Spring reading / link roundup
On their Seeing and Believing podcast, Kevin McLenithan and Sarah Welch-Larson talk about Miloš Forman’s Amadeus. This is one of my favorite films, addressing many issues close to my heart—genius, inspiration, and what it means to speak as the “voice of God” in the arts. In the podcast, two movies are discussed; the part about Amadeus starts a little after the 28-minute mark.
Over at Ecstatic, Raed Gilliam ponders why fans are so enamored of the “canon” versions of their favorite stories; he finds the answer lies in our deep-seated human need for authority. “Here, we know there’s a creator; the name’s right there on the cover, and it meets, if only for a few minutes, a primal intuitive need to see the Intent behind everything, to see the events we experience and the conversations we have and the characters we meet day in and day out as meaningful things that somehow, in some way, happen for a reason.”
Also on Ecstatic, Yi Ning Chiu relates a story of how the paintings of Richard Mayhew helped her understand her role in the strange and crazy world of San Francisco startups and nonprofits—and how those paintings resonate with what she was reading in the book of Job. As she says, “There are no answers here, at least not the kind I’d like. The Book of Job left me with the image of God himself, standing in the center of time as planets form, life multiplies, as creatures live and die. The Richard Mayhew paintings made me feel dissatisfied and provoked in the same way.”
Ed Simon considers that strange hold which punctuation has on the imaginations of writers, describing why it sits in a curious limbo between speech and writing and how it helps authors achieve their goals. He also mentions several books on the subject—reading this essay increased my number of books I want to read by about eight volumes.
Cap Stewart recently published a very thought-provoking essay on the difference between the response to Damien Chazelle’s Babylon from Christian and secular critics, and his findings are . . . disconcerting. Why are publications such as Variety, The Guardian, and Slant criticizing the film’s over-the-limit debauchery and sexual licentiousness, yet notable Christian critics aren’t addressing those points directly or at all? What does this say about Christians’ willingness to look the other way at objectionable content in films if we find the story intriguing? As Stewart says,
To be sure, determining what constitutes as “gratuitous” and “unnecessary” is not always clear—not even among faithful Christians. But if a professing follower of Christ waffles on making a moral judgment of sexual exhibitionism (like that included in portions of Babylon), he’s not giving evidence of being a faithful ambassador for Christ’s heavenly kingdom. Rather, he’s giving the appearance, if not the reality, of going native—and in a way that not even the natives are comfortable with.
From Image, here are Gordon Fuglie’s comments on the artwork of Duncan Simcoe. These paintings and drawings are at times obscure, but they reward thoughtful contemplation. As Fuglie says of Simcoe’s Candelabra (shown below), “Simcoe’s Eastern Orthodox faith affirms that creation has a divinely ordained integrity in and of itself by virtue of being created by God, and that all of creation is always praising God and working together with God’s purposes. Candelabra becomes a contemporary icon of this idea, bridging Christian tradition and the artist’s environmental advocacy. Indeed, Orthodox theologians contend that men and women have a priestly role as stewards of God’s creation, because the created world is a sacrament of God’s presence.”
A good poem: Ted Hughes, “Hawk Roosting,” 1960.
I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.
The convenience of the high trees!
The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth's face upward for my inspection.
My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather:
Now I hold Creation in my foot
Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly -
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads -
The allotment of death.
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:
The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.
In Comment, Alan Jacobs ponders the work of Albert Murray, and especially his concept of “the blues idiom” as it relates to Christian daily life and the proper response to trials and troubles. I wonder what the same concept would mean in the specific realm of Christian art? Rather than abandoning itself to despair (like the paintings of Francis Bacon) or deludedly refusing to acknowledge the problem of evil (*COUGH* Thomas Kinkade), might Christian art be most truthful when it acknowledges adversity yet refuses to be overwhelmed by it? I hear the phrase “beauty in brokenness” repeated often in Christian art circles; the blues idiom seems to me a valuable parallel concept.
If you haven’t yet read Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, you should. Here are Henry Oliver’s thoughts on what made the book so good, and also what makes Lee such a stellar writer. It’s not common to find a serious Christian writer who is willing to let the story she is telling dictate the place of religion in her work—but Lee is that kind of writer. Her handling of her characters’ Christianity never seems forced or didactic. Pachinko was one of the best books I read last year. I haven’t seen the movie, though—are there any readers of mine who have, and who can tell me if it’s worth watching?
A good painting: Andy Warhol, Vesuvius. 1985.
The Amazon link that I shared a while back, to a RUINS book wish list, was defective. Here is the correct link. If you feel the need to support RUINS financially, please note that I do not need any money but I do need books. A special thanks to the people who have already sent me books from the list!