So what makes Lana the most effective advertisement for heterosexuality since, well, the cigarette? Her secret is simple. She doesn’t take heterosexuality for granted. Where other female pop stars lean back and assume a de facto straightness, Lana leans into her straightness so hard that she makes it seem tempting, even to her non-straight listeners. While other pop stars simply celebrate heterosexuality, Lana describes it in such alluring detail that even the most devoted disciple of Sappho might want to give it a whirl.

By making heterosexuality as marked as homosexuality, Lana explains straightness to me in a language that I can understand. She makes explicit all of its hidden wonders; she teaches them to me, song after song, video after video. She makes heterosexuality as hypervisible as my own sexuality and, in so doing, opens up the possibility of mutual understanding between us. No one tries as hard as she does to convince me that men are handsome, that sex is delicious, and that fast cars are the best place to experience both of them.

Samantha Allen, “Lana Del Rey Makes Me Wish I Were Straight”

Lana appeals to me chiefly for aesthetic reasons, but maybe there’s something to Allen’s argument from a hetero-male perspective. Maybe straight dudes like myself and others I know are drawn to LDR in part because she makes us feel so wanted. Indispensable even. From this vantage, her music might be viewed as a tonic for us, a counterpoint, in this moment of Western cultural history when the rhetorical guns have been turned on men. (To be sure, I’m emphatically *not* crying persecution or victimhood. But, these days, “You’re a straight male!” often passes as legitimate criticism, when life is far too complicated for that kind of glib, blanket, unsophisticated thinking.)

Lana doesn’t concern herself with ideology, which can have a flattening effect on art. She’s not interested in rooting out entrenched patriarchal power structures and the like. She’s too in the moment for abstractions. Her world is white hot emotion, old fashioned devotion meets pulsating desire, the unruly inner storm stirred up by love and lust. What results is compelling art - the kind of art that can bewitch lesbians, straight males, and others for many reasons, one of which is the bracing and even reassuring “raw heterosexuality” on display. Fascinating stuff. I highly recommend Allen’s article.


Mont-Saint-Michel, as captured by Maciek Nabrdalik for Smithsonian Magazine.  This is the kind of beauty that stills the soul and fires the imagination. Follow the link to see the full slideshow. The low-tide shots are wondrous as well.
Mont-Saint-Michel, as captured by Maciek Nabrdalik for Smithsonian Magazine
This is the kind of beauty that stills the soul and fires the imagination. Follow the link to see the full slideshow. The low-tide shots are wondrous as well.

Camus famously said that “Meursault is the only Christ that we deserve”—a complicated statement for an avowed atheist. But Camus, of course, was more complex in his atheism than we might commonly expect: he was an atheist in reaction to, and in the shadow of, a Catholicism osmotically imbued in the culture (of the French certainly, but of the pieds noirs in particular). The inescapable result is that his atheism is in constant dialogue with religion; in L’Étranger no less than in, say, La Peste.

Sandra Smith has, in her admirable translation, plucked carefully upon this thread in the novel, so that Anglophone readers might better grasp Camus’s allusions. Here is but one key example: the novel’s last line, in French, begins “Pour que tout soit consommé,…” which Ward translates, literally, as “For everything to be consummated.” But as Smith points out, the French carries “an echo of the last words of Jesus on the Cross: ‘Tout est consommé.’” Her chosen rendition, then, is “So that it might be finished,” a formulation that echoes Christ’s last words in the King James translation of the Bible.

In a better world, “The Way Love Used to Be” would rank alongside “You Really Got Me”, “Waterloo Sunset”, and “Lola” as one of the Kinks’ crowning achievements. Actually, it does reside in that rarefied space - just not according to your average listicle on the subject or the band’s “greatest hits”. “The Way Love Used to Be” is a ghost classic mainly due to its undistinguished release history, appearing first on the soundtrack to Percy, a 1971 British comedy about "the world’s first penis transplant", and then two years later on The Great Lost Kinks Album, an odds-and-ends collection that was discontinued in 1975 after Ray Davies initiated legal measures against Reprise Records. What circumstance (or otherwise) has cheated listeners of is a gorgeous chrome-hued elegy from one of pop music’s high priests of nostalgia. Against a plaintive guitar, downcast piano, and swelling strings, Davies delicately articulates a vision of innocence: escaping the bustle of modern city life (“the mad rushing crowd”) to a misty locale where he and his companion can merely discuss how love was once understood and practiced. The whole affair is steeped in dignified melancholy and romanticism. In other words, “The Way Love Used to Be” is a very British creation. But it ain’t rock ‘n’ roll. It ain’t *the Sixties* (or early ’70s, as it were). Here and elsewhere, the Kinks defied the tastes and tendencies of the counterculture and the mainstream orthodoxy that followed. They forged their own path.


Yes, Marc Bolan and Sigourney Weaver do look alike.

Few things are more tiresome to me than the educated Left’s ceaseless policing of the symbolic/discursive realm (e.g., politically incorrect Google Doodles), in what might charitably be described as the naive belief that consciousness-raising promotes justice, which by now we ought to know it doesn’t. Those of us who have been trained to manipulate symbols and language tend to overrate their importance, but at this point in history there’s no excuse for such overrating.

On a less charitable reading, people like policing symbols and discourses because you can do it from your computer without ever lifting a finger, or paying a cent, to alter the structural injustice that perpetuates the favelas. Signaling your outrage on Twitter does absolutely nothing to help anybody. Getting Google to take down their Doodle is a pathetic parody of a moral victory.

Meanwhile the rich keep getting richer and the poor poorer. Families and communities around the world are under assault by malicious forces. The favelas in Brazil receive no relief, and children keep getting shot in Chicago, and Wall Street (i.e., international capitalism) proceeds from strength to strength in sublime indifference to it all. If we’re going to choke on our own outrage, there are plenty of reasons. Google Doodles are not among them.

Alan Jacobs

Amen, ayjay, amen.

On a related but more general note:

Mass outrage culture is among the most toxic byproducts of the Internet age. It’s THE WORST! It promotes a way of processing news and reacting to the world that’s the very opposite of mature and responsible. It encourages participants to be tribal, unreflective, intemperate, and performative. It inculcates a sense of victimhood that makes a mockery of true injustice and hardship. And, as Jacobs notes, the amount of actual positive change that this kind of diffuse armchair activism facilitates is negligible to nonexistent. The end result is usually little more than fleeting self-satisfaction (*on to the next firestorm*) and cheap catharsis. It’s all very unhealthy and, one hopes, unsustainable.

Am I meant for this world?”

She showed off a recent tattoo on her right arm: “Whitman Nabokov,” two authors she has quoted in songs.

"I’m scared to die, but I want to die.

NYT: "Lana Del Rey Still Stirs Things Up With ‘Ultraviolence’"

By any reasonable standard, this is cringeworthy material. LDR comes off as an exceedingly boring cliche: a morose navel-gazer. And her tormented self-inquiry takes the most obvious forms. "Am I meant for this world?" Please. Her attraction to death? A well-traveled trope. And this is to say nothing of that silly tattoo, which is vulnerable to an entirely separate line of criticism. Was Lana so eager to burnish her intellectual cred that she had to artlessly cram the names of two authors into one patch of ink? It screams poseur. It screams desperation. 

And yet, I’m onboard with all of it. Why? For two reasons. First, this weepy, tortured persona is very cinematic and pulpy, and one can safely surmise that it’s helped to cultivate LDR’s sonic aesthetic - retro, noirish, midnight torch balladry - which is so fresh and different compared to everything else in mainstream music at the moment. That alone is a cause for celebration. Second, this is the kind of persona that thrives on drama. And that drama can often be channeled into better and better songwriting. It’s something like the Kanye rule. Be volatile, say things or maintain a presence that will elicit a reaction, and then react yourself (i.e., record an album). In the case of Ye, the results speak for themselves. Now, not everyone can pull this off, but I wouldn’t bet against LDR.  

