Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Googie Architecture

I've recently discovered Googie architecture-- well, I suppose I'd always known buildings of this type existed, but I didn't know it was a specific architectural style, or that it had a name.

This kind of thing:





This is what Wikipedia says about Googie:

Googie (/ˈɡuːɡi/ GOO-gee[1]) architecture is a form of modern architecture, a subdivision of futurist architecture influenced by car culture, jets, the Space Age, and the Atomic Age. Originating in Southern California during the late 1940s and continuing approximately into the mid-1960s, Googie-themed architecture was popular among motels, coffee houses and gas stations. The style later became widely known as part of the Mid-century modern style, elements of which represent the populuxe aesthetic, as in Eero Saarinen's TWA Flight Center. The term "Googie" comes from a now-defunct cafe in West Hollywood designed by John Lautner. Similar architectural styles are also referred to as Populuxe or Doo Wop.

Features of Googie include upswept roofs, curvaceous, geometric shapes, and bold use of glass, steel and neon. Googie was also characterized by Space Age designs symbolic of motion, such as boomerangs, flying saucers, atoms and parabolas, and free-form designs such as "soft" parallelograms and an artist's palette motif. These stylistic conventions represented American society's fascination with Space Age themes and marketing emphasis on futuristic designs. As with the Art Deco style of the 1930s, Googie became less valued as time passed, and many buildings in this style have been destroyed. Some examples have been preserved, though, such as the oldest McDonald's stand (located in Downey, California).

I like Googie! For these reasons:

1) I like its "spacey", otherworldly look.

2) There's something child-like about it; all the buildings look like big plastic toys.

3) I like how American it is.

4) I like that it's futuristic and archaic at once.

5) I like its elongated, gravity-defying appearance.

6) I like the centrality of text to so many of the buildings.

7) I like how redolent it is of the open road, and the vast stretching spaces of the American landscape.

8) All of the buildings seem to scream "fun"!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Excellent Article on the National Party's Website

There's a new political party in Ireland called The National Party. They are a populist party, like UKIP in Brtain. I'm not sure what to think of them, especially since they don't seem to prioritize Irish cultural revival or the Irish language, and they seem rather cool towards Catholic social teaching, although they are prolife.

However, there is an excellent article on their blog, which is a very articulate response to a recent article by Fintan O'Toole, in which he wrote about Ireland's shared narratives and sense of identity. (Aside from anything else, I love it when one writer addresses the ideas of another in a detailed, leisurely way!) Worth reading. It was brought to my attention by somebody on the Irish Conservatives Forum.

Amoris Laetitia and the Catholic Faithful

Steve Ray is a Catholic apologist I rarely read, but I was intrigued to find this article on his website, regarding the whole Amoris Laetitia controversy.

It's an extraordinary thing. As far as I can see, there are virtually no major Catholic commentators who don't (to put it simply) agree with Cardinal Burke in this controversy. Edward Feser, George Weigel, Ross Douthat, Raymond Arroyo, Karl Keating, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Steve Ray, the entire staff of the Catholic Herald in England....other commentators, such as Archbishop Robert Barron, have been noticeably quiet. Perhaps things are different in the non-Anglophone world. I don't know.

Of course, I'm not talking about publications such as America or the National Catholic Reporter. But they won't be happy until there are married lesbian bishops, so I think we can safely disregard them.

Mark Shea is almost the only Catholic pundit who has enthusiastically supported Amoris Laetitia, and criticized the dubia cardinals. And he's gone off the deep end, anyway. I forced myself to stop looking at his blog after a heated exchange in the comment box, where him and his fanboys said some nasty things about me. Then again, I did provoke it-- I chimed in on unrelated thread to tell Mr. Shea he'd lost the right to quote Chesterton, which he'd just done. He replied that he wasn't aware I was head of the Chesterton Quotations Licensing Bureau. Good one.

The funny thing is that the majority of Catholics seem blissfully unaware of this whole controversy. I envy them. Maybe it's best not to get worked up about it. What can the faithful do, except keep practicing their faith? As we delighted in saying in happier days, the Church is not a democracy. God help us.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Flickering Screen

I'm reading Seeing is Believing: How Hollywood Taught us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties by Peter Siskind. (I should warn the reader at the outset that this is one of those posts where I'm not really trying to make any point, just describing some of my own mental quirks for the sake of it-- and always with the hope that others may feel the same).


It's one of those books that analyze movies, and decipher the cultural messages they contain. It's stylishly written, and not noticeably politically correct. Unlike many cultural commentators who simply want to uncover all the racism, sexism, etc. lurking in any given movie, Siskind sees various different philosophies informing fifties movies; conservative, liberal, centrist, and others. He also sees complexity and contradiction, rather than simple messages.

I really love the idea of the cinema as a place where society dreams, where its hopes and fears and contradictions are projected (literally and figuratively!) onto an enormous screen. I've spent a lot of time wondering why this idea appeals to me so much. I think there are several reasons. One is that I find my fellow human beings most endearing when I see them as child-like, and there's something regressive and child-like about a cinema audience. They gasp, they cry, they cheer, and they sit there glued to the screen, lost in the story.

Another reason this idea appeals to me so much is that it lends dignity to every historical moment. I like difference. I like one place to be different from another, and one time to be different from another. I like the fact that eighties action films tell us a lot about that era, while today's zombie films tells us (and posterity) a lot about our era. It's a pleasant thought that the drama on screen is reflected by the psycho-drama in the theatre, and in the wider society. And films reflect social trends in a way that is much more rapid and finely-grained than TV or fiction can; not only the zeitgeist of the decade, but the mood of the summer.

Another reason the idea appeals to me is because it adds to the aura of the movie itself. Imagine if TV really had killed off the cinema, and if movies were all released straight to DVD. Wouldn't they be diminished? They would for me, at any rate. For me, it's part of the appeal of any movie that it was shown in cinemas first-- all those cinema audiences hover over the film forever more, like phantoms. Usually we know something about their response, their interaction with the film, and this is part of the life of the film.

A cinema audience is so much more public, so much more a representation of the demos, than faceless multitudes in their living rooms. The fact that you have to go to a particular place at a particular time, and follow certain expectations of behaviour, and not be in the comfort and anonymity of your home, makes it much more of an event-- as well as the fact that you experience the reactions of the audience, in addition to your own.

The thought that any particular cinema release, and the audience reaction to it, is a reflection of social and cultural trends is very pleasing to me-- even thrilling. From as early as I can remember, I've been enchanted by this idea that society is a battleground of ideas, or perhaps a playground of ideas-- that, at any given moment, social and cultural forces are exerting themselves in every conversation, work of art, ceremony, chance encounter, daydream, speech, joke, and so forth. In this sense, I'm very happy I was born in the twenty-first century and not in the Neolithic era. Aside from everything else, how could you enjoy being a conservative in a society where nothing ever changed?

I love the whole iconography of the cinema-- the projector beam, the spotlights, the curtains, the plush seats, the film reels (an archaism now), the marquee, all that. It's so easily evoked, by a simple piece of clip-art or cartoon.

I love TV shows where the presenter is sitting in an empty cinema. It's a deliciously contemplative atmosphere.

Contemplative is the word I would use to describe movies in general. The movie is timeless in one sense-- if you play it a thousand times, it will always be the same-- but it's also redolent of its era, even if it's a sword-and--sandals epic or a science fiction story. Sometimes I think contemplation could be described as "the distance that gives intimacy". Looking at a photograph that was taken twenty or thirty years ago, in a strange way, opens up an intimacy that would have been lacking if you saw the same face or scene on the street, at the very moment the picture was taken. Seeing the psychological dramas of your own time projected onto a screen somehow makes them closer than when they are in your own head. It certainly seems to make them grander.

Disillusionment

What is happening in the world and the Church depresses me no end, and yet I'm also very vulnerable to the personal attacks and innuendoes unleashed on anyone who complains. I could defend the things I believe against all comers all day long, but once it comes to personal attacks, I feel defenceless, since I'm always inclined to believe anything bad anyone says against me.

And not even against me personally. A few weeks ago I was browsing a book by John Waters, Feckers: Fifty People Who Fecked up Ireland. It was entertaining enough, but one of the last "feckers" was "Paddy O'Blogger"-- a long rant against bloggers, portraying them as pathetic and angry and frustrated figures.

I wish I was the kind of person who just takes such things in their stride, but I'm not. Doubtless John Waters was writing mostly about left-wing bloggers (he was quite vague). He also took issue with them for their anonymity, and my blog has never been anonymous-- I've always put up my name, my picture, and my place of employment. He contrasts online writing with print journalism and letters to the editor, much to the former's disfavour. Well, I've had plenty of articles published, and plenty of letters to the editor too. Do I somehow stop being "Paddy O'Blog" when my words are in print, even when I'm saying exactly the same thing?

I can reason thus with myself, but it doesn't really make any difference.

I left Facebook some time ago. While I was there, I had a lot of very positive interactions-- indeed, a good few people said nice things about my posts. But I also got a lot of sniping and bitching-- and, once again, I don't give two hoots when it's addressed to my ideas or beliefs, but when it's a personal attack, it gets to me.

