Review: Timothy Morton The Ecological Thought Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2012 159 pp.
Under the auspice of identity we write towards an indiscernible future that holds forth hope not only as vision or project but in reality and in truth. What is it to evoke a catholic commons but to signal an intimate entanglement with which we are never truly finished? Never finished because the commons is not something that belongs to us but rather the interconnectedness wherein we constantly find ourselves surprised by beings who fill us with wonder, delight, amazement, disgust, frustration and pain. To speak of the commons is always to speak of what is beyond private control; it is to speak of communion and camaraderie and at the same time the pain, isolation, and violence that come bound up in earthly existence. That the commons is catholic is a sign of its expansiveness, our locality is not protectionist. And what could it be to be seeking the kingdom except that we are on the road open to encounter with that strange stranger who just, just might be the Christ? Continue reading →
Two recent titles from Stanford UP’s excellent series Cultural Memory in the Present focus on seventeenth century English poetry in an effort to address contemporary debates over theology and secularism.
In Sacramental Poetics at the Dawn of Secularism, Regina M. Schwartz credits the Protestant Reformation with providing a necessary critique of Church officials who sought to control the domain of mystery and instrumentalize the sacred. At the same time, she cautions, this upending of the sacramental tradition also enabled “a new instrumentality—not of the Eucharist by the Church, but of the sacred by the state” (29). Over the next hundred or so pages, Schwartz explores the effects of this theological-political shift through its expression in the poetry of John Donne, George Herbert, and John Milton. In such post-Reformation poetry, she writes, we see a lingering hunger for the divine, “a poetry that signifies more than it says . . . through image, sound, and time, in language that takes the hearer beyond each of those elements” (7). In other words, Schwartz treats seventeenth century religious verse as a form of compensation for the loss of sacred liturgy; and the effects of this loss, she argues, are still relevant for the way we understand the relationship between theology and secularism today. Continue reading →
Plato’s Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology, William Ophuls, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2012, 256 pp.
At the heart of every recent political discussion is an increasingly insurmountable problem; the challenge of ecological scarcity. At the heart of the ever-deepening ecological crisis is the uncomfortable reality that the way we live today, the consumptive choices we make and the way we organize ourselves socially and politically, may be denying our grandchildren a future. The fact that consumer/industrial society has so eagerly jumped on the “green” bandwagon makes our situation that much more ridiculous, as though slapping on a few eco-friendly labels could radically alter the destructive consumptive patterns to which we have become accustomed.
William Ophuls confronts this ecological challenge, in Plato’s Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology, with a powerful mixture of ingenuity and wisdom. Continue reading →
Imagination, Commodity and Forbidden Knowledge in Paradise Lost
There is something strangely literary about the economy, functioning as it does through the marshaling of symbols, metaphors and allegories, never taking material shape and yet responsible for so much concrete human action. Given our modern propensity for examining literature through the lenses of psychology, anthropology, history, gender, and any number of other social-scientific methodologies, perhaps it is time for us to experiment with the reverse: an examination of economics through the lens of literature. Continue reading →
Medea Benjamin Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control New York: OR Books, 2012.
A recent article in the New York Times, entitled “A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a Word Away” chronicles some of the psychological disturbances facing drone pilots, as they routinely confront an “enemy” across the world from the safety of a computer screen. While critics may argue that drones turn war into a video game reality, the piece seems to contend, the high-resolution cameras bring intimate footage of the people these pilots are attacking. Continue reading →
As the final part of our online Symposium on Girls Fall Down, Maggie Helwig was gracious enough to answer some of our questions. In so doing we ranged from the soul and synaptic connections to the Venerable Bede, from the wounds on the risen body of Christ to felix culpa. I hope it proves as interesting reading for you as it did for us! Continue reading →
Robyn Ferrell Sacred Exchanges: Images in Global Context New York: Columbia University Press, 2012, 192 pages. $50.00
Time and again, as I read through Robyn Ferrell’s new book, the words of Frank Scott’s villanelle passed, unbidden, through my mind. Not steering by the venal chart, that tricked the mass for private gain.We rise to play a greater part. Reshaping narrow law and art, whose symbols are the millions slain, From bitter searching of the heart We rise to play a greater part. Through the lens of the Australian Aboriginal art movement Ferrell confronts the reader with some surprising truths about the world we live in and the myopic and murderous callousness which makes us inattentive to these realities. Continue reading →
One of the most remarkable features of Girls Fall Down is the way in which Maggie Helwig has managed to write the city of Toronto into existence. The well-documented Canadian obsession with place is in full bloom in this novel, but the Toronto Helwig creates is not Michael Ondaatje’s Toronto (which is fundamentally a place of rebirth), nor is it Robertson Davies’ Toronto in The Cunning Man, which is thoroughly colonial. Helwig’s Toronto is a place haunted at once by profound loneliness and an almost terrifying sense of connection. Much of the novel’s beauty is derived from how totally the author embraces this paradox; its genius, however, lies in the unflinching way in which Helwig uses the city to investigate the individual and the individual to interrogate the city. Continue reading →
Review: Maggie Helwig Girls Fall Down
Toronto: Coach House Books, 2008, 266 pages.
Bodies rushing along at breakneck speeds through underground tunnels; impersonal and unattached they come and go in steady even streams. As if they formed a sort of modern analogy of Epicurean materialism, bodies raining down evenly through the plumbless void. What could cause them to break their eternal movement of incessant isolation? What could cause this solitary congregation to turn its attention outwards? Continue reading →
We were blessed back in fall 2011 to have Maggie Helwig, an activist, curate, and extraordinary woman of letters, post some poetry on Catholic Commons. As her most recent novel, Girls Fall Down, has started to make serious waves, we thought it would be worthwhile to host an online Symposium to discuss the novel and its many points of intersection with theology, politics, and social theory. Over the next two weeks we will post a number of pieces that deal specifically with various aspects of this novel, and will round it off with an interview with the author herself. We hope it proves edifying, and more to the point we hope it motivates some of you to purchase the novel and read it for yourselves.