Essays in Idleness


Funny old world chronicles

A piece of legislation passed our provincial legislature, yesterday. Should gentle reader be curious, and patient, he may begin exhuming details himself (here, for instance).

We are not in Kansas any more. They are not even in Kansas any more, even in Kansas,  as I am reminded by another current news item, about a “sperm donor” taken to court for child support, but let off. For reasons likely beyond his comprehension, and certainly beyond mine, the man is off the hook for a large bill, accrued since the lesbian couple in possession of his child split up. So the state must play “father” to the actual mother. In fact, the man came out at least 50$ ahead, paid in 2009 for each of his acts of masturbation, arranged through Craigslist. He may further profit from his legal expenses, made the draw for a “GoFundMe” Internet campaign. I look at the photo of his face with the news report. He could be the poster-boy for fatherhood today.

That case is now presented in liberal media as an example of discrimination against lesbians — on the argument that the mother wouldn’t have gone after the sperm-donor had her non-mother “partner” been a man, and thus automatically on the hook (in the State of Kansas). We are now far advanced into Cloud Cuckooland.

As the Ontario legislation shows, it is not a “simple” matter of parenthood being redefined — so that, for instance, a child in Ontario may now have up to four parents at any given moment, to none of whom he need be biologically related. His whole existence is now contractual. His fate is that of chattel before courts that will adjudicate between the “rights” of these various impermanent masters. Laws once designed to protect the child have now been so “reformed,” that he could be a pork belly. He has no mother and father any more. Like a dog, he has only owners. (See also here.)

But something else interests me. It is the way this Bill 28 was passed — by all three parties in the legislature, unanimously, without audible debate. It was rushed through, with derisory media attention. The leader of the only party that might have opposed it — Patrick Brown of the “Progressive Conservatives” — told his members to vote for the bill, or be absent from the legislature. This is the same Patrick Brown previously condemned in liberal media for being a dark “social conservative,” beyond the reach of sunlight. When all along he was an unprincipled wimp, rat, and sell-out.

Of the dozen or so “Conservative” members “from the sticks” who were unambiguously opposed: all, without exception, agreed to disappear for the sake of “party unity.” The considerable number of voters who elected them (almost invariably by larger margins than their more progressive colleagues), and the large numbers present as minorities in other Ontario ridings, were thus deprived of a voice, on an issue of tremendous importance to them. Moreover they were smeared, as a group, for “bigotry,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” &c — implicitly by the party leader who also came to office by their votes. And all for defending old-fashioned motherhood and apple pie.

Why? Why did they agree to take this? In what sort of “democracy” does the opposition agree to be smeared, ignored, and then shut down?

I can hardly blame the politicians. They are filth, but I know that already. Rather I’m inclined to quote Kate McMillan, sweet mistress of the lively Saskatchewan blog, Small Dead Animals. As she likes to say:

“Not Showing Up To Riot Is A Failed Conservative Policy.”

On the transience of things

Anything worth making will be hard to make; anything worth expressing will be hard to express; anything worth thinking will be hard to think. That is how things are, and will continue to be, even in an environment that could be said almost to cultivate the glib and the fatuous. Our condition is terminal, but that means more than one thing.

A friend in Washington (the city beside Georgetown) has been reading Pierre Manent, The City of Man (trans. LePain, 1998), and quotes from a chapter ending:

“The imagination, for its part, no longer seeks to embrace as in the past the Being which is ‘greater than which nothing can be conceived’, nor even the lesser divinities. …”

I had been trying to think of a way to present this displacement of imagination itself, which results, among other effects, in the destruction of all poetry and art. (And their replacement with “fact-checking.”)

In my Sunday musings, wandering around town — not to the ravines and lakeside but through the centre of the city; then later back to the High Doganate where I was sorting old photographs to pass on to my sister — I was struggling with a big, rather old-fashioned idea. It is that people grow old and die.

Too, I had been playing with “memory and imagination” (in Augustine and Shakespeare) in the heads of my young seminary charges. That is a large and difficult topic in itself, and this is to be read as a small and glancing blow.

Now, I continue to be amazed by this idea, about the passage of time. Photos, for instance, revive vivid memories from, say, forty and fifty years ago. And what was so commonplace then, so often boring, is now gone forever. It has become mysterious, fascinating to the philosophical mind: how can these things have been? How could I not have known, at the time, that the everyday was so exotic?

But we are charmed, and then return to another everyday. We have been briefly entertained, as by a TV documentary.

These pictures present faces one once knew well, but far away in another country. (And “the past is a foreign country,” anyway.) One adds forty or fifty years to the face of each remembered person, or death to those a little older. Yet in the pictures they are all young and blythe, and I can remember being among them, “as if it were yesterday.” Those times are now forever lost to our living sight: though not from God’s omniscience.

Each, let me add, went in his own way, yet there is a commonality. I can imagine going back to an old neighbourhood — now as a traveller from the future — and finding it physically not much changed. One’s heart beats: one wants to run up and knock at a door, at all the doors — “I, Tiresias.” But then one’s heart breaks. For behind each door, a shock of non-recognition. Those people don’t live here any more. The neighbourhood that appeared unchanged is verily changed beyond recognition. It is another place now. No one knows who you are.

