The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, June 11, 2012

20th-Century Man: Ray Bradbury

Born in 1944 I am definitely a child of the 20th century. My childhood, my education, my marriage, the birth of my children, my many years in the military, most of my subsequent working life, my years of formation for the diaconate, my ordination...all of this was packed into the 20th century. About the only thing I've done in the 21st century is retire. Anyway, the current century isn't really worth talking about, at least not yet. After all, at the age of 12 it's barely an adolescent and by the time it's mature enough to be evaluated objectively I probably won't be around to pass judgment. So I'll remain happily trapped in my century of choice.

This deep personal connection I have with the past century manifests itself in strange and unpredictable ways. For example, a few months ago while writing a check to pay the nice man who weeds our flower beds and trims our shrubbery, I entered "March 15, 1992" as the date. I was off by exactly 20 years. Although a therapist might try to relate this simple mistake to some long-forgotten, deep-seated conflict in my past, the weed guy just handed the check back to me and said, "Uh...I think you wrote the wrong date." He neither laughed nor smiled. He's a very kind young man.

Of course, a century is nothing more than the passage of time measured by 100 consecutive revolutions of the earth around the sun. It takes humanity to give a century some meaning. Without us humans there would be no 20th or 21st or any other century. Dinosaurs and cockroaches and maple trees don't keep track of such things as the passage of time. They simply strive to survive. On the other hand, we humans, once we've taken care of the survival thing, come up with all kinds of activities to keep us busy. And some 20th-century humans were very busy indeed.

Most of the people who defined the 20th century are now gone or soon will be. Some -- the Stalins, Hitlers, Maos and their wannabe imitators -- will not be missed. But so many others left far more positive marks on their time, in art, literature and music, in statecraft and industry, in science and technology, in philosophy and theology. Maybe some day I'll take the time to write about those who had the most influence on me...but not today.

Ray Bradbury
Today I'm going to mention just one man, Ray Bradbury, who died last week at 91. Probably more than any other writer Bradbury brought respectability to science fiction. I read his Fahrenheit 451 the summer after I graduated from high school and became an instant fan. Throughout that summer I haunted our public library and read everything of Bradbury's I could find. I think what attracted me to his work was its inherent morality, and the fact that he wrote so very well.

I could write much more in praise of Bradbury, but another of my heroes, the late Russell Kirk, wrote about him far more eloquently than I ever could. The following is an excerpt from an assessment Kirk wrote of the work of his close friend, Ray Bradbury. It was written in 1968.

Bradbury (who thinks of himself, so far as he has any politics, as something of a revolutionary) was assailed by the New York critics as a "romantic reactionary." Charitably, Bradbury later remarked to me that perhaps the Manhattan critics merely had been waiting to gun him down once he should ride out of his western fastness. But there was more than that to their vituperative detestation. They perceived that Bradbury is a moralist, which they could not abide; that he has no truck with the obscene, which omission they found unpardonable; that he is no complacent liberal, because he knows the Spirit of the Age to be monstrous—for which let him be anathema; that he is one of the last surviving masters of eloquence and glowing description, which ought to be prohibited; that, with Pascal, he understands how the Heart has reasons which the Reason cannot know—so to the Logicalist lamp-post with him.

Thus the champions of decadence and deliquescence, the enemies of the permanent things, accurately discerned in Ray Bradbury a man of moral imagination, who must be put down promptly. For like Lewis, like Tolkien, like other talented fabulists, Ray Bradbury has drawn the sword against the dreary and corrupting materialism of this century; against society as producer-and-consumer equation, against the hideousness in modern life, against mindless power, against sexual obsession, against sham intellectuality, against the perversion of right reason into the mentality of the television-viewer. His Martians, spectres, and witches are not diverting entertainment only: they become, in their eerie manner, the defenders of truth and beauty.

You can read Kirk's entire article here: The World of Ray Bradbury.

If you haven't read Bradbury, read the wonderful stories in The Martian Chronicles; read Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Ray Bradbury, rest in peace.

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