Thursday, July 09, 2015
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Friday, June 19, 2015
What The World Needs More Of
"People are hurting in Charleston. But for the hundreds who packed into the gymnasium at the Goose Creek High School, it was also a reminder of the importance of love.
Sharonda Singleton coached the girls' athletics team here. As her photo rested on an easel on the polished floors in the vast sports hall, her friends and family paid tribute. Speaking for the first time since the deadly attack on the AME church where she worshipped, Sharonda's two children, Chris and Camryn, told me they forgive the man who killed her.
"We already forgive him and there's nothing but love from our side of the family," Chris told me.
Many will find this incomprehensible. Charleston is often called the Holy City for the number of churches it is home to, and the role religion plays here. For some, like Chris and Camryn, unwavering faith is the only way to turn such a devastating loss into something positive."
This immediately brought to mind the sayings of Fr Zosima in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, which not to many years ago were the source of a kind of epiphany for me that in a sense reoriented by own thinking:
"Strive to love your neighbor actively and indefatigably. In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul. If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbor, then you will believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul. This has been tried. This is certain.
Above all, avoid falsehood, every kind of falsehood, especially falseness to yourself. Watch over your own deceitfulness and look into it every hour, every minute. Avoid being scornful, both to others and to yourself. What seems to you bad within you will grow purer from the very fact of your observing it in yourself. Avoid fear, too, though fear is only the consequence of every sort of falsehood. Never be frightened at your own faint-heartedness in attaining love. Don't be frightened overmuch even at your evil actions. I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you, for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is labor and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps, a complete science. But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it—at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you."
"“Remember particularly that you cannot be a judge of anyone. For no one can judge a criminal until he recognizes that he is just such a criminal as the man standing before him, and that he perhaps is more than all men to blame for that crime. When he understands that, he will be able to be a judge. Though that sounds absurd, it is true. If I had been righteous myself, perhaps there would have been no criminal standing before me. If you can take upon yourself the crime of the criminal your heart is judging, take it at once, suffer for him yourself, and let him go without reproach. And even if the law itself makes you his judge, act in the same spirit so far as possible, for he will go away and condemn himself more bitterly than you have done. If, after your kiss, he goes away untouched, mocking at you, do not let that be a stumbling-block to you. It shows his time has not yet come, but it will come in due course. And if it come not, no matter; if not he, then another in his place will understand and suffer, and judge and condemn himself, and the truth will be fulfilled. Believe that, believe it without doubt; for in that lies all the hope and faith of the saints.”
This time, Chris and Camryn have moved me beyond words by living this reality.
Addendum/edit: more of this humbling love on display
Sunday, September 21, 2014
3 film non-meme
1) Jia Zhangke's A Touch of Sin.
Reason: this is a powerful, powerful film that explores the effects of radical individualism, and economic inequality and of the overturning of normal, local, rooted communities. Banned by the Chinese government, it is as much a critique of the values of neoliberalism globally as it is of the current Chinese economic experiment.
2) Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful.
Reason: a moving exploration of responsibility and ethics in the face of poverty, hopelessness and impending death. What do we make of the human spirit and our obligations to each other - and our obligations in the face of The Other? Javier Bardem was birthed for this role - fantastic acting.
3) Pavel Lungin's The Island.
Reason: who is guilty before whom and for what? Take a director of Jewish background, give him a story that is loosely inspired by a hagiography of the fool-for-Christ Feofil of the Kieven Caves, and cast a retired-rock-star-current-recluse (Pyotr Mamonov) as a Orthodox monastic in the far north of Russia, and I would have quite low expectations for the outcome. What Lungin produced is instead not only his best film but I think one of the best films of the last 20 years.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Top 10 Book Meme
1 The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Reason: the best book ever written. Duh.
2 Iob, LXX
Reason: bad things happen to good people, quite often.
3 I Am a Cat, Natsume Soseki
Reason: comedy is good for the soul. This is the funniest book I've ever read.
4 The Symposium, Plato
Reason: love. And I'm an only partially reconstructed platonist.
5 Demons, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Reason: explains a big part of the 20th century. Makes 1984 look like crude propaganda.
8 For the Time Being, WH Auden
Saturday, July 26, 2014
In fact, the reason for this post is a kind of double entendre on silence: the relative silence in literate western circles with respect to Japanese literature of the past century. Over the last month, I realized that virtually no one I had spoken with had read a single Japanese novel. Yet, like Russia of the 19th century, Japan produced a concentration of great writers and great novelists in the last 20th century that is set apart: the forces of of profound national changes (and defeat) created the crucible of great art. That art carries the distinctive aesthetic sense of Japan - a kind of openness of form, but is necessarily the carrier of universal, humanistic themes.
Endo is a writer in the post war period - the so-called third generation, and in my view the last of the wave of great Japanese literature. Read him. But don't stop - perhaps don't start - there. The early 20th century work of Natsume Soseki are a product of the Meiji period. In my view, Soseki is not only a father of Japenese literature but one of the greatest figures of world literature taken as a whole - I am a Cat remains one of my very favorite novels. Two troubling post-war novels by Yukio Mishima merit attention - Confessions of a Mask and the Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, both I would characterize broadly as existential masterpieces. The topic of identity in the face of westernization is also a moving theme in Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human. I hardly mean this as a complete survey - something in any case I am not qualified to provide -just a pointer toward something broader and important.
My encounter with contemporary Japanese literature - albeit limited - has been less impactful (I want to like Haruki Murakami in the same way I want to like Victor Pelevin, but both make me think of the distorted echo of something far better). And again like Russia, it is difficult to know what to make of Japan today - where its future will lead, whether it will see a cultural resurgence or decline. It is certain that its roots are deep and I hope she finds a way to draw on them and to flourish.