Life Interrupted

Grandma and Grandpa’s 60th wedding anniversary was next weekend. There were people coming in to celebrate 60 years of love. A menu was created, the food was purchased and stored in the freezer. My aunt was asking for advice on a van, since she liked their van and wanted to know the pros and cons. There was wiring being done on their house by Grandpa. There were plans to go out and eat with people for the next two weeks. That’s simply how they rolled. Last Wednesday, they were preparing to go to Ash Wednesday service. Grandpa had to drive as Grandma’s been deteriorating from Parkinson’s. It’s a horrible disease, and those who have seen it know how debilitating it can be. Her mind is still good, but her mobility is hampered more and more.

Grandpa went upstairs to get changed. It would be quick, they would make it to church on time, and he had a nice outfit picked. After twenty minutes upstairs, Grandma called for him and received no response. She, very likely, struggled up the stairs. Grandpa was unresponsive. She proceeded to struggle back down the stairs, as her cell phone was downstairs, where she called my aunt.

We received text messages and phone calls halfway through our own Ash Wednesday service. By the time we were out and I saw the text that Grandpa had collapsed, then called my aunt, she stunned us with the news Grandpa was dead. She said passed, but as a writer words have a certain levity to them. Passed doesn’t do justice what happens at the end of life. Dead does.

I was to go to Utah the next morning for a writer’s convention. The plan was after church to do laundry, hang out with mom and dad, and be to bed by nine, since I had to be up around four. I nearly did not go. I definitely did not bring the clothes I was thinking I would. Due to the grace of Mom, I ended up with clean clothes at all.

Grandpa wasn’t supposed to die. His shoulder gave him problems, he was slowing down, but he still was filled with vigor at 83. There were countless plans surrounding him and his life, and no one expected the phone call. There were no health issues.

Suddenly my brothers were flying or driving in with their families. One of them expected to drive in next week for the celebration of marriage. Neither of them expected to come back home for the mourning of a death.

Life ends abruptly. Not always. My other Grandpa suffered for years from numerous diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, to the point he was basically incoherent for the final stretch. There were no plans made into the future, and every day we showed up to the nursing home and he was still breathing was a bonus. But how many people in our novels die that death?

When I was sitting in Grandma and Grandpa’s living room with Grandma going through all the reasons he couldn’t be dead, when plans were made and cancelled because of death, when I heard of the project which were happening and would not be neglected, I realized something about death, something I never realized because I’ve never before been in a house with a dead body that so immensely affected me.

Death leaves threads which are unfinished.

How often do characters going into battle have no tomorrow? A Victorian novel where two characters duel in the morning, but they have no plans for lunch later on. A teen about to be on the receiving end of a slasher flick doesn’t do their homework, unless we want them to be doing their homework when the horror starts. Even those who walk onto the battlefield. Our soldiers have families at home. They plan on seeing those families. Leave is planned out in order to visit them, sometimes during important events. Maybe it’s as simple as a planned poker game that evening, even though they are aware they are going into an encounter shortly.

People don’t plan to die. Make plans as if they will survive.

Bran, in A Game of Thrones, has an entire chapter on how he has planned out his life. Then he is pushed out a window and falls to become a cripple. His plans are interrupted.

Ned plans on exposing the incest of Jaime and Cersei, until they catch him. Then he simply plans on making it home to his family, hiding in Winterfell, and taking care of his kids. Both of these plans are decapitated when Ned loses his head in a rash decision by Joffrey. Not only that, but it was for naught. By Clash of Kings everyone knows of the incest anyway.

In H.P. Lovecraft, often his characters do not plan out anything beyond the terror inducing events of the present. The men go into a cave with no thought of tomorrow, a guaranty to their own mortality. While I still love his writing, why wouldn’t the man researching a hidden horror in a crypt make plans to return to the surface, writing fanciful notes from the psych-ward he would so justly deserve?

When a healthy character is about to die, especially in an epic where tomorrow matters, have them make plans. It makes it more real. It makes us understand. We recall that death strikes at any time, and the reaper does not care what we wanted to do tomorrow. It takes us all the same.

The rest of the week will consist of information from the writer’s conference, which was a blast. Today, however, having been the funeral, this is what slapped me in the face.


In memory of Grandpa, who gave countless virtues and blessings to his daughters, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. Who taught us faith, an even temper, and a determined approach to this world. You were taken by a thief in the night, but you’ve left behind so many great reminders as to the amazing man you were. I miss and love you, Grandpa. Until we meet again.

