Tuesday, September 30, 2008

In Which a General is Kidnapped and Some Horace is Recited.

From Andrew Cusack's blog, a nice interview with Patrick Leigh Fermor - a most romantic figure and still writing, at the age of 93, about his opulent adventures. I am fond of the escapade where he kidnapped a German general on Crete:
In Leigh Fermor’s own account of the abduction of General Kreipe, the climax comes not as the general’s staff car is stopped at night by a British SOE partly dressed in stolen German uniforms, nor as the Cretan partisans help smuggle the general into the highlands and hence to a waiting British submarine; but instead as ‘a brilliant dawn was breaking over the crest of Mount Ida’.

‘We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the general, half to himself, slowly said, “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte”. It was the opening of one of the few Horace odes I knew by heart. I went on reciting where he had broken off… The general’s blue eyes swivelled away from the mountain top to mine - and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: “Ach so, Herr Major!” It was very strange. “Ja, Herr General.” As though for a moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.’

It is an archetypal Leigh Fermor anecdote: fabulously erudite and romantic, and just a little showy. For his greatest virtues as a writer are also his greatest vices: his incantational love of great waterfalls of words, combined with the wild scholarly enthusiasms of a brilliant autodidact. On the rare occasions he gets it wrong, Leigh Fermor has been responsible for some of the most brightly coloured purple passages in travel literature. But at his best he is sublime, unbeatable.

At the recommendation of Andrew, I purchased A Time of Gifts and gave it to my father. I keep reading it in snatches - you can open it anywhere; it's like a Persian carpet - and I think I've read most of it. The brilliantly purple bits are a guilty pleasure, as I am a sometime member of the purple school myself. The 19-year old Fermor is an intellectual glutton, willing to lose himself in wonder at anything rich and strange, and, despite his wide-eyed wonder and his taste for aesthetic sweets, an unnerving escape artist and resourceful bandit, able and willing to mix with anyone and fiddle with any language. But I can't help but compare A Time of Gifts to Belloc's Path to Rome, which I'm afraid does beat it.

Poetry Bailout Will Restore Confidence of Readers

Via Choriamb, another bit of satire.
"As you know, the glut of illiquid, insolvent, and troubled poems is clogging the literary arteries of the West. These debt-ridden poems threaten to infect other areas of the literary sector and ultimately to topple our culture industry."
Whoever read this at the release of Best American Poetry 2008 was living dangerously! The thing is, it's funny because the discrepancy between the economy and poetry is so vast... but it's also vicious, because it's true!


And while I'm at it, here's a link to a relatively recent sbmail wherein StrongBad teaches you how to write love poems.

StrongBad wins extra points for using the word 'Meredithian'!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Merry Michaelmas

St. Michael's on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone....

Monday, September 22, 2008

GK Chesterton strikes again

The men that worked for England
They have their graves at home:
And bees and birds of England
About the cross can roam.

But they that fought for England,
Following a falling star,
Alas, alas for England
They have their graves afar.

And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met,
Alas, alas for England,
They have no graves as yet.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Pizza Indult

The last forty years are so much funnier when you think of the Traditional Roman Rite as Traditional Italian Pizza!

Personally I think that this is a great improvement on "The Novus Ordo is like New Coke and the old rite is like Classic Coke."

But now I'm longing for a slice of Quattro Stagioni, or "the Solemn Pontifical Pizza."

Palin Palin Palin!

Okay. I know I never talk about politics here. But ohmygosh Palin! I am having so much fun listening to the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

To one Cintra of Salon, she is a "Christian Stepford wife in a 'sexy librarian' costume," "the White House bunny," a "sheep in ewe's clothing," and other things that I don't want to defile my blogspace with. (By the way, this is the same Cintra who did that smarmy "Passion" interview which was so thouroughly fisked by Secret Agent Man eons ago. Does anyone else remember that post as fondly as I do?)

She cites a theory that "approximately 80 percent of all decision making is done at the level of the limbic system -- our lowest, most colorless, reptilian emotional level." Which is to say: "Republican strategies are consistent with a belief that the voting process, for most people, is full of feelings -- but devoid of reason."

I like that thesis: "approximately 80 percent of all decision making is done at the level of the limbic system -- our lowest, most colorless, reptilian emotional level." It certainly explains Cintra's article!

The various sentences of it are so contradictory that the whole thing seems to have been written not by an honest reptile, but by a foul-mouthed robot. Compare and contrast. Palin is...

Lady Macbeth
"her most beloved child is the antiabortion platform that ensures her own political ambitions with the conservative right. The throat she's so hot to cut is that of all American women."

Compliant Helpless Chattel
"It is a kind of eerie coincidence that Sarah Palin is being sprung on the public at the same time as.... "House Bunny," which features a poster of a beautiful young lady with Playmate-style bunny ears, big, stupid eyes and her mouth hanging open like someone just punched her. Sarah Palin is the White House bunny."

