Francis Fukuyama & ‘Children Of Men’


As part of series called Future Tense, I dragged my better half to see the movie Children of Men, followed by a brief lecture/Q&A featuring Francis Fukuyama (who actually introduced himself as ‘Frank’ Fukuyama; nothing intrinsically weird about that, but it did strike me, because I only know him as a sort of public intellectual and semi-repentant neo-conservative.

I loved the movie when it first came out, though I spent almost the entire movie on the verge of tears. This time, I was able to appreciate Clive Owen’s wry humor (and also accept that he would not have been a good James Bond; while Daniel Craig added a wonderful element of questioning Bond’s existence, a Clive Owen Bond would have been entirely too despairing).

Let me first admit that I have never read anymore longer than a magazine essay by Fukuyama. Yes, I am the guy in DC who does not own The End of History, in case you were wondering who that person was. Mostly because I know him as a neo-conservative/neo-liberal (hint: they’re the same thing), even though I also know he has backed off those tendencies over the last decade.

But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t interested in hearing what he had to say.

He was surprisingly religious and, as a moderator in a Q&A, he took care of the perennial issue of ‘let me ask a question that is actually a long statement intended to show how smart I am but which really shows that I once read an article from a two year old copy of The Economist while waiting to get a crown replaced.’ What he did was to give a brief lecture and then ask a question, so at least the people were supposed to speak and ramble.

While he asked several questions, they were ultimately about what the world might look like if there were no future. While I resisted the temptation to raise my hand and ask to be heard, I will admit that I had a rough idea of a comment in mind. I thought of de Sade’s Philosophy of the Bedroom. Specifically, I thought of that weird interlude when one of the characters suggests they pause their orgy and read an essay. You can google this. My point is that he talks about the death of God, which is the death of the king during the French Revolution. By executing the king, revolutionaries have killed the idea of order and limits coming from a higher power and they should accept that they have made it so that nothing is forbidden anymore. My insight from that is that the death of God can be something besides just a loss of faith (or an enormous, otherwise omnipotent being feeling dead from the sky), but also be something like, say, the loss of fertility. And then, in the words of Uncle Billy Burroughs, everything is permitted, nothing is forbidden.

Fukuyama also told me something I didn’t know: the title comes from the King James Bible’s translation of Psalm 90

Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men

It’s a prayer by Moses, by the way. And Fukuyama put in a nice plug for the King James version, telling folks how much they’re missing when they read those silly ‘modern’ language versions.

‘The Riddle-Master Of Hed’ By Patricia McKillip


9780441005963This is actually a trilogy, but when I was younger, I read the first book, but a good bit of it, I didn’t quite follow, though the opening stuck with me. Then, my mother sent me up a box of my books from her home and, among them, was an aging paperback copy of the first book, which I re-read while visiting a good friend in Chicago.

As it turns out, the only way to really read it now is to buy a reprint in an omnibus volume. Of course, I’m writing this because I’ve finally finished said volume.

McKillip is lovely, delicate writer, with a soft touch that is similar to Ursula K. LeGuin. I don’t think it would surprise any reader of Riddle-Master that it feels very similar in tone to the Earthsea novels (including being more than a little feminist, even though the hero of Riddle-Master is male – though so was the protagonist of two of three original Earthsea novels).

The story, which gets too complicated to really summarize here, struggles after the first book. Things don’t feel properly explained and everything rushes towards to a conclusion that, while not exactly deus ex machina, does not feel properly earned.

The coolest idea, undoubtedly, are the importance of riddles to the culture of the world. When the story begins, magic is gone – or, at least, wizards are gone. But a connection to that former world is maintained through the study of ancient lore. These ‘riddles’ are almost never actually riddles, but more like trivia from antiquity. The theme of these riddles as being vital secrets for understanding one’s self, one’s world, and one’s predicament is consistent throughout and I never ceased to find the concept rewarding.

What I most took away is a desire to re-read another one of her books, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. I think I was living in Florida when I read it. I remember being in my mother’s car and reading it after she had bought it for me at a used bookstore.

Wordsworth


Wordsworth is one of my ‘go to’ writers. If you’re going on a trip and you’re not sure what to bring, you can always bring a selected poems by Willy, because you can read him again and again and he’ll never let you down (Wuthering Heights is another one that I can read and, as soon as I’ve finished it, immediately start reading again; I once read it twice in one day).

But, I’m really only a fan of his longer poems. Sure, Intimations with its ‘Splendor in the grass’ gets me going, but overall, it’s the long poems: The PreludeThe ExcursionThe Recluse. And you’ll notice that those are all, for lack of a better descriptor, semi-autobiographical pastoral poems. His long historical poems feel like rather dull epics to me and most of the shorter ones don’t have that slow burning, hypnotic pull. The Prelude is a darn long poem. It’s not Proust long, but it does have that same sort of gentle pacing that pulls you in over the course of time until you’ve entered a sort of literary ‘fugue’ state.

Wilmington, Delaware


So, I was in Wilmington, Delaware the other weekend. On Saturday, I walked from Brandywine Park to the Delaware Art Museum, which is famous for its collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and related works. The museum was originally founded to house and preserve the works of Wilmington based illustrator, Howard Pyle, who died in 1911.

On Sunday, I walked through the park and up a set of stairs and wound up at an eighteenth century Presbyterian church which is only open one day month and only for two hours on that day and, by strange coincidence, I walked up there on that day.

My notes are all mixed up, so I’m just going to post a bunch of pictures up and make whatever comments I want in the caption.

This is from the church, obviously

This is from the church, obviously


You can see the date of its construction written in 'brick' on the side

You can see the date of its construction written in ‘brick’ on the side


Colonial graffiti

Colonial graffiti


The classic colonial pulpit

The classic colonial pulpit


A quintessential subject (Lilith) by the quintessential Pre-Raphaelite artist (Rossetti)

A quintessential subject (Lilith) by the quintessential Pre-Raphaelite artist (Rossetti)


'Hymenaeus,' by Edward Burnes-Jones

‘Hymenaeus,’ by Edward Burnes-Jones


I took a picture of this just because of the salon style display of the works

I took a picture of this just because of the salon style display of the works


Another example of how charmingly welcoming this museum is!

Another example of how charmingly welcoming this museum is!


Most museums won't let you sit in the nice chairs in the galleries

Most museums won’t let you sit in the nice chairs in the galleries


Another very Rossetti-like Rossetti... they did love red-haired women

Another very Rossetti-like Rossetti… they did love red-haired women


From the Pre-Raphaelite gallery; I should note that the museum took a wonderfully liberal view of photographs; no flash, of course, but if the museum owned the piece, you are welcome to snap away

From the Pre-Raphaelite gallery; I should note that the museum took a wonderfully liberal view of photographs; no flash, of course, but if the museum owned the piece, you are welcome to snap away


What I like best is that the man is smiling despite his burden; protecting children is inherently rewarding

What I like best is that the man is smiling despite his burden; protecting children is inherently rewarding


This is a great Motherwell, but also exemplifies the challenge of the smaller, regional museum; how does one work around having an eclectic collection that doesn't really illustrate a movement or artist? What good is one Motherwell, in a way?

This is a great Motherwell, but also exemplifies the challenge of the smaller, regional museum; how does one work around having an eclectic collection that doesn’t really illustrate a movement or artist? What good is one Motherwell, in a way?


Completely random, but cool - a set of Art Deco elevator doors!

Completely random, but cool – a set of Art Deco elevator doors!

‘Barter’ By Monica Youn


I bought Monica Youn’s Barter at a used bookstore, which I don’t normally like to do, when it comes to living poets, because I like for poets to profit (financially) from their labors, but the book was on my list and there it was at Capitol Hill Bookstore, so I got it.

Barter is a dark book. The objectification and commodification of women’s bodies (and maybe, especially, the bodies of Asian women, but I can’t really be sure); immigrant bodies are also a recurring theme, albeit rather elliptically. Discomfort and disjunction. Life as trauma, perhaps. But not as being determined by traumatic experiences, so much as life being inherently so. Maybe. I don’t know. And much of this in the nominal form of ekphrastic poetry.

Derivation, or
The Unexamined Life

remorse: to be bitten
again. remonstrance.

to be displayed again;
shown again; arms

pulled back, head
following, how you

gloat, my reflection
smeared in the moonlight

window: why won’t
you look at yourself?

 

Maria Edgeworth, William Wordsworth & David Ricardo


I read this little piece on William Wordsworth’s visit to Ireland and the extent to which he was influenced by what he saw there (both in terms of the political and ecological content of his poems). It also noted his encounter with Maria Edgeworth, the author of Castle Rackrent.

Later, I was re-reading my favorite bit of a beloved book, The Worldly Philosophers. My favorite bit of that book (after the description of Thorstein Veblen washing dishes with a garden hose) is the section on Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In that section, it notes the correspondence (and influence) one Maria Edgeworth had on Ricardo.

When I saw the Edgeworth name on page 85, I wondered, could that be the same one? Flipping over the page, when I saw Castle Rackrent mentioned, I obviously knew it was.

That’s it. Just a fun little thing. But you should definitely read The Worldly Philosophers. I actually had it in my bag because I have been intending, for some time, to loan it to a friend who going to be studying business. My father once semi-famously said that one should never confuse a business degree with an education. I thought that a book about influential economists might split the difference a little bit. So I had it in my bag, in case I should run into him.

Fifty Years Ago Today, The First Episode of ‘Star Trek’ Aired


I took that picture of Captain James Tiberius Kirk’s uniform at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum on the Mall. And no, I’m not going to get into a discussion about Kirk’s middle name. But I should note that this is a uniform worn by Chris Pine, not by the eternally awesome William Shatner, though, after watching Star Trek: Beyond, which was the best of the ‘new’ Star Trek‘s and, dare I say, in the top fifty percent of all Star Trek movies, not to mention a rollicking good time, I now have a much better appreciation of Pine as Kirk, or how he has grown into the role. Real Star Trek fans will also have realized that Shatner could never have fit into that uniform, even at his youthful and swashbuckling best.

But that original series was just… awesome. And Wrath of Khan was one of the best movies of all time (I haven’t forgiven the first reboot movie from trivializing the motives that drove Kirk to cheat on the Kobayashi Maru simulator; the reboot made it a sort of joke, but in Khan, Kirk admitted that the simulation, which was intended to be training for how to deal with failure, triggered in him a deep feeling, beyond just being unable to accept no-win situations, but a terrible fear of failure).

So, not exactly happy birthday. But happy something. And thank you, Gene Roddenberry.