Long before women were debating whether they were a Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha or Miranda, they were contemplating whether they were more an Elizabeth Bennet, Elinor Dashwood, Anne Eliot or Emma Woodhouse. Since the publication of Sense and Sensibility in 1811, Jane Austen’s characters and heroines have captured the imaginations of readers—and those readers have related to them in their realness.
This has made Austen a rich source for film and television adaptation from traditional iterations like the Laurence Olivier Pride and Prejudice (1940) and Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility (1995) to modern retellings like Clueless (1995) and Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001) to the newest take on her work, Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship.
Since the mid-1990s and Colin Firth’s decidedly non-canon jump in a lake, Austen has spawned a lucrative cottage industry, inspiring everything from a publishing sub-genre to web series to travel itineraries to merchandise littered with her quotations, silhouette, and characters. Being an Austen fan has become such a distinctive obsession, that the original Queen of Satire has inspired another layer of skewering in films like Austenland (2013) that lovingly mock women obsessed with finding their Mr. Darcy.
What then, besides Colin Firth’s dripping wet shirt, has inspired droves of readers over the ages to return to Austen time and time again? Many modern readers admit to discovering Austen through her film adaptations—being taken in by Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth and Keira Knightley and discovering entirely new delights in the original source material. While many of the films emphasize and amplify the romance of Austen’s plots—a fact that frustrates many Austen purists—the novels introduce readers to a refreshing dose of irony and wit, perhaps missing from some of the lusher adaptations. Heroines that are spunky and relatable onscreen only become more so through their complexity on the page.
Some scoff at Austen’s tales that tend to focus more on character development and every-day happenings than epic drama, but it is this very lens that makes her work so engaging. “There are people who say that nothing happens in Jane Austen,” actor Nikki Massoud, 26, says. “And you could make that argument, but nothing happens in Jane Austen in the way that nothing happens in real life. Everything happens within the nothing.”
Austen wrote what she knew—the villages, communities and economic realities—of her own life, and it is this incisive view that allows her writing to resonate down the centuries.
Christina Boyd, 48, is an editor for Meryton Press, an independent publisher who specializes in the booming sub-genre of what is known as Jane Austen Fan-Fiction (JAFF)—books that retell, continue, and expand the world of Jane Austen’s characters. Boyd avoided Austen for years, assuming she was just a chronicler of happy endings, but was delighted to discover that Austen “wrote the little nuances of families and relationships and her community and her little world around her… and that’s just a timeless thing—how people can pick apart a family or relationships and relate it to their own lives through the years.”
“Austen did such a marvelous job of writing severely complex personalities,” filmmaker and writer Uttara Valluri, 26, explains, “that there’s a little portion of most of them in her readers; not by her design, but because anthropologically speaking, human behavior of that sort doesn’t change.”
Similarly, Claire Bellanti, 67-year-old President of the Jane Austen Society of North America, cites Austen’s “knowledge of human nature and ability to describe real human beings” as the primary reason for her enduring appeal.
Often, much of this realism and ironic wit is subsumed by romance and sweeping shots of English landscapes in film adaptation. Whit Stillman’s new film Love and Friendship finally closes this gap, presenting Austen fans with a film nearer the author’s own intentions with its wry sense of humor that packs a satirical punch.
The film is based on a lesser known novella, Lady Susan, and follows the exploits of widow Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) as she attempts to attain financial security and sexual satisfaction. The novella had never been adapted—perhaps because of its epistolary, un-cinematic nature—but it is a natural fit for the screen. While most Austen adaptations must either shave off subplots and secondary characters or expand to mini-series length, the novella format allows all of the intricacies and diversions to come to life in a brisk 90 minutes.
The film, with its direct allusions to promiscuity and Susan’s duplicitous nature, is perhaps truest to Austen’s spirit as a writer, yet also decidedly unlike any adaptations to come before it. Lady Susan is vain, selfish and immoral, more akin to many of Austen’s villains than her heroines; she’s also an older woman, a stark contrast with teenagers like Catherine Morland (Northanger Abbey) and Marianne Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility). Her age and status as a widow enable Lady Susan to exercise more control over her own life than many of Austen’s heroines. Yet, Lady Susan is also not ignorant or pompous, but succeeds because of her own manipulation of human nature. She is more like Scarlett O’Hara than Elizabeth Bennet, deliciously unlikable, funny and irresistible to root for, all at the same time.
Star Kate Beckinsale—no stranger to Austen, having played Emma Woodhouse in a 1996 TV movie—was taken aback by Lady Susan’s frank characterization. In an interview with the Telegraph, Beckinsale said:
I’m fairly familiar with Jane Austen and I think she’s so incredibly insightful and funny, but I didn’t realize she had such a naughty streak. I hadn’t seen such a broad kind of feminist-y heroine who is terrible and diabolical and cruel. Yet she’s also functioning within the constraints that existed at that time for women. Her big concern is her future security.
This allows the greatest hallmarks of Austen’s work to rise to the forefront—the cattiness and intelligence of the women and the subterfuge they must rely on to survive in a world not designed for them. Many of the women I interviewed for this piece described first discovering Austen’s works in middle school or high school. It is natural that these stories of sisterhood and competition would capture the imagination of so many young women.
Reading the books in middle school is actually a great time to read them because you’re watching girls behave in certain ways that women do in Jane Austen. There’s a certain level of you’re learning how to appear attractive to the opposite sex, according to what society tells you… you’re learning about fake friendships. Just the concept of ‘Frenemies,’ which is something you see all over Jane Austen, is something you see a lot in the average American middle school.
