View of China

One discovery leads to another. I’m interested in the linguist Ross Perlin’s work. He writes: ‘At the current unprecedented rate of language shift, a significant portion of the world’s cultural and linguistic diversity will disappear over the next century.’ As codirector of the Endangered Language Alliance, he documents languages at risk and supports linguistic diversity. Reviewing his recent book Language City in the New York Times, Deirdre Mask praises it as ‘a gorgeous new narrative of New York’. She throws in this aside: ‘I invite you, too, to binge-watch Perlin’s fascinating YouTube dispatches from China.’ The invitation was irresistible. That is, I haven’t binged, but have watched one now and again. In a series of ten-minute features filmed by his fiancée some 15 years ago, edited by a couple of mates, Perlin takes us on a journey to visit synagogues in Shanghai, shamans in the uplands, old people walking pet birds before settling down to mah-jong, roadside cooks. He converses fluently with natives in Chinese dialects while presenting a humane, witty, philanthropic account for his viewers – in Yiddish. This series is a phenomenon, heart-warming and enlightening. Take a look at A New York Jew in China.

Maturity

Ina Weisse’s film The Audition wasn’t a box office success, as far as I know; perhaps it couldn’t have been. The story of an ambitious violin teacher pushing a student over the brink is too marginal to engage the mainstream. There are cinematographic imperfections – excessive longueurs. Yet it is a powerful film, credibly displaying a Cain-and-Abel rivalry and, at the same time, a delicate and difficult motif present in art since Antiquity: that of a mother devouring her children. It is wholesome, albeit unpleasant to be reminded that the pursuit of beauty – of perfection in beauty – can be terribly compromised; and of how imbalance in our own lives can make us make impossible demands of others. There’s an exchange that will remain with me. At one point Anna Bronsky, the teacher, hears a recording of herself playing the violin. At first she cannot recognise her own sound. Then she remarks to her husband (whom she cheats): ‘It’s rather immature.’ He replies: ‘That’s what’s beautiful about it.’ One realises: When ‘maturity’ comes to spell ‘iron control’ or even ‘loss of innocence’, it can be fatal.

One Step

With elegance Daniel Capó draws an arc from the well-known line in Newman’s poem, ‘one step enough for me’, to the scene of an eleventh-century Iranian sheikh before a crowded audience in Tus, making the figure seem self-evident. What promise there is in a single step taken freely, benevolently towards another! It is a matter of caring and of accepting others’ care.

Capó notes: ‘We know we are fallible. We know no less that none of our faults — however grave they may seem — will define us forever. We are poor and weak, absolutely, but there is beauty concealed in this fragility of children. There is truth in it, too — in the image of a mother dandling her child on her knee; of a family tramping under the stars looking for a home. Love grants us this certainty. The one thing it asks in return is that we draw one step closer, from one heart to another, so to discover the substance and savour of humanity.’

Keeping Rubrics

I am reminded of a request one of my predecessors made to Rome a few years ago for a liturgical dispensation. It was not granted. Here is Gregory IX’s responsum to Archbishop Sigurd of Nidaros (medieval Trondheim) dated 8 July 1241:

‘Since we have learnt from your account that it sometimes happens in your country that children, for lack of water, are baptised in beer, we give you the following response: since according to evangelical doctrine it is needful to be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, those who are baptised in beer are not to be counted as rightly baptised [non debent reputari rite baptizati]’ (DH 829).

A marginal concern, but perhaps worthy of a footnote to Gestis verbisque?

