Notes on community and liturgy, virtual and otherwise

28 02 2011

This post is inspired by this one. Really, I have very little time and will to write for that site anymore, and posts like that are the reason why.

EWTN as a new “subculture”? A new “ghetto”? The thing about ghettoes is that you don’t choose to live in one. It is never about choice. Those who aspire to a ghetto are the ones we know have no idea what they are talking about. One of the common themes of this blog is that those who have nostalgia for the “Catholic past” don’t remember it all that well. They remember the deference that some had for the clergy, the supposed “reverence” inspired more by social taboo than anything else, and the remnants of architecture that have not been razed yet in modern times. They forget the bigotry, the witchcraft, the “superstition”, and the cruel cosmos that was at the center of the “old ways”. People like this who are nostalgic for the old subculture merely want a crypto-Protestant evangelical, Republican Party in prayer, Christianity with props that they don’t even understand. I hate to get all “racial” about it, but a bunch of newly minted “middle class white Christians” with vowels on their last names are not going to remake “Christendom”. A few cult-like Catholic communes are not going to save the world.
Read the rest of this entry »

Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto

25 02 2011

2nd movement

With dance from the Octavia Cup Dance Theatre

The cunning of reason

24 02 2011

It is not the general idea that is implicated in opposition and combat, and that is exposed to danger. It remains in the background, untouched and uninjured. This may be called the cunning of reason – that it sets the passions to work for itself, while that which develops its existence through such impulsion pays the penalty and suffers loss… The particular is for the most part of too trifling value as compared with the general: individuals are sacrificed and abandoned. The Idea pays the penalty of determinate existence and corruptibility not from itself, but from the passions of individuals.

This quotation from Hegel’s The Philosophy of History fits perfectly the common notion of the “cunning of reason”: individuals who follow their particular aims are unknowingly instruments of the realization of the Divine plan. But certain elements disturb this seemingly clear picture. Usually passed over in silence is the very point of Hegel’s argumentation apropos of the “cunning of reason”: the ultimate impossibility of it. It is impossible for any determinate subject to occupy the place of the “cunning of reason” and to exploit another’s passions with getting involved in their labor. i.e. without paying in flesh the price for his exploitation. In this precise sense, the “cunning of reason” is always redoubled: an artisan, for example, makes use of the forces of nature (water, steam…) and lets them interact for ends external to them, to mold the raw material into a form appropriate for human consumption; for him, the aim of the process of production is the satisfaction of human needs. It is here, however, that he is as it were a victim of his own ruse: the true aim of the process of social production is not the satisfaction of individual needs but the very development of productive forces, what Hegel refers to as the “objectivization of the Spirit.” Hegel’s thesis is therefore that the manipulator himself is always manipulated: the artisan who exploits nature by way of the “cunning of reason” is in turn exploited by the “objective spirit.”

-Slavoj Zizek, Tarrying with the Negative

On sight

22 02 2011

First of all, the bright, clear color of the sky, and all it holds within it, the stars that wander here and there, and the moon and the radiance of the sun with its brilliant light; all these, if now they had been seen for the first time by mortals, if, unexpectedly, they were in a moment placed before their eyes, what story could be told more marvelous than these things, or what that the nations would less dare to believe beforehand? Nothing, I believe; so worthy of wonder would this sight have been. Yet think how no one now, wearied with the satiety of seeing, deigns to gaze up at the shining quarters of the sky!

…A truth wondrously new is struggling to fall upon your ears, and a new face of things to reveal itself.

-Lucretius, De Rerum Natura

On torture

21 02 2011

image source

I found this via the Western Confucian. It seems to me that one cannot speak of the civilization that we have in comparison to civilizations past and call what they had then barbarism. After all, did they have such large portions of their society either incarcerated or formerly incarcerated? And of course, the above link shows that the idea of “at least we don’t torture people” to be a lie. The fact that we incarcerate people for years on end and have them terrorized in such ways is a torture unique in and of itself. Compared to that, a good flogging or caning seems civilized.

Much has been made in the Catholic Church in this country regarding the instrinsically evil nature of torture. While the Church should no doubt be applauded for such a stance, many pundits use it to wash their hands of the actual realities of the prison-industrial complex in this country. If we are going to obsess over such practices as waterboarding of foreign terrorists yet say nothing of repeated gang rapes of prisoners within our own borders, at least we shouldn’t complain if people accuse us of being inconsistent. All we are doing is using our moralistic stance to shield ourselves from the actual realities of our situation. And as this condition is often the result of government and social policy (the “war on drugs”, the economic abandonment of the ghetto by industry, etc.), it might as well be an atrocity perpetrated by the state.

On the other hand, I don’t buy the whole argument that, from a moral theological perspective, torture is “intrinsically evil”. My first reply would be, “since when?” 1993? 1945? As the Catholic Church was supportive of many forms of torture, right under the noses of moral theologians who we now respect in many other ethical issues, one wonders what makes us so smart to see things that they didn’t. If we argue that the Catholic Church could get torture so wrong for so many years, we can only wonder what else it may have gotten wrong. On the other (other) hand, I don’t see anything in any theological teaching (prior to the last fifty years) that says the the State has no right to punitive action against the bodies of its subjects. For me, this seems the case of the Church playing catch-up with the values of the secular Enlightenment (though one must concede that those values were distilled from Christian principles, and many Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment ideologies haven’t been particularly enlightened). For me, I am thankful that the Church doesn’t defend torture, but I think this is a case of secular ideology schooling the Church on how to be civilized.

A Rameau motet

18 02 2011

One of ballet’s Old Believers

17 02 2011

My wife is now reading the book being reviewed here . I agree with the reviewer on some issues, and will have to return more in depth to some of these ideas once I actually read the book. Here is the final part of the review:

Homans’s vehemence in upholding the values of elegance and proportion is heartening, a testament to the coherence and harmoniousness of ballet’s basic principles and codes. And inevitably, I too am captive to my own prejudices and experiences. Having come to ballet as an adult, in the post-Balanchine era, I find that my perspective is necessarily different from Homans’s. Her credo finds its strongest expression in the final chapter of Apollo’s Angels, a provocative essay with the lugubrious title “The Masters Are Dead and Gone.” Homans postulates that ballet is dying and perhaps beyond life support, complaining about the “dull, flat-screen look of today’s dances and dancers,” “artistically moribund” revivals, “dispiriting” performances that are “dull and lack vitality,” and an “inaccessible avant-garde.” Even ballet’s angels, it seems, are falling from the sky.

But ballet is always dying. Like all dance, it exists purely in time and leaves no record, and is an art of the external present. Unlike music, it does not have a consistent written language; video can capture only its shadow because it lacks the third dimension, where dancing lives. So we are left with the present. As Balanchine said, “There is only now.” In this light Homans’s discouragement feels like fatigue, her disappointment like complacency. She may tire of seeing yet another production of Giselle or Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, but what about the person who is seeing these ballets for the first time, who stumbles out of the theater in a daze, in tears of disbelief at what he has just witnessed? Is this not worth preserving, worth fighting for? As Homans wrote several years ago, in a different mood, “Who are we to hold old memories so tightly? Perhaps it is time to stop mourning and move on.”

I agree and disagree. One of my most recent themes here is that there is no “tradition” properly considered. Even our idea of ballet, of a woman in pointe shoes floating across the stage, is a radical transformation from the original court dancing of Louis XIV. As the reviewer also points out, Balanchine was also a great innovator. While I respect greatly Balanchine as the greatest choreographer of the 20th century at least, to say that there is no ballet history after him is a bit of an exaggeration. Not much of an exaggeration to be sure, but to say that an artform that has changed so much is coming to an end may be the real exaggeration. Really, how old are even the ballets of Petipa and Bournonville compared to the grand scheme of Western art? Not even as old as Beethoven. Don’t count ballet out yet.

But there are some factors that even the reviewer does not take into consideration that are also working against ballet’s future. It is truly an aristocratic art, and thus needs an aristocratic scale to be properly executed. Many have said that the young dancers today, in spite of being faster or being able to jump higher, and so on, have little musicality, little ability to carry themselves in the ethos of the ballets, etc. Really, this is a problem with many arts, including such things as traditional liturgy (not that liturgy really matters in the grand scheme of things). We live in a different world of blogging, tweeting, video games, and gadgets doing all sorts of things that fit in our pockets. What can a pas de deux really teach us? As the years go by, the things of the past begin to make less and less sense. Perhaps future generations will take up the mantle and carry on the arts of an autocratic past, but if there are other things that are seen as being more worth the while, one should not hold one’s breath waiting for a renaissance.

Todas íbamos a ser reinas

15 02 2011

Todas íbamos a ser reinas,
de cuatro reinos sobre el mar:
Rosalía con Efigenia
y Lucila con Soledad.

En el valle de Elqui, ceñido
de cien montañas o de más,
que como ofrendas o tributos
arden en rojo y azafrán.

Lo decíamos embriagadas,
y lo tuvimos por verdad,
que seríamos todas reinas
y llegaríamos al mar.

Con las trenzas de los siete años,
y batas claras de percal,
persiguiendo tordos huidos
en la sombra del higueral.

De los cuatro reinos, decíamos,
indudables como el Korán,
que por grandes y por cabales
alcanzarían hasta el mar.

Cuatro esposos desposarían,
por el tiempo de desposar,
y eran reyes y cantadores
como David, rey de Judá.

Y de ser grandes nuestros reinos,
ellos tendrían, sin faltar,
mares verdes, mares de algas,
y el ave loca del faisán.

Y de tener todos los frutos,
árbol de leche, árbol del pan,
el guayacán no cortaríamos
ni morderíamos metal.

Todas íbamos a ser reinas,
y de verídico reinar;
pero ninguna ha sido reina
ni en Arauco ni en Copán…

Rosalía besó marino
ya desposado con el mar,
y al besador, en las Guaitecas,
se lo comió la tempestad.

Soledad crió siete hermanos
y su sangre dejó en su pan,
y sus ojos quedaron negros
de no haber visto nunca el mar.

En las viñas de Montegrande,
con su puro seno candeal,
mece los hijos de otras reinas
y los suyos nunca-jamás.

Efigenia cruzó extranjero
en las rutas, y sin hablar,
le siguió, sin saberle nombre,
porque el hombre parece el mar.

Y Lucila, que hablaba a río,
a montaña y cañaveral,
en las lunas de la locura
recibió reino de verdad.

En las nubes contó diez hijos
y en los salares su reinar,
en los ríos ha visto esposos
y su manto en la tempestad.

Pero en el valle de Elqui, donde
son cien montañas o son más,
cantan las otras que vinieron
y las que vienen cantarán:

-“En la tierra seremos reinas,
y de verídico reinar,
y siendo grandes nuestros reinos,
llegaremos todas al mar.”

-Gabriela Mistral

Latin American Spiritism in context

14 02 2011

One could make the argument that the soul of religiosity in Latin America is ten percent Catholic and ninety percent Spiritist. That is an exaggeration to be sure, but it can go far in explaining the shape of Catholicism as it has developed in the past two hundred years. Raquel Romberg’s book, Witchcraft and Welfare: Spiritual Capital and the Business of Magic in Modern Puerto Rico, concerns the development of modern religious consciousness in the face of an emerging capitalist economy and its accompanying state. Romberg shows how witchcraft, espiritismo, and brujería, have all been grafted into contemporary conditions of life on all socio-economic levels. These practices are both preserving traditional spirituality and transforming themselves to meet the needs of believers in a constantly changing society.
Read the rest of this entry »

The Four Sections

11 02 2011

A work by Steve Reich, which I find pretty infectious. Reich has admitted that he doesn’t compose for orchestra anymore, which makes sense. This is pretty much the limit of what his music can do in that medium, and I mean that in a good way.