The appeal of Austen’s heroines is that, whether through patience, wit, endurance, or in Lady Susan’s case, duplicity and scheming, they achieve happily-ever-afters on their own terms. Their happy endings are not without caveats, but the women negotiate the best lives for themselves in a world where choice is minimal. Austen’s devotees are primarily female, which is expected for an author who writes exclusively about the lives and concerns of women.
Austen was ahead of her time in ability to write from a woman’s perspective and her desire to skewer those who underestimated the fairer sex. “Jane Austen was a feminist before the term was even coined,” Austenprose blog editor Laurel Ann Nattress says in an email. “Writing novels from a women’s perspective about female issues of love, marriage, money and social power is why we can relate so well to her today.”
“I don’t think that Jane Austen was a feminist in the guise that we might call feminism today,” Bellanti notes. “She was a person who read Mary Wollstonecraft, and I think she had a good understanding of the situation of women in her time and what that meant to them… She’s presenting women as real people, rather than as caricatures and stereotypes, which so much literature of her time did.”
Austen was groundbreaking simply in her desire and ability to portray women as dynamic, realistic human beings with vibrant inner lives and sharp senses of humor. While those of us in the Western world may delight in Austen’s biting wit, we find ourselves slightly distanced from the notion of disenfranchised women who must scheme to marry for love, security or both. We can identify with the search for mutual respect in a partner, but are able to find it on far more equal terms.
Austen hits home more profoundly for those outside the Western world. Massoud, who is Iranian-American, notes how similar much of Austen’s world is to contemporary Middle Eastern society. “I have a lot of friends and family members who find Jane Austen directly relatable because they’re girls,” she says, “and they have to deal with legal and financial disadvantages because they’re not from a white, Anglo culture.”
Whether in her description of women’s choices or her use of satire to pull apart societal expectations and female behavior, Austen speaks to women on a personal level. When discussing her enduring appeal, women continually refer back to an intimate connection with Austen’s work that keeps them coming back for more.
“Something about reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time just gave me such a sense of belonging,” Bellanti explains. “I felt like Jane Austen knew who I was—that she was writing just for me.”
Many women have found enrichment in Jane Austen through the community she provides among fellow readers and fans. Boyd came to Austen later in life and has found an unexpected home in the JAFF community. “It sounds so trite to say, but she really changed my life,” Boyd says. “I really do believe that just because of the love of her words, her stories, they’ve made me look at my own little world in detail and the people that I meet in detail. She just changed my life in making it richer.”
By holding a critical mirror up to her society, Austen also pushes us to examine our own lives. “You don’t just read Austen’s work,” Valluri says, “you’re immersed. It changes you for a brief moment of time, and somehow I think it makes us slightly better people… She makes you more accepting of flaws and the reality of imperfection.”
Author Beau North, 39, describes Austen as the “big sister [she] never had,” speaking to Austen’s ability to help you realize flaws in yourself and others across the span of 200 years. “There might be certain areas of life you see with rose-colored glasses,” she says, “and then you read a Jane Austen novel, and she makes you laugh at yourself. For me, personally, she makes me know myself better than I ever did before.”
With new and delightfully surprising film adaptations like Love and Friendship and the unwavering idiosyncrasies of human nature, Austen shows no sign of slowing down in popularity or reach. The women in her novels (and their accompanying films) may wear ornate bonnets and silk chemise, but they are wholly modern in their desires, sparkling wit and all-too-human faults. Austen writes of women who struggle to achieve happiness in a world bound by societal expectation, morality and a race for limited resources –whether that be financial security or eligible bachelors.
As long as the pursuit of love and happiness on your own terms remains a challenge, it appears to be “a truth universally acknowledged” that Jane Austen will remain relevant.
Maureen Lee Lenker is a writer, actress and freelance journalist who has written for Turner Classic Movies, Ms. in the Biz, @ This Stage, LA Weekly and more. She is working towards an M.A. in Arts Journalism at USC, reporting on arts, theatre and entertainment. Her Jane Austen inspired short story, “The Food of Love,” can be found in Meryton Press’ Then Comes Winter anthology.
After this chastening lesson, the class were quiet. I re-did the dictée with them, and they seemed thoroughly squashed by the intervention of the Head. I had my smallest ones at the end of Friday, and we decided to do some paper dolls, with the national costumes of the countries of the languages that we were studying. I used the lesson to teach them the different items of clothing in different languages.
Some of them asked about making peg dolls again, as part of after-school activities. I agreed to wander down to the workshop and see what would be possible. All in all it was a pleasant lesson on a grisly day. I left the classroom to speak to Rosa, and she was looking white as a sheet. I'd told her about Foley and the Chinese man in Vienna, but before she could write back, she had had further letters from her friends, talking about something they were calling Kristallnacht. There had even been reports in our newspapers about the destruction of synagogues and Jewish property across the area ruled by Herr Hitler. The reporters couldn't seem to get their heads around the devastation. Those of us who had seen Rosa's letters could - that such angry mobs could be roused to hate a particular group seemed a natural extension of the beatings and beratings that Rosa's Jewish friends had received, and some of her other correspondents had witnessed.
She wrote to as many as she could in such terms as would pass any censors to advise them of Foley's words. We talked that day about the possibility of her returning to Austria - conditions for the people despised by the regime were awful - they were being hidden, and didn't have much access to medical care.
She was quite happy to help with more peg dolls, but her focus wasn't with us. To be honest it hadn't been with us since Jac had died, and she mentioned him a couple of times that day - mostly in conjunction with the dolls, although once I inferred that she had known him many years ago from what she said.
I mentioned it to Cerian that evening, and she told me about the incident when Jac and Rosa had met one another at the cottage door. Curiouser and Curiouser.
