Friday, October 28, 2005

Come on Down!

Now that I'm over the rape of the locks--I've been coerced into making a main dish for a Halloween luncheon on Monday. Fine. Nobody can resist mom's scalloped potatoes. But that's not all--dressing up for Halloween is not optional, apparently. Thus yours truly will be dressed as Rod Roddy from The Price is Right. Sigh. What, my friends, could possibly be next?

But that's not the point of this entry. Now that I'm thirty, have (yet another) corporate entry-level job, kid on the way, etc., it's time for an SUV. (Or, as Rod would say, "A new car!")

Now, I know what you're thinking, but you don't live on a hill (in Pittsburgh!) where the City's salt trucks do not frequent. So, my question is this:

A) Jeep Liberty?
B) Toyota Rav 4?
C) Nissan X-Terra?
D) Subaru Outback? (ok, not exactly an SUV but it has that all wheel drive thing)

Suggestions (ok, and smart comments) appreciated.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Corporate Angst

For as long as I can remember I have whorred myself out to companies in order to sustain life the way I want to live it. Most recently I've been working for Guardian Protection Services in their call center as a billing representative. Each Thursday and Monday morning I pray to the gods presiding over the Powerball lottery. No such luck.

In any case, said company says they want to "bring me aboard" as a permanent employee. Fine. I'll play the game. Next, they say, you have to go for a drug sceening (on my sacred lunch hour nonetheless). Fine. To my dismay, the drug test requires taking samples of my hair--three large chunks cut at the root. How pathetic. Now, I can see the reasoning behind such a test, and I would gladly give away my urine. In fact, I always felt that this type of test was kind of symbolic--I just wish I could piss in my boss' coffee mug.

But my hair! They've gone too far.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Passion: Film and Drama

Part of the ideas here were (are) supposed to be included in a presentation I was proposing for a conference of Drama and Religion to take place in Chicago next year. Forgive me, I know I have repeated this elsewhere.

It seems we bloggers have a problem merely viewing the pain of the Crucified Lord according to the principles of realism in modern filmmaking. I would agree that a realistic depiction of the Passion of Christ depicted in film is indeed problematic. Gibson's version attempts to include the personal--the idea that he too is guilty for His suffering--by including his own hand pounding the nail into Christ's wrist. A nice touch, but not effective enough. We as audience members are still too distant. We watch, as voyeurs, a scence and time when things seem so different--the language, the custom, the costume, are all too unfamiliar to relate with the action--if indeed the purpose is piety.

The medieval York play of the Crucifixion overcomes this barrier. The barrier I speak of is the modern use of the fourth wall. Medieval drama, relatively speaking, does not employ a fourth wall in which audience members feel safe and distant from the action they are viewing. With Shakespeare and modern drama (eg. the sitcom) we finally have a defined fourth wall, a professional playhouse, the end of an era of beautiful and genius drama. (Although even with Shakespeare there are moments where the fourth wall is not fully dissolved.)

The York play was part of a cycle of plays depicting the sacred history of the world from the fall of Lucifer to the Judgement. This particular play was the responsibility of the Pinners and Painters guild (i.e. carpenters in our modern terms). These plays took place all over Europe and were a communal and civic festival of sorts. What is different and worth noting about the York Passion was its conscious use of relevant material, actors, and dialogue to an end that is ironically realistic.

In this play the soldiers complain about the hard work--of crucifying Christ! They tell Christ, as he is led to the place of death, that he will be judged for his "wikked workes," adding to the comic irony that they are the ones who are wicked. This all comes to task when ready to affix Christ to the cross they see that the holes where His hands are to nailed are bored too far apart. They must then stretch the suffering Christ with ropes (a scene that Mel borrows in his rendition) and even that they can't do well. After Christ has suffered at the hands of shoddy craftsmanship (recall He too is a carpenter), He offers a moment of grace to their fallen condition when He offers forgiveness to the soldiers, for they know not what they do--that is, they are not good at their job.

