A Few Poems for St. Valentine’s Day

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Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, Antonio Canova.

Out of Catullus

By Richard Crashaw (translating Catullus)

Come and let us live my Deare,
Let us love and never feare,
What the sowrest Fathers say:
Brightest Sol that dies to day
Lives againe as blithe to morrow,
But if we darke sons of sorrow
Set; o then, how long a Night
Shuts the Eyes of our short light!
Then let amorous kisses dwell
On our lips, begin and tell
A Thousand, and a Hundred, score
An Hundred, and a Thousand more,
Till another Thousand smother
That, and that wipe of another.
Thus at last when we have numbred
Many a Thousand, many a Hundred;
Wee’l confound the reckoning quite,
And lose our selves in wild delight:
While our joyes so multiply,

As shall mocke the envious eye.

 

Sonnet 29

 

By William Shakespeare

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

 

The Flaming Heart

By Richard Crashaw (excerpted)

 

O heart, the equal poise of love’s both parts,

Big alike with wounds and darts,

Live in these conquering leaves; live all the same,

And walk through all tongues one triumphant flame;

Live here, great heart, and love and die and kill,

And bleed and wound, and yield and conquer still.

Let this immortal life, where’er it comes,

Walk in a crowd of loves and martyrdoms;

Let mystic deaths wait on ’t, and wise souls be

The love-slain witnesses of this life of thee.

O sweet incendiary! show here thy art,

Upon this carcass of a hard cold heart,

Let all thy scatter’d shafts of light, that play

Among the leaves of thy large books of day,

Combin’d against this breast, at once break in

And take away from me my self and sin;

This gracious robbery shall thy bounty be,

And my best fortunes such fair spoils of me.

O thou undaunted daughter of desires!

By all thy dow’r of lights and fires,

By all the eagle in thee, all the dove,

By all thy lives and deaths of love,

By thy large draughts of intellectual day,

And by thy thirsts of love more large than they,

By all thy brim-fill’d bowls of fierce desire,

By thy last morning’s draught of liquid fire,

By the full kingdom of that final kiss

That seiz’d thy parting soul and seal’d thee his,

By all the heav’ns thou hast in him,

Fair sister of the seraphim!

By all of him we have in thee,

Leave nothing of my self in me:

Let me so read thy life that I

Unto all life of mine may die.

 

The Canonization

By John Donne

For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love,
         Or chide my palsy, or my gout,
My five gray hairs, or ruined fortune flout,
         With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve,
                Take you a course, get you a place,
                Observe his honor, or his grace,
Or the king’s real, or his stampèd face
         Contemplate; what you will, approve,
         So you will let me love.
Alas, alas, who’s injured by my love?
         What merchant’s ships have my sighs drowned?
Who says my tears have overflowed his ground?
         When did my colds a forward spring remove?
                When did the heats which my veins fill
                Add one more to the plaguy bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
         Litigious men, which quarrels move,
         Though she and I do love.
Call us what you will, we are made such by love;
         Call her one, me another fly,
We’re tapers too, and at our own cost die,
         And we in us find the eagle and the dove.
                The phœnix riddle hath more wit
                By us; we two being one, are it.
So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit.
         We die and rise the same, and prove
         Mysterious by this love.
We can die by it, if not live by love,
         And if unfit for tombs and hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
         And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
                We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms;
                As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
         And by these hymns, all shall approve
         Us canonized for Love.
And thus invoke us: “You, whom reverend love
         Made one another’s hermitage;
You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage;
         Who did the whole world’s soul contract, and drove
                Into the glasses of your eyes
                (So made such mirrors, and such spies,
That they did all to you epitomize)
         Countries, towns, courts: beg from above
         A pattern of your love!”

 

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

 

By T.S. Eliot
S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
               So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
               And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
               And should I then presume?
               And how should I begin?
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head
               Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
               That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
               “That is not it at all,
               That is not what I meant, at all.”
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

 

“The Young Pope” as Neomodernist Television

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There are many ways to analyze HBO’s new limited series, The Young Pope. I’ve read comparisons to Twin Peaks and House of Cards. Some of my friends take it as a commentary on contemporary church politics. Others simply revel in its lush costuming and surreal sense of humor. There’s truth in all of these approaches, but I think none come close enough to identifying the show’s real aesthetic: Neomodernism.

Neomodernism is a small school of visual art created by Andre Durand and Armando Alemdar. A critical response to postmodernist dominance of the art scene in the last decades of the 20th century, Neomodernists explore “spiritual and aesthetic values in art,” as their Manifesto states. Neomodernist painters seek “a new relationship with works of art from the 15th to the 20th century.” They focus on the creative renewal of tradition. And they do so by adhering to nineteen criteria that shape their work. Here they are, lifted from Armando Alemdar’s website:

The Criteria

  • A Neomodernist picture manifests the Idea in the Hegelian sense meaning the Absolute, the spiritual presence in a work of art.
  • A Neomodernist picture has links to the works of art that preceded it and / or antiquity.
  • The nude or the symbol of the nude is the basis of a Neomodernist picture.
  • Every element in a Neomodernist picture is justified in terms of the whole composition.
  • A Neomodernist approach to religious subject matter is detached and philosophical, never an affirmation of faith.
  • A Neomodernist treatment of political or historical subject matter is detached and philosophical, never propaganda.
  • A Neomodernist artist must have sound drawing abilities and a command of the other traditional academic disciplines, such as perspective.
  • A Neomodernist picture concentrates the soul in the eye.
  • A Neomodernist work of art is emblematic rather than psychological.
  • A Neomodernist figurative or abstract picture has Albertian depth, space and light, never stressing the flatness of the canvas surface but exploring its limitless depths.
  • A Neomodernist picture presents scientific principles aesthetically (La Flagellazione, Piero Della Francesca).
  • A Neomodernist work of art hightens the sense of newness, regardless of when it was made.
  • A Neomodernist work of art is tactile.
  • Simplicity of form is Neomodernist.
  • A Neomodernist work of art has movement and stillness simultaneously.
  • Both figurative and abstract Neomodernist pictures pronounce “painterly” values.
  • Neomodernism precedes and supersedes post-modernism.

Clearly, these criteria are tailored for the plastic artsand painting in particular. Among the various examples of proto-Neomodernist that Alemdar draws from art history, all are paintings. Yet I would contend that many of the aforementioned criteria would work with any art form that places at its aesthetic center the tableau. There has been much critical writing on film (and by extension, television) as a primarily visual medium. Directors are primarily distinguished by the nuances of their visual style, rather than the way they use sound. We can, therefore, apply some of the same criteria to film that we use with painting.

And The Young Pope is a perfect example. Director Paolo Sorrentino relishes the visual component of his work. That tendency comes through powerfully in The Young Pope. While the show doesn’t fit all of the nineteen criteria, it does seem to play with many of them. Let’s go through a few:

“A Neomodernist picture has links to the works of art that preceded it and / or antiquity.”

The show isn’t an unambiguous endorsement of Catholic tradition, but it does engage with it. The narrative of TYP centers on a Pope who re-establishes several ancient customs, even as he closes himself off from the world. On the aesthetic level, however, the show’s links to the past are constantly re-emphasized. The costumes reflect sartorial tendencies that largely disappeared after the Second Vatican Council. The Pope placidly examines two works of Renaissance art alongside his confidant and master of ceremonies, Gutierez. In the course of the story, both paintings turn out to reflect the two characters’ inner demons. Another work of art, the Venus of Willendorf, is at the heart of one Cardinal’s sins of lust. Lenny invokes Kubrick and Banksy to justify his isolation. One of the show’s most riveting scenes takes place in a massive reproduction of the Sistine Chapel. And of course, there’s that intro, which features 10 pieces of art with thematic significance for Lenny Belardo’s troubled pontificate. Sorrentino ensures that art and film history saturate The Young Pope.

Neomodernist painters do the same. Andre Durand’s 2000 painting “Et in Arcadia Ego” is a good representative of this quality.

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The painting reworks the classical theme of the Arcadian shepherds most famously portrayed by Poussin. But instead of a tomb bearing the titular inscription, we are shown Damien Hirst’s “Away from the Flock,” a dead sheep preserved in formaldehyde. Durand was present at the Tate Modern when it was vandalizedanother artist poured black ink into the tank and declared that the resultant piece was called “Black Sheep.” The experience conveyed to him a strong sense of the decline of art; a celebration of death, negation, and fragmentation rather than life, affirmation, and the integrated whole. The vibrantly alive human nudewhich, for Neomodernists, is the central axis of meaning in artat the center of the piece contrasts sharply with the dead animal. He is among others in an easy communion; the sheep is isolated. He is subject to decay, as the other figures suggest the waning of a long life. But better to live with others subject to the vicissitudes of time than to exist alone in a state of constant, deathly preservation. In short, we are shown the difference between a living tradition and a deadening individuality. The piece thus serves to critique the anti-traditional death-wish implicit in so much postmodern artespecially Damien Hirst’s work.

