I’m helping to lead a study abroad trip in Rome for the next couple of weeks, so the Water Dipper will be on hiatus. But I plan to return at the end of January.
“Wendell Berry Book Club.” Ashley Colby is convening an online book club to discuss Berry’s Need to Be Whole. Lots of people have signed up, so she’s organizing several groups of 10-15 people who want to meet once a month and talk about a chapter from that book. I’m looking forward to these discussions.
“Why Future Generations Will Celebrate Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.” Michael Brendan Dougherty articulates some of the features of Benedict’s legacy, focusing on his theological and philosophical contributions and his critique of reason cut off from transcendence: “This impoverished vision of reason robs men of not just their faith, but also philosophy and the speculative power that dignifies man from other creatures. In this lecture and in other homilies given during a visit to the United Kingdom, Benedict was outlining his response to what he saw as the ‘dictatorship of relativism,’ where a pervasive skepticism robbed life of all grounded meaning and left the human person marooned and vulnerable to the tyranny of ‘one’s own ego and desires.’”
“Happy New Year, 1991!” Nadya Williams reflects on time and memory at this turning of the year and recalls her last months in Russia with her family before they fled the collapsing Soviet Union: “life is so often this way—we do not know when a farewell is complete and final, rather than just a see-you-later.”
“Living Outside of Time.” Gary Saul Morson on Eugene Vodolazkin is not to be missed. Morson discusses all of Vodolazkin’s novels, focusing on his explorations of time: “For Vodolazkin, utopianism characterizes ‘the modern mind,’ which misunderstands the relation of human life to time and history. Because utopian thinking places the highest value on the remote future, Bakhtin explained, the near future of the present moment ‘is drained and bled of its substance.’ What’s more, the myth of inevitable progress, Vodolazkin writes in his essay ‘At Lenin’s Tomb,’ substitutes the calendar for real thinking.”
“What Makes Poetry Christian?” Andrew Frisardi reviews the anthology recently published by Micah Mattix and Sally Thomas and considers that hard questions that all editors of anthologies face: “Micah Mattix and Sally Thomas’s editorial choices cover a lot of ground. In terms of poetic technique, about half of the poems are free verse and half metrical, with and without rhyme, by poets whose voices are alternately skeptical, comic, visceral, visionary, chatty, or devotional. With superb biographical and critical prefaces placed before each poet’s work, the anthology provides a substantial introduction to contemporary Christian poetry in America, as well as food for thought and multiple models for where such poetry might go in the future.”
“The Rise and Fall of Peer Review.” Adam Mastroianni argues that peer review constitutes a failed experiment: “Here’s a simple question: does peer review actually do the thing it’s supposed to do? Does it catch bad research and prevent it from being published? It doesn’t.”
“Why Society Still Needs the Family.” Mary Harrington reviews Sophie Lewis’s Abolish the Family and isn’t convinced: “It’s subtitled A Manifesto for Care and Liberation. But the reality is that wanting both care and liberation is a bit like wanting somewhere to be both a nature reserve and a golf course. It’s no coincidence that the modern world sincerely believes we can have both; we can, somehow, have all the good things at once, with no contradictions.” (Recommended by Martin Schell.)
“The Hopeful Dystopian.” Christian Lorentzen writes about the continued appeal of Christopher Lasch’s vision: “His is a vision not of heroes and villains, nor of friends and enemies, but of a system that has, through accumulating unintended consequences, atomized the citizenry, undermined the idea of “the common life,” and rendered the world instead “a war of all against all.” Given that the first priority of anyone who finds themselves in such a world will be survival, Lasch’s works have the same appeal as classics of dystopian literature.”
“How to Save Britain’s Pig Farms.” John Lewis-Stempel details the state of UK pork and pulls no punches: “The treatment of pigs is the pig industry’s real problem, not today’s high grain prices, or the long-term reluctance of supermarkets to pay a fair price or even the numberless failed government promises of aid.”
“A Masterpiece Novel That Should Be an Instant Classic.” Jessica Hooten Wilson reviews a new translation of a classic nineteenth-century Italian novel: “Although written in the nineteenth century, The Betrothed poses as a retelling of a seventeenth-century manuscript, recording a true story that occurred during this historical period. The novel becomes an emblem of Italian identity, the first work of such magnitude in the Italian language. Now in a beautiful translation for English readers, the novel compels us to answer questions about how to be virtuous in our own time and place.”
“2022 Congressional Stock Trading Report.” Unusual Whales is out with its yearly report on congressional stock trading, and once again, members of congress dramatically outperformed the S&P 500. There seems to be some growing consensus behind a trading ban, but the practice remains legal—and lucrative.