Crime or the Noose

The title bears no substantial connection to this submission except that this paraphrased snippet has been taken from the portion of Sade’s Justine set in the epigraph of Durrell’s Justine.

Justine is the first novel in British writer Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. T. S. Eliot spoke very highly of Durrell, so that is the only argument I need–or that you should need–to read his work.

Two passages early on in the novel have arrested me: “Our common actions in reality are simply the sackcloth covering which hides the cloth-of-gold–the meaning of the pattern. For us artists there waits the joyous compromise through art with all that wounded or defeated us in daily life; in this way, not to evade destiny, as the ordinary people try to do, but to fulfil it in its true potential–the imagination.”

How perfectly fitting. Life is a sackcloth covering that hides the cloth-of-gold whose pattern can only be appreciated upon reflection–a transformation of experience into art. Far be it from a still somewhat sober me to claim that anything I write can be called “art,” but this is why I write: I fumble and bumble through my daily life, and only upon rhetorical reflection am I able to detect the graceful patterns that are hidden in my clodhopping ways or the barbarous ways of life.

Next: “Like all egoists I cannot bear to live alone….”

Yes, despite my not conceiving of too many people in my state possessing a more interesting personal library than I do, I still persist in leaving my study to socialize. (Namely, I have not found a way to get cute cocktail waitresses to work in my library, paying them only in witticisms.) For that matter, why blog when I could spend the time more profitably reading? I am an egoist. This reminds me of something that Walker Percy said (and I paraphrase): writers are egoists by nature because they believe that they have something worthwhile to say.

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No Retrieval

While I am working another post regarding the miserable state of educators (translation: I started on something else, but my inveterate laziness, perfectionism, and consumption of *copious* amounts of alcohol have prevented its completion), allow me to distract in the Internet interim. We all know that life is nearly unbearably tedious, so we construct charts by which to navigate through the despair and the boredom.  My current mental masturbation in my ivory tower–at least the windows are covered–consists of my delving into cosmically pessimistic, nihilist, and antinatalist literature. Fundamentally–I think, I do not agree with these positions. Still, in order to say why I will not grant my non serviam to these positions, I feel compelled to investigate them profoundly.

This leads me to one of the most philosophically vivacious writers today, John Gray. Punchy and unsettling, he is what Nassim Taleb would be if Taleb did not have his Orthodox faith to keep him anchored from the metaphysical abyss. In Gray’s Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, he writes: “We cannot believe as we please; our beliefs are traces left by our unchosen lives. A view of the world is not something that can be conjured up as and when we please. Once gone, traditional ways of life cannot be retrieved.” Traditional ways of life cannot be retrieved. How true. I grew up in a religious community that still, for example, took seriously the idea of courting (if not arranged marriages) as opposed to dating, young earth theory, military hirsute men’s styles, and mawkishly religious music to, well, all other kinds of music. Looking back, though not bitter, I cannot help but think how quaint and precious such an upbringing truly was. This is not to dismiss the underlying wisdom of such positions; no, rather,  I dismiss perspectives that do not realize that once good times have passed, they have passed.

I think about this, especially, in connection with my association with traditional Catholicism in which certain proponents (by no means the norm) argue, just to give one a glimpse,  for geocentricism, neither pants nor college education for women, not spending time alone–under the pain of mortal sin–with opposite sex without a chaperone, and avoiding all rock ‘n’ roll because of its voodoo rhythms.  Such time-thwarters belong to more traditional forms than cannot be conjured back into existence, fears of erratically-arranged mortal sins notwithstanding.

I get it. For example, while still an earnest Protestant, I somberly approached my philosophy professor, a very devout Presbyterian who introduced me to St. Thomas Aquinas and, subsequently, Catholic corruption,  and told him that I think that geocentricism must be correct because of the destructive philosophical revolution that followed in the wake of heliocentricism. (*Preening*: I did this all years before Robert Sungenis would release his subtle manifesto, Galileo Was Wrong.)

However, as it is now, we are all postmodern (non)believers. We make exceptions to The Grand Narrative when it suits us; we treat the supposed traditions of our supposed elders as apps that we can gleefully choose and discard in order to accessorize the phone that is our belief network. Can you hear me now?

 

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Odes to Catholicism

Though I have not been the most faithful/practicing Catholic this past year, I doubt that I will ever be able *not* to view the world through a Catholic lens. (You can purchase that spiritually advantageous optic tool at AmazonPenanceontheFewnessoftheSavedStLiguoriStLeonard.com.)  Thus, anything I write, I write with the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart hovering longingly and lovingly over me. Whether I still pray it or not, the royal Rosary call still rings in my ears like the clarion Catholic call that it is: urgent and melancholy and forthright, but surprisingly comforting and satisfying. If you have never prayed it, try it. Come on–try it.

I would rather go atheist (as much as I despise the atheist-Dawkins-Hitchens-circle-jerk-arrogance) than go Protestant again. Protestants function as the denominational version of Internet trolls. Yes, you kingdom of God bitches, I said that: they are satire and sarcasm, but no substance. In other words, they are only reactionary, and they possess nothing that will allow them to establish a lingering plan–a culture, a civilization. Protestantism (Inc.) does not require much of its followers: no days of obligation, no mandatory yearly confession, no mandatory yearly fasting, etc. For example, what sacrifice is there in becoming a Protestant minister if one can still marry (and have sexy sextytime sex), raise children, and drive BMWs (e.g., black preachers)? Fucking none. AmIright? You know it. High five.

What’s happenin’? …Several years ago, the lead singer of the Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan (Dolores=pains–what a Catholic name 😉 ), caused quite a stink because she actually opposed, in Rolling Stone of all places,  the murder of babies in the womb. Their video, “Ode to My Family,” is a musical catechism. The pubs are family affairs (as opposed to being the provenance of the drunken young), the children are plentiful and dirty, and the old men are nostalgic and tipsy. Catholic paradise if you ask me.

(All I am saying is that if I ever get my life in order, I am having as many children as I can to recommend to the the priesthood and nunnery.  They will be fucking vicious servants of the Lord. [Cuck Catholics wept.])

Ask me. Watch this video:

(Edited to add: spelling corrections. Ha, this is what y’all get when I drunkenly post.)

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Where There’s a Way, There’s a Will

In the January 2017 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture (the best damn written and thought-provoking monthly magazine one will find between the Pacific and the Atlantic), editor Chilton Williamson, Jr. writes, “My own opinion is that what turned this election year inside out, the greatest single contributor to the chaotic political atmosphere, are digital media, from the largest and most expensive systems down to the individual iPhones carried by an estimated 94 million Americans, or one quarter of the population” (6). The gist of the particular editorial blurb from which that quotation has been taken is not political but sociological: technology fuels our incessant but vapid desire to communicate, not the converse of that statement. In this case, it may very well have determined an election. (Key voter: the meme.)

Mr. Williamson refers to the thought of the Southern Agrarians, and, by implication, their bucky magisterial work I’ll Take My Stand, in which they rail against the overriding preoccupation with means without any regard to ends. In tracing  in order to critique the philosophy of progress, Lyle H. Lanier writes in my 1962 edition, “The industrial technology is an important agency through which these desiderata [metaphysical rendering of communism] could be realized, for it facilitates commerce and exchange of ideas; it breaks down feudal intellectual barriers, class distinctions and traditions” (emphasis his, 138). One need not go the whole socially-stratified hog with Mr. Lanier to admit that technology, primarily Internet-oriented technology, has facilitated the exchange of ideas among peoples of different classes and abilities and stations in life to a degree unprecedented. Given that anybody can communicate, everybody, it would seem, does communicate whether or not he/she has something worthwhile to say. Granted, people, being the chatty things that they are, have never let a lack of content stand in the way of a statement or conversation. In fact, among the most charming conversations one can have are those that are truly about nothing, understanding, as Mr. O’Connor would remind us, that there is often mystery behind the manners. (Let the reader be made to understand.) However, what we now have is a truly universal mechanism (Can one properly call the Internet a “mechanism”?) through which to broadcast our opinions, and now that we can, we must have opinions about any and every matter and event that comes across our TV, computer, and *smart* phone screens.

I am fully aware of the irony of an occasional blogger fustigating the Internet. This reminds me of one of Walker Percy’s essays in which he scathingly writes (as if he wrote any other way) about the counter-revolutionary who will rail against modernity, yet be the first one to make use of penicillin if his well being requires it. Still, just because I have to use a car does not mean that I cannot criticize a frenetic and destructive way of life that is centered upon cars, not people. I also am reminded of something that another Southern Agrarian Allen Tate once wrote. In a collection of his work entitled Essays of Four Decades, he writes,  “Communication that is not also communion is incomplete. We use communication; we participate in communion” (emphasis his, 9). Technology has multiplied the means by which we can communicate, and we take full advantage of this. Perhaps, ultimately, for the better. Yet, mere communication will not satisfy any more than satire or dank memes do. What we truly desire is communion with one another and with something greater than ourselves, a communion that nourishes and inspires–not a communication that only amuses us to death.

