When Jonathan Webb and I approached the Catholic Church as thirty-something post-Protestant outcasts nearly two decades ago, it was a fine twist of grace–or at least a bit of good luck–that Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P., was the priest that met us at the door. He himself was standing outside the door, taking a smoke break. Now Fr. Sweeney is President of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (DSPT) at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Check out his Lenten reflections.
Dana Gioia’s The Catholic Writer Today sets a mighty finger on the scales of literature: on the one side what matters and lasts, and on the other what’s shallow and doesn’t. This electrifying essay is a guide to the perplexed. Its arguments about Catholic literature could be applied to American writing in general. Without the complications of tradition and history—the history of meaning—what’s left?
- Cynthia Ozick
First, atheist Lawrence Krauss’s remarkably dumb essay entitled “Why Hollywood thinks Atheism is Bad for Business,” a piece that doesn’t even really care about its headline. What it cares about is making the case for a cultural bias against atheism. Hollywood was just fine releasing the smarmy-funny Religulous, and it paid off: $13 million on a $2.5 million budget. But Krauss is bitter because Hollywood won’t release his documentary on the folly of belief, so clearly they’ve got a bias. Special minus points for this bit of drivel from Ricky Gervais: the actor says that he is regularly told, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so why don’t you just keep quiet about your atheism!” By whom? Certainly not the op-ed folks at the Wall Street Journal. And Gervais’ frequent proclamations of unbelief don’t seem to have hurt his career any. Hell, Hollywood even let him make a movie, The Invention of Lying, in which he got to lay his anti-religion cards on the table. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Gervais himself isn’t worried.
Second, a piece about a book about cloistered Carmelite nuns. Much less whiny. Just go and read.
Condemned to shine, it’s rubbed or cut and set
Within a thorny gallery. Clean to bone,
The chasing hammer cleaves – and eyes forget
Their first impressions, leaving God alone.
With perpendicular inlay of place
And time, such stone is cold as early spring;
Its dogwood winter strikes a lifted face
For silver coins; it sounds the golden ring.
Its standard currency becomes the name
That royalty bestows with spreading palms.
It bites against the grain; it drills for flame
As shadows beg to seize at midday’s alms.
The ancients rightly called it βάσανος
For proving mettle with a tortured kiss.
Korrektivians enjoy (being bad) Lent,
to Easter as to Christmas is Advent.
Click here and scroll down to review the story to date.
Thanks to all who have read along so far. As always, your comments — including, but not limited to, negative comments — would be very welcome.
Is the story bogging down at any point? Is the action or setting ever confusing? Are there any trite rhymes? Any syntactic absurdities, prosodic infelicities, or lapses of characterization?
And is there anything that ‘works’ especially well?
He scans the space: a table (smallish),
A sofa (tall), and chairs (a few) –
All cheap and old, yet bright with polish,
Immaculate; the floor gleams, too.
(‘Lizavéta’s work’, he thinks; ‘that’s certain.’)
Here hangs a small icon… A curtain
Hangs there, in lieu of bedroom doors;
Beyond it stands a chest of drawers,
He knows — though he yet to enter
The shadow of that shrouded cell….
… His hostess pipes up sternly: ‘Well?’
‘I’d like to pawn…’ he says; presents her
A pocket watch (worn silver-plate).
‘Good sir, your payment’s two days late:
‘Your other pledge is past redemption.’
‘I know, Alyóna, ma’am — my ring….
Please give me just a month’s extension.’
‘I’ll do as I please with that thing.’
‘Well…. How much for this watch? It’s silver.’
‘Not even worth the work to pilfer
A piece of trash like that, my friend.’
‘It was my father’s…. If you’ll lend
Four roubles, ma’am, I will redeem it.’
‘I see. Before, I was too nice –
I lent you more than that ring’s price.
As for this watch, now, take or leave it:
A rouble and a half.’ ‘You might –’
‘One and a half, good sir.’ ‘…….. All right.’
She takes her keys out of her pocket;
She takes his watch behind the shroud.
He strains his ears; hears her unlock it –
The top drawer, scraping high and loud….
While he had been discreetly peering
At her (right pocket’s) steely keyring,
One key looked larger than the rest:
(‘Not for a drawer…. A trunk? A chest?
… But this is all so nauseating!’)
‘You owe me thirty-five, all told.’
(She’s back!) ‘Here’s one-fifteen; I’ll hold
The watch.’ He stands there, hesitating –
Then speaks: ‘In one more day… or two
… I might… have another pledge… for you…
‘… A cigarette case… silver… fancy!’
‘Good night. We’ll talk about it then.’
‘All right… Your sister — any chance she
Might sort of… sometimes… wander in?’
‘What do you want with Lizaveta?’
‘Oh, nothing, ma’am.’ ‘You want to meet her?’
‘No no, Alyona — just… Good-bye.’
He turns, and goes — and starts to cry:
‘Oh God! Can I –? Can I imagine?
How could –? Is my mind capable –?
My heart, so hateful? Horrible!
A month! A month, bent to this passion –!’
His self-disgust is oceans wide….
He sinks, and chokes — and steps outside.
The evening sun continues bleeding
Its dying light upon the host
Of Petersburg, while, all unheeding,
Our Rodya passes like a ghost
Among them, heart and mind encumbered:
He reels, colliding like a drunkard
Along the boulevard, until
His feet and thoughts at last are still:
Up from a dingy basement tavern,
Two tipsy, cursing men emerge;
Raskolnikov now has the urge
To go spelunk that urban cavern.
A sticky table; frosty beer;
A gulp; his thoughts begin to clear!
‘No need to worry any longer,’
He says — and smiles! — with rising cheer.
‘A simple side-effect of hunger!
Just wants a little bread and beer.’
Smiles all around! Lighthearted, hearty
He beams at one departing party
(Four men; a girl; accordion),
Grins at a fat Siberian.
Beyond the bar’s cucumber salads,
Black bread, and kippers past their peak
– Which emanate an evil reek –
Drone mediocre drinking ballads.
An ex-official sits aloof –
Alone, but for his eighty-proof.