Archives for 2007

The Miltonic Context of The Golden Compass

I’ve neither read the books nor seen the movie, but this 2005 review by Craig Bernthal seems helpful.

A few snippets:

Pullman is a better writer in every way than J. K. Rowling, and given the cinematic success of Lord of the Rings, Pullman’s eminently filmable work will undoubtedly soon show up at a theater near you.

Pullman writes with energy and at times, beauty. His imagination works on a grand scale.

… Pullman weaves together elements of modern cosmology, quantum physics, the I Ching, and especially, the Bible, for His Dark Materials is a rewriting of Paradise Lost in which “Lucifer” gets to win. The title itself comes from Book II of Paradise Lost in which Satan, on his way to Eden, must cross chaos.

The explicit philosophical position of the books is a smoothly compatible blend of Blakean romanticism and its near descendant, humanism. (Bertrand Russell and the currently popular A. C. Grayling are as thoroughly behind this narrative as Christianity is behind Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.) Pullman’s world favors the material over the spiritual. Indeed, God—referred to only as “the Authority”—and the angels are all material beings, though their substance is less substantial than that of men, whose sensuality they envy.

Oddly absent from all of this Miltonic scaffolding is the Son, Jesus, referred to only twice in HDM, and then only obliquely, although we do see various servants of the church crossing themselves. Pullman simply doesn’t deal with the significance of Jesus, as human, son of God, or even idea. Christ’s courage, love, and sacrifice are simply ignored, and the church that Pullman creates is all evil. What Pullman attacks, therefore, lacks even the substantiality of a straw man. Pullman’s decision not to include Christ in his version of Paradise Lost is not only a cosmic cop-out, but a clue to the weakness of his story, which is ultimately shallow.

Humanism may seem a sober and bracing philosophy, but for fiction, it is deadly. Its sense of comedy reaches no higher than “zest,” and its scope for tragedy is correspondingly shallow. As human life and its portrayal approaches the extremes, humanism fails.

Søren Says

Hence anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs in this dizziness. Further than this, psychology cannot and will not go. In that very moment everything is changed, and freedom, when it again rises, sees that it is guilty. Between these two moments lies the leap, which no science has explained and which no science will explain.
~ Concept of Anxiety

On House of Meetings

I just got around to reading the latest novel by Martin Amis this weekend. Good, even very good, and very, very grim. Four or five years ago he wrote Koba the Dread, a book of history about Stalin and his murderous regime. For me it remains Koba the Unread, but after finishing the novel I think I’ll have to go back to it. Or maybe Anne Appelbaum’s Gulag, an updating of Solzhenitsyn’s Archipelago, buttressed with new info from the Soviet archives.

Going back a little further, London Fields and The Information are good books that you should read, assuming you haven’t already. I also liked Night Train, although not many other people seemed to care for it. House of Meetings is one of his best, altlhough it’s a different kind of novel altogether. On the dust jacket one blurb compares it to J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, and this strikes me as a fair comparison. Both are concerned with personal and national disgrace; both are slim volumes with a wide reach, and the narrators of each are so heavily freighted with sheer hopelessness at the plight of their countries that they have little to offer later generations but their testimony.

In House of Meetings, that narrator is in his mid eighties, and several times I found myself asking, “Well, you made it past eighty – that’s reason for hope itself, in’it?” Yes and no, naturally. As an octogenarian he makesa chronologically viable witness to Russia since the Revolution. And as a survivor he makes a nice town cryer for the world that remains – not, significantly, Russia, but America. For the novel is in the form of one long email to his American stepdaughter, Venus, of whom we learn little. That she was refused when she offered to drive him to the airport, possibly for tossing off two clichés unbearable to the narrator (Amis once wrote an essay titled “The War Against Cliché):

The first was “closure.” Why didn’t I seek “closure”? “Closure”: ech, if I so much as whisper it or mouth it I felmyself transformed into a white-coated, fat-necked peanut in a mall-style consulting-room. Closure is a greasy little word, which, moreover, describes a nonexistent condition. The truth, Venus, is that nobody ever gets over anything. Your second enormity was not a lone epithet: it went on for an entire sentence. “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Not so. Whatever doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger. It makes you weaker, and kills you later on.

