Henry Adams & Drudge

“The motive for the crime remained unknown, investigators said. Local media in Kansas City reported that Montgomery had suffered an earlier miscarriage.” This blog does not (and should not, of course) descend to tabloid journalism, but even in that fatuous world doesn’t this remark have a certain unreality.

We want babies. That desire remains one of our great passions. Biology doesn’t excuse (our laws are generally and correctly meant to corral our biological instincts not to honor them), but it does explain. And when we remember Henry Adams’ powerful argument:

Neither of them [St. Gaudens & Arnold] felt goddesses as power–only as reflected emotion, human expression, beauty, purity, taste, scarcely even as sympathy. They felt a railway train as power; yet they, and all other artists, constantly complained that the power embodied in a railway train could never be embodied in art. All the steam in the world could not, like the Virgin, build Chartres.

Adams’ assumed the Virgin Mary “was goddess because of her force; she was the animated dynamo; she was reproduction–the great and most mysterious of all energies; all she needed was to be fecund.” We need not go into the quirky and even irritatingly cynical nature of Adams’ beliefs nor the tragedy of his own life that led him to such an abstract approach to the biological to see in his statements an extreme – but an extreme with truth. This AP story shows the further triumph by the end of the twentieth century in America’s battle with biology. Or, as Adams again noted,

“American art, like the American language and American education, was as far as possible sexless. Society regarded this victory over sex as its greatest triumph, and the historian readily admitted it, since the moral issue, for the moment did not concern who was studying the relations of unmoral force.”

While the threat of that power and its complications probably lead to the last lines, might we also think of what an astounding statement that might have been a hundred years ago, two hundred? (Human nature has probably not become more violent — a hundred a year doesn’t seem that extreme in a population our size – but, rather, that childbirth has become dramatically safer.)

“Using state data and other sources, the newspaper documents the killings of 1,367 pregnant women and new mothers since 1990. It said there were undoubtedly more deaths, and that 13 states said they had no way of knowing how many such deaths occurred.

The Post said several statewide studies have found pregnant women more likely to die of homicide than of any natural cause, and that the deaths cut across racial and ethnic groups.

7 thoughts on “Henry Adams & Drudge”

  1. When I read Henry Adams, I found that, while each sentence, each idea, made sense in isolation, by the time the sentences had formed paragraphs and the paragraphs had formed pages, I hadn’t the foggiest idea what he was trying to get at.

    So it is with this post. A crazy woman wanted a baby, and ripped one from the womb of a stranger. A horrible and sad tale, but not the first of its kind. What does this have to do with America, the 21st century, Catholicism, art, power, the Virgin, or, in fact, anything?

    Which remark did you find unreal?

  2. Okay, the first statement: “The motive for the crime remained unknown.” And, well, I didn’t think it was about Catholicism at all. I did think that the fact people can not see the obvious motive – our biological desire to have a child – means that we have made our lives “sexless” in the sense of not honoring the procreative core of sex.

    Henry Adams understood that – he saw it as central to the worship of Mary in the Renaissance. And he felt we traded in the natural and the procreative for the mechanical. Machines are great but they generate a different kind of energy.

    I’ve got to admit this is probably more insular than I’d thought. My kids are likely to groan and say, ah, there goes mommy again, talking about the life force. And it is true I’m a bit obsessive. I think the willed individualism of the 20th century has led to a rejection of the biological, the energy that comes from relationships and our place in a multi-generational family. This has led to not only a sexless but often an alienated life. (With, of course, lots of sex.)

    The question – What was her motive – seems absurd. Yes, of course, women have killed other women for their babies throughout history. But would an observer have said that the motive was unclear? Do we wonder why someone robs banks? We figure he wants money. When a local robber knifed a restaurant manager repeatedly to get the key she had swallowed to keep him on the premises until the police arrived, do we wonder why? He wanted out. Of course, we might wonder, how can someone do that particular act (one that led to many sleepless nights for the policemen who arrived at the scene and for the people who knew what he had done until, several weeks later, he was arrested). Yes, I guess that is a pro-gun anecdote. But gun or no – we figure he wanted out.

    That statement did seem to me a signal of something that I perhaps talk about too often. But I will hold my ground that it does signal a bothersome worldview – one that Adams, who could be irritating but was also prescient, noted was happening at the turn of the last century.

  3. My wife brought home 3 VHS tapes of a Henry James adapted novel from the library. Speaking as an avid reader/viewer, I think that “Deliverance” is one of the best movies in the last 50 years. Somehow I think watching those tapes will make for a very ah, how shall I say…..restful afternoon or two this holiday season.

  4. there goes mommy again, talking about the life force. And it is true I’m a bit obsessive.

    That puts you in the vast majority of women. Men are, I think, always somewhat dumbfounded by the intense need of women to have a baby. We don’t feel it. Get three women together and babies WILL be a topic of conversation. (Shoes too, but I don’t think anyone anywhere has ever figured that one out.)

    Men, on the other hand, are still strongly driven by their hunter-gather instincts. Men enjoy exploring, going out into the wild unkown. That accounts, of course, for men dragging their wives and children out hiking, kayaking and camping. That also accounts for all the hunting and fishing many men enjoy. It also accounts for our fighting instincts. It’s hard-wired into us.

