The Christian Review 2018

Why Is Tomorrow, or the Next Moment, More Important Than Today, or the Present Moment?

Deal W. Hudson
January 11, 2018

My title may seem a bit pretentious, but it poses the central question of Francis O’Gorman’s 2017 book, Forgetfulness: Making the Modern Culture of Amnesia.

I interviewed Francis yesterday on ‘Church and Culture,” to be aired this coming weekend, about his rich and unsettling book. Its richness lies in O’Gorman’s seamless intertwining of his expertise in 19th-century English literature, especially the Victorians, and his critique of modernity.  It is unsettling because this is not the kind of critique to which we have become accustomed — focused on themes of genocide, moral decline, and subjectivism.  O’Gorman rather focuses on the creation of a culture of amnesia, meaning the attempt, since the French Revolution, to postulate life’s meaning without any attention to the past.

This dismissal of tradition, with its deeply rooted narratives what it means to be mortal, entered into the mainstream of Western culture giving birth to a succession of intellectual movements, such as Marxism and Communism, with their promises to create a world of perfect equality. Among intellectuals, this amnesia gave rise to existentialism, phenomenology,  structuralism, deconstruction, multiculturalism, ethnic studies, and gender studies, each one more destructive of our connection to the wisdom of the past than the previous.  His insights, however, only begin at a theoretical level but expose the impact at every level of human life, beginning with the millions of millennials walking the streets with their head bowed before the glimmering screens of their iPhones.

The Loneliness of Lincoln and Trump

Deal W. Hudson
January 12, 2018

Ken Burn’s documentary masterpiece, “The Civil War,” premiered in September 1990. Its depiction of the isolation of Abraham Lincoln is strikingly similar to that of President Trump.

As hauntingly narrated by David McCullough, Burn’s “Civil War” traces the rise of Lincoln from his 1847 election to Congress to his surprise election to the presidency in 1860, which immediately set off the call to succession in South Carolina — sound familiar?

Also, all too familiar, was the public scorn and ridicule that Lincoln and his wife, the southerner Mary Todd, endured from the moment they arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. A short carriage ride away was the unfinished dome of the United States Capitol, started in 1793, burned to the ground in the War of 1812, was rebuilt in 1815, expanded in 1850 with the new, cast-iron dome, double in size and three times the weight, but far less than the weight born by Lincoln through the course of the Civil War and his tumultuous re-election in 1864. His assassination on April 15, 1865, at age 56 would put an end to an experience he described as more painful than “hell.”

The documentary describes Lincoln as a man without any support, either from his party, his own cabinet or from the generals he deployed along the “1,000-mile front.” His Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 was met with disapproval in the North, abolitionists thought it was too weak, thousands of Yankee soldiers deserted, and only two members of Congress supported him. “Lincoln was isolated and alone. . . . there were only two men in the House who defended him.” One visitor to Washington in February 1862,  lawyer Richard Henry Dana, reported: “As to the politics of Washington, the most striking thing is the absence of personal loyalty to the President. It does not exist. He has no admirers, no enthusiastic supporters, none to bet on his head. If a Republican convention were to be held tomorrow, he would not get the vote of a State.”

The epithets aimed at Lincoln from his being an “imbecile” to having become a “dictator” have become the daily memes of the mainstream media toward President Trump. This is not to say that Trump is Lincolnesque, but it makes the larger point that such violent attitudes and commentary about an American president is the product of the age, not the man.  Lincoln faced a “nation divided.” President Trump faces a division just as deep but subtler and more complex to tease out in all its facets.

In his novel War and Peace (1867), Leo Tolstoy often comes back to the issue of whether Napoleon “caused” the invasion of Russia, or “caused” any of his many triumphs. Tolstoy presses the point that no single man can be said to be responsible for human events. Each man and woman, he explains, have freedom of will that in times of war are caught up in a dynamic larger than any one of them, even Napoleon himself. It’s worth thinking about Tolstoy’s point, as we point our finger in blame or raise our hands in salute towards any one person.

