Thursday, May 29, 2008

No Such World

“I have left behind illusion,” I said to myself. “Henceforth I live in a world of three dimensions—with the aid of my five senses.”

I have since learned that there is no such world...

Brideshead Revisited

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I was going to say this in a comment...

...in reply to Janet's question about the hotel, but HaloScan is out again: This is the hotel. I'm online because I'm skipping the keynote address of this conference, partly because I don't want to hear a speech by someone whose job title is "senior futurist." I'll attempt to converse more in the comments tonight, if they're working.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Comments and other problems

I see the very irritating problems with HaloScan comments are back again. At this moment the sidebar shows a comment from Baffled, which appears to be a response to this week's journal, but when you click on it you get "no comments." Likewise, the comments tag at the end of the post shows none. This is the same thing that went on for a day or two last week. It's maddening to try to have a conversation. I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do about it.

I'm about to spend several days in a hotel in Nashville, and I had planned, or at least hoped, to use the evenings to move both this blog and my lightondarkwater.com stuff (poems etc.) to a WordPress blog. At the moment things don't look very good for that project, though. I have a loaner laptop from work but it's very slow, and of course the keyboard is different from my old one, so I don't know if I'll be able to get much done.

And the point of this is...I don't know, just to let y'all know what's going on, I guess.

Sunday Night Journal — May 25, 2008

A Sudden Case of Liturgical Indifference

I’ve spent most of my life as a Catholic (over twenty-five years now) being unhappy about the liturgy: the bad music, the bad prose, the whole atmosphere that tends to be either dreary or irreverent or both. I’ve spent a lotof time complaining about it and trying to make the best of it, and have sometimes been completely demoralized by it.

But something odd has happened recently. I’ve become almost completely indifferent to the aesthetics of the liturgy. I think I’ve mentioned here before that my wife and I, now that we are empty-nesters, usually make the thirty-minute drive to the cathedral in Mobile, which is a beautiful building and often has very beautiful music. Last Sunday, having slept too late to get to the cathedral in time, we went to our local parish on Sunday evening. And it struck me afterwards that none of the things that usually bother me about the liturgy had done so.

I don’t have any explanation for this. It was not a step I consciously decided to take. Nor is it a principle: I still believe that beauty in the liturgy is very important. And I still cringe a bit when I talk to a non-Catholic who seems to have a bit of interest in the Church, and realize that if he or she gets interested enough to go to Mass I will have to apologize for the drabness of it.

But it doesn’t really matter very much to me. I would still prefer that the liturgy be beautiful, but am not oppressed or depressed if it isn’t. The only thing that matters is that I be able to receive the Bread of Life.

Some saint—Padre Pio, maybe?—has said something along the lines of “the world could more easily exist without the sun than without the Eucharist.” As a matter of physical fact, that doesn’t seem to be true, but I think I have a hint of what he means. The world would be a dark and hopeless place without Christ. Even those who do not believe in him receive his light, and are more conscious of darkness than they otherwise would be, because that light gives them the hope that there is something other than darkness, a hope that is very hard to kill. And because we are creatures of body and soul who can ordinarily encounter spirit only through the material world, our good God has given us this mysterious physical presence. Without it the world would be visibly more dark. Without it Christianity might indeed persist, but in a weakened, fainter, and more disembodied mode.

I’m sorry if this is offensive to Protestants; as I think I’ve made clear often enough (for instance in this piece, “On Not Being an Ex-Protestant”), I’m very affectionate and grateful toward my Protestant roots. But something is missing from Protestantism: this literal, physical presence of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of God Incarnate himself, this feeding of the spirit with, literally, God. And it makes a huge difference. I don’t think it can be understood by anyone who has not inhabited and absorbed the atmosphere of the Church. But once it gets hold of you, you find that you would have difficulty, at least, in living without it. Ugly buildings, ugly prose, and ugly music really don’t amount to very much in comparison; at this point in my life my hunger is so great they don’t amount to anything at all.

By the way, I had already decided on this as my subject before I realized that today is Corpus Christi Sunday.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Computer troubles

The video on my laptop ceased to function earlier this evening, and I'm typing this from my wife's computer. This is really bad news, as I leave Tuesday morning for an out-of-town conference and really need to have my laptop with me. So you may not hear much from me for a day or two. I had almost finished writing my Sunday journal when the catastrophe occurred, so I'll either have to recreate it or somehow recover it from the laptop. Fortunately there wasn't much on it that wasn't either backed up or fairly easily recoverable.

Music of the Week: Beethoven - Symphony #1

It’s been quite a few years since I heard most of Beethoven’s symphonies, and I’ve decided to go through the whole set in order, attentively, over the next few months. I’ve always had, you might say, a difficult relationship with much of Beethoven’s music, especially the big orchestral works: I just don’t like them as much as I’m supposed to. And I want to see if that’s changed. It used to be the 7th that I liked best, and I also had a fondness for the less renowned 4th. Part of this is my natural favoring of things smaller, quieter, more modest and often more eccentric, than those favored by general critical opinion. But that doesn’t completely explain it, because I like many of the huge late Romantic symphonies.

As for this 1st, of which I don’t remember having any very strong opinion, and which I’ve heard four or five times over the past couple of weeks, I do not love it. I admire it, but I do not love it. There is obviously a great gift at work here, and the symphony is interesting, but little of it moves me. It’s of course very much more of the 18th century than Beethoven’s later work, but it seems a heavier Mozart, and a less orderly Haydn. I have the sense that he’s gotten hold of a powerful force but isn’t yet quite in control of it. And I hear some of the things that have always bothered me: the spasmodic leaping rhythms, the repeated quasi-climaxes, and a quality I can only describe, not very informatively, as “dryness.”

I have a couple of old LP recordings of this and the other symphonies, but for convenience and sound quality I’m currently listening to this set conducted by Christoph von Dohnányi on Telarc.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Another Brideshead quote

“I could tell him, too, that to know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.”

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Introduction to Christianity

One of the blogs I read pretty often, and have been meaning to add to the list of links on this page, is Et Tu?, subtitled “The Diary of a Former Atheist,” the work of Jennifer F., a young mother and recent Catholic convert. I was struck by something she posted a few days ago in which she starts with her attempt to deal with the problem of explaining to one of her children the death of a bird, and ends by sketching the basic concepts of Christianity in a very persuasive way:

In my culture growing up, suffering and death had no transcendent meaning. Living things suffer, life is unfair, everything dies, and that was that. When we heard Christians comfort one another by saying that deceased loved-ones had “gone to heaven” or “were with Jesus,” their assurances seemed like nothing more than attempts to drown out reality with platitudes.

Yet there I was, saying the same thing to my own children. And, oddly enough, I meant it, and found it deeply comforting. It doesn't seem like a statement so simple could have much importance, and yet I found those few words contained truths more important than almost anything else. As I heard myself repeat the words that I once thought were bromidic sayings for people who couldn't face reality, I realized that they contained the truths that are the very core of reality.

Read the whole thing here.

If you like that, you’ll want to read her account of how she came to the Catholic faith from a completely non-religious background: Part One, on believing in God, and Part Two, on being Catholic.

And then there are the very funny stories of her battles with scorpions in her Texas home:

I admire the simple beauty of [St. Francis’s] lovely Canticle of the Sun, and am really trying to find that sort of ecstatic joy in God’s amazing creations that are all around me. And, indeed, some days I too feel overjoyed by simply noticing Brother Sun and Sister Moon.

It really starts to break down, however, when I see Brother Scorpion on my kitchen floor....

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Forerunners

“It’s frightening,” Julia once said, “to think how completely you have forgotten Sebastian.”

“He was the forerunner.”

“That's what you said in the storm. I've thought since: perhaps I am only a forerunner, too.”

Perhaps, I thought, while her words still hung in the air between us like a wisp of tobacco smoke--a thought to fade and vanish like smoke without a trace--perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; a hill of many invisible crests; doors that open as in a dream to reveal only a further stretch of carpet and another door; perhaps you and I are types and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us.

—Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Sunday Night Journal — May 18, 2008

Love and Prayer (a conjecture)

A week or two ago I brought up the question of praying to another person’s guardian angel for that person’s welfare. I meant the question quite seriously, of course, but at the same time the voice of logic was whispering to me along these lines:

Why do you need to pray to him? He’s one of God’s angels, a being so pure in goodness that he makes you look like a dirty dishcloth. Do you think anything you could possibly say or do would make him more eager for a soul’s salvation than he already is? Do you think he’s not really trying now but may if you ask him? Do you think he needs your instruction? Do you think he’s not going to do his job if you don’t remind him?

