Sunday, October 6, 2013

Shadow of A Doubt: Ten Frames

1. The first two shots of the film are of these two contrasting bridges, setting up the contrast between Young and Uncle Charlie.

2. In bed after his arrival, Uncle Charlie blows a smoke ring. As he does, we hear a train-whistle, hearkening back to his train's arrival and picking up on the foreshadowing of evil that was the train's black smoke.

Movie Review: Shadow of A Doubt

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. 1943.

When I first saw Shadow of A Doubt, about ten years ago, I was a little underwhelmed. It was slow with a lot of corny elements. My second viewing a few years later impressed me more as the craftsmanship became apparent: music, lighting, plotting. Yesterday's third time was most certainly the charm. There might not be a scene, even a shot, out of place in this masterpiece. When you stop to consider what has to come together before, during, and after shooting, one might be amazed that any good movie gets made at all, but when you see a great movie made without the luxuries of massive budgets, staff, and time, well you just need to tip your hat to one of the greats. That Shadow of a Doubt works on so many levels and then equally well as a whole is a true directorial triumph.

The whole film pivots off the relationship between dear Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) and his darling namesake, Little Charlie (Teresa Wright.) From the outset Hitchcock develops symmetries between the two. Eager to spice up the family routine, Little Charlie writes her uncle to beg him and visit, only to find at the telegraph office a message that he's on his way. (Hitchcock mirrors this by introducing both characters rising from bed.) Both characters also deplore the ordinary. Little Charlie bemoans in adolescent pangs to her father about the dullness of the family routine, while Uncle Charlie waxes on bitterly over dinner about the "fat, wheezing animals" he sees going on about life with no purpose.

Yet while Little Charlie really is an average girl, pretty, pious, and law-abiding, her uncle is not. Uncle Charlie drips with scorn for the world, calling it a "foul sty" and a "hell." One of Hitchcock's best scripts, though, doesn't pile explication or psychologizing jargon onto Uncle Charlie, but rather mythologizes him and elevates his worldview to the level of a philosophical dichotomy. While serving her baby brother breakfast in bed, Charlie's sister remembers how once he, as a child, rushed headlong with his tricycle into the street, nearly dying, and how their mother wondered after whether he'd ever be the same. The apparently insignificant detail is a prompt: did Uncle Charlie simply respond to evil with evil, or was it already in him? (Compare the maturity of this consideration to the heavy-handedness of the similar Rope.)

Surrounding the Charlies' discontent and contempt for the ordinary is that ordinary world of fathers working nine to five jobs, mothers baking and keeping house, precious siblings, and bedtime prayers. It is the leisure of these opening scenes, nearly twenty minutes, which gives weight and import to Uncle Charlie's arrival, itself a miniature masterpiece of introduction. First, the bilious black soot chuffing forth from the train foreshadows the evil that Uncle Charlie brings to the small town. Next, Uncle Charlie hobbles off the train like a consumptive, leaning on his cane and with his jacket draped over him. With the train pulling away and slowly catching sight of his favorite niece, Charlie stands upright and slings his coat over his shoulder. Like his first words to them, in his telegram which said he was "lonesome for you all," his first appearance is a lie.

The pace doesn't quicken, though, upon Uncle Charlie's arrival. Hitchcock instead lets his evil seep into little Santa Rosa. At first Charlie all is all avuncular good will and cheer with gifts for the family and business for the bank. Then we find a conspicuous inscription on the ring Uncle Charlie gives to his adoring niece. Did he really get rooked by the jeweler? He then takes some awkward pains to hide a newspaper article from the family and again issue with his sister's promise to let some pollsters interview the family, a conversation which leads to the backstory of his childhood accident and thus sets up his reveal.

Poison? Strangulation?
Mixed in with these plot points we find subtle hints that Uncle Charlie doesn't fit in. He lives for the present only, he says, while everyone else with their routines lives constantly cleaning up yesterday's mess and setting up tomorrow's. When he visits the bank to make a deposit, he doesn't mind jesting about bankers and corruption, even though he's clearly making everyone there, who takes their job seriously, uncomfortable. Amidst these gradual revelations is a classic Hitchcock touch of preparing the climax in parallel. In Shadow of a Doubt, Little Charlie's father and his friend share an interest in crime fiction and after dinner the two theorize about the perfect crime. Blunt instrument? Poison? A little nudge down the stairs? On the one hand these details sew the theme of murder parallel to the plot and prepare the climax, but on the other they mirror our questions about Uncle Charlie: how can Uncle Charlie do the evil which fascinates their father? Where's the line between thought and deed?

