Madeleine Davies

Marilyn McCord Adams, horrendous evils, and the goodness of God

In Uncategorized on February 27, 2019 at 7:06 pm
Guernica

Guernica, by Pablo Picasso, on display at the Renia Sofia museum in Madrid (CREATIVE COMMONS)

WHEN Marilyn McCord Adams died in 2017 I read in an obituary by her husband that, “the topic that most gripped her, and most inspired her intellectual work through the rest of her life was the theological problem of evil.”

In her book Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God, Robert Adams observed, “she does not try to answer the question, ‘Why did God permit all the evils that we know about?’ Rather she asks, ‘What can God do to make our existence a great good to us, without trivialising the horrendous evils that we know about?’”

This year I finally got around to reading Horrendous Evils. I have no background in philosophy, or theology, and it’s been a challenging exercise. But I have found it so helpful. What I’ve written below is mainly just a sort of repository for me to come back to, a store of some of the quotes I want to treasure..

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The land that runs on memories: thoughts on Coco and grief

In Uncategorized on October 31, 2018 at 10:26 am

Coco

THE Land of the Dead was the “big design challenge” for the creators of Coco, according to the film’s lighting director, Danielle Feinberg. What should it look like?

“We all want to know the answer to that ultimate mystery: is there anything after death?” the director, Lee Unkrich, observes in an interview accompanying the film. “Is there a heaven? Is there a world to go to?”

What emerged from extensive research, including trips to Mexico, was a gorgeous vista of vertical cities, connected by vertiginous viaducts and lit up in a pretty palette – pink, orange and blue – evocative of enormous coral reefs. This soaring cityscape is built on pyramids that give way to pre-colonial architecture and topped by cranes signalling ongoing construction. It was in part inspired by designer Ernesto Nemesio’s visits to see his grandparents in Mexico, where he remembered close-knit buildings constructed almost on top of each other.

Although there are no living things in this world, what’s striking is how familiar it is. You arrive at magnificent iron-wrought station reminiscent of St Pancras or Grand Central, where customs staff are on hand to check your possessions (“Welcome back to the Land of the Dead. Please have all offerings ready for re-entry”). There are skyline trams, a plaza, concerts, and bureaucrats available to assist with family reunions.

“This isn’t a dream then?” asks Miguel Rivera, the 12-year-old at the centre of the film, who accidentally winds up here. “You’re all really out there? . . . I thought it might have been one of those made-up things that adults tell kids, like vitamins.”

When it was released in January, to huge critical acclaim, Coco was praised by the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin as a “zingy, sunny family adventure about what it means to be dead”. In doing so, he noted, it “crosses a frontier that most films, animated or otherwise, can only tip-toe up to at best”. Rated PG, it wasn’t too ghoulish or macabre for children, he reassured readers, but “healing and hopeful . . . in the way it makes sense of bereavement, Coco could conceivably become a means for children to better understand grief.”

I watched it this week and, while there were many things I loved about it, I’m not sure I’d entirely agree.

Religious melancholy in the 4th arrondissement

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2018 at 5:22 pm

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Hadewijch is a French film about religious extremism in which the central protagonist is a tow-headed teenage novice.

We see her on her knees in her spartan convent bedroom, hands pressed together in prayer, a crucifix both set before her eyes and wrapped between her fingers on a chain. She appears both devout and somewhat self-conscious. There’s something practised and performative about her prayers, despite the fact that she’s alone.

She refuses to eat at breakfast and feeds her bread to the birds, shivering in the winter sun.

“You’re a caricature of a nun,” an older Sister tells her. “God isn’t there.”

This diagnosis, made early on, is one of the most interesting aspects of the film. We are given to understand that the nuns are wise to fanaticism – that they have seen it before and can distinguish it from piety.

“Abstinence not martyrdom,” one Sister instructs Hadewijch, gently.

“She is attached to this behaviour and I believe it testifies to a degree of self-love”, the Mother Superior rules. “For her own good, she must return to the world.”