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Archives for September 2008

Walker Percy: What else is there?

Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Fifteen

Back at the store, Tom did not stay to help the others out. After he hung up the phone he walked out to the area behind the counter. He surveyed the rows of shelves, which had not been tipped over. He felt lousy and relieved at the same time. Everything had worked out about as well as he had a right to hope for, but Julie’s words had still been painful. Why did she have to be so cruel?

“Hey, boss. What’s up with Julie?” asked Sandy, coming up on his right.

“Not coming in,” said Tom. “Not tonight. Not ever, actually.” He was looking down at the glass display counter. Satisfied, at any rate, that it hadn’t been kicked in.

“Wow,” said Sandy. She didn’t say anything else, having a pretty good idea about what had happened. She did a good job of holding back a smirk, although her efforts were lost on Tom, who was staring down at the counter and wiping off some non-existent grime.

“Yup. It looks like you guys are on your own tonight. I’m headed home myself. It should be pretty slow, actually, being a holiday weekend and all. You can handle it.”

He’d only just decided this, but it seemed like the right thing to do. They would probably gossip about it the rest of the night, but that was better than having them looking him up and down all night long. He’d grab another movie to watch after finishing The Vivisection of Vera, something Helen would like. A nice quiet night at home, that was all he wanted.

Still, he took the long way around, taking as long as he could on his drive home. He was more comfortable in his car than he was at home.

When he got back to the condo he yelled, “Honey, I’m home!” He meant it this time, and said it without a hint of irony. He hadn’t done that for a while, but this was a special occasion. He’d fulfilled his mission, more or less.

“I’m back here!” yelled Helen from somewhere down the hall. “You’re back kind of early, aren’t you?”

He found her in the study, looking over the website. He still found it funny to catch her pouring over the thumbnail photos of all the girls on the site, as if it were something other than business for her.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t really feel like sticking around work. It was kind of slow. And after taking care of that business . . .”

She closed down a couple of windows, transitioning between the web browser and Dreamweaver with a skill that in a few hand movements revealed years of experience.

“Don’t you ever get tired of looking at all those women?” he asked, leaning in through the doorway.

“Jeez, I don’t even notice them anymore,” she said, clicking through a couple of frames to check the traffic numbers again.

“Well, don’t mind me.”

“I don’t mind you. Not at all. That’s why we’re going to try something different.’

“Aren’t you worried about the money? We’ll miss the money.”

It’s funny how conversations between loved ones are repeated, streamlined a little more each time so that they can eventually be reiterated in a couple of key words. Helen turned around in the swivel chair, knocking over a couple of big, paperback computer books in the process.

“Money isn’t everything. We’ll keep some of it going as long as we need to. We don’t need it that bad. And what do you want to be known for? Porn? Or something better, like all those movies you’ve been watching over the years.”

“Yeah, well, speaking of which, I brought a couple home for us to watch tonight. I was going to go and finish the one I was watching this afternoon.”

Helen leaned over in the chair and picked the manual up off the floor, grunting as she put it back on the desk. “Sounds good to me. Give me a couple of more minutes here and I’ll be out in a bit.”

Tom went back out to the living room and turned on the television again. He surfed through the channels for a while, not really wanting to watch the movie as much as he thought he did. The television shows moved so much more quickly. Even a horror flick like The Vivisection of Vera took effort by comparison. He started out by taking five to seconds on each channel: cable news, financial news, Headline News, the Cartoon Network, shopping network, another shopping network. After a minute or so of this he just held down the button and watched each channel for a split second. He felt dizzy after going through about a hundred channels this way.

Helen came out after about twenty minutes and found him watching a panel discussion on C-Span.

“Getting political, are you?”

“Getting bored, actually. This seemed like a good match. I guess I don’t feel like watching the movie after all. Couldn’t care less what happens to Vera.”

“Let’s go out then. We’ll get an early dinner and then try to meet up with Roger and some of the others downtown. They’re always good for a couple of laughs. You look like you could use some of that.”

“Yeah, maybe. What sort of food do you feel like?”

“I was thinking of that big Seafood Salad over at the usual.”

“Oof. I don’t know. Too close to work.”

“What’s wrong with work?”

“Nothing. I was just there.”

“Well, no one from work will be at Queequeg’s now.” She looked at her watch. “You’re safe for a couple of hours yet. I’ll call Roger now, in fact, so he can meet us there. Besides, you like that chowder in the bread bowl. That’s just what you need right now.”

Tom frowned for a couple of seconds in contemplation.

“Okay,” said Tom, and turned off the television. “You sold me with the bread bowl.”

Keys to Surviving the Present Financial Crisis

I may not be a professional economist, or even an amateur one, but I know plenty about Depression, towards which everyone and everything seems to indicate we are headed. So I’ve decided to make my own four point plan available to the President, members of Congress, Wall Street tycoons and good taxpayers everywhere. Here it is:

(1) Do your job, whatever that may be.

(2) Eat healthy.

(3) Spend as much time as possible with the people you love.

(4) Get plenty of sleep.

If (1) proves to be a serious problem, your job is to get a job, or a better job.

My Work Here is Finished

I mean, I write about porn and swearing for Doublethink, and suddenly, Ross Douthat is writing about porn for The Atlantic, Mark Shea is writing about swearing for Inside Catholic. (No, I don’t imagine these events actually have anything to do with one another.)

A Dios!

Winding down…

…for a while, anyway. Got some things to finish, and the40 Days for Life seems an especially appropriate time to finish them – or one of them, anyway. This post makes 1999, and 2000 is a nice round number.

But before I go: Cubeland Mystic has been positively ecstatic in the comments of this post. I’m thinking we should haul the discussion up into a post of its own, namely, this one. Please, Friends of Godsbody – have at it. Shall we call it The Garden of Earthly Delights?

Novel Gazing

First of all, I’m calling “dibs” on the title “Novel Gazing” for my future collection of essays on the art of the novel. But that’s later.

Rob Long’s article on Bob Crane has me thinking, and I’m now going to attempt a kind of apology – in every contradictory sense of the word – for some of the pornographic episodes in Bird’s Nest (which, if you haven’t noticed, is being posted chapter by chapter every Friday). To the half dozen or so people I know who have checked in on the progress of the story at one time or another, I’m well aware that there are some fairly … uh, purple passages here and there. I’m sorry if you found them offensive. Mom hardly seemed pleased, let me tell you, so allow me to direct one mea culpa to her especially. However.

Offensive is sort of the point. Scratch that “sort of”. It is the point. Pornography is offensive, or perhaps we should say “still offensive”, no matter what effect you may or may not have noticed it may or may not have had on you. And of course we have long been in the process of piling up some fairly mind-boggling statistics. Apologies if you’ve seen these too many times before. According to familysafemedia.com:

The pornography industry is larger than the revenues of the top technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix and EarthLink.

Every second – $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography.

Every second – 28,258 Internet users are viewing pornography.

80% of young adults aged 15-17 years old have had multiple exposures to hard-core pornography.

The United States leads the world in the number of pornographic web pages, all 244,661,900 of them.

And these figures should probably be understood as increasingly tumescent. But haven’t I written about pornography in a lighthearted manner? Yes, and I suppose I can scratch that “about”. Let me confess here what I didn’t get around to confessing in the novel: Something is happening, but I don’t know what it is. With pornography, with sex, with religion, with science … I’m not so sure I really understand what in the world is happening with anything these days, including novel writing. It just seemed to me that a novel was a good way of looking around.

Here’s another statistic from the same website:

The “Top Pornography Banning Countries” are Saudia Arabia, Iran, Syria, Bahrain, Egypt, UAE, Kuwait, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Kenya, India, Cuba, China.

Please don’t take my citation of this statistic as grounds for going out and exercising your first ammendment rights with the latest edition of Girls Gone Wild. Assuming you’re in the U.S. and have first ammendment rights; if you’re in one of the countries just listed … I’m at a loss for words.

What I do suggest, more than the correlation between bans on pornography and bans of other stripes, and more than a question about the rightful place of censorship (your individual conscience or any of the various archons-at-large), and less than a plea to read my novel Bird’s Nest (appearing in chapter installments every Friday, if you haven’t heard) … what I do suggest is the cultivation of what Keats called “negative capability”.

I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason. ~ John Keats’ Letter to George and Thomas Keats, 22 December 1817

Including such facts as listed above. I think we’d be much better off in any number of ways … in some way, I think our lives may well depend on this “negative capability”. Partaking of pornography probably isn’t a good thing, but I still think partaking of a novel is. Partaking of a novel that is to some extent “about” pornography … maybe that’s okay too, with a certain measure of this negative capability. Being a phrase of Keats, the art is perhaps more poetic than novelistic … but that’s another chapter in my someday-to-be-released volume, Novel Gazing.

