Saturday, September 30, 2006

Listen to the Lion

(b.331 d.420) St. Jerome, who was born Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius, was the most learned of the Fathers of the Western Church. He was born about the year 342 at Stridonius, a small town at the head of the Adriatic, near the episcopal city of Aquileia. His father, a Christian, took care that his son was well instructed at home, then sent him to Rome, where the young man's teachers were the famous pagan grammarian Donatus and Victorinus, a Christian rhetorician. Jerome's native tongue was the Illyrian dialect, but at Rome he became fluent in Latin and Greek, and read the literatures of those languages with great pleasure. His aptitude for oratory was such that he may have considered law as a career. He acquired many worldly ideas, made little effort to check his pleasure-loving instincts, and lost much of the piety that had been instilled in him at home. Yet in spite of the pagan and hedonistic influences around him, Jerome was baptized by Pope Liberius in 360. He tells us that "it was my custom on Sundays to visit, with friends of my own age and tastes, the tombs of the martyrs and Apostles, going down into those subterranean galleries whose walls on both sides preserve the relics of the dead." Here he enjoyed deciphering the inscriptions.

After three years at Rome, Jerome's intellectual curiosity led him to explore other parts of the world. He visited his home and then, accompanied by his boyhood friend Bonosus, went to Aquileia, where he made friends among the monks of the monastery there, notably Rufinus. Then, still accompanied by Bonosus, he traveled to Treves, in Gaul. He now renounced all secular pursuits to dedicate himself wholeheartedly to God. Eager to build up a religious library, the young scholar copied out St. Hilary's books on and his Commentaries on the Psalms, and got together other literary and religious treasures. He returned to Stridonius, and later settled in Aquileia. The bishop had cleared the church there of the plague of Arianism and had drawn to it many eminent men. Among those with whom Jerome formed friendships were Chromatius (later canonized), to whom Jerome dedicated several of his works, Heliodorus (also to become a saint), and his nephew Nepotian. The famous theologian Rufinus, at first his close friend, afterward became his bitter opponent. By nature an irascible man with a sharp tongue, Jerome made enemies as well as friends. He spent some years in scholarly studies in Aquileia, then, in search of more perfect solitude, he turned towards the East. With his friends, Innocent, Heliodorus, and Hylas, a freed slave, he started overland for Syria. On the way they visited Athens, Bithynia, Galatia, Pontus, Cappadocia, and Cilicia.

The party arrived at Antioch about the year 373. There Jerome at first attended the lectures of the famous Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicea, who had not yet put forward his heresy1 With his companions he left the city for the desert of Chalcis, about fifty miles southeast of Antioch. Innocent and Hylas soon died there, and Heliodorus left to return to the West, but Jerome stayed for four years, which were passed in study and in the practice of austerity. He had many attacks of illness but suffered still more from temptation. "In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert," he wrote years afterwards to his friend Eustochium, "burnt up with the heat of the sun, so scorching that it frightens even the monks who live there, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome.... In this exile and prison to which through fear of Hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts, I many times imagined myself watching the dancing of Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them. My face was pallid with fasting, yet my will felt the assaults of desire. In my cold body and my parched flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was still able to live. Alone with the enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, though I grieve that I am not now what I then was."

Jerome added to these trials the study of Hebrew, a discipline which he hoped would help him in winning a victory over himself. "When my soul was on fire with wicked thoughts," he wrote in 411, "as a last resort, I became a pupil to a monk who had been a Jew, in order to learn the Hebrew alphabet. From the judicious precepts of Quintilian, the rich and fluent eloquence of Cicero, the graver style of Fronto, and the smoothness of Pliny, I turned to this language of hissing and broken-winded words. What labor it cost me, what difficulties I went through, how often I despaired and abandoned it and began again to learn, both I, who felt the burden, and they who lived with me, can bear witness. I thank our Lord that I now gather such sweet fruit from the bitter sowing of those studies." He continued to read the pagan classics for pleasure until a vivid dream turned him from them, at least for a time. In a letter he describes how, during an illness, he dreamed he was standing before the tribunal of Christ. "Thou a Christian?" said the judge skeptically. "Thou art a Ciceronian. Where thy treasure is, there thy heart is also."

The church at Antioch was greatly disturbed at this time by party and doctrinal disputes. The anchorites in the desert took sides, and called on Jerome, the most learned of them, to give his opinions on the subjects at issue. He wrote for guidance to Pope Damasus at Rome. Failing to receive an answer, he wrote again. "On one side, the Arian fury rages, supported by the secular power; on the other side, the Church (at Antioch) is being divided into three parts, and each would draw me to itself." No reply from Damasus is extant; but we know that Jerome acknowledged Paulinus, leader of one party, as bishop of Antioch, and that when he left the desert of Chalcis, he received from Paulinus' hands his ordination as priest. Jerome consented to ordination only on condition that he should not be obliged to serve in any church, knowing that his true vocation was to be a monk and recluse.

About 380 Jerome went to Constantinople to study the Scriptures under the Greek, Gregory of Nazianzus, then bishop of that city. Two years later he went back to Rome with Paulinus of Antioch to attend a council which Pope Damasus was holding to deal with the Antioch schism. Appointed secretary of the council, Jerome acquitted himself so well that, when it was over, Damasus kept him there as his own secretary. At the Pope's request he prepared a revised text, based on the Greek, of the Latin New Testament, the current version of which had been disfigured by "wrong copying, clumsy correction, and careless interpolations." He also revised the Latin psalter. That the prestige of Rome and its power to arbitrate between disputants, East as well as West, was recognized as never before at this time, was due in some measure at least to Jerome's diligence and ability. Along with his official duties he was fostering a new movement of Christian asceticism among a group of noble Roman ladies. Several of them were to be canonized, including Albina and her daughters Marcella and Asella, Melania the Elder, who was the first of them to go to the Holy Land, and Paula, with her daughters, Blesilla and Eustochium. The tie between Jerome and the three last-mentioned women was especially close, and to them he addressed many of his famous letters.

When Pope Damasus died in 384, he was succeeded by Siricius, who was less friendly to Jerome. While serving Damasus, Jerome had impressed all by his personal holiness, learning, and integrity. But he had also managed to get himself widely disliked by pagans and evil-doers whom he had condemned, and also by people of taste and tolerance, many of them Christians, who were offended by his biting sarcasm and a certain ruthlessness in attack. An example of his style is the harsh diatribe against the artifices of worldly women, who "paint their cheeks with rouge and their eyelids with antimony, whose plastered faces, too white for human beings, look like idols; and if in a moment of forgetfulness they shed a tear it makes a furrow where it rolls down the painted cheek; women to whom years do not bring the gravity of age, who load their heads with other people's hair, enamel a lost youth upon the wrinkles of age, and affect a maidenly timidity in the midst of a troop of grand children." In a letter to Eustochium he writes with scorn of certain members of the Roman clergy. "All their anxiety is about their clothes.... You would take them for bridegrooms rather than for clerics; all they think about is knowing the names and houses and doings of rich ladies."

Although Jerome's indignation was usually justified, his manner of expressing it-both verbally and in letters-aroused resentment. His own reputation was attacked; his bluntness, his walk, and even his smile were criticized. And neither the virtue of the ladies under his direction nor his own scrupulous behavior towards them was any protection from scandalous gossip. Affronted at the calumnies that were circulated, Jerome decided to return to the East. Taking with him his brother Paulinian and some others, he embarked in August, 385. At Cyprus, on the way, he was received with joy by Bishop Epiphanius, and at Antioch also he conferred with leading churchmen. It was here, probably, that he was joined by the widow Paula and some other ladies who had left Rome with the aim of settling in the Holy Land.

With what remained of Jerome's own patrimony and with financial help from Paula, a monastery for men was built near the basilica of the Nativity at Bethlehem, and also houses for three communities of women. Paula became head of one of these, and after her death was succeeded by her daughter Eustochium. Jerome himself lived and worked in a large cave near the Saviour's birthplace. He opened a free school there and also a hospice for pilgrims, "so that," as Paula said, "should Mary and Joseph visit Bethlehem again, they would have a place to stay." Now at last Jerome began to enjoy some years of peaceful activity. He gives us a wonderful description of this fruitful, harmonious, Palestinian life, and its attraction for all manner of men. "Illustrious Gauls congregate here, and no sooner has the Briton, so remote from our world, arrived at religion than he leaves his early-setting sun to seek a land which he knows only by reputation and from the Scriptures. Then the Armenians, the Persians, the peoples of India and Ethiopia, of Egypt, and of Pontus, Cappadocia, Syria, and Mesopotamia!... They come in throngs and set us examples of every virtue. The languages differ but the religion is the same; as many different choirs chant the psalms as there are nations.... Here bread and herbs, planted with our own hands, and milk, all country fare, furnish us plain and healthy food. In summer the trees give us shade. In autumn the air is cool and the falling leaves restful. In spring our psalmody is sweeter for the singing of the birds. We have plenty of wood when winter snow and cold are upon us. Let Rome keep its crowds, let its arenas run with blood, its circuses go mad, its theaters wallow in sensuality...."

But when the Christian faith was threatened Jerome could not be silent. While at Rome in the time of Pope Damasus, he had composed a book on the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary against one Helvidius, who had maintained that Mary had not remained always a virgin but had had other children by St. Joseph, after the birth of Christ. This and similar ideas were now again put forward by a certain Jovinian, who had been a monk. Paula's son-in-law, Pammachius, sent some of this heretical writing to Jerome, and he, in 393, wrote two books against Jovinian. In the first he described the excellence of virginity. The books were written in Jerome's vehement style and there were expressions in them which seemed lacking in respect for honorable matrimony. Pammachius informed Jerome of the offense which he and many others at Rome had taken at them. Thereupon Jerome composed his , sometimes called his third book against Jovinian, in which he showed by quoting from his own earlier works that he regarded marriage as a good and honorable state and did not condemn even a second or a third marriage.

A few years later he turned his attention to one Vigilantius, a Gallic priest, who was denouncing both celibacy and the veneration of saints' relics, calling those who revered them idolaters and worshipers of ashes. In defending celibacy Jerome said that a monk should purchase security by flying from temptations and dangers when he distrusted his own strength. As to the veneration of relics, he declared: "We do not worship the relics of the martyrs, but honor them in our worship of Him whose martyrs they are. We honor the servants in order that the respect paid to them may be reflected back to the Lord." Honoring them, he said, was not idolatry because no Christian had ever adored the martyrs as gods; on the other hand, they pray for us. "If the Apostles and martyrs, while still living on earth, could pray for other men, how much more may they do it after their victories? Have they less power now that they are with Jesus Christ?" He told Paula, after the death of her daughter Blesilla, "She now prays to the Lord for you, and obtains for me the pardon of my sins." Jerome was never moderate whether in virtue or against evil. Though swift to anger, he was also swift to feel remorse and was even more severe on his own failings than on those of others.

From 395 to 400 Jerome was engaged in a war against Origenism2, which unhappily created a breach in his long friendship with Rufinus. Finding that some Eastern monks had been led into error by the authority of Rufinus' name and learning, Jerome attacked him. Rufinus, then living in a monastery at Jerusalem, had translated many of Origen's works into Latin and was an enthusiastic upholder of his scholarship, though it does not appear that he meant to defend the heresies in Origen's writings. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, was one of the churchmen greatly distressed by the quarrel between Jerome and Rufinus, and became unwillingly involved in a controversy with Jerome.