One of my own relatives posted a still from The Simpsons, a picture of a newspaper which showed Grandpa Simpson waving his fist at a cloud, with the headline: "Old Man Waves Fist at Cloud", and tagging me, in response to some conservative opinion I'd expressed. Another of my relatives saw fit to "like" this. I pretended to take it in good part, but the truth is I found it extremely hurtful, and still do. Once again, this was because of the implication that my opinions are based in personal failings or flaws or inadequacies. And there was a lot of this.

I'm not good with interpersonal conflict, and I find it gets harder rather than easier. I love my job, but I find it more and more difficult dealing with angry customers (while knowing that a library couldn't even begin to compare with a call centre or many other places of work). The fantasy of a life without interpersonal conflict is one I increasingly indulge in. (I'm not talking about an end to conflict per se. I like C.S. Lewis's speculation that, if he had killed a German soldier who had simultaneously killed him in World War One, they might have laughed about it in the next world. I like films where two fellows are having a sword-fight, one has his sword knocked from his hand, and the other chivalrously allows him to pick it up again. That is the kind of conflict I can dig.)

I'm not bothered with ridicule when it is aimed at what I say rather than me personally. Some months ago, I was in the audience for the TV show Claire Byrne Live. I made a comment that the Church had apologized too much rather than too little, and almost everyone in the studio laughed. That didn't bother me in the least-- I even found it bracing.

I've always done my best to refrain from ad hominem attacks myself. In this post, for instance, where I make a case for attacking ideas, not people. Doubtless I've lapsed here and there, but I think I've kept fairly rigorously to this policy, and avoided personal attacks and insinuations, whether against particular people or bearers of a particular opinion.

Writing is like breathing to me. If it wasn't, I would probably stop-- at least, give up any writing that involved social commentary, I'm so bothered by such attacks and insinuations. Now and again, I've thought of pouring my creative energies into something less polemical, such as horror novels. The sneering and scorn really gets to me.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

John D. Sheridan's Account of a Parish Mission

Here is an account of a parish mission from the book "Half in Earnest" by John D. Sheridan, a collection of articles which was published in 1948. The author thanks the editors of The Irish Independent and the Massachussets Teachers' Journal for allowing him to reproduce material. I imagine this article appeared in the former, rather than the latter.


I have written about John D. Sheridan on this blog before. I am an admirer of his work of Catholic apologetics, The Hungry Sheep, which among other things is an early condemnation of post-Vatican II madness. Some years ago, when I had fewer expenses than I do now, I went through a phase of buying the various collections of his articles on Amazon. They are a good size for sticking in a pocket, so I still find myself doing that when I'm expecting to be standing in a queue-- I was reading this article in a pharmacy this morning.

My fondness for his "funny" writings, which wasn't all that high to begin with, has diminished still further recently. I've grown more and more fastidious about prose style as I've got older. Anything too mannered bothers me. And few things bother me more than the tone of sustained flippancy which so many humorous writers adopt. Along with this, I detest the knowing, sardonic, man-of-the-world tone in which Sheridan, along with many others, constantly indulges.

But what I find most irritating in this author's work is something that he shares with many (supposedly) comic writers; a conviction that hilarity is to be found in disappointment, indignation, frustration, boredom, and so on. The stubbed toe, the angry wife, the bus that you just miss (and that splashes you with water from a puddle as it drives away), the old guy dancing badly at the wedding, etc. etc. Somehow, such writers think that multiplying allusions like these adds up to a comic vision. But it's not comic. It's depressing. Chesterton is a rare example of a comic writer who seeks to convey wonder, rather than weariness.

All the same, I doubt I have to explain why I've gone to the trouble of typing out this particular article. To me, for all Sheridan's disenchanted style, it's an enchanting window onto Catholic Ireland. How things have changed, from the time that an article such as this might appear in a national daily newspaper! The author seems to simply assume that his readers are Catholic and that most would have attended a parish mission.

I've never attended a mission. I attended the first and final Mass of a parish mission, given by the Jesuits, a few years ago. (I met the priest who gave me First Communion at this, and I was very disappointed.) I didn't have time to attend the rest of it. I've attended one retreat. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and one that still lingers with me.

Anyway, here is the article.

On Missions

It might be no harm if hte regular clergy, who give missions, and the seculars, who commission them, were told the lay point of view on this salutary annual discipline; for the laity seldom gets a chance of expressing itself on such matters, except when it stands up in a body on the first night of the mission and, through the medium of the most doleful of hymns, announces that, once again, it is resolved "to turn away from crime."

First and foremost, we don't like missions, any more than we like quinine and cascara. We know that they are good for us, but you can take my word for it that the chillest Sunday of the year is the Sunday on which the priest announces that the ecclesiastical auditors are on their wway and that the reclamation of the senile delinquent is at hand.

In our parish, and, I should think, in all parishes big enough to justify a fortnight's retreat, Mother Church, in her wisdom and charity, allocates the first week to the women. This is because long experience has taught her that women, having fought their way through winter winds on seven consecutive nights and on seven chilly mornings, will hunt out the menfolk, when their times comes, with a fervour that is not wholly spiritual in origin.

The men are glad of the week's remand, and they make the most of it. They pile on the fire, put their feet on the mantelpiece, and think of everything but the life to come.

When the women come home from the mission we make room for them at the hearth, warn them-- fruitlessly-- not to make a mess of a perfectly good fire, and get a preview of the mission and the missioners. The clergy should know, I think, that though we sit quietly during the sermon, our critical faculties are not asleep. In one sense we are in the dock, but in another we are in the jury-box, and we have no difficulty at all in coming to a verdict. The old missioner is a good preacher, or a bad preacher, or a middling preacher; the young one is too severe,or not severe enough, or he keeps us too long.There are also comparisons with the great men of last year or the year before ("they were divils on the drink"), and if the vintage is a bit thin we shake our heads in memory of the fine preachers who were with us in the year of the big snow.

Sometimes a few friends come in before bedtime, and then the discussion widens a little. It moves from individuals to regiments, and the Church's missionary army is reviewed in a spirit that is anything but impartial. One swears by the Redemptorists, another by the Vincentians, and you have only to praise the Dominicans to hear the virtues of the Jesuits. But there is a limit to our bigoted partisanship-- we speak of them all as "missioners", and not, after the manner of our country cousins, as "Holy Fathers"-- a libellous phrase which seems to imply that the "Holy" would be altogether inappropriate if it were applied to the local secular clergy In our parish, I am glad to say, we are above such innuendo.

As the first week of the mission goes by, and it passes all too quickly for the guardians of the hearth, the women become more and more self-righteous and the men more and more apprehensive. Some of the lazier ones practice spells of coughing and onwder if the night air would be bad for their bronchitis. But they are only wasting their time, for a woman at the close of a week's mission is as formidable as Peter the Hermit, and will not listen to excuses from anyone who is not permanently bed-ridden. Having formally renounced the devil, she forgets that Eve was his first client, acts as if he only purpose in making the mission were to show good example to the men, and becomes a missioner in her own right.

There is something cold and austere-looking about a missioner when he appears above the edge of the pulpit on the first night of a mission-- he has the cut of a regimental sergeant-major giving his first talk to a bunch of prisoners who have been sentenced on a charge of being drunk and disorderly. We are anything but drunk and disorderly, and we know it. We know that the sum total of our misdemeanours would not make material for one good shocker, but we know too that each one of us can say, with literal truth, that it is high time he turned away from crime. We are not the great sinners who God loves and pursues; we are the lukewarm yea-and-nay people who are rated so low in Holy Writ, the people who have to be coaxed, reminded, and exhorted, who have little spurts of piety every now and again and always mean to do better the week after next. We don't beat our wives (even when they deserve it), we don't rob banks, we are on the side of law and order-- we are chock-full of tiny, respectable, negative virtues.

We feel very sorry for ourselves, and very ashamed of ourselves, and the missioner-- who knows just how much penitence we can stand--breaks the tension when we have had enough. He breaks it by means of that dialectical device which (this is pure supposition) all young missioners are taught in the novitiate. He says: "I remember once giving a mission in a little village in the west" and immediately we all sit back and relax. Once a missioner tells a story, especially a humorous story, the discipline of the class is gone for good. And there it may be remarked that a missioner who rates his stories according to the laughter they will win for him is making the biggest mistake of his life. All a missioner has to do to get a laugh is to make it clear he expects one.

When the laugh dies down we begin to cough in relays-- a seat at a time. You cough at a mission, but for sheer joy at discovering that you are only one sinner amongst many, and to break the loneliness that comes to a man when he looks into his own soul.

As you walk home from the church afterwards, this feeling of kinship, of belonging to the big family that is the parish, and of having cousins the world over, strengthens perceptibly. You walk home from the cinema with the man next door, but you walk home from the mission with your blood brother.

There is something symbolic about the lighting of candles on the last night of a mission. it dims the great lights overhead, and makes the church not just a citadel against the darkness but a citadel against the powers of darkness. Our annual mission begins rather timidly, but it finishes up in a blaze of glory. I think that our feelings on the last night might be summed up in the story of the man who-- when the missioner, not being satisfied with the volume of the first renunciation of the devil, cried "louder"-- shouted out long before his fellow had responded, and in a voice which must have been heard in regions beyond this visible world-- "louser!". The phrase is a little vulgar, perhaps even a little abusive, but it is a perfect ending to the annual mission.

Friday, August 18, 2017