Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Franz Sez

There are two main human sins from which all the others derive: impatience and indolence. It was because of impatience that they were expelled from Paradise; it is because of indolence that they do not return. Yet perhaps there is only one major sin: impatience. Because of impatience they were expelled, because of impatience they do not return.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Saw this on Thursday night, and it was also pretty good. Bleak, though, as only a movie written and directed by Michael Haneke can be. It's even more violent than the Piano Teacher, but without the disturbing sexual element that made that movie so hard to watch. Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche), a well cultured (and well heeled) Parisian couple, find a videotape on the front stoop of their urban home. It turns out to be video of the front of that home - very boring surveillance footage that is unnerving because it's so inexplicable. It's creepy for the viewer because it is the very footage that opens up the movie, and the possiblity that the hunt Georges and Anne embark on will end with us must certainly be part of Haneke's intention. Especially, I think, if you're an American. Georges' search takes him through some dream sequences from his childhood, to his mother, and eventually to the apartment of an Algerian he'd grown up with. Their are hints of violence to come, beginning with the paranoia sketched out at the beginning, but it definitely goes way over the top. Haneke poses some fairly interesting questions with his PoMo style, somewhat similar to his approach in Funny Games. I wonder whether these questions aren't undercut somwhat by the violence, which is shocking in the extreme. Georges is a frankly unlikable character (though very well played by Auteil), and the charater Majid (Maurice Bénichou, who is also very good) was interesting enough to warrant a great deal more fleshing out. As Isabelle Huppert was able to do so well in The Piano Teacher.

The Squid and the Whale

I saw this at The Big Picture , thanks to a Korrektiv recommendation. I thought it was pretty good. Joint Custody certainly does Blow, and this drama demonstrates that pretty well. Divorce in general blows. For reasons I won't go into, the second scariest thing in the movie was the dad coming to pick up the kids in a blue Peugot 504. The scariest thing in the movie is the ending, which seemed pretty abrupt as I sat there in the theatre, my third shot of Bushmills in one hand and a brew in the other. But it’s really stayed with me. For some reason I thought of a line from Dylan’s Infidels album (maybe because the CD has been in my car lately):
the Book of Leviticus, and Deuteronomy,
the law of the jungle and the sea are your only teachers
The Law of the Sea, in this case, and pretty much the worst version imaginable: two monsters in an epic death struggle, deep in dark water. Creepy.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Last Polanyi Excerpt

I promise. From pages 80 and 81 of The Tacit Dimension, in the section called "A Society of Explorers":
My account of scientific discovery describes an existential choice. We start the pursuit of discovery by pouring ourselves into the subsidiary elements of a problem and we continue to spill ourselves into further clues as we advance further, so that we arrive at discovery fully committed to it as an aspect of reality. These choices create in us a new existence, which challenges others to transform themselves in its image. To this extent, then, "existence precedes essence," That is, it comes before the truth that we establish and make our own.

But does this show us that "man is his own beginning, author of all his values"? If originality in science is taken as an example of existential choice, these claims of Nietzsche's and Sartre's existentialism appear ill-conceived. The most daring innovations of science spring from a vast range of information which the scientist accepts unchallenged as a background to his problem. Even when he is led to modify the standards of scientific merit, current standards will be the basis of this reform. Science as a whole, as mediated by thousands of fellow scientists he has never heard about, he accepts unchallenged.

His quest transforms him by compelling him to make a sequence of choices. Does this mean that he is existentially choosing himself? In a sense it does; he does seek intellectual growth. But he does not sit back and choose at his pleasure a new existence. He strains his imagination to the utmost to find a path that might lead to a superior life of the mind. All his existential choices are made in response to a potential discovery; they consist in sensing and following a gradient of understanding which will lead to the expansion of his mental existence. Every step is an effort to meet an immediate necessity; his freedom is continuous service.
A few brief comments. Perhaps it's because I'm still laboring under the weight of classic existentialism (or at least writers who are heavily indebted to existentialists), but that "To this extent" at the end of the first paragraph strikes me as a pretty tepid acknowledgement of how easily his epistemology can be folded into what I commonly take to be existentialism, since the metaphysical implications of these ideas really aren't all that different from those of Sartre or Camus. Perhaps this is a polarized way of looking at it, but this still strikes me as fundamentally materialist view of the universe. And for all I know, he's right. But while it's a valid expansion of what might loosely be termed an 'existential epistemology', although an infinitely more carefully reasoned approach than those of traditional existentialists, I wonder whether the real break from existentialism (and perhaps any idea that inclines towards values as strictly human creations) requires some sort of return to (or incorporation of) essentialism. But I'm over my head.

The other monkey swinging in the trees at the back of my mind has to do with his later inclusion of artists and writers of all stripes in that society of explorers. It's certainly gratifying to a writer to hear that his work is as valid as a scientists, and it's certainly true that totalitarian governments repress groups that might challenge their dogma. But it's also true that totalitarian governments are fairly skillful at setting up organizations - scientific, artistic and otherwise - that are essentially propaganda machines. I'm not sure they have to be government agencies. Look at Tarkovsky's first film, "The Steamroller and the Violin". And those scenes of MASSOLIT in Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. And the character Jaromil in Kundera's Life is Elsewhere. All are examples of how easily the artistic temperament can be corrupted and drafted into the service of totalitarianism. Nabokov's character Krug, the philosopher in Bend Sinister, is a pretty stirring portrait of an heroic intellectual defiance of totalitarianism, even if it isn't his best novel. Although, unlike Master and Margarita, it was written in a free society.

Anyway, Polanyi's Tacit Dimension is a great book, an extremely lucid work of philosophy that unfortunately hasn't been referenced much in the public debate currently raging over evolution. At least I haven't seen it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

"Viva la Revolución!" circa 1973

In the mid-seventies I was infinitely more fascinated by the Patty Hearst story than Watergate. The story of Tricky Dick and his crew of crooks was just plain confusing, and worse, boring. The SLA story was pretty confusing, but it was also weird, and I remember wondering about all sorts of angles: 'This woman was kidnapped, so why is she now shooting up department stores?', 'What does 'brainwashed' mean?' and maybe most of all, 'Yeah, they're violent, but why do they seem so pathetic?' Christopher Sorrentino (author of Sound on Sound) has written a well-reviewed novel about the whole sorry affair, and evidently it's pretty good. At least according to Evan Hughes of the NYRB, in a piece so long and thorough I hardly feel the need to read the book. And I have to wonder if the novel is as well written as this paragraph:

'What turned public fascination into a kind of mania was Patty's apparent transformation into a committed member of the Army itself. In a series of audiotapes sent to radio stations within a two-month span beginning a week after her capture, she changed—or was it seemed t change?—from a scared and pleading teenager—"Mom Dad, I'm okay.... And I just hope that you'll do what they say, Dad, and just do it quickly"—to a different kind o parental nightmare
I have been given the choice of, one, being released in a safe area, or, two, joining the forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army and fighting for my freedom and the freedom of all oppressed people. I have chosen to stay and fight.
Accompanying this last recording was a photograph of Patty, now using the name "Tania" after a woman who fought alongside Che Guevara in Bolivia. The young woman who weeks earlier had selected for her wedding china a Herend pattern of hand-painted flowers and butterflies now wore a jumpsuit and beret, and carried a cut-down M-1 carbine loaded with a fully automatic banana clip. She wielded the same weapon later that month while participating in the robbery of the Sunset branch of Hibernia Bank in San Francisco, during which two people were shot and injured by an SLA member, Nancy Ling Perry. In a series of security camera photos taken four to a second, Patty Hearst seemed to be saying, according to students from the Berkeley School for the Deaf brought in to analyze the pictures, "I'm Tania. Up against the wall, motherfuckers."'

