Ephemera, 8/15/23

I recently read Clare Carlisle’s biography of Kierkegaard; it was illuminating about Kierkegaard, but also a well-written and insightful work in its own right. She writes here about the way in which marriage impacted the life and work of both Kierkegaard and George Eliot. Of SK, she says:

“Kierkegaard once wrote that marriage requires complete openness between husband and wife, and that he could not open himself to another person in this way. Perhaps he was driven by his artistic and philosophical vocation to seek a solitary life. Or perhaps his decision to stay single (and celibate, as far as we know) was shaped by the belief, held as sacred by his Christian church, that certain forms of desire — homosexuality, for example — were sinful and shameful. Kierkegaard took these questions to the grave, boasting that no one would ever discover the secret that explained his inner life. All we know is that he felt unable to become a husband, and that he interpreted this incapacity as a spiritual situation.”

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I wrote earlier about the film Passages; the wonderful Garth Greenwell writes about it with much greater insight and greater style, and at greater length. His piece reminds me that there is so much more in the film than I could wrap my head around in my single viewing — including Tomas’ career as filmmaker. Of the Tomas character, Greenwell writes:

“He put me in mind of a line from the theologian Denys Turner, whom I’ve quoted before in this newsletter. Talking about the ascetical practices of certain mystics, Turner makes a quip about the ‘pre-ascetical self’ — the self before it’s submitted to any kind of discipline — being ‘a riot of desires,’ hardly a self at all. Art can come from that, of course — Tomas doesn’t hold a candle to the giants of artistic bad behavior; but Tomas’s emotional riots, his fervors, his temper tantrums, his utter disregard for others, are no guarantee of the quality of his art … The only thing they can guarantee — for everyone around him, for himself above all — is pain.

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So that people don’t think I only write snarky comments about Covenant blog posts, this one about Paul Simon, his career and his beautiful new album is quite enlightening and worth a read. I saw Simon perform during his “Rhythm of the Saints” tour a lifetime ago, and remember it as a great show. Most vividly I recall, before playing “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” he said something like, “There are two definitive versions of this song, one sung by Art Garfunkel and the other by Aretha Franklin. I only sing it to remind people that I wrote it.”