Monday, October 31, 2011

Ignorance of Faith

While I am interested in and sensitive to Mr. Juan Williams's plight in having be chastised for stating an opinion that has crossed the minds of most thinking American's even as they did not allow it to become the signpost and guide for their thinking, such profound ignorance as is expressed in the passage that follows cannot be allowed to pass without comment:

from Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate
Juan Williams

Catholic leaders threaten to deny politicians the right to communion if they disagree with the church hierarchy, without acknowledging that there is a major divide on the issue of abortion among the most faithful Catholics.

There are several disturbing points in the passage most of which stem from the fact that I sincerely believe that Juan Williams thinks he understands Catholicism, the faith, and what Church Leaders are and do.

Let's start with the simplest--there is no "right" to communion.  Indeed the word implies that one is united with the body that one is sharing and partaking of.  There can be no communion, even if it is taken, if one is not united with the teachings of the body one is said to be in communion with.  Communion is, among other much more important things, a sign of unity.  If one dissents vocally and unequivocally from a fundamental teaching of the Church one simply isn't in communion with it and one should absent oneself from communion.

Second, Catholic leaders threaten nothing whatsoever.  They simply declare what has been from time immemorial the teaching of the Church.  Should you choose to dissent from these teachings in a fundamental and public matter, you have excommunicated yourself from the Church.  You have taken the step to leave.  It isn't the declaration of a Priest, Bishop, Cardinal, or even the Pope himself--it is your own declaration--no one else need say it.  And having made that statement, why on earth would you think yourself entitled to rejoin on your own terms?

Finally, teachings of a faith are not based on popular vote.  It would not matter if the entire world decided that black is white--that simply doesn't make it so.  Neither does any disagreement with Church teaching necessitate that the Church is required to change the teaching.

The saddest point of all is that Mr. Williams's ignorance expresses the ignorance of most people outside of the Church and many within.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Go Read It!

from "The Whisperer in Darkness"H. P. Lovecraft

I hope--devoutly hope--that they were the waxen products of a master artist, despite what my inmost fears tell me. Great God! That whisperer in darkness with its morbid odour and vibrations!  Sorcerer, emissary, changeling, outsider. . . that hideous repressed buzzing. . .  and all the time in that fresh, shiny cylinder on the shelf. . . poor devil. . . "prodigious surgical, biological, chemical, and mechanical skill" . . . 
For the things in the chair, perfect to the last, subtle detail of microscopic resemblance--or identity--were. . .

H. P. Lovecraft is one of the greats.  This is one of the four or five major canonical stories--but each tale has its own compelling interest.  And if only for his influence on major writers of our own day, one should take time to peruse the occasionally florid, sometimes purple prose of HPL and get a glimpse of the cosmic horrors he made his metier.

The Gates John Connolly

Our intrepid 11 year old protagonist, Samuel Johnson and his faithful dog Boswell are our guides for this spooky-funny trip to the End of the World as we know it.

Using the energy of the High-Energy Hadron Collider at CERN, some not so nice denizens of another world break through and begin to prepare to make Earth quite literally Hell on Earth.   Samuel Johnson (who brings in the Angels dancing on the head of a pin for show-and-tell), his dog, his mother, some of the feistier denizens of his village, and a few other friends are all that stands in the way of the plans of the Great Malevolence.

A fun, light-hearted, amusing (in a Dennis Adams sort of way) romp through our childhood fears and some very real evils.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

On the Strength of the Inclination to Bad

from When I am Playing with My Cat, How Do I know That She Is Not Playing with Me?
Saul Frampton
Our zeal performs wonder when it seconds our inclinations to hatred, cruelty, ambition, avarice, detraction, rebellion. But moved. . . toward goodness, benignity, moderation, unless by miracle some rare disposition prompt us to it, we stir neither hand nor foot. Our religion is intended to eradicate vices whereas it covers, nourishes, incites them.  (Quoting Montaigne)

All too true and frightening, and so how much more frightening, then, when words, spoken innocently enough and without guile or intent to deceive can be used to foment division and unrest.  Words of faith, rightly used and wrongly construed still result in the negative that Montaigne conceives here.  So our doctrine must not only be sound, but soundly worded so that there can be nothing within it that can be taken to detract from the value of another human being--nothing that can be interpreted to mean that one person is necessarily less than another--nothing that can give one profound believer cause to harm or rise up against another either literally or figuratively.

Quotation of the Day

I wanted to preserve this random Quotation that showed up on the site because, while I may not necessarily agreed with all that it entails, I think it captures a sense of mystery perfectly.  Oh, and it is lovely, absolutely lovely.

Life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.

