The Moment

The Moment
[Photo by Michelle Agins]

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ooh, That Was brilliant!

Well, descending from a cloud, not unlike a certain dark Mary Poppins figure, Camille Paglia is back:
In most of these cases, like the Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby stories, there’s been a complete neglect of psychology. We’re in a period right now where nobody asks any questions about psychology. No one has any feeling for human motivation. No one talks about sexuality in terms of emotional needs and symbolism and the legacy of childhood. Sexuality has been politicized–“Don’t ask any questions!” “No discussion!” “Gay is exactly equivalent to straight!” And thus in this period of psychological blindness or inertness, our art has become dull. There’s nothing interesting being written–in fiction or plays or movies. Everything is boring because of our failure to ask psychological questions.

So I say there is a big parallel between Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton–aside from their initials! Young feminists need to understand that this abusive behavior by powerful men signifies their sense that female power is much bigger than they are! These two people, Clinton and Cosby, are emotionally infantile–they’re engaged in a war with female power. It has something to do with their early sense of being smothered by female power–and this pathetic, abusive and criminal behavior is the result of their sense of inadequacy.

Now, in order to understand that, people would have to read my first book, “Sexual Personae”–which of course is far too complex for the ordinary feminist or academic mind! It’s too complex because it requires a sense of the ambivalence of human life. Everything is not black and white, for heaven’s sake! We are formed by all kinds of strange or vague memories from childhood. That kind of understanding is needed to see that Cosby was involved in a symbiotic, push-pull thing with his wife, where he went out and did these awful things to assert his own independence. But for that, he required the women to be inert. He needed them to be dead! Cosby is actually a necrophiliac–a style that was popular in the late Victorian period in the nineteenth-century.

It’s hard to believe now, but you had men digging up corpses from graveyards, stealing the bodies, hiding them under their beds, and then having sex with them. So that’s exactly what’s happening here: to give a woman a drug, to make her inert, to make her dead is the man saying that I need her to be dead for me to function. She’s too powerful for me as a living woman. And this is what is also going on in those barbaric fraternity orgies, where women are sexually assaulted while lying unconscious. And women don’t understand this! They have no idea why any men would find it arousing to have sex with a young woman who’s passed out at a fraternity house. But it’s necrophilia–this fear and envy of a woman’s power.
Oh, as usual, dear. This is the sort of stuff that has deflated Paglia's once-high standing, and, quite frankly, that's a shame.

Paglia's Sexual Personae is an interesting melange, a series of genuinely provocative close readings of classic literary texts to bring out transgressive and sexually laden content that all too often was lost under a heavy coat of academic varnish, but tied to an overarching thesis that welded genuine insights into a proposed Unified Field Theory of Culture. The book's macro theory doesn't hold, to put it kindly, but along the way Paglia shines a spotlight onto the underside of cultural icons (her chapter on Emily Dickinson alone is worth the price of the book).

But, re above: Oy.

Paglia excels at the long-form, deeply steeped, literary analysis that uncovers lost darkness, and its value, in literary eras and genres that are too often sanitized, and taken at the surface of their starchy self-images. I once asked her to be an expert witness in a case, and she turned me down, with some kind words for the quality of my analysis. (Pity, she would have been superb in the role. Still, we landed the late, great, Arthur Danto, who in fact was superb, so I can't complain). Her punditry is the worst of her--quickly sketched off the cuff reactions of the political-social world as observed by a cranky contrarian. Her literary analysis is sometimes like that in some ways, but is far better thought out, and the work of a scholar who is, for all of her quick-draw superficial takes on Salon, capable of so much more.

What really made me think of Missy and her Poppins moment? Because, unlike her rather statements about politics, I think Paglia could have a field day doing an exegesis of Moffat's use of victorian iconography, especially that surrounding death and sexuality, in Season 8 of Doctor Who. Someone's got to give Philip Sandifer a run for his money, after all.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Memory Jag

A long time ago-so long ago, I'm not exactly sure when, but I think it was no later than summer 1977,because my maternal grandmother was still alive, I was caught by a sequence in a moment on film seen on television. It depicted a young man studying. The music in the background, an orchestral version of Bach's Little Fugue in G Minor seized me, as it chased itself, twisted around, and came to a satisfying climax.

