An Ogre Hates My Patch of Blue Sky

“Once religious imagination and yearning have departed from a culture, the lowest, grimmest, most tedious level of material existence becomes not just one of reality’s unpleasant aspects, but in some sense the limit that marks the ‘truth’ of things.” (David Bentley Hart, In the Aftermath (2009)

For years I have had a recurrent daydream.  It may have originated as a sleeping dream, but it is now a staple of my waking imagination.  This daydream steals over me whenever I feel myself slipping under the anesthetic of a committee meeting, or I am forced to wander through a wasteland of what Hart calls “epic drabness,” or I am closeted with a vampiric atheist who invites me to loosen my collar and close my eyes.  With this daydream, my imagination proposes that all of these experiences are, at bottom, one and the same experience.  I am of a romantic disposition, so I take the propositions of my imagination very seriously. Continue reading

The Nobel Prize: A Moderately Inebriated Opinion

cohen-leonard

Leonard Cohen

Artie Lennon, vocalist and guitarist, is a featured attraction on Sunday afternoons at the Old City Hall tavern and restaurant in Oswego, where Richard Cocks, Dick Fader, and I, and a few other known malingerers regularly assemble for the weekly Symposium of the dissentient and disaffected.  Today Artie played a number of Leonard Cohen “covers,” with his usual uncanny aplomb.  (And, if I may say so, rather dissentiently and disaffectedly.)

After two, or perhaps three, pints the known malingerers concluded, in a moderately inebriated palaver, which was nevertheless culturally informed, that if any 1960s Bohemian singer should have received the Nobel Prize in 2016, it ought to have been Cohen, not Dylan.

The moderately inebriated Doctors Cocks and Bertonneau, the Honorary Doctor Fader, and the known malingerers invite moderately inebriated comments from The Orthosphere, or from the Jovian moon Europa, or from the Trans-Neptunian object Sedna, or from wherever the anti-That Woman vote is in the majority these days.  (Is Texas a planet?)

Especially from KRISTOR, who knows how to sing, and whom we hope someday will join the known malingerers for a palaver at Old City Hall on a Sunday afternoon!

The Uses of Privacy

A cantankerous quarrel has been roiling the philosophic guild in the aftermath of Richard Swinburne’s address to the Society of Christian Philosophers. As I explained a few days ago, one side of the quarrel is outraged because Swinburne committed sacrilege with his irreverent handling of the holy object of homosexuality. Since I made this trenchant (albeit ignored) observation, the quarrel has evolved. The anti-Swinburne faction is now howling against the plucky website Rightly Considered, which has published screenshots of some of their salty philippics against traditional Christians, and by so doing has allegedly violated their right to privacy. Continue reading

Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress (2011) & the Crisis of Subscendence

Damsels in Distress CD COVER

Filmmaker Whit Stillman has managed with considerable aplomb to avoid the clichés of the romantic comedy, a genre within whose parameters he nevertheless works, not least in his fourth film of five, Damsels in Distress (2011).  In addition to being a romantic comedy, to the extent of transforming itself in its denouement into a 1930s guy-gets-girl musical number, with Fred Astaire’s voice patched into the soundtrack, Damsels in Distress is a college film.  Because Stillman understands the meaning and function of college, his college film is also a film about civilization – or rather about the current degeneracy of what used to be Western Civilization, as made manifest by the decline of higher education.  In Damsels in Distress, Stillman has undertaken to represent what I once, in a casual essay, half-jokingly called subscendence, a kind of active anti-transcendence that seeks the lowest level in everything; but Stillman has also created a set of characters, in his eponymous damsels, who, discerning subscendence and judging it repellent, rally themselves to mount resistance against it.

Continue reading

The Maelstrom of Modern Magic

It is often said that magic has disappeared from the modern world. This is rather like saying that the backwaters of a river have disappeared beneath a flood, or that starlight has disappeared from the morning sky, since magic is well nigh ubiquitous in the modern world. We live in a veritable maelstrom of magic. Continue reading

Ogygia or Patmos?

Calypso is a “fair haired nymph with every beauty crowned.” “Dreadful in her charms,” she once reigned alone on her island of Ogygia, “remote from Gods or men . . . amid the terrors of the rolling main.” When shipwrecked Odysseus washed ashore on her island, Calypso met him on the beach with “open arms,” and then detained him seven years “with more than human charms.” She is, you see, a lusty nymph. Living remote from Gods, her erotic desire was boundless; living remote from men, her appetite was voracious. This is why, for seven years, she and Odysseus dallied on her “ambrosial couch,” Odysseus torn (but not too torn) between destiny and desire. Continue reading

Dread, Love and Disgust

Sentiments are at the root of all politics, and consequently at the root of all political divisions. Vast labor is expended to bury this fact under mountains of rebarbative reasoning, but a very little honest reflection will excavate the truth that politics begins in the heart.   In the heart of the Right, dread, love and disgust are the essential and defining sentiments. This is not to say that these sentiments are absent on the Left, only that they are neither essential nor defining.

The Right is a decidedly motley assembly of people who, in one fashion or another, oppose, deplore or dislike the Revolution. The Revolution comprises all those changes in which modernization has turned the old order on its head. The Right does not oppose, deplore or dislike every change that has taken place since the seventeenth century, only the radical innovations and satanic transvaluations that cause modernists to boast of a novus ordo seclorum. Continue reading

The Zero-Gravity World

Thirty years ago, men who coveted a reputation for deep thinking were wont to discuss Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being. I was such a man and I remember such a discussion, sitting on the roof of a Boston apartment building late one night, in the company of an unemployed actor, who was connected to the sister of a woman with whom I was connected.   As is so often the case with rooftop conversations, I remember the circumstances better than the substance. I clearly remember the John Hancock Tower rising up before us, against a backdrop of phosphorescent clouds; I clearly remember people below us, spilling onto the sidewalk before the Berklee College of Music; I clearly remember the roar of traffic on the Mass Pike and the earnest and sonorous voice of the unemployed actor.   My memory of what the actor said is not so clear, but I believe it was in an existentialist vein, and that he laid considerable weight on such things as the “authentic life,” the “deliberate act,” and “the deed.” My memory of what I said is no clearer, which is just as well, given the sorts of things I said thirty years ago. Continue reading

Daredevil Morality and the Neighbor Problem

Drawing toward the end of the Our Father, as you well know, we petition God to “lead us not into temptation.” We make this request because we know that temptation is not, as geographers like to say, ubiquitous. Its properties and potencies vary from place to place. In one place temptation is as faint and tenuous as wood smoke from a distant chimney, in another as overpowering and lethal as a cloud of mustard gas.

In asking God to “lead us not into temptation,” we also acknowledge our weakness, our inability to withstand temptation that is sufficiently strong and specially tuned to our own peculiar hungers and hankerings. We can hold up to a whiff of wood smoke, but will go down before a cloud of mustard gas.

Any man who would remain righteous must remember these two things: temptation is not ubiquitous and he himself is weak. And with these things in mind, he directs his steps accordingly. Continue reading