Jerome's passionate controversies were the least important part of his activities. What has made his name so famous was his critical labor on the text of the Scriptures. The Church regards him as the greatest of all the doctors in clarifying the Divine Word. He had the best available aids for such an undertaking, living where the remains of Biblical places, names, and customs all combined to give him a more vivid view than he could have had at a greater distance. To continue his study of Hebrew he hired a famous Jewish scholar, Bar Ananias, who came to teach him by night, lest other Jews should learn of it. As a man of prayer and purity of heart whose life had been mainly spent in study, penance, and contemplation, Jerome was prepared to be a sensitive interpreter of spiritual things.

We have seen that already while at Rome he had made a revision of the current Latin New Testament, and of the Psalms. Now he undertook to translate most of the books of the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew. The friends and scholars who urged him to this task realized the superiority of a version made directly from the original to any second-hand version, however venerable. It was needed too for argument with the Jews, who recognized no other text as authentic but their own. He began with the Books of Kings, and went on with the rest at different times. When he found that the Book of Tobias and part of Daniel had been composed in Chaldaic, he set himself to learn that difficult language also. More than once he was tempted to give up the whole wearisome task, but a certain scholarly tenacity of purpose kept him at it. The only parts of the Latin Bible, now known as the Vulgate, which were not either translated or worked over by him are the Books of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and the two Books of the Maccabees.3 He revised the Psalms once again, with the aid of Origen's ,4 and the Hebrew text. This last is the version included now in the Vulgate and used generally in the Divine Office; his first revision, known as the Roman Psalter, is still used for the opening psalm at Matins and throughout the Missal, and for the Divine Office in the cathedrals of St. Peter at Rome and St. Mark at Venice, and in the Milanese rite.

In the sixteenth century the great Council of Trent pronounced Jerome's Vulgate the authentic and authoritative Latin text of the Catholic Church, without, however, thereby implying a preference for it above the original text or above versions in other languages. In 1907 Pope Pius X entrusted to the Benedictine Order the office of restoring as far as possible the correct text of St. Jerome's Vulgate, which during fifteen centuries of use had naturally become altered in many places. The Bible now ordinarily used by English-speaking Catholics is a translation of the Vulgate, made at Rheims and Douay towards the end of the sixteenth century, and revised by Bishop Challoner in the eighteenth. The Confraternity Edition of the New Testament appearing in 1950 represents a complete revision.

A heavy blow came to Jerome in 404 when his staunch friend, the saintly Paula, died. Six years later he was stunned by news of the sacking of Rome by Alaric the Goth. Of the refugees who fled from Rome to the East at this time he wrote: "Who would have believed that the daughters of that mighty city would one day be wandering as servants and slaves on the shores of Egypt and Africa, or that Bethlehem would daily receive noble Romans, distinguished ladies, brought up in wealth and now reduced to beggary? I cannot help them all, but I grieve and weep with them, and am completely absorbed in the duties which charity imposes on me. I have put aside my commentary on Ezekiel and almost all study. For today we must translate the precepts of the Scriptures into deeds; instead of speaking saintly words, we must act them." A few years later his work was again interrupted by raids of barbarians pushing north through Egypt into Palestine, and later still by a violent onset of Pelagian heretics, who, relying on the protection of Bishop John of Jerusalem, sent a troop of ruffians to Bethlehem to disperse the monks and nuns living there under the direction of Jerome, who had been opposing Pelagianism5 with his customary truculence. Some of the monks were beaten, a deacon was killed, and monasteries were set on fire. Jerome had to go into hiding for a time.

The following year Paula's daughter Eustochium died. The aged Jerome soon fell ill, and after lingering for two years succumbed. Worn with penance and excessive labor, his sight and voice almost gone, his body like a shadow, he died peacefully on September 30, 420, and was buried under the church of the Nativity at Bethlehem. In the thirteenth century his body was translated and now lies somewhere in the Sistine Chapel of the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore at Rome. The Church owes much to St. Jerome. While his great work was the Vulgate, his achievements in other fields are valuable; to him we owe the distinction between canonical and apocryphal writings; he was a pioneer in the field of Biblical archeology, his commentaries are important; his letters, published in three volumes, are one of our best sources of knowledge of the times.

St. Jerome has been a popular subject with artists, who have pictured him in the desert, as a scholar in his study, and sometimes in the robes of a cardinal, because of his services for Pope Damasus; often too he is shown with a lion, from whose paw, according to legend, he once drew a thorn. Actually this story was transferred to him from the tradition of St. Gerasimus, but a lion is not an inappropriate symbol for so fearless a champion of the faith. (from the Catholic Encyclopediia)

Here are a few works of art dedicated to St. Jerome:

Hieronymus Bosch, Antonello da Messina, Albrecht Durer, Leonardo Da Vinci, Joachim Patinier, Marco Meloni, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Jan van Eyck, Jacopo Bassano, Juan de Valdes Leal, Jean Jacques Nuel, St. Jerome Praying, Stefan Lochner, H. Steenwick, Caravaggio, Giovanni Bellini, Jusepe De Ribera?, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Unknown, Georges de La Tour, Eyck,Colantonio, Piero della Francesca, Bellini, Niccoló di Liberatore da Foligno, Peter Paul Rubens, Masaccio, Pietro Vannucci, Theoderich, Manuscript Illumination, Unknown, Carpaccio, Albrecht Durer, Unknown, Perugino,Letter

Friday, September 29, 2006

For Travelers, Doctors, Blind Persons, the Cable Guy, Grocers, Sailers, Paratroopers, Cops and Patients

St. Raphael is one of seven Archangels who stand before the throne of the Lord. He was sent by God to help Tobit, Tobiah and Sarah. At the time, Tobit was blind and Tobiah's betrothed, Sarah, had had seven bridegrooms perish on the night of their weddings. Raphael accompanied Tobiah into Media disguised as a man named Azariah. Raphael helped him through his difficulties and taught him how to safely enter marriage with Sarah. Tobiah said that Raphael caused him to have his wife and that he gave joy to Sarah's parents for driving out the evil spirit in her. He also gave Raphael credit for his father's seeing the light of heaven and for receiving all good things through his intercession. Besides Raphael, Michael and Gabriel are the only Archangels mentioned by name in the bible. Raphael's name means "God heals." This identity came about because of the biblical story which claims that he "healed" the earth when it was defiled by the sins of the fallen angels in the apocryphal book of Enoch. Raphael is also identified as the angel who moved the waters of the healing sheep pool. He is also the patron of the blind, of happy meetings, of nurses, of physicians and of travelers.

