Friday, October 29, 2010

That interview

Remember that Newsweek interview I did a month ago?

As promised I look a fright, but I think I managed not to embarrass the entire conservative movement. I also apparently earned the distinction of being the only right-winger interviewed who made it into the final cut. They misspelled several names throughout the video, mine included, but that is a small quibble.

It is very bizarre to see one's self on camera and hear one's voice recorded. I sound much younger than I thought.

EDIT: I, in my infinite arrogance, completely neglected to mention the others interviewed in the video (all fellow members of the illustrious Yale Political Union!): Miss Leah Libresco (fellow HUS veteran), Mr Adam Stempel, Mr Dominick Lawton and Mr Matthew Shafer.

EDIT II: The youtube video has apparently been taken down, but you should be able to watch the video here.

Fanaticism is the only way to love

Alexander Ivanov's "Appearance of Christ to the People", 1837-1857
"Throughout [Ivanov's] long labors on this painting, he was driven by a concern for authenticity that astonished all who came in contact with him. He spent long hours in synagogues studying Jewish faces, made trips to the courtrooms of Rome to study the expressions of despair on the faces of condemned criminals, and invited peasants into his otherwise impenetrable study to tell them jokes and then sketch their spontaneous expressions of happiness and enjoyment.

He was particularly haunted by the problem of depicting Christ in art. He sought, up until the very eve of his death, to find the oldest and most authentic representation of Christ's earthly form--studying in museums, Byzantine frescoes, and finally embarking on a trip to Jerusalem and the Near East...

Slowly but inexorably, driven by some dark inner force which bears the mark of either sainthood or demonic pride, Ivanov became obsessed with the idea that he must in fact be Christ in order to be worthy of depicting him."
(No, The Icon and the Axe is not the only book I read, I swear.)

The neurotic is a wise man without disciples.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mysticism in vending machines is the American way

"MYSTIC surprised by its beauty and intensity. It was created to live an intense and fleeting moment. Its racy style describes a supernatural world which soars skyward. Its skin has a sculpted unique spiritual experience.

We discover in the palm of our hand soft and aerodynamic forms. Its living surface is shaped by a force mysterious and transparent.

It sends us all the energy and excitement of Coca-Cola
Its sexy lines and red color give happiness in 3 dimensions.

Both organic shapes intertwine and form a body ambiguous and fascinating. Its loving silhouette, ties into a true popular poetry."
- Jerome Olivet, designer, visionary, and at least three tabs in
There's a video, too! Words that apparently describe this bottle include: "spiritual", "supernatural", "sexy", and "fascinating".

Granted that as an eager worshipper of the Cigarette and ardent Klein devotee, I can't fault him for overreading a consumer product, but... well, it doesn't look like much more than a Gatorade bottle's evil twin, frankly. Even in the universe where "supernatural" has been so gutted that it could feasibly describe a sugar-and-caffeine dispenser redesign, it sure as hell wouldn't apply to this one.

Come on, Mammonites. You can do better!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Favorite song of the moment

Dance, ballerina, dance
And do your pirouette in rhythm with your achin' heart.
Dance, ballerina, dance
You mustn't once forget a dancer has to dance the part.

Whirl, ballerina, whirl
And just ignore the chair that's empty in the second row.
This is your moment, girl,
Although he's not out there applauding as you steal the show.

Once you said his love must wait its turn
You wanted fame instead.
I guess that's your concern,
We live and learn.

And love is gone, ballerina, gone
So on with your career, you can't afford a backward glance.
Dance on and on and on
A thousand people here have come to see the show
As 'round and 'round you go
So ballerina, dance
Dance, dance!
Courtesy of the fantastic music selection always playing at the Owl Shop.

I have suspected, for some time now, that for the great man (artist?), eros (perhaps all love) is ultimately a distraction.

A dream

Actually dreamed that I was some kind of Slavic mystic healer last night.

I was a middle aged peasant in peasant homes, and an older bearded man (not yet greying) was taking me from house to house, and would gather a group of people around the sick one's bed, and was very adamant that I stand at the front of the bed, behind the sick person, but for some reason I would only ever stand at their feet. The dream was mostly in Russian, and even though I, in the dream, was one of them, I was still plagued by my lack of fluency, which only added to the confusion I felt at what everyone was demanding of me. I didn't understand why they thought I could be looked to to do this.

Like all dreams I have of an even vaguely spiritual bent, I woke up in horror and tried to erase it from my memory. I looked around my room and felt the panicked anxiety I knew so well as a child afraid of the dark, worried, convinced, that my fear would summon forth something terrible.

I successfully freed myself from the memory all day, until this passage in The Icon and the Axe reached something in my subconscious and brought it flooding back:
"A Russian colony had assembled there around Zinaida Volkonsky. She had brought with her a rich art collection and memories of her intimate relationship with Alexander I and the poet Venevitinov. She seems to have viewed herself as a kind of Russian Joan of Arc--having written, and sung the title role in, an opera of that name. It was in Rome, in the shadow of the Volkonsky villa, that Gogol and Ivanov were to create their greatest masterpieces."
I do not like that my life is a postmodern novel.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Profundity Game

Christianity is more x than x:
Christianity is more stoic than stoicism.

Christianity is more Aristotelian than Aristotelianism.

Christianity is more satanic than Satanism.

Christianity is more egalitarian than egalitarianism.

Christianity is more aesthetic than aestheticism.

Christianity is more Marxist than Marxism.

Christianity is more individualist than individualism.

Christianity is more leftist than leftism.

Christianity is more existentialist than existentialism.

Christianity is more rational than rationalism.

Christianity is more sadistic than sadism.
Suggest your own!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I am reblogging this because it is that damn good

From the Awl:
The cynicism with which adults rebel comes from the nihilism of doing what you know is bad for you because you’re old enough to understand that these things usually go unpunished. The kind of joyless self-indulgence that adults traffic in doesn’t exist for teenagers. For the young, it’s unfathomable that act of self-indulgence can bring anything but joy. In the twilight of childhood, you’re not sure what’s like to be an adult but you know what it feels like to not be a child. Every brush with adult behavior-anything from smoking, to sneaking out, to driving, to fucking-is wrapped in a gauzy, loving haze. (It’s bittersweet though: as the twilight of childhood dims, there is within the heart of every teenager a dull throb that comes with the mourning of lost innocence.)
What’s alarming, then, is when grown-ups act like teenagers: denying themselves nothing, cherishing their transgressions like merit badges, constantly chasing the beginning of something, unable to parse the sensations of joys from despair.
And also:
Almost all addicts are childishly immature; full of demands, empty of offerings. When they want something, they it want it yesterday, and they want it effortlessly. Nothing is their fault-the addiction, their degradation, their desperation…. Psychiatrists who have studied them over long periods know that most of them are extremely narcissistic, that their intense preoccupation with heroin is a surface manifestation of a more profound emotional preoccupation with themselves.

Monday, October 18, 2010

But I'm still a Party hack / Just because good sense I lack

1. Try to mold life into a genre and fate, more often than not, will relegate you to a farce (been a particularly eschatologically psychotic day, if you know what I mean).

2. Tomorrow evening at the Russian Tea Room in Manhattan I will be representing the illustrious Yale Political Union in our "annual" (you know, five levels below "traditional") debate against the Hudson Union Society. Because the world is fallen I, along with the rest of my team, have to take the negative on Resolved: This house believes the government's economic stimulus is a failure (catchy, right?).

To give you some idea of just how much I'm the odd man out on this venture, here are our team bios:
Leah Anthony Libresco [note: of Unequally Yoked fame, among other things] is continually disappointed in her own failure to stimulate in others the intense fascination she feels for smallpox as a Masters student in epidemiology. To mitigate her sorrow, she turned to the Yale Political Union for training in persuasion and coercion that will be a little subtler than brandishing smoking flasks in true mad scientist style. Her attempts can be found at the Huffington Post.

