Musings on Muses
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
 
Tilting at Windmills
It seems a great deal of time and blogging has been taken up lately with discussions of literary genres. The Jelly-Pinched Wolf has been talking about his quest to restore horror, kashi of Synonyms & Sugar has given the battle cry for an assault on fantasy, and Flambeaux has been haunting comment boxes though not advertising that he has a plan to covertly recover the spiritual thriller. So you may be wondering which literary genre I am planning to give an overhaul to.

Romance.

Please, come back. Really, this will be interesting.

I should probably begin with a few definitions and some initial thoughts about this sadly degenerated genre. First off, it has been a long time since romance has been connected with its initial associations with adventure. It is worth noting that such great works as the Song of Roland and The Three Musketeers are placed in the category of romance. The adjective romantic has so many different associations that it could be adequately used to describe a movement in poetry (obsessed with impulsiveness and attachment to nature), an aversion to pragmatism, an adventurous tale, or dinner and a movie. The associations with love are the most dominant now, but I would like to recapture some of the romantic past of the romance. Bring on the swashbuckling!

Love may be the putative topic of the romance novel but in most cases today, the real subject is lust. And this is a very sad state of affairs (pun intended.) I would like to bring it back around to love which is a far more interesting feeling and a far more flexible plot device. Love has been ignored in modern literature. I don't know why. Quite possibly one of the most interesting stories that can be told is how a man and a woman meet, grow to love each other, and begin a family. Tales of love have been told since antiquity and I would like see if good ones can still be written (and be published.)

What has probably destroyed the love story in the modern novel is sex. Nothing kills a good story like a sex scene. All narrative tension is destroyed. And if we are attempting to tell a story with a happy ending, it must exist in a moral framework. Sex just doesn't fit in a romance because its inappropriate in courtship. We have to really be fooling ourselve to believe the happy ending if the characters have tried to get a jump on the marriage before the wedding.

Happily, there are at least two markets for romances taking place in a morally coherent universe. Regency romances, the imitators of Jane Austen (and to a lesser degree the Bronte sisters), are light comedies of manners and the protagonists are expected to play by the rules of polite society. I love this period in history and it is fun for writing the literary equivalent of angel food cake. It has suffered from poor quality writing in recent years but it is not entirely lost.

The other subgenre of romance that might be good grounds for a restoration of portrayals of love in fiction is Christian romance. And here I am at a loss. Because I am Catholic. I am not interested in writing non-denominational fiction. I can write about Anglicans if I am writing in a historical setting that is appropriate, and that would extend to the point where I would write about Zoroastrian if the setting demanded it, but the Christian romance market is primarily evangelical and looking for thinly veiled apologetic tracts with distinctly Protestant theology. A story set in, say, medieval France, that explored the realities of arranged marriages wouldn't fly because I would be dealing with Catholic characters in a Catholic country in a Catholic age. I could write it but would it sell.

I am left with one other avenue. Write books that go above genre fiction, with love as a major theme, but with sufficient historical background, elements of adventure and mystery, that I enter mainstream fiction. Essentially, become a modern day Dumas. Could it be done. Can a book without sex be sold today outside of the safe sandboxes of Christian fiction?

Feedback would be appreciated.
Friday, March 26, 2004
 
Great Post at Synonyms and Sugar...
on the state of fantasy fiction. Go see what kashi has to say.

Thursday, March 25, 2004
 
Art and Divine Possesion
This post is probably the seed of something bigger. I fear I am an acedemic at heart and seem to think in dissertations rather than soundbites.

Having read the many posts discussing The Passion of the Christ, especially regarding Mel Gibson's orthodoxy, I would like to discuss what seems to be an underlying assumption for many who are concerned with the work as a piece of art.

I have always been firmly of the opinion that a work of art stands alone from the artist who creates it. There is, of course, not a complete divorce. The artist's beliefs will inform his art. But the art is still something seperate, to be judged on its own merits. I am supported in this opinion by no less an authority than the Angelic Doctor.