The name Gabriel means "man of God," or "God has shown himself mighty." It appears first in the prophesies of Daniel in the Old Testament. The angel announced to Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks. His name also occurs in the apocryphal book of Henoch. He was the angel who appeared to Zachariah to announce the birth of St. John the Baptizer. Finally, he announced to Mary that she would bear a Son Who would be conceived of the Holy Spirit, Son of the Most High, and Saviour of the world. The feast day is September 29th. St. Gabriel is the patron of communications workers.

The name Michael signifies "Who is like to God?" and was the warcry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against satan and his followers. Holy Scripture describes St. Michael as "one of the chief princes," and leader of the forces of heaven in their triumph over the powers of hell. He has been especially honored and invoked as patron and protector by the Church from the time of the Apostles. Although he is always called "the Archangel," the Greek Fathers and many others place him over all the angels - as Prince of the Seraphim. St. Michael is the patron of grocers, mariners, paratroopers, police and sickness.

Gideon's Blog

has to be the most insightful one-man blog on the web. Maybe the most insightful, period. I think I may have mentioned it before, but it's time I mentioned it again. The author, Noah, weighs in on everything from national policy issues to personal philanthropy projects to his Rosh Hashanah menu. Today he has a very thoughtful post about the torture bill, especially these two paragraphs:
First, I'm against the torture bill, strongly. The specific techniques that Andrew Sullivan never tires of talking about - waterboarding, stress positions, hypothermia - are plainly tortures. They are "civilized" tortures in that they do not cause permanent physical harm; indeed, I've read that CIA operatives trained to apply waterboarding practice the technique on each other, which they would certainly not do if they were being trained to rip out fingernails. But they are plainly tortures, in that they are designed to cause pain and suffering, and break the prisoner by making him desperate to end that suffering. That's torture.

I'm not convinced that we need to go down this road. I'm very persuaded, in particular, by the argument that by formally legalizing such procedures, you will inevitably make them routine. That's certainly what happened in Israel when "moderate physical pressure" became part of the Shin Bet's arsenal. And while I'm both skeptical of making human rights the centerpiece of our diplomacy and generally indifferent to bien pensant opinion in Europe, formally endorsing torture by the CIA is going to alienate lots of people who are our natural allies, not only people who are already disposed to be our enemies.
Well supported, well reasoned; his writing here and everywhere strikes me as the very essence of sanity.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Artificial Happiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class

is the book I'm reading now. Author Ronald W. Dworkin takes aim at a number of different trends in American society, most significantly the "staggering rise in antidepressant medications," to quote the dust jacket, but also the fitness craze and the vacuity of modern religious practice. My first question going in was, what does the author mean, exactly, by 'artificial' happiness? We're all gonna die, there's not a damn thing we can do about it, and isn't all happiness therefore 'artificial'? Perhaps 'fleeting' is closer to what I'm thinking of, but believe me, if I find some artificial happiness, I'm grabbing some of that, too. Anyway, here is what the author writes about his title:
What exactly is Artificial Happiness? John Green, a man I met during the writing of this book, is a good example of someone who feels it.

A thirty-five-year-old lawyer, John fights constantly with his wife over money. He won't divorce her because he fears losing custody of their young son. In the past, he tried Valium to relax, but the drug made him drowsy. Once, an associate phoned on a case. John's wife fielded the call, made excuses, and then screamed, "You can't talk to him! He's already taken his pill!" John finally found relief through Prozac, which lets him live happily inside his loveless marriage. He expects to be on Prozac for years, until his son grows up (and he can leave his wife), or maybe even longer, ssince by the time his son is grown John will have built up a nest egg that his wife would grab in any divorce.

Although John Green's life is miserable, his mind is happy. His life and mind are out of synch: he enjoys Artificial Happiness.
Maybe John Green can get that divorce and Dworkin can include him in his next book about the staggering problems created by divorce in our country. On the whole, I didn't find many of these anecdotes very persuasive. I like the thesis, but the stories of individuals refusing to struggle with their problems were often so sketchy that I couldn't help but wonder about other contributing factors.

Dworkin goes on to write that the most significant problem with Artificial Happiness is that it is being foisted upon younger and younger children, and this does not bode well for the future. Probably true. I know I'm thankful for my wretched childhood, and it's just too damn bad that future generations will be robbed of their chance at misery. It's a great character builder, Redemptive Suffering. Although I've also worked with several students who were able to make positive changes in their lives because they were able to develop some psychological distance from their problems with the help of psychotropic medications. But who knows? Maybe life will come crashing down on them later. It usually does. But by then Lilly and Merck and all the others will have developed other drugs for those problems, so it's probably okay. Perhaps we should just cut to the chase and develop synthetic soma. Then we'd be done with these tiresome discussions.

Anyway, what I've read so far is pretty good, but not great. I was persuaded to read it by Richard John Neuhaus' comments in First Things and an article by Stanley Kurtz in National Review. I'll press on, but so far the articles are better than the book itself.

Six thick thistle sticks. Six thick thistles stick.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How You Found Quotidian Quintilian XI

Looking for a squidshell table? We got 'em. One, anyway, mentioned in a quotation from Caroline Coleman O'Neill's novel, Loving Soren. We hope that 213.84.167 from Barneveld, Gelderland found what he or she was looking for, and we also hope that Ms. O'Neill appreciates yet one more Google hit on her name. In case you're looking, Ms. O'Neill, Hello!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Blaise Says

Imagination disposes of everything; it creates beauty, justice, and happiness, which are everything in this world.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich

born this day in 1906. For a sample of his Cello Sonata as performed by Victor Uzur, follow this link.

