About DBreitenbeck

David Breitenbeck is a professional freelance writer currently living in Southeast Michigan.

Sunday Thoughts

In addition to being one of the great philosophical minds of human history, St. Thomas Aquinas was also a mystic who experienced visions and ecstasies while in prayer. Near the end of his life, while still working on his magnum opus, the Summa Theologica, he was granted a vision of Christ. When he came out of it, he vowed never to write another word, as he said that compared with the reality he had seen, “all my writing is as straw.”

This is something we would do well to keep in mind; there is an unbridgeable gap between what a thing is and what can be said about it. Whether we’re talking philosophical or scientific or written descriptions, they always and necessarily can only convey an approximation of the thing. The most obvious instance of this is that no description of a beautiful object could ever convey its beauty to someone who did not already have an idea of beauty. But in the same way, even the most complete, perfect scientific description of a thing; a picture that takes in every natural law and accounts for every factual observation (assuming such a thing is possible) could contain the complete nature of even a single stone.

Words can suggest something of what what a thing is, but only to an extent, and like the dinosaur DNA in Jurassic Park, it has to be completed by what we ourselves bring to it. In the end, real things cannot be formularized; they can only be encountered.

“All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly.”

On Enjoying the Classics

There’s a particular sensation to enjoying the classics (I’m not specifically talking about the classics in the sense of ancient literature, but in the sense of great works with a strong reputation). It isn’t just the enjoyment of a good piece of work; though that is obviously part of it, it is a separate, component piece as it were. Much as I may enjoy and admire say, Megamind, it doesn’t create the same sensation as enjoying something like Pinocchio. Nor is it a consciousness of the work’s reputation; much as I acknowledge it’s quality, I don’t get this impression from, say, The Godfather because it simply doesn’t make much appeal to me (I’m not really sure why. I don’t dislike it, but I’m just not particularly invested in it).

The thing I’m talking about is the consciousness of enjoying something that many people before you have judged to be excellent and fruitful. It’s sort of a sense of shared delight, almost of initiation: ‘I now have experienced what so many others have experienced and understand why it is so.’

This is, I think, one of the core elements that makes a particular work count as a true ‘classic;’ that quality of initiation. It isn’t just that it’s a good work, but that it’s a work with a history; a living history of affecting people for the better in a particular way. Then when you finally experience it yourself, you feel “now I share something with many, many others before me”.

I’ve experienced this, most recently, from three different works: The Divine ComedyThe Mikado, and the original series of Star Trek. Obviously, these are all very different kinds of work with widely different degrees of quality: no one would deny that. But there is this common element to them that they have all been found to be important and memorable to many, many different people, to the point where they have become touchstones of our culture. Thus, to a greater or lesser extent, our culture is bound up in these things, so that to know them is, so far, to know it. We aren’t only experience a good piece of work, but a part of that higher and greater work that was once called Christendom.

These are among the jewels in the treasure house of civilization.

“Prologue” (For the Opening of Drury Lane Theatre, 1747)

When Learning’s triumph o’er her barbarous foes
First reared the stage, immortal Shakespeare rose;
Each change of many-colored life he drew,
Exhausted worlds, and then imagined new:
Existence saw him spurn her bounded reign,
And panting Time toiled after him in vain.
His powerful strokes presiding Truth impressed,
And unresisted Passion stormed the breast.

Then Jonson came, instructed from the school
To please in method and invent by rule;
His studious patience and laborious art
By regular approach essayed the heart;
Cold Approbation gave the lingering bays,
For those who durst not censure, scarce could praise.
A mortal born, he met the general doom,
But left, like Egypt’s kings, a lasting tomb.

The wits of Charles found easier ways to fame,
Nor wished for Jonson’s art, or Shakespeare’s flame;
Themselves they studied; as they felt, they writ;
Intrigue was plot, obscenity was wit.
Vice always found a sympathetic friend;
They pleased their age, and did not aim to mend.
Yet bards like these aspired to lasting praise,
And proudly hoped to pimp in future days.
Their cause was general, their supports were strong,
Their slaves were willing, and their reign was long;
Till Shame regained the post that Sense betrayed,
And Virtue called Oblivion to her aid.

Then, crushed by rules, and weakened as refined,
For years the power of Tragedy declined;
From bard to bard the frigid caution crept,
Till Declamation roared while Passion slept;
Yet still did Virtue deign the stage to tread;
Philosophy remained though Nature fled;
But forced at length her ancient reign to quit,
She saw great Faustus lay the ghost of Wit;
Exulting Folly hailed the joyous day,
And Pantomime and song confirmed her sway.

But who the coming changes can presage,
And mark the future periods of the stage?
Perhaps if skill could distant times explore,
New Behns, new Durfeys, yet remain in store;
Perhaps where Lear has raved, and Hamlet died,
On flying cars new sorcerers may ride;
Perhaps (for who can guess the effects of chance?)
Here Hunt may box, or Mahomet may dance.

Hard is his lot that, here by fortune placed,
Must watch the wild vicissitudes of taste;
With every meteor of caprice must play,
And chase the new-blown bubbles of the day.
Ah! let not censure term our fate our choice,
The stage but echoes back the public voice;
The drama’s laws, the drama’s patrons give,
For we that live to please, must please to live.

