Novak (novak) wrote,

Personal/Theological Notebook: Journey to Montreal; Dorothy Day

Sooo wiped out. I arrived at 9pm to my hotel across from the convention center where the American Academy of Religion annual meeting is being held in Montreal, after leaving my Milwaukee apartment at 6:30am. It's been a long day. I just ate some room service food and I'm about ready to keel over. That said, though, I did enjoy the travel in many ways. My schedule has just been so busy that, even though I was being carted around the country, I felt like I sat down and was still through this day more than I have been in a long time. I worked my way through the AAR schedule for the first time, checking out sessions I might like to attend, if I can get much time away from interviews at the Job Center. Looking out the window while coming in to land at LaGuardia, I saw Lady Liberty and Manhattan for the first time since flying down the Hudson to transfer at Newark on my way back from Ireland in April 1999. I also saw part of the grounds of the 1939 World's Fair, which totally took me by surprise. Sitting in LaGuardia, waiting an hour and a half for my flight to Montreal (after an earlier four hour layover at O'Hare, the monotony of which was only broken up by a payphone call to Sophie [who nodded, apparently, more than talked], Leslie and Mom), I realized that that was my first time actually being in New York City, although I'm inclined to say it doesn't count, since I didn't actually get outside.

Cleaning out my jacket pockets of old oddments of paper, I found a flyer I had been handed with my ticket for Over The Rhine last month, and had never really seen. I was utterly dismayed to discover that last Sunday, The Swell Season played the Pabst Theatre. The Swell Season are Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the duo from the incredible film Once, which I wrote about some months back. Seeing their show would have made a good dual birthday present for Dan and Amy, Amy having gifted me with the DVD for my own birthday, some time after I had shown them my borrowed copy of the film. Anyway. Arg! Double Arg!

Starting from my departure from O'Hare, I then worked my way through the latest issue of Commonweal, the 85th anniversary issue, which was perfectly engaging. There were great book reviews to read (Eamon Duffy's latest, Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor, sounds fascinating, and I was almost equally intrigued by Theodore Ziolkowski's Modes of Faith: Secular Surrogates for Lost Religious Belief. The article entitled "The Tightrope: Loyalty, Independence & the Catholic Press," by John Wilkins former editory of the London Tablet, was perhaps the best thing I've read on the need for an independent Catholic press.

Sidney Callahan wrote a column about a 1973 letter from Dorothy Day which she had recently re-discovered while cleaning out her old files while moving. There was a passage quoted I found fascinating, because of certain heretic suspicions I've been harbouring the last few years. Although I was raised in a household headed by a strong woman, making me assume that ideas like "equal pay for equal work" were just matters of simple justice and common sense, and although my education had me take the arguments of ideological feminism as equally simple matters-of-fact, I have increasingly come to suspect that feminism as a school of thought caused very little of the women's revolution of the 20th century, no matter how much it took credit for it. (Not unlike the Enlightenment philosophers virtually taking credit for the scientific revolution.) The more I look at social history, the more the worldwide shift in the status and opportunities for women seems to me to have been driven by the technological shifts in the 20th century. Thus my interest to read Day, who lived through all this as a most exceptional and aware woman, write, inviting Callahan to come to New York and speak on women's lib:
I feel badly at seeing formerly happy women friends, bitter and angry at all they have suddenly discovered they have suffered. And they get angry for me for not being angry.... Isn't anger a sin?
The women's history I have been particularly working on (and may design a course regarding) is medieval women's history, as background to looking at medieval women mystics, like Julian of Norwich, Hildegard von Bingen, and Catherine of Siena. Reading the great French medievalist Regine Pernoud, I was struck by how far the status of women had come by the High Middle Ages, and how much of that was quickly lost in early modernity with the embrace of Roman legal codes out of the Renaissance. But I was equally struck by Pernoud's accounts of contemporary women's resistance to these facts, and the realization that the ideological articulation of feminism in the later 20th century was willing to effectively denigrate actual women's history in order to preserve its own personal narrative as the ideological liberator of women. That's all too sweeping and over-stated, I'm sure, but that sort of thing was the first real insight that I had into 1960s-1970s feminism as not just a political or social movement, but as an ideological narrative. Of course, there is no single "feminism" any more, but it is interesting to see in Day a woman who was very much at the "cutting edge" of anything like the 20th century's movement for social justice for women, but who also recognized that period's feminist narrative as a particular narrative and declined to just sign off on the whole of it in the way most people did. Anyway, I'm so interested in the way ideas do drive events that I have to be extra-careful to watch for these other kinds of causal components in history.

Coming into Montreal, the city was all lite up, with the high-rise downtown impressively glowing like all big cities at night. I saw Saint Joseph's Oratory, all solemn and subdued on the far side of the big hill in the center of town, and remembered Chris Cox, CSC telling me my first stories of Brother Andre, back during my first year at Notre Dame, walking over to Moreau Seminary after a football game. I don't think I'll be able to make it over there, but it would be kind of flooring to see the walls lined with crutches and wheelchairs and all the tangible remains of people gifted with all the strange healings reported in his company.

Off to bed. Amen.
Tags: catholicism, historical, historiography, medieval studies, personal, philosophical, sophia, theological notebook, travel

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