Sunday, May 31, 2009

Otepoti's POV Books I and II

Tena koutou (hello all).

An interesting sidelight to the Aeneid publishing history is that Virgil asked for it to be destroyed after his death. Good thing it wasn't, then, but it's intriguing that he either thought so little of it or somehow felt it might damage his lasting reputation. Perhpas he was a little ashamed of commercialization?

Like you, Elizabeth, I was struck by the lines where Aeneas implores his mother the goddess to show herself clearly. Book I 407ff:

"Must you too be cruel? Must you make game of your son
With shapes of sheer illusion? Oh, why may we not join
Hand to hand, or ever converse straightforwardly?"

When we take this line in conjunction with Paul's speech to the Athenians - "Men of Athens, I perceive that you are very religious," etc. referring to the altar of the Unknown God, we can see how blessed we are to know to whom we pray because in His mercy, He revealed Himself.

The other aspect of Bks I and II that has intrigued me is the framing. Not just the opening, "I sing of arms and the man", etc, but the whole Fall of Troy narrated as a flashback by Aeneas to the court of Dido. I wonder if this device had ever been used before? (Has anyone read the Odyssey recently?)

Then again, there's Aeneas' emtional reaction to seeing the fall of his friends depicted on the temple wall. I was trying to think of a modern analogy, and I think it might be like a 9/11 survivor seeing footage replayed over and over on the television stations of a not particularly friendly foreign power.

With the Dido narrative, we could be aware of contemporary Roman attitudes to Carthage - "Carthago delenda est," etc, in the way this foreign power appears in the story.

Lastly, I don't think we should worry about ripping through this in a hurry. Although written in literate times, I suspect it was primarily intended to be read aloud to a group. So in hurrying through, we're not doing any violence to the original intention. I think! Comments? Questions?



Saturday, May 30, 2009

The far...Books I and II.

My reading is definitely slower going than I thought it would be. In fact, not since I was taking ambien in my late pregnancy has anything had such a soporific effect on me--not because it's boring, but because it's hard. I read a page or two, and think, wait a minute, "I think someone's life just came and went in those two lines back there."

So I was having a little trouble putting this into context at first. Is it to be read as a history, as myth, as politics, or as poetry? I finally decided I needed some help, and looked it up in my Reader's Encyclopedia, which says it was commissioned by Octavius Caesar in order to justify the lineage of the Roman people back to Iulus (Aeneas's son), and glorify their Trojan heritage. Not to undervalue the poetic aspect of the writing, while a lot of it reads like, "and then I did this, then this, then this," there were a few lines here and there that rang out as beautifully significant to me.

So Book I finds Aeneas fleeing Troy with a group of followers. With the help of his mother, Venus, he finds his way to Carthage where Queen Dido welcomes him and falls in love with him. We find out in Book II all that came before his arriving in Carthage, how they fall prey to the Trojan horse and Troy burns, how he carries his father and his young son out of the burning city, and how his wife mysteriously died as they were fleeing. I found it useful to read the Wiki article on The Aeneid to make sure I was following the plot. Because I think what's most challenging in the reading is the jumping back and forth between the mortal dramas and the divine dramas.

There are almost two plots going at once. The plot of the gods has Juno upset that Aeneas will eventually overthrow her cherished minions, and Venus appealing to Jupiter to make Juno leave off her dear son. I loved the familial drama of the gods: a mother's love for her son, a father's (Jupiter) love for his daughter (Venus). When Jupiter calms his daughter he lets her know that Aeneas will be fine, "Unfolding secret fated things to come--" (ll. 260). I couldn't help comparing: "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed-- ... "

Aeneas does seem to pre-figure Christ somehow, to at least be a manifestation of the longing for a Messiah, a child of the gods, intent on his mission, a man apart, who will save the good lineage, and set the foundation for a victorious people. All that said, Aeneas is a little flat. He shows familial loyalty to his father and family, and he is dedicated to carrying on his race, which I suppose is necessary for the poem to do what it was commissioned to do. But as a hero, I'm not really feeling the love for Aeneas.

The one I love is Juno with her "eternal inward wound," her frustration of having to deal with these people over and over again, ("Give up what I began? Am I defeated?" ll. 36-37), and her feeling unappreciated, ("Who adores the power of Juno after this or lays an offering with prayer upon her altar?" --ll. 49-51). Hits a little too close to home.

