23 June 2010

Friendship

This from Martin Kochanski, Webmaster at the great Universalis site:

Friendship: the love that dare not speak its name

Once upon a time, there was friendship. Once upon a time, society accepted that the love of friends could be the single most important thing in a person’s life, and they did more than just accept, they celebrated the fact. Throughout history, discourses and sermons have been written in praise of friendship. When Alfred Tennyson’s friend Arthur Hugh Hallam died tragically young in 1833, he spent the next seventeen years writing the great poem “In Memoriam” as a memorial to his friend; and Hallam is a first name used among the Tennyson family to this day. Looking further back, we can see Damon and Pythias, Pylades and Orestes, David and Jonathan...
Perhaps the change was the fault of Freud and Oscar Wilde; and then again, perhaps not. But today no love is accepted as valid that is not in some way sexual, and even if we set out to reject the sex-obsessed outlook of today’s society, we think in those terms despite ourselves. When St Aelred writes of “this most loving youth”, we all say to ourselves “oh yes” in a knowing way, sure that we have guessed the smutty truth.
What a waste! What a wicked denial and perversion of love! God has made friendship – did not Christ have his own beloved disciple? – and how dare we corrupt it and deny it! Of course, we must not despise sex: sex is holy, divinely ordained as a way of love and procreation – but it is not the only love. Friendship is not “mere” friendship, not a second-best; still less is it a repressed substitute for erotic love. It is a love in its own right, powerful, holy, overwhelming. A world with Eros but without friendship is a world full of isolated, self-obsessed couples, of love unshared – a sad thing indeed. And we are heading that way.
The denial of friendship is an evil thing and evil in its effects. When my pulse beats faster at the sight of my friend, when his presence feels like a bolt of electricity – is this really sex in disguise? Am I to run away – which would be a tragedy – in order to preserve my chastity, or am I to try to overcome my revulsion and make a pass – which would be worse? Modern society seems to give us nothing but this harsh choice between a cold heart and a hot body. Who knows how many of the impressionable young are led into ultimately unendurable vices precisely because they cannot face what seems the only available alternative? And when, as is inevitable, they have destroyed friendship by turning it into something it is not, what choice do we give them but to repeat the error, each time more desperately? As if one could see the stars by diving ever deeper into the mud!
Let us accept friendship. Let us accept it as a true and passionate gift of God. Let us accept it in others without reading anything else into it – “repressed” or not. Let us rejoice if it is given to us, be glad if it is given to others. Jonathan loved David not because of what he could get out of him, but because he was David: let us celebrate this motiveless love of the Other, an echo of the pure love of Heaven. We ought to love everyone like that: but one should at least start somewhere.
And if, like Aelred, we have made the mistake of seeking a physical consummation of a love that does not require it, then let us, like St Aelred, not recoil from that love but go forward, transcend that error, until the love becomes a redeemed and radiant thing that others will see and rejoice, giving thanks to God.

21 June 2010

Major Freedom in Richard Wilbur's, "Beasts."

The first line of Wilbur's poem, Beasts, reads "Beasts in their major freedom/ Slumber in peace tonight." In an out of print book called TALKS WITH AUTHORS from the early sixties, Wilbur says "I mean various things by that word 'major' but the expression, 'major freedom,' comes from one of the church fathers -- I forget which one. He distinguishes between major freedom and minor freedom and says that the saints enjoy major freedom because their wills are at one with God's will. They don't have to choose anymore. In this poem of mine I attribute that kind of freedom to the animal creation."

I've not been able to find yet which church father says that.

The place of experience in writing

From Tobias Wolff's, IN PHARAOH'S ARMY: "I described myself as a writer to anyone who would listen since I was sixteen. . . The problem was, I began to see stories even where I shouldn't. . . I turned into a predator, and one of the things I became predatory about was experience. I fetishized it, collected it, kept strict inventory. It seem to me the radical source of authority in the writers whose company I wanted to join, in spite of their own coy deference to the ugly stepsisters honesty, knowledge, human sympathy, historical consciousness, and, ugliest of all, hard work."

p44

On Ambition: From THE IMPERFECTIONISTS

In young Tom Rachman's first book, a character who's death is imminent speaks on the place of ambition (and some other things) in her life:

"I say ambition is absurd, and yet I remain in its thrall. It's like being a slave all your life, then learning one day that you never had a master, and returning to work all the same. Can you imagine a force in the universe greater than this? Not in my universe. You know, even from earliest childhood it dominated me. I longed for achievements, to be influential -- that, in particular. To sway people. This has been my religion: the belief that I deserve attention, that they are wrong not to listen, that those who dispute me are fools. Yet, no matter what I achieve, the world lives on, impertinent, indifferent -- I know all this, but I can't get it through my head. . . Here is a fact: nothing in all civilization has been as productive as ludicrous ambition. Whatever its ills, nothing has created more. Cathedrals, sonatas, encyclopedias: love of God was not behind them, nor love of life. But the love of man to be worshiped by man."

And this: "We enjoy this illusion of continuity, and we call it memory. Which explains, perhaps why our worst fear isn't the end of life, but the end of memories."

pp37,38

09 June 2010

Get Happy, Richard Wilbur and the poetry of profusion by Adam Kirsch

Kirsch's review of Wilbur in the New Yorker is spectacular. Here's the LINK

01 June 2010

Continuing the Catholic attitude towards other cultures

Justin treats the Greek philosophy that he studied as mostly true, but incomplete. In contrast to the Hebrew tendency to view God as making revelations to them and to no-one else, he follows the parable of the Sower, and sees God as sowing the seed of wisdom throughout the world, to grow wherever the soil would receive it. When we dispute with people who disagree with us, we would do well to assume that they too are seeking wisdom and have found truth of a kind. Since there is only one God and one Truth, it is our task not to contradict or belittle their achievement, but to show them how their strivings and searches are ultimately fulfilled in Christ. This is harder to do – not least, because we have to take the trouble to understand our own faith thoroughly – but it is ultimately more worthwhile.