Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bolerium Books

On Mission Street in San Francisco, Bolerium Books focuses on social protest movements, carries some very expensive rare editions, and offers a motto that I'm stealing as my own:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Beer Talk

Discovery Channel’s documentary, How Beer Saved the World, feels like a story dreamed up in a pub. It accomplishes what McHughing wants to accomplish:  String together interesting scientific facts and theories into a profound, preposterous, and still plausible tale, all with an amused twinkle in its cinematic eye, as if the beer is doing the telling.

Forget about food and shelter, power and glory, truth and meaning.  Forget even about sex.  Turns out the icon of western civilization is not the farmer, the philosopher, or the great king, but rather the cartoon stick figure who first sips accidently fermented barley and gets that smile-and-raised-eyebrow face of the lecher, except all this lecher wants is more beer.

The great motivation for human civilization is the desire for beer.  It motivated the original Mesopotamian hunter-gatherers to settle down and cultivate barley to make beer, to invent the plow and the wheel to move beer around, to develop mathematics and writing to keep track of who owns how much beer.  That’s just the beginning of the story.  The desire for beer also built the pyramids, defeated disease, founded America, created the modern factory, and more.

We know this because a parade of scientists, anthropologists, and historians tell us—while they’re drinking beer.  We believe this just the like pretty young people shown in bars drinking beer believe it.  Perhaps we’ll even remember in the morning.

It's a hoot, and it may even be true.  Check it out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top Five Reasons to Put Sweat Equity into a Rental Property

5.  Exercise, or choosing "Chop Wood Carry Water" work outside in the yard over the tedium of weight rooms and exercise machines.  Void in case of heart attack.

4.  Economics, or living beyond our means on a special acre of Santa Barbara canyon land by keeping the landlord happy.

3.  Space, or getting away from the wife into the yard where I make the decisions.  Most of the decisions.

2.  Place, or living here, enjoying the beautiful landscape, and contemplating the ecological metaphor of renting.

1.  Joy, or indulging my working class fetish that grunt work on a beautiful and unique property is satisfying. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Morality According to Wall Street

In a couple articles in The Times about Occupy Wall Street, David Brooks gives a moderate version of the same moral argument heard from the hysterical right.  He too blames the losers, though the moderate version is more of an invitation to “responsible” adults to condemn the protesters as irresponsible whiners scapegoating the rich for their own problems.   

According to Brooks, those of us left behind by the Wall Street coup on our economy and our democracy should shut up about profits and class and corruption.  Instead we should look to our own lives and solve our own problems by working harder and harder and harder in order to consume without debt.  Meanwhile we should leave the distribution of  the wealth we create through our hard work to moderate Wall Street and Washington types who, like father, know best.  

The one moral claim protesters want heard remains out of bounds:  The system of money and power is unfair.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reading Habermas

Robin spends her days zooming around town picking up linens and dropping off used flower vases,  She meets with anxiously beautiful brides and their beautifully anxious moms.  She helps them make decisions about flowers, photographers, caterers, musicians, and so on—incredibly detailed decisions that involve things like coordinating the color of the flowers and food and linens and so on with the color of the bride’s eyes.  Then she comes home to her office to call florists and photographers and caterers and so on, and to keep track of it all on papers organized in files according to date and the color of the bride’s eyes.  When she walks in the door exhausted and in a hurry to get to work and meet a deadline, she sees me sitting on my ass reading philosophy.  Been there all day.  Day after day.   For weeks.  Good thing I did the dishes.

For the first time since graduate school, I’m reading a lot of philosophy; and for the first time in my life, I’ve set myself a program of reading a large chunk of a philosopher’s oeuvre, four and a half books approaching 2,000 pages so far.  To support my position that sitting on my ass all day is not vacation, I’ll say that 1) reading Habermas is hard work, and worth some hard work for its insights into everyday life.  Reading Habermas also 2) takes me back to what could have been a brilliant intellectual career if I’d read Habermas twenty years ago.  Finally and most significant for my defense, 3) it’s opened up new writing ambitions.


