So Watchmen seemed a pretty fabulous adaptation of the text. I'd never seen a direct adaptation before (I've never read or seen the graphic novels and movie adaptations of 300 or Sin City) but this seemed about as good as could be imagined in a single short movie. Barnes and I headed over to Pizza Man after the movie let out, talking about the changes for the movie – which we both thought worked and were sensible – and in one major case, even tightened up the plot considerably. From there the conversation moved on to matters theological, where I augmented a comment from some weeks earlier that he had noted and talked with his wife about, when I had called Thomas Merton somewhat "dated" over dinner at the Lloyds. I certainly didn't mean that to be dismissive. While there are a few areas or moments in which there is that sort of cultural, historical or technological datedness to Merton's work, mostly he's "dated" in the same sense that Augustine is: he is clearly a man fully engaged in his moment in history. This says nothing about his ability to be adapted to another set of circumstances: in fact, I find that much of what he says that is specific to his immediate time has that ability to be extrapolated-from which is necessary to guarantee a writer's long-term usefulness. I think this is particularly so for a spiritual writer like Merton. That got me talking some more about my own recent conversations and thoughts about the topic of "religion and autobiography," which led to some questions on his part for some more detailed explanation of how it was I ended up doing a Systematics doctorate instead of a Patristics one, and I went into some detail explaining the story of that shift, from early comments from Catherine LaCugna and Brian Daley, through my changing perspectives as I taught high school Theology, and then some of the shifts occurring after I actually began at Marquette. Barnes's own influence in being a Patristics scholar trained as a Systematician also featured in the conversation, given the way he has challenged me over these years regarding some of the ways in which Systematic Theology is taught today, as well as giving me a springboard for using historical figures like Augustine as dialogue-partners for contemporary Systematics. I heard more, too, about the development of his own doctoral work and of his historical project with Lewis Ayres, and how it was that he pulled together this particular education of his own. Good stuff.
Battlestar Galactica concluded on Friday with a two-hour final episode, as many of you well know, as did the four years of Friday night dinner and viewing parties we've been having, mostly at the Lloyds's. (I'm sure the gatherings will continue, without the show, although they won't have that same strange flavour of us intensely jabbering away at the breaks and conclusions.) I've never before experienced a television show as such a social phenomenon before, gathering together to watch a 100-hour nail-biter of a movie. I know lots of others around the country have watched it socially as much as (or more than) privately, and I've never seen a show that so demanded to be discussed, argued and debated, both as drama and as a jumping-off point for its themes. It really gave a different sense of what television drama could be (and of the staggering amount that is produced to lesser effect).
Amy's Mom is staying with them for some time now, and I think was bouncing somewhere between amused and bemused so see us all discussing and arguing, both during the breaks and then for a good hour afterwards, trying to judge whether we thought the conclusion worthy of the whole (Dan and I on the positive of that, Mike on the negative). Complicating matters, she had never watched an episode of it before, so, rather like I said above, coming in on the last two hours of a hundred hour movie is certainly less than ideal. So I tried to explain a bit to her about why it was we were so invested in it. I wonder what kind of impression it would make of her daughter's and son-in-law's friends that they come over to fixate on the television and over-excitedly debate a piece of fiction.
There's not much else I can say here that isn't full of spoilers and there are people who may read this who I very much want to enjoy the thing on DVD. I has been great, though, that I could enjoy this thing (which I might dare to call the single greatest piece of television ever, with the possible exception – or tie – of the BBC production of Brideshead Revisited, although that's a very different kind of beastie) all with such a group of friends as this: some of them theologians, all thoughtful and passionate people fully invested in the art of living, and who then would take an epic drama of this sort as a jumping-off point into a few hundred hours of fabulous and real exchange with one another. I realize that, spread over the years though it was, this piece of drama will one day be one of the most significant artistic Events in my life as I look back over it, just because I could share so many hours of it with the same group of friends, as it became an occasion for drawing each of us out – both in talking about it and in leading to lots more talk beyond it once we had exhausted the night's episode. I suppose anything can serve for bringing friends together, even just the simple decision to gather for a regular meal. But I have to give this show kudos for being so frequently exciting and compelling in itself as to rile us up for lots of different sorts of thoughts, conversations and stories.
Last night I enjoyed relaxed talk over a late dessert at Starbucks with Erynn, after having to reschedule for a number of days due to her ever-changing school schedule. She came in kind of glowing over her first place finish at the weekend's meet at the University of Georgia where she qualified for NCAA regionals in the very first meet of the outdoor season. I actually hadn't seen her since she tied the school record in the high jump (5'9.25"/1.76m) the other week, although she was almost dismissive of that when I congratulated her on it. She had an air of being on the hunt: clearly not satisfied with sharing that title, she was stalking the record already – determined to beat that mark and hold the title alone. It was fun to see that quiet determination just instantly burn in her eyes. So I got caught up in talking technique with her for a while, since jumping is such a different kind of training than I did as a distance runner, and since I wasn't sure what it was, exactly, that one did in trying to improve one's heights, once you knew what you were doing. She explained to me that there were kind of two ways or styles of high jumping: those whose jumps were particularly powered by speed and by their approach to the jump, and those whose power came out of their spring itself. She was of this latter sort, she said, and so while she can improve that power through weight work and building muscle mass, for her there was perhaps greater growth to be found in working on the speed and technique of her approach to the jump, and that this was a lot of what she was doing.
Then it was my turn to try to catch her up on some of my news, suddenly recalling that I'd been holding back on the details of my news for a few weeks, until we could sit down face-to-face. Plenty of randomness through and after that: some of her internship/summer possibilities, bad break-ups and awkward first-dating-someone-older stories, high heels, the character of our anger when we get angry, with me talking about getting into fights as a kid and with her description of being "black angry," and that leading to comparisons between African-American and Irish-American styles of verbal abuse as affection; dealing with other people's ethnic perceptions and constructions – a roommate of hers who cannot be "Assyrian/Italian" but is just told that she is "white"; my classroom discoveries about my Irish upbringing and sense of humour, particularly as experienced by German-American students – and I think ending on the breadth of concepts of beauty around the world that are threatened with being overwhelmed by our media culture, at which point we were thrown out of the place because it had closed. Good talk. Not only is it fun to have a newish friend who is a track athlete and who can talk that sort of thing, but it's also cool that she has her art wing to her: so we're going to hit the Jan Lievens exhibition at the Art Museum on Sunday, as she has a rare meet-free weekend and for which I'm totally jazzed.