Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The eye of the needle

Lots of good stuff in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books--I must say that I was particularly enjoying Freeman Dyson's thoughts on genetic engineering and the biotech future, it's a strikingly stimulating and interesting piece--William and Henry James-related pieces by Garry Wills and Colm Toibin, neither available online unfortunately--and an absolutely enchanting and extremely thoughtful piece by Caleb Crain on Matthew Avery Sutton's biography of the early twentieth-century evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.

That, too, is not available online to non-subscribers, but here's a particularly good bit:

On New Year's Day, 1923, McPherson dedicated Angelus Temple, a cement building near Los Angeles's Echo Park with columns and a dome of a vaguely Roman style. It seated more than five thousand and was shaped like a baseball field, with the pulpit at home plate. Rose petals were strewn in the baptismal pool, where the water was heated. McPherson's services in the temple became famous for her "illustrated sermons"—skits with costumes, props, and occasionally some jokes. After she was caught speeding in Santa Monica, for example, congregants listened to her preach astride a motorcycle, wearing a policewoman's uniform, of the need to slow down and think of God (see illustration on page 58). After she flew to San Francisco, they watched a plane piloted by the devil crash, while another, piloted by Jesus, rose to heaven. In Miracle Woman, Barbara Stanwyck's character preaches from inside a cage of lions, and indeed, in addition to performing with a lion, McPherson once shared a stage with a live camel as it failed to pass through the eye of a needle, and at another time placed in an imaginary Garden of Eden a real macaw, which betrayed an unfortunate secular past by squawking, "Aw, go to hell!" Yet it was not merely the stunts that drew people. "Whether you like it or not you're a great actress," she was told by Charlie Chaplin, who had slipped in to see her.

I like the camel especially, that's a good one...

And here, courtesy of Wills's review of Robert Richardson's new biography of William James, is the quite excellent comment of William to Henry on his brother's late style:

You know how opposed your whole "third manner" of execution is to the literary ideals which animate my crude and Orson-like breast, mine being to say a thing in one sentence as straight and explicit as it can be made, and then to drop it forever; yours being to avoid naming it straight, but by dint of breathing and sighing all round and round it, to arouse in the reader who may have had a similar perception already (Heaven help him if he hasn't!) the illusion of a solid object, made (like the "ghost" at the Polytechnic) wholly out of impalpable materials, air, and the prismatic interferences of light, ingeniously focused by mirrors upon empty space.

Good, eh?!? Breathing and sighing all round and round it...

1 comment:

  1. The coolest thing in the Dyson article was this, I think: