About Jane O'Grady
Jane O'Grady is a philosophy teacher. She writes reviews and obituaries in the London press.
Articles by Jane O'Grady
‘Can a machine read your mind?’ – the title of a recent (February 2009) article in the Times -- is meant to be sensational but is similar to hundreds of other articles appearing with increasing frequency, and merely repeating a story that has been familiar for the last 50 years. ‘It’s just a matter of time’ is the assumption behind such articles – just a matter of time before the gap between physical brain-stuff and consciousness is bridged.
When the Second Vatican Council ordained that the Mass be said in the vernacular, it wasn’t that the Latin Mass was simply translated into English, Swahili, or whatever, but that a new rite was introduced, which had more Sciptural readings, more ‘active participation’ by the congregation, and encouraged a rearrangement of the church (often involving iconoclasm) so that the priest faced the congregation. The idea was to make the Mass more relevant, catering more to the subjective convictions of the individual, and making a ‘place for creativity or the expression of personality’. But as with similar moves in schooling, these reforms have failed. Trying to make the venerable in religion or culture ‘relevant’ usually results in demoting it, taking away the onus on the customers (as they have now become) to become relevant to it, and precisely denuding it of the sacredness that made it revered. And as with the endless use of handouts, and pre-digested, oversimplified information in schools, wooing the congregation has actually obviated the need for the individual’s own involvement -- the close following in prayer and reading the missal that the old rite demanded. Anyway, the main ‘expression of personality’ is that of the priest’s, who, rather than being almost an impersonal, objective vessel for the Mass, is now a sort of entertainer to be judged on his delivery and charisma.
What Casey’s article suggests above all is the mistakenness of assuming that it is possible to grasp the essence of a religious belief or a religious ritual, and then to transmit it clothed in modern garb. But is there such a separable essence? Is it a special content underlying forms that are somehow optional. Is tradition the sort of entity that can be lifted out of its clothes and regarbed so as to be more palatable to consumers? Is form and ritual ever just an external husk that can be cracked and discarded, leaving an easily-separable kernel?
Jane O'Grady (London ): A new magazine that will uphold glorious values and art-forms which are (to the terrible loss and danger of all humankind) being increasingly despoiled, criticised and allowed to wither - what, at any time, could be more timely?
Prospect Magazine, which was started 13 years ago with a similar purpose to Standpoint, has been instrumental in promoting just such a redemption from iconoclasm and relativism, because its editor, David Goodhart, really tries to work with and not just against modernity. What worries me is whether this new magazine will do so, judging by many of the attenders of the excellent launch party, held in the luxury of the covered courtyard in the Wallace Collection.
Standpoint wants to stand as a citadel in defence of Western civilisation. But isn't the true beating heart of conservatism the wisdom of knowing how to move forward even while attempting to be fixed in the same point? I hope that Standpoint doesn't simply preach to the smug, scared defenders of Western orthodoxies: they are in the citadel already. The magazine needs to use the politically ambivalent, the unallied, and the New Ex-Left – like Nick Cohen - and even, why not?, good writers who are still on the left, but troubled - Steven Lukes, Helena Kennedy. Provided they are genuinely grappling with the current multiculturalist and establishment views, and are really trying to find a ground for their feet.
Admittedly Nick Cohen is the television critic, and it is excellent news that Bishop Nazir-Ali is writing about about how Christianity’s demise in Britain creates a vacuum likely to be filled by Islamic dogmatism. He is impressively erudite (it was exhilarating to talk to an Anglican bishop so well-versed in Averroes, Aquinas and Dummett).
But there was also a depressing sense of people who had simmered for ages in pans of sour resentment, and who emit embarrassingly juvenile Daily Mail platitudes, and of dark-suited young men huddled together, wary of women and their own sexuality. Michael Gove's speech assumed that everyone was in the same old den of banditry, and when he used Posh Spice’s skirt as an analogy, presumably to demonstrate knowledge of youthful mores, he only succeeded in being as vulgar as the skirt itself.