I got pregnant [...] shortly before my thirty-eighth birthday. It felt like making it onto a plane the moment before the gate closes—you can’t help but thrill. After only two months, I could hear the heartbeat of the creature inside me at the doctor’s office. It seemed like magic: a little eye of newt in my cauldron and suddenly I was a witch with the power to brew life into being. Even if you are not Robinson Crusoe in a solitary fort, as a human being you walk this world by yourself. But when you are pregnant you are never alone.
From Ariel Levy’s painful and graphic story about losing her son, born 21 weeks premature in a hotel room in Mongolia.
Don’t give a depressed friend a book. Give them a steak instead. Preferably an expensive one. And pair it with a loaded baked potato, a bottle of merlot, and if you want to get really spiritual, a whole pan of Sister Schubert rolls. That’s what God did for Elijah when he was depressed to the point of wanting life to be over. He didn’t give him a lecture, or even a devotional. He gave him a meal and then let him sleep (1 Kings 19:4-7). He didn’t Jesus juke him. He took the physical as seriously as the spiritual. Because sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap (or a walk, or a meal).
Real spiritual solutions are the most physical thing you can imagine. Wisdom from Sammy Rhodes, pastor and erstwhile Twitter comedian.
Ralph Vaughan Williams’s grandmother was Charles Darwin’s older sister.
In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
TS Eliot, East Coker III
A letter from John Phillips of the Yale University School of Medicine to the New England Journal of Medicine, Feb. 14, 1991:
When referring to the hand, the names digitus pollicis, indicis, medius, annularis, and minimus specify the five fingers. In situations of clinical relevance the use of such names can preclude anatomical ambiguity. These time-tested terms have honored the fingers, but the toes have been labeled only by number, except of course the great toe, or hallux. Is it not time for the medical community to have the toes no longer stand up and merely be counted? I submit for consideration the following nomenclature to refer to the pedal digits: for the hallux, porcellus fori; for the second toe, p. domi; for the third toe, p. carnivorus; for the fourth toe, p. non voratus; and for the fifth toe, p. plorans domum.
Using porcellus as the diminutive form of porcus, or pig, one can translate the suggested terminology as follows: piglet at market, piglet at home, meat-eating piglet, piglet having not eaten, and piglet crying homeward, respectively.
via Futility Closet
Last week, the following question was debated at NSA’s Disputatio: should Christians participate in drama? If I remember correctly, the two positions taken were:
- Affirmative: There is nothing wrong with drama per se and Christians can participate in it just as in any art form.
- Negatory: Christians have no business participating in drama until the historic objections to the art form have been answered.
I don’t really agree with either of these positions, but then I don’t exactly disagree either. I think drama per se has a potency that other forms of art don’t have (except perhaps movies), so I don’t we should just embrace it blindly. On the other hand, I think we will be best equipped to deal with the problems presented by drama if we participate in it, wisely, of course, without succumbing to the “no-holds-barred” attitude that most contemporary theater departments and companies are known for.
Today, I had the opportunity to respond to the debate and I did by doing three things. First, I tried to do away with the arguments of the negative side, or what I could remember of them. Second, I tried to quickly outline what I thought the real danger with drama/theater is. Third, I tried to give an argument for why we should do it anyway.
What I said:
Last week, we heard the following arguments against drama: it tempts one to seek glory, it is deceitful, and it arouses sexual tension. My responses: one may be tempted to seek personal glory in anything, including rugby. Adopting a character in a play is no more deceitful than adopting a position in a debate – and both are done for the sake of the audience. The sexual problem is real, but does not disqualify, as we will see in a moment.
The weightiest argument against acting is Augustine’s: it encourages the actor to adopt personas not his own. He may begin to think thoughts that are not his, to have feelings that are not his, and to experience desires that are not his. The process of doing this over and over can cause what Tony Kushner calls “permanent looseness in the core.” In other words, the actor becomes pure imitation and forgets who he is. This can carry over to an audience, too, incidentally, so that they also forget who he is (and sometimes, who they are). This is the most dangerous thing about acting in the theater – the constant balance to be both yourself and someone else. The sexual problem is just one aspect of this.
So why should we even bother acting? Quid ergo theatrum et ecclesiam? Like it or not, we are always becoming something. “Be imitators of Christ,” says Paul. “A student will become like his teacher.” “Thus shall a man cleave to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” Having your identity shaped by someone else is built into creation.
A good play well acted is like history in miniature, where actors have the opportunity to represent different parts of the real world. It is grounded in truth. Even actors playing evil characters can be truthful, as long as evil is portrayed as detestable. Just like any good story, a play catechizes both actors and audience, reminding them of the value of things like goodness, beauty, honor, bravery, etc. and the worthlessness of covetousness, envy, hate, and evil. But drama is especially potent because it emphasizes participation – which is why should not let it go to waste.
My brother Smith wrote this story in imitation of Chaucer. It is called “The Ant-Farmer’s Tale.”
Then, from a hidden spot in the crowd,
The ant-farmer spoke clear and loud,
“I have a story I’d like to tell
About a man who was lamentably felled.”
“Well, go on!” yelled the friends,
“Begin and continue until it ends!”
So the ant-farmer sat and gathered his breath,
It was hard for him to speak about death.
