Monday, March 24, 2008

Atonement and incarnation

Warning: this post contains spoilers about the movie Atonement.

Fr. Edward Oakes presents an analysis of the recent Academy Award winning movie, asking the question “What sort of atonement is available for the atheist?” The gist of the novel is that the character Briony accuses another character of rape on flimsy evidence, ruins his life, and then spends the rest of her life attempting to atone. She becomes a writer and writes a novel about her evil deed, giving those whose lives she destroyed a happy ending in order to make up for or atone for her misdeed. Oakes says:

What struck me in reading this intricate work of metafiction was the implicit motor of the plot: Briony knew the devastation she wreaked and knew equally she had to atone for it. Lies that consequential demand atonement, as the title of the novel already tells us. But Briony lives in an a-religious world (religion never comes up in the novel, even as a topic of conversation), and so her only way to expiate her lie is by living a life of yet more lying.

The atheist has no recourse in attempting to make justice in an unjust world except by lying, by creating a fiction where happy endings can happen. It is an interesting point, but I think there is a different way to read it: The device of the author within the book, who writes herself into the book, is a sort of mini-incarnation. Briony, who reveals at the end of the book and movie that she has falsified the ending to make up for her misdeeds, has put herself into the fictional reality she has created. She has entered into her own creation to make things right for her characters. This, to me, suggests the Incarnation. Briony so loved her sister and her love that she enters into her own novel. In her case, it is ultimately a lie. She can’t change what has happened, but only her representation of what happened. The Incarnation is the same sort of story, except that God can in fact reshape reality, making all things new.

Or so it seemed to me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I know it is my own fault

that nobody reads this any more. Somewhere along the line I lost the will to blog. Maybe I should say something controversial to see if anyone is out there. Here goes:

You can't be a good Catholic and a good American. By this I mean that the secular culture and the ways of thought that are required to be a good citizen are quite contrary to those required of a good Christian.

Anyone out there want to pick a fight with me on this?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Originally uploaded by byzkarl

That he may bring forth bread from the earth

… and wine, to cheer man’s heart;
oil, to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

I baked this bread today. This seems a very common thing, but I wonder if you have ever stopped to wonder about how the strangest and most unusual things make man happy. Bread comes from grass seeds, ground, moistened, rising from the cooperation of yeast, and then baked. Who would have ever thought such a thing could be one of the glories of the world? It is no wonder that Christ chose bread and wine to become his Body and Blood—they are already sacramental.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Nerdus sum

I make fun of a friend of mine for his geek chic (making jokes about tertiary characters in Tolkien, quoting G’Kar, or wearing shirts that say “There’s no place like”), but the fact is that I always get his jokes. So, what does that make me? After all, I am writing this post on Vim, using Markdown to code the HTML, and using MultiMarkdown to transform my Markdown docs into RTF, LaTeX, or HTML.

I think my pot is pretty black.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Sin of the Age

An interesting thought, well expressed, in John Erickson’s The Challenge of Our Past: Studies in Orthodox Canon Law and Church History:

Apostasy? Fornication? Is not the besetting sin of our time rather that miserable schizophrenia according to which the Church occupies one compartment of our lives, while all our values and expectations are formed by the increasingly non-Christian world?

Yes, apostasy and fornication still occur, but we are generally too busy with the cares of the world even to notice that we are apostates and fornicators. By that I mean that we have put the things of God into such a box that it doesn’t enter our consciousness that God could make any demands on us, at least not in our real life, the life from Sunday to Sunday. One can preach against more concrete sins all day long, but until the audience realizes that there can be such a thing as sin, that preaching will be worthless.

There may be a God, the modern person says, but what does He have to do with me?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Bad news everywhere.

I know it's the normal state of the world, but it seems like war is breaking out everywhere. No news but bad news.

Anyone got any good news? I'll start. My kids pretended to be puppies for a few hours today, crawling around and barking. It was very enjoyable to watch them.

Lord have mercy.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Why you should read Gene Wolfe:

You should read Gene Wolfe because he does things to you. He plays tricks with you soul. Neat tricks.

I am currently reading the Soldier in the Mist series. In it, the soldier called “Latro” has suffered a head wound, losing his memory daily. His experience is thus compressed to day-sized chunks, and his memory is stored on scrolls that he writes at the end of each day. He takes part in the Persian War around 480 B.C.

So much for the plot.

What makes the book so interesting to me is the use of creative dislocation. This is a term I’ve just coined to refer to the way Wolfe makes the everyday, in this case the everyday of pre-classical Greece, mysterious. Latro is a foreigner with some knowledge of languages, and so hears Greek words not as names, fossilized in their meanings, but as descriptions. Thus Athens becomes Thought, the Spartans are the Rope Makers, the country of the Spartans is called The Silent Land., and so forth. Familiar geography that became crusted over in high school history text books becomes strange and unrecognizable, and therefore fantastic. Characters that one becomes accustomed to are forever new to Latro, and though he may have an inkling of who they are, he needs to meet them again every day. Loves are continually rediscovered.

Also, Latro can see the gods.

He sees the gods when no-one else can. This is because of his forgetfulness, or so the gods tell us in the story. I think it isn’t so much because of the forgetfulness, but because of the state of perpetual newness into which Latro is thrust. The whole world is full of gods, as Thales said, but most of us don’t notice because we are so used to it. Or, to put it in Aristotelian terms, all love of wisdom begins in wonder. Most of us don’t love wisdom because the world holds no wonder.

It’s good stuff. Not an easy read, but well worth the effort.