December 31, 2009

Went with the kids to see AVATAR. (My brother-in-law recommended it.) Fantasy is so much fun. The canvas is so big, you can do anything. Great world-creating here, stunning imaginative and visual power. Story was, no surprise, something less; but these kinds of things always get me charged up, make me want to see great new Catholic works, stories where the subtext radiates truth. Imagine going to the movies and actually seeing great work. Think of the scope, the diversity, the actual human condition. And I do believe that is going to happen. Christ is risen!

This one was pure Obama/Oprah. You can make a list: The United Fruit Company, Al Gore, noble savage/Native Asian Americans, paganism, national health care, an embracing of Islam.

The setting and backdrop of the story would've made Ernesto Cardinal smile. It's the UFC in Nicaragua all over again: the US invaded the country nine times in the 20th century by his count, never built a school or a road into the capital. All roads led to the "bidness," as an Oklahoma evangelical businessman might phrase it. Bottom line: we need those bananas, boys. But the setting is equal opportunity here, and it morphs into the Iroquois, Iraq & oil as well; characters actually use Frost's "displacements"--word choices which suggest other meanings/resonances. In this film you hear the turned-good Caucasians actually warm up to the words "terrorism" and "suicide bomber" when they see the light and turn native blue (purple knifs--Cleveland joke . . . sorry).

So in effect the blue world here (Max) becomes any indigenous victim of the Republican imperialist machine: South & Central America, Vietnam, the Mid-East, the US. And just to try and put us off the scent, the director throws in a couple of red herrings as well. At one point, for example, Sigourney Weaver's character says of the Mother worshipping natives: "They're not pagans." Huh? . . . And the limp-legged hero victim who can't get healed because his country has no national health care claims he doesn't want to become a "tree hugger." (But wait, he does finally die and gets to leave his hated human body, so maybe that works--the skin shed. BLUE IS TRUE.)

And there it is, the whole sorry batch. But we've been down this Hollywood trail before.

Al Gore and the noble savage/Native Asian Americans show up too of course--anything that is not "Christianity" will do.

(As an aside, I'm still waiting for John Kerry to win his Nobel. He should whine about it--but maybe that's the problem. His face is in the dictionary next to the word. Now Sweden is all about whining, but they want to look normal. . . . Still, skipping him just doesn't seem fair. In a way, he is this movie. On the ride home, I told my son that the film reminded me of those Kerry/Edwards stickers you still see on cars. . . . Now I'm no fan of that WASP muzzle-loader, Cheney, but Hollywood's glitter-socialists are every bit as pathetic.)

I put Christianity in quotes as far as this movie goes because Hollywood has no idea what Christianity is. To them it's Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart. (Catholics are not as hard on pagans or the environment.) And so our director, in a spike of heroic neandrathal insight, takes the required hard left. The capitalists have destroyed their world (see Walli) and now they must take out anyone not like them: any and all third world peoples. In this version, those would be the sinless blues who live in a world without mosquitoes or greed.

Why is the world so stupid?

St. Francis, true lover of the natural world, pray for us.

And keep writing, Catholics! Things will get better.

December 13, 2009

Went with the family to see WICKED up in Cleveland. Great stuff on a plot level; the kids enjoyed in. And the physical comedy was positively inspired. (Brought Profs. Dougherty and Anderson to mind!) But on the downside the play reminded me of a Grisham novel. A great ride with nothing to say. I know it was a comedy, but I like subtext. This one offered a squishy "be nice to animals" message. (I went home and didn't kick my dog.) But I had a good conversation with my cousin afterwards--he's always good for that. He was going on about DEATH OF A SALESMAN. I really hate that play. I don't like Miller at all--though the only other thing I've seen was THE CRUCIBLE. Insufferable. Boring, long-winded; and the people are stupid. Why am I here? I don't want to be? How can I get out of here? (Reminds me of being stuck some years ago at a FUS Christmas carol service-y kind of thing at the chapel. The performance positively creaked with self-aware tradition. I couldn't breathe--and the only way out was to excuse ourselves and walk right right through the singers! God I love culture . . . Thankfully, though, I've heard that with the new personnel, offerings have much improved.) But if I were ever locked up in a stalag prison camp, they could just make me watch those Miller plays. I'd crack, work in PR.

Long works seem so hard to pull off in any form. In grad school I did a course in O'Neill. LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT was actually a description of the reader trying to get through the thing! I loved his one-acts. In and out, with punch. But the long ones! All that was missing were the straps to bind you to your seats. Diodes. (What are diodes anyway?)

I find that's true of novels, too, and of long poems. "No man ever wished it longer," as Dryden said about PARADISE LOST. I wonder if Milton had to take out a gun and finally shoot the sucker, whimpering on the floor (the text, not him--my next entry will be about squinting and/or dangling modifiers). Really an act of epic perseverance just to get through the first book. And then there's THE FAIRIE QUEEN. Whoa, pure flagellation: purgation. A fitting irony as Spencer was doing a concerted anti-Catholic dance at the time. People have died! English halls littered with the vanquished--some still breathing. (If you went to school in the 70s, you know what I mean.)

I did MOBY DICK for quite a few semesters, back when I was the American Lit. person here at FUS. I liked the book very much--and as I say, I don't really like long works--but it was a trial every time. And once I tried ULYSSES when I was saddled with Modern British Novel. Give me THE DUBLINERS, story, not Freud's poop lectures in prose. (That's probably too easy, but without inner resources, I hated wading through Dublin's outhouses. . . . My wife once read FINNEGAN'S WAKE for fun. . . . a wonderfully strange woman. . . . She's told me that she often feels most novels decline sharply during the second half, so maybe I got part of this from her.)

And what's the baggier monster: PIERS THE PLOWMAN or HAMLET? No one ever stages the whole play. Shakespeare is Shakespeare of course, but I am always more interested in how his tragic characters got to be where they are when the plays start than where he wants to take them. I know, too "realistic" (and quite off the road--though there is much to be said about high grass).

But in the spirit of the times, I want to blame my difficulties squarely where they belong, on my daughter's ADHD. ("I was just following orders.") I flash back to Mr. Powers, SJ, scholastic at Jesuit St. Ignatius HS in Cleveland, during detention, 1970--mine, not his; though that might be another story--: "Mr. Craig you just can't sit still can you?' ----uh, no. And so the great student/critic was born!

The lyric poem is an almost perfect form: too short to get stupid or boring. Maybe if they hired scops at MTV, had them, like Caedmon, SING! Tim Russell, a fine poet from Toronto, OH once told me that due to some sort of brain condition, his interests in writing poetry ran to shorter and shorter forms. Some years later he won an international haiku contest in Japan. Is that where I'm headed? The land of the rising abbreviation? On the other hand I love oriental stuff; Chinese and Japanese--Li Po, falling drunk in the water, trying to embrace his image, or Basho, singing at Horsetooth Reservoir.

I'll stop now.

December 10, 2009

This spring I'm doing Contemporary Christian Fiction once again, and that's both fun and weird. It's weird because somehow so many Christian writers feel obliged--because of the old Ovid, Pandarus poet-as-pimp routine--to deliver play by play sex in their works. A sign of mastering the craft apparently! Dubus was the first place I found that--I was not native to these waters.

Irritating! I don't think Catholics are free to do that: titillate. Sex is a holy part of life, but near occasions of sin don't need to be--if we can avoid them. I once had an e-mail conversation with a Catholic woman fiction writer from Ohio State. She recommended her own book, but told me I might have to skip chapter 11!

