Tuesday, October 22, 2019

THE PROVOCATIONS OF CAMILLE PAGLIA

CHIAM SOUTINE, c. 1919
WOMAN IN A RED BLOUSE

I'm no unalloyed fan of Camille Paglia. Her embrace of the New Age and desire to be a man leave me cold.

On the other hand, I'm totally on board with her disdain for political-correctness-gone-awry and her recognition that without religion civilization is doomed.

I just came across a wonderful piece by Emily Esfahani Smith--"The Provocations of Camille Paglia"--in City Journal,  Summer, 2019.

Of Paglia's time at Yale in the 80s, when the thought of French "deconstructionists" Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault held sway:

"But to Paglia, nothing was more important than saving the universities from the “soulless, beady-eyed careerists” who “cynically deny the possibility of meaning” in the great works of the past and have ruined the humanities with their “shallow, juvenile attitude toward culture.” During our conversation, Paglia called them “absolutely the most corrupt and evil individuals on the landscape.”

*****

To Paglia, the antidote to this [despiritualized cynicism] is the kind of education she received at Harpur College, which counterbalances the sensory immediacy of pop with the philosophical depth of complex high art. But unless they deliberately seek them out, today’s students are rarely exposed to the greatest and most influential works of Western civilization. What they often encounter instead is a watered-down Marxism that sees the world in terms of society, politics, and economics—a materialistic philosophy that has no sense of the spiritual or sublime.

“That’s why they’re in a terrible fever and so emotional,” Paglia said. “There is a total vacuum in their view of life. They don’t have religion any longer. Religion teaches you metaphysics. It shows you how to examine yourself and ask questions about your relationship with the universe.” The Bible, she said, is “one of the greatest books ever written.”

Instead of finding meaning in religion or culture, today’s new generation has turned to politics. This, Paglia said, is “absolute idolatry.” Her students believe that “human happiness is possible through social reform—that utopia is possible.” A much better understanding of human nature is found in the great works of art and literature, which reveal “the tragic view of life.” The fact that Break, Blow, Burn became a national bestseller reveals that there is a craving for the kind of education Paglia is advocating.

The route to a renaissance in education and the arts, she argues, lies in the study of religion. “All art began as religion,” Paglia said in a debate at the Yale Political Union in 2017. Its metaphysics “frees the mind from parochial entrapment in the immediate social environment.” Its “stress on personal responsibility for the condition of the soul,” she added, “releases the individual from irrational blame of others.”

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.




Saturday, October 19, 2019

GORDON PARKS: THE FLÁVIO STORY AT THE GETTY

"Flávio da Silva," Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1961, by Gordon Parks.
(© The Gordon Parks Foundation/J. Paul Getty Museum)


Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

Through Nov. 10 at the Getty is a compelling exhibit based on the work of Gordon Parks, a Renaissance-man film director, writer, and photojournalist perhaps best known for his work for LIFE magazine.

President John F. Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress,” launched in 1961, was an initiative designed to promote democracy and economic cooperation across Latin America and to forestall the spread of communism.

In March of that year, LIFE sent Parks to Rio de Janeiro with the assignment to document the country’s poverty.

At the time, the city’s more than 200 garbage-strewn favelas — hillside slum towns — were home to an estimated 700,000 people. The average per capita income was $289. Parks, a Kentucky native, had grown up poor himself, but had never seen destitution of such a degree and kind.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

CAMBRIA


MARION DAVIES, HEARST'S MISTRESS.

Hi. I’m in Cambria on the California Central Coast, on terrible circadian rhythm where I get max five or six hours a night of sleep. No matter. Those are the things of this world. Had fugue state pleasant drive up yesterday on about four hours of sleep, wheeled into town, sprang into action, explored both the West and East villages, walked up hill to cemetery, bought a Virgin Mary mirrored vitrine at one of the approximately trillion and a half tcotchke shops, found my way to Airbnb for which I was and am insanely crazily grateful.

Up before dawn this morning to pray—realize I can in fact make the 9 o’clock Mass downtown and still make it to Hearst Castle for art tour by 10:20.

Nothing matters except Christ, the Sacraments, prayer. Without them, I can do nothing. Started to sink again into anger, self-pity, conflict, doubt re my apt. The workmen have now had ladder against my kitchen window, peering in and talking 8 hours a day while they scrape and paint, taking up driveway so forced to park in street. Really you have to laugh. The weeks before that they were against my bedroom window, and for the 8 months before that they were basically outside my living room window. Just for today let’s not worry about it esp as I’m NOT THERE.

Ok already, accept the things you cannot change. Ignatius of Antioch was thrown to the lions and pled with his friends not to try to tempt him with the world and its passing pleasures and proclaimed himself ready, willing and glad to be ground to wheat by the animals.

I’m finding I have more energy/strength than I allow, esp when not consumed by resentment which is why all that stuff is a temptation and so dangerous. Work around. Join the club of the human race.

Why should I have it easy? as Dorothy Day asked. I sincerely think Christ may have engineered the whole thing this way to get me to daily Mass—and the Blessed Sacrament.

Anyway, the view esp on Route 1 yesterday was lovely and I look forward to Hearst Castle and the art tour today—(have been sent by Angelus News to write column about). I mean how lucky can you be? But this is basically a work trip—I was going to spend another night and drive home Sat aiming to time it with Benedictine Oblate meeting (early reconnoitering) in the Valley but I think will leave tomorrow around 11 and just drive home, then go to Oblates Sat from there.

Meanwhile I'm right up the street from the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and have not yet explored. Maybe I will let myself just take the one walk or maybe another tomorrow morning along the ocean. I always feel duty-bound to EMBRACE as much as I possibly can of whatever place I find myself in–which is a good rule of thumb, within reason.

Found book in airbnb by Marion Davies entitled The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst. Whole chapters on hilarity, extravagance, party-giving, celebrities at San Simeon/Hearst Castle. Apropos of the 120,000 Japanese-Americans rounded up, torn from their homes, displaced and interned during WWII, Davies observed:

"I didn't know what they were complaining about, because they had lovely menus in their camps; I had a copy of the menu. They had the most wonderful breakfasts, and chicken for luncheon, and anything they wanted at night. But still they were dissatisfied. They created a furor all the time, and it was a constant strain all during the war."

Saturday, October 12, 2019

AUGUST WILSON'S "GEM OF THE OCEAN"

photo: Craig Schwartz

This week's arts and culture column begins:

Here’s how Pasadena’s A Noise Within Theater pitches its latest production:

Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson unfolds the African American legacy in the first chronological episode of his celebrated “American Century Cycle,” a soaring, mystical tale of a man desperate for redemption in 1904 Pittsburgh.

Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old “soul cleanser,” sends him on a spiritual journey that dissects the nature of freedom amid oppression and spurs him to take up the mantle of justice.

“Two hundred and eighty-five?” was my first thought upon reading the description of “Gem of the Ocean.” “This could go either way.”

But as director Gregg T. Daniel observes, “Memory insists that we go back and claim the past.” And in fact, Veralyn Jones pulls off the part beautifully. With long, white braids, a floor-length patchwork style skirt and a neat weskit, she manages to be both the timeless repository of ancient wisdom and thoroughly of her place and era.

Her feet ache, as they would, but she’s put-together, practical, and while not suffering fools gladly, compassionate. She’s not woo-woo, she doesn’t have a schtick, she doesn’t make lame jokes and stage-wink about her age and her heaping powers. She’s not a stereotype, in other words.

Consequently, you believe her character, the linchpin of the play, and you believe her.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


Sunday, October 6, 2019

THE ANCIENT BRISTLECONE PINE FOREST






Here's how this week's arts and culture piece begins:

I spent mid-August to mid-September at a writer’s residency offered by the good sisters at the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho, population 923.

It was good to get away. But it also felt really, really good to be heading back to Southern California in my trusty Fiat 500.

En route, down through Boise, then 250 miles of breathtaking desert vistas to Winnemucca, Nevada, then hundreds of more miles the next morning, I made my way to a place I’ve wanted to visit for many years: the Ancient Bristlecone Forest in the Eastern Sierras.

Navigating there required several deserted back roads, the loss of all cell reception, and a 23-mile drive through the eastern portion of CA-168 W to White Mountain Road in what is technically Bishop, at which point there’s still 10-miles more of Inyo National Forest road to go, up, up, and up some more.

I’d already driven close to six hours that day, so I was especially grateful to wheel into the parking lot of the Schulman Grove Visitor’s Center. (Edmund Schulman, Ph.D., 1908-1958, was a University of Arizona dendrochronologist with a background in astronomy who, entirely sensibly to my mind, related cosmic events to the science of tree-ring dating).


At 10,000 feet the warmth of the sun was overlain with the faint chill of early fall and the fresh, dreamy scent of pine.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.



Friday, October 4, 2019

ON MARRIAGE: LEAVING BEFORE THE RAINS COME




"But most vivid of all in my memory was the encounter with Dad's friend, the Polish father from the Catholic mission at Old Mkushi. He caught me by the shoulders just as I was making my way into the garden for the photographs, as if he had an urgent message to impart. 'The first year is hard, and after that it gets worse,' he said, his mouth so close to my ear that I could smell the red-dust-infused scent of his river-washed, sun-dried clothes. I laughed at him, excusing his sentiment as the meaningless words of a celibate East European was has lived too long in the Zambian bush. 'No really, it's true,' he insisted. 'I should know. I've been married to God for fifty years.' "

--Alexandra Fuller, from Leaving Before the Rains Come

I've just discovered Fuller, started with Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and have read straight on through three more of her memoirs, with Travel Light, Move Fast on hold at the library. A beautiful and train-wreck compelling writer.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

FOOLS FOR CHRIST

BUY IT!

Last week I was talking to my dear friend Greg Camacho, of San Antonio, Texas. During the course of our conversation, he said "I was looking for one of your books the other day and saw the title Fools for Christ. Which looks like it's hot off the press. Did you bring out a new book and NOT EVEN MENTION IT?"

"Well, kind of.  I published my womanhood book, RAVISHED, around the same time, both on amazon's self-publishing platform, so I thought I'd wait a bit to talk about this one"...

Apparently the time has come. I hired a designer, Rowan Moore-Seifred of DoubleMRanch Design, and the interior layout is every bit as compelling as the cover.

Here's a description:

FOOLS FOR CHRIST:
Fifty Divine Eccentric Artists, Martyrs, Stigmatists, and Unsung Saints


To read yourself or give to friends: fifty short essays on notable Catholics, across the ages! Two criteria: the subject can’t (yet) have been canonized, and he or she has to be dead.

Some are hardly known. Jacqueline de Decker, for example, wore a neck brace, drove a red convertible, and hung out with prostitutes in her native Belgium. She also offered herself as a victim soul to help Mother Teresa.

Some should be better known: Mother Antonia Brenner, a Beverly Hills socialite, went off to live in La Mesa, a notorious Mexican prison, and spent the rest of her life ministering to the inmates. Jacques Fesch, a movie-star handsome French murderer, was condemned to death and wrote a stirring conversion memoir—Notes from the Scaffold—before being guillotined.

There are medieval nuns, a Carmelite dishwasher monk, and modern day martyrs.

There are artists: novelists Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, film-maker Robert Bresson, actor Sir Alec Guinness (a daily communicant; who knew?).

There are divine eccentrics: Bartolo Longo, ex-Satanist priest. Marthe Robin, who supposedly never slept, survived for 40 years on the Eucharist, and received the stigmata each Friday.

“Here comes everybody,” as James Joyce quipped of the Church.

Glory be to God.
And here's a link in which I've included a few excerpts.

I do think this would make a lovely CHRISTMAS GIFT. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

"FOLLOWING THE BOX" AT THE PACIFIC ASIA MUSEUM

SUNANDINI BANARJEE,
FROM A SERIES OF 5, UNTITLED,
DIGITAL COLLAGE PRINTED ON ARCHIVAL PAPER

Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

Toward the end of World War II, an unknown U.S. serviceman, stationed in India, took over a hundred black-and-white photographs of the people and life in rural West Bengal.

Decades later, Chicago-based artists Alan Teller and Jerri Zbiral bought an estate-sale shoebox of photos and negatives, a treasure trove that would forever link their destinies to that unknown soldier’s.

Through Jan. 26, 2020, an exhibit called “Following the Box” at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, features 12 contemporary artists, two American and 10 Indian, who have been inspired by the photographs to create works of their own.

Each artist was given digital and/or print copies of the photographs and asked to incorporate, deconstruct, or in some way imaginatively spin off of them.

Disciplines include painting, photography, film, mixed-media, installation, graphic arts, graphic novels, book art and folk art.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

FEMINISM IS IN TROUBLE

WHITE MOUNTAIN ROAD, BISHOP CA
EASTERN SIERRAS/THE ANCIENT BRISTLECONE PINE FOREST.
I STOPPED HERE ON THE WAY BACK TO LA.

It's not in trouble here.  I have hit the ground running upon returning from my month in Idaho and week-long road trip on either end, have fallen in love with LA all over again, and am obsessed with migrating (eventually) to a new website.

The light in September! Every day I am torn, and from about three pm on, would easily simply sit on my balcony and drink it all in till the sun goes down.




THESE ARE FROM THE MARY DE DECKER NATIVE PLANT GARDEN
IN INDEPENDENCE, CA, ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE SMALL TOWNS

I love women. In fact it's because I do love us that I feel we have veered somewhat off track. I think the woman who wrote the below is onto something.

"The idea that men don’t have to think about the things women think about—but should!—is at the heart of feminism’s complaints today. It is at once a silly and impossible demand. It requires that we not only reorient society to accommodate all of women’s desires but that we rewire men’s brains to share all of women’s concerns.