In a sense the playwright makes the connection that our mundane jobs, when done in a shoddy, non-pious manner, in effect crucify our Lord. By nature we are unable to perform our duties correctly and perfectly, and therefore we are in need of the master Craftsman to accept our "wirke"--imperfect as it is. Consider too, that we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works (deeds) that we should walk in them. For a working class audience and professional carpenters as actors, the Passion of Christ is woven into our very existence as humans who are a masterpeice in the making.

The metaphor of work involves the audience in this sacred event in a way that is personal--not distant and voyeuristic. In fact, the actual suffering of Christ is interenalized--as opposed to an interpretation of teh artist (as with Gibson). When Christ is stretched on the cross, the action takes place on the ground where an audience member must lobby for position. The voyeuristic instinct is indicted here. The crowd then becomes the onlookers at the original crucifixion. (Isn't this exactly what we are doing in watching, neigh purchasing, the Mel Gibson film!?!) What takes the place of realism in the York play is affective piety--a spiritual act of internalizing, personalizing the suffering of Christ (or any biblical scene) by inserting yourself as soldier or yourself as Christ (although that is clearly problematic).

Similarly, those members of the audience who find the soldiers' ineptitude comical are indicted as well. These soldiers are hilarious no doubt. But the setting is a place where this kind of humor is inappropriate (I think Mel attempts this too--his soldiers are quite believable as depraved humans who enjoy torture, but unlike the York play they more fearful than stupid).

Thus, in heaven's eyes, our work here is serious. When we take our eyes off of the suffering of Christ (when we are out of tune with the affective practice) we are in danger of commiting a torturous crime against heaven.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

More Passionate Dialogue

This entry begins in continuation from

Matt: I'm not following. Do you mean the Passion is reenacted in the Mass? Or that you know of actual Passion Plays being played?

Our parish (St Catherine's of Sienna) growing up used to enact the stations of the cross each year at Easter. They also had dramatic readings by parishiners of the trial of Christ. Eventually the congregation was encouraged to join in at times with, "We have no king but Caesar," "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!," etc. For a small Catholic congregation it was quite a spectacle--replete with kettle drums and a guy who REALLY looked like Jesus.

I laud Mel for his efforts in verisimilitude, but that is deceiving since much of his inspiration is from extra-scriptural writings (visions of medieval Saints, medieval drama, etc). At times it is a wonderful and moving film, in the Gibson-esque fasion.

I agree, however, that metaphors or allegory of the Passion are more powerful than a Hollywood-style documentary such as "The Passion of the Christ."

As far as "Love Actually" goes I don't recall it as a metaphor of the Passion--can you elaborate?

Great films employ visual metaphor and symbolism. Last night I saw "Crash" for the first time. It's contribution to the dialogue of racism was, at best, on the intellectual level of a freshman undergraduate. What is powerful about the film is when humanity suddenly becomes connected. When the atrocious deeds of humans are reckoned according to the community--we ARE our brother's keeper. Apart from cultural and skin differences we are united in humanity.

Such is the case when the latino girl saves her father's life. One wonders if this is a case of deus ex machina, (or mere magical realism) but it is rather a playful irony--at this moment we understand that blanks replaced bullets in the Persain's firearm and at once both daughters are rendered angels. Similarly, Don Cheadle, while the actual guardian angel of the city and of his mother goes unrecognized by either.

I'm still trying to reconcile the symbolic meaning behind the two burning cars, nonetheless, the filmmaker at the very least employs visual symbolism.

Metaphor, symbolism, what have you, is the power behind "Sideways" as well. I would enjoy any film with Paul Giamatti, but this film becomes more than merely another thirty-something film when Miles is connected with the wine itself--a new, fresh metaphor for humans indeed. Furthermore, his old college roomate as a character is only repulsive and shallow when he is foiled with Miles--they are two sides of the same coin--like Marlow and Kurtz of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

"Thought counts."