Is it unkind for someone to point out the linguistic shortcomings in another? Sometimes, maybe, but Miss Manners will point out that much depends on the circumstances. Here, the circumstances involve an eighty-something about to fly off to his funeral, and his stepdaughter, Venus, quite literally the very best of what the world can offer:

You are as well prepared as any young Westerner could hope to be, equipped with good diet, lavish health insurance, two degrees, foreign travel and languages, orthodonture, psychotherapy, property, and capital; and your skin is a beautiful color. Look at you – look at the burnish of you.

“The burnish of you” certainly describes The West pretty well, certainly when compared to the last 100 years of Russian history. No, there isn’t much difference between Putin and Soviet Russian. I learned in this book that the USSR faced a birth dearth in the 1930s. According to Amis, Desperation and Despair had reached such a pitch in the years leading up to WWII that people just quit fornicating. The USSR responded with social programs encouraging copulation and its usual results, results that evidently were enough to carry them through the Desperation and Despair of WWII and beyond. Beyond is the future of Russia, which has no future at all; sometimes Amis reads like a minor-key version of Mark Steyn. “On the larger scale, destiny is demographics; and demographics is a monster.” Graphically described thus:

The graph consists of two lines that toil their way from left to right. The upper line is the birth rate, and slopes downward; the lower line is the death rate, and slopes upward. They converged in 1992. Thereafter the line of life drops sharply, and the line of death as sharply climbs. It looks like a three-year-old’s attempt to draw the back half of a whale or a shark: the broad torso narrows to nothing, then flairs into the tailfin. Russian cross.

This is only the introduction and the end of the book. What is in the middle is a love triangle that has its own improbable and enigmatic middle: a conjugal visiting room in the Soviet labor camp called the “House of Meetings”. The three points of this triangle are the narrator, his younger half-brother, Lev, and Lev’s wife Zoya. There’s not much to write here about the triangle, which shares a little with all triangles and necessarily differs in its own way as well. Much of the value comes not in recollection or description, but in contemplation. It’s well done. There is jealousy, there are shattering revelations, and there is love, in defiance of one of the mottos of the labor camp: You may live, but you won’t love. Sadly, almost the entire story prove this to be true. Almost.

There is much to say about life in Norlag, the Soviet Labor Camp. Although the brutality begins earlier, because the narrator himself, a refugee of sorts from the Red Army, is a brute himself:

My dealings with women, I concede, were ruthless and shameless and faithless, and solipsistic to the point of malevolence. My behavior is perhaps easily explained: in the first three months of 1945, I raped my way across what would soon be East Germany.

So while reading his descriptions of existence in a Labor Camp north of the Arctic Circle, one must grant that he may well belong there with the brutes and bitches and pigs and all the other social classes that even Communist slave labor is powerless to eradicate. Lev, his younger brother, a poet, does not belong there; Lev arrives some years later, and on his first day he and his brothers witness this. Which is supposed to be fairly typical:

We sucked up breath and looked out into the sector. And saw what? In the space of three minutes we saw a bitch sprinting flat-out after a brute with a bloody mattock in his hand, a pig methodically clubbing a fascist to the ground, a workshy snake slicing off the remaining fingers of his left hand, a team of locusts twirling an old shiteater into the compost heap, and, finally, a leech who, with his teeth sticking out from his gums at right-angles (scurvy), was nonetheless making a serious attempt to eat his shoe.

For the survivor of such a world, what follows must suffice for hope:

Let’s not submit ot the gloom supposedly so typical of the northern Eurasian plain, the land of compromised clerics and scowling boyars, of narks and xenophobes and sweat-soaked secret policemen. Join me, please, as I look on the bright side. Russia is dying. And I’m glad.

Love Makes Artists of Us All

Iris – drawn for the gal I would one day marry.

Fun with Genealogy

My dad, who has been researching our genealogy for a few years now, recently uploaded our family tree data to, which allows you to merge your data with the data of others and thereby discover new relationships you would otherwise never know existed. So my dad sent me a “Famous people related to you” report which included the following:

Geoffrey Chaucer (depicted above) is my 23rd great grandfather.

John Steinbeck and E.E. Cummings are both 9th cousins four times removed. (Honour Rolfe, 1552-1617, is my 12th and both Steinbeck’s and Cummings’ 8th great grandmother).

Audrey Hepburn is my 13th cousin. (We share a 13th great grandmother, Elizabeth Fitzhugh, 1465-1513.)

Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Stephen Crane, George Orwell, O. Henry, Louisa May Alcott, Norman Rockwell, William Randolph Hearst … all cousins of mine.

Mark Steyn on The New Lothario

In this week’s column, Mark Steyn continues to bang his demographic drum by bringing in Al Gore, Richard Dawkins, beauty pageants, the Holy Family, and, hilariously, the latest generation of tall, dark and handsomes who for years have swept away the wimin of dumb Irish jackasses.

Today, in the corporate headquarters of the Christian faith, Pope Benedict looks out of his window at a city where children’s voices are rarer and rarer. Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. Go to a big rural family wedding: lots of aunts, uncles, gram’pas, gran’mas, but ever fewer bambinos. The International Herald Tribune this week carried the latest update on the remorseless geriatrification: On the Miss Italia beauty pageant, the median age of the co-hosts was 70; the country is second only to Sweden in the proportion of its population over 85, and has the fewest under 15. Etc.

So in post-Catholic Italy there is no miracle of a child this Christmas — unless you count the 70 percent of Italians between the ages of 20 and 30 who still live at home, the world’s oldest teenagers still trudging up the stairs to the room they slept in as a child even as they approach their fourth decade. That’s worth bearing in mind if you’re an American gal heading to Rome on vacation: When that cool 29-year old with the Mediterranean charm in the singles bar asks you back to his pad for a nightcap, it’ll be his mom and dad’s place.

Last (for now) TMBG Song: The Mesopotamians

Incredibly, Yet Another TMBG Song: Bastard Wants To Hit Me

Still More TMBG: Dr. Worm

Addendum to the Addendum: Ana Ng

Addendum to the Previous Post

Quin – TMBG was, for a while, my favorite band. I was at this show at the House of Blues in LA in ’95. This is one of their greats, in part because it includes the lyric “But they’re like the people chained up in the cave/In the allegory of the people in the cave by the Greek guy.” Enjoy!

From The YouTube Music Video Archives: Birdhouse In Your Soul

This might be the happiest song of all time. I used to just hit the Repeat button on my car stereo so I could hear it over and over and over again, and now I’m thinking about writing a novel based on the lyrics. The album it comes from, Flood, is pretty good, but Factory Showroom is probably my favorite. Here’s a Cut ‘n Paste of some information from Wikipedia:

“Birdhouse in Your Soul” is a song by American alternative rock band They Might Be Giants. It was released in March of 1990 as a single from the album Flood. It reached #3 on the United States Modern Rock Tracks chart and #6 on the UK Singles Chart and remains their highest-charting single in both countries. The song is apparently sung from the point of view of a nightlight.

The song’s lyrics allude to Jason and “countless screaming Argonauts”, the lightbulb’s primitive ancestry (depicted in a picture of a lighthouse on the opposite wall), filibustering, infinity, a Longines Symphonette (said not to rest, referencing the watches of the same name’s longevity, the continuous output of the eponymous record label, and/or the many works of the symphony belonging to Longines), and guardian angels. The chorus line sings the praise of the “Blue canary in the outlet by the lightswitch / Who watches over you!”; the most widely held and logical interpretation is that the song is indeed sung from a nightlight’s POV.

The song’s video was filmed inside the New York County’s Surrogate’s Court and Hall of Records building located at 31 Chambers Street in Manhattan.

I’m your only friend / I’m not your only friend / But I’m a little glowing friend / But really I’m not actually your friend / But I am / Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch / Who watches over you / Make a little birdhouse in your soul / Not to put too fine a point on it / Say I’m the only bee in your bonnet / Make a little birdhouse in your soul

I have a secret to tell / From my electrical well / It’s a simple message and I’m leaving out the whistles and bells / So the room must listen to me / Filibuster vigilantly / My name is blue canary one note* spelled l-i-t-e / My story’s infinite / Like the Longines Symphonette it doesn’t rest / Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch / Who watches over you / Make a little birdhouse in your soul / Not to put too fine a point on it / Say I’m the only bee in your bonnet / Make a little birdhouse in your soul …

Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Fourteen

Jeb woke up a few hours before sunrise, and since there wasn’t any heat in the shack he preferred to go to the library and get started on the day. This was just as well, of course, since he didn’t have any running water and had to use the showers at the school pool for his morning ablutions. Not for a bathroom, however, at least as far as his morning piss was concerned. Even in the middle of the night he’d stagger out of the hut to urinate, always careful to walk a good twenty feet away from the door of his home. He’d miscalculated the carrying power of his own stench in his first few days of living there. He held on to more serious business until he could get to campus, but this usually wasn’t much of a problem. He was a light eater.

