalent So Heavy?

From Mark Doty's "Fire to Fire":
...a snapping turtle lumbered down the center of the asphalt like an ambulatory helmet. His long tail dragged, blunt head jutting out of the lapidary prehistoric sleep of shell.
From Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville:
Henceforward every new discovery, every new want which it engendered, and every new desire which craved satisfaction, was a step towards the universal level. The taste for luxury, the love of war, the sway of fashion, and the most superficial as well as the deepest passions of the human heart, co-operated to enrich the poor and to impoverish the rich.

*

From the time when the exercise of the intellect became the source of strength and of wealth, it is impossible not to consider every addition to science, every fresh truth, and every new idea as a germ of power placed within the reach of the people. Poetry, eloquence, and memory, the grace of wit, the glow of imagination, the depth of thought, and all the gifts which are bestowed by Providence with an equal hand, turned to the advantage of the democracy...
From Goddard's "The Meaning of Shakespeare":
This was Shakespeare’s enunciation of a belief he never abandoned: that ideal young manhood is a union of masculine and feminine qualities. “Men who have the woman in them without being womanized,” says George Meredith, “they are the pick of men.”
*
There are two ways of fitting into one’s environment that are as opposite as night and day. To fit into one’s age as mud does into a crack, or to be molded by it as putty is under a thumb is one thing; to fit into it and to use it creatively as a seed fits into and uses soil is quite another.
*
In proportion as they master them, men grow skeptical of their own professions. When they come to know them, they see through them.
*
It would be folly to try to subsume Shakespeare’s works under one head, but, if we were forced to do so, one of the least unsatisfactory ways would be to say that they are an attempt to answer the question: What is the cure for chaos?

First Sunday of Advent

So it's the First Sunday of Advent. It's the beginning of the church year, which is a far meaningful beginning than January 1st, the secular beginning. I surprised myself by stumbling on the "And with your Spirit" several times at Mass. I think I only got it right twice out of five tries. I thought that since the Eastern rite says "and with your spirit" that I would have little trouble with it. I guess not, especially since they chant it and we say it. But it's good as a dose of humility!

Our pastor mentioned the image of God as potter in the first reading and I thought about how often that image has occurred to me in only a spiritual sense, as if we were made, physically, independent of Him! But the pastor spoke of it mainly in terms of our physical selves, how each of us ("even twins") is unique. And so there's another reason to thank God. Too often I completely ignore the fact of my physical creation; I take it for granted or minimize it.

*

(Before I forget, Fr. Martin in "Between Heaven and Mirth" humorously mentioned a spiritual adviser who told him he was 'shoulding all over himself', a rather colorful image of those who are always saying, 'I should do this, I should do that...').

*

From the unlikely source of the novel "The Marriage Plot" by Jeffrey Eugenides, a character in the story describes reading St. Teresa of Avila's "Interior Castle", quoting the saint as saying that those who find themselves in the castle at all ought be grateful: "it's a great gain that they found their way in at all." Perhaps it's a temptation to a "reduction of desire," as Heather King put it, but I do sometimes think that instead of complaining that I'm not at the fourth or fifth or seven level of the castle that I should be thankful merely for the fact that I've been Baptized -- even if I'm still in the swamp outside the castle to borrow from the saint's imagery.

*

Potent gospel last Sunday, perhaps the most potent of all. It's the daunting Matthew chapter 24 in which we learn how we are judged. And I thought about how Christ is indeed hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison, ill, because He is within the least of us. It goes beyond mere identification with, or empathy for. The verses I often have taken as a very hard goal for us to achieve, can also be taken another way: as a way of saying how much He loves us. It's not enough to do good, the pastor says, but to see Christ in what we're doing and who we're doing it for.

*

Wow, Jennifer of Conversion Diary says what I've been thinking:
"The same force that drives people to slot machines is what drives me to my computer. I realized that when I mindlessly get online, every time I click it’s like pulling the lever on a slot machine and hoping to hit the jackpot. I’m hoping to hit a virtual jackpot — a blog post that changes my life, an email that blows me away, a hilarious video on YouTube, etc. And the truth is that there’s enough stuff online that if I clicked on enough links or spent enough time on email I would get that payoff I’m looking for. But, just like with slot machines, I need to be careful about spending endless amounts of time just sitting around pulling the lever."

Of Human Bloggage

Really I just wanted to blog this because I like the title. I never come up with good titles.

One thing that's sort of surprising about blogs is that it doesn't seem like very many are glorified diaries. (Or maybe I just don't read them.) It's pretty darn rare where you see someone writing, "Today I went to the grocery store and had dinner with X followed by a movie." You'd think there would be a lot of crossover between diaries and blogs*, but so many people - at least in the Catholic blogosphere - have profound things about politics, religion or culture. That's more helpful to the audience, and is more audience-centric. The trip log feels inappropriate simply because I can't think of any other Catholic blogs post long trip logs like that. It feels nakedly self-indulgent. It's funny that even in something as idiosyncratic and independent and (mostly) invisible as our blogs we still want to conform to everybody else's. We are social animals indeed.

* - perhaps that's what Twitter/Facebook have become for some.

Ye Olde Trip Log


































Saturday

Modern technology's weak link is the battery. Freshly charged keyboard died immediately upon entry and now I'm left high and dry for the week. But who cares when we're above the clouds and the sun is present and it feels idyllic just being on the plane, the gentle motion, those surprisingly tasty airline cookies simply via association.

We got upgraded to an exit row and have legroom aplenty. The flight's only two hours and I wish it could be longer to half-sleep, half-dream, think of the past, of band camps in spring, of how we have this entire continent of memory and yet can only access such a pitifully small fraction of it, at least on earth.

*

Check-in smoothly. Best Western rules. To the beach! I forget, when landlocked, how when I get to the sea I want to read sea books, mythical books really, books that contain no dialogue but the sea's breath, a vast compendium of ocean poetry linked together. "Now the scalloped sea engulfs me....".

Sea reads are not the only type appealing on trips: travelogues in general are, notwithstanding the difference, say, between strolling through Paris and lounging on a beach. I'm reading John Baxter's "The Most Beautiful Walk in the World" about Paris and he mentioned something I hadn't heard before: the English love sun, the French love shade. Makes sense given that only "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun."

