But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
…a word in defense, even if it is oblique. Alec Guinness, in recounting his conversion to Catholicism in his memoir Blessings in Disguise, tells a story from the days when he was filming The Detective (a film based on Chesterton’s Father Brown stories). Guinness, still in his priestly costume, is walking back to his hotel in France as it gets dark:
“I hadn’t gone far when I heard scampering footsteps and a piping voice calling, ‘Mon pere!’ My hand was seized by a boy of seven or eight, who clutched it tightly, swung it and kept up a non-stop prattle. He was full of excitement, hops, skips and jumps, but never let go of me. I didn’t dare speak in case my excruciating French should scare him. Although I was a total stranger he obviously took me for a priest and so to be trusted”
The boy takes his leave as they pass his home, “and I was left with an odd calm sense of elation. Continuing my walk I reflected that a Church which could inspire such confidence in a child, making its priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable could not be as scheming and creepy as so often made out. I began to shake off my long-taught, long-absorbed prejudices.”
Of course, such a story carries a note of deep sadness today. The scandal has indeed been scandalous. But it is a good story, all the same.
“The easiest way to get a reputation is to outside the fold, shout around for a few years as a violent atheist or a dangerous radical, and then crawl back to the shelter. The fatted calf is killed for Spargo, Papini, Chesterton and Henry Arthur Jones. There is a bigger temporary premium put on losing your nerve in this regard than in any other.” Hoo!
…so I suppose it’s worthwhile to post, after highlighting that bit from Chesterton in my collection of ’20s-’30s Vanity Fair, some word against against the man from the same volume – i.e., from one of his contemporaries. The magazine asked various worthies to name “the ten great writers whom they find most thoroughly boring…we have all heard about the people who don’t know much about art, but know what they like.’ Here we present you with a number of people who know a great deal about art, and who know what they don’t like.”
Christopher Morley guessed – correctly, I think – that the magazine, “in asking this appalling question hopes to be answered, not by a list of such classic bores as Carlyle or John Stuart Mill or Dr. Frank Crane, but by the names of contemporaries. This, obviously, will lead to a rousing hullaballoo and healthy irritation.” (Bonus points for using “hullabaloo.”)
Morley didn’t list Chesterton among his ten bores, but Ernest Boyd did. Here is Boyd’s opening: “One is tempted to begin at the beginning and list all the five-foot bookshelf geniuses, Homer, Virgil, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, and so forth, but here is an opportunity to be indiscreet. So, instead of taking refuge amongst the defenseless dead, I will mention my imperfect sympathies amongst the moderns.”
Chesterton has good company – Boyd goes after Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, and Joseph Conrad, among others. Here he is on G.K.: “Gilbert K. Chesterton, the cheap punster in excelsis, strenuously engaged in persuading clean-limbed Englishmen that there was ever such a place as ‘Merrie England,’ full of beer and Catholicism.” It’s a charge worth answering, I think. Any experts out there willing to take it on?
And before you dismiss Boyd, please note this dismissal of D.H. Lawrence: “the average Briton in the toils of sex, a sad spectacle.”
Apparently, Owen Wilson stopped into a Catholic church before bottoming out. The post title is taken from Us Weekly’s account of the visit. (Not that I make a habit of visiting Us Weekly, mind you…)
Saw Wilco last night at San Diego State’s Open Air Theater. Oh, my. I don’t think they were terribly impressed with the crowd, but they still put on a hell of a show. Easily one of my top three concerts ever. Loved the way they could pull sounds from Pink Floyd, the Allman Brothers, Squeeze, REM, Skynerd, They Might Be Giants (!), Hendrix, et. al., and make it all their own. A very happy birthday present.
I know I’m late to the party on this one, but the “Release the Deviant” Scion billboards have finally gotten me to post…
Lovely. A car ad that sells the notion that its buyers are creative types. But not just creative types – creative types superior to the rest of the world – the Sheeple. And not just creative types superior to the rest of the world – creative types superior to the rest of the world who may therefore slaughter and terrorize the rest of the world however they wish. Nietzsche, anyone? I wonder how the man would feel about being used to sell cars.
Oh, look! There’s a game as well!