Recall Lincoln and slavery at the start of the Civil War?
Mostly Catholic Thoughts
By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
It was talking about Wabar.
Wabar, it seemed, was the Atlantis of Arabia. The fabled city of Ad ibn Kin'ad. Somewhere in the time between legend and history it had been destroyed by fire for its sins. For it had been rich and sinful beyond the power of words to express. Its palaces had housed the most beautiful concubines and its stables the most perfect horses in the world, the one no less finely decked than the other. It stood in country so fertile that one had only to reach out a hand to pluck the fruits of the soil. There was infinite leisure to sin old sins and devise new ones. So destruction had come on the city. It had come in a night, with cleansing fire. And now Wabar, the fabled city, was a cluster of ruins guarded by the shifting sands, by cliffs of stone that forever changed place and form; and inhabited by a monkey race and by evil jinns. No one could approach the place because the jinns blew dust-storms in the faces of those who sought it.
That was Wabar.
Shaw said he would change the opinions of England -- change the opinions of everybody around. No playwright ever achieves that, of course. When he was an old man, Shaw wrote that he had been telling people what to do for 90 years and no one had done it. The actual effect was nil.
I have written plays that people have described as gay plays. I am not afraid of being called gay, but if it means that I am just addressing a gay audience and that I fill the plays with private jokes that only gay people get, that is not true. I always have in mind all the family -- my mother could be there if she was still alive. One must never be deliberately exclusive -- except of course people who would lynch actors. The theatre audience, even if it is small, should be mixed: both sexes, all sexes, all races; perhaps even all classes, including the classes who pay 100 dollars on Broadway or nearly 300 dollars at the Met.
I don't attach any importance to [Brecht's] theories, only to his practice, and even those are not necessarily the model for anyone.
I think of [Brecht] only as a great artist. And I like to arrange to get his plays done, and to get them done well, which does not necessarily mean according to his own views.
I have known Shakespeare, Shaw, and Brecht, playwrights who influenced me a lot, from the stage. I never read Brecht: of course, I do when I translate him, but I never sit down just to read a Brecht play.
"The young will come here, knocking at the door for retribution." The line hit me like it was poetry. It was a perfectly ordinary line, but the atmosphere had been created that somehow you understood the vast meaning of the line.
[On postmodernism]. Much of what was said was true but it could be said without the terminology. And, it had already been said.
I think we use the word experimental too loosely; and if you look at [the work of] writers who are original -- a word you can use -- it isn't experimental. It is venturesome -- you can use many other words -- but they are not fooling around. They are not trying to find out if something works. They have found something that does work.
One of the main ideas of the 20th century, if it is an idea, and I hope we are emerging from it, is degradation. The modern producers of Shakespeare degrade him. They bring him down to earth and then some. A Midsummer Night's Dream, no longer an airy-fairy romance, high in the stratosphere, is coarse, totally physical but not nice to look at. That is modernism, unfortunately, and of course, the authors I admire are involved in it. Waiting for Godot  is a perfect example. That is a representation of Beckett himself, degrading himself by putting himself in a mere play. Brecht does the same, identifying himself with Macheath and Baal. He does not make his poet a German intellectual; he makes him a criminal and a beast.
Already in the 19th century, Nietzsche asked, What is noble? Meaning by that question: Do we have the least sense of what nobility is, any more? What Peter Brook, the best of our directors, did with his otherwise wondrous productions of Lear  and Dream  was to take the nobility out of them and thus to degrade them. Should we say: degrade them to our level? Even worse than that, they are degraded to the level indicated in Jan Kott's very 20th-century book on Shakespeare: the level of dehumanized Poland during World War II.
Writers in the 20th century were not content to exhibit this degradation. They wrapped themselves up in it, and therewith enveloped their readers or spectators in it. They made themselves, all too often, into the degraded poets of a degraded world.
The only things worth cherishing in life are necessarily destroyed by ideology and coercion from their first onset. In other words, variety and complexity are but different names for possibility; and without possibility—freedom for the unplanned and indefinite—life becomes a savorless round of predictable acts. There is then no point to literature or thought; there is in fact no literature and no thought, but a mere ideological echo of a diminished life.
Not many books have changed history, but [Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity] certainly did, not just for the author personally but also for the wider Church. For it would be hard to exaggerate the influence of this bookish Bavarian, not just on John Paul II (perhaps the most influential pope in history) but on Catholics worldwide through the cardinal's role as doctrinal overseer and enforcer of magisterial orthodoxy....
...plummeting church attendance and a secular culture grown aggressively anti-Christian.... The Church now trumpets its gospel with a most uncertain tocsin. As the renowned historian of dogma Jaroslav Pelikan brutally observes in Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture (the fifth of his five-volume The Christian Tradition), "The modern period in the history of Christian doctrine may be defined as the time when doctrines that had been assumed more than debated for most of Christian history were themselves called into question: the idea of revelation, the uniqueness of Christ, the authority of Scripture, the expectation of life after death, even the very transcendence of God."
And though we trust that the Church is nowhere ... utterly deserted by the Spirit of truth, at least according to God's ordinary providence, yet may we not say that ... the grace of its ordinances, though not forfeited, at least flows in but a scanty or uncertain stream?
How else can we explain the dearth of vocations in the industrialized West, the empty churches in Europe, the abysmal ignorance of the Faith among nominal Christians, the closing of Catholic schools in this country and Canada, the notorious violation of their vows by some priests (however few or many that number may be), even the very fact that the internal precincts of the Church have become one of the battlefields in the Culture Wars?
For that reason, I hold that the primary cause of all that ails the Church in modern times stems from this prior capitulation to the Enlightened agenda so well adumbrated by Cardinal Ratzinger in his epochal book.
It is surely a fair question whether a competent practice of religion calls for quite so much apparatus, metaphysical and physical, as the main body of organized Christianity has constructed and is trying not too successfully to keep in running order.
Another neighbor, a patriarchal old Englishman with a white beard, kept a great stand of bees. I remember his incessant drumming on a tin pan to marshal them when they were swarming, and myself as idly wondering who first discovered that this was the thing to do, and why the bees should fall in with it. It struck me that if the bees were as intelligent as bees are cracked up to be, instead of mobilizing themselves for old Reynolds' benefit, they would sting him soundly and then fly off about their business. I always think of this when I see a file of soldiers, wondering why the sound of a drum does not incite them to shoot their officers, throw away their rifles, go home, and go to work.
As a general principle, I should put it that a man's country is where the things he loves are most respected. Circumstances may have prevented his ever setting foot there, but it remains his country.
God knows every human soul from eternity, with every secret of its being and every lapping of the waves of his life.
I believe that the more deeply someone is drawn into God, the more one must also come out of oneself; that is, come out into the world, in order to carry the divine life into it.
Prayer is the highest achievement of which the human spirit is capable.
We will help each other by prayer to learn more and more about making every day and every hour part of eternity.
Human language, of course, has no true proper names.
An experience she had on a visit to the cathedral in Frankfurt affected her deeply:
We went into the cathedral for a few moments, and as we stood there in respectful silence, a woman came in with her shopping basket and knelt down in one of the pews to say a short prayer. That was something completely new to me. In the synagogue, as in the Protestant churches I visited, people only went in at the time of the service. But here was someone coming into the empty church in the middle of a day's work as if to talk with a friend. I have never been able to forget that.
Edith Stein was confronted with the futility of discussion in achieving interior change. She recognized that prayer and personal sacrifice functioned as much more effective instruments. So she wrote to another of Husserl's former students, Sister Adelgundis Jaegerschmid:
I suppose it is good to be able to speak freely with [Husserl] about ultimate questions. And yet, not only does it increase his own level of responsibility, it also heightens our responsibility for him. Prayer and sacrifice, in my opinion, are much more crucial than anything we can say.... It's very possible that he could be a "chosen instrument" without being in a state of grace. I don't mean that we should judge him, and of course we have every right to hope in God's unfathomable mercy. On the other hand, we have no right to conceal how serious the issues are. After every meeting with him, I come away convince of my inability to influence him directly, and feeling the urgent necessity of offering some holocaust of my own for him.
"Why did you have to get to know him?" demanded Frau Stein. "He was a good man -- I'm not saying anything against him. But why did he have to go and make himself God?"
The beginning of integrity is not effort, but surrender; it is simply the opening of the heart to receive that for which the heart is longing. The healing of mankind begins whenever any man ceases to resist the love of God.
The God of colon and cervical cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, pus, phlegm, shit, chancre, stillbirth, crib death, poverty, famine, war, pestilence, race hatred, paralysis, constipation, incontinence, child molestation, floods, earthquakes, accidents, rape, mutilation, botched medical procedures, death marches, Zyklon-B, despair, and suicide is a God who has a lot to answer for. He’s got the whole world in His hands, and they’re covered with blood.
And if He exists, I hope I shall have the courage to tell Him off. Just because I may end up acknowledging Him doesn’t mean I have to approve of Him.
I doubt that many people try to reconcile these two visions of God: the amorphous unknowable Being and our resident genius loci. People drawn to God, but not to a specific faith, usually resolve the issue by opting in favor of the former and then trying to find links to bring Him closer to home or that make His unavailability more tenable. But the more ineffable the God, the fewer the links.
Those of us disinclined to believe have grown accustomed to His absence, and we pay but a small price for our uncertainty or feelings of abandonment as compared with writers such as Dostoyevsky and Camus, who either wrestled with their doubts or expressed the dismay of the decision they felt bound to make. Which of our writers or philosophers today are tortured by the prospect of having to make a choice?
The biblical god is out of the question, not because of intellectual scruples but because of a temperamental predilection to go it alone, if He is the alternative. “The one excuse for [this] God,” Stendahl remarked, “is that He does not exist.”
Men who look like weasels don’t necessarily suck eggs, and women who look like angels can make life a living hell. But knowing this isn’t the same as believing it.