In ancient art, it was conventional to ask for the inspiration of the Muses, even when belief in such beings had become a thing of the past. The theatrical convention persists even in Shakespeare, where Chorus begins "O, for a Muse of fire" in Henry V. What is interesting about the idea of a Muse is the belief that art is the product of divine possesion. It is somewhat like Inspiration, although the analogy has limits that I'll go into at another time. Nevertheless, there seems to be an aspect of art that is not the product of the artist's fevered imagination or abused childhood, but is instead found in some external, invisible source.

Even if you don't believe in Muses, I think that there is some merit in considering why the ancients did. When an artist begins his task, he does not necessarily know where he is going. Then, from out of the blue, an idea strikes. The artist doesn't know where the images or the words are coming from but they are working better than his original idea. And so, if he wants the Muse to stay, he follows her suggestions, writing, sculpting, or filming until the necessary conclusion. Most writers claim that their characters seem to have lives of their own, separate from the writer's will and imagination. Many actors note that their character seems to be a separate entity whom they are channeling, or with whom they are conversing . There is something at work besides the artist's conscious self.

The modern world, bound as it is to positivistic materialism, would say this is merely the subconcious, dredging up old memories. I disagree. So many artists' art surpass their ability to explain it that I believe there must be something else at work. Consider the creepy baby in TPOTC which Mel Gibson so famously explained as "just pulling it out of [his] @$$." The image works on a lot of levels, most of which he, the artist, can't explain in any conherent way. In the Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson captures the essential Catholicity of Tolkein's world even though his background suggests an inability to do so. These works must be judged apart from their artists.

More later, when I'm not tending to Boo.

 
The Glory of Scotch
Let us give praise to our Maker and glory to His Name for giving us single-malt scotch, which has so far been the most effective remedy for my present cough and sore throat.
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
 
A big welcome to Catholic Ragemonkey
which is now linked on the side bar.

Thanks also to them for pointing out the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem. I'm a Flippery Fish!
Saturday, March 20, 2004
 
In Defense of Mel Gibson
The ongoing debate in the blogosphere regarding the status of Mel Gibson (Is he in schism?) has prompted me to finally comment. For the record, I don't know. And I think that that is true for everyone who has been discussing this. But I think that there is something even more important than whether or not he is in communion with Rome. How culpable is he? Some bloggers have stated that he is old enough to know better. I contend that that may not be the case.

Mel Gibson was born on January 3, 1956 (biography courtesy www.imdb.com). That would have made him six or seven when the second Vatican Council was convened, 10 when it ended, and 13 when the Novus Ordo was promulgated. We know that his father moved the family to Australia and raised Mel and his siblings in traditionalist churches. So Mel had just reached the age of reason when V2 began and was beginning high school when the liturgical fun and games began.

Now think back to what you knew about the Church at the beginning of high school. All of the junior theologians raise your hands. When I was in high school, despite 8 years of catechism, I didn't know that the reason Christ died on the Cross was to save us. Never mind questions of how, I didn't even realize that salvation was the purpose of Christ's life on Earth. Now I was catechized in the 1980s but I know that the catechism in the 1960s was not much better.

This was when my parents and In-laws were catechised. The Baltimore Catechism was great for rote memorization but did not do much for understanding the faith. Since none of my parents or in-laws are academics, theologians, or even catechists, I'd consider them fairly good examples of the average product of this catechism. So lets imagine that you are born in the 50s, learn about the faith through the Baltimore Catechism, and then your father moves you and your family to a different country and out of communion with Rome about the time you've reached the age of not believing. And what you're really into is theater.

Having worked in theater for 7 years, I've known a lot of actors. Most are not very bright people. More importantly, even the bright ones are not very intellectual. They tend to be very keen observers of emotion, and especially when working with film, sensitive to the effect of visuals. Mel's comments about the creepy baby in the Passion are a good example of this. Not a theological justification, more a note on how it is designed to create an emotional response. That's what actors do. They create emotional responses through their performance. And Mel's relationship to the Faith is most likely, primarily, emotional.

It is the faith of his fathers, and most importantly, his father. It is what kept him from committing suicide. It is, in the traditional Mass, a very sensual faith. And if I was an actor, formed at the tail end of an era when Catholics were expected to learn the faith without questioning it, taken from communion with Rome before I even knew what schism was, and when in crisis, returned to the only faith I had been raised to recognize, is it any wonder if I found a traditional community that was “independent”.

Growing up, I was told that all Masses in Latin were illicit and that Vatican II did away with them. I didn't know that you could write the Vatican with a question if you had doubts about whether something done at your Church was allowed. I didn't know of the wealth of documents on the faith. I nearly left for Evangelical Protestantism because I didn't know any better. I might still not know had I gone to a different school. I was privileged to go to an excellent and faithful Catholic university. I was privileged to live in Rome and meet incredibly holy priests who celebrated the Novus Ordo with such reverence I did not recognize it. I was privileged to live in an age where the Internet had more answers at my fingertips than all the priests at the parish of my childhood.

I understand that in the making of The Passion of the Christ, Mel was introduced to Legionnaires of Christ, Opus Dei priests, and Curial officials, all quite in communion with Rome. I also understand that he did not know until he met these men about the Ecclesia Dei Indult or many of the other provisions for those attached to the traditional Mass. These are not exactly advertised by most dioceses. This may be the first time he encountered the truth about the post-V2 church.

Jim Caviezel stated that he never, during the filming of the movie, spoke with Mel about his status in the Church. He said that if we think Mel is not in communion, we should pray for him. Perhaps it was God's will that this movie be made so that Mel could return to full communion through the people he would meet producing and promoting it. If so, I am sure they too pray for him.

A friend of mine, now a priest, once attended a Holy Thursday Mass at a cathedral where instead of washing the feet of twelve men, the whole congregation was asked to walk through the holy water Jacuzzi. One of his friends reminded him that he must have charity, that these people were well intentioned, if horribly misled. As he approached the Jacuzzi, one of the women assisting the procession, said “See, it's warm, like a bath.” My friend grumbled “Charity” under his breath and stepped on through.

I think this is one of those moments. We must have charity and recognize that not all who persist in schism do so through their own fault. We should pray for them, educate them, and accept that many know not what they do.

Friday, March 19, 2004
 
The Little One Knows the Good Stuff
We've been ripping MP3s here at Chez Flambeaux. Yesterday, we were working on the soundtrack CD for Star Wars: A New Hope. Boo's eyes lit up when the 20th Century Fox theme began playing and broke out in an excited grin when the opening crawl began. Yes, this child has good taste.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
 
Conversation Chez Flambeaux
Flambeaux: (reading a Brach's mixed candy bag) This is a cause for worry.

SW: Huh?

Flambeaux: Oh, it's Fresh Candy Favorites. I was wondering they would have to add fresh candy flavor.
Monday, March 15, 2004
 
Pseudonyms
With the husband now blogging, I can convert fully to blog pseudonyms. My son is now the only one lacking a handle, a problem easily remedies. Introducing Boo, formerly known as The Baby. My husband informs me that this is a very traditional southern nickname. He seems to respond to it as much as his Christian name, although he also responds to Beep so it may just be a fascination with "b" sounds. Nevertheless, that is what he shall be called from now on. You have been warned.
 
Conversation Chez Flambeaux
Flambeaux: (being used as jungle gym by Child) He's using his teeth to crawl.

SW: Yes, he's been doing that for a while.

Flambeaux: The mouth is for locomotion.
 
Sing with us Ye Seraphim!
Congratulations, you're a Seraph! A member of the
highest, or first, choir of angels, you are
purity personified- a being of radiant light
and love so powerful that even other angels
find it difficult to look at you. You stand at
the throne of God, where your primary purpose
is to love Him and express that love through
song.


