Five full drafts from conception and one major reorganization later, BOOK OF HOURS: Peter’s Parchment is off to the editor. There is no doubt he will provide a full, insightful and constructive critique with his well-pared quill. “He” is Peter Gelfan, Associate Editor at The Editorial Department.
It is a sequel. In BOOK OF HOURS: Peter’s Parchment, Brother Alphaios and archivist Inaki Arriaga discover an ancient parchment, which,if made public, could rock the very foundations of the Church. Or, if allowed to remain in the hands of its unscrupulous billionaire owner, it could provide him immense leverage against the Church for his own illicit purposes. Either outcome would render their magnificent Book of Hours—to be a gift for the Pope himself—into nothing but a hollow, bitter vessel for a religious scandal of millennial proportions.
How does one preserve history against such odds? How does one enlighten it?
Meanwhile, the same self-serving mogul has his sights set on acquiring for himself the real estate upon which the humble Monastery of St. Ambrose sits, for it occupies one of the most valuable pieces of land in the entire city. How do a handful of monks, who seek only salvation in… Continue reading
“Information is light,” announces the bronze plaque set into the sidewalk at my feet. Then it continues: “Information in itself, about anything, is light.” The source is cited down in the corner: Tom Stoppard, from Night and Day, 1978.
Another plaque states: “I want everybody to be smart. As smart as they can be. A world of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.” – Garson Kanin, Born Yesterday, 1946.
The plaques are part of the Library Walk, and set into the East 41st Street approach to the New York Public Library. Looking mostly upward in the vertical city, I nearly missed them. Along with a number of others, they have given me both introspective and instructional pause.
Both of these statements were prescient counsel for our culture, our country. Nonetheless, we seem to have slid into a period of willful, noisy ignorance, of petulant dismissal both of “facts” —information and conclusions which we have long mutually accepted as reliable—and the orderly ways in which we determine them. Science, through no fault of its own or its practitioners, has among many of our fellow travelers become suspect. Knowledge itself, whether scholarly or just widely experiential,… Continue reading
In my last post, I laid the foundation for an occasional series exploring the sublime—unmatched and unmatchable human accomplishments that rise above all others, that rise “beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation.” Achievements which transport us viscerally or intellectually, emotionally or spiritually to a place of great wonderment. As examples, I proposed Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin and the sculpture Balzac by Auguste Rodin.
For my next nomination, I ask you to watch a performance of the Barcarolle from the opera by Jacques Offenbach, The Tales of Hoffman. Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is0Lb4cj_3c. (Yes, my first suggestion for the transcendental requires you not only to listen to music which derives its name from gondoliers, but to watch it on social media, no less.) It will require about three minutes for your first time through, but my guess is you will want to hear it again, again, and perhaps again. I’ve imported a translation from the French below.
Sisters Irina and Christina Lordachescu perform the Barcarolle in what appears to be an anteroom of a concert hall in Budapest. They are accompanied only by a pianist. It’s an informal setting, not unlike having them in your… Continue reading
In the language of aesthetics, the sublime is “the quality of greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual or artistic. The term specifically refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation.” [See footnote.]
But not beyond our accomplishment. And not beyond our appreciation, for the sublime transports us viscerally, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually to a place of great wonderment. Of awe. It leads us to a capacious realization of the heights possible within the human experience. Of the pinnacles within our reach if only we pursue them.
Some accomplishments that attain the sublime are the product of spontaneous inspiration, or more likely of relentless exploration and trial by individuals who have the experience and perspicacity to allow such ideas to pierce the commonplace. I think, for instance, of Auguste Rodin and his rough but powerful statue Balzac, the great thinker standing far back and assessing—some say dominating—the world, his immense energy barely contained.
In Peter’s Parchment, The Beguilement of Brother Alphaios, while walking along… Continue reading
At the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., there is an impossibly long wall of bronze stars—an abstract but instantly recognizable representation of the heroes of war, the horrors of war, soldiers lost at war.
Each one of the four thousand palm-sized stars standing at attention represents one hundred lives lost. One star, one hundred fathers, sons, brothers, and yes, mothers, daughters and sisters lost at war.
Four thousand stars.
It is overwhelming.
I’d say inconceivable, were it only so.
Up on their wall, the stars are fixed in place. Below, in reflection, they stir about, stretch, converse with each other. They reach toward their comrades and withdraw, reach toward the captivated visitor and withdraw.
Up on their wall, the stars are flotillas, regiments, squadrons.
In reflection, they are souls.
J. S. Anderson
Photos by J. S. Anderson: Field of Stars, World War II Memorial, Washington, D. C.
Some time ago, my best friend Liz (now my wife) and I were discussing the burdens of responsibility at work and home, the rush of our lives, the clamor of family. Each of us spoke of a need to be alone from time to time and the quiet pleasure it can bring.
Time alone allows our minds to rest, our emotions and physical bodies to settle, to breathe. For her, to peruse recipes, imagine fine meals and cook them at her leisure—and emerge relaxed and recharged. For me, to let my mind drift and mull.
Peace and relaxed introspection was our common wish.
We could not find a word or phrase that captured the sense of it. “Alone” or “being alone” weren’t sufficient, for they did not carry a sense of contentment or pleasure. And the words “lonely” and “loneliness” convey negative values such as sadness, depression and even anguish—the opposite of what we wanted to express.
Accustomed to playing the occasional word game, we found ourselves working backward from “loneliness”—the antonym, we decided—until it came to us: Drop the first letter and create an entirely new word: oneliness. … Continue reading
On April 18, 2014, The Editorial Department published a guest blog I prepared entitled “What Do I Know?” It gives my take on the old stumbling-block of an adage, “write what you know….” Yes, I have a grasp of several subjects, but what I know best is how I perceive the world around me, emotionally, intellectually, viscerally and visually. And that opens up a world of possibilities. Check it out:
(The Editorial Department’s Peter Gelfan was the editor of BOOK OF HOURS: The Beguilement of Brother Alphaios.)
On April 21, 2014, Lucky Bat Books, my publisher, posted my guest blog “Mr. Kissinger and Me.” It tells a story I heard years ago about the famous Henry Kissinger, the former U. S. National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. No, I didn’t remotely know him, but it posits a very high standard for one’s work—one which I think authors should keep in mind. Here’s the link:
J. S. Anderson
Photo by J. S. Anderson. Chiaroscuro at Park Headquarters, Saguara National Park West, Tucson, AZ
It seems an apt statement for creative writing as well, no matter the form.
I wrote “Blue Notes” several years ago while living in Tucson, but was never really sure I’d finished it. It seemed to leave its subject unresolved, a town (and its people) in slow and silent decline into the dust from which it rose. I’ve felt the poem was missing either the spark of optimism or the mercy of certainty.
Yet sometimes the blues are not just a beat. Sometimes they just don’t end.
I’ve come across another observation about art which I hope applies to this poem. It’s from Paul Gardener (Strength to Love, 1963): “A painting is never finished. It simply stops in interesting places.”
The colors of this town, once vibrant and proud,
Have blanched toward white, tan and brown.
House paint and trim and storefront signs,
Once bright of hue are faded and rimed.
Even the tags of graffiti, once… Continue reading
Its synonyms include “spontaneous,” “extemporaneous,” “impromptu,” and “off-hand”. Have you come across another word whose sound seems so contrary to its meaning?
“On Saturday, we made an autoschediastic trip to the beach.”
“Don’t take offense, John. I’m sure it was just an autoschediastic remark.”
“I don’t have a prepared speech for you today. I’ll be making just a few autoschediastic remarks.”
Is there any other word whose structure and sound are so unlike its meaning?
Agony and antagony: The noun form of this word is agony, yet its direct antonym is antagonism. Seems to me the more symmetrical construction “antagony” should at least be an option. It’s more direct and more poignant. In this form, it is clear emotion. In the other, it’s once removed, a thing. Whatever happened to “antagony?”
And what about “minify”?
Several dictionaries define the word “magnify” as “to make greater in actual size.” For a word meaning the opposite, “to… Continue reading
The word “inquisition” has a Middle Ages ring to it, and a distinctly religious one. Its three best known episodes—the Medieval, the Roman and the Spanish (driven more by royalty than religion) have won a chilling place in Western cultural lore through stories of Catholic pursuit of heresy, machines of torture, and burnings at the stake. Ad extirpanda, issued in 1232 by Pope Gregory IV, was an awful call for the systematic elimination of heretics, and gave papal sanction for the use of torture.
The Catholic Church has not been the only one to use such measures in pursuit of doctrinal purity. John Calvin, the reform founder of what would become the Presbyterian Church, pursued much the same response when his own nascent denomination was affronted by other reformers. (See Out of the Flames, by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone.) Many secular governments, even commercial interests have done the same. Moreover, inquisition is not only history, it is a horrifying but recurrent modern phenomenon as well.
The book God’s Jury, by Cullen Murphy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), makes this case convincingly. He cites some recent examples and predicts there will… Continue reading