Of course, this article from LRB drew me because of Gore Vidal’s novel, Julian. And this review, while never mentioning the novel (an odd oversight, I thought, even if you are not a Gore fan), suggests that the novel’s history is t bad.
This is a somewhat half hearted effort to convince the reader that Barfield and Williams are at least half as important as Lewis and Tolkien, undermined by the authors’ own apparent lack of belief in that aspect of the project and by a consensus of opinion which they seem disinclined to challenge.
Towards the end, they set up poor Barfield, by describing his intent to meet the challenge laid down by his peers’ successes and to write his magnum opus. It’s a big set up, narratively, but ends with the admission that few liked it and barely more than that even noticed it was written.
Structurally, they probably could have just focused on Lewis and Tolkien and then included a wider variety of other Inklings.
But, I learned a lot about them and it was interesting, because I like Tolkien and Lewis. I like ’em a lot.
The Zaleskis, without becoming prurient or even mentioning it again, makes a good argument that Lewis and Mrs. Moore were having a sexual affair, which convinced me. It doesn’t change my opinion of him, it’s merely nice to have some resolution, in my mind, on the matter.
Likewise, I had not realized just how devoutly Catholic Tolkien was nor how important it was to his Middle Earth novels (he went to mass daily for most of his life).
But… I can’t help but be a little disappointed. I had been hoping to learn about another Bloomsbury group or another Transcendentalist circle or another Paris in the twenties, instead, learned about a group of intelligent and interesting academics, two of whom happened to become very, very famous and were very important writers. And I put the book feeling that the authors didn’t really like the works of Lewis and Tolkien all that much, which feels almost like a personal insult to one such as I, raised on Narnia and Middle Earth (though they seemed to like two lesser read Tolkienalia, Farmer Giles of Ham and The Smith of Wooton Major, both of which I loved and read over and over again as a child).
For the life of me, I can’t remember what possessed me to put this book on hold. The best guess I have is because I read it was about Thai Buddhism. But, while the author appears to be a convert to that practice, it’s really just another, new age-y book about mindfulness and meditation for the keenly felt stress of being white and having money in a country that values both those qualities immensely (and where both those qualities are deeply intertwined).
I just finished reading the latest copy of Poetry East, one of my favorite poetry magazines.
One could criticize it by saying that it publishes too little work by new and emerging poets and too many by dead poets (like, Shelley levels of dead). But when you read it… well, it’s hard to criticize such a well put together publication with so much great poetry and beautiful (if not original) artwork.
This one (actually from Autumn 2017) features Carvaggio paired with passages from the Gospels (do you consider that poetry?). Ovid and Bernini. Facing pages with the Italian and English translations of Petrarch. Selections from American writers who visited Rome. English writers (the earlier mentioned Shelley, for example).
And yes, some new poetry. As part of three short poems collectively entitled Storyflowers, Suzanne Rhodenbaugh included this small gem, called Iris:
Once I was all lips and tongue.
Now I am a fist.
Can’t wait until the next issue.
Ok. I hadn’t actually heard of her until I read a (positive) review of the exhibit in the Washington Post. But I did go see her in the tower gallery at the East Wing of the National of Art. And I liked her.
It helps that she was a DC artist. Not just someone from DC (and technically, she was born in Baltimore) who then moved away, but someone who lived and worked in DC for most of her career. Thank you. We are an artsy city and unless your name is New York or Paris, we can probably kick your butt, arts-wise.
Her minimalist work, spaced out in the large, high ceilinged, and vaguely trapezoidal gallery, gave the space the feeling of a secular temple (maybe like the Rothko Chapel, to which I’ve never been). Which made it so disappointing that there was only one small bench, set off to the side were you really couldn’t see much of the art very well. This exhibit was just begging for a couple of rows of pews, where people could pray or meditate in a setting that really called for an appreciation of art as a spiritual practice.
We were obliged to come here because we had promised five hundred eggs if our prayers were answered. Actually, I think my mother-in-law promised. Or my better half. Clearly, I’m not sure. But someone promised in such a way that also sort of obliged me, so we all went.
I didn’t take pictures because this was not a tourist location, but a place for legitimate Thai supplicants and for people like my in-laws, who were fulfilling their end of an asked for boon.
You got flowers and incense and a candle and lit the latter two and place the incense in a sand filled brazier and the candles seemed variously left around. The flowers were placed in a large clay jar.
Wrapped around them when you purchased the flower/incense/candle package was a paper prayer and square of thin gold foil. The foil was pressed onto a Buddha covered in them in a room just beyond the incense and candle room.
The eggs were placed on a shelf when you did all this and when we were done, my mother-in-law instructed me to get them again. She left one behind and we took the rest, which were now blessed.
Someone at my work died. Unexpectedly. She was younger than me, I told someone. But I know that. I know that I thought that she looked younger than me, but I didn’t know her at all. She’d worked at my office before. Maybe it was before I came here. Maybe it was only for a short time when I first started here and I just don’t remember her.
This doesn’t make me a bad person, a colleague pointed out. It doesn’t make me anything except uninterested or inattentive.
I have been thinking about religious matters. Both about my own faith (and my poor keeping of the basic minimum expected of me from it) and about the Buddhist faith. I have been reading a little about it and have gone to a Wat Thai (a Thai Buddhist temple; they are Theravāda, if you’re interested, but with a lot of syncretic features from Hinduism and a powerful monastic tradition that is intertwined with the government) twice in recent weeks and contemplating what it would mean if my child chose Buddhism over my Catholicism.
But we’ve gotten far away from the person who died, haven’t we. Not ‘we.’ Me.
My religious point was my failure to be attentive in my compassion. I know what she looked like. I remember that, like me, she was a bit in her own world when the building’s fire alarm drove us all outside. I remember that I only pieced together by deduction that she was the same person as the email address in the ‘all staff’ list. I had to ask if she was married. If she had children. I still don’t know how she died. A human being grew up, lived, and then died early and unexpectedly and though I was in a position to know her, I did not and the fact that I did not was, in the end, a choice.