Category: Arts

Chirrut Îmwe

The newest Star Wars film, ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,’ has enjoyed a box office success of more than $700 million since its release and generally positive reviews from fans and critics alike. The film series has a mythic quality for many, offering stories of heroism, betrayal, virtue, pride, and even spirituality.

At First Things this week, Marc Barnes offers a decent analysis of the different developments of how the Force in particular — the main religious element of the films — is depicted throughout the different Star Wars movies. He’s particularly critical of the prequel trilogy for their “secularization of the Force,” offering a naturalistic explanation (the much-maligned “midi-chlorians”) and treating it like technology or magic.

By contrast, he praises the new films, especially Rogue One, for restoring religious reverence the Force: “If the prequels scooped the sacred from the Force by biologizing and technologizing it, Rogue One returns it by spiritualizing and refusing to use the Force.”

All this has merit, but I actually thought that Rogue One in particular represents a third depiction of the Force, in some ways equally contradictory to the original trilogy or Episode VII. (more…)

Useful idiots for collectivism posing as French intellectuals -- Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone Beauvoir entertain the butcher Ernesto "Che" Guevara in 1960.

In his novel The Age of Longing, Arthur Koestler skewers many so-called French intellectuals as useful idiots for collectivism, including presumably Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone Beauvoir shown above entertaining the butcher Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1960.


Don’t retire this book! Although Arthur Koestler’s The Age of Longing was published in 1951 – officially making it 65 this year – it’s far too invigoratingly fresh to remove from the anti-Marxist workforce. In fact, the message delivered by Koestler in this novel couldn’t be more relevant than in our contemporary political environment.

Koestler’s penultimate endeavor in literary fiction and the final entry in his quartet of political novels on the inherent dangers of collectivism, The Age of Longing revisits the religious theme prevalent in the author’s first novel, The Gladiators, but subdued or nonexistent in Darkness at Noon and Arrival and Departure. A fifth novel, 1946’s Thieves in the Night, details the political landscape of post-World War II Palestine, which falls outside the convenient rubric of the present conversation – as does The Call Girls, a novel he wrote and published 22 years after The Age of Longing.

Compared to his previous novels and works of journalism, The Age of Longing received short-shrift upon its publication. Since then, it has been granted only brief critical consideration – if at all, considering it’s the only Koestler novel not granted its own Wikipedia entry. This is unfortunate, as this novel-of-ideas is a corker, positing the only salvation of humanity from the allure of collectivism is religious faith. (more…)


When most literature students are asked about literature inspired by World War I, they typically respond with such names as Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Richard Aldington. As well, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound are included by extension as both “The Waste Land” and “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” are largely informed by the 1914 to 1918 conflagration.

Largely forgotten is David Jones, a writer of many sensibilities that are all synthesized and informed by his Roman Catholicism. In Parenthesis, Jones’ World War I “poem,” was begun in 1928 and published in 1937. One of Geoffrey Faber’s editors, the aforementioned Eliot, was instrumental in the work’s initial publication, and even wrote a brief introduction to the book-length manuscript. Not only was the Anglican Eliot an admirer of In Parenthesis, no less another poet who wrote devoutly Christian poetry, W.H. Auden, declared Jones’ book the best long poem written in English of the twentieth century. Your writer concurs with full knowledge he’s in no league to challenge either Eliot or Auden in any event, but he senses the poems’ larger themes resonate in our current milieu of heated rhetoric and other forms of violence. Further, the poem prescribes religious faith as a tonic for the ails of the world whether past, present or future.

The enduring quality of Jones’ body of work was reinforced earlier this year by the Welsh National Opera, which commissioned composer Iain Bell to transform the poem into an opera. The opera commemorates the centennial of the Battle of the Somme. That battle and, specifically, the fate of the 38th Division comprised of Welsh Royal Fusiliers at the Battle of Mametz Wood are the focus of In Parenthesis. Of the 670 members of the 38th Division in which Jones actually served, an estimated 400 were killed or wounded during the battle. Writing in the modernist style of combined prose and verse, Jones recounted the Welsh and British dead:

And here and there and huddled over, death-halsed to these, a Picton-five-feet-four paragon of the Line, from Newcastle Emlyn or Talgarth in Brycheiniog, lying disordered like discarded garments or crumpled chin to shin-bone like a Lambourne find.

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On November 3rd, Acton welcomed Victoria C. G. Coates, cultural historian and Ph.D, to talk about her argument that democracy has had a unique capacity to inspire some of the greatest artistic achievements of western civilization. She lays out this thesis in her latest book, David’s Sling: A History of Democracy in Ten Works of Art. In her Acton Lecture Series address, Coates takes as her case studies Michelangelo’s “David” and Albert Bierstadt’s “Rocky Mountains: Lander’s Peak“, describing the roles each played in their respective civilizations as well as the underlying political meanings of each piece.

You can watch Victoria Coates’ lecture via the video player below.

Michael Hamburger, a Jew born in Germany and exiled in England in 1933, borrowed the persona of the previous century’s German Romantic poet Friedrich Holderlin to express in verse the madness of the modern world. For Hamburger, Holderlin’s well-documented … shall we approach this delicately? … mental issues, were a proportional response to a world he perceived as approaching the precipice. In his 1941 poem titled “Holderlin,” Hamburger wrote:

I have no tears to mourn forsaken gods
Or my lost voice.
This is my wisdom where no laughter sounds,
No sighs, this is my peace.

Glory is gone, and the swimming clouds;
My dumb hand grips the frozen sky,
A black bare tree in the winter dark.

For truly observant Roman Catholics, the contemporary milieu echoes Hamburger’s lament vis-a-vis Holderlin about “forsaken gods,” or, at the very least, forgotten or casually ignored for convenience’s sake Church history, doctrine, dogma and precepts.

Zmirak

Overtly, one need look no further than recent WikiLeaks’ revelations concerning John Podesta and company’s desire for a “Catholic spring;” the Affordable Care Act’s attempted bulldozing of religious liberties; the media and its “green” allies embracement of many of the pronouncements found in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si encyclical; government compulsion of florists and pastry chefs to violate their respective religious conscience; the tragic abortion morass wrought by the Supreme Court’s discovery of an unknown until 1973 penumbra of privacy in the U.S. Constitution; and the combined deleterious effects on the family unit caused by the twinning of the sexual revolution with no-fault divorce.

Less obvious are efforts within the Church itself, which include nuns, laity and clergy promoting government wealth-redistribution efforts under the guise of charity as well as engaging in ill-informed “environmental” activism that pose very real negative threats to the world’s poorest – and consistently contradict the Church’s explicit teachings on such matters. As your writer can attest, post-Vatican II Catholic school education did little to inform its students about the Deposit of the Faith due to focusing on such “social goods” as economic equality and using pop music lyrics to advance squishy theological concepts that tilted heavily toward socialism and pantheism. One need only close one’s eyes to recall the wheat-germ scented nuns of the 1970s agitating for more government programs.

It’s all enough to make someone stand athwart Christian history, yelling Stop! – and that someone is John Zmirak, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide® to Catholicism: The Most Politically Incorrect Institution in the World! (Regnery Publishing, 2016, 370 pp, $21.99). Those of us familiar with Zmirak’s other books and essays shouldn’t be surprised he wields a mighty pen and encyclopedic knowledge of Catholicism and many other topics when it comes to demolishing liberal shibboleths and the agendas to which they’re attached. (more…)

Today at The Federalist, Acton associate editor Sarah Stanley penned an article profiling an artist from North Korea who goes by the name of Sun Mu. This profile is inspired by a recent documentary that highlights the life of the artist. Sun Mu defected from the oppressive state in the late 1990s and since then has been creating art that depicts the story of his life in North Korea.  In order to protect his family, Sun Mu can’t use his real name.  Stanley explains:

The most extraordinary thing about him is that the audience for his art mostly doesn’t know what he looks like, or what his real name is. Sun Mu still has family in North Korea, so he never shows his face in public. His real identity is a closely guarded secret. He insists hiding in plain sight is not a form of thrill-seeking. He puts himself in real danger simply because he was “destined” to become Sun Mu (a phrase meaning “no boundaries”).

When Sun Mu first defected from North Korea he made his way to China where he was first exposed to a society other than the tyrannical state of his home country. Stanley explains his experience:

The most surprising thing he noticed when he arrived in China was the lights. “The glittering lights,” Sun Mu says. “Plastic bags blowing in the winds. Is this rotten capitalism? Is this the rotten capitalism the North has been talking about? Why are so many lights on?” He even began to wonder if he was hallucinating. There couldn’t be that many working lights glittering all over. For at least a decade after he defected, he continued to believe the lies perpetuated by Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong Il, propaganda that said capitalism made other countries worse.

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virtual-choir-whitacre-water-nightThe rise of globalization and the expansion of trade are continuously decried for their disruptive effects, particularly as they apply to “authentic community.”

Indeed, our strides in global connectedness have often come at a local cost, with the small and familiar being routinely replaced by the big and blurry, the intimate with the superficial, and so on. The shift is real and widespread, but it needn’t be the framework of the future.

Disruption is sure to continue as collaboration expands and innovation accelerates around the globe. But while we’re right to be cautious of the merits of such change, we mustn’t forget the opportunities it presents, not just for our economy or personal wellbeing, but for community itself.

Examples of these fruits abound and surround us, from trade to technology to niche hobbies to global missions and so forth, but I was reminded of it recently while watching a “virtual choir” performance by Eric Whitacre, the famous composer and conductor.

Known best for his choral works, Whitacre continues to leverage the technological tools of globalization to gather singers from around the world, each submitting an individual video to contribute to a massive global choir. (more…)