Proof that reading Habermas is hard:  I’m constantly stopping to use the internet, not only to take a break from holding all those philosophical balls in the air at the same time, but also to check up on some half-forgotten or half-learned philosophical term, or research one of the many thinkers I never read like Weber or Durkheim or barely even heard of like G.H. Mead or Talcott Parsons.   I’m sure learning a lot, not only about Habermas but about the history of philosophy.  Habermas draws upon everything that has ever been written, and he aims to explain every aspect of our species from the combined perspectives of philosophy, sociology, psychology, anthropology, art history, literary analysis, and etcetera. 
It’s hard but it’s worth it, especially since his basic concepts are very practical and recognizable in people’s everyday lives.  His main purpose is to rescue us all from the dominance of thinking about money and power, and instead celebrate more human and moral ways of thinking. He calls it “system” versus “life world.”  Think Wall Street versus Occupy Wall Street.  I might even argue at some point that Habermas’s theory of communication is a theory of love.


Reading Habermas brings back the ambition of the old days, back when I thought I might make a more significant contribution to scholarship.  I lost that ambition back in the painful 90s, as I slowly awakened to the reality that trying to get a job as a scholar was like banging my head against the wall.  It felt much better to stop, yet I didn’t know how.  I was that guy in the old joke:

A young man runs away with the circus because he wanted to be in show business.  Years later, his brother catches up with him, witnesses his job cleaning up after the elephants, and exclaims, “You spend all day knee deep in elephant shit.  You don’t have to do this.  Quit!”  

The guy responds, “What! And leave show business?!”  

Despite the bitter delight in such irony, my professional woes continued for a long time.  Even after I landed in Santa Barbara and got my personal life back together, I couldn’t live with myself as a second-class academic, a poorly paid teacher rather than a respected scholar.  So I left academe altogether.  

It wasn’t six months before I wanted my old job back.  Took me five years to get it, and five years more to return to philosophy.

In retrospect, I’m feeling that—with my blue-collar pedigree, my preference for spending time with family and friends, my satisfaction with woodworking and gardening projects, my taste for the bitters, and my increasingly principled aversion to spending 18 hours a day sitting on my ass reading everything that’s ever been written—I’ve done about as well as I have a right to expect.  I love my job these days.  I’ve become a damned good teacher, and I relish the six weeks it allows me to sit around reading Habermas.


I’ve embarked on some concrete writing projects that reading Habermas enables.  

(a)     I came to Habermas first from my scholarly frustration with genre theory in American composition studies.  I hoped to gain the conceptual ammunition to launch a comprehensive attack on genre theory, American Pragmatism, and Composition Studies as a discipline that fails to distinguish between practical and instrumental reason, remains blind to the systemic sources of power and hegemony in our society, and thus fails to satisfy its own liberatory aims.  I also hoped to gain from Habermas a communicative practice that doesn’t make me sound like an asshole, always a problem. 

(b)   I also came to Habermas hoping to explicate the failure of the environmental movement to initiate the changes it clamors for.  Habermas might help at least to explain the problem as life-world versus system.  Accordingly, the eco-problem is not simply a matter of convincing people to do the eco-right thing.  As an idea, sustainability has already achieved consensus; no one really wants to trash the planet.  In the life-world, environmentalism rules.  Yet the economic and political system continues to trash the planet.  In short, from Habermas’s perspective, the environmental movement becomes part of the larger effort to make the system more responsive to human concerns.  I could elaborate this somehow in relation to environmental texts like Paul Gilding’s The Great Disruption.  But what I’m really hoping is that I will discover among Habermas’s later essays one that deals directly with environmental issues.  That way I can simply read it and save myself the trouble of original thought, even of the derivative, secondary literature, apply-some-really-major-thinker’s-ideas way. 

(c)    I’m also thinking that perhaps my real destiny is in articulating how academic theory offers insight into everyday life. Last year I spent a good part of my six weeks of concentrated writing and research working on a project that aimed to make literary analysis relevant to a non-academic audience.  I focused on a little artsy film called Get Low and planned to work up a series of interpretive readings from different theoretical perspectives, each one more ambitious than the one before—pop-cultural, moral, political, socio-economic, philosophical, and so on.  The idea was to treat the non-academic audience as smart and wisely grounded in life, though with no time to waste on academic specializations, and to treat academics like me as ass-sitting arrogant windbags, too specialized and professionalized and focused on mental masturbation—in short, too unwisely ungrounded in life—to realize that we were saying some pretty profound stuff.  I wrote two interpretations and posted them on my blog as parts 1 and 2 of “The Low Down on Get Low.”  I’m pretty sure no one read the posts.

Undaunted—or unintelligent—I’ve been thinking of taking up the project again in light of reading Habermas.  His thinking opens up whole new possibilities.  I figure that I could incorporate Habermas’s really smart way of looking at everything into my own brand of blarney (or McHughing), focus it all on popular culture texts or phenomena like Occupy Wall Street, address it to an intelligent public audience, and ramble on about whatever I feel like, movies and morality, the environment and the market, love and happiness.  I could spout all kinds of world-healing wisdom.  

Whether I’ll have any actual readers for any of these writing projects is entirely another question.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Blarney in "The Guard"

The new Irish film, The Guard, opens with a horrific car accident on a narrow stone bridge west of Galway, the very same bridge we drove across last March when we were a bit lost, a long quarter-mile bridge barely wide enough for one car.  We crossed in the wrong direction without incident, but on the way back we faced disaster:  a car coming in the opposite direction, moving fast, not about to stop or slow down or even care.  I remember how we all collectively drew deep breaths to make the car smaller and closed our eyes to summon the Bridge Fairie, and thereby squeezed by unscathed.  Great times.

The movie too is a great time, hilarious as blarney.  The fat Irish cop, Boyle, is constantly messing with the expectations of everyone else in the film, especially the American FBI cop played by Don Cheadle.   Boyle feigns veracity or sincerity or ignorance just for fun, acting the racist to get a rise out of the black cop, or claiming to have finished fourth in an Olympic swim meet.  Rather than just saying the truth, Boyle plays around with it, leaving the Cheadle character guessing.  “I can’t tell if you’re incredibly fucking stupid or incredibly fucking smart,” he says, showing that he understands blarney perfectly.  It ensures that neither truth nor the self be taken too seriously.  Boyle’s performance of blarney reminds us that we’re all full of it. 

Just as Boyle presents himself to the American, The Guard presents itself to its audience as pure blarney.  It features a surprisingly flawed and likeably human hero: Boyle is a clown cop with the heart of gold who delights in whores, trips on LSD,  runs guns to the IRA, and gets the bad guy.  It also features surprisingly intellectual and self-aware and thus human bad guys.  The cold-blooded professional killer yearns to settle down with one woman; the socio-path quotes Nietzsche on command.  Kind of like The Commitments meets Pulp Fiction, the film plays around with the action/suspense genre even as it fulfills its moral/emotional demands.  In this mocking performance of its genre, it calls attention to its own artifice, its blarney, and it invites the audience to see that the genre as a whole is blarney, and maybe film and culture and life in general are blarney, which is either incredibly fucking stupid or incredibly fucking smart.

The tourist books say, “Blarney is the attempt to deceive without causing harm.”  Habermas might say that blarney works by intentionally disrupting the assumptions normally necessary for communication.  The resulting humor, once the audience gets it, and I’m not sure Habermas would get it, results in even deeper mutual understanding, because it demonstrates that the assumptions and expectations grounding everyday conversation might be wrong.  In short, blarney communicates a deeper mutual understanding by evoking the fallibility of human communication and understanding.  We all get along better when we know that our truths are blarney.

In this way, Irish humor evokes the poststructural distrust of language evident in Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault.  Language is the medium of meaning, where truth and desire, the objective world and other people, conscious and unconscious experiences become symbolically structured.  Poststuctural French thinkers explore the limits of language, where symbolic structures break down, the gap between language and whatever it attempts to structure symbolically, the idea that language cannot fully articulate truth or desire or the world or experience or the other.  There arises the supplement, the excess, the remainder escaping symbolic structure, rendering meaning forever uncertain.  Thus, both blarney and French philosophy evoke the fallibility of human communication and understanding. 

The difference between blarney and French philosophy is that blarney joyfully understands this fallibility from the beginning, while the French eventually find joy in the end.  The French are teleological, concerned with the ultimate end; or rather, they are anti-teleological, concerned to show that language, meaning, desire never reaches its end, always remains incomplete, uncertain, unsatisfied.  They typically locate the possibility of jouissance in the gap/remainder at the end, the far limit of language and meaning and desire, realizing only at the end that the gap/remainder that was always there always will be there.  By contrast, blarney takes impish delight in knowing itself as blarney from the beginning.  As the speaker knows and the audience laughingly discovers, blarney is always already blarney; that’s why it’s fun. 

My friend Bob says this difference can be explained historically.  The French were European powers, colonists, who discovered only at the end of the colonial process that their imperialist way of thinking was bankrupt at best, a violence toward the other, the world, and the self.   The Irish, of course, were themselves colonized and knew from the beginning that empire and its ideology were shite.

For his part, Habermas has more faith in language, or more precisely faith in communication, coming to mutual understanding through rational communicative action.  His style is to read everything that’s ever been written and integrate it all into his argument, as if everything that has ever been written amounted to one great conversation that comes together in his own model.  Fortunately, he is sure to admit from the beginning that he is constructing a model.  He knows it’s all blarney, but he’s giving it a go anyway, because that’s what we do; we  try to understand and to communicate.  Habermas also implicitly invites the reader to join in the blarney and help construct or reconstruct the model.  All we have to do is read everything that’s ever been written.  In this sense, German scholarship may be more reliable, but not as much fun. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Lowdown on Get Low, Part 2

I Profess: Christianity for Sinners and Secularists

Get Low presents Christian morality as a mature reflection on innocence, which is a vision of happiness a non-believing literary academic like me can embrace.

Loss of Innocence

Get Low begins with FIRE! 
We see a two-story house, isolated like a farmhouse, fully engulfed in flame, the fires of hell raging against dark heavens.

We see a figure distinguish itself from the flame, stumbling out of the inferno, flames rising from its flailing arms. A man?

The figure falls, disappears. Damned?

 We watch forty seconds of hell-fire consuming hearth and home and who knows what else? Has the man in flames perished in the fire?

Finally someone appears out of the darkness much further from the house, running away. The same man? Did he save himself?

The mystery behind this fire drives viewers’ interest in the film. Unlike most good Hollywood films, this mystery has a moral.

Get Low re-tells a Southern Gothic fable usually meant for innocents—children or young adults. It’s a brimstone fable about the loss of innocence, a lurid Southern Gothic tale about sex and violence in all its passion and humanity. Someone learns a hard lesson the hard way: the guilt of hurting people, the shame of behaving badly, the wrath of God. It’s a lesson innocents must learn about how people get hurt, how sex and violence are often involved in the worst cases of human moral failure.
Get Low is not this story, not a story for innocents. By putting the fire at the beginning of the film and forty years before the main action, Get Low retells this fable as one for sinners, those Christians for whom the loss of innocence has already happened, in other words a fable for adults.

Get Low tells the story of an old man, Felix Bush, facing death. To find redemption, Bush needs to disspell:

1) the comfortable lie he tells the community about himself

2) the comfortable half-truth about the past he holds

3) the comfortable misunderstanding he holds about Christianity

Being honest sounds easy in the fable for innocents, but it took Bush took 40 years of damnation to tell the truth.

1. Bush’s Lie 

As a mean old hermit, Bush lives a decidedly unchristian life. Rather than loving his neighbors, he’s been waging a decades-long war against them. 
We meet him first as the target of a boy’s dare: to throw a stone at the mean old man’s window. With hair to his waist and a beard to match, Bush appears shooting a rifle, scaring the poor kid out of his lunch and off the farm.

Later he goes to town, braving Depression-era cars and modern ways with his mule-drawn cart and hand-made clothes. In the street, a young man (the boy who threw the stone and grew up?) yells at the old bastard about his evil ways. Bush proves the young man’s point by beating him brutally with a stick.

Later still, another young man, Buddy (another boy who threw a stone and learned the Christian lesson of compassion?) arrives at the farm to help Bush get his funeral party; Bush greets him with a rifle shot past his ear.

Bush is a mean, violent, despicable human being, a physical and moral menace. Rumors swirl through the community to explain him by some unknown and horrific sin involving murder likely, certainly involving ruination for those around him and damnation for himself. To his Tennessee neighbors, Bush is an evil character straight out of Southern Gothic.

 As we learn, Bush may be a character but he ain’t evil.  
Buddy, a good-hearted young guy who works as the moral filter of the film, figures out pretty quick that he’s not really a menace to society; he just wants people to believe that lie so they’ll leave him alone. He’s been living that lie for forty years.

Then he gets a visit from a man he doesn’t shoot: the preacher. Bush listens, though he never stops chopping wood and never says a word. He’s gonna die and needs to make his peace, the preacher tells him.

Bush thinks it over and agrees with the preacher, after his own fashion. He wants to have a funeral party that he himself attends. “I’ll pay,” he tells the preacher.
But the good man of the cloth can’t make the man’s request fit with the good book. Gathering his neighbors to damn him publicly is just not the Christian thing to do. 
Buddy and his boss, the funeral home director Frank Quinn, will, however, take Bush’s money. 

The funeral party is on! Pretty soon, he’s a phenomenon, an instant legend in rural Tennessee: The old bastard paying big money for everyone including most of all himself to go his own fucking funeral.

Why’s he doing it? To have a hoot before he dies? To kill the neighbors who hate him? To have his day of reckoning? No one knows, and Bush isn’t saying.

“Maybe he won’t say.”

“Maybe he can’t say.”

Bush’s lie thus becomes a mystery. When we find out what’s behind his lie, will we find out the truth of the fire?

2. Bush’s Half-Truth

Get Low is a love story. Turns out Bush loves in a deep and abiding and honorable way. 
He keeps a photo of a woman’s face by his bed. Before lying down to bed every night, he kisses her. Has Bush shut himself up for forty years with grief over a lost love?

He runs into Buddy’s Aunt Mattie outside church, and she remembers him fondly. Even after Bush leaves without uttering a word, Mattie speaks of a handsome and suave young man, a fine catch in her day. The old hermit was a hunk?
After cutting his hair and beard, he spends time with Mattie, showing himself to be a gentle, charming, tea-serving man. Where’d he come from?
Bush tells Buddy and Quinn that he and Mattie “had a go.” Had a go! She can’t be the woman in the picture, can she?

A human heart beats, pumps blood, and animates the soul of Felix Bush. Who knew? Why’d he keep it hidden behind his misery and meanness?

The answer comes from Mattie. While enjoying Bush’s tea and charming company, she suddenly runs out, flustered and probably angry. She saw the picture by Bush’s bed, we later learn. It’s not Mattie; it’s her sister, her married-to-someone-else sister, who died long ago. She confronts Bush. Why does he have her picture? What does he know about her death? Was he involved?

We can be pretty sure about what we suspected all along: Bush is the man saving himself from the fire in the film’s first scene. But we don’t know the whole story. Half the truth is that he loved a woman and lost her. That’s the good half, about a good man. The other half is ugly: she was married; she died in the fire; he ran away.

Along with intense human grief, we see that Bush also has lived all these years with intense human guilt and shame, hellfire and damnation.

The mystery thickens. Did he kill the woman he loved? Abandon her?

Bush isn’t saying.

"Maybe he won't say."

“Maybe he can’t say.”

3. Bush’s Misunderstanding of Christianity

In Get Low, the Christian story of redemption is for Bush the way, the truth, and the life. It begins with Bush coming to an honest reckoning of his own loves, his acts, and his failures; it ends in him telling his story: confession. Bush takes a long time to get there because a) he misunderstands the role of the church; and b) he misunderstands the meaning of the Bible.

 a) Bush wants the church to tell his story for him.  
He offers the preacher a wad of cash not only for the funeral party he wants to attend but also for a funeral oration about himself. He gets neither, and the preacher doesn’t know Bush and couldn’t speak the truth of his life anyway. 
He dangles the wad of cash in front of the funeral home people and gets a funeral he can attend, but he doesn’t get anyone to tell his story. All the funeral can promise are the neighbors’ lies about him. 

So Bush goes back to the church, a particular church a long drive away, from Tennessee to Illinois. There he looks up Reverend Jackson. The two go way back.
Bush built the church’s beautiful sanctuary, a masterpiece of craftsmanship, a gift of devotion, a prayer for forgiveness. 
Jackson knows what happened at the fire. Bush made his confession to him decades earlier.
Bush asks Reverend Jackson—he actually gets the words out—to come to his funeral and tell the truth about him, his love, his sin, his years of repentance. 
Jackson refuses adamantly, almost angrily. “Did you tell her?” he demands to know. Bush doesn’t say, but this time without mystery: he has not told Mattie about her sister’s death; has not told her about his role in it; has not apologized to her.

The more Bush wants the church to tell his story, the more he learns what he’s known all along: The church wants him to tell his own story.

 Bush returns to Tennessee. His faith shaken, he announces to Buddy and Quinn that the funeral is off. Has he rejected the church and its teachings? Rejected his Christian duty?  

b) Bush is left where’s he’s been most of his life, thrown back into his personal relation to the Lord. The film spends little time developing this personal (non-dramatic and non-visual) relation, at least not directly.  

 We know that Bush is no church-going man; yet he’s been feeling remorseful for forty years, punishing himself in his own hermetic prison of grief and guilt and shame. He also seeks Christian redemption before he dies.  
We see him apparently at the grave of his dearly departed beloved. He’s silent, possibly in prayer. Is he asking the Lord’s forgiveness? 
He breaks off and utters perhaps the most intelligent words of his life. “Ain’t no use asking Jesus to forgive me. I didn’t do nothin’ to him.”

Bush finally learns his Christian lesson. Faith and worship and the teachings of Christ require much more than faith and worship and Bible study. Like Christ himself, Bush must make the word of God live on earth, not by praying to Jesus but by living a Christian life. The leap of faith is the leap from the Word into life.

On the strength of Bush’s religious epiphany and moral courage, the funeral is back on!

Bush’s Loss of Innocence

Telling the story of the fire is Bush’s triumph and redemption. By the time we hear the story, the details are important, but we already know their meaning: Bush is a good man who erred.

He fell in love with a married woman. He didn’t mean to. He’s asked himself for forty years and still doesn’t know if a man can choose the person he loves, or if love chooses him.
He visited the house of his beloved to find her husband, who is in the know about the two lovers and in a jealous homicidal rage. Bush fights him off. Perhaps he’s killed him? 
Rushing upstairs, Bush sees the bloody hammer on the steps. 
He finds his beloved in a pool of blood—but alive. 
Next thing he remembers, he’s knocked violently against the wall by the husband, not yet dead but intent on death and destruction. He’s set the house on fire.  
Again the husband attacks Bush. Again Bush fights him off.  Dead?
Bush discovers he’s on fire. 
He goes to save his beloved, but ends up flying, outside the second-story window. Was he pushed? Did he fall? Did he jump?  
The only thing Bush can say for sure is that, if he left his beloved to die, everything he knows about himself is a lie.  

Here is the Southern Gothic tale in all its lurid sex and violence and loss of innocence, except, in Get Low, it is not a cautionary tale told to scare innocents, but an exculpatory tale told at the day of reckoning. The fire at the beginning of Get Low is indeed about sin, the loss of innocence, the fall into humanity. But rather than the childish morality of brimstone and damnation and the fires of hell for those wickedly human enough to stray from the path of righteousness, the story of Felix Bush shows the much more difficult adult path of salvation.

Bush helped cause the fire; he was torched by the flame of human passion and sin; and he suffered forty years of hell. But in the end, just as he escaped the burning house, he escapes the fires of hell by being honest with himself and by loving his neighbors enough to be honest with them. Bush earns forgiveness from Mattie and all concerned not because he’s completely innocent, but because he’s human, and because he told the truth of his human story.

A Literary View of the Christian Story

Biblical stories are moral. They mean to show us how to live our lives and be happy. Yes, happy. Morality has always meant the wisdom that leads to happiness. Who doesn’t want to be happy? What does the Bible show about the human condition? What wisdom does it relate that might help make us happy? 

Get Low presents biblical wisdom that requires no belief in God or the afterlife, yet remains deeply moral, deeply concerned with human happiness.
Felix Bush becomes self-aware, dispelling lies, half-truths, and misunderstandings to get closer and closer to the truth about himself. That is exactly the path of secular thought in the west since at least Socrates: Know thyself. Bush reflects upon his passions and actions and, especially, their consequences for others. Who doesn’t want neighbors who are self-aware like this? Who doesn’t want to be self-aware? 
Bush finds the meaning of biblical words not in the Book but in life. He learns that morality isn’t bookish, but finds its truth in living relation to other people. Who thinks happiness is in books and not in life? 
Bush is not perfect; he’s made a human mistake and played a role in others’ pain and death. Most of us are more fortunate; our human mistakes only rarely cause death and such profound pain and suffering; few of us live with such guilt and shame. But who among us is perfectly innocent?
Bush find peaceful redemption. Through self-awareness, love, and a leap into life, Bush is reconciled with his community, himself, and his God. He does this ultimately by telling his own story; by fessing up, he earns eternal happiness. Who doesn’t think that being honest with the people you love is a good thing? An act of love? A means to intimacy?
Bush knows love. He knows the passionate love for a woman he wants to possess, the love that can be as compelling and ecstatic as it is blind and destructive. He also learns a more mature, self-aware, and selfless love for his neighbors, the human community. “God is love” is a perfectly secular formulation. Who doesn’t believe in love? the passionate kind? the selfless kind? 

Morality is compelling for us secular types not because we’ll be punished or rewarded after death, but because we want happiness in this life. Why wait like Bush to find self-awareness and peace and love just before death? Why not mature early—and often—and pursue happiness in this life?

I Confess: The Story of a Literary Analyst

The biblical story of happiness is as difficult in secular terms as it is in sacred. Like Bush, we find it hard to be aware of ourselves, hard to understand that we are not perfect, hard to process the pain we cause. Above all, like Bush, we find it hard to confess.

To Be Continued…

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