Virginia Woolf

The Lantern--Deborah Lawrenson

First the good news--Deborah Lawrenson gives us a remarkable and well-written first novel.  I was a little afraid upon reading the first twenty or so pages that I had stumbled into another example of borgeous writing--but it was not so.  The writing is superb, beautifully balanced, well-handled.  The descriptions both germane and adding to the overall effect of the book.  It really is a delightful novel.

Ms. Lawrenson gives us a gothic in the fashion of Daphne DuMaurier (whose Rebecca is mentioned by name, and who is further honored by the name of our hero's first wife--Rachel).  We have a house in Provence that may be haunted, a romance doomed by an impassioned first marriage and divorce, perhaps a few ghosts--although it takes a long while for this element to be resolved, a nosy neighbor constantly issuing cryptic warnings, and a serial killer in southern France.  At least these are the elements on the surface.  They are brought together into a confection that makes for delightful hallowe'en season reading, even if the chills are few and some of the elements perhaps a little overworked.

And in that we come to the main weakness of the novel, a weakness that should not come as any surprise given that it is a FIRST novel that we are perusing.  The story elements just don't quite jell.  They try to, they obviously want to, but Ms. Lawrenson has taken nearly every element of the gothic and attempts to juggle them all in a remarkable instance of literary prestidigitation.  But a few of the balls do seem to either disappear in the air or drop to the floor.  For example the whole plot seems to reflect Rebecca with a handful of Suspicion thrown in.  Were I casting the film, Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine would be obvious candidates for the denouement.  Additionally, the first wife story and her researches and the serial killer--well, let's just say that it is like trying to add fresh pineapple to your jello salad.

But you know what--it just doesn't matter.  The writing is pitch perfect, beautifully done, and I'm convinced that Ms. Lawrenson is a writer to watch--perhaps the next Daphne DuMaurier or Mary Stewart--whose jewel-like phrasing and exotic locales this writing more resembles.  I heartily recommend this novel to all who are looking to have a good, enjoyable, relatively undemanding read, and I look forward to Ms. Lawrenson's next book.  May it arrive soon--I can't wait to see how much tighter and more controlled it will be.  Ms. Lawrenson is a writer to read now and to watch in the future.


Monday, October 24, 2011

On Homosexuality (Incidentally)

One issue I never tire of tiring of is the question of homosexuality whenever a relationship, of whatever sort, occurs between two men.  The latest example to tweak me in this way is from a very fine (so far) study of Montaigne--the second in as many years.

from When I Am Playing With My Cat, How Do I Know That She Is Not Playing With Me: Montainge and Being in Touch With Life
Saul Frampton

     Montaigne's letter is clearly a moving testament to his friend. But the question that inevitably raises itself is to what extent was there more than friendship at stake--that is to say, was it a platonic relationship or a romantic one?
     The idea that the two men's relationship was a homosexual one is by no means implausible, but neither is it necessarily the case: Montaigne later adds to his essay a reference to: 'that other Greek licence . . . justly abhorred by our conscience', meaning homosexuality, a crime one of his schoolmasters, Marc-Antoine Muret, was accused of, for which he was forced to flee France. And Montaigne talks about friends as holding everything common: 'wills, thought, opinions, possessions, wives, children, honour, and life'. So his conception of friendship was not necessarily inimical to marriage, and La Boétie was married at the time that they were friends (although, of course, this in itself doesn't rule out a relationship between them, even an unconsummated one.)
     But what we modern readers perhaps fail to recognize in the intensity of Montaigne's friendship with La Boétie  is the influence of classical ideas of friendship, which descended from Aristotle and Cicero which saw friendship as a relationship of distinct significance--in the words of Aristotle, the existence of 'one soul in two bodies'.

What the heck is "an unconsummated" homosexual relationship?  This sounds to me like any friendship between two men--any form of admiration, any form of fondness other than perhaps familial.  It so dilutes the meaning of the word as presently employed as to make it meaningless.  An unconsummated homosexual relationship has no real meaning.

And why must every relationship come under this scrutiny?  Have we swung so far into the realm of gender studies that every friendship between two persons of the same sex is a homosexual relationship?  It is true enough so far as the etymology of the word is concerned--but does it tell us anything of vital importance about the relationship?  Or does it rather charge everything with a sexual undercurrent that may or may not be present?  If so, what service does it give to the topic at hand?  How does it lead to deeper understanding?

The friendship between men, in particular, is already burdened enough with societal debris and idiotic rules of comportment--we need not add to it the extra burden of having "unconsummated homosexual romances" to shadow it.  Is it not possible to have 'one soul in two bodies' without necessarily bringing those two bodies together to become one in themselves?  If not, then friendship has no real meaning or integrity--friendship becomes merely a pale shadow of a homosexual romance--a tepid, feeble, unrequited bit of foolish schoolgirl (or schoolboy) nonsense.

Would that scholarship would focus on what is evident before them, rather than rooting around in the closet to support one or other agendas. Every friendship isn't fodder for the gender mill--even close friendships are not necessarily subject to this form of scrutiny.  Or if so, the scrutiny will reveal little more than what is already known--people have relationships with each other that does not necessarily result in sexual activity--even intense, deep, passionate relationships that still amount to enduring friendships.  How does focusing on the fact that it is between the same sex really shed light on the relationship?  Where it does, and where that is evident and reflected in the text at hand--it is certainly germane to talk about--otherwise it is arrant nonsense.

(Please note--I do not intend to criticize this author, who, after all, is merely addressing the scholarship that he is aware of--but perhaps those scholars should look for more interesting, more fruitful ground for speculation.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Aftertime--Sophie Littlefield

Aftertime is an interesting, powerful, and confusing book.  It is published by Luna Press which is a division of Harlequin Romances and this occasionally shows, though not to the detriment of the work overall.  Aftertime is an apocalypse-quasi-zombie novel.  Note, I have deliberately avoided saying a Zombie Apocalypse novel because in fact, that is the innovation Ms. Littlefield has introduced.  The plague of horrific zombie-like creatures is a result of the actions that bring about the apocalypse in the novel.  To say more would be to detract from some of the more interesting revelations along the way.

Ms. Littlefield has served up several variations on the typical zombie novel. The creatures in this book, called beaters, are, in fact, not dead.  They are victims of a fever induced by. . . well, that would be telling.  They retain human characteristics but have acquired a taste for human flesh. Because of the effects of the fever, they are largely helpless at night, but powerful and frightening predators during the day.

Our heroine, Cass, has been subject to an attack by these creatures, remembering at first very little of it.  We learn more about Cass as we go along, but suffice to say that her principle quest is to find her little daughter who was with her on the day of the attack and seems to have survived.  Cass takes up with a character named Smoke and they go on a journey through the devastated country--the most difficult part of which is making it through the two or so miles that lay between the school in which one groups of survivors live and the library in which a group led by Rebuilders lives.

The Rebuilders are, of course, their own brand of badness, but from one of them Cass comes to know that her daughter is alive and has been taken to live at the Convent.  Now the journey continues to seek out the convent.

The story is filled with action, some Zombie-related stuff--although I have to say overall, these creatures are in many ways worse that the Zombie norm.  They have some human understanding still and require that their victims remain alive during consumption.

Perhaps my one complaint about the book are the two more-or-less gratuitous sex scenes between Cass and Smoke, providing substantiation, I suppose, for their growing romance.  While not necessarily forced, they are both explicit and not particularly compelling in comparison to the surrounding writing.  But then, I need to remember, I'm probably not the target audience for this work.

Which leads one to wonder who, precisely, is the target audience.  Women who want hot romance don't usually seem to want it mixed in with zombies and zombies seem to be the very antithesis of romance entirely.

It little matters--the reader inclined to these tales of apocalypse and zombie doings could do far worse than Ms. Littlefield's opus, which is both well written and well constructed.  There is obviously room left at the end to continue the series and I have already seen the next book Rebirth on the shelves.

Recommended to ZA fans and those curious about SF/Paranormal Romance.  ****

Friday, October 7, 2011


The most merciful thing in the world, I think is the inability of the human mind to correlate all of its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.

H. P. Lovecraft--the open of "The Call of Cthulhu"

On the Road--Jack Kerouac

I have long avoided On the Road--for a variety of reasons.  For one, there is Truman Capote's famous gloss, "That's not writing, that's typing."  Second, there has been entirely too much said and written about the work so that it is nearly impossible to read without all of the baggage.  And third, the several times I tried it, I simply wasn't hooked, I found it overwritten and simplistic.

Now I've attempted the work and I have to say that there is the phantom of my third reason lingering in my head.  The prose is hopped up, perfervid, and overdosed.  There are entire passage in which it is nearly impossible to make out what Kerouac is trying to convey--and I get the suspicion if I could make it out, I probably wouldn't care for it any more than I do the surrounding prose I comprehend.

On the Road is a nightmare of a book--four interminable trips with people who don't know what they want, don't know how to get it, and don't know where to look for it, so they try looking everywhere.  In the course of criss-crossing the country, Kerouac and team leave devastation in their wake--destroyed cars, destroyed homes, destroyed lives.  All in search of some salvation that seems, for Kerouac, to come out of the end of the horn, and through benzedrine, the effects of which are prominently displayed in the writing here.