The more you look at the apparent similarities between the two men, the more frightening the movie becomes. The fear of Shadow of a Doubt is the terrible truth that you can't know what's in another man's heart. We ignore the fact and welcome others into our lives, smoothing over our fears by taking outward signs to mean that someone is one of us.  Emma welcomes her baby brother because he's family, and her husband welcomes him because his wife and the children love him. Little Charlie welcomes her special uncle, with whom she swears she shares a special link. The town welcomes him as one of their own, praising his speech although "foreigners seem to make the best talkers" and even declaring him "one of us." Is he?

Once the pollsters out themselves as detectives and confess that and why they're dogging her uncle, Little Charlie is determined to clear him. In the movie's most tense scene she travels to the library for a copy of the paper that Uncle Charlie tried to hide. That's right: the most tense scene is a trip to the library, and no one's even chasing her. Yes, it's about to close, but the only driving force behind the scene is her desperate need to clear Uncle Charlie, and that's quite enough. Dmitri Tiomkin's score here begins with wandering winds as Little Charlie is curiously thumbing through the trash for the clipping but moves to soaring and swooning strings as her doubt grows and finally erupts into a throbbing orchestra and racing chords on piano as she darts across busy streets to find the truth at the library.

No sooner does Little Charlie learn the truth, though, than is Uncle Charlie's name cleared when another man not only takes the rap, but dies in the process. Determined to drive off her uncle, who is now determined to settle in town with a clean slate, Little Charlie begins a game of cat and mouse, dropping hints about his crimes through dinner. Uncle Charlie, though, realizes that one last person knows of his guilt, and that he'll be totally free if he just kills his favorite niece. These scenes work so well for a few reasons. First, Uncle Charlie is set up as such a good fellow that we know no one will believe any accusations about him. Second, the crimes play out like the hypotheticals the father and friend had speculated about, so we have the crimes on the mind when they come. Third, Little Charlie is smart and aware. She knows how her uncle looks to everyone and even the detectives now that his name has been cleared.

That Uncle Charlie is in the clear for the finale is a touch of genius because it forces the confrontation onto the two main characters instead of involving police and authorities for whom we don't care. Just as we've finally peered into the depths of Uncle Charlie's evil as we saw him attempt to murder his niece, he's fully fooled the whole town with a great speech. Our and Little Charlie's special knowledge forces us into the intimate world between the two Charlies, a relationship which has moved from adoration to violence. We feel the intimacy and imminent danger at once in a scene of masterful subtly which is also the true finale. At a party after his speech, Uncle Charlie toasts to his niece, who descends the stairs wearing the ring which links him to his crimes. Once a symbol of their love, it is now one of their antipathy and his evil.

This intimate knowledge is not only a dramatic splash of contrast to the townspeople's ignorance, though, but also a parallel to the theme: who is Uncle Charlie? Who is anybody? In the final scene, when the whole town shows up for Uncle Charlie's funeral and the priest declares that they've, "gained and lost a son," we suspect a fact beyond our inability to know, the haunting one which has been coming to and fro all along in the film's waltzing motif and Uncle Charlie's own advice: that we might not want to.

Movie Review: Rope

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. 1948.

It is the fate of too many masterworks that they get shoehorned into the taxonomy of their creator's oeuvre. Rope is thus Hitchcock's experimental film, his first color film, the film with the long takes, the one that takes place in real time, and the film with the homosexual subtext. If we resist the urge to dig and categorize, though, we'll find a fine film, foremost not because of its color or long takes or such, but because of one ingenious detail: the film is a slow reveal not of murder but of the murderer.

