What I'm Reading

United Protestant Church, Richland, Washington, in 1944. Via richlandbombers.com.


“Lock up two old roosters and overfeed them until they copulate and lay eggs.”  Our friend and contributor, Colin Dickey, has a brilliant review of “The Secrets of Alchemy” by Larence M. Principe at LA Review of Books right now.  Here’s a clip:

Any study of alchemy reveals the stubborn fact that early modern thought was far more universalizing in its scope than our own age’s tendency to compartmentalize fields of knowledge, and approaching alchemy on its own terms means rethinking our own relationship to the intellectual past. Whereas we regard art, chemistry, religion, and philosophy as separate, discrete areas of study, the early moderns didn’t think like this. Alchemy blends together a variety of disciplines, methods, and philosophies, and any attempt to isolate its chemistry or its symbolism out from the rest is a willful misreading. As Principe stresses repeatedly, “premoderns tended to conceive of and visualize the world in multivalent terms, where each individual thing was connected to many others by webs of analogy and metaphor. This view stands in contrast to the modern tendency to compartmentalize and isolate things and ideas into separate disciplines.”

Chris Lehmann reviews John G. Turner’s new biography of Brigham Young, Pioneer Prophet, at The Nation.  From “Young and the Restless: On Brigham Young”:

As he made preparations for the next chapter in the church’s American exodus, Young began exhibiting the unquenchable will-to-discipline that would characterize his leadership over the next three decades. He kept public order by grooming an informal regiment of “whistling and whittling companies”: groups of young men who would cluster around either gentile disturbers of the peace or Mormon dissenters with none-too-subtle threats of violence. “An internal inflamation [sic] is worse than an external inflamation” was how Young summed up the quasi-vigilante groups’ mandate for keeping fellow Mormons in line. At the same time, Young sought to contain the anxieties of any wavering souls in his flock by trumpeting the advent of the Kingdom of God. “Zion is right here,” Young proclaimed at the April 1845 Mormon church conference. “The millennium has commenced.”

Toni Morrison to The Paris Review on her writing routine:

I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark—it must be dark—and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come. And she said, Well, that’s a ritual. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space that I can only call nonsecular . . . Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.

From Meera Subramanian’s “Sweeping Air”:

Did a child’s small fingers make the match that he strikes to make the flame? Who forged the bell that hangs overhead? Who harvested the sandalwood and ground it into the powder that made the paste daubed onto the lingam? Who grew the fruit set on the platter in offering? The priests took the time to learn the prayers, tongues wrapped around Sanskrit. The worshippers took the time to come to temple, winding through the footpath galis, between the cows and over the dung in the dark during a blackout so ordinary that a flashlight was already in hand.

From “David Cronenberg: The Secular Augeur as Critic of Religion,” an article by Elijah Eiegler in the latest issue of Journal of the American Academy of Religion:

What I am proposing here is both a simpler and more substantial approach to the study of film and secularism than those mentioned above.  I suggest that we in religious studies need to look at films that wrestle with the same questions of meaning that religion does (questions of sex and death, power and desire, family and society, transformation and transcendence, etc.) but that do so in a uniquely nonreligious, or secular way.  Further, we need to look not just at narrative elements of secularism on film, but at thematic and visual elements as well.

Watch this:  Catholics for Choice has released a new video, “The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics,” that asks academics, theologians and philosophers to explain the chasm between current Church leadership and contemporary medical and social ethics.  It’s a great watch and I even learned a new word:  theopolitics.

From The Boston Review:


By Grant Souders

This pilgrimage.
I have awoken from

when I left
light where I returned.

Here I am, am things.

Of willows lining
the bank of some creek,
calling out
from where I cannot see.
Where we are vulnerable
who see. The willows
calling out.
Must we leave humanity
to love it? the willows
of it? Thinking of them
sprouting out from the bank,
some naked where
deer have gnashed away
at the swellings, too, of it?
is horizon
as grasses and beetle kill

what have we awoken to
that seems to say our name

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *