Sunday, November 27, 2005

Because I Could Not Stop For Jesus

Lacking any original thoughts or the will to create them, I will merely draw your attention to another episode of "Those Evangelicals Are Scary and Insane!" brought to you by The New York Times. Having grown up evangelical, I suppose I should be shrugging my shoulders by now at yet another piece of news that suggests most Americans would like to live in a world in which the Enlightenment never happened, but it still makes me cry out in disbelief when alone in my apartment reading the paper. Today we learn that Emily Dickinson, when not properly taught, is as corrupting a force as Marilyn Manson. According to the "Week In Review" section, a group of California Christian high schools are suing the University of California because the university system refused to credit some of the high schools' courses when their students applied to U of C colleges. Having been sent to a few different Christian schools, I can attest that this is a wise decision on the part of the University of California. One of the courses under fire is "Christianity and American Literature," which uses a textbook published by Bob Jones University called Elements of Literature for Christian Schools, an excerpt of which showed up in the Times. Here you go:

Dickinson's year at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary further shaped her "religious" views. During her stay at the school, she learned of Christ but wrote of her inability to make a decision for Him. She could not settle "the one thing needful." A thorough study of Dickinson's works indicates that she never did make that needful decision. Several of her poems show a presumptuous attitude concerning her eternal destiny and a veiled disrespect for authority in general. Throughout her life she viewed salvation as a gamble, not a certainty. Although she did view the Bible as a source of poetic inspiration, she never accepted it as an inerrant guide to life.

Christina Rosetti, however, gets the green light:

The loneliness she faced is often reflected in her poems. But stronger than her loneliness was her total confidence in and submission to her Lord and Savior. Rossetti filled her mind and heart with Scripture. She gained from it a unique appreciation of the sustaining and sacrificial love of God. Her poetry and uplifting devotional literature are the natural overflow of her complete dependence on God.

I'm going to get my hands on that textbook to see what they say about Flannery O'Connor.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Terrible Odds of Syntax

A reading from the book of Strunk and White:

Clarity, clarity, clarity. When you become hopelessly mired in a sentence, it is best to start fresh; do not attempt to fight your way through the terrible odds of syntax. Usually what is wrong is that the construction has become too involved at some point; the sentence needs to be broken apart and replaced by two or more shorter sentences.

Muddiness is not merely a disturber of prose, it is a destroyer of life, of hope: death on the highway caused by a badly worded roadsign, heartbreak among lovers caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter, anguish of a traveler expecting to be met at a railroad station and not being met because of a slipshod telegram. Usually we think only of the ludicrous aspect of ambiguity; we enjoy it when the Times tells us that Nelson Rockefeller is "chairman of the Museum of Modern Art, which he entered in a fireman's raincoat during a recent fire, and founded the Museum of Primitive Art." This we all love. But think of the tragedies that are rooted in ambiguity; think of that side, and be clear! When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair.

Or heinously poor, I suppose, if you're George Bush.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Post That I Will Regret In the Morning

Ah, Peter Sarsgaard. I knew I loved you for all the right reasons, and here is more proof, from the Times magazine:

Sarsgaard attended an all-boy Jesuit high school in Connecticut, where he became interested in movies. "The priests would screen films after school," he recalled. "Some really racy Italian cinema like Fellini, actually. I think that was their only excitement." Sarsgaard, who was brought up a Catholic, still has faith. "I like the death-cult aspect of Catholicism," he said, half-jokingly. "Every religion is interested in death, but Catholicism takes it to a particularly high level. I mean, you can't miss Easter Sunday. Everybody's born, but rising from the dead - nobody else did that." He laughed. "Seriously, in Catholicism," he went on, "you're supposed to love your enemy. That really impressed me as a kid, and it has helped me as an actor. I don't believe there are bad people. Just people who do bad things. The way that I view the characters I play is part of my religious upbringing. To abandon curiosity in all personalities, good or bad, is to give up hope in humanity. Like somebody who is mumbling on the street - I'm always curious if his words make any sense. I'm interested in lost souls. They possess another sort of secret." Sarsgaard paused, then added: "And sex is better being Catholic. A little conflict makes everything more interesting."

Does Maggie Gyllenhaal like the death-cult aspect of Catholicism? If not, I offer myself up for a little conflict.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

She Was Very Pretty

Friday, before I left town, I went to see the Sylvia Plath/Ted Hughes exhibit at the Grolier Club on 60th Street in Manhattan. Yeah, I know. Smith College and Emory University opened their archives and dumped them out in glass cases, for which I was grateful. There was an older couple there, and the wife seemed to have known Plath at Smith. At one point her husband, tiny, tweedy, said, "She was pretty." Quietly, as if this was somewhat of a surprise to him. She, standing beside him as they gazed through the glass, corrected him: "She was very pretty." In the proprietary and defensive way, I suppose, many women have corrected what they feel to be shortsighted, erroneous impressions of Plath. Worth noting: on the Smith College memorandum paper she'd pilfered from the school and used well into adulthood, she made an outline for a novel called Falcon Yard, which was, of course, a thinly veiled retelling of the dissolution of her marriage to Hughes. She had brief descriptions for every character, and this was the heroine's creed: "A voyager, no Penelope." I wish she'd written it. No other American woman novelist seems to have created such a heroine since then except Erica Jong, and Fear of Flying, for me, veers off and away into an ether of yammering chatter. Also of note: in a letter to a friend complaining about encountering some suspicion of Hughes' ability and desire to make a living in America, she writes that she wishes people would get off his back and stop asking what he's doing. "He lives, people! That's what he does." I love how she suddenly gets all Rosalind Russell or Bette Davis on their asses. Not a usual Plath move. And I should know, because I discovered that I somehow knew many lines from the correspondence on display somewhat by heart--that and John 3:16 and some lines from Hamlet. I think I just lost a husband right there.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Nineteen Years Went Under The Bridge Like Time Was Standing Still

I just finished watching Pretty in Pink. I think it has to be about ten or fifteen years since I've seen it. I picked up a tape from the free table at my last job and it has been languishing under the VCR in its cellophane wrap for about two years now. It stared out at me while I watched various entertainments, taunting me, hissing Contend with me! Face the fact that I might suck, and how! Also, I just feel like my generation puts enough masturbatory nostalgia out into the world, and I should in this little way be a conscientious objector. Boys and girls, it does suck, and how! I suppose I am the last one on earth to realize this. I guess the chief thing I'm taking away from this is that Molly Ringwald is not a good actress. She acts, it turns out, solely with her bottom lip. I did not remember this. I think I thought she was Audrey Hepburn in granny boots. Perhaps this is why Betsy's Wedding, etc. She can't act! But this does not mean my idolization was in vain. She's still amazing to stare at, and she seems like a real girl, not something created in a Disney test-tube, and Paramount let some band (the Rave-Ups) play in the film because she liked them, not because they thought they could sell records on the synergistic label. And unlike the ladies Duff and Lohan, she didn't demand, even though she could actually sing (now my mania is known), to parlay her teen queendom into poptartlet stardom. It's still true that she gave hope to all the little disgruntled but not yet cynical thirteen-year-olds who would soon don their own thrift store dresses to get all worked up about Unrest and the patriarchy. They shot the thing in Chicago, too, at Wax Trax and some club and setting scenes in Annie Potts' character's kitsch Chinatown lair, which sort of makes the movie an Adrian Tomine story with even less traction and worse dialogue. Verdict: They Still Don't Make Teen Movies Like They Used To, And Putting Death Cab For Cutie on The OC Doesn't Make Up For It.

Also: how strange to watch a John Hughes movie at home in the evening and not on channel 11 through dust motes and self-loathing at 3 in the afternoon on Sunday, so that shit and fuck are not dubbed over with socks and fudge. Piquant!