Set apart

To call the preacher an authority does not mean that the preacher is wiser than others. What it does mean is that the preacher is the one whom the congregation sends on their behalf, week after week, to the scripture. The church knows that its life depends upon hearing the truth of God’s promise and claim through the scripture, and it has set the preacher apart for the crucial activity of going to the scripture to listen for that truth.

Thomas G. Long

“Crucial activity.” Nice play on words there.

Keeping Up with the Times

The complex reality of the technologies that real companies leverage to get ahead emphasizes the absurdity of the now common idea that exposure to simplistic, consumer-facing products—especially in schools—somehow prepares people to succeed in a high-tech economy. Giving students iPads or allowing them to film homework assignments on YouTube prepares them for a high-tech economy about as much as playing with Hot Wheels would prepare them to thrive as auto mechanics.

Cal Newport, Deep Work

Elon Musk’s Twitter

Here is no waste,
No burning Might-have been,
No bitter after-taste,
None to censure, none to screen,
Nothing awry, nor anything misspent;
Only content, content beyond content,
Which hath not any room for betterment.

Maurice Baring

Hold the emotion, thanks

I got to make my heist film with Gene Hackman. Like many of the stars in the above-instanced works, he is an actual tough guy. Lee Marvin was a marine commando in the Pacific, Hayden in the Adriatic. Hackman was a China marine, racecar driver, stunt pilot, deep-sea diver.

These men, and their performances, are characterised by the absence of the desire to please. On screen, they don’t have anything to prove, and so we are extraordinarily drawn to them.

They are not “sensitive”, they are not anti-heroes. They are, to use a historic term, “he-men”. How refreshing.

There will always be the same number of movie stars. There is a table of operations, and the vacant places must be filled, as with politicians, irrespective of the distinction of the applicant pool.

But I vote for the tone of a less sentimental time. Look at the photographs in the family collection, of dad or granddad during the war, or the Depression. We see individuals captured in a moment in their lives, not portraying themselves for the camera. I used to look at them and think one didn’t see those faces today.

I saw them on September 11. I was in the air when the bombings took place, flying back to Boston from the Toronto film festival. We landed at a small commercial aviation field. A customs officer escorted us to a room, where a group of pilots and passengers watched the immediate aftermath on television.

I had never seen faces like that in my life. They were so intent, resolved, completely unsentimental, trying to make sense of a disordered and a very dangerous world; as were the men and women who created the genre of film noir, to which I respectfully submit my addition.

David Mamet

Going the Distance

The best thing about The Bear, I think, is that it tries so hard. The writing alternates between brilliant and painful. (For examples of the former, see this monologue and basically anything Richie says.) The setting is rich and detailed, but also strangely empty. (Why do we never see any customers?) The filmmaking is boring in one episode and gutsy in another. (Episode 7 is one continuous shot set during the ten minutes before the lunch rush.) The one thing that is consistent is that Jeremy Allen White never stops looking like Rocky Balboa.

Maybe that’s enough. Maybe the unusual charm of the show comes from the fact that it feels like a film made by an MFA student on a shoe-string budget, the kind of film where no one gets paid, but pours their guts out anyway; where the cast and crew are basically the same people and craft services is someone’s mom dropping off chili. That scrappy vibe serves the show well because it’s also what the story is about—a restaurant that could be great but isn’t quite there yet. The Bear, The Beef, and Rocky all seem to have the same goal: to prove that, despite appearances, they’re not just some bum from the neighborhood.

UPDATE: I added some things to make my point more clear.

Moonlight

Henri Bosco’s book The Boy and the River is short and sensual. The descriptions of the river and its flora and fauna are so luxuriant they border on suffocating. I couldn’t help wondering if the touch is lighter in French.

I could pick any number of passages to illustrate his style, but I chose this one about the moon because it reminded me of a similar poetic passage in Watership Down:

The moon was a great help to me. Its brilliance lit my way, and its spreading softness calmed me not a little, as though by enchantment. For, more effectively than any other of the heavenly bodies the moon touches the human heart with magic. Its light is close. We feel that it is filled with concern and love for us, and, in the season of spring, its friendship is so tender that all the countryside grows tender, too. At those times, for children waking in the night, there is no more charming counsellor. Through the open window it shines into their rooms, and, when they fall asleep again, brings to them the loveliest of dreams.

Here’s the passage from Watership Down:

We take daylight for granted. But moonlight is another matter. It is inconstant. The full moon wanes and returns again. Clouds may obscure it to an extent to which they cannot obscure daylight. Water is necessary to us, but a waterfall is not. Where it is to be found it is something extra, a beautiful ornament. We need daylight and to that extent it is utilitarian, but moonlight we do not need. When it comes, it serves no necessity. It transforms. It falls upon the banks and the grass, separating one long blade from another; turning a drift of brown, frosted leaves from a single heap to innumerable flashing fragments; or glimmering lengthways along wet twigs as though light itself were ductile. Its long beams pour, white and sharp, between the trunks of trees, their clarity fading as they recede into the powdery, misty distance of beech woods at night. In moonlight, two acres of coarse, bent grass, undulant and ankle deep, tumbled and rough as a horse’s mane, appear like a bay of waves, all shadowy troughs and hollows. The growth is so thick and matted that even the wind does not move it, but it is the moonlight that seems to confer stillness upon it. We do not take moonlight for granted. It is like snow, or like the dew on a July morning. it does not reveal but changes what it covers. And its low intensity—so much lower than that of daylight—makes us conscious that it is something added to the down, to give it, for only a little time, a singular and marvelous quality that we should admire while we can, for soon it will be gone.

Lewis on English Majors

[English Literature as an academic discipline] directs to the study of literature a great many talented, ingenious, and diligent people whose real interests are not specifically literary at all. Forced to talk incessantly about books, what can they do but try to make books into the sort of things they can talk about? Hence literature becomes for them a religion, a philosophy, a school of ethics, a psychotherapy, a sociology—anything rather than a collection of works of art.

C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

Last fall I gave a talk on literary theory and in my research I discovered (or rather, I confirmed) that English Departments are an utter and complete sham. When I was in school, some of my professors and fellow graduate students loved stories and poetry—and at least one of my professors tried to bring that love into the classroom—but when it came to “serious” literary discussion (the kind that gets published in respectable journals), the conversation turned from the stories themselves to the religion, philosophy, sociology, history, or sex embedded within the story. I met a PhD student whose dissertation was not about literature but about the history of a particular book—the physical object, not the content. Nothing wrong with that, but doesn’t it seem like a task more suited to a budding historian than a lover of literature?

English majors pick projects like that because literature does not lend itself to the kind of scientific analysis required in the modern university. At some level, English departments are aware of this and it keeps the chair of the department up at night. Will his budget be assured come the morn? In his book on literary theory, Terry Eagleton describes the shaky identity of English departments when they first came into being in the 1920s:

The definition of an academic subject was what could be examined, and since English was no more than idle gossip about literary taste it was difficult to know how to make it unpleasant enough to qualify as a proper academic pursuit.

Eagleton goes on to say that English departments survived thanks to the rise of nationalism in the 1930s. When your nation goes toe-to-toe with another, you’re much less likely to dismiss even the least significant aspect of your culture. English people suddenly became much more loyal to their own literature than they were before and its place in the university was assured.

Still, the problem of how to make reading for fun an “unpleasant” academic subject persisted. Lewis says it was solved by literary criticism.

Everyone who sees the work of Honours students in English at a university has noticed with distress their increasing tendency to see books wholly through the spectacle of other books. On every play, poem, or novel, they produce the view of some eminent critic. An amazing knowledge of Chaucerian or Shakespearian criticism sometimes co-exists with a very inadequate knowledge of Chaucer or Shakespeare. Less and less do we meet the individual response. The all important conjunction (Reader Meets Text) never seems to have been allowed to occur of itself and develop spontaneously. Here, plainly, are young people drenched, dizzied, and bedevilled by criticism to a point at which primary literary experience is no longer possible. This state of affairs seems to me a far greater threat to our culture than any of those from which the Vigilants would protect us.

Academics love it when an eminent professor writes a new book about Shakespeare because it gives them something new to focus on and they can debate the accuracy of his judgment. It’s much easier to analyze someone’s claims about a book than to analyze the book itself. None of this nonsense about the “literary experience.” No more reading for “enjoyment” or “beauty,” whatever that is. Swaddled in criticism, the English major is free from such messy topics.

Lewis’s solution to this sorry state of affairs:

I suggest that a ten or twenty years’ abstinence both from the reading and from the writing of evaluative criticism might do us all a great deal of good.

I wholeheartedly agree.