Friday, May 27, 2011

"All who go in beauty..
will resurrect in Beauty."

My husband made me peacock-and-amber earring for Mother's Day. If I don't completely reject all jewelry, I will wear them during labor to keep the evil-eye away. Peacocks are an Easter bird as it was thought once their flesh would never decay. They symbolize the resurrection and eternal life even today, just by the grandness of their display.

I like to think of God, laughing in anticipation as he created them, rejoicing in the many-eyed splendor of their tails and the luck he poured into every feather. He must have known the feathers would be used to guard the fragile from curses - hung on cradles and clutched in bridal bouquets. I think He can't have minded - so much beauty should not be wasted.

We have feathers tucked behind our Icons, watching along with the Virgin and her Son all that happens in our home. The feathers turn my thoughts to Christ - opening His tomb to greet the day.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Effect of Objective Criticism on Taste

In response to Jenna St. Hilaire's: The Effects of Taste on Objective Criticism

"In truly good writing no matter how many times you read it you do not know how it is done. That is because there is a mystery in all great writing and that mystery does not dis-sect out. It continues and is always valid. Each time you reread you see or learn something new."

Literature, by which I mean writing as an Art, must be objectively beautiful. To be beautiful, it must contain both Truth and Goodness. The standards for beauty, despite common misconceptions, are objective, and the study of beauty - Aesthetics - is somehing that can be undertaken by anyone, and is necessary for any serious writer to have at least a working knowledge of. In Literary criticism, an objective understanding of beauty is often what stands in the way of a purely subjective response to the work.

Aesthetic standards tell us what to look for in any work of art, whether written, sculpted, painted, or lived. When these essentials are missing, the work is artistically flawed. Unlike the laws of grammer, which can be broken to create a necessary effect without damaging the literary merit of the writing, the standards of beauty cannot be broken and still produce beauty.

I am not a critic, when I read, I read as an artist, and when I judge the works I read, it is as they measure up to beauty. Critics can be concerned with grammer, sytax, and cultural significance, these are all aspects of Objective criticism, I'm concerned only with the objective criticism of artistry. In many ways, despite the objective Aesthetic standards, which tell us what is no art, the understanding of what is art can remain murky. The nature of beauty is like the nature of God: it is much easier to say what it isn't than to define exactly what it is. Like God, beauty is a mystery that "continues and is always valid." To be art, writing must fulfill the Aesthetic standards and continue onward into the "mystery in all great writing." It is writing in pursuit of the Divine, whether the author herself recognizes it as such, and we need to be able to recognize its value, even if we can't love the form it takes.

Which brings me to Taste. Taste is like any other appetite. It varies from person to person and time to time. Some tastes, formed in a habit of laziness, need to be purged or pruned, or redirected entirely. Other tastes - a taste for the good, ought to be continually nourished. Jenna is right when she writes that "trends in education and philosophy [can] reflect elite blinders and even instill prejudices" in regard to taste, and sometimes this prevents us from seeing the beauty in a work that is not quite our style. This is where objective criticism comes in to train the tastes again and again in pursuit of the Good. The nature of Art is to last, to be eternally valid, whether its form is in fashion or not. But weakness in education and philosophy have helped to produce a population that, while considering itself educated has never taken an educated look at its tastes. A person may say "I know Hemingway is superior to Dan Brown, I just like Brown better." without ever going on to ask why he prefers bad writing to good, weak ideas to strong ones, and banality to beauty. Developing within himself a strong sense of the standards of Objective criticism makes it possible for him to understand the flaws and weaknesses in his own tastes and develope a stronger attraction to Beauty.

Taste is fluid, changeable, and flawed in all of us, like all attractions. It needs to be developed carefully and lovingly to avoid allowing it to overwhelm our better judgement and lead us ever downward into stagnation.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Whoever does not affirm at some time the definite..terribleness of life, never takes possession of the unutterable powers of our existence; he merely walks at the edge; and when the decision is made eventually, he will have been neither one of the living nor one of the dead."

