"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Monday, October 17, 2016

Matthew Monday: Matthew Loses His First Tooth

It finally happened today at school.  It seemed that Matthew was late in losing his first baby tooth.  He’s seven years old and one and a half months.  Is that late?  I don’t know but it seemed the other kids lost theirs earlier.  The tooth had been loose for the longest time and today biting into an apple at school, it finally came out. 

And the school nurse put it in a baggy for him.  It’s there on the sticker by the shark’s tail.

Now it’s under his pillow and he expects money for it from the tooth fairy…LOL.  What should I give him?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Literature in the News: The 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature Goes to …Who??

I thought this was a joke at first, but it’s true.  The Swedish Academy that selects Nobel Prizes has had some quirks over its life, but this takes the cake.  If you haven’t heard, this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature—yes, Literature—is none other than Bob Dylan.  From NBC News:  

Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday.

The 75-year-old music legend was cited by the Swedish Academy for "having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." He will receive a prize of $927,740.

Born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, Dylan became a prolific songwriter and penned some of the most influential anti-war and civil rights anthems of the 1960s' counterculture. They include "Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They Are a-Changin" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues."

He has also had an enormous impact on other artists of his generation and beyond, writing songs that would later be covered by music legends ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Adele.

I’m not denying that Bob Dylan has had a large cultural impact, but is song writing literature?  When music and lyrics come together to form a vocal piece, it’s the music that defines the work, not the lyrics.  The lyrics are a secondary matter.  Take opera for example.  The author of an opera is the composer, not the librettist.  We know Le nozze di Figaro as a Mozart opera.  Opera buffs would know that the librettist was Lorenzo Da Ponte, but even here that’s a special case.  Da Ponte served as Mozart’s librettist for a few of Mozart’s great operas, so he became famous in the opera world.  But Mozart had other great operas without Da Ponte and no one knows who the librettist were for those.  How much did Da Ponte contribute in making those operas with Mozart great?  Well, no one knows any of the operas Da Ponte wrote for other composers.  No one knows the librettists for Giuseppe Verdi’s great operas.  Or Rossini’s.  Or Pucini’s.  Or just about any other opera. 

The article goes on to say that Dylan’s songs are poetry:

Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Nobel Academy, told a news conference Thursday there was "great unity" in the panel's decision.

"Bob Dylan writes poetry for the ear," she added. "But it's perfectly fine to read his works as poetry."

Now I’m not saying that lyrics are not important to a song.  It’s the lyrics that usually construct the melody.  Take for instance Dylan’s song, “Rainy Day Women.”  Here’s the first verse and chorus from MetroLyrics:

Well, they'll stone you when you're trying to be so good:
They'll stone you just like they said they would
They'll stone you when you're tryna go home
Then they'll stone you when you're there all alone

But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

The verse part of the melody “They’ll sto-o-ne you when you’re try-y-ing to be so goo-ood” is created by (1) the rough meter of the line, (2) the vowel length of the words, and (3) a stretching of three words in the line, “stone,” a word just before the final foot of the line (trying, said, tryna, there), and final word of the line.  Then the chorus part of the melody still keeps that three stretched words, but the line is shorter and now he shifts the first stretched word from the second word slot to the first: “But” and “Ev.”  Here’s the song if you want to hear it.

The point is the lyrics are important to the song but not in the way they are in poetry.  The words are selected not according to verbal innovation but by commonplace.  To be stoned for not following the rules is actually cliché.  The whole song is a cliché, so that the interest in the song is in the articulation, not the language.  Notice also that Dylan occasionally starts a verse with “Well” or the chorus with “Tell you what” and “yes.”  Those are what I call verbal ticks that communicate attitude.  They would be meaningless in poetry.  Notice too the chuckles and tones in his voice as he articulates the song.  Those are elements of songwriting and oral communication, not literary poetry.  The formulaic repetition of each line simulates a chant.  Poetry would be boring with repetition like that, but because of the articulation and melody, it holds musical interest.  And I would put to you that the majority of Bob Dylan’s songs contain more interest as a ditty and not as poetry.

Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t Dylan compositions where the lyrics could stand alone as poetry.  There are some.  Here’s one, “All Along the WatchTower.” 

There must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth

No reason to get excited, the thief, he kindly spoke
There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl

It still highly “songish,” mostly because the line forms a standard verse form, but there’s a lot of interesting lines and imagery here to make it poetry.  Here is a fascinating exegesis of the song:

Yes, it still comes down to the song elements that enrich the song, but here I feel confident to say that the poetic elements are of a high caliber here.

Those two songs represent the extremes, a highly songish composition and a highly poetic composition.  How many songs are closer to the poetic side?  I find very few.  He has a body of work of great songs, but they are songs, not poems.  Yes, he’s got some lines in songs that are poetic, but a line or two does not make a poem.  For him to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature is a poor understanding of the distinction between song and poetry.  The Swedish Academy really botched it. 

So what exactly separates music lyrics from poetry?  I see at least three things.  First, music lyrics rely heavily on formulaic, repetitive structures.  Poetry has structure too, but nowhere near the level of structure of music.  I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that as music has become recordable and mass produced that poetry in opposition has become looser and less form dependent.  Second, music lyrics rely on common phrasing, if not clichéd phrases.  Music requires the listener to identify with the lyrics in order for the artistic experience to resonate.  Commonplace language does that.  Clichés are antithetical to poetry.  Third, music relies on oral articulation and, most important of all, the musical experience to carry meaning, There are jazz, rock, and classical songs with just a handful of enigmatic words but where the music makes the piece whole, gives it unity, completes the meaning.  Those words alone are fragmented nothings, but the music gives it coherence.  Music lyrics rely on the music to give it coherence, where poetry can’t rely on anything but the words on the page.  The more a song relies on these three elements, the more “songish” I call it, and the less poetic it is.  For the most part, I find Dylan’s work to be more songish than poetic.

That is not to say that I dislike Dylan’s songs.  I love his songs.  He’s got a below average singing voice, he’s a mediocre guitar player, and a poor harmonica player, but his songs are great!  How come?  Because he’s a great composer.  Though not particularly virtuosic, he’s a great song writer.

Might as well give you another, one I really loved as a teen.

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin' ship
My senses have been stripped, my hands can't feel to grip
My toes too numb to step, wait only for my boot heels
To be wanderin'
I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you.
Source: <a href="http://www.elyrics.net/read/b/bob-dylan-lyrics/mr.-tambourine-man-lyrics.html">click here</a>

What do others think?  Literature or song?  Should he have received the Nobel Prize?  What are your favorite Bob Dylan songs?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Silence by Shūsaku Endō, Part 1

The movie version of the Shūsaku Endō novel, Silence, is finally coming to the movie theaters this December.  It is directed by Martin Scorsese, who has been thinking about making this novel into a movie for two decades.  From Business Insider

Paramount announced Monday that it will release the Oscar-winning director's passion project "Silence" on December 23.

The story — which the auteur of such classics as "Goodfellas" and "Taxi Driver" has been trying to get off the ground for two decades — follows Jesuit priests in 17th-century Japan as they face violence and persecution.

It stars Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver.

This is big news.  The fact that it’s being released around Christmas means that Scorsese and the producers of the film expect it to be nominated for Oscars.  That means it’s going to be a great movie.  Silence is one of the great novels of Japanese literature, of Catholic literature, indeed, of all literature.  I read Silence five years ago and was knocked off my feet.  Graham Green, the great English Catholic novelist, called Silence, the greatest Catholic novel ever written.  I wanted to supply a link to that quote, but I can’t seem to find it.  I know he said it though. 

Because I want to have the book fresh in my mind before I see the movie, I am altering my reading plans to read Silence in the upcoming weeks.  As it turns out, both my reading clubs on Goodreads has Silence on its group reads before the movie.  The All About Books group, a secular club with a huge number of members, has Silence as the group read in November.  The Catholic Thought group—obviously a Catholic book club, which I’ve mentioned on occasion—will be starting its read in a week.  As it turns out, I’ve been asked and agreed to be the moderator for this read at Catholic Thought.  I’ll be posting quite a bit of it here on my blog. 

If you’ve ever wanted to read this great novel, read along with me, and feel free to comment.  You’ll certainly want to read the novel before seeing the movie.  It’s not a long read, just 200 pages.

Here’s the discussion schedule I’ve set up for the Catholic Thought read.  I’ve tried to set it up so that we read in about 40 page bites weekly. 

22 – 28 October: Translator’s Preface, Prologue, and Chapters 1 and 2.
29 Oct – 4 Nov: Chapters 3 and 4.
5 – 11 Nov: Chapters 5 and 6.
12 – 18 Nov: Chapters 7 and 8.
19 – 24 Nov: Chapters 9, 10, and the Appendix.

You should complete the reading before the discussion week, if you’re going to participate at Goodreads.  Catholic Thought is always looking for more members. 

Let me provide some background here in my first post on the novel.  Shūsaku Endō is a Japanese Catholic writer of fiction and literary criticism.  Yes there are Catholics in Japan.  His mother converted to Catholicism when Endō was a boy and it stuck with him.  He went on to study in France and was very fond of the French Catholic writers.  The CS Lewis Review has a fine article on Endō’s works and career.  I have not read any of his other novels but I have read a short story and plan to read another along with Silence

While Endō’s family converted to Catholicism, there is actually an indigenous Catholic population that survived the persecutions and attempts to extirpate it from its shores.  The city of Nagasaki was built up from a small fishing village by 16th century Portuguese traders, and through that exchange and evangelization a large number of Japanese converted to Roman Catholicism.  In time the Japanese rulers did not feel comfortable with allowing Christianity to flow—probably because the Portuguese and Spanish had a history of conquest, and the missionaries were Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian religious figures.  Slowly the Japanese rulers discouraged and then persecuted Christians, and finally in 1638 Japan closed its doors entirely to the outside world.  It’s doors would remain closed for nearly 250 years.  Catholics cut off from Europe and mother church would live and secretly practice their faith, so that when the outside world reentered Japan, it found a community of Christians who still performed the Sacraments nearly as they had hundreds of years before.  These “Hidden Christians” were called Kakure Kirishitan.  Nagasaki is still the center of Catholicism in Japan. 

Silence is an historical novel of that missionary and persecution period, and when I first read it I knew nothing of the history.  I remember it taking me a little bit to get oriented.  The Translator's Preface provides some history but it took a little bit for it to sink in—maybe a few chapters—which made me have to go back and restart.  I had to do a good bit of searching of the history in order to fill in all the gaps.  Here’s an orientation. 

First digest these historical facts:

1543 Portugese fishing ships arrive in Japan.

1549 Francis Xavier arrives in Japan and starts proselytizing.  In short order it is estimated that     
         100,000 were converted.

1565/1568 Emperor Ōgimachi bans Catholicism in Japan but dies shortly after.

1579 The height of missionary activity in Japan.  Perhaps converts have reached 150,000.  Jesuit
         Alessandro Valignano is the Christian leader of the Evangelists, even establishing   
         seminaries in the country. 

1587 Toyotomi Hideyoshi unifies Japan and bans Christianity and banishes Christian 

1597 (September 5th) 26 Christians martyred by crucifixion on the orders of Hideyoshi to
          intimidate the Christians and prevent future conversions.

1598 Hideyoshi dies and the country’s unity breaks down.

1600 It is estimated there are 300,000 Christians in Japan.

1600  Tokugawa Ieyasu reunifies Japan and though dislikes Christianity tolerates it because of
           his need for trade with Portugal and Spain.  His dynasty rules Jaoan from 1600 to 1868.

1614 Tokugawa shogunate bans Catholicism and begins persecutions, and by mid century                       
             demands the expulsion of all European missionaries and the execution of all converts. 

1632 (September 10th) 55 Christians were martyred in Nagasaki known as the Great Genna

1633 Cristóvão Ferreira, the head Jesuit in Japan, is captured and forced to apostatize. 

1637 The Shimabara Rebellion occurred, mostly a peasant led revolt in southern Japan over   
          poverty and taxation.  Christians were suspected as instigators.  Subsequently some 37,000 
          rebels and sympathizers were beheaded.  Japan would close its doors to the outside world  
          for more than two hundred years.  Christianity would survive underground completely cut 
          off from Europe and the papacy. 

1643 Giuseppe Chiara, Italian Jesuit, lands on the Japanese island of Oshima in an effort to 
         Sacramentally minister to the indigenous Catholic population. 

The central character of Silence, Sebastião Rodrigues, is based on the historical person of Giuseppe Chiara.  It is with this background and this moment in time that the novel’s plot begins. 

Second, there are a couple of other matters to know about the period that are relevant to the story.    

Fumie:  A icon or image of Jesus Christ or the Blessed Mother on which suspected Christians in Japan were forced to trample on to prove they were either not Christian or renounced (apostatize) their Christianity.  

Anazuri: The torture of the pit, where the prisoner is hung upside down submerged to about his knees in a foul pit and cut on his head so that he slowly bleeds to death drop by drop or until he recants.  It typically took a few days for a person to die from this torture. 

Finally there are a few other websites that can supplement your understanding of the history and persons of the era.  The History of the Catholic Church in Japan, the martyrs of Japan here and here.   You can Google all historical figures I’ve listed and there should be a Wikipedia entry on all of them.  I don’t think I need to provide links for those.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Personal Note: Orioles Are Out

As I mentioned in my last blog, I’ve been preoccupied with the Baltimore Orioles baseball season.  They made it into the one game Wild Card Playoff, and Tuesday night in a heartbreaker of of a cliffhanger of a game, they lost in the bottom of the eleventh inning when the Blue Jays got a walk-off three run homer.  It was a particularly hard way to lose.

If this were a blog devoted to baseball, I could give you my opinion of what went right and what went wrong with the Orioles’ season.  After all they were in first place for have the year until their offense seemed to have taken a vacation, and instead of winning the division they had to settle for a wild card spot. But I'll spare everyone.

To my surprise, I came across George Weigel’s recent column where he talks about his memories of the 1966 Baltimore Orioles.  If you’ve never heard of George Weigel, he’s a well known Catholic writer, social critic, and columnist.  I did not know he was a Baltimore Orioles fan, let alone a baseball fan.  Well his bio entry does say he was born in Baltimore. 

!966 was the year the orioles won their first World Series, and Weigel delves on memories of that experience.  From his article, titled, “Golden memories of a golden anniversary”:

There were no air-conditioned skyboxes in those days; there weren’t even seats, but rather wooden benches. So fans (who were not yet a “fan base”) bought a newspaper on the way in as anti-splinter protection, the working class folks sitting on a News-Post and the white collar types on an Evening Sun. Concessions were primitive in the extreme: rubbery Esskay hotdogs; salty, stale popcorn; Nation Boh for those who had achieved their majority and watery Cokes for us small fry. Then as now, Baltimore felt like Calcutta-on-the-Patapsco for months on end. So on hot, humid summer evenings you didn’t come to Memorial Stadium to be seen, or to close a deal, or to consult your broker or your therapist on a cell phone: you came for baseball, period.

Baseball works so well with nostalgia.  It was fifty years ago to the day.  The 1966 World Series win, by an underdog group of Orioles, who were not much older than kids, over the intimidating and domineering Los Angeles Dodgers was a stunner. 

In the winter of 1965-66, the final piece of the championship puzzle fell into place when the O’s acquired Frank Robinson (discarded by the Cincinnati Reds’ general manager as an “old thirty”) in exchange for Miltiades Pappastediodis, whom you will likely remember as “Milt Pappas.” Robinson proceeded to win the Triple Crown in 1966, and to this day I have never seen a ballplayer who could bend a game to his will like Frank Robby. He, Brooks Robby, and the rest of the O’s waltzed through the American League, then flew to Los Angeles as underdogs to the mighty Dodgers in the World Series. But they beat Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax out on the left coast (with, perhaps, some assistance from the saliva of Mr. Moe Drabowsky in Game One). And on return to Baltimore, the Birds won Game Three of the Series with Dada and my brother John in attendance.

I’ve been a long time Orioles fan, but I have to admit I was not old enough in 1966.  I became an Orioles fan at the ripe old age of eight, but that was in 1970, their second World Series win.  The kids of ’66 grew to be the great Orioles of the late sixties and early seventies.  If only I could attend an Orioles victory like that.  Weigel concludes:

I was there with Dada for the fourth game, on October 9, 1966, sitting twenty rows or so behind first base. As Paul Blair caught Lou Johnson’s fly ball to complete Dave McNally’s 1-0 shutout and the Orioles’ four-game sweep, Memorial Stadium erupted, hoary south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line racial codes were abandoned as blacks and whites hugged and hollered, and I experienced a moment of unalloyed joy – a prolepsis of the Kingdom, if I may say.

Fifty years later, the glow remains.

The glow of loving your baseball team, win or lose, never fades.  Despite the Orioles loss the other day, I love them to death.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Personal Note: Why I Haven’t Been Blogging

I guess there are several reasons.  One, like mentioned earlier, I’m on a new project at work and it’s exhausting.  Two, with Matthew getting older, I’m finding it harder to find some personal free time.  If it’s not homework I have to work with him, it’s wanting to go to the park before it gets dark at night.

But three, and most important of all, baseball season has come to a climax and I’m completely absorbed. 

If you remember I’m a Baltimore Orioles fan.  A big time Baltimore Orioles fan.  It’s been a wild season.  They were in first place for about the first three months of the baseball season, and I was loving it.  It looked like they were going to win their division easily.  Then in the second half, they slumped.  Slowly but surely they declined from first place and looked headed for a complete collapse.  Then in September they clawed their way back and yesterday, the last game of the official season, they won a wild card playoff spot. 

Man, this has been some wild ride.  At the beginning of the season I had bought a Major League Baseball package where I can watch any game, and I’ve been watching every single Orioles game.  Living in New York I could only watch the Orioles play when they came to play a New York team.  Watching every game has been completely absorbing.  I’ve always loved baseball as my favorite sport, but now baseball has entered my soul.  To watch my favorite team play every night has absorbing.  You know how some people become beach bums in their old age; I’ve become a baseball bum.  LOL.

And to top it all off, the TV station that broadcasts their games has a website and blog form which to comment and express our opinions, MASN Sports.  No clue what MASN stands for.  I could look it up, but who cares.  And to top it off, they have a game time live blog where we get to cheer and comment on every play.  After a while you get to know everyone’s personality, some likable, some not.  It really made the season so enjoyable.  Over the last four tension-filled where the playoff spot was on the line, we even started a couple of us started a prayer: “Hail Mary full of grace, help us win the wild card race.”  And it worked!  God listened and we won three out of the four games. 

So Orioles play tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 8 EST against their dreaded foes, the Toronto Blue Jays for the American league wild card spot.  Winner advances into the play offs, loser goes home.  Hail Mary full of grace, help us win the playoff chase! 

The other Sunday I took the family down to Baltimore and we watched the Orioles beat the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Baltimore is a little over three hour drive and we can get there, watch a game, and get back in a day.  It was a nice family day, despite the fact that wife and child are both Yankees fans,  Boo.  Here are a couple of pictures from that day.

That's the view we had.  We were in the left field stands underneath the mezzanine section, which provided a wonderful shade.  It was cap day and we all received Orioles caps.

I had a great zoom on my camera.  I could see all the way to home plate as if it were 20 feet away.  Here are two runs scoring on Hyun Soo Kim’s two run homer.  Orioles won 2-1.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

I Remember September 11th

It's hard to believe it's been fifteen years.  I still remember the whole day.  One of these days or years I'll write down where I was at and the events around me.  It was nothing exotic.  I wasn't at any of the tragic locations, but everyone's story was unique.  This was one of the events of my life that shaped who I am.  For now I'll just post a little photo essay.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Faith Filled Friday: The Holy Spirit’s Fire by St. Catherine of Siena

The August 2016 edition of Magnificat magazine had this wonderful quote from a letter St. Catherine of Siena wrote.  It doesn’t say who the recipient of the letter is (my guess it’s Raymond of Capua, her friend and confessor), but obviously a male.  It’s not clear what the context is either but Catherine is urging him to contemplate God’s love, imagined as a burning and consuming fire.

So I want you, my son, to open your mind’s eye and focus it on Christ crucified, for he is the fountain where we can drink to the full, drawing from him sweet loving desires.  These are the desires I want to pour out on the body of the holy Church for God’s honor and every person’s salvation.  If you do, your words and actions will become like an arrow drawn red-hot out of the fire, that wherever it is shot sets on fire everything it strikes, since it can’t help sharing what it has.  So, son, think of your soul as entering the fiery furnace of divine charity, and love’s power will make you shoot out and share what you have drawn from the fire.

And what have you drawn from God in this way?  Hatred and contempt for yourself, and love for virtue, and hunger for the salvation of souls and the honor of the eternal Father; for that is all that is found in this gentle Word.  You see, it was for hunger that he died.  So intense was that hunger that the force of love produced a sweat not of water but of drops of blood.  How could a heart be so hard and stubborn as not to burst with emotion from the warmth and heat of this fire.  Contemplating it, we can only be flax stubble thrown into the fire; it can’t help burning, since it is the nature of fire to burn and to transform into itself whatever comes near it.  So we, when we contemplate our Creator’s love, are drawn at once to love him and turn our affection completely to him.  In him all the dampness of selfishness is dried up, and we take on the likeness of the Holy Spirit’s fire.

Look at what a marvelous, natural poet she was: our selfishness is dried up so that we become dried stubble, ready to be consumed by the Holy Spirit’s fire.  And then notice how it connects with the previous paragraph: a person so consumed with the Holy Spirit is like a red-hot arrow setting fire to everything it strikes.  The little lady from Siena, who was uneducated, was a genius.    

PS: I really love that icon of St. Catherine.  I've seen a number of icons portraying her, and this is the best one.  It shows her stigmata, the lilies of virginity, the book showing she is a Doctor of the Church, her Dominican garments, and the crown of thorns which I think stands for the suffering she endured.  Plus I like the way her face and halo around her head are drawn.  I would consider buying this if it were available for purchase.