The idea is quite a simple one: all is lost, so that in a few more years, even these pictures will mean nothing to anybody. Unless they happen to be “quaint,” in some collectable way. But the idea in itself — of our inevitable extinction — is more immediately lost, unless it can be articulated. It is not fact-checkable, in any given moment. It requires poetry, to keep it alive in our souls.

We feel nostalgia, for people and places and things, but we have lost the ability to be “Japanese” about it: to begin to grasp the incredible poignancy of our condition, and bring it into our lives as a constant, so that it applies to our present, too. To live, as it were, on the cusp of eternity. This is what our ancestors could do, who took such stilted photographs, but painted such wonderful portraits. Or rather I am thinking of the ancestors of those still fairly modern ancestors, who had seen such things as photographs, and had their imaginations impaired by them.

Even a collodion required only a mechanical skill, and could represent only a surface, from which breath and movement, touch and scent, sound and response had been stripped away. (No wonder the sitters look like stuffed corpses.)

In the presence of passing life, representing itself triumphantly, men could once begin to grasp the transience in all worldly things, implicit in the movement of the seasons. They could not wish to change the unchangeable. And their dead were laid out in their own parlours, and kissed by the children who must come to terms: not consigned to the professionals in some “funeral home.” And then they were remembered in stories, in relics, in prayers. Nothing is as deadly as a photograph.

This is different in kind from nostalgic fact-checking in old photo albums. We have, in effect, horizontalized a vertical, in the flatland we now occupy. We think, only along this horizontal plane. It pins us to the earth, and prevents our rising.

Advent Sunday

Once again “the rousing time” is upon us, in the beginning of a new liturgical year. This phrase of the late Jesuit, Father Delp — butchered by the Nazis in early 1945 — has fixed in my mind among the explanations for Advent. (See here. And here, for that matter.) God is sowing now; one day He will harvest again. Now is a time to be shaken awake, to “smell the coffee” as we say. The faithful priest adduced three figures: 1. The man crying in the wilderness. 2. The herald angel. 3. Our Lady.

For some reason I attended the first Mass this morning — a Novus Ordo Low Mass — then went off rambling. For no reason, except that I was feeling empty, having nowhere in particular to go. Or perhaps it was nostalgia, for there came to mind moments from decades ago, when I was adolescent and travelling alone, hungry and cold, penniless and friendless, in the heart of another impersonal city. And all these many years later, I felt that coldness again, that desolation, that longing for the warmth of a home, somewhere; anywhere. (How many refugees have known this; and with it, illness.)

In the course of the later morning and afternoon I saw four altercations involving the insane. In the third of these events, the madman was confronting people on a subway platform, while shrieking obscenities, which he alternated with an extraordinary deep bearish growl. And curiously, he was commanding the very people he was assaulting to, “Leave me alone!” All around were instinctively braced against the sudden shove onto the tracks. (City folk get used to this.) Yet as the train rocketed into the station, the man went harmlessly limp. Then darted into a car, to threaten more passengers, as they tried in their Torontoist way to ignore him. He was among the most obvious candidates for exorcism I have seen, even on the TTC.

And then another “incident,” from another demonically inhabited man, at the other end of my ride. And another clump of fellow Torontonians, trying not to “engage.” All with smart phones to help them.

From that and several lesser things, my sense is reinforced, that the conurban world is breaking down around us. But it will take its course. It is the ever-inflating price we pay for “progress”; for the “freedom” that consists of opening all our ancestral cages, and letting our inner wild frolic about.

Too, I think that God remains Immanent, as well as Transcendent.

The finest thing I saw today — a memory to which I will cling — happened at Yonge and Bloor. This is the epicentre of Toronto’s “Uptown,” with skyscrapers ascended or ascending on all four of its corners, deleting scenes beloved from old days, and replacing them with the standardized, windswept glitz. Two men were crossing this intersection, one young, one old. The latter was blind, and with his blind stick, lifted as useless in the big city throb. The former, evidently his son — from the family resemblance between them — was guiding his dad by the other arm.

I was drawn short by the look on these faces. For there was in each a perfect trust. The old man’s face without anxiety; the young man’s, alert to danger, yet serene in a perfect affection. His face told the chance examiner that his father was the most precious thing in the world. His father’s said as much of his son. An anomaly, perhaps, in our broken city, but how unutterably normal.

An animal love, and an angelic love, combined in both body-and-soul “combos” — a two, within two, within two, within one, passing through the streets. A sign of the times, it seemed to me; of this rousing time, as the Nativity approaches.

Pass the cigars

Oh look! Fidel Castro is dead.

Nil nisi bonum, I can hear my gentlest readers thinking. Speak “naught but good” of the dead (for at least a few days). As the Romans could tell you — even their mortuary assistants — this is just good manners. And wise tactics, should one happen to be surrounded by the dead man’s admirers (as one always is on the Internet, today). I’m in favour of good manners, to a point — passed by Castro more than sixty years ago. He was, from his early manhood, a hardened Communist thug. With that bearded “charisma.”

Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro — among Castro’s spiritual heirs — is quoted by the BBC: “Revolutionaries of the world must follow his legacy.” For once I agree: they should all drop dead.

One could enter into a long recitation of Fidel Castro’s monstrous crimes; itemize from the scroll of the coldly murdered; the imprisoned and tortured; the exiled, at the risk of their lives; nod to a whole people enslaved, their whole lives on the Cuban plantation. One might spend the morning contending with the coolies of political fashion in the West, who have embraced so many real monsters; yet go hog wild over a little waterboarding. Or with media that instinctively applaud the crushing of media and free speech in foreign countries, provided only that the perpetrators claim to serve the progressive cause, on what we might call “the left side of history.”

But no, not today. Today we have something to celebrate.

On rigidity

Anything clearly thought can be clearly expressed, according to several of my former teachers. To be clear, I don’t think that’s always true, though I fear it might be, and would not wish to align myself with the naysayers, or with the mad.

My clear idea of the starling that has alighted on my balconata railing strikes me as impossible to convey. Perhaps, had I the talent, he could be drawn or painted. (From his chattering I take him for a male.) And the starling himself has been perfectly expressed in his own actions — conveying an avian personality that does not depend upon specific predictable gestures. Even when he surprises me by a sudden motion, he remains a starling for all that. Apart from, even beyond physical constraints, he embodies a “starlingness,” a sturnidism, a staer (should we wish to retreat into Anglo-Saxon) that he has individuated. I mean this seriously, for another starling has joined him, and the two changed places without fooling me.

And now they are off, bolt straight in flight, and it appears their paired rapidly beating wings are coordinated. They are like synchronized swimmers of the air, they can synchronize, too, within their murmurations, when they fly by their thousands, by their tens of thousands, dipping and rising as a mass, turning and wheeling without instruction, opening and closing their fleeting ranks, breaking and rejoining, scattering and convolving in their aerial topologies — one then many, many then one. And low in the fields beneath them, one may hear then feel the wind with which they brush, as they mix and blend in the inverted bowl of the sky, now near, now far above. Who could describe the intricacy of this mysterious ballet?

Yet by sound and sight in the mind’s attention, it can all be clearly seen and thought.

To be plain, it depends what plane of clarity we seek. There are “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” — each telling and crisp, in Wallace Stevens’ poem — but countless angles of sight within a murmuration of starlings. And we must count them all together, when they are not apart.

But here’s the ontological question: Do the starlings exist?

Once we have a handle on that — on what I count for fundamental sanity — we have some hope of grasping that a thing cannot be, and not be, at the same time. We may know, for instance, that one and one is two, even though two drops may combine into one after the fact (as in a marriage).

There are questions that can be resolved with a yea or nay, as the Four Cardinals recently proposed, giving five examples clear and undisputed for two thousand years, now so utterly slurred in Amoris Laetitia that every priest may have his own “take” on it, like a media pundit. They ask our current pope to clarify; he makes an insulting show of not hearing them. To him black is not necessarily black, white is not necessarily white; and he knows better than all the wise before him. He is above replying to these “rigid” men (whose learning is transparently greater than his own). Instead, as he tells us, he consults “the Spirit.” I begin to wonder, which spirit he has “discerned.”

To me, for all the complexity of this world, every starling is or is not; and though I cannot count them, God can. And specific deeds in specific contexts are permitted or are not permitted — to every Catholic, at any time. We may sin, but we have not the luxury of “updating” our definition of the sin, or otherwise tampering with what Christ has taught, inconvenient as we may sometimes find it. And the mission of every pope, from wherever he came, is to clarify the doctrine, when it is confused, and uphold it, unaltered, against all comers. (That is why, by tradition, popes wore blood-red shoes.)

“For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall not pass of the law.”

Let us make no foolish mistake. Christ was rigid.

Jour de l’action de grâce américain

As my heading might indicate, “American Thanksgiving” can sound a little awkward in Canada’s other national language, which is why, in defiance of the Quebec language police, it is often altered from Jour de l’action de grâce américain to “Thanksgiving” — but pronounced in the basilectal joual. Too, in the Jour de l’action de grâce canadien, it is not about pilgrims. I have blathered about this before (here, and probably elsewhere).

While generally I advise the Yanquis against making any of their customs more Canajan, let me offer three suggestions in this case.

First, get rid of the shopping. We now have Black Friday sales up here, but they came from there, and so please, cut it out. As that gentle sage Steve Bannon says (here), we need less of that sort of capitalism, and more of the Christian sort. Moreover, le shopping belongs in the days after Advent and Christmas, and if everyone could remember this, there would be bigger savings.

Second, turkey is a dry bird, and while something may be done about this with bacon rashers, lard injections by syringe, and diligent double stuffing, still, a goose makes a better stove fire. True, it will provide what at first appears an unconscionable surplus of grease, but with foresight this can be collected and used to deep-fry exquisite frites, which is to say, the original “freedom fries.”

Third, if you have a secular humanist in your family, try to avoid goading him, which can only lead to scenes (like this). The Canadian way is to avoid or ignore any sort of visible conflict, hiding all disagreement behind a wan, puzzled smile. A good Canadian will sit quietly gobbling and guzzling, with an eye to the juicy bits left on the platter. He will create no outward disturbance at all, waiting patiently to settle his accumulated scores, without witnesses and entirely off-camera.

That smile

A little question on statistics afflicts me. It has to do with the abortion rate. We are told sometimes that it has fallen, slightly, in most Western countries, and too, that opposition to abortion is modestly growing. From the pro-life position things are getting better, mostly because modern technology, with which the living baby in the womb can be put on visible, live-time display, frees people from the illusion that women give birth to cats — or whatever they thought the “foetus” might be, other than a human child. More than half now get that in North America, according to most polls. The proportion rises much higher when the respondents are asked to approve the slaughter of that foetus after nine months — as remains perfectly legal in Canada, USA, and many other countries today.

My reminder comes via a little report from France. (This one.) The French state has upheld a ban which the French broadcasting council placed on a video about Down syndrome children. It showed several, from around the world, smiling. An award-winning piece, from 2014, it made a point that may be imperfectly understood: that “trisomic” kids are worth having; that they are not, as modern superstition holds, a greater burden upon their parents than other children. Not necessarily; and they often prove less.

On the contrary, as I know from first hand (my younger son is Down’s), they are an extraordinary gift, to those parents and to any siblings, or others, who are brought into contact with a love, a fidelity, an emotional attentiveness, a kindliness, a joy, an innocence, an orb of communicable experience and perception that enlarges and deepens us. I do not know if there are polls on such things, but I would guess the proportion of mothers who regret having given birth to such a child is extremely small — corresponding roughly to the proportion who are real monsters.

This, anyway, was the (urgent) message the makers attempted to convey in their short film. (Here it is.)

It was publicly banned, on the argument that it would upset mothers who had carried Down’s babies in their wombs, and who had had them aborted upon discovering this fact. In France, that proportion is estimated at 96 percent; it is estimated at 90 percent the world over — who would rather kill, than deal with this adventure in love.

At the centre of the controversy is that smile — that distinctly Down syndrome smile, more haunting than the smile on the Mona Lisa. To those who happen to have eyes to see, it is in itself a moral, and a mystical revelation. I have dreamt, towards Christmas, of the Child in the manger: surely Jesus smiled upon his mother like that.

Facts are becoming hard to gather because, in Canada and many other countries, progressive governments are now suppressing all statistics and other previously available information pertaining to abortions. Feminists demand that this subject be shrouded in darkness, lest the light cast prove too harsh. What I call “the woman’s prerogative,” not to hear the screaming of her victim, has become a mainstay of contemporary eugenics and family law. This I hold to be the ultimate in misogyny — for it is designed to hide women from the very possibility of redemption, which can only begin with acknowledgement of the truth.

The rate for Down’s children is the significant abortion rate. It exposes what is truly believed by the overwhelming majority of our contemporaries, when put to a practical test. Opinion polls can never do this, for opinion is “free” unless it costs us something. Actual behaviour is what matters, and we find in this proportion a black, terrible indictment of our age.

Cry havoc, &c

My views on art, recently over-expressed, extend to the art of war, and I have long appreciated Patton-style generals, though even more the Nelson and Wellington styles. And there are many other ways to be a sterling general, as we learn from the classics, having all in common clear heads and the pleasure they take in their craft. But I have touched on this before (here, for instance).

Too, let me mention that I am enjoying the Trump Transition more than I expected, and best of all the wonderful idea of appointing Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis as Secretary of Defence — straight shooter, and marvellously effective in Afghoon and Eye-raq. (Indeed my enthusiasm for him once got me called before the Ontario Press Council.)

Served under Obama for a stretch, incidentally. Whatever we may say against Obama (quite a lot), he did not appoint girlie-boys to important military positions, at least, not to the degree we feared. A red-meat President on several occasions, with a gift for delivering on what no one wants, I think we might have got along; had only he been a rightwing loon instead of a leftie.

But here I am living in the past. In thinking ahead to the fun we’ll have tomorrow, I should like to share with gentle reader some Mattis quotes, which I have gleaned from the Internet (via Business Insider).

Item: “There are some people who think you have to hate them in order to shoot them. I don’t think you do. It’s just business.”

Item: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

Item: “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: if you fowk with me, I’ll kill you all.”

Item: “We’ve backed off in good faith to try and give you a chance to straighten this problem out. But I am going to beg with you for a minute. I’m going to plead with you, do not cross us. Because if you do, the survivors will write about what we do here for ten thousand years.”

Item: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a helluva lot of fun to shoot them.”

Item: “PowerPoint makes us stupid.”

Item: “Don’t create more enemies than you take out by some immoral act.”

Item: “Keep your honour clean.”

Item: “Fight with a happy heart.”

I note his alternative nickname, “the Warrior Monk.” This is a category we have sadly neglected, since the glory days of the Crusades. General Mattis has never married. Nor has he left children, anywhere we know of. A studious man (who apparently owns seven thousand books), he has devoted his whole life to the chaste pursuit of war.