We spend the day on the sands but dusk comes early to mid-November Florida. It changes the color of the Gulf from a leaden flatness to a brilliant white, at least where the sun strikes it. Winds produce a fine spray of white sand; like mist it travels over the malleable hillocks.

SUNDAY

1988. A poet in Monterrey, California. I was there on vacation and his book seemed a vast improvement over the kitschy souvenirs, for what could improve upon a poet of the place? More than even rock or soil, a writer sings of the distilled essence. And yet that particular souvenir gathered dust. I was more interested in collecting than in experiencing. I was more interested in the idea of re-experience than in actual real-time experience. And yet I knew, or suspected, that the book couldn't live up to my idea of the place, and so it goes... It's like love or God: you feel no one can live up to your idea of love so you collect glimpses, fragments of love and put them away for a rainy day, not realizing every day is a rainy day.

Felt good to be back at the beach, despite the long delay (3pm). The day got behind us too quickly: Mass at 10am after which we went a mile down the rode to see a professional sand sculpting display (they even charged an entrance fee but it was quite worth it), followed by lunch at the Beached Whale. Time spun away from us and it was with a sense of relief I regained a temporary beachhead and the quiet - the blessed quiet! - of wind and wave. We'd been pummeled by noise at the restaurant, where a thousand screens showing pro football games were accentuated by whoops and hollers. Before that we rode 9 miles along a busy thoroughfare with plenty a motorbike. Yes it was good to arrive back at the beach, pleasantly fatigued and ready for books and beer and the music of the breeze.

*

It's been surprisingly difficult to figure out nationalities just from appearances. For example, I rode up the elevator with one of the more American figures I'd ever seen, like John Wayne with a off-brand ball-cap and that all-American touch of impatience. But when he spoke to his wife I couldn't even identify the language. In hindsight, he held his books - yes, plural, another dead giveaway - too high against his chest. American men are taught from little on that the higher books are held against the body the more feminine the pose. Plus the books were enclosed in a ziplock bag, which seems, again in hindsight, a bit fussy for the average laid-back American paperback reader. Leider (German word for 'unfortunately') I couldn't see the title of the books, nor did I ask him where he was from. He looked pretty blue-collar to be taking books to the beach.

Another difficult case was the man wearing a large hat and a Speedo swimsuit. That would suggest not an American, but he had such a Texas look about him, and he was overweight, which is an American characteristic.

*

And so to the electric prose (literally): the Kindle and its pleasing array of literature. I feel a bit of a pull to continue reading about glamorous Paris though the scene in front of me is glamorous as well: the swells of waves beyond which carry a pirate ship, complete with authentic-sounding booms (I know, because I've heard pirate ship cannons in movies).

I read in the Paris book of how Hemingway said that the modern world is so full of mechanical oppressions that it's a good thing we have alcohol as a mechanical relief. Surely we're now more, in ways technological, even more mechanically oppressed now. Or not. I don't feel particularly oppressed at least at this particular moment. And I don't think of Hemingway as in any way worthy of emulation except in his writing prowess.

The early retreat of the sun cannot be reversed - at 4:50 it's sitting low in the sky, sort of like the way men are supposed to carry books. Sandpipers hunt and stilt-walk their way along the shallows. The sand under my feet is packed neither too hard or too loosely. All of these facts seem somehow of import.

MONDAY

Steph woke up with a mild sickness and so it was to the doctor we went, a walk-in clinic, where the old gathered in the waiting room as if in living proof that as we age we breakdown, and all "getting better" is merely temporary. They come to the clinic honestly and we see our future: one of us routinely waiting in doctor's offices or emergency rooms as if it were a hair appointment. It's not unpleasant, reading the Kindle with the distraction of the noise of Kathy Lee Gifford on the television. Most of the visitors are neither reading nor watching tv but simply sitting and waiting with perhaps the patience of an older generation, or one comfortable with, and interested by, their own thoughts. I hadn't seen Kathy Lee since the days of Regis's little show and I wondered if she'd been able to resist the omnipresent desire of older women to go under the scalpel. She looked fake-young to me, with long yellow hair. In this world the phrase, "She's looking older," is apparently worse than "She looks like she's had surgery" and I think we're the poorer for it. Taking care of oneself is great but knives, well...A huge billboard in our neighborhood, advertising for a politician named Young, says it all concerning our society: "Act Young, Be Young, Vote Young".

Afterwards there was the issue of the prescription, with the closest pharmacy cross island. We waited for a trolly, not the most punctual of modes of transportation for the patience-impaired. Vacation has unwittingly forced me to slow down. After a wait we made our way down the long Estero Boulevard of paradise regained to the CVS. American efficiency reared its pretty head and within ten minutes we had the medicine, after which we waited 45 minutes or so for the next trolley, after a few false starts of "special trip" vehicles.

Back at the hotel by 1:30pm, and to the beach I went. Under the Brisbane-ish sun I ran down the beach a mile and back, enjoying the second half more than the inertia-breaking first half. I decided an early happy hour was in order and proceedeth thence to open a Dogfish Head "Rasion D'Etre". I sit in the same spot, the spot where the sun unfailingly seems to shine as if making a path to the sea just for us. Shining diamonds crystal in front of me while the pirate ship booms. Two German lesbians lay out to my right, an extended family to the left.

The weak link in this vacation is the food: breakfasts are continental with hard-boiled eggs, functional only. Dinners are micowaveable since there is no conventional oven. So it's not a pretty picture unless and until we go out, which we did on Sunday with a sun-defying visit to The Beached Whale (whose t-shirts we definitely don't want). The carbo-rich breakfasts and dinners make me feel as though the weight is being put in exponential fashion.

The childhood pool game Marco Polo is being played nearby. We varied it, back in the late '70s, by replying "Polo, ol' chap". I think we thought Marco was British or something. Plus it was a cheeky way of saying "you can't catch me", via the extra syllables said in that detached 007 way.

TUESDAY

The definition of a leisurely morning: a walk on the beach with the concomitant pleasure of a shoreline of seashells that line the Gulf like trinkets. Early on we have the beach nearly to ourselves while later many share the view. I find myself looking, as often as not, towards the empty terraces and balconies that lace the shoreline. So many vantage points from which to see the sea, so many with that same exhilarating scene from lofty heights.

Then we got on our bikes and headed towards the "Times Square" area for an American breakfast at a Greek cookery. Yum, if undaring. We followed with a bike-ride past the pastel buildings of the Square to the quiet harbor before putting out to Bowditch Point, at the extreme end of the island.

To the beach at 11am where I started to run: oh how I'd secretly craved a run! I sprinted down the beach "like a gazelle" Steph said. I felt in better shape today than the first day down here. Beer and sun will make me run. (Er, that didn't sound right.) Who wants to read when there's ground to cover, fleeting sand underfoot, barefoot down the beach past gliding pelicans and piping sand pipers (I refer to pretty much all sea birds other than gulls as 'sand pipers' because it's the only type I know.)

Speaking of Europe, my "can you spot the European" game show continues with today's slam dunk: a blonde woman with bunched shoulders wearing white shoes with black socks. Nothing says "European" like an unlikely flirtation with black. The easy way to tell a foreigner is simply anytime you notice them, since one tends not to notice the overly familiar. Thus when I was talking to a guy from Ottawa, technically a foreign country but who gave off all the signals of an American, I said without realizing he was one: "there are a lot of foreigners here." Not that there's anything wrong with foreigners of course. Some of my best friends happen...

Is the popularity of tattoos a metaphor for the modern tendency towards short-term thinking and live-for-the-minute? The conventional wisdom is that tatts may look good now, but will they when you're 60? "They're not thinking about 60," goes a school of thought. On the other hand, if everyone in your generation is getting tattooed, then it seems like what "looks bad" will be culturally defined downward by the time they get to 60. In a sense it seems a risk worth taking given how much beauty is culturally influenced. What surprises me about tattoos is how there's a segment of the population that becomes addicted to it, and keep going in for more.

The vacation is starting to get long in the tooth, Thursday being our last full day. I feel a bit nonplussed about it, assuming I know what nonplussed means and I'm not sure I do but I know what I'd like it to mean. Saturday was a travel day, Sunday a semi-travel day given the long journey down Estero, and Monday a semi-travel given the illness. Today is the first full day of beach, nothing but beach.

WEDNESDAY

Woke up with disquieting dreams, including one in which I was back in high school and the powers-that-be suddenly added a new requirement: crucifixion. Yes, we all would be crucified our senior year. Needless to say I was very upset and agitated about this development. Perhaps this speaks to my subconscious protest to our having to give ourselves completely to God. Needless to say we Christians are expected to, if not be crucified, at least carry our cross towards that end. Perhaps it's guilt at being able to go on so many vacations.

So it's day five already and a bit of fatigue has resulted from the fatigue and exercise. The weather ebullient, as it has been all week, although tomorrow is supposed to cool down, relatively speaking. This week the weather has been decided warmer than normal, for which I am not ungrateful.

Got out by 10:30 or 11-ish and enjoyed the fine sea breeze while reading the surprisingly engaging "Eyewall", about a fictional cat-5 hurricane striking a Georgian sea island. A nice light beach read, perhaps the pluperfect one. No "Drood" today, though a spot of Kingsley Amis' "Every Day Drinking".

The great hours at the beach are 10:30am-12:30pm and 3pm-5pm. In the first, you get the "thrill up your leg" as Chris Matthews might say that the day is young and the sun is high and you're high on that sunshine. By 12:30 or 1pm, I feel ready for some movement, exercise, something else. Too much sitting/laying about. By 3pm, I'm usually drinking, which is its own reward as drink and drug (can't we say "and/both" despite Chesterton's admonition that both drunk and teetotaler miss the fact that alcohol is a drink, not a drug.)

Spotted an amorous display of affection involving a guy wearing a speedo. Is that a wise move given the visibility of sexual appreciation in the male? A good reason not to wear speedos. Speedos often reflect the quintessential mistake: "as I think, so will females". "Skin to win" is a mostly ironclad rule from the male perspective but most females are not so sight-motivated. Of course I generalize here. Some men have an exhibitionist fetish (hence the prevalence of male streakers and Anthony Wiener-type tweets.) There's nothing quite as dispiriting as seeing a group of naked bikers with the great majority being male.

The sun is so blinding off the water that when people walk by they become silhouettes, surrounded by the glory and glamour of the sun. Even average-bodied figures become as transfigured, acquiring a kind of transcendence and poetry.

4:30 and the clouds have blocked the sun to egregious effect. Cool winds zephyr up our legs and down our backs. I put on a shirt and Steph covers with a towel. Beer, the great warmer-upper, helps but the cloud bank is huge and extends for half the sky and it's cool as an Irish fall evening. Boats nod in the choppy waters. The wind feels exhilarating, it gives a feeling of windswept nostalgia like the grainy videos of JFK at the Cape. Or it could be that no one is more melodramatic than me on the penultimate day of vacation (or really any day on vacation for that matter).

Never bet against the Sunshine State. No sooner had we retreated to our unit when the sun shone bright beneath a huge dark slab of cloud. The sliding doors, facing west, flood the room with savor-able light. Parisian painters of the 1800s used to appreciate the "melancholic light" of 5-7pm. Me, I appreciate any given that I live in Columbus, aka "Cloud-umbus".

And now the sun begins its precipitous decline. 5:20 and we live on borrowed time -- but then don't we anyway? Isn't all time borrowed? Meanwhile Steph is reading my Kindle (I've created a monster!) and so I can't get back into Goddard's rich Shakespearian feast.

So the winds blow through the hunter-green fronds of the palm in front of our balcony. A single spear juts from the base of the palms. White sand and water complete the endlessly appealing backdrop. And sky - so much sky! The fronds wave as if weaving goodbye; they look so creaturely for plant life.

THURSDAY

It's funny what the water brings in. Yesterday a half-pumpkin the size of a canned ham. Also an ear of corn. But no note in a bottle, alas. Until yesterday the beach was clean as a lick, with just light-colored shells undulating along the shoreline. Then, apropos of nothing, driftwood and bamboo sticks in quantity appear, marking the beach with dark matter for a mile or more.

Lots of "Heaven and Mirth" followed by a mirthful 20 minute run followed by a beer & malted milkshake runs. The weather is of paradise, which is how Ft. Myers markets itself. To my knowledge no one calls Vegas, or the Grand Canyon, or Niagara Falls paradise but I saw two road signs claiming such, and one bike rental operator refer to the sunshine, warm temps and beach as such.

"A fish just ran over my foot!" complains a 20s-something youth. A lot of rowdy "civilians" (non-hotel residents) at the beach today, presumably because of the holiday.

Overheard elsewhere: "The water is muddy-looking, probably from the dredging they're doing." There is a sand restoration project going on as I write this: a big ship in the distance runs an underwater tube to the shoreline from which great gobs of sand are emitted.

FRIDAY

So it's "Black Friday", so-called because it's when retailers get in the black economically but for me it's a black Friday because I'm heading north back to the land of cold and shadow.

We got up early and walked the beach one last time. The sunshine state delivered yet again, I thought to myself. On the ride to the airport we met yet another transplant: this time from Tennessee by way of Michigan, last time via New Jersey. Tempting that... I like that Steven Riddle move south.

November 18, 2011

On the Cusp of Weekend


Lazy Dog in His Natural Habitat


Last night suckled two fine beers, different as night and day but equally refreshing: a Columbus IPA with its apricot-y high hops flavor followed by the ever-rich Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, another local brew. I used to be dubious of Ohio beers, as if their popularity was a sign of bias or "homerism", but these two brews are as fine as any I've tasted.

*

Just me, for about ten minutes yesterday, before the Blessed Sacrament. Honored to be guarding the Host. Then an older woman happened in and slowly made her way a few rows in front of me. In her hands was "Shirt of Flame". I felt a moment of connection with Him, the small feeling that my donation to the reading table was not in vain!

*

Very enjoyable half-hour at my desk today reading of the magical prose of Jeffrey Eugenides. Ah I've been going through fiction withdrawal without realizing it! What pleasure in his printed word I took, savoring the highly digestible sentences. Poetry without affectation, I tell ya.

*

Likely made a tactical error in blowing off the Lunch & Learn yesterday, the AVP's pet. Admin assistant threw me under the bus by mentioning loudly that I wasn't there, something that wasn't lost on my boss yesterday. I chided her this a.m.: "You busted me out didn't you?" I should've picked up on the signal that this wasn't an optional meeting by the fact that she kept asking us if we were going to be there: the quintessential "tell". The usual corporate passive-aggressive enforcement tactic. I'm somewhat glad I didn't fall for it. (Famous last words.) The meeting, about the financial concept of goodwill, gave me an excuse: "I didn't go because I already know what Goodwill is - I donate there!". Hardee har har. (As always, your experience of humor may vary.)

November 17, 2011

Link O'Rama

Compare and Contrast What Our Libraries Say About Us.

Tales of a Bibliophile


Good stuff, found here, on Arthur Balfour's reading habits:
...From Blanche E.C. Dugdale, Arthur James Balfour, First Earl of Balfour K.G., O.M. F.R.S., Vol. 1. (G.P. Putnam's Sons: New York, 1937), pp. 135-136. Blanche Dugdale was Arthur Balfour's niece.
Nothing ever interfered with his reading. He always had several books on hand at once. The latest work on science might be found propped up on the mantelpiece of his bedroom to vary the process of dressing, and Lady Frances once declared that she suspected him of "making a raft of his sponge" to support a French novel while he took his bath. It was seldom that some work by Edgar Wallace or P.G. Wodehouse was absent from his bedside after these authors rose to fame, and the table by his arm-chair was always heaped with books of history, or Memoirs. It would be difficult to define the limits of his reading. Its range could astonish even his oldest friends, as for instance when, staying with Lord and Lady Desborough at Taplow Court on the eve of a General Election, he carried off to his bedroom a manual on chess, a game which since his boyhood he was never seen to play. Serious fiction was perhaps the only class of book upon which he was cautious of embarking. He never began a new novel until he was assured that it ended well. If no such assurance was forthcoming, he fell back upon Scott, Jane Austen, Kipling, and Stevenson.

He chose "The Pleasures of Reading" for the subject of his Rectorial Address to St. Andrews University in 1887, and there gave his personal answer to that most personal of questions—what to read and how to read it. Mr. Frederic Harrison had lately given forth some portentous warnings against "gorging and enfeebling" the intellect by over-indulgence in carelessly chosen literature. Balfour suggested that the analogy between the human mind and the human stomach might be pressed too far. He had never himself met the person whose natural gifts had been overloaded with learning. No doubt many learned people were dull, but not because they were learned. "True dullness is seldom acquired. It is a natural grace, the manifestations of which, however modified by education, remain in substance the same." People should not be afraid to read what they enjoyed. Idle curiosity, so-called, was a thing to be encouraged. Here follows a passage which might well mislead posterity into supposing Balfour a newspaper addict, ingeniously defending his favourite vice. The exhaustive study of the morning and evening papers was "only a somewhat unprofitable exercise of that disinterested love of knowledge that moves men to penetrate the Polar snows, or to explore the secrets of the remotest heavens.... It can be turned, and it should be turned into a curiosity for which nothing...can be wholly alien or uninteresting."

Such being his views, Balfour was naturally a lavish book-buyer. The library at Whittingehame is a large room, well stocked before his day with standard works of every kind. Soon it overflowed, and other rooms were lined with shelves. His own sitting-room was packed from floor to ceiling, mainly with books on philosophy and theology, and its sofas were heaped with flotsam and jetsam of current publications. The books at Whittingehame had an alert look about them, as if expecting to be pulled out at any moment. They were, in fact, often temporarily lost, for the ever-growing library was too large to be kept in order by the family's spasmodic efforts at arrangement, continually begun, but never ended. If Balfour was found wandering down the corridor at unwonted hours he was most likely in search of some book, and his relations would rush to proffer conflicting evidence about the present position of the missing volume.

"Read everything you find interesting and nothing that you don't," was nearly the sum-total of his advice to the younger generation with regard to literature. It sounded easy, yet to try to keep up with him along any of his primrose paths to knowledge, was to discover how deceptive was that apparently leisurely pace.

November 15, 2011

This & That Thursday

A fine couple tidbits from Eve Tushnet:
* This is third-hand, so bear with me, but one reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that when the story is finished and Jesus asks, "Who was his neighbor?" and the Pharisee says, "The one who showed him mercy"... the Pharisee is placed in the role of the wounded man. The one who thought of himself in the powerful role, the role of the man extending his hand in charity, instead sees himself as the wounded man in need of mercy. And Jesus not only acknowledges his wounds and dirtiness and pledges to cleanse, heal, and forgive him, but also gives him the task of going and doing likewise--now from a position of gratitude and humility, rather than a never-sullied position of privilege and power.

* We were asked to think of three concrete ways God has shown us mercy. I had a few in mind, but after hearing from several of the other participants I realized that I had only identified places where I have been lucky. Privilege, basic health, good work, and financial security are things I'm immensely grateful for, but God's mercy is a fiercer thing.

*

Heard about St. Christina the Astonishing today. She could smell sin, and it wasn't pleasant. She went about hiding in closets trying to avoid the stench. Yikes! She rose from her own coffin and set up camp in the rafters to avoid the smell of the congregation. I reckon I wouldn't smell too good my own self. It seems so hard to believe, that of Christ's unconditional love, such that I'm faced with the truth that my sins do not define the compass of Christ's love, smell or no smell.

*

Our pastor Sunday talked about the upcoming changes and mentioned the "for many" versus "for all" controversy and said that the reason for "many" is that we all know that some reject Christ and thus even though Christ died for all that some reject Him.

But this seems a bit iffy in the face of the assertion that Hell could be empty. How can we say "many" when we don't know the eternal fate of a single soul?

As one friend said, it seems to elevate human choice. On the other hand, if we take the long view we see that the Church has almost always elevated human choice since the word has been "many" for a long, long time before the New Mass came in. So I can't get too excited over it given the history. The Church has survived worse.

*

It felt bracing and "empowering" (as the corporate-types so want us to feel) to blow off one of those egregious "Lunch 'n Learns" (meetings held in lieu of lunch that I alone appear to view as optional) despite it being politically inadvisable. It's amazing how you have to please so many more people now. Directors, AVPs, VPs...I get so much face time with higher-ups now and that's just not in my favor.

Feel uncomfortable with authority figures, primarily priests and assistant vice presidents. Hence I have difficulty with the semi-yearly sit-down chats. I would love to know the genesis of the fad to personally meet everybody on the planet. Blessed obscurity, where art thou? Flying beneath the pretty radar, how canst I?

*

Am reading "The Compass of Pleasure" and the author promises to go into the heart of the subject: why does every human, and many animal, culture seek out ways to alter their brains via substances like alcohol or caffeine or hallucinagens? Have to wade through a lot of science & dancing dendrites along the way though.

November 14, 2011

Why's My Bookbag (or e-reader equivalent) so Heavy?

Excerpts from Eugenides' "The Marriage Plot":
In Madeleine’s face was a stupidity Mitchell had never seen before. It was the stupidity of all normal people. It was the stupidity of the fortunate and beautiful, of everybody who got what they wanted in life and so remained unremarkable.

*

In Plato’s Phaedrus, the speeches of Lysias the Sophist and of the early Socrates (before the latter makes his recantation) rest on this principle: that the lover is intolerable (by his heaviness) to the beloved.

*

“The flip side of self-loathing is grandiosity,” Leonard observed. “Right,” Henry said. “So if you’re going to crack up, you want to crack up like Robert Lowell.”
Bookroom pictures:


Poet Mark Doty excerpts...Unfortunately I lost all the formatting of Mark Doty poems when getting via web so...
Tiny girl in line at the café—seven, eight?—holding her book open, pointing to the words and saying them half-aloud while her mother attends to ordering breakfast; she’s reading POMPEII…Buried Alive! with evident delight. Pleasure with a little shiver inside it. And that evening, I thought I was no longer afraid of the death’s head beneath the face of the man beneath me.

*

that spiraling like climbing the steep winding of the cathedral in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia, stone steps built to the mathematics of a narrow seashell, feet obscured in darkness, a built night, and then in a while, many whorls up, the terrifying small balconies perched at the back of spires of conch or chestnut burr or what ever spiked and tiled intensity the architect pronged from his melting fantasia,

*

Almost audible: weft of continuous color, blocks of mint, green-yellow glaze, olive floating above a violet underpainting, contentious against the citron and yellow-flung, seamless texture, like the hare of the cicadas, ceaseless music through which outbreaks of blue assert themselves.

*

In the flashpoint summer of 2002 it was possible to feel where we were headed, sun screwing its titanium compress down on human foreheads in the parking lots, thin tamarisks on the margin shimmering a little as if seen through fumes of gasoline, and I was in the absolute darkness of Fresno, past the middle of my life. As if I’d been colonized by the long swathes of car lots, flapping pennants stunned under the mercury lamps,

November 11, 2011

Quotable

"...anyone with even the most superficial acquaintance with embryology must have been struck by the marvelous way in which complexes of cells group themselves to form an eye that as yet has nothing to see, hands that have nothing to handle, feet that have nowhere to go, and so on. Everything, while contributing to the life of the embryo, seems subordinated to a life of a quite different and higher order yet to come. The embryo has an integrity dictated to it as it were by the future. The meaning of each organ is read back into it by the function it achieves after birth."
- from Goddard's "The Meaning of Shakespeare"

Funny Stuff



See reviews for this shirt. A parody of the consumer search for the salvific amid the mundane.

King & Duffy, Not a Law Firm

I'm becoming somewhat of a pacifist concerning argumentation, in emails or on the web.  Not from anything loftier than a bare utilitarian impulse, since it seems I have an equal and opposite effect from that which is intended.  There's a reason reverse psychology is a term familiar: we are most resistant to ideas that are exactly what we most need to hear, self most definitely included.  I'm more convinced than ever of the truth of Archbishop Sheen's line "win an argument, lose a soul." 

The context for this is that that which I hold dear is mercy (if not on my interlocutors, ha.)  And Heather King's works are rife with it and thus I hold them dear, especially the latest, "Shirt of Flame".  In it she says, with some delicacy, that she can even understand the sins of pedophiles or words to that effect.  Rut-row!  That set my friend's "liberal gieger-counter" off and he saw red. Never could he imagine feeling the least pity for the child molester. She lost a reader and I lost if not a friend, one who trusts my judgment.

