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How telling stories helps us define the meaning of marriage

Back in February and March when I was re-reading and reading* Madeline L’Engle’s Time Quintet, I recalled the author’s bittersweet Two-Part Invention.  The subtitle helps show my interest in the book:  ”The Story of a Marriage.”

At the time, I thought it was the best book on marriage I had ever read.  Later, when I re-read the Odyssey, I realized Homer’s epic still holds that title.  (And perhaps always will.)

Given that I underline in my books and often write notes in the margins and fly-leaves, I thought that by reviewing this book, I might quickly locate a few insights, a few conclusions she has made about that ancient and honorable institution to help me craft a post on gay marriage similar to that Megan McArdle, as Jane Galt, wrote eight years ago, A really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other.

But, L’Engle’s book was about marriage primarily in the sense that she reflects on her life, her relationship with her husband Hugh, farmed in part around his death from cancer in 1986 .  To write movingly about marriage, she deals not in abstractions, but in anecdotes, sharing certain experiences with us as she recalls her feelings and her reflects on her and her beloved’s interactions.   And as I reviewed my notes, I wondered if what has been bothering me so much about the debate on gay marriage is that most people do the opposite of what L’Engle did in this book, that is, they talk mostly in abstractions.

Marriage is about love, say the advocates.  Gay marriage will destroy the institution, say the opponents.  The former hardly discuss how love can sustain a life-long partnership.  The opponents don’t tell us how exactly same-sex unions will undermine the institution.

And their tired cliches sound increasingly empty each time another individual repeats them anew.   What L’Engle teaches us is that to really get at the meaning of marriage, you need do more than recite rehearsed bromides, you need to tell stories.

No wonder that when Homer reunites Odysseus and Penelope after twenty years of separation, he has Athene delay the dawn so that the married couple can both delight in the pleasure of love-making and share each other’s stories. (more…)

A Few Good Men, science fiction with a gay hero

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 1:12 am - March 5, 2013.
Filed under: Bibliophilia / Good Books,Patriotism

Last December when the e-book format of Sarah Hoyt’s A Few Good Men became available, I reviewed it here.  Now that the book is in general release, I re-post that review.  Click here to buy the book!  (Didn’t know until I got my copy that the book is dedicated to Glenn Reynolds.)

We gay men, like our straight counterparts,appreciate seeing images of ourselves in literature and film that correspond to a more idealized version of ourselves, not necessarily perfectly idealized, to be sure, but at least characters who have a (somewhat) noble demeanor and show a bit of derring-do — and maybe manifest a few of our flaws.  All too often alas, in literary fiction, we see too many gay men depicted as whiners, victims of an unfair society or, in mainstream and science fiction, as lonely people who live apart from their peers, rarely connecting with others and never succeeding in romance.

In Sarah Hoyt’s A Few Good Men, a science fiction novel set in a dystopian future on earth, , however,we have a gay hero who very much has that derring-do and even has a few of flaws common to most mortals, a man who suffers the loss of one lover, but finds in another both the companionship that we all crave and the encouragement that we all need.

A_Few_Good_Men_with_lettering

The book is a fast and a fun read. After receiving an advance copy electronically, I printed out various pages and read them as I did my cardio. So engaged was I in the book that I often found myself working out longer than I had intended.

The story moves quickly along from the outset when our hero, Lucius Dante Maximilian Keeva, or Luce, escapes from the secret prison, Never-Never at the bottom of the ocean. He was born to the aristocracy, the son of “Good Man”, each of whom runs a seacity, little fiefdoms built in the midst of the Atlantic.

Before his escape, he had tried to take his life and wondered why the wardens worked so hard to keep him alive. Given the tensions with his father, he thought the old man would be content just to see him die.

He talks constantly with Ben, whose older brother Samuel manages the family estate. Theirs is no ordinary form of communication. They had been lovers until Luce killed him to spare him the pain of further torture.  His late lover’s voice will guide him even after his escape.

Once a free man, Luce learns that both his father and brother have been killed, yet when he returns home to claim his own, he finds that things aren’t exactly as he imagined they would be when he wielded power.

