Sunday, August 29, 2010

Readings: On Breaking the Vicious Cycle

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As quoted in Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South, novelist Alice Walker on O’Connor’s oeuvre:

[E]ssential O’Connor is not about race at all, which is why it is so refreshing, coming, as it does, out of such a racial culture. If it can be said to be “about” anything, then it is “about” prophets and prophecy, “about” revelation, and “about” the impact of supernatural grace on human beings who don’t have a chance of spiritual growth without it.

Ralph C. Wood, author of Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South, in his discussion of the meaning of the short-story “The Artificial Nigger,” writes of one of the two central characters,

“Mr. Head’s discovery is scandalous because he fathoms the mystery of the gospel in ways that are offensive even to many alleged Christians. He is shown the mercy that is beyond adequate naming because – in ways unknown to Nietzsche – it is beyond good and evil, utterly transcending morality. …The pattern of forgiveness as preceding and enabling repentance is the pattern everywhere present in Scripture, from Hosea’s refusal to divorce his prostitute wife to Christ’s words from the Cross. Jesus asks God to forgive those who are crucifying him, not because they have begged his pardon, but because he wants to break the chain of anger and vengeance that has entrapped them [emphasis added]. To have given the crowds their due, cursing them in judgment, would have been to seal them in the vicious and unbreakable circle of sin. "

Wood continues:

“Far from achieving anything akin to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called ‘cheap grace’ – a false reliance on God’s forgiveness as an excuse for living a self-indulgent and untransformed life – Mr. Head sees that, precisely to the extent that he has been forgiven, he is also judged and found horribly wanting.
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“The staggering paradox is that God imprisons us, said Karl Barth, by flinging wide our cell door: the gospel ‘accuses [mankind] by showing that all the charges against him have been dropped.”

This is a lesson that might be learned by those misguided “patriots” and idiot Tea-Baggers who are opposing the construction of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” And it might even be well learned by those flag-waving Americans who feel it is absolutely necessary to seek vengeance against the Muslim world for the 9/11 attacks by invading their lands and killing tens of thousands of people -- most of whom are totally innocent of any crime against America.

Choose peace: break the cycle of hatred and vengeance.
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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Riffs: Some Beauty

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Here's a piece to expose all yez morons to a little cultcha:




HT: Pentimento
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The Reporter - Part 8: December 29, 1955

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I have once again let a full month and more go by without putting up a new post on the next edition of The Reporter in the collection that I saved from the recycling shredder and brought home from the O.U. library. My enthusiasm for the project continues to flag. I found almost nothing of interest in this issue, including the review by our common thread, Sydney Alexander, of a biography of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow, it seems was a bore even to the academic intelligentsia of the mid-1950s. Giving his own, rather than the biographer's, insight into the character of Longfellow, Alexander writes:

Certainly [Longfellow] must have been a lovable man... Yet, with all his virtues, his place in American literature must be negatively defined... Too perfectly balanced to vibrate, he fails to set up vibrations in us. "Non clamor, sed amor" was the appropriate motto on his bookplate.


This issue does feature a short story by John Cheever. That was promising, but it turned out to have been Cheever, the prototypical suburban writer, writing a story about a prototypical suburban writer. I hate it when that happens.


We have yet another article about Eisenhower's iffy health. We have two articles speculating on who will become the next leader of France and Germany respectively. I wouldn't have cared then any more than I care now.


There is an article entitled "Battle Royal for Oil: The California Tidelands" about an on-going feud between the municipality of Long Beach and the state of California over the revenues to be gained from off-shore drilling, and how that feud was being manipulated to its own advantage by Big Oil. Sarah Palin might actually have been of some help to these folks in this instance, had she not been born too late.


Anna Magnani is cited as being an up-and-coming young movie actress to watch in a review of "The Rose Tattoo." He got that one right.


As this was the Christmas issue, more or less, a token nod to the season was made both with the cover art and with the editorial on page one. The editorial noted that due to the concerted efforts of various councils of churches to "put Christ back in Christmas" over a six-year period, the percentage of religious Christmas cards had risen from 6 to 25 per cent. Not bad. Let's hear it for the councils of churches. Ready? One-two-three -- Ya-a-a-a-y Councils!


The banner story is an admonition by editorialist, Max Ascoli, to putative Democratic presidential candidate, Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois. "Your integrity and intelligence have made you state the plain truth that moderation is the key word of our times; and of course you know that a stirring of perhaps immoderate popular conviction is needed to carry you into the White House" Ascoli asserts, ending his piece with this veiled threat:


xxxA striking feature of the recent national elections in western countries is the lack of popular concern with foreign affairs. Why should it be any different, considering how little even nations like Britain and France can contribute to their own survival by influencing the condition of the outside world? It's a wide-spread, terrifying, yet very human let-George-do-it attitude. George is us.

xxxWill you have confidence in George, Governor? Will you prove to him that foreign affairs have first, second, and third priority? Will you show that you are ready not only to talk but to act as a President? If you do it, Governor, you will become one.


