In one of the final chapters of Lena Dunham’s new memoir Not That Kind of Girl, entitled “Therapy & Me”, Lena describes her first anxiety-ridden experience of sitting down as a germophobic, obsessive-compulsive nine-year-old with a prospective shrink. It is a “quirky, self-destructive Lena” moment, like so many moments in her book, and her show Girls, and so it would be nearly unremarkable if it weren’t for the subtext:
The first doctor, a violet-haired grandma-aged woman with a German surname, asks me a few simple questions and then invites me to play with the toys scattered across her floor. She sits…
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When it comes to favorite art, I have an ever-growing list of guilty pleasures, a term which usually refers to some kind of light-hearted or even redeemable creation: Unfortunately, here, I’m not going to write about redemption in Taylor Swift’s new album (“It’s fun though…”). I’m more interested in the less redeemable batch, even art that remains thoroughly, maybe explicitly, un-Christian. Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man, for example, traces the loss of religion in a young man’s life but simultaneously remains truthful and affecting. Or, let’s talk about James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now, which authentically details…
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Episode 179: Ere the Winter Storms
I wonder as I wander: How come people are changed so little by the roadblocks of life? Sure, they make short-term adaptations, and “take emergency measures” in order to survive. But lasting change? Change of heart, change of character?
A telling example of this comes in the Broadway play and later movie entitled “I Never Sang for My Father”. Robert Anderson wrote the play, and also the screenplay for the 1970 Hollywood version, which turned out to be extremely good — the word is “shattering”. “I Never Sang for my Father” concerns the relationship of a…
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You talked but after your talking all the rest remains.
After your talking—poets, philosophers,
contrivers of romances—everything else,
All the rest deduced inside the flesh
Which lives & knows not just what is permitted.
I am a woman held fast now in a great silence.
Not all creatures have your need for words.
Birds you killed, fish you tossed into your boat,
In what words will they find rest & in what heaven?
You received gifts from me; they were accepted.
But you don’t understand how to think about the dead.
The smell of winter apples, of hoarfrost, and of linen.
There are nothing but gifts on this poor, poor Earth.
EPISODE 178: Without Which Not
The social-media fracas concerning General Seminary in New York is revealing. It has shown how far ideology can go in conceptualizing one’s enemies. It’s kept me thinking about the French Revolution. Everybody got further and further (and further) extreme until even the most thorough “liberal” was branded a reactionary. Off with his head! And so it did. Get cut off, I mean.
Where I find hope is a no-brainer in my world, tho’ maybe a stretch in yours. I find hope in a story by Irvin S. Cobb, entitled “Ex-Fightin’ Billy”. Cobb, that old Kentuckian, portrays the…
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From the Mockingbird poet’s newest collection of poems, Still Working It Out, a selection of which is featured in the Third Issue of our magazine, this one was previously published in The Paris Review.
It frightens me to think, she said, interrupting
my holiday banter. Imagining the phrase
as antecedent to a rare gift of honest exchange
between grownup siblings, I dashed
into the split-second of dead air, anticipating silently
her elaboration–what a mess we’ve made of things
for our kids; how many parents of starving
children must hate us for our amazing prosperity
But I had misread
her punctuation, took the period as a pause, and all
at once found myself, like that coyote
we used to pull for on Saturday mornings, utterly
without purchase, eyeballing an abyss.
Which is when, glancing back across the divide
of the double sink at her busy hands, I saw her
as though she were curled in a ball on the lip
of a cliff, knees tight to her chest, face buried
in the cotton folds of a holly-green dress.
It’s okay, I wanted to tell her. It scares me, too.
But I was already plummeting, tumbling in free-fall
to a sunbaked canyon floor, the crazy cur
in her endless cartoon of an unreliable universe
We’ve posted at length on Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson’s Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), a book which brilliantly details the far-reaching consequences of self-justification and cuts toward the heart of the human condition.
Perpetrators are motivated to reduce their moral culpability; victims are motivated to maximize their moral blamelessness. Depending on which side of the wall we are on, we systematically distort our memories and account of the event to produce the maximum consonance between what happened and how we see ourselves… The relatively small number of people who cannot or will not reduce dissonance this way pay a large psychological price in guilt, anguish, anxiety, nightmares, and sleepless nights. The pain of living with horrors they have committed, but cannot morally accept, would be searing, which is why most people will reach for any justification available to assuage the dissonance.
The unendurability of such a price generally leads people to rationalize one way or another to conform events to a pre-existing picture we have of ourselves. Such dissonance can be eased by delusion, “moral acceptance” – basically, anything goes – but the Christian message enters into that dissonance, formulates it. “I do not do what I want to do, but I do the very thing I hate”; “simul iustus et peccator, saint and sinner at once”. Christians are so often described as self-righteous not least because our religion’s self-helpy, aspirational form may encourage us to distort things still-more to maximize consonance between “what happened” and our newly-inflated picture of ourselves, between the ideal of linear sanctification and the empirical evidence of recidivism. The only message which can speak effectively to the all-pervasive problem of justification is the assurance that what happened has been forgiven and is now of no consequence, and how we see ourselves was delusory to begin with.
For a number of reasons, I’m really glad I used Amazon Prime and pre-ordered Ben Howard’s latest album, I Forget Where We Were. Reason 1: I basked in Christmas-like joy when I got home Tuesday afternoon to find the album ready and waiting on my doorstep. Reason 2: The so-beautiful lyrics, which would otherwise elude me for all his British slurring, are printed inside the front cover.
If you’re not yet a Ben Howard groupie like myself, it’s possible you’ve heard of him from this rad song featured in Season 4 of The Walking Dead. And if still, somehow, he has…
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1. It’s a little too easy, but Barry Ritholtz over at Bloomberg helpfully reminds us that Ebola is no threat to the personal health of 99.99% of Americans, which goes into a broader point:
We fear the awesome predatory perfection of the great white shark, and have made the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” “the longest-running cable television programming event in history.” This seems somewhat disproportionate, given that 10 people a year die from shark attacks — out of more than 7 billion people. If you want to fear a living creature, than logic suggests it’s the mosquito — they kill more human…
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From the great poet’s 1970 interview with The Paris Review, shortly after the second volume of The Dream Songs was published. The ‘treatment’ to which Berryman refers is alcohol rehabilitation, for which he was hospitalized numerous times during that year. Thus the references to ‘leave’ being rescinded, etc. This interview was conducted less than 18 months before he tragically jumped to his death in Minneapolis. It’s worth reading the whole thing, if only to absorb the footnotes Berryman made a few months later about the various delusions he had expressed, ht MS:
There has always been a…
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Oh out near Stonehenge, I lived alone
Oh out near Gamehendge, I chafed a bone
Wilson, King of Prussia, I lay this hate on you
Wilson, Duke of Lizards
I beg it all true for you
…You got me back thinkin’ that you’re the worst one
I must inquire, Wilson
Can you still have fun?!
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
-From ‘The Emperor of Ice-Cream,’ Wallace Stevens
Everyday we take ourselves too seriously. But at this point, we’ve earned that right. We have studied, sweat, strived, and achieved our whole lives. Not only that but we’re conditioned to know intuitively that…
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