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

KSRK: Guilty?/Not Guility? (May 6 – May 15)

Following the parable on Periander, Quidam returns again to idea of his beloved’s suffering, not to mention his own beloved suffering, and acknowledges much of it as the result of his own overheated imagination. He also takes up the idea of erotic and religious obligations and illustrates his meaning with shorter parables and an example from Greek mythology.

May 6. Morning: Quidam, for all his raving, does see the difference between his beloved’s suffering and his imagining of that suffering. The ‘problem’, if I may put it that way, is that his imagination takes precedence over her reality in such a way that his suffering is greatly increased while hers remains something of an unknown, but hopefully the fertile ground for the growth of those ‘religious postulates’ that have befuddled us all along. Quidam sees this dilemma, I think, when he writes,
But the person who is concerned about someone else does not have time really to feel his own pain, and the dreadful terrors of the imagination far outweigh the terrors of actuality.

Earlier I wrote that this struck me as Quidam’s way of appropriating her suffering. I still think this is probably true, but it’s also more complicated than a simple case of an narcissist intolerant of anybody’s feelings but his own:
The misrelation between us shows itself here again and seems to create a new wrong against her.
Yes, it certainly does. So why allow for the creation of that wrong?
Her actual pain, be it ever so keen, her plaintive cry, be it ever so vehement, is still only weak compared with the inventiveness of my imagination without my having seen anything.
I’m not so sure that he’s claiming the greater suffering because he’s an egomaniac who has to have more, even in suffering. It might be that, but I think what he’s getting at is that he can’t help it. His imagination runs away from him, and that’s why he is miserable. My understanding from earlier entries is that he believes that, in the end, he would only make her miserable as well. One ‘solution’ to his problem, I think, would be to grant her the same capacity for the empathic imagination he prizes so highly in himself. Perhaps it’s because I’m somewhat under the spell of Caroline Coleman O’Neill’s novel, Loving Soren, but this would be a way that he could account for his own suffering, without feeling as well its immense disproportion in comparison to the suffering of his beloved. Of course he may also have his reason for this; it might be that it is those ‘religious postulates’ that provide the grounding for just that sort of empathic imagination. But he doesn’t indicate anything along these lines, or much of anything with regard to her besides what she means to him.

May 7. Morning:
As for me, I feel homesick for myself, for daring to be with myself. It is shattering to have an imaginatioin and an actuality so contrary to each other. My troubled imagination is terrible. Must I now in turn, in a way just as tragic as it is comic, find actuality easier? Oh that I might be permitted to keep my fancies, for I am accustomed to grappling with them.
So it is a contest within to find out where there is the greater suffering, in the imagination or in reality. Is it possible that imaginative suffering is real suffering? He seems on the verge of stating just this. At any rate, his continued sense of the dichotomy helps him to see that Actuality is still not the tormentor that possibility is.

May 8. Morning. Quidam wrote a lot on May 8, and in the morning he is mostly concerned with wondering where she gets off in actually visiting his apartment. After all, someone may not realize that Quidam himself was not at home. Has she no concern at all for her honor? But what’s really important comes down to this: “The terror of responsibility considerably lowers the price of direct erotic sufferings.” Let me be direct and say, I simply don’t understand this. Does he mean that his erotic suffering comes cheaply when she throws herself (in an 18th century sense of the term) at him? Or does he have the insight to see that he is working himself into a frenzy over increasingly minor ‘ordeals’? The latter, I suspect, though I’m not at all certain.

There is an anti-Semitic slur that is probably just as well passed over, but there are a few other gems worth mentioning.
In the Orient, to send a silken cord is a death penalty to the recipient; in this case to send a ring is very likely a death penalty to the person who sends it.
With this statement, it seems likely that his problem is with the state of marriage rather than with her. Only the phrase “in this case” saves this observation from being the blatant, blanket condemnation, Marriage = Death. Another possible consideration might be the question of whether ‘death’ might, broadly speaking, be seen as a term for desirable transition. In moving from one state of being to another, can it not be said that the person of the earlier state, in a sense, dies? In other words, can we apply John 12:24 ("unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone”) to transitions within life as well as to that final transition?
Erotically she is in the wrong; that is certain. A girl has no right to use such means. The fact that she uses them demonstrates basically how little understanding she has of them. Truly I would not dare to use such means. The person who uses them against another binds himself just as firmly as the person he wants to bind: lest it ever be demonstrated that he has taken these sacred means in vain. But my capital crime gives her the most open account.
What was this capital crime? To be charged with ‘murder’? Later he visits her and all appears to be well. He sees that she is calm. He emphasizes the need for concealment. And then he returns to his great obsession, in a state of mind that can hardly be imagined as calm, except, significantly, towards the end:
Tomorrow, then, begins the last battle; the reign of terror. I have no impression of her at all. The religious, which always has occupied me, occupied my mind to the point of despair and surely will occupy me as long as I can think, she has enlisted on her side. Perhaps it is such a ferocious skirmish that she did not know what she should think up to use against me and so she has used this. Be that as it may, I must respect it. What I shall venture to do now is to pull myself away from her, if possible, scramble her image of me into sheer inanity and utterly confound her. Every conterargument will be respected. I know very well what these will be. All sympathy for me must be wiped out, and she must also be run weary in reflection. In all human probability she will tehn be over the worst suffering with me and, humanly speaking, will not be inclined to begin all over again the moment I leave her. - One becomes almost calm when it is a matter of acting, even if what one will do is the most desperate and in the most difficult form – namely, in the form of time and duration. But if I cannot be calm, then I might just as well not begin this work.
Am I right about this, that what brings him peace is to set about sloughing her off with the same mental preoccupations that he understands have made him miserable? Yikes.

May 8. Midnight. Quidam has here composed one of the most lyrical passages yet, justifying his author’s request to be remembered as ‘a poet’. After the paean to Stillness, devoid of any individual, personal human activity, he returns to time and the realm of human reality.
But this vegetating stillness in which human life is bewitched, in which time comes and goes and is filled with something so that there is no felt need, for all rivers flow into the sea and yet cannot fill the infinite sea, but this and that can fill up time for people – this is foreign to my soul. And yet it is this with which I must now seek to become familiar.
He imagines a Marie (who I understand to be a stand-in for his beloved; and an interesting choice for a name, at that), and then says:
No! No! That upsets my whole being! Let infinity separate us – my hope was that eternity would also unite us. Come, death, and keep her for eternity; come madness, and suspend everything until eternity removes the probate court’s seal; come, hate, with your infinite passion; come, proud distinction, with your withering wreath of honor; come, godly piety, with your incorruptible blessedness; come, one of you , and take her whom I myself cannot take – but not this, not the dabblings of the finite. – If that happens, then I am deceiving her, then I must deceive her.
Then he seems to reverse himself, when he says the following:
And it is possible for me to give her or try to send her a more lenient explanation (and for me the decisive factor is not whether I in all human probability achieve something) of my conduct, an explanation that is abhorrent to me, more abhorrent than the most brazen lie I used when I was hoping that in an infinite sense it would be beneficial to her.
May 12 Midnight.
I really am not a hasty physician, for I am not the one who hurries throught he patient’s room; it is the patient who is rushing so fast past me; and I am nto a physician, either, but rather a patient myself.
Nutty. Pricelessly nutty.

