Friday, August 29, 2003

ATTN: JIM HENLEY. Did you get my email from a few days ago?

Anyway... I have stuff to say (tentative post headline: "Intertextuality is just another lifestyle choice"), but not right this minute--either later tonight, or tomorrow.

Oh, and since my CD player is slightly broken, I've been rediscovering all my cassette tapes. I'd forgotten how awesome Severed Heads is.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Oh the year was 1778, how I wish I was in Sherbrooke now,
When the letter of marque came from the King
To the scabbiest blogwatch I'd ever seen...

The Agitator: Statues of Lenin: Where are they now? Fascinating.

Amy Welborn and Dappled Things: Posting on Saint Augustine on his feast day. Amy's right--Peter Brown's biography is fantastic. (And, in an odd coincidence, the Confessions play a role in my current short story!)

Oxblog: How West Germany broke the Iron Curtain. Great stuff, with contemporary lessons. (Look for the unspoken lesson for the Iranian blogosphere!)
JUDICA ME DEUS, PART FOUR: The penultimate scene from my ongoing short story. Expect the final scene on Monday, probably. You can read the whole thing so far starting here; or just get the most recent scene here. The usual warnings apply--this is neither G-rated nor dolphin-safe.
BAGHDAD, BLOGS, AND BEYOND: Diana of Letter from Gotham writes, "I alternate between wanting to scream at Riverbend [of Baghdad Burning] and saying to myself, 'Whoa. You haven't been thru what she's been thru. You haven't walked a mile in her moccasins. Nobody's bombed you. You haven't lived under a foreign occupation. Albany doesn't count. And remember -- she's 24. Even if you cannot remember being 24.'

"...Whatever the case, I am positive we are hearing a very Upper East Side version of the occupation."

That may well be. As Salam Pax has pointed out, the various Iraqi bloggers aren't representative of the entire Iraqi people. I mean, American bloggers aren't a representative sampling, so it would be truly bizarre if Iraqi bloggers were. Baghdad, in particular, is the seat of government, so you'd expect that the fall of the dictatorship would cause (even) more turmoil and unemployment there than elsewhere.

Baghdad's also a big city. What happens there is crucial. And the perceptions and opinions of educated, tech-savvy people are likely to have disproportionate influence in Iraq, just as they do here. So that's one reason to be really interested in what Iraqi bloggers have to say. That's one reason I link to these bloggers. (That, and several of them write really well.)

And another reason is that I want to bring publicity and encouragement to the tiny, growing Iraqi blogosphere. The Iranian blogosphere is one of the forces helping to slowly, slowly pry that country open. Presumably, though I don't know the history here, Iranian blogging started in a tiny and unrepresentative pocket of the population. Now it's spread to a... well, to a larger and slightly more representative pocket, anyway. I want the same thing to happen in Iraq, and I think that becomes more likely as more people know that Iraqi bloggers are out there.

This isn't a rebuttal of Diana's post, by the way. It's just something prompted by her post: an examination of the lens through which I view the lens through which Riverbend views her city.

Speaking of, this is eminently believable, and disheartening. Gah. Your tax dollars at work.
ATTACK OF THE MIDDLEMEN: As if specifically to prove me wrong, today brings two examples of comics-industry middlemen acting like total jerks: a publisher and a retailer.
WHEN EVANGELICAL PHILOSOPHY PROFESSORS ATTACK!!!! Go here and click on "Quotations" for some high hilarity. I bet the Old Oligarch would appreciate this guy. Via Mark Shea.
SOMEONE DIDN'T READ THE SITE DESCRIPTION! Apparently I'm a left-wing blogger now. Ah well. Click there for a list of greatest Americans as chosen by selected left-wing bloggers plus, for some reason, me.

I was a bit disappointed, though not surprised, to see that the only artist listed is Mark Twain; I voted for a whole passel of them, inc. Emily Dickinson, Lee Miller (she was American, not British, right?), and several filmmakers. Also disappointed-but-not-surprised to see Margaret Sanger on the list. Sigh, growl.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

SHANKERY WEDNESDAY: I have a lot of things I'm chewing on--mainly, this Unqualified Offerings post. But so far I haven't come up with anything even coherent enough to blog. So I'm shanking.

The UO post has a poem in it, so that's your Poetry Wednesday as well. Killing two birds with one shank, you know.

Oh, and here, have a medieval bestiary. Via Dappled Things.

Tomorrow, I'll definitely have the next installment of my short story. Other than that... we shall see.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

"IN A SUPRALEGAL LOCATION": Newsweek column on American torture. Please read this. I'm not sure the author is right about the significance of the "sources and methods" quote at the end, but that's a fairly minor caveat. Via Ginger Stampley.
MORE FICTION BLOGOSPHERE. Krubner is posting excerpts from his novel; Will Duquette's storyblog roundup site is here. I am blogging a short story here (don't click if you are not okay with fairly pungent language/situations)--expect the next segment of this tale on Thursday!

Monday, August 25, 2003

REINVENTING COMICS: So after that vast thing below, inspired in part by Understanding Comics, what have I got to say about the sequel, Reinventing Comics? Not so much! I basically noticed three things about the book: 1) McCloud has an engaging, visual sense of humor, which made both these books a real pleasure.

2) The thing about how comics might change on the Internet--how comics might continue to represent time through space when "space" is virtually unlimited--was very intriguing, though not so much directed at me since I have no interest in creating comics.

3) There's a lot of anger toward the middleman here, in the sections on the comics business. I don't really get that. McCloud seems to me to be much too harsh on, especially, publishers and retailers. I understand that it stinks to work really hard on something, make it well, and then have someone distort it, or get most of the profits from it, or refuse to see its value.

But middlemen exist for a lot of (IMO) fairly obvious reasons; they are basically paid to take risks, but if they take too many risks, too few risks, or the wrong risks, they go out of business or go bankrupt or can't take other, better risks; even if you believe (as McCloud does) that the Internet will allow us to get the benefits of the middlemen without actual middlemen taking their cut and making their "what gets published/sold/promoted and what doesn't" decisions, I don't think it makes a whole lot of sense to blame publishers and retailers because that middleman-free day hasn't yet arrived. It's possible that there are comics-specific problems here that I just don't know about. But the picture as presented in Reinventing Comics doesn't justify the degree of blame the middlemen take.

I imagine my perspective here is somewhat distorted: As a freelancer, I am a) really, really grateful to every "middleman" (magazine or other publisher) who takes my work and presents it, nicely packaged and edited, to a broader audience; and b) in a decentish position to shop my work around and withhold it from publishers who don't meet my standards. If nobody takes my really awesome piece on (subject X), I can blog it or hold out for a good offer, and in the meantime, I can knock out a couple book reviews. But even laying my own situation aside, I don't think McCloud is right to present creator and audience locked in a pitched battle with the evil forces of the Middlemen.

But I should note that that's just an occasional theme in the book that I happened to notice--the humor is much more noticeable. I have less to say about the humor solely because what can you say other than, it's fun?
HE WATCHES A FILM ABOUT THE EVENING SKY/IT WAS SOMEONE ELSE'S DREAM: So I finished Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics (and its sequel, Reinventing Comics, of which more presently). I would tell you about it, but I think I need to reread some of the most interesting bits again, with favorite comics by my side for comparison. I really liked it, though, and thank Journalista! for the recommendation.

The bit that I wanted to write about is a bit that even McCloud seems a little embarrassed by in the sequel: his definition of art. The Rat and I had a long, long, rambly confab about this over the weekend, and although we came to few conclusions, I at least feel like I have a better sense of what my questions are. So this will be a scattershot post; some elements may conflict with or even blatantly contradict one another; if that happens, it's because I haven't quite figured out what I believe yet. So: thoughts on art.

First, I think we can dismiss McCloud's initial suggestion as obscuring more than it illuminates: "Art, as I see it, is any human activity which doesn't grow out of either of our species' two basic instincts: survival and reproduction!" Quick problems with this definition: Some of the greatest art was made for money (think Shakespeare), thus it's as survival-oriented as anything else we do for money.... Why denigrate cash on the nail as a motive for art? And all kinds of random things, from sodomy to mapping far-off galaxies (which McCloud classifies as "art as discovery"), have a connection to survival or reproduction that is, at best, pretty darn tenuous; yet it's distinctly unhelpful to class these activities as art.

So. Enough. What's my alternative, you ask?

I don't really have one; but I'm not sure that's a problem. It seems to me that every definition of art that is broad and narrow in the right places ends up looking ad hoc. Definitions that are not obviously wrong tend to be tightly pinned to a slew of wildly different works that everyone wants to call "art." So the definition loses the abstraction that would have made it a useful tool for telling the difference between art and not-art. Instead of the definition telling us which things are art, we look to the things we already know are art and painstakingly stretch and pummel our definition until it fits their bizarre contours.

So I need a way of talking about art without talking about What Is Art. One way of doing this is to talk about what an artwork does--basically, review it, tell people why they should seek it out or avoid it. But in order to do that, we do need some kind of abstract vocabulary--a few reference points, so that when I compare one work to another you'll have some sense of what I'm talking about.

Ratty and I talked about the four (I said three, but really there're four) levels of artistic quality or achievement. I think this is maybe the Y axis of a two-axis graph, if we want to get all mathematical about it. The following categories are ways of classifying art I like--art I don't like doesn't register here:
D) Pure sentimentality. Unearned audience identification and cheapened emotion. This sentimentality need not be sticky-sweet; there's macho sentimentality, cynical sentimentality, and probably more. The key components are conformity (that's why this kind of art is so easy to like!), characters who behave as they do because the creator makes 'em behave rather than because they have actual personalities or personae, comfort and reinforcing of the audience's preexisting beliefs, and instant gratification.

It's hard to come up with a good example of this kind of thing, since as soon as I realize that something I like actually falls into this category I generally do stop liking it. Part of the letdown of trying to re-read Our Lady of the Flowers recently was realizing that Genet has a huge sentimental streak... sigh. D-class art is, I think, actively pernicious and should be shunned.

C) Adulterated sentimentality. Earned audience identification. This stuff is by no means great art. It's generally derivative in style and offers, at most, three or four nuggets of insight.

But this category includes some of the works we feel most personally attached to, in part because the level of artistic achievement is lower. Because we didn't approach these works as if they were High Art, we're able to feel a more personal connection to them. These are the works that we're somewhat embarrassed about liking ("It's Ant-Man, all right?"--a hilarious moment with which I completely sympathize... except for the liking Ant-Man part!), but we can't help it, because we feel like the creator nailed something about us. Sometimes, this intense audience identification can even prompt introspection and greater self-knowledge, as we try to figure out just what it is about this work or this character that hits us where we live. I'd probably put The Borribles in C-class; also Hitchcock's "Jamaica Inn." Agatha Christie is at the top of the C-class; her best work includes real insights into human nature (Miss Marple figures out that a couple is married, rather than cohabiting, because they are secure enough in their relationship to fight publicly) and truly striking images (from Death on the Nile: "That very bad star. That star fall down...").

Being a C-class artist is a very good thing. I highly recommend C-class art!

I wonder, too, whether time can push a work from D to C. I've written here before about how much I love The Man Without a Country. I re-read it fairly recently, and it still makes me cry. It had a major impact on my childhood and even, indirectly, on my conversion to Catholicism.

If I'd read it in the 1950s, when it was frequently assigned as classroom reading, I doubt I'd feel the same way. The patriotic sentimentality would be front and center, and the deeper, universal themes of exile, betrayal, and justice would probably disappear from view.

B) B-art hovers in between, never achieving true greatness but still, somehow, bigger and more startling, more innovative, more universal than C-art. I'm not sure what else to say, really. At his best, Raymond Chandler is B-art, with his gaudy metaphors and his American mind as lurid as Lincoln's. "Strangers on a Train," "Rope," and "Shadow of a Doubt" go here too. Maus is at the very top of this class or the very bottom of the next, not sure which. (And these classes are only meant as highly impressionistic suggestions, of course.)

A) This is the stuff! This is where you get the stuff Kafka called "an ice axe for the frozen sea within." My college debating society goes through fits of obsession with the concept of greatness. One of the definitions or marks of greatness that I find illuminating is the ability to offer a new dream. Not merely a new way of achieving the goals you already have--but a new goal, a new way of seeing.

Okay, that's getting all airy-fairy, so I'll stop. But anyway, A-art gives you someone else's dreams. That's why there's such a complex negotiation between art and autonomy--people do become more themselves, more distilled, through great art, but the first encounter with it is always an ambush or a submersion. That's also one reason the anxiety of influence is real--other artists have to figure out how to take their own art-sodden imaginations and make something that's truly their own, rather than just another life-through-Shakespeare's-eyes second-generation xerox copy.

(For comics-folk: Of the comics I've read, the only ones that really make it to A-level are Love & Rockets--not all of it, obviously, but the best L&R. They're amazing. Sean, you need to read these! Maybe start with "Blood of Palomar" or... hmm, harder to figure out where to start with Jaime Hernandez... "Flies on the Ceiling"?? Or just pick up one of the earlier volumes and dive in....)
...I wanted to say that this A, B, C, D thing is the Y-axis, and beauty or intensity of vision is the X-axis. I'm not sure that works, but I'll go with it for the moment. The A through D scheme encompasses both insight and innovation; the beauty/intensity axis would capture both beauty (obviously) and sublimity.

No, it doesn't work, because the two axes kind of intertwine, if you see what I mean. D-art is D-class in part because it lacks beauty or sublimity; sublimity certainly, and beauty probably, burns off sentiment. And the insights and innovations that move a work up the A-D scale are themselves often breathtakingly beautiful or intensely realized. I tried the two-axis thing because I wanted some way of talking about beautiful art that doesn't necessarily provide a huge amount by way of insight or innovation, but that, by its beauty, attains greatness. I'm still not sure I have a good way of talking about that!

I feel myself skidding to an abrupt stop here, so I'll stop abruptly. I hope something in this mess has proven helpful to you! Will post more on this as I figure out more; in the meanwhile, why not just read The Western Canon? Or Ratty's interview with Harold Bloom?

Link via the Cranky Professor.
JUDICA ME DEUS, PART 3b: The latest installment of my short story. You can read the whole story in order starting here; or you can just read the latest chunk. "Mature content and language" as they say. More on Thursday; then the story should end either next Monday or next Thursday, depending on how fast I write.
And on the spot where they watched their blog,
The grasses they will never grow...

A completely random assortment of topics today. Manic-Depressive Jukebox time.

Hit & Run: Good sharp post pointing out that in the "Golden Age of immigrant assimilation," there were all kinds of people who didn't want immigrants to assimilate, and prevented assimilation through e.g. restrictive housing covenants and, you know, bigotry. Necessary corrective to people who argue that the US can't handle 1900-sized immigration waves anymore because of multiculturalism and resistance to assimilation.

Juan Cole: Whoa, an actual professor of Middle Eastern history. Isn't it a rule of blogging that you're not supposed to know what you're talking about? Via Matthew Yglesias.

Matthew Yglesias: Where to get good bagels in D.C.?

Oxblog: Scroll around for a "how are things going in Iraq" round-up from David Adesnik. (And a basic, but disheartening, Patrick Belton post on getting more troops to Iraq.) I have written almost nothing about this subject, because I don't feel like I know what's going on (and I doubt many other people do, either). I've read a lot of blogs that focus relentlessly on the negative, with absolutely no sense of whether things are, overall, better than they were before the invasion; I've also read a lot of blogs that tell us that in a few months' time Iraq will look like reconstructed Europe, and the rest of the Middle East will be swept with a wave of liberal reform. So far, to me, the most striking point Adesnik makes is that there has been very little negative reaction in other countries--certainly a lot less than, say, Gene Healy's (very persuasive) antiwar essay here would lead one to expect. But 'tis not a year or two shows us an occupation. It's pretty early for anyone to be bustin' out the "I told you so"s.

Which is all the more obvious if you are reading Riverbend Blog. I'm about to add her to the blogroll. Iraqi woman blogging from Baghdad.

Sean Collins: Good point about Blankets; more on manga (small point in favor of Collins's marketing argument: I stopped in at Books-a-Million, a cheapo chain store, the other day. Manga and a few manga-format-but-not-manga-art-style comics were nestled randomly on a display table among trashy teen novels. You had to take a second glance to even guess which books would have comics inside. The place was heavily manga-laden in general, too); and a moving, must-read post on eating disorders and, you know, love.

And: Signs of the Apocalypse, The Game: My father agrees with Rod Dreher, David Morrison, and the Right-Wing Film Geek! I will probably go see this movie.
"Now, when he stood with his forehead against the window or suddenly stopped on the third black tile, he made unexpected discoveries. He found out that those processes wrongly known as 'monologues' are really dialogues of a special kind; dialogues in which one partner remains silent while the other, against all grammatical rules, addresses him as 'I' instead of 'you,' in order to creep into his confidence and to fathom his intentions; but the silent partner just remains silent, shuns observation and even refuses to be localized in time and space.

"Now, however, it seemed to Rubashov that the habitually silent partner spoke sometimes, without being addressed and without any visible pretext; his voice sounded totally unfamiliar to Rubashov, who listened in honest wonder and found that his own lips were moving. These experiences held nothing mystic or mysterious; they were of a quite concrete character; and by his observations Rubashov gradually became convinced that there was a thoroughly tangible component in this first person singular, which had remained silent through all these years and now had started to speak."

--Darkness at Noon

Sunday, August 24, 2003

BURN DOWN THE DISCO, HANG THE BLESSED DJ/BECAUSE THE MUSIC THEY CONSTANTLY PLAY... IT SAYS NOTHING TO ME ABOUT MY LIFE: Basic, but nice, series of posts from David Morrison about how little relevance "gay" and "ex-gay" labels have to actual existing Catholics with same-sex attraction.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

REVIEW OF BLANKETS that captures some of my problems with the book pretty well. You can find my review here. This review is a little too harsh. It makes several good points, but misses what struck me as (perhaps unintentionally?) sympathetic portrayals of Raina's father and the narrator's mother; and also misses the glimpses of Raina's inner life that we do get in the book.
ANG LEE, SHOOTING PROSE: Was talking with The Rat today about the "Hulk" movie and the reasons that, although it generally sucked, I was enthralled by its formal innovations. Everyone who saw the movie noticed two gaudy tricks the director, Ang Lee, pulled: comic-book-style panels within panels, dividing the screen into several different pictures; and bizarre dissolves rather than traditional cuts from scene to scene. Lee virtually never (by which I mean, twice) uses these tricks to actually enhance the meaning of the scenes of his movie. Nonetheless, as I said in my "Hulk" review post, I think future directors are going to use his innovations to do incredible things.

And today I realized one of the reasons Lee's breakthrough formal ideas struck me so much: They replicate some of the strengths of prose, which movies, until now, hadn't really tried to mirror.

First let's look at the panels within panels. In one scene, some boring transition is taking place on the lower five-sixths of the screen. I think maybe the Hulk is getting transferred to a military facility or some such thing. So on most of the screen, we're watching this transition take place. But across the top sixth of the screen, in a long narrow strip of image, the Hulk's father's eyes brood over the entire scene.

This is creepy. And it allows us to constantly check the scene against one character's reactions to the scene, without distracting cuts or pans.

Let's say I'm writing a three-character scene. Two of the characters are arguing furiously. The third is silent, watching them, responding in his own way. If I want you to pay attention to the third character, it's very easy. I can inobtrusively mention his actions as I move between the arguing characters' lines of dialogue. "Adam lifted his eyebrows and shook more Sweet 'n' Low into his coffee," that sort of thing. We look at him and remember he's there and then move on.

In a movie, this kind of inobtrusive "notice this!" gesture is much harder. If the director cuts away to show Adam's reaction, our attention is focused too much on him. Instead of watching two things at once--the argument, and Adam's reaction to the argument--we're watching a sequence: the argument. Adam's reaction. The argument. Adam's reaction. Partly because film is so immersive, it's hard for us to keep a character in mind if he's not onscreen.

Lee offers a way around this problem. Instead of cutting away to a reaction shot, he could just park a camera on Adam and devote a small chunk of the screen (boxed away by cartoony panel lines, perhaps) to Adam. Most of the screen would show us the argument; but all the time, in the corner, we'd be aware of Adam watching and responding.

The funky dissolves also mirror a standard prose trick: the evocative verb. Easy example, from a bit of "Judica me Deus" I haven't posted yet: Two characters, both very drunk, are entering a dorm room. I could say that they walked in, or that they stumbled in, or that they wandered in. Or I could say this: "Colin spilled into his common room, and I sloshed after him." You get both the uncontrolled motion and the cause of the motion (drinking). Similarly, Lee's weird dissolves (they're really hard to describe--if this interests you, go see the movie!) do more than simply move us from scene to scene. They set the tone, the atmosphere. They push the narrative forward while simultaneously reinforcing the movie's various themes.

So yeah, "Hulk" is a truly lousy movie, but Ang Lee is some kind of half-formed genius.
"WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?" One of the (several) points of contact between fiction and journalism is the way stories begin.

When I was just starting to work on the Yale Free Press, I remember the editor-in-chief would point out various campus hijinks and ask, "So what's our angle?" Every event on campus was a potential story. But the story wasn't just "what happened"--that's boring, and anyway, other people could do that better than we could. Our stories started with the "angle"--the unexpected or overlooked meaning, the hidden connections and political or philosophical resonance that we could bring to an otherwise banal story.

This Peter David post, which I've linked before, reminds us that we're surrounded by stories. All we have to do is look journalistically--look for the angle.
SHORT ATTENTION SPAN THEATER. So lately all I've been able to think about is fiction--reading it, writing it, figuring out how to write it better. I expect soon this energy will burn off and I'll be back to the usual uneasy negotiation between time spent on fiction and time spent on journalism; but for now, I hope to exploit my current obsessions as much as possible. So expect more posts on the nature of fiction, form, and storytelling. And expect more actual fiction on the site. And don't hold your breath for political analysis. Sorry....
THIS PREVIEW RATED R. THIS MOVIE NOT YET RATED. "'All men and women are entrusted first with the task of crafting their own lives; in a certain sense they are to make of their life, a work of art, a masterpiece.' (Letter to Artists 1999, JPII)

"...If you had to describe your life up till now, would it be a masterpiece?

"Would it be a reproduction or an original?

"Would it be the kind of thing you would feel safe to expose children to? Is it mostly tragedy or comedy? Is it an ascent (a story of growth?) or a descent (a story of squandering?) or is it without any climax at all?

"Emily Dickinson said, 'Nature is a haunted house. Art is a house that tries to be haunted.' What is it that 'haunts' your life as you have made it?"
--all this and more, at Church of the Masses

Friday, August 22, 2003

THE FICTION BLOGOSPHERE: Besides my short story site, there's also LeanLeft's StoryPoint, which I found via Body and Soul. And Eugene Volokh has an odd little story here; alternate ending here.
Blogwatch take a, blogwatch take a bow...

Dappled Things: Homily for the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, a.k.a. my birthday.

Sean Collins on manga and why it's so popular here. Understanding Comics had a fascinating chart showing the differences in panel-to-panel transitions and use of time/space between manga and US-style comics, which made me want to read a lot more of the Japanese-style works; but I have to admit, I am both clueless and creeped out by the manga I've seen.

Clueless: I don't know which books, if any, have good plots or characters. Creeped out: It's the eyes. OK, also the bodies... but mostly those distended, Nutrasweet, evil-doll eyes. Can't deal with 'em, at all. Any non-creepy-doll-eyed recommendations?

And: Big Toronto rally against same-sex marriage, August 27.

Atonement kegger?

Both those links via Relapsed Catholic.
"A 'need,' after all, is just a desire that's had time to ferment."
--Reinventing Comics

Thursday, August 21, 2003

THE EDITOR OF JEWISH WORLD REVIEW has been hospitalized. He is recovering, but I am sure prayers would not come amiss. If you enjoy his site (I have a column there), please consider sending a donation so that he can upgrade the technology, hire staff, and reduce his stress level so that he can stay out of his doctor's hair! Thanks.
JUDICA ME DEUS, PART 3a): Part three of my short story turned out to be a little longer and woollier than I expected, and I'm still untangling some things toward the end of the scene. So here's the first (and longest) segment of it.
read the whole story so far
read part 3a) only

Part 3b) will reach you by next Thursday at the latest. There are five parts in all. Not approved by the Comics Code Authority, so be forewarned before you click, and all that.
"We must find the orb of power or all mankind is DOOMED!"

"Yes! But first--to the men's room!"

