Sunday, January 25, 2015

About Michel Houellebecq and his novel Submission / Appearance in Cologne

Below, find my translation of most of an article from this link in a German newspaper:!153208/

Re: Michel Houellebecq's appearance in Cologne to discuss his new novel "Soumission", on the occasion of the launching of the German translation "Unterwerfung" (submission). 


About the Fatigue of a Society:  the French author Michel Houellebecq  insists that he has not written an islamophobic novel with his new work "Soumission" (Submission).

Too bad, that he did not give the reading himself, personally, even if it had been from the French original.  Michel Houellebecq courageously fielded questions and answered them, no complaints about all that.  But I would have loved to know, on this unsettling evening, how this French author, who is so interesting, many-layered, slant--sometimes called a cult-author, sometimes a scandal-author--would interpret his own work--whether he is giving it something complaining, something breathless, or just simply something tired.  In spite of all the excitement that has been generated (the German translation has already sold a quarter million copies)--I, myself, would tend to go with the "fatigue".  Nevertheless, at least in comparison to posted videos, Houllebecq looked surprisingly fresh, even under his breathtaking side parting of his hairdo.

And there were real worries.  After the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which at the time of the murders was bearing a caricature of Houellebecq, the author has been staying out of the limelight.  Among the murdered were his friends....

Indifferent from Sheer Exhaustion

...the story does not just deal with societal exhaustion, indeed exhaustion is written right into it. From the first person perspective of a come-down French Everyman, he writes as indifferently about the best sex of his life as about a man who has been shot whom he finds at a gas station by the freeway.  In between all that, there is a lot of eating and drinking.  This is not an emotionally introspective story;  there is no driving plot. Already you can hear in the social media, voices who opine that the novel is not at all as scandalous as they had been led to expect.  Well.  If you want to put it this way:  the "grey" of the tone is about the most exciting thing about the voice of the narrator.  He tells not only of the catastrophic events of a civil war of the future, but sounds already, as if it had been written after the catastrophe. In fact, the whole Cologne event was filled with such ambivalence. Just as I felt that I could like Houellebecq because of the beautiful smile he gave to the hard-working translator, he comes out with a sentence that takes your breath away.  One of these sentences declares that, at least, the patriarchy was workable as a society, which is not something one can say about self-actualization.  And this sentence did not refer to the perspective of a character in the new novel. The 68's have made everything worse for himself, really.

Basher of 68, but not a Right-wing Reactionary

Another sentence connects this observation about society with biology and expounds that the population groups who bear the most children will also push through to dominate with their values;  this is assuming that they will be able to gain control of the education system.  With such, to some degree crude, Darwinisms, Houellebecq truly does operate as an author.  At the next moment he withdraws to the unassailable position of the artist:  literature allows him to live many lives;  and then he smiles a wee bit:  "What do I know."


Well-formulated Confession

But with one point Houellebecq was very direct and clear, in Cologne, and this was with a kind of declaration He had said this already at the beginning of the controversy surrounding Charlie Hebdo in connection to his novel.  He denies to have written an islamophobic novel with "Soumission"--but, in the same breath, he defends his right to write an islamophobic novel.  Sharply, he spoke against all commentators who wanted to relativise this statement. He formulated a plea for the freedom of art, which, in order to give opportunity for fresh thinking, must be able to be irresponsible.  Together with all ambivalences and satrical double-bottoms, of which this author is capable, he delivers a well-formulated lecture that is also a statement of belief.  Indeed, those who read "Soumission" specifically for islamophobia actually miss the truly cutting in this novel, which at the center paints a very dark picture of liberal society as a whole.

The point is not that an Islamic party fields the president, takes over the society, establishes a soft, fascistic dictatorship.  But the point is that it has the right, because the liberal mainstream society has long become decadent and ruined.  The liberal society, in essence, is abolishing itself.

An Evening full of Ambivalence

And this is the point that leaves us somewhat at loose ends:  Houellebecq does not stand there completely alone with his diagnosis.  Slavoy Zizek has also said in an interview that Liberalisms, if left to itself, must gradually hollow itself out.  And even a deep thinker like Habermas has long said that the liberal society needs religious meaning to shore up its own ideals.

Does the fatigue of Houelelbecq demonstrate something like the truth about liberal society?  Is the liberal society completely drained?  This is the truly interesting question posed by the novel, also asked of those on the left of the political spectrum, not the topic of islamophobia.  But the evening left room for ambivalence and perplexity.  But this, too, a society has to be able to come to face.  We may be all able to agree with Houellebecq about the freedom of the artistic enterprise, even with the fatigue in his manner.  Perhaps, he would have been able to laugh a lot, himself, if he had read the novel out loud to us that evening.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The World wants to belong to the Devil

"Die Welt ist wie ein betrunkener Bauer. Hebt man ihn auf der einen Seite in den Sattel, so fällt er auf der anderen wieder herunter. Der Welt kann man nicht helfen, was immer man auch anstellt. Sie will des Teufels sein."Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Above, see a quote from Facebook.  This makes it slightly questionable as an actual Luther quote, noticing that we do not have an idea where the quote came from.  But I would say that it is vintage Luther.

This is my translation:

"The world is like a drunken peasant.  If you lift him up one way into the saddle, he falls off on the other side.  The world can't be helped, whatever it is you try.  It wants to belong to the devil."

Luther did not shy away from trying to improve the world.  He did more than any we know.  But we realize this predicatment from our own lives--we keep on falling off one way or the other.  It is only the Son of God who can redeem.  Luther improved the world with the Gospel of Christ.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Matters of Taste 5 / Satire, the Pope, Mohammed

Very recently, the killings of several cartoonists were perpetrated in Paris.  After that thousand and millions stood in solidarity and were themselves "Charlie".  The leaders of nations found their way to walk arm in arm through the streets of Paris.

I myself would have to declare myself "Charlie", as well, because I passionately would resist all destruction of printing presses and suppression of freedoms.   Among some Lutherans there was a discussion as of whether we would support the production of very nasty anti-religious propaganda, as expressed in this very left-leaning magazine.

The most powerful argument there was, for me, that during the Reformation some pretty strong cartoons were produced, as well.  The printing press had just invented by Gutenberg in Mainz (I went to see the museum there);  on it was first printed the Bible in vernacular languages, and then also the political and religious discussions and pamphlets.  Erasmus wrote some satirical work of the Roman Catholic church, that is still banned I believe.  The printing press changed the world, and we would not want to go back.

Where ever dictators and scurrilous figures have wanted to establish their rule, preferences, and hide hedonistic or other escapades, they have wanted to intimidate the press, burn down the print shops, put dissident writers in prison, suppress the truth, etc.  So, we do have the overriding principle of the freedom of the press.

Yet, so much can go wrong.  Hitler's propaganda, for example was not subtle, at all, but striking and avant-garde.  The posters were stunning and installed fear of the enemy, in the population.  An elite took charge of the universities, the intelligentsia, and the propaganda.  We should talk more about how this happened, as not to repeat this sort of thing.  In the same light, it is worrisome that "Charlie" is a propaganda machine of sorts.  We don't have to dig very deep, here.  Peter Hitchens wrote about it.

It is also somewhat surprising how the support lined up behind this particular victim, as there have been plenty of victims recently, for whom nobody seemed to speak up. Where is the support behind Ayaan Hirsi Ali?  Where is the outcry for the multitude of Christians persecuted in many lands?  Why the solidarity with Charlie, in particular?

Because it makes fun of all religions?

Satire hurts.  Cartoons hurt.  As an average housewife, I have more occasions to laugh at cartoons than to be hurt by them.  Perhaps, if I were a consumer of Charlie, I would be deeply offended, too.  The news I subject myself to is relatively tastefully presented, as much as the subject matter generally allows.

But it has happened to me, on-line, that I was involved in a conversation with someone who considers himself a philosopher, who sent me some cartoons ridiculing Christianity, the cross, and the meaning of the cross.   Undoubtedly, this was meant to spark the discussion further, but the insult to me was profound.  It could have been as if we had gone to a coffee-shop to have a relaxed or animated discussion, and my partner had just pulled out a knife and stuck it in my ribs. The wound and the scar are still there.  This event has impacted my profoundly and permanently.

So part of me understands the Muslim sensitivity.  As ridiculous as we find it, for example, that the impulse to go to heaven is to be rewarded with 70 perpetual virgins, and other many objectionable doctrines (very, very many), and as easy as it is to make fun of all this (very easy), I feel for the average faithful.  The Pope was trying to feel for the average faithful when he made the now famous, or infamous, remark that, analogously speaking, the natural reaction to having your mother insulted would be the throwing of a fist.

Myself, I am not a thrower of fists, and I am not given to fits of rage.  Anger is not me.  More so sorrow, pain--anger turned inward, as they say.  A female response, perhaps, to indulge in stereotyping.

Jesus said to turn the other cheek.  This, I imagine, is supposed to involve neither anger, nor anger turned inward, not to mention not retribution by killings and executions.  Maybe one can get so tough that these kinds of images and cartoons would not call forth a strong response.  But what are we, if they don't call forth a strong response?  Jesus had strong responses, too.  Most similarily, perhaps, we can consider the desecration of the temple by the presence of all the mercantile enterprise.  The house of prayer had been turned into a bazaar.  Here he went in with the whip.  So, actually, no turning of the cheek here, now that we think it over.  A heart-felt response is appropriate, but also one that is measured.  Lynching would never be ok.

So, therefore, I cannot really be "friend" to one who chooses to bring out my deep pain for his amusement.  I cannot really be "friend" to one who insults my God, and that gratuitously. We are not made of the same stuff.  We are not brothers and sisters. We don't have the same blood.  At the same time, I find that those who like to do this sort of provoking, do not actually allow for a reasoned discussion of the matter at hand.  It would not suit them at all.  In contrast, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is into reasoned discussion.  I can be her friend, though she is not a Christian.  She speaks calmly, decently and rationally.  I can respect her tremendously.  The art and provocation she produced together with Theo Van Gogh, who also was killed in cold blood, were perhaps of similar kind as Charlie's.  The subjugation of women in Islam was highlighted.  Delving  into this subject matter cost them dearly.

And here, things really go beyond religion and faith in God.  The treatment of women concerns us all.   We are talking about human rights issues, now.  What is done to women in the name of Allah is highly objectionable and deserves strong treatment. On the other hand, Muslims are offended by what the "West" does to women.  They have a point, too.  What the "West" does to women is also highly objectionable.

We have to be able to talk about these matters.  And we have to be able to make cartoons and art about problems.  The less gratuitous, random or tasteless they appear, however, the better.   They need not be weak, but they need not be uglier than necessary.

Also see "Fighting Satire with Satire".

Insightful analysis from Muslim about Muslims:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Matters of Taste 4 / Christians Stories and Art

This is a Van Gogh:  "The Good Samaritan."

Van Gogh was a tremendous artist.  His life was quite difficult and tragic, but so are many lives.  No doubt, his difficulties helped his feeling and art.  For example, he painted men and women together in unusual ways, reflecting his own desire for a life companion.

Here, we can see the extreme excretion by the helper to lend aid to the man who had been robbed, hurt, and left by the side of the road, passed by, by those who you would expect to come to his aid.  The wounded man is completely dependent on the man who lifts him up.  The strength is entirely the one of the "Savior".

Christianity is about both learning and doing.  It shows us the world as it is, and how it could be better.

Are the stories, parables, images, art just about our emotional and "spiritual" experience of life?  Is Christianity just the right system of philosophy?  Does it just have the best metaphors?  Is it just the most honest about our lost condition?  Has it just produced the most sublime paintings?