In other words, don't you dare let the Cold War die, you over-educated pinhead sissy, even in your dreams!
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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rodak Remembers: Baseball Quiz #17

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Both of these Pittsburgh Pirates of days-gone-by are mentioned by name in this post at Graham Womak’s blog, Baseball Past and Present.









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I’m wondering if even the redoubtable Mr. Womak can match their portraits with their names? Or, if someone else can beat him to it?
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Update: anyone who wants to know the answers to this quiz can follow the links below. If you want to keep guessing, don't click on 'em:
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

R.I.P. - Herman Leonard: the Eyes of Bebop

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I pause this morning to note the death and to celebrate the life and work of Herman Leonard. Any person with anything more than a passing interest in jazz, particularly in the jazz artists of the bebop era, will be familiar with his transcendent photography. Herman Leonard received his undergraduate degree from my employer, Ohio University. I consider him to be among this institution's most illustrious alumni. The Kennedy Museum here featured a retrospective exhibition of his work only months ago, and is also, I believe, the proud holder of a permanent collection.

The New York Times obituary to which you are linked above will provide a glimpse of his great photography, much of which is instantly recognizable. I urge you to check it out.

Thank you, Mr. Leonard. May you rest in the peace of high accomplishment.
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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Quote du Jour: Art for Our Sake

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As quoted in Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South:

Amidst such a terribly dehumanized world as ours, the function of art, says [critic Lionel] Trilling, is to rehumanize us. What we least need, says Trilling, is the anonymous and silenced voice of many modern novelists. …Hence Trilling’s call for novelists whose voice is not banished from their books: “Surely what we need is…the opportunity to identify ourselves with a mind that willingly admits that it is a mind and does not pretend that it is History or Events or the World but only a mind thinking and planning – possibly planning our escape.”
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Quote du Jour: My Imperative Moderated

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A quote from Flannery O'Conner and the Christ-Haunted South:

[Allen] Tate extols neither the gospel nor the church so much as the power of "classical-Christian culture." By uniting the virtues of the biblical and Greco-Roman traditions, this ideal hybrid civilization provided "for the highest development of man's potentialities as man. Man belonged to his village, valley, mountain, or seacoast; but wherever he was he was a Christian whose Hebraic discipline had tempered his tribal savagery and whose classical humanism had moderated the literal imperative of his Christianity to suicidal other-worldliness.

This challenges my inherent tendency toward gnostic dualism, insofar as that tendency is an expression of "suicidal other-worldliness." It's worthy of some thought...
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rodak Remembers: (This is not a) Baseball Quiz



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In the comment thread following Baseball Quiz #16, my cyber-buddy, Moose, brought up the subject of Stan “the Man” Musial. He asked if I had read the recent Sports Illustrated article on Musial. I said that I hadn’t. Moose kindly provided me with the necessary link when I couldn’t find it. (You can read the piece here.)

After reading the article, I posted this on the comment thread:


Thanks for sharing that, Moose. It literally choked me up. Blatant goodness is rarely seen. Instead of a Quiz, my next baseball post will be some of the pics of Musial I saved as a young kid. I only saw Musial play on TV, but even as I kid I knew how great he was. There were two guys: Musial and Williams. Everybody else scrambled for third place.

And Moose responded with:

I never got the chance to see him play, obviously, but always loved hearing the stories of him. And, yes, the article puts a lump in your throat. I do believe that there are guys out there now like him but that isn't as much of a story to tell as the assholes (or at least the outspoken ones), especially these days with our gotcha journalism and "tell all" behind-the-scenes books.



Moose continued:


I like how you state that the top was between Musial and Williams. Just look at the contrast between the two players. Williams seemed to excel based on his intensity and drive. Musial (not saying he wasn't intense or driven mind you) seemed to do well because he love being out there playing a game. Two totally different animals when you think about it. Also, I'm not saying Ted didn't love playing but I just don't think he derived the pure joy of playing ball that Stan did.
Definitely makes you want to read more about him, doesn't it?

So, I encourage you sports fans to read the article linked above, and close this non-Quiz by posting another of the promised pics:

Stan "the Man" Musial

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Religion: Hard Sayings

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I went to the local public library yesterday—kind of a busman’s holiday, considering that I work in the university library—basically just to get my ass out of the house. The library is near the bike path that runs along the Hocking River. So I parked at the library, took a walk along the Hocking, and then went into the library prior to heading for home.