--Scott McCloud, Reinventing Comics. For no particular reason.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

AMPTOONS has an excellent series of posts on rape trials. Seriously, go read them.
WHICH DOSTOYEVSKY PROTAGONIST ARE YOU? It got me completely wrong, but hey, neat idea for a quiz.
POSSIBLE ACORN OF INSIGHT: I'm not really sure how to expand on this thought, but I really do think that many of the divisions in the debate over same-sex marriage come down to this: Do you think this debate is about heterosexuals and homosexuals, or do you think this debate is about men and women?
SAME-SEX MISHEGOSS: I have more posts at, and Jonathan Rauch (with whom I had an entirely pleasant prior interaction working on the "Christianity from the Outside" symposium for Crisis) replies to my previous posts.

Gene Vilensky also replies to a swathe of my second post. I wrote, "Marriage is a political (legal) issue, not solely a cultural issue, precisely because when a man and a woman have sex they often produce a child, and that child needs to be protected. The political structure of civil marriage arose around that fact and in response to that fact. Marriage is not a political issue because the state has a compelling interest in making sure that its citizens have fulfilling relationships, or feel that their romantic choices are honored--how is that the state's business? It's a political issue because of all the, you know, kids."

Gene responds here.

I have two quick replies: First, marriage as a political institution far predates the Christian states Gene's discussing. As Maggie Gallagher has frequently pointed out, even societies that accepted or in some cases even praised homosexual activity did not develop same-sex marriage.

Second, though, I think you can remove the historical claim (which I do stand by, but it's not necessary for the point I'm trying to make), and rephrase my sentence as, "In a secular society, marriage is a political (legal) issue, not solely a cultural issue, precisely because when a man and a woman have sex they often produce a child, and that child needs to be protected," etc.

Gene also objects to various aspects of Maggie Gallagher and Linda Waite's book The Case for Marriage. I will first just say that he should read the book! If he does, he will find that it specifically does not argue that "two parents who are always fighting a la Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in War of the Roses are better off staying together and scarring the kids rather than getting a divorce." Reading the book would both focus his critique and answer some of his preliminary objections, I think.

But I will also point him, and others interested in issues of self-selection in marriage studies, to a post I did on the subject. It certainly doesn't answer all possible questions about self-selection. But it does highlight some of the ways in which social science requires a robust foundation of philosophy in order to know, for example, which factors are relevant, how persuasive alternate explanations of the data are, and--in this case--how to understand selection effects.
Don't know why we blogwatched
We never did before;
Now that I know how much it hurts
I hope we never blogwatch anymore!

Amy Welborn: Thoughts on renewing Catholic life in the US. Lots of interesting (and occasionally flip) points.

Baghdad Burning: New blog from Dear_Raed correspondent Riverbend.

Forager 23 and The Leibman Theory: Yet more helpful stuff re comics, opera, and musicals.

InstaPundit: More on possible problems with John "More Guns, Less Crime" Lott's research.

And, in Lebanon's Daily Star, Reason contributor Charles Freund writes on the political vision of Algerian movies. Fascinating. Via Hit & Run.
PBS FRONTLINE 1983 "ABORTION CLINIC": Video here. I haven't watched it (my computer has a hard time with video) but can think of many reasons to check it out. Apparently it does contain pretty graphic images of abortion, so be forewarned. Via a comment at Hit & Run.
DAPPLED THINGS WANTS TO KNOW the Meyers-Briggs scores of St. Blog's parishioners. Apparently this is my type:
Your personality type is INTP.

Introverted (I) 64% Extraverted (E) 36%
Intuitive (N) 77% Sensing (S) 23%
Thinking (T) 55% Feeling (F) 45%
Perceiving (P) 68% Judging (J) 32%

I'm pretty sure when I took the quiz last night, though, I came out as INTJ rather than INTP, and tilted far more strongly toward thinking over feeling than I did today. So, not sure how useful this is really.

Part of the problem is that the quiz offers, as its third "none of the above" alternative, "I'm really in between." Sometimes that was the right "third answer" for me, but quite often a better third choice would have been, "No, I really have a lot of both elements" ("a lot of both" seems very different from "somewhere in the middle" to me) or "I don't know."

But hey, Father asked, so I answered....
"By stripping down an image to its essential 'meaning,' an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can't."
--Understanding Comics
You are just a figment
You are just a dream
You're just another blogwatch for the new regime...

The Agitator: Pregnant girls being pushed out of classes--and, the Agitator notes, some of them are likely heading for the abortionists. A whole lot of ugly here.

Journalista!: Very helpful thing about comics, panel layout, and rhythm. Inspired me to check out Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics from the library; will report back if/when I have anything interesting to say.

Kairos: KairosBaby! Mazel tov! (sound of corks popping)

And: The Covers Project--which musicians have covered which songs? Via the Cranky Professor.

Gone and Forgotten--hilarious. Worst comics ever. I forget where I found this, but it's a hoot and a half.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Monday, August 18, 2003

PICTURE PAGES, PICTURE PAGES, LOTS OF FUN WITH PICTURE PAGES!: Yet more comics reviews. Lots this time. Like, lots-lots.

Astro City: "Confession." Forgot to review this last time around, even though it's the reason I bought the other Astro City book. I was super-leery of "Confession" because of the Catholic imagery--when that stuff's done poorly, it sends me up a wall--but ended up getting it anyway for various reasons. It's... goodish. Nicely reactionary, with its whole "repress your intense desires for the greater good" theme. So that bit, I liked! The art not so much. I preferred the steel-skinned Robert Mitchum sad-sack from "The Tarnished Angel" (which I was too harsh on, last time--it isn't Great Art, but I did like it, and there are nice shots of cats and good, moving contrasts between the main character and the superheroes of Astro City).

Channel Zero: Wow. What to say? My reactions to this comic were totally scattershot and ranty. Here are some snapshots, mid-rant.

First reaction: Ooooh. Nice black-and-white, text/pictures, '90s dystopian futuristic artwork. Mmm-mmm. Very interested.

Second reaction: Um, the politics here are a joke, right? This is super-naive and adolescent--anarchowhateverist elitism--you are all SHEEP except for me and my fashionably alienated friends!

Third: Still, the artwork rocks. I really wish I could do a zine on the Web--I loved all that scissoring and Scotch-taping--all the catty or moving contrasts you could set up between images and seemingly-mismatched text.

Fourth: Oh wow, this comic has as many inane plot moments as the "Daredevil" movie! If you're writing a dystopia, please try to imagine something more plausible than an American president who actually refers to his worldview as "National Socialism," or an anti-immigrant government that tries to seal the borders by sending troops to Ellis Island. (Hint: It's an island. It's not particularly near anybody but us. If you don't want immigrants coming to Ellis Island, all you have to do is stop sending 'em there. You-don't-need-soldiers!)

Fifth: You know, it's kinda weird how the "futuristic" aesthetic of this comic actually seems like a cross between badly-xeroxed zines and old Class War flyers. Yet another old-fashioned future--in the mix-'n'-match world where Thatcher is always Prime Minister and Riot Grrrl is always the next big thing.

Sixth: Oh, okay, the politics are a joke! After all, this "revolutionary" chick is praising Castro and Mao Tse-Tung. Hmm, maybe this is going somewhere interesting?

Seventh: Oh. Got to the end. Interview with creator. Um. Yeah, you're a real macho man, a real street-fightin', like, comics guy. Apparently the politics weren't a joke then. Could've fooled me....

Final verdict: Despite its dated, musty aroma, I did like the xerox-look. Channel Zero is like "Hulk" (ahhh, I get a snickering thrill just saying those words...)--someone should use this aesthetic to actually, you know, say something. Because this guy is saying nothin', bupkes, sweet F.A.

If you want criticism of consumerism and media culture, try a) the Slits' "Spend Spend Spend" ("I want to buy/Have you been affected?/I need consoooooling/You could be addicted") or, better far, Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. Yeah, I prefer to treat consumerism as an existential rather than a strictly political problem. That's why I'm Catholic, not Marxist. But that approach also allows me to be about twenty times more populist than the "Rupert Murdoch Is Eating Your Braaaaaaaain!!!!! Sheep!" school.

Daredevil: "Born Again," "Elektra Lives Again," and "Guardian Devil." So I emailed Sean asking whether there were Daredevil books that explored the whole Catholic thing in a nuanced, non-wincemaking, possibly even insightful fashion. These were his three recommendations.

Of the three, "Born Again" really is as good as everyone says. Daredevil--blind lawyer by day, vigilante by night; Catholic womanizer with, eh, violence issues--is the kind of character that was made for me. I am one of the three million or so people in the world for whom Daredevil was personally handcrafted. "Born Again," in which everything the guy has is stripped away bit by bit, is basically a big awl gouging deeper and deeper into the character so we can see everything that's inside. I'll have to reread it to see what I make of the "Catholic angle"--but that's fine by me. Rereading it will be, if not precisely a pleasure, then the kind of mixed pleasure and pain condemned by Socrates but spurred by Raymond Chandler and his ilk.

"Elektra Lives Again" I'm much less sure about. I can see why people like the art--it's cloudy and painterly--but I wanted lots less flesh and lots less weird-o-rama zombie plot.

"Guardian Devil": The character study--how Daredevil and the people around him deal with situations of intense mistrust and trial--is great. Worth reading for that alone, maybe. In any series in which faith figures so prominently, such an incisive look at the limits of personal testimony and the far edges of ethical doubt is welcome.

But the superstructure, the plot cooked up to provoke these crises of personal trust and religious faith, really left me cold. It combined two elements I generally dislike in comics. Argh--I can't even tell you what the second one is, because that would be spoiler-y, but the first one is "cosmic" elements and trappings. In this case we're talking demons, which should not strike me as "cosmic"--they are a part of my very own beliefs--but the way they're handled in this book did not seem to me to escape the objections I have to Marvel Universe aliens. I'm not sure I can really cash out why the demons felt "cosmic" rather than real, frightening, infernal; but they did. So, the plot--not a fan. It's what the plot does to the characters caught in its machinery that's worth watching.

Fire: This is good. Brian Bendis CIA story. Not sure what to tell you except, Go look at this, I think you'll like it. Excellent use of layout, typical Bendis use of contrast between thoughts/text and images. Definitely persuaded me to seek yet more Bendis, not that I really needed much persuading.

Slow News Day: After all the sturm und drang above, here's a nice slice of life. Sweet if somewhat predictable culture-clash romantic comedy about an American intern at a small-town English newspaper. Art not so much my thing (somewhere between "spare" and "stick-figure"), but well-observed dialogue.
PAGE LAYOUT AND POETRY: I feel stupid. Previously in this space, I wondered why I had the intuition that page layout (in comics) is more "verbal," more like reading a novel or a poem, than pictures (in comics). A conversation last night with a friend helped me figure out one piece of the answer, which was probably obvious to you if you read comics a lot, but I'm new to this: Layout--the placing and shape of panels and word balloons--is the stuff that gives comics meter. Layout creates the rhythm. How did I miss that?

There's more to it, of course. Layout also includes the "camera angles" and cropping, which strike me as less related to setting the meter and more related to mood, character, and emphasized detail. Still, I now feel like I have a way to approach thinking about page layouts, and I'm going to chew on this a bit more to see if I can say anything useful about it.
WORDS HAVE MEANING! Was thinking the other day about how much of philosophy relies on vocabulary. If certain key concepts are unintelligible to you, you will not be able to work with them; and most of philosophy is not defining terms (that turns out to be wildly hard to do through reason alone) but extrapolating from terms, linking concepts, and working out the consequences of terms we already accept.

I'm becoming too abstract here, so let me give some examples. Here are some terms. I think I know what they refer to, more or less; I think I know what these terms mean:

self or identity
"justice vs. mercy"
"should have been"
"happiness vs. pleasure"

I've seen rationalist philosophies attempt to leach all the meaning from these terms. This is why art (inc/esp literature) and experience are the foundations underlying philosophy: When rationalism threatens to apply its acid to the terms that philosophy needs in order to get anywhere, you can return to art and lit. A description of joy or an example of the sublime tells you more about what joy or sublimity are than any definition could.

Maybe in a later post I'll key each of these terms to books or other artworks that I think might be worthwhile for people seeking to figure out what these terms could possibly mean. I'll start with "will": Try "Hamlet."
JUDICA ME DEUS (JUDGE ME, O GOD): Part two is here. To read parts one and two in order, just click on the main blog. Part three (of five) will arrive Thursday--it's already mostly written. Sorry the site looks so ugly...! I'm really glad I started doing this, by the way; it's giving me much-needed discipline in my writing.
OH WOW. An anti-agricultural subsidies weblog! It's run by the Guardian newspaper. I found it via InstaPundit. It makes all the wonkiest cockles of my heart just shiver with joy. (Wait--did I say that out loud?)
I'm sick of you blogwatching somebody else...

The Old Oligarch: Warning about a possible PayPal scam.

Unqualified Offerings: Review of Finder--sounds pretty swift.

Sheep-Free Zone: Melkites? Who they?

Dear Raed = must-read.

And Assumption posts from Cacciaguida and Dappled Things--good stuff.

Friday, August 15, 2003

When you drink a quart of blogwatch
with your bacon and your eggs
Kind of a killer when when when when
when you walk the hundred miles to your baby
and your baby has her daddy's car....

Forager 23: Clarifies his remarks on comics and opera, gently hinting that I totally missed his point. Hey, call it a strong misreading, I've always been real into that Harold Bloom guy...? More comicsy stuff here.

Mark Shea and Amy Welborn: Tag-team audience participation posts. Shea asks about non-Catholic authors who drew you toward Catholicism (which, coincidentally, I've already written about here) and Welborn asks for general reminiscences of books that drew you to the faith. As you might expect, they get terrific responses. My official must-read recommendations for the day.

Maggie Gallagher on same-sex marriage and divorce. My other must-read recommendation. More on this from me later today.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

TELL ME WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS. What does the rest of the world think of Americans? On Thursday you'll get the next installment of "Judica Me Deus (Judge Me, O God)"--but for today, you just get this snapshot from an ongoing story I'm working on. The story is called Sleep of the Just. Someday, when I'm famous, you can say you contributed, if you criticize this bit!

"Tight jeans. Fat people." Mark laughs. "Fat people in tight jeans. ... Casual dress, carelessness, indignation. That's one of your big attractions, you get indignant about everything; and one of your least attractive features, too, when you get indignant on your own behalf. Self-righteous. Everything's new to you. Provincial. Everyone's trying to catch your attention, and then, when they have it, they're terrified of what you'll do. And terrified that you'll look away...

"Confident. Ingenious. Did I say fat already? Brash. Unconscious of the social roles they're playing, the degree of conformity in their individualism.

"Not ironic. Generous and friendly. --I was on a train once, from D.C. to New York City, and listened to these strangers making friends over a couple bags of potato chips, comparing their brands. They were all black--a single man, a man and his daughter, and a woman. They were chuckling and passing the bags back and forth--the man and woman were sharing with the father and daughter, who didn't have any chips. 'Mine's wavy Utz,' I remember the woman had wavy Utz, and the man had wavy Lays, and they were laughing and talking about which ones were saltier and which ones were better.

"And then the men speculated about how fast the train was moving, and so forth. And by the time we reached Baltimore, these complete strangers were like old friends, the train was their front porch.

"That, I think, was very American. ...The man next to me, also black but, I think, a recent immigrant from Africa, was reading a slim book on evangelism. 'The Key to the Soul,' something like that. Bringing souls to Christ. And that was very American too, of course.

"A very moral country--God help anyone who gets in your way."
CREATURE FEATURE: Another spate of comics reviews! In alphabetical order:

Astro City: "Tarnished Angel." Good enough for government work. A serviceable and intermittently affecting look at what it means for a guy with superpowers to fail. Not so much my thing, but sweet in its ten-cent-noir-ish way. The Robert Mitchum-inspired pictures of the protagonist are especially fine. OTOH if I want to see superheroic failure, I'll absolutely pick up New X-Men, where I can feed my Cyclops obsession.

Creature Tech: Now this is a weird little morsel. I'd seen it referred to on many a comics site, but finally picked it up after reading Mark Shea's minireview (of interest for people who want to know what non-comics-types think about comics--hi Sean, this means you!). It's a hilarious, bouncy, and engaging read, swinging breezily from intelligent design theory to giant space eels. The art is fanciful, unpretentious, and fun. I lapped it up like it was liquid candy.

But in the end, I did wonder whether there was less to Creature Tech than meets the eye. There's a crucial scene (the one with the brotherhood of the square, for those who have read it already) that seemed to come out of nowhere and failed to justify itself in the narrative, in my opinion. Admittedly this scene dealt with one of the most obscure motions of the human heart; but still, I think we needed a little more for the protagonist's development to be believable. By the same token, although I strongly approve of the dramatic use of the "irreducible complexity" concept at the very end of the book, for the most part the book neither justifies its intelligent-design themes nor attempts to address the (to my mind quite powerful) criticisms of the theory advanced by Father Edward Oakes here.

So. In the end, I recommend CT--it's fun!--but am not sure I can endorse it as anything other than fun-with-outcasts type hijinks. That's totally fine, but somewhat less than I was expecting. Anyway, might change my mind, and if so I will definitely let you know.

Daredevil: "Lowlife," "Out," "Underboss," "Wake Up!": Okay, so I got a little bit obsessed with the Brian Bendis Daredevils! And they were worth every daggone penny, my friend. Not as gobsmacking as the first Alias collection (see previous post about page layouts...), but really, these comics grabbed me and have not yet let me go. Not sure what to say except, if you're a) not skipping this post and b) not already a Bendis aficionado, why not check these books out?

The one outlier is "Wake Up!", which I'd mentioned earlier; although its child-abuse theme is both overworked and obvious, I didn't really care, because the script was more innovative than any I've seen on the same subject; and, more importantly, the art was so vivid and tactile that for the next hour or so I was far more aware of every shape and pattern around me. I walked home from Georgetown staring at every ivy tendril and curl of black iron, because I was simply more aware of my surroundings than I had been before I picked up the book. Good stuff.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

With no complications,
Sixteen generations of mine,
All blogwatching Nature,
Until I arrived (with incredible style)...

Forager 23: In the middle of something else, Forager drops a reference to comics writers as "librettists," and a quickie comparison of comics and opera. I found that striking. Not sure if I completely go for it (I'm wildly non-visual and even less musical; pay attention to--in this order--character, dialogue, page layout, plot, pictures; and get a real kick out of at least one series, New X-Men, whose art is at best mildly irritating; then again, I really can't deal with operas with silly librettos either, no matter what the music is like...!). But I think the comics/opera parallel may have value, and help illuminate some of the recent wrangling over superheroics and highly exaggerated characters and situations.

Hey, interesting tangential question. I think my attention to page layout over pictures is related to a) my love of movies and b) more deeply, my strong verbal as opposed to visual orientation. For some reason, page layouts--the use and distortion of panels and shapes--seem more verbal to me than pictures, even representative pictures.

That's odd, since I respond poorly to abstract art and abstraction generally. (I once gave a toast "to the concrete noun," after being forced to read Herbert Marcuse for an art history class....) Possibly unusual layout choices make you think more about why the page looks that way? They're more intellectual, less visceral? Or, better, less obviously visceral? (Perhaps the pictures keep the layout choices hooked on to a discernable symbolic language and meaning, rather than free-floating in the random air of the artist's whim like so much abstract art?)

Any thoughts would be welcome, since this is one of those intuitions I'd like to be able to understand and explain. And, if it proves fitting, incorporate into my fiction--I think I've learned a lot from, for example, trying to write "Hitchcock"-style fiction. There's no point in using one art form to do what another form does better; but there's a great deal to be gained from finding out whether your art form can incorporate some of the best features of another form. I'd name Yukio Mishima, for example, as a deeply Hitchcockian writer: attuned to objects, to the meaning of physical things, to small gestures and moments, and to corruption and the impossibility of innocence.

Matthew Yglesias: Important post on Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Sorry if that sounds boring. It's not. Go read! (Comments also worth your time.)

Mixolydian Mode: "You're a mouse studying to be a rat." And more words of wisdom.

Winds of Change: Roundup post from AfricaPundit on all kinds of Africa-news. In case you missed this when InstaPundit noted it.
"If you'll excuse me, I have an eel to resurrect!"
--Doug TenNapel, Creature Tech

Monday, August 11, 2003

THE COMEDY OF ERRANDS. That's what my day turned into. Totally unavoidable, work-stops-until-this-stuff-happens-type errands. So I'm a bit behind the eight-ball (although I have a spiffy new keyboard and mouse!). A bit more tomorrow; for now, why don't you read this Volokh Conspirator's post on agricultural subsidies? Told me some stuff I didn't know, reignited my simmering loathing of these subsidies, and pointed me toward what looks to be an excellent NYT series.

Tomorrow: comics, sex, maybe something on what America looks like from the outside--you know, the usual. Also, if you have read Amy Chua's World on Fire and have an opinion on it, why not drop me a line? I'll be reviewing it this week.

Friday, August 08, 2003

DOMINICAN CLIP ART! And more Reeves and Booster.
Baby, better come back, maybe next week
'Cause you see I'm on a blogwatch streak...

Dappled Things: Rejoice in the Lord--and reject "spiritual" sullenness. Great reminder, well worth your time.

Hit & Run: Political interrogations at the NYPD. Egregious.

Mommentary vs. me on superheroes. I should say 1) I love both Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe; I was dissing, not the character or author, but the floridly sentimental bit of writing cited in the original anti-superheroes piece.
2) Still disagree re what superhero stories are (often) like, and whether these exaggerated, "living symbols" characters are lamer than less-exaggerated characters.

Sursum Corda: What's so natural about natural law? I think it's a mistake to think that natural law = doin' what comes naturally; I blogged about this a bit in my capsule review of Corydon. There are two better ways to think about what the body can tell us about our nature:

1) Culture is what humans transform biology into. But biology isn't infinitely plastic. How has our culture arisen in response to human biology, and what are the likely consequences of trying to reshape culture without changing the underlying biological facts that gave rise to the culture? (For a specific example, check out the discussion of family forms in my piece on reproductive cloning.)

2) What does the body mean? John Paul II uses the term "the language of the body," which I like a lot; from this book I snared the more Jewish terminology of things in the world as "words spoken by God," which I also really dig. Since S.C. presumably agrees that the human body is a word (or words?) spoken by God, we can perhaps redescribe natural law as the study of what the words mean--God's dictionary.
TECHNICAL QUERY: Hola. I'd like to start posting serial excerpts from short stories every week-ish, as below. This would push me to write more and also add a new element to the blog. However, I know the excerpt below is a) very long and b) uh, pungent. So I'd like to do that nifty thing you see on almost everyone else's blog, where after the beginning of the post there's a link labeled "more..." and when you click that link you are taken to the rest of the post. I could do this by setting up a separate story blog, but is there a simpler way? Once I figure out how to do this, I'll fix the post below so that it continues on a separate page. Thanks in advance to anyone who can help me out with this.

EDITED: OK, I've set up a separate blog for story stuff, here. It's ugly but functional. Eventually I'll try to make it slightly less ugly.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

SOMETHING DIFFERENT: The first scene of a short story I'm working on. Tentatively titled "Judicame Deus (Judge Me, O God)." Be forewarned: graphic language and situations. To read part one of the story, click here...
It was then I knew that I'd rather be
With a .22 caliber next to me
Than the blogwatch...

EDITED TO ADD: How could I forget Letter from Gotham's wild post on Australian Jewish convict history?

Hardcore, sharp comments from Lileks on Gene Robinson and marriage (scroll to the last item).

Marriage Debate blog is debating civil unions and whatnot. Will see if I have anything useful to say (but not this minute; see below).

Which movies do Presidents watch? Fascinating trivia, via Hit & Run.
SHANKERY: I need a brief break from same-sex marriage stuff, so will not be posting on it again until tonight at the earliest or Saturday at the latest. I will reply to stuff people have said, though, and I will give you the promised "mechanism" post, again, by Saturday at the latest. For the moment, you can see responses to my posts at Amptoons (scroll around--and be sure to check out his post on Hiroshima while you're there) and riting on the wall. More soon.

EDITED TO ADD: Lawrence Krubner also has some posts up in response.
IT'S NOT ONLINE, NOR WILL IT BE, but if you live in/around DC you should check out the current City Paper story about the attorney who prosecutes cops accused of unnecessary, demeaning, and/or physically damaging cavity searches. An important article.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

WHAT HANDGUN ARE YOU? I'm a S&W .44 Magnum. Mmmm. "You are old school. Fat Sheriff Deputies fancy you. Reliable but not too practical." Via Tepper.
WHY HAVEN'T I LISTENED to my Marc Almond tape in ages??? Right now I'm blasting "Blond Boy" and basically feeling, as Emma Frost would say, angelic and violently insane. Life is good. Thank you, anonymous zine-girl who sent me this tape back in high school. I would link the lyrics but, uh, this is a family blog.
POETRY WEDNESDAY: I got these first from Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock, which rings several changes on both "Thomas the Rhymer" and "Tam Lin"... but they're much older than that!

True Thomas lay on Huntlie bank;
A ferlie he spied wi' his ee;
And there he saw a lady bright,
Come riding down by the Eildon Tree.

Her skirt was o the grass-green silk,
Her mantle o the velvet fyne,
At ilka tett of her horse's mane
Hang fifty siller bells and nine.

True Thomas he pulld aff his cap,
And louted low down to his knee:
"All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
For thy peer on earth I never did see."

"O no, O no, Thomas," she said,
"That name does not belang to me;
I am but the Queen of fair Elfland,
That am hither come to visit thee.

"Harp and carp, Thomas," she said,
"Harp and carp, along wi' me,
And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
Sure of your bodie I will be!"

"Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That weird sall never daunton me;
Syne he has kissed her rosy lips,
All underneath the Eildon Tree.

"Now, ye maun go wi me," she said,
"True Thomas, ye maun go wi me,
And ye maun serve me seven years,
Thro weal or woe as may chance to be."

She mounted on her milk-white steed,
She's taen True Thomas up behind,
And aye wheneer her bride rung,
The steed flew swifter than the wind.

O they rade on, and farther on -
The steed gaed swifter than the wind -
Until they reached a desart wide,
And living land was left behind.

"Light down, light down, now, True Thomas,
And lean your head upon my knee;
Abide and rest a little space,
And I will shew you ferlies three.

"O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.

"And see ye not that braid braid road,
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.

"And see not ye that bonny road,
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night maun gae.

"But, Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
Whatever ye may hear or see,
For, if you speak word in Elflyn land,
Ye'll neer get back to your ain countrie."

O they rade on, and farther on,
And they waded thro rivers aboon the knee,
And they saw neither sun nor moon,
But they heard the roaring of the sea.

It was mirk mirk night, and there was nae stern light,
And they waded thro red blude to the knee;
For a' the blude that's shed an earth
Rins thro the springs o that countrie.

Syne they came on to a garden green,
And she pu'd an apple frae a tree:
"Take this for thy wages, True Thomas,
It will give the tongue that can never lie."

"My tongue is mine ain," True Thomas said,
"A gudely gift ye wad gie me!
I neither dought to buy nor sell,
At fair or tryst where I may be.

"I dought neither speak to prince or peer,
Nor ask of grace from fair ladye:"
"Now hold thy peace," the lady said,
"For as I say, so must it be."

He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
And till seven years were gane and past
True Thomas on earth was never seen.

O I forbid you, maidens a',
That wear gowd on your hair,
To come or gae by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there.

There's nane that gaes by Carterhaugh
But they leave him a wad,
Either their rings, or green mantles,
Or else their maidenhead.

Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little aboon her knee,
And she has broded her yellow hair
A little aboon her bree,
And she's awa to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can hie.

When she came to carterhaugh
Tam Lin was at the well,
And there she fand his steed standing,
But away was himsel.

She had na pu'd a double rose,
A rose but only twa,
Till upon then started young Tam Lin,
Says, Lady, thou's pu nae mae.

Why pu's thou the rose, Janet,
And why breaks thou the wand?
Or why comes thou to Carterhaugh
Withoutten my command?

"Carterhaugh, it is my own,
My daddy gave it me,
I'll come and gang by Carterhaugh,
And ask nae leave at thee."

Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little aboon her knee,
And she has broded her yellow hair
A little aboon her bree,
And she is to her father's ha,
As fast as she can hie.

Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the ba,
And out then came the fair Janet,
The flower among them a'.

Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the chess,
And out then came the fair Janet,
As green as onie glass.

Out then spake an auld grey knight,
Lay oer the castle wa,
And says, Alas, fair Janet, for thee,
But we'll be blamed a'.

"Haud your tongue, ye auld fac'd knight,
Some ill death may ye die!
Father my bairn on whom I will,
I'll father none on thee."

Out then spak her father dear,
And he spak meek and mild,
"And ever alas, sweet Janet," he says,
"I think thou gaest wi child."

"If that I gae wi child, father,
Mysel maun bear the blame,
There's neer a laird about your ha,
Shall get the bairn's name.

"If my love were an earthly knight,
As he's an elfin grey,
I wad na gie my ain true-love
For nae lord that ye hae.

"The steed that my true love rides on
Is lighter than the wind,
Wi siller he is shod before,
Wi burning gowd behind."

Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little aboon her knee,
And she has broded her yellow hair
A little aboon her bree,
And she's awa to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can hie.

When she came to Carterhaugh,
Tam Lin was at the well,
And there she fand his steed standing,
But away was himsel.

She had na pu'd a double rose,
A rose but only twa,
Till up then started young Tam Lin,
Says, Lady, thou pu's nae mae.

"Why pu's thou the rose, Janet,
Amang the groves sae green,
And a' to kill the bonny babe
That we gat us between?"

"O tell me, tell me, Tam Lin," she says,
"For's sake that died on tree,
If eer ye was in holy chapel,
Or christendom did see?"

"Roxbrugh he was my grandfather,
Took me with him to bide
And ance it fell upon a day
That wae did me betide.

"And ance it fell upon a day
A cauld day and a snell,
When we were frae the hunting come,
That frae my horse I fell,
The Queen o' Fairies she caught me,
In yon green hill do dwell.

"And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
Ay at the end of seven years,
We pay a tiend to hell,
I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
I'm feard it be mysel.

"But the night is Halloween, lady,
The morn is Hallowday,
Then win me, win me, an ye will,
For weel I wat ye may.

"Just at the mirk and midnight hour
The fairy folk will ride,
And they that wad their true-love win,
At Miles Cross they maun bide."

"But how shall I thee ken, Tam Lin,
Or how my true-love know,
Amang sa mony unco knights,
The like I never saw?"

"O first let pass the black, lady,
And syne let pass the brown,
But quickly run to the milk-white steed,
Pu ye his rider down.

"For I'll ride on the milk-white steed,
And ay nearest the town,
Because I was an earthly knight
They gie me that renown.

"My right hand will be gloved, lady,
My left hand will be bare,
Cockt up shall my bonnet be,
And kaimed down shall my hair,
And thae's the takens I gie thee,
Nae doubt I will be there.

"They'll turn me in your arms, lady,
Into an esk and adder,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I am your bairn's father.

"They'll turn me to a bear sae grim,
And then a lion bold,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
And ye shall love your child.

"Again they'll turn me in your arms
To a red het gand of airn,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I'll do you nae harm.

"And last they'll turn me in your arms
Into the burning gleed,
Then throw me into well water,
O throw me in with speed.

"And then I'll be your ain true-love,
I'll turn a naked knight,
Then cover me wi your green mantle,
And hide me out o sight."

Gloomy, gloomy was the night,
And eerie was the way,
As fair Jenny in her green mantle
To Miles Cross she did gae.

At the mirk and midnight hour
She heard the bridles sing,
She was as glad at that
As any earthly thing.

First she let the black pass by,
And syne she let the brown,
But quickly she ran to the milk-white steed,
And pu'd the rider down.

Sae weel she minded what he did say,
And young Tam Lin did win,
Syne covered him wi her green mantle,
As blythe's a bird in spring

Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
Out of a bush o broom,
"Them that has gotten young Tam Lin
Has gotten a stately-groom."

Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
And an angry woman was she,
"Shame betide her ill-far'd face,
And an ill death may she die,
For she's taen awa the bonniest knight
In a' my companie.

"But had I kend, Tam Lin," said she,
"What now this night I see,
I wad hae taen out thy twa grey een,
And put in twa een o tree."
IN THE BAG II: I'm not going to do any more of these, but I thought it'd be neat to do "in the bag" two days in a row to illustrate how much my answers change from day to day. I've also changed the categories to better reflect what I actually know about (no ballet for me!) and have added "runners-up" even though I know that's, technically, cheating.

So, if the Desert Island Goon Squad were bashing in my door right this second and I had to grab my provisions for my enforced holiday in the sun, today I would pick:

MOVIE: "Night of the Hunter." May see it tonight. I think on a desert island the river journey would be even more evocative.
Runner-up: "Sweet Smell of Success."
PLAY: "Hamlet." Fallback option.
Runner-up: "Waiting for Godot."
PHOTO: Film still of Jimmy Stewart reaching out to Katharine Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story." She is looking away.
Runner-up: "This is a good German. She is dead." (By Lee Miller; can't find it online.)
POEM: TS Eliot, "Whispers of Immortality."
Runner-up: Elizabeth Bishop, "Crusoe in England." Irony value.
NOVEL: (This may be cheating) Ernest Lehman, "Sweet Smell of Success." Actually a novella. Not sure why this is so much on my mind today.
Runner-up: Ulysses. I actually like it. (There's a bit at the beginning of one of the sections that sounds just like Huggy Bear lyrics sheets--"The king sits on his [something] throne sucking red jujubes white"--that bit.) Plus it's long, and I may be on that island for some time.
PHILOSOPHY: The Symposium.
Runner-up: The Gay Science. Wow, fairly predictable choices from me. Shrug.

Hm, that combination would make for a very odd island experience....
ET IN ARCADIA...: Now that's rather odd.
The last blog I watched from Maudlin Street
So he drove me home in the van
Saying, "Women only like me for my mind"...

AfricaPundit: Meet Liberia's new boss, almost the same as the old boss?

The Cranky Professor: Possible blockbuster scholarly study of the Koran. From the man who brought you 72 white raisins. Weird-osity.

Disputations: Reeves and Booster return! (Starts here, but second installment funnier.) More ecclesiastical Wodehouse-pastiche... fun stuff. Also, help a young woman become a Nashville Dominican sister!

Gideon's Blog: Same-sex marriage. Big post with lots of good points, somewhat obscured by problematic language. I strongly take issue with Millman's belief that to sustain marriage as a norm, society has to view people who don't end up following that norm as "in some sense less than whole people." Emily Dickinson was certainly not normal, but she wasn't subnormal either; nor are the many people who end up single as either vocation (consecrated virgins etc.) or just the way the Kaiser rolls. Maybe I'm defensive about this, as I'm neither married nor dating, but... "less than whole people"?! Maggie Gallagher has a basic, tart column here about the problems of reinforcing norms through stigma.

And I think in Millman's conclusion he seriously overstates the differences between "gays" and "straights." While the differences between men and women strongly shape the lives of men-attracted-to-men vs. men-attracted-to-women and women-attracted-etc., I don't think it's accurate or helpful to reify the concept of "the homosexual" or "the heterosexual." People are weirder than that.

But, that said, there are several important insights in this post (on marriage and aging, marriage and gender, the importance of making marriage a norm, and the difficulty of both marriage and masculinity) and you should definitely check it out.

The Old Oligarch: Feast of the Transfiguration!

Amy Welborn has moved and changed her blogname.

The Onion's horoscopes are in fine form again this week. Via The Rat.

And: Nice job, jerk. "Federal authorities said on Monday they had suspended a U.S. immigration judge after a newspaper reported he referred to himself as Tarzan during court proceedings for an African political asylum seeker named Jane. ...Jane, who is still in the United States, is described by doctors as a former political prisoner in Uganda who was beaten, raped and tortured, the Herald reported." Via Cacciaguida.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: If you're following the same-sex marriage stuff, you should read Denis de Rougemont's Love in the Western World, a history of the idea of romantic love. You should read it anyway--it's brilliant, provocative, and a real rollercoaster read--but it's especially relevant now.
FUN WITH NICHES! I have this odd feeling that some of the posts below will lose me a bit of the comics-oriented readership I picked up last week. Ah well. Today I read Daredevil: Wake Up!, which was really good. I'm generally opposed to comics about traumatized children--it's pretty hard to say something that hasn't been said a thousand times, and so the comics end up feeling exploitative--this is one reason I almost never read a Batman comic. All those flashbacks. But Wake Up! overcomes that difficulty, through both its script and its gorgeous painted pictures.
OTHER HOMOPOSTAL STUFF: So I don't think the same-sex marriage debate needs to be about homosexuality itself. But for those interested, I figured I'd point out some of my past posts on queer stuff. The easiest thing to do is to start here and scroll down. After the first post linked there, it gets relentlessly Andrew Sullivan-and-the-Church-focused, which I know isn't everybody's thing, but I don't write about this subject super often.

Again, I think this followed by this should give you my best previous posts on same-sex marriage. And, as always, is your one-stop shop.
HELP UNQUALIFIED OFFERINGS BUY A COMPUTER! He will have a difficult time blogging until he gets one. So please hit the PayPal thingee--it's worth it! (I will be doing this tomorrow.)
INSTANT WATER--JUST ADD WATER! Is this for real? If so, that's pretty darn cool. Via Kesher Talk.
CIVIL UNIONS: So now, what do I think about civil unions, which confer lots of the practical benefits of marriage without the name? My thoughts on this are kind of confused, so instead of laying out a solid position I'm going to talk about the concerns I have, the things I'm trying to weigh and juggle.

1) Many, though certainly not all, of the practical benefits of marriage can already be cobbled together through things like medical power of attorney. It's not the easiest or most convenient process, but it does exist. For those benefits (like, I believe, Social Security, and, often, health insurance) where you really have very little choice about who you name as the secondary beneficiary, I have no problem with making it possible or easier to name someone else--be it your boyfriend, your sister, or your parakeet's former owner.

2) Caveat: I would prefer, though, that this not become "marriage lite"--I don't want it to be assumed that your secondary beneficiary is your sexual partner. I would rather this really be something you can confer on family or friends. Hence I'd prefer the most bureaucratic language possible--"secondary beneficiary" or some such rather than "domestic partner." I'd like there to be a much greater separation in the public mind than there currently is between marriage and non-marital-but-important relationships.

I talk below about the need to recover a robust understanding of friendship; but in doing that, we absolutely should not undermine a robust understanding of marriage. We've already got a craptaculous sense of what marriage is and why it matters (it's just a piece of paper, right?)--we don't need any more confusion or blurring of lines between marriage and not-marriage. So yes, we should honor friendship more than we do, but we should not blur it with marriage.

3) One of the reasons we shouldn't do that is that we make it too easy to drift too deep into a relationship. Contemporary sexual mores help to conceal the steps by which a couple becomes entangled; that makes it harder for them to decide whether they really want to be entangled after all. As the couple starts having sex (thus often, especially for the woman, forming a much stronger emotional bond), moves in together, begins merging their finances, but doesn't commit to marriage, it's incredibly easy for several bad things to happen:
a) One person thinks the relationship is sturdier than it is. Usually she (it's usually she...) finds out the true state of things when she gets pregnant. Suddenly the couple is way too entangled way too fast.
b) The relationship ought to end, but the couple procrastinates because getting out of the relationship would be too complex (it would entail finding a new place to live!) and the sexual bond can conceal some of the cracks in the relationship.
c) The couple starts to think they already know what marriage would be like--ignoring the fact that the promise-making element of marriage transforms the relationship. The couple's view of marriage as just a piece of paper + hugely expensive wedding is reinforced.

So where does that leave me? Not totally sure, as I said. I do want to make it easier for people to care for those they love, and something like a civil union or domestic partnership might be a good way to do that, though, as I said, I really don't want the assumption that the partnership is a sexual one.
MINORITY REPORTS: One of the questions you hear a lot in the same-sex marriage debate is, "How can such a small minority of people actually affect the vast majority of marriages?" There are at least three reasons to think it could.

1) American culture has always been strongly affected by minorities. I wrote about black culture's impact on the broader culture here. Andrew Sullivan recently wrote, "And, as with most developments in gay culture, they [= 'bears'] could well influence straight culture as well"; Michael Bronski, a radical queer theorist, makes the same point in his Pleasure Principle. I don't think it's disputable that the most prominent Catholic voice on same-sex marriage is Andrew Sullivan's (closely followed by Rick Santorum, I suppose...). Minorities have an impact on us.

2) The push for same-sex marriage in many ways represents a minority seizing on and promoting some of the mistakes of the majority--thus reinforcing the majority's worse tendencies. In pushing for an ad hoc, "do it yourself," atomistic-adults-making-contracts view of marriage, gay activists are just picking up a thread of argument and policy that was initially begun by and for heterosexual couples. "Marriage is society's way of honoring adults' sexual and romantic desires": That isn't something new. It's just the divorce culture again. So given that this all started in the majority, I don't see why we should expect the majority to remain pristinely sealed away from it now.

3) Finally, same-sex marriage would represent a change in the ideal of marriage. The rise of unilateral no-fault divorce is generally discussed not as an ideal but as an often tragic response to marriage failure. We can debate that, but it's very different from changing what the ideal marriage is. (I'll talk more about why the ideal matters in the "mechanism" post tomorrow.)