Sunday, June 25, 2006

Let Down and Hanging Around

Radiohead depressed me terribly tonight, and not in the way you'd imagine. This was the long-awaited Berkeley concert with my favorite band of all time, and my hopes were stratospheric. Now I'm left feeling hollow and numb from the concert, from my total lack of connection with the band and the songs that were so fraught with meaning before. I don't understand it well, especially since the friends who accompanied me (men of intelligence and discrimination) loved the performance.

Any time in the last year, I could have written an apologia for Radiohead: not only are they consummate crafters of sounds and innovative rockers, but their strange forms are fitted to their meanings, and the ground they explore is the existential human condition in all its glory and horror, our isolation and concern and perhaps even original sin (hear Planet Telex).

But it seemed like these songs were just thrown out as spectacle and received as entertainment, as Thom Yorke seemed jaded and the crowd followed its own purposes (most egregious example: in No Surprises, the lines "Bring down the government/ They don't, they don't speak for us" aren't remotely about the Bush administration [as the song was released in '97] and aren't to be taken seriously in context; yet the Berkeley students released a big 'ol political roar anyway). We were barely responsive at most times (this may have been because large amounts of cannabis were offered as holocausts throughout the concert), and the band seemed to hold back the heart in their performance. It seemed appropriate enough when Thom sang, "There's a gap in between/ where I end and you begin", since both a physical and emotional barrier separated the band from the audience.

It was just, I guess, like a part of me vanished. Maybe it was just me instead of them; I've been getting less and less from their albums as I replayed them all leading up to the concert. It's just awful.

I think now I ought to get to sleep, I am running on 5 hours after the crazy house-cooling party Friday night.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Epiphany Arrived, I Think.

You care to know what it is? Why have I been increasingly unhappy for no external reason, even when everything is coming up roses for me? Why haven't I had faith in my own argumentation, why haven't I answered my commentators here and interlocutors elsewhere? What did I really miss from all those Uchicago conversations, and why haven't I had their like here in Berkeley? Why have I grown so indifferent to the Good, the Beautiful and the True, seen less and less Meaning in the world around me, been on the rocks with even my God lately?

Well, even those of you who are my friends haven't known that some of these things are going on, because I haven't talked about it to anybody. Gradually, over months and months, I've become sullen and withdrawn. Why?

In a word: Irony. In another word: Vanity.

I'm really an extraordinarily earnest person, and playing along in an ironic tone is uncomfortable for me. I can do it OK, I'm a clever guy, but my heart's never in it. I really don't care about the folly of others, however well you express it; I just want to look into what's true instead. (And yes, this is why, try as I might, I just can't get into Chesterton. He's a brilliant writer, but his eyes are too often on the very real silliness of modernity rather than on that which modernity misses.)

But coming here, I wanted to make friends with all the interesting and intelligent people I met in the department and at my parish. I wanted so badly to be admired, wanted to be accepted. So I imitated the way everybody talked, their smirking disdain for the fools that surround us.

Some people, I know, mean quite well by it all, maintain charity in their hearts; you know, hate the folly, love the fool. And that's all right, I don't mean to say my friends were being amoral, just that I tried to imitate them for vanity's sake in an enterprise I don't enjoy.

So, my urbane banter- that's not me. My film commentary- that's not me. The constant attempts at cleverness on this blog- those aren't me either, I'm afraid (the good bits of style were all stolen from friends' blogs without attribution). And now I'm sick of it all.

What has it landed me? Well, a respectable spot in the social order, OK, but at what cost? Out here, there are only three friends (by my count) with whom I feel OK being earnest, and for various reasons there's stuff I can't talk about with each of them. And I normally don't even drop the ironic banter. So it's gotten me dissatisfaction, and angst, and embarrassment. Some strategy.

I want to get back to basics, you know? I want to become a Dostoyevsky character, like I was at my best in Chicago. Junior year, that was really the best of my life, before I started trying so hard to be clever, before I exchanged real joy for mere wit, when I didn't have the commentary track turned on in the back of my mind, when I knew instead of opined, when I'd argue out of love, when my faith wasn't tortured by speculating what others must think of my religion.

Why am I broadcasting this? Well, it's my blog, and if I want to be an idiot, I'll be an idiot. Also, if I get it all out here, maybe I'll have the public impetus to drop the bullshit I'm constantly spewing. I was at Mass today (thank God for the Tridentine Low Mass, I can't distract myself so easily from Christ when there's absolutely nothing else to catch the eye or ear) and felt like I was just going through the motions, hoping that I'd get back to an animated faith and love. I started to see that my 'epistemological demons' were deprecating my knowledge of God on the grounds that I feel ashamed of asserting it. And that's just an awful way to lose my faith.

So I think I prayed honestly for the first time in a long while, and I'm going to try and act the way I really am. And I'm sorry, this is an awkward time to be going at this. I'll probably fail at the whole thing very soon, you know? But what else is there to do?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Confound It, Where's My Footman?