“Man’s mind cannot grasp the causes of events in their completeness, but the desire to find those causes is implanted in man’s soul. . . . It may seem to be a matter of indifference whether we understand the meaning of historical events this way or that; yet there is the same difference between a man who says that the people of the West moved on the East because Napoleon wished it and a man who says that this happened because it had to happen, as there is between those who declared that the earth was stationary and that the planets moved round it and those who admitted that they did not know what upheld the earth, but knew there were laws directing its movement and that of the other planets. There is and can be, no cause of a historical event except the one cause of all causes. But there are laws directing events, and some of these laws are known to us while we are conscious of others we cannot comprehend. The discovery of these laws is only possible when we have quite abandoned the attempt to find the cause in the will of some one man, just as the discovery of the laws of the motion of the planets was possible only when men abandoned the conception of the fixity of the earth. (War and Peace, 4.2.1.1)

Our Trenches, Our Civil War

Deal W. Hudson
January 13, 2018

There are no bayonet attacks or cannons firing away into the night, but there are trenches.  Take one small town I recently visited in Maryland. “We don’t get invited to any dinner parties, or anything, anymore,” my hostess told me.  The street itself is only four short blocks long with no more than twenty houses, but its colonial layout gives it the feel of a small community inside the city, only a street away from downtown. Couples along the block who used to be friends now won’t make eye contact my hostess and her husband as they walk down the street.

The reason, of course, is Donald Trump.

The man of the house, a friend of mine for thirty years, had the temerity to set them right on the downsides of Obamacare. He told me that he had not wanted to say anything, but when one of the ladies at the table expressed with delight — “But isn’t it good that we pay more!” — he couldn’t hold himself back any longer. ( Who could?) The mood around the table turned dark, and my friends soon left never again to be invited back.

I’ve stumbled across the same trench many times since the 2016 presidential campaign began — even on my beloved golf courses where I learned some guys just don’t want you to show up if you’re for Donald Trump.  I also meet it regularly, of course, in various arts communities which I inhabit regularly, in spite being occasionally “caught out” and left to spend intermission by myself.

Yes, we are in a kind of Civil War, one that has produced trenches stretching across the ground where we live among families, communities, businesses, and institutions; hardly any portion of our lives remains untouched, where we work, where we play, where we worship. Overall these spaces hang now an air of suspense anticipating the next person or persons to be judged to be living “on a different planet,” at the former president, Barack Obama, described viewers of FoxNews yesterday.

That small town in rural Maryland isn’t the only place where us aliens are no longer welcome

A Novel About Giving the Gift of Music

Deal W. Hudson
January 14, 2018

There’s a new and delightful novel, The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce, which I’m kicking myself for not having written first.

The setting is a music shop whose owner, Frank, refuses to sell anything but vinyl LPs in the face of the Compact Disc whose introduction in the mid-80s quickly shrank the demand for anything else. (Now 30 years later, vinyl is back, comprising nearly 9% of all recordings sold in 2017.)

But in addition to his stubbornness, Frank has an unusual gift: he’s able to intuit what music will lift the spirits of his customers, regardless of their familiarity with it or not. One curmudgeonly customer arrives in a dour mood insisting on nothing but Chopin but leaves the shop having fallen in love with Aretha Franklin, her voice “a little boat and the music a Japanese wave.”

Like Rachel Joyce, I believe music has an unusual, almost mystical, power to reach the human heart, and, in doing so, to heal, comfort, and inspire. Though Frank is a musical shaman, his feelings of love only reach out in compassion to others. He keeps his own tightly bound up inside himself as he sits day after day behind the counter placing his precious vinyl on the turntable.

Then one day, a woman named Ilse faints on the sidewalk in front of the store. Frank goes to her aid and finds himself gazing into “eyes like vinyl.” He instantly falls in love, and the feeling, it seems, is mutual. The following scene where the author describes Frank taking Ilse inside the store following their dance of glances and patter of conversation is a gem. She eventually must leave but her purse is left behind. Did she do this on purpose to have an excuse to return? Frank wonders, and so do the group of misfits who work with Frank and the few remaining shops on Unity Street.

