Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Wapshot Chronicles

“Cheever's main theme was the spiritual and emotional emptiness of life. He especially described the manners and morals of middle-class, suburban America, with an ironic humour which softened his basically dark vision.” from Wikipedia

‘The Wapshot Chronicle’ by John Cheever has been a slow start for me. I found the introducing chapters quite predictable. A 1950s middle class America with a lot of eccentric and comedic characters. The unusual twist of the quote from one of the ancestors of the Wapshots. As I am moving in to the novel there are some gorgeous insights into how the novel is going to turnout. The story has just started, it is about a young couple trying to find privacy, he lives with his parents, she lives in a boarding house. There is that sweet 1950s awkwardness that you would expect and just a hint of exuberant passion that livens up the story and whilst it must have been quite shocking in the day, nowadays it appears sweet and humorous.

One line that sticks in my head is when they go to a beach that he hopes will be deserted, they find two other groups of people. As if pre-planned he takes her hand and she says loudly “I’d adore to pick blueberries but let’s take your hat and we’ll put the blueberries in that.” All an excuse for some intimacy.

I am warming to this book, even though I am getting more busy and Christmas is coming it looks likely to become a good read. I now have only one pressing HNC assignment, I have to learn ASP and design a website but it is not too bad. I will finish off by letting the book speak for itself, a short section about Rosalie Young and her date going home from the beach:

“Then they drank some more whisky and ate again and now the homing pleasure boats had disappeared and the beach and all but the highest cliffs lay in the dark. He went up to the car and got a blanket, but now the search for privacy was brief; now it was dark. The stars came out and when they were done she washed in the sea and put her white coat on and together, barefoot, they went up and down the beach, carefully gathering the sandwich papers, bottles and egg shells that they and the others had left, for these were neat, good children of the middle class.

He hung the wet bathing suits on the door of the car to dry, patted her gently on the knee – the tenderest gesture of all – and started the car. Once they had got onto the main road the traffic was heavy and many of the cars they passed had, like his, bathing suits hung from the door handles. He drove fast, and she thought cleverly, although the car was old. Its lights were weak and with the lights of an approaching car filling the pupils of his eyes he held to the road precariously, like a blind man running. But he was proud of the car – he had put a new cylinder head and supercharger – prod of his prowess in negotiating the dilapidated and purblind vehicle over the curving roads of Travertine and St. Botolphs, and when they had gotten free of the traffic and were on a back road that was not, to his knowledge, patrolled, he took it as fast as it would go. The speed made Rosalie feel relaxed until she heard him swear and felt the car careen and bump into a field.”

Friday, November 18, 2005

I also bought a book on African history yesterday. It is fascinating because the African experience of getting rid of colonial powers reminds me of NI. Kwame Nkrumah the first leader of Ghana took the party slogan 'Self government now, in the shortest possible time' something we should probably think about.

As he stood to be confirmed as President he wore a cap with PG written on it. PG stands for Prison Graduate. This sounds familiar to!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I bought another secondhand Pelican today ' An introduction to Jung's psychology'. To my delight when I opened it I found the following clipping concerning Malcolm Muggeridge which I am sure most readers would be interested in. It is available full size, if you click on the image.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Last night I found this poem by Samuel Daniel (1562 - 1619) which is a discussion between Ulysses and the Siren, I think it is relevant to what is happening in Belfast at the moment. Do we not have a 'wicked peace'? (See the last stanza of Ulysses)

The Sirens, if you remember were women who tried to sing and distract Ulysses to make him sail and crash into the rocks. The Siren wants Ulysses to 'make love not war' and he is having none of it!

Ulysses and the Siren

Siren. COME, worthy Greek! Ulysses, come,
Possess these shores with me:
The winds and seas are troublesome,
And here we may be free.
Here may we sit and view their toil
That travail in the deep,
And joy the day in mirth the while,
And spend the night in sleep.

Ulysses. Fair Nymph, if fame or honour were
To be attain'd with ease,
Then would I come and rest me there,
And leave such toils as these.
But here it dwells, and here must I
With danger seek it forth:
To spend the time luxuriously
Becomes not men of worth.

Siren. Ulysses, O be not deceived
With that unreal name;
This honour is a thing conceived,
And rests on others' fame:
Begotten only to molest
Our peace, and to beguile
The best thing of our life--our rest,
And give us up to toil.

Ulysses. Delicious Nymph, suppose there were
No honour nor report,
Yet manliness would scorn to wear
The time in idle sport:
For toil doth give a better touch
To make us feel our joy,
And ease finds tediousness as much
As labour yields annoy.

Siren. Then pleasure likewise seems the shore
Whereto tends all your toil,
Which you forgo to make it more,
And perish oft the while.
Who may disport them diversely
Find never tedious day,
And ease may have variety
As well as action may.

Ulysses. But natures of the noblest frame
These toils and dangers please;
And they take comfort in the same
As much as you in ease;
And with the thought of actions past
Are recreated still:
When Pleasure leaves a touch at last
To show that it was ill.

Siren. That doth Opinion only cause
That 's out of Custom bred,
Which makes us many other laws
Than ever Nature did.
No widows wail for our delights,
Our sports are without blood;
The world we see by warlike wights
Receives more hurt than good.

Ulysses. But yet the state of things require
These motions of unrest:
And these great Spirits of high desire
Seem born to turn them best:
To purge the mischiefs that increase
And all good order mar:
For oft we see a wicked peace
To be well changed for war.

