touchstone archives


Piquant excerpts lifted from Touchstone editors' own reading & listening.

Issue: Nov/Dec 2020

[I]n publishing as in most places, if it weren't for received wisdom, there wouldn't be any wisdom at all.

Donald E. Westlake
in an interview c. 1999

Education Commonplaces #62 Nov/Dec 2020

Thus began [in the Church] a process by which the Tradition was sentimentalized in and through kitsch—that is, mass-produced objects that, according to Clement Greenberg, depend upon "the availability close at hand of a fully matured cultural tradition, whose discoveries, acquisitions, and perfected self-consciousness kitsch can take advantage of for its own ends." That end is not to create something worthy of the Tradition. The goal of kitsch is to create objects that borrow just enough gravitas from the Tradition to seem authentic while, in fact, specious "good feelings" are placed front and center. . . .

In other words, the cheesy, the tacky, the "in poor taste" spring into life when form falls absurdly short of content. Kitsch happens when consumers are trained actually to prefer a sentimentalized form over authentic content. . . .

[C]ommodification reignites the strange engines of ancient fetishism. Just as a golden calf, with its sentimentalized associations with the gods of Egypt, could be looked to by the Israelites as a preferred option, as an idol that would provide as Yahweh provides yet without the demands of Yahweh, the modern, commodified object, trading upon its vibe of authenticity, promises to change your life while avoiding genuine engagement with the Tradition. . . .

[B]ad taste went hand in hand with bad theology. The person who favored mime homilies might well say, "I don't find the concept of Original Sin particularly helpful." The priest who offered a clown Mass might express his doubts about the Nicene Creed. . . . If a person welcomed a departure from the devotions, the architecture, even the liturgy of past tradition, he probably did this because outside the sanctuary, he was trained to prefer a sentimentalized form over authentic content.

Joseph Hatcher
"The Kitsch Council," (July 6, 2020)

Education Commonplaces #63 Nov/Dec 2020

Defy the commandments of the natural law, and the race will perish in a few generations; co-operate with them, and the race will flourish for ages to come. That is the fact; whether we like it or not, the universe is made that way. This commandment is interesting because it specifically puts forward the moral law as the basis of the moral code: because God has made the world like this and will not alter it, therefore you must not worship your own fantasies, but pay allegiance to the truth.

Dorothy L, Sayers
The Mind of the Maker (1941)

Christianity Commonplaces #61 Nov/Dec 2020

Every evening at Vespers in these days Abbess Catherine . . . thought, as the antiphon to the Magnificat was sung, of the Visitation when the Virgin Mary, with the angel's announcement beating in her heart, had gone 'in haste' as St Luke says to visit her far older cousin. Why, wondered Abbess Catherine, did theologians always teach—and we take it for granted—that Mary went simply to succour Elizabeth? Probably she did do that, but could it not also have been that she needed the wisdom and strength of an older woman? How wonderfully reassuring Elizabeth's salutation must have been: 'Whence is this that the mother of my Lord should come to me?' A recognition without being told, and Mary, as if heartened, touched into bloom by the warmth and honour of that recognition, had flowered into the Magnificat.

Rumer Godden
In This House of Brede, ch. 7 (1969)

Christianity Commonplaces #64 Nov/Dec 2020

Being as it were compacted and fitly joined together in one body, we should love one another, with a love like that which one member bears to another in the same body. . . .

But in reality never was there less brotherly activity amongst men than at the present moment. Race hatred has reached its climax; peoples are more divided by jealousies than by frontiers; within one and the same nation, within the same city there rages the burning envy of class against class. . . .

When the twofold principle of cohesion of the whole body of society has been weakened, that is to say, the union of the members with one another by mutual charity and their union with their head by their dutiful recognition of authority, is it to be wondered at, Venerable Brethren, that human society should be seen to be divided as it were into two hostile armies bitterly and ceaselessly at strife? . . . It is not necessary to enumerate the many consequences, not less disastrous for the individual than for the community, which follow from this class hatred. We all see and deplore the frequency of strikes . . . we see hostile gatherings and tumultuous crowds, and it not unfrequently happens that weapons are used and human blood is spilled.

Pope Benedict XV
Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum (1914)

Christianity Commonplaces #65 Nov/Dec 2020

The fundamental revolutionary faith . . . the fundamental pagan assumption is that order arises from chaos, and if we want to get a new order, we have to burn it down . . . we burn the whole thing down, we bring in revolution, we level the place, and out of that chaotic set of conditions, order will spontaneously arise.

Douglas Wilson
Plodcast 148: "Sex and the Unreal City" (July 1, 2020)

Culture Commonplaces #66 Nov/Dec 2020

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