The next day I wandered down to the workshop and met Tom. We chatted in Welsh about this and that, and he invited me for a drink that evening, which I declined on grounds that Soeur Marguérite would not approve of a young mistress being invited to a public house. He raised his eyebrows, but didn't comment. After that I firmly kept the conversation on neutral topics - places that we both knew and matters of concern. He talked a bit about what had brought him to the colony - he'd developed epilepsy due to a head injury sustained after the Great War.
He’d served in a Pals regiment and had to be nursed back to health in Cardiff. When pressed he knew Rosa from those days. Seemingly reluctantly he also admitted that he’d known Jac Thomas those days, and he didn’t wish to talk about it. This was not an uncommon attitude amongst old soldiers, and I knew better than to press it this time.
More often than not, the horrors of the trenches were things that no man wanted to relive. Stories of heroism and cowardice, of death and limited glory were told by few. It left the men too damaged to have healthy relationships with people. Cerian had told me of families on the Garrison where the fathers wanted only daughters so they would never have to send their sons to war.
She told me of a family of 10, 5 boys and 5 girls, where the father had been damaged by the war, and had taken it out on the boys. They were made to sleep in the coal hole, and had joined up as soon as they could, the older 3 in the RAF, the younger two in the merchant navy after the war, as they were too young to serve in the second war.
Cerian continued “There had been rumours with that family of all sorts of dreadful abuses. I wonder how much the sins of the father had been visited on later generations, but I kept my wonderings to myself. Abuse just wasn’t spoken of by anyone, worse than now.
“The father and mother were fine upstanding members of the chapel, deacons no less. Their girls followed in their footsteps, unless they knew what had happened, and then they didn’t darken the door of that chapel since. The Minister knew, he must have done, but he did nothing.” The anger in Cerian’s voice was palpable. “I knew that chapel. That minister knew everything. It is unthinkable that he didn’t know that.”
Hi, happy Monday! We’re back, with this week’s first edition of Daily Links…
Ebony Oshunrinde, the 19-year-old music producer known as WondaGurl, has been making beats for Rihanna, Drake, Jay Z, and other stars since she was 16.
At Jezebel, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd takes on Hilton Als’s critique of Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Most notably: The idea that a lot of Beyoncé’s music is made in response to men.
Nayla Kidd, the former Columbia University student whose disappearance earlier in May made national news, has been found safe. She spoke to the New York Post about her new life in Brooklyn. ♦
Last Thursday, during LREC 2016, 16 participants from ELRA and LDC had a festive dinner at a restaurant named Na Burji. On the drive from Portorož, we had a discussion about what the restaurant's name means — our first guess, stimulated by the extreme switchbacks we traversed as the road climbed steeply from the coastal plain towards Nova Vas nad Dragonjo, was that "burji" is somehow cognate with berg.
But as the restaurant's website explains, it "earned its name due to exposure to famous Bora wind". This of course raises the question of where the word bora comes from.
The OED's entry for bora (which hasn't been updated since 1887) glosses it as "A severe north wind which blows in the Upper Adriatic", and gives this etymology:
According to Diez, Venetian, Milanese form of Italian borea north wind < Latin Boreas. But compare Illyrian (Serbia, Dalmatia, etc.) bura ‘storm, tempest’ (Bulgarian bura, Russian and Old Slavonic burya), which may have been confounded with the Italian in the Adriatic.
Wikipedia has a good deal more information:
The Bora (Bulgarian: бора, Russian: бора, Croatian: bura, Montenegrin: bura/бура, Greek: μπόρα, Italian: bora, Slovene: burja, Turkish: bora, Polish: bora) is a northern to north-eastern katabatic wind in the Adriatic, Croatia, Montenegro, Italy, Bulgaria, Greece, Slovenia, Poland, Russia (Novorossiysk) and Turkey. The same root is found in the name of the Greek mythological figure of Boreas/Βορέας, the North Wind. Historical linguists speculate that the name may derive from a Proto-Indo-European root *gworh- meaning "mountain" and giving rise to Germanic burg and berg. A similar pattern is seen in the cognate name of the buran winds of central Asia and the name purga of their Siberian subtype.
The earliest citation in the OED's 1887 entry is from 1864:
1864 Viscountess Strangford E. Shores Adriatic 263 A violent wind began to blow. ‘The Bora! the Bora!’ resounded on all sides, in tones of terror and dismay.
1883 Athenæum 6 Jan. 11/1 Capt. Burton left Trieste..too happy to exchange its ferocious bora and distressing scirocco for the..West African coast.
But these days, it's easy to antedate such citations, and the results are often interesting in their own right, especially with a bit more context than a dictionary citation allows.
Here's J.P. Mannex, History, topography, and directory, of Westmorland; and Lonsdale north of the Sands, in Lancashire; together with a descriptive and geological view of the whole of the Lake district, 1849:
The Helm Wind is a most interesting and remarkable phenomenon, and it has called forth curiosity, and raised inquiry in the most careless observer, and many have been the conjectures as to its nature and cause. Dr. Barnes says,—" The air or wind from the east ascends the gradual slope of the western side of the Penine Chain* or Cross Fell range of mountains, to the summit of Cross Fell, where it enters the helm or cap, and is cooled to a low temperature; it then rushes forcibly down the abrupt declivity of the western side of the mountain, into the valley beneath, in consequence of the valley being of a warmer temperature, and this constitutes the Helm Wind. […]
The places most subject to it are Milburn, Kirkland, Ousby, Melmerby, and Cramblesby. Sometimes when the atmosphere is quite settled, hardly a cloud to be seen, and not a breath of wind stirring, a small cloud appears on the summit, and extends itself to the north and south; the helm is then, said to be on, and in a few minutes the wind is blowing so violently as to break down trees, overthrow stacks, occasionally blow a person from his horse, or overturn a horse and cart. […] When heard or felt for the first time it does not seem so very extraordinary, but when heard and felt for days together, it gives a strong impression of sublimity. Its sound is peculiar, and when once known is easily distinguished from that of ordinary winds; it cannot be heard more than three or four miles, but in the wind or near it, it has been compared to the noise made by the sea in a violent storm.
