In defense of Beauty and the Beast

Pretty Lady probably should have known that following Bane’s example would lead to trouble:

Gracious. It would seem that the incendiary controversy of declaring that ‘Love is All There Is’ has been soundly trumped by the vastly more incendiary controversy of Begging for Bucks. It would also seem that, wide-ranging as Pretty Lady’s worldly experience seems to be, she still remains infinitely shockable.

I don’t know why anyone would criticize a tip jar or a wish list, whether it is intended for paying rent or buying toys. This is practically the essence of a true libertarian practice, if you happen to enjoy reading what they have on offer, you are free to express your appreciation. If not, no one will force you to do so, no one will even point a finger at you in an attempt to shame you into acting against your perceived self-interest.

There is no inherent vice in being in financial need just as there is no inherent virtue in possessing a fat bank account. Or vice-versa. It’s largely an illusion anyhow these days… I have seen the poor become rich and I have seen the wealthy, well, I suppose “encouraged by circumstances to make lifestyle adjustments” is how they would prefer to describe it.

If you want to give, then give. If you don’t, then don’t! It’s quite simple and Pretty Lady is correct to assert that this is not a question of morality.

Now this looks interesting

If I had an Amazon wish list, this new book from Paul Johnson would be on it. If you haven’t yet read “Intellectuals”, you must do so. His prison rape of Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s reputation is to be treasured.

The biggest offender in Johnson’s menagerie is undoubtedly Picasso, one of the most curious cultural figures of the 20th century. Long before his death in 1973, Picasso had emerged in the public imagination as perhaps the creative artistic genius of the period. For many, Picasso was to art as Einstein was to science. Of course, not everyone was susceptible. Few perhaps went as far as Evelyn Waugh, who for a period ended his letters with the valediction “Death to Picasso.” But there were many who contemplated Picasso’s deliberate assault upon nature and the human figure with horror, not admiration. What seems clear from our vantage point thirty-odd years after Picasso’s death is that his reputation owed as much to the public intoxication as to his achievement. Picasso may have been, as Johnson observes, “the most restless, experimental, and productive artist who ever lived,” but he was also an artist whose primary endowment was the ability to sense “exactly how much the vanguard of the art world would take.”

The two words that best describe Picasso’s activities as an artist — as a man, too — are “cunning” and “rage.” From an early age, Picasso knew (in Gertrude Stein’s phrase) exactly how far to go in going too far. The astonishingly protean quality of Picasso’s work — from the sentimentalities of the Blue Period to the depredations of his cubist and post-cubist “portraits” — bespeaks not only an abundance of creative élan but also a fundamental vacuum at the center of his art. “Obviously,” Picasso said in an aside that speaks volumes about his attitude toward his art, “Nature exists so that we can rape it.” Johnson describes Picasso as “essentially a fashion designer,” catering with perfect pitch to the fickle vicissitudes of avant-garde taste. It is worth noting, I think, how much smaller Picasso’s achievement seems now than it did even a decade ago. In time, I predict, he will be seen primarily as a gifted caricaturist who also happened to be a thoroughly repulsive man.

I’m with Waugh. Unlike most of those he influenced, Picasso was a very skilled artisan. But in choosing not to use those skills in favor of creating his lurid and cartoonish monstrosities, he revealed the petty, brutish, kitschmonger’s soul that lurked within him.

Mailvox: truth in fiction

SJ writes, with trembling fingers:

You once commented in a blog negatively about LionWitchWardrobe (which I know that you generally like) regarding the appliances in the Beaver’s home and in the comments I attempted to defend their appearances. I generally bristle at any negative comment about any CS Lewis book or LOTR (them bein’ my favorite) and I am generally disappointed when I learn that people didn’t enjoy the books as much as I did.

Despite that, I am going to negatively comment on what I understand to be your favorite children’s book. With trepidation. To wit: There are (at least) four ways an author can handle the existence of the Christian Religion in a fantasy book. The three ways I find acceptable are:

(1) Embrace it and make it integral to the story – you have done this in Eternal Warriors and I also enjoy it in Perretti (which, if I recall correctly, you haven’t read. I recommend it as entertainment, not literature,)

(2) Do not comment on it at all. For the most part, this is what Lewis does. We see Aslan as an allegory, but Christ is never mentioned. And in the first of the Space Trilogy, Ransom explains something like, “Our traditions say that . . .” but we hear nothing more of the conversation,

(3) Mention Christianity, call it false and move on. A lot of Arthur C. Clarke does this, and while I disagree with it, I know that there are atheists out there and the purely naturalistic worldview often make for very interesting fiction.

But the fourth way really bothers me. Treat Christianity as one of many truths and subordinate to the main premise. It is pretty quick, but this is what “Dark” does on Christmas day.

Since you have read this many times I’ll sum the story up just for my point. The Dark Powers are raging outside just after the service and the normal human pastor can feel them and he begins to pray for God’s protection and the old one says “No, Rector”

So there it is: Advice to not pray to God for help. Those last two words automatically disqualify it from being my favorite children’s book.

Later the Old One says “The battle is not his for the fighting” Okay. But it’s still should be okay for him to pray. Then six pages later, referring to “outside time” Will says “And all Gods are there and all the things they have ever stood for, and the opposite, too” The “opposite” part indicates to me that Cooper was not including demons or what not in the set of Gods (as you sometimes do) so it makes it fairly clear that she thinks of Christianity as in someway important, but not the most important. The ‘Old Ones’ Reality trumps it.

Doesn’t this bother you?

There is something like this in the “L’Engle” book (“Wrinkle in time”) which I can just barely remember but I recall a conversation where they listed people throughout history who were a step more advanced than the rest of us and Jesus was on the list. This is the same thing. Don’t put Jesus on a list. Make him the King of the list or take him off it entirely.

Harry Potter has it’s flaws and is certainly not literature, but, to its credit (in the two books I’ve read) never attempts to mix Christian Religion into it’s narrative. I am recalling your response to the letter I wrote to you after reading
your first book wondering how Dr. Boyd might handle the time travel part of your story when he doesn’t believe that the future exists yet. You (reasonably) responded “He is an intelligent man who is perfectly capable of understanding the difference between a serious theological work and a fantasy novel, which is why he doesn’t get too worked up about my playing around with various theological concepts.“

Well, he might not, and you might not, but I do. Even in fiction, if something goes strongly against my world view, it makes me like the book less, especially if I’m reading it to my children.

So now (as evidence to the contrary of what I just said, or so it seems) I’m reading ‘Tom Sawyer’ to them. In just the first few chapters: Lieing and Fighting are glorified (at least at face value) and church is shown to be boring and focused on showing off. But it makes my boys laugh, it make me laugh and it so much fun to read out loud. Oh well.

There are two separate issues here. First, the vaguely New Age, multiple paths towards Truth manner in which religion is handled by Susan Cooper and Madeleine L’Engle doesn’t trouble me at all. Neither author is actually attempting to make any serious theological statement, Good and Evil are primarily used as a backdrop, as a means of creating an impression of a larger stage upon which the novels are played out.

One must keep in mind that both women are of a previous generation that was not entirely secularized, thus their work is essentially atheistic at heart but they are too steeped in the Christian culture of the West to abandon it entirely. This is part of the source of their power, of course, most fully atheist works of modern fantasy tend to be weak and absolutely forgettable since they don’t draw effectively on what can either be considered the Real or the Mythic depending upon one’s perspective.

Indeed, I suspect that the lasting greatness of both “The Dark is Rising” and “A Wrinkle in Time” (I must say that I vastly prefer “A Swiftly Tilting Planet”, by the way), is somewhat dependent upon their lack of specifics, not only with regards to religion but also history. Rather than explaining precisely how everything works, both writers have the skill to paint with impressions, which somehow leaves the reader with a picture that is more meaningful than one laid out with more precision in the particulars. I expect JK Rowlings will be largely forgotten in 30 years, while Cooper and L’Engle are still being read.