The opening homicide is simply a preface to a chamber play about one man's haute depravity, for after collegiate roomies Brandon and Phillip murder their chum David, Phillip collapses into a panic which through tortuous inquisition nearly outs as redemption. Brandon, however, rises to his egoism. Slowly we learn that Brandon murdered not for any sin or indulgence save the thrill. Slowly too, we grow more and more uneasy as his pleasure at the crime seems more and more sincere. The party for which they prepare turns out to be a celebration for the two superior intellects to toast their murderous, ingenious superiority. It's a toast worthy of Poe, though, for the men not only drink over the corpse of their throttled friend, but have invited the friends and father of the deceased to share in their splendor.

As the party unfold and Phillip begins to cringe under the pressure, Brandon is full flamboyance and charm. He delights in dropping hints at the crime and in his most perverse pleasure delights to wrap a gift for David's father with the very cord of rope used to cut off his life.

The leisurely pacing and long takes are not just a gimmick but a source of tension because it denies any relief for Phillip's mounting anxiety and gives no limit or break from Brandon's sick exuberance. While a few of the disguised splices are more distracting than a bald edit would have been, overall the effect is that of amplification and not cleverness. Likewise, the backdrop of the dimming NY skyline is not simply a technical masterpiece but a source of energy in its slow fade to black. As the daylight fades, the energy slowly concentrates onto the apartment until in the film's climax neon lights splash the fraying criminals with green and red.

James Stewart's turn as their former professor is a little gem of restraint and subtlety.  It's one part professorial wit, one part Columbo, and one part high society snob. Their old psychology professor , though, proves the undoing of the caper. Picking up on Brandon's hints and Philip's nerves in the film's best scene, Professor Cadell makes for the chest in which he expects to find the body. The scene is a brilliant misdirection of both the criminals and the audience. Offscreen but in earshot, Cadell peppers the two men with faux concern about David as he allows the maid to clear off the chest. In and out she moves from the foreground to the back clearing the material as Cadell blathers on. As soon as she's about to open it, of course, both we and Cadell are denied the reveal.

The professor isn't a perfect third spoke to the drama, though, for while we believe Brandon's joy and Phillip's nerves, Cadell falls short in both character and tone. You see, the party's witty banter turns to elitist pontification and Cadell espouses his little philosophy about how one ought to be able to kill inferiors. It's clear that Brandon agrees not just from his swift assent but from his own earlier monologue about his moral superiority. We're not sure, though, if Cadell is really their intellectual progenitor, if he's just playing histrionics, or whether he's fishing for information. That Brandon expects Cadell to approve of the murder suggests the former, which raises the question of why. Cadell's no murderer, after all, yet he's not characterized to be beyond reproach or as fully serious about his ideas, so what's the deal?

It would have been better had Cadell either made a more persuasive case which would have plausibly converted Brandon, or articulated an idea which Brandon might have perverted. As it happens, it's not as if Brandon has misapplied the idea so much as applied it. Then again, when Cadell finds out about the murder, he claims it was something innate in Brandon that drove him to murder and not any ideology. Maybe, but how would Cadell know and why do we trust his verdict which conveniently extricates him? It's here that Rope gets in over its head because it tries and can't explain the difference between Cadell and Brandon, who share ideas but not the crime.

This confused scene is unfortunately the movie's climax and Jimmy Stewart's final finger-wagging speech robs Rope of the dark tone which actor John Dall lent throughout as Brandon. Too, Farley Granger is left with little while his Phillip sputters into the sidelines.

Still, Rope is a slick and compact film, tense but fluid. John Dall's energy in Brandon's exhilaration is nearly ferocious and you can practically feel Phillip's palpitations. Too the techniques prove complementary and not extraneous to the plot. There are some ideas here too, ably explored, if a little tongue-tied in resolution.

Since it's the the experimental film, I hope it won't be presumptuous to suggest Rope would play well without the final speech, and reversed.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: The Art of the Score

Film Week at the Philharmonic. 2013.

Some will bristle at the premise: why pay a pretty penny to see an old film with live music? It's a question that charts the gulf between cinephiles and audiophiles. To the film maven, movies are sculpted, perfected time, trimmed into a narrative shaped in sight and sound. Its finished, recorded status is part of its essence. Yet for most of music's history, it lived only in awakening from the hibernation of the score. Film's mix of sight and sound, though, bridges the cinematic and musical worlds to permit a synthesis of film's completed visual worlds with the frisson of music's fleeting vitality.

The marriage is not only an ideal one of virtues, but one of supplementing limitations. On the one hand, pure musical expression tends toward the abstract while even opera and musical theater are limited by the demands of the sets. On the other, film's recorded nature can make it rigid and subject it to the vicissitudes of production circumstances which aren't ideal.

Film Week at the New York Philharmonic was an exploration of these features of music and film, pairing films with live performances of their scores. In the first performance, Alec Baldwin hosted us through selections from six films from Alfred Hitchcock with Constantine Kitsopolous making his NY Philharmonic debut conducting Murray (To Catch a Thief), Herrmann (Vertigo and North by Northwest), Tiomkin (Strangers on a Train and Dial M for Murder) and Gounod (Marche funebre d'une marionnette.) What strikes first is the full, almost voluptuous, dimension of the music. Perhaps I noticed this more because it's not music I'd ever heard these scores in person, but it was as if hearing many of them for the first time. From the swooning Wagneresque Scène d'amour of Vertigo to the hefty swagger of Gounod's march, the music moved with an energy it imbued to the visuals and narrative.

The Carousel Scene from Strangers on A Train is a good example of a scene coming to new life with live music. Here, composer Dimitri Tiomkin mixes a dramatic symphonic score with carnival music for a shocking mix of tone, timbre, meter, and style as two men brawl over a runaway carousel. The shot is also ingeniously composed, with visual activity along three axes of the frame, and alternations among them. What came across most from the night of Hitchock, though, was the multiplicity of styles across the films, a directorial feat our host aptly sketched for us. Hitchcock reached across styles and forms to find the precise musical complement to the scene, with the result of almost indivisible expressive impact. Whether it's the swaying violins and crashing brass of Vertigo's theme, the playfully scampering tune to which Cary Grant outsmarts his pursuers in To Catch a Thief, or Hermann's bravura narrative finale to North by Northwest, we hear brilliant music incorporated to visuals, with excruciating editorial attention to pacing, into a thrilling whole.

If the theme of the Hitchcock night was drama, the theme to the screening of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was rhapsody. Not in the music, of course, but in the music's role in shaping by sheer force Kubrick's contrasting four episodes of grandeur. While within scenes we see complementarity between sight and sound, the heroic grandeur of the monolith's arrival and the waltzing grace of space travel, it's the features of music qua music, the naturalism of its shapes and rhythms, which persuade us that the episodes form an equally natural, that is true, whole, even as they progress into increasingly distant realms.

Here too the live music brought the visuals to life. The resonant, sonorous echoes of Also sprach Zarathustra reverberated as motif like never before throughout the film. Most of all, the tortuous dissonance of Ligeti's Kyrie disoriented with the clarity of the inner parts.

Alex North's unused score to 2001,
on display in Avery Fisher Hall.
I can't pass over a curious non-musical feature of the 2001 performance, though, which was the voluminous humor Friday night's audience found in the film. Fighting monkey's? Chuckle-worthy. The death of an astronaut? Outright funny. HAL bargaining for his life? Hilarious. Maybe people feel the need to participate and so they ooh, ahh, and laugh. Maybe they have a sardonic sense of humor. Maybe they just missed out on the terrible grandeur of the movie. In any event, it felt quite unwarranted. During the credits the audience adopted the honorific of applauding the notables in the roll, a gesture which quickly degenerated into clapping ironically for people who weren't famous. A sophomoric end to a transcendent experience.

Nonetheless, a splendid night: fine performances, an enlightening synthesis of mediums, and a vindication of live performance.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Movie Review: Populaire

Directed by Régis Roinsard. 2012.

If Populaire were only a riff on Pygmalion it might be a little banal. If it were only an imitation of the sugary Rock Hudson and Doris Day comedies, it'd be silly. If it were simply fashioned in the mold of competition movies where it all comes down to the last moment of the game, then it'd be formulaic. Instead, though, Populaire unifies and elevates these too familiar features into a sweet little package.

The chief success, as you may guess, is not the plot. It will do no good to explain that plucky little Rose Pamphyle moves from her small French town into the big city after landing a job as secretary to insurance agent Louis. It says a little more that Rose, thanks to her father's typewriter and a cheery knack, types at phenomenal speed. Finally, if you can't guess by now that her boss Louis trains her to win a typing competition and in the process falls for her, then I can't help you. It's the style, though, that pulls these elements together.

First, everyone plays the movie straight. No one questions the usefulness of Rose's skill or the importance of the competition. The film doesn't edge into satire and remains faithful to its playful tone and focus on the main characters' special relationship. They believe it, so we do.

Second, the movie keeps a lid on the talking. Instead of suffering through chatty dialogue and the bubblegummy air-headedness we might expect from its Hudson-Day roots, or the filler and too-clever wit of My Fair Lady, director Régis Roinsard tells a great deal of Populaire through visuals. Glances, scowls, peeks, smirks, and no shortage of musical montages keep the film light and moving.

Third, the color palette is soft and bright, from Rose's dresses and, well, rosy hue, to the opulent interior of Louis' house to the golden glitz of the world competition. The one exception to this is a surprisingly erotic scene which owes its additional burst of ardor to a monochromatic twist. Another effective scene is easy to overlook since it's just one of the local typing competitions. It is in fact well composed with rows of typists in the center of a gymnasium and the crowds around. Everywhere a pleasing distribution of colors, mostly in the form of clothes, makes an otherwise still and sedentary scene subtly pop as the camera bobs between the center and perimeter. Simple and effective.

Fourth, Populaire keeps things subtle. Rose's father is a widower and a grouch but not monstrous. Nor does he conveniently disappear from the plot or storm back into it to fix or ruin anything. Instead, he recedes into the background and stays there, returning in a low-key, unintrusive way. In another scene, after Rose has moved in with Louis to train more efficiently, Louis stumbles upon one of Rose's misplaced unmentionables. This takes a briefly comedic turn as Louis attempts to return the apparel, but after he's inevitably caught, does Rose fly into a rage, setting up a momentous shift? On the contrary, it becomes sweet moment where the two accidentally reveal something about themselves. Another scene, in which the two must feign their engagement for Louis' family, functions much the same and as well.

Finally, the movie works with or without its fourth act, which does drag on a bit. Populaire was in the rare position where both characters could have gone on happily apart and true to their characters without making for an unhappy ending. Instead, the fourth act brings them to a not-so-inevitable place, although that's hard to begrudge.

It's far too easy to overlook how much attention went into maintaining Populaire's delicate whimsy: not overplaying the sight gags, sketching in just the right amount of history for Louis' romantic reservation, and keeping Rose's preposterous training amusing and not tyrannical. There's affection here in the details of both the direction and the script: cheeky glances, insecure posturing, a little forced encouragement from an old flame. Populaire is a charming, cheerful movie of subtle taste and air which you would be most fortunate to see with someone much like it.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Political Campaign Alternatives: A Modest Proposal

Democracy is perhaps one of the most fetishized and least questioned aspects of modern political life. This is not so unusual insofar as a we live in a society where the individual is thought to have personal sovereignty and thus then the liberty to. . . well it gets a little hazy at that point, since democratic elections have been known to produce all manner of illiberal results which get blessed with the democratic imprimatur. At the very least, though, we acknowledge the right to voice concern over one's fate, even if we deny people the actual ability to choose it. This liberty, such as it is, then becomes Sophie's choice between the populist crimes and fantasies du jour. If you don't like those choices then you get branded with the scarlet letter reserved for puppy-kickers and seal-clubbers: you're anti-democratic. You don't love America. You can "take it or leave it." You can "Go to Russia." Your vote for those icky third-party candidates "doesn't count" then.

My favorite of these bromides is the assertion that if you don't vote then you can't complain, as if in not choosing to get poisoned I shouldn't complain when I get stabbed. To fuse Tom Woods and Stefan Molyneux: Choose your cage, citizen. Rejoice. Repeat. Because democracy.

There is, however, something to be said for exercising one's will, if not for picking one's poison. One problem is that people have so many different criteria for what makes a good leader. Some people want businessmen, some rabble rousers. Others economists or reformers. Some want military heroes, others legislators. And so forth. The success of President Obama's carefully curated curriculum vitae is a good example of the dangers of credentials, so perfectly mixed was it to anesthetize moderates' fears of reform and stimulate reformers' hope for change. Everyone saw what they wanted and the perfection of the American experiment was at hand.

