Sunday, August 26, 2018

Wily Paul Wylie: Alphabet Squared



The inimitable Paul Wylie today sent me a scrap of alphabet squared he’d written. Alphabet squared is an Oulipian genre, and though Paul’s version doesn’t accomplish the squared, I think he’s managed a ticklish single run through.

The task in alphabet squared is to write a text in which the first letter of each word corresponds to a letter of the alphabet, the words running in alphabetic succession. And so “Although Bostonians can’t dance, …” might make a serviceable opening phrase for such a tale, the letters running A, B, C, D.

Although Bostonians can’t dance, each Friday Gwen had invited …
etc.

To pull off true alphabet squared, one must go through the alphabet 26 times. I nearly finished one such tale years ago, but tired of it before completion.

Part of the challenge of course is to write something fetching and natural enough that the tale succeeds and the reader doesn’t notice the draconian rule according to which it’s been written.

Wylie sent me the following.

NEWLYWED

And Brian cried.
      ”Dead?"
      ”Exactly."
      ”Fuck. Great.”
      “Here..."
      ”I just killed Laura! My newlywed."
      ”Oh, please.”
      ”Quiet!”
      ”Respectful silence?"
      ”Tomorrow…underground!"
      ”Villainous waste.”
      ”Xavier… Your zipper."

Oulipian challenges are a mug’s game, yes. But this one, alphabet squared—give it a try. It's harder than it looks. Wylie here opts for dialogue, and does it well. My efforts have been making a prose narrative.

E.M.

Update 8/27: Received a second one today. This time I think Wylie did a great job on the opening lines, but I'm responsible for most of the rest. So, a collaboration:

MARK OF CAIN

Abel’s brother Cain disappointed everyone.
      “Feeble guy," historians intoned.
      "Jealously killed livestock."
      “Murderer."
      “Never offered peak quality."
      "Really striking tattoo!"
      "Unusually vindictive. Wanker."
      "Xenophobe. Yammering zealot."

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Flannery O’Connor’s Christian Realism



That many of Flannery O'Connor's early admirers had no idea they were reading the work of a deeply committed Catholic is little surprise: her stories are mordant and gruesome to a degree incompatible with the image of the "Christian writer”. The Christian writer is imagined to be a pious and blinkered sort, and must be, above all, inoffensive. O'Connor was none of this. Shot through with mania and black humor, often violent, her writing cuts to the bone, and left many early readers wondering how such narratives could also be Catholic. Where were the edifying homilies, the clean cut role models? It was a paradox they were unable to resolve. How could O’Connor’s Catholicism bring her to focus on such things?  

For O'Connor, such readers were taking things backwards. Her fiction, with all its darkness and perversity, was only possible because of what she could see through the eyes of the Church. Her task was to depict the world as seen through Catholic doctrine. That doctrine was emphatically not a matter of putting on rose-colored glasses. O’Connor called it “Christian realism”.

O'Connor's ideas of what she was up to in her brutally realistic stories make for one of the strongest Christian apologies for literature left us by the last century. Though she never wrote a book on this Catholic poetics, her ideas hold together compellingly. But one must look for them spread across her correspondence and in a few brief essays.

Ralph Ellsberg's collection Flannery O'Connor: Spiritual Writings is an excellent place to find some of O'Connor's strongest statements on the art of fiction. It was Ellsberg's wise decision as editor of this compact collection to include not only the writer's musings about the faith per se, but also her arguments on the technique and purpose of writing novels and stories. Spiritual Writings contains key passages from the writer’s letters, essays and stories, as well as one complete story, "Revelation."  There's also a biographical introduction by Richard Giannone. 

Readers wanting a deeper understanding of O'Connor couldn't do better than read the stories alongside the writer's statements on her beliefs and goals. Spiritual Writings is the best short collection available.

Below I offer a few key passages found in the volume, most of them from O'Connor's correspondence.

E.M.  

From Spiritual Writings:  

I am mighty tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man [Is Hard to Find] brutal and sarcastic. The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. I believe that there are many rough beasts now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born and that I have reported the progress of a few of them, and when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror. (1955)  

--.  

To see Christ as God and man is probably no more difficult today than it has always been, even if today there seem to be more reasons to doubt. For you it may be a matter of not being able to accept what you call a suspension of the laws of the flesh and the physical, but for my part I think that when I know what the laws of the flesh and the physical really are, then I will know what God is. (1955)  

--.  

