Karl Ove Knausgård writes about human life and how it is the same across time:
One thing I had learned when I was working at the first institution: life wasn’t modern. All the variants, all the deformities, all the freaks of nature, all the mental disabilities, all the insanity, all the injuries, all the illnesses, they still existed, they were as present now as they had been in the Middle Ages, but we had hidden them, we had put them in enormous buildings in the forest, created special camps for them, consistently kept them out of sight so as to give the impression the world was hale and hearty, that that was how the world and life were, but they weren’t, life was also grotesque and distorted, sick and crooked, undignified and humiliated. The human race was full of fools, idiots, and freaks, either they were born like this or they became like this, but they were no longer on the streets, they no longer ran around frightening the wits out of people, they were in civilization’s shadow, or night.
Most modern architecture does not reflect any local culture, but rather is part of a monoculture. You cannot identify buildings in a picture to any particular country, but rather have to guess at where they are located because they all look the same.
I’m hearing that the court case against the Virginia CANA churches may not go well. Truro, Falls Church and others may be forced to leave their historic buildings. I’ve never been a fan of the “defend the property” strategy, but this is still very sad news. Turning these buildings over to heretics is akin to the North African Church falling to Islam a long time ago.
With that said, it occurred to me today that one reason that it is such a blow to lose these venerable buildings is because there is so little chance of replacing them in our lifetime. Our theology of architecture is so impoverished, and the buildings that we typically build as Protestant churches are generally so awful, that losing these old buildings is a great tragedy.
Most new church buildings are ephemeral, not durable. They are ugly, functional, “multi-purpose” facilities where people worship in the gym. There is generally no art, no stained glass windows and nothing that would really differentiate these buildings from the prison-like school buildings that we build today. On the other hand, places like Truro have a simple elegance and exude a sense of tranquility and “churchiness” that is lacking in most modern Protestant facilities. It seems that Catholics have kept their senses and are producing some great buildings even today. I live down the street from one and I’ve seen many others, such as the gorgeous Holy Apostles in Meridian, Idaho.
So if we are going to continue to think that buildings don’t matter or that we need to build the cheapest, ugliest thing we can get away with and call it good, then losing the old places like Truro (and the many, many United Methodist parishes in Virginia that are gorgeous and given over to heresy) is a very sad event indeed.
One interesting technical problem for writers today is how to invent characters who are plausible readers—without writing a campus novel. The problem is bigger than you might think: ever since Jane Austen most fictional characters have talked and thought like people who read fiction. Many basic techniques of the modern novel (dialogue, inner monologue, moral suspense) require characters who think in something like novelistic prose.
You notice the difficulty in a novel like Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, where media people of the early Oughts are forced—ingeniously and enjoyably—to have verbally complicated thoughts about their lives, as if they went home every night and curled up with Edith Wharton. You don’t actually overhear conversations like that at the Waverley Inn.
Others who tackled the problem and made it central to their fiction include: Bret Easton Ellis, David Foster Wallace, Mary Robison, Don DeLillo, Tom McCarthy. They are not writing “pastoral,” they are not writing about people less educated than the reader. They are writing about us.
To overhear an ordinary character thinking deeply, in complex sentences, about his or her life involves a new suspension of disbelief. This is one of the things I love about contemporary fiction at its best—that it makes us overhear, and believe.
The jumble inside our heads everyday sounds nothing like the written page. It would be interesting to analyze this in the Bible, where it seems to me that most thoughts that are expressed are short and terse – i.e. real.
I finished reading this book today. It contains the stories:
The Last Castle
The Moon Moth
It was nice to read something of Vance that didn’t have to do with the Dying Earth. The stories mainly illustrate aspects of the human condition that are universal no matter what the setting. This includes greed, misanthropy, and following the crowd amongst other things. I particularly liked The Last Castle.
Vance always conveys a mood in his writing more than a concrete sense of place. The surreal and lonely earth of the future seems plausible, while also frightening and sad. The light he sheds on the future accurately reflects the world of our day that we think we know so well. In reality, the world is a vast and scary place at times, and no amount of technology will change that fact.
I finally finished The Fifth Head of Cerberus and The Urth of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. Good reads. You should read them too. Wolfe is a dense writer who demands your attention and writes in puzzles. He makes your head spin trying to figure out what just happened. Most of his stories involve someone recording things in a book, so they include gaps in the action, frustrating omissions, and unreliable narrators. Glorious.
I’ve been watching the episodes of the Interview Project by David Lynch as they are made available. My impression of America from the project thus far is what a depressing wasteland much of our country is. Dirty, untended, barren, bleak, and forlorn. Most of the west and much of the midwest is flat, unappealing and dirty. I’m glad for the cultivated parts and for man taking dominion over this land. Now if only we all had the Dutch passion for cleanliness.