Book Review: L’Engle’s Walking on Water – Overly Lofty

9780804189293In one sense, Madeleine L’Engle’s “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art,” was pleasant to read and stroked my ego as as a wanna-be writer. Parts of it were inspiring. Overall, however, I found it insipid and overly foofy; it talks of writing and art in the loftiest of idealistic prose, as the highest reaches of human meditation and striving.

In a sense, I agree with most of it. But an idealization of the writing vocation is only a tenth of the story. The other nine-tenths are work, the basic discipline of hitting the nail with the hammer every single day. In this sense, it’s like any other skill or job, one where talent and know-how deepen as experience progresses.

Here’s an example of what I didn’t like:

“The world of fairy tale, fantasy, myth, is inimical to the secular world, and in total opposition to it, for it is interested not in limited laboratory proofs but in truth.” (46)

I love fairy tales and fantasy far more than the average fellow, but science is not something to dismiss. I am not a scientist, but I suspect that a tech-minded reader might react defensively, “Hey that’s what my lab tests are all about–truth.” Of course scientific methodology excludes philosophy, meta-narrative claims, but the whole purpose is to learn true things about how the universe works in order to understand it better. This mentality oversteps when we view ourselves as masters of the universe, meant to tame it. But in general, I would say science and laboratory experiments are at the service to truth, a different approach to understanding our world. I think it throws the baby out with the bathwater to pit science in opposition to truth, as if creative types have some sort of lock on that.

Then there was this:

“In art, we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars.” (47)

Bleck. I am an idealistic person, and I am sympathetic to what she is getting at, which I take to be that art or creativity is an attempt at knowing or expressing truth. Seeking the fullness of truth can be understood as a sort of prayer or connection with reality aka God. That striving to speak truth can bring the speaker to the heights of human calling.

But. I find L’Engle’s language so over-the-top as to discredit it. It’s as if she divinizes the artist himself rather than showing him as a mere human glimpsing at participation with the divine–which is really the intention. Much of life, and I suspect much of an artist’s life, is spent in murky misunderstanding, darkness and trials, and the prosaic daily activities of buying materials, preparing food and changing sheets. Even the highest peaks of sublimity in creation pass unnoticed because the artist is so absorbed in the act. Never is she really conscious of “moving unfettered among the stars.” Maybe L’Engle is, and that sounds amazing.

But the work of other writers and artists, such as Stephen King and Flannery O’Connor, who have explained their craft, spend more time focusing on the process, on the work, of being surprised by the product despite their best plans. So while the artist does do some amazing co-creation, it is rather unknowable. My concern is not that L’Engle is wrong, but that the tone is deceptive.

Artists are not really a breed set apart for transcendental experience, but rather fellow stumblers along the road. More accurate would be Oscar Wilde who said, “We are all lying the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Continue reading

Article Round Up II: Medicine and Healthcare Policy

Here is another round up of articles I’ve found interesting and telling about modern medicine and Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare. As I ponder the ACA, potential changes I hope the new president will make and especially the new politicization of healthcare and the all-encompassing ethics associated with that (such as conscience protection and service for the poor), these are some of things I’m thinking about.

The Atlantic – Medical Problems: Patient Responsive Happiness. problems with ACA

“Joshua Fenton, a University of California, Davis, professor who conducted the study, said these results could reflect that doctors who are reimbursed according to patient satisfaction scores may be less inclined to talk patients out of treatments they request or to raise concerns about smoking, substance abuse, or mental-health issues. By attempting to satisfy patients, healthcare providers unintentionally might not be looking out for their best interests.”

This takes some background. Pieces of the ACA reward hospitals for higher patient satisfaction, but patient satisfaction surveys don’t correlate with better outcomes. This is why we see hospitals now with brand new furniture and state of the art entertainment. Granted, we patients matters. There are a lot of cogs going into healthcare now as the government works to incentivize the practice of medicine, as they do with the tax code, and we are starting to see some glaring distortions.

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/04/the-problem-with-satisfied-patients/390684/

The Atlantic – The Erosion of the Dr/Patient Relationship

“Today’s physicians, he tells us, see themselves not as the “pillars of any community” but as “technicians on an assembly line,” or “pawn[s] in a money-making game for hospital administrators.” According to a 2012 survey, nearly eight out of 10 physicians are “somewhat pessimistic or very pessimistic about the future of the medical profession.” In 1973, 85 percent of physicians said they had no doubts about their career choice. In 2008, only 6 percent “described their morale as positive,” Jauhar reports.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/doctors-tell-all-and-its-bad/380785/

Carrie Kovarik, M.D. in the Washington Post, Defending her Trump Vote in Academia

“Putting insurance in the hands of people in this country is a small part of the equation that leads to increasing access to care. Once they have access, the bottleneck to care is moved down the line we don’t have more doctors, specialists or hospitals so we need to plan for innovative solutions that will help to provide them care….

Right now, this is not happening to a significant degree so when my counterparts look at me with disdain, I say, “Why not give change a chance?””

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/11/17/its-a-lonely-place-a-conservative-ivy-league-professor-counters-faculty-calls-for-trump-to-denounce-attack/?wpisrc=nl_highered&wpmm=1

Mother Jones – Trump Care Likely to be more Confusing and Costlier

“According to the state [Kentucky], most of those savings would come from people dropping out of the program because they couldn’t manage the premiums and complexity—18,000 people in just the first year.”

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/11/trumpcare-likely-be-more-costly-less-efficient-and-more-annoying-obamacare

This analysis strikes me as largely true–some reforms will probably be aimed at making requirements too complicated so that lower-income people drop out. That is a problem.

There are also however other problems such as a legitimate scarcity of resources that the ACA deals with currently by having enormous (such as $13,000.00) deductibles on the low-premium plans which effectively leave people uninsured. Another glaring problem are the bureaucratic and reporting requirements such as online patient portals and the electronization of medical records. These have some good sides, but doctors’ non-clinical duties have increased substantially, as have the number of administrative work required in offices, which has bloated costs immeasurably. Colleges have entire majors now dedicated to Health Care Administration–not medicine, not nursing, but medical office work.

 

Your thoughts and direction towards other resources are always appreciated!