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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

The Fruit of Another

October 21, 2014 | by

hilarion

Dominique-Louis-Féréa Papety, The Temptation of Saint Hilarion, 1843–44.

Octave Tassaert, The Temptation of Saint Hilarion, 1857.

Let’s talk about temptation, because it’s Saint Hilarion’s feast day. A fourth-century anchorite who followed the ascetic precedent of Anthony the Great, Hilarion lived for most of his life in a desert in Syria Palaestina, where … not much happened, presumably. He refused to take food before sunset and, perhaps as a result, faced a slew of hallucinations temptations. These he avoided, being saintly. When at last he rejoined civilization after many decades in the wilderness, he didn’t much care for society—so many people!—so he retreated into austerity again, in Dalmatia and then in Cyprus, where he died.

I’m simplifying things a bit.

The man wrought some miracles, for instance, but those are not my concern.

Much of what we know about Hilarion—the name is from the Greek hilaros, meaning cheerful, not super funny, though neither seems to describe the Hilarion in question—comes from a chronicle written by Saint Jerome in 390 A.D., a strange, captivating, and fittingly arid read, particularly in regards to Hilarion’s temptations: Read More »

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Translation and Virginity

September 30, 2014 | by

Remembering Saint Jerome on International Translation Day.

giovannibellini_stjeromereadinginthecountryside

Detail from Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Jerome Reading in a Landscape, ca. 1480–5.

Raise a glass, say a prayer in a language other than Hebrew and Greek, or wear a donkey’s ear in your buttonhole: it’s International Translation Day, aka the Feast of Saint Jerome, the patron saint of librarians and libraries, schoolchildren, students, Bible scholars, and translators. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin and died in Bethlehem on this day in 419 or 420 A.D.; he single-handedly (so to speak) created the Vulgate, a translation read as the sacred original for some thousand years.

He famously said that you should translate the meaning of the original text, not the words themselves, but translators must have always known this intuitively—even Jerome cites half a dozen predecessors. Because he was one of the early ones, though, he gets the credit, along with Horace, who said the same thing. Jerome made a partial exception for the Bible, whose very word order was a sacred mystery; his balance between the competing demands is what made his translation so good.

He was born in 331 or 347 in the town of Stridon, possibly in what’s now northwest Croatia; its only mention in history is Jerome’s comment that he was born “in the town of Stridon, now destroyed by the Goths.” He was also by far the crabbiest of the Church Fathers, as befits a man who earned sainthood by scholarship and rigorous asceticism, not working with people. As important a theological polemicist as he was a translator, he fired off letter after letter, volume after volume, from his library in Palestine, written in elegant classical Latin studded with choice insults. To someone who questioned his translations, he countered: “What men like you call fidelity in transcription, the learnèd term pestilent minuteness”; a heretic, Pelagius, was “a very stupid dolt weighed down with Scottish porridge.” Read More »

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Pynchon Defends Homer, and Other News

September 4, 2014 | by

script

The Simpsons’s executive producer Matt Selman tweeted this script with Pynchon’s remarks.

  • Before he made his second “appearance” on The Simpsons in 2004, Thomas Pynchon made a few edits to the teleplay—he crossed out a pejorative line of dialogue about Homer’s ample posterior. “Homer is my role model,” he wrote in the margins, “and I can’t speak ill of him.”
  • Walter Benjamin’s “vexed relationship with academia”: “Benjamin could do first-paragraph seduction with a vengeance; yet on the several occasions when certain essays were the key to a prestigious university post—when those powers of seduction would really have worked in his favor—what does he do? He goes in the opposite direction, producing dense thickets of prickly, forbidding verbiage. Today, there isn’t a university press anywhere in the world that wouldn’t kill to get the rights to publish those same contentious, rejected essays.”
  • Now that so much of our media is stored in the Cloud, “the tide has turned against the collector of recordings, not to mention the collector of books: what was once known as building a library is now considered hoarding. One is expected to banish all clutter and consume culture in a gleaming, empty room.”
  • From If Only He Knew: A Valuable Guide to Knowing, Understanding, and Loving Your Wife, a 1988 Christian relationship guide that seems to presume marriage is a total bummer: “While a man needs little or no preparation for sex, a woman often needs hours of emotional and mental preparation … Comfort her when she is down emotionally. For instance, put your arms around her and silently hold her for a few seconds without lectures or putdowns.”
  • In which a Roald Dahl story moves a man to pursue beekeeping, a hobby that teaches us much about the nature of loyalty (and the loyalty of nature).

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Illinois Jesus

August 18, 2014 | by

A forgotten Midwestern religious sect and the strange novel it inspired.

An illustration from Six Years in Heaven.

The most confusing thing about the rural Midwest is the importance placed on being normal. Perhaps this comes from demographic homogeneity: there’s a comforting stability in being able to drive a hundred miles in almost any direction and find a landscape almost identical to the one from which you set out.

The Midwest is construed as a place where nothing happens—that being, it should be emphasized, a good thing. Native Americans once lived here, of course; but there’s no longer any sign of them aside from some low mounds and their continuing near-universal use as school mascots. When I grew up here, no one wondered why they’d left. Probably it was more exciting somewhere else. Who could blame them? It’s a fine place to leave.

