Friday, June 26, 2020

“When they said ‘repent’/I wonder what they meant?”

“I’ve seen the future, brother/It is murder.”
Paul gives consideration to a change of concerns, as he has experienced it, and casually flips-off the Gray Lady by conclusion.

I read it several times. Before I went to bed, I wrote down, “Jay Scott was the first celebrity death to hit me hard.”
What can I say? I'm a sucker for smoking jackets and turquoise jewelry.
When I got up this morning I expanded on that for a few pages. By the time I turned on the computer I realized one reason why Paul and I seem to be talking at cross-purposes is I am more reflexively prone to sentimentality, which might not be very helpful.

But let’s get it out and see what happens.

Thirty years ago Jay Scott was the chief reason I bought The Globe & Mail on Fridays and Saturdays. The chief reason, but hardly the sole reason. The Arts & Books section also ran weekly columns by Stan Persky, Rick SalutinRobert Fulford, John Bentley Mays. Those are just the names I immediately recall. It frequently ran pieces by Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, John Irving, Timothy Findley — etc. The kids in short pants included Russell Smith, Lynn Crosbie, Mark Kingwell, Leah McLaren.

Scott stood out as a sensualist with a piercing intellect — a near perfect balance for a film critic. I wanted to write like Scott did, and not just about film — about everything.

Anyway, here we are. I won’t comment on my own writing except to say the stuff I’m proudest of feels to me like it attains something of what Scott was about.

This won’t be that. But I miss settling into my IKEA Eames knock-off, fresh coffee in one hand, newspaper in the other, positioning myself in the morning sunlight and perusing every single page of the Globe & Mail’s other sections before unfurling Arts & Books at the very end. All the other pages in the newspaper felt like a warm-up run for the main event.

I still have an Eames knock-off. Coffee is still a habit, and the Saturday Globe & Mail still has a section devoted to arts and books and tchotchkes and shit. They call it “Distractions” or something like that. Needless to say, it’s an emaciated version of what used to be.

If it were to fold, would I miss the Globe? Well ... kinda. My wife likes the crossword puzzle, and I enjoy pulling the page out of the newspaper for her, just before I bin the rest of it. But otherwise, no. Reading it just depresses me, and not only because it’s a shadow of its former self. I can tell where its writers are going within just a few sentences. The element of surprise is long gone, the potential of revelation rare to the point of near-extinction.

The truth is I already miss the Globe.

And I’m increasingly missing the New York Times.

The Globe, the Times — in the 90s it felt like I’d left the Sunday School classroom and arrived in another chamber where I could more freely explore what it felt like, and what it meant, to be alive at that particular moment. That earlier list of names — obviously the preponderance is largely male and entirely pasty-skinned. But it is also remarkably Queer, and seems at least pointed in a promising direction.

In this moment, to be alive is to feel the inexorable pull not to the Sunday School classroom, but someplace considerably less forgiving. And maybe that is where humanity is required to be at this particular moment. Our home and host has an astonishing capacity to forgive our transgressions against it, one we have long taken criminal advantage of. And this doesn’t begin to address people we have held in similar contempt. Humility, contrition and repentance are unfashionable words, but they seem to be what is called for.

Reading the newspaper pages, or social media blurts, I am not at all confident we have the foggiest idea what humility, contrition and repentance even look like. Never mind forgiveness. Or atonement — one of Madeleine L’Engle’s favourite words. At-one-ment,” she would stress, again and again.

Atonement. Maybe it looks like this?


pdb said...

This question of relative sentimentality is something I’ll be thinking about. I don’t think of my personality as particularly un-sentimental, but then I have my younger self in mind here to a degree that you can’t. It’s also true that my sentimental turns today just don’t find a lot of the old subjects to be occasioned by anymore. Do I have a very good view of change in myself, though, you’ve got me asking? Could be that I’m too interested in my shifting ideas to pay decent attention to other kinds of shifts in myself.

Just learning, thanks to this post, of the Madison statue-toppling and calls for review of Harald Uhlig’s position at U. Chicago’s economics journal. So I’m still processing and had better not comment much. But these Northern states’ post-Civil-War, post-Great-Migration stories are so much at issue in this moment — Minnesota’s, obviously, but possibly more poignantly neighboring Wisconsin’s, where long-in-development dynamics that led to the rise of one of the country’s worst proto-Trumper white Evangelical governors, Scott Walker, certainly fuel these flames. Wish Turley’d acknowledged that, at least, even if he doesn’t want to reflect on the variety of meanings a 19th-century abolitionist’s monument might have for Americans calling themselves abolitionists today. Anyway, hope you’ll (ahem) forgive me commending not one but two (!) Know Your Enemy episodes, the one about ‘white backlash’ and the one about the Chicago school.

Have said a few times that the only U.S. Christian-politics movement I’ll take any interest in anymore would have to be one calling itself something like an American Repentance Party. People don’t want to hear it, of course.

pdb said...

On things that should be acknowledged (and on things evolving internally over a number of years): there’s anger not very forthrightly expressed in that post, and I realize it wouldn’t be a bad idea to be talking about it. Not here!

Whisky Prajer said...

My link to Turley was a bit of ham-fisted convenience, alas -- it just happened to be the most recent piece I'd read calling for less tearin' down/more discussin'. You'd certainly be aware that the Mennonite take on these matters is more in alignment with, say, the Taliban's. My final two meetings with our church board involved discussion regarding our "affirming flag" -- the Pride Rainbow flag, basically. I was the sole voice of hesitant contention, saying only that as a Mennonite ANY flag attached to a church is a prickly matter, since flags carry the weight of symbolism and attendant values that might actually conflict with the values of the Kingdom of Christ.

Board: "Well, could we change it to a banner? Would that be okay?"

Me: (skerble, whimper) "Yeah, a banner could be okay I guess..."

Anyway, I do feel like I owe you another episode or two of KYE. I listened to the interview with Tara Isabella Burton, actually. Found myself getting impatient with it -- them -- for the usual reasons. The project doesn't read to me as an exploration of contentious matters so much as a settling of them. And fer cryin' out loud -- how are you going to settle the gods??

pdb said...

Man, I’m pretty sure if you had a tab that slate is wiped clean after this round of bitching from me. haha

Not 100% that I actually finished the TIB episode, come to think of it. (I am glad I listened to it. A bit too disposed to dislike, perhaps unfairly based on the little I’ve read of her, so it was good to have the alternate impression their conversation with her gives.) It’s their history dives I love.

Apropos of which, sort of: really would like to be able to give a lot more attention to this whole territory of Christian conflict about idol-toppling, iconoclasm, whitewashing, &c. Moving ex-Protestant for me, as for so many, was toward some kind of Romantic openness to cultural accretion & confusion in symbols & forms and to being at ease with their susceptibility to abuse, away from imposed clarity and the appeal of the revolutionary perpetuating fresh start. A very imperfect picture of the Catholic, for one thing! And really just meant pushing reckoning with the revolutionary down the road a few years, rather than getting it in hand, of course.

Whisky Prajer said...

Ya know...

pdb said...

Yes, thanks! But one of my several exquisite tragic qualities.