Archives for May 2010

From All Hallow’s Eve by Charles Williams

W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot were both great fans of Williams, so he’s been on my list for years. Luckily enough, I came across this novel, his last, at Half Price Books the other day and picked it up. I’m not sure what I expected, it wasn’t this – a kind of literary precursor to the supernatureal fiction of Dean Koontz. Instead of “literary” I might just mean better written or thought through more thoroughly (no offense to Koontz, whom I would guess has read Williams).

From the novel it’s evident that Williams was much concerned with the connection between history and spirituality, and it comes as no surprise to learn that he wrote a history about the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church called The Descent of the Dove. The novel is much more speculative. All Hallow’s Eve features a false messiah of sorts named Simon the Clerk, and descriptions such as the following were probably much more easier to read before the advent of PC:

His mind was very earnestly set on himself. As he went the Jewish quality in his face seemed to deepen; the occasional policemen whom he passed thought they saw a Jew walking by night. Indeed that august race had reached in this being its second climax. Two thousand years of its history were drawing to a close; until this thing had happened it could not be free. its priesthood-the priesthood of a nation-had been since Abraham determined to one End. But when, after other terrible wars had shaken the Roman peace, and armies- had moved over Europe, and Caesar (being all that Caesar could be) had been stabbed in his own central place, when then that End had.been born,’they were not aware of that End. It had been proposed that their lofty tradition should be made almost unbearably august; that they should be made the blood companions of their Maker, the own peculiar house and family of its Incarnacy-no more than the Gentiles in the free equality of souls, but much more in the single hierarchy of kindred flesh. But deception had taken them; they had, bidding a scaffold for the blasphemer, destroyed their predestined conclusion, and the race which had been set for the salvation of the world became a judgment and even a curse to the world and to themselves. Yet the oaths sworn in heaven remained. It had been a Jewish girl who, at the command of the Voice which sounded in her ears, in her heart, along her blood, and through the central cells of her body, had uttered everywhere in herself the perfect Tetragrammaton. What the high priest vicariously spoke among the secluded mysteries of the Temple, she substantially pronounced to God. Redeemed from all division in herself, whole and identical in body and soul and spirit, she uttered the Word and the Word became flesh in her. Could It have been received by her own people, the grand Judean gate would have been opened for all peoples. It could not. They remained alien-to It and to all, and all to them and- too much!-to It. The Gentiles, summoned by that other Jew of Tarsus, could not bear their vicarious office. Bragging themselves to be the new Israel, they slandered and slew the old, and the old despised and hated the bragging new. Till at last there rose in Europe something which was neither, and set itself to destroy both.

This business with the Tetragrammaton is extremely important to the story; not necessarily in terms of plot, but in terms of what may well be the longest backstory in the history of the novel:

But there were sounds that had a much greater spell, sounds that could control not only the living but the dead-say, those other living who in another world still retained a kinship and in some sense an identity with this. Great pronouncements had established creation in its order; the reversal of those pronouncements could reverse the order. The Jew sat in his chair and spoke. Through the lesser spells, those that held the spirits of those that already carried his pronunciation in their bodies, that held them fascinated and adoring, he was drawing to the greater. He would come presently to the greatest-to the reversal of the final Jewish word of power, to the reversed Tetragrammaton itself. The energy of that most secret house of God, according to the degree in which it was spoken, meant an all but absolute control; he thought, an absolute. He did not mean it for the creatures before him. To loose it on them would be to destroy them at once; he must precipitate it beyond. The time was very near, if his studies were true, at which a certain great exchange should be achieved. He would draw one from that world, but there must be no impropriety of numbers, either there or here; he would send one to that world. He would have thus a double magical link with infinity. He would begin to be worshipped there.

Creepy. However farfetched passages like this may read, it strikes me as an attachment to orthodoxy that gives the novel its eerie quality. Scripture tells us that the dead still live (some of them, anyway), and Williams has found a way within his fiction to make it plausible, if not so readily believable.

Within the novel, the false messiah is chiefly concerned with the accumulation of power. Towards this end he practices the art of magical healing on those would follow him. When pressed, he is even able to transform dust into living matter:

He knew what had to be done and set himself to do it-to erect the material trap and magical link between himself and one dead girl that she might drag the other in. Let both be caught! The destroying anti-Tetragrammaton was not to be used for that, but there were lesser spells which deflected primeval currents. He stood upright; he set his deep fierce eyes on Evelyn; he began almost inaudibly to hum. The unseen motes in the air- and lesser points of matter than they -responded. After he had hummed awhile, he ceased and spat. The spittle lay on the floor at Evelyn’s apparent feet, and was immediately covered by a film of almost invisible dust. The motes were drawn to it. Faint but real, a small cloud gathered against the floor.

It’s a good novel, remarkable in the way Williams arranges for the occult and the natural world to exist side by side. And that’s only a first impression; a second look reveals that where one first saw two worlds, there is in truth only one. Simon and his tricks certainly are creepy – but as extensions of his power to creep (pace Auden) they are as good a way as any to describe the rift in the world we all feel, but struggle to name.

The War Was In Color

It’s hard to do a pop song about something like war and the legacy left to the next generation. I don’t think this is a perfect job. But it’s pretty good. Happy Memorial Day.

Lost: a last word.

Potter got his final post; I get mine.


Dennis Hopper attended Helix High School here in La Mesa, started acting at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, and was involved in the founding of the La Jolla Playhouse. He also made a few movies. Now he’s dead. You could do worse things than check out Red Rock West.

On Io Sono L’Amore

The Seattle Film Festival started last week, and this is the first of six movies I signed up for. Six! It wasn’t all that great. From the trailer, you might think it was a fairly classy affair, and luxury is certainly a focal point of the movie. You might also guess the sex to be a fairly tawdry affair – but hey, it stars Tilda Swinton and she’s great, so how bad can it be? Well, Swinton does the hungry love thing pretty damn well, and if you feel like plunking down $10 dollars for some of that, and more – Swinton eating lunch, Swinton walking the streets of Milan, Swinton in orange pants, Swinton in the buff – this is your movie.

You should also expect a lot of inexplicable cinematography: extremely close and unfocused shots of pavement, long distance shots in which 90% of the frame is taken up by a tree in the foreground, shots of characters’ backs while they’re speaking. I’m tempted to say that this was all planned as a kind of cinematic dramatization of chaos, or the disorganization inherent in life, or something like that. This isn’t in every scene, of course; every once in a while the chaos of lazy camerawork and lousy editing is punctuated by some beautiful compositions (most of them involve food) but this only makes the chaotic editing of the other shots all the more inexplicable.

The story itself is pretty standard: wealthy, restless matron takes up with her son’s friend, which leads to a family crisis. This son’s friend is a chef, who prepares some pretty tastly looking treats along the way. Swinton’s character has a thing or two to teach him … some of it involving food. All this is goosed along by an-over-the-top John Adams score that punches the melodrama into a crisis near the end that borders on a kind of bizarre and violent mystical experience. I Am Love is intended to reveal love as crazy and essentially Dionysian; that ultimately we have no control over where our desires will lead, that beauty is terrifying, that the best and bravest among us follow our hedonist hearts to whatever end awaits us. Io Sono L’Amore, you can exclaim, if you are lucky, because after all, l’amore è un dio, and if that’s true, well, then, maybe Io sono un Dio, since that position seems to have been vacant for quite some time now. Why not? Life is crazy, after all. Except when it’s dull. The editing of long dinner scenes at the beginning of the movie helps portray family life as boring in the extreme, while the rapid cuts in scenes of illicit love reinforce the idea that it all just happens so fast. Unfortunately, most of it comes off as just plain sloppy – quite in contrast, I thought, to the many plates of food in the movie that are so exquisitely presented. I left hungry.

Get a pencil and a piece of paper and start writing

“I have two comments: Number 1, if you’re going to be a writer, don’t go to school to be a writer. Get a pencil and a piece of paper and start writing. Secondly, if there’s anything in this world you can do, do it rather than be a writer. It’s the loneliest, most depressing work in the world.”

James Gandolfini Summoned To Gulf of Mexico For Consultation

(New Orleans, LA) Concerned about the gushing geyser of oil more than a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico, executives from British Petroleum have asked James Gandolfini to act as a special consultant for the disaster.

As BP continued its effort to gain control of its untamed deep-sea well, President Obama announced more restrictions on offshore oil drilling Thursday and insisted his administration is firmly in charge of the response to the spill, now believed to be the largest in U.S. history.

More than 24 hours after BP began a crucial “top kill” effort to plug the deep-sea well with heavy drilling mud, company executives said the procedure was going as planned but they were not ready to declare success.

“It’s time we started thinking outside the box,” said Doug Suttles, the company’s chief operating officer. “We’re just not sure the cement will be enough – volume, weight, or … well, what we may as well call ‘sticking power’.

“We have to start thinking about heavier material. Towards that end, we have contacted some of the country’s best talent, and with help from outside the usual … uh, channels, we’re confident we can bring this catastrophe to an end.

The precise nature of Gandolfini’s qualifications remains unknown. Asked whether American Idol winner Lee DeWyze, or perhaps finalist Didi Benami, might be a hotter ticket than the Gandolfini, Suttles simply replied, “Are you kidding?”

“All ten of those finalists taken together don’t have the, uh … talent of Gandolfini. They’re lightweights. Maybe they sang in front of the mirror for a couple of months before making it on the show … who knows if they have staying power. Gandolfini’s been around for years – The Sopranos was the greatest show on televsion, ever, years running. Maybe you saw him in The Last Castle. Meaty stuff. Sticktoitiveness. Gandolfini is a real heavyweight; we know he can bring it.”

Has it happened at last?

“Now in these dread latter days of the old violent beloved U.S.A. and of the Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world I came to myself in a grove of young pines and the question came to me: has it happened at last?”

Dialectics for Assholes

Thesis:  I am an asshole.

Antithesis:  You are an asshole.

Synthesis:  We are both assholes.

مسیح پروردگار

آن را در کلیسای این است که شما عیسی مسیح ، همان است که دیروز ، امروز و برای همیشه (cf. Heb 13:08) پیدا کنید. او شما را دوست دارد و او خود بر روی صلیب را برای شما ارائه شده است. به دنبال یک رابطه شخصی با او در ارتباط و اشتراک کلیسای او ، برای او خواهد اعتماد شما خیانت هرگز! او به تنهایی می تواند عمیق ترین اشتیاق خود و جلب رضایت دادن زندگی خود معنا و کمال خود را با کارگردانی آنها را به خدمت به دیگران است. چشم خود را ثابت نگه دارید در عیسی مسیح و خوبی او ، و پناهگاه ، شعله ایمان در دل شما

Today in Porn, While We’re At It Edition

Susannah Breslin, the writer behind Letters From Men Who Watch Pornography, also recently wrote an essay about porn auteur Max Hardcore. Soon after, she got an email.

(Both links contain graphic language and descriptions.)

Not only is my work finished, it’s being done better by others.


وصوت المجتمع في مدينة نيويورك أمس مجلس لوضع خطة لبناء مسجد ومركز ثقافي بالقرب من البرجين.

Today in Porn, Letters From Men Who Watch Pornography Edition

Letters From Men Who Watch Pornography.

My work was finished ages ago. I really should stop.

Catholic Losties

A round-up of end-of-Lost musings from the Catholic blogosphere and elsewhere:

Mark Shea, Catholic and Enjoying It!: Open Lost Thread and You Can’t Have Too Many Lost Parodies (I like the angle Mark begins to elucidate here, that Lost is a “Catholic Pagan Myth” and that “the storytellers, while pursuing an overall grand narrative of redemption, don’t know how to pay off the huge narrative debts they have accrued.”)

Dorian Speed, Scrutinies: LOST (spoilery but not spoiled)

Amy Welborn, Charlotte Was Both: Lost

Danielle Bean, National Catholic Register: More Important Than Polar Bears

Robert King, Virtue Quest: What got lost in “Lost”

Clayton Emmer, The Weight of Glory: on the conclusion of LOST

Peggy, Southern Illinois Catholic: LOST Finale: Christian Imagery and Message

Mark Davoren, OP, Godzdogz: Finales, Finishes and Theology

Davin Winger, Mary Mail: Lost

Will, Sutter’s Casebook: The LOST Story

Carl Olsen, Ignatius Insight Scoop: I was going to explain everything about “Lost”…

Julie D., Happy Catholic: So It Was Purgatory All Along

Mary Deturris Poust, OSV Daily Take: Lost and Saved

Travis Prinzi, The Hog’s Head: LOST Finale: Why I Loved It

Tony Rossi, The Intersection: The Afterlife of “Lost”

S. Brent Plate, Relgion Dispatches: What the Lost Finale is Really About

Ross Douthat, The New York Times: The ‘Lost’ Finale

Terry Mattingly, ScrippsNews: Lost in the white light [includes a theologically-astute quote from Amy Welborn]

Speaking of OSV…

(Not to mention doctors who know merde when they smell it…)

Looks like the folks over at the Indie-Catholic from Indy will let anyone write for them.

Percy and the Century of Merde

In French, friends, merde is a naughty word, but Walker Percy was not naughty in that respect.

Lost Catholics

I’m still thinking about the last Lost episode, Matthew. I’ve been busy and you told me to take my time. I will reply to your challenge, I promise, and I will rebuke you for your persecution of the show you once loved. In the meantime, here‘s a little something from no less than Our Sunday Visitor, deeming Lost to be a Catholically significant TV show.

This blog has been deemed culturally significant by no less than the U.S. Library of Congress.