April 30, 2003

On Rejecting the Modern

I'm about 2/3rds of the way thru TC Boyle's "Drop City". It is compulsively readable, I care about the characters and what happens to them to the point that it has become almost soap operic (if that's not a word it should be). I have to know what happens next. The characters seem so real I was tempted to pray for them. Boyle's book tells the truth. He doesn't glamourize the sex or the drugs - quite the contrary he portrays the characters sympathetically while showing the perniciousness of their lifestyles (at least so far).

But I tend to feel a bit grimy after reading it. It's not unduly salacious, it's certainly no worse than the average modern novel although because it deals with hippies it does deal with sex. Billy Graham once remarked how "unclean" he felt after watching some movies, as if he needed a bath (I suspect he's not talking about Deep Throat - probably not even something R-rated.) G. Gordon Liddy protects his indomitable will by never drinking alcohol and, more oddly, by rejecting many kinds of music. He likes Abba, and martial band music. Modern music brings him down, he says, leaves him suspectible to weakness.

So....after reading a few chapters of "Drop City" I considered how different I felt compared to after a recent viewing of the '40s movie "The Bishop's Wife" starring David Niven, Loretta Young & Cary Grant. The movie was as uplifting as the Boyle's book was enervating/squalorous. Does one type of entertainment cleanse the palate for the other? Would a steady diet of either be a grind? If the purpose of art is to break out of oneself then Boyle's book was effective. Viktor Shklosky said that defamiliarization was what literature is all about. "Habit devours objects, clothes, furniture, one's wife and the fear of war... art exists to help us recover the sensation of life."

Ideally, of course, what is good for you would also not be attractive to you but we know that is not so. (Check the sales of cigarettes). Further, Fr. Jim Tucker quotes Chesterton as saying, "To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it."

On the other hand, being Catholic means not being a Puritan. And so the Terry Teachout's of the world (movie critic for Crisis magazine) would be underwhelmed by the idea of rejecting modern movies. Similarly our own Amy Welborn is surely richer for having engaged the culture, for being able to speak to the culture via her reading of David Lodge, TC Boyle and others.

I guess, as is often the case, it depends on the individual...

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