The question is not whether priests should marry. It is whether celibacy should be restricted to them. Surely painters, musicians, poets, soldiers and other artists, should be free of the encumbrances of family life, so they may devote all of their attention to their demanding and godly work. And the rest of us should beget more, to offset them.

First snow

“But pray that your flight be not in the winter …”

First snow in Parkdale, today, though not enough to gather. The temperature dropped, the winds rose, telling us that winter is coming.

To church, for the last Sunday of the ecclesiastical year; for the Old Mass.

In the New Mass, they celebrated Christ the King today, as the feast now stands, transferred from its proper place in the calendar to this, where it takes on a different colouration: more abstract, more diffused, more glib; more accessible to the thoughtless. Christ is presented as “king of the universe,” where the point was originally that He is King of us; Lord over every earthly lord; commanding our loyalty even unto death.

Viva Cristo Rey! was what the Mexican martyrs shouted, as they were done in by their progressive, secular lords in the 1920s. And likewise as they were shot in Albania, by the progressives there. And elsewhere: not “long live the master of the universe,” but, “Long Live Christ the King.” There is a subtle difference.

In the Old Mass, before the Bugnini desecrations, the Last Sunday turns our attention instead to the end of our world; to the abomination of desolation; to rescue and redemption and the coming of Christ in Glory. The Gospel for this day is the extraordinary apocalyptic passage from Saint Matthew, in Christ’s own words concluding: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

Orate autem, ut non fiat fuga vestra in hieme …

For many years, I have been haunted by this phrase, coming back to me in the least likely moments: “But pray that your flight be not in the winter …”

Scenes from the apocalypse, echoed from the prophet Daniel, with this warning:

“Then if any man shall say to you: ‘Lo, here is Christ’, or ‘there’; do not believe him. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect. Behold, I have told it to you beforehand: if therefore they shall say to you: ‘Behold, He is in the desert’, go ye not out; ‘behold, He is in the closets’, believe it not.”

As the lightning out of the east into the west, He will come. The sun, out. The moonlight, gone. The stars, falling. I cannot imagine such things, in waking; I cannot even in dreams. Yet futurity is not constrained by my imagination.

Only let us grasp that in the end of the world, there will be no room for interpretation. There will be no media that we need to consult.

Yet I can imagine the humble pilgrim, at the end of days, setting forth. Him for whom the universe was made, and in which he yearns for the protection of his Maker. Or, every man and woman ever born, in the time of trial, as we run from evil.

“But pray that your flight be not in the winter …”

On the question of tactics

Never hold a job you’re not willing to lose. Give it up now, should you find it has so corrupted you. Keep it only if it has not, and you remain willing to stake it, whenever necessary, on one turn of pitch-and-toss.

Let no enemy surmise, that you will beg or bargain.

This is an attitude I learnt from my father, who showed real genius in the art of losing jobs; as well as in an associated field of moral enterprise: that of not getting paid. Yet a happy soldier, he never complained. He would have qualified my remark by advising: “Don’t go out of your way to lose it. It can be done quite naturally.” And, “It makes tactical sense not to take on the whole world at the same time.” And, “Never entirely forget that you must support a family.” For he was a moderate, reasonable man.

Notwithstanding, my electronic dossiers are filling with examples of people being driven out of their livelihoods, for their refusal to lie, to flatter, to participate in evils, to obey petty tyrants, or salute their howling mobs. Politics plays an increasing part in this, as should be obvious to anyone who ever reads some news. I think, for instance, of Catholics teaching in once-Catholic universities such as Georgetown, Providence, Fordham, Notre Dame, or St Michael’s here in Toronto. They are asked to sign on to things which, if gentle reader will tolerate understatement, aren’t Catholic; starting currently with “diversity,” as maliciously redefined. I don’t want to get into specific cases, no two of which are exactly the same, nor discuss personalities, in this post. Today I’m in a mood for vague generalization.

“Do not accept intimidation.” Ever. This, I realize, is more easily said than done; especially at a time when our public institutions are descending into the bottomless moral darkness of “secular humanism.” The “Saul Alinsky” rules — self-described as the devil’s own — are everywhere at work in the culture, carrying factional politics into realms where they will never belong.

While I do not agree with almost any of his policies (being no nationalist, no populist, no worshipper of material success), I note that Trump won in the USA by defying the forces of political correction, rather than by appeasing them.

In that I find some worldly encouragement; and more in the results of two by-elections this week in the Province of Ontario, that make this lesson clear. The Conservative opposition took one of them, in which they ran a nineteen-year-old kid who made no concessions to the prevailing Culture of Death. He won in Niagara with a margin significantly better than that of the former party leader whose riding it had been — an abject appeaser. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the party ran instead a mediocrity — a rubber-duckling progressive wimp. Who lost badly. This happens when your own supporters find nothing to support. They think: why choose this gasbag over the other?

It is no coincidence that the backbenchers of almost every rightwing party in the West are more radical than the talking heads in front. These footsoldiers are an embarassment to every party establishment, whose leaders live in terror that the media will expose them as uncool. Those same media which are utterly distrusted by most of their customers, as we discover in poll after poll. (Trump won by riding his cart over them.)

Make a stand, and at worst, one may lose the election, though too, one might win. Appease, and lose one’s soul, … in addition to the election. For moral cowardice is never rewarded — not by Heaven, nor even by the Earthlings.

On matters of mortal importance — such as the “life issues,” every one — it is well to recall who has sent us into battle. They cannot be answerable to any party boss, who know that they are answerable to God.

Similarly, in all other circumstances. Once the progressive dogs smell fear, they are on you. They have a view only to your destruction; they thrive on your fear, your wish to cut and run. They will leap on your backside, the moment you turn. Your task is to turn the tables on them. It is to show that they have picked the wrong target; that you grasp the game is for keeps; that you will die, before you will surrender your children to these hyenas. And that far from granting them little concessions, for the sake of some momentary peace and quiet, you will take great pleasure in destroying them.

In the end we will take back the public institutions, one squalid mudfight at a time. Or, we will not, in which case they will crumble, and we must build anew, starting from the roots, underground. Either way; it doesn’t matter. For in the end Christ wins.

“Thou hast prepared a table before me, against them that afflict me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly is it!”

Or, in the more bashful and circumspect Protestant version: “My cup runneth over.”

This is an aspect of Christianity that has been progressively overlooked: the throwing rocks at the denizens of Hell part, that Hilaire Belloc (and Thomas Aquinas) so well understood. Justice must prevail, and by golly, will be seen to prevail.

We have so much to look forward to!

Herman Goodden

Those of sound body and mind, and those not, are instructed to proceed for six o’clock this evening to the Art Gallery of Ontario, for an Event. This will be the Toronto book-signing for Herman Goodden’s, Three Artists: Kurelek, Chambers & Curnoe. The work contains a Foreword (by me) that may help explain why you will have done this. Perhaps the best thing is to reproduce that below, and mention that further information about this author may be had from his new website (here). His most recent collection of Catholic essays (No Continuing City, 2010) should also be obtained, if physically possible. For here is one of those rare contemporary authors, who has something to say, about matters of importance.


Through a generation of “media,” or two or three, Western, Christian man has lost his way entirely. (He had been losing it for a long time before.) This is often observed, and it should be, because it is the big fact of our epoch. By that word, “media,” I intend an antithesis to poetry and literature, art and architecture, music and theatre and dance — “the arts” as we sometimes call them, for bureaucratic efficiency. We might also observe great mountains of skulls, still rising from the most violent of centuries, through the period I recognize as “post-modernity” — since technical progress blossomed in its ultimate accomplishment of planetary Total War, in August of 1914. Everything in this book comes after.

It is full of three artists who “valued what they had,” in a time and country that seems to happen after everything good is over. Kurelek, Chambers, and Curnoe — each a little universe in himself — set out by ignoring the big fact and retrieving the small. Without patrons, without rules and inherited customs, without any sympathetic audience to begin with, each was “driven,” or I think, “called.”

I say this with confidence because in each case, a primal arrogance was beaten down. In true art there is only reverent humility.

Herman Goodden himself, as well as the Canadian artists evoked and discussed in this book, belongs to what I will call the Lost Tribe of the Found. What I mean by this paradox is, that in a time when media have generalized and homogenized human experience, each of the subjects of this book found a place, a location, a strand of continuity or orientation; which Goodden understands because he has lived it himself. And each came to it through circumstances over which he had, for all his wilfulness, little control.

Two of these painters “discovered” the Catholic Church, Curnoe remained a diehard “post-Protestant” to his sudden death. But I find all three God-haunted — and drawn along a passage through this earth very far from the generic. Each left a record of witness, whose attributes include beauty and truth, found in the most unlikely places; as well as a “rightness” that passes through the moral towards the mystical. Each was “made into an artist” by an agency outside of himself.

What “repression” in each of these lives, as Goodden adumbrates them! What ripe territory for psychologizing! In fact we are dealing with the opposite of repression; with a kind of exaltation, instead. And you must read Goodden to comprehend this.

He tells the “back-stories,” and why they are important. To understand them, we must submit to the conditions each artist imposed upon himself, along the pilgrim way. None, in his way, strayed far from “home” in the painting he attempted. Each lived “as if” post-modernity hadn’t happened, in an almost shopkeeping homage to “location, location, location.” This is quite different from “living in the past”: the usual gesture of contempt we offer to those who step outside the confines of the insistent media present; who find a way towards a rich imagery, in a world full of beautiful particularities, seen as if for the first time.

Kurelek, Chambers, and Curnoe: all three are now “famous Canadians,” but the national term is nearly meaningless, for different reasons in each case. It is only by adoption, or even appropriation, that they have become members of some Canadian Art pantheon. Yet not even Curnoe in his anti-American slurs showed allegiance to any political entity. His “patriotism” was to a room in the mansion of space and time, corresponding to London, Ontario. He made it his Firenze, and bicycled through its countryside with the fanatic loyalty of possession. Similarly, Kurelek and Chambers found all the universal themes they could handle, immediately at hand.