    Women seem to experience two sexual peak periods: one in their teens, one in their early thirties. That seems to be designed for them to raise two sets of children. That sounds like a biological design to me.

    Civilizational rules act to curb our instinctual drives. Social rules keep men from attacking each other over disputes. Property lines check our territorial instincts. People are getting fatter because we’re not adapted to having so much food available at so little cost.

    Our instincts are still there. And they still demand to be satisfied.

  5. Okay, the first statement: “The motive for the crime remained unknown.”

    Ah, I see. I didn’t equate “this remark” with the snippet you quoted, and I assumed that a “remark” would be a direct quote from someone, and in fact now, at least, the story does not contain your quoted sentences.

    At any rate, I’m sorry to ruin your philosophical musings, but I think this is just modern WeaselSpeak, like “The police stressed that So-and-So is not a suspect”, when you know damn well that not only is So-and-So a suspect, he’s guilty as hell. It’s lawsuit-avoidance language until some paperwork has been processed.

    Get three women together and babies WILL be a topic of conversation.

    And this is why I don’t talk to women. I know intellectually, of course, that some women want children very badly, but I have no first-hand experience. I do not believe in the “life force”.

    Another thing: Mary, though I believe she’s supposed to have had other children, is honored for having one child in particular, and to have conceived him without sex. It’s therefore very odd for Adams to conclude that Mary was worshipped for her procreative powers, and it’s ridiculous to suggest that her worship “honor[s] the procreative core of sex”.

    It might be more accurate to say that, the eradication of fertility goddesses from older religions meant that their role was assigned — rather senselessly but that’s the way these things go — to Mary.

  6. Another thing: Mary, though I believe she’s supposed to have had other children, is honored for having one child in particular, and to have conceived him without sex. It’s, therefore, very odd for Adams to conclude that Mary was worshipped for her procreative powers, and it’s ridiculous to suggest that her worship “honor[s] the procreative core of sex.”

    This statement only proves Ginny and Adams’ point. To wit: The modern world has reduced sex to nothing more than intercourse, with the effects of there being lots of intercourse and much alienation. Those who subscribe to orthodox Christian belief maintain that Mary conceived Jesus without intercourse, but this hardly means they believe she conceived Him without sex. It is only as a consequence of her sex, i.e. her female sexual identity, that Mary was able to conceive Jesus. Only a woman could have conceived Jesus.

    While the Holy Spirit did not need the cooperation of any man to effect the conception of Jesus, He did need the cooperation of a woman. Indeed, when one thinks about it, the notion that the Incarnation could have happened the other way round is really logically incoherent. I mean, how would it have worked – through some man’s impregnating the Holy Spirit? When one thinks of it in these terms, Adams’ statement makes perfect sense – even God Himself had need of female (not male) fertility. (To make things precise, since He chose to effect the Incarnation through conception and birth, God had need of female fertility. God could have effected the Incarnation in some other way, e.g. through, as some heretics believed, adoptionism, but, since God did choose to effect the Incarnation through conception and birth, He had need of female fertility.) Thus, the Virgin Birth truly does reinforce and tap into the wonder humans have always possessed for female fertility. To wit: Since only women conceive and bear children, they, much more than men, are fonts of human life.

    Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians maintain that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of all the Redeemed. This spiritual truth, however, rests in a biological one. Mary is the Mother of all the Redeemed because she is the mother, in the ordinary everyday sense of the term, of Jesus – the God-man. Through Baptism ministered and received in faith, the redeemed become the spiritual brothers and sisters of Christ. This makes Jesus’ Father the spiritual Father of the redeemed, and Jesus’ mother their spiritual mother. All of this makes the Blessed Virgin Mary very fecund indeed.

    Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox also conceive of the Church as “Holy Mother.” In Her eternal fullness, though not necessarily in Her subsistence in time, the Church remains the chaste and pure Bride of Christ. Since, however, the Church gives spiritual birth to the redeemed by ministering the Sacraments to them, She too, like Her model, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is ever virginal, while also being ever fecund. Once more, the metaphor employed comes from female, not male, sexuality, i.e. MOTHER Church, through Her Sacraments, GIVES BIRTH to the redeemed.

    Orthodox Judaism also honors the unique life-giving capacity of female sexuality. It’s my understanding that, in Orthodox Judaism, men are obliged to attend synagogue every Sabbath, but women are not. The reason is that women, since they are much more intimately connected to the generation and nurturing of human life, are naturally much closer to God than men. Men must pray and study Torah every week in synagogue to attain the closeness to God that women have simply by virtue of their sex.

    To conclude by bringing this back to what I take to be Ginny’s ultimate point, a culture that fails to respect human sexuality, especially female human sexuality, in all its life-giving fullness, is a culture likely to be marked by great alienation. For the past 45+ years, our culture, through easily available contraception, abortion on demand, and a very liberal sexual ethic, has ignored and denigrated the life-giving aspects of human sexuality. For the reasons given above, this means our culture has particularly ignored and denigrated the uniquely feminine aspects of human sexuality. The result is, as Ginny says, alienation – from life, among men and women, and among women themselves. For example, a woman proudly proclaims “I don’t talk to women.” And why doesn’t she? It’s precisely because, when three or more of them are together, women tend to talk about and celebrate their uniquely life-giving sexuality.

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