Unsettled Life, Unsettled Reputation

Thomas Powers on J.D. Salinger, his retreat to New Hampshire, and the mystifying effect of his unusual life on his reputation.

You might think that the literary reputation of a writer born a century ago (New Year’s Day 1919), dead for nearly a decade (since 27 January 2010), all of whose published work had appeared by 1965, would be a pretty well settled matter by now, whatever the verdict. Judgment should be an easy matter. But the work can’t be separated from the life, and the life – the Salinger case, really – radically departs from the usual pattern. Beginning with The Catcher in the Rye in 1951, Salinger published four books which dramatically succeeded in the ways books conspicuously can: zillions of readers bought and loved them; critics admired, detested or were baffled by them, and they have never been out of print. One big success of that sort can make an author rich and famous for life but Salinger, blessed with four, instead chose to disappear. He turned his back on the excitements of New York City, where he and most of his fictional characters had been born and raised, for quiet and seclusion at the end of a dirt road in a tiny New Hampshire town. There he bolted his door to the world, answered no questions from the curious, and carried on writing books he did not intend to publish in his lifetime.

London Review of Books, October 24, 2019.

Mail of Interest

Elizabeth Hardwick writing to Robert Lowell in April 1979 about their political situation and ours. From the new book The Dolphin Letters, 1970 – 1979.

No mail of any interest. The political scene is very dark and mysterious here. It will just be luck if we come out of it without too much damage to the country. I do believe that, powerless as they are, they have profoundly shaped the course of the country by their hysterical “revolutionary” games… The poor astronauts in the lunar nodule with failing oxygen—aren’t they the symbol? How I wish I liked nature and simplicity and isolation better than I do. That would be an escape from the low-oxygen nodule, but I love the hard pavements, the killing noise. There’s so much I want to talk to you about.

April 14, 1970

Dorothy Day on the Weapons of the Spirit

Truly I did not want to know good and evil. I wanted to know, to believe only the good. I wanted to believe that man could right wrongs, could tilt the lance, could love and espouse the cause of his brother because “an injury to one was an injury to all.” I never liked the appeal to enlightened self-interest. I wanted to love my fellows; I loved the poor with compassion. I could not be happy unless I shared poverty, lived as they did, suffered as they did.

Well, now at fifty, I cannot say that I have been disillusioned. But I cannot say either that I yet share the poverty and the suffering of the poor. No matter how much I may live in a slum, I can never be poor as the mother of three, six, ten children is poor (or rich either). I can never give up enough. I have always to struggle against self. I am not disillusioned with myself either. I know my talents and abilities as well as failures. But I have done woefully little. I am fifty, and more than half of my adult life is past. Who knows how much time is left after fifty? Newman says the tragedy is never to have begun.

I have been disillusioned, however, this long, long time in the means used by any but the saints to live in this world God has made for us. The use of force, the use of diplomacy in foreign affairs, the use of anything but the weapons of the spirit seems to me madness.

From a Dorothy Day “On Pilgrimage” column.

The Bishop of Brooklyn on Amoris laetitia

The Bishop of Brooklyn, His Excellency Nicholas DiMarzio has penned a column on Amoris laetitia for the Brooklyn Tablet, his (and my) diocesan newspaper.

The chief difficulty is the one rehearsed so many times about the lack of attention to the clash with the teaching of Familiaris consortio, but perhaps even more crucially with that of Veritatis splendor, which is even closer to the deposit of faith.

Secondarily, pitching the response to Amoris laetitia as an “internal forum” solution is strange. That decision puts Amoris laetitia directly in conflict with the 1994 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith approved by St. John Paul II (and issued when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was prefect) condemning the internal forum solution. Generally, those who’ve backed Communion for the divorced and remarried via Amoris Latitae have *not* called it an internal forum solution so as to avoid falling under this condemnation.

But also, it reminds me of my long term concern about the American hierarchy that they’ve isolated themselves from all advice. If Bishop DiMarzio had competent advisers who could read his columns before they were published and who weren’t afraid to speak honestly with him, he might have avoided these three basic errors of fact.

First, Bishop DiMarzio writes, “The Council of Trent confirmed that the Roman Pontiff could not lead the Church into error in matters of faith and morals, which describes the doctrine of infallibility which unfortunately has been misunderstood over time.” This was, however, confirmed by Vatican I, not by Trent as any good member of the Old Catholic or Polish National Catholic Churches could tell you.

Second, he writes, “Pope Francis builds upon the teachings of his predecessors, recognizing the dissolubility of marriage.” Surely he means “indissolubility.” The supporters of Amoris laetitia have all said that it maintains the previous teaching that marriage is indissoluble. It’s a telling error though!

Third, Bishop DiMarzio informs us that “Some time ago, I listened to the press conference Cardinal Coccopalmerio gave about the book and clearly he recommends that it be read by priests who may be more experienced in moral and canonical issues.” Yet, as was widely reported, Cardinal Coccopalmerio didn’t give a press conference about the book. There was a press conference, but he wasn’t there. Since he didn’t give a press conference, it would have been rather difficult for Bishop DiMarzio to listen to it.

Joe Connelly on Anxiety

There’s a remarkable description of anxiety and it’s role in illness and medical trauma from Joe Connelly in his novel Bringing out the Dead. The novel is told in the first person by the main character, a paramedic in Manhattan in the 1980’s. Here’s the quote:

But shortly after they put me to work, I began to realize that my year of training was useful in less than ten percent of the calls, and saving someone’s life was a lot rarer than that. I made up for this by driving very fast, one call to another—at least I looked like a life saver—but as the years went by I grew to understand that my primary role was less about saving lives than about bearing witness. In many cases the damage was done long before I’d been called, and there was little I could do to reverse it. I was a grief mop, and much of my job was to remove, if even for a short time, the grief starter or grief product, and mop up whatever I could. Often it was enough tat I simply showed up. Most ailments are side effects of other problems: the fear of going mad, the anxiety of being alone among so many, the shortness of breath that always occurs after glimpsing your own death. Calling 911 is a fast and free way to be shown an order in the world much stronger than your own disorder. Within minutes, someone will show up at your door and ask if you need help, someone who has witnessed so many worse cases than your own and will gladly tell you this. When your angst pail is full, he’ll try and empty it.

Part of Why Pennsylvania Has So Many Churches?

I was reading David Brody’s Steelworkers in America: the Non-Union Years. The book is about the period between the collapse of the steel industry craft union the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers until the onset of the Great Depression. The Depression would lead to the organizing drive that would eventually result in the formation of the United Steelworkers, organizing the steel industry on an industrial unionism basis. The book covers this intermediate period, the time of great Eastern Catholic immigration to Pennsylvania. Men came to work in the mines and the steel mills. The book provides an interesting insight into life in Pennsylvania during that period. Including this bit about how Churches were sometimes funded (pg. 116):

The Bethlehem Company deducted for their churches one dollar a month from the pay envelopes of its Catholic workmen.

That was a huge amount of money in those days. Many of these men made only about $15 per week.

From Robert Hugh Benson

Discussion of papal primacy and particularly infallibility from Robert Hugh Benson’s memoir of his conversion, Confessions of a Convert:

After my reception into the Church [a Catholic priest who had discouraged Benson’s conversion] wrote to me again, asking how I had surmounted the difficulty [about papal infallibility] which he had indicated. I answered by saying that I could not be deterred by such elaborate distinctions from uniting myself to what I was convinced was the divinely appointed centre of Unity and that I had simply accepted the Decree [of the First Vatican Council] in the same sense in which the Church herself had uttered and accepted it. (pg. 87)

Neo-Latinity in Early America

James Raven writes about neo-Latinity in early America in his review of Roger E. Stoddard’s A Bibliographical Description of Books and Pamphlets of American Verse Printed From 1610 Through 1820 in the July 19 Times Literary Supplement:

One of many questions that Stoddard’s work enlarges on is that of neo-Latinity. Several early American poems were written in Latin, and lively English translations from the classics also appeared. Richard Lewis (d. 1734), master of the Latin school at Annapolis and correspondent of the Royal Society, memorably announced the reign of civility in Maryland with his translation from Holdsworth, “Musiculpa, sive Kambromyomachia”, a poetic narrative adapted from Homer about battles (at least in this version) between the ancient Welsh and mice (although Holdsworth’s 1709 original is not mentioned in the entry for the Lewis 1728 edition). In 1741, Aquila Rose (1695-1723) offered imitations of Ovid’s elegies of Scythian exile empathizing with intellectuals living in colonial backwaters. Historians have long debated the commercial and political significance of New World classical learning. Bernard Bailyn famously dismissed classical influences on revolutionary thinking as highly marginal (and his comments are echoed by others). According to Bailyn, participants exhibited amateurish and superficial learning. And David S. Sheilds, in his book Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America (1997), quoted a poem by John Seccomb (1728):

At Ten this Morn. Dear Friend, Your Most,
Receiv’d your Packet by the Post,
Kiss’d the out-side, broke up the Seal-o
And promis’d Fi’pence to the Fellow,
Then try’d to read – But hah! what is’t?
O vile! the Language of the Beast!
Chinese? or Syriac? – let me see, –
Amice selectissime
Magick! of which thy old Acquaintance
Knows not a Page, or Word, or Sentence,
But stands with Horror Half a Headful,
And cries, O terrible! O dreadful!

Temptations on Feast Days

Elder Paisos was asked, “Geronta, why do temptations often occur on feast days?”

Don’t you know? On feast days, Christ, the Panagia, and the Saints are joyful. They treat people, giving blessings and spiritual gifts. If parents give gifts when their children celebrate their namedays and kings release prisoners when a prince is born, why shouldn’t the Saints care for us on special occasions, too? Certainly the joy they give greatly endures and our souls are greatly helped. Knowing this the devil creates temptations in order to deprive people of the Divine gifts: they neither rejoice nor benefit from the feast. Sometimes you even see when a family is preparing to commune on a feast day, that the devil will send them a temptation to fight and then not only do they not commune, but they don’t even go to church! That’s how the little demon does it, so as to be deprived of all Divine help.

The same thing can be seen in our own monastic life. Many times the little demon—tempter that he is, because he knows from experience that we will be spiritually helped on some feast—will, beginning on the eve of the feast, create an atmosphere of temptation. For example, he might get us to quarrel with another brother, and then afterwards torment us in order to overpower us both spiritually and bodily. In this way he doesn’t allow us to benefit from the feast, with its joyous atmosphere of doxology. But the Good God helps us when He sees that we had not given occasion, but that this happened only by the envy of the evil one. And God helps us even more when we humbly reproach ourselves, blaming neither our brother nor even the devil, who hates everything good. For his work is this: to create scandals and spread evil—while man, as the image of God, should spread peace and goodness.

From Family Life, by Elder Paisios the Athonite via the Orthodox Christian Information Center