In defense of Lena Dunham??

November 3, 2014

Lena Dunham wrote an autobiography which contained a few disgusting passages, which several people on the Right were disgusted by. Apparently one isn’t allowed to express disgust at a disgusting book (and by extension its disgusting author) or to give free publicity to such a book, because Ms. Dunham has lawyered up. 

Lena, dear, I belong to the generation that invented “letting it all hang out”. (Well, almost; I was old enough to identify with the hippies, but too young to actually be one.). We did creative writing in high school, as I’m sure you did. And being the rebellious and hormonal youth that I was, I pushed the envelope on topics. I had a pricky teacher who called me a pervert for it; I had a nice teacher who politely asked me not to write about those topics, because she didn’t want to read about it. Either way, I learned that one wrote for an audience, that one didn’t always have control over who that audience was, and that the audience would draw its own conclusions, so best to try to look through their eyes. You can draw your own conclusions about whether we masturbated or whether we had siblings in bed with us while we did so, or whether we touched their genitals. But that was nobody else’s business. There was a name for those who wrote about it, and a name for the writings:  pornographers and pornography, respectively.

Our teachers were editors, but they were editing us, not just our work.  That’s out of style; teaching morality, or even teaching how to deal with prevailing morality, is now considered to be too much like religion. But surely you had an editor for this book.  Did she pull you aside and say, “Lena, you’re going to have problems over this passage”? Or did she too see absolutely nothing wrong or even socially questionable with these acts? Or that your life was not “about” this; that it was a distracting side plot, that it was “TMI”? If so, this is not just your kinkery… pace Williamson, you ARE the voice of your generation… and that generation is totally depraved.

Now, if people are going around saying, “Lena Dunham is a child molester”, as opposed to saying, “Lena Dunham molested a child”, then you have a moral case at least.  I’m sure you aren’t molesting children now. (Not that that keeps us from haunting every 18-on-15 lover until death.) I’m a Christian; I worship the God of second chances. But that implies contrition and repentance. You don’t sound contrite at all in the book. And you aren’t contrite now; you’re pissed because people now think ill of you.  If these incidents were good enough for the book, why aren’t you proud of them? Why aren’t you doubling down on your right to examine your sister’s cooch?

You know, Williamson was in some ways harder on your parents than on you. You haven’t come to their defense; are they defendable? It probably never occurred to you to take personal responsibility for your words, or for much of anything else. You appear to have been morally crippled by your upbringing.  I’m sorry that my generation raised the generation that raised you in the way we did. But we can’t change that now. All you can do is fix yourself as best as you can. That’s going to require looking to the past through literature and seeing how others did it, and questioning all the assumptions you grew up with.  You won’t be “the voice of a generation” anymore; you’ll be a voice crying in the wilderness. But you’ll be your own person, which is after all what we most wanted in the ’60s.

A canticle for Leibowitz

April 8, 2013

My high school band director, Paul Parets, suggested that I should read A canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. Since Mr. P (I still can’t bring myself to call him “Paul”) was one of the few teachers I had who was Not An Idiot, I decided to take him up on it. And here is the obligatory book report.

Canticle was written at the high point of American Catholicism, the mid-50s, before The Spirit of Vatican II (not the letter!) tore everything apart. Miller was a Catholic convert who had before his conversion taken part in the bombing of the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino, which was traumatic for him, and which was a definite influence on Canticle. It’s a bit of a shock in 2013 to read a novel, not specifically aimed at a religious audience, which treats the Church accurately and respectfully, and which deals with theological issues with 99% fidelity. It’s a realistic portrayal: there are sadistic abbots, bad popes, and a priest who punches somebody in the face (like St. Nicholas!). But there is no pederasty and no conspiracies (aside from a little politicking by an abbot). Rather, there is (among other matters) a battle over euthanasia which is shocking in its timeliness.

The theme of the novel is the relationship between religion and science, and the practical necessity for religion to guide the use and development of science. The first part of the novel (originally, three separate novellas) is set 600 years after a nuclear war. In the aftermath, the survivors had attempted to wipe out all knowledge and learning. A scientist named Isaac Edward Leibowitz joined the Church for protection, and founded an order of monks, The Albertine Order of Leibowitz (coincidentally and amusingly abbreviated AOL), to preserve what knowledge had escaped the howling mobs. The monks hand-copy books, as they did during the Dark Ages. A postulant encounters a Jewish pilgrim who points him to the final resting place of the Beatus Leibowitz’s wife, and to some relics, which eventually leads to the canonization of Leibowitz. This mysterious pilgrim appears in all three sections of the book (the only character to do so, given that the time span is 1200 years). In the first part, he is taken by some to be an apparition of Leibowitz himself. In the second section, he scoffs at this and declares himself to be Lazarus. As a type, he fits the legend of the Wandering Jew; he is always looking for the Messiah (who Lazarus would presumably recognize). And it should be noted that standard Catholic belief is that Lazarus eventually died again.

In the second section, set 600 years later, a Renaissance is beginning., along with secular science, which finds itself being co-opted by political power. The Church (in the form of the AOL Abbey) is open-handed with scientific knowledge, while challenging the moral choices of scientists. In the 3rd section (600 years yet farther on) civilization has returned to its former state, including nuclear weapons, and they are starting to be used. A group from the Church, including bishops, sets off in a spaceship to the colony on a planet of Alpha Centauri, to perpetuate the Church, before Mankind destroys itself again (and possibly finally).

The writing style is engaging (indeed, at points so virtuosic as to call attention to itself), the plot energetic, and the ideas of consequence. It’s well worth the read. One wonders what effect the post-Vatican II disruptions would have had on Miller’s writing. Miller suffered from PTSD and depression all his life, and after he wrote Canticle, he became a recluse. He had finished most of a companion novel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, before shooting himself in 1996. It’s been finished and published, I haven’t read it, but the Wikipedia summary suggests that either the Church’s demons or Miller’s own had gotten to it, set as it is in a time of a Babylonian Capitivity of the Church. I might look for it; in the meantime, Canticle gets this layman’s official Nihil obstat and recommendation.

Book review: Susan Beth Pfeffer, Life as we knew it

February 26, 2011

Susan Beth Pfeffer
Life As We Knew It
Harcourt, 2006

There’s a whole subgenre of survival novels out there, particularly lately. But it’s pretty old tradition, and the classics in the lot (Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson) have become young adult classics.  But now, I’ve learned, there’s a trilogy of such novels written for young adults. Since I have a 14 year old granddaughter who can always use a present, I figured I’d check it out.

The premise of Life As We Knew It is that an asteroid knocks the moon into a different orbit. As TEOTWAWKIs go, this one is pretty dire: tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes leading to an early and severe winter, air you can barely breathe. But this is not a “how-to manual” in the John Wesley, Rawles manner (though certainly lessons can be drawn). The tale is told through the diary entries of 16 year old Miranda. Her mom is a writer who does keep some food around, but is scarcely a prepper… though she does a decent job of last-minute stock-up. Her dad had run off with a younger woman (who is pregnant, and has asked Miranda to be godmother). She has older and younger brothers. In small town Pennsylvania, spikey-haired mutants aren’t the problem. Sure there are gangs, and the hospital is fortified, but mostly people are well-behaved while waiting for starvation or the flu to kill them. Even the gangs would rather steal than kill.

The main moral of LAWKI is that family and discipline will get you through, and helping others is secondary (if not tertiary) to that. There’s no real end to give away; the family survives, and things seem to be looking up. All the kids, especially Miranda, mature and rise to what’s required…which is a good thing, as I found the first pages hard going, not because there’s anything wrong with Miranda, but because she’s so very 16. A teenager might not mind through.

I have two minor gripes. One is that Mom has Bush Derangement Syndrome. Oh, the President’s name is never mentioned, but he has a ranch in Texas and is an idiot, and the book came out in 2006; you do the math.  It’s rather odd, because a government bailout arrives in the nick of time. The other and more serious gripe is the role (or non-role) of faith in the community. The only believers are Miranda’s friend Megan (and her crowd) who has become a fundamentalist cultie in the wake of the cancer death of another mutual friend. Megan becomes a sort of Christian breatharian and starves. Miranda confronts Megan’s minister, who miraculously has not lost any weight. That’s IT for the influence of religion, and it’s not a pretty picture. You’d think that, faced with an event of such enormity, somebody somewhere would mention God…though Miranda does dream surreally of Heaven, and is to be a godmother…whatever that means to her.

Still, it mostly reads well, has a timely message, and I wouldn’t hesitate to gift it to Sara. I’d like to know how the family made out in the end, but evidently the 2nd book, The Dead and the Gone, is a parallel story involving a Puerto Rican boy in New York City. Rebuilding is intrinsically more interesting than collapse, and none of it really happens in LAWKI. But I’d still give it a 4 out of 5.

UPDATE: I went to Amazon to post a version of this, and found I’d missed a real howler: they have running water until their well runs dry, even without electricity. And it wasn’t raining, so forget gathering rainwater.  They would have been dead by the end of chapter 3; end of story. And book 3 unites the 2 stories and carries them forward.

What are you holding against Anne Frank’s cooch?

February 1, 2010

Like Balko said, an unexpected blog title: “You Know Who Else Disapproved of Anne Frank’s Vagina? HITLER.

I grew up on the expurgated diary, and haven’t read the “straight no chaser” version. Diaries in general aren’t meant for publication, and they can be an embarrassing read. Consider Alma Schindler’s diary, where we can read about erectile dysfunction of the great composers. That said, the offending lines as quoted are pretty innocuous, especially in today’s hypersexualized media world. And while I can sympathize with parental desires to protect children from that, these are probably people with a hellevision in the home, with unmonitored use. Context is everything; why pick on real and contexualized mentions of sexuality in the diary of somebody “keeping it real” in a horribly unreal world when you could be picking on the casual mindless button-pushing present in almost every prime-time sitcom?