This is my final blog post here on Catholic Exchange. I’ve been very honored to be among this wonderful stable of bloggers the past several months. In future you can find me at danielmcinerny.com and at the Kingdom of Patria.
*SPOILER WARNING* The following post reveals plot elements of the latest Disney Pixar release, Brave.
“If you had a chance to change your fate, would you?”
Thus runs the logline of Disney Pixar’s latest release, Brave, which I saw yesterday morning–early, in a very full theater–with my kids. The film’s answer to its central question is summarized by the heroine, Merida, in the film’s closing lines, which I quote from a perhaps faulty memory:
“Your fate is inside you, if only you’re brave enough to see it.”
The thought that our fate is somehow “inside” us is the dominant truth about which today’s movies–and not just family movies–attempt to persuade us. Time and again the movies exhort us to find the happiness and sense of identity we are so desperately seeking “within.”
But what is it that we are supposed to find “within”? What is that “fate” that finally comes into view when we turn inward?
In a phrase, it is our “heart’s desire.” It is the person and the life that our heart yearns to become–that is our “fate.”
The philosopher Charles Taylor, in his book on the subject, describes the yearning for authenticity in these words:
There is a certain way of being human that is my way.…
Crisis Magazine published yesterday this thoughtful piece by Father Bryce Sibley about why Christian films are typically so bad. (I haven’t yet seen, by the way, For Greater Glory, but have higher hopes for it.)
Last Fall at the annual conference of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, I gave a talk on the same topic. Entitled “Christians and Aliens: Making Movies in a Culture of Death,” you can stream it via this page on the Center’s website (just scroll down the list of videos, mine is on the bottom row).
P.S. You’ll also find on this page videos of great talks from this conference by Father Robert Barron, Alasdair MacIntyre, and others.…
In one of the essays from her collection, Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor cites a story by Caroline Gordon (1895-1981), a Catholic convert and friend of O’Connor’s who is sadly too often neglected when the roll call of great Catholic writers from the 20th century is sounded.
Here is the relevant passage from O’Connor’s essay, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction”:
A good many people have the notion that nothing happens in modern fiction and that nothing is supposed to happen, that it is the style now to write a story in which nothing happens. Actually, I think more happens in modern fiction–with less furor on the surface–than has ever happened in fiction before. A good example of this is a story by Caroline Gordon called “Summer Dust.” It’s in a collection of her stories called The Forest of the South, which is a book that repays study.
“Summer Dust” is divided into four short sections, which don’t at first appear to have any relation between them and which are minus any narrative connection. Reading the story is at first rather like standing a foot away from an impressionistic painting, then gradually moving back until it comes into focus. When you reach the right distance, you suddenly see that a world has been created–and a world in action–and that a complete story has been told, by a wonderful kind of understatement. It has been told more by showing what happens around the story than by touching directly on the story itself.…
I’m very pleased to announce today the release of my first novel for adults, High Concepts: A Hollywood Nightmare. It’s a dark comic spin on the age-old premise of a philosopher who goes to Hollywood and overnight becomes the film industry’s hottest new writer.
Here’s the official trailer…
Donald P. Wirt, PhD, is a young, obtuse professor of philosophy who is mistakenly fired for “unprofessional and unethical conduct” at a professional ethics conference. But his luck changes when an affluent couple hires him to be a private tutor to their son, Miles, a brilliant high school junior who, rather than prepping for the SAT, spends his nights writing slasher film scripts and pitching Hollywood prodcos under the nom de théâtre, “Donnie Percival.” When one of those prodcos surprisingly requests an actual meeting in L.A., Miles fears he will lose the deal if he’s discovered to be only a pimply youth of sixteen. So in return for a share of the payout, he sends Donald in his place–in the guise of “Donnie Percival.”
Yet almost as soon as his plane lands at LAX, Donald discovers that “Donnie Percival” has a life of his own. Hardly aware of what is happening to him, he is quickly embroiled in an cutthroat world of warring producers, ferocious celebrity pets, and a former teen queen looking for a reboot as a serious actress.
As the clueless Donald becomes the hottest scribe in Hollywood, the burning question emerges: how hot can “Donnie Percival” become before Donald himself goes up in flames?…
One of the strangest examples of the degree to which ordinary life is undervalued is the example of popular literature, the vast mass of which we contentedly describe as vulgar. The boy’s novelette may be ignorant in a literary sense, which is only like saying that the modern novel is ignorant in the chemical sense, or the economic sense, or the astronomical sense; but it is not vulgar intrinsically–it is the actual center of a million flaming imaginations. –G.K. Chesterton, “In Defense of Penny Dreadfuls”
The Avengers–the blockbuster adaptation of the classic Marvel Comics series–just shattered the domestic box office record for an opening weekend, taking in over 200 million dollars (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, was the previous record holder at 169.2 million). Bringing together Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, and Black Widow, The Avengers presents a twist on the comic book movie genre by creating an ensemble piece with an entire company of superheroes, three of whom are enjoying successful solo franchises of their own. I have not yet had a chance to see the film, but before I do see it I want to join in the defense, begun yesterday by Angela Cybulski on her delightful log, Persephone Writes, of superhero comic books and the movies based on them. The genre of penny dreadfuls of which Chesterton speaks in his 1901 essay, “In Defense of Penny Dreadfuls,” is broader in scope than superhero comic books, but I have no doubt that Chesterton, that great lover of the Song of Roland, would have included superhero comics if he had known of them.…
There’s a chilling scene in P.D. James’s dystopian novel, The Children of Men–a story set in the near future in which the human race is no longer able to produce children–in which a woman is described pushing a stroller down the sidewalk. Inside the stroller, instead of a baby, is a doll.
Our culture here in the United States has not perhaps yet reached such a grotesque nadir of desperate longing. But I believe our increasing sentimentalism, not towards dolls, but towards pets and other animals is one sign that we are approaching such a darkness.
Who hasn’t, for example, received (as I have) a Christmas card with the family’s dog included in the family picture, with the dog even named as a member of the family?
Or noticed the emergence of “puppy play groups”?
Or heard of doggy “weddings”?
Or seen the bumper sticker: “I Love My GrandDogs”?
Or seen someone carrying a picture of his dog in his wallet?
Or seen this story in the March 4, 2012 USA Today about the latest craze for doggy tattoos and other kinds of cutsey-pie pet detailing.
(Let’s not even get into the soul-wringing our culture often expresses towards endangered animal species, while it often turns a blind eye toward the killing of human beings through abortion….)
You may ask: what have I got against dogs and other pets?
Not a thing. I understand, and am all for, the comfort, fun and companionship that pets provide, especially for the lonely and the elderly.…
I’ve bumped into a couple of things in the last day or so from Catholics working in the entertainment industry that have resonated with me and with things I have talked about on this blog (such as here and here).
Today, for example, Lino Rulli, host of “The Catholic Guy” on Sirius XM Radio’s The Catholic Channel, issued a podcast from his show in which he joked with his co-host, Father Rob, about Father Rob not being a real broadcaster. There was a lot of good-natured ribbing going on, but Rulli was also making a serious point. His point was that Father Rob was not a real broadcaster because, if it were not for his vocation and expertise as a priest, he would not be co-hosting a show on one of the nation’s premier radio networks.
Rulli broadened the point. The problem with Catholic and Christian radio and television, he charged, is that it is filled with folks–he excepted the broadcasters on The Catholic Channel–who are very pious and very learned, but who, if not for their theological expertise, counseling expertise, or what have you, would not be able to get a job in the industry.
The Church, Rulli declared, deserves better.
If you’re going to add a child’s bedroom to your house, he argued, who are you going to hire to put that roof over your child’s head? The best builder or the best Catholic? Ideally, you’d want the best builder also to be the best Catholic.…
For this Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, three thoughts on the meaning of work as craft…
1. Work is not meant to be worship in what Matthew B. Crawford calls the “cult of the sovereign self”; rather, work is meant to develop intellectual and practical virtue as we learn how to submit to (and be humbled by) realities outside ourselves. This is what I mean in speaking about work as craft. As Crawford expands upon the point in his marvelous book, Shop Class as Soulcraft:
The idea of agency I have tried to illustrate…is activity directed toward some end that is affirmed as good by the actor, but this affirmation is not something arbitrary and private. Rather, it flows from an apprehension of real features of the world. This may be something easy to grasp, as when a master plumber shows his apprentice that he has to vent a drain pipe a certain way so that sewage gases don’t seep up through a toilet and make a house stink. Or it may be something requiring discernment, as when a better motorcyclist than I explains, from a rider’s point of view, why it would be good to decrease the damping in the front end of the motorcycle (p. 206, emphasis added).
2. It is not only the so-called manual arts that can be considered as craft. The making of literature is also a craft, as Evelyn Waugh well understood.…
There was an interesting discussion this week over at The Personalist Project as to the lack of a sense of the Divine in The Hunger Games. Katie van Schaijik, in a perceptive review of the film, concludes thus:
This lack [of a sense of the Divine] renders the drama unreal in a rather problematic way. In truth, the “breath of the eternal” (to borrow Kierkegaard’s phrase) animates the ethical sphere, and all great human drama, real and fictional. When it’s left out, the inescapable impression is that the author is asserting–or perhaps unintentionally insinuating–something definite, namely this: the question of God need not enter the picture. It’s irrelevant.
These observations are absolutely correct insofar as we are talking about explicit reference to God. Both Suzanne Collins and the filmmakers who have adapted her novel present us with a world that worships no divinity. Yet I would like to contend that despite this failing, The Hunger Games does succeed in depicting a world in which the young, caught up in the tyrannic amusements of the Capitol, are forced to manifest their longing for goods that transcend selfish, controlling desire; and in this way, The Hunger Games–whatever the author’s explicit intentions–opens up a path, obscure and tangled though it may be, to an encounter with God.
To see more clearly what I mean, consider the following passage from Walker Percy’s essay, “Novel-Writing in an Apocalyptic Time” (from his collection of essays, Sign-posts in a Strange Land):
If the novelist’s business is, like that of all artists, to tell the truth, even when he is lying, that is, making up a story, he had better tell the truth no matter how odd it is, even if the truth is a kind of upside-downness.…
Here’s an encouraging story about the power of beauty…
On Facebook this morning I came upon a post about a visit Sir Anthony Hopkins made to Thomas Aquinas College after driving by and noticing the gorgeous exterior of the college chapel–designed by Duncan Stroik. He stopped by to visit the chapel and a friendship with the college was immediately forged.
I myself haven’t yet listened to the great actor’s colloquy with the students at TAC, available here, but I look forward to it.