This brings us to another of the criteria:

“The nude or the symbol of the nude is the basis of a Neomodernist picture.”

Compared to many other HBO productions, The Young Pope is positively modest. But there is some nudity, particularly at moments of thematic or narrative consequence. When it occurs, it’s often desexualized. The opening shot of the series, the famous and bizarre “baby pyramid” in Venice, fixates on nude infants. Esther, tasked with seducing the Pope, prays in the nude. Lenny is occasionally shown naked. Some of the only memories he retains of his parents take place in a peaceful landscape, and all three members of the family are more or less stripped. The warm glow of the sun on their youthful flesh speaks to an implicit, Edenic innocence. And of course, there are the scenes of Cardinal Dussolier’s (rather perverse) sexual pleasures.

While the nude isn’t as central to the show’s artistic vision in the way that it is in Neomodernist painting, the use of occasional nudity underscores the main theme of the series: loneliness and power. The Young Pope is deeply, principally concerned with how people try to cope with loneliness, and how loneliness interacts with power. The Vatican is a particularly convenient setting for that exploration, as it combines a culture of celibacy and the absolute power of a priest-king. The human body, when it appears, demonstrates some of the ways that loneliness can be overcome. There is eroticism, but eroticism subject to the demands of the spirit.

We can say much the same of Andre Durand’s work. While the nude looms as a much larger figure in his oeuvre than in Sorrentino’s, certain formal and tonal similarities remain. Observe the placement of the bodies in Durand’s “Pietà,” 2006. Compare the image with the parental flash-back scenes in Episode 7 or Episode 8.

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Two related criteria:

“A Neomodernist approach to religious subject matter is detached and philosophical, never an affirmation of faith. A Neomodernist treatment of political or historical subject matter is detached and philosophical, never propaganda.”

It would be impossible to say that The Young Pope is “an affirmation of faith.” Pius himself seems to struggle with belief in God, even in light of the miracles he (probably) works. Theology, though touched upon occasionally, is secondary to matters of Church discipline and ethics. The few moments of genuine spirituality usually come in short, nearly-corny, quietly profound statements (“Under all that ice, could be God,” “He’s lifting the weight of God”). It avoids the twin evils of the ugly liberal partisanship that has marked so many Vatican stories and the preachy conservative propagandizing that can characterize religious film. Instead, we’re given a strangely human story that confounds both sides—even in spite of the show’s manifest popularity among young, traditional Catholics. Lenny may be a saint, but his holiness is thoroughly ambiguous, weighed down by a number of unpleasant personality traits. This puts any viewer (perhaps especially the Catholic one) in an uncomfortable position.

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Neomodernist art should make us uncomfortable, too. Like The Young Pope, Durand’s Neomodernism resists easy classification. He infuses a basically realistic idiom with surreal exaggerations, obvious anachronisms, and intrusions of the fantastic. Moreover, Durand’s work is shot through with eroticism (including homoeroticism), even when he’s depicting sacred subjects. Observe his “Annunciation at Didling,” completed in 2001. Anyone who’s watched most of the series might be forgiven for remembering the utterly bizarre introduction of Tonino Pettola on an Italian hillside.

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Or his rendition of “St. Eustace.”

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These paintings, and others like them, are not set forth by the artist to prove any point. They are not didactic, and they don’t attempt, as the Eastern icons do, to bear the glorious presence of their subjects. Instead, they are a system of symbols arranged with a philosophical detachment.

Moving on:

“A Neomodernist artist must have sound drawing abilities and a command of the other traditional academic disciplines, such as perspective.”

Sorrentino’s technical mastery is evident throughout. Let’s take perspective. I give you:

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Note again how often the vanishing point centers on the Pope; that is, on the human body. Other examples could be cited.

The next relevant criterion can also be dealt with in a similarly brief manner. Durand and Alemdar write,

“A Neomodernist picture concentrates the soul in the eye.”

The hotel scene immediately comes to mind. When Lenny asks the prostitute for her proof of the existence of God, she whips out a camera, snaps a photo, and says, “Your eyes.” She’s not making the old creationist argument from the 90’s. She’s talking about the human soul, which becomes manifest to us in the human faceand preeminently through the eyes.

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The scene is particularly interesting because it is, to the best of my knowledge, the only moment in the series when Lenny allows himself to be photographed. He is disarmed by the prostitute’s beauty, and unsettled by the truth buried in her simple words. But I digress.

Next up:

“A Neomodernist work of art is emblematic rather than psychological.”

I only include this because it’s the one that definitely doesn’t fit TYP. The whole point of the show is psychological exploration, as I’ve already mentioned.

“A Neomodernist figurative or abstract picture has Albertian depth, space and light, never stressing the flatness of the canvas surface but exploring its limitless depths.”

This quality comes through in the ways that The Young Pope makes use of space. Every landscape is treated in such a way that its full aesthetic potential is maximized. This is true of both internal and external backgrounds. For example:

typcolonnade

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See also the photo at the top of this post.

“A Neomodernist work of art hightens the sense of newness, regardless of when it was made.”

This is harder to pin down, so I won’t dwell on it. I’ll only refer you to the many reviews that note the show’s peculiarity. People can tell there’s never been anything quite like it on television before. The show’s novelty is part of the reason people kept watching.

“Simplicity of form is Neomodernist.”

Again, a few stills will suffice.

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There are, of course, plenty of moments in The Young Pope where simplicity is anything but the order of the day. Yet not all of Durand’s own work seems rooted in a “simplicity of form.”

durandarachne

“Arachne,” 2002.

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“Giordano Bruno Burning,” 2000.

So perhaps the quality is malleable.

“A Neomodernist work of art has movement and stillness simultaneously.”

This is another quality that’s difficult to express, but there are scenes that strike a nice balance between the two. One is the frequently alluded-to address to the cardinals. Another is the first homily to the faithful. Yet a third might be the banal advice of the dead popes. Or the (oh-so-Italian) conclusion to Episode 4. Or even the confrontation with Sister Antonia. Probably more.

Durand achieves this quality in several pieces, but I’ll only refer to his 2006 paintings “Coronation of the Virgin” and “St. John the Evangelist.”

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“Neomodernism precedes and supersedes post-modernism.”

I’m genuinely unsure of whether this applies to The Young Pope. Yes, Pius XIII is intent on reforming the Church back to its more “prohibitive” days, before the rot of postmodernism set in. But he’s nothing if not the Byronic hero that achieved new, wider, and stranger expressions in postmodern literature. So I guess I’m torn.

Regardless, I’d argue that there is sufficient reason to believe that Paolo Sorrentino’s new show is the first example of Neomodernist television. Since The Young Pope has just been renewed for a second season, it remains to be seen whether that aesthetic will persist across the larger arc of the story.

Until then, just enjoy this beautiful work of cinematic art.

First Post

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A new year always brings changes. New prospects, new challenges. This year, I’ve decided to take the plunge and start a blog. I had held off for several reasons. First, I’m still an undergraduate. I felt for a very long time that any kind of blog would be inevitably uninteresting, given my relative lack of life experience and knowledge of the world. Secondly, I was apprehensive about committing myself to any particular opinions in print. I know what it is to change one’s mind, and for that change to be nothing short of radical. I felt that if I put my thoughts down for all to see, I might be pigeon-holed later on. It seemed like a limit for my future freedom. Then, I knew what petty squabbling the blogosphere (particularly the religious corner of it) can produce, and I didn’t want to get bogged down in that sort of thing. Finally, there was the simple question of what I would blog about. A personal blog seemed too narcissistic, an art blog seemed too narrow, and a religious blog seemed to run the risk of devolving into the kind of preachy mess that characterizes so much of what’s produced online.

But, urged by some close companions over the last few months, I came to realize that many of my fears were disproportionate to the potential benefits a blog might offer. After all, I’ve had plenty of friends about my age who write blogs that are worth reading. I decided to mix all of the above topics into a distilled personal view of life, art, pop culture, religion, and more. I hope that I can entertain and, perhaps, enlighten. But mostly I just want to have a little fun.

A word about the blog title: I’m descended from Pennsylvania’s Amish community, including the first Amish bishop in America. But I converted to Catholicism a few years ago, and intend to make the study of Catholic theology my life’s work. I came up with the phrase “Amish Catholic” a few years ago in jest, and thought it might work for precisely this kind of publication. We’ll see.