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Exhibitionist Exercise

Intrigued by the title, I recently purchased Mark Greif’s Against Everything–a collection of contrarian essays. In his first essay, “Against Exercise,” he makes the case that the rise in gym rats bears a negative correlation to the decrease of civic activity. He lays down the following premise, which strikes me as sound:

A hidden sphere, free from scrutiny, makes the foundation for a public person–someone sure enough in his privacy to take the drastic risks of public life, to think, to speak against the others’ wills, to choose with utter independence. In privacy, alone with one’s family, the dominating necessity and speechless appetites can be gratified in the nonthought and ache of staying alive.

In order for a person to prepare for the inevitable opposition that he will face in the public arena, regardless of what stance he takes, he needs a true safe space in which he can broadcast his fears, hopes, beliefs, dreams, disappointments, etc. without the fear of media-like scrutiny and critique.  The understanding, as in the ancient Greek understanding, of citizenship is that we will, after sufficient domestic refreshment, fulfill our civic duties and suffer what we must in order to participate properly in the public sphere. However, given the growing trend of disassociation and given the shrinking levels of social trust, we are more likely to turn inward and antisocial. (This essay was published in 2004, before the smart phone virus and all its related social oblivion-creating effects reached the epidemic level. Reading it now is comparable to returning to watch the first episode of The Walking Dead, knowing where it leads.)   

Where does gym membership then come into play? Greif makes the following connection:

[T]he true payoff of a society that chooses to make private freedoms and private leisures its main substance has been much more unexpected. This payoff is a set of forms of bodily self-regulation that drag the last vestiges of biological life into the light as a social attraction.

Whereas before men like Cicero took bold public stands and gave thrilling speeches that would be the imaginative fodder for young Southern men hundreds of years later, we, not able to muster up either the will or the eloquence of someone like Cicero, do what we can: publicly display primal biological functions. As a result, “[a]ction in public before strangers and acquaintances loses its center of gravity in the lived experience of the citizen and is replaced by the activity of exercise in public, as speech gives way to biological spectacle.” We are no longer citizens concerned for the civic body; rather, we are individuals who care for our own physical bodies–yet still yearn for the importance that only a public acknowledgement can confer upon an action.

As someone who had been able to resist gym membership until about a year ago, I find this essay engaging and thought-provoking, but not totally convincing. While I signed up initially because a membership would give me access to heavy weights and jiu-jitsu and combat knife classes, I have noticed–and so have others!–since then very pleasing changes to my body and will continue my membership for, if for no other reason, vanity purposes. Though I am no longer as civic-minded as I once was, I do not think that any lingering desire to return to a fuller participation in my community played a significant role in my acquiring a gym membership, nor can I say that my sweating in front of the same core twenty to thirty dudes acts as a surrogate for more meaningful public interaction. Perhaps, though, that is because I have experienced, through church, different groups, and even my job as a teacher, what robust community involvement requires and feels like; I know that publically-displayed squats or deadlifts cannot compete–or substitute. However, for those who have never truly tested themselves in the public square, perhaps pumping iron may serve as the only way they can test their mettle.

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The Setting Beliefs

In Japan’s chronically suicidal (and, in 1948, eventually successful) Osamu Dazai’s slowly-burning melancholic The Setting Sun, aristocrat-in-spite-of-himself, Naoji, tells his sister, Kazuko, that they are “[v]ictims of a transitional morality.” However, given the circumstances that have led to their victimhood, he can confidently confess that “[i]n this present world, the most beautiful thing is a victim.”  Set in early postwar Japan, these siblings, along with their mother, struggle to come to terms with the ideologically-violent social transition that has left few options for impecunious aristocrats other than to engage in perceived plebeian debauchery or to resign oneself to a dignifying death.

Ever since I finished this novel a few weeks ago while sitting on my back porch listening to a summer rainstorm [That particular detail seems pertinent for reasons only inchoately known to me], I have had the elegant spectres of these characters haunting my mental hallways, attic, and basement. As enduring literature resists containment to both time and space, ghosts of literary merit tend to wander freely across regional and periodic boundaries as well. Though the majority of William Alexander Percy’s life was spent in the Mississippi Delta, his influence, much like Will Percy himself when he was a young man, has traveled far beyond  “The Most Southern Place on Earth.”