Its effect on the spirits is exhilarating, and it gives a buoyancy to the body. The country subject to it is very healthy, but it does great injury to vegetation, by beating grain, grass, and leaves of trees, till quite black.
A similar phenomenon occurs at the Cape of Good Hope; Professor Stavely had noticed one of the same kind near Belfast; and Professor Buche, when crossing the Alps, observed the like appearance on Mount Cenis, and one, called the Bora wind, occurs on the high ground near Trieste.
I like this: "…when heard and felt for days together, it gives a strong impression of sublimity … Its effect on the spirits is exhilarating, and it gives a buoyancy to the body".
And Google Books will take us back a few more decades, to F.W. Sieber, "Travels in the Island of Crete in the year 1817", in Sir Richard Phillips, New Voyages and Travels: Consisting of Originals and Translations, Volume 8, 1822.
Before we get to Sieber's mention of the Bora wind, here's a passage about the first day of their voyage from Trieste. A week ago, almost exactly two hundred years later. I traveled by minibus from Venice through Trieste to the Istrian coast. I was feeling a bit under the weather at the end of a long journey from Philadelphia, so I enjoyed this opportunity to put the stresses of modern travel into perspective.
The following morning we were opposite Pola, the southern point of Istria: the weather was ﬁne; the fog soon dispersed, and unveiled to our view the magniﬁcent amphitheatre built in the time of Augustus. By the aid of good telescopes, we had the pleasure of observing all the details, and likewise other ruins situated in the vicinity. But a tempestuous wind blowing from the bay of Guarnero, soon oblige us to go below deck. The destruction of the crockery and glasses, the dancing about of every piece of furniture in the cabin, the vain efforts of the cabin boy to save some articles, while he himself was thrown from side to side, would have appeared ludicrous enough, had not the increasing sea sickness damped our mirth; nor were we much consoled when the cabin boy came tumbling in with a burning lamp, which he hung up before the image of the Virgin, upon which he closed the shutters, and carried two candles in lanterns upon deck, while the crew commenced a most disharmonious litany in the Italian language, intermixed with loud lamentations and various prayers, which made us feel our forlorn situation. The boy came back, and the lamentation had ceased; but the sea raged with still greater fury. When I took courage to ask the boy how matters stood, I found, to my sorrow, that he understood only the Maltese language; but the captain soon came and removed our apprehensions, wishing the storm might long continue, if the wind would only blow half a quarter more northerly.
On to Mr. Sieber's Bora citation, which sits in the middle of some interesting (but I think quite wrong) scientific reasoning about the source of sea-temperature variations:
In the neighbourhood of Corfu I made an interesting observation—A sailor having taken up some sea water in a pail, which I had asked for to wash my face and hands, at a time when a cold wind was blowing, I was much surprized to ﬁnd it quite warm, as if it had been taken from a warm spring. I convinced myself that this warmth was diffused over the whole surface of the sea on which we were sailing, and that it was not merely relative, as contrasted with the coldness of the atmosphere, but proceeded from the violent agitation of the waves. The sailor told me, that after a violent storm the seamen preferred bathing amongst the rocks on the coast, because the water was there warmer than in the open sea. This conﬁrmed my observation, that the water is in fact heated by motion and the dashing of the waves, and that this increase of temperature really proceeds from the friction of the water; for soon after a storm, the warmth of the sea water is often three or four degrees above what it is on calm days. This is, however, true only to a certain depth, for below forty-ﬁve feet, the sea is always tranquil, even during the greatest storms, as divers and pearl ﬁshers unanimously agree, an as experiments have pr0ved. I fetched my thermometer, and found the warmth of the atmos here to be twelve degrees and a half (Reaumur), and that of the sea water fourteen and one third, or nearly two degrees more. It is incredible how much the water is heated by the beating of the waves; for when the cold, and violent north wind, call Bora, blows at Trieste, (which we found by experiment to pass over at least forty feet in a second) and according to the laws of evaporation ought to cool the sea, which is in the most violent commotion, we on the contrary ﬁnd the water to be more heated the longer the storm continues. This warmth cannot be communicated to the water from the atmosphere, but is to be ascribed to the friction of the parts of the water against each other, and against the various 0bstacles on the coasts. The saltness of the sea water, and its greater speciﬁc gravity, may likewise tend to increase the friction, and consequently the production of heat. Unfortunately I had not afterwards a favourable opportunity of examining the increase of the warmth of the sea water after a storm, its decrease below the surface, and the relative warmth of the part of the surface further from the sea shore, which had remained less agitated, because such experiments always attract attention in Turkey.
Of course this is all in search of the first written evidence of this word in English — Adriatic peoples must have been using (various languages' version of the term) Bora for many centuries before 1817.
Latin Boreas and Greek Βορέας as the personification of the North Wind are presumably more general as well as earlier. So I wonder when Bora began to be used for the more specific Adriatic phenomenon.
And there's this:
The Buran (Turkish: Boran) is a wind which blows across eastern Asia, specifically Xinjiang, Siberia, and Kazakhstan. Over the tundra, it is also known as Purga.
The Buran takes two forms: in summer, it is a hot, dry wind, whipping up sandstorms; in winter, it is bitterly cold and often accompanied by blizzards. Winter buran winds are strong and full of ice and snow. The sky is often laden with snow, which swirls about and reduces the visibility to near zero at times. In Alaska this severe north-easterly wind is known as Burga and brings snow and ice pellets.
From the Adriatic, through Turkey, to Russia, and on to Alaska! More here.