Alas, he's not been up to the task and citizens are no more prepared now than they have been thoroughly to examine the candidates. As a result, campaigns have degenerate into promises and administrations into quagmires. Thus, I offer a modest proposal which I believe will increase competition among candidates, drum up popular interest, and produce candidates of a higher caliber.

The Presidential Olympics

Round 1: Marathon
  • I'm not asking for a full marathon, but the president should be able to run a few miles in a reasonable amount of time without keeling over. 
Round 2: Feats of Strength
  • An American Gladiators style obstacle course designed to test their ingenuity, dexterity, and guts. 
Round 3: Academic Decathlon
  1. Math (Jeopardy style)
  2. Geography (Jeopardy Style)
  3. English Grammar (Quiz Show style)
  4. American History (Written)
  5. American History (Quiz Show Style) - This consists of information on present conditions including revenues, expenses, military capabilities and positions, economic statistics, foreign agreements, and so forth.
  6. Logic (Jeopardy style) - Candidates must spot the logical flaw in an argument.
  7. Economics (Oral Interview) - Candidates must explain various phenomena and prescribe a course of action.
  8. Economics (Practical) - Candidates must execute a prescribed business plan, and profit.
  9. Art (Guided Tour) - Candidates must plan and give a unique guided tour of an American museum, explaining ten works. 
  10. Important Concepts (Lecture) - Candidates must give 10 short talks explaining specific concepts from various disciplines. 
Round 4: Practical Arts
  1. Change a car's tires
  2. Cook a three course meal
  3. Clean one house, top to bottom
  4. Hunting/Target Practice
  5. Work five different 9-5 jobs in a week without getting fired
Round 5: Debate
  1. Declamation of the memorized Constitution & Declaration of Independence
  2. Deliberative defense, pro and con, of a piece of original legislation
  3. Ceremonial speech praising an American who has been dead for at least 50 years
  4. Moderated debate on select topics against other candidates.
  5. Moderated debate on select topics against a panel of experts. 
Round 6: Following and Leading
  • Follow a commander and then lead a group, through a series of tasks in the following environments: 1) kitchen, 2) classroom, 3) choir/orchestra, 4) sailboat/fishing boat, and 5) a military exercise.
Finals: Games
  1. Monopoly
  2. Risk
  3. Chess
This course would be timed and compressed into the space of one month, replacing the yearslong spectacle of campaigning. Some events would be timed or goal based, and thus objective, and others would be subjective and judged by democratic voting. In the cases of subjective events, this system would at least provide voters with something the candidate actually did, recently, and himself. It would also force candidates to acquire and perfect tangible skills before entering office. Finally, the failures would be educative, entertaining, and of course, democratic. 

We're Not Dead Yet. . .

Just enjoying some time off from writing. Posting will resume presently. 
Thanks for sticking around.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Heart of the School: Christian Humanism and the Liturgy

Christian humanism is liturgical. Its end is theosis, the deification of man. The Catholic school ought to have at its heart the worship of God in the liturgy, not only in the Mass but in the Divine Office. The liturgy ought not to be extraneous or a grudging concession, but the living, beating heart of the school. 

It ought to be frequently and solemnly celebrated.

Meditation and prayer should be taught; not the forms of prayer only but the mental and spiritual faculties necessary for true conversation with God.

Periodic silence should be honored; the form and meaning of ritual gestures should be demonstrated and explained with exactitude.

The liturgical year should figure largely in the classroom and in the school's general schedule; Advent and Lent should assume a sober, restrained character.

Easter- and Christmastide should be joyful with many opportunities for celebration, merry-making, and fellowship.

The liturgy is the school of Christian contemplation. 

The liturgy must throw off its dreary suburbanism, its reek of American middle-class philistinism, its fetish with the apparatus. There is ample scope for true diversity in worship, without the self-absorbed, amplified braying of a few "engaged" Catholics who punish a hapless congregation sitting mute in a naked auditorium. 

Christian humanism is liturgical, because Christian humanism is cosmic; it is a vision of the whole, and the liturgy is the sanctification of the beautiful whole, the cosmos. The liberal arts order things according to their place in the hierarchy of being. But the hierarchy of being is first and finally to be discovered in the sacred liturgy.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Ordinariate Reservations

For my own personal edification, I'm doing a bit of writing on what I call Anglican Platonism. Ever since the Anglican Ordinariate was proposed, I've attempted to distill the essence of the Anglican patrimony. But I've given up on the Ordinariate being the institutional means of its continuation; that's not to say that I don't believe it won't be preserved in the Catholic Church. On the contrary!

But it won't be preserved at the bidding of a motu proprio or by the hand of the prefect of the CDF. The AP is a way of life, and its best elements have always come to light by means of a few friends working and praying in concert (think Methodism, Romanticism, Tractarianism, etc). It's not just a way of praying, but a way of doing theology and philosophy, of reading the Scriptures. Conscience, experience, and liberty figure largely. Greece is its spiritual master. Its liturgy is fundamentally Benedictine; its philosophy Platonic. Coleridge is its modern-day fons et origo; but Wordsworth, Ruskin, Paul Elmer More, Mascall, Farrer, Eliot (of the Four Quartets), George Grant, and Catherine Pickstock are no less exemplary.

Newman, Hopkins, and more recently, Aidan Nichols and Stratford Caldecott have made it a heritage of Anglophone Roman Catholics, but it has analogues in von Balthasar and in Ratzinger (whom we might provocatively call the first "Anglican" pope).

The problem of form in particular engages its attention; it eschews the mechanism of the English secular philosopher, and its robust poetic tradition balances English empiricism. Indeed, one might say that poetry and metaphysics share the crown between them (a bit of Platonic heresy, to be sure). The imagination is given a place of honor. It enchants the landscape, or rather it recognizes the enchantment already laid down.

Its parochial office enchants time: it is a religion of the twilight (Evensong beings its great liturgical contribution to the Christian world). And this is as it should be, for the world, though beautiful and delightful, is only a shadow and type.

These qualities can never be codified; they embody a particular way of living and attaining salvation. If they are to be made Catholic, it will only be because men and women continue in that way. The experts will dictate and the bureaucrats will push paper, but it is in the laity in whom we must repose our hope. It is our inheritance, to defend and exemplify.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Joy of Thanks

It's one of the less explicable facts of life that people seem to find the writing of thank you notes a tedious task. The labor in fact became a classic scene where people would tediously write out thank you cards until their hands hurt, classic until Hallmark et al provided us with prefabricated sentiment. (I mock, although you can still find and give suitable prefab greetings.) Both the tedium and the conception of thanks as an onerous task confuse me, though, because giving thanks is such a natural and beautiful thing.

Indeed, saying thank you is one of the first acts of manners which we learn. We learn it rather quickly, too, it seems, since in my experience children are very polite. Perhaps giving thanks is so easily learned because it feels so cutting to take without acknowledgement. Consider how awkward it feels to receive faceless charity. How much more do we long to thank someone who directed his life toward yours, even for a moment, and didn't stop to ask for anything. To strip the personal from the act of giving is quite obviously to dehumanize the act. Thanks also seems most appropriate at the personal level. Can one person feel gratitude toward a nation, however great the contribution? To whom does the state-welfare recipient give thanks: the beneficence of mankind? And for each man's pennies of sacrifice? No, it seems gift and thanks are most natural, thoughtfully given and lovingly received, at the individual level.

On the other hand, giving thanks is joyous, plain and simply, because all thanks are a form of praise. Religious services praise and thank God, secular festivals praise traditions and the bounty they bring, and personal thanks express gratitude for personal virtues such as charity, courage, and prudence. Yet too often it is this third, personal sphere which we neglect. We may sing our heart out at mass, march as proud patriots, but still fail to give thoughtful thanks to people we know. This is not exceptional in a busy world, but it doesn't simply coarsen relationships but deprives us of their joys.

I have found that reflecting closely on the person and our unique relationship always delights me and makes me grateful for their unique contribution to my life. Often I don't realize what they or their gift meant to me, or once meant or should mean, until I pause to give them thanks. Sometimes the thanks is a quick one on Facebook, other times it's a long email or card or even a gift, but I find more and more that that ingratitude is merely inconsideration, and that most of my thoughts find their happy end in a sense of joyful gratitude.