In the introduction to Will Percy’s Lanterns on the Levee (though non-fictional, unlike The Setting Sun, like it one reads about the melancholic displacement of those caught in a time of transitional morality), his nephew and writer, Walker Percy, contrasts his uncle’s adopted Stoic vision to the Catholic one that Will left behind as a child but one that Walker would adopt later in life as an adult.  In describing this contrast, Walker writes:

While granting the prescience of much of Lanterns on the Levee’s pessimism, we must, I think guard against a certain seductiveness which always attends the heralding of apocalypse, and we must not overlook some far less dramatic but perhaps equally significant counterforces. Yes, Will Percy’s indictment of modern life has seemed to be confirmed by the holocaust of the 1940s and by American political and social morality in the 1970s. But what would he make of some very homely, yet surely unprecedented social gains which have come to pass during the same terrible times? To give the plainest examples: that for the first time in history a poor boy, black or white, has a chance to get an education, become what he wants to become, doctor, lawyer, even read Lanterns on the Levee and write poetry of his own, and that not a few young men, black and white, have done just that? Also, that for the first time in history a working man earns a living wage and can support his family in dignity. How do these solid social gains square with pronouncements of decline and fall?  

Walker wrote his introduction in 1973. Will’s work was first published in 1941. All any of us can do, based upon some degree of historical knowledge and a fundamental understanding of human nature and a willingness to call life as we see it, is chart where things currently stand and make predictions to the best of our abilities. Most of us probably will not have the luxury to see our predictions vindicated–or the opportunity for mortification if they should fall short of the reification mark. I suppose that it is for the best either way. [I must say, though, back in 2005 when I was working in the kitchen of Red Lobster–What else does one do with a master’s in philosophy? –I was raving about the coming dissipation of the US based upon a loss of social cohesion, idiotic military adventures in the Middle East, and a burgeoning astronomical deficit. Gee–who is now very likely to be elected on that platform? Petty as it now may seem, I will gladly take all those “You’re unpatriotic–don’t you believe in America?!” comments in regard to my opposition to the US’s immoral and delusional warmongering in the Middle East and gleefully say that I told you so. Well, gleefully if we were not talking about the destruction of Christianity in the Middle East and the non-refugee immigrant/terrorist/rapist invasion of Europe–along with its attendant displacement of native white populations and local cultures. //Rant finished//] However, based upon what I think I know and what I think I see, Will’s measured pessimism seems more vindicated than Walker’s cautious optimism. In other words, decline and fall. Yes, civil rights have come a long way since the 40s. However, what do we see now in the US? A racial utopia characterized not only by a rainbow-colored playing field of equal opportunity but also by a leveling of achievement among the harmoniously-living races? Like one of those gleefully post-racial  BBQ pictures in a JC Penney’s Memorial Day Sales catalog? How about the knockout game and an incipient race war. Yes, women now, despite the persistent myth to the contrary, make as much as men and can support themselves and their families. The result? Women, by and large, are just as unhappy as their wage-slave male counterparts, and the largely-manufactured tension between the sexes only seems to have reached an all-time high. Granted, I suppose that in theory climbing the economic ladder is still possible in the US, but according to this wage calculator from MIT, if a man in Mississippi (a state-by most reckonings, I would presume–in which it is not very expensive to live and my home state as well) wanted his wife to stay home with their, let us say, three children, he would need to make at least $25.32 an hour. How many people do you know anywhere who are making this?  In particular, what jobs in Mississippi–and how many of them–give workers hope that they, if they can keep their noses to the grindstone, can and will achieve this wage? Also, in the meantime, what about that wife and three children? Furthermore, most of us have yet to begin considering what is going to happen to most people–skilled and unskilled–as automation begins to replace them. Oh, but you should, dear reader, you should.

I suppose that I can go on, but if I make a habit of always composing long blog entries, then I will be even less inclined than I currently am to post regularly. I wish that I could honestly say that I still had–at least in any significant way–the Christian virtue of hope concerning our species and where we are headed. I do not. Let us say that my morality is currently in transition. While I do not think that it would be entirely accurate to say that I have abandoned the Faith, my Christian beliefs have begun to wane, and I am finding more solace than I ever thought that I would in Stoic bullheadedness. Decline and fall. Yes, the sun is setting, but there is still much that can be done before the coming darkness. Why? Perhaps is there is no truly satisfying answer–some will, some will not. Yet, in a world that seems to be increasingly populated by those who will not, those who still will seem to coming to their own personal Naoji’s dilemma.

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This Is It, Right?

Having been raised the way I was, I often find myself thinking that something has value only if it has an obvious eternal correlation, yet perhaps a moment has supreme significance simply because of its fleeting temporality.

I am led to think of this song from the greatest TV show: Northern Exposure. (What other show will you ever, for example, see an argument between a Lutheran lay person [consubstantiation] and a Catholic priest [transubstantiation] while arm wrestling? Nowhere.) Anyway, this was the series finale closing song; it captures everything:

 

 

 

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