May 15 Morning.
It is an agonizing self-punishment, as agonizing as the scene in Tartarus to have to sit that way and make faces at myself. But so it must be.
Naturally brings to mind the son imitating his father in Quiet Desapair.

Polanyi on Morality

Polanyi makes good on his promise to answer the question of "whether intellectual powers, grounded in tacit knowing and descended from evolutionary emergence, can exercise the kind of responsible judgment which we must claim if we are to attribute a moral sense to man." Can, in fact, his "rebuttal of exactitude as the ideal of science open the way toward a theory re-establishing the justification of moral standards?" Forgive me for the length of the following passage, but I've put a moratorium on buying books for a while and I’d like to come back to it. This excerpt comes after Polanyi's discussion of the importance mutually imposed authority in public opinion, especially in science, but with perhaps even greater pressure in literary and artistic circles. I wonder about his characterization of the scientific community as undogmatic, as it seems to me that such luminaries as Dawkins and Wilson are about as reflexively dogmatic within their specialties as Torquemada was, albeit without the rack and thumbscrews. And perhaps rightfully so.
In our society, ideas about morality are also actively cultivated by different circles of mutual appreciation, which are deeply divided against each other; and in politics these circles are deliberately organized as rivals.

But we need not go into all these variations; they are transcended by a test which proves that all such groups effectively foster the intrinsic power of thought. For these circles, these professional associations - some perhaps no more than coteries of mutual admiration - are feared and hated by modern totalitarian rulers. They are feared because in them man lives in though - in though over which the rulers have no power. They are feared more than are scientific associations, because the truth of literature and poetry, of history and political thought, of philosophy, morality, and legal principles, is more vital than the truth of science. This is why the independent cultivation of such truth has proved an intolerable menace to modern tyranny.

I have now roughly generalized the principles underlying the pursuit of science to include the cultivation of man's other ideals. The result shows how closely the growth of thought intrinsically limits our self-determination everywhere. Whether his calling lies in literature or art, or in moral and social reform, even the most revolutionary mind must choose as his calling a small area of responsibility, for the transformation of which he will rely on the surrounding world as its premises. Perfectionism, which would transform the whole of thought and the entire society, is a program of destruction, ending up at best in a world of pretense. The existentialist contempt for all values not chosen by ourselves, condemning them as bad faith, is likewise either empty or destructive.

There is another way of dealing with the claim to absolute self-determination and the demands of perfectionism. I could reject these inordinate endeavors by referring to the logic by which successive levels of reality are related to each other. All our higher principles must rely for their working on a lower level of reality and this necessarily sets limits to their scope, yet does not make them reducible to the terms of the lower level. This argument confutes the current cultural movement which questions the intrinsic powers of our ideals. There is not one higher principle of our minds that is not in danger of being falsely explained away by psychological or sociological analysis, by historical determinism, by mechanical models or computers; but this battle cannot be joined here on this wide front.

Nevertheless, must say a word on these lines about the principal ideal of man which is at the core of his involvement in a combination of extreme skepticism and perfectionism, for I have specifically promised to find a place for moral principles safe from self-destruction by a claim to boundless self-determination. Take the demand for social and moral perfection and recognize the presence of successive levels of reality. Society, as an organization of power and profit, forms one level, while its moral principles lie on a level above it. The higher level is rooted in the lower one: moral progress can be achieved only within the medium of a society operating by the exercise of power and aiming at material advantages. We must accept the fact that any moral advances must be tainted by this social mechanism which alone can bring them about. To attempt to enforce absolute morality in society is therefore to indulge in fantasies that will only lead to untamed violence.
After re-reading this a number of times, especially the exception taken to ‘boundless self-determination’, I can see why so many theologians (Torrance and Lonergan, anyway) are quick to adopt these ideas. Although it seems to me that a lot of work remains in reconciling ‘emergence’ with anything that hints of divine creation.

My question: can G_d be discovered, much as Polanyi here so eloquently contends that Reality is discovered? He doesn’t say, and it isn’t his job to say, but I wonder whether within ‘tacit knowing’ there isn’t room for Maritain’s notion of the ‘intuition of being’. I'm suspect Thomism is the last place he wanted to end up, but somehow that's where these arguments always return to.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Franz Sez

Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book does not shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we'd be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.

~To Oskar Pollak, January 27, 1904

Wystan Hugh Auden (1907 - 1973)


The archaeologist's spade
delves into dwellings
vacancied long ago,

unearthing evidence
of life-ways no one
would dream of leading now,

concerning which he has not much
to say that he can prove:
the lucky man!

Knowledge may have its purposes,
but guessing is always
more fun than knowing.

We do know that Man,
from fear or affection,
has always graved His dead.

What disastered a city,
volcanic effusion,
fluvial outrage,

or a human horde,
agog for slaves and glory,
is visually patent,

and we're pretty sure that,
as soon as palaces were built,
their rulers

though gluttoned on sex
and blanded by flattery,
must often have yawned.

But do grain-pits signify
a year of famine?
Where a coin-series

peters out, should we infer
some major catastrophe?
Maybe. Maybe.

From murals and statues
we get a glimpse of what
the Old Ones bowed down to,

but cannot conceit
in what situations they blushed
or shrugged their shoulders.

Poets have learned us their myths,
but just how did They take them?
That's a stumper.

When Norsemen heard thunder,
did they seriously believe
Thor was hammering?

No, I'd say: I'd swear
that men have always lounged in myths
as Tall Stories,

that their real earnest
has been to grant excuses
for ritual actions.

Only in rites
can we renounce our oddities
and be truly entired.

Not that all rites
should be equally fonded:
some are abominable.

There's nothing the Crucified
would like less
than butchery to appease Him.


From Archaeology
one moral, at least, may be drawn,
to wit, that all

our school text-books lie.
What they call History
is nothing to vaunt of,

being made, as it is,
by the criminal in us:
goodness is timeless.

August 1973

Friday, February 17, 2006

KSRK: Guilty?/Not Guility? (May 5. Midnight.)

The Reading Lesson

The literary recollection for the month of May concerns Periander, the tyrant of Corinth to whom Quidam first alluded back in April. He made the connection pretty personal when he wrote the following:
Nothing I have heard or read has struck me so pointedly and personally as a saying about Periander. It is said of him that he talked like a wise man and acted like a maniac. That this saying applies so aptly to me is proved by the fact that I accept it with the most passionate sympathy, and yet it has not the slightest influence to change me for the better. This way of appropriating it is quite a la Periander. Within my postulate I am shrewd, but the postulate for my actions is so ideal that it turns all my shrewdness into foolishness. If I could learn to discount my postulate, my shrewdness would make a good showing. If I could be shrewd in this way, I should have been married long ago.
A number of familiar themes emerge in this latest tale: (1) the troubled relationship between a father and son; (2) an uneasy alliance of effectiveness with insanity; (3) sexual perversion; (4) politics and/or social welfare; (5) language and its insufficiency; (6) the irony of religious postulates; and (7) death as the only real resolution. There are probably more, and all of these certainly aren’t present in every story, but a pattern has certainly emerged that is worth tracking.

The troubled relationship this time concerns Periander and his son, Lycophron. There is another son as well, Cypselus, though he plays a fairly minor role. Lycophron knows that his father murdered his mother, and when this becomes apparent to Periander, Lycophron is eventually exiled. Though of course the circumstances are much different in each story, this conflict between father and son is an aspect of every entry on the fifth of each month. This time, somewhat unusually, most of the attention is focused on the father, although it is still the son that remains the more sympathetic character. It is also by far the most violent story.

Insanity is a feature of most of these stories as well, and in a few cases can be expanded to include its uneasy alliance with effectiveness. Here this effectiveness is evident in both his wisdom and abilities as a ruler. It’s especially similar to the The Dream of Solomon, in which the king’s ability to rule his country is combined with his wisdom as a speaker. In each story there is the stark reality that even this is not enough to make them good people, however effective they may be as rulers. Concerning Periander, Quidam writes “Of him is is said that he always spoke as a wise man and always acted as a lunatic,” and then give ample evidence to underscore the point. In The Dream of Solomon it is David who is the effective ruler, despite the fact that his son perceives in a dream that the father is an ungodly man: “and to be singled out by God one has to be an ungodly person, and the horror of the dream is this contradiction.” And Solomon suffers under this contradiction as well: “And Solomon became wise, but he did not become a hero; he became a thinker, but he did not become a man of prayer; and he became a preacher, but he did not become a believer …” and the list of contrasts continues. In his life of Periander, these elements are all combined in the one figure of the father, who mercilessly exiles his son not once but twice. When the throne is finally passed from one generation to the next it is instead hereditary sin that wins out in the end, as the son is killed by people who refuse to have the father-tyrant dwell among them.

The twisted section concerns Periander’s “penally culpable relations with his mother, Cratia.” Perhaps notable that the word kratia means ‘power’, the power here perhaps referring to Periander’s wisdom and his status as one of the seven sages of Greece. It is indicated by Quidam that penally culpable relations themselves that occasion one of his wise sayings, “Do not do what ought to be kept secret.” This again is similar to the wisdom of Solomon, whose ability to see through to the truth and articulate it in pithy comments accompanying political decisions existed side by side with an essentially sensuous mode of existence.

Besides their political acumen, the central figures in these stories are often engaged in the betterment of society. In A Possiblility it was the accountant’s philanthropy on behalf of children. In Quiet Despair it was Swift’s hospital. Perhaps the most extreme version of this is in the leper’s self-remove in the February story. Here Periander, for all his moral failings, is able to dig the isthmus (and by doing so abolished taxes in Corinth), and had a reign marked by leniency and justice toward the poor.

Most of the protaganists are skilled with language. Swift was a novelist and poet; the leper’s abilities are self-evident, even if they aren’t recognized by society, and there’s Solomon’s pronouncements are self evident. Only the bookkeeper doesn’t fit the pattern, and this is possibly emphasized when it is said that he “sees the most of all; his observations are sharper and more persevering, just as certain animals have sharper senses than do human beings.” In any case, Periander’s words are comparable to those of Solomon.

The irony of the religious mode so apparent in the story of Solomon is less substantial here: “He stood by his word and gave the gods the carved pillar he had promised, but it was paid for by the women’s jewelry.” Okay, that’s pretty thin, but it’s certainly there.

Many of the stories end in death, and Periander’s is especially violent. At his own behest:
For the last time the wise man and the tyrant were united. His desperate resolve and fear of being overtaken in death by disgrace led his wisdom to find an ingenious escape from lfe. He summoned two young men and showed them a secret passage. He ordered them to come there the next night and to kill the first man they met and to bury him immediately. When the two were gone, he summoned four others and gave them the same order – to wait in the passage and when they met two young men to murder them and to bury them at once. Then he summoned double the number and gave them the same command – to murder the four they would encounter and bury them immediately on the spot where they felled them. Then Periander himself came at the appointed hour and was murdered.
How this may be related to Quidam’s engagement is very difficult to say. How it is related to Kierkegaard is much easier, and that with these parables he is escalating his own troubled state to mythic proportions.

Polanyi approaches the crucial question ...

regarding science. Again, from the The Tacit Dimension:
The declared aim of modern science is to establish a strictly detached, objective knowledge. Any falling short of this ideal is acceptied only as a temporary imperfection, which we must aim at eliminating. But suppose that tacit thought forms an indispensable part of all knowledge, then the ideal of eliminating all personal elements of knowledge would, in effect, aim at the destruction of all knowledge. The ideal of exact science would turn out to be fundamentally misleading and possibly a source of devastating fallacies.
This emphasis on a necessarily personal structure to all knowledge is, in a weird way, why I sometimes think that born again Christians are on to something when they claim Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour. Much as I grew up disliking the formulation. From a look at the chapter headings, Polanyi explores the religious dimensions of these ideas in Personal Knowledge, and I'm anxious to get my hands on that next.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

and, man am I excited ...

about more criminal exploits from Danny Ocean and his crew of crooks.

Spielberg Seeking Option for Loving Søren

Korrektiv Arts & Entertainment Newsflash
February 15, 2006

Stephen Spielberg is close to making a deal on a movie based on the love life of the 19th century Danish existentialist, Soren Kierkegaard. Inside sources stated earlier this morning that the director of Jurassic Park, Artificial Intelligence: AI, and Saving Private Ryan is attempting to purchase the rights to produce and direct an adaptation of Caroline Coleman O'Neill's theo-philosophical-historical romance novel, Loving Søren. This news follows a veritable storm of publicity surrounding Oprah's recent selection of the novel for her book club.

The amount of the option, a reputed $40 million, has not been verified.

"We've already contacted Elina Löwensohn about the lead," said Ima Fakir, a representative for Mr. Spielberg. "We think having a Romanian play a Danish debutante will provide all the chemistry we need." Ms. Löwensohn's previous credits include Six Ways to Sunday and a gymnast in an episode of Seinfeld. The actor for the leading role has not yet been determined, but rumors are circulating most heavily around George Clooney and Russell Crowe. "We think Crowe has demonstrated his ability to portray eccentric genius," said Ms. Fakir, in reference to the actor's performance in the 2001 film, A Beautiful Mind. "Although George Clooney certainly bears a closer physical resemblance to the Great Dane," she added, "not to mention that he's quite a deep thinker himself."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

KSRK: Guilty?/Not Guility? (early May)

On the whole, Quidam’s entries for the month of May seem to me easier to understand than those he made in April. Insanity is still a theme, but isn’t quite so predominant now, and speculations about abstract Possibility give way to (somewhat) quieter ruminations on deception, the spirit of the erotic, and his own inching from an ethical to a religious state of being. There is also a fair amount of analysis of behavior, both his own and his beloved, and as might be expected this leads to a speculative paralysis that leads the reader (this reader, anyway) to side with the girl, with or without the sense of eternity he seems desperate for her to have.

