All But Dissertation
No dissertation--none of the time!

Monday, August 26, 2002  

From the NYT Book Review, May 20, 1922:

"When a master technician of words and phrases sets himself the task of revealing the product of the unconscious mind of a moral monster, a pervert and an invert, an apostate to his race and religion, the simulacrum of a man who has neither cultural background nor personal self-respect, who can neither be taught by experience nor lessoned by example, as Mr. Joyce has done in drawing the picture of Leopold Bloom, and giving a faithful reproduction of his thought, purposeful, vagrant and obsessive, he undoubtedly knew full well what he was undertaking, and how unacceptable the vile contents of that unconscious mind would be to ninety-nine men out of a hundred, and how incensed they would be at having the disgusting product thrown in their faces. But that has nothing to do with that with which I am here concerned, viz., has the job been done well and is it a work of art, to which there can only be an affirmative answer."

posted by Lady of Shalott | 7:22 AM

Blogging has been light and, frankly, will continue to be light. I'm devoting myself to the dissertation, which is using up much of the space in my brain. Long thoughtful posts will appear occasionally. But if they appear too often irrefutable evidence exists that I'm not doing much dissertation work.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 7:16 AM

Saturday, August 24, 2002  

Really good stuff from George Will on the NEA lesson plans for 9-11.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 11:50 PM

Friday, August 23, 2002  

Vital tenure case:

Sami al-Arian is, in a word, despicable. He roots for terrorist murderers and lies about it on national television. He raises money for terrorist organizations and then says he didn't do it. He says one thing in Arabic and another thing in English, and then pretends he didn't say what video cameras clearly caught him saying.

The long-standing idea behind tenure is to protect scholars from reprisal when they advocate ideas that do not meet with general approval. That's not the argument against Sami al-Arian. His ideas may be repulsive to me, but it's unquestionable that someone who believes terrorism against Israelis and Americans is a legitimate form of protest has every right to express that view.

But there is a difference between expressing an opinion and the active creation and management of a network of organizations to offer assistance in carrying out acts of terrorism.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 7:00 AM

It seems that this forum is the only one in St. Blog's that isn't talking about Rod Dreher's article in the WSJ. Why? My subscription ran out, and I haven't read it. That's why.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 6:50 AM

Now for something just a little bit different: A list of the worst Britons of all time. As the article says, "this is a light-hearted list to get you arguing with your mates down the pub".

Good choice on the list: Lord Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists prior to WWII, husband of Diana Mitford.

Unbalanced choice: Mary Tudor, labeled "Bloody Mary," who "revelled in burning heretics at the stake ". We'll grant that Catholic Mary did persecute Protestants. But the English seem congenitally incapable of recognizing that Mary's Protestant half-sister "Good Queen Bess," Elizabeth I, hunted down and executed Catholics.

By the way, Monty Python should have been on the earlier list of best Brits. Raising the laughter quotient of several nations is a real service to humanity. NB: I don't like "Life of Brian" either, and "The Meaning of Life" is even worse in my opinion, but the "Flying Circus" and "Holy Grail" outweigh the sins of the former two.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 6:41 AM

Thursday, August 22, 2002  

The NEA's proposed lesson plans to commemorate 9-11 range from the stunningly banal to the jaw-droppingly stupid--in other words, not much of a range.

All of the following is directed to middle schoolers (grades 6-8):

This of course goes without saying:
"Circle of Feelings"
Give students the opportunity to discuss and have validated their feelings about the events of september [sic] 11 in a non-judgmental discussion circle.

In "Let It Begin with One" the teacher can integrate math into the remembrance of the tragedy. How?

To use math in understanding the scope of the Sept. 11th tragedy and how the world could be a better place if ONE person does a good thing for two people and then asks each one to do one good thing for tow [sic] OTHER people.

Keep in mind that this is for grades 6-8.

The NEA even suggests music as part of the lesson plan, ranging from folk dances and Scott Joplin rags to "Latin and tango selections". The one sort of music they don't suggest? Patriotic songs.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 7:18 AM

Wednesday, August 21, 2002  

Stanley Kurtz weighs in on the new SAT.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 5:04 PM


posted by Lady of Shalott | 4:42 PM

Two amazing gals from U of Chicago share their experience in DC. The scene is "the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing for Priscilla Owen, President Bush's nominee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals".

Sitting alone at her table, Priscilla Owen faced a long panel of outraged men and two rabidly pro-choice women. Feminists not only remained silent, but watched gleefully as four powerful men took turns verbally assaulting a woman. Schumer hounded Owen with a series of questions, refusing to let her answer. At one point, an exasperated Senator Orrin Hatch came to her rescue. "Senator Schumer," he exploded, "let the lady answer the question." What if the tables had been turned, and a crowd of conservative women looked on eagerly as a lonely woman, suspected of being pro-choice, faced a predominantly male panel of outspoken pro-lifers who wouldn't let her speak at her own hearing? Feminist activists would have declared that the poor woman had been psychologically gang-raped.

...The political lynching that we witnessed that day left us wondering what chance we have of succeeding in the public arena. If feminists will ardently attack a woman based merely on the assumption that she's pro-life, what will happen to those of us women who are more vocal and visible in the pro-life movement now? A movement that was once admirable, opening many new doors to women, has now degenerated into one weary choice — to be, or not to be, pro-abortion. The message to young women is clear: The wrong answer to the abortion question will damn you and your ambitions to an invisible glass cage. If feminists had their way, we are two young women who would stay barefoot and pregnant.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 4:34 PM

Very good article on the terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympic games.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 4:08 PM

Who would you say are the greatest Brits of all time?

Here's what a BBC poll came up with.

Wow, I could spend the rest of the day analyzing this. Diana, Princess of Wales: of course she's on the list. But George Eliot is not. Boy George, yes, Boy George, but not Sam Johnson. Ireland and the Irish are included in this survey of "Britons," and Bono makes the list, but not James Joyce.

Satisfyingly, however, Thomas More is listed. As is Henry VIII!

What say you?

posted by Lady of Shalott | 8:31 AM

OK, conservatives can be vile, too, as this quote from Ann Coulter shows:

"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."

She does sort of retract it, though.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 8:13 AM

Cynthia McKinney, arguably the most detestable member of Congress, voted out.

The intensity of the contest, which played on racial issues as well as international relations, showed itself in the turnout. State and county election officials said about 45 percent of the district's registered voters turned out -- the highest for any major race in the state.

McKinney herself had fueled much of that passion with comments this spring implying that President Bush had evidence the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were about to occur -- but didn't act because his friends stood to gain financially.

On Monday, state Rep. Billy McKinney (D-Atlanta) dismissed Majette's candidacy and spelled out the reason for his daughter's tough fight: "J-E-W-S," he said on television.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 7:53 AM

Tuesday, August 20, 2002  

You've probably already heard about or even seen the al-Qaeda video CNN showed. The one where the wretches test their chemical weapons on dogs. Rod Dreher in The Corner writes, "It's horrible, but even worse is to imagine your spouse and children writhing on the floor, twitching, screaming and dying like those poor hounds. That's what al-Qaeda has in mind for us -- and what Saddam has the capability to do to us."

posted by Lady of Shalott | 8:50 PM

Retraction: the carrel does not have the ultimate view; it faces not west, but north. Not that anyone cares but me, but honesty requires a public correction.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 4:43 PM

Busy day today. My son starts school tomorrow and needs a haircut, among other things. The wait is always long at our favorite barbershop. Then we hop over to the university, where we must undertake my first task of the new school year: carrel moving. The joyful news is that I get a carrel with a window! And not just any window, but one with the ultimate view: the Vietnam Memorial Fountain, the the Golden Dome, and the basilica, all lined up in a neat row. This is very, very good, as I'm devoting this year to finishing the dissertation. Sunlight will help speed the process immensely.

Coming up: a stab at the best college novels; an analysis and prognostication of the state of Catholic biblical studies as observed at the meeting of the Catholic Biblical Association a few weeks ago.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 9:23 AM

Monday, August 19, 2002  

Is a book like a Pop-Tart? Should it be?

Essential reading for anyone interested in the continued availability of good books. First Daniel Akst talks about Borders' new marketing strategy, which some critics have likened to the promotion of snack foods (hence the Pop-Tart reference). I'm a big fan of capitalism, as is my husband, but for the last couple of years we've been discussing one of the major pitfalls of the system. Namely: if the goal is to make lots of money, retailers necessarily need to target the largest market. And, unfortunately, the largest market isn't necessarily going to be afficionados of the finer things in life, from food to movies to books. I'm trying hard to avoid sounding elitist here, but it does seem that most people really don't care about paying a higher price for good cheese or watching movies at art theaters or reading "literary" books. I don't want to make any comparative arguments about taste, just to make this simple point.

So, will the new marketing strategy of Borders eventually but ineluctably exclude quirky novels and any poetry? That's my interpretation of the first question Akst asks. (Yes, that collision of words was purposeful--couldn't resist!) The second theme is one that many thinking readers have been discussing for the last couple of years: are chain bookstores like Borders or Barnes & Noble ultimately beneficial or detrimental to the general availability of all kinds of books? One side argues that the chains crowd out and destroy "boutique" bookstores (the "You've Got Mail" argument). They say that we don't get less popular books at the chains, only the best sellers. The other side, which to my mind probably has the better end of the argument, says that the chains have brought books to places that didn't have them before; the big stores don't stock just Clancy and Danielle Steele, but do indeed carry many interestingly off-beat things. In addition, the chains can order anything you want.

You won't find anyone who loves a quirky little used bookstore or specialty boutique more than I do. But they're usually available only to those who live in large cities. I grew up in a tiny Midwestern town, population 15,000 or so, that had no bookstore for a 60 mile radius. I read everything in the little red stone Carnegie library (or thought that I did, which amounts to the same thing) and then spun my wheels until college. There was no internet, and I had no idea that I could order books from any catalogue (my parents weren't readers). While my hometown still has no bookstore, at least most people know about Borders, can search one out, and can be exposed to a number of good books. This is a net gain for the greatest number of people. I hope that Borders thrives, and that it continues to stock many different sorts of books, not just top sellers.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 9:45 PM

We're home, thanks to the grace and kindness of the Lord, but with very little assistance from American and United Airlines.

To start at the penultimate point of our wanderings (they weren't epic wanderings, so I won't begin in the middle):

We drove to Bush Airport in Houston on a partly cloudy Friday afternoon around 3:30 p.m., bade an affectionate farewell to our friends (more on our activities with them later), and checked in with nothing but an expectation that our plane would take off on time. As you've picked up from my foreshadowing, however, such was not the case. Our flight was delayed two hours. My son was heartsick, longing for the extra two hours he could have had with his friends. But wait: we could take another flight to Dallas that would connect to a flight to Chicago and get us there only an hour later than we had planned. This sounded good, as my husband was due to fly from Boston, where he's on a big consulting project, to Chicago, where we were to meet 8:00-9:00 p.m. and thence to MI for the big highly anticipated bow-wow pow-wow.

So we get on the flight to Dallas/Ft. Worth. When we land, we find the American flight to Chicago is cancelled, but they'll put us on a United flight. Alright. We rush to the other terminal to catch it, and no one is at the desk. We sit. It's been delayed to 9:30. We sit, make lots of phone calls, and can't eat anything because all the vendors have rolled up the sidewalks. It's delayed again. It's delayed again. We take off at midnight and arrive in Chicago at 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning, meet the poor husband, who's been waiting at O'Hare since 9:00, and decide to drive home instead going to MI, of course. We fall into bed at 4:00 a.m.

We're pretty tired, of course, and get to the Vizsla party way too late to swim in the lake, although we hear all kinds of stories about doggies from 8 weeks to ? years old swimming amongst the lily pads, Vizslas riding on boogie boards, Vizslas eating barbeque. I was so disappointed I could cry. But we did at least have a chance to socialize with everyone in the evening amidst the mosquitoes, who were without doubt the most successful minglers there. One must simply put aside the thought of West Nile Virus and enjoy.

Gotta relate a brief note about a little female Vizsla named Jag. She is the baby of her owner, who's probably 6'4" and 230 lbs. One second the little girl was at his feet; the next she had leaped from a full standing position to a human wrap. Her back legs were wrapped on either side on his stomach, the front on either side of his neck, and her head, of course, face to face with her love, licking him in the face. A true picture of a Vizsla.

Sunday was the second half of the dog show that had started the day before. Our dog won several events, earning numerous ribbons, a Vizsla trivet and a set of four embossed Vizsla glasses! That's something you'll never find at Burger King.

My husband had to stop at the Bass Pro Shop on the way home. It was too hot to leave the dog in the car, so he came in, too. Being an outdoor shop, it didn't object to the presence of a gun dog. Bass Pro Shop is a pretty incredible place. Even more than a retail establishment, it's almost a museum. There are exhibits with stuffed (formerly living) animals all over. It has a huge aquarium stocked with game fish, which the dog observed with rapt attention, paws up on the wall, nose to glass. It has a little creek running through the middle of the store with live birds in it. The dog was far too interested in the birds, but he behaved. The funniest part, however, was how he responded to the life-size ceramic Golden Retrievers. They were so life-like that our guy took the liberty of smelling their behinds! A dog is a dog, but our real dog did figure out that they were fake dogs, and he turned away with a sniff.

More later.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 6:51 PM

Friday, August 09, 2002  

And they're off! Tomorrow morning, far too early, we're flying to Houston to visit a dear friend for a week. Directly after returning, we travel to Michigan for a Vizsla party. Our dog's handler is hosting this canine shindig at her house, and we're anticipating swimming, cookouts, good company, and a dozen rambunctious Hungarian Pointers--all Vizslas, all the time. We'll return on August 19.

I would really like to post a picture of our beautiful dog, but I still haven't made the effort to figure out how to do it. If you want to see examples of the breed, you can go here. Click on "Calvin's picture gallery" # 17 on the left to see lots of Vs in their favorite settings: in the field and on a human's lap! I don't know these people or their dogs, but the pictures are good. Hope you enjoy them.

I don't know if I'll be able to blog for the next ten days; maybe, but maybe not. If not, see you 8-19.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 12:24 PM

Thursday, August 08, 2002  

It's a week late, yes, but I just now got around to reading Peggy Noonan's column on meeting the pope. I've never met the pope, but I've seen him from a distance in person, and I've seen him on TV, and I always have the same physical response that Noonan talks about--tears. Why is that? Why tears? What does this man evoke in so many people to produce tears?

posted by Lady of Shalott | 11:41 PM

Frank Gibbons has a good review from a Christian perspective of M. Night Shyamalan's Signs.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 10:52 PM

Saudis claim Christian fundamentalism is "dangerous to international peace and security"

Yes, we have this outbreak of Christian suicide bombers hijacking airliners and targeting civilians ...

posted by Lady of Shalott | 10:30 PM

Finally, intelligent, credible Muslim voices that publicly decry Muslim violence

posted by Lady of Shalott | 10:28 PM

Ralph McInerny, professor, author extraordinaire of many murder mysteries and much else, has an office on the 7th floor of Hesburgh Library. He obligingly makes available free copies of Crisis magazine to anyone who cares to take them, and I wander up there every couple of months to get them. Sometimes I run into the man himself. We're acquaintances and chat a little bit.

The last time we spoke was perhaps over a year ago, and I complimented him on his truly brilliant adaptations of Shakespeare's sonnets that appeared in First Things. He very kindly asked me if I wrote poetry. I said I did, a little, and, amazingly, he asked to see it. What a gentleman. Most real poets would pay to avoid reading amateurs' work. I politely and sincerely declined; my poetry is not ready for prime time.

Then he asked, "Who are your favorite poets?"

"T. S. Eliot and ... Wallace Stevens, even though he was an atheist."

Prof. McInerny's response to this was positive. He, too, thinks Stevens is a superb poet and enjoys him.

This little exchange came to mind when I nabbed a few copies of Crisis yesterday. Stevens' allegiance, if I remember correctly, was to aesthetics above all. Ruminating on this, I recalled a quote by Keats: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know." As a Christian I don't quite agree with the latter portion of that statement, but let's think about the former portion for a minute and relate it to Joyce and Tolstoy and how each author handles, for example, the issue of adultery. Both Joyce and Tolstoy write truthfully about adultery, Joyce most famously from the perspective of Molly Bloom, who is quite clearly in favor of the act and says something like "if that's the worst people do, they're not doing too badly." I'm not saying that I agree with this sentiment, only that it's true that many people believe it. Tolstoy, on the other hand, portrays the terrible cost of adultery in agonizing detail. Both are true characterizations of the deed; both are stunningly written in their own very different ways, and so both are beautiful. That much I'm sure about. But I'm still struggling with the idea of ultimate truth, and whether that need be present for a piece of literature to be considered truly good, and not just aesthetically so.

T. S. O'Rama in the comments below gives some really interesting but rather disturbing quotes from Shelby Foote addressed to Walker Percy:

"..The best novelists have all been doubters; their only firm conviction, the only one never shaken, is that absolute devotion and belief in the sanctity of art which results in further seeking, not a sense of having found."

Against all modern evidence to the contrary, I want to disbelieve that "a sense of having found" kills good art. Past masters belie this opinion. Augustine, having been ravished by God, writes prose that ravishes his readers: "beauty ever ancient, ever new ..." Dante's Divine Comedy is the supreme example of "finding," ending as it does with the beatific vision, "the Love that moves the sun and other stars." I'm not yet willing to give up hope that our times and our God can inspire good that is beautiful and true in every sense.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 10:20 PM

More bears in the news

This one is really sad: a 485 lb. performing bear is led into a nursing home in Germany, trips on a ninety-year-old woman's wheelchair, falls on her, and kills her.

I just can't resist posting stuff that has connections, however so small, with stuff I've posted before. But more meaty posts on lit and religion coming soon.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 9:23 AM

Wednesday, August 07, 2002  

"Finland does not need bears that like to lick people."

The conference in Cleveland was excellent, and a number of topics we talked about there might be of interest to readers here. I'll get to them later this evening if all goes well. In addition, I would like to say a little more about literature, truth, and beauty, by adding to the mix Ralph McInerny and Wallace Stevens. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, however, you may want to click on the Finland/bears link above. According to his own story, a Finnish man picking blueberries experienced quite an unusual encounter with a mother bear. What I found so terrifically amusing in this story was the deadpan way in which it was told. Is this the way Finnish reporters always talk, or is the tone, almost a catechetical sing-song, due to translation?

posted by Lady of Shalott | 2:51 PM

Friday, August 02, 2002  

Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful and challenging comments on Joyce, O'Brien, books in general, Catholicism, the use of labels, and the rest. I'm still mulling them over.

Got a busy day today. Have to prepare for a trip to an academic conference in ... Cleveland. Oh, well. It's a nice city, really.

I'll return to blogging by next Wednesday morning.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 6:36 AM

Thursday, August 01, 2002  

Rachel Zabarkes talks about the growing propensity of colleges and universities to recruit gay/lesbian students and about what impact this may have on the application process, the curriculum, true free speech on campus.

Two students came to me last year in office hours with the concern that there was too little "diversity" in our mainstream Catholic university. One very bright student, one of the best in my class, was so disturbed by this that he actually transferred out. The other obviously is suffering emotionally from the homogeneity of it all. I have never felt at such a generational remove from my students than after these conversations, and I was not a mainstream white-bread undergraduate myself.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 7:41 AM

Wednesday, July 31, 2002  

A friend wrote me recently with a question: what did I think of Michael O'Brien's apocalyptic novel Father Elijah? My response: it's OK, but it's certainly not literature. Why is it that some Catholic novelists today (and in the past, of course) think they have to whap their readers over the head with explicit and obtrusive lectures on doctrine? Whap, whap, whap! goes the novelist.

My friend's question intensified an on-going intellectual quest in my own mind that I may express in two parts: 1) What makes literature good? 2) Can anti-Catholic, or more generally, anti-Christian, writers, in the midst of their anti-Catholic/Christian writing, produce good literature even if it offends God and (Catholic) man?

To begin, it is quite clear that writers of impeccable Catholic credentials can produce quite awful literature. Father Elijah is not a bad book literarily; it's just not good. But consider Bud McFarlane's Pierced by a Sword. It has all the lectures of O'Brien and more (whap! whap! whap!), and it is certainly written much more poorly than O'Brien's, but I must admit that I enjoyed it, McFarlane's, better than O'Brien's. I've even read it more than once, which I couldn't manage with O'Brien. The characters in the former were engaging; there was a consistent sense of humor; the plot really keeps one going until the end. I don't mind admitting that I enjoy bad books; I don't want to read "literature" all the time.

I happen to be a huge fan of T. S. Eliot. I also have a sneaking suspicion that his earlier work, before his conversion, is superior to his later work after his conversion. The "Four Quartets" from this later period are absolutely stunning, but they simply cannot match "Prufrock," "The Waste Land," or even "Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service:"

The sapient sutlers of the Lord
Drift across the window-panes
In the beginning was the Word.

In the beginning was the Word.
Superfetation of to en
And at the mensual turn of time
Produced enervate Origen.

Esoteric snob that I am, I think it just doesn't get any better than this.

Speaking of esoteric snobs and all-but-unpronounceable words, I'm working my way through Joyce's Ulysses now. I wrote a long post a few weeks(?) ago on it, mentioning how I spent a good hour on one paragraph. As I listen to the audio version and read more more and more of it, I can see why the book was banned. Even today many parts of it shock me, innocent that I am. Some examples: too much emphasis on bodily excretions, bad language, making fun of the Mass, sex, sex, sex, Molly Bloom's adultery, her fantasies of doing it with the priest to whom she is confessing, the scene at the brothel ... I could go on and on. It's no wonder that American censors gave it a thumbs down in the 1920s.

But the book is absolutely brilliant. The blazing virtuosity of the language; the puns in Greek, Latin, Irish; the ingenious plays on the Odyssey; the incredible characterization that is possible through the stream of consciousness method; the impact Joyce's work had on everything literary and beyond, even if readers/viewers don't realize it (that tree falling in a forest thing) ... all of this keeps me coming back to the novel day after day, my jaw dropping ever lower at each reading.

How does this reading enhance one's everyday life? An example: my husband and I watched "Moulin Rouge" a few months ago. I didn't like it. But after reading "Circe," the nighttown scene in the brothel, I understood "Moulin Rouge" and what the filmmakers were doing and why. The movie was a riff on Joyce, even if the filmmakers themselves didn't know it. I still don't like the movie, but now at least I get a pleasant little frisson of enjoyment from the whiff of intertextuality.

So, how should Christians react to Joyce's intermixture of blasphemy, potty humor, and outstanding literary achievement?

There's the dismissing-it-out-of-hand approach. For example: John Senior wrote a book called The Death of Christian Culture, published by the obscure and otherwise rather intolerable RC Books. Senior's ideas had a large and positive impact on my own in terms of education of children and other issues, on which he is excellent. But on Joyce the man is a raving lunatic. "A tour de farce," he says (actually, he applies this to Finnegan's Wake, but I think Joyce might have accepted that nice turn of phrase in re: Ulysses gladly). "The 'stream of consciousness' technique, as it is called, is an artistic error to begin with. Art, as Aristotle said, is not chronology but a 'story' that presupposes intelligent selection according to a form conceived in the mind of the artist" (both quotes from p. 80). Perhaps, Mr. Senior, art that departs from Aristotle might also have some merit? It has been a while since the Poetics came out.

It's that sort of response that elicits comments like the following from leftie journalists:

In one corner of this fight lies the question of high culture in literature and the arts, automatically defended by the Right - who, it is clear, sometimes do not know what they are talking about, since much in high culture is profoundly subversive of what they cherish: think of the anticlerical Voltaire, the adulteresses Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina, Madame Butterfly living in sin with Pinkerton, the liar Odysseus, the communistic New Testament, and endless examples besides, which, if they knew of it, would certainly affright America's gun-and-family-loving right.

There is so much to untangle in the above paragraph that I, like Penelope, might be up all night pulling it apart. Let me ignore the "communistic New Testament," because that phrase, too, will tie me up interminably, and focus on Anna Karenina. There is a book of literary genius that I hated. It was depressing. It had Russian men giving really long speeches and emoting all over the place. (I hate emotive men. My husband knows this.) Russian literature in general is really a drag, with the exception of Dostoevsky. Oh, back to the main issue: yes, Catholics and conservatives in general do tend to look down on adultery. But the author of the above misses the point utterly and completely. Adultery is in the book? So what? The question is, how does Tolstoy deal with adultery? In my reading of the novel, Anna's actions bring misery to her family, her friends, and, famously and most importantly, to herself. Tolstoy treats adultery just as the Bible does: he unequivocally condemns it, but instead of preaching, he makes it come alive in story. Have you ever met anyone who wouldn't read Anna Karenina just because of the presence of sin in it? Gee. I think we better throw out the Bible, then.

Anna Karenina, the Bible, Joyce's Ulysses: all speak of the human condition through the medium of good literature. If anyone reads the Bible him/herself, not just taking in the Sunday readings or the radio preacher, he/she will soon begin to see quite a bit of offensive stuff. It's how we grapple with the offensive stuff that makes all the difference.

A final point to extend the conversation a bit further in a slightly different direction. An intriguing article appeared recently on Mozart. Most of us have probably seen the movie "Amadeus," which portrays the composer of ethereal music as a sex-obsessed obscenity of a human being. The reality, it seems, is that and even more:

Mozart wrote to his cousin Maria Anna in a sort of love letter, "I shit on your nose, so it runs down your chin."

Frankly, this is worse than anything I've yet come upon in Joyce. As the editor of Mozart's letters says, "It was a paradox that the same person who wrote such sublime music used such language. But it was the case."

The awful produces the sublime.
The orthodox produces the sub-par.
What are we to do?

posted by Lady of Shalott | 10:47 PM

You've certainly noticed the ads on top of almost every blog. A few minutes ago I was reading a fellow blogger, and the ad caught my attention: it promoted a book on blogging, and took me to this Amazon site. I knew nothing of this book or author until I clicked there, but what is striking is both the list of books under "Customers who bought this book also bought ..." and the conversation taking place in the reviews of the initial book. Instapundit chimes in with a thumbs up; one person denigrates the book, saying that it's ludicrous: why should bloggers actually have to read hard copy? when everything is already there on the web? Even if this is so, I would like to have Blood's royalties, especially after Instapundit's endorsement.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 7:05 PM

Delightful and fun, if a bit zany:

Dogs May Be More Intelligent Than People May Think

Now, I don't know what "people" think, but I've always thought dogs in general (and my dog in particular!) are quite smart. This article, however, goes beyond commands and stupid pet tricks. It describes a study that hypothesizes that dogs can count. The research didn't sound very convincing to my ears, but what do I know? Maybe I'll try it on my dog here at home.

A worthless piece of trivia, but perhaps of interest nonetheless: these doggie counting sprees were performed at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Domini canes indeed!

posted by Lady of Shalott | 6:42 PM

Another bomb in Israel, this time in the cafeteria of Hebrew University's Mount Scopus Campus. Hamas has claimed responsibility and says that the bombing is in retaliation for the deaths of Salah Shehadeh and those who had the great misfortune to be in his close proximity at the time.

