The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Every Knee Must Bow: A Sermon delivered on September 28, 2014

Sometimes I have the opportunity to deliver sermons in the course of my training for the diaconate. When I do, I post the text, as delivered--mistakes and all.

God is here, and Christ is now.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
 Philipians 2: 5-11

Today’s Epistle has been, not unlike Paul himself, all things to all people. Some focus on the three verses I just read to you —that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow and every tongue confess Him Lord—and create a Christian triumphalism—we’re right and you (pretty much every one else in the world) is wrong, and you’re going to have to admit it, one day, not that it will do you any good, because you’ll be in Hell. (Seriously, people do believe this, and not just the fundamentalists we all like to be sure we know better than—even Thomas Aquinas held this view, calling it a “forced confession” from those under the earth, in Hell, that is, where they would remain.[1]

Others prefer to focus on the obedience of the Son to the Father, on the sacrifice made by the second Person of the Trinity merely by becoming human. As C.S. Lewis once phrased it, in one of his less felicitous moments, “think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.”[2]

But I’d like to suggest that we have to read the passage as a whole, not seize upon one thought or another. What is the whole passage saying to us?

Two writers, over 1500 years apart have something to tell us, I think. Origen who lived from about 185 to 354, found hope for all people, Christian and pagan, in the verses Aquinas relied on because, as Aquinas says, “when he heard that every knee should bow, which is a sign of subjection, he believed that at some future time, every rational creature, whether angels or men or devils would be subjected to Christ by the allegiance of charity.”[3]

By the allegiance of charity, of course, Origen meant love—caritas. Origen believed that, God would win every soul not through force but through love. That in the fullness of time, when we all come face to face with God, and truth is fully revealed, we will each of us know fully, and accept the Divine Love, which we now only see, to steal a line from St. Paul, through a glass, darkly. Subjection to Christ, for Origen, is about realizing our true selves, our best selves.
Charles Gore, who lived from 1854 to 1932, taught that Christianity was first and foremost a way of life—he called it, like the early Church, simply “the Way.” He emphasized the importance of loving our neighbor, concretely by assisting those in need, and in seeking a more just social order. Gore used today’s passage to explain the importance of lives of service as an integral part of the Way. Gore taught that Jesus as He lived among us, emptied himself of the attributes and powers ascribed to the divine. He explained that:
God can express Himself in true manhood because manhood is truly and originally made in God’s image and, on the other hand, God can limit himself by the conditions of manhood, because the Godhead contains within itself eternally the prototype of human self-sacrifice and self-limitation, for God is love.[4]

If Jesus, who was equal to God the Father, nonetheless was willing to abandon all that that means, to come among us as one who serves, even to the point of giving up His own life, and did not count it loss—surely that tells us something about the nature of the God we pray to, of the Jesus we call Christ? And that, Gore says, surely gives us a pretty broad hint as to how to follow Him—to love one another, and to serve, as He served.

That’s why we bow our heads at the name of Jesus in the Liturgy—not out of superstition, not out of fear, but out of awe. Awe that we could be so greatly loved, that God Himself could give up everything that makes Him God, just to live among us, and show us the way to an authentic life. And what does that authentic life look like—how do we walk the Way? It’s not about repression, or suppression, or depression—it’s about love. Loving God and our sisters and brothers enough to dedicate ourselves to treating them as we would wish to be treated. Finding our gifts, and learning how we can use them to bring abundance of life not just to others but to ourselves.

Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? How do we live up to that? How is this Gospel of service “Good News?”

Today’s Gospel shows us that we don’t have to get it right at the very beginning. The two sons asked by their father to work in the vineyard are a lot like –well, me. Sometimes, I’ll eagerly agree to do something, and then when it comes time to actually do it—usually at an unholy hour in the morning—then all too often the Spirit is willing, as Jesus himself observed, but the flesh is weak. On the other hand, sometimes I’ll be asked to take on one more thing, and feeling sorry for myself refuse. Later I may think better on it, and change my mind.

Sometimes we are the yes-sayer, I think, and sometimes we are the son who says no, but then thinks better of it. But here’s the thing—both sons are loved, and so are we. Progress, not perfection is what’s asked of us. By being here in this community, we start off on the Way, walking it one step at a time, becoming closer with God and our brothers and sisters as we do so. And over time, as we do so, we find that what started as with a fair amount of doubt and uncertainty will become an irresistible invitation to walk the Way with Jesus, through service to our sisters and brothers, not because we are forced to, but because in doing so, we will make up our souls on our journey to union with God.


[1] Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians, (Trans. F.R. Larcher, O.P. 1969), at ch. 2, 2-3.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1952), at 155.

[3] Aquinas, supra.

[4] Gore, The Incarnation of the Son of God (1891), at 162; see also id. at 159-161; Temple, AN ERA IN ANGLICAN THEOLOGY at 30-35. The centrality of the kenotic theory to Gore’s theology is posited and helpfully explored in Chapman, Gore, Kenotic Theory and The Crisis of Power, 3 Journ. Angl. Stud. at 203-205.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Satanic Versus...

So, the neutrality of state laws and policies allowing religious expression on public property are being tested. But by whom?

