John Updike the Blogger

Every critic knows that John Updike was a gleeful child of his age, but did he rise above it? The common complaint against him is that the greatness of his style eclipsed the thinness of his substance, and Adam Begley’s new biography, full of insightful and sympathetic detail, does little to dim such prejudices. Begley portrays Updike as a man who could not stop writing and as a writer who could not stop thinking about himself. For Begley, in fact, Updike comes across as America’s first (and finest) blogger. Continue Reading »

The Scandal of Calvary

Is it possible for a film to capture the horror of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church while at the same time presenting a case for the necessity of the institutional priesthood? Against all odds, this is exactly what Irish director John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary manages to do. Father James (played with magnificent presence by Brendan Gleeson) is a good priest, if a haunted one. He is a widower and an alcoholic with a suicidal daughter and a parish full of troubled townspeople in rural Ireland. One afternoon a parishioner confesses to him that he was serially raped by a now-deceased priest as a child, and as a way of taking revenge, he will kill Fr. James in a week. Continue Reading »

Life Under Instant Replay

When taking stock of how far we haven’t come, I find myself reliving the early morning hours of July 27, 2011. Late-night comics have relinquished the airwaves to diet pill peddlers, city buses have ceased running here in Atlanta, and even Manuel’s Tavern is turning out the last of its regulars. South of downtown the Braves and Pirates play on, sweating through the nineteenth inning on a field approaching dewpoint. A journeyman Braves reliever, batting for lack of other options, hits a routine grounder to third. Breaking on contact, a baserunner pushing forty—also playing for lack of other options—sprints toward the plate, a kamikaze attempt at the winning run. Continue Reading »

Weird Al Just Committed the Greatest Word Crime of All

He takes care lest by a slip of the tongue he use the ablative instead of the accusative for ‘among men,’ but is unconcerned that by the fury of his mind he might cast a man out from among men” (Conf. 1.18.29). The particular pet peeves of the self-appointed language police have changed since the fifth century, but St. Augustine would surely recognize the same phenomenon active today. He might conclude, though, that we’ve sunk to a new low: today’s peevers tend not only to lack charity, but to lack even a good grasp of the language they imagine themselves to be defending. Continue Reading »

Greeks Bearing Debts

Classics is no longer seen as a cutting-edge discipline, but two centuries ago German scholars devoted to the “cult of the Greeks” created the modern university when they developed new methods in philology and installed Altertumswissenschaft, the science of antiquity, at the center of the curriculum Continue Reading »

Rebuild Penn Station!

Yes, it sounds like a pipe dream. Rebuild Penn Station? Why imagine that’s possible when New York can’t even build a new subway line or bring a direct rail link to any of its three airports? Paralysis is the general rule. More than a dozen years after 9/11, the rebuilding of the site is still only half finished. But maybe, just maybe, rebuilding the old Penn Station is possible. And if possible, surely a civic necessity. Continue Reading »

Clutch Your Pearls and Think of the Children

There was a time when virtue summoned manly images like that of The Iliad’s Prince Hector soothing his wife and infant son before venturing out into battle. But these days, as Alexandra Carmeny points out in a recent essay for Ethika Politika, the term is more often associated with pinkness and petticoats, to the point that online discussion often tends to frame any form of perceived moral conservatism as stuffily feminine. Continue Reading »

It Wasn’t a Date

It wasn’t a date. It was a hangout. We met up on a rainy night in the middle of April, to have dinner at a designated locale. “Present!” I texted upon arrival, and he stood up accounted for, waving me over to the bar area. We greeted each other with a hug as the bar tender asked if we would like a table. I let Sam answer, and he said that the bar would be fine. Continue Reading »