As for your second point, it should be kept in mind that these are not children’s books. They are for teenagers and precocious pre-teens, they are for those who are sufficiently developed to deal with partial truths and understand how they can be useful in understanding the fullness of the Truth. I suspect you don’t fully understand that a writer’s basic objective in writing a work of fiction seldom involves the idea of presenting an argument to the reader, barring the obvious examples to the contrary such as Messrs. Jenkins and LaHaye or Sherri Tepper.

I don’t see my books as attempting to tell anyone anything, I see them more as posing questions and offering potential answers to those questions. In the first book, the question is “why don’t we choose evil when it seems to offer us so much more of what we want?” In the second, “how is it that an angry, bitter boy is pushed over the edge to become a killer when so many others aren’t?” In the third, “is it possible that God not only plays dice with the Devil, but does so with loaded dice?”

Given that my skill is much inferior to both the aforementioned ladies, this may not always come through to the reader. Mere brainpower is a poor substitute for true artistic talent. At any rate, don’t forget that novels are entertainment, and while they may be sopratutto a thinking woman’s entertainment and occasionally provoke a thought or three on the part of the reader, it would be a mistake to place too much theological weight on them.

Naguib Mahfouz is dead

From the New York Times:

Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian novelist, playwright and screenwriter who won the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature and was widely regarded as the Arab world’s foremost novelist, died yesterday in Cairo. He was 94.

If you haven’t read Mahfouz’s “Cairo Trilogy”, (and I suppose the odds are you haven’t), I would highly recommend doing so. The books provide one with an interesting insight into Islamic culture and allows one to see just how foreign even moderate Islam is to Western minds without presenting it in an inherently negative manner.

And beyond that, they’re just good books. There’s something about his sense detachment that vaguely reminds me of Herman Hesse, but I actually don’t know why.

Jay Nordlinger of National Review adds this: I have much to say about Naguib Mahfouz, the great novelist who died yesterday, and I will say it in the forthcoming National Review. Suffice it to say that his Cairo Trilogy provided one of the greatest, richest, most satisfying fictional reading experiences of my life.

Conservatism’s feet of crumbled clay

NRO quotes Lee Edwards’ biography of Barry Goldwater:

When [Goldwater’s] daughter Joanne, not yet twenty and still in school, became pregnant with the child of her intended husband and told her father that she did not want to have the child, Goldwater said, “I’ll take care of it.” He arranged for Joanne to fly back to Washington and have a then-illegal abortion (it was 1955) in the converted dining room or a large three-story house in the suburbs. “I just want to prevent anyone from going through that,” says Joanne Goldwater, who admits that all three of her daughters have had abortions.

Is it any wonder that the conservative movement is so hapless when it comes to ending the atrocity of abortion? Even its iconic one-time leaders are hopelessly compromised… as is all too often the case, whatever their public protestations might be, they act as if they regard themselves beyond good and evil.

Don’t ever put your trust in men. Not Barry Goldwater, not Arnold Schwarzenegger, not George Bush or anyone else. The distance between a Winston Churchill and an Adolf Hitler is rather less than it appears. The whole point of libertarianism is to reduce the ability of flawed and evil men to exert control over the lives of other individuals.

Someone spiked the maple syrup

Um, Crystal, you’re not banned. Why you weren’t able to comment, I don’t know, I expect Haloscan has it in for Canadians or something. But I haven’t banned you lately nor on any previous occasion.

I don’t ban people haphazardly, and when I do, I usually provide them with a public warning first. If you’re having a problem commenting, it’s almost surely a technical issue.

Mailvox: complex valuations

LE thinks it is difficult to entirely separate sexual values on the basis of gender:

[Vox disputed that] men’s sexuality necessarily effects the value of a woman’s?

Here may lie the difference, is P more than just dollars and cents. The sexual economy suggest it is but even so, P for a man is different than P for a woman….

Prolog –
A woman would argue, sexual value is more than dollars and cents it includes a element of desire… but for women desire is a function of dollars and cents, in other words, for women it is about the money… whereas for men it is more about the sexuality… both of which as predispositions of our cave man days… Example if an old man has money but is not hot, he can still attract women (ask any old Texas oilman before he dies); whereas an old woman with lots of money is not as likely to attract a man…

answer –

Every little girls favorite fairy tale is Cinderella; Pretty woman, etc… In those instances, is he prince charming because (1) he is hot, (2) he’s got money or (3) because there is competition for him. I think we can all conclude that (3) is simply a function of (1) and (2). Now if he’s hot but broke, a woman may be attracted to him in the sort term but realistically there is no happily ever after… there is no fantasy… There is no Disney movie about the broke artist who marries the common girl, they live hand to mouth for the rest of their life but have great sex.. Except for Shreck, may be, but then again he owns the whole swamp…

On the other hand, if he’s rich but not so hot, woman is attracted not to him, but to his resources.. But when those resources are used to improve the sexual value of a woman – you now have the same woman but now better dressed, bobbled, and all other benefits of money – she becomes more attractive to other men (i.e. pretty woman). (What do you know of good bone structure in a trailer park?). Through his money, her sexual value goes up though she personally has done nothing but convert is dollars to improve her value.. Upon improving her value she can move to another man yet increasing her value more…(climbing the ladder)… If she looses his money in a nasty divorce, she is quickly divested of the “P” she converted from her rich man, unless she secures another quickly… Now contrast the above, if he is hot but has no money, there is no increase in value to her,thus men’s sexuality necessarily effects the value of a woman’s … Therefore a man’s “P” directly affects a woman “P” through his dollars and cents.

Now a career woman has a “P” but that does little or nothing to improve a man’s “P”. (Paris Hilton doe not improve a mans sexuality; strip Paris Hilton of her father’s money does she still remain desirable?) Her “P” is a lost opportunity cost in dollar and cents and to a certain degree her desirability which typically is inversely proportional… (i.e. 20, broke and hot – may equal – 40, well off and fair). With age and the demands of work, the element of desirability goes down in the total valuation of “P”. Ask your self who wants to hook up with a rich 60-year old woman?; in the converse who wants to hook up with a rich 60-year old man? Based on market forces; a woman “P” in dollars in cents is minimal when compared to desirability. Thus if you are a career woman, and elect to rely on dollars an cents, you bring little long term to the table when assessing sexual value.

Query, because of the sexual revolution women are reduced to produce?

I still disagree, because this notion of a complex P wherein the man’s resources are factored into the equation doesn’t apply to most women. Furthermore, many women don’t avail themselves of the opportunity to improve P even if male resources are available; there’s no shortage of women who could afford bigger breasts, personal trainers or straight teeth but choose to spend their husband’s money elsewhere. Thus a modification to the PEN/5 formula would require a minimum of two additional variables.

This is unnecessary. The sexual value formula merely represents a snapshot in time and it increases or decreases as circumstances change… simply by increasing N from the average 1.11 times per week to 3/week allows a woman to nearly triple her sexual value…. I expect most people wish their financial value was so easily modified to a similar degree. P is rather less malleable, for although it can be increased in the short term, over time it will inevitably degrade.

I’ve been thinking about a similar valuation for men, but it’s probably quite simple. Rate the guy’s looks from 1 to 5, (two being average) then multiply by his after-tax salary and divide by ten. This should provide a rough guide to the average value of women interested in him. Thus, to interest the elite 50k+ women, a man would either have to be unusually handsome and make 100k after taxes whereas the average guy would need to make at least $250k.