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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Drink the Water

October 11, 2012 | by

Liquor has never touched my Middle Eastern father’s lips. Or so he claims. In the late sixties, when he lived a spell in Munich, embarked on spontaneous sojourns to Italy, and dated a Finnish broad named Helvi I once saw in a faded wallet-size photo—activities that made him sound so much more alluring than the stern killjoy I remember—I like to think he nursed a few carefree beers just like any lonely expat. When he made his way to New York a few years later, renting a dingy studio on the upper reaches of Broadway, when he was still the man my mother fell for—an Arab version of Adrian Zmed with a rustling gold chain around his neck and swarthy looks that back then meant you were handsome, not a possible terrorist—he used to smoke cigarettes, my mother tells me. Perhaps he also took nips of whiskey from a flask.

But the only father I know, the real one, returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia when I was eight years old a sudden gung-ho Muslim. He was no longer the aggressive moderate who was content with me just saying Bissmilah at the start of each meal. Now, every moment he wasn’t holed up in a Hilton for work or stuffing fried eggplant into pita bread at the dinner table was spent hunched over a miniature Koran, recapturing the lost Islam of his youth, of his family, of the native Syria he hadn’t called home for more than two decades.

Freshly brewed mint iced tea. Distilled water from the Poland Springs gallon bottles that lined our laundry room. Dr. Pepper, when its effervescence became a salve for the wheezing that permeated my bronchitis-ridden childhood. These were the beverages welcome in our teetotaler home. Although my mother, a Catholic girl from Queens, didn’t have religion propelling her consumption habits, she harbored something worse: distaste for even innocent bubbles. “Champagne burns my ears,” I remember her whining—and she rarely invited company over for anything more than a cup of Earl Grey.

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Create Your Own Genie; Listen to Beckett

July 23, 2012 | by

  • The Cygnus Ensemble is presenting three original musical pieces to accompany Samuel Beckett plays.
  • Omitting letters can confuse. How is the poor reader expected to differentiate between b******* and b*******?”
  • Jonathan Swift and the question of truth.
  • “E-books appear to be doing for religious books what they did for erotica.”
  • Happy (belated) birthday to scholar, teacher, and Norton Anthology founder  M. H. Abrams.
  • Create your own genie to win a bookstore gift certificate.
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    This Side of Paradise

    June 28, 2012 | by

    Howard Finster was fixing a bicycle in his Summerville, Georgia, workshop one day when a smudge of paint on his index finger took the shape of a face, a face that spoke to him and told him, “Paint sacred art.” Finster, then in his sixties, had been many things in his life: a teenage tent-revival preacher, a pastor, a mill worker. He had never been an artist, but he had also never been a man to shirk the word of God.

    That was in 1976. The Lord told him to make five thousand works, a quota he reached just before Christmas 1985. By the time he died in 2001, his catalogue had swelled to more than forty-six thousand pieces. He devised an intricate numbering system and timestamped many of his works upon completion; he often painted through the night, sleeping only intermittently. Sometimes he signed his paintings BY HOWARD FINSTER, OF GOD. MAN OF VISIONS.

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    Oliver Broudy on ‘The Saint’

    June 2, 2011 | by

    Oliver Broudy was a disenchanted freelance journalist living in New York City when he met a philanthropically inclined millionaire whose story struck him as so meaningful that he decided to follow it halfway across the world. The result is The Sainta short memoir of Broudy’s travels with a man whose spiritual efforts range from the incredible to the horrible, and from the enlightening to the self-destructive. Broudy served as managing editor and then senior editor of The Paris Review, working under George Plimpton and Philip Gourevitch.

    What made you decide to write this book?

    Recklessness, I guess. The last resource of the truly stymied. Before The Saint, I only wrote for magazines. But as sweet a gig as magazine writing can sometimes be, there’s a limit to what you can do in that format. Sometimes it can be agonizing, because you get so close to a subject, but the editorial rubric of the magazine prevents you from addressing it the way you’d like to. So you end up sitting there helplessly as this great material sails by. I used to console myself that I could always go back and write my own version of whatever magazine piece was plaguing me at the time, but inevitably by the time you’re done with the magazine version, revisiting the same material becomes unthinkable. Those lost opportunities linger and ache. That had happened to me too many times, and I was determined to try something different.

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    Justin Taylor on ‘The Gospel of Anarchy’

    February 28, 2011 | by

    The Gospel of Anarchy is the debut novel from Justin Taylor. The story follows a group of anarchist hippies living together in Fishgut, a house turned commune in the college town of Gainesville, Florida. Philosophizing on religion, freedom, and happiness, they await the return of their Anarchristian friend, Parker, whose left-behind journals have become their own gospel. I met with Taylor to talk about the book.

    The Gospel of Anarchy is your first novel. Did you encounter any challenges in the process of switching from the short story format?

    One of the hardest parts of writing a novel is figuring out the structure. Mine went through a lot of different versions. The “zero draft” was all in first person, told by David, and then it was all rewritten in third, but still just about him. I wanted to include the others’ perspectives, so I tried doing it in a first-person round, almost like Rashomon or something, which didn’t work either, and somehow or other I came around to what you see now.

    The way in which the topic of faith is discussed in the book reminds me of Flannery O’Connor. Was she on your mind in writing this story? Were their other authors that influenced your writing?

    Flannery O’Connor was definitely an influence, especially her “other” novel, The Violent Bear It Away, which I actually like much better than Wise Blood. Violent is very funny but very dark, and the stakes of the entire book are basically whether this idiot child should be baptized. For her this is a matter of life and death, and the baptism might actually be more important than death, and I love that. Another author I really love is DeLillo. You can end up in some pretty murky waters trying to do your own take on DeLillo, so hopefully the book steers clear of imitation, but he was a big influence and there are a couple DeLillo shout-outs in the book. The first comes early on, when a character named Thomas sarcastically quotes the opening of White Noise in conversation. Later on, a couple characters compile a zine based on their friend Parker’s journal, which itself is a jumble of uncited allusions, quotes, and references to all kinds of political and religious thinkers mixed with Parker’s original thoughts. But there’s a line slipped in there about how “our faith makes us crazy in the world.” That’s from the Moonie character in DeLillo’s Mao II.

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    Elena Bychkova on ‘Express-Course of Buddhism’

    January 31, 2011 | by

    This Tuesday, the North American premiere of Elena Bychkova’s short film, Express-Course of Buddhism, will screen at Tribeca Cinemas in New York City. The film follows the train journey of a Russian teenager who retreats from the grim realities of Russian manhood into a pop fantasy of Buddhist enlightenment, gleaned largely from the Internet. Bychkova, who was born in Siberia and holds a degree from the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography, joins fellow Russian independent filmmakers Sergey Groznov, Anton Koskov, and Roman Karimov in a residency cohosted by CEC ArtsLink and the Sundance Film Festival.

    It’s odd to think of Buddhism in a Russian context. Why was it a theme you wanted to explore?

    I noticed various young people pretend to be Buddhist, when in reality they just had no other way to spend their time. They’d use it as a pretext to hang out, without even giving much thought to what Buddhism must actually be about. There are also quite a number of people, especially young ones, who, without even thinking of the context of the religion, without practicing Buddhism, would take a phrase from that context and use it to justify their actions, whether they were right, or, as in most cases, wrong. I thought it was a peculiar cultural occurrence.

    Your films have won awards in both Russia and Europe. Is there a difference in the way Russians and Europeans appreciate your work? Do they take different things away from it?

    Frankly, I don’t really see much difference between Russian and European perceptions of my films. I do see a difference in perception by different age groups. In Russia, Express-Course of Buddhism received all of its awards from small independent festivals organized by young people. Despite the fact that I received a grand jury award from the film festival held by the university I graduated from, the dean told me he would think twice before presenting the film to the Russian First Lady, who usually gets copies of all the winning films. Surprise seems to be well received by everyone regardless of age. I found it interesting that the audience at the Abu-Dhabi Film Festival in the Arab Emirates reacted to the film exactly like the audience in Russia.

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