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Hazards of Time Travel

This is a book by Joyce Carol Oates. I had taken a break from fiction for a while; nonfiction is a refuge for me because it’s almost never boring. That is, reality filtered through human thoughts is perpetually fascinating. I’m not sure this was a good book to get me back into fiction, specifically SF. The author is not, whatever the case, known for SF.

Oates is a silent generation author, liberal-minded, but in a different way from the boomer generation. Oates, although about ten years younger than my grandma (if my grandma were still alive — actually, my husband has a living grandma who is in her 90s; I don’t), shares some of my grandma’s characteristics. That generation lived through the depression, at least for a few years of their childhood, as well as World War II. They have, or had, a steely sort of quietude to the way they approach the world, combined with a penchant for enjoying life despite negative circumstances. They are apt at masking their feelings and acting resourcefully.

Oates brings these characteristics to her stories, and this includes The Hazards of Time Travel. The female protagonist is meant to be either gen Z or the upcoming generation, but she is imbued with much of the silent generation’s resourcefulness and coping methods to get along, despite the world she’s been thrust into. This alone gives this dystopic novel a unique flavor, since most current novels of this genre are written by millennials. Also, Oates has had a long career writing literary novels, which is is not usual for dystopian time travel. Or, I guess I should say, it isn’t necessarily what the readers of the genre want or expect. I’ve heard SF has been overtaken with literary drek these days, but I don’t read much produced by Tor any longer. Also, much of literary brings a boomer approach to storytelling, edgy stuff that’s meant to shock, but rather disgusts instead (e.g. incest and pedophilia).

I don’t know if I wanted or expected Oates’ projected dystopian world, either. It’s a little muddled. There’s both a sharp critique of the extant tradition of conservatism in the early 60s, as well as a sharp critique of what happens when you get rid of it and live in a liberal dystopian nightmare. The time of the past is a happier time for her protagonist, despite the author’s insinuation that it’s all lies and hypocrisy.

But Oates lived it. It’s possible that, in her circumspect way, she’s giving both the good and bad of her youthful days, while demonstrating what the US will become if we throw it away. There also seems to be an unironic examination of McCarthyism, in which the main characters know the cold war doesn’t end in a communist takeover (they are, after all, time travelers from the future), and yet still they rail against the forces that prevented communism from spreading…as if it were never a threat to be taken seriously…and yet, the future dystopia looks a lot like the worst of the KGB or the STASI. So… apparently it did happen, but the author doesn’t recognize it. Also, there is an unironic bent toward pacifism with no understanding of how one creates or maintains that.

All in all, it’s an easy read with a surprising romance. I enjoyed it, but it loses a lot of steam by the end because the essential problem is never confronted or solved. And, as I said, the politics are muddled; there is no answer clearly given for how to avoid the future.


Chaos Is Evil

The country is getting darker. First, it was New York’s passing of a late-term abortion bill. Then, it was Virginia’s governor admitting that a proposed abortion bill allowing up-to-birth abortions would also allow murdering a child after birth. Sadly, this morning, I learned New Mexico’s Rep. Joanne Ferrary had proposed a similar bill here, which passed in the House committee three days ago. Yes, that’s right: in a one-time Catholic state, they’re trying to bring us abortion without restriction.

Our country’s belief system is chaotic, and underneath, chaos does have a foundation: evil. When Enlightenment thinkers penned the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, they had a foundation that stemmed from the government they came from, which had a state church (and, yes, I believe I’m using state appropriately). Our founding fathers didn’t understand what they were doing when they determined a state religion was anathema to freedom. It isn’t. Rather, it provides a philosophical basis for a nation. If you destroy that, and determine all religions can vie for control of laws, you end up with the loudest voices controlling the system…and, in the case of legalized blood lust, Satan has the loudest voice. Satan will always try to eradicate the light by influencing people to murder babies. Always. He did it in Egypt, influencing Pharaoh to murder Israelite babies. He did it during Jesus’s time, under the wicked King Herod. In both cases, this was an attempt to prevent the Savior from coming to the world. But how much more effective can he be operating under Moloch, and demanding mothers murder their own babies? Wicked rulers aren’t necessary when a nation that should have borne the light of the gospel will murder themselves out of existence.


Dorothy Day On Anarchism

We’ll see how this post goes. I’ve been without adequate sleep so long now, I catch myself doing wacky things like storing the toaster in the fridge. Yes, it’s that bad. In other news, I’m just finishing the Dorothy Day conversion story and autobiography, The Long Loneliness.

Dorothy Day was a journalist, notable in her younger years for writing for socialists newspapers. I’ve found the autobiography to be tough going, in part because Day keeps an emotional distance in her writing. This is a good skill when writing news articles, but not a great one for writing an autobiography. My dear historical friend James Boswell began a legacy of emotional closeness in the biography genre, and we now recognize his style as being what biography means. As for my personal expectations, the emotional closeness is especially apropos to autobiographies. But Day is clearly a stoic by nature, and what can I say? Stoicism is the way I approach the world, too. How can I criticize her?

