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Desire and Deceit

girard

For Rene Girard, 1923-2015

Not again, the old men with beautiful manners.
– Ezra Pound

The old men of our age are young against
The violent, suffering such sacred cries…
We live as if the times were free and cleansed
Of envy, but we know from these
Embarking ferries what cruel death would say:
The fire rises every dawn to mystery –
Familiar as desire, lost as memory.
So truth is night that verges every day
Which hates itself, yet knows itself as day.

We try to capture every moment’s breath
With flesh, but lose the soul of argument
Because the body knows that only death
Provides the wound – unless the sentiment
Of beauty heals the foreign element –
The other – those – the sin that takes the step
In which we place the body deep, deep, deep…
I wish that nothing were the case – but take
It life will some day give what death will take

And knew no French but heard you anyway
By age and time. By youth and wonder’s books
I sat and heard you lecture, heard you say
That creatures live and imitation speaks
The grammar grace’s tender mercy brooks
Between the prepositions of and in.
I loved a woman of the world – taboo
And token sin – and urge and instinct knew
That beauty suffered what my conscience knew.

Remember, man, that dust remembers man –
Recalls the day angelic beasts renewed
Our call to human living. Manners can
Propose a mystery: the stage construed
With shadows, fictions made with words and breath;
But understand by holocaust of faith
That noon escapes, confirmed by midnight’s dark,
And night corrals the stars, each a splintered spark,
You ancient man, that hates and loves the dark.

Maybe next year, Cormac…

This year belongs to a Belarussian – that is, a bella Belarussian

Svetlana Alexievich

And I have no doubt that Fables of the Dead will soon be up for nomination as well – as soon as it appears in print…

from Territorial Rights by Muriel Spark

Territorial Rights isn’t Spark at the top of her game, but even Spark at half power is more inspired than most writers at their best. It takes place in Venice, where a handful of English acquaintances improbably, ridiculously, end up at the same pensione. One is a young man, Robert, who has recently walked out on Curran, his chicken queen, in Paris in order to chase Lina, a young Bulgarian art student who may or may not be under surveillance by Bulgarian spies (the novel was published in 1979 and takes place not long before then).

Robert disappears, perhaps at the hands of those same Bulgarian spies, and Lina befriends Curran, who in turn gets her a job doing sociology research for his friend Violet, yet another English expatriate who does research abroad for a private detective agency. Leo, who is traveling with Grace, who is in Venice to find out about her former lover, Robert’s father (also in Venice, with yet another adulterous companion) on behalf of Robert’s mother (back in England).

Lina moves into the attic apartment of Violet and soon after begins sleeping with Leo (Robert, remember, has gone missing).

Another scream, a bang, a man’s voice protesting, trying to placate. Violet precipitated herself out to the landing, in time to see the little lift descending and, through its glass windows, Lina with her head thrown back dramatically and, her hands clutching her head, giving out frightful animalistic noises.

The lift passed the upper floor of Violet’s apartment and reached the ground floor of the building. Violet, followed by Curran, had run down the flight of stairs to meet the descending lift, while Grace, outside Violet’s landing joined the banister audience.

Lina flew out of the lift, still yelling wildly, barefoot, dressed in a huge yellow flannel nightdress and throwing her arms around in a way which was quite alarming to watch. Violet caught old of her, and Curran, too, tried to hold her, both joining the exclaiming chorus of people above in the tall echoing palazzo. ‘What’s the matter? … Lina, whatever is the matter? You’ll catch your death … Stop … Wait! ….’

But Lina had struggled free in a flash and had opened the front door. She ran out on to the landing-stage. She turned with her back t the water for just a moment in order to cry out ‘Leo is the son of a Jew — I have slept with a Jew — God, oh God! — I must cleanse myself! I die for shame!’ And with a further shriek the girl half-turned and dropped into the canal.

That would be a canal in Venice.

You’re Welcome!

Novelist as Barefoot Trinitarian

It was Miguel de Cervantes’ dying wish to be buried inside the walls of Madrid’s Convento de las Trinitarias Descalzas — the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians — where a dozen cloistered nuns still live today, nearly 400 years later.

As a young man in his early 20s, he fled Spain for Rome, after wounding a nobleman in a duel. By 1570, he returned home and enlisted in the Spanish navy. He went to war to defend the pope — and got shot in twice in the ribs, and once in the shoulder — an injury that left his left arm paralyzed.

And it was only then that he got kidnapped by Algerian pirates …

How’s that for a cliffhanger? Read the rest of the story at NPR, here.

Yuval Levin on Laudato Si

I find everything Yuval Levin writes worth reading. His commentary is always measured, well-reasoned, and insightful, taking the long view of even the most contentious political issues. He is easily one of the best writers at National Review.

Here he is writing about the latest encyclical, seeing it with a perspective and charity I certainly haven’t had:

I’m not Catholic, I’m Jewish, so you should certainly take my reading of papal documents with a healthy dose of kosher salt. But for what it’s worth, the kerfuffle over Pope Francis’s recent encyclical on (among other things) the environment seems to me to point to some interesting tensions at the heart of modern environmentalism.

A lot of critical interpretations of the encyclical have treated it as abusing the Pope’s standing and authority (in the eyes of Catholics and others) to advance a left-wing or radical environmentalist political agenda by dressing it up as Catholic doctrine. Having finally read the encyclical, I’m left thinking roughly the opposite is the case. The Pope is trying to hijack the standing and authority (in the eyes of global elites and others) of a left-wing or radical environmentalist agenda to advance a deeply traditional Catholic vision of the human good and to get it a hearing by dressing it up as enlightened ecology.

Read the whole thing here. And don’t forget to read the actual encyclical, either.

Korrektiv goes to the Jesuits…

Unknown

Here.

Two Very Short Poems About the Scottish Englightenment

David Hume Recalls Charles Boyle
I speired him thareanent heiven, for a wee
bairn I was, dumfoondered at his orrery.

Moral Sentiments, Imaginary Beings
Adam Smith learned from François Quesnay
that if laissez faire et laissez passer,
le monde va de lui meme!
An Invisible Hand to favor
industry and more productive labor,
with an Impartial Spectator to fairly examine
our pursuit of even more mammon.

The Last Gentleman Conference postponed.

Argh.

“Slouching toward Mecca”

Mark Lilla has written a great article on Michel Houellebecq’s new novel in last month’s New York Review of Books.

The bestselling novel in Europe today, Michel Houellebecq’s Soumission, is about an Islamic political party coming peacefully to power in France. Its publication was announced this past fall in an atmosphere that was already tense. In May a young French Muslim committed a massacre at a Belgian Jewish museum; in the summer Muslim protesters in Paris shouted “Death to the Jews!” at rallies against the war in Gaza; in the fall stories emerged about hundreds of French young people, many converts, fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq; a French captive was then beheaded in Algeria; and random attacks by unstable men shouting “allahu akbar” took place in several cities., is about an Islamic political party coming peacefully to power in France. Its publication was announced this past fall in an atmosphere that was already tense. In May a young French Muslim committed a massacre at a Belgian Jewish museum; in the summer Muslim protesters in Paris shouted “Death to the Jews!” at rallies against the war in Gaza; in the fall stories emerged about hundreds of French young people, many converts, fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq; a French captive was then beheaded in Algeria; and random attacks by unstable men shouting “allahu akbar” took place in several cities.

… Houellebecq had gotten into trouble a decade ago for telling an interviewer that whoever created monotheistic religion was a “cretin” and that of all the faiths Islam was “the dumbest.” The normally measured editor of Libération, Laurent Joffrin, declared five days before Soumission appeared that Houellebecq was “keeping a place warm for Marine Le Pen at the Café de Flore.” The reliably dogmatic Edwy Plenel, a former Trotskyist who runs the news site Mediapart, went on television to call on his colleagues, in the name of democracy, to stop writing news articles on Houellebecq—France’s most important contemporary novelist and winner of the Prix Goncourt—effectively erasing him from the picture, Soviet style. Ordinary readers could not get their hands on the book until January 7, the official publication date. I was probably not the only one who bought it that morning and was reading it when the news broke that two French-born Muslim terrorists had just killed twelve people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo.

Soumission will be published in English this fall, so maybe we can start a group reading after the Percy conference.

Claire Carlisle on the Paradoxes and Perplexities of Kierkegaard

In fishing about for a topic for this upcoming Percy conference, I’ve been reading some Kierkegaard again, or rather one of Kierkegaard’s very best commentators, Claire Carlisle. Here’s a great passage from her Guide for the Perplexed, which I think is just excellent as a précis of Kierkegaard’s entire work.

One of the interesting—and also potentially confusing—features of Kierkegaard’s interpretation of truth is the way it encompasses both a philosophical notion of knowledge and a theological notion of salvation. In the context of Christianity, the correspondence between truth and salvation can be summed up by Jesus’s words, “I am the way, the truth and the life”, which suggest that truth and the way to salvation (or eternal life) are one and the same thing. This is the kind of truth that Kierkegaard is interested in: not just the truth that Jesus embodies, but that which is required of all those who, in following Jesus, have embarked on the task of becoming Christians and are seeking salvation. As a philosopher, Kierkegaard wants to present an accurate expression of this truth of Christianity. This is very much what Hegel had already tried to do, but Kierkegaard felt that Hegel had falsified Christianity by attempting to incorporate it into a philosophical system.

Kierkegaard highlights an opposition between the truth of Christianity and the truth of philosophy, and this means that in order to say what it means to be a Christian he creates, rather paradoxically, and anti-philosophical philosophy. To put it another way—which seems a little less paradoxical—Kierkegaard offers a philosophy of a way of life that cannot, he argues, be rationalized.

Claire Carlisle, Kierkegaard: A Guide for the Perplexed