Because it was sitting alone on a “featured books” shelf, Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South by Ralph C. Wood caught my eye. As I have always considered Flannery O’Connor to be among the most interesting and important of 20th century American writers of fiction, I went home with the book in my hand.

I’m now going to share a few lines from Wood’s Introduction, because they demonstrate, I think, just why O’Connor is such a kick-ass writer and one whom every student of literature—and every avowed Christian—needs to read. Here is Wood:

No one understood both the promise and the failure of the modern church better than Flannery O’Connor. In a letter written in July 1955…O’Connor specified both qualities: “I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.”

In another letter, written in the same year, O’Connor wrote: “[I]f you live today you breathe in nihilism. In or out of the Church it’s the gas you breathe. If I hadn’t had the Church to fight it with or to tell me the necessity of fighting it, I would be the stinkingest logical positivist you ever saw right now.”

A few lines further down in his introduction, Wood sets the above in a larger context:

It was a religious, a cultural abyss, a moral nothingness that O’Connor sniffed as surely as Nietzsche did when, a century earlier, he declared that he could detect the odor of God’s rotting body in his nostrils. Like Nietzsche, O’Connor located the evil not in some remote ethereal realm, not in her circumambient culture alone, but also in the “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” She confessed that the church’s feeble and often noxious witness causes Christians as much grief as does the world’s mad plunge over the cliffs of self-destruction. …Unlike Nietzsche, O’Connor agreed with [Romano] Guardini that the church contains the one Solution even as it constitutes a terrible part of the problem. …Hence the frequent likening of the church to Noah’s ark: only the storm without exceeds the stench within. Yet insofar as Christ remains its animating center, the church provides everlasting life amidst the all-encompassing death.

That’s what I like about Flannery O’Connor—she will have absolutely no truck with cheap grace. She doesn’t bullshit. She lasers in on the needle in the haystack. And a glimpse into this moral integrity—and this rare ability—is the gift with which she has blessed the world in her magnificent body of work.

If you haven’t already read her, go do it.
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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Rants: I'll Say It Again


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OBAMA! GET OUT OF AFGHANISTAN

OR GET OUT OF WASHINGTON!

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Reflections: Beside Myself

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People who have read my blog over the years and more recently, perhaps, those of you who have encountered me on Facebook and/or Twitter, may have noticed that I seldom write on personal topics. That’s just me being the introvert that I am. But I feel moved to say a few words about how I’ve been feeling for some time now, if only to put it out there where I can look at it myself.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been reading and hearing about something called “alienation.” Alienation, of one kind or another, forms the bases for everything from Marxist economics to existential philosophy to various schools of psychology, as well as for much of 20th century art, in every genre. For me, it was always interesting, but academic. I thought that I understood it well enough. I even believed that I had experienced it. I was, after all, in some senses, an “outsider.” Right?

Wrong. I have now experienced—am now experiencing—alienation as a tangible reality. I can be right here, in this familiar room where I am typing now; and I can look at everything and recognize it. I know exactly where other things are, even though I can't see them, on shelves, or in drawers—things that I use daily and may have owned for years. All these things I can see and know for what they are (thus, I remain fully functional), yet I no longer feel connected to them. I now understand the essence of the experience of being “beside oneself.” I can’t explain it any better than that.

I experienced the whole of creation that way, briefly, on an acid trip in 1969 or 1970. It was a classic “bad trip” and it scared the living shit out of me. But, at the same time, even as it was happening, and even though it felt completely real at the time, there was a part of my mind that knew that it was under the influence of the drug and that—despite the absolute conviction that I was finally experiencing the “real reality,” and that it was horrible and hellish—it would have an end. Thus I maintained my sanity.

That which escapes this feeling of disconnectedness is anything new. No connectedness has been lost there, because none previously existed. New songs, new friends, these seem to belong to the reality of a parallel universe in which connections exist. I feel like a character in a Phillip K. Dick novel; just as weird, and just as badly written. Please bear with me. I must have faith that this, too, will have an end.
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Friday, August 6, 2010

Rodak Remembers: Baseball Quiz #16

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After his brilliant career was cut short by arm trouble, this legendary pitcher later went on to team with Buddy Blattner as the color announcer for the Saturday Game of the Week, back when they played baseball in the daytime. His deliberately hayseed delivery, which included some country crooning, served as the model for that of Dandy Don Meredith on Monday Night Football, a decade or so down the line:

Who is he?

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Monday, August 2, 2010