Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Hail Mary Pass

The BBC (online) Magazine has had some really interesting English Language articles recently, including this one on 'Britishisms and the Britishisation of American English'. 

However, it wasn't until I read this article on 'The shared language of politics and sport' that I came across the Hail Mary pass, which probably says more about my British parochialism than about the prevalence of the term. For fellow Brits, a Hail Mary pass is a long forward pass made in the closing stages of an American Football game. Chuck it - say a Hail Mary - hope someone catches it in the end zone. That's the basic idea.

"Stepping up to the plate" has become something of a cliche in British political discourse. Somehow I can't see the Hail Mary pass catching on in the same way.   

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Hobbitus Ille

Fr Tim Finigan has a welcome reminder of the lure of The Hobbit on his blog today. He also provides a useful link to this tremendously interesting page from the New Liturgical Movement on Tolkien’s liturgical views.

However, what made me chuckle was the link in the Com Box to the new Latin translation of The Hobbit and, especially, the learned discussion of the finer points of translation in the Amazon reviews.

It reminded me of one of my tutors at university. A learned but rather eccentric man, he gave his young son Asterix books to read. This rather surprised us until we heard that it was Asterix translated into Latin.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Chinese Catholic Literature Then and Now

There have been - and still are - some wonderful Chinese Catholic authors. One of the best known of these writers is Wu Li, who was not only one of the orthodox masters of early Qing-dynasty painting but also a poet and Jesuit priest.

The most comprehensive guide to Wu Li can be found here (with further details here) but a more accessible introduction to his work can be found here. According to Chaves, his poetic sequence "'Singing of the Source and Course of Holy Church' succeeds in achieving Wu Li's goal of creating a Chinese Christian poetry, true to Chinese traditions of allusion, parallelism, and other familiar poetic techniques and true also to orthodox Christian theology, piety, and liturgical solemnity." Rather than do him the injustice of a brief quotation, I'll try to return to some of the poems themselves (in Chinese and in English translation) in a later post.

Another great Chinese Catholic writer who is only now beginning to be given her due is Su Xuelin. This article from Harvard's Divinity School is encouraging, though also a little baffling. Although Su Xuelin converted to Catholicism in the 1920s while studying in France, Zhange Ni argues that the religion her alter-ego embraces in Ji Xin, the novel Su Xuelin wrote about her conversion, "is not Catholicism or Western religion per se, but a not-so-readily-available, still-struggling-into-being Chinese discourse of religion, which cannot be reduced to a slavish adoption of modern Western concepts of religion."

However, the importance of Catholicism to Su Xuelin cannot be overestimated: as Zhange Ni herself points out it affected her personal life - she never divorced her husband despite their separation - her scholarship - "The main thesis of Su Xuelin's Chu-Ci scholarship gradually took shape during the 1940s, guided by her Catholic beliefs" - and her later peregrinations - "Unwilling and unable to accept a Communist regime in China, she decided to give up her position at Wuhan University and leave the country. The Catholic Church in Hong Kong offered her a position as editor and translator. ... In 1950, still supported by the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, she sailed to Europe, first to make a pilgrimage to the Vatican, and then to settle in Paris." This was a writer for whom Catholicism mattered - and not the rather etiolated version of Catholicism that secular scholarship often seems to be imply - but Catholicism is all its richness. 

But what about today? I've written before about Fan Wen and the good news is that the first volume of his 水乳大地 trilogy is due to be published in French translation in January 2013. Maybe an English translation will follow?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Lourdes and Literature

I have just come back from Lourdes where I eventually got round to reading Ruth Harris's fascinating Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age. Harris is a historian at Oxford University and an exceptionally fair-minded historian. Coming from a Jewish secularist background, she went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes while writing this book and is clearly a sympathetic outsider.

Just occasionally her secularism struggles in the face of the miracles of Lourdes but, for the most part, she writes with an impressive open-mindedness and objectivity. Take this sentence, for example: "Of all the many marvels that Lourdes produced, de Rudder's cure shows the limits of historical explanation: while so many other healings could be the result of misdiagnosis - even in the apparently 'certain' realm of cancer, tuberculosis or paralysis - the case of de Rudder dismays and perplexes." (344-5)

The lack of a direct object is fascinating. Does she mean it dismays and perplexes her? Or historians? Or secularists? The intransitive use of transitive verbs perhaps only draws attention to the limits of the historical method. 

But that's slightly by the by.

One reason I enjoyed the book was because Harris writes so well about Emile Zola and Lourdes. It is rather ironic that two of the most well-known novels about Lourdes were written by non-Catholics: Zola's anti-clerical and anti-Catholic Lourdes and Franz Werfel's much more sympathetic The Song of Bernadette (which was written to fulfil the vow the author made when he found shelter in the town while fleeing the Nazis during World War II). 

According to Harris, "Zola's journal shows how his journey [to Lourdes] produced in him powerful emotions and an intense ambivalence, feelings that he would repress once he returned to the familiar philosophical, literary and political world of the capital. The resulting book returned to the terrain of literary naturalism, and many of the ambiguities of his experience were stripped away."

Most disturbing of all was his rewriting of history. As Harris again points out, "his reworking of the case of Marie Lebranchu was palpably untrue: she never did relapse [as described in Zola's novel] and remained the living embodiment for Catholics of his bad faith."

So where do we look for less jaundiced novelistic descriptions of Lourdes?

Brian Sudlow - who is a very interesting academic - has a short section on Lourdes in his Catholic literature and secularisation in France and England, 1880-1914. He mentions, among other mainly non-fiction accounts, Emile Baumann's L'Immolé in which one of the characters "prays in vain for a miracle to cure her invalidity, and obtains it only later in the novel through the miraculous waters of Lourdes."

I also came across the much more recent, but still untranslated, work of Bernadette Pécassou-Camebrac while in Lourdes. Both La Belle Chocolatière and Le Bel Italien look as though they would be well worth reading.