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Another Poem about a Painter

Michelangelo_Caravaggio_061

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Young Bacchus, Bitten By A Lizard
It wasn’t just bad PR plus zero
support from Cesari—Amerighi lacked
self-control and a sense of tact
from the start. But, oh, the chiaroscuro!

‘Let Him Not Lose What He So Dear Hath Bought.’

From Cell 25 of the Convent of San Marco, by Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), 15th Century

Think on the very làmentable pain,

Think on the piteous cross of woeful Christ,

Think on His blood beat out at every vein,

Think on His precious heart carvèd in twain,

Think how for thy redemption all was wrought:

Let Him not lose what He so dear hath bought.

–Pico della Mirandola (translated by St Thomas More)

Darkness

 

From the Dominican Office of Tenebrae (‘Darkness’) for Good Friday, A.D. 2009, at Blackfriars, Oxford.

The text for this portion of the service is the Benedictus, or Canticle of Zechariah. Though this canticle, comprising Luke 1:68-79, is part of the Church’s morning prayer every day of the year (at the hour of Lauds), it has a special resonance on these days.

Because of the compassionate kindness of our God,
the dawn from on high shall break upon u
s

To shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
to guide our feet in the way of peace.

Walter Isaacson on Walker Percy’s Theory of Hurricanes

In yesterday’s issue:

Walker Percy had a theory about hurricanes. “Though science taught that good environments were better than bad environments, it appeared to him that the opposite was the case,” he wrote of Will Barrett, the semi-autobiographical title character of his second novel, “The Last Gentleman.” “Take hurricanes, for example, certainly a bad environment if ever there was one. It was his impression that not just he but other people felt better in hurricanes.”

Percy was a medical doctor who didn’t practice and a Catholic who did, which equipped him to embark on a search for how we mortals fit into the cosmos. Our reaction to hurricanes was a clue, he believed, which is why leading up to the 10th anniversary of Katrina, it’s worth taking note not only of his classic first novel, “The Moviegoer,” but also of his theory of hurricanes as developed in “The Last Gentleman,” “Lancelot” and some of his essays.

Percy lived on the Bogue Falaya, a lazy, ­bayou-like river across Lake Pontchartrain from my hometown, New Orleans. He was a kindly gentleman whose face knew despair but whose eyes often smiled. With his wry philosophical depth and lightly worn grace, he was acutely aware of his alienation from the everyday world, but he could be an engaged companion when sitting on his porch sipping bourbon or holding court with aspiring writers at a lakefront seafood joint named Bechac’s. “My ideal is Thomas More, an English Catholic . . . who wore his faith with grace, merriment and a certain wryness,” he once said. That describes Percy well.

Indeed it does. Thank you, Walter

But will it also be true of earthquakes, when the really big one comes?

Stalin and Urine

In his new novel, The Festival of Ignorance, Milan Kundera has a character named Charles tell a story about one of Stalin’s closest comrades, Mikhail Kalinin, whose name was later bequeathed to the Prussian city of Königsberg (famous for the Bridge Problem devised by Immanuel Kant, who lived there in what were surely happier times).

“To this day all of Russia recalls a great ceremony to inaugurate an opera house in some city in Ukraine, during which Kalinin was giving a long, solemn speech. He had to break off every two minutes and, each time, as he left the rostrum, the orchestra would strike up some folk music, and lovely blond Ukrainian ballerinas would leap onto the stage and begin dancing. Each time he returned to the dais Kalinin was greeted with great applause; when he left again, the applause was still louder, to greet the advent of the blond ballerinas——and as his goings and comings grew more frequent, the applause grew longer and stronger, more heartfelt, so that the official celebration s=was transformed into a joyful mad orgiastic riot whose like the Soviet state had never seen or known.

“But alas, between times when Kalinin was back in the little group of his comrades, no one was interested in applauding his urine. Stalin would recite his anecdotes, and Kalinin was too disciplined to gather the courage to annoy him by his goings and comings from the toilet. The more so since, as he talked, Stalin would fix his gaze on Kalinin’s face growing paler and paler and tensing into a grimace. That would incite Stalin to slow his storytelling further, to insert new descriptions and digressions, and to drag out the climax till suddenly the contorted face before him would relax, the grimace vanished, the expression grew calm, and the head was wreathed in an aureole of peace; only then, knowing that Kalinin had once again lost his great struggle, Stalin would move swiftly to the denouement, rise from the table and, with a bright, friendly smile, bring the meeting to an end. All the other men would stand too, and stare cruelly at their comrade, who positioned himself behind the table, or behind a chair, to hide his wet trousers.”

from The Festival of Ignorance by Milan Kundera, pp 26-27

I was taken by Kundera’s descriptions of Stalin, here and throughout the novel, that I checked a new biography of the dictator by Oleg V. Khlevniuk to find out if this or any of the other anecdotes Kundera offers are true. I didn’t find the answer to that particular question (although Khlevniuk’s book is excellent—I was riveted for three or four days), but I did come across this story about some of Stalin’s final hours:

