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

Saturday, May 24, 2003  

A review of The Life You Save May Be Your Own on O'Connor, Percy, Merton, and Day.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 6:31 PM

A funny and apt article about the panics and perils of blogging. There are advantages to blogging anonymously, even though I understand charges of "chick e ...e ...e ...n!", to phrase it inelegantly. But even if I'm anonymous, I'm careful not to write anything (much, at least at first blush) that I wouldn't want the person talked about to see. Nothing about fights with husband, disappointments with parents or family-of-origin "issues", as people called them in the '80s. Won't go there, can't do that. Doubts, yes, whining, yes, maybe even a little profanity here and there, rarely, discretely, but on the whole one should keep the private journal for the intimate stuff.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 6:15 PM

Dale Buss laments the gratuitous sex scene in "The Matrix Reloaded."

The Dionysian vignette from "The Matrix Reloaded"--a version of what the Israelites were doing in "The Ten Commandments" before Moses came down from Mount Sinai--is bad enough in itself, but it's even more affrontive for being kicked off with a quasi-prayer, part of the alleged spiritual depth of the movie. (Alas, there is not space to ponder this movie's metaphysical profundities, such as, "We're all here to do what we're all here to do" and "Choice is an illusion.")

The point is that the sex scene isn't the least bit necessary to tell this story. The whole "Matrix" series is supposed to become this decade's "Star Wars" trilogy. But did those epics suffer from the lack of a scene in which Hans Solo and Princess Leia couple in the back of a spaceship while Wookies cavort lasciviously outside?

Realistically, what can we as parents do about this situation (that is, objectionable scenes in movies that are not, on the whole, otherwise terminally objectionable)? What should we do? We can't turn off the culture, and we can't isolate our children from it. Saying "No" is always an option, and one that my husband and I use regularly. But soon our young teen will go to college, and our "Just say No" methodology, if left only to that, will not have taught him a thing.

This is our solution for now: As he grows older, increasingly we watch objectionable things with him and then talk them out. For instance, we watched "About a Boy" a few weeks ago. The overarching theme of the movie was laudable: lonely, isolated people breaking out of their various pathologies and finding community. It was funny; it was clever; it was touching and well-acted. It also contained a few instances of bad language and very bad morals. But it was a superlative opportunity to verbalize all of those things. We discussed

*how to find a theme in a movie and evaluate it
*the fact that something that is otherwise good can hide poison
*and the chronic dilemma of whether that poison negates the goodness of the thing as a whole. In the specific case of "About a Boy," we came to the conclusion that it did not. The good overrode the bad. For "The Matrix Reloaded," on the other hand, such is not the case. The sex scene + the violence + the general lameness = thumbs down.

Of course, this plan won't work with, say, an eight year old. It seems to be working fairly well for us, but the scary part is that we won't know until it's too late to change anything.

Note 5/26: one more thing--prayer. It's part of the air we breathe, so I forgot to mention it. But praying for the child, for the child's protection from the culture, and for the culture itself, is response #1.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 5:32 PM

Tuesday, May 20, 2003  

Important case is up:

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to return to the familiar and contentious topic of freedom of religion next fall in a case that will be closely watched by all 50 states.

The issue this time is whether the state of Washington may withhold state scholarship funds from an otherwise qualified college student because that student wants to study theology.

Here's a much more thoughtful analysis of the case.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 8:25 AM

Sunday, May 18, 2003  

An article in the NYT about Cornel West's cameo in "The Matrix". I don't know much about West other than his flouncy departure from Harvard last summer (?) over a conflict with the university president about race. And his sole speaking line that has "already been spotted on T-shirts in Los Angeles" I have no memory of. The line is a little creepy: "Comprehension is not requisite for cooperation." But it sounds as if in West the Wachowski brothers have found a kindred spirit:

While in Sydney for the movie shoot, Dr. West said he and the Wachowskis had bonded over "wrestling with the meaning of life and the purpose of human existence." They share an affinity for plucking ideas from religion, philosophy, pop music, television and movies, and synthesizing them into a prophetic, liberating message. They want to make the world a more philosophical place.

Guess it depends on your definition of "philosophical."

posted by Lady of Shalott | 2:41 PM

The UK Independent interviews a number of authors and author-types on the most highly-rated-respected-famous books they love to hate. It's fun to read in its snarkiness. It's often fun to read snarkiness as long as it's not directed at you. (The link is from the Bookslut.)

posted by Lady of Shalott | 1:47 PM

We went to see the movie "The Matrix Reloaded" on Friday night. Yes, all of us, even the son. We own "The Matrix" (also rated R); he has seen it a number of times, and he has demonstrated in many situations that he knows the difference between fantasy violence and real violence (that is, violence that is staged on a screen and pictures of true violent acts). I was concerned a few years ago that the pseudo-gnostic themes of the movie would mess with his mind, but they haven't. So after reading a number of reviews, we took him to his first R-rated movie in a theater. He agreed in advance to put his head down and close his eyes during the orgiastic sex scene. This scene, which was gratuitous in every sense of the word, ended up being only one of my grievances with the movie. I was longing to love it; I think the first movie did what it did really well, and I have been anticipating the second one for over a year. But it was a huge disappointment. It was pretentious in its muddled, incomprehensible philosophy; it was derivative of itself; it had no charm, no warmth, and little humor. The biggest laugh from the audience came at the end of the sex scene at the sight of the plugs down the back of one of the characters.

It's difficult for sequels to match the level of originals. Part of the appeal of "The Matrix" was the element of surprise, and it would be really hard to recapture that. But there were also a number of allusions in the first movie that made it fun to watch, such as all the references to Alice: from the white rabbit tattoo to going through the mirror to the bunnies on television in the Oracle's apartment to the reflections on doorknobs and sunglasses. The only literary allusion I noticed in this movie was the prominent "101" in a building. Perhaps there are more, and I need to see the movie again. But I don't want to see the movie again. In the theater in which we watched it, the film was almost a physical assault. The noise level, the almost constant action--it was overwhelming, like being in a rock concert, and my head buzzed for hours after we left the theater, like it does after a rock concert or a long flight.

My son, of course, loved every minute of it, but he will be allowed neither to see it again nor to purchase the DVD.

A few good things about the movie: the car chase was incredible. The choreography of the fighting was pretty cool. But again, it had no warmth and no charm, like, say, the fight between Morpheus and Neo in the first one. Darn. I really wanted to like the sequel.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 1:32 PM

Thursday, May 15, 2003  

The NYT has an interesting piece about Jewish artifacts found in Italy, some going back to the first century. There is a tombstone with an inscription that reads:

"Claudia Aster, captive from Jerusalem. Tiberius Claudius Proculus, imperial freedman, took care of this epitaph. I ask you to make sure through the law that you take care that no one casts down my inscription."

The Jerusalem Temple fell to the Romans in 70 A.D. While there is quite a bit of literary evidence about Jews taken captive into Rome, the article says that this "is the first archaeological corroboration of the plight of the Jewish captives being herded by the Romans into Italy from Jerusalem in the late first century A.D." . You might want to look at the famous Titus arch, too.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 9:12 AM

Tuesday, May 13, 2003  

David Frum does a tongue-in-cheek interview with his wife, Danielle Crittenden, whose new book is coming out soon. I read the book in its first form when the WSJ serialized it. The last bit came out immediately after 9-11, I think, and I wondered what had become of plans to publish it. I read it very much as I read Bud MacFarlane's Pierced by a Sword; that is, constantly irritated by two contradictory responses: 1) the writing here is really bad; 2) I like the characters anyway. Frankly, I was amazed to hear that anyone would publish Crittenden's novel (Frum does note that it has been revised). The writing was wooden (probably worse than MacFarlane's, come to think of it), the maternal whining stupefying sometimes (rather like those insufferable entries I pour out here when my son is sick), but it did make me think, "If she can get this published, then why can't ...". Maybe someday. Research first. That is, if the demonic dissertating does not suck out all my creative life-blood. (Those of you trained to read critically will note the clever connection of the life-blood metaphor with the musings on Buffy below ...)

posted by Lady of Shalott | 10:55 AM

Thursday, May 08, 2003  

This article has already been highlighted on lucianne and arts and letters daily, but on the off chance you haven't seen it, here it is: a story on the sort-of Solzhenitsyn of Iraq.

If you're interested in stories like that, this one by an Iraqi poet will also be of interest.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 9:35 AM

Tuesday, May 06, 2003  

As for other totally inconsequential things to blog about, our dog is finally home, after successfully breeding. You would think it wouldn't be that hard, but since both of them were newbies, it took them a while to figure it out. But we're going to have puppies in 50-some days!

Carl, who managed the breeding process, said that most dogs lose weight in the stress of breeding. Ours gained five pounds. But he's moping around, lackluster and dull-eyed, quite unlike himself. We figure he misses his mate. It is so hard not to anthropomorphize animals one lives with ...

posted by Lady of Shalott | 11:11 AM

It's comforting to know that there are other Christians out there who enjoy Buffy. This is from an article in Christianity Today entitled and subtitled "Don't Let Your Kids Watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (But you can tape it and watch after they go to bed)":

An evangelical father and church leader recently told me that his "must see TV" includes the news shows and weighty fare one would expect from an informed and discerning Christian. "And when no one is looking," he said, "I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer." He's not alone.

From the same magazine, here is a glowing review of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale

Some Buffy watchers believe the show to be not only entertaining but important as well. When English professors David Lavery and Rhonda Wilcox solicited contributions for Fighting the Forces: What's at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer?, the response was so overwhelming that they created the online interdisciplinary quarterly journal Slayage. (Imagine citing that on a tenure application.) One recent book pushed the view, long believed by fans, that Whedon is a genuine "genius."

My husband has finally returned from another place of terror, Iowa,* and is pleased to be back home in civilization. He's pretty much nonplussed by my new fascination with "Fluffy," as he puts it, but he still sits down with me at 10:30 every night (after the son is safely ensconced in bed) to watch yet another episode. When I asked him if he likes it yet, he replied, "I don't like it or dislike it, but I like being with you." It's good to have him back.

*Please, no emails about Iowa. My husband's experience there was truly evil for a number of reasons, but surely there are good people there. He just didn't meet any of them.

Note 5-13-03: Three "there"s in the above sentence?! Profuse apologies. I've got to let an entry sit a little longer before posting it--distance allows one to spot such infelicities.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 11:04 AM

Thursday, May 01, 2003  

Apologies for not writing more. I've been in a slump in more ways than one. I'm teaching next year and am working hard pulling together two new syllabi; but most devastatingly, I'm maxed out on the dissertation and simply sit in front of the screen with my mouth open or run around the library finding books that sit in piles but I don't read. It's so much fun to get excited about a lead in a book, look through the catalogue to see if the library has the desired source, find it, possess it--and then leave it to languish. Since I've been writing on sex metaphors with the dog, my mind moves to all sorts of naughty analogies here. I'm not that kind of girl, really, though (I hope).

Then there's the Buffy the Vampire Slayer thing. Moving to other unsavory analogies, I may as well open a vein and pump in the episodes. I think I've watched at least 18-20 in the last five days. No kidding. I wish I were. I can't believe I'm into this thing. This is how I fell into it. Last week at Border's, perusing the new paperback table up front, I found a little volume called something like "Buffy and Philosophy." The book was written by honest-to-goodness academic philosophers, and they were actually using Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and all the usual suspects to analyze Buffy. I had heard of Buffy but written it off as a mix of pop teenage junk and horror, two genres that I particularly detest. But the "Buffy and Philosophy" thing really intrigued me, and I looked up the DVDs in the public library. That was the end. It's a really interesting show, probably the wittiest and funniest TV I can ever remember seeing. I'm just barely tolerating the horror, which gets pretty creepy if not bloody (thank heaven for small mercies). Speaking of heaven, I hope I'm not somehow compromising my status as a faithful Catholic by watching this thing.

Yesterday I ran into one of my friends, a guy who is writing his dissertation in my area. His wife is famous for her obsession with Buffy. I told him about Buffy and Philosophy. He said that a good friend of his, who recently got a tenure-track in MI, shares an office with a guy who is writing a book on Buffy and theology. We shook our heads over it a little. Then he said that his wife has everything on Buffy and would be pleased to share it with me. Think I'll give her a call.

A word or two on philosophy overheard on campus: walking out of the library the other day, I passed a couple of philosophy types smoking in the sunshine. I just managed to overhear a snippet: "And then with Hegel we really descend into the abyss..."

I attended the end of the semester banquet this afternoon. Whole department gathered and gave the chair a standing O (which he richly deserves; what a terrific guy). The man I was sitting next to leaned back in his chair (after the standing O) with an honestly thoughtful little smile and ruminated: "Clapping. What an odd thing for humans to do. We just beat our hands together. What does it really mean?"

Sometimes I just run from academic life screaming. This is one of those weeks.

posted by Lady of Shalott | 7:41 PM
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