Checking In

This is my first online blog and I check in from time to time - usually to do some housekeeping and clear the spam.  It's been interesting to see how LiveJournal has upgraded over the years.  We're over at blogspot now at  But we don't want to forget where it all started.

We also have our main homepage at

Also, we have a few other blogs that are devoted to particular topics.  Our Harry Potter blog is called Shell Cottage and you can find it here.

Our Bob Dylan blog is called All Along the Watchtower and you can find it here.

Finally we want to wish Bob Dylan a happy birthday because, well, it's his birthday!  Happy Birthday, Bob!

  • Current Music
    Bob Dylan, of course


Saturday, January 28, 2006
Diocese of Virginia Annual Council
Richmond, VA

Dear friends,

If I were to tell you what was one of the more memorable moments at the Virginia Annual Council was, it was the moment when the Council delegates took a vote on an amendment proposed by Dan Van Ness, Delegate, Truro. Following what now seems like a Virginia tradition, the Resolution Committee took seven of the original resolutions and compiled them into one big resolution called R-17. Here is how the final resolution begins as I have it:

Whereas, We in the Diocese of Virginia, members of the Anglican Communion, united in Christ, called to live out our witness, are "gathered in the spirit" and moved by thanksgiving for the many gifts that mark our life together now, and over the last 400 years; and

Whereas, The Lambeth Conference and Windsor Report have called us to acknowledge and respond with compassion and understanding to the pain and suffering of those who, because of their sexual orientation, endure marginalization and rejection; and ...

Here is where Dan Van Ness rose and offered an amendment that clarified what the Windsor Report actually said, rather than only half of what it said. The Windsor Report called us not only to show compassion and understanding to those who suffer because of their sexual orientation, it also called us to affirm that sexual expression is confined in the marriage between one man and one woman (this is a paraphrase of Dan's amendment - I think I was so darn tired I can't even read my own handwriting!). But those who have read the Windsor Report know that the authors made it clear that marriage and sexual expression is between one man and one woman. If this wasn't so, there wouldn't be the call for regret and repentance. If this wasn't so, the Episcopal Church would not have had its seat removed in the council of the Anglican Communion. To allude to only part and not the whole of the report is very dangerous, especially in these times. This amendment would clarify what the Windsor Report actually calls us to do - compassion to those that suffer as well as commitment to the fidelity in marriage between one man and one woman.

Dan's amendment was defeated, 274 against the amendment and 169 in favor. By defeating the amendment on marriage, the Diocesan Council embraced only a section of the Windsor Report that suited the majority of the delegates of the Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia. It was a stunning insight into the diocese - that the majority of Council could not agree with the Windsor Report's call to affirm the traditional definition of marriage. Not a happy moment and a vote to ponder. How serious do we take this Windsor Report and the fabric of the communion torn by the actions of the Episcopal Church? Now we are taking out the bits that are uncomfortable, the bits that cause us trouble, and retaining the bits we like, the bits that make us think we're unified when in fact, we are not.

Other highlights from Council:
My resolution on prayer and fasting did pass with an endorsement from the Resolutions Committee. The next step then is to mobilize this season for prayer. Perhaps we should have 169 Days of Prayer.

I convened the annual President's Breakfast this morning, one of the last things I was responsible to do as President of Region VII. We had a great turnout and it was very interesting meeting with this wide variety of people from all over the diocese. A few of the regions have been addressing the issues facing the Episcopal Church in different ways which was very good to hear. We had a good time of sharing and I led a short devotion on John 5, the blind man at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus asks a question, gets right to the point which we don't always get at church councils. "Do you want to get well?" Jesus asks straight away. The blind man does not answer "yes" or "no," but assumes that the only way he can get healed is through the waters in the pool but he hasn't been able to get near it in 38 years. Jesus straight away asks him "Do you want to get well? He then gives the blind man instructions: get up, pick up your mat, and walk. Those are questions we can ask ourselves. Do we want to be healed? Are we prepared to get up, pick up our mat, and walk? In these interesting days, that story has fascinating implications - but the question does stand before us. Do we want to be healed? Do we know we can? Are we will to stand up, get our things together, and go forward?

Another highlight of the Council was that John Keith, former member of Truro, was elected to the Standing Committee. He is one of the most honest and truthful people I know and I respect him very much. It is good to see him elected to a place of authority and influence at a time such as this. That he would be willing to serve in these uncertain tells you a lot about who he is. I ask that you remember John in your prayers.

Bishop James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, was an extraordinary speaker and I know that he had a direct influence in defusing the "punitive" tone that many in the Council arrived with - you can see it in the resolutions that were submitted - before Council and then after Council began. They contrasted deeply with Bishop Jones' call to be graceful in truth and truthful in grace - a very wise word for us all. His teaching centered on Jesus himself - not some euphemism of Christ or a Gnostic Christ - he spoke of the personal relationship with Jesus and how we know him - in the Word, in the Sacraments, and in our ministry amongst the Poor. It was very challenging and it caused me to reflect that I am not aware of a bishop like Bishop James Jones in the Episcopal Church - a solid evangelical with a social conscience. If only voices like his existed in the leadership of the Episcopal Church - but they do not. They come visit from time to time but the Episcopal Church as an institution continues to drift further and further away from the English tradition of Jones-style evangelicals. The American version seems to have left long ago - perhaps as early as John Wesley, perhaps a little later. But I realized as I listened to James Jones that I could not imagine an equivalent to him in the United States. If we have them - they are rarely bishops - bishops who teach challenging theology, encourage examination of our social conscience and witness, and exhort a personal relationship with the Risen Lord Jesus. He was winsome, funny, challenging, and honest. It is why I want to be an Anglican, but also why I am feeling further and further estranged from the Episcopal Church in the United States. Where are our James Joneses?

Another blessing of being away this weekend was the time spent with brothers and sisters in the Network, the Coalition and new friends along the way. The vote on the Marriage Amendment shows us the division in the Diocese of Virginia. I believe that vote - 274-169 - is a clear illustration of the divide. One of the joys of gathering at Council is the opportunity to encourage and be encouraged by the 169. They represent parishes and missions all over the diocese and reminds each of that we are not alone and why we need to continue to stand firm, express the grace we've received from Jesus with one another, and press on without giving up. Last night I went out to dinner at the Penny Lane Pub with a few friends and we broke bread together, told stories of our journeys, dreamed of the future, and enjoyed the gift of friendship. We wondered where we will be this time next year, how will we get there, and will we be there together. We prayed we would stand together.

Now is the time to pray and fast for the leaders of our church as we go into a period of shaking, of testing, of proofing, of growing, of depending on the Lord like we may never done before. I cannot tell you what the future holds, but as I write to you tonight I pray that whatever happens we may do it together truthfully and gracefully whatever path God puts us on, wherever He may lead.

Thank you for your prayers for this Council. If you haven't had the opportunity to read it all ready, I encourage you to read the incredible letter that the Falls Church wrote to Bishop Lee. You can read John Yates' letter to his parish as well as the Falls Church Vestry letter to Bishop Lee on their website at:

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

Blessings and peace,

Diocesan Council 2006

You raise up your head
And you ask, "Is this where it is?"
And somebody points to you and says
"It's his"
And you say, "What's mine?"
And somebody else says, "Where what is?"
And you say, "Oh my God
Am I here all alone?"
Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Dylan, 1965


Friday, January 27, 2006
Annual Council, Diocese of Virginia
Richmond, VA

Dear Friends,

We learned today why the Standing Committee was on the agenda to have two formal reports and one hearing - something I had never seen before. This morning Bishop Peter James Lee called for a Bishop Coadjutor. A Bishop Coadjutor is elected by the Council of the Diocese of Virginia and will be Bishop Lee's successor as the Diocesan Bishop of Virginia. The plan is to elect the bishop at next year's Annual Council (January 2007) and that the Bishop Coadjutor would serve until Bishop Lee's retirement, no later than 2010.

This morning there was a call for new resolutions and along with a couple of Courtesy Resolutions, there were new resolutions that were rather troubling. One was called "An Anglican Precedent for Finding the Way Forward on the Issue of Profound Theological Difference," which basically said that now that a precedent was made when Gene Robinson was elected bishop, then we should continue in the same tradition as the reception of women bishops. The resolution stated that it was based on the language of the Windsor Report, but I brought a copy of the Windsor Report with me and it actually says the exact opposite. Because Gene Robinson's election did not follow the path of the reception of women bishops, it was - to quote the Windsor Report - the actions were not accepted by the worldwide Anglican Communion but actually threatened to "tear the fabric of our communion at its deepest level." Not a happy resolution.

