Literature


Washing Dishes After the Feast – Brad Davis

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
wile-e-coyote-falling-off-cliffbetween 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
and self-indulgence.

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

Tavris and Aronson on Justification

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.

An Honest, Color-Coded Library

68_01

Via tomgauld.com

Ben Howard’s Latest: Bad Catholicism

Ben Howard’s Latest: Bad Catholicism

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…

Read More »

Another Week Ends: Misplaced Fear, Further Reflections on an Epidemic, Recovery and the Ego’s Death, Dave Eggers, Marilynne Robinson, and Clickhole

Another Week Ends: Misplaced Fear, Further Reflections on an Epidemic, Recovery and the Ego’s Death, Dave Eggers, Marilynne Robinson, and Clickhole

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…

Read More »

John Berryman’s Second Conversion

John Berryman’s Second Conversion

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:

INTERVIEWER

There has always been a…

Read More »

Wallace Stevens, Phish, and the Importance of Silliness

Wallace Stevens, Phish, and the Importance of Silliness

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?!

-‘Wilson,’ Phish

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…

Read More »

A Conference Week Ends: Lila, Marshmallows, the Human Condition, and Epistomological Courage

A Conference Week Ends: Lila, Marshmallows, the Human Condition, and Epistomological Courage

1. Lots of interesting news on the how-can-we-be-sure-God-exists front. We’ve had our own part of that conversation, highlighting our own favorite Atheists and the hip trend of flogging Dawkins (dibs on Flogging Dawkins as a band name!). If the patterns are to be believed, it seems that the trajectory is toward a more humble, less aggressive atheism that acknowledges its own non-rational presuppositions. And humility is good for everybody, theist and atheist alike. Gary Gutting over at the New York Times sums up his series of interviews with religious philosophers, and while the ending seems disjointed (I’m an agnostic Catholic?), the middle is helpful:

Read More »

Another Week Ends: Startup Cities, Dangerous Perfectionism, Marilynne Robinson, Self-Satisfied Commissars, Subconscious Songwriting, and Cosmopolitan Hope

Another Week Ends: Startup Cities, Dangerous Perfectionism, Marilynne Robinson, Self-Satisfied Commissars, Subconscious Songwriting, and Cosmopolitan Hope

Before we get going, the Houston Conference is almost here!! While we never turn anyone away–last minute walk-ins more than welcome–we need to know by Monday morning (10/13) if you are planning/hoping to dine with us. You can either pre-register on the site (through Tuesday at midnight), or send us an email at info@mbird.com so we can reserve you a plate. The food is going to be delicious!

1. First off, this is both incredibly fascinating and incredibly sad. Perhaps you’ve heard of The Downtown Project, a “start-up city” in Las Vegas founded and pioneered by Tony Hsieh, the guy behind…

Read More »

Fideism, H.R. Niebuhr, and More ‘Cultural Engagement’

Fideism, H.R. Niebuhr, and More ‘Cultural Engagement’

I was encouraged last week to see an article on cultural engagement get some commentary. At Christianity Today, Alissa Wilkinson’s article on “Lazy Cultural Engagement” was dead-on, providing a more personal/vocational take and bringing in the helpful and germane framework of content and form. At ThinkChristian, Josh Larson’s commentary was also helpful, if a little divergent from our take:

In a broad sense, I agree with what both of these folks have to say. Certainly, as McDavid suggests, Christians are needed as critics outside of our Christian subculture. (I’m grateful to have other outlets where I can do that.) And Wilkinson’s call to…

Read More »

A Reflection on the Fall, or Sisyphus vs. Jack Vincennes

A Reflection on the Fall, or Sisyphus vs. Jack Vincennes

This is the transcript of a talk given over the weekend by Mbird’s Will McDavid at The Olmsted Salon in NYC, loosely based on our recent Eden and Afterward: A Mockingbird Guide to Genesis. For the audio, go to the Olmsted site here, and to order the book, go here.

I first want to speak a little about why I wrote this book. I think the relative decline of the Christian religion among intellectuals has resulted in a few interesting consequences for the Bible. People now are relatively less likely to study the letters of Paul, in which he lays out much…

Read More »

The Apple Isn’t the Only Biblical Reference: 50 Years of The Giving Tree

The Apple Isn’t the Only Biblical Reference: 50 Years of The Giving Tree

Did you read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree as a child? Do you remember how it made you feel? The children’s book turns 50 this year, so theoretically, a few generations have had their chance to soak in the bittersweet melancholy of Silverstein’s prose. Acknowledging the anniversary, The Giving Tree was featured in this week’s Bookends column of The New York Times, which invited two contributors to reflect on the book’s history and meaning [ht DJ via Twitter]. That’s no surprise, of course–the book is well loved and continues to be a children’s classic. But what I was shocked to discover (maybe…

Read More »