What Order of Angel Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Monday, March 08, 2004
 
Why I Hate Water
I have never in my life liked drinking water. Yes, I know, it's good for me. I oughtn't go around dehydrated. My skin will look better. I know all of this intellectually. But viscerally, I just hate the thought of drinking the stuff. Now if I'm thirsty and that's the only drink around the house, I'll drink it. There was even a time when I was living in Italy when I would take the bus into Rome just to get water from the fountains there. But here I have not yet found water that would make me willingly travel an hour by bus, subway, and foot, just to get to it.

Which brings me to the heart of this rant. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that for Lent I gave up all things sugary. This includes sodas, juices, and most forms of coffee drink that I like. I am left with tea and water. (I can drink tea unadulterated, but I can't stand black coffee.) The problem with tea, of course, is that it has caffeine and so I can't drink it after around 6 in the evening. So I am having to make my peace with water.

I find that the problem with water is that there is nothing to distract you from the, well, watery-ness of it. I have always preferred to drink something sweet or fizzy or both. So I decided to wander the supermarket aisles in search of alternatives to water to vary my beverage diet. Diet sodas came instantly to mind. Most of them, however, are sweetened with aspartame. Nasty stuff. I never did like Diet Coke. And I've read some articles that imply its bad for you in general and especially bad for pregnant and nursing mothers. Besides, any product that has to warn Phenylketonurics of its presence just sounds scary. Some of the diet sodas now are using Splenda, the brandname for sucralose, a derivative of sugar without the impact on bloodsugar. I'm still wary of it though. Near the end of the beverage boulevard I discovered my solution. Fizzy water. I have always been a fan of San Pelegrino's fizzy spring water. I now find that there are many club sodas that are low sodium and have just the barest hint of taste, just the essence of the fruit without the sweetener. Nutritionally, it can be treated as water. I am happy that I have something I can drink and happier that the awful stuff that comes out of the tap is not my only option.
 
Welcome, Fiat Lux!
My dear husband has finally taken the plunge and started his own blog, Fiat Lux! (See the side bar under BlogFriends.) He is going by the handle Flambeaux so those who know his secret identity should endeavor to keep it well hidden. Welcome Fiat Lux and may we enjoy many elightening posts.
 
Just Visiting?
We think we may have finally found a parish to call home. Some readers will remember how unhappy we were living on the vast flatness of the South Plains. Part of our unhappiness was caused by a lack of aethetically satisfying churches. Now I'm not talking primarily of pretty churches here. I'm talking about churches that recognize that Beauty is to the senses as Truth is to the mind or Goodness the soul. We found great confessors who were truly reverent in their celebration in the Mass. But we are fairly traditional people and the churches there were anything but. Mostly infected by the worst aspects of the charismatic movement. My husband hates that particular way of celebrating the faith.

Now that we are back in Dallas, we have become itinerant churchgoers. When we last lived here, we often went to the indult Latin Mass (yes, its the kind approved of, if only formally, by the bishop). But we never felt completely comfortable there. The Rite of Pius V itself was not the difficulty. In fact, both of us are lovers of Latin and loved the mystery and majesty of the Tridentine rite. We had friends in the community. Nevertheless, we weren't entirely confortable there. There was an attitude among many there that the Novus Ordo rite was not a "real Mass". Now I may be naive and I am not a theologian, but I was under the impression that its a real Mass as long as a priest is there and the bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. I'm sure there are in fact abuses where these two requirements are not met, but not in any of the churches I've attended.

We also visited an Eastern Catholic Church. I love the Byzantine rite. It is designed, even more than the old High Mass, to engage the senses fully. Bells, censers, chant, 360 degrees of beauty. Everyone there is very friendly, very welcoming. I could have happily attended there but neither of us thought that abandoning the Roman Rite wholesale was a very good idea.

Every once in a while we visit the Cistercian abbey, usually when the University of Dallas' Collegium Cantorum is singing. And out of sheer laziness, we have usually been attending at the University of Dallas, because it is the nearest and has a convenient 7:30 PM Mass on Sunday evenings. A Cistercian has been the celebrant for most of these. They are wonderful homilists but it does not quite make up for the fact that the music in insipid and the church looks like a crushed oil can.