Note that Florence, Italy, through its artistic and cultural prime, had a population never larger than that of London, Ontario in the time of Curnoe and Chambers, Reaney, Dewdney, and others. It is a social world that Goodden describes from the inside, providing insights that might apply to many other places.

Goodden is himself an artist, a thinking reed in prose and stagecraft. He has painted for us these three portraits, better than any conventional biographies. Yet he has diligently done all the homework, and made himself an expert on each man, from out of an intimacy not of friendship, exactly, but of seer and subject. His portraits can be ruthless and surgical, in moments; but he is always presenting a whole character, never a placard or silhoeutte. Through the transformation of his very faults each of these much different characters is proceeding along a pilgrim’s way: shedding the commonplace of sin in his passage, and entering into a vita nuova unlike any life before.

He further turns these portraits inside out. For Goodden plays an artistic trick on us. We begin to see not only his subjects as spectacles in themselves, but ourselves and our world through their eyes. We begin to understand their art in a way that eludes the staleness of contemporary “art criticism.” He does not omit the fine details. We begin to understand what the artist is witnessing. Or, we do if we are following with that attention which Goodden can enthral and reward.

The religious aspect of each painter’s career is not quietly overlooked, as it is in the contemporary gallery scene. The book is no Catholic religious tract; it is no catechism; but it has the quality of a spiritual topography. Kurelek and Chambers were very unlikely Catholic converts, through whose dogged resistance, I think, Christ Himself found paths, to His Church which is no merely human institution. All three show pilgrim roads through the hills, presenting a succession of vistas.

Without reserve, I recommend this book to the reader, of any age, who wants to know what it is to be an artist — a real one, depicting what is real, in reverent humility; as opposed to a media poseur. Indeed, this book is a “classic” in that genre.

A wonderworker

Pontus is that country, within modern Turkey, that follows the south-east Black Sea shore, and inland is enclosed as by an amphitheatre of mountains. It is the more interesting, archaeologically, for having been often by-passed, in the movements of conquering nomads and armies, from Hittites and Hurrians to Arabs and Turks. The Greeks took it, because they came by sea. They kept it, till late in the day; so that even after Constantinople fell to our short-sighted Franks (in 1204), the Empire of Trebizond immediately formed, and Byzantium persisted in Pontus, as in Crimea and elsewhere, until it could be restored at its centre.

They became Christian early, and remained Christian late, just as the Assyrians and others now in the news — finally expelled from, or slaughtered within, the Dar al-Islam (“domain of peace”). This word I use, “Christendom,” embraces all these brothers of ours. For some we can now search only in deep time; or in the facial features and little habits of their distant descendants. But this does not mean they have ceased to exist; only that they have been deprived of their birthright.

We are trapped in the temporal view, so that we think of eternity as somehow in the future. We look forward as if to some earthly Utopia, when all on this planet may be made well. Or, to an “end time” in which this earthly utopian is prefigured, as if in another “war to end all wars.” We cannot see that it is with us now, and has always been with us, within, but also outside our chronologies. For we can look only forward, to death, until our eyes are adjusted to see beyond it. Yet even in death — on a certain day, of a certain month, of a certain year — is every man’s apocalypse, not to be gainsaid; the narrative climax of his own temporality.

God, however, would have another point of view, necessarily beyond our understanding. To us, He is somewhat Chinese. That is to say, the tenses we use in our language are not used in His speech, which is uninflected. (Part of the extraordinary condescension of Christ, in his descent from Heaven, was this divine concession: this agreement to participate in our own “before and after.”) Coming-to-be is an earthly affectation. I’m sure the angels understand the poetry of it, but have no need of the philosophy. It is but a small part of the “is” within the Kingdom of Being.

Yet strangely, it is beloved from on high.

Christendom comes and goes; and comes again and goes again, like one of those uncontiguous states within the Holy Roman Empire. We occupy this patch, here; other patches are scattered through space and time; and patches within patches, as worlds within worlds.

Pontus would be an example. Christians flourished there, for so many centuries; lived, died, and were translated from their native Greek, into that Heavenly Chinese. (“Eternity is in love with the creations of Time.”) Also Colchian, Lan, Svan, and what else was spoken into the Abkhazian mountains and gorges of its east, as we proceed towards the ancient and modern civilization of Georgia.

We sing, in the old liturgy today, of Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus (“the wonderworker”), mysterious figure from the third century when, under Roman rule, the Pontians suffered the persecution of Decius. (Our saint outlasted him, however). Those Romans were good news and bad. They kept the roads open; they often kept worse and more murderous pagans at bay. (But they weren’t doing such a good job of that in Gregory’s time and geographical vicinity.)

This Gregory was figure in a world in many ways more cosmopolitan than our “globalized” one: with more (real) variety and diversity, and yet in which one could wander about. He had obviously travelled. He was, we know, a disciple of Origen’s school, then predominant in Palestine; and an opponent of the heretical Paul of Samosata; he was an episcopal pillar in the Church of his age. As to his miracles — the wonders he worked for which he was famous — what can we say?