The bodyguard entered Stalin’s apartments with the packet of mail and started looking for him. After walking through several rooms, he finally found the vozhd [Вождь; Russian for “Leader”] in the small dining room. The sight must have been extremely disturbing. Stalin was lying helpless on the floor, which was wet beneath him. This last point is important not for reasons of schadenfreude or as an evocative detail but because it affected subsequent events. It appeared to the bodyguard that Stalin was unable to speak, but he did make a small hand gesture, beckoning him to approach. The bodyguard summoned his colleagues, who helped him lift Stalin onto the couch. They then rushed to telephone their immediate superior, State Security Minister Semen Ignatiev. According to the bodyguards’ later accounts, Ignatiev refused to make any decisions and told them to call members of the top leadership: Beria and Malenkov.

Perhaps out of fear, or perhaps out of unspoken ambivalence toward his recovery, Stalin’s comrades rejected the idea that they were facing a medical emergency. After Malenkov and Beria checked on the vozhd and found him sleeping, they proceeded to dismiss what the bodyguards had told them about his symptoms. Had he really had some sort of fit? The bodyguards were not doctors. Their imaginations could have been playing tricks on them. His colleagues probably also remembered that Stalin had recently accused his own doctors of being murderers. Who would take responsibility for call a doctor (or summoning a murderer, as the vozhd might see it) unless he were absolutely sure one was needed? A simple need for emergency medical care was transformed into a multidimensional political problem.

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator, by Oleg V Khlevniuk

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Ein Heldenleben, by Richard Strauss

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

As Strauss himself wrote, “”It is entitled ‘A Hero’s Life,’ and while it has no funeral march, it does have lots of horns, horns being quite the thing to express heroism. Thanks to the healthy country air, my sketch has progressed well and I hope to finish by New Year’s Day.”

Strauss took what he could from his own heroes, Beethoven and Wagner, (the Eroica of the former, the anything of the latter) and used the sonata rondo form for this work: a loose structure of themes, variations, and leitmotifs. Who specifically was the hero? The critic Richard Freed wrote:

The music, though, points stubbornly to its own author as its subject, and Strauss did concede, after all, in a remark to the writer Romain Rolland, that he found himself “no less interesting than Napoleon,” and his gesture of conducting the premiere himself instead of leaving that honor to the respected dedicatee may well be viewed as further confirmation of the work’s self-congratulatory character.

The Wikipedia article, from which I’ve cribbed these notes, goes into further detail about the manner in which the piece dramatizes Strauss’ conflicts with the music critics of his day, as well as threading through the love story of himself and his wife, Pauline de Ahna.

And how did the critics of his day respond?

One of them called the piece “as revolting a picture of this revolting man as one might ever encounter”. Otto Floersheim wrote a damning review in the Musical Courier (April 19, 1899): “… alleged symphony … revolutionary in every sense of the word. The climax of everything that is ugly, cacophonous, blatant and erratic, the most perverse music I ever heard in all my life, is reached in the chapter ‘The Hero’s Battlefield.’ The man who wrote this outrageously hideous noise, no longer deserving of the word music, is either a lunatic, or he is rapidly approaching idiocy”.

So I’m sure there are those who might add that “the sensuous in its elemental originality” here is rather masturbatory than otherwise, Pauline or no Pauline. Inspiration be damned! The true artist works with whatever materials he has at hand.

Strauss later asked that the program be left out of the score, but of course we now understand how full of themselves writers, composers and artist really are … so here it is:

(1) “Der Held” (The Hero)
(2) “Des Helden Widersacher” (The Hero’s Adversaries)
(3) “Des Helden Gefährtin” (The Hero’s Companion)
(4) “Des Helden Walstatt” (The Hero at Battle)
(5) “Des Helden Friedenswerke” (The Hero’s Works of Peace)
(6) “Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung” (The Hero’s Retirement from this World and Consummation)

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.

The Last Crawdad, Man!

Since the Kollektiv isn’t traveling south this year, Korrektiv Kollektiv: Soldiers Grove Unit decided to bring Nawlins up to Cheeseland for an evening in honor of Third Oldest Daughter’s birthday… That’s her in the middle with her sisters posing as Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos…

Spin, measure, cut...spin, measure, cut.... spin, measure, cut. OK. Got it.

Spin, measure, cut…spin, measure, cut…. spin, measure, cut. OK. Got it.

Just a taste of what we’ll be missing this October – but, we hope, not next year…

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All mine…?

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Dad’s crawdads….

Let the games begin!

Let the games begin!

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Crawdads and uncles…

Still life with escrevisse and cousins

Still life with escrevisse and cousins and beer can.

Mudbugs in the milieu...