Rob Long on the Bailout and Bob Crane

Can you imagine what it would be like if McDonalds were going the way of Fannie Mae and AIG? Rob Long has, and it makes for a damn funny article over at NRO. I don’t know jack about the financial mess – even after reading way too much about it over the last couple of days. I guess I know enough about it to enjoy this article, although I suspect that for some this is just a roundabout way of admitting culpable ignorance. Oh well.

I’ve also learned that Rob Long keeps a blog, Thoughts on Old Media, New Media, which is certainly funny in places but not all the time. That’d be a bit much for a blog. There are, however, plenty of pithy thoughts on show biz ranging from focus groups to Azerbaijan to … Bob Crane.

Crane was a porn freak. He didn’t just like to watch it; he especially liked to make his own. But back then, being a porn freak wasn’t for the casual hobbyist. The sheer weight and bulk of the equipment required – the camera and the playback machines and the giant editing deck – required a certain dedication, a deep commitment to the enterprise. The airline overweight luggage charges alone were suitable barriers to entry, and the enormous cost of what was essentially professional television equipment managed to keep the riff-raff out. Or in, depending …

Pornography, then, is a bellweather. Pornography is a trailblazer. People in search of dirty pictures created a market for new technology, which people in search of less dicey things – like videos of cats, people using pretend light sabres, my funny family, whatever — follow, a year or two later. So if the pornography business is always a few steps ahead of the rest of the entertainment industry – in distribution and business model – why not check in with it and see what’s up?

Long goes on to muse on what this might mean for writers in the future, assuming that (legitimate) show biz follows suit. Which made me feel better about saying “Damn the torpedoes!” and posting the damn novel online. That’s three “damns” in this post. Apologies to the kids out there.

Outsource Your Walker Percy Paper


Walker Percy essays are not very difficult to write, you know.” But if you’re having trouble — maybe you got drunk at that kegger Thursday night instead of reading The Moviegoer like you were supposed to — or maybe you just never learned to write — heck, I dunno, maybe your typewriter broke — or maybe you’re just having a bad week. Don’t despair! Call the friendly folks at Custom Essay.com.

Etsi Deus Non Daretur

I’ve run into this Latin phrase a couple of times in the last couple of days, words that are translated most simply as “even if God were not given”, perhaps more colloquially as “even if God were not a given” (with the philosophical/legalistic tenor it was meant to have, I think, as formulated by Grotius), but not “as if God does not exist”, which would more properly be etsi deus non esset. And perhaps these are all distinctions without a difference, if not deference.

At any rate, the latest appearance is in an article by Michael Novak in National Review Online. Let me emphasize that I think this is a fine piece of writing, but the whole debate … is something of which I’m getting very, very tired. Here’s the evidence:

… proving a negative has long been thought to be, if not impossible, at least unreliable. Necessarily, then, atheism is a belief, not a fact. It may be a belief with (as atheists think) a very high degree of probability, even though we theists judge it to have a low degree of probability. By contrast, agnosticism seems to be a more tenable commitment than atheism. Problem is, in action one must act as if God does not exist (etsi deus non daretur), or as if He does. In action one must make a commitment that one cannot quite make on purely intellectual grounds. It is by our deeds that we show what we most deeply believe.

My immediate response to this fine piece of writing is no longer, “Yeah! Go, team!”, but “How long, Lord; how long?” Then I pause and read that last line over again.

And I am suddenly very, very afraid.

In His Cloud-Hidden Bobservatory

I forget where I first found out about Gagdad Bob and his blog One Cosmos; it could have been from any one of these he refers to for “Honorable Menschen” such as American Thinker, National Review,, PowerLine, which I have perused at one time or another. No, make that, “often”. Check that: almost daily.

At any rate, Bob is quite a righter, which is my small attempt at tribute, which you’ll understand better if you read the following sample of Bob’s own prose:

Your man in Nirvana reporting from the serene of the climb. Before caterpultering your buddhafly, lotus pray: last rung in’s a written gag, so your seenill grammar and gravidad may not be malapropriate for my laughty revelation. Don’t worry, it’s just aphasia go through before the noesis in your head becomes real. Ascent you a son, amen for a child’s job! That’s the New Man, we’re just putting him on. (p. 254 from his book

I’d describe it as Joyce Light, but that might be under stewed as a slight … accept that it’s more readeemable … okay, I’ll stop now. I think Rufus and Silverback would enjoy reading Mr. Gagdad, if they haven’t already.

Amazingly, amidst all the lingdulgence (can’t stop!), the following sentence made me smile (laugh, even, as I think Gagdad would prefer):

There are so many idiots out there, such as Bill Maher, who take scripture literally, and then attack it for being so literal. As such, when he attacks religion, he is really attacking his own stupidity.