Mystery isn't something that is gradually evaporating. It grows along with knowledge. (1962)  

--.  

The serious writer has always taken the flaw in human nature for his starting point, usually the flaw in an otherwise admirable character. (1963)  

--.  

In the gospels it was the devils who first recognized Christ and the evangelists didn't censor this information. They apparently thought it was pretty good witness. It scandalizes us when we see the same thing in modern dress only because we have this defensive attitude toward the faith. (1963)  

--.  

What kept me a skeptic in college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said: wait, don't bite on this, get a wider picture, continue to read. (1962)  

--.  

The novelist is required to create the illusion of a whole world with believable people in it, and the chief difference between the novelist who is an orthodox Christian and the novelist who is merely a naturalist is that the Christian novelist lives in a larger universe. He believes that the natural world contains the supernatural. And this doesn't mean that his obligation to portray the natural is less; it means it is greater.     

….     

The novelist is required to open his eyes on the world around him and look. If what he sees is not highly edifying, he is still required to look. Then he is required to reproduce, with words, what he sees. Now this is the first point at which the novelist who is a Catholic may feel some friction between what he is supposed to do as a novelist and what he is supposed to do as a Catholic, for what he sees at all times is fallen man perverted by false philosophies. Is he to reproduce this? Or is he to change what he sees and make it, instead of what it is, what in the light of faith he thinks it ought to be? Is he, As Baron von Hügel has said, to "tidy up reality"?     

There is no reason why fixed dogma should fix anything that the writer sees in the world. On the contrary, dogma is an instrument for penetrating reality. … The Catholic fiction writer is entirely free to observe. He feels no call to take on the duties of God or to create a new universe. … For him, to "tidy up reality" is certainly to succumb to the sin of pride. Open and free observation is founded on our ultimate faith that the universe is meaningful, as the Church teaches.    

The fiction writer should be characterized by his kind of vision. His kind of vision is prophetic vision. Prophecy, which is dependent on the imaginative and not the moral faculty, need not be a matter of predicting the future. The prophet is a realist of distances, and it is this kind of realism that goes into great novels. It is the realism which does not hesitate to distort appearances in order to show a hidden truth.     

For the Catholic novelist, the prophetic vision is not simply a matter of his personal imaginative gift; it is also a matter of the Church's gift, which, unlike his own, is safeguarded and deals with greater matters. It is one of the functions of the Church to transmit the prophetic vision that is good for all time, and when the novelist has this as a part of his own vision, he has a powerful extension of sight.     

It is, unfortunately, a means of extension which we constantly abuse by thinking that we can close our own eyes and that the eyes of the Church will do the seeing. They will not. … When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eyes of the Church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous. ("Catholic Novelists and Their Readers," 1964)

* * *

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Friday, August 24, 2018

Fr. James Maltown, SJ: How can parishes welcome Blasphemer-Heretic Catholics?



Jesuit Father James Maltown today delivered his long-awaited talk to a large crowd at the 2018 Catholic World Meeting of Families. The conference on the family was fittingly held in Dublin, capital of the formerly Catholic nation of Ireland, which recently changed its constitution to legalize abortion.

“One of the more recent challenges for Catholic parishes is how to welcome blaspheming parishioners, as well as families with blaspheming and heretical members,” Father Maltown began. “But that challenge is also where grace abounds because Blasphemer-Heretic Catholics have felt excluded from the Church for so long that any experience of welcome can be life-changing--a healing moment that can inspire them to go to Mass again, where they may blaspheme openly with others.”



Father Maltown recounted anecdotes from the lives of Catholics who’ve suffered exclusion because of blaspheming-heretical children or family members. 



“Over the past few years,” he said, “I’ve heard the most appalling stories from Blasphemer-Heretic Catholics who have been made to feel unwelcome by other Catholics who hold to the belief that blasphemy and heresy are somehow ‘un-Catholic’. We as a Church must do better than this. Unrepentant heretics have gifts that our community ignores at its peril.”

Father Maltown spoke of a heretical choir member in a parish where he served whose voice was more beautiful than the voices of other non-heretical members. 



“Sadly, much of the spiritual life of Blasphemer-Heretic Catholics and their families depends on where they happen to live. If you’re an unrepentant heretic trying to make sense of your relationship with God and the Church or if you’re a parent of a committed blasphemer and you live in a big city with open-minded pastors, you’re in luck. But if you live in a less open-minded place or your pastor is heresyphobic, either silently or overtly, you’re out of luck.”

Though Father Maltown did not define what he meant by “open-minded,” it was clear from the reactions that those attending agreed with the need for more open-mindedness and wanted to live near the more urban “in luck” group.



Father Martin indicated that being doggedly committed to heresy was not a choice, but a way of life, saying the Church as a whole had much to learn from recent science on blasphemoheretical determinism.

He ended his talk with a moving retelling of the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery, drawing his moral without mentioning Jesus’ line about “Go, and sin no more.”



“Jesus was about encounter first, then community,” he said. “You first have to encounter, to listen to blasphemers and heretics, really listen to them--for only then will they be able transform your community in the way they want.”



Father Maltown ended his talk with a book-signing of his new title Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church Needs to Respect Those Who Deny Its Teachings, Like Me.

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Monday, August 20, 2018

Man in Pink Dress Bemoans “Homosexual Subculture” in Church


A Disassociated Press Report, Madison, Wisconsin, August 20, 2018

by Eric Mader



A portly man in a pink dress with a flouncy pink ribbon today bemoaned the “homosexual subculture” that has infested the Catholic Church, saying this subculture was responsible for the bulk of the clergy sex abuse scandal.

The man, who identified himself as Bishop Robert Morlino of the diocese of Madison, Wisconsin made his remarks at a press conference there yesterday.

“In the specific situations at hand, we are talking about deviant sexual--almost exclusively homosexual--acts by clerics,” the bishop said to a group of around seventy attendees. “We’re also talking about homosexual propositions and abuses against seminarians and young priests by powerful priests, bishops and cardinals. We are talking about acts and actions which are not only in violation of the sacred promises made by some--in short, sacrilege--but also are in violation of the natural moral law for all. To call it anything else would be deceitful and would only ignore the problem further.”

“There has been a great deal of effort to keep separate acts which fall under the category of now-culturally-acceptable acts of homosexuality from the deplorable acts of pedophilia,” he continued. “That is to say, until recently the problems of the Church have been painted purely as problems of pedophilia--this despite clear evidence to the contrary.”

The bishop said that the Church needed to return to “calling a sin a sin” and must work vigorously on various fronts to weed out members of the clergy guilty of breaking their vows of chastity. He stated that sexually active homosexual priests had “wreaked devastation in the Church.”

After a final brief prayer, Bishop Morlino opened up to questions from those in attendance.

“You’re wearing a pink dress,” one man indicated with a shrug.

“I’m sorry,” the bishop replied, “but this is not a dress. It’s a cope, a kind of traditional Catholic vestment. The color pink is in honor of the recent festival of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.”

There were no further questions.

Reactions to the bishop’s statements were mixed.

One Madison man, Greg Snyder, 38, felt the bishop should have chosen different attire.

“He can make whatever assumptions he likes about Mary, that’s his right,” Snyder said after the talk. “But if he wants to convince us he’s not himself part of this gay mafia preying on children, he needs to lose that pink dress.”

Jasmyn Fleik, 27, of the Madison LGBTQ Dogma Defense Alliance, rejected the bishop’s claim that homosexual priests were the problem.

“Just because 80 percent of the victims of clerical sex abuse are boys, and just because most of the abusing priests were known to be sexually active gay men, that doesn’t at all mean homosexuality has anything to do with this crisis!” Fleik insisted, to coughs and rolling of eyes from bystanders.

“I mean, like, use your brain for once,” she added.

One woman who declined to be named but identified herself as Catholic said the bishop’s remarks were sorely needed and that he was brave to speak so clearly.

”Now we must wait to see if Pope Francis will be equally brave,” she said.

[With apologies to Bishop Morlino, who is the only American bishop so far to call a spade a spade.]

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Catholics Agree: Down with the Lavender Mafia!


Resign Now, Cardinal Wuerl.

Though I haven’t read the thousand-plus pages of the grand jury report out of Pennsylvania on clerical sexual abuse of children, I’ve read enough excerpts to be horrified. The American Catholic Church, at least hierarchically, is in tatters.