He had that faith which moves mountains. I will leave this at, “you had to be there,” and mention only my inclination to prefer the testimony of those who were there, over those who weren’t; especially when the latter are wearing that smug smile of self-satisfaction, which is the distinguishing mark of a liberal imbecile.

For me, a saint’s day like this is, in addition to the commemoration itself, an opportunity to hail our distant brothers, from parts of our material Christendom long compressed. Yet, as we will surely discover, in the moment we step out of time ourselves, were better than neighbours — living, as they were, in the same house. And through the Mass, we have dined together.

On the human abacus

What would life be without “problems”? To my thinking this is an assertion (posing as a question) equivalent to, “What would life be without sin?” It would be unearthly. For “problems” are encountered the moment we decide to go against the grain of nature, of natural law, and of its clarification in divine law. To think through an apparently insoluble problem is to inquire into what we were doing wrong; where “we” of course includes other human beings: fellow members of the awkward squad.

The word is used so commonly and casually today, that almost anything can be described as “a problem,” or among the semi-literate, more pretentiously as “problematic.” It is asserted that there is no such category as “sin,” only problems. And yet, the moral basis is affirmed, often the more starkly as it is being denied, in the name of some primitive god, such as Science.

Rather than state a moral objection, a liberal will say, “I have a problem with that.” He has confessed at least to having a conscience — some interior sense of right and wrong — even if he cannot make a coherent case for either.

Ask him in reply, “What is your problem?” and he is likely to dissolve into what we now call “virtue signalling.” But the virtues he signals are themselves incoherent; and so, inevitably, their corresponding vices.

Ask him then to come back after he has identified his problem, and solved it to his own satisfaction, and feels able to describe it minus the cop-out of externalizing. Only at that point can he be helped, by priest or some reasonable psychologist. Meanwhile we have our own work to do.

One might encourage the fellow by assuring him that there are fewer sins than he has imagined, and that his dementias about e.g. racism, sexism, homo and other phobias may be safely dismissed, along with his political agenda. This will help him narrow his focus to something actually wrong.

Problems, and problem-solving, are the method of most practical use in the world of technology. From there, it seems to spread by analogy.

The problem, as my brilliant son once demonstrated, is that the little pins are crooked. The solution is to straighten them out. This will require patience and a steady hand, along with one’s smallest pair of pliers. Having identified that problem, one has identified the solution. It was that simple, and with patient concentration, it can be fixed. No emotional investment is required, and as this son once told me, to my shame (when he was twelve and I was forty-five), “It makes more sense to think about your problem, than how you feel about your problem.”

A real problem — as opposed to a rhetorical “problem” — has the ability to solve itself. From the moment it is properly understood, the solution is apparent. It is like an arithmetic puzzle. It is why an abacus works. Move the beads correctly, and the answer is correct. You have only to read the answer now before you. The one and only answer, if you wanted to know.

I think the same is true of almost any moral puzzle, when our brains are working. For the moral abacus works the same. Enter the elements and the solution appears. The difficulty is not in getting the answer; that is the straightforward part. The difficulty is in accepting, and acting upon it, when perchance you don’t like it.

By no coincidence, we live in a time when technical problems abound and multiply, until they become nearly insoluble by their vexing complexity; and in a time when emotional responses go unchecked. I think this has everything to do with our culture of disposal. Given money, or room on one’s credit cards, the solution to the “problem” is to get rid of the thing, and buy another. And similarly, with any other “problem.” The solution to an unanticipated pregnancy is to get rid of the thing. The solution to difficulties in marriage is divorce; to pain and hopelessness is euthanasia, &c.

These are merely variations on the universal landfill option, about which the environmentalists complain, in highly selective ways.

We declare moral bankruptcy and then, assisted by the latest laws of the democratic State, we start over, having learnt only that bankruptcy is relatively painless; that it requires little more than a thick skin. It is our Right, and only the people we owed get scrood. (Whether the debt be moral and grave, or only light and fiscal, when justice is foresworn.) And they are anyway likely to be large impersonal corporations; or small, defenceless entities, which we easily disregard. The former write off the loss and move on, having budgeted for a certain (gradually rising) proportion of customers who are shameless cheats. Only the latter, the small and defenceless, are likely to haunt us, as so many women, and men, have discovered after their quick fixes; their “procedures.”

Against which guilt there are specious arguments, and the twisted face. “How dare this non-entity question my prerogative” (not to hear the screaming of my victim). … How dare he rise from the dead.

Having reduced life to “problems,” we respond with “solutions.” Not abacus solutions, but those we have made up. There are other ways to think of life, and its little problems, but this one is currently preferred. Much can be enjoyed, we suppose, by “victimless crimes,” except — there are no victimless crimes. For even when it can be plausibly argued that the victim has no standing, or is consenting, or that no external victim exists, there remains the victim that was not counted. We have victimized ourselves.

This is a problem, the solution to which turns out to be the profound unhappiness one reads, less in the news media than upon the faces of the millions one passes in the streets — the victims of all those victimless crimes.