I know many Catholics who reject modern Literature almost out of hand. Why is that? What is it about modern writers that offends us? There is pretension enough throughout literary history, there is despair and darkness in writers of all eras, Godlessness and hedonism abound in some of our most treasured classics, so why do we reject the moderns specifically? Why do Joyce, Hemingway, Camus, and their many proteges offend us. Among many Catholics, the favorite authors are either decidedly pre-modern or else some of the few 20th century writers who wrote in pursuit of a premodern world.

I get the impression that it feels safer in another time, we escape our own era into a world that can be easily romanticized: boxed away to be revisited in the safety of imagination. In this world, Beauty is always pretty, like a Bouguereau painting - bland perfection of form with non of realities wrinkles or scars. It becomes harder and harder to see beauty in the darker aspects of life - in old mills decaying along the river, in old men alone in discontent, in blood and death and crucifixion.

I think of St. Catherine of Sienna, to whom Christ gave his circumcised foreskin as a wedding ring, or of the tales of Hosts turning to bloody meat in the mouths of saints - allowing them to taste the intimacy of devouring the Man, Christ. The pretty images of 19th century holy cards and Bouguereau Madonnas can't begin to touch this beauty, but many of the moderns, for all their restless despair, have a feel for the darker side of beauty; rejecting them, we reject the opportunity to let that beauty raise us up.

Sometimes stagnation seems attractive, comfortable. Going back again and again to the pretty things that give pretty feelings is easy and enjoyable, but there is beauty in the modern world that has been called out and studied by our modern writers. Its true that it is often a dark beauty, one that reflects our own move away from nature. It can be a frightening read, but it is our world, if it has "terrors they are our terrors; .. are dangers at hand, we must try to love them." (Rilke)

Friday, May 20, 2011

"Thats what dries a writer up..not listening. Thats where it all comes from. Seeing, listening. You see well enough. But you stop listening."

I'm grateful for my husband. Not every life is blessed with love that understands. My husband can defend my thoughts better than I myself can - and calls me to live them better than my own self-discipline ever will. I've been discussing Literature on many fronts recently, Literature and the value of art. In these discussions my husband has been my greatest support in clarifying and directing my thoughts, as well as curbing my tendency toward tactlessness, especially in conversation.

I owe him a lot in the development of my understanding of Literature, he's helped me immensely to move beyond a narrower definition fo Literature, and encouraged me to recognize the artistic qualities in all genres. He also helps me to be honest in my assessments and avoid rejecting true art simply because it doesn't coincide with my personal tastes. The ability to recognize and appreciate beauty should not be limited by the fact that some beauties are more attractive to me than others. I certainly haven't perfected any of this, but I'm grateful for his support and encouragement.

In my recent literary discussions, the writing of GK Chesterton has come up often. I'm not surprised, as many discussions are with fellow graduates of my own university, where Chesterton is very popular. When I first discovered him, I enjoyed Chesterton's writing immensly. I read The Man who was Thursday and adored the imagery, the symbolism, and the living writing. The male characters are interesting, the lone female, iconic, and the mythic tone of the tale allows this without flaw. As I followed his writing though, I became more and more dissatisfied. The Flying Inn was a disaster of prejudice and undeveloped characters: evil arabs, weak-women, and self-satisfied heroes who swoop in to expel the immigrants and rescue life-as-it-always-has-been from alteration. I loathed it. His non-fiction frustrates as much as the Inn, with the overall impression I came away with being that "Whats wrong with the world" is nothing more than women wanting to vote, work, and otherwise exist in reality, the discussion of ideas not his own, and art that can represent both modern and premodern mindsets. His writing seems primarily focused on ensuring that life as he knew it would never change, that there would be no development of thought. I'm not saying that his writing isn't impressive. Thursday is beautiful, artistic, and interesting. The Inn could have been, if he hadn't chosen to make it propaganda. His talent is obvious, but he seems to be working against it - as he writes against most art - in an attempt to hold his world in suspension.

My youngest brother, I'm sure, will disagree with my entire assesment. I hope he responds, and anyone else who really appreciates Chesterton. I'd like to hear his defense. I feel as though, because I know so many people who enjoy him, I must be missing something when I read him. What do you think of GK Chesterton, am I unjust?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"These soft nights hold me like themselves aloft
and I lie without a lover."
~Rainer Maria Rilke

My husband and I don't spend many days or nights apart. I haven't spent so long away from him since our wedding, and it's a lonely experience. The nights especially, not only am I lying alone in a strange bed, I'm alone without my familiar nights. Away from the yurt, I miss the moon and the stars, the frogs peeping down by the stream and the wind in the trees. I miss my husband's warm, rich voice and his presence, with fills the night with comfort.

I think my restless days are ending. Travel has less appeal - I never thought it would, but I'm more and more attached to the bit of land we've made our own. As we continue to put down roots - planting, adding animals, buildings, and the baby, wandering becomes less likely, and less of a need in me. I have my woods to wander through, my stream to discover anew each day, and the ever-changing seasons to alter my scenery. I think I've become content - something I never expected to be. Happiness and joy have been mine almost continually in life, but contentment and restfulness, I never expected.

That's not to say I'm not enjoying my visit. My family is always a joy to spend time with, and I find myself appreciating them more and more. I'm glad I came out to cheer my youngest brother's graduation, and celebrate my baby with those who knew me as a baby, but I will be glad to come home to my husband, our home, and the life we're shaping together.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Thoughts are slow and deep and golden in the morning."
~John Steinbeck

There's something about the weather today that makes me want to be away from home. Not out in the weather, but out somewhere in the day. I want to be moving from place to place. I wan to be alone, and I want not to be alone. I brought Luba with me in the car and let her play with the winshield wipers, she likes to snap at them as they brush by and then watch eagerly for the repeat. She likes to sit shotgun and press her nose against the windshield when it rains.

It smells of autumn today, of things passing away. If it weren't for the buds and flowers on trees, I would say it's September. I still have flowers to plant along the road, a garden to form, and the coming summer to welcome in with bonfires and beautification; but today I'm in reflective, roaming mode. It's a mood to be in off and on, so long as it doesn't take over. Nothing is accomplished, but so much is nurtured.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible."
~ Vladimir Nabakov

I do have a post drafted, about good reading and bad reading, good art and bad art, but I haven't posted it yet, partially because I'm still a little unhappy about the tone of the blog, it sounds a little too harsh, and partially because my keyboard is in rebellion. Three of my letter keys are on strike, and typing an entire post with the "On Screen Keyboard" is a little beyond my abilities. Hopefully, the keyboard trouble will clear up just as my post is postable.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"I have been one aquainted with the night
I have walked out in the rain and back in the rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light."
~Robert Frost

I have certainly outwalked the city lights in life. My home at night is deep in darkness - planted like a tiny seed in the black sky. I can watch, as we did last night, every drop of light fade slowly in the evening, until we were left with just the sky and stars. I could imagine the stars as tiny, far off yurts, glowing welcome to us through huge expanses of space, until there were too many and they became themselves again: the individual stars and the collections that make Orion, the bears, the lion, and those I still don't know.

The night is friendlier in the darkness of the woods. Friendlier outside the lights of the city. In our apartment I felt need to keep the night out, to fill our rooms with lights and sound, but out here, there are nights we use no lights at all - the darkness is softer, and we can wrap ourselves in it, and belong there, with the calling birds, the coyotes, and the peeping frogs who chorus up from the stream.

I have become so much aquainted with the night - watching the moon wax and wane above the yurt, watching the stars switch places on the sky. But the aquaintance doesn't keep away all fear - walking alone down the road in cloudy darkness is a lonely path and the rustling of last year's beech leaves, dead on the branch, becomes an unfriendly sound. Strange the difference stars make when walking out at night.