By the way, the food and atmosphere at Na Burji were both excellent.
Another way to say all this is that we edge back toward enchantment by recovering, in the words of Andrew Greeley, a "Catholic imagination."
Here's how Greeley opens his book The Catholic imagination:
Catholics live in an enchanted world, a world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures. Because these Catholic paraphernalia are mere hints of a deeper and more pervasive sensibility which inclines Catholics to see the Holy lurking in creation. As Catholics, we find our houses and world haunted by a sense that the objects, events, and persons of daily life are revelations of grace.You can make a good argument that disenchantment was the unwitting outcome of Protestantism. Charles Taylor in A Secular Age makes this argument.
For example, one of the impulses of Protestantism was to shift the spiritual load onto the laity. Holiness was no longer to be the occupation of "spiritual specialists," the clergy, monastics and saints. Everyone was expected to be holy. The domain of holiness and saintliness shifted away from monasteries, convents and cathedrals to the town, the realm of work and family life. As we know, there are no saints in Protestantism.
These trends also effectively disenchanted the sacred spaces of Catholicism. There is no clearer example of the disenchantment wrought by Protestantism than comparing a Catholic cathedral to the auditorium where Protestants gather to worship. The cathedral is an enchanted, sacred and holy space. The Protestant auditorium is a disenchanted, utilitarian and functional space.
Beyond people and space, time was also disenchanted by Protestantism. The holy days and seasons of the liturgical calendar of the church was gradually replaced by the time-keeping of the town, the secular clocks and calendars of the marketplace and the nation state.
Finally, the demise of a sacramental ontology was also brought about by the Protestant rejection of the "real presence" of Christ in the Eucharist. The Eucharist became symbolic rather than sacramental, pointing to rather than participating in the life of God.
Things weren't supposed to work out this way. By releasing God into the world the hope was that God would be found everywhere. But the exact opposite happened. By disenchanting people (the saints), space (the cathedral), time (the liturgical calendar) and the Eucharist, Protestantism banished the holy, the sacred and the enchanted.
Basically, when every place is holy no place is holy.
So there is a dialectic here. We need to recover an experience of the immanence of God, an experience of the whole world being charged with the grandeur of God. But in order to cultivate these experiences we must create and experience places, times, people and events as specifically and particularly holy, sacred and enchanted. This is the Catholic imagination.
Edging toward enchantment means cultivating a sacred texture in life, recovering holy time and space. When it comes to hallowing, a disenchanted life is flat and homogeneous. There is no sacred texture.
By contrast, an enchanted life involves cultivating a sacred texture to life, where moments, places and experiences are set aside for wonder, awe, mystery and transcendence.
Enchantment is hallowing, the recovery of a sacred texture to life as witnessed to in the Catholic imagination.
Content notes: mention of (no dwelling, no details) suicidality, self-harm, eating disorders, getting kicked out by your family, sexual assault
Now, will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable to you oh God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
You've probably heard this list of spiritual gifts many times before, but I want to focus on this verse near the end, verse 27 -- "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."
YOU are the Body of Christ.
The 16th-century Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila wrote:
Christ has no body but yours,She is asserting that we are the means by which Christ's ministry of good work in the world continues:
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which [Christ] looksAll the work that Jesus did -- siting at table with people, healing people, blessing people -- we are called to continue that work.
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which [Christ] walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which [Christ] blesses all the world.
Paul is clear that we all have different gifts -- prophecy, teaching, healing, assisting, leading...
But I think that two of the gifts that Teresa of Avila highlights -- looking compassion on the world and blessing the world -- are gifts that we can ALL cultivate.
In her book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor asserts that, “a blessing does not confer holiness. The holiness is already there” (p. 203).
Can we look with compassion on all that is around us and recognize the holiness therein? Can we recognize that holiness in ourselves? She suggests practicing by blessing everyone and everyTHING that you come across -- it doesn't have to hear you, the important part is cultivating a practice in yourself of acknowledging the holy.
"Notice what happens inside you," she writes, "as the blessing goes out of you, toward something that does not deserve it, that may even repel it. If you can bless a stinking dump, surely someone can bless you. (p. 203)
Of course, the Beatitudes we are all so familiar with -- "Blessed are the meek," etc. -- do not merely say, "The meek are holy," they contain promises -- "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Taylor writes, "To pronounce a blessing is to participate in God's own initiative. To pronounce a blessing is to share God's own audacity." (p. 206)
These promises are glimpses of Kindom life, of what the fully redeemed Creation we are all working toward will look like.
Blessed are the sex workers, for they shall know pleasure without obligation.
Blessed are the queer kids kicked out of their homes, for they shall know the deep love of found family.
Blessed are the trans women of color, for they shall know bodies in which they are truly safe and at home.
In the long farewell discourse in the Gospel of John, Jesus is reported to have said, "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these" (12:14).
It's easy to explain this as meaning that the later generations would convert even greater numbers of people or something like that, but I don't think that Jesus was so limited about what great works would entail.
I think that Jesus meant that we who came after would go even farther into radically transforming the world into one of God's delight, one where each and every one of God's children grows up in a community of care, with emotional support and health care and joyful play and meaningful work, with enough resources to comfortably sustain ourselves and those we love.
And we are all, together, the Body of Christ, reaching out our calloused hands and nursing breasts and singing voices, bringing the Kindom of God, little by little, closer to reality here on earth.
And even though we or others might say that we are not really part of the Body, because we are not like other parts of the Body -- we don't look like them, we don't act like them, we don't have their gifts -- Paul asserts:
If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. (vv. 15-16)If someone says: Because you are not heterosexual, you do not belong to the Body...
If you say, Because I am suicidal, I do not belong to the Body...