That was my introduction to Johann Sebastian Bach. There was a sense of something I couldn't name then in the music, something I don't even yet have the right word for. The closest I've ever come to it is that the fugue is a process--the theme's repetitions, overlapping, and build up all rise to a conclusion that is, somehow, inevitable. The sense is even stronger in a good organ version:

That's a 1960s version played by Marie-Claire Alain, and is the very one my other grandmother, the former opera singer and classical musician, gave me. I have very few vinyl records left, but I have that one.

I ran across the clip above, which was recommended to me by YouTube. It does not use John Williams's arrangement from The Paper Chase; it's Leopold Stokowski's, though, and captures the aspects of the fugue that hooked me for life.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Anglocat at the Forum Part II

So this past Sunday I was the guest at St. Barts Forum. I never know how these things go--and the recording starts about 3 minutes before the actual forum does, so you get a little informal off-the-record chat between myself and my good friend,the Rev. Edward Sunderland.

It was a genuine pleasure to share a stage with Edward, who has given me much support over the years as I've pursued my call to ordained ministry, and has given me the benefit of his experience as head of Community Ministry at St. Barts and as a social worker to provide some very valuable pointers on how to direct my ministry and to recruit skilled volunteers.

If you follow the link, you can listen to us in conversation. Hope you enjoy!

Edited to Add: A couple of verbal slips, most seriously my early remark on the pre-Smith case law measured the sincerity of the religious conviction being asserted to justify a requested accommodation. Not really, and I later correct it.

Also, the acoustics of the room mean you don't hear the laughs at my jokes. Which is a pity. I really wasn't suffering from flop sweat, I promise. . .

Finally, when I say St. Barts has not historically not restricted its hiring to Episcopalians, I mean in the broad definition used by the Court in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v EEOC, which includes educators (such as Rabbi Leonard Schoolman, who headed up the Center for Religious Inquiry, or even church musicians.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Time for Another Book Gloat!

So yesterday I had the chance to go book shopping in Saratoga Springs, and found myself rummaging through the holdings of Lyrical Ballad Bookstore. I was sorely tempted, I admit, by the four volume Nonesuch Blake set (all of Blake in three volumes, and a biography by Mona Wilson in a uniform volume)(oh, was I--have the one volume Nonesuch from 1927, and it's a very nice reading copy, but this was sodding gorgeous.)

But I did fill a long-ached for need: At last, I found a good copy of Goethe's Faust, both parts in two volumes. For decades, I've only had the 1980s paperback Norton Critical Edition I bought in college, a stolid translation by Walter Kaufman (the modern Norton is not the same edition as I had). Now, as I've previously written, I have been fascinated by the Faust legend since seeing my cousin Robert Stattel in a superb, coruscating performance of the role. Despite this, I admit that Kaufman's serviceable but stolid translation left me languishing in the swamp of blasé.

So when I ran upon this little item, my interest was piqued:

A little water stained at the bottom of the spine, but crisp and nice copies from 1879 with beveled board, nice rich paper and big friendly print. I'm starting to appreciate that last.

I opened up the first volume:

I dipped into the text, and, although it was in poem form, it was not highfaluting. On fact, its failings lim, as far as I could see, the other way--a bit louche, almost chatty. My Personal Book Shopper (tm) --who just scored me a near complete set of Barbara Pym, with three reference volumes--and self-proclaimed Domineditrix tut-tutted a little.

"Not the best translation," she sniffed, continuing: "some of the English isn't the best reflection of the German." She looked at me with the solemn air of someone who has kept up her fluency, gazing at one who--alas!--has not.

I didn't, but could have replied, "Ah, but this one looks much more fun than poor old Kaufmann." I'd have been right too. But, fair dos, I'm sure she's right on the flaws of the translation. She knows her German, and her German literature. I was reduced to the simple, "but I like this one!" and in la Caterina's absence, prevailed. I have often regretted not yielding to the book buying impetus, but cannot remember having ever regretted yielding to it.