They all want Frank to find love and happiness, to experience something of the happiness he has elicited in others with his gift of music. As the novel progresses, it remains uncertain whether Frank will ever open his heart.  Yes, the issue for Frank is that simple, which makes Joyce’s novel so very appealing.

I predict that music itself will have the last word…..

Peter O’Toole’s Nose

Deal W. Hudson
January 15, 2018

Peter O’Toole was so handsome, even men called him “beautiful,” but the perfectly chiseled nose was not part of his original equipment.

In the fascinating biography of O’Toole by Robert Sellers, we discover that the 27-year old had his nose “bobbed” because he wanted “to be a movie star.” His new agent Jules Buck convinced him, without much effort, that the movie camera would not be kind to his “slightly bulbous” nose. Many of his theater friends accused him of “selling out,” but anything O’Toole did he did without any apparent regret.

The equally young Peter Hall, who had just taken charge of the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, had hired O’Toole for two title roles, one being Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.” O’Toole was not his first choice — the sudden withdrawal of Paul Scofield sent Hall looking for an available replacement. Thus, Peter O’Toole became the youngest actor to perform lead roles at Stratford.

Upon seeing the actor, Hall was not happy with the nose job, either, thinking his face now looked far less suitable for a Jewish character. But his performance as Shylock launched Peter O’Toole into stardom. The British reviewers could not praise him highly enough. Writing in the Tribune, critic Mervyn Jones wrote, “Peter O’Toole gives a performance as Shylock that will stand as a great chapter in theatre history.”

Looking at the photograph below of the original, I think Peter O’Toole made the right decision. A handsome face, yes, and the quizzical eyes and brow are still arresting, but the nose draws my eye away from his expressive eyes and well-proportioned, sensual mouth. And, yes, he most certainly did obtain his goal: Peter O’Toole became not merely a movie star but a force of nature whose reputation as an artist only grows with the passing of years.

Why the 1916 Somme Slaughter?

Deal W. Hudson
January 20, 2018

I’m reading Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s magisterial Somme: Into the Breach (Viking, 2016) where he attempts to explain why Great Britain suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 fatalities, on the first day of the battle, July 1, 1916.

It’s a story of monumental pride, chaotic disorganization, delusional self-confidence, disingenuous calls to duty, and broken promises to the soldiers who were ordered to run hundreds of yards over open ground in the face of German machine guns sweeping the field back and forth.

They had been promised a massive bombardment of German trenches which was never carried out. This promise was reiterated by their officers, yelling “OK, lads,” as the men started the attack. Without hesitation, they lifted their heads above the trenches into space where machine gun fire was mowing men down like wheat.

What stuns me most, however, are the officers who continued to send their men out of the trenches directly into the fire having already witnessed the inevitable result — human carnage.

To his credit, Sebag-Montefiore successfully sorts out all the dynamics set in motion, well before the battle, that colluded in literally wasting thousands and thousands of lives and permanently disfiguring many thousands of others. The bulk of the narrative is told from the letters, diaries, and journals of the combatants and their families.

What the author does not attempt to explain, because it is unexplainable, is the toleration of the slaughter lasting not only to the end of the Somme battle in November but also to the end of WWI itself, November 11, 1918. But Sebag-Montefiore allows his narrative to break off into a kind of silence where both he and the reader are both shaking their heads in disbelief.

Trump’s First Year: A Symposium

Deal W. Hudson
January 23, 2018

I’ve asked a few knowledgeable friends to join some of TCR’s contributing editors to comment on the leadership of President Trump’s first year in office. I’ve added identification where I deemed necessary.

Dr. Deal W. Hudson

On February 21, 2016, I wrote a column under the title, “Will Pro-Life Catholics Vote for Donald Trump?” This was the moment in the presidential campaign when the momentum of Sen. Ted Cruz had stalled. Many Cruz supporters, especially among Catholics, were frantically trying to prop Cruz up and refused to acknowledge that Trump was the candidate who would be nominated, and, as I argue, would be able to defeat Hilary Clinton.

Trump was fresh off his victory in the South Carolina primary. I admitted Trump was the least popular candidate among Catholics according to the polls and that the comments by Pope Francis about the “wall” were an obstacle to be overcome. I argued pro-life Catholics would not be able to vote for Clinton or Sanders, and they were “infected with the same sense of tribulation that is fueling the Trump candidacy in the first place.”

