When, several semesters ago, my department chair asked me to teach the local version of the nowadays-pervasive “popular culture” course, I consented with some mild misgivings and, as I like to do, took a mostly historical approach to course-content. I have no investment in contemporary popular culture, the wretchedness of it striking me as consummate. My students, for their part, being morbidly, continuously immersed in contemporary popular culture, require no one to acquaint them with it. At least they require no one to tutor them in it directly, since it regrettably is their ubiquitous, hortatory guide, and their authoritative cue-giver, for all facets of life. But one might apprise them about the insipidity of existing mass-entertainment indirectly by putting it in contrast with the popular entertainments of the past, including the classic films that most of them have never seen and, more importantly, would never seek out on their own. One film that I showed to students was the Errol Flynn vehicle The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), directed by Michael Curtiz. Another one, not so well known as Robin Hood, was the Roger Livesey/Wendy Hiller vehicle I Know Where I’m Going (1945), directed by Michael Powell (1905 – 1990).
I recently set my freshman composition students the task of writing an essay based on each writer’s choice of a topic from a list of two hundred topics. I urged especially that writer-respondents to the assignment should strive to find interest in whatever topics they might select and that they should seek to discover the meanings in their topics. To prove that it could be done, I wrote the following essay on one topic from my own list – “Lemuria.” I append my list at the end of the essay. (TFB)
When I teach my course on science fiction at SUNY Oswego, I concentrate on classic texts of the highest literary merit – those by Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, and Ray Bradbury. When I pursue my lifelong hobby I am less selective. When I discover an unknown paperback title in a second hand bookshop, I frankly judge the item by its cover while where content is concerned I hope for the best. Most of the mouldering paperbacks fall short of memorability. Occasionally, however, a jewel appears among the rubble, a short story or novel more or less forgotten that, for one reason or another, merits contemporary re-visitation. One such, which I encountered again three or four years ago after a lapse of decades, is Charles Eric Maine’s World Without Men (1958), a novel about the long-term implications of birth control, abortion, and the so-called sexual revolution that treats these matters in a bold and prescient way.
Despite the advocacy of conductor and countryman Neeme Järvi and the determination of record-producer Robert von Bahr (founder of the BIS label) in the 1980s, the work of the Estonian-Swedish composer Eduard Tubin (1905 – 1982) remains largely unknown beyond a small coterie of aficionados who take an interest in Baltic and Scandinavian music. Humphrey Searle and Robert Layton in their survey of Twentieth Century Composers: Britain, Scandinavia and the Netherlands (1970) omit to mention Tubin although they devote discussion to a number of his contemporaries in mid-century Sweden such as Hilding Rosenberg (1892 – 1985), Karl-Birger Blomdahl (1916 – 1968), and Allan Pettersson (1911 – 1980). Tubin’s obscurity is a pity because he composed at a level at least as high as that achieved by Rosenberg, Blomdahl, and Pettersson. Indeed, Tubin wrote in an idiom more accessible than any of theirs, being, as one supposes, much less worried than they about his “modern” bona fides. What explains Tubin’s obscurity? It might have something to do with his refugee-expatriate status: He fled Estonia for Sweden after the Soviet invasion in 1944; and while he remained an Estonian nationalist – by reflex, anti-Soviet and anti-Communist – his adoptive country became increasingly accommodationist.
On a friend’s recommendation, I rented Warm Bodies this weekend, expecting nothing more than a little mindless entertainment to provide an occasional distraction from homework. What I got, instead, was a break from the usual genre exercise with a symbolic structure that’s almost too overtly Christian to be unintentional. (Spoilers below the break).
I call the attention of Orthospherians to my article “I get a Kick out of Fugue II: Fugue in the Twentieth Century” at Kidist Paulos Asrat’s Reclaiming Beauty website; “Fugue II” is a follow-up to my article from early in summer, “I get a Kick out of Fugue,” also at Reclaiming Beauty. Meanwhile, Angel Millar has given my essay on “Richard Wagner, Revolution, and the Re-Founding of Humanity” a generous presentation at his website, The People of Shambhala. The two essays on fugue argue, with plentiful musical illustration, my anthropological theory of fugal practice as reflecting the patterns of social breakdown and reformation. The essay on Richard Wagner and Musikdrama likewise has an anthropological slant: I take seriously Wagner’s writings, wherein, once one gets past the florid rhetoric, one finds a genuine and plausible theory of the origin alike of consciousness and culture. I recommend both Reclaiming Beauty and People of Shambhala as interesting and valuable websites.
As is his inimitable, charming wont, Mike Flynn eviscerates eliminative materialism in the nicest possible way. A summa:
Science is a filter, much like a fishing net; but we mustn’t conclude from the fish caught in the net the sizes of fishes in the deep blue sea. Yet some people reason that if science cannot distinguish between the mechanistic and the volitional, everything at bottom must be mechanistic. The apparently volitional is “really” mechanical. But surely it is just as reasonable to conclude that everything is at bottom volitional. The apparently mechanical is “really” the working out of a Will. At least from the scientific perspective you cannot prove otherwise.