Auden on Freud

After reading about all those French psychiatrists I feel a definite need to reinstall some Auden as a way of grounding myself with respect to psychology. I came across these comments made in the 1930's or 40's, I believe as part of a newspaper column he wrote under the name 'Didymus.'
Pleasure. The error of Freud and most psychologists is making pleasure a negative thing, progress towards a state of rest. This is only one half of pleasure and the least important half. Creative pleasure is, like pain, an increase in tension. What does the psychologist make of contemplation and joy?

The essence of creation is doing things for no reason; it is pointless. Possessive pleasure is always rational. Freud really believes that pleasure in immoral, i.e., happiness is displeasing to God.

If you believe this, of course, the death-wish becomes the most important emotion, and the 'reinstatement of the earlier condition'. Entropy is another name for despair.
Whatever his pronouncements may have sometimes lacked in fine distinctions, their force is extremely compelling and their general effect sobering. It's as if he is constantly saying, "Let us be sane now."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Proposition

Easily the best Australian western since Quigley Down Under. Maybe it's better than Quigley Down Under. Mike and Charlie Burns (Richard Wilson and Guy Pearce) are captured by Captain Stanley and his British cohorts. Mike is a simpleton, but Capt. Stanley forces Charley to make a deal: Go into the Outback and hunt down the real bad apple of the family, Arthur Burns, bring him back, and then both Charlie and Mike can go free. In the meantime, Mike will sit in jail as collaterol.

Why is Arthur such a bad apple? He and his gang slaughtered a family (18th century-looking stills of the scene are shown during the opening credits), and the group is so wild that the Aborigines believe he is able to shape shift into a wild dog. Actually, he just looks like a wild dog.

This movie has some beautiful cinematography, and much of it depicts some of the most violent scenes I've seen in ages. Or at least they're brutally realistic in a way that Saw II, for example, is not. Unlike Saw II, The Proposition is quite good at showing how civilized society is built upon violence, and that the demand for blood satisfaction runs deeper than we are usually willing to admit.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A Cock-Eyed Comedy

by Juan Goytisolo is the book I just finished reading. Very, very ... uh ... flamboyant. A purposeful and yet confusing narrative that pits Father Trennes (aka Friar Buego) against the author in a contest for authorial superiority. This contests seems (it's hard to tell) to jump from one era to the next as Father Trennes (er, maybe the author?) transmigrates from one subversive author to the next. Writers as diverse as Sterne and de Sade are invoked in championing what he calls his "textual libido", which here seems most evident in the ribald recollection of assignations in Marrakesh, London, and Istanbul. Those are the places I remember, anyway. At some point the author, or one of the authors, pens this little ditty:
It's a total hodge-podge !
No narrative coherence whatsoever !
The structure's contrived, a pastiche !
Hallucinating self-infatuation !
More dithyrambs to machos and hirsute yokels !
That old inane onanist song !
No dramatic progression.
A circular, reptitive text.
Pretty well sums it up. Details of everything from curtains to shoes to Morrocan manliness is sumptuously, I should say gorgeously described, which in itself was almost enough to slow me down enough to follow the labrinthine plot. Almost.

Friday, September 22, 2006

St. Thomas of Villanueva

(c. 1555) Augustinian bishop. Born at Fuentellana, Castile, Spain, he was the son of a miller. He studied at the University of Alcala, earned a licentiate in theology, and became a professor there at the age of twenty-six. He declined the chair of philosophy at the university of Salamanca and instead entered the Augustinian Canons in Salamanca in 1516. Ordained in 1520, he served as prior of several houses in Salamanca, Burgos, and Valladolid, as provincial ofAndal usia and Castile, and then court chaplain to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (r. 1519-1556). During his time as provincial of Castile, he dispatched the first Augustinian missionaries to the New World. They subsequently helped evangelize the area of modern Mexico. He was offered but declined the see of Granada, but accepted appointment as archbishop of Valencia in 1544. As the see had been vacant for nearly a century, Thomas devoted much effort to restoring the spiritual and material life of the archdiocese. He was also deeply committed to the needs of the poor. He held the post of grand almoner of the poor, founded colleges for the children of new converts and the poor, organized priests for service among the Moors, and was renowned for his personal saintliness and austerities. While he did not attend the sessions of the Council of Trent, he was an ardent promoter of the Tridentine reforms throughout Spain. ~ (painting by Bartolomé Estéban Murillo)


That's the number of posts here at QQ in just under two years. That's not once a day, but it's pretty damn good. Or pretty damn awful, depending on how you look at it. Go ahead and count 'em!

Mama Roma

Pier Paolo Pasolini's second film has all the earmarks of a great film. It is beautifully framed thoughout and extremely well acted by Anna Magnani (Mama Roma) and Ettore Garofolo (Ettore). The opening sequence is one of the funniest, most brilliant beginnings I've ever seen; Mama Roma attends the wedding of her ex-lover, Carmine, and engages the betrothed couple in a contest of singing insults at one another. There are a number of other episodes that are nothing short of breathtaking: shots of Mama Roma walking the streets at night and Ettore slumming around ancient ruins with his fellow delinquents are as poignant as anything I've seen at the movies.

The film has some unfortunate failings, however; most of these come down to a forced combination of Freudianism and Catholicism that throws an overwrought, ideological wedge between the characters and what are intended to be the most emotive moments in the film. For example, the beginning of the scene of Momma and Ettore dancing is quite touching, but the Oedipal sensuality forced into some of the close shots detracts from what could have been a simpler and more touching portrait of a mother and her maturing son. This is highlighted by a later scene in which Ettore is shown practicing the cha-cha on his own, which seemed to me to have much more true feeling. Likewise, the portrayal of Ettore's suffering towards the end is so heavily symbolic that it jars the viewer from the story as it actually unfolds.