And, a little research found the translator Bayard Taylor to be of some interest; as recently as 1972, a Master's Thesis could say of Taylor::
A man of no small ego or ambition, Taylor aspired to greatness as a poet and produced a considerable quantity of lyrical verse characterized by technical proficiency and the sort of liberal ideas which were considered safe in the New England of his time. Today most critics agree with Richard Henry Stoddard's assessment that Taylor was a versemaker and not a poet, and he is remembered chiefly for his 1871 translation of Goethe's Faust, which even now is considered by many the most accurate English translation of the great German epic. Taylor has often been given the dubious title of poet laureate of the Gilded Age, for he reflected in his work the homely sentiments, the common goals, and the self- satisfaction of his readers.
A recent study of Taylor's life and work highlights the translation's basis in a strong identification with Goethe and his themes, and a strong desire to replicate his poetic meter faithfully.

So, in all, an interesting copy, no?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The "Classic" Had it Coming

So, the first time that I saw the above sketch, I was nonplussed for the first portion of it, not understanding what, purportedly, what the point of this thing was until, suddenly the penny dropped.

It's D.H. Lawrence to the life--stilted, artificial dialogue, prurience masquerading as poetry, deliciously humorless and without nuance, writing lines no human being could say aloud without cracking up.

As witness the actors, who go up one after the other.

Really, Ferrell's beard should have tipped me off right away.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Anglocat at the Forum

If you're in New York City on Sunday, c'mon by:
The Forum

LOCATION: The Church
TIME: 10:05 am
Sunday, July 26, 2015
The Rev. John Wirenius, lawyer and constitutional scholar, newly ordained Deacon, novelist, and long-time active St. Bartian, comments on theological and legal facets of the Supreme Court’s June 26 decision on same-sex marriage and its intersection with “religious liberty.”

Each Sunday at 10:05 a.m., we gather for a forum that helps us further connect faith with life. Programs range from clergy teaching; expository Bible study; explorations of theology, social concerns, philosophical questions; and very occasionally matters of St. Bart's ministry and mission.
There's coffee and lemonade on offer, too...

Monday, July 20, 2015

St Barts in Literature

St. Bartholomew's Church Summer Streets.jpg
"St. Bartholomew's Church Summer Streets" by Beyond My Ken - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.

Well, that trailer's dated, I admit, but the Clarence Day stories are still pretty amusing. (The trailer dips the sole thing into a glutinous sentimentality lacking in Day's prose.) The movie scores 91% with critics and 79 % with audiences on Rotten Tomatoes

Still, Clarence Day had his vogue, and his day--he's still in print, mind--but it was rather a surprise to run across my parish in his God and My Father (1935):
In the City at this same later period Father went to St. Bartholomew's, and there too the various clergyman suited him though not so well [as in the country parish]. The church itself was comfortable, and the congregation were of the right sort. There was Mr. Edward J. Stuyvesant, who was president of three different coal mines, and Admiral Prentice who had commanded the fleet, and old Mr. Johns of the Times; and bank directors and doctors and judges--solid men of affairs. The place was like a good club. And the sermon was like a strong editorial in a conservative newspaper. It did not nag at Father, it attacked the opposition instead; it gave all wrong-headed persons a sound trouncing, just the way Father would have.

Mother didn't enjoy these attacks. Denunciations upset her. She took almost all denouncing personally, as directed at her, and made it feel so full faults that she trembled inside, though she looked straight at the preacher, round-eyed and scared but defiant. She preferred something healing, and restful; some dear old tale from the Bible. But denunciations satisfied Father. He liked something vigorous. And in general he took to the Established Church pattern--a church managed like a department of a gentleman's Government. He liked such a church's strong tory flavor and its recognition of castes.
My, how things have changed! And you know what they say about the more things change--
But nothing is perfect. After Father had made himself at home in this reliable temple, he discovered too late that even here a man wasn't safe. The rector began talking about the need for what he called a New Edifice. . . .
(Pp. 21-22). There's more--Father's horror on discovering he was expected to contribute to the Edifice ("He said he might have known it was just a damn scheme to get money"), his horror at the amount he was expected to contribute, and his speculations on the pew market.

But as one of those who glory in the New Edifice, I'm glad Vinnie made Clare ante up.