And for that matter what’s the point of praying to your own guardian angel? The same questions apply. Perhaps your praying may make you more receptive to your angel’s guidance, but surely it isn’t going to change what the angel does.

All of this leads naturally back to the question of prayer in general. Can we really suppose that God is going to do something other than what he might have done just because we ask him to? And what does it mean to say that the infinite and eternal God, to whom all time is present, might have done otherwise? How can “might” and “have done” even have any meaning with regard to him?

Well, we can’t untangle the metaphysics of that; our minds are simply not equipped to contain the answers. But the questions point even further back. Why did God create us in the first place? Not only does he have no need of our information and advice, he has no need for us. There is nothing we can add to infinite joy.

The answer, or at least part of the answer, must be love. And that must also be the answer to the question of prayer, whether to angels or to God himself. God wishes to increase the amount of love in his creation. Prayer for another is an act of love—love for the person, obviously, but also for the one to whom the prayer is addressed. We ask in love, we receive in love. And in asking one angel to somehow intercede with another, I am supposing an exercise of love between them, and indirectly offering my love to the other.

Anything I could say about how such prayer might change things in this world would be a conjecture. And of course I have one. Keeping in mind that it’s pure conjecture, I point out that love is not an emotion, or not only an emotion. It is a thing, an entity, a substance, with an objective existence, but in the spiritual and not the physical realm; it is not merely a side effect of something happening in our bodies and having no existence apart from them, like the reaction of an animal to a potential mate.

So if prayer does increase the amount of love in the universe, then a real change has occurred. The created world is not quite the same place that it was before, or would have been if the prayer had not been uttered. The spiritual environment has been altered. Perhaps it somehow gives the work of the angel more scope and power. Perhaps—and here I’ll recognize the limits even of conjecture, and stop—it might be something akin to letting more light, or fresher air, into a room.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Music of the Week: Sigur Rós - Von

I’ve been wanting to hear more of this highly regarded Icelandic band for some time on the basis of one hauntingly beautiful track from their album Agaetis Byrjun. But Von happened to come my way first, via eMusic, so this is my first extensive acquaintance with them.

I’m almost always doing something else while listening (or “listening”) to music. And after hearing this a couple of times in that way, I wasn’t especially impressed; it seemed to have some good moments, but to be a mishmash of interesting music and chaotic noises and sound effects. Then I had an opportunity to listen to the whole thing straight through, with no distractions, and was considerably more impressed. This is definitely a case where the whole is greater than the parts.

There are no gaps between the tracks, and it really needs to be heard that way, from beginning to end. The opening is dark and at certain moments frightening, with cries emerging from deep rumblings. Then ethereal light breaks, as if the darkness had been suddenly pushed aside by angels. That gives way to ordinary, yet obscure, sounds—falling rain, unintelligible voices, noises that might be mechanical—as if we’re back in the realm of everyday life. There’s a pattern of darkness giving way to light throughout the album. At the its climax, the 12-plus minute “Hafssol,” there is darkness and conflict in the foreground, but in the background the calling of distant, yearning voices. These fade, finally, only to re-emerge in a closer and more earthly mode in the remaining songs.

I really have no idea what this album is about; the titles and lyrics (if there are any—it’s hard to tell) are all in what I assume is Icelandic, and I deliberately chose not to learn anything before listening to it. So my reactions are based entirely on the music. And it sounds to me like a troubled life haunted, and ultimately rescued, by the voices of angels.

Having written the above, I went looking for more information, and discovered that “von” means “hope,” so I guess my reaction is not far off base.

You can hear samples here, although samples tell even less of the story than with most albums. And I see one track is missing now. By the way the review wasn’t present when I downloaded it some time ago; I don’t especially agree with it. If you are considering buying this as individual tracks, you can skip track 12: it’s six minutes of silence followed by a backwards version of “Myrkur” (called “Rukrym”—ha ha).

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Because you need to know...

...I have succeeded in getting a ticket to the Tom Waits concert. I can’t believe I’ve paid one hundred dollars (counting all the extra fees added by Ticketmaster etc.) to see this guy. I said the other day in a comment here that I sometimes wonder if I might die before too long—no, I am not sick, depressed, or anything else, and have no reason to think I won’t live for another twenty years—it’s just an odd feeling. But I will be seriously torqued if I die on or before the day of this concert (July 2) and waste my hundred dollars.

It seems almost sinful to spend this much money on a few hours’ entertainment, although “entertainment” is not exactly the right word here. Would I pay this much for a concert by anyone else? No, I really can’t think of anyone I’d consider paying more than about half this much to see.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sigrid Undset: the Invisible World

More from that Undset essay (“Catholic Propaganda”) from which I was quoting a week or two ago:

Mankind has often explained its tragic isolation from the animal kingdom by conceiving of a supersensual world, peopled with invisible beings, bodiless but yet with personalities of the highest degree. And it is this world which has never left mankind at peace, and men have never been able to leave it in peace.

We could add “and never will”. What strikes me about this is its unassailable truth as a fact of human life. Even if you don’t believe the invisible world is really there, any way of looking at life that fails to recognize that the human mind inevitably works this way is hopelessly inadequate; it isn’t dealing with the facts. Which is part of the reason why the militant atheists (Dawkins et.al.) always sound so desperate and outraged: they can’t believe that human nature won’t conform itself to what seems to them so reasonable.

Arlo 'n' me

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Magnolia Grandiflora

In other words, “magnolia bigflower.” Dang right. The one below is probably eight inches across (20cm for you Euros), or more. I asked my wife several weeks ago, when the magnolias began to bloom, to get me a picture for my blog. She had a harder time than expected, because the two or three young magnolia trees near our house aren’t blooming (I think they don't get enough sun) and everywhere she found good blossoms they were too high up in the tree for her to get a good picture. But she finally came up with a few. Usually when I post pictures here I scale them down a good bit, but I’ve left this one full-size so you can really see it (click for the larger version).

I’ve never been especially interested in flowers, or paid much attention to them, although I’ve noticed that changing in recent years—more about that if and when I finish this poem I’m working on. But even as a child I liked magnolias: they were so big, and they smelled so good, and the contrast of the heavy white petals and the dark shiny green leaves was beautiful to me, much more so than the more typical and colorful flowers. I guess I’ve always been attracted to a sort of restrained beauty. (The trees are also good for climbing.)

Ask yourself: why does this exist? There is no practical reason for it to be so beautiful.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sunday Night Journal — May 11, 2008

Graduation Day

Today’s newspaper is full of stories about high school and college graduations. In theory, at least, the students have now learned enough to go on to the next stage of life, which will either be more schooling or what is called “the real world,” meaning a job. They have been preparing for something, and now they are ready for it. Or at least they should be ready; it’s coming, whether they’re ready or not.

As one gets older, one becomes (or ought to become) conscious of having learned something. We speak of the lessons of life, the school of experience. But what is the point and the use of this learning? We don’t get a chance to go back and try again, equipped with the knowledge of what we did wrong. Sometimes I wonder if life itself presents us with the same situation that T. S. Eliot complained of in relation to writing poetry:

…one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.

(from Four Quartets)

Or, in the famous line from Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.” What is the point of the understanding, if it can only illuminate the past, and provide no light on the path ahead, which itself may end suddenly in a blank wall anyway?

We can’t even console ourselves that although what we have learned is of no further use to ourselves, it may be so for those who come after. There is a certain amount of objective information we can pass along—knowledge and skills, facts about the world, instructions for doing and making, anything from baking bread to building computers. But those are pretty clear-cut, and easily tested: either the bread is good, the computer works properly, or not. Nor is there any particular incentive for every generation to doubt and possibly discard straightforward factual information.

But what one learns in the way of personal wisdom is not the same. It’s notoriously difficult for parents to warn their children out of dangerous paths on the basis of the parents’ own experience, and certain impulses and temptations are no easier to resist now than they were ten thousand years ago; no matter how many times individuals have learned that, for instance, giving in to anger is usually a bad idea, most people still have to learn it for themselves. Most often one recognizes ancestral wisdom only after experiencing the consequences of ignoring it.

Do we spend a lifetime learning, often at great cost to ourselves and others, how to live, only to have it all vanish with us, as when a light is switched off? I can’t believe that’s true. Most religious traditions seem have some idea of life as a learning process directed toward some sort of progress in another life, and the fact that the belief is so widespread indicates, if nothing else, the strength of the intuitive conviction that all this learning can’t be for nothing.

I believe that what we are put here to learn is, above all, how to love. For many or most of us the process of dying is probably the final lesson, and it’s a tragedy that the Catholic idea of offering all our suffering as an act of love is so little known and thought of today, even among Catholics.

The day we die will be the day we leave school for the real world. And what kind of world must it be if learning to love is the preparation for living in it?

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Music of the Week: Belong - October Language

This music is not for everybody. In fact, it’s probably not for very many people. In fact, I don’t think anyone I know, either face-to-face or online, with the possible exception of Jesse Canterbury, would like it.

So why mention it? Because I like it so much, and because it’s always possible that somebody who might otherwise never have heard it will read this, find the description interesting, give it a try, and find that he or she likes it, too.

This could be described as ambient music, or sound, but it seems to be based on electric guitars rather than synthesizers, and there is nothing remotely new-agey about it. It’s not so much music as a residue of music. Extract the shimmering guitar noise from the music of a group like Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine, and leave everything else—the melody, the beat, and the lyrics—behind, and you have something like the basic material of October Language. There’s nothing but a slow blurry chordal movement in a bed of damaged guitar noise. Yet it’s somehow haunting. It’s gotten under my skin and I’ve kind of fallen in love with it.

I had already formulated my view before I read this description of it, which I think is very good. I didn’t know the artists were from just down the road in New Orleans and would not have associated the music with New Orleans, thoughts of decaying buildings, etc., but all of that certainly fits; that is, the sound supports such visualization. And no doubt many others.

Try the samples, and if you like them try the title track. Listen to it three times and if you like it get the whole thing. That is, if you have an eMusic account. And if not, why not? This is, by the way, another instance of a recording which I like very much and would never have heard if eMusic hadn’t given away a free track from it.

Here, to go with the samples, is a New Orleans image taken by my wife a year or so ago.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tom Waits and the Absence of God

I’ve had in mind for a long time to write something of greater-than-blog-post length on this topic, but in case I never get around to it I’ll make the point briefly now. John Paul II has said that some artists do us a favor by showing us what the world without God is like. Few better examples could be found than Tom Waits. His work is filled with the anguish of one who knows what’s missing. Even some Waits fans may not like the song in the clip below (I do), but whether or not you like the music, consider words like these:

Since you’re gone
deep inside it hurts
I’m just another sad guest
on this dark earth

I want to believe
in the mercy of the world again
Make it rain, make it rain

I’m close to heaven
Crushed at the gate
They sharpen their knives
on my mistakes

But of course the world has no mercy, or forgiveness for the mistakes on which the knives are being sharpened. You have to look elsewhere for those. There’s only one place from which the rain for which he cries can come.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I Wait for Waits

My daughter Ellen called me yesterday, very excited, saying she had big news. While I ran through a list of possible major life-changing events that she might be about to announce, she told me that Tom Waits is going to be here on July 2. Here’s what he calls a press conference:



As I've no doubt mentioned before, I don’t get out much. But I’ll be at this concert, unless the tickets sell out so fast that we don’t get in. I wouldn’t think that would happen in Mobile, but many Waits fans are fanatics.

How about a little Waits music to...um, well...“brighten your day” is hardly the right phrase...darken your day, then, but in a meaningful sort of way?


Envy is not one of my worst vices, but, God help me, I envy this man’s gift excessively.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Sunday Night Journal — May 4, 2008

Wisdom From Nonsense?

The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast…. Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.

—C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

Lewis, describing here his own condition prior to his embrace of Christianity, gives us the essential truth about the agony of the modern Western world. If you have absorbed the materialist assumptions which dominate our culture (whether you realized you did so or not, and it’s probably worse if you didn’t), you believe, or are always fighting not to believe, that everything human is ultimately meaningless, a sort of vapor that emanates from matter and clings to it, then vanishes with the death of the body.

Love? Just a sentimental name we give to the reproductive instinct, not intrinsically different from the division of an amoeba. Beauty? Another sentimental word with which we justify a meaningless preference for one thing over another, not intrinsically different from a cat’s preference for fish over broccoli. Truth? Truth is death—we are dead stuff, briefly animated by chemical processes, and soon to revert to dead stuff. Nothing we ever did or can do has ultimate meaning.

Not to believe these ideas requires a constant effort. Their authority comes from the sciences, or rather from the misuse of the sciences: because the method of science requires limiting the scope of inquiry to physical data, and because technology has been so successful in using science to tame the physical world, the assumption that only what science can see is real penetrates our thinking like a toxic vapor.