May 1. Morning: Quidam seems to have bounced back after declaring that his depression had won out at the end of April, and the result is fairly dizzying display in which it’s hard to sort out the events that have led to these reflections. He refers again to his mention of ‘separation,’ which has evidently disturbed her enough that she has become stronger. In his view, anyway. I’m not sure I understand exactly why this should be so, although I suspect it’s because he broached the subject rather than acting upon it, and now she has the choice of taking that final fateful step. I would point out (assuming that this is true) that wouldn’t necessarily be true (almost certainly would not be true) if she loved him as he claims she loves him. Rather she would wait in fear and trembling for him to act on his claim, not at all wanting that end herself. Abraham certainly was terrified at the crucial moment, but what about Isaac?

Regarding the question about a pasha with three horse tails, go
here . I wonder whether his point isn’t that he can do without the social distinction that comes with being a married man, although it seems to me that this distinction is probably part and parcel to the ethical sphere expounded upon so much by Judge Willhelm in Reflections on Marriage. And when he writes, “With such a union, I become unhappy; I am alarmed about my deepest existence”, it seems obvious that it must be one or the other. And he’s correct when he says here that the responsibility is his, however much he seems to write his way around this in other entries. I would also point out that the Catholic view of sacraments runs counter to this: marriage is very much a religious state of being. Though it’s also certainly true that there is, religiously speaking, traditionally a prejudice (or maybe preference) for the unmarried state, to which Quidam seems to be aspiring.

May 2. Midnight: Quidam does not deny that he harbors angry feelings against his beloved, and claims that he does “not like these direct expressions of feelings; one should be silent and act interiorly.” Question: is this what we have now come to regard as the passive/aggressive profile? Not to reduce it to pop psychology, but to get purchase on some of this stuff one has to be willing to grab whatever wrench might fit.

On this day he also speaks about his perfect freedom and the need to act accordingly. The jump he makes from “time is and remains a dangerous enemy” to how a man can act with self will and yet thank God is at first hazy, but he thankfully clears it up with an extended analogy about a woman so drunk she falls in the street:
Yesterday I saw a drunken woman in the street; she fell down, and the boys laughed at her. Then she got up without anyone’s help and said: I am woman enough to get up by myself, but for that I thak God alone and no one else – no, no one else! When a person is totally engrossed in this distinction, it is rather humiliating for him to be so far from having made new discoveries that a drunken woman says the same thing. And yet it is indescribably joyful and moving and inspiring that even a drunken woman says the same thing.
Has a certain punch, this explanation.

Quidam states that he is committed to the life based on an idea. I find this troubling, because it seems to me that it has been just this sort of commitment to an idea that has been the ruin of so many over the past century. I don’t deny that ideas aren’t important, or that they don’t, philosophically, have much more sway over our lives than we are often willing to admit, but to elevate ideas above their human begetters seems to me where so many of us have gone wrong. But maybe I’ve misunderstood his point. Gotten the idea wrong.

May 4. Morning: And unless I’m mistaken, Quidam himself is especially cognizant of this point in this day’s entry. He has brought up the word (‘separation’, I think), and illustrates the difficulty with language (presented by language?) with another analogy:
There is an enormous difference when a warship and a nutshell put out to sea, and the difference is eternally visible. It is different with words. The same word can indicate an even greater difference, and yet the word is the same. The word has not come up between us in a pathos-filled way, but it comes up again and again, mixed in among various things in order to clarify the mood.
I hear more echoes of Shakespeare (he referred to Juliet in the previous entry) in this nutshell, this time Hamlet (“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite Space”) and that Dane’s obsession with language.

Evidence for Quidam’s concern for the human reality in this drama is in the last paragraph, when he writes,
In my view, this means that I am making a human being unhappy.
And especially:
what I am suffering at the thought of her pain, at the thought that I probably will never recover from this impression because my whole edifice has been made to reel, my view of life, of myself, of my relation to the idea has failed …
And so the last sentence was unexpected, and seems to me unfortunate: “that is my share. It is the lion’s share, or more accurately, the sorrow is so great that there is abundantly enough for both of us.” Hasn’t he just taken responsibility for the effect his actions will have on her? Why then does he rhetorically appropriate her suffering? Isn’t that what he’s doing, or am I missing something here?

Next comes the story of Periander, The Reading Lesson.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Franz Sez

Dear Frau Milena,

(This form of address is becoming tiresome, but it's one of those handles in the unsafe world to which the sick can hold on and it's not yet a proof of returning health when the handles become tiresome to them.) I have never lived among German people, German is my mother-tongue and therefore natural to me, but Czech feels to me far more intimate, which is why your letter dispels many an uncertainty, I see you clearer, the movements of your body, your hands, so quick, so determined, it's almost a meeting, although when I try to raise my eyes to your face, then in the flow of the letter--what a story!--fire breaks out and I see nothing but fire.

I somehow can no longer write of anything but what concerns us, us in the turmoil of the world, just us. Everything else is remote. Wrong! Wrong! But the lips are mumbling and my face lies in your lap.

The most beautiful of your letters (and that means a lot, for as a whole they are, almost in every line, the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me in my life) are those in which you agree with my "fear" and at the same time try to explain that I don't need to have it. For I too, even though I may sometimes look like a bribed defender of my "fear," probably agree with it deep down in myself, indeed it is part of me and perhaps the best part. And as it is my best, it is also perhaps this alone that you love. For what else worthy of love could be found in me? But this is worthy of love.

And when you once asked me how I could have called that Saturday "good" with that fear in my heart, it's not difficult to explain. Since I love you (and I do love you, you stupid one, as the sea loves a pebble in its depths, this is just how my love engulfs you--and may I in turn be the pebble with you, if Heaven permits), I love the whole world and this includes your left shoulder, no, it was first the right one, so I kiss it if I feel like it (and if you are nice enough to pull the blouse away from it) and this also includes your left shoulder and your face above me in the forest and my resting on your almost bare breast. And that's why you're right in saying that we were already one and I'm not afraid of it, rather it is my only happiness and my only pride and I don't confine it at all only to the forest.

But just between this day-world and that "half-hour in bed" of which you once spoke contemptuously as "men's business," there lies for me an abyss which I cannot bridge, probably because I don't want to. That over there is a concern of the night, thoroughly and in every sense a concern of the night: this here is the world and I possess it and now I'm supposed to leap across into the night in order to take possession of it once more. Can one take possession of anything twice? Does that not mean: to lose it? Here is the world which I possess, and I'm supposed to leap across for the sake of a sinister black-magic, of a hocus-pocus, a philosopher's stone, an alchemy, a wish-ring. Away with it, I'm terribly afraid of it.

To try and catch in one night by black magic, hastily, heavily breathing, helpless, obsessed, to try and obtain by black magic what every day offers to open eyes! ("Perhaps" children can't be begotten in any other way, "perhaps" children too are black magic. Let us leave this question for the moment.) This is the reason why I'm so grateful (to you and to everything) and it is therefore "samozrejimé" (natural) that by your side I'm most quiet and most unquiet, most inhibited and most free, and this is also why, after this realization, I have renounced all other life. Look into my eyes!

At last I've read the other letter, but actually only beginning with the passage: "Nechci abys na odpovídal"--"I don't want you to answer that." I don't know what precedes this, but today, faced with your letters which confirm you irrefutably as I carry you locked within myself, I'm ready to sign it unread as true even if it should testify against me before the highest court. I'm dirty, Milena, infinitely dirty, which is why I make so much fuss about purity. No people sing with such pure voices as those who live in deepest hell; what we take for the song of angels is their song.

Nor is it perhaps really love when I say that for me you are the most beloved; love is to me that you are the knife which I turn within myself.

It's a long time since I wrote to you, Frau Milena, and even today I'm writing only as the result of an incident. Actually, I don't have to apologize for my not writing, you know after all how I hate letters. All the misfortune of my life--I don't wish to complain, but to make a generally instructive remark derives, one could say, from letters or from the possibility of writing letters. People have hardly ever deceived me, but letters always--and as a matter of fact not only those of other people, but my own. In my case this is a special misfortune of which I won't say more, but at the same time also a general one. The easy possibility of letter-writing must--seen merely theoretically--have brought into the world a terrible disintegration of souls. It is, in fact, an intercourse with ghosts, and not only with the ghost of the recipient but also with one's own ghost which develops between the lines of the letter one is writing and even more so in a series of letters where one letter corroborates the other and can refer to it as a witness. How on earth did anyone get the idea that people can communicate with one another by letter! Of a distant person one can think, and of a person who is near one can catch hold-all else goes beyond human strength. Writing letters, however, means to denude oneself before the ghosts, something for which they greedily wait. Written kisses don't reach their destination, rather they are drunk on the way by the ghosts. It is on this ample nourishment that they multiply so enormously. Humanity senses this and fights against it and in order to eliminate as far as possible the ghostly element between people and to create a natural communication, the peace of souls, it has invented the railway, the motor car, the aeroplane. But it's no longer any good, these are evidently inventions being made at the moment of crashing. The opposing side is so much calmer and stronger; after the postal service it has invented the telegraph, the telephone, the radiograph. The ghosts won't starve, but we will perish.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Michael Polanyi on Science, Revolution, and the origins of his theory of 'Tacit Knowing'

I'm a little worn out by all the Kierkegaard, so I thought I'd take a short break with an article in First Things, which led to a book by Michael Polanyi, called "The Tacit Dimensioin", which I found at my local library. The author includes this anecdote at the beginning of the book:
I first met questions of philosophy when I came up against the Soviet ideology under Stalin which denied justification to the pursuit of science. I remember a conversation I had with Bukharin in Moscow in 1935. Though he was heading toward his fall and execution three years later, he aqs still a leading theortician of the Communist party. When I asked him about the pursuit of pure science in Soviet Russia, he said that pure science was a morbid symptom of a class society; under socialism the conception of science pursued for its own sake would dispapear, for the interests of scientists would spontaeously turn to problems of the current Five-Year Plan.

I was struck by the fact that this denial of the very existence of independent scientfic thought came from a socialist theory which derived its tremendous persuasive power from its claim to scientific certainty. The scientific outlook appeared to have produced a mechanical conception of man and history in which there was no place for science itself. This conception denied altogether any intrinsic power to thought and thus denied also any ground for claiming freedom of thought. I saw also that this self-immolation of the mind was actuated by powerful moral motives. The mechanical course of history was to bring universal justice. Scientific skepticism would trust only material necessity for achieving universal brotherhood. Skepticism and utopianism had thus fused into a new skeptical fanaticism.

It seemed to me then that our whole civilization was pervaded by the dissnance of an extreme critical lucidity and an intense moral consicence, and that this combination had generated both our tight-lipped modern revolutions and the tormented self-doubt of modern man outside revolutionary movements. So I resolved to inquire into the roots of this condition.

My search has led me to a novel idea of human knowledge from which a harmonious view of thought and existence, rooted in the universe, seems to emerge.

I shall reconsider human knowledge by starting from the fact that we can know more than we can tell.
Wonderful stuff, and like the best anecdotes, really on the level of parable. The last sentence - and in fact the nutshell version of his entire epistomology - sounds a lot like Nabokov's famous reply to the question of whether or not he believed in G_d:
To be quite candid - and what I am going to say now is something I never said before, and I hope it provokes a salutary little chill: I know more than I can express in words, and the little I can express would not have been expressed, had I not known more.
My own favorite version is both simpler and less profound: The more you know, the more you know you don't know.

But it's easier to remember.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Otherwise known as "The Stationmaster's Wife" - the stationmaster being Bolweiser, played to pathetic perfection by Kurt Raab. Elisabeth Trissenaar is the wife. I watched the new DVD version last night, and though it doesn't offer any substantial improvement over the videotape version, the film itself certainly affirmed my belief that this is one of Fassbinder's better productions. It's certainly one of the most devestating examinations of adultery I've read or seen anywhere, and the subtle connections made between a marriage gone bad (or maybe just born bad), small-town politicking, and the rise of fascism are extremely effective. Some guy named Jim, perhaps the most devoted film fan ever, and of Fassbinder in particular, has a lot of good things to say about it here.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Warum läuft Herr R. Amok?

Why does Herr F. run amok?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Il Grido

Another Antonioni movie, and boy, is it bleak. Bleak, bleak, bleak. In fact, one way of looking at the movie is to see it as one, long, extended Pathetic Fallacy. Man wanders around in the fog for two hours, then kills himself. Oh yeah, this comment contains spoilers. Sorry about that. Anyway, here's Wikipedia on the pathetic fallacy:
The pathetic fallacy is a term from literary criticism used to denote the description of inanimate natural objects in a manner that endows them with human emotions, thoughts, sensations and feelings. The term was coined by John Ruskin in his 1856 work Modern Painters. In the narrow and hardline sense intended by Ruskin, the pathetic fallacy is an artistic failing, since he believed the central value of art, literary or visual, ought to be its truthful representation of the world as it appears to our senses, not as it appears in our imaginative and fanciful reflections upon it.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Your Neighborhood Movie Joint

My new favorite movie theater in Seattle is the Central Cinema at 21st and Union, where you can sit in a booth eating pizza and drinking beer while watching a movie. A very hospitable waitstaff comes by to take your order and bring the food in a timely manner. I had an anchovie pizza with a Hales Cream Ale, and both were first rate.

On the program for the night was a feature called Mobile Exposure, a part of their Independent Exposure Series on the 2nd Wednesday of every month (see more on Mobile Exposure at www.microcinema.com).

I have to say that the series this last Wednesday was a fairly mixed bag. I think every film was shot with a hand-held, digital device of some kind or another, and in more than a few instance this meant a phone. Like the one you have. Sometimes this was interesting, but plenty of times this basically added up to a home movie. Once or twice this added up to a home movie with a plot rather cruelly inflicted upon it. The standout selection was a piece entitled SMS 13 (Stop Motion Studies), directed by David Crawford, consisting pretty simply of lurid shots of people on a subway (by 'lurid' I mean the photography itself, not the subject matter). Really not much more than you might see on your commute home from the Charles MGH stop, but then I think that's the point. Many of the other features were interesting, but sometimes the abstraction of the human form struck me as more dehumanizing than anything else.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Back at the Well

Last weekend I went to see an old acquaintance of mine up north near the border, a priest who had been at the church in which I was baptized a dozen years ago or more. He was ordained when I was just beginning the RCIA program, and he served as the assistant pastor when I was baptized two years later (I took a little longer than I’d first expected when I got the jitters on the Palm Sunday before I was supposed to be baptized at the end of the first year). I well remember his strong hands on my back as he helped me lean back into the baptismal font for an almost total immersion (the Very Reverend presiding at the time soaked my head from above with a pitcher drawn from the same big basin in which I was kneeling). Obviously, I remember it like yesterday. Today, even.

