Thursday, September 27, 2012

Great Reads V: Sayings of the Desert Fathers

The Desert Fathers. Before St. Athanasius established the first Christian monastery in 344 and about two centuries before St. Benedict, a group of Christians moved out into the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria in order to live a solitary and intensely ascetic life. The most famous of these is the man who started it all (for all practical purposes), St. Anthony of Egypt (not the one that helps you find shit-- that's St. Anthony of Padua). Dali has a very famous and quite powerful painting of him in the desert which I recommend you google right now if you haven't seen it.

Because these men-- and women, although they were less common-- entered the desert partially in order to withdraw from the newly-legitimized Christian society under Constantine Chlorus and his son, Constantine the Great, they wrote very little. Around the fifth century, many of their sayings and conversations were collected and written down. These were hermits, but hermits willing to share spiritual advice amongst themselves.

Because I don't know Greek, I can't speak to the accuracy of these translations. I can say that I own Penguin Classics edition of Virgil, Augustine, and Boehtius, and have found them all to be wonderful translations.

If you're a Christian, you need to own this book. If you're not, your life will still be poorer without it.

These sayings were not originally uttered with the thought that they would become part of a book. These are tips given from one hermit to another. I have revisited these sayings several times, and still I feel like I haven't come close to plumbing there depth. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I advise that you read them slowly and with a clear mind.

  1. Antony said, "Our life and death are with our neighbor."
  2. Joseph asked to Poeman, “Tell me how to become a monk.” He said, “If you want to find rest in this life and the next, say at every moment, ‘Who am I?’ and judge no one.”
  3. They used to say that one of the old men asked God that he might see the fathers, and he saw them all, with the exception of Anthony; and he said unto him that showed them to him, "Where is Anthony?"  And he said unto him, "Wheresoever God is there is Anthony."
  4. Abba Isidore the Priest said, "If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride, but if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. For it is better for a man to eat meat and drink wine than to be inflated with pride and to glorify himself."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book & Beer #9

Unibroue Tres Pistoles & Frederic Jameson, The Political Unconscious 

Grad school: where complaining that your head hurts from too much Jameson has two meanings.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Books & Beer #8

Three Floyds Moloko Milk Stout & Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

Friday, September 21, 2012


Some of you may have been wondering why I'll devote two lengthy paragraphs to Bitte Orca or Relax, while other albums only receive a few sentences.

The reason why I try to limit myself to a single paragraph is for your ease. I start with several hundred words, and try to narrow it down to paragraph because I find most album reviews far too prolix. Occasionally I will write a longer review because, to quote George Bernard Shaw, I didn't have time to write a shorter one.

But what about those really short ones? The truth is I am a busy student and can only write so many longer reviews per week. Obviously, I would rather spend this time writing about something I enjoyed. But I consume a ridiculous amount of albums, many of which I don't think are great, and I'd like to record my opinion if not my thoughts on these as well, if not only for my own reference.

Since I'm a geek, I've kept a notebook for some time now where I've jotted down a few notes and a rating for any album I felt I had listened to enough times to know how I felt about it. Between Wednesdays and Fridays, or on Wednesdays and Fridays in which I'm feeling especially lazy, I'll be gradually adding these reviews to the blog as well.

The National: High Violet (2011)

"It's a terrible love / That I'm walking with spiders," begins the first line of this album. You can kvetch all you want about this kind of melodrama, but I don't have to try too hard to imagine Dylan singing the same words. Besides, like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, released six months later, this album is all about the melodrama. The images here, many of which come straight out of the Old Testament, are almost apocalyptic: oceans, floods, spiders, zombies, oceans and floods again, swarms of bees, "Manhattan valleys of the dead." The exaggerated grandiosity of the like is such that I'm finally convinced that Berninger has a sense of humor about his problems. The songs here are also far more universal than anything they've written, except possibly "Fake Empire." As a grad student, I love "I still owe money to the money to the money I owe." Most often, it's the simple quips that hit the hardest: "I don't wanna get over you," "Little voices swallowing my soul soul soul," lines which don't receive their profundity until Berninger's repeated them ad infinitum, turning them into whatever the pomo Brooklynite equivalent of a mantra is, which is probably still mantra. It's so easy to charge bands with crimes of pomposity, in part because it's often true. But pomposity done right can be downright beautiful. This, folks, is pomposity done right.


