R.R. Reno is editor of First Things.

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From First Thoughts

Patriotism is the political form of love. It comes from the Latin (and Greek) for father, signaling the deep bond of loyalty to clan, the primitive sense that we owe our existence to a place, a people. As Jody points out when recalling an old post of mine that drew appreciative attention to some . . . . Continue Reading »

The Stalinist Moment In Iran

From First Thoughts

Events in Iran have been riveting. The presidential vote on June 12 was rigged to ensure the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or so most suspect. Supporters of Ahmadinejad’s main opponent, former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, have rejected the outcome, and for a few heady days they . . . . Continue Reading »

A Master of Horror

From Web Exclusives

In his Poetics, Aristotle observed that some works of art have a paradoxical effect. They represent things that make us cringe and recoil: Orestes kills Clytemnestra; Medea murders her children. Yet, even as we shrink from the brutality and avert our eyes in horror, we are nonetheless strangely attracted to and sometimes ravished by the scenes. What is ugly and brutal can exercise an aesthetic power as great as”perhaps even greater than”beauty itself.

A special centenary exhibition of the work of Francis Bacon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (on view until August 16, 2009) offers an ideal occasion to experience the strange aesthetic appeal of deformity, pain, and the darkness of life. Bacon famously filled his studio with images of disease from medical books and murder scenes from tabloids. The paintings that resulted are not ugly. On the contrary, many have alluring color and form. But there can be no doubt about Bacon’s genius. It was energized by the grotesque. Continue Reading »

Marilynne Robinson Stumbles

From Web Exclusives

I’ll admit it up front. I was disappointed with Home, Marilynne Robinson’s latest novel. There are some finely spun sentences and evocative passages. The final pages breathe with emotional reality, and Robinson’s rich knowledge of Christian theology produces some rewarding insights. But the novel as a whole is workmanlike.

High expectations undoubtedly contributed to my disappointment. Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping, has an aching beauty. The story focuses on Ruth and Lucille, two sisters raised by their aunt in the imaginary small town of Fingerbone, Idaho. The haunting reality of memory eventually becomes more substantial then the physical structure of their house, and by the end of the novel Robinson succeeds in making the reader feel as though Ruth and Lucille are thin, spectral waifs who have left behind the solid, everyday reality of life.

If Housekeeping spiritualizes, then Gilead, her second and widely (and justly) praised novel, moves in the other direction… .Continue Reading »

Defending Life Requires Law

From Web Exclusives

My heart sank when I read the headline: “Abortion Provider Is Shot Dead.” It sank still further as I read the story. Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas was one of the few doctors willing to perform late-term abortion, even some, the newspaper reported, in the ninth month. Kansas . . . . Continue Reading »

Ritual Denunciations

From First Thoughts

For a good example of the mainstream liberal Jihad mentality, take a look as Scott McLemee’s effusion of bile on the occasion of Leon Kass’ recent Jefferson Lecture of the National Endowment of the Humanities. The basic argument goes something like this. Kass served in the Bush . . . . Continue Reading »

A Forgotten Seer

From Web Exclusives

Norman O. Brown. Once a favorite of counter-culture intellectuals, we do not hear his name very much anymore. He has been eclipsed, perhaps, by his prescience. Once a shocking voice of new revelations, Brown now reads like a strangely urgent advocate of ideas that postmodern culture takes for . . . . Continue Reading »

Teaching in the Twenty-First Century

From Web Exclusives

Another college semester is ending. Students are hustling around, trying to finish final papers and prepare for exams. Soon there will be plenty of grading to do. But right now I find myself looking back and wondering. What does a college education really amount to in our day and age?I am not . . . . Continue Reading »

The Little Flower

From Web Exclusives

When the disciples came to Jesus and asked who will be the greatest in the kingdom, he called for a child to come to him, and answered, ‚ÄúTruly I tell you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the . . . . Continue Reading »