February 20, 2014

From Books and Culture Section of Christianity Today.....

Interesting review of the poet Jack Gilbert's life and career:
A different kind of revaluation of romantic attitude occurs in a poem entitled "The Abnormal Is Not Courage." Compared with the above examples, it is altogether more surprising and memorable, and remains one of the most widely cited of Gilbert's poems. Here is how it begins:
The Poles rode out from Warsaw against the German
tanks on horses. Rode knowing, in sunlight, with sabers.
A magnitude of beauty that allows me no peace.
And yet this poem would lessen that day. Question
The bravery. Say it's not courage. Call it a passion.
Would say courage isn't that. Not at its best.
It was impossible and with form. They rode in sunlight.
Were mangled. But I say courage is not the abnormal.
Not the marvelous act …
This striking opening image stands as equivalent, in a military key, to Gilbert's own personal vibe of high-minded resistance to the mechanistic and modern (his heroes are instead the medieval love poets Dante and Arnaut Daniel, and—in a more complicated way—Ezra Pound). Those Polish cavaliers also represent, as we consider them in this context (as an image in a love poem), the traditions of courtly love and Liebestod. In the end, however surprisingly, the horsemen resemble Romeo and Juliet: elegant, noble, beautiful, fleeting, and doomed—or, better yet, to resort to a different Shakespeare play written in the same year as Romeo and Juliet, they are "quick bright things" that come to confusion. How wonderfully daring of Gilbert, then, to reject so resolutely that opening image, and every admirable thing it stands for: "But I say … " That declaration is characteristic of Gilbert, and this poem is stylistically in character with its short sentences or clipped speech.

That staccato effect becomes more pronounced in the final lines, but first Gilbert constructs a series of antitheses that allows him to declare, again and again, his preferred mode of love. "Not Macbeth with fine speeches," not the "bounty of impulse," but "Accomplishment. The even loyalty. But fresh. / Not the Prodigal Son, nor Faustus. But Penelope. / The thing steady and clear. Then the crescendo." Hearing a recording of Gilbert reading this poem once, I noticed his emphasis on the "Then": "Then the crescendo," as in "only then," and it is a revealing choice. Gilbert in this poem rejects shallower displays of love, which value drama but cannot sustain, as he says in the poem, "even small kindness." What he presents instead is a love grounded in genuine human regard, and what it lacks in not being meteoric or dolled up, it gains in quiet strength and commitment. It is not sub-romantic, but hyper—it asserts the necessary conditions for a higher form of lasting, deepening romance. It rhapsodizes on steadiness and clarity.

I continue to marvel at the paradoxes of this poem: how it mounts a defense of a stable marriage—"The marriage, / not the month's rapture"—yet sails sublimely above accusations of being reactionary, conservative, bourgeois, or, most damningly of all, unsexy or without passion. On the contrary, it remains a passionate poem, a celebration of a more durable, adult love, so valuing of itself and the beloved that it eschews those intensities that might burn it out. It also disdains grand shows of romance that are, in the end, bereft of love that is clear-eyed and firmly held. It favors instead, with its own charged language that nevertheless is rational and discursive,
… The beauty
That is of many days. Steady and clear.
It is the normal excellence, of long accomplishment.

In my few years sharing this poem with students, I have been struck by how it so easily can become an anthem for any number of male upperclassmen, at the height of their youthful ardor but with a wish to temper their own exuberance and idealizations for the sake of a vision that offers, somehow, long-term marital happiness, with passion still residing there and resilient to mere contentment and concord. Gilbert, you might say, was way ahead of Mumford & Sons. His poem is a heady potion.

****

"A Brief for the Defense," one of the collection's most regarded poems, finds Gilbert again occupying his high declarative mode:
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because it's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. …
Some lines in this powerfully affirming poem strike a note for human endurance, and for whatever it is in us that allows us still to embrace the world in which we often suffer, or, if we're lucky, in which we can settle for a knowledge of others' suffering. As the speaker says later, "We must admit there will be music despite everything." This line enjoys authority because of its begrudging quality—"We must admit … " Another pair of lines troubles me, though, and I may as well use them to illustrate a contest that Gilbert's poetry and the example of his poet's life have demanded from me as a reader over the years. In the poem, Gilbert mentions laughter in Calcutta's terrible streets, and women who laugh in cages in Bombay. He next writes, "If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction, / we lessen the importance of their deprivation." I resist this formulation in a visceral way, not only for the initial connection between one's own happiness and another's suffering, but also for the further implication that we, in seeking happiness, in any way reduce the plight of those suffering. It feels, to put it plainly, grossly self-absorbed, and with an ethical sensibility that is gauchely out of perspective.

****

[One] of the joys of rereading is for an admired text to be again put to the test, and, conversely, to see if the older self can live up to the sympathy and passion, the fresh eyes and impressionable mind, of the younger reader that he was. Other great works operate in reverse: the greatness of Lear, it increasingly seems to me, lies in the fact that it always seems far ahead of you, no matter the age or circumstance of reader or reading. A work like that is always waiting for you to catch up. Its deigning to look back at you constitutes both an act of mercy and a most intimidating challenge.

An Restaurant Outing and Other Commentary


So last week was a big social event of February: our outing to Ruth Chris's Steakhouse in downtown Cincy with two other couples.

Alan thankfully drove, so I was grateful not to have to deal with that headache. It's the first time I met Alan and knew Tami only from a 30-second conversation when she dropped something off this summer. They are in their 30s, at least she is. He comes from Costa Rica and spoke only Spanish when he immigrated here about ten years ago. She majored in Spanish in college and was a translator. They met at a bar not too long after he arrived and they spoke the universal language of love.

Randall always puts me at ease (and Carrie as well) so it was nice to have him next to me at dinner. Couldn't resist bringing up politics, asking him if his parents were liberal Democrats. He said they only had a 5th and 8th grade education respectively and never talked politics. He comes from the back, back woods of Eastern Kentucky. Carrie's grandmother is buried out in a holler such that she has to walk through someone's property to get to the site and the property owner came out with a gun one time and asked what she was doing on his land. She said she “my people are buried up at that cemetery” and he says, “who your people?” and she said the names and he said okay, he knew the name and so she could proceed. Sort of like the set of Justify television show back in there.

Randall had a good line about a girl “so ugly she could make a train go on dirt” or words to that effect. He also fell in the snow and ice out on the street and had trouble getting up. He regaled us with stories spent on the third shift at a Speedway, about the crack pipes found in the parking lot and about druggies buying antifreeze extractors and using as pipes. One addicted woman sent her son in to buy one and Randall intentionally sold him a plastic extractor rather than a glass one, knowing what the deal was. The woman came back in all huffy and Randall said, innocently, “that will work for extracting antifreeze”. Ha.

I asked him if he had enough of Obama yet and he was noncommittal but later quoted someone who said that taxes are the price paid by a civilized society. He called George W. Bush dumb and I said Bush reads voraciously, and not just “see Jane run” books, and that anyway a leader doesn't have to be brilliant but just pick good people under him.

Alan was circumspect and soft-spoken and didn't say much but he did light up when we were talking about which TV shows to watch (he favors the CSI-types). He also said he can't understand the fascination this country has with guns given that Costa Rica has no guns, violence or army. A kind of Switzerland in Central America. (Tami visited Costa Rica with Alan after they were married and she said it's amazing: thick jungle before, all of a sudden, a private beach. She saw an anteater walk by and eat some insects off a tree. Wild.)

Randall, on the other hand, always has a John Wayne thing going on. Attracts trouble and he's larger than life. Even this very morning he was taking his friendly dog for a walk without a leash and a couple folks came up and said they'd seen his dog somewhere earlier and he said no, he'd just begun walking the dog three minutes ago. And they said he'd better use a leash if he knew what was good for him. Well he goes back to his house and gets a gun to show them (“you don't mess with my dog”) but they were gone. Colorful stuff. He's got a lot more to write about than me. (He says everyone should work the third shift at Speedway to see the full gamut of humanity and I thought to myself every writer should work the third shift at Speedway).

I was touched by Tami confessing that she didn't have kids because the responsibility of their care terrifies her. So many shouldn't have kids do and those who should aren't.  Apparently Tami recalls an incident in a swimming pool where she saved the life of a child from drowning. It might've scarred her it seems. Faith is the only answer to everything I guess.

Later, at the end of the night after they dropped us off at our house, I walked towards the garage but then came back when it appeared we were doing the new(ish) hug thing. Enthusiastic hug from Tami without much room for the Holy Spirit as the saying goes.

*

Local priest gave a homily in which he disdained complainers/whiners by referring us to the first three chapters of Genesis where Adam and Eve are stripped of everything. That's life in these post-Fall days.  I'm still haunted by the line in a Bible commentary on the punishments that Adam and Eve endured as a result of their sin: “of course, the most devastating was the loss of intimacy with God.” Oh, yeah, ouch. Here I was all worried and concerned about work as the primary male penalty, and lo and behold the commentator put things in the proper godly perspective. What is pain to intimacy?

*

Tempted to read the biography of St. Augustine I got some years back even though it's written by a typically modern, secular revisionist. You always want to know what the non-hagiographers are saying. You can't take them too seriously though, much as you can't take the hagiographers too seriously. What the former lacks in perspective/world view the latter lacks in candidness.

Kind of disappointed that a family member read the huge bestseller on Jesus called "Zealot" since it seems like reading their books only encourages the bastards. I at least hold out hope that she read it via the library instead of enriching his coffers. It feels sort of personal when non-Christian authors use Jesus in order to make a buck by saying something that will “tickle ears” (2 Tim 4:3). But on the other hand you could look at it the way the old vaudevillians: there's no such thing as bad publicity. Perhaps a few will at least think about Christ who otherwise wouldn't, even if through the flawed lens of Mr. Zealot.

February 18, 2014

Hermeneutic Key to Understanding Human Behavior?

From latest NR:
"The point McArdle makes is that small, consistent punishment for failure is a lot better than daramtic, unpredictable penalties...The most important example of this is the Hawaii HOPE program, in which probationers are watched closely, drug-tested frequently, and punished with a short jail sentence for any missteps -- whereas, elsewhere, probationers' minor violations are ignored for a period of time until law enforcement gets fed up and sends them to prison for years.

The program results in less incarceration despite setting a much lower bar for punishment. When punishment is consistent, even if it's small, people come to comprehend that their own behavior is what determines their treatment - they develop what psychologists call an 'internal locus of control.' There are similar situations throughout our society: When we give all kids a trophy, for example, we send them the message that their performance doesn't matter and deny them the experience of small failures. This just sets them up for big failures down the road."
It's long been puzzling to me how often people engage in the "unforced error" of not saving money and going into killer levels of debt even in the face of a job market that's subject to the vacillations of the business cycle.   It's not rational. (Although for that matter sin isn't rational either.) 

With debt, credit cards offer no penalty until there's a large penalty: that of a bankruptcy (although bankruptcies are relatively painless these days).  In generations past, if you blew your paycheck on Friday you had to live with the consequences until the next Friday. You received a punishment. Now, of course, there's no punishment until the whole edifice crashes.

With sin too there's a similar dynamic since often sin goes unpunished in the short term. So I guess this is all shades of Flannery O'Connor's famous line: "She would of been a good woman, said The Misfit, if it had been somebody there to [punish] her every minute of her life."

I Found This Inspiring

Unforgettable review of new book on the life of Brent Bozell  in National Review:
"Unforgettable” — that’s probably the best word for L. Brent Bozell Jr. I knew him as a brilliant editorialist, a deeply committed Catholic, a devoted father of ten, and a passionate public speaker who could bring thousands to their feet...
          ...
Most of us have encountered someone who seizes our attention and perhaps captures our allegiance, not by wealth or power or position but by the intensity of his personality and the audacity of his vision. He is a visionary who brooks no compromise and accepts no limits. He will not let up until he achieves his goal — political, religious, cultural, whatever it may be — or is stopped in his tracks. He is not comfortable to be around, as he challenges you to consider what you are doing with your life.
Capturing such an incandescent individual in a biography of a few hundred pages is a daunting undertaking, and yet Daniel Kelly has done just that in Living on Fire. It is an exquisitely balanced and touching portrait of a man who at 38 wrote one of the most successful political books in modern times and who ended his life far from the public spotlight, seeking only the opportunity to care for the poorest of the poor.

Kelly, a distinguished professor of history for many years at New York University and the City University of New York, recounts some of what Bozell managed to accomplish before he was brought low by bipolar disorder — what we used to call manic depression — and alcoholism.
He was one half of a Yale debate team — the other half was William F. Buckley Jr., his roommate and, later, brother-in-law — that trounced all opponents, including a heavily favored team from Oxford University “that stalked off without shaking hands.”

Legend has it that, as they approached graduation, the two young conservatives agreed to seek national positions commensurate with their positions at Yale. Buckley the journalist would wield influence through the written word, while Bozell the orator “would orate his way into the White House.” Together, they would end up running the country.
         ....
A favorite domestic target of Bozell was the Supreme Court, which he called “the partisan agent of a fashionable ideology, set on accomplishing by judicial edict what the ideology could not achieve through legitimate political channels.” Under Chief Justice Earl Warren, Bozell wrote, the Court’s “controlling purpose” was “to give legal sanction . . . to the political judgments of the Establishment,” a gross violation of the judiciary’s constitutional function. He would develop this theme in his prescient 1966 book, The Warren Revolution, which anticipated the epic constitutional battles of the 1980s that continue to this day.

Although it did not carry his name, he was the ghost writer of the most widely read political manifesto of the 1960s — Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative. Some 3.5 million copies would be sold and distributed. It set forth a conservative platform — of limited government (including a flat tax and an end to farm subsidies) as well as a strong national defense — that has served the Right as a political guide ever since.

Kelly writes that when word leaked out that Bozell had written the Goldwater book — now part of “the movement’s holy writ” — he entered “conservative stardom’s upper tier.” Suddenly, he seemed to be everywhere, running for Congress in Maryland, helping to found the American Conservative Union, being present at the creation of the Philadelphia Society, and finishing his opus on the Warren Court. But all the while he had in mind something that had never been attempted in America — a conservative Catholic political magazine. The more he reflected on it, the more convinced he was that launching the magazine was his calling, that it was his duty to serve “the Catholic cause.”

In its short ten-year history, writes Kelly, Triumph took on liturgical reform (no more “hootenanny” Masses!); life issues, such as birth control, abortion, and sex education; and secular topics, such as Vietnam. Liberalism was invariably indicted as the principal cause of America’s moral and cultural decay. The magazine used strong, blunt language, calling for direct action to bring about the changes it felt were urgently needed. “Triumph is invariably called a ‘conservative Catholic’ magazine,” the editors wrote, “but we prefer to be known as ‘radical Christian.’”

Bozell would discover that there are not many radical Christians on the right, and Kelly notes that conservative Catholics stopped subscribing to the magazine “in droves.” From a peak of 30,000 subscribers in the first years, it declined steadily, reaching an estimated low of 3,000. But, as Triumph’s prospects declined, Bozell’s dreams expanded. The manic side of his disorder, fueled by copious amounts of bourbon, black coffee, and cigarettes, dominated. Many of his ideas were unrealistic, but others met proven needs.

The time had come, Bozell felt, to make America and eventually the whole world Catholic. He envisaged a national lobby against the legalization of abortion. The idea became Americans United for Life, one of the most effective pro-life groups in the country. Seeking to inculcate the Faith in young laypeople, he organized an eight-week summer school in Spain that was revamped into a four-year liberal-arts college, Christendom College, a traditionalist Catholic school that flourishes to this day.

In the spring of 1970, after a court decision legalized abortion in Washington, D.C., Kelly recounts, Bozell mounted what was probably the nation’s first anti-abortion protest rally. Naming themselves the Sons of Thunder (see Mark 3:17) and dressed in red berets and khaki shirts with a patch bearing the image of the Sacred Heart, he and a couple of other leaders marshaled several hundred activists at a park across from the George Washington University Hospital clinic, where abortions were being performed. Shouting “Viva Cristo Rey!” Bozell took a small group of the protesters across the street to deliver his request for permission to baptize fetuses. There was a scuffle between them and hospital guards, a glass room was shattered, the police arrived, and Bozell was arrested and placed in handcuffs.
The June protest, Kelly says, “sealed Brent’s fate” as a Catholic leader. Fearing further violence, the Catholic bishops refused to endorse an ecumenical right-to-life congress he proposed. Found guilty of unlawful entry and damaging property, he received a suspended sentence and five years’ probation along with a stern warning that future protests could land him in prison.

Frustrated by “Catholic docility” in the face of the hedonistic counterculture, and unable to persuade many of his old political friends to support a pro-life constitutional amendment, Bozell turned increasingly radical and critical of the United States, even, according to Kelly, accepting the New Left’s practice of spelling America with a “k” and not a “c.”

Exactly when Bozell became a victim of bipolar disorder is difficult to pinpoint, but he had been subject to wide swings of mood and behavior for years, alternating between extreme euphoria and apathy, often on the same day. He was officially diagnosed in 1976, marking the start of a manic stage so disconnected from reality that his close friend and colleague Mike Lawrence referred to the ensuing years as a “lost decade.” Lithium could moderate the bipolar swings that now ruled him, Kelly writes, but Bozell hated “the feeling of mental suffocation it produced.” Formerly a heavy drinker, Bozell was now an alcoholic. Manic episodes took him to Guatemala on a mission of mercy among the poor and to the Pax Center, a Catholic peace-and-justice community in Erie, Pa., whose director described him as “a magnificent wreck: brilliant, ardent, relentless, and well-read, and yet a wreck, like a Mercedes in a ditch with a busted axle and broken glass on the seats.”

However, in the 1980s, Brent Bozell entered into a new period, taking his medication regularly and stopping his drinking. He took up writing again, focusing on the meaning of mercy, defining it as “an attempt to alleviate the suffering of another, motivated by love.” He pronounced the duty of mercy binding on all Christians, especially a North American obligation to aid poverty-stricken Central America. His personal response was to help a number of organizations across the Washington area, including a soup kitchen in a poor Hispanic enclave, the Lorton prison in northern Virginia, and a shelter for the poor established by the Sisters of Charity.

“Beset by illness, mishap, and failure,” writes Kelly toward the end of his sensitive yet candid biography, “Brent went on performing the corporal works of mercy to the fullest extent his worsening health allowed. Even on the verge of death, he was still at it.”

In April 1992, Bozell became a Third Order Discalced Carmelite, calling his joining of this religious order a birthday present for his beloved wife Trish, close by his side throughout his tumultuous life. In late 1996 he was forced to enter an assisted-living home but he continued his works of mercy as best he could. In his last weeks, he would “limp through the wards of a nursing home near his own, trying to console patients.” His funeral, held at Washington’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel, was attended by conservatives of every stripe — libertarian, anti-Communist, traditionalist — who celebrated his many contributions to the movement. His tombstone reads, “A just and honest man.”
In the book’s afterword, Daniel Kelly writes that many people might consider Brent Bozell to have been a failure, a man of much promise and prominence who “wound up helping nuns serve soup to Washington derelicts.” But Kelly rejects any such conclusion, saying that by the standards Bozell embraced and acted upon, his life was a triumph. So, too, is this moving, beautifully written biography.

February 13, 2014

Hodge Podge of Items

This morning read some of that deliciously written book about Detroit, which led me to YouTube a song the author mentioned (a song designed to give Detroit the boost that Frank Sinatra's New York, New York did, though Sammy Davis Jr. had a hit with it only in Belgium, inexplicably).

(Speaking of 'boost', grandson Sam humorously used that word in asking someone to push him on his tricycle: “Mawmaw give me a boost!” Okay, maybe you had to be there.)

Since I was in the YouTube app for the Detroit song I decided to re-live  Lady by Styx. The obvious occurred to me: Growing up with so many songs such as that one which idolized women it was no wonder I worshipped them as a young adult. Apart from simple lust, there's also the cult of romance-as-salvation via pop culture that makes God seem like a back-up salvation plan.

Some excerpts from Binelli's "Detroit City is the Place to Be": 
In 1995, in a deadpan, deliberatively provocative essay, Vergara proposed the city “place a moratorium on the razing of skyscrapers, our most sublime ruins, and instead … stabilize them,” setting aside a dozen or so downtown blocks as an “urban Monument Valley” that would act as a “memorial of our throwaway cities,” an “American Acropolis”: Midwestern prairie would be allowed to invade from the north. Trees, vines, and wildflowers would grow on roofs and out of windows; wild animals, goats, squirrels, possum, bats, owls, ravens, snakes, insects, and perhaps even an occasional bear would live in the empty behemoths, adding their calls, hoots, and screeches to the smell of rotten leaves and animal droppings. 

But now much of the attention being showered on Detroit from the trendiest quarters came in no small measure thanks to the city’s blight. Detroit’s brand had become authenticity, and a key component of this authenticity had to do with the way the city looked. Would fixing the very real problems faced by Detroiters, I began to wonder, mean inevitably robbing Detroit of some part of its essential Detroitness? 

Ruin porn was generally assessed the same way as the other kind, with you-know-it-when-you-see-it subjectivity. Everyone seemed to agree that Camilo Vergara’s work was not ruin pornography, though he’d arguably been the Hefner of the genre....

The post-apocalyptic grandeur of the scene momentarily silenced us, as if we were in the presence of something demanding respectful meditation—but what, exactly? If you manage to slip inside certain Detroit ruins, you are sometimes struck by their sacred aura; like cathedrals, they can feel beautiful and tragic at the same time, monuments to flawed human aspiration that, in an unintentional way, begin to approach the holy.

Oh the lovely "print" of the everloving Kindle! Some riveting lines from the Karl Ove novel "My Struggle) on the scarcity of sanctity, put in the mouths of the characters (NSFW as they say):
“What is innocence? It is that which has not been touched by the world, that which has not been destroyed, it is like water into which a stone has never been thrown. It’s not that you don’t have lusts, that you don’t have desire, for you do, it’s just that you conserve innocence. Your insanely huge longing for beauty comes in here as well.”
“Innocence and purity have become a symbol of stupidity, but that’s nowadays. We live in a culture where the person with the most experience wins. It’s sick. Everyone knows which way modernism is going, you create a form by breaking up a form, in an endless regression, just let it continue, and for as long as it does, experience will have the upper hand. The unique feature of our times, the pure or independent act, is, as you know, to renounce, not to accept. Accepting is too easy. There’s nothing to be achieved by it.“
"You wallow in asceticism. As I see it, it’s extremely unusual. Extremely deviant. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone, or heard of anyone … well, as I said, then I have to go back to the saints or the church fathers…Others search and search, and when they find a nugget, they sell it to acquire life, splendor, music, dance, enjoyment, luxury, or at least a bit of pussy, right, throw themselves at a woman just to forget they exist for an hour or two. What you lust for is innocence and this is an impossible equation. Lust and innocence can never be compatible. The ultimate is no longer the ultimate once you’ve stuck your dick in it. Not to strive for a happy life is the most provocative thing you can do.“

*

Spent part of Saturday excavating old 1998 writings saved as individual Word documents. Also found some writing snippets I was able to date from 1989 to 1992 based on the content, such as a comedy piece about the Exxon Valdez spill (can it really be almost 25 years since?)

It felt so archeological, finding these things written by a much younger me expounding on an even younger me.

*

Peer pressure has really bumped up the rigors of parenthood.  Transporting and attending sporting events alone is huge. Fathers today are much more active with kids. I'm reminded of the anecdote about how aunt said when she was a child it drove her crazy that her father wouldn't play with her after work and that he'd just read the paper. You can say, “what's in a newspaper more important than spending time with your own child?” or you can say, “this newspaper represents the tissue-thin difference between my going insane from kids and not.” Ha, just a joke!

*
“Greek confidence in the [naked] body can be understood only in relation to their philosophy. It expresses above all their sense of human wholeness. Nothing which is related to the whole man could be isolated or evaded; and this serious awareness of how much was implied in physical beauty saved them from the two evils of sensuality and aestheticism.” - Kenneth Clark
The key phrase for me is “serious awareness” and how that is the foundation for a Christian view of sex. There has to be a serious awareness of what the purpose of sex is, of its nobility, and how it's related to wholeness and integrity.

It's interesting that even the Greeks only allowed men to be naked in Olympic games. The women were “lightly clad” which perhaps undermines Clark's own argument. Were there limits to what Clark suggests the Greek felt, that they alone had “[overcome] Original Sin.”

The Greeks felt spirit and body were one, which is extremely unfashionable in our Gnostic-influenced environment where body is seem to have nothing to do with spirit and or that the body is a weight on the soul (to the extent moderns believe in a soul).

Clark says the Greeks had the “gift of giving to abstract ideas a sensuous, tangible, and for most part human form.”  Isn't that the goal of many a Catholic apologist? To imbue abstract ideas like natural law and the evils of artificial contraception with a tangible, explainable, “human” form?

That spirit and body are one ultimately seems a matter for faith, which the Greeks had in a pre-Christian sense. Clark quotes William Blake: “Greek statues…are all of them representations of spiritual existences” and then goes on to say that that:

“the bodies were there, the belief in the gods was there, the love of rational proportion was there. It was the unifying grasp of the Greek imagination which brought them together. And the nude gains its enduring value from the fact that it reconciles several contrary states. It takes the most sensual and immediately interesting object, the human body, and puts it out of reach of time and desire; it takes the most purely rational concept of which mankind is capable, mathematical order, and makes it a delight to the senses; it takes the vague fears of the unknown and sweetens them by showing that the gods are like men and may be worshipped for the life-giving beauty rather than their death-dealing powers.”
*

My atomistic, individualistic tendencies were sadly on display in my surprised reaction to Lino Rulli's proposal that the remaining Beatles have a “moral obligation” to get together more than occasionally and to thus use their talents. My take has usually been something of: “earn enough money and then retire,” so I don't fault them for not playing music. But that ignores the fact that we're not here on earth to simply satisfy ourselves. What is valid in monetary terms (i.e. Ringo and Paul can support themselves and thus can support themselves) doesn't necessarily translate in religious terms (i.e. Ringo and Paul can give pleasure to others by their talents).

February 08, 2014

Old Journal Entries Ne'er Die (from over a decade ago)

I want to remember golfing in high school, the pungent morning grass at Potter’s, the "business" lunches at the high school cafeteria.  We were little workers, clocking in at 7:30 and then out promptly at 3.   Sophisticates we thought, worldly wise and jaded, gathering at the lunch room.   There was sloe Mr. Ed, Erik, John D and me.   Reg and Suedy joined us too most days when they weren’t in some kind of trouble.  Like Flintstone characters we’d gather at our cafeteria table next to the north window, our rep ties pulled rakishly aside,  imagining ourselves a bunch of Earl Flynn’s only there for the money only there wasn’t any.   Puckishly we’d sit down to brown-bag and cafeteria lunches and smash each other’s food if they let down their guard.  Nothing before or since has been as satisfying as smashing Darlington’s cupcakes?  The flying food of food fights were a worthy sacrifice - oft I’d ponder the merits of eating a ding-dong or throwing it, and as often as not it would be wing’d freely in the spritz’d high school air!  Aloft  it went ! - towards places unknown, for as soon as it left my hand I’d be engrossed in a speck on the cafe table top.  My comrades would relay it’s splendifourous effects on the target I'd chosen.   Oh glory days!

February 06, 2014

Another Excerpt



From Karl Ove novel “My Struggle”:
I raised the glass to my mouth and felt the froth touch my lips, the cold, slightly bitter liquid fill my mouth – which was so unprepared for all this taste that a shiver ran through me – and slip down my throat. Ahh. 
When you visualized the future and conjured up a world where urban life had spread everywhere and man had achieved his long-desired symbiosis with the machine, you never took account of the simplest elements, beer, for example, so golden and flavorsome and robust, made from corn in the field and hops in the meadow, or bread or beetroot with its sweet but dark, earthy taste, all this we had always eaten and drunk at tables made of wood, inside windows through which beams of sunlight fell. What did people do in these seventeenth-century palaces, with their liveried servants, high-heeled shoes and powdered wigs, which were pulled down over skulls full of seventeenth-century thoughts, what else if not drink beer and wine, eat bread and meat and piss and shit? The same applied to the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries...all manner of strange ideas and beliefs emerged and vanished, useful and useless objects were discovered, science penetrated ever deeper into the world’s mysteries, machines grew in number, speeds increased and ever greater areas of old lifestyles were abandoned, but no one dreamed of discarding beer or changing it. Malt, hops, water. Field, meadow, stream.
We were rooted in the archaic past, nothing radical about us, our bodies or needs had changed since the first human saw the light of day somewhere in Africa forty thousand years ago or however long Homo sapiens had existed. But we imagined it was different, and so strong was our imaginative power we not only believed that but we also organized ourselves accordingly...

How could the notion that we were modern even arise when people were dropping all around us, infected with illnesses for which there were no remedies? Who can be modern with a brain tumor? How could we believe we were modern if we knew that everyone would soon be lying somewhere in the ground and rotting? 
**
...there was a wealth of nuance in her personality, and you intuited a psychological depth, with no apparent signs of neuroticism, the constant companion of sensitivity of course.

February 03, 2014

Quotables



From "Goldfinch" novel by Donna Tartt: 

On our vocabulary list a few days before we’d had the word consanguinity: joined in blood. The old man’s face had been so torn up and ruined I couldn’t even say exactly what he’d looked like, and yet I remembered all too well the warm slick feel of his blood on my hands—especially since in some way the blood was still there, I could still smell it and taste it in my mouth, and it made me understand why people talked about blood brothers and how blood bound people together. My English class had read Macbeth in the fall, but only now was it starting to make sense why Lady Macbeth could never scrub the blood off her hands, why it was still there after she washed it away.
From St. Augustine's "Confessions":
 What indeed am I to you, that you should command me to love you, and grow angry with me if I do not, and threaten me with enormous woes? Is not the failure to love you woe enough in itself? 
*
By calling upon you I untied the knots of my tongue and begged you, in my little-boy way but with no little earnestness, not to let me be beaten at school. You did not hear my prayer, lest by hearing it you might have consigned me to a fool’s fate; so my stripes were laughed at by my elders and even my parents, who would not have wished anything bad to happen to me. But bad it was, and very dreadful for me.
From Jack Gilbert's poems:
The pregnant heart is driven to hopes that are the wrong size for this world. Love is always disturbing in the heavenly kingdom. Eden cannot manage so much ambition. The kids ran from all over the piazza yelling and pointing and jeering at the young Saint Chrysostom standing dazed in the church doorway with the shining around his mouth where the Madonna had kissed him.

Stuff

Notes I took this morning concerning what I want to write about almost have a haiku quality: 

Comically karmic Clinton
St Therese first normal saint
No half saint however

On the first, it occurs to me again what karma that Bill Clinton, who for decades won all the "he said/she said" battles, was felled at last by a young girl who kept a dress with physical evidence on it.  You can't make it up; it's stranger than fiction.  Clinton's goose was cooked by the most bizarre circumstances and I'd love to have heard his reaction to the unthinkable: that Lewinski would expose one of his lies definitively.  The master politician and liar was one-up'd by a young school girl. 

*

It also occurs to me that one of the more amazing things about St. Therese is how normal she seems to have been.  Most saints seem slightly crazy, from St. Francis stripping nude to a legion of other notables.  Other saints may not have been crazy but crazy things happen to them, like St. Pio's stigmata and bi-location.  But you have in St. Therese the true "girl next door" saint.  No pyrotechnics, just extraordinary holiness in the most mundane and ordinary circumstances.  

I came across a rather daunting quote from her recently that goes something like, "There are no half-saints....only full saints".