David Broockman has so far made a living doing what he will in front of the society: being a partisan shill. He was elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2008 from Texas and has worked for several left-leaning groups including the AFL-CIO. He plans to pursue graduate study in political science next year in hopes of being a political science professor and remaining impecunious. He is in the Yale Political Union's Liberal Party, of which he served as Chair last year. He also thinks postmodernism can cure everything.

Naomi Lisan is a senior history major from Cleveland, Ohio, with a minor in mildly angry feminism. After enjoying a semester of hands-on studies in abnormal psychology as Speaker of the Yale Political Union, Naomi is considering rejecting her intended profession, history, in favor of becoming a shrink. If that doesn't work out, she hopes she can turn her madrigal-singing skills into a career, since they're about as useful as a history major, anyway.

Tristyn Bloom is a Russian Studies major torn between pursuing an exciting career in Orthodox Christian theology and joining the academy to study Kievan Rus', and so clearly knows a lot about both economics and success. A self-described "right-wing nutjob", she isn't quite sure how she ended up on this side of the resolution, but is fairly confident it's Nancy Pelosi's fault and plans to ensure the motion's failure just for spite.
Being both a fairly radical libertarian and an almost complete partisan hack (this election cycle) I've been wracking my brain to find an angle on the resolution that is both potentially something that I could maybe in some universe believe, and more exciting than, say, your average C-SPAN broadcast. Here's what I've got so far:
  • The Cynic: It wasn't a failure because it did exactly what it was designed to do: expand bureaucracy, entrench special interests, and allow Obama to say "Look, we tried!"
  • The Hack: It wasn't a failure because it helped get the right-wing base really worked up about how completely incompetent the Obama administration is!
  • The Deconstructionist: 'This house' doesn't really believe anything- what does collective belief even mean, man? What's the difference between believing and knowing, and, while we're at it, trusting! Does this house trust that the stimulus is a failure? Whence flows this sudden epistemological modesty? Why are we assuming that the word "failure" can even have shared meaning across subjects? How can anything that exists coherently in one narrative really fully inhabit another (simultaneously, no less!)?
  • The Prophet: It wasn't a failure because it's hastening the decline! Starve the beast! Heighten the contradictions! COLLAPSITARIANISM 2012!
  • The Class Warrior: Of course 'this house' doesn't believe the stimulus is a failure- it's composed entirely of self-hating haute bourgeoisie with too many degrees and too much free time. SWPL: ARRA!
  • The Evangelical: It doesn't really matter that we're going to have crippling debt and skyrocketing inflation a few years down the line-- Jesus gonna be here soon!
I'll probably just talk about the tax cuts and pretend they're not just dolled up welfare payments, or something. At least decent vodka won't be far away.

An old journal entry

Kept a journal last year, haven't looked at it for about five months now. Cracked it open to a random page, found this:

Dated 2/10/10, New Haven


Entry: It's not alcoholism if you stop drinking at night to save the last of the whiskey for breakfast, right?

Friday, October 15, 2010

It's Friday! Let's ponder death.

"The Mercy Seat" - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

And the mercy seat is waiting
And I think my head is boiling
And in a way I'm spoiling
All the fun by all this truth and consequence
An eye for an eye
And a tooth for a tooth
And anyway I told the truth
And I'm not afraid to die.
I would be remiss not to point you to Johnny Cash's hauntingly brilliant cover as well.
And the mercy seat is smoking
And I think my head is melting
And in a way that's helping
To be done with all this twisting of the truth
A lie for a lie
And a truth for a truth
And anyway I told the truth
But I'm afraid I told a lie.
"Hush (Somebody's calling my name)" - Nashville Bluegrass Band