Chastity Overseas

The last few months have seen many thoughtful responses to Chastity: Reconciliation of the Senses in the United States, where the book was published in January. I’d single out three. Nathanael Peters reviews the book in a contextual essay, stating a premise with which I am in full agreement, ‘I’ve come to see chastity as primarily a question of freedom’. He goes on to provide an illuminating juxtaposition with Maestro. Carl E. Olson is attentive to ‘a robust and self-aware anthropology’ and, a really important point, to the eschatological dimension of chastity. Jared Staudt engagingly writes of ‘the resurrection of chastity’ – and indeed there is much to suggest that it is not dead but, like Jairus’s daughter, ‘sleepeth’. He notes: ‘My largest takeaway from the book regards the way in which chastity fulfills our nature rather than diminish it’, and this delights me. It is a blessing for a writer to have careful readers. The book, already out in Spanish, is currently being translated into Italian, French, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, and Greek.

What Is Truth?

A spate of reviews convinced me I should go and see Ilker Çatak’s The Teachers’ Lounge, which premiered in Norway yesterday. I am glad I did, though I can’t say it was a fun night out at the cinema. The film is painful to watch as it places its finger deftly in one societal wound after another. It touches issues of racial prejudice, surveillance culture, subverting rhetoric, and the backfiring of good intentions. At one level it can be seen as a critique of liberalism gone dictatorial, driven by a mixture of self-righteousness and a furious desire to please. But there is more. Mathematics are a motif, pointing towards the question of what constitutes an objective burden of proof. Can truth ultimately be proven? This question suffuses the whole. I was unprepared for the burlesque of the ending, set to a rousing interpretation of the overture to Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Puck’s final monologue in the play might provide one interpretative paradigm. The Biblically minded might find another in Leviticus 19.14.

Bonum facere

 

The German Bonifatiuswerk has done a tremendous amount to assist the rebirth of Norwegian Catholicism, enabling strong bonds of assistance and friendship.

To celebrate the foundation’s 175th anniversary, EWTN Norway has made a small video to chronicle the activities of the Bonifatiuswerk in the prelature of Trondheim.

You can watch the video here.

Athanasius

From The Shattering of Loneliness: ‘Athanasius does not maintain that all sensual impulses lead to God. There is a distinction to be drawn between our heavenly, ‘logical’ longing and our earthbound, ‘illogical’ desire. Yet the fundamental principle holds: any authentic longing, any longing that, even implicitly, points towards eternity, is a possible path towards God. Dying, Christ declared a sentence of death on death. Death alone is dead. In Christ, we go beyond what is ‘natural’ so that our nature, one with the Word, is no longer what it used to be. The condition of newness, which corresponds to what at first we were, makes of us, too, possible epiphanies. ‘Our arguments’, says Athanasius, ‘are not composed merely of words, but have the proof of their truth in experience itself.’ On this basis he concludes by professing the principal result of the Word’s incarnation: ‘He became human that we might become divine.’’

The Church celebrates the feast of St Athanasius today, 2 May.

Akhmatova

From the Notebook of Anna Kamienska:

Akhmatova. A thick volume of her collected poems, as if they were written by one person. But after all there were so many — from youth to old age. The elegant, refined lady and the old peasant who roars in pain and beats her forehead against the church floor: “Lord!” The poet thronged by crowds of admirers and snobs, and the old woman: wise, comprehending, like the earth, like a peasant rocking her dead child in her arms. […]

Music teaches us the passing of time. It teaches the value of a moment by giving that moment value. And it passes. It’s not afraid to go. […]

The dangerous passion for absolute purity. To evaporate with the atom. Wake up!

Poor Fit

In 1959, in Erasmus and the Humanist Experiment, Louis Bouyer wrote: ‘Many, indeed, consider that the Christians of the sixteenth century were unaware of what was required to christianise the immense fund of experiences and new realities that characterised their epoch, and that was why the new world broke from a Church whose representatives were incapable of emancipating themselves from their own set ways. This explanation is at once convenient and flattering for Christians today. It should cause no astonishment that many of them consider it all but axiomatic. They contend, in effect, that, were the modern world to pay them proper attention, their intelligent sympathy would quickly conquer it, and that this world remains alienated from the Church solely through the failure of its retrograde elements. Convincing though this thesis may at first sound, it is certain that such simplification fits in poorly with objective history.’