Wolf Parade: Apologies to Queen Mary (2005)

Lèse majesté it is not. In fact, the only aspect that might render this supposed indie classic unpalatable to the genteel (who constitute their fan base, but nevermind) is their trade-off vocals, which has been done better by countless alternative acts. I can't accuse them of laziness, but they're certainly inconsistent, if not haphazard. As far as innovation is concerned, this is straight up alternative-rock, only more childish. On "You Are a Runner and I Am My Father's Son” and “Shine a Light," though, this puerility pays off. The rest you can skip.


Suicide: Suicide (1977)

I guess you had to have seen them live. Every song sounds the same because they use the same three chords-- not like that's a problem, plenty of great bands do the same (X, Ramones, Green Day...lets just say punk in general). Yet, I don't know, the synths don't do it for me. Your music better pretty fast or exciting or powerful if you're going to limit yourself to such a primitive chord-progression. Cogent lyrics are also never a bad idea.


Hercules and Love Affair (2008)

"Blind" is better than anything Anthony & the Johnsons ever did, if that means anything to you (which it shouldn't), but the rest is the usual 80's fetishism so predominant in hipper circles.


Bantam Rooster: Deal Me In (1997)

One of the many decent albums I discovered while working at my college radio station which only permitted us to play the same artist once per quarter (but I totally played Sonic Youth like twice a month!). Two guitars and a drummer, shitty vocals, worse production-- in others, garage punk. Love the title track.


The Hellacopters: Super Shitty to the Max! (1996)

Easily this underrated garage band's grittiest and most forceful album. Still, this doesn't excuse the fact that about half of the tracks are quite skippable, including the unforgiveable twenty-minute sludgefest "Spock in My Rocket". Only the undeniably rousing "(Gotta Get Some Action), Now!," perhaps still their greatest song provides the catchiness, insanity, or the rambunctiousness of any of the cuts on Payin' the Dues. Still, if you're into garage rock of the newer sort, you should give this a listen.


Moving Targets: Last of the Angels (1993)

I checked these guys out a while ago because they were compared to Mission of Burma and Husker Du and they were in the WNUR stacks. While the deniable of the two are detectable, these guys are satisfied with hackneyed melodies and boring lyrics. Great guitars though.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Books & Beer #5

Ommegang Abbey Ale & Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism

Books & Beer #6

Victory Baltic Thunder & C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (1936)

 I've never had a "baltic" porter before but I'm crazy about Victory Brewing (Downington, PA) and I'v never seen this one before so I figured I'd try it. This was quite a strong for a porter (8.5%), but the alcohol was hidden well behind the dark, smoky, roasted toffee malts.

Aside from The Pilgrim's Regress, which is bad, The Allegory of Love was Lewis's first book. It's still read by medieval scholars and contains much of his best criticism.

Books & Beer #7

Goose Island Matilda & Maugerite Porete, The Mirror of Simple Souls

Matilda is an extraordinary beer, and GI satisfies a certain homesickness. A very well-balanced and complex Belgian Strong Pale Ale, fruity, slightly floral, crispy.

Maugerite Porete was a Beguine mystic who lived during the later 13th century. In 1310 she was burnt at the  stake as a heretic.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Great Reads IV

Blaise Pascal, Pensées (1662)

Always relevant.

  1. "L’esprit croit naturellement, et la volonté aime naturellement; de sorte qu’a, faute de vrais objets, il faut qu'ils s'attachent aux faux." (It is natural for the mind to believe, and for the will to love; so that, for want of true objects, they must attach themselves to false.)

  2. "On se fait une idole de la vérité même; car la vérité hors de la charité n’est pas Dieu, et est son image et une idole, qu’il ne faut point aimer, ni adorer." (We make an idol of truth itself; for truth apart from charity is not God, but his image and idol which we must neither love nor adore.)

  3. "Nous ne nous tenons jamais au temps pré imprudents que nous errons dans le temps qui ne sont pas nôtres, et ne pensons point au seul qui nous appartient; et si vains, que nous songeons à ceux qui ne sont rien, et échappons sans réflexion le seul qui subsiste….Que chacun examine ses pensées, il les trouvera toutes occupées au passé et à l’avenir. Nous ne pensons presque point au présent; et si nous y pensons, ce n’est que pour en prendre la lumière pour disposer de l’avenir. Le présent n’est jamais notre fin: le passé et le sprésent sont nos moyens; le seul avenir est notre fin. Ainsi nous ne vivons jamais, mais nous espérons de vivre; et, nous disposant toujours à être heureux, il est inévitable que nous ne le soyons jamais." (We do not rest satisfied with the present. So imprudent are we that we wander in the times which are not ours, and do not think of the only one which belongs to us; and so idle are we that we dream of those times which are no more, and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists...Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end. So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so.)

  4. "Tout le monde fait le dieu enjugeant: “Cela est bon ou mauvais”; et s’affligeant ou se réjouissant trop des événements." (Each one creates his god, when judging, "This is good or bad"; and men mourn or rejoice too much at events.)

  5. "Le christianisme est étrange. Il ordonne à l’homme de reconnaître qu’il est vil, et même abominable, et lui ordonne de vouloir être semblable à Dieu."(Christianity is strange. It bids man recognise that he is vile, even abominable, and bids him desire to be like God.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

Punk Greats #1 Richard Hell & the Voidoids: Blank Generation (1977)

The debut of the notorious ripped t-shirts pioneers and CBGB habitués has transcended time and became my go-to cathartic album. From the first apoplectic assault of the jarring riff which introduces “Love Come In Spurts,” which both is and isn’t a dirty joke, to the final ballad which grows on you despite clocking in at 8:14, this is formalized anxiety at its best. Most of these songs heedlessly heap together various sorts of angst that more respectable and less intelligent writers prefer to segregate: societal, romantic, existential, bratty. So, “Who says it's good good good to be alive?” isn’t a rhetorical question, which would render it mere miff, but hypophora, and he answers, “Same ones who keep it a perpetual jive.” Hell’s nihilism (ha!), so much less histrionic than it might be, is sublimated by the strident dueling guitars of Quine and Julian, not to mention his own poetical prowess: “Your mind's a wreck but that’s fine / It corresponds to mine,” “Feelings will change / we're helpless they must. / We like it that way / eliminates trust,” “I was sayin' let me out of here before I was even born.” The last line begins the sinister, almost bluesy title track which works as an anti-anthem today nearly as well as it did in 1977. Despite it’s confirmed place in the punk pantheon, Blank Generation has little in common, musically speaking, with the coeval debuts of the Ramones, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols. In fact, it really has no real predecessors, nor, even today, any important followers. But hey, that's the kind of the point, isn't it?


Greats Reads III

Epictetus, The Golden Sayings

Like Sokrates and Jesus, Epictetus was too preoccupied with living life-- the original business of philosophy-- to write anything. Lucky for us he, also like Sokrates and Jesus, had some pretty enthused epigones. His Plato was Arrian of Nicomedia, to whom we how a whole argosy of practical advice on living. This book is a rather antiquated Harvard Classics edition translated by Plato translator Hastings Crossley and purchased by yours truly for $3.50.

  1. A guide, on finding a man who has lost his way, brings him back to the right path—he does not mock and jeer at him and then take himself off. You also must show the unlearned man the truth, and you will see that he will follow. But so long as you do not show it him, you should not mock, but rather feel your own incapacity.
  2. Considering all these things, the good and true man submits his judgment to Him that administers the Universe, even as good citizens to the law of the State. And he that is being instructed should come thus minded: How may I in all things follow the Gods; and, How may I rest satisfied with the Divine Administration; and, How may I become free? For he is free for whom all things come to pass according to his will, and whom none can hinder.
  3. Even as the traveller asks his way of him that he meets, inclined in no wise to bear to the right rather than to the left (for he desires only the way leading whither he would go), so should we come unto God as to a guide; even as we use our eyes without admonishing them to show us some things rather than others, but content to receive the images of such things as they present unto us.
  4. Do not seek to have everything that happens happen as you wish, but wish for everything to happen as it actually does happen, and your life will be serene.
  5.  If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “he was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Books & Beer #3




















Three Floyd's Dreadnaught and Will Shortz's Favorite Sunday Crossword Puzzles

Thursday, September 6, 2012

American Mozart
Ignore the purposefully hyperbolic and contentious title, probably invented to get the comments going, and you've got some truly intelligent journalism here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Books and Beer #2

Victory Storm King and Etienne Gilson's The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy

Greats Reads II: Charles Williams

Charles Williams, The Forgiveness of Sins (1942)

     Poet, theologian, novelist, dramatist, and critic Charles Williams has been an obsession of mine for some time. Although obscure to the point of being unknown even to fellow English grad students and professors, Williams can boast of an impressive catalogue of his admirers: C. S. Lewis, who became his closest friend after writing a fan-letter for his novel The Place of the Lion; T. S. Eliot, who wrote the preface to his All Hallows’ Eve; W. H. Auden, whose conversion he inspired; Dorothy Sayers, who, after hearing him lecture on Dante, learned Italian to produce what for many years would be one of the standard translations of the Divina Commedia. The list might mention his acquaintance with W. B. Yeats through the esoteric Fellowship of the Golden Dawn; J. R. R. Tolkien and other members of the Inklings, Lewis’s famed Oxford literary circle; or perhaps the bizarre, cultish following of young women he attracted.
     Williams certainly shared common interests with each of these prominent figures—be it Christian mysticism, esotericism, or medieval and modernist literature. Yet, as his critics never cease to stress, he was an anomaly. His theological ideas often ventured to the outer edges of orthodoxy, at times beyond them. His criticism endued poetry with spiritual significance, while his theology devoted entire chapters to Dante and Shakespeare.
     The Forgiveness of Sins, is a slender work of theology that totals to 123 pages. Despite its brevity, Forgiveness well encapsulates the unique way Williams went about "doing theology." As always, he is sincere, personal, idiosyncratic, diffident.. This is not the glaring conviction of a C. S. Lewis or a G. K. Chesterton, but the amateur yet learned, at times abstruse speculation a man whose repeated admissions of his lack of ability are not the platitudes of a humility topos, but the palpable qualms of someone who sincerely feels himself to be in far over his head.
    Williams and I share several favorites, many of which figure prominently in this terse study. The book opens with a chapter entitled "Forgiveness in Shakespeare," while another chapter juxtaposes the prophetic books of William Blake and "Lady" Julian of Norwich, the latter virtually unknown at the time,* and yet another poses the question of forgiving the Nazis (whose victory seemed not unlikely in England at the time).

This is not Williams's masterpiece. That, depending on whom you ask, is either Descent into Hell, his finest novel; The Figure of Beatrice, a seriously overlooked work of Dante scholarship; or his Arthurian poetry, which even Eliot admitted was damn difficult. The Forgiveness of Sins is, however a great help to anyone interested in the operation and practice of this concept that may be called the central tenet of Christianity.

*Julian of Norwich did not emerge from obscurity until Eliot’s famous borrowing of “sin is behovely but all shall be well” in order to conclude The Four Quartets. It is quite likely that Eliot’s knowledge of Julian arrived to him from Williams. If you’re interested in this, check out Barbara Newman’s “Eliot’s Affirmative Way” (Modern Philology 2011; 108(3): 427-461).

  1. Love, we have been told, is slow to anger; it is, as a result, slow to forgive, for it will not be in a hurry to assume that there is anything to forgive; and if there is, it will not be in a hurry to make a business of forgiving.

  2. Guilt is in all; it is the guilty who forgives. Entreated to forgive, by another as guilty, it is his whole duty to restore reconciliation by any and every means, for ever and ever, without condition.

  3. To forgive is indeed compassion, the suffering with another. To refuse to forgive is to refuse that other as himself or herself; it is to prefer a spectre of him, and to prefer a spectre is to be forever lost.
  4. If it is forbidden to us to demand as a condition of our forgiveness any promise that the offence shall not be much more is it forbidden us to make any other claims, to expect an extra kindness, to ask for an extra indulgence. And how all but impossible to easy to claim consideration in return; or if not to claim, at least to expect; or if not to expect, at least to feel we have a right to-- somewhere, somehow, some right! Alas, none but what our injurer, of free choice, gives us.
  5. We must forgive the evils we suffer because of the dreadful co-inherence of all mankind, even if we do not know who inflicts them; and we must be prepared to be forgiven when we discover, knowing wholly and wholly known, the results of our own sin.