Could we arrange our museums of art so that the works could be organized not by artist, time period, etc. but by human experience:  loss, illness, helping, confession and absolution, joy, hope for the future...  ?  As was suggested by de Bottom in "Religion for Atheists"?

Christianity as an aesthetic expression of experience?  What would be do with that?  Can we live on aesthetic experience?

Aesthetic experience goes a long way.  It makes life meaningful in that it points us higher.  Any man who has ever been in prison, looks out to see a bush, a twig, a bird, anything to point him away from his prison.  The smallest simplest thing, can point us somewhere else, outside of ourselves.

But what if there is no meaning beside the beauty of the art, the loveliness of the birdsong, the flower outside the window, the pleasures of many things.  What if, there is only that.  What does it point to?

No, it does not work.  We must have the thing itself.

We cannot have Christian art without Christ himself.

We cannot have the beauty and idea of marriage without marriage itself.
(I think Wittgenstein was trying to say something like that, but with mathematical equations to be exact. -- A strange approach, I would say, for concepts of this nature.)

Matters of Taste 3 / The Gospel

Romans 1:16

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Greeks."

Says St. Paul. 

St. Paul would know.  He became an outcast from his own community of the righteous and scholarly by becoming a follower of Christ.  He was laughed off the Areopagus, though he could have out-argued and out-philosophized all the Greeks who loved to stand around and argue ideas all day long.   He was stoned, lashed, shipwrecked, beheaded.

He counted it gain. But it cost him a lot. 

When I was an adolescent I was confirmed in the faith in Germany, and this was the verse the pastor chose for me.  It is a verse that is given out often, and several of my god-children have this one, too, to treasure as their confirmation verse.  May they always stand firm in it. 

It did fit me then--I felt shy and the gospel demanded from me a fortitude that I did not feel I possessed. -- It fits me still, because the world will never cease making fun of the gospel, nor stop persecuting believers. So, this bit of help to rise to the occasions we are presented with here, is always relevant.

The "shame" comes for a number of reasons, when we are tempted.  It comes because there are reasons why some people want to make you feel ashamed, and try very, very hard to make you look or feel this way.  These reasons often have to do with their own shortcomings and perceptions of reality.  There are factors such as a perceived physical or intellectual lack of beauty (see last post).  There are costs.  There are friendships lost and gained.

I am grateful for St. Paul.  We are deeply indebted to him.  He was not ashamed, and we shall not be ashamed.

Matters of Taste 2 / Beauty

"Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.3He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.…"    (Isaiah 53)

In reading some ancient Greek authors, we can see how beauty is a very important concept, but not one without subtleties, and not one without self-serving aspects.  On one hand it was seen as a "spiritual" concept, on the other it seems firmly rooted in the carnal.

In the Bible, we hear about beauty, too, but it is not what is worshiped.  

When we look at the natural world, we are overcome with the inherent beauty of it.  Nothing man makes with his hands can match it.  Art is lovely, but it is not the same.  And much of what man makes is quite ugly, repulsively so.  It does make us wonder how it is that the natural word is so incredibly attractive and awe-inspiring.

Now, the Son of God, the promised Messiah, the suffering servant, is beautiful in his own way, but also incredibly marred by his trials.  The crucified Christ is at the same time the most glorious and the most ugly.  The Greeks would not have liked the scene.  Could someone so despised and so bloodies be the King of Kings?  

We are not to be put off by him.  He stands in our place.

And in our days, we must not be put off by the trials Christians suffer around the world.  In Pakistan, in Nigeria, in Iraq, in Syria, and many places around the world, the persecutions have become severe.  And the secular western world is waking up to the dangers it might face to maintain a relatively free society.  The images, the savagery, the war mongering... are before our faces day and night, on Facebook, in the news, on our multiplicity of app's.  We can drink them in in varied forms day and night.  How do we live with this?

How do we live with this lack of beauty, grace, love, peace, harmony?

Christians did not use crucifixes to ornament things for a long time, as crucifixion was still a means of punishment and not a few of them were also crucified or thrown to the lions. In these latter days, people have again felt themselves called to exact such inhuman punishments on fellow human beings. 

Where is the beauty in it?  The beauty is in the love, the love that dies for another human being, that dies for an idea, for God;  love that sees something else than himself;  love that transcends self-love.  Love that does not concern itself so much with its own salvation as with that of another. 

That is beauty. 

(The Human Figure

  • Ancient Greece held the human figure as one of the highest forms of beauty. Gods were personified in sculptures that focused on the human figure, especially in action. Artists created pieces that depicted a person or deity with an ideal body, muscular and proportional, often with the torso turned in a counterpoised position to show the muscles in use and to create visual equilibrium -- a perfect balance of opposing forces. Stoic expressions were seen as noble and favorable, so beautiful subjects typically had neutral facial expressions.  Read more :

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Matters of Taste 1 / Post Christmas Foods

There was a study that made the rounds the other day:  people are said to become more virtuous with their eating habits after Christmas, in line with their New Year's resolutions to better dietary intake, but this turned out not to be true.  What was found, instead, was that people don't change their shopping habits again until March or April, or so.  They keep on buying rich foods until well after Christmas.

I remarked about such facts to my husband, on a quick shopping stop a couple of days ago.  He went to pick up some German wieners, to feed to some guests who had been invited for a soup lunch.  While he was at it, he also bought some rings of ham sausage and beer-wurst for sandwiches.   At the same time, I was perusing the left over Christmas goodies. Brandy filled chocolates in large containers available for $1.50.

So much for turning over a new leaf in January.

It makes me contemplate our appetites in other areas.  Once we have become accustomed to stronger and more titillating fare, we have a hard time going back to more subtle or disciplined pleasures.  It is in this way, that the devil abuses every good thing.

A generous wit and intelligence can easily turn into hurtful and useless excess.  Strong meat can lead you to despise fish and cottage cheese and vegetables.  The wine has to get ever stronger and more frequent.  What is wrong with us?  Why can we not be content but have to crave ever more?

Why do the best have to become so proud and rude?  Why do those with training in aesthetic beauties become so indolent and selfish? Why do they kill all things lovely in a simple way, with a heavy hand?  Why do we do things like that?  Why do we stop appreciating?

Why do we stop giving thanks?  Why do we not stop while we are ahead?  Why do we run headlong into more indulgences?

Why did Eve have to go for the apple, when she had the whole garden?

Why did Esau sell his inheritance for a bowl of pottage.

Why did Cain kill his brother for pure jealousy.

Why did David kill his conscience and supplant his integrity as a ruler and a man of God, for the love of Bathsheba?

It is endless.  We ever want more and we want what our neighbor has.

The Ten Commandments deal with this greed and covetousness.  We need to remember.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Year / Annual Anniversay / Bach "From Depths of Woe, I cry to You."

Every year, Jan. 2, is the Anniversary of my son's car accident and death.  Needless to say, we take it easy over New Year's, as it is a tough time.  We go to church service with communion, go home and to bed at a reasonable hour.  We have a little drink and some chocolate.  Then, I feel I need to cocoon, or better, it would be to just go away some place.

This Bach cantata was on my mind.  My mother practiced it one year for choir, and played the vinyl record over and over, in the home, so it is forever stuck in the mind of her children. The vinyl record came down to me and was sitting in an abandoned collection.  Though recently I purged this old vinyl record box completely, I kept about 10 records, this being one of them. Our family version is much more fully orchestral and fast moving than this particular version on Youtube.

I did post this version, however, above, to show the nice job with the scrolling score and English translation.

I also kept Christmas songs introduced with bell ringing from a large cathedral.  And I kept German Baroque songs sung by Hermann Prey.  I loved those so very much and haven't heard them for some time.

It looks like some of his recordings are available on CD.

It looks, too, like a film was made of his life in 2009 "Stille meine Liebe."  Tragic, they say.  Hm.

All the rest of the vinyl records I gave to whoever came into my path--one more box cleared out.  A renter took all the hard rock.  A German lady took all the classical and symphonies.  The last pile goes to the nieces and nephews.  They can glean through them and then take the rest to Goodwill.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Christmas / The Cloud of Witnesses

Talking about Bible verses around the house.  Here is one that was stuck on the cork board down the way to the basement for some time, and other places.  It needs to be replaced.

Here is someone else who has kept this verse around:

Here is the text:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.…  (Hebrews 12: 1 and 2)

It makes me think about how we need to keep alert, fit and moving forward.  It makes me think, how we can only do this with our eyes fixed on Jesus, otherwise we will be running wrong.  His example teaches us how to run and suffer when needed. He took every humiliation and humbling for us.  Those who will believe, will believe.  He is the conqueror.  In his train are all those witnesses.  The Te Deum reminds us of them, also.  Closer to home, I think about my mother and father, and my grandparents, my pastors, and mentors, all the dearly departed in the Lord, and Luther, who has taught me so much, and really brought Christ's work into focus--just as the author of Hebrews is doing here.

This is nice, too.  I need to choose something to print out for the cork board.

Or this, but I don't like the font.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Christmas 3 / Pain and Loss

Right after Christmas comes the Slaughter of the Innocents.  Jesus was forced to flee to Egypt as a little child and the babies of Bethlehem were slaughtered due to King Herod's scheming to get rid of the Christ child.

It is a horrible thing.  Herod was extremely paranoid.  We can read about it in the history books.  (Google it.) There are many people who don't want to see the Gospel accounts as historical, but there is so much material that corroborates them.  One of the circumstances happens to be Herod's insanity.  Read about it.  He killed his own family members.  But God has the matter in hand.  It is a wonder, indeed.

But for me, right after Christmas comes the anniversary of the fatal accident of my then 18-year old son.  The tragedy lies back six years now, and we have grown somewhat accustomed to it, as much as one can.  But still the season is hard.   And today is hard.  Life has not been the same since and in a way, the death of our son has changed an incredible number of things.  It has aged us.  It has, also, made me feel isolated.  I have not talked about this much, because I can't see how I can talk about it and not make everyone feel bad, but maybe I need to do it more.

And then you wonder:  if God protects Jesus but not the innocents in Bethlehem, if he has angels that manage this circumstance and not another, how do we deal with that?

I have kept two Bible passages in view:

"Lord to whom shall we go; you have the words of eternal life."-- Truly, there is no place else to go.  I will not have Satan rob me of my faith, while I have been deprived of my child.  Many people are deprived of many things.  We loose much along the journey.  We desire things and can't have them.  We have what we have.  And we don't have what we don't have.  We can and should pray.  The pain is part of the process.  We have to learn.  God knows all about pain.

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."  

We have this verse on a plaque on the fireplace mantle.  It keeps up my faith in the ways of God.  We have a hope and a future in Him.  Every day is new, and every day we have hope.  But part of me struggles.  Some other things have not worked out, and I am sad about it.  

Awful things happen.  

If it has not happened to you, yet, be grateful, and understanding of others.  There is pain that is beyond telling.  

John the Baptist was beheaded, and Jesus was crucified.  Anything can happen to anyone.  But the crucifixion was also Christ's glory.  Only in dying can we be raised again.  It is so hard.  Don't be surprised when it happens to you.  

--When I was younger I had a poster.  I wish I had  it now. Maybe it is on Google images.  On it, there was a huge, gnarled tree--huge--with a little hut at the bottom.  There was a saying about that old, gnarled tree and how it had the capacity to give shelter.  I liked that, even when I was young.  If needed, I wanted to be that big, gnarled tree.

That is not the picture because the tree is too small.  

Then there is the simple picture I drew several posts back.  I added the words:  "Planted by the water. Psalm 1"  The tree can flourish by the water of God's word and promises. There is rest.  There is growth.  It takes time.  A tree takes a long, long time.  A tree stands in all kinds of weather, exposed.   It is steadfast--like the Christmas tree, that is green year-round. 

1  Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.