Disappointed Cruz and Carson supporters were making philosophical arguments on why the best choice would be to not vote at all. Leading Catholic pro-life leaders mounted a campaign to nominate “anyone but Donald Trump.” On May 7 in National Review, Robert George and George Weigel would pen a public letter saying Trump was “morally unfit” to be president. Fortunately, the pro-life Catholic voters at the grassroots paid no attention to them.

In my February 21st column, I wrote:

“Trump has not claimed to be pro-life in the past, but he claims to be now, and he promises to sign a bill defunding Planned Parenthood. Skepticism towards Trump’s new position on abortion is warranted, and even some scoffing can be understood. Yet, on election day in November  Catholic voters will be faced with two choices. One candidate will be resolutely pro-abortion and linked arm-and-arm with Planned Parenthood, NARAL, NOW, and EMILY’s List.

“The other candidate, if it is Trump, will be someone who has declared himself a recent convert to the pro-life cause. A candidate who, since his change of mind, has continued to defend his position in the face of incredulous questioning from the liberal media and the pro-life community.

“There’s no doubt in my mind how I will vote, as a pro-life Catholic.  To hand the White House over to the Democrats for another four, or eight, years will destroy our nation’s character for at least one hundred years.  This would be a disaster from which America might never recover.”

On election day, Donald Trump won 52% of all Catholic votes and stunned the media, the pundits, the bishops, and the virulent never-Trumpers among Catholics.

A year later, President Trump is being called, the “most pro-life president in U.S. history,” by Vice President Pence and other pro-life leaders.

Those of us who took Trump at his word took a chance, no doubt, but all the signs were there that he was sincere in making the promise to protect the unborn.

Father Frank Pavone

I am privileged to serve on two advisory commissions for the President, one that handles Catholic issues, and the other which handles pro-life issues. From the beginning, I was told that Donald Trump, if he were elected, would “do everything that previous pro-life presidents have done, and more.” That has proven true.

The first and greatest thing he did for the pro-life movement was to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House!

Before we consider policy advances, which are many, we should consider how Mr. Trump — both on the campaign trail and once he became President — has strengthened and encouraged the pro-life movement just by the way he speaks about abortion. The way he describes the procedure (such as during his third debate with Hillary, talking about ripping the baby from the womb), and challenges the extremism of the other side is exactly what is needed. Because he is a fighter who speaks his mind directly, he cuts through the evasion and vagueness that so characterizes the way so many deals with the abortion issue.

Regarding policy, the President and his team have used both legislation, executive orders, and administrative decisions (even in regard to the language used to refer to the unborn in policy documents) to advance the cause of the unborn, both domestically and internationally.

Then, right after his inauguration, he reinstated the Mexico City Policy that prevents international family planning funds from going to pro-abortion groups. Moreover, he became the first President to expand that policy to cover virtually all foreign aid.

What’s more, he defunded the United Nations Population Fund so that no U.S. money will go to help China’s tyrannical forced abortion program. He also signed legislation to allow states to divert taxpayer money away from the Planned Parenthood abortion business!

President Trump fulfilled a major campaign promise by naming pro-life judge Neil Gorsuch to be a Justice of the Supreme Court. He has appointed a record number of similarly minded appeals court judges.
The list goes on, but we also have to mention President Trump’s efforts to protect religious liberty. Not only did he sign a historic Executive Order on religious freedom (and then gave his signature pen to Priests for Life’s Alveda King), he revoked and rewrote the HHS mandate so that faith-based non-profit groups like Priests for Life will no longer be attacked by the government for practicing our faith.

Moreover, he has given added strength, freedom and courage to the pro-life movement by pointing out the unjust requirements of the “Johnson Amendment” that make pastors and pro-life not-for-profit groups feel like they cannot speak their mind regarding elections. This often translates into feeling they cannot speak about abortion. The President, by Executive Order, has instructed federal agencies to respect the freedom of these groups to speak freely about political matters.

He has also taken many other administrative steps – too numerous to mention here – to advance recognition of the unborn in the policies and activities of various federal agencies.

The direction of the Trump Administration on pro-life is exactly what we need it to be.

Rev. Gerry Lessard

The warmth of spring and a vernal mist welcomed the 45th President. It was an honor to witness his inauguration, for it was not only a historic event but a turning point in our nation’s relationship with God. For eight years, it seemed as though the Lord had abandoned us. The baby-killing, perversion-spreading, racist, socialistic tribalism of his predecessor moved me to write a series of sonnets on the demise of civilization, but suddenly, we had a man with the strength of Saint Michael to conquer and build.

If all Donald Trump did for four years, or rather eight, was to undo everything that Barak Hussein had done, that would bring society back up to the surface where we could breathe again, but he has already taken us higher than we hoped. Such inexplicable blessings are blatantly miraculous. Even before he put his hand on the Bible to swear the oath, the economy took flight. The number and frequency of the stock market’s records have been eye-popping, but the tax reform, which has brought jobs to America and put cash in the pockets of its citizens, has now exposed his adversaries as economic numbskulls.

His seat in the Oval Office was hardly warm before he defunded International Planned Parenthood and other organizations that kill innocent children. Vice President Pence speaking at the March for Life greatly heartened the faithful. The appointment of Pro-Lifers to replace anti-lifers has invigorated like a transfusion of new blood. Of course, Neil Gorsuch is the consolation for the tragic loss of Antonin Scalia.

Almost daily, we have giggled with glee as the president has withstood a tsunami of injustice like Gibraltar while Making America Great Again. The propaganda of the media has been discredited thanks to his ingenious out-flanking maneuvers. President Trump has cowered neither before tyrants nor terrorists. He set the military free to destroy ISIS.

Meanwhile, respect for police officers grows. He also liberates us from the globalistic cosmopolitan thinking that has strangled us like a boa constrictor. Now, the United Nations must learn that pious patriotism is not fascist nationalism. Trump has moderated environmental alarmism and is renegotiating fair trade. The despotic administrative state has been removed from its pagan altar while personal compassion and charity has been demonstrated to victims of natural disasters.

Senator Mack F. Mattingly*

THE PLUS of the first year:

TAX REFORM
NATIONAL DEFENSE
INCREASED JOB CREATION
UNEMPLOYMENT DOWN
SYRIA
KOREA
CHINA
NATO
DEREGULATION
SUPREME COURT
ECONOMIC OUTLOOK

THE NEGATIVE of the first year:

DOES NOT ALWAYS WORK AND PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS

*Sen. Mack F. Mattingly was the first elected Republican Senator in Georgia, 1981-87; served as Ass’t Sec Gen Defense Support for NATO, 1987-90 and as a US Ambassador 1992-93, 1994, in addition to being an entrepreneur and rainmaker.

Dr. Carl Curtis

The mainstream media has found the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency outrageous. No surprise: they thought that on his first day. However, as a conservative, I have to admit perplexity in assessing “the Donald.” His accomplishments are real and, in some cases, admirable, but so are his failures. Without going into exhaustive detail, let’s look at these.

First, the good. Many cabinet and judicial appointments have been unexceptionable: Gorsuch on SCOTUS, Mattis to DOD, DeVos at Education, and Pruitt at EPA. Trump’s countermanding of dozens of Obama’s executive orders has been swift and beneficial. Placing the conduct of war back into the hands of officers in the field has destroyed ISIS as a political entity. The new tax bill (really the work of Congress) leaves eighty percent of taxpayers with more of their own dollars; businesses have responded quickly to the promised rates with bonuses and raises for thousands of workers. The Stock Market is soaring. Stronger control of our border and better policing have stemmed the tide of illegal immigration. We’re out of the Paris Climate Accord.

State and DOJ are both mild disappointments. Tillerson, although he gives us relief from years of Hillary- and Kerry-inspired policy disasters, may not be up to the daunting task of restoring our European allies’ confidence. Sessions appeared an excellent choice, but he has been tentative from the start, especially in recusing himself from the Russian “collusion” inquiry. Both men may prove sound choices in the long run; then, again, both may resign before they have time to prove their mettle.

But the good things are undeniable. They’re also just what one would have expected of any Republican president. Trump’s followers were counting on the unexpected, and for that, they have Trump himself whose very existence is an affront to the political establishment. Even we #NeverTrumpers can applaud that.

Now for the failures. Trump was going to build the wall and make Mexico pay for it. He was going to repeal Obamacare. He was going to deport millions of illegals (and, don’t forget, re-admit them). He was going to put “Crooked Hillary” in jail. Eliminating fraud and waste was going to cure the deficit. (Fat chance: the tax bill will increase it.) The humming economy has done nothing to boost Trump’s anemic popularity. Republican control of Congress in is jeopardy. Trump’s rude, boorish manner along with compulsive, embarrassing Tweeting has done little but reveal an adolescent hypersensitivity to criticism. On policy matters, he is shallow and either unaware of his ignorance or careless. In state elections, his coattails have torn. He has replaced Obama’s insufferable moral preening with his own equally insufferable bullying and blather. All told, he’s done nothing to restore dignity to the office, which badly needs restoring.

As I said earlier, I’m perplexed. Give him a C-minus. Not bad after eight years of Obama, but if Trump can’t convince the broader populace he’s more than an apprentice, we might end up with Bernie in 2020.

Deacon Kevin Bezner

I applauded the failure of Hillary Clinton to win the presidency for two primary reasons. The first was the Clinton campaign’s cynical attack on authentic Catholic faith capped by the choosing of a leftist Jesuit companion as a running mate. The second was Clinton’s unequivocal commitment to an agenda that undermines traditional Christianity and promotes vice, confusion, and untruth.

I applauded the election of Donald Trump as president, despite his flaws, primarily because he exposed the media’s leftist and anti-Christian bias and collusion with the Clinton campaign and instead promoted an agenda that protected elements of traditional Christian morality and virtue.

A year later, the media elite and the left are more biased and anti-Christian than ever. Their lies and propaganda are on display in every area of popular culture, from daytime talk show to the evening news, from professional sports to late night television shows.

In a recent article, “The Left’s Big Mistake on President Trump,” Newt Gingrich writes of Trump’s successes in life and essentially speaks of how the left and the media elite “disparage a person he or she could never compete within business, politics, or even on the golf course.”

Unaware of their sickness of soul, the media and the left continue to promote untruth and confusion in their efforts to denigrate President Trump and depict him as incompetent, unfit for office, irresponsible, virtually a traitor, and unhinged in mind.

Alexander Elchaninov (1881-1934) who emigrated to Nice, France, with his wife and daughter in 1921, witnessed the cultural and religious upheaval and decline of those difficult years. In a comment in his The Diary of A Russian Priest (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press), he speaks of the harm an actor does to himself through his participation in the “sham, ambiguity, and falsehood” of “theatrical shows”:

“…the greater his passion in performing, the greater the harm he causes his soul, allowing confusion and untruth to take up their abode in it.”

This is the fate and reality of our passionate media elite and leftist politicians.

In the 2016 election, the majority of Christians were not fooled by Hillary Clinton, the left, and the media elite. They voted against this confluence of leftist and anti-Christian propaganda to elect a flawed and worldly man they believed would represent their values, regardless of how he is belittled and defamed in popular culture.

So far, they have been correct.

Rob Wasinger*

From the perspective of communications and messaging, President Trump’s first year in office has been an almost unqualified triumph, much to the chagrin of his many detractors.

On every issue where Trump has led White House messaging (often through his much maligned but highly effective early-morning tweeting), he has controlled the debate and usually trounced his baffled and often clueless opponents as a result of his ability to connect directly with his voters. But where he has allowed himself to be guided by DC’s professional Republican class, with their supposedly indispensable knowledge of how governing and legislating actually work, Trump has met with debacle after debacle for his agenda.

In large part, this is because the agenda of establishment Republicans inside the Beltway is still completely at odds with that of the man that won them the White House by ignoring stale GOP policy priorities and pushing a populist agenda that carried him over the top in Rust Belt states that hadn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate in a generation.