Yesterday, we finally made a point of heading out to Arlington to visit the Anglican Use Catholic parish there. My initial thoughts:

1) This is what Vatican II was aiming for. The restored rite is very much like an English version of Tridentine. The language is beautiful. Proof that it is the vernancular that is banal but our current weak translation. It was very High Church. And the homily was one of the best I've heard in a long time.

2)The church building proves two things: a)a beautiful church does not have to be expensive, and b)simplicty does not mean iconoclasm. The building is constructed from preformed slabs of concrete. The aesthetic they were aiming for was Cistercian simplicity. They nailed it. It is quite plain, with a Romanesque feel to the layout, a few lovely stained glass windows above the high altar, and discreet shrines for Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Therese of Liseux (sp?). The majoriy of decoration was at the high altar so that your eyes are drawn first to the tabernacle. The baptismal font stood at the entrance, gracefully simple in design and made of marble. Carved wood Stations of the Cross were placed along the side walls. I barely noticed that the ceiling was acoustic tiles.

3)The music was perfect. We chanted the Credo in Latin. The Mass setting used "What Wondrous Love is This" as a musical motif. The hyms were robust and only slightly marred by a few flat organ notes. There was an organ! In a choir loft! With a choir! We didn't need to see the cantor to follow her lead! Am I betraying one of my pet peeves!?! On a tangent, I noticed while flipping through the hymnal many lovely and non-heretical Communion songs. Why did we not import these when we were rifling through Wesleyan, Anglican, and Lutheran hymnody in the early Seventies, desperate to find songs in English? Instead we are saddled with the treacle produced by OCP, which is trite at best and dangerously erroneous at worst. Have you ever stood in line at Communion, wondering why you were singing about becoming Bread for the World? That us not what I was taught about transubstantiation.

4)The parish life looks to be wonderfully active. We are planning on going to the Stations of the Cross this Friday, which will be followed by a paish meal, a talk by Rod Dreher, and Benediction. They are currently running a discussion group on The Passion. The literature in the lobby actually had pamphlets in NFP.

For the first time in a long time, we think we may have found a home.
Thursday, March 04, 2004
 
Freelance Blues
We (that is my husband and I) have been reading alot lately. Mostly books on how to get into freelance copywriting. It is the most lucrative area of freelancing so far that we have found. However, there is a catch. Unlike books and magazine articles, the software requirements are a little more hefty. First, we need a professional version of Microsoft Office, since we'd be using the computer for commercial purposes. Then there is the desktop publishing requirements. And contact management software. And a color printer, fax, scanner, copier thingy. Finally, a voice to text software for me so that I can dictate while chasing The Baby. All in all, a fairly hefty amount of software and equipment. I think between 1 and 2 thousand dollars.

My solution is simple. I am going to write. I just spent the last two hours downloading submission guidelines from various magazines and publishing houses. Once we have the spare cash for this stuff, we can lay down the groundwork for a more lucrative business. Until then, I can write as many "How I Met My Husband Articles" for vapid ladies' magazines as I need to to make our dreams reality.
Monday, March 01, 2004
 
Under the Tuscan Sun -- A movie review
This weekend, we decided to rent Under the Tuscan Sun, fully expecting a train wreck. Having read the book by Frances Mayes, the idea of a delightful memoir of renovating a house being turned into a romantic comedy seemed a poor fit. It’s not a movie genre we typically care for, either. It ended up being something of a surprise that has, as usual, sparked many long conversations. I will try to be a little more coherent than I was in my Dangerous Beauty post.

WARNING: Spoilers galore ahead.

