In his “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts” of 1844, Karl Marx wrote:
The less you eat, drink, and read books;
the less you go to the theater,
the dance hall, the public-house;
the less you think, love, theorize,
sing, paint, fence, etc.,
the more you save your capital:
the greater becomes your treasure
which neither moths nor dust will devour.
The less you are, the more you have;
the less you express your own life,
the greater is your alienated life:
the greater is the store
for your estranged being.
My twenty-year-old self clipped that passage and tucked it away in a folder. I think it impressed me at the time that he was able to put his finger on a psychological reality that was true, even if it really didn’t extend to his (deeply flawed) economic or political analysis.
The reference to the moth, regardless if it was intentional, echoes a passage from James 5:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
And James may be calling to mind the passage from Matthew 6:19-21:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Marx is not talking about commodities or acquisitive action; rather, he’s talking about experiences and participation. He’s talking a life in community with others. The quotation serves as a nice check on one’s priorities.
This year’s BookExpo America was held in Chicago. While an unwelcome change for the New York publishers, everybody else seemed pleased by the change in scenery. While staffs and overall attendance were smaller (stats are lacking in published reports), the composition was different, drawing more heavily from publishers and book lovers in the mid-west.
I left breadcrumbs of my time at the show on my Twitter feed, which you can find here. I provide more substantial bites below. Pouring over the fall catalogs after the show certainly extends my excitement and anticipation for the forthcoming titles this fall. Perhaps a few will surely make excellent candidates for an upcoming podcast on the New Books Network. Continue reading “BookExpo 2016”→
A year ago, Mary Eberstadt published an article called “The New Intolerance” in First Things. I encourage everyone to read it in full.
I cannot help quoting from its conclusion, which has stuck with me ever since. Few articulations about the future of the church have as much truth and resonance as this one:
Of all the witnesses that can be produced to shut down the new intolerance, the most compelling may be the most hitherto unseen. These are the former victims of the sexual revolution themselves—the walking wounded coming in and out of those proverbial field hospitals, the people who are believers not because they want to jettison the Christian moral code, but because they want to do something more radical: live by it.
The truth that has not been reckoned with by religion’s cultured despisers today is this: Christianity is being built more and more by these very witnesses—by people who have come to embrace the difficult and longstanding Christian rulebook not because they know nothing of the revolution and its fallout, but because they know all too much.
These are the heirs to St. Augustine and every other soul who ever found in Christianity’s tough code a lifesaver, and not a noose.
In a letter to “A.” on November 8, 1958, Flannery O’Connor wrote:
God never promised her political infallibility or wisdom and sometimes she doesn’t appear to have even elementary good sense. [The church] seems always to be either on the wrong side politically or simply a couple of hundred years behind the world in her political thinking. She tries to get along with any form of government that does not set itself up as a religion.
Communism is a religion of the state, committed to the extinction of the Church. Mussolini was only a gangster. The Church has been consorting with gangsters since the time of Constantine or before, sometimes wisely, sometimes not. She condemns Communism because it is a false religion, not because of the form of gvt. it is.
The Spanish clergy seems to be shortsighted in much the same way that the French clergy was shortsighted in the 19th century, but you may be sure that the Pope is not going to issue a bull condemning the Spanish Churches support of Franco and destroy the Churches right to exist in Spain. The Spanish clergy has good and bad in it like any other. If Catholics in Hungary fight for freedom and Catholics in Spain don’t, all I can tell you is that Catholics in Hungary have more sense or are more courageous or perhaps have their backs to the wall more than those in Spain.
A Protestant habit is to condemn the Church for being authoritarian and then blame her for not being authoritarian enough. They object that politically all Catholics do not think alike but that religiously they all hold the same beliefs.
You are good to ask these questions and in such a charitable spirit & I hope I can answer them in the same spirit.
I had heard good things about Crawford’s earlier book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, which began as an essay he wrote for The New Atlantis. But I never got around to reading it. I should have. This new book, which builds upon the argument of the first, takes up very concrete examples of short-order cooks, motorcycle drivers, casino gamblers, and glass blowers to show the reader what’s lost when our attention is redirected away from physical objects and onto representations. I can’t do the argument justice in this short space, but it’s also about personal freedom and our connection to other people. It’s brilliant. Read an excerpt here. Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”→
Earlier this month, Note and Query passed its one year anniversary. It began largely as an experiment, with a post about the significance of the ascension of Jesus. At a pace of about one post every other week (31 in 52 weeks), it has continued on a semi-regular basis, prompted only by time and inclination. Not bad, I say, for co-habitating with a full-time job, three young children, and a serious need for downtime (as in, not otherwise engaged in writing, editing, or reading)!
For the most part, it has been a good experiment. Writing has come more naturally to me than I anticipated. To paraphrase an apocryphal quote, I write to know that I am not alone. Both here and on Twitter (@noteandquery), I have tried to engage in conversations with writers, both living and dead, who have sought honest answers to tough questions. I have also tried to focus on works of art and literature that inspire, edify, and sustain us. In that, I think I have succeeded in making a blog that is about things that resonate with me personally but isn’t fundamentally about me. It’s a tricky line to walk at times, since we all inevitably filter the world through our own taste and interests. What is the alchemy that converts a private motive or meaning into a public good?
To keep track of my posts, I recently added an index page as well as an honor roll of books that have influenced my thinking since college. I’ve tried to learn something about the medium—currently WordPress—but to focus on the technical aspects is to miss the fun.
It is my hope that I will keep up this blog for another year, perhaps upping the frequency a bit. But I also hope to press myself to write more widely and more extensively about books, films, and ideas that clear my eyes and fill my heart as I learn to live for the Lord more fully each and every day.