The sad truth is that the people who control this administration’s overall strategy are more representative of the policy priorities of GOP Hill leadership and their all-powerful donor class than they are of the economic populism Trump ran on. Hugely popular Trump agenda items like building the wall, the renewal of our crumbling national infrastructure and tougher trade and immigration measures have, time and again, been shunted aside in favor of failed and unpopular attempts to rehash the debate over repealing Obamacare.

The coming year offers great promise to build the wall, reform immigration to fully realize campaign promises, continue the massive deregulation already begun, and fix our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

*Robert Wasinger served in senior advisory and liaison roles in President Donald Trump‘s campaign and transition team, after extensive experience on Capitol Hill.

Meeting Cervantes — the Man Who Invented the Novel

Deal W. Hudson
February 1, 2018

Some books engross you immediately, that’s certainly true of William Egginton’s The Man Who Invented Fiction: How Cervantes Ushered in the Modern World (Bloomsbury, 2016).

I was, like many, familiar with Cervantes’s place at the beginning of a literary tradition called the “novel,” but I started the book somewhat suspicious of the subtitle’s claim, “How Cervantes Ushered in the Modern World.” After a few chapters, Eddington won me over with his combination of perfect prose, good humor, vast research, and, most of all, vivid insight.

No doubt Cervantes was not alone in the creation of the self-consciousness and concern for “subjective truth” we associate with modernity, but Eddington convinced me that Cervantes is as major a figure in the regard as was Francis Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Pascal, and Spinoza, all of whom were born a generation later.

Don’t get overwrought by the mention of “subjective truth.” By that, Eddington does not mean the truth is subjective and relativistic. He is talking about the way Cervantes, as a writer, is primarily interested in depicting what’s going inside his characters, particularly how his characters regard themselves, others, and the world around them.

In other words, for Eddington, subjective truth is merely the truth about a subject, a person or character, spoken of from that character’s perspective. Don Quixote may think he is being attacked by giants when they are actually windmills, but the subjective truth is that this “knight errant” sees giants and acts accordingly.

Depicting a delusional character, however, is not what makes Cervantes so unique. Eddington argues it was the addition of the character Sancho Panza that made The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha the first of its kind in world literature. Eddington explains why Sancho Panza “changes everything”:

“Until Don Quixote seeks out Sancho Panza, he is but a foil, a rube–a brilliantly crafted one, for sure, but nonetheless an object of derision…. In the space of a few pages, what started as an exercise in comic ridicule and, as the narrator insists on several occasions, a satirical send-up of the tales of chivalry, has taken on an entirely different dimension: it has begun to transform into the story of a relationship between two characters whose incompatible takes on the world are bridged by friendship, loyalty, and eventually love.”

This relationship, for Eddington, puts the reader into a different space, one where ridicule and satire are replaced suddenly by a “new language. Today we call that language fiction.” We are drawn into a story that is no longer one dimensional, about the humorous misadventures of an old man driven by dreams of an older, chivalric age. As we watch Sancho Panza, who is fully aware of all his master’s folly, treat the Don with respect, defend him, support him, and love him, we are given the “ability to experience different and at times even contradictory realities without rejecting one or the other….”

Eddington argues we are “drawn to fiction,” precisely for this reason, and I fully agree. As we read a novel, we can explore our human life from points of view vastly different from our own and enjoy watching the characters deal with the same clash of perspectives we are experiencing as we read.

Reading Eddington’s short book on Cervantes not only prepares you for a deeper understanding of Don Quixote but also of all the other fiction awaiting you in the future.

The Catholic King Who Supported the Muslim Invasion of Europe

Deal W. Hudson
February  5, 2018

That Catholic king was Francis I who in the 16th century openly sided with Suleiman the Magnificent in his Muslim wars on Christians in Eastern Europe.

The reason was simple, as explained by historian John Julius Norwich in Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis 1, Charles V, and Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions That Formed Modern Europe, Francis I wanted the Muslims to check the expansion of Charles V’s Hapsburg Empire as well as weaken it internally.

The beginning of what became known as the Franco-Ottoman alliance began in 1526, a year after a humiliating defeat of the French army by Charles V. After spending several months in prison, Francis I was forced to sign the Treaty of Madrid giving away significant territorial possessions to the Hapsburg ruler. The King of Francis immediately sent secret letters to Suleiman’s court in Constantinople seeking an alliance against Charles V.

Francis made his intentions to clear throughout Europe and Great Britain. As he would say to an Italian ambassador in 1531:

“I cannot deny that I wish to see the Turk all-powerful and ready for war, not for himself – for he is an infidel and we are all Christians – but to weaken the power of the emperor, to compel him to make major expenses, and to reassure all the other governments who are opposed to such a formidable enemy.”

Francis I himself was made ready for war, as a result of the alliance. For example, he was given use of the naval power of the Barbary Pirates, who held thousands of Catholics as slaves in their territory across the southern rim of the Meditteranean, to take control of Hapsburg land in on the Italian coast.

Norwich points out that the French alliance with the Ottoman empire led Charles V to seek reconciliation with the Protestant movement in Northern Germany led by Martin Luther.  Charles V was already fighting on two fronts, France to the east, the Turks to the west, and needed military support rather than more conflict from German princes to the north.

This Catholic-Muslim alliance continued in various, but substantial, ways over two centuries until Napoleon attacked Egypt in 1798. The French would reassert their presence in the Middle East at the end of WWI through the Treaty of Versailles which put control of the former Ottoman lands under France and Great Britain.

I consider this as another example in the long history of self-professed Christian leaders who have sold-out their faith and the faithful for political gain, for power.

The Exquisite Beauty of the Familiar

Deal W. Hudson
February 13, 2018

This morning I burst into song: “Oh, what a beautiful morning, oh, what a beautiful day.” My son, Cyprian, now twenty-one, he had not heard me do that in while, and half-smiled, half-frowned.

But as I sang the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II and the melody of Richard Rodgers, I was struck by the perfection of their marriage. This is a song I’ve known by heart since I was in 6th grade when I would sing it aloud in the basement of our family home of Tarpon Lane in the development next to Mt. Vernon on the Potomac.  ‘

I enjoyed hearing my voice echo around the cinder-block walls and off the concrete floor of the unfinished part of our basement.

So these lyrics have laid quietly in my memory bank for nearly sixty years:

All the sounds of the earth are like music,
oh, the sounds of the earth are like music,
the breeze is so busy it don’t miss a tree,
An’ a ol’ weepin’ willer is laughin’ at me.’

The Rodgers & Hammerstein musical “Oklahoma” opened on Broadway in 1943, six years before I was born. The superb film version appeared in 1955 with Gordan MacRae and Shirley Jones. At age 21, it was Jones’ first film after a handful of TV appearances. She was radiant and pitch perfect. MacRae was a film veteran, his baritone voice had no equal in musical theater, and his masculine acting style won not only Laurey’s heart but also the heart of filmgoers.

At age 34, MacRae’s role as Curly McLain made him famous, but, sadly, he would squander his fame with alcohol after making an equally-good “Carousel” with Shirley Jones the following year.

Back to the music and lyrics of a song so very familiar to millions — “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.” Keep in mind it was written by two native New Yorkers, who, as far as I can tell, never spent much time out on the “ranges” of Oklahoma or its equivalent. Here’s my favorite stanza:

All the cattle are standin’ like statues
All the cattle are standin’ like statues
They don’t turn their heads as they see me ride by
But a little brown mav’rick is winkin’ her eye

That last image is a delightful surprise and adroitly characterizes Curly as a confident ladies man in the opening scene of the musical. If the reader doesn’t remember how the film version begins, take another look below. The director Fred Zinnemann, who could evidently make great films in any genre (remember “A Man for All Seasons,” 1966), teams with cinematographer Robert Surtees to capture in glorious blue the big sky of the American West (shot in Amado, Arizona).

Listening again, I’m awestruck by MacRae’s baritone, his ability to soar even higher in the second refrain on the word “morning.” It comforts me that I can come back to works of art such as this for years to come, but it saddens me that so many of the generations following me have yet to discover its exquisite beauty.