Thursday, 1/30/14

    1. Praise for Mediocre Art
    2. Interpretation as Art
    3. Hypocrisy as Art
    4. Corporatism and SSM
    5. Natural Law grossly misunderstood


I recently saw, and posted a few places, Paul’s Powerpoint to the Corinthians, which was introduced thusly:

I have long been struck by the beauty of Paul’s prose in chapter 13 expressing Christianity in terms of Platonism centuries before Augustine. Of course I have the advantage of speaking English fluently and so being able to understand and be moved by … the King James … But what about people who do not speak English? Over the last two hundred years the Scriptures have been translated into hundreds of tongues and … yet a linguistic community numbering in the tens of millions right here amongst us cannot read, or more accurately, watch, the Scriptures. I speak of course of speakers of Terrible Powerpoint (or as linguists usually abbreviate it, “TP”).

I hesitate to summarize James Matthew Wilson’s In Praise of Mediocrity, lest my effort be akin to TP. Suffice that a mediocre work of art once inspired a great work of art, and if that piques your interest, read the story as Wilson, G.K. Chesterton and Dappled Things writer Karen Ullo tell it.

Maybe Roman Hruska was right.


Around the turn of the 20th century, Chekhov began to focus less on stories and more on plays. He wrote for the Moscow Art Theatre, which was founded by Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and Konstantin Stanislavski. Stanislavski in particular had a reputation in the theatrical world as a real innovator with a naturalistic style.

On the surface, many of Chekhov’s plays seemed to be tragic, but he had written them as comedies, even farces; he hoped that Stanislavski would recognize this and steer clear of sentimentality and melodrama. Sadly, he was disappointed. Stanislavski tended to place heavy emphasis on scenes that Chekhov had intended to be subtle and indirect.

This was particularly evident — and troublesome — in Chekhov’s last play, The Cherry Orchard(1904). Chekhov had spent years thinking about the story before he ever began to write it. It’s the story of an aristocratic family that is about to lose its land to pay off their debts, and although they are upset about the loss, they do nothing to stop it. Chekhov wrote it as a comedy, and although there were tragic elements, he intended the overall tone of the play to be lively. Nevertheless, Stanislavski insisted on presenting the play as a ponderous tragedy. Where Chekhov had written that characters should be “speaking through tears” and wanted the actors to indicate this through facial expressions only, Stanislavski directed the actors to sob openly and dramatically.

Chekhov was livid, and although he was seriously ill with tuberculosis by this time, he took an active part in the production to try to salvage the play. He traveled to Moscow against his doctor’s orders and worked furiously to revise and edit the play and supervise rehearsals. The Cherry Orchard premiered at the Moscow Art Theatre on January 17, 1904, and even though Chekhov was still convinced that Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko didn’t understand the play, it was a great commercial and artistic success. He was second only to Tolstoy as a literary celebrity.

(The Writer’s Almanac)  So: Who was right, Chekov who put it on the page or Stanislavski who took it to the stage?

Or maybe interpretation is an art in its own right. Have you ever heard Rachmaninov play Rachmaninov piano works? I can’t think of one of his own renditions of his own pieces that I prefer to all other interpretations (although the guy sure could play fast).


De Blasio campaigned in part on bringing greater openness and transparency to City Hall, and here, barely two weeks into his mayoralty, he is discovered giving a secret speech to a high donor crowd. The landslide winning new progressive may still be in the honeymoon of his administration, but a stench of hypocrisy has begun to rise.

Hypocrisy at this level is almost an artform, too.


Politics may make strange bedfellows, but the corporate/homophile partnership in Indiana politics 2014 is one of natural allies, not strange bedfellows.

Long before the current debate over gay marriage, modern capitalism required the redefinition of the family and marriage …

Marriage had to be redefined by the demands of the modern economy, no longer a bond between man and woman, each a part of intertwined extended families, embedded in a community rooted in multiple generations of memory, joined together as contributors to the future of that community by the generation of new life, bound by the self-sacrificial acceptance of debt to the past and obligation to the future.

… Defined today as one of our “rights” (rather than as part of our duty), marriage should be like a consumer good—something that satisfies us, in accordance with our desires. It does not partake of a moral and natural and communal and sacramental ecology. Rather, it is part of our dominant marketplace of choice, a marketplace extensively constructed by the modern economic realm, and in which the modern corporation flourishes …

… (it’s especially interesting to witness the Left’s insistence on gay marriage as a means for wealthy, oft-childless homosexuals to avoid inheritance taxes. After all, U.S v. Windsor wasn’t about “love,” it was about money). Corporations thus defend gay marriage for the same reason (and using the same tactics) they seek to undermine unions, environmental regulations, and tax policy—most obviously short-term gain, but more deeply, a society that needs to be remade in such a way that short-term gain seems the only game left in town: a thoroughly mobile society devoted to personal satisfaction, composed of individuals whose relationships are fungible and who have no strong relationship to place, history, or the generations stretching between the past and the future.

When Dan Cathay, CEO of Chik-fil-A declared that he believed marriage was properly understood between a man and a woman, opinion makers decried that he was unnecessarily mixing moral judgments and business. One business journal advised  that when dealing with a controversial topic like gay marriage, the preferred answer should have been “business and politics don’t mix.” However, in contrast to the circus-level attention that Cathy’s brief comments elicited—dealing with his private views—the political lobbying by Indiana corporations has hardly merited commentary … If a corporation speaks out against gay marriage, it is inappropriately mixing morality and business; if a corporation lobbies in favor of gay marriage, it is practicing good business. What we are seeing today in Indiana—as we’ve seen in many other States—is not an instance of “strange bedfellows,” but natural allies.

Patrick Deneen, who has seen the Indiana campaign from inside the Hoosier state. And I’m pretty sure he’d agree with Jeremy Beer, who I discussed not long ago:

From Leach, we learn that the institutions, practices, and ideas constitutive of industrial consumerism were not inevitable but were, for various reasons, manufactured at a particular point in time by particular men and women, and that their advancement depended upon the toppling of the traditional Christian stance toward desire. From Cavanaugh, we see how the understanding of freedom central to Christian anthropology (and, indeed, other anthropologies) is profoundly at odds with the view embedded in liberal free-market theory. And from MacIntyre, we learn how the modern state and the economic order that sustains and is sustained by it is inimical to the formation of the kinds of local communities that are necessary as a school of virtue.

And so, what lesson can we learn from … Look! Kim Kardashian! Chaz Bono! American Idol! Shiny! (HT Mark Shea)


Had he actually read St. Thomas, or any scrupulous commentator (not including Oliver Wendell Holmes), he would have understood that, according to Thomas (not to mention virtually every other proponent of natural law of whom I am aware), natural law depends upon reason, not faith, indeed upon a reason that all human beings, regardless of creed, are said to share.

Properly understood, then, Murray is afraid that some Supreme Court justices would have a high regard for reason, a reason that would give them a deep and abiding concern with justice and a respect for the rule of law, not to mention the role of legitimate majorities in settling questions that are matters of prudence.

(Joseph Knippenberg, Natural Law in the Fever Swamp)

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.