As it was, the urinous smell behind one of the cement pillars holding up the overpass was becoming pretty powerful. He liked to think it helped to keep stray dogs away, although now, as he aimed his stream from a spot out of sight from the cars passing by on the road, all he could smell was the powder-like dirt raised by the gentle arc of his stream, flickering like a golden braid in the early morning moonlight.

Duty done, he went back to the shack, gathered up his things, and walked over to campus for his morning shower. After that he had a glass of orange juice in the cafeteria, then went off to the library to study for the day’s classes. This meant going over the Greek and Latin texts with the word lists he’d prepared the night before, as well as making up flash cards for as many words as he had time for. He tried to anticipate questions that would be asked of him in class, although what this really amounted to was studying the grammar and the syntax as well as he could, and then asking questions about anything he didn’t properly understand. What made this difficult for Jeb was that he was more worried about things that he felt he should already know, and therefore didn’t want to betray his ignorance to his professors and the rest of the class. Which is patently ridiculous for any student, of course, especially for someone reading Socratic dialogues. It’s a student’s job to take correction from the teacher, and these were, after all, difficult ancient languages.

Since he was early (it was only 8:00 and on Thursdays he didn’t have class until 11:00), he decided to break one of the rules he’d set for himself by ducking into the student computer room and work on his own poems for just a little while. He’d made some changes on the typewritten drafts he’d printed out on weekends, when (given the luxury of available time) he allowed himself a few hours to work on his own poems.

He had finished about thirty poems, first on the yellow legal pads he carried around with him always. He was spending less and less time on his work for school and more and more time working on his own stuff. Still, there were just a few of them that he thought were perfect, the status he felt was achievable in each poem. Some poems would always be better than other poems, but every poem should be exactly what it was supposed to be, and because he thought this way he was having a difficult time finishing many of them. So he kept after it by annotating the sheaf of paper from a yellow legal-pad he kept in a pee-chee folder, the same kind he used for each of his classes.

He was, of course, thinking a lot about Diana. Not in an explicitly romantic way; quite frankly, he just didn’t want to go there. He wasn’t afraid, he didn’ think; he just wanted to keep things on the up and up. It wasn’t her looks, which were rather plain, but her manner. He’d noticed her figure, although he hadn’t spent a whole lot of time undressing her in his imagination. He’d done so with other women, definitely, and not just in his mind, either. With Diana he was conscious that this would be a little crude – a transgression, even. Then he wondered: could it be that he didn’t think of her in an explicitly sexual way because she didn’t think of herself in this way? Possibly, but it was hard to say exactly how she thought of herself. She was certainly attractive enough; there was no doubting that. But did she think so? And however restrained Jeb may have been, some of the other customers obviously were not.

He also wondered what might the church have to do with this. Maybe she was a celibate at heart. That certainly seemed possible. Those who seemed to take Catholicism most seriously were celibate, weren’t they? She certainly seemed to take it seriously. ‘Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’ was the phrase he remembered from his childhood at the Kingdom Hall. How can anyone make himself a eunuch? It seemed painful, although Jesus must have meant it metaphorically. Maybe it was easier for women.

He thought about the conversations they’d had together so far. He had to admit that he had performed pretty abysmally. Too many half sentences, which he couldn’t finish because he’d, started thinking of something else after he’d opened up his mouth. Why was that? He thought it had to do with this church thing she had going on. And what was that all about? He just didn’t understand it; it was something out of the middle ages. She seemed to making her way through life without too much trouble. He could understand why she might not be completely happy with her job, but it was hard to see how church could help her with that. Whether it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Diana’s Catholicism, religion seemed to Jeb like a big black censor box in front of everything. On the other hand, Diana was obviously an intelligent woman, and perhaps she knew something that he didn’t know. The church wasn’t for him, but obviously there was something in it for her.

From pondering this he switched to pondering his poems for a while, here and there making a few changes in each. He realized that he was running out of time to prepare for class. So he put his poems back in the pee-chee folder and brought out flash cards and his copy of Euripides, and went to work. It was hard work.