I made a similar mistake with my father-in-law, another justice guy.  He was appalled when I told him of an ex-Nazi who confessed his sins to a priest before his death and thus was presumably in Purgatory instead of Hell.  The story I had cherished repelled my f-i-l.  I have this tendency, sometimes, to assume my mindset is the same as everyone else's. But people are different. 

Of course my love of mercy could be cheap and shallow. I have not been a victim of, nor do I know any victims of, sex crimes or Nazi genocidal maniacs.  I concede that I may not be able to identify closely enough with the victims.  More sinning than sinned upon is me. 

But still I can't help but think of St. Philip Neri's famous identification with Judas: "Oh Jesus, watch over me always, especially today, or I shall betray you like Judas."  Here was a saint who didn't hold himself above the worst sinner in history, the man who Christ Himself said it would be better than "he'd never been born." 


*

"They know not what they have," was my envious thought upon reading Betty Duffy mention she's in charge of a religious education class. That may not be true, of course, some may know and appreciate her. Others may think that she's just a "handsome woman" as Lino Rulli might say. The only reason I realize she's of such depth is from reading her blog. I have that advantage. But then I got to thinking: how many other extraordinary people are walking around that I completely miss as being extraordinary? And then I realized how flawed that whole mindset itself is, since isn't everybody extraordinary given that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and will end up either as angels or devils, metaphorically speaking?

Her latest column in Pathoes - ironically enough given the subject matter - was like crack cocaine to me. Reading about one's affliction has a sort of ameliorating effect, or at least gives you momentarily sufficient distance to understand what's happening. It certainly "fits" for me, this pleasure-till-you-drop mentality, the serial affections.. I have to gear up for suffering as seriously as I gear up for pleasure. I need to take that time and say the Rosary in lieu of listening to Lino on the ride home from work or music on the way in. Even better I need to "be still and know that He is God". Prayer is like oxygen. Effects not long-lasting, but neither is optional.

Veterans Day

A fine tribute found over at American Catholic:
War is a curious part of the human condition. It is a summary of the worst that Man is capable of: violence on a massive scale, cruelty, greed, hatred, and the magnification of every human vice. Few of us are more “anti-war” than those who have had the misfortune to fight in one and witnessed all the folly, loss and endless pain produced by the inability of men to frequently resolve their differences without resort to the sword. Yet, in war we also see men rise to the heights of what we are capable of at our best: self-sacrifice, courage, love and the magnification of every human virtue. War as the direst of human institutions is to be bitterly regretted, but we must ever pay homage to those who find themselves in this terrible maelstrom and acquit themselves with honor.

And so on Veteran’s Day we honor all those who took time out from their regular lives to stand between the rest of us and danger. We especially remember those silent heroes who paid the ultimate price for us and who never came home. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) Our gratitude, praise and thanks is small enough compensation, but it is the poor best we can give. We are creations of a loving God, and when we return love for love we demonstrate that.

November 07, 2011

Banned in O-hi-O

Seems Rich Leonardi of "Ten Reasons" has lost his radio show. Anyone knowing Rich from his blog, and the reputation of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, could figure that the two weren't a good fit and that it might come to this.

Oddie Biography of GKC


There's a quote from Chesterton's autobiography that refers to a William Henley poem which begins:
"OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
for my unconquerable soul."
Contra that, the GK Chesterton writes:
"I had wandered to a position not very far from the phrase of my Puritan grandfather, when he said that he would thank God for his creation if he were a lost soul...I thanked whatever gods might be, not like Swinburne, because no life lived for ever, but because any life lived at all; not, like Henley, for my unconquerable soul...but for my own soul and my own body, even if they could be conquered."
What a profound sense of gratitude!

I was interested to read, in William Oddie's biography, Chesterton's view of Wilde and the decadents and I found, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, a strong moral streak that preceded his conversion. Even as a semi-pagan he recoiled, almost instinctively and without the defense of doctrine, from pleasure-seeking as the end all and be all:
"[Walter] Pater's root mistake, revealed in his most famous phrase [asking us] to 'burn with a hard, gemlike flame' is that you cannot handle flames. You cannot handle passions. His error is precisely that he wishes us to treat flames as one treats gems. He will burn his fingers."
And then of Pater's insistence of "enjoying the moment for the moment's sake" Chesterton wrote:
"You cannot have glorious moments and enjoy them 'simply for those moments' sake'. For suppose a man has a truly glorious moment, not something about a bit of enamel, I mean, but something violently and painfully happy. A moment of ecstasy in first love, for instance, or a moment of victory in battle. The lover enjoys the moment, but not for the moment's sake. He enjoys it for the woman's sake. The warrior enjoys the moment for the sake of the flag. The cause of the flag may be foolish. The love may be calf-love and last a week. But the patriotic soldier thinks the flag immortal; the lover thinks his love will never die. These moments are full of eternity: these moments are splendid because they do not seem momentary. Man cannot love mortal things; he can only love immortal things for an instant."

November 04, 2011

We're All the 1%?

If class envy is a problem, perhaps it would be helpful to look at the big picture. In the history of mankind, nearly all present-day Americans would have to be classified in the top 1%, wealth-wise. If there were time-travelers from a hundred years or more ago they might well be protesting when they went back, knowing what we have. The whole thing is so relative. And if there's anybody who should be occupying something, it's the poor in Africa and elsewhere, many of whom are poor even by historical standards.

The other thought I had concerned the ubiquitous anxious question, "Will our children be better off that we will?" as if that's the end all and be all. I cringe a bit when I hear it because it rather nakedly poses that material happiness is the criteria upon which we base our society. I'm not sure, for example, it's crucial that my grandchildren have 4,000 square foot homes, instead of 3,000 square foot ones. Mika B. on Morning Joe mentioned today how French adolescents were asked to make drawings that reflected what they thought of Americans and one girl drew a person eating money. (Of course the French should talk but...).

This is not to say that the middle class hasn't been getting squeezed over the past four decades. Incomes aren't rising all that much, so even staying even is problematical. The thing about capitalism is that it does seem like if you're not striving to have better lives materially, you'll lose even the current standard of living. Which is what seems to be happening in Europe.

