I’m Joe Allen, your new substitute teacher, so to speak. You know how Dr. Evil had his “Mini-Me”? For a while, I’m going to be Overstreet’s Mini-Me. I’m a new Looking Closer intern, shouting out the news from the Looking Closer front porch, and helping fill the gaps while our usual show host strives to stay afloat amidst the stormy seas of a full-time job and graduate school.
I’ll take notes he sends me and pass them along to you—on writing, on music, on movies, and on that mysterious miscellany of arts and culture that I call “mysteryellany.”
This, via David Dark: from an interview with poet Geoffrey Hill: “[E]very word has a bit of itself that is rebellious to one’s desire to make easy use of it.” (Thanks to David Dark for the link.)
And this, via Helen Wiley: An intriguing new series in The Atlantic—“Writers Should Look For What Others Don’t See,” featuring Charles Simic.
This, from Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams, on fiction:
I think the excellence comes in letting consciousness be messy. Sometimes what can bother me about New Yorker pieces … is the urge to extract a moral, or clean up the mess. … There is a humanizing impulse in that, but it also seems to turn people into cogs supporting a theory or a thesis. And part of what seems like we’re really getting at with consciousness is that it’s always kind of pushing back against itself or any statement. With my students, I’m always talking about “conflicting vectors,” I’m sure they get sick of the phrase, but I think that’s what I mean by it: having a piece that expresses not necessarily contradictory truths, but a couple of things that don’t rest together so easily.
This, via Darren Hughes: From a profile of sci-fi writer Gene Wolfe in The New Yorker:
Partly what readers are excavating is Wolfe’s Catholicism, which he is quick to say figures into his writing. “What is impossible is to keep it out,” he told me. “The author cannot prevent the work being his or hers.” Flannery O’Connor, in her essay “Novelist and Believer,” cautions novelists to use religious concerns in ways that do not alienate the reader, to render encounters with the ineffable so that even those who might not understand or care for a particular metaphor—Aslan the Lion as Christ, for example—can still be moved by it.
David Brooks on the experience of studying Augustine:
I have a book-ish nature. I understand faith the way C.S. Lewis did, which is that I like books that help explain the world to me. A lot of theology helps explain the world. I think reading theology is one of the most rewarding things I did in the course of researching this book. Some of it was by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. I read a lot of C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Harry Emerson Fosdick’s “On Becoming a Real Person.” Those books were amazingly useful and were a great education. I wish there were more theology and more religion in the public square for the faithful and those who are not faithful.
I now consider Augustine the smartest human being I’ve ever encountered in any form. His observations about human psychology and memory are astounding, especially given the time. What’s even more amazing is he combines it with emotional storms. He’s at once intellectually unparalleled and emotionally so rich a character. I portray him as sort of an Ivy League grad. He portrays himself in “The Confessions” as this sexual libertine, but he wasn’t really that. He was just an ambitious and successful rhetorician and teacher who found that being a successful rhetorician was too shallow for him. He felt famished inside. I think his confession is a very brave renunciation of ambition.
With him what I found so attractive, and this is more a Christian concept, is the concept of grace, the concept of undeserved love.
Here’s Alissa Wilkinson, in Books and Culture, giving thanks for David Foster Wallace:
I opened a copy of Wallace’s first essay collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. And it lit me on fire.
I fell violently in love with the narrator, because any person who can say what you’re thinking before you find the words is irresistible. He wrote long, beautiful, tumbly sentences and invented adjectives like “methamphetaminic” and made me laugh till I hiccupped at inappropriate jokes. Then he turned around and said something about what it was like to be a person, and I’d forget to breathe for a while. He wrote about David Lynch and math and tennis and TV and despair induced by a luxury cruise, and I thought someone had pointed a firehose directly into my brain and—soon—my soul.
MusicThis: Try to fathom the patience it must have taken to create Son Lux‘s new music video.
As human beings, we all have these things — probably from our animal days, I guess — that scare us, delight us. Lynch seems to go straight into that.
The shots of trees blowing in the wind, for instance. I mean, I don’t think people had ever seen that on network television, just the trees blowing. It’s like: What the hell is that?
Also: Poor Sean Bean. He’s famous for playing heroes who die premature and violent deaths. Now he’s starring in one of those “Christian movies”—Any Day— and it sounds like it’s D.O.A.
Yes, there’s a faith-based message in here too, but it carries with it that curious problem that many faith-based movies have: It’s built on the skeleton of many other similar films and just kind of follows those plot points until God shows up to save the main character. Which…if that’s what’s going to happen—if that’s always how the story is going to end—then why bother? Oh, by the way, Eva Longoria, Kate Walsh, and Tom Arnold are also in this film, but they aren’t functionally fleshed-out characters, just different sounding boards for Vian’s relationship with God.
This: It’s hard to believe, but we’re finally seeing images from Martin Scorsese‘s dream project… a big-screen adaptation of Shasuku Endo’s Silence.
This: Steven Greydanus spotlighting the great Catholic film critic Andre Bazin and his perspective on Citizen Kane.
In Citizen Kane, Bazin saw a “revolution in the language of the screen” — one that blew away the conventions of standard Hollywood storytelling at that time through techniques like deep focus, prolonged takes, chiaroscuro lighting and unusual camera angles and movements. Although Citizen Kane didn’t pioneer these techniques, Bazin argued that it invested them with new meaning and power.
This: The man who tried to make Ryan Gosling eat his cereal has passed away. And Gosling is paying tribute to him.
Also, here’s something.
Put Your Name in the Credits
While I’m just volunteering here (this is not a paid internship), please keep in mind that it’s costly to keep this blog alive, and to fill it with reviews, news, and posts. It requires subscriptions to sources of art and culture. It requires tickets to events. It requires brief visits to coffee shops where we can sit down, get online, and broadcast this stuff to the world. It requires resources that enable Overstreet to keep writing even though his day job is demanding and his grad school deadlines are hard to meet. If you appreciate what happens here, please consider donating to keep Looking Closer alive. I know Overstreet appreciates it.
And if you contribute, we’ll put your name in the Credits.