(These ideas are explicated in this sloppy manifesto)

Saturday, February 28, 2004
The Passion of Time

Another amazing Passion article, this one by an avowed liberal populaizer of pop-culture chaos, in Time of all places:
On Wednesday, PBS’ Charlie Rose convened a panel of savants to hash out the controversy of the film’s purported anti-Semitism and Gibson’s provocative and defensive public statements. A hash some of them made of it. Leading the attack, Vanity Fair’s Christopher Hitchens appropriated rhetorical tactics employed by both political fringes. Like some segments of the Christian right when “Last Temptation” and “Dogma” came out, he called for a boycott of a film he apparently had not seen. And he exhumed that favorite old pejorative of the Bolsheviks, fascist: he said the movie is “quite distinctly fascist in intention,” adding that it is “an incitement to sadomasochism, in the less attractive sense of the word.” Hitchens let viewers wonder for a moment which kind he preferred, then clarified his definition: the film, he insisted, is “an appeal to the gay Christian sadomasochistic niche market.” That must explain the movie’s $23 million opening day. Pretty big niche.

Donning canonical robes, Hitchens found Gibson in violation of canon law. Hitchens declared that “He specifically rejects the findings of the Second Vatican Council,” which absolved Jews of culpability in Jesus’ death. But the Council “found” a lot of things; what Gibson disputed was not the resolution of the Jewish question but, for example, the abrupt shift in the Liturgy from Latin to the the faithful’s own modern language. Another panelist, Newsweek’s Jon Meacham, added the observation that “The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued pastoral guidelines about how believers should dramatize the Passion ... almost every one of which Gibson violates.” A renegade Catholic, if Gibson is one, would be happy to diss and disobey the bishops. But what other movie has been charged by journalists with such an arcane crime?
Nota bene: I have not seen The Passion yet. I almost had time on Ash Wednesday, but then I got clobbered with work, and I hate crowds anyway. Sunday night, possibly, if work lets up.

Friday, February 27, 2004
"Jesus didn't die of pneumonia..."
Mel Gibson appeared on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show"--and was greeted by the live audience with a prolonged standing ovation.

Gibson's appearance on the top-rated late-night program came on the heels of new box office results showing that his new film, "The Passion of the Christ," may be one of the biggest hits of all time.
So says, and it highlights something I've been thinking about, the extent to which popular media are willing to shoot themselves in the foot in the name of political correctness.

My own hometown newspaper, the Arizona Republic, ran a reflexively breast-beating diatribe this Sunday just past. Surely this surprises no one, except that Phoenix is a very Christian town. The Republic until recently was owned by the Pulliam family and was the actual philosophical underpinning of what we call Goldwater Republicanism. Under its new ownership, it has recast itself as just another liberal rag blindly undermining civilization in behalf of the Communists. Ordinary Americans will put up with a lot from their media outlets, but it's hard to imagine Phoenicians being pleased at having gone two dollars out of pocket on the way home from church only to be spit on by their newspaper.

In the same way, Andrew Sullivan, The Moral Conscience of the Fist-Fuckers, had to rush off to see the movie in order to shit on himself, his creaky Catholicism and his fawning following, to whom he normally panders shamelessly, declaring, "It is a deeply immoral work of art."

Will there be long-term consequences for this type of behavior? Only time will tell. But it passes absurd for the whorishly pandering mass media to so adamantly repel its own mass audiences. There is a school-teacherish quality to it, and there has been for a long while, but the difference is that school teachers have a coercive monopoly on their victims. They do not have to compete in the marketplace for mindshare. From today's Washington Times:
Hollywood film company Dreamworks also backed away from remarks published in yesterday's New York Times suggesting that Hollywood producers will blacklist Mr. Gibson.
Indeed. The man used his own money to make and release a film no one wanted made, he got the whole thing done on his own initiative, it opens on a huge number for movie screens and stands to make a bread-cast-upon-the-waters quantity of money, and Hollywood presumes to thwart this very rich man by denying him... funding. Thus denying itself a return on his investments. We can see from this reversal that the Dreamworks triumvirate are at least slightly better at math than the New York Times.

The real test for The Passion, both financially and in its philosophical impact, will be repeat business. In that light, consider this utterly amazing article from Newsday:
This isn't merely a movie. It's a meditation. I sat in the darkness and saw myself in the thousand faces up there on the screen. Driving home, I couldn't get rid of the thought that true believers somehow sense Christ, through the cruel mystery of the cross, in one another every day. It is, in the end, the tenderest of stories of the love of a creator for his creatures.

This is profoundly personal. This is a powerful reawakening of all the things we first learned from the catechism and still hear from the pulpit. This is about the man who, I have been told since the first grade, came down on Earth to suffer, die and rise again so that all of us could be something, in life and in death, far more lustrous than an ant or a tree.

And even if you don't believe any of it, there is something about the story of this man, this God who became man, that has brought the world back to its mix of flesh and spirit for centuries and, not often enough, to its knees. I want to see it again. I want to sit in the theater again and see once more what is never there on the serene and spotless crucifixes on church altars or in our sheltered minds.

I want to see the blood and feel just a pang of his howling pain and wonder again why he did it, why he died.

For me. I want to look for myself somewhere on the screen, among the faces of the soldiers or Simon or Pilate or even Judas. I want to see myself because in all the things we do or fail to do for each other, in all the ways we love or hate, I know I was there somewhere. We all were.
This ran in a newspaper. A liberal newspaper. From Long Island, New York. On its Op-Ed page. I told you that the pretend controvery over anti-semitism will have blown over by next Wednesday, and, as of right now at least, there is nothing of The Passion on the Drudge Report. But that a mainstream daily newspaper is willing to lend print to an opinion like this argues that we are by now living in a different world from last Wednesday. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004
How do you think they got taxpayer-subsidized Viagra?

Now this is MookWear...


I am besmudged, of course. It's Ash Wednesday, and, like last year, Cameron is to play his violin at Mass tonight, so we went to the sunrise service, in case he is too busy to take the ashes and the host this evening. It matters to me, anyway, to do this as early in the day as possible, because I like to wear this badge of my Catholicity, to include myself among the Catholics, and to exclude myself from those who scorn them. To them I am still on the road to Damascus, and they don't heed me when I say I never won't be, but I am nevertheless of them in every way I can be. Today, in particular, as Fascism joins battle with Communism over the definition of legal marriage, even as both work incessantly to undermine matrimonium.

And today is the day Mel Gibson's Passion debuts, and the vicious commentary directed at that film is yet another good reason to wear this smudge of ashes, to make it plain that these vile people do not speak for me.

There have been well-intentioned comments, too, and I had thought to address a couple of them. The secularists wonder why Gibson did not devote his film to the theological or philosophical teachings of the Nazarene. The Fundamentalists ask why so little attention is paid to the resurrection. The answer to both questions is that Mel Gibson is a Roman Catholic. His film is the Stations of the Cross, bookended by the holy eucharist and the resurrection. His choices will be obvious to any Catholic, less so to anyone else.

In a thoughtful and non-vile review, Roger Ebert makes much the same point, adding this:
Gibson has not made a movie that anyone would call "commercial," and if it grosses millions, that will not be because anyone was entertained. It is a personal message movie of the most radical kind, attempting to re-create events of personal urgency to Gibson. The filmmaker has put his artistry and fortune at the service of his conviction and belief, and that doesn't happen often.
I am a Roman Catholic by self-identification, by personal preference, not by faith. "But everybody's gotta take a side," says Brother Willie. Because I believe in rectitude and not malleable 'rights', because I believe in matrimonium and not mere license, because I believe in courageous individuals and not howling mobs, because I believe in a civilization that transcends the ages, that transcends the trivial and the topical--I side with the Catholics.

Monday, February 23, 2004
SplendorQuest: My world

The world I live in, the world I love to live in, is a place of the most intense concentration. To a degree, it doesn't even matter to me what I'm concentrating on, provided it commands my fullest attention. What I like best is to think about one thing and to think all about that one thing and to think about it exhaustively, until I understand it as if I were inside that thing, as if I were that thing.

The world I die in, the world in which I hate to find myself enmired, is the place where there is nothing to be thought about, nothing to be understood, nothing to be accomplished but the rote, the obvious, the useless and trivial. I am twice lucky, though, because I can live in my world even when I'm stuck in that place of dusty death, and because I cannot for the life of me remember pain in the instant after it goes away.

I live on this page, this temporary parchment of agitated phosphors, but I live at the same time in so many otherwheres. I wrote Macintosh software for years, the years when I couldn't make the phosphors dance. My essay on Ibsen is the pride of Norway and a day off from work for lazy American literature professors, who assign it year after year. My study aids for the Oxford Latin Course and my partial rescue of the Interlineal Horace win me the acclaim of bleary-eyed young Latinists all over the globe. The absolute best work I have ever done, I think, is Anastasia in the light and shadow. But the most popular opus in my corpus--in terms of raw bandwidth--is not my weblog, not a political or philosophical essay, not a short story, not a book or a novel. It is a very crude animation explicating Catullus LVIII--and Lesbia just struts, she doesn't even strip!

But this is my world, a world where all that exists is what I am concentrating on right now. I love it better than absolutely anything, and when I find it, that vast, pulsing orb of effortless energy, I can work forever, I can work until there is nothing left in me or of me or to me. I can work until I collapse, then sleep the sleep of the blessed, then wake to do it all over again--again and again, forever.

I love, love, love to write, and when it comes for me, when it's right, I can write a thousand words an hour for six or seven hours a day. I stink like the dead when I stop, and I babble on senselessly, but when I sleep it's as if the next day's work is done for me in the night--by elves!--and the words just pour out of me when I sit down to work again. The things that I've written that are heartbreakingly beautiful--to me, at least--were all written that way--this way--as fast as I can type the words, constantly racing to catch up with my uninterruptable concentration.

But as much as I love to write, I love, love, love almost everything that I do. When I was writing that software, I wrote it to infinite perfection. I solved the mission critical problem. I solved all of the ancillary problems. I error-trapped for things that could never happen. I wrote jokes and poetry in the source code for my own amusement, and I built in Easter eggs for the end users, with other treats kept secret just for the people who helped me design and test my programs. I wrote my own manuals, and the manuals are fun reading--useful, practical, whimsical, cautionary, sometimes even wise. I made my own icons and designed my own packaging and did everything the best way I could, and I got better consistently through time. And all through all of that--all through everything, everywhen--there was within me the quiet and perfect and unquestionable conviction that working any other way would be hellish. That doing anything less the best I could do in functionality, in elegance and in pure enjoyment would serve only to enmire me in that world of dusty death. I would betray everything I had done by failing to do what I could have done--what I might have and should have done.

And I do everything that way. And I hate doing anything any other way. I hate having anything to do with anything that doesn't need to be done, and I hate for things to be done half-way, half-measure, half-assed. I don't even want for tasks merely to have been accomplished competently and proficiently. If there is nothing of delight in the doing, then the chore is not done. If there is nothing of me in the doing, then I might as well have been dead.

I would see myself reflected in everything I touch--not as a vanity, not as a self-indulgence in appreciation for the accomplishment of nothing, not as an accident of nature. I want to see the evidence of my hand--my own hand--in the things I have done as a measure of the value I bring to and seek in my life. I want to look upon my work and say, "This is well done. This is properly done. This is superbly done." I want for the things I do to be distinct in every way from the natural, the accidental, the random, the dusty and the dead. My work is my life and my life is my work and the full evidence of my effortless energy must be present in each of them--or both are dead.

I think about all of this now--a point on a line of time named 'always'--because of the people I am working with right now. I so much love nearly everything I do that I have never cared very much about remuneration. Enough to live on was more than enough, and the rest was mere score-keeping, a vanity at best. But my son has developed a taste for expensive education, and my wife and I will need to retire in due course, and the simple fact of life is that I can reap just as much delight working at peak intensity for money as I can working at that same intensity for free--or some small sum in the immediate neighborhood. To that end, I have consciously directed my attention to learning how to be a truly fearsome sales monster. I approached this like everything else, with a ferocious concentration, and it looks like it's about to begin to pay off.

But what I've been thinking about is how much I enjoy it. It's like everything else for me--everything is like everything else for me--thoughtful effort is thrice repaid. I think about everything associated with this one little thing, and I think all about what I think is wrong in everyone else's thinking. It's the same approach I used with Latin demonstrative pronouns, master the base and overlay the exceptions, a very programmatic style of ratiocination. I plan someday to know more about this than anyone. Not for the sake of knowing. For the sake of doing. I want to be able to do this job so well that I end up turning away more people than ever I can help.

And I love, love, love the people I get to work with. I spent the first third of my working life in salaried jobs, and half the people I worked with were half-assed at least half the time. The others were exceptional, and I loved working with them and learning from them--or simply admiring their delightful competence. But now everyone I work with is a sales monster in some respect--a person who is paid only upon the successful completion of an intricate and volatile task.

Mostly these folks are not what I would call contemplative. Like my lovely Gwendolyn, I go to some pains to edit the full glare of me in their sight. But to a man, to a woman--they are focused. Each one of them, every day, is presented with this challenge: Do each and every task your job requires, perfectly and as soon as it must be done, without failure, all on your own motivation--or starve to death! This is reality, the reality that is never absent in random, accidental nature. That most people, most employees, most time-servers--half-assed at least half the time--are insulated from this reality is a gift from exceptional people like the ones I get to work with every day. If I might wish to make a deeper sort of conversation with them, I could never ask to experience a deeper admiration for them.

They are of my world. I don't know what they think about epistemology or ethics or economics or esthetics. I don't know if they agree with me about anything away from the world of our business. What I know is that when we are in that world of our business, they are in my world and I am in their world and none of us is in that world of dusty death.

I believe in Splendor, and what I mean by that word is the state of being--the state of mind and the intensely physical, palpable oscillation of the body--that comes from doing whatever it is you're doing so fully, so completely, so consciously that you are not doing anything else--not anything else. The mind is focused by an act of will, but true concentration is not a focused mind. True concentration is a focused everything.

That sounds harsh, but of course Splendor is delight--undiluted, undiverted, undivided--undiminished and inextinguishable. I love it when I live it, and I live in my world because I love it so much. I have my wife with me and my son and my dogs. I have the wonderful people I am privileged to work with. I write psalms for those who shun my world, or who seem to, but in truth I don't miss them. I can't. I am enthralled by a vast, pulsing orb of effortless energy--the object, the subject, the essence of my devout concentration. I can't bear to look away. And I never, ever look down...

SplendorQuest: Adoration

You come to me by starlight
In a gown of gauzy white
Your sacraments revealed concealed
High priestess of the night

You whisper vespers whisper prayers
Whisper vows of faith and fear
In still and silent grace you stand
As I in trembling awe draw near

I kneel in worship grasp your hand
Press it to my searing lips
Pray god to know the endless peace
Flowing from your fingertips

You come to me in night divine
Your glory lit by crowning gold
You consecrate by hungry glance
Devotion's heat in evening's cold

You come to me I kneel I stand
You lay me on the dewy ground
You guide my worship guide my hands
Lead my heart your heart to sound

You speak to me with loving grace
You catechize in passion's glow
You reach you teach you seethe and burn
And I am blessed by truth to know

You come to me in gauzy gown
High priestess of the night
I lay in awe in faith in fear
Lifted to your heaven's light

Sunday, February 22, 2004
SplendorQuest: Heaven

Heaven, by Julie Gold

I think I'll go to heaven.
There I will lay me down.
Leave all the pain behind me.
Bury it in the ground.
Maybe they'll talk about me.
I pray it won't be lies.
Tell them I went to heaven.
Heaven is in your eyes.

I think I'll go to heaven.
I heard it's peaceful there.
They don't allow your troubles.
Everyone's had their share.
When I can be someone who
Never needs a disguise.
Then I will be in heaven.
Heaven is in your eyes.
People in heaven
Never look back.
Higher and higher
The past
To black.
I think I'll go to heaven.
Sail on into the night.
Watch as I set my soul free.
Watch as my heart takes flight.
Maybe I am too simple.
Maybe I am too wise.
Maybe I'll go to heaven.
Heaven is in your eyes.