A Farewell Booklist

Well, with the New Year comes a new list of books I want to read. Also with the New Year comes the expiration of my stint on this estimable blog. I’ve enjoyed trying my hand at writing these weekly posts and I hope you, the reader, have enjoyed reading my (occasionally curmudgeonly) cogitations. Anyhow, it seemed most fitting to leave you with the list of books I hope to read in the upcoming months. My thought, you see, is that you may find one of them interesting also. I think it fitting because I started these posts of mine by writing about reading. So, some of the books on this list I received as presents for Christmas. Others I will have to procure some way or other… selling blood, menial odd jobs, who knows? As Erasmus said, whenever I have money, I buy books.

This is hands down one of the best books I've ever read.
This is hands down one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The first book on the list is one I’m actually reading now, To Change the World – The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, by James Davison Hunter. This book was on the top of my Christmas wish list. Comprised of three interconnected essays touching on how culture is changed (with satisfyingly extensive historical examples), the relationship of Christianity to the broader culture and politics (Hunter says Christianity’s primary witness is a political witness), and the author’s alternative suggestion for Christian cultural engagement dubbed “faithful presence,” this book by Hunter, a sociologist stationed at the University of Virginia, is thus far the best book I’ve read on the immensely interesting topic of Christians and cultural involvement. It is one of those books that  has articulated vague ideas that have been circulating in my head for some time, and by articulating them it has developed, altered and more fully delineated those ideas. I would just highly recommend it to anyone whose curiosity touches on this subject – along with another favorite of mine, Republocrat – Confessions of a Liberal Conservative, by Dr. Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. This book is called by one of its reviewers a “[Christian] pilgrim’s pogrom against political pabulum.” It is certainly great fun to read and intellectually worthwhile. In fact, it’s something of a lesson in logic in and of itself.

The second book I can’t wait to read is The Republic and The Laws by Cicero. I was acquainted with the former work by St. Augustine in The City of God. Augustine gives a fairly detailed summary of a certain passage in The Republic wherein the interlocutors are considering the nature of  republic – what it is, what makes it so. I’ve long since forgotten the point Augustine was driving towards by quoting Cicero; I only remember thinking to myself, “I’ve got to read The Republic!” The last great work of political thought I read was The Federalist Papers, this past summer (that is, in entirety–I started Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy in the fall and stopped, deciding I’d better go back and read Livy!). So it’ll be good to delve into this.

Washington Irving
Washington Irving, AKA Dietrich Knickerbocker.

Thirdly, A History of New York by Washington Irving. Known mainly for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle,” Irving is considered the Father of American letters, and he’s one of my personal favorites. A History of New York is a satirical history of Dutch colonial rule of what was then New Amsterdam. Irving – ahem, Dietrich Knickerbocker – would have you know that the history is, of course, wholly factual. But it is also delightfully satirical. I have fairly ugly orange tome of Irving’s works that contains excerpts from the History and it is one of those rare, delightful books that doubles me over with laughter. I got the full work for Christmas and can’t wait to romp through it.

Well, these are but three of the books I will be reading in the upcoming weeks. Perhaps you will find one of these useful for your own reading. Of course, I know everyone says they have their own books to read and can’t find the time. However, it seems most people actually have plenty of time to watch tasteless “reality” TV shows and sitcoms mistakenly called “comedic” and “entertaining.” Read one of these books instead and be thankful I told you about them. If you don’t, “You will be most ungrateful and the angels will weep for you.” I love that line, from Pygmalion, I think. Cheers!

Conservatism vs. Liberalism


Yet another post from Canaan Suitt:

“What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?” – Abraham Lincoln

Conservatism is obstructive to the pursuit of truth and harmful to the wellbeing of society when the old ways of thinking and doing things are erroneous. Conversely, Liberalism, which we may say is in essence trying the new and untried against the old and tried, is dangerous when it is merely a desire to push against tradition for its own sake, without the guidance of reason. Both may be dangerous, and for the same reason: namely, both may eschew truth for something else–tradition for the one, “liberation” for the other.

It doesn’t seem to me that the ideas we call liberal would be called liberal if they had come first. Conversely, it doesn’t seem to me that those ideas that come along and challenge the established ideas can be called conservative. Of course, established and new ideas could be called liberal and conservative, respectively, if, like Humpty Dumpty, we could call things what we please. But using the established meaning of the words, it seems to me that conservative is conservative because it comes first in time and development and liberal is liberal because it comes subsequently. Now, probably both conservatives and liberals would take umbrage at this reduction of their respective ideologies to a matter of chronology. Conservatives may counter by saying that their ideas and values are in accordance with absolute truth, regardless of what newfangled ideas may come. Liberals may give an argument not unlike the conservatives’ in that it gives their position legitimacy by according their views with the truth (in throwing off the falsehoods of tradition).

This image was found here. I like the image... not sure I like the site. However, credit where credit is due.
This image was found here. I like the image… not sure I like the site. However, credit where credit is due.

As I began by saying, so now I reiterate that the relationship between conservatism or liberalism and truth is precarious. To clarify, I am talking about conservatism and liberalism in a political context. Now if conservatism were defined and used to mean–what I don’t think it really means–accordance with absolute truth, then I would unwaveringly call myself a conservative. For, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.” Liberalism, because conservatism and liberalism are opposites, would mean the open mind that Lewis condemns–would be forsaking the foundation that gives meaning to anything. But traditionalism–adherence to the old and tried–is not synonymous with adherence to truth, period. Conservatism means going along with the old and tried politically, which may be good and may not. In the context of Lincoln’s speech quoted above, it is very good, because by it he means adhering to the Constitution and being devoted to the perpetuity of union. Liberalism, politically, as doing the new and untried, may be good and it may be destructive. A liberal mindset or idea may in fact greatly improve upon the conservative way of doing things. I think of the great contribution of those “liberals” Erasmus and Luther, or those liberal measures called the Thirteenth and Nineteenth Amendments. On the other hand, rebellion against the old and tried merely because it is old and tried is no good reason to be a liberal. The standard against which both conservatism and liberalism have to be tried is truth itself.

This photo was found at Keyboard Militia.
This photo was found at Keyboard Militia.

I myself think Plato’s approach (see The Republic I) is the best one – to be guided by reason and the ever-pressing desire to understand and act upon the truth. I am not very concerned with labels–it seems to me that most labels are applied in hindsight by posterity or in the present by the opponents of a certain way of thinking–I am concerned with knowing the truth (“as God gives us to see the right,” as Lincoln said elsewhere and applying it to society. If this means that at times I seem conservative to those who may observe me, well, that’s fine. And so it is if I may be liberal.

This sort of person, who is not concerned for labels or movements or systematized political stances, the person whom I’ll call “The Sojourner,” will unsettle conservatives and liberals alike. On some issues, conservatives will applaud the Sojourner; on others, liberals will approve him. Both will be disturbed on many other points. Both sides will see him as an anomaly–an unstable conglomeration of diametrically opposed ideologies. Neither will welcome him entirely. “He’s delusional, you know. That chameleonic fellow thinks he can support our pro-life stuff while supporting the legalization of homosexual marriage!” Or, in a meeting room on the other side of the Capitol, “What’s he trying to do–get a bigger constituency? Everyone knows you can’t support these damn imperialistic programs and align yourself with our green initiatives! It’s just a load of BS.” For his part, the Sojourner knows the world is more complex than his friends seek to make it. In his thoughtful quest for the right, he is mostly alone (except in the company of books and rarely met like-minded people), but he knows solitariness is necessarily a part of the quest.

Come, Let Us Give Thanks

Another Post from Canaan Suitt:

How can one man understand his culture? How can he grasp the mindset, the understanding, the errors of his age? Are we fitted to the times in which we are born? Do we encompass in ourselves, as a microcosm, the spirit of our times, even so that we can understand the errors of it and express the solution? Can a man do this? Or, if encompassing the spirit of the age, are we blinded by it? If culture is the sum total of shared beliefs and values of a society, and society is the aggregate of people that coheres under an ordered community, can one part of that society, by which we mean one man, comprehend the whole? And comprehending it, can he venture outside of that culture, look upon it externally and make judgments of it? Can what a man thinks or feels about the culture accord with the state of his culture – or is it merely a false projection?

It seems to me there exists a sense of restlessness abroad. It seems there exists an intense desire for rest and solidarity even in the undeniable realization of unstoppable change. It seems the call for meaning still pulls the heart and arouses the hopes of man. It seems man cannot, will not, accept the bricking of the window; he cries against it with ferocity that chills the heart. The struggles of men – for meaning, for solidarity, for coherence – are played out in their greatest pomp and grandeur on the World Stage, by which we mean the culture and governance of the times. The struggle and search is not personal only, but communal. Together we grope, together we struggle, together we attempt to find meaning and together we erect safeguards and institutions for the preservation of what we hold dear – not just the search itself but what we find. Yet the story of history reiterates a basic fact, that whatever men find together and however men protect it, all systems eventually collapse – and the march continues, inexorably onward. “No rest; no stay,” as Churchill tersely put it.

I may conclude that it is possible for one part of the aggregate of society and culture to tune with the broader culture – to divine the spirit of the age by realization that culture is but an extension of basic, fundamental realities of the state of the individual parts that comprise the aggregate. As a man struggles, so does a society; as a man changes, so does culture; as the life of a man seems hectic and inexplicable, so too does the course of society seem chaotic; as man desires peace, so too does society strive for that end; as men succeed and as they fail, so too does society and culture, and those successes and failures mark the annals of history. It is in this light that the furrowed brow of David becomes clear and meaningful–in the face of such uncertain struggle even the most heroic may falter.

It becomes not the politician, then, who can save the times from its error, for the problem runs deeper than and is portrayed in the outworking of government. It is not the media that can transform culture and expunge its error, for it but expresses the culture. It is instead the thinker – lonely, solitary, yet anchored in the pursuit of truth, and, what is cause for hope, perhaps truth itself. As President Kennedy eloquently stated in his panegyric to Robert Frost, “The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has… a lover’s quarrel with the world. In pursuing his perceptions of reality, he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role… In retrospect, we see how the artist’s fidelity has strengthened the fiber of our national life.” It is from a solid foundation alone that rescue can be given to those rocked to and fro by a tempestuous sea.

President Woodrow Wilson once wrote, “I think one would go crazy if he did not believe in Providence. It would be a maze without a clue. Unless there were some supreme guidance we would despair of the results of human counsel.” I go further and state my belief in a kingdom that transcends international turmoil, in which the individual and the society may find citizenship that is eternal–the very consummative rest all nations grope towards. I believe the message of Christianity is the truth. I believe it is the solid foundation from which all solitary thinkers engaged in a quarrel with their world can cast the line. It is the Gospel that saves men, that answers the despair of humanity and gives rest to the groping journeyer. With fiery hope I affirm the saying that “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” The angst, the error, the eventual passing away of culture and governments is the most moving demonstration of humanity’s brokenness – humanity’s fundamental problem is displayed on the World Stage. Even so, I am “Grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire,” (Hebrews 12:28-9).

Psychological Criticism and A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

The problem with psychological criticism

Basic tenants of PsychCrit.  Examples from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” (click to read the short story)

Throughout my posts, a pattern has emerged based on the power of words and the using the right words, especially in imagery.  Today is no exception.  In today’s post, I will briefly (very briefly) get down to business with one of the biggest reasons why word choice, concepts, and imagery are so important.  Essentially it all comes down to Psychological Criticism.

Here’s the deal with psychological criticism.  It can be a blast for the imaginative scholar, but it can also be a pain-in-the-derriere for the author.  As soon as your work hits the stands, blogosphere, desk your entire mind will be broken apart by fans, haters, researchers, etc.  Every word you wrote down will be a tool for them to dissect your every intention.  This is why it’s important to at least have the tenants of psychological criticism down.  Even though it won’t stop analyzers from making you seem like an over-zealous, sexual nutjob, it will at least provide you with the tools for being able to 1) best them at their own game 2) have a lot of fun at their expense.

Defining the PsychCrit Approach:

Essentially, the Psychological Approach “reads between the lines.”  It looks at the unstated motivations that drive the author, the characters, and the audience. Because it looks at both the author and characters, psychological criticism can be used along with the traditional and formal approaches.

Why Use (In addition to the reasons stated in the intro):

Psychological Criticism enhances the text by searching for common aspects of human nature manifested in literature.  It adds depth and makes the text relatable.

By searching for the below, you will find yourself relating to the characters and author on a higher level which affects your psychological view of the story.

PsychCrit. History:

Do you see phallic or archetype here?

Sigmund Freud – Immensely Disturbing

  • Main Point: Its all about SEX
  • In a strictly Freudian psychological approach, both the old man’s wings and the activity of flying would have been seen as phallic and sexual symbols.

Carl G. Jung – Slightly-less Disturbing

  •  Main Point: Conscious, Unconscious, Archetypes
  • In Jung’s form of archetypal criticism, great significance would have been placed on the wings in relation to the angelic archetype.

“The unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict…, the unconscious continues to influence our behavior and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences.” Kendra Wagner

The Spider Girl - Superego exemplified

Ego, Id, and Superego

•EGO (the way things are):
  •         Issue of the old man’s humanity
•ID (pleasure principle):
  •  Elisenda reveling in the new money and buying herself   dresses and a new house.
  •   In a sense, the old man represents the opposite of this  as he is denying himself the pleasure of shelter, good food and comfort.
  •   The townspeople, placing their love of entertainment above anything else, are the epitome of this.
•SUPEREGO (morality principle)
  •   The side story of the girl who was changed into a spider is an excellent example of an embedded moral within the story. Her circumstances bring to light that it was the wrongness of her choices that account for the reason why she was changed.

