Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Friday, November 23, 2012

On the Bravery of the Late Modern Intellectual

Post-modern equivalent of
shocking one's parents
The self-described ex-Catholic Irish poet, Colm Tóibín, has written a novella in the familiar manner of a memoir within the novella, although apparently making the daring choice of not using the present tense.  This is said to be a "deft strategic move."  The literati are awash in awe at his daring, edgy, unsentimental choices, since there is in their view no more swampy mire than sentiment.  In a world in which we are enjoined to "question everything" except the unexamined assumptions of the literati, this is said to be a paragon of its kind.

An admiring review in the New York Times notes that "none of the negatives that have made Christianity a byword for tyranny, cruelty and licensed hatred have attached to [Mary]."  More of a byword than communism?  That bywords are no more reliable than anyother slogan or "meme" seems not to occur to the reviewer.  She writes that "In my youth, stores sold items called 'Mary-like gowns,' which meant you could go to your senior prom looking as undesirable as possible in the name of the Virgin."  She regards this as a negative.  Apparently, the objective is to go to your senior prom looking as desirable as possible in the name of horny boys.  To be a sex object, as it were.  Here comes Honey Boo-boo. 



The problem with all this is that it has led to centuries of sentimentality — blue and white Madonnas with folded hands and upturned eyes, a stick with which to beat independent women.

Read more: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/brent-bozell/2012/11/17/bozell-column-malicious-mangling-virgin-mary#ixzz2D4f0nwA2
“The problem with all this is that it has led to centuries of sentimentality — blue and white Madonnas with folded hands and upturned eyes, a stick with which to beat independent women.”

Read more: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/brent-bozell/2012/11/17/bozell-column-malicious-mangling-virgin-mary#ixzz2D4eD0Mxi
“The problem with all this is that it has led to centuries of sentimentality — blue and white Madonnas with folded hands and upturned eyes, a stick with which to beat independent women.”

Read more: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/brent-bozell/2012/11/17/bozell-column-malicious-mangling-virgin-mary#ixzz2D4eD0Mxi
cf. for independent women
This is confirmed by the reviewer's belief, contrary to the historical evidence, that centuries of Marian sentimentality — "blue and white Madonnas with folded hands and upturned eyes" — were "a stick with which to beat independent women."  Independent women are apparently those who fall in line behind the reviewer's sentiments.  One wonders how Blanche of Castile or Margaret of Tuscany would have reacted to such sentiments.  Or for that matter, my mother.

The reviewer's praise for the potrayal of the Evangelists "as menacing intruders, with the lurking shadowy presence of Stalin’s secret police" shows an appalling ignorance of the nature of Stalin's secret police -- and of the hostility shown by the Church that Celebrates Mary toward the entire Stalinist enterprise.

A second review, in the Washington Post, tells us: “If you’d enjoy a tale predicated on the idea that Christian faith is a toxic collection of ‘foolish anecdotes’ based on a ‘fierce catastrophe,’ Merry Christmas!”  It is some odd coincidence that this sort of thing is always marketed at such times of the year.  But the Post is somewhat more sane than the Times, and its reviewer also notes that Tóibín's Mary
"rarely sounds like a poor 1st-century woman in the Roman Empire. She speaks in the lovely, super-literary phrases of a feminist who confidently rejects faith in Yahweh (or her son) in favor of a very hip paganism that the modern literati can sanction."  

In other words, it's less a matter of questioning beliefs than of affirming them.  The beliefs of others are for questioning; one's own beliefs are not. 
Washington Post book reviewer Ron Charles was less laudatory: “If you’d enjoy a tale predicated on the idea that Christian faith is a toxic collection of ‘foolish anecdotes’ based on a ‘fierce catastrophe,’ Merry Christmas!”
Charles found it refreshing this garbage bag of words “hasn’t sparked outrage or boycotts — a reassuring testament to the West’s tolerance for such artistic license and Toibin’s prominence. Some of us are a lot calmer nowadays about creative re-imaginings of sacred figures.”
He somehow left Catholics out of the picture as he expressed relief that “Evangelicals in this country may finally have caught on to the fact that fiery condemnation plays right into the marketing plans of books that would otherwise ascend into oblivion.” He notes Toibin’s tome has been “widely praised in England, but Toibin is a larger presence there, and churchgoing isn’t.”


Read more: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/brent-bozell/2012/11/17/bozell-column-malicious-mangling-virgin-mary#ixzz2D4izzajx

Pieta at Our Lady of Mercy, Easton PA
Sentimental terrain rejected by Mr. Tóibín.

Wearing blue-and-white dress so as to not hook up at prom
When a Danish newspaper published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad as a freedom-of-speech test in 2005, the Times would not show them, "a reasonable choice for news organizations that usually refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols."


However, it is only gratuitous assaults on non-Christian religious symbols that are to be refrained from.  The Post reviewer was relieved that the book "hasn’t sparked outrage or boycotts — a reassuring testament to the West’s tolerance for such ... creative re-imaginings of sacred figures," and added that "Evangelicals in this country may finally have caught on to the fact that fiery condemnation plays right into the marketing plans of books that would otherwise ascend into oblivion."  Apparently he labors under the belief that Evangelicals are a hotbed of Marian devotion. 

But what it boils down to is the knowledge that, by and large, Christians don't riot, burn down embassies, and so on.  As Rufinus of Aquileia once wrote, "Our side [Christians], though superior by far in numbers, was less fierce because of the self-restraint of our religion."  This does not preclude hotheads, but it is still much safer to trash Christians than muslims.  

The irony here is that the muslims cherish Mary, possibly more so than Evangelicals.    




7 comments:

  1. The thing is that after 200 years of bad imitations of Voltaire (who never said, "I disagree with your views, etc.", but certainly did say "Crush the infamous thing!", meaning the Catholic Church), there is not much space left for inventive blasphemy. Toibin must be congratulated for finding one new wrinkle on the depressing, white-whiskered habit, even as people such as Hillary Mantel give up on it altogether and start bad-mouthing Saints and heroes instead. (Cf. her revolting novel "Wolf Hall", which makes a villain out of St.Thomas More, and a hero out of the obscene Thomas Cromwell. It was left to our age to deny the view that even hard-line protestants and secularists had taken as obvious.)

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  2. In Michael Flynn's current article in Analog (Great Ptolemaic Smackdown) he talks about how in time history becomes myth but the really fun part is that he applies this to Galileo, not Mary, or Beowulf. Somehow I thought my science heroes had been more immune. Galileo I hardly knew you!

    Read the article and you can't help but apply it's lessons to similar debates going on realtime, climate change comes to mind: myths are being created over people and events even as we watch.

    The beauty of science is that eventually we'll end up with the truth, but how we got there...well, that will likely be a myth.

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  3. Well, he doesn't say much about Mary or Beowulf because there aren't many contemporary accounts of them (a few mentions in 4 accounts for the former, none of the latter); Galileo, now, that's another matter. And, when the mythology is presented as the Truly True History of SCIENCE!! and is found wanting, what do you think should be done?

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  4. If he was a good writer itself. He must have a wonderful agent.
    http://ombhurbhuva.blogspot.ie/2011/12/priest-in-family-by-colm-toibin.html

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  5. Had a gander at the blurbs at Amazon. Most popular word applied to Toibin's morbid fantasy was "provocative," that being the sine qua non of artistic achievement. As in Thou Shalt Provoke Tradition.

    This doesn't apply to progressive pieties, of course. Those who provoke worshippers "diversity" or "social justice" will quickly learn the meaning of sacred.

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  6. Well, except that one rather widespread Muslim tradition holds that Mary is a hermaphrodite who impregnated herself, because obviously no mere woman can remain ever-virgin, or be an admirable person. It was her manliness that makes her admirable.

    It just doesn't end. The badness really doesn't end.

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    Replies
    1. ...If I didn't know you,I'd figure that was some kind of lame joke.

      Oy, vey.

      Delete