So actually, this is mostly book I for tonight, but I've got to go to bed. So what do you think? Of course, for me to enjoy reading this book, I have to put it into the context of Christianity and motherhood. I find it encouraging, at least, that humanity has felt these emotions since the beginning of time.

Also of note: Aeneas's frustration with his mother for appearing to him under a disguise, making sense of the actions of a hidden god.

Monday, May 25, 2009

How Far Are We?

I'll be away this week in New York City to collect my degree, so I'll be behind the rest of us a little.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

More on Catholic Fiction -- well, theistic fiction . . .

Anyway. I was reading Peter Kreeft when I woke up this morning, because I checked this book out of the church library, and I have to read it and give it back. At least, I have to give it back, and it seems stupid not to read it while I'm at it.

So as I was reading the Catholic-fiction criteria here just now, this observation of Kreeft's came to mind (though I had to think a while before I remembered where it came from, despite having read it only an hour ago):

Atheism cheapens the world, cheapens life. To see this, just compare atheist fiction with theistic fiction. Belief in God does not squash man; it raises man to a divine image. Heroism grows only in the sunlight of a divine sun. Squash the ceilings down low, and we stoop. In classical Greek drama, in Shakespeare, man is great because he breathes the air of the absolute. In Faulkner, Gide, Sartre, Camus, Beckett, and nine out of ten lesser twentieth-century writers, man is "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" because he is a cosmic orphan. His universe is man-sized, not God-sized . . . Life in that world is a meaningless flicker of a candle for a few between the cold and barren darkness of two eternal nights. (from Making Sense Out of Suffering

I wonder about Faulkner -- I'm not sure all his work fits this framework which Kreeft proposes. That is, I'm not sure it's all as atheistic in its outlook as The Sound and the Fury. Then again, I'm not sure it's not. But generally I think Kreeft is right, and one dividing line is that between the novel of the hero and the novel of the anti-heroic ant-on-the-surface-of-the-naked -globe-which-is-all-there-is kind of protagonist.

A novel which keeps swimming to the surface of my mind is Willa Cather's O Pioneers. But I think I need more coffee, and more time, before I talk about it. We're supposedly going to a historical re-enactment day at Kings Mountain down the road, but nobody seems to be making gestures in that direction right now . . .

Friday, May 22, 2009

I'm Kate.

Hello all.
I'm Kate. Mother of two little rascals (one and three). There seems to be a Texas connection as well as the Catholic. So my claim to that thread is that I married a Texan after I met and fell for him at UD. We actually left the state for a couple of years, only to be called back about two years ago. I am very much at home here. Interestingly enough, my entire family (less one brother and his wife and girls) have immigrated to Texas from our original roots in the midwest. I think most of my siblings stayed after their time at UD (Does anyone know the Stirtons??)
Anyway, my life has been filled with typical at-home stuff. I'm attempting the beginnings of home-schooling by formally teaching my son to read. My social outlets are sometimes more bountiful than I desire them to be (which is ironic, b/c I was completely isolated in those few years out of state and praying for good friends). I'm always looking for ways to be productive and in particular, prevent getting stupid for lack of brain usage. So thank you for this lovely group.
Oh- just a disclaimer: My husband just took a job in which he will be working out of an office at home. I might be a crappy contributor until I get the whole "keep a handle on the children while Daddy tries to work" thing down. I have a feeling that the amount of noise that I've learned to block out may not impress clients on the other end of a phone conversation. I'm also new to blogging. I'll try to keep up.

On Catholic fiction

What a great - limitless? - way to start off the discussion!

To jump in: Like Betty, Heart of the Matter remains indistinct in my memory, as does Greene's Ugly American, even after seeing the Michael Douglas movie, but End of the Affair makes my heart stretch just thinking about it. Because it is a love story and I'm a sucker for romance, even though we tease our mother mercilessly for crying at the drop of a hat? Because Greene was able to describe someone in love with God without dripping pablum? (Arguable? Because the one in love with God is the Other, not the Me voice?) Because Bendrix holds on to his agnosticism, like Waugh's Charles Ryder, despite being insanely jealous of God? Because he's friends with his mistress' husband, maybe the greatest miracle in the book? Love it. (But also haven't read Heart of the Matter recently. Add that to our list!) But compare to the Great Gatsby - the protagonists are profoundly human, stuck in their littleness, Gatsby revealed to be especially pitiful - so a Catholic reader might take away from this story a revelation about disordered love leading to a rejection of grace, or maybe something about how the soul yearns for transcendence through love, but by translating that desire into a yearning for material prosperity instead of for redemption, it leads to death.

So you can spin a Catholic reading of any text (or feminist, or socialist, or deconstructionist, or whatever), but, to add to Otepoti's list, Catholic fiction also will be
  • universal (acknowledging the fundamental dignity of every human being, a part of which is the mimetic desire of the human soul, in which we mirror the Creator by creating imitations of reality - Aristotle, Aquinas, JP II)
  • incarnational (acknowledging the reality and beauty of the material world and God's hand in creating it and in lifting up the human body by taking it on) and therefore also be
  • sacramental: (acknowledging that things and people can be vehicles of grace and/or that there exists an analogy between natural and supernatural (Alan Tate), the extraordinay and the ordinary (George Weigel), the visible and the invisible (Joseph Conrad) “The real novelist, the one with an instinct for what he is about, knows that he cannot approach the infinite directly, that he must penetrate the natural human world as it is. The more sacramental his theology, the more encouragement he will get from it to do just that.” (Flannery O'Connor))
  • a fall/redemption story, even if incomplete (no sinless literature of a sinful humanity - John Henry Newman; man as a wayfarer to God, instead of lost/encultured - Walker Percy)
  • and that redemption occurs through sacrificial love
  • not preachy, but revelatory (a la Flannery O'C again ) (Longinus in “On Sublimity”: “the combination of wonder and astonishment always proves superior to the merely persuasive and pleasant.” ) (Ron Hansen: we wordlessly "ingest" metaphors of the good, the noble; the power of the parable)
(Hmm, the list kept growing. I once wrote a paper on this, so I peeked at my list of quotes, and couldn't pick just one. Know some other good quotes to add? Here's one more, from Chesterton who has a quote for everything: “The fact that novels are narratives about events which happen to people in the course of time is given a unique weight in an ethos that is informed by the belief that awards an absolute importance to an Event which happened to a Person in historic time. In a very real way, one can say that the Incarnation not only brought salvation to mankind but gave birth to the novel. ... Every artist feels he is touching on transcendental truths, and the pursuit of beauty is the way to find it.” )

Not sure if "Protestant" fiction would be substantially different. Is there a conversation somewhere about authors whose work reveals their Protestant upbringing? Is there really a significant dichotomy between Catholic/Protestant fiction written by practicing/believing Christians (as there would be between that written by agnostic/atheist/nominal/fallen away Christians).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Graham Greene

Otepoti, I haven't read The Heart of the Matter. But I wonder if The End of the Affair, which seems to me profoundly Catholic, would count, because I'm not sure it fits into your definition, and it ends with the narrator essentially cursing God. But it's very much about the mystery of God's mercy, I'd say.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Towards a definition of Catholic fiction

MrsDarwin, I'm interested in your definition of Catholic fiction - perhaps we could work towards a group definition of what such a genre should contain, and then what works we think qualify and why.

I'll kick off with:

1. Catholic fiction upholds the dignity of the person.

2. Catholic fiction upholds the reality of the Moral Law.

Hmm, actually I'll stick my neck out and say that those two points comprise a definition, with the dramatic power of the fiction coming from the interaction between the Moral Law and the person.

If memory serves, though I haven't read it for many years, I'd say that Graham Greene's "The Heart of the Matter" most exemplifies this definition of Catholic fiction.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

MrsDarwin takes a bow

I wasn't born in Texas, and I don't know if I got here as soon as I could, but here I am now. Near Austin, to be precise. Texas is too big to just be "from Texas". I don't claim to be Texan, though -- my heart is in Ohio.

I've always been a reader, though I don't know if I can claim to have always been a thinker. During my sophomore year at Orthodox Catholic U, a professor broke up an argument I was having with another Honors student about what we thought each other thought about our current reading selection. "Can either of you back up your position from the text?" he asked. The novel concept of having to confront an author's thought, as opposed to my own washy first impressions of a book, set off electrical connections in my brain that are still sparking today.

Having spent most of my academic career in the theatre, I love the dramatic sweep of fiction: the subtext, the tactics and intentions, the objectives and super-objectives of the characters; the directorial sweep of plot and theme and mood; the interplay of details and universals. And I love "Catholic" fiction, which I feel too tired to define precisely right now. I just know that it doesn't leave me beating the book against my head, whining, "But none of it was true!"

I'm married to the brilliant and perfectly compatible Darwin, and we have four children under 8 (three daughters with vast amounts of energy, and a small boy who is made of cute). We're cradle Catholics trying to raise another generation of "good kids". Having felt we were vastly qualified to parent and homeschool by dint of being oldest siblings and having been homeschooled ourselves, we're only now coming to the realization that just maybe we're in way over our heads, and then some.

And now my brain is shutting down, so I'm gonna leave it at that.

The Early Years

I guess I talk about myself on my blog a lot too, though I never really know how it reads. My sister can tell you if it's an accurate portrayal of the real me.

I live in a small town just a few miles from the small town in which I grew up, but I like what Sally said: those few miles relieve me of a lot of baggage. So I'm the one of my siblings who never really left home, the one living thirty miles down the road from Mom and Dad. I guess I left home for college and a couple years after that, then got married and settled down with my husband somewhere between his parents' and mine. I used to be afraid of spending the night at friends' houses--would always call in the middle of the night for my mom to come pick me up. I'm that much of a homebody. I still don't like to sleep in beds that aren't mine. These details feel sort of ironic because I'm the Marianne to Emily's Elinor.

Actually, I guess I did have a couple whirlwind romances with the wrong guy before my family set me up with my very phlegmatic husband. Now Emily is the one traveling all over the country making friends with interesting people.

When we were little, Emily's friends would come over to play with her, find her reading a book in the blue wingback chair, then come play Barbies with me. I didn't really like reading when I was growing up. In fact I'm not sure I understood any books I read until after college. I just carried books around to act like I was reading them. Crime and Punishment lasted all the way through my sophomore year of high school. I did just re-read it recently, understood it completely, and didn't like it.

What I always wanted to do, actually, is write. But since I didn't read, it didn't go well in the early years. I think it was after my first baby that something clicked in my head and I didn't have to re-read sentences over and over again for things to sink in. And since I had no time for writing, nor did I have anything to say, I put that aside for awhile in order to read. Reading quickly became my guilty pleasure.

Which brings me to now. I'm writing again, which is good, and I'm still reading a lot, but in the past year, since I started blogging, I've been doing so much of it online. I really am beginning to notice a concentration lag. So I'm looking forward to disciplining myself to sit down with real paper books, and to fill in all those gaps in my education from when I wasn't paying attention to what I read. Also, if you guys are game, I might throw some of my writing out for feedback--to find out why it's being rejected.


Since I talk about myself a lot on my blog, I'll just write a brief outline here. I recently moved to Appalachia after having spent most of my life in New York City, a move that was simultaneously soul-sundering and a huge relief. I'm a classical singer, research scholar, and teacher, but, these days, mostly a mom. In an odd way, I feel like my life is just starting now.

I love to read, and usually have a half-dozen books going at a time, few of which I ever finish. This is a bad habit held over from writing my doctoral dissertation. When I take books out of the library, I'm more inclined to finish them, since there's a built-in sense of urgency, but unfortunately my local library doesn't have everything in the whole wide world, as the New York Public Library does -- one of the things I miss the most about New York -- so I order from used book sellers online a lot and then let the books languish in various places around the house.

I don't know many people in my new town yet, and don't know how to drive (I'm taking lessons), so I'm fairly isolated. In a way that I never expected, some of the most congenial, gemütlich, and copasetic people I've ever known - mothers, intellectuals, and women of faith all at the same time - I've met through my blog. So I'm delighted to be reading among friends and fellow believers.

About to change my display name

I thought of using "Laboure" (my patron saint) as my handle - but I'm opting instead for the street on which she lived.

I've pretty much summed up myself already - I'm young and as a result my bio is neither extensive nor interesting. But I'll elaborate where I can. After college, we moved Way Up North while my husband went to law school, then back south after he finished. I've always lived down here (except for a European semester in college), so I constantly missed the sun and sky while we were away. And if my gratitude at having them back did not bake away in the Texas summer last year, I don't expect it to do so this year either.

I did a year of law school, too, but I like regulation and order too much to appreciate the legal education/profession, the point of which is to manipulate regulation and order. (This was a huge epiphany to me during our first semester in school. But most people to whom I've explained it since seem to find it obvious, so probably I should have known from the beginning that it wouldn't be the best grad school endeavor.)

So I quit school and started my current job of child-having and -rearing. Which, ironically, is even further from order/regulation... but still I'm (usually) happy with my chaotic life with my boys. I still miss school, though, and I'm hopeful that this group will be a fulfilling source of structured study. I enjoy always having 'something' that I'm working on, and so I'm also looking forward to RFB as an ongoing project that doesn't involve anything spread out across the living room -nothing but me with my book, anyway- which I think my husband will appreciate as well.

My son is hungrily whining in my face requesting a snack. This most likely will need to be an evening project for me.

Betty's Sister

This is going to be fun!

Since my name is on the list as Emily, I guess I'll forego the pseudonym and stick with that. I'm older than Betty by a small margin and so got the top bunk growing up. Now I'm happy to cede to her, as I can't make decisions anymore. I daily referee arguments about who's touching whom and whose stuff and try to teach math facts in between the arguments presented by the offending/offended parties. Perhaps the last big decision I made was four years ago when I decided to home school after feeling like I was spending too much time arguing with my children about doing their homework. Now I'm thinking about giving up home schooling next year because I spend too much time arguing with my children about doing their homework. But I still like reading kids' books and don't like the idea of paying tuition, so I'm foregoing decision making for the moment. Somehow in the last four years, my oldest reached adolescence and my youngest, added to the mix halfway through, also reached pre-adolescence and fights with me about jeans, sunglasses, and nailpolish. In between those 2 are 4 others, the gender breakdown being 4 boys and 2 girls. My second to youngest may be Evel Kneival reincarnated. Like Sally, we also have a menagerie, but not so exotic as hers: a dog, 2 guinea pigs, a rabbit and a hermit crab, who shed 2 days ago and hasn't moved since. We killed off a few other species before settling in with these.

Currently we live in the southeast in a large military town (do I need to be secretive?) and we are moving in a month to the deep south to a small military town, even if we can't sell our house. My heart lies in the midwest, although one of the blessings of moving around has been making wonderful friends each place we've lived. I still have fondness for my alma mater back in the heartland, where I grew to love my faith and my husband, even though it has been under attack lately for betraying its heritage.

What else? I'm excited about this online reading group because I'll be leaving behind 2 book clubs here, one big C Catholic, one little c. I need a little discipline to return to good/great books, instead of reading just fine books. And I'm happy to have already learned something - where the name Otepoti orginates!

Monday, May 18, 2009

My Dog Wants Me to Go To Bed

Well, he's tired. And he hates going anywhere without me. Whine, whine. Significant yawn. Whine.

In addition to the dog, I have a lovely husband, four lovely children still living and schooling under my roof for some years to come, a rabbit, a fish, a plastic file box full of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and a kind next-door neighbor who teaches kindergarten and has amassed a motley collection of former class pets, including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which are the gift that keeps on giving.

I live in a small Southern town which I did not grow up in and am therefore at liberty to love without a lot of baggage. It's pretty here, and quiet, and we're happy.

I've had the distinction of being married to a Methodist minister, an Anglican priest, and a Roman Catholic lay theologian; interestingly enough, they're all the same person.

I'm looking forward to reading and book talk -- after a lifetime of bookwormdom, I'm finding these days that I really need somebody to make me sit down and finish a book that maybe isn't Pride and Prejudice for the bazillionth time. Although I'd be perfectly happy to read Pride and Prejudice again, too.

God bless you all,


Otepoti is where I live

I've never lived anywhere else. I'm forty-eight now, so barring fire, flood or earthquake, I expect I'll finish my days here, in a university town in the South Island of New Zealand.

You won't find "Otepoti" on the map, though, not unless you luck on a Maori language resource. You'll find it as "Dunedin". (I once tried to join the Dunedin Gardening Club. But I couldn't. It was in Florida. I live in the other Dunedin.)

I'm married and have six children, three grown and gone, and I've resigned myself to waving the other three goodbye when they grow up, too - nobody gets work in Dunedin anymore. I'm a grandmother twice over, and I can't believe how quickly that happened - nine months was a lot longer when I was young. I'm accelerating towards old age, and it's not God's waiting room I'm heading for, but God's photo finish.

I'm looking forward to this reading group very much.

Nga mihi ki a koutou katoa, i te ingoa o tou tatou Ariki, ko Ihu Karaiti.

Greetings to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome To Our Project

If you would like to leave a little bio as your first post in order to help us know each other better, I think it would be fun.