As a Good Man himself, he starts to wonder how his late brother, when he briefly served as Good Man, came to act more like their father, even in his choice of bedroom decor and at the interest Samuel’s oldest son, Nathaniel takes in him.

This interest grows into much more than a friendship.  Soon Luce joins us with a secret sect to which his late lover and current “squeeze” belong.  Until Nat started teaching him about Usaians, Luce thought they were just part of a “religious sect” with “roots in a mythologizing of the old country that used to occupy much of the North American territories.”

In short, they want to restore the republic. Luce soon learns that many of his household staff had joined the movement and were named for the Founders, his first lover in honor of Benjamin Franklin, his second for the under-appreciated Revolutionary War general Nathaniel Greene.

A Few Good Men is thus the perfect book for gay patriots, a story about two men who fall in love while joining a rebellion that honors the Founders of our republic.  Not just that, it’s a fun-faced read, perfect to download to your kindle or iPad to entertain you while you work out.

The book’s strength is not just its patriotic themes, but that it tells the story of a gay man who is willing to risk his life for his beloved and his beliefs.  These gay men are portrayed not as whiny weaklings bemoaning their fact, but as confident leaders, willing to take charge of their destiny.  And Hoyt’s gay protagonist, instead of being a victim, becomes a hero, finding both a man to love and a cause to reverence.

A Few Good Men is a book to savor — and to celebrate.

A Few Good Men, science fiction with a gay hero

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 3:52 am - December 20, 2012.
Filed under: Bibliophilia / Good Books,Patriotism

We gay men, like our straight counterparts,appreciate seeing images of ourselves in literature and film that correspond to a more idealized version of ourselves, not necessarily perfectly idealized, to be sure, but at least characters who have a (somewhat) noble demeanor and show a bit of derring-do — and maybe manifest a few of our flaws.  All too often alas, in literary fiction, we see too many gay men depicted as whiners, victims of an unfair society or, in mainstream and science fiction, as lonely people who live apart from their peers, rarely connecting with others and never succeeding in romance.

In Sarah Hoyt’s A Few Good Men, a science fiction novel set in a dystopian future on earth, , however,we have a gay hero who very much has that derring-do and even has a few of flaws common to most mortals, a man who suffers the loss of one lover, but finds in another both the companionship that we all crave and the encouragement that we all need.

You won’t be able to buy a hard copy until March 5, but buy and download an e-book today or pre-order a copy on Amazon.  The e-book may, I understand, still have a few typographical errors.  So, if you want to read the perfectly proofed version, you’ll have to wait a few months.

A_Few_Good_Men_with_lettering

The book is a fast and a fun read. After receiving an advance copy electronically, I printed out various pages and read them as I did my cardio. So engaged was I in the book that I often found myself working out longer than I had intended.

The story moves quickly along from the outset when our hero, Lucius Dante Maximilian Keeva, or Luce, escapes from the secret prison, Never-Never at the bottom of the ocean. He was born to the aristocracy, the son of “Good Man”, each of whom runs a seacity, little fiefdoms built in the midst of the Atlantic. (more…)

Happy Birthday, George Eliot!

On this the 193rd anniversary of the birth of the greatest English novelist, let me offer, in slightly modified form, the tribute I have offered in years past.  It is also the 116th anniversary of the birth of my late, beloved Aunt Ruth.  In her life, that great lady embodied the qualities of a heroine of an Eliot novels.

A few years back in anticipation of Eliot’s birthday, I watched the BBC version of Silas Marner, perhaps her most accessible novel.  The story got to me as the book always does.  It’s odd I who love books so much and am moved cry so little when I read (yet tear up frequently when watching movies).  Wwhenever I hear the story of the lonely weaver of Raveloe, however, whether in print, via the spoken word (i.e., book on tape/CD) or on screen, I am always touched, always lose it, so to speak it.

Ben Kingsley’s Silas plea to keep an apparently orphaned child who had strayed into his home, “It’s a lone thing; I’m a lone thing. . . . It’s come to me,” is the plea of every human being who has ever felt cut off from his fellows.  Indeed, that line in quintessetially George Eliot who so understood human loneliness and recognized our need for the companionship of our fellows.

And how meaningful that companionship can we find it.  Or how powerful the presence of someone who listens to our concerns and manifests sympathy for our plight.

George Eliot so delighted in the effect of a child on an adult with an open heart:

She [that child] was perfectly quiet now, but not asleep–only soothed by sweet porridge and warmth into that wide-gazing calm which makes us older human beings, with our inward turmoil, feel a certain awe in the presence of a little child, such as we feel before some quiet majesty or beauty in the earth or sky–before a steady glowing planet, or a full-flowered eglantine, or the bending trees over a silent pathway. (more…)

What was the source of George Washington’s Strength?

From the last week of August to the last week of December,” writes David McCullough,

. . . the year 1776 had been as dark a time as those devoted to the American cause had ever known–indeed, as dark a time as any in the history of the country.  And suddenly, miraculously it seemed, that had changed because of a small band of determined men and their leader.

. . . .

[That leader George Washington] was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gifted orator, not an intellectual.  At several crucial moments he had shown marked indecisiveness.  He had made serious mistakes in judgment.  But experience had been his great teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he l earned steadily from experience.  Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up.

Again and again, in letters to Congress and to his officers, and in his general orders, he had called for perseverance–for “perseverance of spirit,” for “patience and perseverance,” for “unremitting courage and perseverance.”  Soon after the victories of Trenton and Princeton, he had written:  ”A people unused to restraint must be led, they will not be drove.  Without Washington’s leadership and unrelenting perseverance, the revolution almost certainly would have failed.

What accounts for this great’s perseverance against such incredible odds?  Perhaps we would know more had his wife Martha not burned all but two of his letters.  Perhaps, his strength lay in the cause for which he fought or perhaps in the depth of his love for her.

Whatever its cause, the Father of our Country does provide an example of leadership in tough times, a reminder to keep your head up even as the events — and your enemies — bring you down.  That’s not just a reminder for leaders, but for all of us. (more…)

Small book, big box

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 2:42 pm - June 23, 2012.
Filed under: Academia,Bibliophilia / Good Books,Blogging

Just got Glenn Reynolds’s latest book, The Higher Education Bubble, from Amazon. They used quite a big box for such a little book.

Looking forward to reading it!

What Odysseus’s misery on Ogygia teaches us about happiness

Seems it’s Happy Friday at diva Ann Althouse’s blog.  She led off this morning at 8:20 AM related Robert Louis Stevenson’s thoughts about the underrated duty of being happy, then 19 minutes later quoted La Rochefoucauld’s quip about happy people rarely correcting their faults (guess that means Bill Maher is one happy fella. Dan, he said, “rarely,” not “never.” –Ed.).

Just six minutes after that, she asked, if there were a “happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful” and answered with a link of her own.  Later, she referenced a happiness bank before quoting my friend David Boaz to answer the question whether Rick Santorum hates freedom and happiness.  Her next piece led with the quotation, ”I think he showed me a cover of a magazine that said ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun.’”  She then proceeded to contrast, “Romney’s Religion of Happiness” to “Gingrich’s Religion of Grievance.

And soon would lament ”The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.”  As compensation perhaps, she cited a Gallup poll finding “that by almost any measure, people get happier as they get older…”  “Happiness,” she offered in a subsequent post, “is more like knowledge than like belief.”  And listed, “5 Things You Think Will Make You Happy (But Won’t).

She would soon furnish a clever quip, ”I have told myself a hundred times that I would be happy if I were as stupid as my neighbor, and yet I would want no part of that kind of happiness.”  Finally, she found “the secret of happiness and virtue — liking what you’ve got to do.”

It was most serendipitous that I would linger on Ann’s blog today.  Perhaps the happiness drew me in.   You see, I’ve been re-reading the Odyssey and today revisited Odysseus’s misery on the island of Ogygia, by conventional wisdom a straight man’s paradise, beautiful beaches, distant from the outside world, his wife far away, an eternally youthful and nubile nymph eager to bed him.  And yet when first we see the hero, he suffers terribly amidst all these sensual pleasures, “his sweet life flowing away/with the tears he wept for his foiled journey home”. (more…)

The Artist, or the enjoyment of story-telling.

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 3:00 pm - February 28, 2012.
Filed under: Bibliophilia / Good Books,Movies/Film & TV

In his Preface to the 1982 edition the C.S. Lewis Anthology, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature, Walter Hooper contrasts the featured essayist with “literary critics” who

. . . were encouraging readers to find in literature almost everything, life’s monotony, social injustice, sympathy with the downtrodden poor, drudgery, cynicism, and distaste: everything except enjoyment.

Everything except enjoyment.  This idea came to mind as I watched excerpts from the Oscars — a few hours after the telecast — and delighted in the success of Hugo and The Artist, the latter winning the lion’s share of the big prizes, including not only Best Picture, but also best actor for Jean Dujardin and best director for Michel Hazanavicius.

The film may offer no great insight into human nature, save to show that we enjoy a happy ending, celebrating instead the joy of making movies — and of telling stories.  Unlike other critically acclaimed films of recent days, it did not stint on enjoyment.

Indeed, it seemed that, as he paid homage to silent film, Hazanavicius kept his focus on crafting an enjoyable film — and entertaining his anticipated audience.  You leave this film with a smile on your face.

Let us hope that the idea of a movies which telling such a simple, sweet story and delights an audience regains the traction it once enjoyed in Hollywood.

From Steve Jobs to Walt Disney

Earlier today, I finished Walter Isaacson’s most excellent biography of Steve Jobs.  And highly recommend it, despite some glaring flaws.  At time, the book seems slapdash (which makes sense given how quickly the book was published after the death of the entrepreneur).  And he seems to treat Jobs’s wife with kid gloves — as if she were some kind of saint (which makes sense given how cooperative she was in Isaacson’s research–and that she’s still alive and grieving).

There is much to say about jobs, his prickly personality, his luck in finding peers and mentors who could help him find his way professionally and personally.  His ability to achieve his great success without federal funding or government encouragement.  His appreciation of design and attention to detail.  His charisma. His supportive stepfather.

When I was still reading the book a friend asked me what one thing stood out about the book (and by extension the man), I replied his persistence, his determination, his belief that he could achieve a certain project even when others told him it was impossible.  How he grappled with what one of his colleagues called the “reality distortion field.”

Toward the end of the book, Isaacson compares Jobs to such pioneers as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. I see his point, but don’t buy his argument.  As I was reading the biography, I kept thinking of another pioneer of the last century, Walt Disney.  Soon after finishing Isaacson’s book, I picked up — and started reading — Neal Gabler’s biography of the cartoon tycoon.

Why Bookstores Matter

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 6:09 pm - January 17, 2012.
Filed under: Bibliophilia / Good Books,New Media

As a bibliophile, I fear the coming demise of an institution and product I love, the bookstore and the physical book.  With technology, we became able first to order books online, then to buy electronic editions, both actions facilitated by one particular company.

The virtual bookstore, however, could not replace several aspects of the brick-and-mortar variety.   The old-fashioned institution is an actual locale; a place of respite for your home or place of business.  Not just that, you could could discover treasures just by browsing — or by chancing upon one title while browsing for another.  Or while randomly wandering through a bookstore alone — or with a friend.

This happened to me on Sunday evening when, after dinner with a new friend in Glendale, we ended up in an adjacent Barnes & Noble.  There, in the essays section, I alighted on a book about a man, Lionel Trilling, who crafted an expression that helped me define my sometime predicament in life (“the dark and bloody crossroads where literature and politics meet”).  I might not have discovered the book through an amazon search.  Trilling doesn’t always come to mind.

Yet, for nearly two full days after first seeing the book, this book kept coming to mind.  I have this crazy theory (well, maybe it’s not so crazy) that if you see a book in a bookstore and you keep thinking about it (without outside prompting), it’s a sign that you’re supposed to buy the book.

So, today, rather than return to Glendale to buy the book, I ordered it.  On amazon.

Happy Birthday, George Eliot

On this the 192nd anniversary of the birth of the greatest English novelist, let me offer, in slightly modified form, the tribute I have offered in years past.  It is also the 115th anniversary of the birth of my late, beloved Aunt Ruth.  In her life, that great lady embodied the qualities of a heroine of an Eliot novels.

A few years back in anticipation of Eliot’s birthday, I watched the BBC version of Silas Marner, perhaps her most accessible novel.  The story got to me as the book always does.  It’s odd I who love books so much and am moved cry so little when I read (yet tear up frequently when watching movies).  Wwhenever I hear the story of the lonely weaver of Raveloe, however, whether in print, via the spoken word (i.e., book on tape/CD) or on screen, I am always touched, always lose it, so to speak it.

Ben Kingsley’s Silas plea to keep an apparently orphaned child who had strayed into his home, “It’s a lone thing; I’m a lone thing. . . . It’s come to me,” is the plea of every human being who has ever felt cut off from his fellows.  Indeed, that line in quintessetially George Eliot who so understood human loneliness and recognized our need for the companionship of our fellows.

And how meaningful that companionship can we find it.  Or how powerful the presence of someone who listens to our concerns and manifests sympathy for our plight.

George Eliot so delighted in the effect of a child on an adult with an open heart:

She [that child] was perfectly quiet now, but not asleep–only soothed by sweet porridge and warmth into that wide-gazing calm which makes us older human beings, with our inward turmoil, feel a certain awe in the presence of a little child, such as we feel before some quiet majesty or beauty in the earth or sky–before a steady glowing planet, or a full-flowered eglantine, or the bending trees over a silent pathway.

I rediscovered those words when I re-read Silas Marner a few years ago. When I opened the book I had just purchased containing the novel and some of Eliot’s short fiction, I did not quite arrive at the short story I had just begun.  I plunged instead right back into the novel, starting this time in medias res, reading well over two chapters before sleep overtook me.

Such is the power of George Eliot’s prose, the images she invokes, the ideas she presents, the emotions she expresses. She helps us find words for our deepest thoughts and shows compassion for our everyday weaknesses. She seems to see into the troubles of all our lives and finds the balm in tender relations with our fellows.

And that was how I introduced my George Eliot birthday post: (more…)

Libertarian helps me articulate why I’m a Republican

Over the weekend, Glenn quoted a comment from Matt Welch which helps explain why I stay with the GOP despite a number of concerns with the Republican Party, notably its imperfect record on gays and its often inadequate commitment to Ronald Reagan’s small government ideals:

MATT WELCH COMPLICATES WILL WILKINSON’S NARRATIVE: “But here’s the thing that non-Republican, gay-marrying, pro-immigration, pro-choice, anti-empire potheads like me (and Will) need to grapple with if we insist on talking about the relationship between ourselves and various large political blocs: The GOP has been more receptive to libertarian ideas these past couple of years.” And the Democrats, not so much, despite all the “liberaltarian” hype.

He’s right. At least the GOP has been more receptive to libertarian ideas in recent years.  Heck, even the establishment candidate is starting to sound like a Tea Partier, proposing major cuts in federal spending.

In his post (which is well worth your time), Welch adds:

honesty compels the observation that among the governing classes, if you find an economic libertarian he/she is more likely to be a social con than a RINO (or DINO). The Gary Johnson crossover dream is still just that. Which makes me no more likely to join Team Red, but it does suggest that certain libertarianish traditions within the broader right have staying power, at a time when the libertianish tendencies on the broader left seem to be receiving little or no expression in the governance by Team Blue. That I wished things were different doesn’t change the basic facts.

I have noticed the same thing among a good number of social conservatives; they hold libertarian views on a great many issues.  It’s why some gay people are willing to work with these folks in common purpose — reducing the size of the federal government. (more…)

On liberals who take things on faith, er, theory

Yesterday, I started Thomas Sowell’s Economic Facts and Fallacies, underlining many passages, including this one:

. . . the zero-sum fallacy had kept millions of very poor people needlessly mired in poverty for generations before such notions were abandoned.  That is an enormously high price to pay for an unsubstantiated assumption.  Fallacies can have huge impacts.

Emphasis added.  In the margin, I wrote, “Obama’s ‘stimulus’: was there evidence it would work — where have similar programs tried & succeeded?”  Yes, we read economists explaining how the president’s plan was supposed to work, but they derived their explanations from Keynesian theory and not marketplace experience.  They reached their conclusions on unsubstantiated assumptions.  And we’re paying an enormously high price for that.

It does seem that Democrats and left-of-center pundits, not to mention intellectuals, make their cases on faith, er, theory rather than experience.  A few hours after reading Sowell, I caught something  on Instapundit which helped confirm that hypothesis:

JIM TYNEN: “Here’s what interests me: why do the journalists and professors so fervently believe in things they cannot possibly verify on their own? . . . Journalists who are not scientists, or professors who are not climate scientists, identify with the Knowledge Class.”

Tynen adds that “journalists and others on the low rungs of the Knowledge class defend the dogma. And of course this also goes for the dogma of Keynes, and multiculturalism, and much else.”  Emphasis added.

Last Thursday, a blogger at Ace of Spades quoted White House flack Josh Earnest’s contention that the president’s American Jobs Act is “the only plan before Congress that independent analysts confirm would create jobs right away“. And just who are those independent analysts, Josh? And did they show how the president’s plan was similar to other government programs which led to job creation or did they base their conclusions on economic theory?

It seems sometimes that so much of liberal theory is just that, theory, based not on how the world works, but on how some very smart people believe it works.

Maybe if Mayor Bloomberg had studied American history, he might not have excluded clergy from 9/11 commemoration

As I drive to Colorado to celebrate my father’s upcoming birthday, I have been listening to Ron Chernow’s wonderful biography of George Washington.  Last night, when crossing Nevada in the dead of night, but with the temperature fluctuating from the mid-90s to low 100s, I learned of the trials that great man faced when first taking charge of the Continental Army, then little more than a ragtag collection of  state militias, in 1775.

Among other things, the then-green Commander-in-Chief was concerned about the spiritual welfare of his men.  From his “General Orders” of July 4, 1775 (one year before that day would become the most significant one on an American’s calendar):

The General . . . requires and expects, of all Officers, and Soldiers, not engaged on actual duty, a punctual attendance on divine Service, to implore the blessings of heaven upon the means used for our safety and defence.

Wonder how the ACLU would have reacted had it been around at the time.

Contrast the father of our country with the the current Mayor of New York City:  ”New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will not reconsider his decision to exclude clergy from the ceremony marking 10 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, a spokesman said Friday.

The Silas Marner Test

I put this post in our “Random Thoughts” category because I put it out there, as kind an observation with a question mark, wondering if the “test” really works.

As many of our blog readers know, I am a huge fan of the English novelist George Eliot.  Along with J.R.R. Tolkien and Albert Camus, she ranks as my favorite prose author, with Homer, Wordluf (AKA the Beowulf-poet) and Wordsworth ranking as my favorite poets.

I have often believed that if you really want to date someone, you would show an interest in their passions.  For example, before I came out, a German woman was obsessed with me, yet entirely indifferent to the things I loved, refusing to understand why I would prefer to sit at home reading than to go to a crowded club with loud music playing.  It seemed she was attracted to the surface and remarkably uncurious about what lay beneath.

Over a decade ago, I met a nice intelligent, attractive, libertarian man in a relationship and we struck up a friendship.  When I met him at his office for lunch, I caught sight of a brand new volume of Wordsworth’s poetry.  He had bought it because of my love for the great English Romantic.  I was flattered.  I also recognized that all was not well with his (then-)relationship.  In retrospect, I wondered if I should have done something more, given this obvious interest.  He would later break up with the boyfriend, but foolishly perhaps, I never pursued the matter.

Only later, much later, did I appreciate how significant his act was, going out of his way to buy a book of poems because I loved the poet.

I doubt I had that experience in mind when I bought Silas Marner, Eliot’s shortest, sweetest and most accessible novel for a close friend (but it may have been lurking in my subconscious).  When we first met, we started dating, but realized there wasn’t a romantic spark, so enjoying each other’s company, remained friends.  As to the book, he couldn’t, he claimed, get past its first few pages. (more…)

The Gipper’s advice on commenting to blogs

Citing Leonard Read, the Gipper, on one of his index cards quoted in The Notes: Ronald Reagan’s Private Collection of Stories and Wisdom, appears to be offering advice to some who comment to this blog:

No bad idea is ever overcome by attacking the persons who believe it.

Those who demand that opposing opinions be silenced

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 2:18 pm - June 8, 2011.
Filed under: Bibliophilia / Good Books,Free Speech,Ronald Reagan

Here’s another piece of wisdom the Gipper recorded on one of his many note cards, included in the wonderful recent release, The Notes: Ronald Reagan’s Private Collection of Stories and Wisdom:

One way to distinguish truth from all its counterfeits is by its modesty:  truth demands only to be heard among others while its counterfeiters demand that others be silenced.

He attributes this bit of wisdom to Sydney Harris.

The “great wickedness of Liberalism”

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 3:23 am - June 6, 2011.
Filed under: Bibliophilia / Good Books,Big Government Follies

The great wickedness of Liberalism, I saw, was that those who devise the ever new State Utopias, whether crooks or fools, set out to bankrupt and restrict not themselves, but others.

–David Mamet, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture

On storytelling & human relationships

Just after midnight last night, I pre-ordered the next volume in George R.R. Martin‘s .A Song of Ice and Fire, A Dance with Dragons. And while my criticism of the works has increased since I first blogged about this fantasy cycle, my enjoyment has not lessened. That said, these books differ from the other great fantasy cycles I’ve read in their absence of defining relationships. To be sure, there are relationships, but each seems limited to a particular volume, sometimes limited even to a series of chapters.

One character falls in love with another, either to see his feelings consummated or remain unrequited, yet certain to see the beloved perish shortly after the love was declared or otherwise acknowledged.  We see a growing sympathy develop between two seemingly opposed characters, only to have them part company, likely never to see each other again, even as each has helped transform the other.

It seems that in good fiction (and yes, this is good fiction, far more readable and offering more insight into human nature that much literary fiction) as in great movies, there is always a defining relationship, oftentimes several. In Star Wars, we see the mentor-mentee relationship between Obi-Wan and Luke Skywalker as as well as his fraternal relationships with Princess Leia and Han Solo, the latter bond which causes the space smuggler to come back and help our hero destroy the Death Star. (Indeed, one friend believes it the absence of just such a character (Solo) which accounts for the weakness of the prequels; I believe that it’s also the absence of the hero’s relationship to a character like Han that makes Anakin Skywalker far less compelling than his son.)

Indeed, once director Francis Ford Coppola has established the character of Don Corleone character in The Godfather, the movie only really gets going when he notices the absence of his son Michael as the family poses for the requisite wedding picture. “Where’s Michael?” he asks, “we’re not taking the picture without Michael.” Later, when, through the blinds, he sees his son arrive at the reception, we know there is something significant about this relationship.  And it is that relationship which will define Michael’s journey in the film. (more…)

The Left Hand of Darkness & the Human Tendency to Dualism

I am finally getting around to reading Ursula Le Guin’s science fiction classic, The Left Hand of Darkness, a book that over the years, numerous friends and acquaintances have encouraged me to read, largely because she explores a topic that has long fascinated me — sexual difference.*

About half-way through the book, I find it at once the most brilliant work of science fiction I have ever read  – and among the most frustrating.  Brilliant because of Le Guin’s insights into how human sexual difference has defined our culture — the book is set on a planet where the humanoids are hermaphroditic.  Frustrating because, at times, it seems less a story than a reflection on sexual difference via conversations with and character sketches of some leading figures on the Planet Gethen (also called Winter), the setting for this novel.

What really got me thinking (and there is much in this book to get one thinking) was this paragraph in the chapter on “The Question of Sex”:

Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive.   In fact, the whole tendency to dualism that pervades human thinking may be found to be lessened, or changed, on Winter.

Perhaps, it is serendipitous that at the moment I read this book I am watching some lectures of Joseph Campbell on DVD.  That great scholar of myth is constantly talking about the images of difference which recur in mythological narratives and artwork (i.e,. the ying and the yang).  Carl Jung, one of Campbell’s mentors once wrote, “there is no energy unless there is a tension of opposites“.  Without sex difference, Gethenian culture would necessarily lack such tension. (more…)