Another Week Ends: Wiman’s Abyss, Opinionless Boyfriends, Compassionology, Lehrergate, Antinomianism, Revolution, Taylor Swift, and Wreck-It Ralphby David Zahl on Nov 2, 2012 • 2:56 pm 2 Comments
1. Every once and a while something comes across your screen that is so beautiful and honest and profound and enlivening that you want to force others to watch it. If commands of this kind worked, that’s what I’d do here. I’m referring to the interview that Bill Moyers conducted with poet (and Poetry Magazine editor) Christian Wiman this past February. Much like the essay of Wiman’s we featured last week, this is gut level stuff; he touches on pretty much everything that’s important. Or I should day, nothing that he touches on isn’t important: love, marriage, cancer, beauty, poetry, meaning, Jesus, God, projections of God, religion, death. And Wiman not only mentions the need for New Persuasive Words when it comes to talking about such things, he actually uses them, and in about as humble and compelling a way possible. He is officially my new hero (and we’ll be counting down the days to My Bright Abyss). Now watch! Or else, ht PW:
2. The NY Times’ Modern Love column has been going through a bit of a ho-hum spell recently, so I was delighted to read a beautiful story of grace this past Sunday, Noelle Howey’s “Encouraging a Partner to Find His Voice.” It recounts the relationship of Miss Howey and her now-husband Chris, how she almost jumped ship when she couldn’t seem to find any edge to his personality, but how the love and interest of a woman brought about new life and verve in a man who had been shut down. She stuck with him despite the fact that he was “not her type” (and that she had no real reason to believe he could/would respond), risking an implosion, and it made all the difference, ht WL:
I knew from experience that you can’t permanently contort yourself to please someone else… If I had somehow forced Chris into becoming the person I’d wanted to be with — as opposed to the person he truly was — we wouldn’t last.
Then I met his family. His mother and father came over to Chris’s apartment in Astoria for supper. You could hear them arguing from the street. His parents, who had long been on the brink of divorce, kept snapping at each other: “Why can’t you get the salt yourself? Could you look at me when I’m talking to you?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I love my family, and they love me. But for years, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.” So, he explained, he just stopped trying. “It’s different with you,” he said. “I can be myself.” I felt sheer, utter relief.
This month Chris and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. The man who froze up at the thought of uttering the name of an author now writes children’s books for a living. His clothes are still a little dorky, but so are mine — we’re suburban parents, after all.
Now and then we both joke about his being a fixer-upper when we met… But that’s not the whole story. All I did was unlock a door that desperately needed unlocking… Truly, it was Chris who taught me so much: To honor kindness… And to take the chance that someone who was nothing like what I’d been looking for could be everything I needed.
3. And while we’re on the heartwarming front (a nice change-up, eh?), psychologist David DeSteno gave a very interesting talk about the science of compassion at the recent Poptech conference, and while he’s a little reckless in the way he conflates religious thinking on the subject, it’s encouraging to see scientific proof for what we’ve always known about the roots of compassion, i.e. “he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47) and its flipside. The money quote is:
The distress we see someone experiencing — the compassion we feel for them — isn’t determined by the objective facts on the ground; it’s determined by who’s looking. … It’s not the severity or the objective facts of a disaster that motivate us to feel compassion and to help — it’s whether or not we see ourselves in the victims.
And oddly enough, the most amazing example of this appeared on ABC’s “What Would You Do?”. It’s 10 minutes long, but you sort of have to watch the whole thing, ht JP:
4. Alas, on the darker side of the spectrum, there’s New York Magazine’s feature on the Jonah Lehrer scandal. The piece casts Lehrer as the first casualty of TED-era “new media” in which “insight”-branding has been confused for journalism and/or academic vigor. While there’s certainly some truth to that interpretation, the author is wise to admit that tailoring research to fit a predetermined (and marketable) conclusion is far from new or uncommon. And while, yes, some of Lehrer’s conclusions were a little troubling, the overriding thrust of his work always had to do with human limitation, especially self-interest and self-deception. In fact, so many of his blog posts and articles were devoted to puncturing the balloon of inflated anthropology and modern hubris that it should come as no surprise that the intimate knowledge of how human limitation functions didn’t prevent him from being any less limited himself. In fact, it may have made it easier for him to rationalize his corner-cutting. If he ever gets back to writing (and I sincerely hope he does), one can only hope he’ll have the good humor to serve as his own Exhibit A, ht CR.
5. Following up on Reformation Day this past Wednesday, Modern Reformation has been generous enough to make Michael Horton’s terrific new article “Holiness Wars: The Antinomianism Debate” available online. And if you look closely at the table of contents for the new issue, you may even see yours truly’s review John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead.
6. Speaking of The Reformation, the best novelty to hit the web since the Luther Insult Generator may be EmergencyCompliment.com. That or Kaynewesanderson. And since Wednesday was also a certain hallowed eve, there’s this slice of brilliance, ht JF:
7. TV: There’s a lot to say. Fortunately, the good Rev. Schneider has been covering the wonderful current season of Parenthood beautifully. Revolution is totally frustrating, but also totally fun. I’m completely hooked. And the most recent episode had a truly stunning scene of self-sacrifice and grace (involving Zak Orth, who I still have trouble not associating with a certain summer camp movie). Also on the kitschy side of things, Arrow is about 10 times better than it had any right to be. Who would’ve thought the CW could pull off a convincing version of small-screen Nolan?! Not me. Then there’s The Walking Dead, a series which has taken its own cue and risen from the dead of season two. The accents are still gawd-awful, but the action has been superb, and if last episode is anything to go on, it looks like they hit a home run with David Morrissey as The Governor. I frankly wasn’t planning to watch Homeland this season–Claire Danes brilliant high-pitched characterization of Carrie is just too exhausting–but it has thoroughly sucked me in. Would that the same were true for Nashville. Ugh. In comedy, Parks and Rec has been alright, but for my money, the real network laughs these days are all on Happy Endings. Up All Night has its moments too.
8. In music, The Atlantic’s “If You Listen Closely, Taylor Swift Is Kind of Like Leonard Cohen” is a phenomenal bit of writing. My favorite bit is probably:
Ambiguity runs throughout Red, most explicitly in the title and expressive waltzing of “Sad Beautiful Tragic.” But it works best on “All Too Well,” perhaps Swift’s finest narrative. There’s even a Chekhov’s gun in the first act—a scarf left at a boyfriend’s sister’s house—but its reappearance, during a relationship’s messy unravel, is thoughtful and brutal: “But you keep my old scarf from that very first week / cause it reminds you of innocence / and it smells like me / You can’t get rid of it / ’cause you remember it all too well.” It’s an exhilarating piece of writing. A detail snaps into place, and the thrill experienced is half from the detail itself and half from how it refers to a haunted object, like a road sign remembered drowsily and a little too late.
9. Finally, in film, there have been so many promising animated movies that have fallen flat recently, I had almost stopped paying attention. Then I read The A/V Club’s review of Wreck-It Ralph, in which they characterize it as “a Pixar-worthy mixture of authentic feeling and reckless, joyful energy,” and “a wildly exciting ride, the fastest-moving, most enthusiastically kinetic kids’ action film since The Incredibles.” Sign me up!
Or get in touch.