Anyway, he’s now fairly comfortably installed as the Reverend up at St. ____’s , where I went to show him, in the flesh, that I was still alive after all these years. Still a little crazy, too (as the song goes), but that’s another story. This is the priest who first recommended Karl Adam to me, whose Spirit of Catholicism regular readers will recognize from the entries I post as a corrective to Kierkegaard. He was about ten years older than I was at the time (still is, of course), but he’s also a huge fan of literature, so we got along well from our first meeting. Father Adam (as I’ll refer to him from here on out) had brought up Goethe in one of his first homilies (Goethe!), and while I’ve never been a big fan of the least in Joyce’s triumvirate of European greats, I liked the way he had referred to Faust in his sermon and told him so after the Sunday RCIA session was over.

Father Adam is also a fan of Kierkegaard (or he’s read him, at any rate), so I’ve wanted to tell him about KSRK, the reading group that Jonathan Potter started over at Korrektiv. I was hoping that he might be able to help out with some of the tougher passages. By ‘tougher passages’ I meant Quidam’s Diary, and the month of April most of all. We were soon sitting across his desk from eachother, and while he turned on his computer, I sat there looking at what struck me as an incredible amount of junk: three different penholders (two without a pen), a golf ball with a tee somehow stuck right through the center, a stack of magazines (Crisis and Commonweal, but a couple of Golf Digests as well), and, maybe most improbably, a little bronze statue of Bugs Bunny, with an impish little gloved hand on his impish little hip.

The fact of the matter is that I’ve been going through a bit of a crisis the last couple of months, and I thought it might be a good idea to go back to the source to see if that might help me get my bearings. So we sat there in his office, talking across his desk much as we used to. I gave him the URL for my blogspt, and soon he was clicking his way around the hyperlinks on my site.

“So, Quin, after all these years!” he said, peering into the screen.

“Yep, Father. Hard to believe. Time certainly does fly.” I was feeling like my own gravedigger.

“And how are you getting by these days? If I recall, you were working as an accountant while you were attending St. _____.”

“Yeah, well, kind of. Doing tax returns for one of the big ones. That time of year, you know.”

“Oh yes … I’ve always marveled that tax season almost always coincides with Lent. Easter, too. Curious, don’t you think?”

“Uhh … hmm … not sure what you mean, Father.”

“Well, never mind. What else have you been up to this past decade and a half? Married? Kids? Still doing the bachelor thing?”

“Well …” Father always had a way of being direct. I used to appreciate it. “No and no is the simple answer, I guess, but that’s sort of what I wanted to talk to you about.” Sometimes I can’t stand the sound of my own voice.

“I see,” said Father Adam, and paused for a moment. “Well, spill it out.”

“Well, I’m not married, as I said, and I guess … well, I guess I’ve been thinking about giving the whole celibacy thing a whirl. Maybe, I mean. For a little while, anyway, just to see if it works out, or fits... However you're supposed to put it …”

I’m not sure why, but Father Adam was beginning to look pretty uncomfortable at that point. Maybe he’d heard too many confessions of mine in the past. No, forget that; that’s a bit of an insult.

Maybe it was me that was getting uncomfortable.

“Wow,” he said, looking at the screen again, “you sure see a lot of movies.”

“Yeah, well, that’s part of the problem, I think.” Now I really was getting a little uncomfortable. “It’s just the same old thing, over and over again.”

“Bored, eh?”

“Yeah. So I wanted to ask you, um … er … well, this Quidam guy – I mean the character that we’re studying in this reading group … I mean, I think it’s pretty much Kierkegaard himself, and he’s having this problem with his fiancée, but it isn’t exactly clear what the problem is, although he keeps using words like religious “postulates” and “presuppositions,” and trying to pay people off with “rix-dollars,” whatever those are, and I just have no idea what he’s talking about. I mean, it’s just hard to figure out what he wants, because he writes as if he knows exactly what he wants, but I get the feeling that underneath all this he has no idea what he's doing.”

“Hmm. Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve read the Stages, but I think that was pretty much my impression at the time.” He turned his chair a little further in my direction, folding his hands in his lap, as if it took some effort to keep them away from the mouse. “Wow. Still reading Kierkegaard, after all these years.”

“Yeah.” Bugs Bunny stood there, grinning at me. “I mean, I know what you mean." I wondered if he'd lost the other pens, or what. And why did he keep the stands around?

"I guess I’m kind of stuck.”

He tapped on the arms of his chair with knuckles, somewhat absentimindedly.

“Do you still have the Adam book I gave you?”

“Oh yeah. I’ve been quoting him on line, as sort of a complement to Kierkegaard. I mean, Quidam. No, wait, I do mean Kierkegaard.”

He chuckled at that, then rubbed off his smile with his index and thumb at the corners of his mouth. “Well, Adam is pretty trustworthy. He should be helpful. And go back to the classics, like St. Augustine. I always find Augustine helpful. Even when it comes to celibacy. Or especially.”

Lord give me constancy, but not yet,” I quoted for him. He knew all about it of course, but I was feeling pretty desperate for a touchstone.

“Exactly,” he said, smiling again. On the other hand, I didn’t want to seem conspiratorial, especially since my own relation to the subject was a little less clear than Father Adam’s. After a second I forced out a chuckle as well.


He cleared his throat and asked me a question. “So do you think Quidam, or maybe Kierkegaard, wanted to be celibate? And didn’t realize it, or what?”

“Maybe, yeah. At the beginning of the diary section he writes quite a bit about going to a monastery – the side road, or something like that – and he seems so confused when he’s writing about his fiancée, and then it even seems like he’s throwing his own confusion on to her, accusing her of acting like a girl, when of course that’s exactly what she is. But then I’m not sure whether Kierkegaard is aware of all this, or what.”

“Confusing.” Said Father Adam, pretty definitively.

"It's like a long metaphor, or something," I said. Not so definitively.

"Well, metaphors can be difficult to get a grip on."

I sat there quiet for a moment, staring down at interlaced fingers suspended midway between my knees.

“Not to pry, Father, but … I don’t mean to be rude or anything … but what’s it like?

"Confusion?" he laughed. "You tell me!"

That might look a little harsh in print, but he had me laughing as well. "No, no ... I mean ... well, I mean celibacy. It's gotta be tough." I looked back up at him. "Isn't it?”

“Yeah, you asked that before.” He was leaning back in his roller chair, hands behind his head, the left side of his collar hanging out of his shirt.

“I know." I was sounding downright whiny by then. "Sorry about that.”

"No, no, don't worry about it. It's a pretty standard question, after all."

He was staring off at an architectural drawing of Mont Saint-Michel he kept on the wall as he considered the question. He shifted in his chair and drummed his fingers, still staring at the picture. “It’s like leaving a shovel in the middle of the far field,” he finally said. “Then going to work in one of the gardens closer to the mansion.”

“Huh?” I still have no idea what that meant.

He laughed out loud, and then said, “I don't know, actually. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, I guess.”

“Don’t they say that about herpes, Father?”

“Do they?”

“I think so.”