I know people at Hebrew U, both profs and students. Haven't heard any word on them yet. My advisor leaves for Jerusalem for a sabbatical year September 1. We talked this morning at a scheduled meeting, and he was unaware of the bomb until I told him. "This changes a lot," he said in a rueful tone. I look forward to seeing exactly what he means by that.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 11:50 AM

There's no doubt about it: education courses kill the mind, repel the best, and attract the worst, speaking in terms of intellect, anyway. Tom Sowell says more on this, for example:

Yet private schools are able to get better qualified people, partly because most private schools do not let education course requirements screen out intelligent people. Some private schools even refuse to hire people who have been through that drivel.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 8:48 AM

Tuesday, July 30, 2002  

Mark Shea offers a link to an article by George Weigel, excerpted from a new book of his, that discusses the inappropriateness of applying the labels "liberal" and "conservative" to church matters. He is of course completely correct. They are political terms. He's also correct in his analysis that, in the aftermath of Vatican II, they were moderately useful labels. But ultimately they don't work, and new vocabulary must replace them.

An immediate example of the inadequacy of these political labels appears in the confusion demonstrated by many non-Catholics in the chattering classes (journalists, pundits, TV talk-show types, some intellectuals who write for and attract public notice) when they try to characterize the pope. He's against the death penalty: Ah, he's a liberal! He's pro-life: oooh, he's a conservative. Read the media reports about the pope anywhere in the mainstream press. The writers are honestly staggered by the pope's "contradictory" commitments.

But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the truth about the pope is neither one of these extremes, liberal or conservative. The truth underlying his philosophy is his theology, and it's something that transcends labels altogether--the ethic of life, or as John Paul himself put it, evangelium vitae, the gospel of life. (I don't want any arguments here about how the church has changed its position on capital punishment over the last x number of years; so it has. Yes, the church does that sometimes.)

Thinking about this reminded me of the "granola conservative" conversation that was all the rage in the Blogosphere a few weeks ago, inspired by Rod Dreher's article in the NRO. I didn't comment on it then because I hadn't been blogging for a few days and felt like a late-comer at a party who saunters into the middle of someone's story and asks to be filled in. But I had to chuckle at all the mental energy expended on that debate. A personal note may be in order here: I not only make my own bread; I buy 25 lb. sacks of wheat and grind the flour first (in an electric grinder, just in case you had a vision of me with a mortar and pestle). I was one of those earth mamas when my baby was a baby: my son never had a drop of formula in his life, he nursed until he was almost two, I ate organic food the whole time, etc. etc., all the while listening to Rush Limbaugh and homeschooling. I've always circulated freely among the right and the left, and except for a few unhappy months in a wretched Catholic homeschooling group that was as rigid as a Stalinist reading group, never received any flack from anyone about any of my "contradictory" activities.

The real problem is finding a group where people don't think in labels and slogans and demand conformity to what those labels supposedly require. I brought this up once with my favorite priest/mentor, who is considered conservative and reactionary in the liberal college in which he teaches and a flaming liberal by many Catholics who call themselves orthodox (here is another label! Can't seem to help it!).

"You need to worry," he said, "when you find yourself comfortable in either group [the liberal or the conservative]."

Though he said this many years ago, I have never forgotten it. If we are truly engaged in living in the real world, and true to ourselves at the same time, we probably will never be completely at home in any group. Human opinion is legitmately diverse on many, many, things, even within the Church. If we are not 1) cutting ourselves off from anyone who disagrees with us, or 2) nodding pleasantly at statements we believe bosh simply to keep the peace, we will find ourselves challenged in many places most of the time. That's one thing that is so incredibly fun about the academic life. For the most part, at least in my experience, academics have the joy of arguing civilly with each other their whole lives. We write up a point, put it out for comment, take critique thankfully, and rewrite, revise, and start the process over again.

One more point that is not really related to any of the above. Weigel concludes his article with a few statements about doctrine, and how itshould not be considered boring. He missed a prime opportunity to quote one of my favorite little phrases from GKC. The large one was arguing against those who find orthodoxy, in his words, "dull as ditchwater."

"But," he said, "those who look at ditchwater closely and carefully find that it is teeming with quiet fun."

posted by Lady of Shalott | 6:36 PM

With a mother like this, who needs a pimp?

A Waterville woman was charged with child endangerment because she allegedly let her daughter and another girl spend the night at a motel with two men they met on the Internet, police said.

The woman drove her 13-year-old daughter and her daughter's 14-year-old friend to the bus station to meet the two men, said Police Chief John Morris.

The girls went to a motel with the men and had sex before the 14-year-old girl's parents found out and contacted police, Morris said.

The parents of both teenagers knew their daughters had met the men on the Internet, and the parents of the 14-year-old made it clear to their daughter she was not to have contact with them, police said.

But the mother of the 13-year-old lied to the parents of the older girl and drove the girls to the bus station on July 23, police said.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 10:04 AM

Catholic church reps not invited to U.N. conference on AIDS

Perhaps the most telling evidence of this cultural and sexual agenda is the fact that the Catholic Church, which has official status at the United Nations, was not invited to attend the conference. The Church was barred from the event even though the U.N. acknowledges that it cares for over one-quarter of all the world's AIDS patients. Conference organizers decided to ignore the knowledge garnered through these treatment programs, however, because they knew that the Vatican would mention other things as well. "We do not understand why the Vatican was not invited," said Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán. He added that U.N. officials "have been saying the same thing [about condoms] constantly for the past dozen years," despite the fact that the safe-sex message has led to "no visible results." In fact, "the number of AIDS victims is rising." Perhaps it was for fear of heresies like these that Barragán was not invited.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 9:23 AM

Monday, July 29, 2002  

A few days ago I read James Joyce's "The Dead" for the first time. I don't think I would have understood it much even five years ago. Then, after reading two or three critical essays on the story, I suffer the bombshell: Joyce wrote the story when he was 26. Ouch. More on Joyce is bubbling to the surface soon.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 11:25 PM

23 young Cubans defect at World Youth Day Celebration

Cuban Canadian Foundation president Ismael Sambra said after speaking to some of the asylum seekers: "The main reason they decided to leave Cuba is the repression there. It's not possible to express their religious ideas there."

posted by Lady of Shalott | 9:39 PM

New album out by Springsteen--looks good

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

I disagree with the reviewer on one point, though:

What Springsteen has done brilliantly, therefore, is capture the two near-opposite feelings of most Americans in the days and weeks after September 11: on the one hand, a deep grief for the lives lost; on the other, a belief that we will "rise up."

Ah, no. These are not near-opposite feelings. They have been united forever, most notably in the guts of 11 men and their friends after a crucifixion, the sight of an empty tomb, and the realization of what the two, together, might mean.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 8:23 AM

Mining miracle, conservative values: a great one by Michael Novak with a personal touch at the end

posted by Lady of Shalott | 8:03 AM

Sunday, July 28, 2002  

For the last few days I've been devoting some heavy thinking to a post that will encompass Mozart, elitism, potty humor, James Joyce, piousness, and objective standards of "good." I hope to pull it all together tomorrow.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 9:04 PM

Was it What's Wrong with the World that G. K. Chesterton concluded with his plea that little girls living in poverty keep their long hair? I don't own that particular book and so am going on memory here. GKC was arguing against bureaucratic do-gooders ("We're the government and we're here to help you!") who insisted that impoverished girls should have short hair because long hair would be a breeding ground for lice. No, the great one said, all little girls have the right to their beautiful hair without the government getting its nasty know-it-all fingers on it.

That literary tidbit came to mind when I read this article:

The notice arrived yesterday giving Stanley and Eileen Green 30 days to leave their Chelsea home of 45 years.

Their crime? Having two cats.

Frank and Dianne Stephenson and their three children are expecting a similar letter any day. Their crime? Having a cat and a 66-pound German shepherd - 46 pounds over the limit.

They are two of dozens of Chelsea families who have suddenly found themselves faced with a terrible choice: give up pets they consider members of their families, or give up the only homes they can afford.

A new policy the Chelsea Housing Authority has adopted limits both the number and weight of pets at affordable-housing developments: Only one animal is permitted per unit, and cats and dogs must weigh no more than 10 and 20 pounds, respectively.

``I'm 78 years old. I fought for my country in World War II. And now they're going to take me to court and evict me for having one extra cat?'' said Stanley Green, who has refused to give up Pebbles and Velvet, the two tortoise-colored cats he and his wife adopted after their last two cats died of cancer. ``This is ridiculous.''

Housing Authority Director Michael McLaughlin could not be reached yesterday for comment. But according to figures the agency provided to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, tenants of 46 of the 197 state-subsidized family units have applied to keep pets they own. Eight of them have received permission.

The MSPCA understands the reason for the policy change: a series of high-profile attacks across the nation that have resulted in serious injuries, and opened owners and landlords up to potential lawsuits.

But basing a policy on weight instead of behavior, MSPCA officials say, will only force out harmless pets and allow some smaller ones with behavior problems to remain.

After reading this, I cursed out the bureaucrats loudly and long in front of the computer, then raced down to tell my husband and son about this article. We covered the dog's ears so he wouldn't get upset. But we were upset. How dare they, the #&*% wretches, demand that low-income folks choose between affordable housing and their pets? This is so patently ridiculous that one can only hope that media attention makes the perpetrators back down quickly.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 1:58 PM
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