I’m looking forward to visiting Mercer University in Macon, Georgia this week to talk about Aquinas in one of their Great Books seminars as well as to give a presentation entitled, “Aristotle Goes Hollywood: Seeking the Truth in Popular Cinema.” I’m a guest of Mercer’s Center for the Study of America’s Western Foundations.
The presentation is this coming Tuesday evening, April 17, at 7:00 p.m. in Mercer’s Medical School Auditorium.
If you’re in the area I’d love to see you there!…
The title of this post is the same as the title of emails I’ve received from time to time encouraging me to come see a new independent movie that speaks to the values of pro-lifers.
In a post last month I criticized the artistic merit of the latest of such films, the Erwin Brothers’ October Baby. Steven Greydanus, film critic for the National Catholic Register, found more artistic merit in the film than I did, but was still fairly critical of it. In the comments to his critique, Steven addressed the concerns of one writer who found the film very moving. “Maybe my standards for watching a movie are low,” said this writer, “but I’m not necessarily looking for the best cinematic and scripted movie, but a movie with a story that moves and inspires me.” In reply Steven wrote:
I understand that many people aren’t necessarily looking for the best cinematic or scripted movie, and that’s okay, to a point. At the same time, if you look at Church teaching on film, the Church considers it important to seek out and recognize films for their technical excellence (see Inter Mirifica) and cultural achievement (see Communio et Progressio).
I agree with Steven that all art made by Christians, not just film, has to aim higher than simply pleasing those who already share our views. It has to manifest technical excellence and achieve a high level of cultural attainment.…
This week something momentous occurred in the world of book publishing.
J.K. Rowling, renowned author of the Harry Potter series, finally released the seven Potter books for sale as ebooks.
For those who follow neither Rowling’s work nor the publishing industry, this will seem an anticlimactic bit of news. Haven’t the Harry Potter books been available as ebooks for years?
Actually, no. Rowling very wisely retained the electronic rights to her books, biding her time until the release of her own Pottermore website, where the books are now available on an exclusive basis. (The interactive dimension of Pottermore is scheduled, after a long delay, to go live in April, but the Pottermore bookstore is now open for business.)
So while you will see advertisement for the Potter books if you go to Amazon.com, Amazon will simply link you to the Pottermore bookstore to make your purchase. Amazon gets some sort of cut in making it possible for you to download the book onto your Kindle.
Rowling has made similar arrangements with Barnes & Noble, Apple, and with Sony, so that you can read the Potter books on the e-readers made by these companies as well. Amazingly, once you purchase the ebook, you can read it on any e-reader you like (an unprecedented development).
Why is all this important?
Rowling’s ebook strategy has placed a massive new force behind changes which have been accelerating in pace for the past couple of years.…
Congratulations to the EWTN Radio Network on its 20th anniversary!
Like many, I enjoy syndicated programs from EWTN and other Catholic radio stations such as Ave Maria Radio–especially when I’m out running errands. These stations do an excellent job of providing quality programming related to catechetics, apologetics, family life, spirituality, and politics. Congratulations to all in this industry on a work well done.
Yet I would like to register a plea.
A plea addressed not only to EWTN, but to all involved in the Catholic radio industry.
It is essential, of course, for those responsible for Catholic radio programming to focus on the kinds of programs I mentioned above. But I also find myself wishing for some greater variety. Why can’t there be some entertainment programming on Catholic radio?
Take a look at the website for BBC Radio 4. Go to the menu of program categories and click on “Arts,” “Comedy,” “Drama,” “Music.” You’ll find shows featuring, among many other things, long and short-form radio drama, serialized book readings, short stories, sketch comedy, arts programs, music reviews, panel games, poetry readings. It’s a rich feast. Why can’t Catholic radio offer entertainment and cultural programming of this sort?
Because our mission is to evangelize culture–I suppose the main objection will be. And that’s absolutely appropriate. But isn’t there more than one way to a person’s mind and heart? God bless Al Kresta, for example, for so very clearly and ably walking his audience through the tyrannical escapades of the Obama administration’s HHS mandate.…
As I walked in and out of the screening of October Baby I attended last evening, young people were already queuing up for the midnight opening show of The Hunger Games. There is an enormous cultural chasm, I would imagine, between those devotees of The Hunger Games and the Christian pro-life world of those of us who attended October Baby. The regret I felt as I stepped over the Hunger Games audience toward my car at the end of the evening is that October Baby as a film is not designed to be very effective in bridging that chasm.
I stress, as a film. October Baby has a beautiful message. 19 year-old Hannah (played by Rachel Hendrix), discovers that she is the survivor of a botched abortion, a discovery that sends her on a quest for her birth mother. Along the way, she comes to a deeper understanding of her own and of each and every human life, and of the need to extend forgiveness to those whose poor decisions have hurt her.
The problem is that this message is couched within a meandering narrative with little real conflict, full of excessive, on-the-nose dialogue, and an annoying penchant for cranking up the songs with the oh-so-meaningful lyrics whenever the director wants to make sure (which is constantly) that we don’t miss his emotional point.
Little real conflict, I say? What about Hannah’s conflict with her parents when she discovers that they haven’t told her about her birth origin?…
WARNING: In this post I am going to be critical of Bruce Springsteen. Those still wishing to speak to me at the end of it can do so via the comment box or the email on the bottom right of this page.
The South By Southwest Conference, better known as SXSW, is the enormously popular music, film, and interactive showcase that takes place each March in Austin, Texas. The keynote speaker at this year’s conference, which ended a few days ago, was pop music icon Bruce Springsteen. In his 50-minute address, Springsteen affirms the dizzying diversity of today’s pop music scene, as well as provides an account of his own musical influences. But along the way, he offers some more philosophical musings about the nature of pop music culture.
It is a strange sight to see Bruce Springsteen at a podium in a hotel conference room reading, like a professor, from prepared remarks. (He also plays some guitar and sings from the podium, but college professors have been known to do that too.) It is also a little strange to hear this now 62 year-old man, and father of three, talking in a stream of f-bombs, while also treating his audience to ribald descriptions of the sexual component of the rock ‘n roll culture of his youth.
Stranger still is the moment, at about the 10-minute mark of the speech, when Springsteen begins to lecture about the culture.…
At Mass this morning for the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the priest at our parish reminded us of the centrality of fathers to culture. We shouldn’t need thick sociological studies to spell out for us that it is men’s failures to live up to the demands of their fatherhood that is at the root of the present deterioration in family life. And as the family goes, so goes the culture.
Our priest then exhorted us fathers to imitate St. Joseph by focusing on being the spiritual leaders of our families. Too often we men make the mistake of seeking our identities through professional achievement. The move is not completely wrongheaded. As another good priest once said to me, professional work is in a sense the “hinge” upon which the holiness of a man turns. But our identities as men should not wholly be founded upon what we do as workers. Of far greater importance to our identities is imaging within the home the virtues of St. Joseph and Jesus–especially when it comes to giving direction to the family’s life of prayer.
Tradition has it that St. Joseph was a craftsman of some sort, perhaps a carpenter. Imagining his workday with the child Jesus at his side, we can learn much from him about what it means to sanctify ourselves through our professional work. That work of sanctification is a higher order of craftsmanship than that of making tables or fixing things.…
I’m going to begin today a regular feature on Crafting Culture, “The Weekend Read,” in which I will be recommending works of fiction, poetry and drama by Catholic authors. And I want to begin with a piece by Muriel Spark (1918-2006), who is perhaps better known outside contemporary Catholic circles than she is within them.
“One day in my young youth at high summer, lolling with my lovely companions upon a haystack, I found a needle.”
That is the arresting opening line of Spark’s short story, “The Portobello Road.” I had occasion recently to return to “The Portobello Road” and was reminded what a powerful story it is. It is at once a ghost story and murder mystery, full of the bright, angular observations and cold-eyed wit that characterize Spark’s prose. “The Portobello Road” is also a story in which Spark’s Catholic faith finds a clear yet understated voice in the sensibility of the woman we come to know as Needle, Spark’s first person narrator.
Spark has a strong sense of dark comedy akin to that of Evelyn Waugh or Flannery O’Connor, though her use of explicitly Christian themes and imagery is usually more oblique than what we find in Waugh and O’Connor.
There is another and far more quotable sentence from “The Portobello Road” that I am tempted to share, but to do so would ruin the entire effect of the story. I will wait to share it with you next week, by which time I suspect you will have found the sentence I have in mind–
Which sticks out rather like a needle in a haystack.…
Who could have imagined the outrages of the Federal government’s contraception mandate shenanigans?
Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, for one.
If you’re drawing a blank on this name, Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) was one of the most popular preachers and literary authors of turn-of-the-century England. He was also son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which made his 1903 conversion to Roman Catholicism, and subsequent ordination, a cause célèbre that rivaled that of Newman.
Benson is best known for his historical fiction–his most famous work being Come Rack! Come Rope! (1912), his stirring account of the Protestant revolt in 16th-century England–as well as for his dystopic fantasy, Lord of the World (1907).
In Lord of the World Benson imagines the rise of a socialist, humanist one-world government that suppresses religious expression. Esperanto is the official language. Euthanasia is the customary antidote for extreme suffering. A culture of death parades itself as a culture of life.
At the head of this new order is a charismatic figure, an American named Julian Felsenburgh. The newspaper account at the beginning of Book II Chapter 1 of Felsenburgh’s rhetorical power is eerie:
“Of his actual words we have nothing to say. So far as we are aware no reporter made notes at the moment; but the speech, delivered in Esperanto, was a very simple one; and very short. It consisted of a brief announcement of the great fact of Universal Brotherhood, a congratulation to all who were yet alive to witness this consummation of history; and, at the end, an ascription of praise to that Spirit of the World whose incarnation was now accomplished.”
Felsenburgh is the Anti-Christ.…
A friend of mine wrote on Facebook about Downton Abbey: “take away the English accents, the bucolic setting, the period costumes, and the antiquated moral code, and you’re left with Days of Our Lives.
So true, I thought at first. Downton Abbey often suffers from severe melodramatic fits.
Such as: the illicit lover who ends up dying in flagrante delicto…the spine-injured war-hero who suddenly and miraculously walks again…the lovers kept apart by social class…the dying fiancée who importunes her betrothed to marry the woman she knows he really loves…the odious newspaper magnate who coerces a young woman into marriage on pains of exposing her awful secret…
Pretty fruity stuff, as Bertie Wooster would say. But how different, really, from plot elements that might be found in Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Trollope, or The Great Gatsby?
Speaking of Dickens and Wilkie Collins. T.S. Eliot (that’s Thomas Stearns Eliot, high-priest of high culture) once wrote an essay called “Wilkie Collins and Dickens.” In this essay about two pre-eminent practitioners of the Victorian potboiler Eliot wrote:
“You cannot define Drama and Melodrama so that they shall be reciprocally exclusive; great drama has something melodramatic in it, and the best melodrama partakes of the greatness of drama….It is possible that the artist can be too conscious of his “art.”…We cannot afford to forget that the first—and not one of the least difficult—requirements of either prose or verse is that it should be interesting.”
Eliot’s point is that what we enjoy in the best melodramas are qualities inherent to great storytelling itself.…