He looked like he was thinking that one over for a while, just staring at the wall.

“Hmm. How ‘bout that?”

“Are you saying that celibacy is like some kind of disease?”

“Not at all. I’m saying it’s a kind of gift. That keeps on giving.”

“Sorry, Father. I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“Not at all. It's a bit of a mystery. There’s no way around it.”

“Well, you could be married.”

“Well, that’d be a different mystery.”

“But almost everybody is married.”

“Doesn’t mean it’s not a mystery. For each couple it is. And they know it. Or most of them know it, sooner or later. Celibacy is just a different kind of mystery. With some similarities, actually.”

I mulled this over for a minute. Eventually Father Adam broke the silence.

“I think as far as Kierkegaard himself is concerned, or was concerned, just being alive was a bit of a mystery. In the best sense of the word. All existence is, of course, although we don’t often recognize it. And I think that may have made it difficult for some of his relationships with his fellow citizens.”

“All of them, maybe,” I offered.

“Maybe so,” he offered back. “maybe so.”

I mulled this over for a minute as well. I was thinking of my girlfriend. I was thinking of all the women I’d ever known. I was thinking about Mary, mother of God, and I was thinking about what it would be like to have a daughter. That would be something.

“Well, It’s good to see you again, Quin.”

“It’s good to see you too, Father."

He looked at his watch, gave the arm rest another set of taps, and stood up to leave.


"Mmm," he murmered, reaching out to pick up one of the magazines on his desk.

"I'm getting kind of tired of that word mystery. I'm not sure I really get it."

"I know what you mean, Quin," he said, "but at some point it's about the only one we've got."

We both stood there for a second. Across the desk from each other, just like we used to.

"It’s good to see you, Father.”

"It's good to see you, too, Quin. Come back soon."

J.M. Coetzee on Memories by García Márquez

"García Márquez might take a look too at the Merchant's tale, the sardonic story of cross-generational marriage in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and in particular at its snapshot of the couple caught in the clear dawn light after the exertions of their bridal night, the old husband sitting up in bed in his nightcap, the slack skin of his neck quivering, the young wife beside him consumed in irritation and distaste."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Match Point

Spoiler's galore, so please beware:

Here's a choice line, courtesy of imdb: "The innocent are sometimes slain to make way for grander schemes. You were collateral damage."

Just a few questions: Wouldn't an autopsy have revealed that the Nola Rice character (Scarlett Johansson) was pregnant, and wouldn't a paternity check have revealed the baby as Wilton's (Rhys Meyers)? Okay, okay - she was lying the whole time, and since there was no baby there wasn't any DNA either. But what about fingerprints in her apartment? What about all her screaming outside his house? What about the gun he used, to which he admitted having access? And why wouldn't the police have followed the criminal's explanation for his possession of the jewlery? Why didn't the third neighbor insist that something was wrong before he left the building? They broke the case, and then they just shut it down. Doesn't Woody Allen at least know about CSI? Basically, a moderate Nielsen share's worth of the television viewing audience could have broken this case.

All this is beside the real problem, which boils down to Rhys Meyers reading Crime and Punishment before going out and comitting a couple of Raskolnikov style murders himself. What's the point? That reading Doesteovsky turns you into a killer? Or is it that Sophocles does you in? Or is it being rich that makes you a murderer? Rich with a humble background? Given the way his life has imitated his art in the past, if I were Woody Allen, or Woody Allen's family, I'd be worried.

Yeah. Bloody Awful.

Franz Sez

There is a goal, but no way; but what we call a way is hesitation.
~ Reflections on Sin, Suffering, Hope, and the True Way

Monday, February 06, 2006

KSRK: Guilty?/Not Guilty? (April)

The latest on Quidam's Diary can be found over at Korrektiv.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Korrektiv on the Seahawks

Korrektiv has the skinny on the Super Bowl scandal, with editorials from around the country and a couple of petition links in the comments section as well. But hey, Rush Limbaugh says it's all a bunch of whining. So there.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Two Mules for Sister Sara

Now I've seen every Clint Eastwood western, except for Rawhide and whatever else he may have done for TV. Shirley MacLaine is pretty great as Sara, the nun whose behavior gets worse with every scene, while Hogan (Eastwood) finds himself less and less in control of events as the story progresses. Makes for an interesting revision of the character of the mythic loner at the center of the Leone westerns.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Pianist

Finally saw this fine movie directed by Roman Polanski and starring Adrien Brody as the pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman. Szpilman barely avoids being sent off to Trblinka and manages to escape the forced labor camp set up in Warsaw. Moving in secret from apartment to apartment, he witnesses the uprising of 1943 and eventually moves back into the empty ghetto, surviving with the help of a German officer. This is the best Polanski film I've seen in some time. An interesting bit of trivia from imdb: during the shooting of the movie, while scouting locations in Krakow, Roman Polanski met a man who had helped Polanski's family survive the war.


Like L'Aventurra and La Notte before it, L'Eclisse is at times difficult to get a fix on. What exactly does it mean when Vittoria (Monica Vitti) is shown staring up at the metal poles of an unfinished fence, swaying in the wind? Does it mean that she herself feels unfinished, or is somehow swaying in the wind? Sure, it's meant to be mysterious, but what does it mean to be drawn into a mystery like this? Is she happy, or sad? Or is it ultimately just a meaningless image, or event? If that's true, is Vittoria thinking about meaninglessness? It's very hard to say, but one thing definitely stands out: Monica Vitti is beautiful, and especially when she's shown shifting her weight from side to side, and never more so than when she is filmed in front of a night-time sky or in a black dress.

This might seem to be a aimplistic way of looking at the movie, but there are aspects of Antonioni's movies that really aren't all that complicated. It's pretty clear that Antonioni enjoyed filming Vitti as much as we enjoy watching her, and I think it's fair to say that it was she who inspired L'Aventurra and perhaps even La Notte, even though she plays a secondary character in the latter. So if it's love that inspired these movies, why is it that sequence after sequence seems so meaningless or sad? So it's 'erotic longing' that inspires, or rather doesn't, and the result is a few fleeting moments of happiness and periods of ennui that aren't so fleeting. Even the happier exhanges between the lovers are undercut by the memory of an earlier relationship that ended without explanation. Happiness is a confusion of limbs and bodies, perhaps identities themselves, and is fated for extinction. Just like everything else. This is one way of making sense of the extraordinary ending of L'Eclisse, in a sequence of images (not actually a sequence at all) which reveals "life" and maybe something beyond life, and then a bright light, and then nothing at all.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Early Summer

Setsuko Hara (Noriko) and Chishu Ryu (Koichi) play characters in a story that centers on an unmarried young woman and her seeming indifference to her own marital status. Her parents and older brother have a match in mind for her, but Noriko seems content to play with her childhood friend, Aya, and poke fun at friends who have taken on the role of traditional wives. The subtlety here is quite an achievement, as vague allusions to a brother lost in the war add dark shading to events as they unfold, while veiled references to sex and culinary double entendres for intercourse add a comedic element that I haven't seen elsewhere in Ozu's movies. Otherwise, the movie has much in common with Tokyo Story and Floating Weeds: trains shunting through a picaresque countryside, laundrey on a line, and the whole thing shot from a point of view six inches above the tatami mat. The new DVD edition features another outstanding commentary track by Donald Richie.