This is a game men cannot win. Having been twisted into pretzels to be supportive and thoughtful and to limit their ambitions to make room for those of their wives, men in the American elite are now being publicly blamed for the fact that their wives cannot turn off their consciences, their sense of obligation to their children, and the nagging sense that maybe making money and having things aren’t the most rewarding things to do with your life...

Feminism has already largely corrected everything it can possibly correct, including the behavior of men. So now what?

Fourth-wave feminists are living through a period in which feminist dreams have become reality. And they are finding that reality unpleasant...

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Feminism may have delivered greater freedom for women, but it has never delivered greater happiness. In fact, longitudinal surveys suggest that women are less satisfied with their lives today than they were a few decades ago. Having more choices—as we all do in an age where Amazon can bring thousands of brands of shampoo to our doorstep tomorrow and Facebook allows us to pick among 17 different gender identities—does not make our lives richer...

This is not a problem that feminism or any political or social movement can solve. It is not a problem at all. It is the human condition." [italics mine].

-Naomi Schaeffer Riley, from a Commentary piece entitled "Feminism Is In Trouble"

Check out my newest book, RAVISHED: NOTES ON WOMANHOOD if the spirit moves, as well.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

TRANSITIONING FROM THE HERMITAGE



I SPENT THE ENTIRE LAST MONTH,
BESIDES EATING, SLEEPING, AND MY DAILY WALK,
IN THIS ROOM
Now that I've completed it, here's what my month-long artist's residency looked like:

Up at 5:30 for the stupendous sunrise, then prayer, then work, then usually 11:30 Mass, then lunch, then my chore of helping put away the dishes, then more work or a nap or a phone call, then the hour-long walk up the hill, then (often) Evening Prayer, then supper, then dishes, then reading or a movie.

Sometimes, to get really zany, I would leave the walk till AFTER SUPPER!

The sisters at the Monastery of St. Gertrude were wonderful, especially since I was basically a guest in their home, a fact of which I was at all times acutely aware. I did pretty darn well, for me. Did not get crabby, surly, sullen, impatient, sarcastic or snippy, a feat made possible ONLY by the fact that as I said, I spent 95% of the time by myself.

Another crazy stroke of luck: the other artist-in-residence was Dana Stevens of Brooklyn, NY, film critic for SLATE, a wonderful writer, and an all-around stellar human being.

Dana REALLY never got crabby, sullen, or sarcastic, and instead exhibited a refreshing and unflagging curiosity about all things prairie, Benedictine spirituality, and the mysteries of the monastery building which were legion and included working dumbwaiters, a beauty parlor, a Halloween costume room, a craft room, a sewing room, a pantry the size of my bedroom at home filled with shelves of homemade preserves, a library, a former infirmary, an "old kitchen" with two huge gleaming cast-iron woodstoves, a lab where soaps and balms are made, the room with Sr. Placida's antique bookbinder, and more.

As it was, and though we were constantly snooping about, we barely scratched the surface.

Having now experienced a few "transition" days in Boise before heading out later today t begin the drive back to LA, I realize I barely "relaxed" for a single hour while I was there. Not that I didn't sit in the morning staring out the window, but I was generally planning my work day (how could it be that even in a monastery, there weren't enough hours!?). I was so thrilled to have silence, solitude, and a relatively uninterrupted day that I wanted to take advantage of every second to work.

More to the point, I realize now, I really, really did not want to feel.


MOTHER, SHOW THYSELF TO ME
is the rough translation

FALL COMES EARLY TO COTTONWOOD, IDAHO!


THE LAST POST-SUPPER WALK,
THE LAST SUNSET.
THANK YOU! 

My 80-year-old Cousin Dickie died last March. The last remaining "family homestead" (built by my paternal grandfather on Rye Beach, NH, and much visited and beloved by all my siblings and I as kids and beyond) has been sold, the proceeds divided, and as often happens during such times, some old wounds were reopened--and now await healing.

Plus it's fall already, and WHAT HAPPENED TO 2019!? I know they say time seems to pass more quickly the older you get, but this is ridiculous! I tend to want to cling to all people, places, and things--Wait, where are you going? I didn't get a chance to FULLY drink you in! 

But that's not the way reality works. Reality rushes in, relentlessly, one second marching on to another...

Now I'm enjoying (among many other things), the Boise River Greenbelt, a genius urban feature that should be adopted across the land...

Tomorrow I'll head south, stopping once again in Winnemucca, NV (about the only place on a long stretch between Boise and the Eastern Sierras), then to the Bristlecone Forest, and Friday--home.

Being away has made me appreciate my beloved LA all over again.

I will hit the ground running, with a memorial AND an end-of-summer party the very next day.

I can't wait to see my garden--and to play the piano.





ALONG THE GREENBELT