The Marxist vision I'd heard about in Pasolini's films failed to materialize, and there was nothing in the extended sequences of barren urban landscapes that struck me as Commie propaganda. The Christian Democratic Party, for all its faults, gave rise to the economic conditions that set the pace for much of the construction we see in the background of the film, and the destitute conditions in which the characters live out their drama seem more the products of petty criminal action than capitalist pigs. Certainly there is exploitation of some people by other people, but a movie in which the sole business owner is played for a dupe and a fifty year old whore starts selling fruit instead of sex just doesn't work as an attack on capitalism.

Overall a very fine movie with moments of greatness. The entire cast is great, and despite some heavy handed symbolism, all the major performances are indeed major. Pasolini's tracking shots are masterful and the unforced still shots are also very fine. Most of all, there's an earthiness, or maybe a salt-of-the-earthiness in the expressions of the Magnani, Garofolo and the others that makes this a movie well worth seeing.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Self Between

The Self Between: From Freud to the New Social Psychology of France is the name of the book I just finished reading. It's by Eugene Webb, whom I have elsewhere referred to as "Kierkegirard" when I wrote about another book of his called Philosophers of Consciousness. In that earlier book he did a masterful job of summarizing and integrating the work of such philosophers as Eric Voeglin, Bernard Lonergan, Michael Polanyi, and especially Girard and Kierkegaard, both of whom Webb recommends (as I see it) as thinkers offering the possibility of a new view consciousness because of the attention paid by each to the demands of desire upon it.

In The Self Between he takes this thesis a little further in his study of the role of sacrifice in the development of consciousness and the way it can both bind and liberate desire. The binding and liberation of desire would seem a natural subject for psychology, so it is certainly a natural progression that Webb would take up this subject in his next book, as indeed he has here. The difficulty with this progression is that the study of psychology (even when taken together with her chubby sister, sociology, as the psychiatrist Jean-Michel Oughourlian perceptively recommends) leads back to a reconsideration of the acting, thinking individual. As Webb himself notes in the last chapter:
What sort of functioning and consciousness, then, would be involved in the constitution of such an existential subject? To address this question fuly wold mean not only ot go beyond the psychological explorations considered in the present book but to commence a whole new one. As it is, however, this was the focus of my previous book, Philosophers of Consciousness, so I will limit myself to summarizing briefly some of the ideas on this topic discussed there...
If this progression summons the image of a snake swallowing its own tail, this is due to the interdependent bonds formed between philosophy and psychology/sociology in the constant search for transcendent and elusive ideals such as truth and "reality". A study of the dynamics involved in this constant search is invaluable.

Among the French thinkers taken up in The Self Between are François Roustang, Marie Balmary, Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, and of course Jean-Michel Oughourlian. The first three are known for their critiques of Freud (and Lacan, his heir in the French tradition of psychoanalysis), while Oughourlian is most recognized for developing of the concept of the interdividual (a theory of psychology, in his own words, "unencumbered by any sort of biologism"), as well as his co-authoship of Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World with Girard.

And somehow it always seems to get back to the Great Dane. I'll leave the last words to Professor Webb, from Chapter 7: From Psychology to Philosophy of Consciousness:
Commenting on the symbolism of the sacrificial knife that Solmon calls for to cut the child in two, [Balmary] says that it differentiates and separates the doubles as it cuts through the ties with which the false mother had tried to bind the child to her. A true mother, she says, is one "who loves her child more than what ties the child to her. . . . the word of truth comes from the mother who agrees to let the knife pass between her child and herself" (p.98), just as Abraham attains to tue fatherhood when he is able to make a sacrifice of his intended sacrifice of Isaac and therby also becomes a true "I" in relation to a true "thou."

Whether such self-transcendence and sacrifice lead to death or to life, to the end of possibilities or to an opening toward unlimited possibilities, however, is not a question for psychology or finally even for philosophy. This is a question that calls not for an opinion but for a commitment - for dedication and a willingness to risk the meaning of one's life for the sake of something unknown. It is a question that leads beyond all abstraction and all theory into what Erikson called "basic trust" and Kierkegaard "faith."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Variations on a Theme by Hayden

Wikipedia says: The Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, consisting of a theme in B-flat major, eight variations and a finale, were composed in 1873 by Johannes Brahms. Recent scholarship has revealed that, despite the title of the work, the theme is very unlikely to be by Haydn.It was published in two versions: the variations for two pianos, written first but designated Op. 56b, and the same piece for orchestra, referred to as Op. 56a.

The theme begins with a repeated ten-measure passage which itself consists of two intriguing five-measure phrases, a quirk that is likely to have caught Brahms's attention. Almost without exception, the eight variations follow the phrasal structure of the theme and, though less strictly, the harmonic structure as well. Each has a distinctive character, several calling to mind the forms and techniques of earlier eras, with some displaying a mastery of counterpoint seldom encountered in Romantic music. The finale is a magnificent passacaglia, itself a theme and variations on a ground bass, five measures in length, derived from the principal theme.

If you and some of your friends would like to try playing it yourself, here is the complete score for the orchestral version.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Blaise Saise

Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the lack of contradiction a sign of truth.

Monday, September 18, 2006

I got a bird that whistles

The Lay of the Land

Wow. A new Richard Ford novel, and a Frank Bascombe story at that. This one comes out about a month from now, and I've already got mine on pre-order. All I can say is, Thank God this is coming out a month before the Pynchon novel. Man, I feel like I'm 23 years old again. The Sportswriter changed my life when I first read it back in 1987. Probably for the worse, but the point is, it changed. Who knows? Maybe I'll find my way out of this fog I'm in as Frank finds his way out of his. Does Richard Ford belong in the same group as Pynchon, Don B, and WP? Yep, Yeah, for me he does, absolutely. This really does look like the best one yet.

New Haruki Murakami Novel

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: Now that is a great title. Everybody's favorite Japanese novelist has a new book out too, and a lot of reviewers are giving it five stars. It actually came out in June, and somehow I missed it in the deluge of Philip Roth and John Updike. Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading this one, too. If you haven't read Wind-Up Bird Chronicles or The Elephant Vanishes, you should definitely check those out as well. Elephant is a collection of short stories, so that's a good place to start.

Thomas Pynchon on Sloth

Evidently there are some big Pynhon fans down at Pomona College, where they have assembled many of his uncollected works (book reviews, introductions, essays, and even some of his work as a technical writer). This essay on Sloth and one writer's relation to this deadly sin is great stuff. Here's a sample:
IN his classical discussion of the subject in the "Summa Theologica," Aquinas termed Sloth, or acedia, one of the seven capital sins. He said he was using "capital" to mean "primary" or "at the head of" because such sins gave rise to others, but there was an additional and darker sense resonating luridly just beneath and not hurting the power of his argument, for the word also meant "deserving of capital punishment." Hence the equivalent term "mortal," as well as the punchier English "deadly."

But come on, isn't that kind of extreme, death for something as lightweight as Sloth? Sitting there on some medieval death row, going, "So, look, no offense, but what'd they pop you for anyway?"

"Ah, usual story, they came around at the wrong time of day, I end up taking out half of some sheriff's unit with my two-cubit crossbow, firing three-quarter-inch bolts on auto feed. Anger, I guess.... How about you?"

"Um, well ... it wasn't anger...."

"Ha! Another one of these Sloth cases, right?"

". . fact, it wasn't even me."

"Never is, slugger -- say, look, it's almost time for lunch. You wouldn't happen to be a writer, by any chance?
For all you Donald Barthelme fans (I certainly am, and for the Walker Percy fans, Walker Percy was one too, so you should be too), there's also this fine introduction to a collection of Barthelme odds and ends.

And did you know that Mr. Pynchon has a new book coming out? You can preorder it here. Pynchon himself wrote the following synopsis:
Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.

The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it's their lives that pursue them.

Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they're doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction.

Let the reader decide, let the reader beware. Good luck.
I still haven't made it through Mason & Dixon yet, but I will. Although this one looks better. I think I'll read it first, and rekindle my adoricism for one of the truly, truly greats of our times. Write up there with Don B and WP.


Finally saw this German epic about an opera fanatic determined to build an opera house deep in the jungles of Peru. He wants this so bad that he promises a pet pig that he'll have a red velvet chair to sit and watch it from. First he tries to raise the money by becoming the only ice maker in the country. Then he decides he's going to harvest rubber. For this he needs to buy an old steamship, fix it up, then sail it up the Amazon river. He christens the ship Molly after his girlfriend, who runs a brothel and helps finance his mad schemes. When he goes as far as he can, he finds out that he's up shit creek with a paddleboat. At least it looks like a paddleboat. Out of the surrounding jungle come the natives, who are known to have killed missionaries and seem to be threatening to kill again. Fitzcarraldo plays his collection of Caruso phonograph records on the top deck of the ship and convinces the indians that instead of killing him, they should help tow his boat over a mountain to get to a river going downstream on the other side. Which they do. Fitzcarraldo makes it back to civilization, hires an opera company to play on the Molly, which has now been transformed into the opera house of his dreams. I guess I just gave the whole thing away. I first saw the previews to this movie 25 years ago, and I've been wanting to see it ever since. My life is now complete.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Years ago I taught English in Japan. Along the way, I lived with a family and tried to learn Nihongo, but without very much success. If I'd had instruction like this, maybe I would have learned more.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The New York Times on The Pope's Words

Here are the last words of an article in this morning's edition:
The world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly. He needs to offer a deep and persuasive apology, demonstrating that words can also heal.
The world reads carefully the words in the New York Times. I myself am deeply pained by this editorial. Whether deliberately or carelessly, I do not know. I hope they can demonstrate that words can also heal.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Mark Steyn on Oriana Fallaci

The Italian journalist who has been so good at provoking just the sort of controversy that needed provoking died earlier today in Florence. She was 77. Raised by her father to fight against the rise of fascisim in Italy, she became a writer after the second world war. She was known as a strong feminist and fought valiently for women's rights. As a journalist she was highly regarded for such scoops as her intierview with Ayatollah Khomeini, the original leader of the Iranian revolution. Mark Steyn had this to say about her over at his website:
Racked by cancer, Oriana Fallaci spends most of her time in one of the few jurisdictions in the western world where she is not in legal jeopardy - New York City, whence she pens magnificent screeds in the hope of rousing Europe to save itself. Good luck with that. She writes in Italian, of course, but she translates them herself into what she calls “the oddities of Fallaci’s English”, and the result is a bravura improvised aria, impassioned and somewhat unpredictable. It’s full of facts, starting with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, when Mehmet II celebrated with beheading and sodomizing, and some lucky lads found themselves on the receiving end of both. This section is a lively read in an age when most westerners, consciously or otherwise, adopt the blithe incuriosity of Jimmy Kennedy’s marvelous couplet in his 1950s pop hit “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”:

Why did Constantinople get the works?
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

Signora Fallaci then moves on to the livelier examples of contemporary Islam – for example, Ayatollah Khomeini’s “Blue Book” and its helpful advice on romantic matters: “If a man marries a minor who has reached the age of nine and if during the defloration he immediately breaks the hymen, he cannot enjoy her any longer.” I’ll say. I know it always ruins my evening. Also: “A man who has had sexual relations with an animal, such as a sheep, may not eat its meat. He would commit sin.” Indeed. A quiet cigarette afterwards as you listen to your favourite Johnny Mathis LP and then a promise to call her next week and swing by the pasture is by far the best way. It may also be a sin to roast your nine-year old wife, but the Ayatollah’s not clear on that.
Fallaci would certainly appreciate the tribute, both the content and the tone. R.I.P.


St. Valerian The massacre of the martyrs of Lyons with their bishop, St. Pothinus, took place during the persecutions of Marcus Aurelius in the year 177. Marcellus, a priest, we are told, by Divine intervention, managed to escape to Chalon-sur-Saone, where he was given shelter. His host was a pagan, and seeing him offer incense before images of Mars, Mercury, and Minerva, Marcellus remonstrated with and converted him. While journeying toward the North, the priest fell in with the governor Priscus, who asked him to a celebration at his house. Marcellus accepted the invitation, but when he found that Priscus was preparing to fulfill religious rites, he asked to be excused on the ground that he was a Christian. This raised an outcry, and the bystanders tried to kill Marcellus there and then by tying him to the tops of two young trees in tension and then letting them fly apart. The governor ordered him to make an act of worship before an image of Saturn. He refused, whereupon he was buried up to his middle in the earth on the banks of the Saone, and died in three days of exposure and starvation. Butler mentions with St. Marcellus, the martyr St. Valerian who is named in the Roman Martyrology on September 15th. He is said to have escaped from prison at the same time as Marcellus, and was beheaded for the Faith at Tournus, near Autun. St. Valerian's feast day is September 15th.

St. Ribert (7th century) Benedictine abbot and possibly a bishop. Best known and revered in the area of Rouen, France, he was a monk and later abbot of the monastery of Valery-sur-Some. As such, Ribert would have served as the regional bishop of Normandy and Picardy.

St. Ritbert (c.690) Benedictine abbot and disciple of St. Ouen. He was head of the monastery at Varennes.

St. Vitus (c.1095) Benedictine monk in the community near Bergamo, Italy. He was a disciple of St. Albert.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Papal Address at University of Regensburg

Here is a great speach by PBXVI on the real meaning of interfaith dialogue. Follow the link through the title to read the whole thing, but here is an interesting excerpt concerning his own experience at the University in the late sixties and early seventies.
"[Regensburg} university was also very proud of its two theological faculties. It was clear that, by inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, they too carried out a work which is necessarily part of the "whole" of the "universitas scientiarum," even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole. This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: It had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God. That even in the face of such radical skepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: This, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Happy Birthday Barbara Feldon!

Well, half birthday. Born six months ago in 1932. Aye, Carumba!

Here is a nice picture. And another.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On this day

in 1522, the Victoria, one of the surviving ships of Ferdinand Magellan's expedition, returned to Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Spain, becoming the first ship to circumnavigate the world.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Blaise Saise

Evil is easy, and has infinite forms.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Der Siebente Kontinent

Michael Haneke's first feature film augurs much of what takes place in his subsequent films: boredom, repetition, nihilism, voyeurism and violence are taken to absurd extremes. To some extent these movies work as an examination of all that, but the necessary conjuration makes all that pretty tough going. In this case it is very tough going indeed - mainly because at this stage of his career he hadn't yet developed the proficiency that he clearly shows in Funny Games. Which is the best of Haneke's films, I think, but I can't even recommend that one unless you're prepared to endure an awfully long look at pathological behavior, vividly depicted. Which just might include the making of movies like Funny Games. And watching them.

Friday, September 01, 2006

St. Fiacre

Patron of Gardeners and Cab-drivers. St. Fiacre (Fiachra) is not mentioned in the earlier Irish calendars, but it is said that he was born in Ireland and that he sailed over into France in quest of closer solitude, in which he might devote himself to God, unknown to the world. He arrived at Meaux, where Saint Faro, who was the bishop of that city, gave him a solitary dwelling in a forest which was his own patrimony, called Breuil, in the province of Brie. There is a legend that St. Faro offered him as much land as he could turn up in a day, and that St. Fiacre, instead of driving his furrow with a plough, turned the top of the soil with the point of his staff. The anchorite cleared the ground of trees and briers, made himself a cell with a garden, built an oratory in honor of the Blessed Virgin, and made a hospice for travelers which developed into the village of Saint-Fiacre in Seine-et-Marne. Many resorted to him for advice, and the poor, for relief. His charity moved him to attend cheerfully those that came to consult him; and in his hospice he entertained all comers, serving them with his own hands, and sometimes miraculously restored to health those that were sick. He never allowed any woman to enter the enclosure of his hermitage, and Saint Fiacre extended the prohibition even to his chapel; several rather ill-natured legends profess to account for it. Others tell us that those who attempted to transgress, were punished by visible judgements, and that, for example, in 1620 a lady of Paris, who claimed to be above this rule, going into the oratory, became distracted upon the spot and never recovered her senses; whereas Anne of Austria, Queen of France, was content to offer up her prayers outside the door, amongst the other pilgrims.

The fame of Saint Fiacre's miracles of healing continued after his death and crowds visited his shrine for centuries. Mgr. Seguier, Bishop of Meaux in 1649, and John de Chatillon, Count of Blois, gave testimony of their own relief. Anne of Austria attributed to the meditation of this saint, the recovery of Louis XIII at Lyons, where he had been dangerously ill; in thanksgiving for which she made, on foot, a pilgrimage to the shrine in 1641. She also sent to his shrine, a token in acknowledgement of his intervention in the birth of her son, Louis XIV. Before that king underwent a severe operation, Bossuet, bishop of Meaux, began a novena of prayers at Saint-Fiacre to ask the divine blessing. His relics at Meaux are still resorted to, and he is invoked against all sorts of physical ills, including venereal disease. He is also a patron saint of gardeners and of cab-drivers of Paris. French cabs are called fiacres because the first establishment to let coaches on hire, in the middle of the seventeenth century, was in the Rue Saint-Martin, near the hotel Saint-Fiacre, in Paris. Saint Fiacre's feast is kept in some dioceses of France, and throughout Ireland on this date. Many miracles were claimed through his working the land and interceding for others. Feast day is September 1st.


Saw this with Potter at the Crest and enjoyed it very much. Inspiring - in our case literally, since this morning we went to Bulldog News and bought a couple of Monday editions of the New York Times. Working together we were able to solve it in under an hour. That's not quite the rate Tyler Hinman and his ilk are able to work at, but I think it's okay for a first try.