If someone says: Because you have sex in exchange for drugs, you do not belong to the Body...
If you say, Because I cut and starve myself, I do not belong to the body...
Paul is there to say, no, you have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and you are a new Creation in Christ Jesus. You are God's beloved.
And Paul even goes so far as to point out here that "the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect" (vv. 22-23).
It is precisely those the world seeks to dismiss that God says are most precious.
If we are the Body of Christ, then that means that our bodies are the body of Christ. Our queer, female, Black, brown, disabled, trans, bodies.
Jesus walked the earth as a particular Palestinian Jew read by the culture as male, but the Body of Christ is our body.
Jesus brought something of that consciousness -- of what it is to live our particular embodied experience, our sexuality, our chronic pain, our gender, our sexual assault, our trauma -- to Jesus' time on earth two thousand years ago. In the way that only God can do, Jesus carried the experiences of billions of humans in one body. And in the way that humans are limited, Jesus didn't necessarily always get it right -- we can talk another time about how I'm not in love with Jesus -- but still, however so slightly, something of each of us informed the Jesus we read about in the Gospels.
Paul says in Romans, "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another." (12:4-5)
We are members of one another. We belong to one another. We are responsible to and for one another.
This may mean blessing silently from a distance, this may mean offering the work and kindness of our hands, but whatever it is, it is always embodied, for we are embodied. And Paul's use of the image of the human body to describe the church universal, to describe our union with Christ, reminds us that our bodies are precious gifts from God, deeply beloved by God, and reflected in Jesus Christ. In this broken world, our bodies often fail or frustrate us, but let no one tell you that your body, or what you do with your body, makes you any less precious to the God who created, redeemed, and sustains us.
So asked Michael Rank in the comments section to this post:
"Triple topolectal reprimand" (5/29/16)
That's a very good question.
It's a common expression among Wuhan speakers, a pet phrase for men and women alike, almost as though it were a sort of mantra or dharani. If you ask them what it means, they will probably tell you that they themselves don't know, in which case you might get the impression that it's a modal or expletive without specific semantic content.
In actuality, gè bānmǎ 个斑马 (superficially "a zebra") is short for gè bānmǎ rì dī 个斑马日滴 (superficially "a zebra day drop"), which you will also often hear in Wuhan. As soon as you see / hear that rì 日 (looking like an innocent "day"), you know that you're in the territory of the most foul imprecations that can be uttered in Sinitic.
We must probe more deeply!
First of all, we have to split up gè bānmǎ 个 斑马 into gè bān mǎ 个 斑 马, where bān 斑 does not mean "striped" (like a zebra), but rather is the nasalization of the pretransitive particle bǎ 把. Next, we have to realize that mǎ 马 ("horse") is standing in for mā 妈 ("mother"). Hence, putting it all together, we have gè bǎ mā 个把妈. Now we know for sure we are on dangerous ground, for when Chinese are arguing and start talking about the other person's mother, the trouble is getting very deep.
Note that the Wuhan pet phrase gè bānmǎ 个斑马 gè bǎnmǎ ("a zebra") can also be written in characters as 个板马 ("a plank horse"). This is further evidence that gè bānmǎ 个斑马 has nothing to do with zebras, but is simply a phonetic transcription of gè bǎ mā 个把妈 (measure word [m.w.] + pretransitive marker of the accusative + "[your] mother"). I honestly don't know the exact function of the m.w. gè 个 here, but suspect that it might (in some circumstances) be self-referential. On the other hand, it perhaps more likely implies that "[you are] a motherf*cker"). It all depends on whom we think the implied subject is, the curser or the person who is being cursed.
Next, we have to add in that seemingly innocent, little "day" word — rì 日. Uh-oh! In the expression gè bānmǎ rì dī 个斑马日滴, it really means what it does in the extremely vulgar curse, gǒurì 狗日. That looks like it means "dog days", but really signifies "dog f*ck" (the term for "dog days" in Chinese is sānfú [tiān] 三伏[天], where sānfú 三伏 refers to the three hottest months of summer). An expanded form of gǒurì 狗日 is gǒurìde 狗日的 ("dogf*cker").
Now you're probably wondering how poor, little rì 日 ("day") came to mean "f*ck". In truth, it is standing in for rù 入 ("enter") (cf. the unspeakably vulgar character cào 肏 (graphically = rù + ròu 入 + 肉 ["enter + flesh"]).
rì 日 ("day")
Middle Sinitic reconstructions:
- Wuhan: /ɯ²¹³/
- Cantonese (Jyutping): jat6
- Hakka (Pha̍k-fa-sṳ): ngit
- Min Dong (BUC): nĭk
- Min Nan
rù 入 ("enter")
Middle Sinitic reconstructions:
- Wuhan /y²¹³/
- Cantonese (Jyutping): jap6
- Hakka (Pha̍k-fa-sṳ): ngi̍p
- Min Dong (BUC): ĭk
- Min Nan
All right, that takes care of all the elements in gè bānmǎ rì dī 个斑马日滴 except for dī 滴 ("drop") at the end. This part is rather easy, since it's just standing in for the ubiquitous nominalizer 的. Usually this is pronounced "de", but many people pronounce it "dì", which was its original (before bleaching) pronunciation when it meant "target". Indeed, for the first decade or so while I was learning Mandarin, following some of my teachers and various instructional materials, I pronounced 的 in all of its usages as "dì", not "de". Occasionally that habit of decades ago still comes back to me.
The denizens of Wuhan have a reputation for being rude and foul-mouthed. I'm sure that there must be plenty of polite, elegant, well-spoken individuals in Wuhan, but people from other parts of China — even where swearing is prevalent — are often stunned by the ubiquitousness and creativity of Wuhan profanity.
In comparison to the raw language discussed in this post, the "25 literary Yo Mama jokes" that I just read (on Book Riot, 5/27//16) are incredibly tame.
[Thanks to Wiktionary and this Chinese website]
Building on my piece from yesterday, a great deal of my objection to the idea of having certain speakers on university campuses was rooted in the idea that, given the university's mission as a place where ideas can be debated and discussed, and where those ideas can advance intellectual inquiry, a speaker whose sole motivation was to offend others was not appropriate for a university setting. The response I got, initially on Twitter, but also in other contexts as well, was "well, who are you to judge whether it was intended to offend?" Or "Isn't offense in the eye of the beholder?" To which I have typically responded: "I believe it is possible to infer the intent to offend based on the record of the speaker." In other words, from what was known about Milo, and what was known about his rhetoric, and the substance-free nature of the writing in which that rhetoric was typically contained, it was possible to infer that his sole motivation was to offend a substantial portion of the student population. I would extend that argument to the group that invited him: I think we can infer from their invitation to Milo that their entire motivation was to offend the progressive student groups that they knew would show up to protest the event.
Certainly the fact that Milo's events had been protested in a similar way at other venues suggests that everyone involved knew what the likely outcome was going to be. I'd suggest it was exactly what they were hoping for. But I want to expand the conversation beyond this particular speaker on this particular occasion and ask whether or not we can be permitted to infer the intent to offend, generally speaking.
My point here is not whether we can know that people are, as a matter of fact, likely to be offended by a particular speaker. I'm not suggesting that the mere fact that people could be offended is a reason to bar a particular speaker. On the contrary, as I noted before, I think that speakers of all positions on the left-right spectrum, whose views may happen to offend some portion of the student population, certainly have a place as speakers in a university setting. For example, I believe that a pro-choice speaker should be permitted to speak at a Catholic university, even though many Catholic would be offended by them, because the argument about abortion itself has merit, and having that argument in the midst of university life is part of the mission of the university. Similarly, I believe that a speaker advocating building a Trump-style border wall on the American-Mexican border should be permitted to speak, as that argument is part of the larger debate about immigration reform in the United States. I think in either case, it should be unsurprising if protestors showed up, and as in the case of Milo's event, I think it would be ill-advised if those protestors disrupted the event, but protest is certainly an appropriate response.
My question runs to a more difficult issue: To what degree are we permitted to infer that, when someone says something offensive, they are saying solely to offend, versus saying something for the purpose of advancing an important conversation which just happens to offend? The person advocating for abortion rights may indeed offend pro-life Catholics, but that would be in the context of advocating a point of view about the rights of women over their own bodies. Compare that to a speaker who was invited to a Catholic university for the purpose of trampling on a consecrated communion wafer. The later speaker would clearly have no goal except to offend Catholics, and I think it would be well within the purview of the university to exclude them.
Similarly, in the case of the advocate of the border wall, while their viewpoint would be offensive to many, and certainly to me, as long as it was not couched in an argument that Mexicans are in some way innately inferior human beings, but in say economic terms, then offensive as it would be, it wouldn't be solely offensive. On the other hand, inviting a member of the Aryan Nations to campus would clearly have no other purpose but to inflame anger and cause offense to people of color around campus.
Again, if you know what someone's record of speech and action is, I believe it is entirely possible to infer intent from action, and to infer future intent from past action. We do it all the time. A substantial part of human interaction in every context involves the inference of internal states from external actions. Much of human language is about negotiating the differences between what people say and what they intend. And of course, as imperfect creatures, we often get that wrong. But I would suggest that we get these things wrong most in ambiguous, marginal cases where what is being communicated is unclear, or the connection between external act and internal state appears to conflict. But again, to use the communion wafer example: Someone who came to campus for the express purpose of doing that would leave no ambiguity with regard to their goal of offending.
But then the rejoinder would no doubt be: Well shouldn't people have the right to act in an explicitly offensive manner? On the one hand, in your own home, I suppose you can act as offensively as you want. If you can find people who are willing to pay for you to be offensive, you can take the show on the road. If you set up your soap box in a public park, you can be as offensive as you please as long as you obey park rules. But that's not what a university exists to promote. If you are offensive because you are presenting controversial ideas that are otherwise of worth in advancing the intellectual mission of the school, then a university can and should permit that to take place. But no one has a right to be offensive in the context of a university setting, even when presenting controversial ideas. To put it another way: If someone is presenting an idea I disagree with, then it is not a refutation of their idea for me simply to say that I find it offensive. However, if a person is acting in such a way that they are advancing no real idea, but simply trying to get a rise out of me, then to respond by saying "You are simply being offensive" is indeed a refutation. It's saying, effectively, "You are not advocating an idea that is capable of response or rejoinder, but simply trying to be offensive for offensiveness's sake."
Take the communion wafer example again. Let's give the example some detail. Suppose I were to invite a member of the Church of Satan to campus to advocate for the idea that religion was false, that would be an acceptable speaker for a university setting, even a Catholic university setting. But if, as an illustration of his contempt for religion, he pulled out a communion wafer and trampled on it, that would cross the line to pure offense. It is entirely possible to make the anti-religion argument without the offensive act. And making that argument may indeed offend some people. The simple fact that the speaker is from the Church of Satan may offend some people. But those things are offensive in the context of advancing a conversation that is part of the university's mission. The trampling of the communion wafer, on the other hand, is not.
To push it a step further. If we knew that the particular speaker was in the habit of coming to campuses in order to trample communion wafers, then I would argue that it would be perfectly acceptable to say that the speaker was not welcome, because we, once more, can infer his intent to offend based upon what we know he had done in the past.
Next question: suppose our communion-trampler somehow bypassed the university administration and got invited anyway. When word got out, a group of Catholic students decided to protest the speaker, and what's more, some of them decided that they were going to interfere with the speakers act of wafer-trampling. What would we say about their actions? I honestly am not 100% sure. Would the university president have apologized to the member of the Church of Satan if those students succeeded in shutting down the event? I don't know. What I do know is that the problem started when the decision was made to invite the speaker who was known for committing such an act.
As I've argued elsewhere, given the substance-free nature of Milo's offensive rhetoric, and given the demonstrated tendency of his followers to respond to his opponents via intimidation, I believe that the original sin in this entire drama was the decision to allow him to speak at DePaul in the first place. I think it was entirely possible to infer his intent to offend based upon his past actions, and that those actions gave a good indication of what was likely to happen.
What university policies should exist to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future? I admit I am not sure. Where should the precise boundary be between acceptable and unacceptable speakers? I'm not sure about that either. I'm not even 100% sure that Milo fell on the wrong side of that line, though as I've argued, I have a strong suspicion that he does. But I do think that ultimately we should recognize that not every speaker is acceptable in the context of a university, and determining which are, and which aren't, is part of the university's mission.
One of the most annoying things about being in China is that people will cut in front of you in lines when you're waiting for a bus, to buy a train ticket, or whatever. If you wish to achieve your aim, sooner or later you learn that you have to take defensive / offensive measures (I learned to spread my legs wide and put my elbows out). I also realized that it would help if I called the queue cutters out — loudly — in Mandarin. But what if the queue cutter pretends that he / she doesn't understand Mandarin? Watch:
(The video is also available here with a voice-over explanation.)
The foreign man speaks to two Chinese women in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), Wuhan topolect, and Dongbei (Northeastern) topolect. Here's a transcription of the dialog between the foreign man and two Chinese women. Because there are no conventions for writing Wuhan and Northeastern topolects in romanization (at least not that I am aware of), and also because I do not know their pronunciation that well, I am transcribing all three versions in Hanyu Pinyin:
Man (speaks good Mandarin): Qǐng dào hòumiàn pái xià duì hǎo ma? Nǐ hǎo nǐ hǎo, máfan qǐng dào hòumiàn pái xià duì hǎo ma?
Woman 1 (speaks Wuhan topolect): Gè bānmǎ shuō de me sī, láozī tīng dōu tīng bù dǒng.
Man (speaks Wuhan topolect): Ní'áng mò chāduì, dào hòutou páiduì kè (qù). Lēi áng (zhèyàng) tīng dé dǒng me?
Woman 2 (speaks Northeastern topolect): Gàn hā? Nǐ nǎ zhī yǎnjīng kàn dào wǒ chāduìle? Shì bùshì yǒu máobìng?
Man (speaks Northeastern topolect): Nǐ shuō gàn shà ne! Nǐyā chāduì hái yǒulǐ le? Yào bù ràng dàhuǒ píng gè lǐ?
Woman 2 (speaks Northeastern topolect): Shì bùshì yǒu máobìng? Bù qī (chī) la! Bù qī le! Zǒu zǒu zǒu! Wúyǔle hǎo ba!
Man (speaks Northeastern topolect): Qiáo nǐ nà sǔnsāi (sai)!
Man: 请到后面排下队好吗? 你好你好, 麻烦请到后面排下队好吗?
Woman 1:个斑马说的么司, 劳资*听都听不懂.
Man: 尼昂莫插队, 到后头排队克(去). 勒昂(这样)听得懂么?
Woman 2: 干哈? 你哪只眼睛看到我插队了? 是不是有毛病?
Man: 你说干啥呢! 你丫插队还有理了? 要不让大伙评个理?
Woman 2: 是不是有毛病？不七(吃)啦! 不七了! 走走走! 无语了好吧!
*láozī 劳资 (lit., "labor and capital"), but here being used for its sound to stand for lǎozi 老子 ("[your] old man = I")
Man: Please go to the back of the queue and line up there, all right? Hello, hello. [May I] trouble [you] to please go to the back of the queue and line up there, all right?
Woman 1: What's this zebra talking about? Daddy doesn't understand what he's talking about.
Man: Laydee, don't cut in line. Scram back to the end of the line. Do you understand me this way?
Woman 2: What['re you talking about]? Which of your eyes saw me jump the queue? Is something wrong [with you]?
Man: What are YOU talking about? Ya cut in line and yet ya want to reason with me about it. Do you want everybody [here] to decide who is making more sense?
Woman 2: Is something wrong [with you]? I'm not gonna eat / take it anymore! I'm not gonna take it anymore! Let's get out of here! Let's go! Not gonna talk to him any longer!
Man: Just look at your miserable self!
I can't guarantee that I captured all the nuances of the Wuhan and Northeastern parts.
A speaker of Sichuanese comments:
The Wuhan topolect is not quite intelligible to me without the voice-over explanation and subtitles, mainly because the tones are greatly different from my native topolect. From what little I have perceived in the video, it seems that Wuhan topolect tends to prolong the pronunciation of the last word in the sentence,
The female: 听不懂 ting bu dong~~~~
The male: 排个队 pai ge dei~~~~
As for Mandarin and Dongbei topolect, they are quite familiar to me because they are widely used and presented in mass media. And they do not much differ from each other, except for some idiomatic usages, for example "你丫 ni ya" in the Dongbei topolect.
The inimitable Charles Liu has an article about this in The Nanfang:
"Foreigner Yells at Person Cutting in Line In Three Chinese Dialects: The only thing missing was a mic drop".
It turns out that this short video may not have been entirely spontaneous. Apparently the three students wanted to use it as a public service ad to encourage people to stand in line, but it became viral and controversial when it was put online.
[h.t. Ben Zimmer; thanks to Fangyi Cheng and Yixue Yang]