November 03, 2011

Takes Faith to Have Faith

Read an interesting web item on how massage therapy promotes the release of oxytocin which leads to feelings of trust. But, ironically, she says that it takes trust in order to be open to receive the gift of trust.  Sort of like faith?:
"This is the miracle of the modern world. It’s usually safe to wander back streets in other people’s countries, and engage in transactions with nothing but gestures and smiles. Modern trade requires a huge amount of trust, which took centuries to build. We should celebrate that trust instead of taking it for granted. Most people fill their heads with the calamities on the news and don’t notice how often things go right...

That’s the irony of massage. It stimulates the neurochemical “oxytocin,” the feeling we experience as trust, but you have to start with a lot of trust for it to work."

Of Books

Went down to the cafeteria for a civilized half-hour reading "Swamplandia", a novel set in the atmospheric swampy Everglades about a family who own a tacky tourist trap involving alligator wrestling. Tasty Florida kitsch. The author is coming to Columbus tonight, to the Thurber House. Wouldn't mind going if it were hassle-free, which it's not. In the end I'd rather be reading her novel than listening to her read it and doing whatever else happens at book events. (She can't sign my Kindle, so there's no book-signing possible.)

Later worked out and read the eminently readable "After America" by Mark Steyn. I don't know why, but these financial collapse books seem to unduly fascinate me. Am on my third book that describes the events of 2008 forward. Maybe it's just the authors - Mark Steyn and Michael Lewis are always great reads. Or it's just that the topic of collapse and decay appeal to the pessimistically inclined.

In Honor of National Novel Writing Month!

She was born in the summer of her 67th year, she often joked, making reference to a song that few shy of her age would recall. It was then that she found God and a mate, both belated suitors it might've seemed to her even though in fact both had been waiting for her all her life.

Born prickly, her younger siblings preceded her in death as if adhering to her natural order of things. She would have her way, and her way was not to leave the stage without taking the requisite bows. The wonder of it was how she managed a full social calendar despite her abrasive personality. People just got used to it, or maybe they feared her, figuring it was easier not to make a scene or an enemy. It seemed on the surface at least that she had more than a few friends. Like family, small town neighbors were those you had to get along with since you saw them so often.

She ran an unsuccessful business out of her home because she was the only one who would have her as an employee. Her gloss was that no employer would live up to her standards. Regardless, it was a rare point of agreement: she and potential employers agreed she was not suited to work for anybody but herself.

But all of this changed the summer she turned 67, much to the surprise of the local pastor who'd long ago written her off: "Focus on the young. The old are too set in their ways," he often said. Ironically it was he who was too set in his ways.

November 02, 2011

RSS R Us

Netted some good blogposts, such a blogger making the point that our worth is not tied up in our usefulness:
"Last month I listened to a radio program . . . that made me groan out loud . . . . about adoption . . . . Who knows what gifts and treasures an adoptee might bring to the world, if they're only given a chance ([the commentator] said). For proof, just take a look at what Steve Jobs accomplished! And the same has been used as a rationale against abortion: don't deny the unborn a chance to become the next greatest CEO!

"What rot. Children, refugees, women, men, the elderly, the disabled, the severely disabled, the unborn, are of extreme value because human life is valuable. Period. People are worthy of our service simply because they are people and as such have inestimable dignity.
*

Eric Scheske said what I've often thought: that the sign of the end of civilization is upon us when adults stop giving out Halloween candy to children.

*

On embracing the unknown, from a soul-baring would-be Augustinian monk.

*

And Kevin Jones on American culture blindness in Iraq.

*

Also listened to a bit of blogger Steve Gershom on Catholic Answers radio show yesterday. Didn't sound gay (he admitted on his blog before that he's pretty good at not setting off any gaydar). I didn't realize his was a pseudonym, but I can certainly understand why he uses one. Certainly makes one feel freer to share.

Saints & Sinners

It's funny how a single word can throw me. Thousands of times I've recited my favorite prayer after Communion, "Soul of Christ, sanctify me / Body of Christ save me....". But this time when I got to "Passion of Christ/ Strengthen me" I thought of passion not as the crucifixion as I normally do (while focusing on self, in terms of praying that some of His strength rub off on me), but His passion in the sense of love, as in his passion for us. Afterwards I thumbed through the Jerusalem Bible and came across an incident in Luke 7, an illustration of how Jesus, Master of the Universe, wants our love. Which is a strange and humbling thing on the face of it. The account was of a sinner and a Pharisee and how the sinner loved Christ because more was forgiven her. It's a telling reminder that Jesus doesn't want our rote acts of fealty but our love, our passion. And He linked that to forgiveness. What makes God most lovable? Not His power or even His perfection - what God has is forgiveness. That is the coin of the heavenly realm. Is it a chicken and egg kind of thing, in that he who has forgiven much, loves much, or is it he who loves much is forgiven much? The gospels express it both ways. And in the end Jesus says it was the woman's faith that saved her. Faith in His forgiveness, it would seem.

Still, I'm left with a paradox, the woman had sins, "many sins", and yet great love. Aren't the two mutually exclusive? How does purport to love God and yet be a big sinner? A lack of sin doesn't necessarily make you a great lover, but the contrary seems true: being a sinner means you aren't a great lover since to sin against someone is to say, in some way, you don't love them (or God). Perhaps it's as simple as seeing her sins in the past. She *was* a sinner who didn't love much, then she became, in that moment with Christ, a lover who didn't sin much.

*

I've long been fascinated by the stories of saints whose bodies remain incorruptible after death. It's strange of me to think of this as a "reward", since it hardly matters whether someone's body is molding in the grave or is in great condition because in either case they are dead and their spirit is elsewhere, concerned with bigger things. But it seems to me a touching, an imprimatur from God, a little act the Creator bestows on the created, a little sign of love that may or may not ever be discovered by the masses. This incorruptibility seems like a tangible reward, an honor God bestows on the few, the pious, the Marines of the spiritual world. But even this is not a surefire way of identifying the saintly. Many saints did become corruptible and some incorruptibles may not be holy. Too often I also superstitiously note the lack of saints who died in accidents (have there been?) and think Thomas Merton may not be one due to his unnatural end. All of this can "misunderestimate" how passionately God loves us, whether or not our bodies corrupt or what sort of death we experience. We look for little droplets of kindness unaware we live in a sea of Love.

