LONDON, ONTARIO – At this squalid juncture in our cultural decline when it’s way too dangerous to let anyone host the Oscars because they might actually say something, and when a venomously narcissistic twit named Jussie Smollett has clearly won every acting award of any contemporary significance anyway (“an arresting performance,” declared the Chicago Police Department), let me acknowledge an acting milestone of considerably more value to the world and infinitely more interest to me. This week Hermaneutics pays tribute to the outstanding career of the great British stage and film actor, Albert Finney (1936–2019) whose death earlier this month at the age of 82 provoked way too little commemoration and reflection.
LONDON, ONTARIO – When the disruptive shock of the 2016 election was followed a couple of months later by the installation of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States of America, one scarcely knew what to expect or to hope for. It was the final culminating impossibility in a whole series of most improbable longshots. Quite simply, this wasn’t supposed to happen.
LONDON, ONTARIO – An apparent paradox that I have grown to appreciate through extensive research in the intimate fields of friendship and marriage, is that a richly developed inner life can go hand in hand with a markedly shy nature. Of course, without some sort of discipline and vision in place, the chronically shy risk becoming un-relatable weirdos floating adrift in their own isolated orbits. But there are numerous examples in the world of arts and letters – such as William Blake, the Bronte sisters, Emily Dickinson, Flannery O’Connor – where an instinct to boycott situations where one might be scrutinized in their own right or, even worse, evaluated as one constituent of a group, can pay handsome dividends in the development of startling independence and originality. If there are more females than males who exemplify this phenomenon, we can probably chalk that up to the more innate male appetite for open competition; for measuring oneself against others and, whenever possible, utterly vanquishing them and taking their heads as trophies.
LONDON, ONTARIO – I first became aware of G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936) in my late 20s on a literary tip from my friend Jeff Cencich. “I think you’ll like this guy,” he said, plucking a copy of his Selected Essays from a shelf at City Lights Book Shop where I was working as a clerk and dropping it onto the counter. Oh, gross and magnificent understatement.
Over the course of my reading life I’ve known dozens of instances when I’ve first knocked back a certain writer’s book that goes down with such avid delight that I hate myself for not being able to slow down to make it last. And as the final page of that first book hoves into view, I nervously start to ponder whether this writer has written much else and what are the odds that anything else in their canon will be a fraction so good as this? It’s an addictive sort of predicament, for sure, but if you’re going to get hooked on any writer, I would recommend Mr. Gilbert Keith Chesterton as the perfect gateway stimulant. He is such a prodigiously generous supplier of words that there will be no need to face the dreadful prospect of going cold turkey for many years to come.
HENSALL, ONTARIO – In the week before Christmas, a 58 year-old pharmacist, Egyptian immigrant and devout Roman Catholic named Michael Haddad had his quarter million dollar bid accepted to purchase a recently shuttered United Church in Hensall, Ontario. Haddad’s sole reason for making this purchase is so that this town of 1,200 situated about an hour’s drive north of London will not lose its last remaining Christian church.
LONDON, ONTARIO – In early November of 1974, George Harrison launched a 26-date North American tour in support of his third solo album, Dark Horse. It was a pretty anxious and gloomy time in the life of this most circumspect of ex-Beatles. His wife Patti Boyd had recently dumped him for Eric Clapton and a bout of ill health had left the never-robust Harrison as thin as the proverbial rake and unable to shake a voice-shredding case of laryngitis that dogged him throughout his tour of Canada and the States.
LONDON, ONTARIO – “So this guy goes to Hell,” Little Loss told me in our tenth or eleventh winter as we were waiting around for some of the other guys to come out for a game of road hockey. “And the Devil’s showing him around the place and tells him he’s got to choose one of these rooms to live in forever. In one room people are burning up. In another room, they’re all getting whipped and in this other room people are getting chewed up by rats. Then they come to a room where all these guys are standing around in shit up to their necks drinking coffee. ‘Sure, it’s disgusting’ he figures, ‘but at least in here I won’t be in constant pain.’ So that’s the room he chooses and they give him a cup of coffee and in he goes. He’s introducing himself to some of the other guys and asking, ‘Why doesn’t everybody choose this room?’ when the Devil pokes his head in through this little window in the door and says, ‘Okay, boys. Coffee break’s over. Back on your heads’.”
LONDON, ONTARIO – Like most adolescents of the last three or four generations who were not averse to picking up a book and pondering the meaning of existence, my first encounter with The Catcher in The Rye (1951), the only novel so far published by J.D. Salinger (1919 – 2010), was momentous. Driven by the pitch-perfect and miraculously timeless vernacular of its American adolescent narrator – 17 year-old Holden Caulfield – the novel movingly depicts the struggles of a bright and defensively caustic upper class kid who thinks he might be going crazy as he comes to discern his constitutional incapacity to fulfill the deepest longing of his heart to align himself with any cause or person that isn’t fundamentally compromised or (Holden’s favourite word) “phony”.
LONDON, ONTARIO – In truth I’ve never had much enthusiasm for New Year’s celebrations. Partly this is because of the utterly perverse timing of the holiday. Pull it back almost four months to Labour Day weekend (when summer wraps up and everybody’s scrambling to get back on board Joni Mitchell’s ‘carousel of time’) or push it ahead three months to the spring Equinox (when milder weather puts the wind in our tails and thaws the coagulated sap in our veins) and the world around us would both reflect and affirm this sense of a new beginning. But in my experience at least, coming up with a list of resolutions and drawing a fresh bead on one’s life goals is a grudging, thankless task in the cold, dark hollow of earliest January.
LONDON, ONTARIO – The celebration of Christmas is about the personal intervention of the Divine in human affairs. In the first book of the Old Testament, God creates man and woman and invests them with free will which, a mere five pages later, has so completely caused things to run amok that this temperamental Deity sets out to destroy everybody but Noah and his family and those lucky beasts and birds which have male and female representation on board the ark. In the New Testament, disorder and chaos have returned to mankind (actually they’ve been pretty constant through both Testaments and continue to this day) and this time God elects to send His only Son to instruct people how to live and to win us salvation.
If you would like to contribute to the ongoing operations of Hermaneutics, there are now a few options available.
THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION :