Grace, Beauty, Misery, and Other Dances
My brilliant friend Adam Roberts in Image, on the possible theological implications of space travel:
Grace seems to me a good way of approaching First Man; not the grace reserved for saints and the elect, but, on the contrary, grace as something available to all, and especially (according to the Sermon on the Mount) to the poor in spirit and to those who mourn, who shall be comforted. As a portrait of mourning, First Man moves its protagonist to an extraordinary place to stage its encounter with the comfort that comes after long grief.
Indeed First Man is, I think, saying something quite radical about the blankness of grace, its opacity and incomprehensibility, what Graham Greene, in a rather different context, called “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.” It is indeed about (fittingly for the moon) the lunacy of grace. We are not clean. Whether we profess faith or not, we are profane. We say we come in peace for all mankind, but we are actually warriors, killers, contaminated by something malign and grievous. But still we come. And who knows what release might be found, if we make that journey?
I will only add that there’s really just one kind of grace, that reserved for wretches — like me.
Zadie Smith, in “Dance Lessons for Writers”:
Astaire is clearly not an experimental dancer like Tharp or Bausch but he is surreal in the sense of surpassing the real. He is transcendent. When he dances a question proposes itself: what if a body moved like this through the world? But it is only a rhetorical, fantastical question, for no bodies move like Astaire, no, we only move like him in our dreams.... Nobody hopes or expects to dance like Astaire, just as nobody really expects to write like Nabokov.
Years and years ago I saw an interview with Baryshnikov in which he described how devastated he was when, as a young aspiring ballet dancer in Russia, he saw Fred Astaire movies, because he thought America was a place where even the people in movies could dance like that — there was surely no hope for him to become great. Only years later did he realize that no one else danced like Fred Astaire, in America or anywhere else. Do yourself a favor and watch Fred Astaire dance with a drum kit.
Edward Hoagland, from “The Courage of Turtles”:
Turtles are a kind of bird with the governor turned low. With the same attitude of removal, they cock a glance at what is going on, as if they need only to fly away. Until recently they were also a case of virtue rewarded, at least in the town where I grew up, because, being humble creatures, there were plenty of them. Even when we still had a few bobcats in the woods the local snapping turtles, growing up to forty pounds, were the largest carnivores. You would see them through the amber water, as big as greeny wash basins at the bottom of the pond, until they faded into the inscrutable mud as if they hadn't existed at all.
“I am seized by two contradictory feelings: there is so much beauty in the world it is incredible that we are ever miserable for a moment; there is so much shit in the world that it is incredible we are ever happy for a moment.” — Geoff Dyer, from a wise and moving essay about Albert Camus.
- Work: Words, words, words.
- Music: That master of The American Songbook, Randy Newman. I should do a whole newsletter about Newman some day, but for now here’s the marvel that is “Sail Away.”
- Reading: Jo Walton’s Among Others is just delightful — and so, so reminiscent of my own teenage years as a geeky SF fan.
- Food and Drink: Yeah, the margarita is a cocktail cliché, too easy to drink, too accessible, yada yada yada. Nevertheless, especially in the summer it’s irresistible. Our version: 1.5oz Hornitos, 1oz Paula’s Texas Orange, 1oz fresh-squeezed lime juice, a squirt of agave nectar. Shake with ice, strain into a chilled glass.