I try to start with three great short story writers: O'Connor, Powers, and Spark. Masterful stuff, right on the spiritual mark. (I was so taken with Powers early that I thought I'd try one of his novels: THE WHEAT THAT SPRINGETH GREEN. Great if you don't count chapter 2 or 3; I forget now. Pornographic stuff.) O'Connor is a marvel, witty and ruthless. Her characters pay, and she never damns any of them; then she leaves the ball in the reader's court. Where are we with the Pharisee thing? Powers, at least in the stories we've done, is wonderful as well. There's a kind of pre-Vatican feel to them. First rate stories on priests! "Prince of Darkness"! Spark on the other hand is wonderfully diverse. I once told Ron Hansen, via e-mail, that some of her difficult stories seemed almost iconic: you had to meditate on them before they unfolded. He relayed that someone had just asked him to review her latest novel. She was 90 at least then. Anyway, Hansen said that the thing just didn't make any sense at all to him! Everybody's got their own take, I guess. And while I will admit that some of them are tough, still, I like her a lot. She can do a British Jewish/Catholic O'Connor thing, scald British racism in Africa; but there are other kinds of stories too. Fun! I like to go back to the three of them several times during our novel reading.

This semester I want to go next with Robinson's GILEAD and Hansen's EXILES, just to set off Protestant and Catholic sensibilities. Robinson is a great writer, but I could never imagine having a beer with her main character. No belly laughing aloud. Hansen is so good! I'd love to do ATTICUS, because it really moved me--the thing opens up so beautifully at end to a Prodigal Son allegory. (The funny thing there is that when he came here to keynote for a Catholic Writing Festival we were having, he told us that the NY critics never got that part--because they didn't know the Bible!) But I just can't do it for some reason. I can't do "who-done-it"s: I need more symbol or something--places to hang my hat as we go through.

My standbys have been THE POWER AND THE GLORY, Endo's DEEP RIVER. and Percy's best one, prose-wise: THE MOVIEGOER. Endo is Catholic, but his book veers toward monism. (Discussion to follow.) It's a good read though. A group of Japanese tourists goes to India to visit Hindu shrines and the Ganges--which really functions like Christ for them; all of it told from a darned near Catholic POV! (It's also a nice rip on scholasticism: Euro-centeredness, that Catholic right-wing fixation. It's so EWTN, the deep rich mahogany, the smell of old European money. All brought to you by classical music. No jazz aloud: like rock its Satanic.

Now we all love reverence, classical music, but come on! Culture is not dead.)

We'll do Lewis's space trilogy. He's not as good a novelist as the others, but he is Lewis! And I love how close he gets to the sacramental in THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH. And then we going to do Rice's CHRIST OUR LORD. I haven't read her yet, but did catch an interview: seems a kind of squishy Catholic. Her son is/was gay, so the Church needed to rethink that.

God bless us, every one.

The students will have to pick a book to present too: Bernanos, Mauriac; there are lots of folks out there. (And please, please feel free to e-mail me with ANY suggestions, about fiction or poetry.) We've done a few Idylls writers in the past: Debra Marphy's (Murphy's) THE MYSTERY OF THINGS, O'Gorman's AWAITING ORDERS. There's Dubus, as I mentioned, Tobias Wolff, Price, Hijuelos, Hassler, Waugh, Salzman, Crace, McDermott, Betts, Wiowode, Godwin, Tyler, Payne, Thon, McGraw, Cary, Malamud (He's so Franciscan!), Undset, Cather, Malone, MacFarlane, Lagerkvist, Breslin's THE SUBSTANCE OF THINGS HOPED FOR. Who else? Tell me so I'll know. (But no LeFort or Mazoni, none of that stuff.)

Hey, it's my birthday today! Me and EDickinson. (Any port in a storm. But I do like myself. I do.)

December 4, 2009

Victory! With Linda's help it's done. You can hear the podcast; just go to links at left. This is fun.
I've got a podcast up but haven't been able to link it yet. So if you're interested, at this point you can go to the English faculty page on the FUS web site and link to "Some kind of Pilgrim poem." It's clear and Linda liked it!

If I can find a way to successfully link it, I'll get back.