I finished Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life/An Antidote to Chaos. I’m not big on self-help books, normally, but I like listening to Peterson’s debates and interviews, and I especially liked the series he did on old testament stories. I actually downloaded the transcripts of those and pored over them. Very insightful. In fact, I came away with a better understanding of Genesis than I had from many years of going over and over the text. I hoped 12 Rules would go into those stories more. They didn’t, but it was a good read anyway. Don’t think of it as a self-help book, think of it as a very literate and engaging reinforcement of the heaven/hell paradigm. We’re either becoming better or becoming worse, there’s no in-between.
I may have mentioned in an earlier post that the family dog, Dewey, gave me a whole bunch of books for Christmas. I used to call him “Dewey the Dog.” Now I call him “Dewey the Literate Dog.” One of Dewey’s books was I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, by Rene Girard. For some reason I’ve seen repeated references to Girard’s work, in recent months, and so had let slip to Dewey’s administrative help that I might be open to dipping into Girard.
I started this book just a few days ago, in fact I’ve not gotten much past the excellent foreword by James G. Williams. Williams summarizes Girard’s thesis in FAQ format. The first identifies the chief characteristic of human beings as mimetic desire. We learn to desire what our models in life desire, both good and bad. Desiring what is bad leads to conflict and violence. According to Girard, the Tenth Commandment (“Thou shalt not covet . . .”) addresses this central characteristic of people. The title of Girard’s book, btw, is from Luke 10:18, a somewhat enigmatic utterance of Jesus when the Disciples reported back to Him their ability to use the spiritual authority Jesus had delegated to them.
Speaking of Satan, here’s a follow-up to that most unpopular of topics, H E double-hockey sticks Hell. I blogged on this here, citing among other things a review of The Penguin Book of Hell. That book is mentioned in an article in the current New Yorker: How the Idea of Hell Has Shaped the Way We Think, by Vinson Cunningham. He takes a look at some historical views of what hell really means, and ends with inconclusive (and irrelevant, in my view) observations about how certain liberal nostrums are frustrated, therefore hell or something like it awaits those of us with a conservative point of view. I suppose the point is that we constructed hell in order to be assured that bad people would eventually get their due; if not in this life, then in the next.
With Girard’s book, I’m excited to get back into serious reading. I took a break, of sorts, to indulge in Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, and then the next book in his series, Streets of Laredo. The first is about loneliness, in my view, but it’s mainly a read for fun. I don’t point to grand Meaning in the second, but it also was a good read.
Let’s move on to The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a Coen brothers’ movie on Netflix. I’m a Coen brothers fan, and I would rank this among the best, right up there with O Brother Where Art Thou and Fargo and Blood Simple and True Grit. Buster Scruggs is a series of six shorts, but they work together in a progression, like a good collection of short stories ought to do. Molly Brigid McGrath nails it, in her review of the movie:
Someone seeing the world through culture-war-colored glasses will miss the unpolitical theme of the film—death—and will also miss its political upshot: the importance of poems, speeches, songs, and stories in helping us to approach mortality better, and to approach immortality, too, by extending the meaning of our lives beyond our lives. It is a thoughtful, funny, and exquisitely crafted film.
* * *
Not only an anthology of “tales of the American Frontier,” the film is about how stories orient us as we try to make sense of life as a frontier that is bordered by death, that “undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveller returns.” Our ignorance about what death is—and about its how and when, for us personally—means that stories help us as we each inch toward our end. That seems the Coens’ underlying point.
You should read the whole review, and of course see the movie.
One more item. I recently read a blog post by a woman who wondered in print how she could, in good feminist conscience, actually like men. Unfortunately I didn’t retain the post because it was kind of light, and I didn’t get the real significance until I thought about it later. The author seemed entirely unaware of her unacknowledged assumption that feminists should dislike men. What do you think?