Notes and Quotes: December 2016

My online reading since last May in a nutshell. Note: Apologies and thanks to the fantastic Prufrock daily newsletter, which I’ve enjoyed for years now, and from which much of this content is taken. I can’t recommend subscribing to it highly enough!

*Arts & Entertainment*

“We made this guy listen to all 104 Haydn symphonies and put them in order of greatness”

The problem with contemporary art is that unlike modernism it “‘isn’t even contemptuous of old standards—it is wholly indifferent to them . . . . Sincerity, formal rigor and cohesion, the quest for truth, the sacred and the transcendental—none of these is on the radar among the artists and critics who rule the contemporary scene.’ Instead, Identitarians are obsessed with ‘a set of all-purpose formulas about race, gender, class, and sexuality on the one hand and power and privilege on the other.’”

J. M. W. Turner was ambitious and talented. He was also difficult: “A barber’s son, he rose through the class-bound ranks of late 18th- and early 19th-century Britain to become the nation’s most celebrated and controversial painter. And yet he ended life in scandal, living with a secret mistress under the assumed identity of a sea captain.”

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Clever Short Horror Films

I recently discovered the popular short films of David F. Sandberg and Lotta Losten. These are terrifically inventive little no-budget slices of dark fantasy, only 2-3 minutes each. Rich micro-storytelling with clean content, folks. I think “Attic Panic” is my favorite.

 

 

Inmates Running the Asylum

Tweets are pretty ephemeral little things, but this one from a few weeks ago has stayed with me. What a perfect illustration of the ridiculous insanity today. Three screen shots will demonstrate some highlights (or lowlights), though the whole thread has many more of both. Go read the whole thing if you want to be sad.

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Rogue One Reviewed

download-1Q: Let’s get right to it: Is this a good movie? 

A: Yes, this is a very good movie. Definitely go see it.

Q: What’s your new power ranking for the franchise?

A: Rogue One is a worthy entry in the series; however, just as it comes between the two existing trilogies in the timeline, it comes between them in quality, as well.

  1. The Empire Strikes Back     2. Return of the Jedi     3. The Force Awakens     4. A New Hope     5. Rogue One     6. Revenge of the Sith      7. Phantom Menace     8. Attack of the Clones

Don’t let that low ranking fool you–it’s only because the films above it are so awesome. Rogue One is a terrific bit of entertainment.

This is my purely subjective preference, though. Actually, I think that, as a film, Rogue One is better made than The Force Awakens.

Q: Is this film really dark? 

A: Yes, though it’s not a tragedy–it’s a tale of triumph in the face of overwhelming adversity.  But here’s the thing: this movie is an experiment. Disney wants to see if the Star Wars universe can support different kinds of stories. I think the risk totally paid off.

But they’ve given us something new here: there’s no gee-whiz childlike wonder in this movie. This is a gritty film about adult choices; it’s a meditation on redemption through sacrifice for a greater good. Thematically, tonally, structurally, it’s not at all like most Star Wars movies. It is, however, closest to The Empire Strikes Back.

I read one review that likened it to Ocean’s 11. That was dumb. It’s much more like Saving Private Ryan. In a good way.

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Sundays With Shakespeare

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I put together a small book of 52 Shakespeare and scripture quotes, as a weekly spiritual devotional. From the Amazon description: “Each entry has a title based on the theme and a quote from scripture on the same theme, all focused on inspiration, reflection, and self-improvement. 50 footnotes explain difficult wording, and an index for play titles, subjects, and scriptures make this a useful resource for talks and lessons, as well as for personal study.” A perfect Christmas gift! Set some self-improvement goals for 2017 and this can help you.

Shared Universes

Sometimes I wonder if very different stories might inhabit the same shared universe. It’s stylish now to pontificate about the wonders of a “Whedon-verse,” where all the films of Joss Whedon happen in the same fictional universe, or ditto for the movies of some other director, or the books of some writer…but what about different kinds of stories, ones that have nothing at all in common? Just imagine them happening at various times and places in the same world–no crossover, just independent living.

Bambi and A Walk to Remember and Blade Runner could all exist in the same world, in that chronological order–the talking animal fantasy could occur, and then decades later the romantic tragedy, and then decades later that same world could be a science-fiction dystopia. Why not? Or The Evil Dead and Fatal Attraction and Honey I Shrunk The Kids at more or less the same time. The world’s a great big crazy place.

Of course, not all universes are compatible. You can’t have a global apocalypse coexisting with a fluffy rom-com. No War of the Worlds happening with The 40-Year-Old Virgin in the same 2005. It’s not reasonable to suppose that the latter happened without any reference to the former, if they were occurring together.

Star Wars would be just fine paired with almost anything. Whether “a long time ago” refers to the time of Braveheart or to the time of Spartacus or to the time of The Flintstones, Earth could have gone about its merry little way as the Rebellion stood up to the Empire in a galaxy far, far away.

Try to challenge your imagination and figure out the most extreme set of seemingly disparate stories that could actually inhabit the same fictional universe. They’re incongruous, but not mutually exclusive. What do you come up with?

 

Shakespeare’s Best Female Character

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-2-54-27-pmShe’s in a poem that’s rarely read. Not only is she Shakespeare’s best female character, she’s his second best character overall (darn you, Hamlet!). She’s Lucrece, of the long narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece.

Two things especially impress me about her. The first is right before the criminal act of the title, when she attempts to persuade her attacker not to do it. She does not, however, say what might come to mind first in that situation, like saying that it’s cruel and selfish and hurts an innocent person. She actually improvises a compelling bit of oratory that appeals to his point of view, essentially warning him about the unintended consequences this act will have on his political career. Quite clever.

But after it happens, most of the rest of the story takes place inside her head, as she mentally soliloquizes about her situation for dozens of pages. She throws out one apostrophic lament after another, addressing her impassioned complaints to fate, lust, the gods, etc. Her thoughts here go far deeper than just depression (though, obviously, that’s a big feature) as she waxes profound about the nature of life and the world in a frenzy of philosophy that would make the Prince of Denmark jealous. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s truly and undeniably great writing.

More than once while reading it, I marveled at the depth of detailed world building that Shakespeare achieved in the mind of this one woman, and often wished that the reader could have met her under better circumstances.

 

Why We Teach

Talking to a few colleagues a while back, I learned that we all had a common inspiration behind our decision to enter the teaching profession. Sure, we’d all had some great teachers ourselves when we were young, some uplifting role models in the Dead Poets Society / Stand and Deliver / Mr. Holland’s Opus vein, but each of us also had had some incompetent buffoons in front of our classrooms who only inspired us all to say, “I can do better than that.”

“Silent Night” In “A Christmas Carol”

The rest of the world seems to have ignored the existence of this great 1999 film version of the classic story. I really like the use of “Silent Night” to illustrate people’s troubles to Scrooge. (Coincidence: this is the 2nd video with Patrick Stewart I’ve posted this week.)

A Bible Story About Guts And Poop

If you’ve never read the book of Judges in the Bible, you’ve missed this little gem in chapter 3:

17 And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon was a very fat man.

21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:

22 And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.

So, not only is this king assassinated, but the text makes it as pathetically undignified as possible. We have to be told of the king’s obesity, with the lovely detail that the sword sank into his guts up to the hilt, so that Ehud couldn’t even pull it out again.

And then that bit about “dirt,” a delightful euphemism telling us that when he had been impaled trough the intestines, this king’s last act on earth was to soil himself as his bowels released.

These details are here, and they’re here for a reason. The only thing I can think of is that the author really wanted to humiliate the memory of this king who’d held Israel captive for 18 years (Judges 3:14), perhaps as an illustration of God’s power to deliver his people and punish those who oppose him. Can there be any other reason for including these unsavory details?

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Checklist of 18 Gospel Study Resources from Elder Ballard in December 2016 Ensign

In “By Study and by Faith,” an article based on an address by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Twelve Apostles, in the December 2016 Ensign, he urges church members to study a number of resources until we’re familiar with them.

Some of these resources are already common, like the scriptures, and others were only vague categories, like “the works of recognized, thoughtful, and faithful LDS scholars,” but he also mentioned 18 specific online resources by name, each of which was linked in the church web site’s version of the article, with each carrying a specific injunction for us to keep in mind as we read.

If it helps anyone to follow up and actually look into these great resources, here they are in a simple checklist:

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May We Take The High Road

Despite the hope implied in the masthead of this blog–“The rebel of the 21st century will be old fashioned”–I don’t know if there’s really a resurgence of conservative culture on the rise, especially since so little of what is coming into power now is actually conservative.

However, if the Right is about to enjoy a cultural moment of influence, some seem keen to abuse it…or at least are enamored of the fear that it might be abused:

Back in 2009 when Nancy Pelosi and the proggies were ramming ObamaCare down our throats someone opined that they were acting like they’d never lose another election. Since then they’ve spent eight years weaponizing the federal government. Now they’ve handed all that power over to The Donald and the Republicans and they’re terrified that we’ll do to them what they wanted Hillary to do to us. They’re looking under their beds and in their closets, terrified they might find the monsters of their own creation. The monsters they thought they’d control.

But monsters, once created, are notoriously difficult to control. You’d think all those English Lit majors would have remembered that, and we should remember it too…

This will be a chance to prove ourselves to posterity. Now we will see if we truly live by values, or if we will succumb to the growing temptation to be populist fascists. For example, I agree entirely with this:

Conservatives have understandably felt for decades that the higher education establishment is indifferent or hostile to their interests. The number of right-of-center faculty has dwindled to the point of disappearance; Republican speakers are regularly shouted down; campus speech codes and harassment policies seem designed to disfavor conservative points of view. Now that the cultural wind is at their backs as never before, some on the Right may be tempted to be vindictive, and to do to college liberals what college liberals have done to them. Ben Carson, currently being considered for a Trump Administration cabinet position, suggested during the primaries that the government should police colleges for liberal bias.

Needless to say, such efforts would be deeply destructive. If Orwellian left-wing speech codes are wrong, then McCarthyist speech codes are wrong as well. If the principle of academic freedom requires the protection of conservative scholarship, it requires the protection of liberal scholarship, too. The aim of genuine defenders of the liberal tradition must be to promote tolerance and open-mindedness, not to replace left-wing academic hegemony with a right-wing version.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and two wrongs don’t make the Right.

Patrick Stewart Performs Shakespeare’s “This Sceptered Isle” Speech

I like each of the four versions in this video, but the final one–starting at 5:35 and delivered by Patrick Stewart, from the Richard II segment of The Hollow Crown–really gives me chills.