Palin wears...

a "'sexy librarian' costume"


a "virtual burqa"

Palin's problem is that...

She's an old-timey, suborned-to-husband-and-kids housewife:
"She tacitly promises a roll backward into old-fashioned sexual roles -- like Old Testament-style old."

She's a mean-faced modern gal who goes to work and leaves her kids in daycare!
"Sarah Palin is untethered from her own needs and those of her family, which is in crisis, with a pregnant daughter, a son on the way to Iraq and a special-needs infant."

Thanks for sliming us with the contents of your bulimic id, Cintra!

And it all reads very much like that from end to end of the internet. If the Freakish Enemies of the Normal(thanks, Mark Shea) keep this up, everyone who loves babies and sunshine will be so frightened and sickened by the hate that they will reject every candidate that the said Enemies of the Normal promote. When Michael Moore is trying to tone you down... well, maybe you should take the hint and stop spazzing.

And now for a detour that will take us back into the arena of letters. Mark Shea's "Freakish Enemies of the Normal" reminded me, when I first read the phrase, of a passage in "That Hideous Strength." CS Lewis is describing the unintended effect of the brainwashing that Mark's captors inflict on him:

"As the desert first teaches men to love water, or as absence first reveals affection, there rose up against this background of the sour and the crooked some kind of vision of the sweet and the straight. Something else--something he vaguely called the "Normal"--apparently existed. He had never thought about it before. But there it was--solid, massive, with a shape of its own, almost like something you could touch, or eat, or fall in love with. It was all mixed up with Jane and fried eggs and soap and sunlight and the rooks cawing at Cure Hardy and the thought that, somewhere outside, daylight was going on at that moment. He was not thinking in moral terms at all; or else (what is much the same thing) he was having his first deeply moral experience."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

National Endowment For The Arts Funds Construction Of $1.3 Billion Poem

Ah, the Onion!

"America's metaphors have become strained beyond recognition, our nation's verses are severely overwrought, and if one merely examines the internal logic of some of these archaic poems, they are in danger of completely falling apart," said the project's head stanza foreman Dana Gioia. "We need to make sure America's poems remain the biggest, best-designed, best-funded poems in the world."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Tripods Attack!

At the end of his article on Catholic fiction for InsideCatholic, Todd Aglialoro promoted two new YA novels from Sophia Inst. Press. One is sort of "Sweet Valley High" from a mordant, Catholic perspective; and the other is Chestertonian steampunk. Having spent my adolescence hiding (successfully) from Sweet Valley High and (unsuccessfully) from its more genteel, Newberry-stamped cousins, the ones they make you read in school, I chose the steampunk novel as my sample of Sophia's new project. My love of fantasy makes me biased, but I think that the best sort of niche fiction is simply too different to appeal to the mass market, rather than being a Catholic imitation of something that already exists.

So I read the book, probably too quickly, for it was not aimed at twenty-something women but at 9 to 14 year-old boys. However, I did my best to discern whether it would please its target audience, and I decided that it ought to. I gave it four stars on Amazon, and the following review:

Sophia attacks the YA market! - September 3, 2008

I think the 9 year-old boy's review says it best:

"I LOVED The Tripods Attack because there was lots of violence. I liked how it had sadness in the end, like most of the books I read. Finally, I loved how they had the flame thrower and the .45 colt."

The Tripods Attack! is wonderfully bloodcurdling and gruesome, although its dizzy Victorian setting and many in-jokes keep it from getting too dark. Steampunk is a rather Chestertonian genre to begin with, and The Tripods Attack! resembles Chesterton's own fiction in some ways. It helps that Father Brown is a character in it, as well as Chesterton himself and a young HG Wells. But there are other characters as well: the girl "with hair as red as a Welsh sunset" that Chesterton dreams of, who is really a secret agent; and the natty and evil Doctor, who proves remarkably hard to gt rid of. The end of the book is the perfect setup for the next volume, which for all I know has not even been written yet.

This book is full of action - high marks for a scene on a runaway train and for an underground cat-and-mouse chase that is almost worthy of "Alien" - and its fractured fantasy world is vividly described. The writing is always solid and often clever. The messages do stick out, as one reviewer said, but they are never allowed to get pointier than the deadly Martian fangs or the stilettos wielded by Chesterton's rogue secret agent mother. (Did I mention that this book is surreal?) Father Brown is GKC's Father Brown, and he *does* launch into the same theological expositions. McNichol could afford to be less on-the-nose next time... however, the book *works*, and it knows that even though it is a tribute to Chesterton published by a small Catholic press, it is a story, nothing more - and nothing less. Sophia took a real risk in publishing fiction for once, and I hope it pays off for them. I should think that The Tripods Attack! will be most compelling for boys from 10-14, but only an adult reader will catch all the cameos: HG Wells, CS Lewis's Ransom, even Bartleby the scrivener!