Dominic Preziosi

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.

By this author

New issue, now live

Our March 21 issue is now live on the website, with a feature essay from Terry Eagleton (adapted from his new book) on the Christian response to Frederick Nietzsche, “the first real atheist.”

Near Occasion

Who knows why we like the words and phrases we do? My fifth-grade daughter recently copped to a special fondness for “adhesive,” while my high school–age son has been spitting out “debacle” with contemptuous abandon. For a very long time I’ve been drawn to the compound “near occasion.” Maybe a linguist or brain specialist could offer a scientific explanation for the general phenomenon, but in my specific case I trace it to a youthful encounter in face-to-face confession.  

Wear your ashes to work day

The celebrant of the Mass I went to yesterday said that if people asked us afterward if it was Ash Wednesday, we had permission to answer: “No. Why do you ask?”

Lenten reflections, 2014

With Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, our annual series of daily Lenten reflections from longtime Commonweal contributor Joseph A. Komonchak commences. This year, we're featuring a special dedicated page on the website, Lenten Reflections 2014, where each new post will be collected. Make sure to bookmark it for easy reference and viewing.

A look at Lorrie Moore's new collection of stories

In a story in her newest collection Lorrie Moore violates one of Elmore Leonard’s hallowed rules for writing fiction: Never use the word “suddenly.” Whether that--or a tendency for wordplay and characters whose quips are sometimes too clever by half--will turn you off Bark, Moore’s first new book of stories since 1998, will probably depend on how much of a fondness (or tolerance) you’ve developed for this kind of stuff since her earliest work in Self-Help.    I’ve developed a sort of accommodating response to it, and her collection Birds of America, which appeared about fifteen years ago, gave me ample reason to look forward to the release of Bark. That and the fact that I’ve attended some of her readings in the interim (note: she'll be appearing in New York Thursday night at Barnes & Noble in Union Square) and have followed her writing in places like the New York Review of Books; her description of the language of film theory as prose that often has “the forensic caress of an appliance warranty” was one of my favorite lines of late 2013. And also that she makes a good and I think necessary case for the continued publication of collections that don’t necessarily hew to the current fashion for books of thematically or otherwise “linked” stories:  
My students are very attached to these thematic collections — they think that’s what the publishers want. … But I never think of a collection as a form or a genre. I think of a collection as literally a collection — a temporal document. You put together what you’ve written over a decade, and there it is. I think each story should begin in a completely pure and independent way. Now, it will have things in common with other stories — it just will, because it’s coming from you. But stories have so much in common already, because they’re from one single writer, that there’s no reason to artificially make them talk to each other.
  All well and good. But so then what about Bark itself?

New issue, now live

Our new issue is now live. Among the highlights are stories on the misguided reporting and analysis of the Obamacare rollout (see Nick Baumann’s “Catastrophic Coverage”) and the equally misguided unwillingness of supporters to make the political case for a successful and increasingly popular program (see Rand Richards Cooper’s “Give It to Us Straight, Doc” [subscription]).

Weekend reading on our website

We're featuring three articles on the homepage right now: "Missed Opportunities," in which the editors look at where the UN report on the Vatican's response to the sexual abuse crisis goes wrong; "Roth at Rest," William H. Pritchard's review of a new book about Philip Roth; and "No Ground for Stand Your Ground," E. J.

That Cadillac ad isn’t about stuff?

If you’ve spent any time in the last ten days or so watching the Olympics you may have caught the ad from Cadillac and thought to yourself: wait -- what? To synopsize: pugnacious, squared-jawed guy speaks directly to camera about why the American way of doing things is so great, as he takes the viewer on a swaggering tour of his holdings: from the vista of his infinity pool, across the natural-lit expanses of his glass-sided home, and ultimately to his serene, manicured driveway, where a shiny new Cadillac ELR awaits the promised imprint of his imperial haunches.

Miss Temple & Graham Greene

Shirley Temple and her movies received a lot more attention in Commonweal in the 1930s and ‘40s than I would have expected when I began a search for more information on Graham Greene’s notorious (and ultimately libelous) review of her 1937 vehicle Wee Willie Winkie – an incident that has merited mention in a number of the obituaries after her death this week. More on Greene’s transgression (and what followed) in a moment, but here’s some of what Commonweal was saying at the height of "Miss Temple's" fame.

Richard Dana Skinner in August 1934:

Certainly in Baby Take a Bow [Shirley Temple] manages to be vastly ingratiating, in spite of being pictured as one of the most absurdly spoiled imps of the American home. Being “cute” is not necessarily good acting, nor is playing the part of a little show-off a real test of straight dramatic ability. What little Miss Temple needs, in justice to herself, is a part far removed from musical comedy formulae, something comparable to Chaplin’s The Kid, in which the quality of downright sincerity can show through. My guess is that Shirley Temple has that quality, but that it is in imminent danger of being throttled by the overexploitation of cuteness. At her age, the more sensitive the good qualities, the more easily they can be misdirected and warped. One might add the hope, too, that as a star of films for children, she will not always be surrounded by enough gun-men and sentimentalized ex-convicts to conjure up a succession of nightmares.

And, a year later, Grenville Vernon:

[Curly Top] is only another of Miss Temple’s vehicles, and one of the most saccharine yet. It fairly drips sentimentality. Of course it gives Miss Temple the opportunity to be arch, and charming, to make people happy, to dance and sing, and even to impersonate an old lady. This is all to the good, when done by Miss Temple, but how much better it would be if we could feel that she was not just being made to show her talents like a sort of child on a flying trapeze! That she swings through her stunts in a perfectly marvelous manner is of course true. But then she couldn’t help it--she is Shirley Temple!

And from May 1940, the editors on Temple’s “retirement”:

Miss Temple gives every token of being a gifted screen artist and (what is not necessarily the same thing) a very nice little girl. In the first capacity, she has enlisted us among those innumerable beneficiaries who have to date paid twenty million dollars to see her perform. In the second, she leaves us rather glad that she is retiring (to grade school) at the ripe age of eleven, with all her garlands and honors about her. As far as one can judge from a strictly outside viewpoint, Shirley's parents and managers have guarded her from some of the worst effects of a movie career involving precocious stardom; she still seems simple and happy, and she is universally believed to be so. But no effort or care can annul the essential abnormality of such a life--the consciousness of being the center of a vast system of production, publicity, adulation; the killing hours before the camera, especially (as has latterly been the case) when pictures are multiplied to catch the vanishing graces of childhood. So we feel that the leading female box-office star of the world has won the right to retire.

Running through those excerpts is a note of concern for the well-being of the child who would appear in dozens of movies by the time she was a teenager. I’m not sure I’m prepared to say it’s the same kind of “concern” expressed by Greene, some of whose words, if you haven’t read them recently, were rather more direct:

The new issue is live

Just posted to the homepage, our February 21 interreligious issue. Anchoring it is a four-part exchange on Catholic-Jewish dialogue, “Getting Past Supersessionism,” with contributions from Steven Englund, Jon D. Levenson, Donald Senior, and John Connelly. From Englund’s opening piece (subscription):