Oh my brother, now won't you hush, hush
Somebody's calling out my name
O my Lord, O my Lord, what shall I do?
"Sometimes our dreams float like anchors" - William Elliott Whitmore

Oh the skin, oh the skin
That this old world has put me in
I can't wait to shed, I can't wait to shed
Lord, I'll be free when I'm dead.
"Parting Friends" - Word of Mouth Chorus

Farewell my friends, I'm bound for Canaan,
I'm traveling through the wilderness
Your company has been delightful,
You, who doth leave my mind distressed
I go away behind to leave you, perhaps never to meet again
But if we never have the pleasure, I hope we meet on Canaan's land.
And, inevitably...

"Romeo is bleeding" - Tom Waits

Romeo is bleeding
He climbs to the balcony at the movies
and he'll die without a wimper
like every hero's dream
like an angel with a bullet
and Cagney on the screen.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Authenticity is for PostSecret

Cards on the table: I have no idea who reads books like Proud to be Right (though I do get the sense they're not really published to be read- this may explain my frustration with the genre).

I'm not sure what one calls it- I've encountered it often on the right, though it must also exist on the left- self-satisfied collections of essays that vary from the completely inane to the occasionally interesting (in that sort of "I'll tuck that nugget away for a conversation lull later," kinda way), that know they're preaching to the choir from the very beginning, but know also that the choir is probably really big, and also probably old, because let's face it, who reads books anymore, am I right? So not only do they skip the argument/originality part, they limit themselves (usually) to the most basic, widely accepted tropes and attitudes that fall under the umbrella of whatever movement the book is variously trying to speak for/encourage/inspire/prop up. I haven't read Proud to be Right, but everything I've read about it suggests to me very strongly that this is precisely that kind of book, and so, I almost certainly will not.

I won't, except for the one essay I've already read, and which went a long way toward convincing me that this was, indeed, that kind of book: Katherine Miller's essay "Man Up", the majority of which can be read here. It is long(er than a blog post) but says, essentially, what a blog post could, and has: "Men were manly once! They're not anymore! Masculinity is stoicism! Damn this feminization of our culture all to hell! By the way, I'm a woman, and even I'm saying this, so you boys must have really fucked up! Also, the platonic form of masculinity must be determined by what women want."

I can sympathize with Miss Miller. I'm no fan of limp-wristed milksops, and I can forgive an (almost painfully) redundant essay. But something about this line caught my attention:
"Vanity over pride, selfishness over self-restraint--serious problems that can be traced from one to the next, streaks of light in the dark forming one big circuit."
Now I don't know about you, but when I read the phrase "vanity over pride" I didn't think of metrosexuals, I didn't think of hipsters, I didn't think of the Backstreet Boys, or Justin Bieber, or anyone from the 20th, or 21st, centuries at all. Those three words, like some kind of hypnosis-induced trigger, brought before my mind's eye, in rapid succession: Sebastian Flyte, Peter III, Paul I, and the stereotypical image I somewhere acquired of what most Hanoverian kings must have been like ages 7 through 36. I kept reading, and thought of the whiny, needling tone of Prince Kurbsky's epistles (justified though it may have been) and Oblomov's distinctly effete brand of hypochondria (grounded in self-conception as "delicate", rather than basic neurosis). I thought of decadence and decadents throughout culture and history, from the late Severan Dynasty of Ancient Rome to the Karamazov Dynasty of 19th century Russia.

But no, these are new problems.

"Pain + silence = masculine strength" is certainly an old formula, and one that has waxed and waned over time as the be-all, end-all of manliness. Miss Miller proposes we address its current waning by stubbornly invoking some Frankenstein's monster with John Wayne's heavy cadence, Don Draper's emotional repression and Winston Churchill's functional alcoholism. "MAN UP!" we cry, hoping they see what we do when we say it.

Now granted I hate fops- really, I do- but I have to go back to Sebastian Flyte for a moment, because I think he has a better answer. There's a scene early on where Sebastian and Charles are driving together to Brideshead, and Charles is being very inquisitive about the Flytes (for my own convenience I'm referencing the transcript of the 1981 miniseries):
"You're so inquisitive."
"Well, you're so mysterious about them."
"I hoped I was mysterious about everything."
"Why don't you want me to meet your family? Who are you ashamed of, them or me?"
"Don't be so vulgar, Charles."
That! That, there, is the answer.

We cannot attack this issue in such an obviously ethical fashion- confronting someone with their own weakness by contrasting it with strength? Then you have to go through the whole process of convincing them strength is good, which, well, hey, good luck with that.

But rudeness, vulgarity, the making uncomfortable of another- these are concepts that still can have traction, particularly with the apparently eager-to-please set we're currently trying to reform. Don't bring your emotions into things, don't be sincere, don't be open - dude, that's just fuckin' awkward, come on.

Like I said, I hate fops. Few things get under my skin more than obsessive, self-conscious concern for "propriety" and other forms of outdated custom that inevitably manifest themselves in feeble attempts to revive some long-dead idea of the bourgeois lady or gentleman (I ain't exactly what you'd call a classy dame myself), and so I recognize that this theoretical solution largely serves only to perpetuate the disease, at best treating the symptom, and at worst, possibly exacerbating it.

I do think there's something inherently valuable, however, in re-establishing revelation of vulnerability as a rare and privileged act, and I know that conceiving of emotional displays as sources of embarrassment, rather than signs of weakness, is a much easier and more natural sell.

A curious discovery (UPDATE)

Headlines I saw in the Moscow Times RSS feed today:

"Hobbits and Scythians Prepare for Census"

"Corruption Battle Bogged Down By Complacency"

"Moscow to Rebuild Venezuelan Slums"

"Governor Finds Worm in Kremlin Salad"

Even for the Moscow Times, these are bizarre headlines. Incredulous and wondering if it was some new April Fool's Day equivalent over in the MSD, I clicked through, only to find entirely different headlines on the pages themselves. The above four were transformed into, respectively:

and, of course,

No part of this post is a joke.

Today, Moscow Times, you win.

UPDATE: Just looked at the RSS feed again and they got rid of the funny headlines! Very bizarre. Glad I gota screenshot, at least.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Vanity of vanities

Just completely overhauled the blogroll. If you think you belong on there and aren't, think you don't and are, or think you've been mischaracterized, let me know. I am aware that it is gratuitously long, but believe me when I tell you it covers a small fraction of the blogs I read. I wasted precious minutes of my life debating whether Window on Eurasia, Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness, or even Overheard at Yale Divinity School, ought be included

I was going to make some kind of joke about that but halfway through just got really depressed.

Here is an adorable yet gloomy Russian children's cartoon:

Was it youtube in 19th century Russia?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Official Youtube Channel of the Russian Orthodox Church.

More (in English) here.

A lovely video of the reception of the relics of Saint Spyridon by Patriarch Kirill that can be appreciated even without knowledge of Russian or Old Church Slavonic, courtesy of said channel:

And now, because I rather like this story, an episode from the life of Saint Spyridon (compiled, perhaps ominously, by a woman called Mother Cassiana), while at the First Council of Nicaea:

The grace which worked in Saint Spyridon proved to be more powerful in clarifying matters than all the rhetorical knowledge which the others possessed. At the invitation of emperor Constantine, there were a number of Hellenic philosophers who were called "perinatitiki" present at the Nicaean Council. Among these philosophers was one who was very wise and adept, and, a supporter of Arius. His sophisticated rhetoric was like a two edged sword which cuts deeply. He boldly attempted to destroy the teaching of the Orthodox.

The blessed Spyridon requested an opportunity to address that particular philosopher. Because this bishop was a simple man who knew only Christ, and Him crucified, the holy fathers were hesitant to let him speak. They knew that he had no knowledge of Hellenistic learning and were afraid to allow him to match verbal skills with such philosophers. But Spyridon knowing the strength and power which is from above, and how feeble human knowledge is in comparison to that might, approached the philosopher, saying to him, "In the name of Jesus Christ, listen to me and hear what I have to say to you."

The philosopher, looking at this country bishop, felt somewhat amused. Quite assured that his own rhetorical talents would make the simple cleric look like a fool, he proudly replied, "Go ahead, I am listening."

The saint began, "God, who created heaven and earth, is One. He fashioned man from the earth and created everything that exists, both visible and invisible, by His Word and His Spirit. That Word, we affirm, is the Son of God, the true God, who showed mercy on us who had gone astray. He was born of the Virgin, lived among men, suffered the passion, died for our salvation and arose from the dead, raising the human race together with Himself. We await His coming again to judge all with righteousness and to reward each one according to his faith. We believe that He is consubstantial with the Father, dwelling together with Him and equally honored. We believe all these things without having to examine how they came to be; nor should you be so brazen as to question them, for these matters exceed the comprehension of man and far surpass all knowledge."

Silent for a moment, the bishop then continued, "Can't you now realize how true all of this is, O philosopher? Consider this simple and humble example: We are created and mortal beings and are not worthy to resemble the One who is divine in being and ineffable. Since we tend to believe more readily through what the eyes perceive than through what we merely hear with our ears, I want to prove something to you using this brick. It is composed of three elements which combine to make it one single being and nature."

Saying this, Saint Spyridon made the sign of the holy Cross with his right hand while holding a brick in his left hand, and he said, "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," while squeezing the brick. At once, flames rose into the air, water poured down upon the ground and clay alone remained in his hand!

Those who were eyewitnesses to this miracle were filled with fear, especially the philosopher. He remained speechless, like one who had been mute from birth, and found no words to respond to the saint in whom Divine power had been manifested, according to what is written: "The kingdom of God is not in words, but in power." (1 Cor. 4:20)

Finally, humbled and convinced, the philosopher spoke, "I believe what you have told us."

Saint Spyridon said to him, "Then come and receive the sign of holy faith."

The philosopher turned to his colleagues and his students who were present and said, "Listen! As long as someone questioned me verbally, I was able to refute their statements with rhetorical skills. But my words fail against this elder who, instead of using mere words, has worked through power and miracles. My rhetoric is futile against such a might, for man cannot oppose God. If any of you feel as I do, let him then believe in Jesus Christ and follow this elder together with me. God Himself has spoken through him."

Then the philosopher accepted the Christian faith, rejoicing that the saint had overcome his own logic. All the faithful were glad, and the Arian heretics were at a loss.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A collection

of unedited texts recently sent from my phone:

10:05: "Christ, brian wasn't one of the ones arrested was he?"
13:23: "Found your pot!"

2:58: "Chris says you should play Peter pan at some point in your life, fyi"

23:23: "Lots of security guards right outside fyi"

23:53: "From a Catholic perspective: a) it is proper to understand saints' relics as art (in addition to other things) b) it seems perverse to understand them as art"

10:33: "Creation is the greatest redemption from suffering is also less obtuse."
10:38: "ART IS CREATION. This is not complicated."
10:48: "Satan, the ultimate individual, incredibly aesthetically compelling figure, etc. I don't think I'm crazy here."
11:04: "R: my wallpaper right or wrong! Beauty is the measure of all things..."
14:33: "How impressive is benching 315?"
15:43: "How is that a Wilde reference? Art is the most extreme form of individualism. Art is radical individualism. Art requires radical individualism."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sure He won't!

A post-dinner exchange with a friend after she attended her first Mass in over a decade:

"I just feel..."
"Fear of the sublime?"
"You're not going to convert me this way!"

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Don Colacho-ism

Forgetting is the primary virtue of postmodern man. It is what allows him to think a "chosen obligation" is not a contradiction in terms.