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Rachel Alexander on the Latest Disaster

Over at the Law & Libwrty Blog, Rachel Alexander has some thoughts about updating one of Percy’s better known theories:


Walker Percy had an eccentric theory about disasters. Despite the modern consensus that calamities should be avoided at all costs, the National Book Award-winning novelist speculated that most people actually prefer them to safe, healthy, “good” environments. Moreover, the joie de vivre folks tend to experience in the middle of a crisis (think Louisiana “hurricane parties”) is, Percy posited, the most natural and healthy response for an inhabitant of modernity, with all its technological prowess and progress. Does the COVID-19 outbreak—a disaster if there ever was one—qualify as Percy’s “catastrophe as catalyst in the ontology of joy”? For Percy, the advantage of a disaster lies in its capacity to break through the humdrum, detached routines of modern living. The current pandemic, by contrast, requires us to double down on these very routines, thus revealing limits to Percy’s theory, but making it all the more important to understand.

Read the rest of Rachel’s version here:

The Perverted Salve of Power Outages and Close Quarters

Dy-no-mite!

Dynamite

Dynamite

From the latest biography of the Ur Existentialist, I Am Dynamite!, by Sue Prideaux. On the whole it’s very good, and of course Nietzsche really did sign his letters as “the Crucified” towards the end. But this seems to expect an awful lot of the poor guy.

Second Time Around

Ignoring an alarm
leads only to more alarm.

I cannot learn
what I am unable to learn.

Answering the question
“Do you believe?”

ends in questioning the answer,

since to simply believe
is never enough …

may it be enough.

Vigil

Mitternacht heißt diese Stunde;
Sie rufen uns mit hellem Mund

from Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
by J.S. Bach

That familiar Friday night
dark, both inside and out,

and five of us scattered in silence
at the end of each sentence

like periods in a paragraph.
Smelling of shit and sweat, a laugh

breaks through the snoring of a sixth
not far behind me, and a body

adjusting itself to the forgiveness
of a creaking wooden bench

falls back to snoring after the creaking
ends. So it can’t be a bad dream,

and the candlelight illuminating
our presence is, in fact, just enough

to suggest forgiveness. I want to sleep
too, too tired to laugh.

Love or Nothing

i

The hardest part
is getting started.
Until you do.

The hardest part then
is continuing, because
once you’ve started,

you need to find a way
to continue continuing …
all the way to the end.

And then you realize
there was nothing to it.
Nothing at all.

ii

Steel tracks and barbed-wire fences,
a square and squat, brick ding
every thing points beyond everything,
beyond even time and its tenses.

The welcoming arbeit macht frei,
albeit in iron. A hidden fire.
A gentle breeze, and smoke now
for our Intuition als Wesensschau.

For Edith Stein, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, martyred at Auschwitz 9 August 1942

The Secret of Phantom Lake

(To the tune Identikit, by Radiohead)

Our country club was one tennis court
in the middle of a marsh,

and a large, rectangular pool

doubling a small, moon-shaped lake,
whose surface was always as black

as cannonballs stacked in the sun.

The girl was saved from drowning
in the deep end under the diving boards,

as I ran back and forth along the edge,

dripping dry, nothing to assuage
my guilt choking on action

even as it tried to swallow inaction.

Anger, that dispels all phantoms
and then creates more of its own.

To have a will as clear as water
without urine and chlorine.

Next morning, steam rose from the lake,

pieces of a ragdoll mankind,
that we can create, that we can create

as witnessed by reeds and cattails.

A Post about The Post

From the moment we linger on that typewriter in the opening scene, we know we’re watching a film directed by Stephen Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks. It’s pretty good, even great if you enjoy footage of the newspaper production process in the 70s—hot type, giant spools of paper, the whole Rube Goldberg machine for distributing a fresh pack of lies every day—which I do.

Yes, newspapers are in a sorry state these days, and no, perhaps not exactly for the reasons we’re lead to believe while watching The Post, but while everybody disagrees with everybody else when it comes to the how and why truth has become so imperiled, I don’t think anybody much doubts that it is, in fact, imperiled. Always has been, always will be. The Post is pretty good on the has been.

Phantom Thread

This was an excellent movie. Being written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, I knew it would be a good movie, but I didn’t know what to expect in a movie about a dress designer in London during the 1950s. I strongly suspect that the inspiration for the story came from years of reading fairy tales to his children, as a fairy tale is precisely the sort of story Phantom Thread is. We’re a long ways from Boogie Nights. I mean, I love Boogie Nights, and though I’m not suggesting Phantom Thread is any more appropriate for children than his ode to the porn community, I suspect it will wear better and longer.

The Master remains my favorite of Anderson’s films, even one of my favorite films ever, being a generous portrayal of the Master/Slave relationship comparable to Tolstoy. Phantom Thread, if not (to my eyes) quite as great a film, is yet a greater surprise, where in the end what matters most are the life and death stakes of marriage, a fairy tale for what happens after the fairy tale. No, I have no idea what I’m talking about. Still, don’t miss it.

Mr. Arkadin

I didn’t care for it, not at all. Watch Touch of Evil again instead, or even The Stranger. Above, you can listen to Welles deploy a Russian accent through an improbable beard as he regales partygoers with the story of the Scorpion and the Frog. Then compare it to versions from The Crying Game, Drive, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all of which you can find on the side bar.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

This wasn’t a very good movie, which I suspected would be the case because Bone Tomahawk, director S. Craig Zahler’s first film, wasn’t an especially good movie either. But it was fun to watch, was indeed a pleasure with a full plate of nachos and three glasses of rye, since when it comes to accruing my guilt, I like to do it all at once. I’m also a fan of Vince Vaughn, who looks like he stayed off the nachos and whiskey while making this movie.