Indeed.

Dean Koontz on Converting to Catholic Exuberance and Hope

I guess it’s Dean Koontz Day here at Korrektiv. Here’s another recent interview excerpt:

What led you to consider Catholicism?

I met Gerda, my wife, when I was a senior in high school and she was a junior. We were from the same small town. She was Catholic.

My house was a disaster zone, and a lot of people in my family were endlessly fighting with one another. When I started dating Gerda, it was amazing to me that all these people [in her family] got along. They were an Italian family. It was a different world that I was seeing. I began to associate it with Catholicism.

Ultimately, I converted because the Catholic faith started appealing to me and gave me answers for my own life. I made the decision to convert during college.

Catholicism permits a view of life that sees mystery and wonder in all things, which Protestantism does not easily allow. As a Catholic, I saw the world as being more mysterious, more organic and less mechanical than it had seemed to me previously, and I had a more direct connection with God.

I feel about Catholicism as G.K. Chesterton did — that it encourages an exuberance, a joy about the gift of life. I think my conversion was a natural growth. Even in the darkest hours of my childhood, I was an irrepressible optimist, always able to find something to fill me with amazement, wonder and delight. When I came to the Catholic faith, it explained to me why I always had — and always should have — felt exuberant and full of hope.

Source: National Catholic Register

Dean Koontz on Reading Great and Lousy Writers

From Anne Mulligan’s October 2007 interview with Dean Koontz:

You seem to be the writer other writers look up to. I know novelist Alton Gansky has made small references to your work in his own, and James Scott Bell holds up your work as a great example in his book Plot and Structure. Who do you look up to?

Among writers, Dickens, T.S. Eliot, the late suspense novelist John D. MacDonald, who at his best was a wizard at character, Flannery O’Conner, the cultural theorist Philip Rieff, G.K. Chesteron, C.S. Lewis, Walker Percy….

Koontz also offers the following reflection about failing to sell his first four novels:

What kept me going was reading fiction that I admired, that filled me with wonder and inspiration. But in truth, I also at times took consolation from reading bad fiction that offered ham-fisted prose, paper-thin characters, bad research, and muddy thinking. I would finish such a book and tell myself, If that can be published and succeed, surely there’s a market for something that strives to avoid all those faults.

The World Needs Heroes

“The image captures what heroism is and what sacrifice is, two things essential for the priesthood,” Father Sweeney said.

(Godsbody is proud to call Father Sweeney a cousin.)

Politics and the Pope

From Chiesa, a nice overview of the geopolitical strategy of the PBXVI, including a broad history of the Church in the 20th century, and with scholarly references to Averroes and Grotius:

Benedict XVI knows well that not everyone accepts this anchoring to transcendence. And it is rejected precisely by a culture that has its origin in the West. But he maintains that it is necessary to proclaim ceaselessly to world powers that “when God is eclipsed, our ability to recognize the natural order, purpose, and the ‘good’ begins to wane.” Pope Ratzinger maintains that the “secular” formula proposed by Grotius on the basis of the coexistence of peoples is outdated: to live “etsi Deus non daretur,” as if God did not exist. He proposes to all, including those who do not accept transcendence, the opposite wager: that of acting “etsi Deus daretur,” as if God does exist. Because it is only in this way that the dignity of the person finds an unshakable foundation.

Sonnet

I had you on the line that night, and we
were talking about our families, I think.
It was a Wednesday night and I could see
the dark outside grow darker, my eyes could drink
the dark like wine as my heart began to blink
at sparks that passed between us, you and me.

The carpet dull in the harsh light of my place,
the phone (its cord, the walls) pressed to my ear,
your voice forming a pattern like black lace,
I closed my eyes to let your form appear,
imagined your body, your dark eyes coming near,
imagined I could give myself as a gift of grace

to you, and that you, redeemed, could grace me
with your dark light and set me free.

Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Fourteen

After hanging up the phone, Julie left her bedroom and went out into the living room where Doug and Tweezer were watching the news on television. Another bomb had gone off somewhere on the other side of the world, and the people on the screen were screaming and wailing over the bodies of friends and relatives lying in the street.

“That was quick,” said Tweezer nonchalantly. “What did he say?”

“He didn’t say anything,” said Julie, slumping down into the chair next to the couch. “There was nothing for him to say.”

“I wonder how they’re doing at the store. Since you’re not showing up, I mean.”