Applying PsychCrit.

1. How are the author’s psychological conflicts revealed in his or her work?

  1. The theme of solitude is prevalent throughout the story as represented by the angel who kept his distance from the humans and who was also held captive.
  2. Religion is described in a very hierarchical and ritualistic respect.  The priest is highly symbolic of this order.
  3. The reader can see the effects growing up in poverty had on Marquez through his description of Elisenda.

2. What is an in-depth analysis of the characters if they were real people?

  1. The Very Old Man: In comparison to some of the other incredible happenings within the story, the old man seems disappointingly normal and human, despite the presence of his wings.   “He argued that if wings were not the essential element in determining the difference between a hawk and an airplane, they were even less so in the recognition of angels.”
  2. Pelayo and Elisenda: Their reaction to him and his “familiarity” is the one single tie between their humanity and the possibility of his. “They looked at him so long and so closely that Pelayo and Elisenda very soon overcame their surprise and in the end found him familiar.”
  3. Pelay and Elisenda cont.: They’re normal people. In the face of something inexplicable, they grasp at anything that lets them avoid what is unknown and unexplainable.  “That was how they skipped over the inconvenience of the wings.”
  4. The Townspeople: As they belittle the old man, they seem to loose some of their humanity. “…they had to call in troops with fixed bayonets to disperse the mob that was about to knock the house down.”

3. What is the appeal of the work to the readers in relation to their own ability to work out hidden desires and fears?

  1. Fear of the unknown and the mysterious that is outside of ourselves
  2. Question of self-interest vs. consideration for humanity
  3. Self-esteem vs. despair

Mind Bender with Psychological Criticism and your Thursday Challenge:

  1. Does the subconscious mind really effect what the author writes?
  2. Does a reader’s psychological analysis of a piece of text say more about the author’s psychological state or the reader’s own psychological state of mind?

Fun Stuff: Authors Easily Analyzed for HOURS of Great Amusement

  1. Edgar Allen Poe – Any and All
  2.  Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment
  3. William Faulkner – A Rose for Emily

A Review of Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard

In Fear and Trembling work Kierkegaard uses the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac to discuss the paradox of faith, and the nature of ethics.  Kierkegaard’s primary argument throughout the text is that Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac required either an impossible faith, thus the paradox that such faith in God could only be provided by God, or Abraham was nothing more than a base murderer, eager to slay his only son so that he might be praised as a hero.  Kierkegaard uses this example to discuss the difference between deep ethics and aesthetic ethics, and the difference between the man of faith and the tragic hero.

Overall:  10/10

Let me first say that this is not an easy text to read.  Kierkegaard discusses difficult ideas, and at times uses equally difficult language to do so.  So, this book is not for everyone.  However, this book is an excellent examination of what Kierkegaard calls ‘the paradox of faith’.  Throughout the text he emphasizes the impossibility of this paradox, and the loneliness felt by those who achieve it.  He is consistently clear in the important connection between this paradox and the very nature of ethics, and the difficulty in seeing those who have achieved the paradox of faith as ethical.

Author:  10/10

Soren Kierkegaard was a 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian.  Kierkegaard’s writings have inspired a great deal of work throughout the past hundred words, and his is sometimes considered the first of the Existentialists.  Kierkegaard was critical of many of the important 18th century philosophers, such as Hegel and Schelling.  While he wrote works that were theological, philosophical, and psychological, Kierkegaard sometimes combined the three disciplines.  This is the case in  Fear and Trembling.

Intended Audience: Ethical Philosophers

From the contents of this work Kierkegaard’s primary audience was obviously ethical philosophers.  While Kierkegaard’s example is biblical, and he speaks much of faith, his content is primarily focused on the philosophical concept of the paradox, and its impact on ethical thinking.  This inevitably leads to the difficulty inherent in the text.

Treatment of Subject: Philosophical – 10/10

Fear and Trembling is primarily a philosophical text, and should be read as such.  While this text deals with the intersection of the philosophy of ethics and faith, it is primarily a text of philosophy, not a theological or religious text.  Thus, while Kierkegaard’s ideas can be beneficial to Christians, they are primarily intended for the study of ethics.

Writing: 8/10

Kierkegaard’s writing is generally excellent.  However, as mentioned before, it is difficult.  Fear and Trembling is not an easy book to read, and it may take some effort to make it through some of his paragraphs.  However, while this is difficult, challenging reading, it is very worthwhile.


This book is not for everyone.  However, it is an excellent treatise on the intersection of faith and ethics, and the basic nature of faith itself.  It also deals very well with the difference between deep ethics and aesthetic ethics, and the importance and results of each.