But hold on; that’s part of the problem. Day writes about her life, times, and activities, and doesn’t always give comment on them. That has left me in an uncomfortable state for much of this book, not knowing whether, for example, she wholeheartedly agreed with the philosophy of the French Catholic philosopher Peter Maurin. You see, Day began her career mixing with some of the most prominent communists of her time. When she converted to Catholicism, her focus changed. This was when she met Peter Maurin. She and Maurin started the Catholic worker movement, and they produced The Daily Catholic, a propaganda newspaper for the workers’ Rights movement with, obviously, a focus on Catholic concerns. Day clearly admired Maurin, but she’s so circumspect and unemotional compared to him that I would like to know if they ever argued over how his ideals would become reality. She’s idealistic and somehow practical and realistic at the same time; perhaps this is why the two were able to apply his ideals to their charity work and communal farms. They actually did this, and I admire idealists who are able to put their own noses to the grindstone to make the world a better place, rather than using extortive methods to force the government to be society’s daddy-gods.

But I don’t mean she never gives an opinion. She does, but her style is still emotionally distant. As a reader, I have to pay attention and look for it because she’s not going to punctuate it with highlighted passion. Near the end — right before discussing Maurin’s passing, she gives insightful personality and belief descriptions of some of her workers and/or journalists (including Maurin) — she pauses to define that ever-misunderstood term, anarchist. She knows her fellow Catholics have an automatic negative reaction to it, but she wishes to defend it. And she does this by delineating the difference between government and state. Because many people can’t parse the difference, they write off anarchism without much thought. But as she rightly points out, the two are used synonymously when they ought not to be. She says:

…the State is only one form of government. When you analyze what anarchists advocate it really boils down to the advocacy of decentralized self-governing bodies.

This isn’t merely an error of false synonyms, but a categorization error. State, she says, is under the umbrella of government, just as anarchism is. But make no mistake: they are both types of government, rather than one being government and the other a lack thereof.

This is where the book really piqued my interest. She goes on to quote from the Summa Theologica, Question 90, Art 3, where St. Thomas discusses the types of government that can bring about the order of the common good: the whole people, or a public personage who has care of the whole people. Anarchism fits in the former and, therefore, is a valid and even Christian choice of government. Furthermore, she goes further and brings Augustine into it — he made a distinction between coercive and directive government. “The former is a result of sin,” she says. “The latter is not.” Anarchism, of course, fits in the former.

And then finally, she gives her own opinion, rather than just defending the beliefs of others through the early church giants:

I do believe — whether it can be realized or not — that the anarchist society approaches nearer this ideal [God’s kingdom on Earth] than do other forms of government.

But in her realistic manner, she says we must live in hope of this idea because it will give us the impetus to work toward something that is otherwise impractical, given human nature.

Even though she doesn’t precisely define herself as an anarchist in the book, she lived the anarchist life through her work in creating Catholic communal farms. This is what I found fascinating: she wasn’t just a philosopher or a journalist. Her beliefs were so integrated with her being that expressing them rhetorically might well have been gratuitous. In other words, the weakness of her autobiography was her actual personal strength. And I just rambled on, when I called it in the second paragraph. Stoicism. The Greek philosophy, of course. Dorothy Day was a Christian stoic.

I think the toaster is at temp now. Time to eat!


Glass Review

We watched it last Sunday, as it was a holiday weekend. First of all, let me first admit I’m an M. Night Shyamalan fangirl. I love the way he tells stories and have enjoyed even the movies he made that were panned almost universally by critics. There is a gentleness, or politeness, to his darkest tales. He doesn’t cross the line into nihilism regarding violence and human suffering. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. Also, he’s a genius at suspense, able to create a sense of danger and doom using simple methods, such as the wind blowing.

Glass is stylistically Shyamalan. It’s dark and gritty and light at the same time. It grabbed me at the beginning, when I realized the superhero in Unbreakable was about to go head-to-head with Split’s antihero. Bruce Willis makes a great superhero; James McAvoy a great villain. In addition to his other storytelling skills, Shyamalan knows how to choose actors. See also the third “super” in Glass: Samuel Jackson as Mr. Glass.

And then all three supers are locked in a psych ward, and the suspense from the beginning slowly leaks out. Perhaps that’s not fair. It simply becomes another type of story, one not about the suspense of the one good guy faced with defeating two villains, but about how unusually gifted people are misunderstood and suppressed by the world around them. This concept places the three on the same level, really. It’s not that one is good and the other two bad, because the shadowy organization that imprisons them treats them the same way, and all three must fight against this shadowy organization. Yes, David Dunn’s (Willis’s), goal is still to save innocent lives, while the other two are inclined toward hubris, but there is a uniting moment at the end that makes it clear they are exactly Mr. Glass’s prognosis from Unbreakable: in need of each other.

That uniting moment is really what lost me. I just didn’t buy it, for a number of reasons. Travis Perry wrote a good review over at Speculative Faith, in which he called it “artificial.” I agree, and not just because I dislike the concept of the dark uniting with the light. Hollywood loves to use that religious trope, and I dislike it intensely. However, Shyamalan usually doesn’t use it, which makes me think his Glass is just a set-up to a new superhero universe. A weak one.

Let me explain: what happens at the end of the film is orchestrated by Mr. Glass, whose super power is supposed to be super intelligence. But what he accomplishes seems obvious. Anyone with hubris and a modicum of survival instinct would have figured out how to accomplish what he did. Yet, the “true” bad guy, the representative of the shadowy organization, shrieks in horror at the end at how she had been outwitted by him.

All in all, I enjoyed watching the film. I like how Shyamalan sets scenes; I like his actors. If he does use this as the setup for new superhero films, I’ll watch them. But that’s because I’m an ardent Shyamalan fan. Ultimately, though, this is not his best effort. Also, Willis’s Dunn disagreed with Mr. Glass way back in Unbreakable about their [heroes’ and villians’] mutual need for each other. It’s hard for me to swallow that Dunn was wrong and Glass was right. Ugh. I don’t know. I might watch more films in this universe, soley out of curiosity to see how Shyamalan will climb out the philosophical hole he’s dug for himself.


My Most Popular Post

I find it curious to look at my stats to see what posts continue to get hits throughout the years. As I’ve been doing this for for a long time, my blog has gone through many iterations. I have many interests. That’s a problem. But earlier in my blogging life, I wrote primarily about history, philosophy, and literature — Enlightenment based, I’m sorry to say (the Enlightenment gets a bad rap these days, and I haven’t forgotten I promised to write a response to that hate). At least a few of those posts get a hit or two a day, mostly during standard college semesters. These hits are from students looking for inspiration re their banal essays. Or they’re studying for a test. Who knows?

However, there is one post of mine that blows all others out of the water. What an expression! I suppose the post is a whale? It’s probably an embarrassing post now because it was one in which I tried to give personality types to book characters. Enneagram personality types, specifically. This is it: Solving One Of Literature’s Great Questions Through the Enneagram. Undoubtedly, I mistyped Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet. I think I called her a type 8, and she is almost certainly a 6 by Enneagram theory. That wouldn’t have changed my analysis, however, in determining that Elizabeth represents Pride while Mr. Darcy represents Prejudice. I was right because my analysis of Darcy was spot-on. The enneagram 1, as I typed him, is a serious reformer type who expects right behavior from himself and everybody around him. He has very high standards and rarely relaxes. Therefore, he’s a judgemental person who suffers from a great deal of prejudice.

Despite its imperfect analysis, that post gets many hits a day and, short of deleting it, it will continue to do so. This is because, in an era where we are trying to find meaning in our lives through identity, personality typing systems are very popular. And, honestly, they do serve a purpose, as they’re created by people who observe the world closely. But what makes Enneagram especially interesting to people is its almost frighteningly accurate descriptions of people’s motivations and fears. Good observers of the world do clue into these underlying parts of the people they interact with, but most people just aren’t that observant. Even writers tend to be lacking in this area, projecting their own motivations and fears onto their characters. That’s one reason why I’m not often impressed by characterization.

That brings me to Jane Austen. She continues to be an ever-popular author. Combining her with Enneagram was a sure bet. It’s too bad I didn’t recognize that at the time. If I were able to do that, I would be more successful, instead of bumbling around and writing posts that interest me. Going back to personalities and characterization, though, Austen understood people. She was a shrewd observer of the world, and a little misanthropic, as well. Misanthropy may not always be a reliable witness, but it does prevent a person from idealizing the world. Ruthlessly mocking it, sure. Wishing humans would uphold ideals, maybe. But sentamentalizing the human ability to act righteously is definitely not part of it.

The enneagram imparts identity, meaning, and understanding to people who lack it. Jane Austen gives us shrewd diagnoses that still manage to become love stories. What a combo. I guess I should strive for that combination all the time. In fact, I do. In my books, of course.

And then I will become the Most Popular Me Ever, Writer of Unsentimentally Shrewd Romances* With Androids and Aliens (that will give you a firm sense of your own unique identity). Snort.

As you can tell, I’ve been looking backwards a lot at my career and writing, but it’s always with an eye to the future.

*The Minaverse couldn’t be considered a romance even in a stretch, but there’s romance in it. Same with my other books, though the others have a little more emphasis on it. Sorry to disappoint.