Siren. Well, well, Ulysses, then I see
I shall not have thee here:
And therefore I will come to thee,
And take my fortune there.
I must be won, that cannot win,
Yet lost were I not won;
For beauty hath created been
T' undo, or be undone.

Samuel Daniel

Go to Poemhunter and find the poem you always loved!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Mackerel Plaza by Peter De Vries

‘The Mackerel Plaza’ is essentially a comedy about a minister in 1950s suburban New England whose wife dies in a boating accident. As much as he loved his wife Andy Mackerel simply wants to move on, he has found another woman and he wants to marry her as soon as possible. His parishioners however will not let him forget her, they insist on calling her a saint and they want to erect monuments and hold countless dinners for her.

It is also a farce about liberal Christianity. Mackerel has created his dream church – a church without God. For his liberal Christianity Christ came not to convert sinners but more to irritate the religious. He creates a luxurious church with a medical practice, a psychiatrist and a drama company. The church provides him with a car, a housekeeper and he is relatively happy. However his parishioners are not happy, some have a strong sense that they are sinners, they want to be evangelical and have revival campaigns, Andy is furious!

The first page has one of the funniest incidents of the entire book:

“’What can I do for you Reverend Mackerel?’

‘I want to report a billboard in the Mobile Bay section,’ I said glancing out the window over the treetops to an intersection where the offending object was plainly visible. ‘This is a residential area, where I need not remind you public hoardings are strictly forb– ‘

‘Yes, I know. You’re triple-A out there. Please don’t get upset Reverend Mackerel. Go on.’ The woman – or more likely girl - was audibly eating something a fact not calculated to soothe Mackerel’s nerves or cool his pique.

‘I assume a waiver was granted by the Zoning Board or the signboard wouldn’t have got as far as it is,# I went on.

‘How far is it?’

‘It’s up! I can see it now from my study window, over there on Cooper Street and I don’t like it.’

‘What does it say Reverend Mackerel?’

‘It says –‘ I craned my neck to look out the window, as though I had again to verify the testimony of my senses.’ It says, “Jesus Saves”.’

‘Oh, yes.’ There was a silence at the other end, except for an act of deglutition, and a faint crackling noise which I could believe was that of a successor to a swallowed caramel being wrapped ‘I only work here’ the girl declared at last, ‘ but I do remember something about the board deciding that wasn’t strictly commercial.’

‘Commercial! That’s not the point. It’s vulgar. And the lettering is that awful new phosphorescent stuff – green and orange. No this is blight on the landscape and I protest.’

‘I know what you mean, now that you mention it. You’re not the first to complain. The Presbyterians are appalled. The Episcopalians are sick. All the better element there, with property values at stake – ‘

And it goes on! I was laughing out loud! Mackerel goes on to state ‘It is the final proof of God’s omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us.’

It is a play on the whole idea that what we need in modern society is old time religion but it is so funny at the same time. I also get the impression that what Mackerel really wants is a good society without the need for religion.

The humour gets better as Mackerel is pressured to say goodbye to his girlfriend in favour of the ‘high society ladies’ in his church who want him to spend all his time doing memorial work for the church. He has a wicked sense of humour and starts putting sexual double entendres into the sermon in order to shock people. At one point the psychiatrist asks him to ‘accept Jesus’ as that is the only way he can save his career!

I found this book in a secondhand bookshop in town, unfortunately De Vries has been out of print for some time. There are a few of his books on Abebooks. I am quite amazed that a book I bought quite by chance turned out to be so good.

It is a book for its time, I have an interest in liberal Christianity so that helped but it is one of the few books that I finished and couldn’t stop reading. A utterly brilliant book.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Here we are let me introduce you to our reading and digital photography fieldtrip 2/11/2005. This is what I should be reading (in fact, it isn’t but that is as close as I can get to what I should be reading) - click on these images to see them full size.

So I am reading Christian existentialism, Isabel is reading about diets in ‘Pick me up’ magazine and seems to be very happy about it!

This is what I am reading – my new 3 volume ‘Systematic Theology’ by Paul Tillich. During lunch I learnt a new latin term – ‘theologia irregenitorum’ “theology of the unregenerate", another good name for a heavy metal band.

Can someone explain to me how to get digital photography to work in an aquarium, I had the perfect picture, dark flowing fish cloe up and all I got was blur, well it does look quite nice.

Unless the subjects are absolutely still - like Mr Monkfish and not everyone is so obliging!

Unless you have bright lights and it comes out perfect like this.

But my favourite picture is this enigmatic seal pic with Isabel’s hand. My finger slipped on the settings button for about ten pics and they all came out dark, but I did this one deliberately!

And finally the jaws of a white shark, reminds me of Tillich:

“Fundamentalism fails to make contact with the present situation, not because it speaks from beyond every situation, but because it speaks from a situation of the past. It elevates something finite and transitory to infinite and eternal validity. In this respect fundamentalism has demonic traits. It destroys the humble honesty of the search for truth, it splits the conscience of its thoughtful adherents, and it makes them fanatical because they are forced to suppress elements of truth of which they are dimly aware.”

Of course Tillich refers here to what is known as fundamentalism in America, that is the more orthodox side of religion, what we would call ‘mainstream’ church. The dangers he was talking about seems to have happened in the last forty years and Christianity has now become a minority issue. This is one the things that excites me about Tillich, he wants to be practical and he wants to discuse the problems of Christianity and the current way of living, aka the ‘situation’ we are in.