November 01, 2011

Excerpts from Goddard's "The Meaning of Shakespeare"

How well the first two paragraphs seem to correlate to Biblical criticism and not just Shakespearian:
To find out first what Shakespeare really wrote sounds eminently sensible. But it is not as objective an inquiry as it seems. Even in determining the text, love is as necessary as learning, for only he who recognizes Shakespeare’s voice and has penetrated into his spirit is fitted to make the delicate choice among possible readings or to catch the “inspired” emendation. And so it turns out that we must know Shakespeare before we know what he wrote precisely in order to be capable of finding out more nearly what he did write.

to read some of the historical critics you would think that only a learned student of Elizabethan society and the Elizabethan stage can pretend to understand Shakespeare.

*

“The Lord at Delphi,” says Heraclitus, “neither speaks nor conceals, but gives a sign.” Dreams have the same Delphic characteristic. So does poetry. To our age anything Delphic is anathema. We want the definite. As certainly as ours is a time of the expert and the technician, we are living under a dynasty of the intellect, and the aim of the intellect is not to wonder and love and grow wise about life, but to control it.

We want the facts for the practical use we can make of them. We want the tree for its lumber, not, as Thoreau did, to make an appointment with it as with a friend.

*

Neither [Cadwal nor Belarius] is a mere passive receptacle for the narrative. Each participates in, contributes to it. But how differently! The elder acts it out, spirit and body combining to be the story and its hero. The younger re-creates it imaginatively, striking life into it by revealing his individual reaction to it...But translation is rarely creation, and there is a step beyond it. There is nothing that makes a story come to life like linking it with the experience of the moment.

But if it came to a choice, who can doubt where Shakespeare’s deeper sympathy would lie? And so I hear him adding: “But there is another way of taking my stories that I like even better. I like to have you strike life into my speech by lighting it up with your own experience, as Cadwal did the speech of Belarius. Yes, I love to have my stories taken as dramas, but I love still more to have them taken as poetry.” That at any rate is the way Shakespeare treated the stories of others.

*

“‘Never be afraid of an author,’ he said, ‘an actor is a free artist. You ought to create an image different from the author’s. When the two images-the author’s and the actor’s-fuse into one-then a true artistic work is created.’

*

How many masters of how many arts have expressed delight when they have found some Cadwal to strike life into their own creations: “I write to you,” says Chopin in one of his letters, “without knowing what my pen is scribbling, for Liszt is at this moment playing my Etudes and he transports me out of my proper senses. I should like to steal from him his way of playing my pieces.”

You and I and the next man are not entitled to read anything we take a fancy to into a symphony or a play. It is only in so far as each of us is an artist that his freedom to interpret a work of art will not degenerate into license. Fortunately, however deeply buried, there is an artist in every man.

*

only the imagination can apprehend the imagination.

*

The criticism of the first period (often called neoclassic), instead of striking life into Shakespeare’s works, sought to subject them to a set of rules and a conception of dramatic art inherited from the past, something that was not at all its “own conceiving.”

The critics of this age admitted that Shakespeare was a kind of rough genius but contended that he lacked art-which he did, in their sense. They served a purpose in pointing out some of Shakespeare’s excesses. But they showed how powerless reason is to grasp imagination.

The romantic period, which followed, was poetic rather than intellectual, and produced, at its best, as good criticism of Shakespeare as has ever been written. But it had the defects of its qualities; and in its lesser writers, in its greatest ones at their worst, and in their later imitators, Shakespearean criticism degenerated into extravagance and fancy-for alongside the man who finds his own soul, and so the soul of everyone, in a work of art, is the man who reads into it his own prejudices and opinions, makes it a point of departure for some sheer invention, or uses it to grind his own axe—all of them fatally different things. As Cicero remarks in Julius Caesar, men may construe things after their fashion, Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.

*

“Let us get rid of all this subjective business,” cry all these critics in unison, “and get back to Shakespeare himself.” Shakespeare himself! As if Shakespeare himself were acquainted with any such person, had his own neat theory of Hamlet, or held the same conception of his characters a decade later as on the day they were created. “I must observe that I have often been mistaken,” says Chekhov in one of his letters, “and have not always thought what I think now.” All free minds say that.

*

Shakespeare’s lifelong pity for “the fools of time” suggests what he might have thought of this way of approaching his works. A thoroughgoing historical critic is a man attempting to explain the flower by an exhaustive examination of the soil. It cannot be done. “If anything is humanly certain,” says William James, “it is that the great man’s society, properly so called, does not make him before he can remake it. Physiological forces, with which the social, political, geographical, and to a great extent anthropological conditions have just as much and just as little to do as the condition of the crater of Vesuvius has to do with the flickering of this gas by which I write, are what make him.”

*

the objective business that is the object of their search is neither a whit better nor a whit worse than the subjective business that is the subject of their scorn. The two are extremes that meet. Suppose that in a drop of water an oxygen sect were to appear clamoring for the extinction of all this hydrogen business—or vice versa. It would be a parable of the factual critics. For what thev leave out is one of the two constituents of life itself. What they forget is the dual character of the imagination. Imagination is neither the language of nature nor the language of man, but both at once, the medium of communion between the two...

*

The reader with a poem before him is like a youth with life before him. In spite of all that the guides and drivers say, he must be faithful to the text and to himself: two lions at the gate of his adventure to keep him from wandering off into the desert of custom or the jungle of fancy. This is the answer to those who hold that opening the doors on individual interpretation is opening them on anarchy. If it is, we are to blame. It need not be. We read a poem as we live—at our risk.

Jotting...

On Sunday read some of Goddard's "The Meaning of Shakespeare" and it's just so revelatory. He speaks of the distinction between the literal meaning of the text and its poetry, and clearly he seems to suggest a view of Scripture: that there are two extremes - one is that it means only what the author intends it, or it means only what we intend it. Both are false; there is some middle ground in which we see meanings in Shakespeare the Bard didn't see or, in the analogy, the sacred author didn't see.

On The Catholic Channel, heard Martin Sheen discuss his film "The Way" with Archbishop Timothy Dolan and I wonder if the archbishop squirmed at all when Sheen explained how pertinent the theologically discredited liberation theology is in his faith: "It's Daniel Berrigan who keeps me in the Church" was the gist of Sheen's speech. The archbishop did not use the time for lecturing or hectoring but instead diplomatically mentioned Dorothy Day, whom everyone can admire.