There are moments of poetry, quiet, and beauty.  There are moments of great prose and insight.  But frankly, it just isn't worth sifting through the tons of overwrought prose to find them.

The work is a milestone in literature--it might be worth reading for that alone.  It was the bible of those who caused a sea-change in American culture--both for better and for worse--so it may be worthwhile to understand one of the mainstays of that group.  However, as a standalone work of literature--as a piece of rewarding reading in itself, I would probably say that it is very much a matter of one's taste--I could see some people really, really enjoying this.  I will say that despite what I found lacking in it, I did not have difficulty finishing the work--it just isn't much to my liking.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Can You Forgive Her?--Anthony Trollope

Can You Forgive Her? is the first novel in the "Pallisers" series.  I'm not certain whether this series of novels was ever known in Trollope's time under this name; however, ever since the BBC production of the entire series, they have become known as such to us.  The Pallisers is a series of six novels that center around Platagenet and Glencora Palliser--although in this novel the couple is hardly at center stage.  Or, if at center stage they share it prominently with one other trio and are shadowed by yet a third trio.

Indeed the novel is a novel of twos and threes.  There are three groups of three people--Glencora, Plantagenet, and Burgo Fitzgerald; Alice Vavasor, her cousin George Vavasor, and John Grey; and Mrs. Greenow (an Aunt to Alice Vavsor), Captain Bellfield, and Mr. Cheesacre.  The first two listed are the centerpieces of the novel, the last trio is present largely for broad comic relief--the poor Widow Greenow besieged by suitors on all sides while still in weeds.  (In thinking about Widow Greenow, one imagines the type of operatic soprano who might play Brunhilda--not one might consider retiring and helpless.)  It is interesting to note that in the televised series, this element of the novel is left out entirely.

So now a moment with the other two groups.  They are built to be almost perfectly in balance.  As the novel begins Lady Glencora is forced into a marriage with Platagenet Palliser even though she is impassioned about Burgo Fitzgerald.  Also at the beginning Alice Vavasor is embroiled in an engagement (one likely to be of considerable duration) with John Grey (who is made out by Alice to be a near-perfect avatar of his name).  This is after a lengthy relationship with her cousin George Vavasor, broken off for reasons that are never made explicit.

It is the troubles, turmoils, and trials of these two couples that are balanced and reflect off of each other.  Alice is free to choose, Glencora is--after a fashion--if she wants to assume the mantle of a woman who has disgraced herself for love.  But it is this essential dilemma that is being explored in the course of the book--how one makes a choice and whether one who really has no choice can be reconciled to that decision.  To say more about this point would likely give away too much of the story.

Another interesting theme in the novel is introduced by the title: Can You Forgive Her?  There are quite a few "hers" in the novel in need of forgiveness.  Indeed, there are probably more "hims" in need of forgiveness than "hers."  And what we see consistently throughout the novel is that those who are able to forgive often have a better time of things than those who hold on to their grievances.  One can contrast George Vavasor with Alice Vavsor as one example--but there are a great many throughout the book.  If one contrasts Mr. Cheesacre with either George Vavasor or Burgo Fitzgerald, the end result is instructive.

This is a massive novel, stuffed with people, events, ideas, themes, and concerns.  It is easy to read (as Victorian novels go) but consumes a huge amount of time if read properly.  This is a novel for a leisurely, careful read.  It rewards the person who commits the time and energy to pursue it to its richly satisfying conclusion.


Gideon's Sword--Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

First of a new series featuring a new hero Gideon Crew.  As such, is a guaranteed fast and amusing reading.  It is also guaranteed to be notoriously sloppy when authors want to get around certain inconvenient problems---like people revealing secret information.  Crew manages in nearly every case to draw out secrets that no sane or awake person would ever tell.  The plot and action here as usual--fast paced, the reading light.  The story--the barest traces of one, whisked away from one's memory almost upon turning the last page.  Not that that is a problem--these books are not meant to be immortal, they are meant to help one pass a few pleasant hours, and this indeed allowed for that.


Pay Me in Flesh K. Bennett

You've heard of bloodsucking lawyers--well, welcome to their ranks the living dead.  Only the heroine of our particular tale is an interesting hybrid--she combines the raised from the dead Haitian Voodoo Zombie with the lover of cranial contents so much enshrined in modern cinema.  Her task--to defend a recently-made vampire against charges for a crime that the lawyer knows the vampire didn't commit.  How does she know?  Well, that would be telling wouldn't it.

Very light fare, but some fun for those into courtroom drama and zombies.