He didn’t care as much about his Latin class, although he liked Latin well enough. He just didn’t like the teacher. He was enjoying the author, Sallust, but the teacher was terrible. He was fairly young for a professor. He looked to be in his mid-forties, and roumor had it that he had recently been through a messy divorce from his wife, who lectured in Romance Languages and Literature. He’ was also in the midst of a fairly torrid affair with yet another professor (he’d been decent enough to move on to the German department), evidently in retaliation for an affair his wife had had a year or two before with a visiting scholar from England. The stress was showing. He sat at the front of the seminar table, and spent most of the time listening to students translate as if he were just waiting for them to make a mistake. Even his questions seemed designed to find those mistakes, which gave the impression that the languages were more difficult than they actually were, which was difficult enough. He scowled a lot, actually furrowing his eyebrows with a pained, impatient expression on his face. If he ever laughed, it was in a rough house sort of way, usually directed at one of the students, maybe a little slower than some of the others, or maybe because he just didn’t like students. He’d been tenured for a few years, was well published (if not so well read) and was obviously settling in for the long haul.

Each of Jeb’s classes met twice a week for an hour and a half. On Mondays and Wednesdays it was Euripides with Professor Charles Callahan, the very best of the university, and in fact one of the very best in the field of Greek poetry. A product of Jesuit education through college, like Jeb of Irish descent, and because of that had perhaps taken a special care for someone who was in fact only a slightly better than average student. Although Jeb worked hard at his studies, his rank was simply a matter of talent.

In fact, Callahan took an interest in all his students to the degree that they took an interest in Greek. His style seemed at first intimidating, vigorously examining each student and pointing out just how well their translations reflected an accurate understanding of the grammar. Published translations are in such great abundance now, the refined product of many centuries of classical scholarship, and it was relatively easy for a student to lazily work his way through the grammar with a ‘crib’, itself an argot from another era, brought out and polished by Callahan for his students. They would have the name for their corner cutting, if nothing else.

Callahan’s own knowledge and understanding was awe inspiring because of his insatiable appetite for details, which, as he told his students, were the real foundation for clarity of thought. Intuition and Insight there must be, but these were not paranormal activities, based on somehow mysteriously channeling the spirit of an ancient author after a cursory skimming of a hidden translation, but the proud product of such hardscrabble labor as rereading, memorization, and an ongoing interrogation of the Liddel and Scott Greek Dictionary, as well as Smyth’s Greek Grammar.

This semester he was leading the class through Euripides’ Elektra, covering anywhere from 25 to 125 lines of the play in class, depending not so much on the difficulty of the passage as the degree to which Callahan would pursue the meaning or syntax of a particular word, the history of scholarship, or even the rare story about one of his own teachers, whose books he often brought to class, along with various dictionaries, comparative grammars, and anything else that might shed light on particular problems in the text.

On these 100 lines or so Jeb could easily spend eight hours and still come to class just passably prepared. He carefully wrote down all the vocabulary on flash cards and kept them in groups of a hundred, held together with an elastic covered in fabric. It was an okay system, though a bit unwieldy in the classroom, and of course nothing could compare to the vast memory banks of Callahan’s mind.

But this day was one of those days when Callahan brought a surprise for the class. As a rule, these surprises had something that he himself was working on for publication in one of the many scholarly articles he wrote, although it might also be a passage that illuminated the text they were actually trying to finish. Or maybe it was just a passage that he happened to like – he knew them all so well. It didn’t really matter what his reasons were, but the result was always the same: one poor student was forced to translate a passage at sight, entirely unprepared. Today the esteemed professor had brought in photocopies of a page from Iphegenia at Tauris, and with a mischievous smile on his face he called on Jeb.

Jeb began reading the passage aloud in Greek, haltingly at first, then rushing ahead, none of it coming close to a recognizable rhythm.

gar oneiroisi sunei-
een domois polei te patroi-
ai terpnoon hupnon apolau-
sin koina charin olba

When he had finished Callahan waited for a moment and said, “Well, yes, that’s alright Jeb, the meters in these choral passages can be fairly difficult. Now let’s see what you can do by way of translation.”

Jeb then did his best to put it into sensible English.

“For . . . in dreams I used to go to the house. . . houses and . . . the paternal city . . . of pleasant sleep, uh, not sure why that’s plural there . . . to enjoy riches . . . the common riches . . . a grace, maybe?” He looked from the page to Callahan, then back to the page. Callahan sat there, stone still. Jeb was lost, but he also knew he was on his own. He thought he shouldn’t ask for help, because that might be a sign of weakness. Eventually just muddled through to the end on his own: “A grace common . . . in the sense that, for everybody?” He tried to suppress that question mark at the end of the sentence, but could not.

Callahan then stepped in. “It’s not a question now, is it? No? I didn’t think so.” Jeb stared down at the page while Callahan fired off questions about the text. Jeb did his best to respond, but his thoughts were as scrambled as the pile of flash cards on his desk, which he sorted through as quickly as he could, just this side of panic.

olbos, masculine. . .”

“But it’s olba. . .”

“I’m not sure what the case is . . .”

“If it’s masculine it really doesn’t make much sense, does it? Which is why it’s daggered there, and we can see from the apparatus at the bottom that it has vexed other scholars. So we need to come up with some sort of solution.”

At this point all eyes in the class, in unison, run down to the bottom of the page and began searching the finely printed list of textual emendations offered by various scholars for this particular crux.

Callahan continued in his clipped, knowing tone, “No, olba doesn’t fit at all, because there’s no such ending for the word as we know it – might well have been invented by some monk deep in his cups after an extended meal in the refectory. Yes, we need to come up with some sort of solution – or rather you do, and I want to hear more about this from you next time.” And then Callahan went on to give a detailed description of the history of the transmitted text, along with several anecdotes about his own experience in the British Museum back in the sixties. Jeb had actually gotten off easy, and he knew it. The class never did learn the reason why Callahan had chosen this particular passage to spend a day on.

After class Jeb spent a few minutes talking to one of his classmates. He thought about going back to the library to work on the task Callahan had just given him, but decided that a beer sounded better. Diana would be there, and after seeing her he would certainly be better inspired to work.

When he got there, she wasn’t. Steve was already behind the bar, placing new bottles on the shelves in between filling drink orders. Jeb ordered a beer and took a chair at one of the long tables close to the bar, hoping that Diana would come out from the back dining room after counting her till. He wasn’t about to ask Steve where she was, so he ordered a second beer and drank it slowly, just to give her some more time. Diana never showed, but just as he was finishing his beer a woman came and took a seat at the other end of the table.

It was the same woman he’d seen entering the bar as he was leaving a week or so before, wearing the same blue suit, but without the same man at her side. He put her in her late forties or early fifties. Very womanly, very good looking. Disconcertingly so.

“Is this seat taken?”

Jeb shook his head.

They sat there for a while, listening to something that wasn’t Bob Dylan. He wished that it were. He was a little surprised when she initiated a conversation.

“So how’s your day going?”

“Going okay.”

“That well, eh? I guess that’s my day. What brings you in here?”

“On my way home.”

“Me too. Looks like you’re about done with that one. Can I buy you another?”

“Can’t refuse a free drink.”

“Not from a lady.”

“What my mother told me.”

“Is that where you got the red hair?”

“It’s orange, actually, but yeah.”

From the waitress stopping by she asked for a glass of wine for herself and said “another for my friend way over there at the other end of the table.”

“I think I’ve noticed you in here before,” ventured Jeb.

“I”ve noticed you noticing.”

“You were going in as I was leaving, had some guy with you.”

“Just the husband.”

“Just the husband?”

“Actually, he’s now the ex-husband. It’s official.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Not really.”

“Right. So you come in here often?”

“After work sometimes. Or on the way in.”

“How’s work?”

“Great. How’s school?”

When he looked surprised, she pointed to the bag next to him, half open, revealing the books inside.

“Great.” He wondered whether she trying to make him feel like a kid. Then he decided that might not be a bad thing, and merely asked, “What do you do?”

“Sales. Marketing. Real Estate. That sort of thing. What do you study?”

“Latin. Greek, that sort of thing.”

She laughed before saying, “Not what I was expecting.”

“What? You studied it in school?”

“No. Some Italian. I just know a couple of words.”

“What words?”

“I forget. Let me think. . .” She paused for a moment, then whispered one with a lovely hand placed at the side of her mouth to keep anyone else from hearing her. “and maybe a few others.”

“Ah yes. . . good words,” he answered, raising his eyebrows in a deliberate expression of surprise. She must have had a couple of drinks somewhere else, he could tell. Not that she was out of control, but confident.

“So what are you going to do with all that Latin and Greek? Besides sit around in bars.”

“Teach it to others, maybe.”

“Sounds like a worthy goal.”

“I guess so. At this point it’s knowledge for knowledge’s sake, although someone said that it’s always going to end up somewhere.”

“Ever think of going to law school?”

“Not at this point, no, although a lot of people in my classes are planning to.”

“What about writing?”

“That I would like to do. Something I do now, when I have the time.”

She adjusted herself in the stool, and Jeb couldn’t help but steal a glance at her nylon-covered legs. They sheer stockings sparkled from the bar lights shining down overhead. He noticed an elegant shoe dangling from her left set of toes. When he looked up again she was smiling at him. She didn’t say anything, but moved again, this time crossing her legs so that her left knee was pointed directly at him.

They continued chatting for a while. She was mildly evasive, which he thought probably had something to do with the ex-husband. For himself, Jeb was surprised at his own ability to carry the conversation at all, particularly after being so tongue-tied in front of Diana. Why was that? More likely because he was putting pressure on himself, he realized.

“Do you want another beer?”

“Sure,” answered Jeb.

“What do you say we grab it somewhere else?”

“Sure again.”

Could things really be happening so quickly? He remembered the good words and his mind raced. As he followed her out of the restaurant, she pointed out her car on the street. A nice car, he noticed, although he couldn’t say what. Sleek and silver; there seemed to be more and more of them on the streets these days. The car chirped and blinked, and he let himself in. Inside it was spotless, so much so that he felt a little out of place in his black jeans and heavy leather boots. He worried that he might actually smell bad in such a controlled environment.

She started the car, turned to him and said, “Andiamo!

“Yeah!,” said Jeb. “I mean, Si! Andiamo!

“Hang on to your seat!”

She squealed away from the curb just as he was reaching for his seat belt. She’d started so quickly that he was thrown back into the leather before he’d had a chance to get settled. He left the seat buckle where it was.

Crazy Eights

We done got memed, and it’s bad luck to ignore a meme, so here goes.

Eight Random Things about Korrektiv

1. It has been rumored that Korrektiv is the creation of a teenage girl (about to turn twenty, though) living in Moses Lake, WA.

2. One of the (fictitious?) Korrektiv team members once censored another for using the phrase, “unenthusiastic blow jobs,” which prompted the censored member (so to speak) to create a blog called Korrektiv Supplemental, for the sole purpose of providing a forum for talking about the lack of enthusiasm in the world.

3. Korrektiv Supplemental became infected with pornographic comment-spam and so was eventually shut down and hermetically sealed off with plywood and duct tape.

4. Korrektiv is the Danish word for the German word Korrektiv.

5. Korrektiv was conceived in sin.

6. Two of the current (fictitious?) Korrektiv team members began reading and commenting on Korrektiv while doing time in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla and working in the prison library. Upon they’re release from prison, and after passing a lie detector test and a rigorous psychological screening process, they were invited to become full-fledged team members, whereupon the two founding members of Korrektiv were reassigned by the Copenhagen office to highly secretive work in the Congo.

7. One of the (fictitious?) Korrektiv team members was staying at the Mt. Angel Abbey Guest House in 1997. When he left, he short-sheeted the bed as a practical joke for the next guest (whomever that might be). Another (fictitious?) Korrektiv team member was the next guest to occupy that room and was the recipient of the practical joke. Neither team member was known to the other until nearly ten years later when the second team member (who at the time was not yet a Korrektiv team member but operated another blog) happened upon Korrektiv, began commenting on it, and later was invited (after lie detector tests, etc.) to become a full-fledged member, whereupon the strange synchronicity of this short-sheeting incident (among other strange synchronicities) came to light.

8. The most recent (fictitious?) addition to the Korrektiv team was once a much-beloved citizen of the blogosphere, whom Korrektiv kidnapped and sent to Copenhagen for intense commando training and re-education. He’s still a fledgling, but we have high hopes for him.

Bad Joke of the Month

Three women die together in an accident and go to heaven.

When they get there, St. Peter says, ‘We only have one rule here in heaven: don’t step on the ducks!’

So they enter heaven, and sure enough, there are ducks all over the place. It is almost impossible not to step on a duck, and although they try their best to avoid them, the first woman accidentally steps on one.

