400 Years of the Bard

Two soliloquys:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

—Macbeth, Macbeth V.v.18-28

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then, the whining school-boy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then, a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then, the justice,
In fair round belly, with a good capon lined,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

—Jaques, As You Like It, II.vii.140-167

Basically, Catholics are weird, is what you’re saying?

I continue to find it curious that Catholic conservatives today want precisely the opposite kind of governance from the Church than they want from secular states. In secular politics they want decentralization, subsidiarity, local knowledge and discretion in preference to abstract laws applied from above; in Church governance they want canon law set by the Vatican and merely enforced at the local level. Now, to be sure, there’s no contradiction here; there is no reason why one must think that secular governance and Church governance should operate according to the same principles; but I still think it curious. Of course, it could also be said that American Catholic liberals have equally curious views, but in mirror image: they tend to approve of state centralization with universally binding dictates issued from Washington, while wanting the implementation of Catholic teaching to be left up to the discretion of local communities.

Basically, Catholics are weird, is what I’m saying.

—Alan Jacobs, one more round with Ross D.

On Filiarchy

Let me state, by the bye, that though I’ve criticized it at great (even excessive) length, The Dispossessed is a rich and wondrous tale. It’s a boy’s book: a book to make boys begin to think and think seriously about a whole range of questions, from the structure of society to the workings of their own sexuality. Our society is often described as patriarchal— a society ruled by aging fathers concerned first and foremost with passing on the patrimony. At the risk of being glib, however, I’d suggest that it might be more accurate to say that we have a filiarchal society— a society ruled almost entirely by sons— by very young men. Certainly boys— especially white heterosexual boys— are the most privileged creatures in the Western social hierarchy. They are forgiven almost everything in life— and are forgiven everything in art. Indeed, if the society were a bit more patriarchal instead of being so overwhelmingly filiarchal, it might function just a bit more sanely. But since it doesn’t, there’s still a great deal to be said for a good boy’s book. And for a woman’s writing it. And nothing stops women and girls from reading boys’ books and learning from them. I mean The Dispossessed is a boy’s book the way Huckleberry Finn is a boy’s book; and, unlike Huckleberry Finn, the boy in The Dispossessed is held up to the man he will become again and again, chapter by chapter, beginning to end. (The real tragedy of Huckleberry is that the best he can hope to grow up into, personally and historically, is the sociopathic narrator of Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”)

—Samuel R. Delany, “The Second Science-Fiction Studies Interview: Of Trouble with Triton and Other Matters” (1986)

Hand the kid a hacksaw

When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don’t ruin the movie, they hear please cut off your left arm above the elbow. You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life.

At the same time, though, we’re going to have to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t disturb today’s audiences. There’s a reason there are ads up there saying turn off your phone, because today’s moviegoer doesn’t want somebody sitting next to them texting or having their phone on.

–Adam Aron, interviewed by Brent Lang

I will never—ever—go to a cinema if I think there’s even a remote chance of sharing a theater with the “cell phone section.” Why? Read the above quote with a minor modification:

When you tell a 22-year-old to put out their cigarette, don’t ruin the movie, they hear please cut off your left arm above the elbow. You can’t tell a 22-year-old to put out their cigarette. That’s not how they live their life.

At the same time, though, we’re going to have to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t disturb today’s audiences. There’s a reason there are ads up there saying put our your cigarette, because today’s moviegoer doesn’t want somebody sitting next to them coughing or blowing smoke in their face.

How in the world to your reconcile these mutually exclusive audiences? The point is not that it’s patently ridiculous that 22-year-olds live their lives permanently attached to smartphones. (Although it is patently ridiculous. If some 22-year-old thinks giving up his phone is like being asked to cut off his arm above the elbow, I say hand the kid a hacksaw.) The point is that I, as a consumer, as a citizen, value what Matthew Crawford calls the “attentional commons,” largely for the same reason that most Americans who enjoy breathing unpolluted air value the Clean Air Act.

I can’t even imagine what novel forms of attentional pollution cinema chains and telecom advertisers will devise when they know that they have a captive audience in an environment already primed for product placement and surrounded by personalized digital devices. Nor can I imagine the novel forms of rudeness to which my fellow creatures will descend once that barn door is cracked open. If the traditional film continues to exist–one that does not incorporate interactive, smartphone-dependent elements–and it continues to be exhibited in cinema chains, those chains are going to drive away any- and everyone who still goes to the movies for the movie-going experience.

I totally understand that entertainment media evolve all the time, and at some point there will be a sea change in the moviegoing experience. Until that time, though, people like Aron should understand that people like me go to the movies to watch movies, not to dink around on our phones and be distracted by the cancerous pests who do so. Have I made my position perfectly clear?

Continue reading “Hand the kid a hacksaw”

Progress unattended by any real change in temper

We have all been taught to regard it as more or less “natural” for young dissenters to become conservatives as they grow older; but the phenomenon I am concerned with is not quite the same, for it involves not so much the progression from one political position to another as the continued coexistence of reformism and reaction; and when it takes the form of progression in time, it is a progression very often unattended by any real change in personal temper. No doubt the precise line between useful and valid criticism of any society and a destructive alienation from its essential values is not always easy to draw. Some men, and indeed some political movements, seem to live close to that line and to swing back and forth across it more than once in their lives. The impulses behind yesterday’s reform may be put in the service of reform today, but they may also be enlisted in the service of reaction.

—Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F. D. R. (1955), p 21

Excessively consistent practice of either

My criticism of the Progressivism of that period [1890-1917] is the opposite of [J. Allen] Smith’s—not that the Progressives most typically undermined or smashed standards, but that they set impossible standards, that they were victimized, in brief, by a form of moral absolutism. It is possible that the distinction between moral relativism and moral absolutism has sometimes been blurred because an excessively consistent practice of either leads to the same practical result—ruthlessness in political life.

–Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform (1955), pp 15-16