Final note: "Brooklyn Baby" rules so hard.

Which is why the most theologically cogent view of hell found in classical Christianity maintains that it is the state of mind (or soul) of someone who is alienated from God. Living a life that is out of harmony with God is painful, and to die and be confronted so decisively with the error of your ways — to be made to see that you made a wreck of your life by separating yourself from God, and to have to learn to shatter your pride by reforming yourself in his divine presence — is, one imagines, excruciating. But it is intrinsically painful, not externally imposed by torturers in some fire-and-brimstone-filled dungeon.

Or in the words of theologian David Bentley Hart, “What we call hell is nothing but the rage and remorse of the soul that will not yield itself to love.” In refusing to “open itself to the mercy and glory of God, the wrathful soul experiences the transfiguring and deifying fire of love not as bliss but as chastisement and despair.”

This is what hell must be if God is truly good.

Damon Linker, “What Christians get wrong about hell”

Setting aside Linker’s apparent nod to universalism (“shatter your pride by reforming yourself in his divine presence”), I find myself drifting more and more toward schools of thought like this one or annihilationism. Why? For several reasons. First, the Scriptures are far from definitive on the particulars of hell. Second, God can remain a God of perfect justice without inflicting eternal conscious torment on unbelievers. But can He remain a God of love and goodness if the opposite is true? The appeal to mystery doesn’t strike me as adequate in this case. Lastly, death - and the unending separation that follows - would seem to be a more-than-just punishment on its own.

Over the past few months, I’ve posted a number of video clips from The Madness of Sincerity, a BBC documentary about Camus. Alas, the well (of excerpts) recently ran dry, forcing me to watch the program in its original form, front to back, which I did last night. While the piecemeal approach was beneficial because I could zero in on specific ideas and themes for elaboration, I missed significant chunks of material by going this route, including sections on Camus’ retreat from public life over the Algerian question, his return to the theater with The Possessed, Camus the father, The First Man, and more.

Of particular note: I wasn’t aware of the strained relationship between Camus and his son, Jean. It’s a very compelling part of the film. Jean reveals that, even as the sense of alienation lingered, he came to understand his father in a much richer light by reading The Stranger et al for the first time several years after the elder Camus’ death. Discoveries: This man of letters loved soccer. This flawed father had a sensitive heart. Both of Camus’ children provide unique insights.

Overall, this is recommended viewing, despite the scope of the film’s inquiry being somewhat limited. (The running time is under 90 minutes.) Through old audio and video footage of Camus and interviews with family members, love interests, professional associates, and authors, a reasonably detailed portrait crystallizes: who Camus was, how his worldview originated and evolved, the meaning behind his major works. Crucially, a recognizable flesh-and-blood human being is present, not some impossible plaster saint or, to borrow the words of Camus’ daughter, Catherine, “a sort of myth set in stone.” Camus the icon was first Camus the man.


“He flipped his camper on a California highway in 1964; crashed June Carter’s Cadillac into a Nashville telephone poll in 1965, leaving several teeth at the scene; drove a tractor off a cliff and into a frigid lake in 1967; and incinerated a Mercedes in 1982 after mindlessly spinning his wheels in a ditch ignited the grass beneath. When he hallucinated a Murphy bed in his English hotel room, he tore apart a wooden wall with his bare hands to get to it. He torched 508 acres of the Los Padres National Forest, killing 49 of the area’s 53 condors and nearly killing himself, too. As he defiantly explained in court, “I don’t care about your damn yellow buzzards.” The birds exacted their revenge in 1983, when Cash squared off with an ostrich on a sylvan stroll. The creature slashed him down the middle and broke five of the singer’s ribs.”

Daniel J. Flynn, “The Christian Man in Black”

Rock ‘n’ roll can be a violent endeavor.