The report demonstrates that bishops and cardinals cannot be trusted to be men of God; that in fact they have behaved like Mafia dons conspiring to cover up an entrenched homosexual abuse cult inside our Church.

No, this is not merely a matter of “human moral failings” among Church leaders. It is a matter rather of our Church over the decades being infiltrated by sexual deviants who used the cover of a Church career to live an alternate life of sexual relations with other men and abuse of youth.

Why do I insist that this is a “homosexual” cult? Because studies have shown that 81% of clerical abuse victims are boys. Sorry, but that fact is decisive. The abusers are male, and--surprise!--they almost exclusively groom and rape boys. End of story. Anybody who continues to claim that this crisis is not about homosexual men abusing children and teens under cover of our Church needs to shut up.

And NO, I am not saying that all gay men are pedophiles. What I AM saying is that in the context of our Church, a culture of undercover homoeroticism has linked up with pedophilia in a systematic way. This is the elephant in the room, and neither liberal LGBT apologists nor Catholic conservatives can continue to pretend this Enormous Lavender Elephant isn’t what it is.

We sane Catholics are sick of trite ideology and special pleading. These men are not just sinners--as all men are--they are infiltrators. They continue to play the faithful for fools because, in fact, they don't believe in God nearly as much as they believe in the disordered lust that courses through their veins.

Those who rose in the ranks under the disgraced Cardinal McCarrick must resign pronto. Yes, we say MUST. In fact this would be a good tactic at the coming November US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. If the relevant bishops have not resigned before then, faithful Catholics should gather outside DEMANDING the resignation of Wuerl, Tobin, Farrell, O'Malley, and Cupich. At the very least.

And where is the Holy Father in this? I have to say I am increasingly disappointed in Francis. Our Pope repeatedly pushes "development" in doctrine while surrounding himself with Lavender Mafia dons. What kind of development is that?

If Francis doesn’t come out swinging in response to the horrific report out of Pennsylvania, I will have lost faith in him as the leader of my Church.

The progress of sin in the lives of many of these corrupt priests almost certainly progressed through a predictable series of stages: 1) Homosexual relations between men who had vowed chastity, followed by 2) a cult of silence and hiding re: those relations, followed by 3) the abuse of youth that is then, according to the already established cult of silence, 4) covered up and ignored as a matter of policy. The worst of all is perhaps that those who held to this vow of silence were allowed to rise swiftly in the hierarchy.

This is the Lavender Mafia’s policy. And it has been followed to a tee. What Francis has called the "Gay Lobby" in the Church is poison. How many young lives have they ruined through this systemic abuse? Consider further that they have shattered the Church's reputation in the US and other parts of the West. If that is not poison, what is?

Given this context, we must be deeply suspicious of any clergyman speaking of the need for further "dialogue" and "understanding" vis à vis the LGBT movement. I'm looking at you, Fr. James Martin. This new push for dialogue looks suspiciously like an attempt to legitimate behaviors that, sadly for the Church, have long been grossly over-represented in our priesthood. In any case, both tradition and the Magisterium are clear on the meaning of human sexuality.

Our Church welcomes all who repent of their sin and seek to live according to Catholic teaching. Repenting of sin, however, does not mean seeking ways to explain it or normalize it. Predisposition to this or that sin does not change its character as sin. Figures like Fr. Martin do not seem to get this basic truth.

The Lavender Mafia must be routed. We are not dealing with "failings" on the part of "men of God"; we are dealing with a cabal of perverts and abusers who have made our Church into their sick love nest. It is Satan in our Church, and the evil reaches up to the College of Cardinals.

We must start today. When they talk nicely and diplomatically about their new plans for reform, shout them down. Demand RESIGNATIONS. Wuerl, Tobin, Cupich, Farrell, O'Malley out!

Generations of children and youth have suffered grievously at the hands of these fakes. Our Church has suffered grievously. These men are not the Church, but a cancer feeding off it. They must be identified and removed.

Update 10/21/18:

We have created a closed Facebook group for lay Catholics to discuss strategy going forward: Catholics United Against the Lavender Mafia

Read and consider adding your signature to our first group action, a petition on the rigged Synod 2018 on Youth: Why this Barely Catholic Synod?


*****

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