“Well, he’s there. He can always step in and do a little more work.”

“True,” said Tweezer. “Certainly isn’t our problem.”

“Hope this doesn’t make things awkward for you at the store,” said Julie.

Tweezer shrugged. “Ah, who cares? Awkward can be fun. And it’s not like he’s gonna try to fire me. I’d sue his ass off, too.” She looked over at Julie and smiled, letting her know that she’d heard that part of the conversation. “I’m just glad you’re done with him, Jules.”

“So what do you think you’re going to do now?” asked Doug. “In terms of employment and all.”

Tweezer punched him in the shoulder. “Jeez, man, give her a break. She just broke up with her man.”

“I told him he had to give me a good reference. That’s when I told him I’d sue. So I don’t think that’ll be a problem. Anyway, I’ll figure something out. I’m flexible.”

“Doug, you could get her something down at the car rental place couldn’t you?” asked Tweezer. “They’re always hiring people.”

“Yeah, maybe. We’re usually looking for new help.”

They all stared at the television for a while. Tweezer grabbed the remote and switched the channel to a talk show. An actress was having yet another heart-to-heart with Oprah about all the hardships she’d struggled with on her way to success. The three of them sat and listened as the actress went on to say that everyone chooses their life before they’re even born.

“Give me a break,” said Doug.

“No, it’s for real,” said Tweezer. “she’s very spiritual. She’s thought a lot about this stuff.”

“She’s very crazy,” corrected Doug. “And this whole show is pathetic.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Tweezer. “Oprah’s the best. Everybody loves her. And do you know how much she donates every year to charities?”

“No idea.”

“Neither do I, but it’s a lot. Once she gave away a car to every person in her audience.”

“I don’t know if that really counts as charity. It sounds more like a publicity stunt to me. I wonder how many of those people really needed a new car.”

“She helps people.”

Julie had gotten used to these exchanges between Doug and Tweezer over television. They seemed to talk better in front of the TV than anywhere else. Maybe it was just because they spent so much time there.

It was Doug, motivated by Oprah, who decided to mix things up a bit. “C’mon, let’s go celebrate Julie’s retirement. It’s almost 3:30. We’ll get some nachos and a couple of pitchers.”

“Julie’s not even 21 yet.”

“I’ll drink her share then. Anyway, they’re not gonna card her at three in the afternoon.”

“Where to?’ asked Tweezer.

“I know just the place,” said Doug. “We can even swing by the video store on the way back,” he added, jokingly. “We’ll pick up a movie!”

“Funny, funny man,” said Julie. “Really, I’m laughing on the inside.”

Oakes on Religion without Humanism According to T.S. Eliot

Where would I be without On the Square, First Thing’s site for daily articles on items various and sundry. Yesterday it was YouTube, today there is a fine article by Edward T. Oakes. Here’s a sample:

Without denying humanism’s need for religion, Eliot unsettled that thesis by asserting its converse too: “I stated [in an earlier essay] my belief that humanism is in the end futile without religion. . . . Having called attention to what I believe to be [that] danger, I am bound to call attention to the danger of the other extreme: the danger, a very real one, of religion without humanism.”

In contemporary terms, this counterpart thesis sounds like a jeremiad against fundamentalism or, at least, like a warning against an excessively biblical Christianity untempered by the splendors of Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, and Milton. Oddly, though, given his own renowned appreciation for the poets, Eliot takes his argument, not toward an apology for Christian humanism, but toward an appreciation of the benefits for Christianity of an aggressively anti-Christian secular mind:

I believe that the skeptic, even the pyrrhonist, but particularly the humanist-skeptic, is a very useful ingredient in a world which is no better than it is. In saying this I do not think that I am committing myself to any theological heresy. The ideal world would be the ideal Church. But very little knowledge of human nature is needed to convince us that hierarchy is liable to corruption, and certainly to stupidity; that religious belief, when unquestioned and uncriticised, is liable to degeneration into superstition; that the human mind is much lazier than the human body. . . . If we cannot rely, and it seems that we can never rely, upon adequate criticism from within, it is better that there should be criticism from without.

This perspective is certainly odd. At first glance, it seems to give license to a perpetual culture war between believers and secularists (or the “humanist-skeptic,” in his nomenclature)—and, what’s worse, a culture war with believers perpetually forced on the defensive, as if they were the ones regularly tending toward corruption, with the supposedly disinterested secularists serving as the righteous policeman, prosecutor, and judge in their ongoing campaign against religious obscurantism.

Here it comes.