I shall have to do this myself, then.

Also, I've misplaced my wax and seal.

LATER: I wonder. Did my scheme come across as shy and awkward? I was trying to do it properly, you know, and footmen don't linger for smalltalk. On second thought, I really should have gone with the "more Russian, less English" approach. Live and learn!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

I Said No No No You’re Wrong

When I was a boy, everything was right, everything was right…

So, after the aforementioned wedding, I had a blast at the reception that the bride’s parents held on their Illinois farm. The band included the electric fiddle, turning dance songs into hoedowns (while Katherine exchanged her high heels for dancing boots), and giving even the awkward an excuse to dance shame-free until it hurt (which it did, eventually, after I tried to get creative with an Irish jig. Um, please don’t visualize that.) Thanks to the Uchicago-heavy wedding party, I even ended up discussing the relative merits of War and Peace characters and philosophies while I was sitting out for a while. It was amazing.

So why did I leave relatively early? I mean, it was a reasonable time to head off, but a bunch of people including the bride and groom looked to be partying for another hour or two. I left on a sudden inscrutable impulse, completely happy, and I only thought again of it when I arrived at my hotel and had nothing left to do besides read, pray and journal. Not that I minded that at all, but the reception was a unique social experience, so I don’t know why I took off when I did. Does anybody else?

Darn it, when this happens to Pierre, he suddenly ends up defending a helpless maiden from French soldiers. All I end up with is befuddlement.

Oh, and that reminds me, I’m having a tough time of it with JPII’s Theology of the Body. It’s terribly dense, which of course I can forgive. The difficulty is that some of the things that John Paul the Great asserts about human experience after the Fall don’t strike me as true, unless one interprets them in a sense that attenuates to the point of meaninglessness (think of Rex Mottram’s “Perhaps it’s raining in a spiritual sense”). But then again, I opine rather than know about the points I have trouble with, and I do find that his speculative exegesis of the creation narratives is greatly illuminating, so I’m keeping patient.

I’m a bit more sure of my thoughts on my travel reading, Waugh’s Handful of Dust, which was going great until a sudden change in genre; both the main part of the novel and the denouement (which was developed out of a short story Waugh had written earlier) were great reads, but the composite had a jarring effect. Oh, and Mr. Thackeray, that was a disappointingly milquetoast ending to such an enjoyable book. You still get an A-, but do try harder next time.

One of the Most Beautiful Things Ever:

Katherine and Erik getting married yesterday. The pure joy radiating from the bride and groom was so staggering that it left me giddily speechless, multiple times. Such a Sacrament, such a couple! Of course all of the wedding details were done brilliantly, but they almost didn’t matter: the great beauty of the earthly image of the Divine Wedding Feast was so remarkably present.

I’ve known Erik and Katherine since the start of college*, Erik the unflappable Viking programmer and Katherine the Midwestern dynamo of cheerfulness. I was Erik’s roommate for sophomore and junior years and really got to see how this couple acted toward each other. Man, I should have been taking notes. You know that idea I have about unselfish love, diligently seeking the other’s good day in and day out? They live it.

Like I said, a beautiful wedding.

*Though I must admit that of all the Wallace House gang, I think I was absolutely the last to realize that Katherine was, um, more than just Erik’s really good friend. I mean, we’re talking months here. Perspicacity is not a forte of mine.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

That There, That's Not Me

I know I've disappeared completely from the blogosphere of late. Really, I'm hiding from all of you. I was having a great time in the Midwest, just brimming with joy at my first-year Chicago reunion. I finally got my fix with respect to U of C conversations, those that can wander comfortably between late-'60s art rock, the application of category theory to sociology, what premodern ethicists would have thought about amphetamines, the concept of theosis as remedy to Western soteriological crises, etc. Aside from two events that were, well, far too cool for the likes of me, it was a great time.

(Aside: I finally came to the realization that the U of C's character and mission is essentially that of the last great legatee of the Enlightenment, with all the good and ill that signifies, all its unreasoned faith in the efficacy of reasoned disputation to overcome bias and self-interest, the grand quest for the truth coupled with the bald assertion that we mortals can indeed search it out and possess it. And I am a legatee of that pursuit, as well.)

But somehow it all drained away on the drive back to St. Louis, prior to the flight back to California. I feel like one sleepwalking, lost in the cosmos (to steal from my most interesting of recent reads, Walker Percy's book of that title), beset by demons of epistemology in the garden of ontology, wondering whether I really have the will to be a saint, sullen and withdrawn like the child I once was (who preferred the company of his own imagination to that of any other people, and ran around the deserted parts of the playground by himself playing the dinosaur hero). So I haven't exactly been up to writing anything of substance.

Trust me, though, I'll be back. All it takes is my next epiphany.