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from the Mailbag

RT: “How and what do Catholic authors contribute to your spiritual life?”

ME: “I guess if I knew the answer to that question, I may not feel the need to read so much. Not that it’s so much.”

ME, upon further reflection: “Another answer to the question is to say that for me, not being a “cradle Catholic” (although I have no idea what it’s like to be a “cradle Catholic”, and, for all I know, there is a 100% Venn overlap with the species “convert”), direct approaches like prayer and even (sadly) the sacraments often feel forced and disingenuous. What one feels isn’t the best criterion for determining worth, but it isn’t unimportant either. Reading and writing, on the other hand, might also need to be forced, but the resistant, opposing force might come from anywhere. Catholic writers are often, even almost always helpful in determining the direction of those other forces. Like objects a bat sounds for flying. Like greens on a golf course. Like fissures and outcrops for climbing on the sheer face of absolutely nothing at all.

Once More, In the Name of Love

Proud HeterosDamn, the planet just seems to circle the sun a little more quickly every year. Here we go again.

Lots of folks showing their pride today, of course. It’s difficult not to be gay for people out and about, enjoying the sun and such, but …

It seemed to me that there’s an undercurrent of sadness in the event that wasn’t there 20 years ago. In the Gay 90s, when the parade was up on Broadway, there was still something countercultural about the event, a cross between Mardi Gras and St Patrick’s Day and maybe Women’s Suffrage—an opportunity to release all that pent up libidinal energy, or at least imagining more of it, but also to stand up for one’s God given disposition and to go public with it for political recognition. Now there’s a lot of corporate sponsorship and parents, gay and straight, walking around with the kids, and the energy seems as manufactured as a high school pep rally.

In addition to tutus and unicorns and lots of sparkles, a lot of people wore a look of sheer boredom on their faces. Along the lines of, Let’s be good sports and dress up, like we do for Halloween. Or, What now? Oh yeah … Rights! More rights!

Having spotted a number of priests and nuns, if only in costume, I wanted to see a group of women in black burqas show up and just stand there, silent. And/or see a float with an SUV sized cock ejaculating big soap bubbles or something. But no: a huge inflatable plane, emblazoned “Alaska Airlines” and King County Metro … who gives a rat’s ass? Yeah, yeah everybody’s on board now and along for the ride, we get it.

The First Word on Silence . . .

. . . which is to say the novel, Chinmoku, will always belong to Endo. After reading Mark Lickona’s article I had a few questions, so I went back to my well-worn copy of the book and read a couple of paragraphs from an interview with the author in 1967 (the year after Silence was published). The first should seem familiar to readers of Korrektiv—or anybody’s inner existentialist. With a Japanese twist:

For a long time I was attracted to a meaningless nihilism and when I finally came to realize the fearfulness of such a void I was struck once again with the grandeur of the Catholic Faith. This problem of the reconciliation of my Catholicism with my Japanese blood . . . has taught me one thing: that is, that the Japanese must absorb Christianity without the support of a Christian tradition or history or legacy or sensibility.

Say what? “Without the support of a Christian tradition or history …” How is that possible? What does that even mean?

Good thing there’s another paragraph:

But after all it seems to me that Catholicism is not a solo, but a symphony … If I have trust in Catholicism, it is because I find in it much more possibility than in any other religion for presenting the full symphony of humanity. The other religions have almost no fullness; they have but solo parts. Only Catholicism can present the full symphony. And unless there is in that symphony a part that corresponds to Japan’s mud swamp, it cannot be a true religion. What exactly this part is—that is what I want to find out.

I’m really not sure what to make of the first paragraph, so please, if you can, enlighten me with your comments below. But the second paragraph I rather like, and not just because he uses music as a metaphor. What I find stirring is the resolution he exhibits as he looks ahead to the next thirty years of his career. And even more than that, perhaps, is his ready admittance that he isn’t exactly sure what he makes of the predicament in which he finds himself.

And since Scorsese’s version has fallen upon awfully rocky ground in these parts, I’ll provide a link here to a 1971 Japanese version, directed by Masahiro Shinoda from a screenplay by Endo himself with the director. It differs from the novel in several ways, but I won’t give the game away here.

Last of all, here’s a look at the author himself, shilling for something called the “Bungo Mini”. And coffee:

What Came in the Mail

So Recently Rent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From JOB, for Christmas … with a note that perhaps I have an affinity for Eastern Europeans, to which I can say, Yes, I certainly do. I hadn’t read much of M. Codrescu. Know of him primarily because of his NPR gig, of course, and something he’d written in connection with New Orleans. Leafing through the table of contents, the title “dream dogs” caught my eye, which turned out to be a good choice because it is (a) short, and (b) consists of lines that are entirely left-justified, which is makes reproducing it in this post much easier.

dream dogs

years ago it was easy to dream of wolves
and wake up your lover
to show him the blood on your hip.
the wolves had ties
and followed after every sentence
rather polite.
now there are police dogs
using tear gas and the lover next to you
doesn’t wake up.

ME: I like it. Thinking that it must have been written with a woman in mind, I flip back a few pages and learn that it’s from a section named for a former wife, Alice Henderson-Codrescu. Naturally, this interests me, and so I read a few more.

reverse

the storm outside
must be the kind you read about in the newspapers,
killer of babies and bums.
the kind of rain that goes in the subway
when i hold on to the coat of a fat man
whose disastrous life
makes me happy.

ME: Not much to do with the wife, as far as I can tell, but the alliteration in “babies and bums” catches my ear, and the schadenfreude my heart … although I’ve put on a few pounds this last year, so …

zzzzzzzzzzzz

i want to touch something sensational
like the mind of a shark. the white
electric bulbs of hunger moving
straight to the teeth.
and let there be rain that day over new york.
there is no other way
i can break away from bad news
and cheap merchandise.
(the black woman with a macy’s shopping bag
just killed me
from across the street.)
it is comfortable to want
peace from the mind of a shark.

ME: I like this one, too, although I don’t have much of an idea about what it means. The title leads me to suspect it is perhaps a version of a dream he’s had, and now I wonder whether all of the poems in this section are based on dreams, since we have it in the title of the first poem above, and the imagery in each of the poems has sort of chaos we often experience in dreams. The lower case letters bring to mind W.S. Merwin, but Codrescu’s poems contain a great deal more of life as most of us find it. He isn’t trying for the sublime in every line, and in fact seems to be trying to avoid anything that might signify portentousness. So yes, I like it. Not as much as JOB’s own poetry, but I’ll be dipping back into this volume until I see more from him.

Thanks JOB!

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Frank Zappa on the Steve Allen show March 4, 1963

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

Here Zappa enlists Allen’s help to play a piece of music featuring two bicycles. Hilarious!

This one is for JOB, of course.

This sounds vaguely familiar…

But I could swear it takes place on the West Coast – in a place like Seattle or something…

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!

Jonathan Sacks on Rediscovering Our Moral Purpose

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, this year’s winner of Great Britain’s distinguished Templeton Prize, delivered an exceptional acceptance speech on “Rediscovering Our Moral Purpose”. He begins with the concept of outsourcing, of all things, tracing its development in history and in the progress of the West in particular. And then contrasts this outsourcing with a necessary spiritual Korrektiv, insourcing.

Here is an excerpt; read the whole thing here.

Our computers and smartphones have developed larger and larger memories, from kilobytes to megabytes to gigabytes, while our memories, and those of our children have got smaller and smaller. In fact, why bother to remember anything these days if you can look it up in a microsecond on Google or Wikipedia?

But here, I think, we made a mistake. We confused history and memory, which are not the same thing at all. History is an answer to the question, “What happened?” Memory is an answer to the question, “Who am I?” History is about facts, memory is about identity. History is his-story. It happened to someone else, not me. Memory is my story, the past that made me who I am, of whose legacy I am the guardian for the sake of generations yet to come. Without memory, there is no identity. And without identity, we are mere dust on the surface of infinity.

Lacking memory we have forgotten one of the most important lessons to have emerged from the wars of religion in the 16th and 17th century and the new birth of freedom that followed. Even to say it sounds antiquarian but it is this: a free society is a moral achievement. Without self-restraint, without the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and without the habits of heart and deed that we call virtues, we will eventually lose our freedom.

That is what Locke meant when he contrasted liberty, the freedom to do what we ought, with licence, the freedom to do what we want. It’s what Adam Smith signalled when, before he wrote The Wealth of Nations, he wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments. It’s what Washington meant when he said, “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” And Benjamin Franklin when he said, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” And Jefferson when he said, “A nation as a society forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.”

Three Short Poems About Winter

Winter Mornings in Transylvania
Mrs Dracula loved to hear
Mr (while he was enjoying his bowl
of fiber) Dracula hum
lullabies to their dear
vambini. Who then slept the whole
day in their hibernaculum.

The Ghost of New Year’s Eve Past
For winter, it was damn hot
in the middle of the shemozzle. Dead
it was most certainly not—
the crowd was loud, and totally sozzled.

Diana’s Rum Coffee
A better drink in winter you will not find:
along with fresh coffee, she gives you rum,
sugar, cinnamon, cloves, an orange rind,
and more sugar … ends in a tasty residuum.

Four Brief Poems on Four Different Ways to Show You Really Love Language

Stone Tablets, Codices, or E-Books
Whichever you prefer, but we still all agree
that what we want is more philology.

A Proper Denunciation
Pronouncing French
makes my mouth clench,
and words in German
are difficult to determine,
while so rapid is Spanish
that it seems to vanish.
Words sound like mush in
in my mouth, if Russian,
and it’s best there aren’t so
many to hear my Esperanto.
My mistakes in Italian
could form a battalion
and just hearing Chinese
makes my brain freeze—
all this is why I am a fan
of ASL (or “Ameslan”)

Preservation and Compassion
Is it a good idea to curb a guide
who keeps committing verbicide?

How to Succeed at Poetry
after Henry Carey
All you poets of this new age,
witty types who strut the stage,
introverts who won’t get out,
extroverts who show no doubt—
Let your guide be an ambivert
such as Namby Pamby—blurt
out your vices and lines no more,
polish them up, but don’t bore!