Is There Beauty in Sodom?

What appears shameful to the mind, is sheer beauty to the heart. Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, for the great majority of people it is in Sodom and nowhere else.” — Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Dmitri Karamazov, in the “Confessions of an Ardent Heart in Verse,” rants with great feeling about the two ideals of beauty that haunt the heart of man: the Ideal of Sodom, and the Ideal of Madonna. Dostoevsky expanded on this idea in one of his journals, calling the Ideal of Sodom the “Second Beauty” — the beauty which sin has in the eyes of those who are tempted to commit it.

Dostoevsky was criticized, of course, by those who felt that his works sank too far into the darkness without offering any “real” solutions to the problem of human sinfulness. D. H. Lawrence wrote that, “He is like the rat, slithering along in hate, in the shadows, and in order to belong to the light, professing love, all love,” while Freud lamented that “Dostoevsky threw away the chance of becoming a teacher and liberator of humanity; instead he appointed himself as jailer.” Such criticisms are typical of a certain critical tenor that sees literature, and art more generally, as a force for reworking the social order and rewriting the heart of man. It is a critical pose that leads to a kind of puritanism, and it is found just as commonly amongst atheistic reformers as amongst Christians.

Melinda Selmys writes about this second beauty and where the incarnation comes in.

The Nightmare of Tolkien’s Success

Who is the more enduringly important of the two? Tolkien wrote the greatest work, as evidenced by Germaine Greer’s backhanded compliment: “It has been my nightmare,” she snarled, “that Tolkien would turn out to be the most influential writer of the 20th century. The bad dream has materialized.” Lewis’s claims are broader. A half-century after his death, does any other writer turn up on so many shelves of good bookstores and libraries?

Michael Nelson reviews another one of those books about the Inklings. (via A&L Daily)

Birthday Meditation

Icon of the Good Shepherd. Public Domain.

Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save. (Isaiah 46:3-5, ESV)

Today is my birthday. I will not tell you my age; suffice it to say that I have reached the age at which I expected to die, when I was a kid. (I place no prophetic weight on that expectation, by the way. Nothing else in my life has gone as I expected, why should this?).

The passage above is from a chapter that intrigues me, because its meaning is implicit. It’s not spelled out. You have to put two and two together. The message of the chapter as a whole is, “The heathen have to carry their gods from place to place with them. Our God carries us.”

This is the testimony of a man who has reached the full span of years he expected in his youth — Jesus Christ has carried me all the way. If I had not been carried, I would not have made it this far.

Edward Gorey’s Cover Art

“Commercial book cover design is a minor portion of Gorey’s award-winning legacy, but not a lesser art. His linear expression and droll comedy are integral ingredients. There are also covers that are stunning for their hidden allusions. The barren landscape, for example, on the cover of The American Puritans evokes an otherworldly quietude, but speaks to concealed psychological demons as well.”

Steven Heller writes about a part of the much-loved illustrator’s work that has been overlooked. “Gorey’s covers and jackets were not done anonymously or as mere throwaways, as many others were. Nor was this a strategic compromise until he found and embraced his true calling.”

I want to look into that Puritan book.

#TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter

Twitter is channelling writer angst, gripes, and chuckles over things people say to established writers.

“Oh, you’re a writer? When I retire, I want to write a book too.”

“So are you still writing or are you working now?”

“I really like your work! Will you write for us? Oh, we don’t pay.”

How do you spell conflabigation? You’re a writer, aren’t you?

I love your work. It’s just like, oh, that other guy, you know?

And then there’s this one from Guy Gavriel Kay.

‘I, Ripper,’ by Stephen Hunter

Stephen Hunter, after years of writing successful sniper novels, has taken a flyer with a change of genre—a historical thriller. I, Ripper is a fictional retelling of the Jack the Ripper murders which is not intended to solve the historical mystery, but to illuminate the history of modern ideas.

The story is told through the eyes of three characters. One is a young London reporter who calls himself “Jeb” (we don’t learn his true identity until late in the story). By luck he’s the first newspaper man on the scene of the initial prostitute murder in Whitechapel, and he becomes his paper’s chief man on the story. He even bestows on the murderer the nickname by which he’ll be known to history.

The other narrators are the Ripper himself, in a fictional journal in which he does not reveal his identity, and a young prostitute who describes in a series of letters how she and her fellow streetwalkers react to the killings.

Jeb wants to do more to uncover the killer, in the absence of effective work by the official police. He makes the acquaintance of a renowned linguistics scholar, who produces what today we’d call a “profile” of the killer. Armed with this profile, Jeb and the professor reduce the pool of suspects to a few men, and then one.

Then the investigation explodes in surprises and a dramatic confrontation.

I, Ripper isn’t a bad novel on its own terms. I found it difficult to read at the beginning, because the murders are described in unpleasant detail. The final working out of the story was much to my liking, however.

But I don’t think I can recommend it to our audience, unless you have a strong stomach.

World’s Largest Published Novel

Yahaya Baruwa, is an ambitious entrepreneur, who wrote a novel in college and now intends to have it printed as the largest published novel in the world. The novel, Struggles of a Dreamer, is about a farmer and a beggar who must reject traditional restraints in order to pursue their dreams. In keeping with that theme, Baruwa will get the whole book printed on pages 8.5 feet tall and 5.5 feet wide. He’s already raised more than enough money through kickstarter, where you can still learn more about the book, project, and author.

The current Guinness World Record holder for largest published novel is The Little Prince, published in Brazil at seven feet, seven inches tall, and 5.05 feet wide.

Evangelicalism in America

Ed Stetzer writes, “For Evangelicalism, the Sky Is Not Falling but the Ground Is Shifting.” It’s one in a series on Evangelicalism in America.

Stetzer says, “Recently, I interviewed Rodney Stark, one of the nation’s leading sociologists, and asked him about the state of Evangelicalism today. He was perfectly blunt. ‘I think the notion that they’re shrinking is stupid. And it’s fiddling with the data in quite malicious ways. I see no such evidence.'”

In his article, Carl Trueman explains, “Conservative Evangelicalism may be more robust in terms of recruitment than other Christian alternatives at this point but it looks singularly ill-equipped to face the challenges of the coming days. It simply lacks the identity and the resources that come with historic rootedness, a point which makes it perennially vulnerable to becoming simply American culture in a Christian idiom.”

How To Write a Poetry Review, And How Not To

Glynn Young offers six overused words in poetry reviews, words such as “luminous” or its variant “filled with luminosity.” “Breathtaking” is another one. There’s nothing like a slim book of poetry that hits you like a punch in the gut.

“I consider poetry and book reviews highly subjective endeavors,” Young says. “It is someone’s opinion, after all, of someone else’s creative work. There’s no textbook approach I could cite that would meet all conditions and situations.”

He suggests using the journalist’s 5 W’s and and H for reviewing poetry.

Farm Storm

With Great Power Comes Great Quotations

Spiderman's Vision StatementWho first said, “With great power comes great responsibility”? Was it Marvel Comics writers for Spiderman? Was it Voltaire? Quote Investigator says there are better references, such as this from the French Revolution: “They must consider that great responsibility follows inseparably from great power.” A similar idea is found in Luke 12:48.

Learn more uses of this idea in QI’s post.

Would They Defend Salman Rushdie’s ‘Verses’ today?

If Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses were first released today (assuming even that is possible), would the literary world defend Rushdie as they did in 1989? He doesn’t think they would.

“Instead of realizing that we need to oppose these attacks on freedom of expression, we thought that we need to placate them with compromise and renunciation,” he said.

When the PEN American Center moved to honor Charlie Hebdo with a freedom of expression award, over 200 writers signed a letter of protest. Rushdie reached out to one of them, who replied to say he would defend Satanic Verses and that Hebdo was a different situation. They were accused of racism, but Rushdie was accused of blasphemy.

“It’s exactly the same thing,” Rushdie said. “I’ve since had the feeling that, if the attacks against The Satanic Verses had taken place today, these people would not have defended me, and would have used the same arguments against me, accusing me of insulting an ethnic and cultural minority.”

In a 1991 talk, Rushdie said, “Throughout the Muslim world today, progressive ideas are in retreat. Actually Existing Islam reigns supreme, and just as the recently destroyed Actually Existing Socialism of the Soviet terror-state was horrifically unlike the utopia of peace and equality of which democratic socialists have dreamed, so also is Actually Existing Islam a force to which I have never given in, to which I cannot submit. There is a point beyond which conciliation looks like capitulation. I do not believe I passed that point, but others have thought otherwise.”

Book Reviews, Creative Culture