Under the Tuscan Sun is a story about heartbreak, recovery, and discovering joy in serving others. I did not expect this, nor did I see it the first viewing. Frances, our heroine, begins the film at the peak of her career, a successful teacher, writer, and book reviewer enjoying a party in honor of a former student’s recently published book. Within minutes she learns that her seemingly perfect life is illusory and her husband is having an affair. We quickly see her dealing with the divorce proceedings, finding an apartment at “camp divorce”, and celebrating its completion with friends. We learn that Patti, her lesbian friend, is pregnant and that Frances has not yet finished mourning her failed marriage. Patti, concerned that Frances is not yet picking up the pieces of her life, sends her to Italy with a gay tour group (which pregnant Patti can no longer go on) to recover from her misery and begin to write again.

After the requisite panoramic shots of romantic Tuscany, we find Frances in Cortona, wandering its streets and taking in the marketplace. She sees an advertisement for a house, Bramasole, and encounters one the locals, a flamboyant woman named Catherine who seems to be straight out of a Fellini film. When the tour bus, moving on, is stopped temporarily outside of Bramasole by a herd of sheep, Frances leaves the group behind to see this house. Enchanted, she buys the house and begins to be absorbed by the renovation of the house and her immersion into the life of her neighbors.

The renovation of Bramasole is ultimately a metaphor for her own recovery of self. She builds friendships with the three Polish day laborers who work on her renovation, with the eccentric Catherine, and with the neighbors. Throughout, she keeps searching, in vain, for the man who will complete this home she is building. A good deal of the comedy stems from her hopeful viewing of each new man as a possible lover, only to discover his faults. Heartbreak, though, is an equal opportunity game and, in Act 2, an abandoned Patti arrives. Frances becomes involved in helping Patti with her baby and the young lovers Pavel (one of the day laborers) and Chiara (the neighbor’s daughter) find happiness. At the low point, when Frances yet again is heartbroken and all of her romantic hopes seem unfounded, she rises to help the young lovers get married, realizing that her own lack of happiness should not prevent her from helping others find it. She makes a heroic speech to Chiara’s parents, declaring that though she has no proof of lasting love, she still believes that is exists.

Ultimately, Frances finds that she has had her wishes fulfilled in unexpected ways. Her home, now complete, has a family in the persons of Patti and the baby, a wedding party in the garden for Pavel and Chiara, and contentment. She has stopped looking for fulfillment in love and now finally may be open to it because she is not forcing another person to fit her fairy tale image.

One of the running themes is the idea of love being a fairy tale hope. Yet many incidents point to this being a false perception. Catherine tells us that Fellini told her to “never lose your childish innocence. It’s the most important thing.” And children most certainly believe in fairy tales and lasting love. Pavel and Chiara’s wedding is shown in the exchange of rings and the reception of the Eucharist. The reverence with which they receive both rings and hosts show a belief in sacred love and permanence. If Frances is mistaken about love, it is in believing that it will occur on her predetermined schedule. True love is serendipitous, and arrives when least expected. It is the secular equivalent of grace which cannot be earned or demanded but must be freely given.

A strength of the film is that the Catholic life of Italy is shown in all its peculiar glory. Mary is seen as a kind of favorite aunt, the saints are part of daily life and they answer their prayers, and devotion is not merely a Sunday activity. In contrast is the decadence of Catherine’s life, a kind of living tribute to La Dolce Vita and Fellini’s vision of Italy. She seems at first to be a paean to happiness through hedonism. Yet, her flamboyant lifestyle is finally shown to be an anodyne to her lonely existence.

What seems to be the main failing of this film is the lack of any proof beyond blind faith that true love exists. The opportunity to show that much of the heartbreak stems from “love—American style” is missed. Pre-marital sex seems to be a given and there is no acknowledgement that it may cause discord by its very nature, not merely regret when the affair ends. Aside from these flaws, it has much to offer, does not follow the traditional course of a romantic comedy, and in doing so, offers a better model to those who seek love: live your life, find joy in helping others, and love will find you when you aren’t looking for it.

Under the Tuscan Sun


 
The Oscars...
were boring. I'm happy LOTR finally got the recognition it deserved. I'm sad that Master and Commander was overlooked except for some technical fields. I'm amazed that the stars managed to find ugly clothing that was simultaneously not appalling enough to mock. Dull.


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