--for those who stay up late at night leaving coffee stains on unfinished manuscripts...
(be kind as I did not make time to edit / spellcheck)

The above title references my favorite sentence by Annie Dillard. Others have noted that one could live a lifetime and not write a sentence as well as she, but I am merely noting content--not style.

Dillard's thoughts are wrapped in blankets of wisdom--evidence she has done her homework. While she may not be remembered as an academic philosophe, she should be hailed as one of the great intellects of our age. Her ideas are presented with such lucidity she makes complex concepts seem relatively simple. What is important about Dillard, however, is not her contribution, but her technique (ok, maybe that's confusing) which embraces an audience skeptical to her subject matter. This is the case especially in Living By Fiction.

Here, she argues that contemporary modernist (i. e. post-modern) fiction requires responsible readers willing to look at a work's structure, device, technique as an end in itself. She argues for more serious criticism from such readers--yet, at least her audience is an educated, curious reader familiar with her pious Emersonian philosophical works; at best it is those who have read both modernist and post-modernist works and have well-formed judgements on both. She combats the reader whose final comment on post-modernist writers is, "So what, it's still meaningless art. Where's the story? the characterization." Leaving her answers to these questions aside (which are intelligent and convincing), Living By Fiction is not so much a work of literary criticism, but an argument for the purpose, significance, and place of art itself.

Art mirrors thought (not Nature)--and literature does this better than any of the arts. This is not to create a hierarchy within the arts (which even in 1982 when Living was published was passe)--it is merely to solidify a place and purpose for a branch of the humanities that seems to have fallen into disarray as a result of the l'art pour l'art movement. The artist has turned inward, not psychologically, but into art itself--into the techniques that present data. Thus, experiencing art is experiencing and learning about how the mind creates and organizes its passions, impressions, and memories. Here, there is a place for Mondrian, Duchamp, Cezanne and the like. For those who tuned out the third section of their Humanities core class--Dillard reminds us that art begins when social criticism, psychological realism, and religious dogma ends.

In this sense, real, true artists are not those of the past where a learned technique such as portaiture, landscape, or realism, but those who have mastered new techniques. "Anyone can learn how to paint like Michelangelo with enough time," one could argue. This is not to say that random techniques are applied in post-modernist art--quite the opposite--in fact, much of modernist contemporary fiction employs complex structures that stretch the reader's intellectual membrane to new configurations.

Dillard builds up to her point that science and art are not all that dissimilar. That is, pragmatists have been arguing against the legitamacy of the arts for centuries. With science there may be, in fact, more doubt that the atom or the theoretical endless "universe" even exists. With literature, we can agree, at least that there is a text that is trying to say something and that something is usually comprehendible to those who are trained to understand.

One last comment. While I usually object to writers who try to tie in the meaning of life in to their argument about fiction or Kant or Bergman--having not the skill nor wit to pull it off--Dillard has license to do so based on the fact that all of her writing takes this turn, or perhaps her writing never ceases to contemplate this mystery. At this point in the book we know where she is going because we have been there with her. She searches for a governing principle by which we can live by that is not reductive, dogmatic, and exclusive.

...the purpose of people on earth is to counteract the tide of entropy described in the Second Law of Thermodynamics [note: she does not reduce the argument to the Bible and The Fall]. Physical things are falling apart at a terrific rate; people on the other hand, put things together....the universe as it were needs somebody or something to keep it from falling apart....Thoughts count. A completed novel in a trunk in the attic is an order added to the sum of the universe's order.

This is why we create.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The New Event, or, Am I Going Through a Mid-Life Crisis?

What if the whole lot of us Geneva alumni went back and invaded the Shoolhouse / Pearce for a weekend? It could be a spontaneous perrenial event. A commitment to the future of America: to take these young minds away from what seems to be so important: crushes on redheads, term papers, predestination, &, and show them what is truly honorable in art, literature, film, and, of course, alcohol. For the recipeints it would be a taste of, say, some real worldly wisom. It is a way to go back in time and tell yourself what you needed to hear years ago: "Put down that book, pseudo-nerd, we're going to Kathy's." Or, "Are you freaking serious with that Stephen King shit?" "And you! quit sleeping on the couch!" (Ok, those last two Roland and Nate will appreciate.)

Ok, so this is starting to sound like some bad frat boy movie where "the brothers" return for their annual weekend of "let's crap on everybody below us so we can feel powerful," but I see our escapade as more like communal responsibility with salvific overtones. It's mankind's basest religious desire to hear from, have a visitation from, the deity who is all-knowing. Among the late-night games of poker, ping-pong and flip cup there would also be education. We could write their term papers, give them the answers to the tests, and tell them what to say when Niekirk calls on them. There could also be Reunion Night at the fire pit (no undergrads invited) except this time there would be no guilt about smoking on campus. Finally, the weekend would end with us kicking the crap out of Memorial in the Pearce v. Memorial football game and celebrating with a kegger dance party at Pearce (without having to pay the 5.00 citations for dancing on campus). (Ok, so I may need to recruit some Memorial alumni to help with the football game, but that's all they're invited for, unless we can get ahold of Weimer, Ben Good, etc.)

And what of The Girls of The Dorm Whose Name I am Forgetting? well, they (Beth, Sarah, Tina, Frankie, Heather, &) would have their own events doing what girls do (What do girls do?). Of course this plan will inevitably need the help and support of Carly as well: whose expertise (and integrity) in planning Student Activities will certainly ensure its success. Jeremy, Dave, etc. could be the weekend entertainment, you get my drift.

In any case, I've run out of creative juices for the moment. Anything that I'm missing?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Latest AEddition(s)

Of course, an apology is in order for the sparse entries, but I finally landed a day job after the school I was teaching at closed suddenly because God did not drop enough funds from the sky.

God has dropped a blessing in another form, however, and the stork should be stopping by circa de April 11, 2006.

That's right, Lisa is pregnant (9 wks). Amongst other things this news is utterly humbling. One is nearly powerless in assisting in the growing process of a human child. Just as one is powerless in breathing, digestion, or making sure hair continues to grow on one's head. This reality above all else (the miracle of life and the mystery of Nature) transforms a cynical humbug into a God-fearing begger.

In other news, here is a brief list of reading that I've completed lately (at work the phones are not ringing):

D. H. Lawrence. “Democracy.” IN Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and
Other Essays

---, “On Human Destiny.”

Walter Benjamin. “The Storyteller.” In Illuminations.

---, “The Flaneur.” IN Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Vol. 4 (1938-1940) 19-39.

George Lukacs. The Lukacs Reader. 187-209. “The Ideology of Modernism.”
(Dedicated to Iris Murdoch.)

Raymond Williams. “Metropolitan Perceptions and the Emergence of
Modernism.” IN The Politics of Modernism. 37-47.

Oswald Spengler. “Introduction” to The Decline of the West. 3-40.

Clive Bell. “How to Make a Civilisation.” Civilisation.

I am ashamed to say that this was my first aquaintence with D H Lawrence, but what a find. Lawrence is perhaps one of the most sane writers I have ever read. His critique of democracy
starts with a critique of idealism in general: there are no ideals and thinking thusly is evil. (All men are created equal is his beginning point for a discussion of idealism.) What I love about Lawrence is his conscious ability to make a seeming paradox become true. For instance, he will critique a value or system of thought based on its own internal rules. He says that indeed the ideal world and universe were created out of the Logos (the ideal idea) since mankind formed this ideal himself. Just as a craftsman worships his creation after making it, so mankind has worshiped the ideal God formed out of his own consciousness. Thus what is worshipped is not the ideal but a material reality stemming from the mind of the earthly craftsman. All the while I get the sense that Lawrence is not some blaspheming anti-Christian, but that he agrees with the Judeo-Christian worldview, but is not willing to succomb to its folklike obedience to the power structure setup by those in authority.

Speaking of Marx, Williams, Benjamin, and Lukacs are brilliant and subtle critiques of society from a materialist (i.e. Marxist) point of view--if you're interested.