(Bi)Weekly Update: The Confessions of St. Augustine, Loki, Hello Ruthie

Huh. Didn’t realize the coincidence of what I was reading/watching before now. That’s low-key hilarious.

low-key, get it?

Ahem. I meant to post this last week, but due to stress with my job, I didn’t. So here’s an entry on both weeks.

What I’m Reading: The Confessions of St. Augustine

This may seem like a brag, but frankly it’s more a secret shame. I absolutely should have read this back when I was in grad school working on medieval literature. I didn’t. So me reading it now is not a sign of me being oh-so-smart, it’s a sign of me being oh-so-lazy but still very shameable.

Also, not remembering a lot since I started this thing a LONG time ago and don’t remember a lot from the start.

St. Augustine mostly writes about two things–his conversion and ponderings on theological metaphysics. The second is interesting, the first is… less so. I honestly got sick of reading Augustine moaning about how sinful he used to be, how saintly and amazing his mother was, and how his married friends just loved marriage too much to be real Christians.

Augustine’s take on marriage is very medievalist (I almost said Catholic, but that’s no longer accurate). The medievals thought that sex of any form was unholy, and there’re some genuinely laughable religious tracts sternly warning that married couples should only have sex every three months, just for purposes of procreation. (you waited three months to see if a pregnancy developed. If not, you tried for another go). I doubt anyone actually followed them, but some people took this thinking very seriously.

Augustine certainly did. I’d heard lots of sermon illustrations on how Augustine left his life of profligacy and sexual immorality to become a chaste Christian, but none of them mentioned how he felt that marriage, too, was not really compatible with being a Christian. He laments how long this held him back, that he just felt he couldn’t give up marriage to become a Christian. He talks about how his saintly mother was misled into praying for a holy wife for him. One story, which I find very hard to believe, talks about how three pagan men engaged to be married discovered Christ and immediately broke their engagements, leading to their three fiances also promptly joining Christianity.

There’s a long selection about how Augustine and a bunch of his wealthy friends come up with this idea to leave the city and live in a giant library in this utopian common-property arrangement where they spend all the day just reading and philosphizing. They have all these schemes about how the government and the economics will work (all of them are independently wealthy, so that’s not a major concern) and they’ve got the whole thing almost worked out, and then…

Next, however, the question was raised as to whether our wives would put up with it–some of us having wives and I being anxious to have one. And so the whole scheme, which had been so well worked out, fell to pieces in our hands and was abandoned as impractical.

The Confessions of St Augustine, trans Warner, 132.
“No, listen babe, it’s a great idea! The guys and I worked it all out. See, there’ll be two of us assigned as magistrates on a rotating basis to resolve all disputes…”

Anyway. There’s more than this to Augustine. His life’s story is genuinely interesting for how he falls and then is brought back to the faith. His depiction of his struggles with temptation–“Give me chastity but not yet”–is also very illuminating. It gets a little old, but the insight is still valuable. There’s a reason why he’s such a prominent church figure.

Likewise his musings. Some of the stuff about how “How can something be the present if we’ve had time to realize it happened” has since become fairly typical, and at points his logic of “this must always be greater than that” doesn’t quite hold up in all cases, but even at this far-flung date, his ponderings on what God being eternal and perfect actually means in a cosmic sense make for heady, if awfully abstract, material to chew on.

Of course, even in his musings, Augustine has moments of thick-headedness. When going through the creation and beautifully philosophizing on the significance of each day, he hits something of a roadblock.

But here is another mystery. What can it mean? See, Lord you bless men so that they may increase and multiply and replenish the earth. Surely you are hinting here that there is something for us to understand…

Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. Warner, pg 339

Such a mystery! This is a real puzzler. “Increase and multiply,” what could that possibly mean? Just a few days ago, this clearly meant that fish and animals should reproduce and fill the earth, but that can’t be right for men, because sex/marriage is sinful, duh. Augustine goes around in circles, trying to resolve this “mysterious” command from God, until he finally hits on the proper meaning: It’s a metaphor!

What is represented by the generation of aquatic creatures is the corporeally pronounced signs… and what is represented by the generation of man is the things intellectually conceived, because of the fertility of reason.

Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. Warner, pg 340

The thing is, I don’t think Augustine is being disingenuous, and I don’t think this is him trying to curry favor with church officials or anything. Rather, this too is a very human way to think, when you know something is true, so that even evidence or text that seems to indicate the exact opposite can’t mean what it obviously means, but instead has a more mysterious meaning that we need to interpret. I think this way often myself–everything else suggests B, so this thing that suggests A must be simply misunderstood. It’s a worthwhile reminder that even one of the greatest philosophers of Christendom was subject to being confused by his own biases.

I’m glad I read this, but I’m also glad I don’t have to read it anymore because oof it was a bit of a slog.

What I’m Watching: Loki

My impression of the early trailers for this was that it was meant to be a largely pointless bit of fanservice for the Tom Hiddleston fangirls–Disney squeezing more mileage out of a fan-favorite character that, IMO, had received an impactful and meaningful death at the start of Infinity War. I don’t think that assessment was entirely wrong; there is clearly an aspect of Loki fan-boy-service going on (an early scene has a robot burn all of Loki’s clothes off, leaving Tom Hiddleston nude except for a strategically placed monitor). But it’s also a lot more than that, and it’s certainly not pointless.

(Spoilers Follow)

In some ways, Loki is a variant of the “lets-kill-God” plotline. It doesn’t get deep into its ponderings on fate and free will; since the actual problem with the TVA is mostly the way they kidnap and brainwash people. There’s no hand-wringing about a God that pre-ordains disasters, no one even brings up the potential of using the TVA to stop various apocalypses (though it’s perhaps implied based on how often Loki drops its characters into one.) It fits, thematically–the god of chaos pushing back against a deterministic worldview, destroying the foundation of fate and order–but the show’s plot focuses more on the burgeoning romance between Loki and his female double Sylvie.

I’m inclined to think our culture puts way too much on what “love” is. Sylvie and Loki both muse on how none of their previous relationships felt “real,” but there’s no elaboration on what that means. How does anyone know what ‘real’ love feels like? Are people just pushing after some sort of imagined one-ness based on an unrealistic image presented in films? In Loki it’s presented as this powerful force that defies time and space and overcomes monsters, that allows you to trust even the most untrustworthy of people (yet still disagree with them). But really, if you’re holding out for a partner who is essentially a female/male version of yourself from another universe, you’re not likely to ever settle down.

It’s believable, at any rate. Tom Hiddleston masterfully switches from the conniving and charming god of mischief to a strangely awkward and vulnerable man in his moments with Sylvie. It’s a very sweet relationship, aside from all the stabbings and trickery, and it gives Loki a very human element as it jumps from one plot point to the next (the pacing is very good, with just enough time dedicated to realizing each step along the way).

I ruin a lot of this stuff for myself by coming in after I know a lot of the secrets. I can only imagine how cool it would have been to encounter He Who Remains and slowly realize who he was and the full implications of what he was talking about. On his own, He Who Remains is actually kind of underwhelming and laughable, and I hope that his eventual revelation as Kang the Conqueror is a lot more compelling, but the full implications for the MCU are fascinating.

At least I can watch Moon Knight totally fresh. That’s exciting.

That’s also something that troubles me, though. It’s getting harder and harder to view each Marvel show/movie on its own. An interconnected universe is great fun, but if you need to watch every movie just to understand what’s going on, then you’ve built up a world that’s no fun for newcomers.

Loki has to spend a good lot of time already going over material from past movies. Some moments might make no sense at all to someone not familiar with the larger franchise. But what really bugs me is how difficult it’s going to be to make the necessary summaries when Loki‘s plot starts showing up in the Marvel movies. How is it going to be for a formerly dead character to pop up out of nowhere? Is the eventual movie-verse arrival of Kang going to mean anything to someone not familiar with Loki? Dr. Strange already mused on how the Multiverse wasn’t supposed to exist in No Way Home… is Loki going to have to give a season-long summary?

One thing that did surprise me–the sequel tag is genuinely interesting. I had doubts about the plot even holding up for one six-episode miniseries. But Loki in a new timeline, where he’s possibly the only one who knows how everything changed? That’s fun. There’s brand new chances to meet favorite characters like Agent Mobius (dang do I love that guy) all over again and see how this new timeline changed them.

Also I want to see more collections of Lokis because the Void was hilarious and Old Classic Loki was just so much fun.

What I’m Reading: Hello Ruthie!

I’ve been opened to the world of indie publishers now. My parent’s minister showed me his “computer takes over the world” book he wrote on a lark over the summer, and this past week I read the short, third-grade style memoir of my mother’s friend.

It was really very sweet. Maybe a little too sweet–most small children I know are considerably naughtier and more petty than the children in the story, but then, this is sort of a kids book, and based on the author’s memory of herself. Or maybe I just have a more cynical/pessimisstic bent. I kept expecting the kids to stumble on a dead body or something like that. I mean, most kids live all the way to adulthood with never seeing a dead body, but it just seems like a typical trait of these sort of stories–maybe because a memoir IS going to be about a particularly dramatic or formative moment in a person’s life, or maybe because I tend to read depressing memoirs.

Beware of the Newberry Award. BEWARE.

The different chapters are very self-contained, and there’s not a lot in the way of a narrative arc. It’s sort of generally about how a little girl changes in little ways over the course of a summer. But it’s sweet and whimsical, and entirely appropriate as a kids book.

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