Along comes St. Peter with the ugliest man she ever saw.

St Peter chains them together and says, ‘Your punishment for stepping on a duck is to spend eternity chained to this ugly man!’

The next day, the second woman steps accidentally on a duck and along comes St. Peter, who doesn’t miss a thing. With him is another extremely ugly man. He chains them together with the same admonishment as for the first woman.

The third woman has observed all this and, not wanting to be chained for all eternity to an ugly man, is very, VERY careful where she steps.

She manages to go months without stepping on any ducks, but one day St. Peter comes up to her with the most handsome man she has ever laid eyes on . very tall, long eyelashes, muscular, and thin.

St. Peter chains them together without saying a word.

The happy woman says, ‘I wonder what I did to deserve being chained to you for all of eternity?’

The guy says, ‘I don’t know about you, but I stepped on a duck.’

(Provided by Fred)

Nine Lines

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
Midway in the journey of our life
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
I came to myself in a dark wood,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
for the straight way was lost.

Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura
Ah, how hard it is to tell
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
the nature of that wood, savage, dense and harsh –
che nel pensier rinova la paura!
the very thought of it renews my fear!

Tant’ è amara che poco è più morte;
It is so bitter death is hardly more so.
ma per trattar del ben ch’i’ vi trovai,
But to set forth the good I found
dirò de l’altre cose ch’i’ v’ho scorte.
I will recount the other things I saw.

Nine Rings


Opening shot: worm’s-eye view of gravel parking lot of roadside country bar in upstate New York. In the foreground, the gravel is grooved where a car has skidded slightly from a sudden stop. The car is a convertible red Porsche 969. Focus shifts to neon sign over the cinderblock building in the background: Virgil’s Bar & Grill. AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” can be heard playing inside, just below the chirping of the crickets.


Inside, of course, the music is much louder. It’s a pretty generic bar and grill. The proprietor, VIRGIL, is working behind the bar, a cheerfully grizzled old coot in a plaid flannel shirt and jeans. He is listening to the only other person in the room, DANTE, maybe 40, dressed in a gorgeously understated (but rumpled) dark gray suit. He is sitting at the bar, taking a last sip of a martini.

Dante: GodDAM that is a good martini. Hit me again, will you? I wouldn’t have thought you’d even carry Asmodeus, and here you are using it in $5 cocktails.

Virgil [beginning to make another round]: Things are a little different once you get clear of the city, hm?

Dante: Damn straight. I go tearing over the bridge like a bat out of hell – just had to get out, you know? – and the next thing I know, the GPS goes on the fritz and I’m completely lost in this friggin’ forest…

Hans Urs von Balthasar on Kierkegaard

The great Swiss Jesuit, or ex-Jesuit, or however he might be categorized, wrote a great response to Kierkegaard’s Concept of Anxiety. It’s called “The Christian and Anxiety”, and the whole work is as wonderfully straightforward as its title. He looks at most or even all of the most essential passages concerning anxiety in Scripture, and then pretty much comes to the conclusion, Don’t Be Anxious. The entire introduction may be found by following the link through the title of this post, and the book itself is available at Amazon for $7.40. Makes a great Christmas present! (Not for me, I already have it). Here is an excerpt from an excerpt:

One would not miss the mark if one were to describe Kierkegaard’s lucid and equally profound study of the “concept of anxiety” [1] as the first and last attempt to come to terms theologically with his subject. Prior to this in the history of theology can be found treatments that, at bottom, are no more than what Aristotle and the Stoics were able to say about this passio animæ [movement of the soul]. Since Thomas Aquinas did not develop this topic any further, not even the personal angst of the German Reformer [that is, a salutary fear related to Luther’s doctrine of “the bondage of the will”] was able to have a stimulating effect on systematic theology, which soon reverted to the schematic formulae of the Scholastic tradition.

It took the incipient cosmic anxiety of the modern, secular era, as it began to smolder beneath the materialism of the eighteenth century and with greater intensity in the postromanticism of the early nineteenth century (the first squalls presaging today’s decline-and-fall psychosis) to convince the great philosophers to let anxiety have a place in the heart of ontology and religion. Schelling, Hegel, and Baader, all three cited by Kierkegaard, were the immediate influences that prompted the Dane to treat this theme as a theologian…