To believe that what really matters does not really exist is a prescription for misery followed by despair. The souls that thrive best in this mental environment are those which are most defective. The more one believes that love, truth, and beauty are the essence of life, not just accidental and illusory by-products, the more miserable one is likely to be, unless supported by a solid faith, a set of beliefs that are strong and coherent enough to challenge materialism.

A few days ago I mentioned a long essay by Sigrid Undset that I’ve been reading, “Catholic Propaganda.” Here’s something else I liked from it:

Catholicism does not explain all the problems of existence, but it explains more and goes deeper than any other philosophy of life.

I believe this is true. I suspected it was true before I became a Catholic, and in fact it’s part of the reason I took that step. And I think anyone who takes a reasonable and fair-minded look at Catholic thought will find himself tending to agree; he may not go so far as to say that it explains more than any other philosophy, but he will agree that it is a very strong one, and that even in purely worldly terms, Catholic thought is strikingly accurate and wise about what we are, what we want, what is good for us and what is bad for us, how we think, how we behave, and how best to cultivate our virtues and limit our vices.

And yet Catholic philosophy cannot be separated from Catholic faith. It’s nonsense without the specific religious beliefs on which it’s based—that there is a God, that he is love, that he has made it possible for us to enter the sea of his love and live there forever, but will not force us to do so. Love and truth and beauty are every bit as real as the rocks and the stars. They are not emotional illusions; they are objective realities.

Is it possible for wisdom to be based on nonsense? The psychological and philosophical wisdom of Catholicism are only logical extensions of its religious doctrine. How can a logical extension of an absurdity be true? Or, to turn it the other way, if the conclusions are consistently true, how can the premises be consistently false?

Does the wisdom derived from the faith confirm the truth of the faith? This is not a rhetorical question, but one with which I wrestle every day.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Music of the Week: Piano Music of Philip Glass

I got this album, Piano Music of Philip Glass, performed by Aleck Karis, from eMusic some time ago but have only recently given it a good listen.

I know, it’s only Philip Glass, but I like it. It’s the typical Glass sound, but reduced to its bare bones. At first I thought it was too bare, but after adjusting my expectation of hearing the melodic and rhythmic fragments bounce from one timbre to another I found the effect fascinating, at least in relatively small doses—I wouldn’t recommend listening to this entire album non-stop. Anyone who’s heard much of Glass’s music will feel that he’s heard some of the material before, and maybe we have—perhaps some of the themes are also heard in his orchestral works. At any rate, after a couple of hearings I found that I like most of it quite well, especially “Wichita Vortex Sutra” and the multi-section piece “Metamorphoses.” In the latter, you will find yourself thinking Didn’t I just hear that? and you’ll be right, because the last of its five sections is very much like the first.

Much to my surprise, I found a performance of “Wichita Vortex Sutra” on YouTube:


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Friday, May 02, 2008

Open Brideshead Revisited thread

Okay, I changed my mind about not discussing BR until I had finished watching the BBC version. Too many interesting ideas have appeared already in comments on at least two different posts, so here’s a place to bring them together and keep them going as long as we like. Spoilers are allowed, so please NOTE: if you haven’t read the book and don’t want to know how it comes out, don’t read the comments on this thread.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Sorrow and Hope

I’ve been reading an essay by Sigrid Undset called “Catholic Propaganda,” which seems to be her attempt to sum up the case for the Catholic faith vs. both Protestantism and unbelief. Although obscure in places, and sometimes directed toward specific positions of the state Lutheran Church at the time she was writing (the 1920s, I think), it’s full of jewels, of which I’ll be quoting more. Here’s how she begins, with a nice expression of something essential about Catholicism:

Well-known cases show that the normal and expected result of evangelical “conversion” is the feeling of safety. Catholic “conversion” consists in a feeling of repentance.... The Protestant feels himself saved. He is assured of a condition of safety and trust.... With a Catholic, on the other hand, the most powerful feeling is one of sorrow and hope, the warp and woof of repentance. Completely aside from dogmas, he is unable truthfully to answer the question “Are you saved?” affirmatively, because his sins are ever before his eyes.

“Sorrow and hope” pretty well sums it up, I think. In a truly Catholic way of thinking there is no room for illusions about oneself or the world, and yet there is a light-heartedness at the bottom of it, born of hope.