Finally, he gathered up courage and spoke,
“Friendly travellers, I tell of a bloke,
Who never took anything seriously.
Everything to him was nothing but a joke,
And fun he would always poke.
I shouldn’t go into detail of his antics,
So I’ll only say they lacked ethics.
When a man died, he’d laugh at his pale skin,
To overweight men, he’d laugh at their chin.
When a couple was wed, he’d joke about bed,
He was generally an overall blockhead.
And I won’t waste time mulling over his looks,
But his innumerable teeth were like massive hooks.
And that was the least of his facial troubles,
For his entire face was wrinkles and rumples.
An enormous goiter grew out of his neck
And his entire complexion was like that of a Czech.
His hair was like a gargantuan shipwreck.”
But at this point, a traveller interrupted and said “What the heck?
The Czechs are honorable people who are typically handsome.
Not like Russians and Poles, who are consistently gruesome.
If you’re going to poke fun at a race or nation,
Make it more practical, like the Irish women.”
The ant-farmer was displeased at this rude infiltration,
“I’m sorry, I’d no idea you had such fascination
With races, do you study them as a pastime?
But I also ask you how you could expect me
To find another folk whose name rhymes?”
At this, the traveller was embarrassed
And said nothing for the rest of the story.
The ant-farmer continued with his tale.
“As I was saying, he was ugly as a Pole,
And dirtier than a hardworking mole.
But don’t think for a minute that that means he worked hard,
Or even worked at all.
For he spent all his time making fun of others
And being ugly on top of it.
Until one day, a hero, looking for grandeur,
Mistook him for a hideous monster,
And hacked off his head on the spot.”
At the conclusion of the prolonged tale,
The nun’s priest asked in a wail,
“Oh ant-farmer, what is the point of this fable?
That at no means should we be repulsive?
For it is not our choice how we look, and thence off the table
If such a knight is so assaultive.”
“No, you miss the point, my dear friend,” said the farmer,
“The moral is to be kind and not have a good time.”
But upon seeing that the tale had no significant connotation,
The travellers all stood and promptly stoned him.
True adventurers have never been plentiful. They who are set down in print as such have been mostly business men with newly invented methods. They have been out after the things they wanted–golden fleeces, holy grails, lady loves, treasure, crowns and fame. The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate. A fine example was the Prodigal Son–when he
started back home.
O. Henry, The Green Door
Again from Currie:
David Lewis once remarked that inferences undertaken by consumers of fictions are peculiar. For example,
It is fictional that Sherlock Holmes is human.
All humans are mortal.
It is fictional that Sherlock Holmes is mortal.
This is an inference in which the conclusion is governed by the intensional operator it is fictional that, but where only some of the premises are so governed. What rules would justify such inferences? But it is not clear that these are in fact the inferences we undertake. Rather, the reader’s inference might be something like this:
Holmes is human (something she imagines)
All humans are mortal (something she believes)
Holmes is mortal (something she imagines).
Here the inference is perfectly conventional; what is notable about it is the commingling of attitudes – belief and imagination. And the only rule, apart from standard logical ones, that governs the making of such inferences is that, where the inference is from premises at least one of which is an imagining, the conclusion will be an imagining as well.
Currie discusses the differences that imagination makes in our beliefs and our desires. The core of his discussion is whether or not we can be trained morally by stories. In general, we find it easy to imagine alternate realities (“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Etc.), but we typically find it difficult to imagine alternative moralities. What is wrong in this world is wrong when a character does it in a story.
What’s odd about this is how intermingled our ideas of reality, morality, belief, and imagination become when we surrender ourselves to a story. We really desire that Luke successfully blow up the Death Star, in spite of the fact that no Death Star exists, and no Luke Skywalker either. We believe that Macbeth ought to be punished, even though Macbeth never actually committed those crimes.
If Currie’s syllogism is correct (conclusion: Holmes is mortal), then there is always an element of real-world belief that always shows up in our imagination. We don’t wait for Arthur Conan Doyle to tell us everything about Sherlock Holmes, we just assume that whatever is left unstated will generally follow along the lines of the world we are familiar with. So if he is human, he must be mortal. I don’t know if the stories ever mention Holmes’ nose, but if they do, we can assume that his nose is attached to his face, since this is how we are used to noses behaving.
It’s interesting, then, how morality seems to be informed by stories. No matter how many times I read about Bizarro Holmes, whose fantastic nose is attached cleverly to his chin, I won’t start believing that people in the real world actually have chin-noses. But if Holmes went on a murder-spree or starting visiting brothels in his spare time and his behavior was sanctioned by the author, that may have an affect on my perception of morality.
When I am sorry and upset about the fate of Desdemona, I am not sorry this fiction has it that an innocent and good-hearted girl suffers a cruel fate. One might be sorry about that, deploying that there fictions with such unhappy and unjust outcomes. But this is not what at least many of us are sorry about; we are glad that Shakespeare’s fiction has it this way, and not the way that are written version with a happy ending would have it. Part of the inner tension that we experience on watching this play derives from the fact that we have a desire-like imagining that Desdemona flourish, combined with a (genuine) desire that the play be one which will ensure that that desire-like imagining is unsatisfied.
Gregory Currie, “Desire and Imagination” in Conceivability and Possibility, Gendler and Hawthorne.