Mudbugs in the milieu…

Hand and claw...

Hand and claw…

Bernadette's Feast

Bernadette’s Feast

One fine evening in southwest Wisconsin...

One fine evening in southwest Wisconsin…

Don't forget the pie (One apple and one berry).

Don’t forget the pie (One apple and one berry).

Fiction Submission

The following story was submitted to me in hopes of having more work published by Korrektiv Press. I explained that we really are a boutique publishing house, an elite group of writers catering to an even more elite group of readers (alas, you read that correctly), and that it would take some time—not to mention a long, hard look by our editorial staff—before his stuff ever saw it through to print. The fellow responded that this was just fine—suited him to a t, in fact, since he was looking for as much feedback as possible. To which I thought, well, why don’t we just post it to the blog, opening up his work to whatever commentary our good readers choose to provide. So … Have at it, folks.

Debita Nostra

Sedately, a hand as though Michelangelo’s Adam’s stretched toward the bulletproof window, outside of which sprung April’s sweet shoots, this man’s hand anticipating no divine spark, reaching instead for infinite space. Garrett stared there, almost praying in spite of it all, sing in me muse of many harried years, I am a man unskilled in the ways of contenting, lax index finger then firming to flick an ant—exiled or escaped from the anthill’s very brotherhood—not utterly destroying it, but doing a crippling work on the hind legs. Dominion over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. Should tell someone here. Insecticide. Black dots distracting work that could be done. Contrary to all efficiency and decency. Not that he cared but they would wouldn’t they. Black dots better than black plague, better than the oriental rat flea that gorged on blood and spread it across Europa, eliminating at least one hundred million in seven years, 1353-1346, as though yesterday, danse macabre, dance my little wounded ant, skeletal epitome of eternal mortality, set us dancing again, mon Dieu, Dominus. Dominion. Dominus vobiscum.

Garrett brushed back his black bangs that when hanging ceased just before they reached the eyebrows. Covering it. The broad forehead. That’s how God fits the brains in there, Uncle James had said more than once, often upon introducing him from afar but within earshot—and here he is, broad-forehead-big-brained bullox, pressing blood-blanched fingers against the off white keyboard, trying to formulate a response to client ZX3820 and failing, yet carrying on the slow-motion slog against the debt, stacking his hecatomb against the mortal god who sent summons biweekly: $123,000 total, for which reason we would like to offer you the payment plan option of $1,230 per month, which, o man, measured against your Cosmoception wages of $2,500 per month, leaves you $1,270 per month. Forget not the old cafe job that brought in $1,300 per month at best, if tips bespoke the jubilee generosity, that as dictated by that little known book of Leviticus and insisted upon by the prophet Isaiah, for the faint spirit shall become a mantle of praise enunciated by otherworldly unction.

Still failing to settle the right syntax for client ZX3820. Not for lack of sample form letters provided during orientation, but because not a single one fits. Refusing the forms as inadequate. Aristotle refusing Plato’s theory of the forms–if the father of all philosophical footnotes had one single one anyhow. Failed to figure how this world holds order also not only other-world Forms. Some semblance of home here. My father has many dwellings. Not is only in heaven but as it is, otherwise why the comparison? Client ZX3820—you enter the numbers and the computer program inserts a name which you, the staff, are unable to see, privacy—wants foundation. A shade of peach, non-scented, but can get it cheaper at even the convenience store. He heard now-departed father say have your convenience and hang all to not-yet-widowed mother when she suggested they purchase an eighty dollar keychain by which the doors would unlock and lock by your remote finger’s command. Garrett straightened his spine, felt a click or crack at the base of his back, wrote Have your convenience and hang it all as a draft, then deleted it posthaste, else that $2,500 departs like nymphs leaving you in the wasteland again, leaving no address for anyone, The yellow fog of debt that that rubs its back upon the window-panes, collectors licking their tongues into the corners of the everything.

The nymphs are departed,
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;
Departed, have left no addresses
.

Departed, have taken with them the luggage of panic, for if deadened from dull days at work at least there no worried pacings punctuate the evenings as in the elder days, before this big break job, no heart kicks at every door knock as though Loan Co. Himself was on the other side, knocking. Dithyrambic pound with each envelope delivered, even sweepstakes nonsense sometimes looked like loan bills to bloodshot eyes. Taking more hours at the cafe, more coffee cups filled and customers humored over steaming pink salmon, seizing on others’ sick days almost as a parasite and still failing in spite of this to meet monthly payments, readying for default until an entirely oblique conversation with Loan Co. led to a letter that read “ . . . pleased to inform you that your loan has been rescheduled,” which meant, his Uncle James told him over the phone, reduced monthly payments by means of a second loan to help pay off the first which meant increased interest rates but extended repayment schedule so that at least the monthly interest and a bit of the capital balance would be in the hands of the bank every thirty days.