Could it be. . . Satan:
One of the favorite myths that Christian conservatives like to tell about themselves is that they are champions protecting “religious freedom” from the supposed oppressions of a secular humanist society. But that argument is increasingly being tested by, of all people, Satanists. Yes, people who claim to worship the demon that Christians believe runs hell are quickly learning how easy it is to show that the Christian right never had any intention of protecting “religious freedom”. Instead, time and time again, Satanists are showing that the conservative Christian definition of “religious freedom” doesn’t apply at all to faiths, like Satanism, that offend them. Faced with the demands of Satanists, the supposed religious freedom crusaders of the religious right turn right back into the theocrats they always were, interested only in having government endorsement of theirreligion and often eager to demand that the government stomp out religious practices that offend them.


The latest dust-up involves a Satanic “black mass” conducted in a Civic Center in Oklahoma City. The Dakhma of Angra Mainyu Syndicate held a 2-3 hour ceremony that mocked the Catholic mass by stomping on bread and sexualizing the grape juice-in-lieu of wine, as well as praying to various demons.


Father Jonathan Morris went on Fox News Sunday to demand that Oklahoma City officials shut down the black mass. After paying lip service to the idea that Satanists have a “political right” to worship, the fact that some people in the community oppose it should be considered reason enough to shut it down. “When you have a group that does this, not just because they want to do their own little worship, but they are provoking anger and hatred among the community, the city can step in and say, ‘That’s not worship, that’s not free speech, that’s mockery, and you’re inciting violence!’”, he added, as if it’s the fault of Satanists if people assault them and not the fault of people doing the assaulting.
Yeah, this is what the late Harry Kalven called the "reflexive disorder" in his excellent book A Worthy Tradition: Freedom of Speech in America; it's also known by his coinage as the heckler's veto. The basic idea is that controversial speech is not entitled to protection, because people will react to it angrily, and commit disorderly acts to silence the offensive speaker. Thanks to Justice Douglas's opinion for the Supreme Court in Terminiello v. Chicago (1949), not a basis for censorship. As Justice Douglas explained:
Accordingly a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea.. . . . There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view. For the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups.

The ordinance as construed by the trial court seriously invaded this province. It permitted conviction of petitioner if his speech stirred people to anger, invited public dispute, or brought about a condition of unrest. A conviction resting on any of those grounds may not stand.
So, Fr. Morris is in error, and his analogies fail.

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, as Marcotte writes:
Christians put a monument to the Ten Commandments up at the Oklahoma Statehouse, declaring their right to do so as one of religious freedom. The Satanic Temple, run out of New York City, responded by demanding the same religious freedom to put up a monument to the demon Baphomet.

The proposed monument is a hoot: Baphomet sitting on a throne while two children gaze adoringly at his goatly visage. The point of the stunt, however, is quite serious, to expose the hypocrisy of Christian conservatives who want to justify government endorsement of religion under the guise of “religious freedom”. Lucien Greaves of the Temple told Vice, “Constitutional law is quite clear on this issue: The state can’t discriminate against viewpoints. If they’ve opened the door for one, they’ve opened it for all.” To turn down the Satanists is to admit that the Christian right didn’t care for religious freedom at all, but simply wants government to push their religion while suppressing others who disagree.
Leaving Marcotte's amusement aside, for the moment, the underlying point is sound; if one religion best to place a monument, how can the government treat another religion less favorably without violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion")?

Marcotte gives a third example:
he Satanic Temple is pulling a similar stunt in Florida, to protest the Orange County Public Schools, which allowed the World Changers of Florida to pass out Bibles and religious pamphlets on campus. An atheist group already managed to get its protest in by getting similar permission to pass out atheist materials, putting the district in a situation where they either had to let them do it or risk a lawsuit. But the Satanist groups are making the situation hilariously surreal by asking to distribute The Satanic Children’s BIG BOOK of Activities, a coloring book with games that explain the ins and outs of Satanic rituals, as well as showing kids how to draw a pentagram.

As with the Oklahoma case, Greaves explains that it’s a matter of simple fairness, because “if a public school board is going to allow religious pamphlets and full Bibles to be distributed to students — as is the case in Orange County, Florida — we think the responsible thing to do is to ensure that these students are given access to a variety of differing religious opinions.”
Marcotte aptly cites Supreme Court's decision in Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District (1993), which bars discrimination between religious and non-religious speakers or between various religious groups once permission to use school facilities is afforded. In another, more recent, case out of New York, Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014), the Court found that the Town could open the legislative session with prayer, as long as it had policy of non-discrimination between religions--although the Town did not have to affirmatively seek out diverse prayer leaders.

It's a lesson in "be careful what you wish for," because, unless we are willing to have those whose speech morally offends us the same privileges granted one's own faith, we have violated the rule of neutrality and equal access. In other words, in these examples, the satanists are, constitutionally speaking, on the side of the angels.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Nothing is Won Without Sacrifice"

Now, I was never a great fan of Roger Moore as James Bond, but I always though he was just perfect as The Saint. His insouciance, rather inappropriate for Ian Fleming's "blunt instrument", was just right for Leslie Charteris's Simon Templar. Where Bond's flippancies as delivered by Moore undermined the suspense (such as it was--to be fair, Moore got more of the weaker scripts than was his due), Templar's were inherent to the character's modus operandi.

The books are trifles--light, airy stories, with a good sense of humor and a fair amount of whimsy.

Except for the trilogy, that is.

After two typically breezy entries, Charteris wrote The Last Hero (1930), a novel in which the stakes suddenly rise, and the Saint and his gang of saints find themselves confronted with a precursor to the atomic bomb, a debonair but cold prince,and the Saint's Moriarty. That last is the gigantic Dr. Rayt Marius, who wants the weapon to start a second World War, to the profits of the international cartels he represents. (Yes, a tiny whiff of anti-semitism enters Charteris's novel in one paragraph, I'm sorry to say, with the Saint referring to the real villains as "the big men, the secret moguls of Wall Street and the London Stock Exchange, the birds with the fat cigars and the names in -heim and -stein, who juggle the finances of this cockeyed world." Appalling, but when I was a boy and first read the book, it passed right over my head; I only noticed it this on my recent re-read of an e-book edition, and was grieved.)

Confronted with the prospect of another war, the Saint, whose motto hs previously been "Into battle, murder and sudden death, good Lord, deliver me!" reaches a different conclusion:
The Saint turned his eyes to the painting over the mantelpiece, and did not see it.

"If we do nothing but suppress Tiny Tim [Marius]," he said, "England will possess a weapon of war immeasurably more powerful than all the armaments of any other nation. If we stole that away, you may argue that sooner or later some other nation will probably discover something just as deadly, and then England will be at a disadvantage."

He hesitated, and then continued in the same quiet tone.

"But there are hundreds of Tiny Tims, and we can't suppress them all. No secret like that has ever been kept for long; and when the war came we might very well find the enemy prepared to use our own weapon against us."

Once again he paused.

"I'm thinking of all the men who'll fight in that next war, and the women who love them. If you saw a man drowning, would you refuse to rescue him because, for all you know, you might only be saving him for a more terrible death years later?"

There was another silence; and in it the Saint seemed to straighten and strengthen and grow, imperceptibly and yet tremendously, as if something gathered about him which actually filled every corner of the room and made him bulk like a preposterously normal giant. And, when he resumed, his voice was as soft and even as ever; but it seemed to ring like a blast of trumpets.

"There are gathered here," he said, "three somewhat shop-soiled musketeers-and a blessed angel. Barring the blessed angel, we have all of us, in the course of our young lives, broken half the Commandments and most of the private laws of several countries. And yet, somehow, we've contrived to keep intact certain ridiculous ideals, which to our perverted minds are a justification for our sins. And fighting is one of those ideals. Battle and sudden death. In fact, we must be about the last three men in the wide world who ought to be interfering with the makings of a perfectly good war. Personally, I suppose we should welcome it-for our own private amusement. But there aren't many like us. There are too many-far too many-who are utterly different. Men and boys who don't want war. Who don't live for battle, murder, and sudden death. Who wouldn't be happy warriors, going shouting and singing and swaggering into the battle. Who'd just be herded into it like dumb cattle to the slaughter, drunk with a miserable and futile heroism, to struggle blindly through a few days of squalid agony and die in the dirt. Fine young lives that don't belong to our own barbarous god of battles. . . . And we've tripped over the plans for the next sacrifice, partly by luck and partly by our own brilliance. And here we are. We don't give a damn for any odds or any laws. Will you think me quite mad if I put it to you that three shabby, hell-busting outlaws might, by the grace of God . . ."

He left the sentence unfinished; and for a few seconds no one spoke.

Then Roger Conway stirred intently.

"What do you say?" he asked.

The Saint looked at him.

"I say," he answered, "that this is our picnic. We've always known-haven't we?-at the back of our minds, dimly, that one day we were bound to get our big show. I say that this is the cue. It might have come in any one of a dozen different ways; but it just happens to have chosen this one.
And so the Saint and his friends--Roger Conway, Norman Kent and Patricia Holm, the woman he loves, take on the odds.

And the last hero is not the Saint; it's Norman Kent. Kent, who is wounded in a standoff between the Saint's gang and Marius and the Prince's forces, along with a British Secret Service operative named Harding, manages to convince his friends to leave him behind, with the secret of the weapon, to be delivered to Marius and the Prince a half hour after they get away. Kent out bluffs not only the Prince, but Simon and the rest, too, and sacrifices his life for his friends:
A smile touched Norman's lips. He didn't mind being left alone now that his work was done. And he knew that Harding could not have stayed. Harding also had work to do. He had to find help-to deal with Marius and intercept Simon Templar and the precious papers. But Norman smiled, because he was sure the Saint wouldn't be intercepted. Still, he liked the mettle of that fair-haired youngster. . . .

His leg hurt like blazes.

But the Saint had never guessed the impossible thing. That had been Norman Kent's one fear, that the Saint would suspect and refuse to leave him. But Norman's first success, when he had tricked Harding with the offer of the papers, had won the Saint's faith, as it had to win it. And Simon had gone, and Patricia with him. It was enough.

And in the fulness of time Simon would find the papers; and he would open the letter and read the one line that was written there. And that line Norman had already spoken, but no one had understood.

"Nothing is won without sacrifice."

Norman turned again, and saw the automatic in Marius's hand. There was something in the way the gun was held, something in the face behind it, that told him that this man did not miss. And the gun was not aimed at Norman, but beyond him, at the flying figure that was nearing the motor-boat at the end of the lawn.

That gentle far-away smile was still on Norman Kent's lips as he took two quick hops backwards and to one side, so that his body was between Marius and the window.

He knew that Marius, blind, raging mad with fury, would not relax his pressure on the trigger because Norman Kent was standing directly in his line of fire; but Norman didn't care. It made no difference to him. Marius, or the Prince, would certainly have shot him sooner or later. Probably he deserved it. He had deliberately cheated, knowing the price of the revoke. He thought no more of himself. But an extra second or two ought to give Harding time to reach comparative safety in the motor-boat.

Norman Kent wasn't afraid. He was smiling.

It was a strange way to come to the end of everything, like that, in that quiet bungalow by the peaceful Thames, with the first mists of the evening coming up from the river like tired clouds drifted down from heaven, and the light softening over the cool, quiet garden. That place had seen so much of their enjoyment, so much comradeship and careless laughter. They had been lovely and pleasant in their lives. . . . He wished his leg wasn't giving him such hell. But that would be over soon. And there must be many worse ways of saying farewell to so full a life. It was something to have heard the sound of the trumpet. And the game would go on. It seemed as if the shadows of the peaceful evening outside were the foreshadowings of a great peace over all the world.
Now, one may fault the prose and the plotting--Charteris is still learning his craft here--but this is, compare dot what came before and after, a wildly ambitious book. The Saint is ousted as the hero by the taciturn, unassuming Norman (who also loves Patricia); there's no merry con going on, but a desperate fight--Templar is unusually ruthless here--and the Saint loses. Gallant, but futile, all his efforts.

It's Norman who saves the day, by the simple expedient of recognizing that the only winning gambit required the sacrifice of a piece, and offering himself as that sacrifice.

The next novel, Knight Templar (1930), continues the story, but the scale is smaller; Norman's death casts a pall, and Simon seeks revenge. Then, four books later, the final clash with the Prince occurs in Getaway (1932). Two years later, in The Misfortunes of Mr. Teal, we find out the end of Rayt Marius. Charteris moves on. We lose Patricia Holm, Roger Conway, even the comic valet Orace. The later books are funny, fast-moving, con stories.

But the shadow of Norman Kent, for a brief period, gave the series a depth it lacked before and after that ghost was laid to rest, and the Saint never really learns the lesson: "Nothing is won without sacrifice."

Monday, September 22, 2014

Happy Baggins Day!

September 22, after all, is Hobbit Day. Celebrate with Leonard Nimoy:

Er, right. Maybe not, then.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mind the Gap!

(Barbara Murray and Donal McCann as Madame Max Goesler and Phineas Finn in The Pallisers)

Although no precise date is given, textual evidence, as well as the couple's childlessness, suggest that Marie ("Madame Max") Goesler is roughly a decade older than her second husband, Phineas Finn. Refreshingly, this was honored in Simon Raven's adaptation of the novels; Barbara Murray (who died earlier this year, alas!) was born in September, 1929; Donal McCann in May, 1943. The almost 14 year age gap shows on screen, but the actors have tremendous chemistry, even in the early episodes where McCann's Phineas is a bit raw. In the later episodes, especially as Phineas's woes mount, the ageless elegance Murray brings to the role (she was 45 at the time the adaptation was filmed, McCann was 31) and her charisma, as well as McCann's impetuous performance, rule out any mercenary motives; Phineas wants her, in this adaptation, as well as in the text.

Now, this is far from the usual pattern in Victorian mores; quite to the contrary, according to Ginger A. Frost:
Age differences were common among late-Victorian couples. According to Jalland in her study of the upper classes, 'The husband was expected to be older than the wife; ideally by three to seven years, since women were supposed to age faster than men.'. . .[In the breach of promise here under study,] defendants were older than plaintiffs 84 percent of the time, but the ranges were quite often higher than the ideal, since half of the older defendants were more than ten years senior to the plaintiffs. However, few people involved in the trials disapproved of these age ranges. In several cases a woman in her twenties was considered well suited to a man in his forties or fifties.
In fact, the older woman-younger man pairing is rare, and usually either comic or critical; as John Mullan notes,"Only one man in all Jane Austen’s novels marries a woman older than himself: Mr Collins, aged 25, marries Charlotte Lucas, aged 27. The disparity speaks of the unselectiveness of both parties. Yet three of Jane Austen’s own brothers married women older than themselves."

So one thing about Marie's and Phineas's marriage from the start--it's subversive. She is older--considerably so--and she is wealthy, with all the power that money brings. A total inversion of the Victorian patriarchal ideal, no? And both are from normally despised minorities--the Viennese Jewish woman, the Irish Roman Catholic man.

In trying to project out this couple's future after Anthony Trollope drew the curtain, I thought quite a lot abut their atypicality. Marie and Phineas are an uncommon partnership in Victorian literature. Much of the obvious power resides in her, yet he is not diminished thereby. Phineas has the virtue of ease in his own skin, most of the time; it it enables him to cheerfully accept the benefits of Marie's money and power just as he was willing to learn from Lady Laura the arts of politics. In continuing that trajectory and projecting it out two decades, I believe that Phineas at Bay keeps faith with the creator of these wonderful aberrations from the norms of Victorian fiction.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Phineas in Review: How Did I Not Point This One Out?

I don't know how I did this, but I don't appear to have highlighted a very fine review (on Goodreads) of Phineas at Bay by Douglas Gerlach:
It's not an uncommon lament of fans of Anthony Trollope: "what shall we do after we've read all of his novels?" This even so, despite the Victorian author's output of 47 novels; more than the fictional output of Dickens, Eliot, and Thackeray combined.

Fortunately, Trollopians can add one more novel to their "to-read" lists, the frolicking just-published sequel Phineas at Bay by John F. Wirenius.

Phineas at Bay revisits the life of Phineas Finn, one of Trollope's most charming characters and the main character of two of the "Palliser" novels, the eponymous Phineas Finn and its sequel Phineas Redux.

In Wirenius's book, set 20 years after the events of Phineas Redux, the Anglo-Irish love-struck politico has settled into a comfortable life with his wife, the still-steadfast former Madame Max. He takes on cases as a barrister in London and still represents Tankerville as a Member of Parliament for the Liberal party.

A chance assignment to represent a Welsh miner in court, however, pits Finn against the forces of a changing industrial society, awakening past alliances both good and bad, and ultimately disturbing the politics of the two-party system. Challenges on the home front require Finn's honor-bound attention, as well, drawing him into a life-threatening imbroglio.

To the sure enjoyment of many readers, familiar characters from the Palliser novels appear in Phineas at Bay, such as a still-unreformed Sir Felix Carbury, a still-scheming Lady Eustace, a still-grieving Duke of Omnium, a still-odious Quintus Slide, and a still-boorish Lord Fawn. Part of the fun of the book comes from the inclusion of Trollope's characters and locations from outside the Palliser series, such as a number of friends from Barsetshire.

There are new faces in the book, too. Several of the cast are the offspring of Trollope's characters who have now grown to adulthood. Some clearly take after their parents, while others struggle to break out of the familial mold.

Obviously, Phineas at Bay will appeal to the growing league of Trollopians, who will take delight in discovering one answer to the question "what happens next?" raised in the final pages of the Phineas diptych. To the author's credit, the book also stands on its own for readers seeking drama, romance, social justice, and political maneuvering set in 19th century England.
Pleasing a discerning, no nonsense reader is a nice experience. I'm honored.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Forsyte Phonetics, Philology, and Fate

I have always been bemused by the fact that the received pronunciation of the first name of Irene Heron Forsyte, the heroine of John Galsworthy's masterful trilogy, The Forsyte Saga as "I-reen-ee," rather than the more common pronunciation, "I-reen."

In both the 1967 and 2002 adaptation, the less common is employed:

(By the way, that truncated clip, the poor quality, and the cheesy trailer don't do justice to a masterful adaptation, with great performances.)


(Yeah, I know. But it was this or watch through a whole episode on Hulu--after subscribing--to hear someone say her name.)

Although either pronunciation is correct, the consistent use of the more rare pronunciation (other than in the botched 1949 film adaptation That Forsyte Woman), raises the question why.

I have a hunch.

Galsworthy's novels are generally viewed as all-of-a-piece, but in fact the difference between The Saga and its sequel, A Modern Comedy, is in its treatment of Soames, Irene's first husband, who is the anti-hero--almost the villain of the earliest novel. The Man of Property but who is, by the time of Swan Song, pretty well redeemed, if not exactly warms and fuzzy. The Man of Property was originally intended to be a one-off, and its starker tone is notable in comparison to the other volumes.

One of the aspects of the books that has baffled generations of readers is his risky decision to have Irene viewed solely through the outside, to be seen only through the perceptions of others, as he writes in the preface to the collected Saga: "The figure of Irene, never, as the reader may possibly have observed, present, except through the senses of other characters, is a concretion of disturbing Beauty impinging on a possessive world."

This makes it impossible for us to know her the way we know any of the other characters. I can't help but wonder if this is due to the fact that John Galsworthy played the part of Young Jolyon in his own life, marrying his cousin's wife, Ada Nemesis (!) Pearson after an affair with her--but was loathe to depict his much loved wife in print more clearly than he absolutely had to, and tried to disguise her in the tale.

Nemesis, of course, is the Greek goddess who "appears chiefly as the avenger of crime and the punisher of hubris, and as such is akin to Atë and the Erinyes." (Yes, its Wikipedia, but it's also correct.) The Erinyes were "three netherworld goddesses who avenged crimes against the natural order. They were particularly concerned with homicide, unfilial conduct, crimes against the gods, and perjury. A victim seeking justice could call down the curse of the Erinys upon the criminal." The Erinyes sound fairly close to the name "Irene" yes?

Nemesis makes her appearance in the Forsyte Saga, and, as I pointed out last week, she is dangerous--to Old Jolyon, to Philip Bossiney, and certainly to Soames, whose death is traceable, ultimately, to the rejection of his daughter's love by her son Jon, because of Irene's and her dying husband, Young Jolyon, opposition to the marriage.

Nemesis is in the warp and woof of the Forsyte Saga and, cloaked as the Erinyes, or, rather, Irene, indirectly, precipitates the tragic end of the Modern Comedy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thirteen Years Later

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

For many years now, I have had a tradition of no politics on September 11. And, more recently, I have laid aside political blogging altogether, and I find the change has been for my good.

But here we are, thirteen years after my generation's equivalent of Pearl Harbor, only, not so; no "Good War," with a happy ending, and justice meted out. Mess, confusion, and a fire that reignites just as you think that, at long blessed last, it may smolder out.

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The Heart beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above

I have no easy answers today, as our President seems ready to re-enter the conflict we were receding from. I am heartsick, and wonder if this really is all we have to offer:
The morning after committing the nation to an expanded military campaign against Islamist terrorism, President Obama honored the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as the White House argued that he had the right to wage his new fight under the same legal authority he used to hunt down Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

On a day suffused with memories of four hijacked planes and the war they ignited, the president’s new mission seemed less a break from the past than the continuation of a long national struggle.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the administration said, was formerly the Iraqi affiliate of Al Qaeda, and has maintained ties with Al Qaeda even after its very public falling-out with Qaeda leaders. It uses brutal tactics that are out of the Qaeda playbook, and is viewed, even by some members of Al Qaeda, as the legitimate heir to Bin Laden’s legacy.

The argument, laid out Thursday by Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, could spare the president’s lawyers from having to negotiate a new legal authorization from Congress, should Mr. Obama decide to ask lawmakers to approve a prolonged military campaign.
The mixture as before. It worked so well last time.

O let the heavens falter
And let the earth proclaim:
Come healing of the Altar
Come healing of the Name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

Earlier this year, I quoted Herman Wouk's The Winds of War:
Victor Henry turned his face from the hideous sight to the indigo arch of the sky, where Venus and the brightest stars still burned: Sirius, Capella, Procyon, the old navigation aids. The familiar religious awe came over him, the sense of a Presence above this pitiful little earth. He could almost picture God the Father looking down with sad wonder at this mischief. In a world so rich and lovely, could his children find nothing better to do than to dig iron from the ground and work it into vast grotesque engines for blowing each other up? Yet this madness was the way of the world. He had given all his working years to it. Now he was about to risk his very life at it. Why?

Because the others did it, he thought. Because Abel’s next-door neighbor was Cain. Because with all its rotten spots, the United States of America was not only his homeland but the hope of the world. Because if America’s enemies dug up iron and made deadly engines of it, America had to do the same, and do it better, or die. Maybe the vicious circle would end with this first real world war. Maybe it would end with Christ’s second coming. Maybe it would never end.
We seem no closer now to ending that vicious circle, and I have no better answer than that of Victor Henry tonight. Do you?

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

And Love Itself Have Rest: Indian Summer of a Forsyte

In his Indian Summer of a Forsyte, John Galsworthy returned to the story he had laid down, he thought, forever--that of Irene Forsyte, née Heron, fugitive wife of Soames, who finds a refuge from her drab--but free!--life in an unexpected place--at Robin Hill, the house that Philip Bossiney, the man who became her lover, designed for her husband.

Robin Hill has passed out of Soames's possession into that of his uncle "Old Jolyon," most philosophical of the old Forsytes, and head of the family. Jolyon's philosophy, and his compassion are touched by Irene's loneliness, and her beauty and charm stir him to go beyond the realm of safety and convention, as he realized on waking up from a cat-nap:
That night in his study he had just finished his cigar and was dozing off, when he heard the rustle of a gown, and was conscious of a scent of violets. Opening his eyes he saw her, dressed in grey, standing by the fireplace, holding out her arms. The odd thing was that, though those arms seemed to hold nothing, they were curved as if round someone's neck, and her own neck was bent back, her lips open, her eyes closed. She vanished at once, and there were the mantelpiece and his bronzes. But those bronzes and the mantelpiece had not been there when she was, only the fireplace and the wall! Shaken and troubled, he got up. 'I must take medicine,' he thought; 'I can't be well.' His heart beat too fast, he had an asthmatic feeling in the chest; and going to the window, he opened it to get some air. A dog was barking far away, one of the dogs at Gage's farm no doubt, beyond the coppice. A beautiful still night, but dark. 'I dropped off,' he mused, 'that's it! And yet I'll swear my eyes were open!' A sound like a sigh seemed to answer.
"What's that?" he said sharply, "who's there?"
Putting his hand to his side to still the beating of his heart, he stepped out on the terrace. Something soft scurried by in the dark. "Shoo!" It was that great grey cat. 'Young Bosinney was like a great cat!' he thought. 'It was him in there, that she—that she was—He's got her still!' He walked to the edge of the terrace, and looked down into the darkness; he could just see the powdering of the daisies on the unmown lawn. Here to-day and gone to-morrow! And there came the moon, who saw all, young and old, alive and dead, and didn't care a dump! His own turn soon. For a single day of youth he would give what was left! And he turned again towards the house. He could see the windows of the night nursery up there. His little sweet would be asleep. 'Hope that dog won't wake her!' he thought. 'What is it makes us love, and makes us die! I must go to bed.'
And across the terrace stones, growing grey in the moonlight, he passed back within.
How should an old man live his days if not in dreaming of his well-spent past? In that, at all events, there is no agitating warmth, only pale winter sunshine. The shell can withstand the gentle beating of the dynamos of memory. The present he should distrust; the future shun. From beneath thick shade he should watch the sunlight creeping at his toes. If there be sun of summer, let him not go out into it, mistaking it for the Indian-summer sun! Thus peradventure he shall decline softly, slowly, imperceptibly, until impatient Nature clutches his wind-pipe and he gasps away to death some early morning before the world is aired, and they put on his tombstone: 'In the fulness of years!' yea! If he preserve his principles in perfect order, a Forsyte may live on long after he is dead.
Old Jolyon was conscious of all this, and yet there was in him that which transcended Forsyteism. For it is written that a Forsyte shall not love beauty more than reason; nor his own way more than his own health. And something beat within him in these days that with each throb fretted at the thinning shell. His sagacity knew this, but it knew too that he could not stop that beating, nor would if he could. And yet, if you had told him he was living on his capital, he would have stared you down. No, no; a man did not live on his capital; it was not done! The shibboleths of the past are ever more real than the actualities of the present. And he, to whom living on one's capital had always been anathema, could not have borne to have applied so gross a phrase to his own case. Pleasure is healthful; beauty good to see; to live again in the youth of the young—and what else on earth was he doing!
There is something dangerous in beauty, in Galsworthy. Irene cares for Uncle Jolyon, and is conscious that she has something to give him, just as he shows kindness toward her. But, alone of the old Forsytes--except for his rattletrap brother Swithin--Jolyon chooses the riskier path.

And what is the risk? Hastening the day of which Byron warns:
So, we'll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.
In a quiet way, Old Jolyon rejects Forsyteism in his last days. He chooses transcendence, spontaneity, and love. It hastens his death--and yet enriches his life

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Changing of the Guard at the Brooklyn Museum

Arnold Lehman, who has been the head of the Brooklyn Museum since 1997, has announced his retirement. As the NYT points out:
Mr. Lehman made many attempts to reinvigorate the museum. But he will most likely be remembered for being at the center of one of the most bitter public fights in recent museum history when, in 1999, he presented “Sensation: Young British Artists From the Saatchi Collection,” a show of art from the holdings of Charles Saatchi, the British advertising magnate. Although the show was widely popular and attracted some 170,000 visitors, Mr. Lehman was attacked by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Roman Catholic leaders for including an artwork by Chris Ofili depicting the Virgin Mary, decorated with elephant dung.

The mayor threatened to cut the city’s funding to the museum and accused it of colluding with Mr. Saatchi to inflate the value of his art. The museum faced scrutiny for financing the exhibition largely with donations from those who stood to profit from it. Adding to the protests was the revelation that Mr. Lehman had lied about having seen the show himself in London. Still, it was the first time many Americans had seen the work of a generation of British artists, of whom many, like Damien Hirst, Mr. Ofili and Tracey Emin, have gone on to be superstars.

“It was through that show that all those artists were introduced to an American museumgoing public,” Mr. Lehman recalled.

The “Sensation” brouhaha was just one of his struggles. Shortly after he arrived in Brooklyn from the Baltimore Museum of Art, where he had been director for 18 years, Mr. Lehman started making what at the time were considered audacious managerial decisions, ones that made him a kind of lightning rod. In 2006 he shook up the curatorial staff by replacing traditional departments like Egyptian art and European paintings and created two teams, one for collections and one for exhibitions — prompting the resignations of three longtime curators and two board members.

Still, over the years, Mr. Lehman increased the museum’s annual attendance to 558,788 visitors from 247,000. He also more than doubled the institution’s endowment, which is now $123 million, but was $55 million when he arrived in 1997. Since 1998, with the introduction of programs like First Saturdays, when the museum is open free until 11 p.m. on the first Saturday of almost every month, he has transformed the place into a kind of nightclub, with food, wine and live music. This popular event has helped turn the place into a hangout for Brooklyn residents and attract a significantly younger crowd.

“The average age of visitors in 1997 was around 58,” Mr. Lehman said. “A couple of years ago, it was about 35. Now, when I look around, I feel like everybody’s great-grandfather.”

He also made significant architectural changes to the museum’s classical McKim, Mead & White home, the most instantly visible being the redesign of its entrance, with a modern glass canopy. The design, by Polshek Partnership (now Ennead Architects LLC) included a newly conceived lobby and public plaza as well. He has also started systematically renovating the galleries to make them more coherent and climate-controlled.
Leaving aside the controversy, I thought most of the art in the Sensation exhibition was jejune (Marcus Harvey's powerful and disturbing Myra was a prominent exception). Also, I hate the new front of the museum, because the classical front was gorgeous and--get off my lawn, that's why!

That said, Lehman did a lot to revitalize and popularize a great museum, and his departure truly marks a new era at a great Brooklyn landmark.

Monday, September 8, 2014

O'Toole as Higgins

Here's something I never expected to see--a video recording of Peter O'Toole in Pygmalion--not the production I saw on a magic night my senior year at college. I remember seeing a broadcast of either this film, or a straight play, on HBO when I was in high school, though. It lacks the fire that the conflict between O'Toole and Sir John Mills as Alfred Doolittle. Sir John Standing, who was so good in A Dance to the Music of Time makes a sturdy Pickering, though. It's nice to see it again.

Why Am I Against the Death Penalty?

Cases like this:
Thirty years after their convictions in the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in rural North Carolina, based on confessions that they quickly repudiated and said were coerced, two mentally disabled half brothers were declared innocent and ordered released Tuesday by a judge here.

The case against the men, always weak, fell apart after DNA evidence implicated another man whose possible involvement had been somehow overlooked by the authorities even though he lived only a block from where the victim’s body was found, and he had admitted to committing a similar rape and murder around the same time.

The startling shift in fortunes for the men, Henry Lee McCollum, 50, who has spent three decades on death row, and Leon Brown, 46, who was serving a life sentence, provided one of the most dramatic examples yet of the potential harm from false, coerced confessions and of the power of DNA tests to exonerate the innocent.
The Times article linked soft-pedals it. but this case was used in another case by Antonin Scalia to argue that the death penalty was not cruel and unusual:
The death by injection which Justice Blackmun describes looks pretty desirable next to that [at issue]. It looks even better next to some of the other cases currently before us which Justice Blackmun did not select as the vehicle for his announcement that the death penalty is always unconstitutional--for example, the case of the 11-year old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat. See McCollum v. North Carolina, No. 93-7200, cert. now pending before the Court. How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that! If the people conclude that such more brutal deaths may be deterred by capital punishment; indeed, if they merely conclude that justice requires such brutal deaths to be avenged by capital punishment; the creation of false, untextual and unhistorical contradictions within "the Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence" should not prevent them.
Of course, the innocence of the accused is, once a conviction has been obtained, constitutionally irrelevant to Scalia's thinking:
This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged 'actual innocence' is constitutionally cognizable.
So he probably thanks his example is as good as it was when he first propounded it--and would be astonished at those who disagree.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper?

Last November, I poked a little fun at Patricia Cornwell's Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper -- Case Closed, which overstated its claims to have "proved" that Jack the Ripper was painter Walter Sickert. As I wrote at the time:
In forming my own opinion of Cornwell's account, I ran across a description of a lecture Cornwell gave on the subject:

"She walked onto the stage like a rock star playing in front of a home town crowd. She was wearing a blue wind breaker with FORENSICS written in bright yellow across the back (the jacket, she later stated, was given to her by the UT School of Forensics). After the applause died down, she opened the lecture by saying "The reason we were able to catch this son of a bitch is one word. . ." With that, she stepped out from behind the podium turned around and dramatically threw her arms into the air, above her head. She then started pumping her arms and fists downward, pointing to the yellow FORENSICS on her back. The crowd once again erupted into a riotous standing ovation, and I found myself waiting for The Rock to come out and lay down some WWF smack on a wimpy Walter "The Painter" Sickert lookalike!"

Well, no. there are significant critiques of Cornwell's theory, but for me the most salient point is that she simply overhyped her findings to an extraordinary degree. She has come up with clever and well-reasoned arguments that rebut the classic arguments used to exclude Sickert, and a novelist's insight into character that she brings to construct a picture of Sickert that would be consistent with him being Jack the Ripper. In sum, she makes a plausible enough theory that Sickert could have been the Ripper. And from that, she concludes that she has proven his guilt. Well, no. She has written a lively, if tendentious, account of the case against one possible suspect, and has weakened certain of the arguments that purported to conclusively exclude him. That's not nothing, and had she not ballyhooed her claims so much further, well, I might have even tried a couple of Scarpetta novels.

But it's a long way from "catching this son of a bitch," even if her ultimate conclusions were to be vindicated. Because Walter Sickert died in 1942, aged 82 years. He's beyond catching, now, by Cornwell's efforts, or by anybody else's.
There now is a more serious attempt to prove the identity of the Ripper, this time actually using forensics:
Leaving aside for a moment that Kosminski, who was 23 when the murders took place and died in a lunatic asylum at the age of 53, was already a leading candidate for the murders, what exactly is this new evidence that so definitely nails him as the culprit?

It turns out to hinge on an old shawl that Mr Edwards bought in 2007 at an auction in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. He claims this large piece of cloth was found at the scene of the murder of Catherine Eddowes, one of the Ripper’s victims, and has a letter to “prove” it from a descendent of Sergeant Amos Simpson, the policeman on duty the night Eddowes was killed who had claimed the abandoned shawl for his wife.

Horrified by the blood-soaked wrap, Mrs Simpson never wore or even washed it, but stored it away where it became a family heirloom to be passed down the generations until it was sold to Mr Edwards.

Leaving aside, again, whether we can believe the provenance of this crucial piece of evidence, or that it was never washed, or Mr Edwards’ assumption that the shawl was left at the crime scene not by Eddowes – who was far too poor to own such an expensive item – but by the Ripper himself, what links the cloth with Kosminski and the murder?

It turns out that Mr Edwards has been able to track down living descendants of both Eddowes and Kosminki and found that their DNA sequences match DNA samples recovered from the shawl, presumably from the blood of Eddowes and the semen of Kosminski.

The scientist who performed this remarkable feat is Jari Louhelainen, a molecular biologist at Liverpool John Moores University. Unfortunately, he has not so far published his study in a peer-reviewed scientific journal so it is impossible to verify his claims or analyse his methodology.


Dr Louhelainen may be satisfied that he has found the culprit, but many other scientists are not, including Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, the man who invented the DNA fingerprint technique 30 years ago this week.

“An interesting but remarkable claim that needs to be subjected to peer review, with detailed analysis of the provenance of the shawl and the nature of the claimed DNA match with the perpetrator's descendants and its power of discrimination; no actual evidence has yet been provided,” Sir Alec told The Independent.

In any case, as Sir Alec pointed out: “If I remember correctly when I visited the Black Museum at New Scotland Yard, Kosminski was long regarded as by far the most likely perpetrator.”
The article is right to hedge its bets; the question of provenance is not negligible--although the police were spectacularly careless with evidence and even erased without photographing a graffito that might have been the work of the murderer. (Rather than re-hash the errors of the police, I'll refer you to Cornwell's account; her critique of the investigation is probably the best part of her book. Donald Rumbelow's account is less snide but also quite unsparing.) So the notion that the cloth could have been taken by an officer,and never washed--well, it requires a mammoth stroke of luck, but, if Edwards and Louhelainen can verify that they avoided cross-contamination and that the sources of the descendants' DNA are in fact descendants of Kosmisnki and Eddowes (two pretty big ifs), they might have something. Something quite big in fact.

Or, it could just be The Ripper Diaries Redux.

This time, as Sir Alec is quoted, the suspect is one deemed to be a likely, if not the most likely, by experts.

Time will, no doubt, tell.