I know I intimated that I was leaving off the amateur film critic stuff, but I have to say something about Johnny Guitar, a movie I’ve already seen three times now this year. The last time I watched something which absolutely hit that “yes, this is why I love this medium” spot was Spider-Verse. It feels particularly special in how it seems to be the platonic ideal of the Josh movie, that fuzzy category of cinematic curios which are unapologetically weird and aesthetically extravagant. After three viewings I still can’t find anything I dislike about it. It’s dang near perfect.
I’m now in the middle of rereading Moby-Dick, which I last reread a little over a year ago. This third time around, I find things just click so beautifully with me. If we’re going to compare it with Ulysses, that other eccentric, quasi-encyclopedic literary tome that I’ve spent recent months poring over, the winner is now already obvious. Joyce’s may have a deeper grasp of the possibilities of English and literary form, and indeed played a valuable stepping-stone for me as a teenager, but Melville as a storyteller does just about everything I could want from an epic novel. Maybe I needed the experiences of the intervening year to make me into the sort of person who could be more attuned to Moby-Dick’s own brand of bizarre mysticism. I can see a lengthy post about it in the future.
In 2019 I revisited two other novels that I never got around to writing about: Franz Kafka’s The Castle and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I previously read both of them during my high school years, and, looking back on it, these two more than any others seemed to set the agenda for my teenage literary ambitions. I often tried (and failed, terribly) to mimic the low-key, dreamlike qualities of The Castle and the magic realism of One Hundred Years. Anyway, it turns out that they still have the same sort of pull on me, perhaps more deeply. My teenage experiences with these sorts of texts were important for expanding my mind about what literature can do; with some more life experience they become more understandable. Though, given that it’s been some months, I don’t think I can come up with anything substantive to say about them at the moment. I’d have to reread them again. But I wouldn’t mind doing so, before the year is out.
At this point, I think the only seminal text from my adolescence that I haven’t gotten around to revisiting in the past decade is Don Quixote.
Music has become more important to me again. I mean in the sense of approaching it as an art form I can seek out an intentional experience with, and not just as background noise, which is what it kinda slid towards in the years since the halcyon years of my late teens-early twenties where I found myself sticking my nose into as many developments in popular music as possible. I suppose the trade-off was a deeper appreciation of movies, and hence my many attempts at amateur film critic here.
But in the past year or so I’ve found myself revisiting a lot of old albums I used to love, and more often than not rekindling those loves, and feeling more enthused about expanding my horizons to new stuff as well. And besides, writing about music is something I haven’t done much of here. So Josh the amateur music critic may be rearing his head.
In this case, I want to talk about Sufjan Stevens’ 2004 album, Illinois, which is something of a departure in taste for me: usually when I look to something that broadly falls under the “indie” category, I’m interested in people making strange, obscene noises with their electric guitars, and not a sensitive-sounding guy with his mannered, Brian Wilson-ish baroque pop. Also the album art rubs me the wrong way.
One of the reasons I’ve been sitting on my hands when it comes to blogging about all my recent…ecclesial developments is that it’s hard to do so without coming across as at least a little bit confrontational. It’s also the case that conversion is an often messy affair that works in fits and starts, and involves (if I may be so ironic as to paraphrase John Henry Newman) the whole Josh and not just his intellect, so getting my thoughts about it down in a manner which really nails it is probably impossible.
Still, we do need to reckon with the fact that the Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction over this blog. I can’t just sweep all these dramatic changes under the rug. And it’ll be a little weird if I just jump right into talking about, say, Calvin or Hooker without any attempts to pave the way here. Anyhow, rather than attempt to write a huge, magisterial “Why I Am No Longer Roman Catholic” post, it seems more appropriate to the blog to handle things in a more piecemeal fashion as time goes on, and to accept that, much like how I’ve never been able to completely articulate to my satisfaction why I became Roman Catholic in the first place, I will be similarly dissatisfied with my attempts to articulate my having gone Prot.
When it comes to picking a favourite movie of 2019, I have, as usual, a small pool to work with. I could choose the new Terence Malick movie about Franz Jagerstatter, but it has the problem of my not having actually seen it yet (and likely not having a chance to see it until it rolls out on video some time in 2020). Then there’s Alita: Battle Angel, which does everything I could possibly want from a Hollywood adaptation of Battle Angel aside from tell a coherent and complete story. Avengers: Endgame was better than I thought it would be, but had the misfortune of getting released within a decade of Spider-Verse. The Rise of Skywalker was bad, but historically so – the moment where the Star Wars just kinda breaks down prostrate on the floor, crying, asking, “what the hell do you people want from me?! I’ll do anything, anything you ask!”
Then there’s Steven Universe: The Movie, which is a made for TV movie, but dang it, it’s a 2D animated musical in 2019. In terms of the number of times watched, it wins this year, and anyway is what I want to talk about here, eventually.
C.S. Lewis said something to the effect that if we take the immortality of the soul seriously, there is no rock bottom. A soul overcome by evil will not just stop at being bad, but keep drifting into the direction of the unspeakably monstrous unless it can be turned around.
One of the things about my whole crisis of faith this year was how it really shone a light into my own darkness. How I had so much inner turmoil that I was afraid to stare down, and it was slowly warping me from the inside out.
Anyway, it was really fortuitous that I rewatched Neon Genesis Evangelion in the midst of it all. The way the show gradually reveals the brokenness of its characters, the intense introspection and angst of it all dovetailed so much with what I was going through. It was cathartic.
So how to talk about The End of Evangelion, a movie which is almost entirely just an explosion of pure catharsis?
One of the problems with turning more time and attention towards prose fiction writing is that it leaves even less time and attention for the more instant gratification of blogging.
Anyway, I wrapped up volume three of In Search of Lost Time, thereby advancing my knowledge of Proust somewhat higher than it was a decade ago, and decided I needed a break before going further with the French aesthete. But instead of doing what a more reasonable person would do in picking up some lighter reading, I’ve returned again to Joyce and to Milton.
I’ve talked a lot about pop-culturey stuff on this blog, so perhaps one way to ease into a somewhat different kind of normal is to talk about it from an angle I rarely do: music.
A little over a decade ago, I picked up Joanna Newsom’s indie folk album, Ys on a recommendation. In the abstract she had some points in her favor: she played the harp, had a prog-rocker’s sense of compositional overreach, and penned the sort of lyrics an overeducated English major would write. It didn’t stick the landing, though. In large part because the music on Ys tended to resist anything like dynamism, and to an extent the lyrics just seemed too buried under inscrutable allegory. The whimsical Van Dyke Parks orchestration only underlined just how mannered the thing felt.
But I started giving it a listen again about a year ago, and it clicked with me a bit. I’m not quite sure what’s changed; perhaps the ensuing years have made me more amenable to music that sounds like a partially-sedated Edmund Spenser reading. Anyway, it inspired me to check out her followup 2010 album, Have One On Me, which is what this blog post is really about.
At a certain point I think it’d be good to attempt a more positive explication here of where I’m at, faith-wise, where I find myself in the Anglican communion and so forth. But maybe later: Although I’m no longer writhing on the floor as my axioms shift about me, I’ve run the risk of theological burnout enough recently to not want to immediately keep spinning the wheels for the edification of the small audience I have here.
Sorry. I still don’t know how to bring things down to earth again here. Partly because nothing about my life right now feels normal. Stuff like blogging has felt just a tad frivolous.