Then prompt no more the follies you decry,
As tyrants doom their tools of guilt to die;
‘Tis yours this night to big the reign commence
Of rescued Nature and reviving Sense;
To chase the charms of Sound, the pomp of Show,
For useful Mirth and salutary Woe;
Bid scenic Virtue form the rising age,
And Truth diffuse her radiance from the stage.
-Samuel Johnson

Call of the CGI Wild

Before seeing Sonic, the only trailer playing was for Call of the Wild, one of the first times I’d even heard that such a film existed.

Honestly, despite the presence of Harrison Ford, I think this looks pretty bad.

The biggest problem is not just that this looks like it only bears the slightest resemblance to the book (which doesn’t lend itself to a live action adaptation in the first place), but more that the dogs appear to be entirely CGI. And not very good CG either. On top of that, but they don’t even act like dogs; they act like cartoon dogs in an otherwise LA environment (and in what is after all supposed to be a rather grim story). That is, they have semi-human expressions and reactions.

Now, there are a couple things to be said. I gave Midway a qualified pass for its equally obvious CGI, but that was for two reasons; one, the film was strong enough apart from it to survive the distracting effects, and two because, ultimately, the cg was just set-dressing. It would have been preferable to use models, but some intensive effects were necessary to create the world.

But here, the CG is being used to create dogs. Real dogs are slightly easier to come by than the Imperial Japanese navy. People are very, very familiar with what dogs look like and how they act. So, when faced with such an obviously fake article, I don’t see how you can react other than to be taken out of the story.

Apparently, the reason for this is partly because they wanted to avoid charges of animal cruelty or endangerment. Okay, but is using obviously fake dogs the only way of doing that? Was it really so impossible to make a movie with dogs without being cruel to the dogs? I mean, most of the book, as I recall, is about dogs pulling sleds, which dogs love to do (from what I hear, when their owners  come to pick dogs for their team, the dogs go absolutely nutsit’s like the mother of all walks to them). There are also some fights, which, okay; cg those if you can’t train the dogs to play-fight. Otherwise, I really don’t see this as a valid reason.

Except that the film has Buck fighting a bear and escaping an avalanche, and other bits of over-the-top action, which obviously they didn’t want to do with real animals (and, again, this apparently made it necessary to have the dogs be CG the whole time, because blending animation and well-trained animals wasn’t an option I guess). So, they first throw a lot of extraneous action scenes, then use that as a reason for making a massively bad choice at the very heart of the film.

The other reason seems to be that people didn’t like the blank, expressionless characters in The Lion King. Except that, again, people are rather more familiar with dogs and their mannerisms than they are with lions or hyenas, not to mention that dogs are generally more appealing and expressive in real life than the aforementioned wild animals. In short, people like dogs, and they like them for being dogs; not for being people in dog suits (I mean, how many films have there been centered around dogs that people watch and enjoy? Just consider Homeward Bound, which was nothing but dogs – and a cat- for most of its runtime). A cartoon is one thing, but a live-action film with semi-cartoon dogs is another.

On top of that, the film seems so different from the book in tone and content (again, the book isn’t really a lighthearted or exciting adventure story but a somewhat grim tale of a pet dog reverting to wild ways under increasing hardships) that I have to wonder what the point was. They probably would have been better off just telling an original story of Harrison Ford and his dog having an adventure. Absent the distracting animation, that sounds like it would be a really enjoyable story. Instead, we have this bizarre and misguided amalgamation of Jack London, Michael Bay, and Industrial Light and Magic’s B-team. How tiresome!

No Post Today

Because I was swamped with work (not all of which I even got to). Got to observe the sight of a Java program behaving directly contrary to what I was telling it to do (probably due to confusion from using threads).

Anyway, something better tomorrow. Probably.



At morn – at noon – at twilight dim-
Maria! thou hast heary my hymn!
In joy and woe – in good and ill –
Mother of God, be with me still!
When the Hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee
Now, when storms of Fate o’ercast
Darkly my Present and my Past,
Let my future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine.
-Edgar Allen Poe

Thought of the Day: On the Word ‘Reactionary’

I do not like the term ‘reactionary.’ It seems to me to both imply an unthinking rejection of anything one doesn’t understand (which I’m sure was its original intent) and to frame the ideas and values contained therein in the context of what is being rejected, thus framing liberalism or progressivism or whathave you as the baseline, when the whole point of reactionaries is that we are trying to maintain what we believe to be the common, natural values and structures of the human race. It would be as if you were to describe the desire to get correct mathematical answers as ‘rejectionism’ because you are rejecting all other answers.

I would prefer terms like ‘Traditionalism’ or ‘Restorationism’ or…well, I don’t know. Trouble is, we have to work with the words we have, and this is it. Like TR and his nickname ‘Teddy,’ we may not like it, but we’re stuck with it.

And, on the plus side, I suppose bearing with things that you’re stuck with because they’ve been codified by long use is more or less a principle of being a reactionary. So it all works out!