In New York [at the Century Club], editorial matters [for The American Scholar were discussed at the dinner itself, to the detriment of savoring the excellent cuisine. One little detail related to it sticks in my memory. For a good while, Phyllis McGinley, the delightful person and maker of light verse, was one of us. Sitting next to her once or twice, I noticed that she did not touch the main course. She explained: we met on Friday, and the Catholic ban on meat had not yet been relaxed. She was too shy to ask for fish, and indeed refused to be the only one differently served. So thereafter reverting, as it were, to my roots, I had fish too. Her shyness was extreme--not in discussion but in behavior. Unable to face New York alone, she came to every meeting from Larchmont with her husband. He was a pleasant man, and someone proposed rather feebly that he should sit with us, a silent witness. But he forestalled any action, saying that he had a wonderful time in the library on the second floor.
James Agate was the son of a cotton merchant hailing from Sussex. His mother, who was Yorkshire-bred, was educated in Paris, and later at Heidelberg studied the piano under Heinefetter, the pupil of Chopin.
Both parents instilled into the boy his taste for music and that mastery of the French tongue which was to become the envy of his brother critics and the bugbear of the illiterate public.
His birth in Manchester in 1877, his school years, his factory apprenticeship, his seventeen years of hawking bales of grey calico, his early connection with the Manchester Guardian, his admiration for C. E. Montague, his fondness for cricket and tennis (the real stuff, not the lawn), his passion for horses, his peaceful participation the the first Great War, the books whose writing whiled away the war years, his happy marriage and felicitous divorce, his transition from the opulence (Mancunianly considered) of £4000 a year to the interest on his modest war-gratuity, his disastrous essay in shopkeeping, the many adventures in all-but-bankruptcy, his wilful extravagances, the rebellious stomach against which an iron constitution fought a rear-guard action over many years, his surrender to Balzac, his modesty and bombast, his industry, his gusto, his flair for the scabrous, his egotism -- all these are set forth in his well-known series of intimate Diaries.
When the first of the Ego books appeared one reviewer wrote: "A Philistine with the conscience and equipment of an intellectual is enough to upset anybody."
It was upsetting for the highbrows to meet a newcomer who refused to be impressed. It was upsetting to find this "odd mixture of culture and bumptiousness" running off with the plums of the profession. It was upsetting for his colleagues, acclaiming some personable chit as a great actress, to be told that they had no standard to judge by.
His early music lessons had taught young Agate that the first movement of the "Moonlight" Sonata is technically easier than the last -- an obvious truism which his brother critics, deafened by the modern fad of quietism and unable to hear orchestrally, failed to apply to the art of acting.
For the so-called intellectual critics, the new-fangled intellectual drama, attaining its zenith in Agate's day, consisted of the mental reactions of actresses sad in the pastry sense sitting about saying nothing, doing nothing, and looking like the back of the kitchen grate.
Just as Beerbohm had refused to be gammoned by Duse, so Agate declined to be bamboozled by Bergner. His brother critics were upset when, closing both eyes and one ear, he was quicker to recognize talent than any of them and first in the field with his discoveries of Edith Evans, Charles Laughton, Stephen Haggard, and many others. Most modern dramatic critics spend their lives discovering nonentities; Agate preferred entities.
It was upsetting when Agate conceived the notion of writing on his Sunday level for a daily paper, thus doing more for the large reading public of this country in six months than all the highbrow reviews had done for that public since their foundation.
His brusqueness was proverbial. When a visitor said to him: "I mustn't outstay my welcome," Agate growled: "Who said anything about welcome?"
Agate was witty in an age which distrusted wit, and a great dramatic critic in the day of "write-ups." As a stylist he was cogent rather than graceful. Logical sequence of thought was his ideal; his model Hazlitt.
He was furious when people said: "I never agree with you: it's your writing I like." He would reply with that slight stutter which always impeded his utterance when he was angry or excited: "Damn it, man, I haven't been wrong about a play since 1923. And six years later I wrote to the author in America to apologise."
He was a great fighter, and at his happiest when engaged in controversy, which he always won. "If I'm not going to win you can't see my back for apologies."
He would give his shirt to a beggar and refuse to pay the bill for his last half-dozen. His debts were fantastic; he denied himself nothing, his friends little, and never paid except under pressure.
He felt keenly the lack of a university education, and was jealous of the Foreign Office accent. His shop-window was superb, and perfectly concealed the meagreness of the academic stock within.
He had never read the Greek dramatists, and so mixed up the plays of Congreve, Wycherley, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar that he carried in his waistcoat-pocket a note of what each had written in case somebody should stop him in the street to ask.
A natural broadcaster, one of the best and shortest of after-dinner speakers, and an ideal correspondent; the replies of his secretaries would fill volumes. He worked far into the night, grinding out hackwork under half a dozen pseudonyms. But the stuff he enjoyed writing he wrote as though in a high wind.
To sum up, James Agate has a compendium of contradictions -- at once unsentimental and emotional, lavish and stingy, sensitive and callous. This man who looked like a farmer, dressed like a bookmaker, ate like a Parisian, and drank like a Hollander now emerges as an extraordinary amalgam combining in one person the logician and the dreamer, the sceptic and the believer, the cynic and the poet. A great journalist.
But the subject is inexhaustible, like the man himself. His death eclipses the gaiety of newspapers.
His enemies will miss him.