Friday, November 13, 2009


On the somewhat enigmatic blog Hilobrow, Matthew Battles eviscerates the New Yorker review of the new film The Box. After paying the film a series of backhanded compliments, the reviewer suggests that the film's director "drop his reliance on religio-mystico-eschatological humbug and embrace, in realistic terms, the fantastic possibilities of ordinary acts of murder, fear, heroism, and death. If he pulls himself together, he could be the next Hitchcock." Says Battles:
Get serious. Get realistic. Get ordinary. If we want the human career entire, however, we must accept that religio-mystico-eschatological humbug will never die out, middlebrow bromides notwithstanding.

HiLoBrow celebrates the ordinary possibilities of the fantastic. Humbug, too, deserves its Hitchcock.
To me, this sounds suspiciously like the thirteenth of the Radical Orthodoxy Theses:
Radical Orthodoxy rejoices in the unavoidably and authentically arcane, mysterious, and fascinatingly difficult. It regards this preference as democratic, since in loving mystery, it wishes also to diffuse and disseminate it. We relish the task of sharing a delight in the hermetic with uninitiated others.
What's going on here? I think it unlikely that Hilobrow is endorsing the explicitly antimodern Augustinianism of Radical Orthodox theology, but both statements reflect an animus against middlebrow culture. In Battles's article, we are confronted with a critical establishment that looks with disapproval upon anything "religio-mystico-eschatological," whatever that means. The critic even has the temerity to suggest a list of themes for the director's next movie ("ordinary acts of murder, fear, heroism, and death") which suggest nothing so much as a mediocre episode of Law and Order. In the Radical Orthodoxy manifesto, we are urged to reject a mode of discourse that attempts to reduce religious faith to the mundane and socially acceptable; in its place, they seek to develop a theology that accepts the full implications of the Christian mystery, and a liturgical praxis that embodies that mystery. Both writers have noticed the same trend: a middlebrow distaste for the complex, fantastic and mystical.

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