On that note, another resolution that was offered this morning and voted to proceed to the Resolutions Committee was a resolution entitled "On Elected Leadership of the Diocese of Virginia." It compelled that anyone who did not welcome the bishop for Episcopal Visitations, or did not provide unrestricted financial support to the operational budget of the Diocese would not be eligible to serve in leadership offices of the Diocese of Virginia. The resolution does not clarify exactly who would be the one - or ones - who get to decide who's "in" and who's "out." It is a very divisive resolution, but it made it to the Resolutions Committee.

Russ Palmore of the "Bishop's Special Committee" gave a short update on the progress of that committee (Hugo Blankingship, John Yates, and Tom Yates serve along with Russ, Andrew Merrow, and Carolyn Parkinson). It was one of the "realer" moments of the whole council.

Another big surprise is that Region VII - my region - has a new dean. Randall Prior of St. Andrew's, Burke, replaces Stuart Schadt of Trinity Manassas. That was a big surprise.

A highlight has been James Jones', the Bishop of Liverpool who is the guest preacher at Council. He spoke at Truro not too long and he's been very effective here at Council and casting a more compassionate tone to the proceedings, but it will be interesting to see if tomorrow - when the resolutions actually hit the floor - to see if that tone continues.

This afternoon I went to the Resolutions Hearing and testified in favor of one resolution (my own, R-6 "Call to Prayer and Fasting" and against what became R-15, the resolution accepting non-celibate homosexuals as bishops in the line that women are now bishops (which, as I mentioned earlier, is in opposition to what the Windsor Report actually says.). The hearings were surprisingly low-key and the fears that we might end up going overtime were unfounded. Each of the resolutions now before Council were debated and the turnout was very high (standing room only). But it went rather smoothly and without the acrimonious comments that can sometimes appear.

Another highlight of the day was Ronda Royalty's address to Council. I am going to try to get a copy of it and post it at my blog (it also has copies of these letters from the Virginia Annual Council - just go to: . It was excellent! Instead of providing a laundry list of all the accomplishments of the Executive Board, Ronda, the Vice President of the Executive Board, highlighted the most important events and then spoke to the question of whom are we clinging to? Is it Jesus to whom we cling - or are we clinging, holding on to other things, good things even, instead of Jesus himself? It was a powerful moment - you could hear a pin drop as everyone appears to be listening and not resulting papers, coughing, or walking back out to the lobby. The delegates stayed and listened carefully. Her words are worth pondering and I'll ask her for a copy so you can read them for yourself.

Tonight for dinner a small group gathered back the Penny Lane Pub. We processed through the day, offered insights to one another, encouraged one another, and began to prepare for the final day of Council - to hear the report on the calling of the Bishop Coadjutor, to hear the results of the Resolutions Committee, to finish voting for the Standing Committee (John Keith, formally of Truro and now at St. Mary's Arlington, remains a candidate), and to vote on the resolutions. It will be an intense day and I appreciate your prayers for our team very much!

I wish I could tell you more, but I am so very tired tonight I just have to get some sleep. Tomorrow morning I am the convener of the Presidents' Breakfast, a gathering of the all the lay presidents of the diocese. Please pray for that time - we meet first thing at 7:00 a.m. Others will be meeting elsewhere to prepare for the day, so please pray for them as well. Then the day's Council opens at 9:00 a.m.

Again, feel free to check: for a blog version of this e-mail. I am sorry I am not as peppy as usual, it's been an exhausting day. Tomorrow at the Presidents' Breakfast I plan to do a short devotion from John 5. Jesus asks the blind man who has sat by the Pool of Bethesda for thirty-eight years "Do you want to be well?" It's a fascinating question - very direct and to the point. The blind man assumes that the only way he could be healed is to be put in the pool, but he never gets the chance. He assumes that's the only way it's done. But that didn't actually answer the question: Do you want to be healed? It is an interesting question to ask ourselves. Are we looking in the right place to see Jesus, to know His love and His healing? Do we really want Him to heal us? If so, will we get up, pick up our mats, and walk?

Thank you so much for your prayers and for the very kind e-mails you've been sending to me which I am sharing with others here. It is just wonderful to think of you all and to know you are praying and that the Lord is at work. God bless you - I will report once again after the closing of the Council on Saturday.

In Christ's abiding love,
Mary Ailes
President, Region VII, Diocese of Virginia
Vestry, Truro, Fairfax


Thursday, January 26, 2006
Annual Council, Diocese of Virginia
Richmond, VA

Dear friends,

Greetings to you from the capitol of Virginia, Richmond. Ronda Royalty, Meghan Graham and I arrived in the city around 6:00 p.m. and after checking in, headed straight to the Penny Lane Pub for a dinner gathering of the Truro Delegation. It was fantastic! For some reason, Jim Oakes had entrusted me with the responsibility of securing a restaurant for our first evening here at Council and so I saw there was an English pub that seemed to serve real pub food. It was risky (would it be small, dark, and smokey?). But it turned out to be delightful - the staff at the pub were just incredible. The owner greeted us at the door (we had run into Martyn, Angela, and Rachel Minns in the hotel lobby and they joined us for the trek to the pub). "Father!" the pub owner bellowed in his native Liverpool accent to Martyn "you do not have a reservation!" I knew we did, but he was winking. He knew there were fifteen people waiting in the restaurant and we felt like we were old timers before we were even through the door.

We walked into the restaurant, as authentic an English pub as I have ever seen in America, and were greeted by what grew to be twenty members of the Truro delegation. I ordered Fish & Chips and we were off with a bang. We encouraged each other, prayed together, and began to prepare ourselves for the next two days in what could be a historic Council.

It sure doesn't feel like business as usual. For one thing, this is the first council in years where we are not meeting in Reston, but back down here in Richmond. My first council twelve years ago was down here in Richmond and that feels like a lifetime ago.

This is my last official responsibility as President of Region VII in the Diocese of Virginia. Last Thursday I oversaw an election in our Region where we elected stellar candidates from Christ the Redeemer, Church of the Apostles, St. Andrew's, and Church of the Word. Robin Adams was elected to serve as the Region VII representative to the Executive Board of the Diocese of Virginia. It's quite dramatic change from this time last year when he was the center of great debate in Council on whether his church was going to be welcomed as a parish in the Diocese. It was odd - here was a mission church that wanted to join the diocese and was great opposition from those who are now so upset that even one mission leaves the diocese. Now Robin returns as a member of the Executive Board, thanks to the members of Region VII Council who came out last Thursday and supported him. God bless you all!

Another blessing is that we elected a Youth Delegate this year. It's Region VII's turn to elect a young person who has seat, voice, and vote at Council. We elected 16 year old Kevin Gilroy of Truro and he is here and fully participating in this process. I am very interested to hear from him what he witnesses and what he learns in this process. There is a certain sense that attending any sort of council - legislature or church council - is like watching sausage being made. It's not pretty but it has to be done if you want a good sausage.

How will the sausages come out of this council? Too soon to tell. There are some really interesting resolutions up before this Council and you can read them at - several "loyalty oaths" to the bishop which are quite distressing. There's a great resolution from the wardens of friendly churches in Virginia, including Truro and the Falls Church and many many others. It's R-5 and is called "Affirming the Commitment of the Diocese of Virginia to Remain in the Anglican Communion" and I commend it to you. See all the signatures after it - it's very heartening to see such a group come together.

I also have one submitted (R-6, Call to Prayer and Fasting) and I ask your prayers for that resolution. It will be interesting to see how it's received.

Another fine resolution is R-11, submitted by Paul Julienne of Truro, Andrew Merrow of St Mary's Arlington, and Susan Eaves of St. Thomas, Richmond - a very eclectic group! It's called "Affirming our continuing solidarity in Christ" and it is also very very good. You may also want to keep an eye on what happens to that resolution.

R-8, R-9, and R-10 are quite troubling for many reasons and are seen as compelling loyalty oaths. The signatures on those resolutions also are worth reviewing, they include at least two General Convention deputies, a regional Dean (from Region VII no less - which shows you how divided we have been) and the President of the Standing Committee. You may want to watch what happens to those resolutions.

On Saturday morning, I am the convener of the annual Regional Presidents' Breakfast. This will be a gathering of all the lay presidents in the diocese and I am hoping to do a short devotion. Please pray for my time to prepare that devotion. We will also be hearing from the chair of the Stewardship Committee, so that could be interesting as well.

We will elect new members to the Standing Committee and Ronda Royalty and John Keith are both nominated to serve (both are on my e-mail list). My prayers go with them both. So you may also want to keep them in prayer. Tomorrow afternoon Ronda, as the Vice President of the Executive Board (and the regional rep from Region VII) will make a speech on the floor of the Council. PLEASE PRAY FOR HER - she will have the full attention of the entire Council. Her speech is scheduled to be at around 1:45 p.m. tomorrow afternoon.

I have brought my iPod to Richmond and created a special playlist just for Council. "You feel like letting go, hold on, think you've had too much, hang on ..." the song is now playing as I type this to you. I have felt that way many times, especially since General Convention. I ask myself from time to time, "Why are you doing this? Why not take up a new hobby or something?" Why do we press on and not give up? How many times I have thrown up my hands and said "that's it, how much longer can I keep doing this?"

Tonight I was thinking of Diane Knippers. I went to my first Diocesan Council because Diane asked me too. I had no idea what was going on or what I could do. But I tried to watch her and learn from her. I am thinking of her and I asking even now, what would Diane do? How would she handle this situation? What I remember best was her fabulous sense of humor - she could find just the right words to bring perspective back to the moment. So I guess I am here - as so many are here - carrying on the work she started. We will see this weekend just how much we learned from her. It's still hard to believe she's gone - but her life, her witness lives on and I hope that whatever happens over the next two days, it will honor her memory.

Why are we here? We have the privilege to witness the love of Christ and the truth of the Gospel. We are challenged to think through what we believe, and we are challenged to turn our hope and security to Jesus himself. There's just no other way to do this but to surrender to Him and trust Him and let go.

I have no idea what is going to transpire over the next 48 hours. I am concerned that on the schedule there is a hearing being held by the Standing Committee - something I have never seen on the schedule before. No one seems to know why they are doing this - the President of the Standing Committee (who led the charge against Church of the Word last year and affirmed Bishop Lee's decision to defrock Phil Ashey of South Riding Church) will be making a report tomorrow morning, hold hearings in the afternoon, and then make another report on Saturday morning. I've never seen that before and it's unclear why.

We have also two more missions applying for parish status and both are friendly churches. Please pray for them as well - Church of Our Redeemer, Aldie and Church of the spirit, Kingstowne. There is also going to be hearings on both these churches (for the second year in a row - all previous years the votes were by acclamation). That vote should happen on Saturday.

Friday afternoon will also be hearing on Resolutions. That could be very interesting, as delegates and others debate the merits of the resolutions before the Resolutions Committee. That will be at 2:45 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. Please pray for that time - it could be somewhat unpleasant.

Thank you so much for your prayers! I will be writing to you again tomorrow evening and try as best as I can to give you an update of where we are. I saw Bishop Lee right after I arrived this evening and greeted him. "Hi Mair," he said and he greeted Ronda as well - but it was not an easy greeting. Please pray for discernment, a winsome witness, abundant kindness, but also courage to stand up when necessary and to stay silent when prudent. Pray for our team, that we will walk together in fellowship, affection, and faithfulness - not only to one another, but most especially to the Lord who reached out and transformed our lives. He's still working and He sees things we cannot see. I thank God that He is author of hope - and I pray tonight that I will place my hope in Him.

In Christ's abiding love,
Mary Ailes
President, Region VII, Diocese of Virginia
Vestry, Truro Church, Fairfax

PS - I have not sent one of these in a while and as we all know, e-mails come and go. Please feel free to pass this on and if this has been sent to you and you use to receive these e-mails or if you want to receive them, please just let me know. Thank you!

Defending John Granger

This is very well said. One of the things I have enjoyed most about analytical writing regarding the Harry Potter books among adults has been the high regard for all of us who are attempting to think through these wonderful books. It has been very helpful for me to read John Granger's works, as well as many others who I may disagree with as well. It's fun to think through which parts I agree using the canon text and which parts I may disagree. I took several classes at Georgetown University as a post-grad student on Shakespeare, taught by Ken Addleman. He was something else - in addition to being a respected authority on Shakespeare, he was also the chief arms negotiator for the United States during the Reagan Administration, during the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. You can imagine what his class was like if you got something wrong! In fact, he banned the use of the word "Shakespeare" from his class - you had to use the text (like we use the canon of Harry Potter) in order to make your case. If you use too many outside sources or began to try to put words into Shakespeare's mouth, well, I shudder to think what might happen.

When I took his Hamlet class I listened carefully to his theories and pondered them. But one time there was one of his theories - argued completely from the text - that I disagreed with. With great trepidation, I raised my hand and told him I did not agree. You could feel the air suck out of the room (or was it just me?). I felt like Neville Longbottom in Potions. But I pressed on and began to make my case for a complete opposite point of view from the professor. He stared me down as I spoke (one can only imagine what the Soviets felt like when he stared them down too) but I kept going, using the text and plunged on. Finally, I finished my point. There was silence. Would I be ridiculed? Would he just respond in silence and pretend I don't exist? Would me fellow classmates speak to me? Would I ever come back to class? He continued to stare at me with his dark eyes.

And then he jumped up, with great enthusiasm, and cried out "Well done!" He lifted the book up in the air and said very loudly "That's what I'm looking for! Those are excellent points, argued from the text. I will now have to consider why you may be wrong," he said, "but this is what I'm looking for! Excellent!" I nearly collapsed.

It is okay to disagree, arguing from the text, the canon. But if we're going to carry on these conversations, don't we need to read what each of us has actually written? I have a book that just arrived from England that are academic essays on Harry Potter that slam Jo Rowling for being bourgeois and a closet traditionalist, that she shows women and girls in terrible stereotype and that she's a threat to liberal society for her backward traditional views of morality. Really! I am going to make myself read this book - and then figure out what may be true and what may be false. All ready it is clear that the writers are not citing the canon and text, but reading into the text their own bias, rather than allowing the text to speak - including the mysteries.

That's what makes this so much fun, isn't it? We all bring our biases, our ideas, our views to our reading. The challenge is to see if the text, the canon can stand up to our theories. But it's not necessary to attack each other because we disagree, is it?

I do agree, that because Barb has shown leadership in fandom, that it would be very helpful to younger readers to see kindness and respect shown amongst the adults who are writing about Harry Potter. I would hope, Barb (and believe me, I may have to do this myself by the time I'm done reading this academic anthology sitting here on my desk) that we can show graciousness and good will towards those with whom we disagree, if only as an example to younger readers on how it can be done.

What would Dumbledore do?

Thank you so much for listening,
Mary Ailes
Author, "Why the New York Times Should Restore Harry Potter to the Best Seller List," from the "Plot Thickens."

Recent posting on the Plot Thickens Forum

“For Mr. Whistler’s own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of wilful imposture. I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.”
John Ruskin, 1877

This famous quote is from the 19th century art critic John Ruskin, who was stating his personal opinion of James Whistler's contributions to the Grovesnor Gallery, an alternative showing to the Royal Academy. Whistler responded to Ruskin's remarks by suing him for libel. What followed was a historic two-day trial that put art appreciation on the stand. Whistler won, but Ruskin was required to only pay him one pound.

The aftereffects of the trial, though, were substantial. It revealed a huge split in the criticism of art. What Whistler did was inject the artist into the art and by defending his paintings, he won the right to tell the public what the art means. In other words, he changed the way art was appreciated up to that time - the artist was very present in the art and as Ridgeback writes, it is his interpretation of it that matters. John Ruskin can go home.

Our topic here is "Two Degrees of Separation." The question though for me is that if JK Rowling comments on her work - does that constitute canon? Whistler would say yes. What the artist says matters the most in the interpretation of the work. Whistler in fact might say it's 1st Degree. But I disagree. I believe the work stands for itself and the artist's interpretation is a 3rd Degree. The artist view carries a greater weight when understanding the work (why else do I check so much?) - perhaps more than most other critics. But I believe that if the work is superior, the artist is in subjection to the work, not over the work. Art is more than just communication on a human scale, but can be the doorway to a larger world, the Undiscovered Country, what lies behind the veil.

Now Harry Potter may not become such art - it's too soon to tell. Tolkien does seem to be heading into that world, what we call a masterpiece, though he certainly has his critics amongst the higher schooled. But I do believe that great art, the masterpiece, ultimately must stand on its own, with the artist in the shadows. The two-degree rule is a brilliant way of judging the work - if the argument cannot be made from the text alone (even with conflicting arguments which is when it really gets fun) - than I think its either an indication of the weakness in the text or laziness on the part of the critic to examine the text carefully. That is not always simple to discern. The argument could be made that Tolkien was unappreciated by the critics for so long not because of the weakness of the text, but because of the laziness of the critics. Ultimately, it wasn't Tolkien who made the case for his work - it was the work itself.

The "Two Degrees" rule does call into question the role of the critic and the role of literary criticism. It is an excellent way of examining critical review of the work (as well as fan fiction) by how well they stick to this rule. If they inject their own opinion without citing the text sufficiently, then it seems that the literary criticism or the fan fiction is more about the egos of the critic and the fan than it is about their own work - in other words, we will follow Whistler and Ruskin into the courtroom. When we reach that point, it becomes virtually impossible to actually discuss the text because the conflict is now centered onto the personal opinions of the critic or the fan than on the actual work. The artist becomes first degree. This is what happened, I think, between Ruskin and Whistler. Then art - be it a painting, a poem, or prose - suffers because it becomes indistiguishable from the artist or the critic, a conflict we live with today.

Just ask Bob Dylan.