Category Archives: postmodernism

“Pro-life, homeschooling committed Christians who abstain till marriage then stay married to the same person are freaks”

I tolerate a lot, maybe too much, when it comes to TV and movies, but I appreciate seeing the consequences of actions, even if the writers depict those consequences unwittingly.

20 years or so ago, when Ellen Degeneres and her eponymous sitcom came out of the proverbial closet, ABC said that LGBT were about 10% of the population and deserved to be represented on TV.  Now, most studies have said that even if those who have “experimented” to some degree or other are included, LGBT are at most 6% of the population, and really more like 3%.  Interestingly with all the propaganda in recent years, that number has risen a whole half a percent!  Amazing how the number of people who are “born” a certain way increases.

But, fine, 4%.  Yes, there are people who identify that way and yes they should be depicted *honestly*.

But a year or two after the Ellen controversy, when the Catholic League lead a coalition of pro-life, pro-family, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish organizations protesting Nothing Sacred, ABC said, “We can’t have what amounts to 10% of the population dictating to us.”  Yet *that* coalition represented the views of 50% of the population.

Close to 70% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal under at least some circumstances, yet to most TV shows, pro-lifers are a minority and freaks.

I read an article once about the unrealistic depiction of sexual relationships on TV that pointed out for example how many characters known on TV shows as “losers” who can’t find a girlfriend actually have more sexual relationships, particularly in a short time, than even relatively promiscuous people in real life.

How often, outside of sitcoms and a couple reality shows that may be exceptions that prove the rule, do you see couples who are happily married and stay married?

How often do you see people on any fictional TV show who are committed Christians and serious about their faith and love their faith?  Even The Middle and recently cancelled Last Man Standing depict religion as something important but still a kind of chore or ideology (though Mike’s monologues on Last Man Standing sometimes make up for it quoting the Bible and even the saints).  Characters who are in any way serious about religion are, again, freaks and weirdos (which, yes, many people who are serious about religion in real life are also, and should be, but not the way we’re depicted).

How often do you see families on TV with more than 3 kids that aren’t “blended”? (and yes, child labor laws come into play).

I could go on with examples, but if it’s a question of “equal representation,” all the demographics I listed are a higher percentage of the population than LGBT yet they hardly ever show up and are treated as weirdos and bigots when they do.

Meanwhile, in the inverted Natural Law, where Neuhaus’s Law is in full effect, sex is meaningless recreation.  People on TV don’t even wait for a commitment, much less marriage, sex is a “test”–and saying “I love you” is a big “event” that comes after a couple have already engaged in sex not as an act of consummation of love but as a fulfillment of desire.  And, yes it has been this way on television for decades, and in “real life” without the Biblical moral framework, but what strikes me is how, in recent years it hasn’t even been a semblance of concern for decency or depicting any kind of negative view of sexual promiscuity, but an overt sense of saying, “This is perfectly normal, and it’s Judeo-Christian morality that’s aberrant and bizarre.”gs5x4j0

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“Is it the End or the Beginning?” A Tale of Three Artists: Eliot, Lynch and Koontz, Pt 2 of 3

…With a mandatory touch of C. S. Lewis.
[SPOILERS for both Twin Peaks and some recent Koontz novels; usual warning]

My previous post addressed the series finale of Twin Peaks as such (given the age of the creators, the time it took to make this season, and the 18 hours spent supposedly telling this story that could have been told in half the time, it likely is the series finale).

I addressed Lewis’s argument that we should not read too much into a work of fiction that isn’t there, and suggested that Lynch’s point is to criticize his own fans, and TV/movie viewers in general, for doing the same.  He essentially says, “This is all just a fantasy.  Stop making more of it than it is.  These aren’t real people.”

Now, some thoughts on the whole “David Lynch is an artist” “argument” and the notion of “fans’ expectations.”  To this, I bring in Lewis’s criticism of the view that a poet could just say “I’m a poet,” and that makes his view of poetry superior to the view of “non-poets.”

It annoys me when I take my kids to a museum to learn about art and the curator says, “Well, art can be whatever you want.”  No, it can’t.  It has to have rules.  It has to express something.  If a person writes the word “appeal” and means “apple,” that expresses something different.  If a person draws a picture, it has to be something the viewer can understand before it can convey any message.  Most modernism and postmodernism is just the Emperor’s New Clothes: everyone saying “It’s genius! He’s a genius!  It’s amazing!” and dismissing anyone who disagrees as an uncultured buffoon because the “art” is not about expressing something so much as providing an avenue to elitism: a tendency Lewis saw in Eliot and condemned among the intelligentsia in “Lilies that Fester.”

When an entertainer/artist has a long and relatively successful career, he inevitably changes.  Either he gets “more commercial” or “more artistic.”  Either he gains confidence in putting more of his worldview into his work or perhaps he changes/matures in it.  Thus, I often speak of the three camps of Eliot fans: those who prefer the “Prufrock/Waste-Land Era,” those who prefer the “Four Quartets Era,” and those who see them as a continuum.  When I taught literature, I would point out how two writers can use very similar situations with slight differences to demonstrate their worldviews.   Flannery O’Connor and Edgar Allen Poe, for example, can use a similar circumstance to show hope and despair, respectively.

MIKE’s line on Twin Peaks: the Return: “Is it past or is it future?” recalls the famous line from Four Quartets: “In my end is my beginning.”  To the secular reader, Four Quartets is a meditation on time and destiny, while the Christian reader sees Four Quartets as Lord of the Rings: a sophisticated Christian epic deeper than a mere allegory.

Others have pointed out the parallels between Twin Peaks and Four Quartets, and someone even captured this screenshot:
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To date, I’ve read Brother Odd and Odd Thomas, and have started Forever Odd.  My wife has read many Koontz novels and told me about them, as well as interviews, discussion groups, Amazon reviews, etc., and speaks of how many “longtime Koontz fans” are disappointed by more overtly books like the Odd Thomas series and Innocence, even though the titles should be huge spoilers.
From a Catholic perspective, Saint Odd and Innocence have the happiest endings a story possibly could, like every C. S. Lewis novel.  From the perspective of someone expecting a classic horror story or a classic romance story, however, they’re disappointing.

“David Lynch fans” look at Twin Peaks: the Return and say “It’s genius,” like the Emperor’s subjects in Andersen’s fairy tale, or the snobs at Lewis’s proverbial cherry party, because they don’t want to be counted among the philistines who “don’t get it.”  Some, however, admit they don’t get it, that it should be different from a “typical Lynch movie,” or even that it is different in the wrong way from one.

However, I’d say Lynch is conveying a message.  He’s conveying the message he wants to convey, and that’s why some people dismissively say “It’s existentialism,” because it is.  To the existentialist, life is ultimately despair, and you piece it together by enjoying cherry pies and chocolate bunnies.  It is “about the bunny,” Lynch would answer Lucy.   To the Platonist and Hindus, we’re all spirits in another realm controlling bodies that are essentially avatars, reliving our lives till we get them right.  This is one possible interpretation of the tulpas in Twin Peaks.  Another is that the finale shows the “Balance in the Force.” Whether they’re all dream-selves of the same dreamer, or reincarnations/avatars of the same being in the Red Room, or something else, the lesson that evil is inevitable and needs to be balanced, not stopped, is in keeping with the Dualistic worldview of Gnosticism/Platonism/Hinduism-Buddhism/New Age/etc.

There is something Catholic in the notion that we can’t “destroy” evil.  We can’t have a magic fist that bashes the Devil into smithereens.  We can’t go back and undo the evil of the past without destroying the future because the past dictates the future.   Once Barry Allen saves his mother, the cosmos can never be completely the same, even if he goes back to let her die again, and Barry has to live in the personal hell of knowing how many times he’s changed everyone’s lives.  This seems to be the almost-tacked on lesson of Twin Peaks, not because Cooper needs to learn it but the viewer does.

Koontz gives us a similar blend of horror, mystery, humor and romance with the lesson that all this misery points to Heaven.  As Chesterton would say, Lynch gives us the gargoyles–with fragments of the Temple.  Koontz gives us the gothic cathedral.  Both draw from Eliot, and both get in their long time fans the same polarized reactions as Eliot did.

On Cult and Culture

The problem with “Culture Wars” is we don’t know what culture *is*.  If we truly want to win back souls to God and the Natural Law, we must do it through redeeming the culture itself.

Chesterton says that the history of Western civilization is a conflict between three worldviews: the Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian and atheistic-nihilistic. He illustrates this with a parable of a people on an island who worship the sun. They build a round, mathematically perfect, temple. Over time, they come to understand God as transcendent of Nature and nature as corrupt, dangerous and not quite so perfect as they previously thought. So they add a spire to their temple, pointing to the sky, and gargoyles to the outside to show that the world is dark and scary but there is hope in Heaven. Over time, they lose their faith in God completely and create a temple of complete grotesque to demonstrate it: they take away the spire and replace all the gods and saints with more gargoyles.

Chesterton saw 100 years ago what the Twentieth Century was producing and has produced in spades since.

These threads can be seen in smaller amounts in each major historical period and each particular Western civilization’s history.  Generally, though, the Greeks and Romans produced art and literature which saw both nature and the gods as orderly and beautiful.  Their dramas reflected the need to return to order when civil order was disrupted.

The so-called “Dark Ages” produced literature, art, music and architecture focused entirely on God, and human beings who were flawed in an immoral world.  This was the period of Gothic architecture: terrifying and imposing on the outside; uplifting and glorious inside.

The Renaissance saw a general return to the classical worldview.  The visual arts became less stylized by the rules of iconography and more stylized by a desire to reflect human perfection as understood by the ancients.  Music was made a bit more complicated than the simple, utilitarian chant of the Middle Ages, reflecting the Classical understanding of music as a form of mathematics.  Architecture was not directly classical per se but some Greek aspects were returned to architecture.  The greatest Renaissance writers drew from classical mythology or the rules of classical drama.

Then the 17th century brought a Puritan flair to the visual arts, while music focused on God.  Thus, Bach could say everything he wrote was a prayer–because even instrumental music was understood to express a code that, like a Gothic cathedral, raised the soul up towards God.

The 18th century saw the period we call “classical” or neo-Classical: architecture that was mathematical and balanced, per Greek principles as then understood.  The visual arts, like those of the Renaissance, evoked classical norms.  Pagan imagery began to be revisited.  Music was more strongly mathematical and less otherworldly.

Then came the period we call Romantic.  Interestingly, C. S. Lewis considered Jane Austen as the last truly Western author.   The Romantic (i.e., “of Rome”) period in Protestant Europe involved a quest for the “past,” but it was a blend of the “Past” of paganism as well as the “past” as well as a fascination with Catholicism and the purported tendency of people in “Romance” (i.e., Latinate) countries to engage in lots of adultery and fornication, lending to the terms “Romance” and “Romantic” becoming associated with affairs of the heart rather than a group of cultures.  Interestingly, this is the same time the term “Latin America” was coined as a way to unite French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies against the new United States and the remaining British colonies.
Literature evoked the beauty of nature as well as the quest for God.  It also evoked a fascination with the creepy old buildings, the mysterious Catholic past (now thoroughly ensconced in the Protestant imagination as a form of pagan witchcraft, masquerading as “Christianity”) and thus gave us the term “Gothic” as no longer meaning a style of religious art and architecture coming from Germany but now a form of “Romance” focusing on the grotesque and even macabre.

After the Romantic period there was a general shift towards nihilism, which is what Lewis gets at in “De Descriptione Temporum” when he says the above about Austen.  Someone once said that “music died with Nietzsche’s God.”

Romanticism gave way to “Realism,” which still had a bit of the Gothic hope in its negative portrayal of life, but that quickly gave way to the gargoyles of “Naturalism” in art and literature.  Music came to be atonal and discordant.

This is why simple worldliness of much “contemporary” music, like that of modern art and architecture, is ill-fitting the grandeur of God.  Though the attempt to redeem the modern world has its place, slapping “God” and “morality” onto otherwise postmodern literature and music is like Chesterton’s islanders, after burying their temple in gargoyles, saints and angels on top of the gargoyles rather than getting rid of the gargoyles.

“Just believe in yourself”

“God just wants me to be happy,” says the contemporary Christian singer about her divorce and remarriage.

“Believe in yourself,” says the new age guru.

“The real Bruce Jenner,” say the headlines.

“Born that way,” says Lady Gaga.

Apparently, Jesus says “Affirm yourself, put down your cross, and follow your heart”?

Oh, no, wait.  That was, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.”

T. S. Eliot’s “Preludes”: More and Less than you may think

I was looking up T. S. Eliot’s “Preludes” today, and found that one of the top “hits” on Google is an essay from some literature class. I don’t know whether it was written by the instructor or a student, but on content alone, I’d have given it a “C” at best. The author presents his reading as authoritative, yet provides no basis for several assumptions, either in the text or in third party citations. The style is pretentious and pedantic yet offers little clarity or substance. As for my own credentials, I have never published on Eliot, due to focusing on teaching and family life, though I have published on C. S. Lewis, and Eliot is one of my research interests. A week into my freshman year of college, when I was 16, I checked out a stack of books on Eliot. The librarian said, “A research paper, already?” I said, “No, this is pleasure reading.”

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The poem:

I
THE WINTER evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps 5
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots, 10
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.
II
The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer 15
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.

With the other masquerades
That time resumes, 20
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.

III
You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited; 25
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back 30
And the light crept up between the shutters,
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where 35
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.
IV
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block, 40
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties, 45
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle 50
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

1) “Preludes” is one of my favorites and a great example of Eliot’s work, but it should be noted, contra this author’s generalization, that its popularity in anthologies stems from several key factors:
a) Eliot left strict instructions on how many lines of his poetry could be anthologized. This requires breaking up his longer poems, and “Preludes” is one of the only ones that fits.
b) Those who want to present a biased and inaccurate view of Eliot’s work, as the author of this essay does, want to favor the “Prufrock” era and reject his later, more overtly religious poems.
c) “Preludes,” in particular, has been used since the 1980s because it and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” were used by Trevor Nunn as sources for the lyrics to “Memory.”
d) Eliot’s early poems fell into public domain many years ago, but, due to changes in copyright law, nothing published after 1922 will fall into public domain until 2020.

2) You must first remember that Eliot is a Formalist. Freud said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” This was paraphrased by another overanalyzed formalist, David Lynch, with the line in a Twin Peaks dream sequence, “This is a formica table.” C. S. Lewis, who in context was, ironically, responding to Eliot’s over-analysis of Hamlet, says that we cannot understand Shakespeare unless we first realize his plays are written as popular entertainment. Eliot is, per his own theory in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” trying to use poetry to provide a multi-sensory experience. He gives us sights, sounds, smells, and sensations through words. Eliot himself, when asked what “Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree” means, said, “It means ‘Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree.””

3) Eliot himself, upon reading this, would have likely been enraged, and said something like the above. He was so annoyed at critics asking the “True meaning of The Waste-Land” that he published the “Notes on ‘The Waste Land'” years later, *then* many years after that said the notes were a prank (cf. Kirk, Eliot and His Age).

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He repeatedly emphasized that poets write poetry for a reason, and if he’d wanted to explain what he was “really saying,” he would have. Nonetheless, there was one critic he said understood him, and that was Russell Kirk. Indeed, if you read *one* book about Eliot, both in terms of literary biography and analysis, read Kirk’s Eliot and His Age.

The writer who inspired this post is right that the world of Prufrock and Other Observations is hellish, but Eliot is not saying that this is all there is. According to Kirk, the “Prufrock” and “Waste Land” era are a kind of Inferno to which “Ash Wednesday and “Journey of the Magi” are the Purgatorio and Four Quartets, the Paradisio. Yes, much like Dante, people seem to find the Hell more interesting than the Heaven, but Eliot never believed the atheistic nihilism you’re reading into this. During the period of his rejecting his family’s Unitarianism (for not being theological enough), and adoption of Anglicanism, Eliot experimented with Buddhism and other Eastern spiritualities. He was always a Theist. The hopelessness of this poem–which I personally see is actually a hopefullness in recognizing Christ even in the city street–is not Eliot’s own but the hopelessness he sees in those around him.

The article has part of the puzzle but is missing a lot. One way we can tell that Eliot’s poems are part of a larger whole is that they often include “call backs” or allusions to his own work–in this case, the final lines remind us of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

4) Thus, there are three impulses at work here. Eliot, a self-described, “Royalist in politics, classicist in criticism and Anglican in religion,” hated modernity but he also despised the romantic view. So he used modernistic realism to parody romanticism, critique urban living, and yet see the street as reminiscent of “the infinitely patient, infinitely suffering” Christ “stretched across the sky.”

Racism, Hatred and Bulverism

I read a cartoon twenty-some years ago: Two guys are sitting on a bench. One is reading a newspaper and says, “African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans; I’m glad to be a simple White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant.”
Guy #2 says: “You look more like a Jute to me.”
In the US, we group “Hispanics” or “Latinos” into one category, yet the term “Latin America” was coined by the French to counteract the Monroe Doctrine, arguing that American countries/colonies predominated by Romance-language, Catholic peoples. Even the predominantly Spanish-speaking cultures in “Latin America” see huge differences among themselves.
On the biology side, there are really only three “races,” a distinction the Bible suggests with the three sons of Noah. I read an article once about the biology of “race,” and how the similarity of Asian/Semitic peoples—modern anthropology having proven that Columbus wasn’t too far off in identifying Native Americans as “Indians”–is evinced by the existance of a relatively isolated tribe of cannibals in southern Africa who descend from Asians who migrated back into Africa about 10,000 years ago or so. Their language categories two kinds of animals–“food animals,” and “people”. They have no other categories of zoology or race/ethnicity. When they see people of Asian, North African or Native American descent, they recognize them as “people.” When they encounter darker-skinned Africans or Europeans, they categorize them as “food.”
One of the motivations behind “White Privilege” seems to be a desire to refuse to acknowledge that the so-called “WASPs” have brought suffering to lots of people they consider “Other”; not just darker sinned peoples. But to point this out is itself called “racist.” I keep seeing preemptive comments by angry African Americans about how the don’t want to hear about the suffering of the Jews, the Irish, the Italians or whomever, that “their” suffering is all that matters.
Suddenly, it’s “white privilege” because most “white” ethnic groups supposedly have more acceptance in mainstream American culture, or do not suffer the kind of persecution that “blacks” do. Nevertheless, as I noted in my previous post on this topic, this has not been the case in my own family’s experience. The upper class “whites” and the “minorities” of all socioeconomic levels tend to look down on us. Some people see freckles as a disease–there is a _Barbie_ book called _Freckles_ (1997), in which Barbie “helps” a little girl who’s embarrassed about having freckles by teaching her that, essentially, freckles are something to be ashamed of. People would be justly outraged by a book about how a darker skinned woman could be prettier if she made herself look more “white”, but if a “ginger” points out such kinds of bigotry and discrimination, that’s still somehow considered “racist” or a distraction.
We’re told that “white privilege” matters because of a “racist system” that is resulting in the violent deaths of thousands African Americans around the country a day, but pointing out that the minority of those are at the hands of officers, and the vast majority are at the hands of other African Americans, that’s dismissed as “racism.”
I’m told that if I check my car locks or clutch my wallet when somebody walks by, even though I do that when almost anybody walks by, I’m being a “racist,” if the person who walks by happens to be black.
I’m told that if I insist on overcoming racism by not being racist, that makes me a racist.
“Racism” is a perfect example of the logical fallacy C. S. Lewis calls “Bulverism,” a kind of ad hominem which he exemplifies by a scenario where a man says, “1+1=2,” and the woman says, “You just say that because you’re a man.” Person B doesn’t care whether the proposition is true or not, factual or not, but whether it fits the preconceived ideology, so some psychological or ideological presumption about Person A.
Bulverism is an offshoot of moral relativism. The most objective truth can be dismissed by saying the other person is delusional, or, in this case, “racist.” Emotion overrides logic. Logic itself becomes part of “white male patriarchal hegemony,” or whatever.
That is essentially the entire narrative of postmodernism.
And it doesn’t fix anything. It just perpetuates the cycle of hatred and violence, as the assassinations of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos this weekend demonstrates.
True racism involves hating people because of their skin color. It involves doing violence or oppressing people because of their skin color. What is the point of labelling a person’s every action, thought or word as “racist” just because of, well, the person’s race? How does that build community, understanding and love?

Merry Christ-Mass!

“Happy Holidays” is one thing; “for the holidays,” or “for the Holiday” when the context is clearly Christmas is another. “Whoever denies me before men, I will deny before my Father” (Mt 10:33). “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14); “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16)–and you won’t even say His name on His birthday? But you *will* use it as a cuss word?