Flynn is one of the most amiable rapiers you are ever likely to encounter. Feser cheerfully and relentlessly obliterates his adversaries, pounding their smithereens into dust; Flynn just lops off their legs, in such a gentlemanly fashion as to make it seem as though he is doing them a favor.
A guest post by commenter Bill:
Back when I was a neo-con doofus, the movie Matewan was a guilty pleasure. For those unfamiliar, Matewan is a fictionalized depiction of the events surrounding the Battle of Matewan. This was a violent confrontation, set off by a union organizing drive, in Matewan, WV between members of the United Mine Workers and the Stone Mountain Coal Company. One of the many intellectual benefits of moving to the real right is appreciating this film without guilt.
Seen through one lens, the movie is straight-up socialist agit-prop. The protagonist is a former Wobbly, career labor activist, Joe Kenehan. The antagonists are a couple of drunken, degenerate, dishonest pinkerton goons. The movie is well-made and visually beautiful, but its plotting is crude and predictable with the socialist Kenehan as improbably angelic as the pinkertons are demonic. The Kenehan character is boring to watch and difficult to identify with.
So, how does the movie draw our sympathies to the UMW’s side? There is only one technique on offer. We are presented, over and over, with the clash between real, organic, traditional cultures on the one side and the cold, empty, but overwhelmingly powerful forces of modernity on the other. Modernity is played by, first, the railroad, and, second, the pinkertons.
Early in the movie, the pinkertons get off the train in Matewan and find, sitting at the train station, a pretty young woman. It seems that she spends her days watching the trains come and go. This seemingly stock character is not. Normally, Hollywood portrays this woman very sympathetically as a visionary and dreamer, a woman “too big for this small town.” Here, she is portrayed as empty, stupid, and essentially autistic. Naturally, the pinkertons are very unpleasant to her, but the interaction comes off less as the pinkertons victimizing her than three people failing to interact meaningfully because there is an empty space where
that-which-interacts should be. They who come from the railroad and she who hankers after it.
Later, the pinkertons go to a Sunday service at the local Baptist assembly and drunkenly laugh through “There is Power in the Blood.” Again, what one comes away with is not so much hatred for the pinkertons but horror at the contrast between the evident fullness, community, and rootedness of the townspeople and the yawning, tinny, broken emptiness of the pinkertons.
In another scene, Kenehan recounts his time during the First World War in prison with some Mennonites. He describes with evident awe watching, day after day, as the Mennonites pried the buttons off their prison-issued clothes, sure in the knowledge that they would be punished but surer in the knowledge that their traditions require that they take the buttons off.
In a climactic scene, the strikers (now consisting of blacks & Italian immigrants brought under false pretenses by the company to break the strike, along with the indigenous Appalachians) are at
their campsite. They are about to be dispossessed of what little they have left by the pinkertons. From nowhere arrive a bunch of Hillbillies who chase off the pinkertons via a show of force (evidently, they have been harboring a longstanding grudge against the company). As the pinkertons leave, one comments on a
Hillbilly’s outdated firearm, asking if it was used in the Spanish War. No, he replies, in the War Between the States.
One could go on in this vein. The case the movie makes for the UMW could not be more clear. The union will protect your culture and way of life. The company will destroy it. Whether this is actually true in the real world is of no moment. The sales-job presupposes traditionalism. As Bonald points out in one of his posts, Hollywood sometimes makes traditionalist movies by accident. We are so off their radar screen that they sometimes stumble accidentally into our territory—because we are right about how humans are, humans respond to traditionalist themes.
I originally published this post on my now-defunct blog Dispatches from the North in January of 2012.
- To reduce the prison population and ease police workloads. As of 2008, more than 175,000 Americans were behind bars for ILA. Statistics for other countries with anti-ILA laws are similar. Anti-ILA laws thus put a tremendous strain on both prisons and law enforcement, giving them less time and fewer resources to deal with other, more important problems, such as poverty and racism.
- To combat discrimination. In many countries, those who have been convicted of ILA are forbidden from voting or running for political office. Furthermore, tremendous social stigma is attached to ILA, reducing practitioners’ opportunities in housing and employment, among other things. Laws against ILA are also often used to legitimize institutional racism: In the United States, a disproportionate number of people convicted of ILA are Hispanic or African-American, and again, the statistics for other countries are similar. We believe that the legalization of ILA should be complemented with anti-discrimination laws, mandatory sensitivity training for police and public servants, and the introduction of an ILA History Month aimed at making society more inclusive of ILA and its practitioners. Continue reading
Glorifying God, leaking into the world the love that he leaks into us through the wounds and breaches and gaps of our own lives, is a severely practical and down to earth activity.
In that sense we do in the world what God does in us. We receive His love where we are vulnerable and weak, and lose sight of it when we claim strength and power. Christians reach to the jagged edges of our society, and of the world in general. Food distribution, places for rough sleepers, debt counselling, credit unions, community mediation, support for ex‐offenders, support for victims of crime, care for the dying, valuing those who have no economic contribution to make, or are too weak to argue for their own value. All this is the daily work of the church, which goes on every day and everywhere. We leak out into the world the love that God leaks into us.
The above bit of revoltingly banal, worldly shlock comes to us from the Christmas sermon of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who was enthroned today as head of the Anglican Communion in a ceremony that looked like this: