26 July, 2008

The Dark Knight

Wow. This movie was truly amazing. Read this article from First Things to get some really interesting insights on Christopher Nolan's filmmaking and the philosophy behind this film.

Heart of the Matter

I finished reading my first Grahame Greene novel, The Heart of the Matter recently. Now, everything I'm going to say here will assume knowledge of the plot, so if you dislike spoilers don't read on.

The last few lines of the book give the sense that they are absolutely crucial to any interpretation of the book. Yet I've been having a rather difficult time trying to decipher them. At this point, Police Inspector Scobie (the novel's main character)has just committed suicide, and his wife is discussing the tragedy with the local priest.

"(Mrs. Scobie) He must have known that he was damning himself."

..."For goodness' sake, Mrs. Scobie, don't suppose that you - or I - know a thing about God's mercy. ... It may be an odd thing to say - when a man's as wrong as he was - but I think, from what I saw of him, that he really loved God."

"He certainly loved no one else."

"And you may be in the right of it there, too."

Did Greene intend us to take the priest's final analysis of Scobie as accurate? All things considered, I'm inclined to think that he did. It's the "last word" of the book, so to speak. The priest, though not a saint, seems to be a man of integrity and of real faith in the Church. But if one accepts this analysis, what can one make of it?

A little backstory is definitely necessary. (How, indeed, could the ending of any book be quite comprehensible outside the context of the book itself?) Scobie's driving characteristic (in the literal sense that it really provides the motive for just about every one of his actions) is an overwhelming desire that those around him be "happy". However, he believes hat he can keep others happy by keeping them content. By being perfectly kind and creating an atmosphere of peace, whether the peace is true or not. This falsity is a problem from the beginning, but the habit of killing those around him with kindness leads to a fatal conclusion when he is faced with the choice of "what's right" versus "what will make everyone else comfortable". "In human relations, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths" he believes, and even the reply from God he seems to hear in his prayer, "[to do what I ask] one of them must suffer, but can't you trust me to see that the suffering isn't too great?" isn't enough to make him choose what's right.

It's easy to see how, for all of his compassion, Scobie's love for those in his vicinity was empty. You can't really love someone by hiding the truth. Comfort is not the greatest good which you can provide another, especially when it comes at the cost of truthful and meaningful relationships with others. Moreover, at least initially, Sobie's main concern seems to be with his own peace - domestic peace in his relationship with his wife, the mental peace of having "done his duty" to those around him.

But how could the priest possibly say that Scobie "really loved God"? Scobie was fully aware that his suicide was the one of the ultimate offences against God. However, it seems as though the "heart of the matter" - his real, though distorted, love - lies in the fact that he was willing to "hurt" God in order to put an end to the pain which he knows he will continue to cause Him. Once again, it's heresy of the grossest kind. But it is perhaps the case that by rejecting all possibility of his own comfort, his own peace in a life which he knows will be inextricably tied to God, whether through an eternal rejection or eternal acceptence of God, he has shown some hint of the love necessary for salvation. His hopeless explanation, "I can't shift my responsibility onto you. I love you, and I won't go on insulting you at your own altar" does perhaps contain just enough love to leave him open to God's mercy. God, whose "weakness", according to Greene, is precisely the enormity of His love, can turn even Scobie's assault against this into a saving grace. "Don't suppose, Mrs. Scobie, that you - or I - know a thing about God's mercy."

16 July, 2008

And now for some recommendations

Well, I've been plowing through mountains of books lately, and after this long but not particularly arduous month of reading, I'm putting out a small list of "must reads" for anyone who might be interested. Think of it as the literary equivalent of the Oscars, though I can't say I bothered to hire a would-be comedian.

History has been the big summer subject for me so far, especially early American to get a bit of background on the time period I'll be covering in American Civ I next semester. The best of those I've completed are:

1. 1776 by David McCullough, always an enjoyable author.
2. Washington's General, by Terry Golway, who writes here about the often underappreciated Nathanael Greene, one of Washington's most trusted generals and winner of the war in the south.
3. A Few Acres of Snow By Robert Leckie. This covers all of the wars between France and England in the New World (and believe me, more went on than just the French and Indian War!), tying them very nicely to the various swings of alliance and arguments going on simultaneously in Europe and provided most of the impetus for the colonial wars. He does tend to jump around a bit, referring to events that are fairly well out of the historical scope of his subject, but makes up for it by the interestingness of many of his other asides (about the culture, commerce, housing, etc of the time). Another plus is his fairly detailed treatment of Isaac Jogue's story and his inclusion of the tale of my own ancestor, Guillaume Couture.

Another history book I have to mention, though it has little to do with American history is Warren Carroll's Founding of Christendom. It starts from basically prehistory and really approaches history in what I believe is the only sensible way: from the perspective of salvation history rather than from a Hegelian or Marxian viewpoint which subordinates the human person and God Himself to the progress of time.

Another work I have to mention is Pope Benedict's Introduction to Christianity. It's one of the best things I've read in ages. I've noticed that a lot of Catholic writings that have come out lately tend to approach subjects in a very similar manner; this book astounded me by the originality of its approach to about every topic it covers. And it's original in the best of ways, of course: very much like Pope John Paul's writings in the logic of its arguments and the warmth of its appeal to modern society, but also similar in its conviction that God cannot ultimately be comprehended, that modern culture needs to move beyond its preoccupation with fathoming everything. It also gave me some very clear answers to why Plato isn't enough, to why I can't help reading him without coming away dissatisfied, and some very interesting insights into the connection between the rationalists of ancient Greek culture and of modernity. I'll probably go into this last subject in a bit more depth in some future entries.

Until then, I'll sign off, hoping that this entry has let everyone know that I haven't fallen off the edge of the world after all, and am still planning on (more or less) keeping up with this writing.