But on returning, as I did recently, the effect is disorienting: this is a place where everyone is cheerfully convinced of the rationality of their insanity. I was never immune to this. In school, everyone was perplexed by race problems. We weren’t racist. How could we be when there weren’t any black people? We ignored that in Rockford, Illinois, ten miles away, desegregation lawsuits were impossibly still grinding through the court system. Likewise, we firmly believed that gay people weren’t something we had; we learned we’d had a Jewish family in our town only after they’d safely escaped. This seems ludicrous to me now, and things have undoubtedly changed since the turn of the century. With the arrival of the Internet and cable TV, the boast that newscasters were carefully trained to speak like us—because we, among all Americans, had no accents—isn’t quite as impressive.

In 1988, when I was ten, my parents moved to a five-acre farm between the rust-belt city of Rockford and the village of Winnebago. Not being from the area, they were naturally curious about the history, and one of them found a Works Progress Administration history of Illinois in the library. In that book, we discovered that the country road we lived on had once not been so somnolent. A block north of us, a large complex of buildings painted red bore the name Weldon Farm, but once it had been called Heaven. In the 1880s it had been the center of an obscure religious sect—still lacking a Wikipedia entry of their own—called the Beekmanites. A woman named Dorinda Beekman had declared herself to be Jesus, as one did in those days; she died after promising to rise from the dead in three days. Her considerable followers were disappointed until one of them, a red-headed man named George Jacob Schweinfurth, neatly solved the problem by explaining that her spirit had moved into his body. Many agreed; he and his followers, the Church Triumphant, moved into Heaven and lived communally, where he’d attracted attention as far away as the New York Times.

A block south of my parents’ place, the road dead-ended in front of a run-down house. A “bad” family lived there, and their children occasionally went to school with me. We would have called them poor white trash had we not been afraid of being beaten up. Their house, ramshackle as it appeared to be, had a history as well: it had once been Hell. Schweinfurth had lived in luxury in Heaven, arrayed with young women called Angels. Their husbands, had they any, and members of the group who’d fallen out of favor, were sent to Hell, where the work needed to keep the sect fed was done. Read More »

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“I Would Like to Write a Beautiful Prayer”

November 12, 2013 | by

Martha Sprieser, Flannery O’Connor’s roommate at the University of Iowa (Flannery O’Connor Collection, Special Collections, Georgia College Library, Milledgeville, Georgia)

Credit: Martha Sprieser, Flannery O’Connor’s roommate at the University of Iowa (Flannery O’Connor Collection, Special Collections, Georgia College Library, Milledgeville, Georgia).

Flannery O’Connor was a believer. It was at the end of every story: the appearance of holy ghosts, fiery furnaces, judgment day. It was in the twist of her knife. The way she would jam it in a character’s gut, turn it, then rip it up. To make sure she got all the vital organs. The end of “A Good Man is Hard to Find”—“‘Shut up, Bobby Lee,’ The Misfit said. ‘It’s no real pleasure in life’”—is the most Catholic thing ever.

While she was writing what would become Wise Blood, she was also writing A Prayer Journal. Literally, journal entries written during her time at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, addressed to the Lord and asking for his help getting published. “Please let Christian principles permeate my writing and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate,” she wrote. Also she kind of thought of God as a crazy lover. From November 23, 1947: “Dear Lord, please make me want You. It would be the greatest bliss. Not just to want You when I think about You but to want You all the time, to have the want driving in me, to have it like a cancer in me. It would kill me like a cancer and that would be the Fulfillment.” I am also from the South. I am also a writer. God was never anyone special. No one in my family took religion seriously. Read More »

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Underwear Life: An Interview with Francesco Pacifico

March 12, 2013 | by

9780374270445_p0_v1_s260x420Francesco Pacifico’s novel The Story of My Purity is narrated by Piero Rosini. This Piero seems like most other modern schlubs—thirty, overweight, bourgeois, in a sexless marriage, you know it—but the thing that makes him unusual is his deep belief in Christ. This is the most Catholic narrator in contemporary literature. He is also the funniest Catholic narrator in contemporary literature. And what happens to Piero is some kind of picaresque adventure that takes him from Rome to Paris and beyond, into all the problems of his innocence. What else do you need to know about Piero’s creator? Francesco Pacifico is also a translator from English into Italian, and translation is something we talk about a lot. In fact, he has almost definitely read more fiction in English than you have. And if an inglese italianato is the devil incarnate, then what does that make an italiano americano? I just mean that Francesco Pacifico is one of the least innocent novelists I know.

There’s a moment where Piero says “nobody’s Roman,” and this setting of Rome is crucial to the book’s opening. So my first question is, are you Roman?

I am, and I’m not. I was born in Rome and have lived there all my life. But I don’t know how to cook trippa and pajata, I know nothing of Rome’s cuisine pauvre, my family’s half-assed culinary traditions are half abbruzzese and half everything. My father’s side comes from L’Aquila, Abbruzzio, where my granddad’s family was big during the Fascist era, or so I’m told. My mother’s side is from everywhere, the hills of Sabina, and remotely Spain and France, and they travelled the country as my granddad was an engineer for the electric company—Milan, Genoa, Terni. I don’t feel Roman. You can spot a real Roman from miles. Savvy, gritty, ironic. I’m not.

And now—to keep with first things first—could you talk a little about this theme of purity? It seems such a gorgeously perverse subject for a contemporary novel. What’s the beauty of purity?

I experimented with not having sex for years. And I am a renowned lover of women. There was a time in my midtwenties where I thought of my life as an ongoing piece of performance art, and I realized the big thing I should try was to stop having sex. I had this romantic view of my love for my girlfriend being exalted and enhanced by abstinence. I became impotent. Read More »

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