Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
... I'm with Ed on this: On the Exchange of Moments.
(Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
You can't read all the books in the world, or see all the shows, or every bird, or ... People figure out what they can manage - and what they want to manage. Geez.
One of these climate predictions is bound to prove right some day. But visit Climate Debate Daily before you place any bets.
Monday, April 28, 2008
If there were no extreme Islamists, they would be as subject to mockery as any other faith. Blasphemous acts against Chrostianity aren't transgressive. They're as safe and predictable as cliches.
(Thanks to Dave Lull, who sent me a copy of Marilynne Robinson's essay "Onward Christian Liberals" even as I was writing the foregoing words, I see that Robinson wasn't exactly doing what I have a problem with. Instead, she shows how Protestantism, which began by rejecting the Catholic doctrine of salvation by faith and good works in favor of a doctrine of salvation by faith alone, came to accept the importance of good works after all. In some cases, it often seems to me to have jettisoned the faith aspect altogether in favor of good works and to have seen government as the the principal agent for achieving those works. My own view is the same as that of Saint James - that the works grow out of the faith, are a manifestation of it, not a substitute for it. I do not think religion can be reduced to social work or a political platform.)
The only thing I know about Hugh MacLennon is that he replaced Robertson Davies when Davies gave up his syndicated newspaper column (which ran in the old Philadelphia Evening Bulletin on Sundays when I was a kid).
Sunday, April 27, 2008
The secret, to the extent there is one, involves pretty much what Lee Lowe intimates in another comment on the same post: “When I stopped working at the university in order to write, it only worked out because I told myself it must be exactly like a job, with regular working hours (and a word count) to which I then held myself with strict self-discipline.”
To begin with, I was helped by the fact that there was no abrupt change, actually. There was plenty to do in effecting the transition into retirement — pension matters, severance pay, vacation pay, health benefits, flipping my 401K into an IRA. That sort of thing. I also had things I had agreed to write.
In addition, though, this blog served to anchor me. It became something to do every day throughout the day. These more discursive posts have developed out of that. And anything is interesting if you pay close attention to it, including retirement.
Friday afternoon, for example, I decided I needed another panama hat for the summer. So I went out to buy one — ran into Debbie at the hat store, oddly enough. The first thing that struck me, though, as I strolled about was precisely that — that I was strolling about on a Friday afternoon, because I no longer needed to be at an office, or anyplace in particular. I was — sort of — free, at the start of the far end of the long journey of life. And I began to notice the sunlight and the houses and the passers-by (and also wondered why those guys in the playground, who certainly looked old enough to be holding down a job, were ... in the playground, tossing frisbees, playing softball).
Which reminds me that one of the first things that took me aback when I no longer had to go to work was that I would be getting money deposited into my bank account without having to earn it (oh, I earned it, I know, but getting a pension isn’t the same as getting a paycheck).
Anyway, to return to Susan’s question, I actually haven’t hit upon a precise routine yet, but I notice that one is emerging. I’ve written four short poems since I retired — one that just popped into my head when I awoke one morning, two to my wife, and another that is a kind of private joke between Debbie and me. I still have assignments to meet.
What I need to do now is figure out how to find time for the things I have wanted to write but never had the time to while I was working — and also time for reading books purely for my pleasure.
it’s not a middle-class Church. It’s a Church that understands a high tradition of
intellectual and musical life but also has a common ritual and pietistic life that is
almost completely connected to the lives of the poor. The middle class in America
seems to me to be much more logically Protestant.
This leaped out at me the moment I read it. I hail from a quite poor level of the working class in this country. My brother and I were raised by our mother and grandmother, both of whom worked in factories. And it always seemed to me that a lot of people raised Catholic abandon their faith for socio-economic reasons - to indicate to the more sophisticated circles they find themselves moving in that they have shaken off the superstitions of the people they grew up with.
This is hardly surprising. I have noticed that a lot of the ideas people subscribe to are not arrived at through any process of ratiocination, but are mere fashion statements. That is why, in certain social settings, you are likely to hear everybody echoing everybody else.
I am not, by the way, suggesting that my own ideas are all the product of profound and subtle reasoning (though I am definitely averse to adopting ideas because they are fashionable). There are, of course, a number of things I have thought long and hard about, but a good many of the notions I live by are grounded in attitudes I absorbed, as it were, growing up. For some reason I have never felt any urge to abandon them and in fact have always felt a distinct loyalty to them.
I have to confess as well that, when I encounter people of my background expressing contempt for things I was taught to believe in when I was growing up, I can't help feeling - rather disdainfully - that they are simply aping former "betters" who are now their "equals." As for academics bloviating about the working class, spare me, please.
It must be the Old Tory in me. But behind it lies the reason why Chesterton was right when he suggested that the only two reasonable political positions for a Catholic were monarchism and anarchism.
Glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks "said H Bloom" is a pompous ass.
Dave Lull has made my day by sending along this by Joseph Epstein: Bloomin’ Genius.
On Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human:
Choice selections of the characteristically impenetrable Bloomian prose are the raisins in this indigestible pudding of a book: “Shakespeare’s uniqueness, his greatest originality, can be described either as a charismatic cognition, which comes from an individual before it enters group thinking, or as a cognitive charisma, which cannot be routinized.”
This about sums it up:
A critic for whom Bloom hasn’t much regard, T. S. Eliot, once said that the best method for being a critic is to be very intelligent. Harold Bloom isn’t very intelligent—he is merely learned, though in a wildly idiosyncratic way. He has staked out his claim for being a great critic through portentousness, pomposity, and extravagant pretension, and, from all appearances, seems to have achieved it.
But really, read the whole thing.
... Yours truly celebrates Frank O'Hara: Poet of Pepsis and burgers.
... Desmond Ryan likes Hollywood Crows: Wambaugh returns to the beat.
... A jockey's story: Barbaro, straight.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Some years ago, I spent some time visiting the Garfield Farm and Inn Museum and learned a good bit about the tallgrass prairie. They really were wetlands. What the farm settlers did was insert field tiles to drain off the water into nearby creeks and rivers. What they found at Garfield Farm was that, if you removed the field tiles, the water came back, and so, surprisingly enough, did the prairie. Seeds over a century old germinated.
Friday, April 25, 2008
... Part II.
“Simenon, too, is constantly and attractively reminding one that history should be walked, seen, smelt, eavesdropped, as well as read; he seems to say that the historian must go into the streets, into the crowded restaurant, to the central criminal courts, to the correctionnelles (the French equivalent of magistrates’ courts), to the market, to the café beside the canal Saint-Martin, a favourite hunting ground, to the jumble of marshalling yards beyond the Batignolles, to the back-yards of the semi-derelict workshops of the rue Saint-Charles, to the river ports of Bercy and Charenton, as well as to the library.”
On page 268, we find the following:
"While many study psychology, mathematics, or evolutionary theory and look for ways to take it to the bank by applying their ideas to business, I suggest the exact opposite: study the intense, uncharted, humbling uncertainty in the markets as a means to get insights about the nature of randomness that is applicable to psychology, probability, mathematics, decision theory, and even statistical physics."
The only way to get to the top of the mountain is to climb there. The problem with top-down cosmologies is that they are abstract paradigms into which people try to fit experience, in contrast to epiphanies arrived at by way of experience. (By the way, I'll be interested to know who gets the lead-in reference about Goshen.)
This is wonderful:
Whenever I turn up to do my ‘Confessions of a Nature editor’ spiel, the
venue is always packed with a sea of gawping faces that look like New Guinea highlanders who’ve seen their first white man (and probably have the pot simmering, backstage). It really is the case that until you turn up, in the flesh and twice as handsome, people don’t click that Nature editors aren’t anonymous droids, but people. Just like them. Well, almost.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
The Grumpy Old Bookman once said that bloggers could be divided into linkers and thinkers. I remember this because he cited me as an example of a blogger who was both. Lately, though, I’ve been doing much more linking than thinking. I am now aiming to remedy this. I hope to post from time to time — maybe not every day, but often enough — some thoughts of my own.
In particular, I’ve been wanting to write about what it’s like to make the change from a very busy professional life to a presumably more leisurely retirement. After all, this blog now purports to demonstrate that there is life for a book-review editor after retirement. Whether this will prove of interest to anyone but me I have no way of knowing – though I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough.
The actual transition from employment to retirement wasn’t at leisurely. There’s a lot of paperwork involved. It is tedious and I have no intention of discussing it. I’m just glad that’s over.
The first really interesting thing I noticed once I didn’t have to get up and make my way to the office every morning was how tightly wound I was. Working for a daily newspaper involves being able to cope with the pressure of deadline and much else. I was apparently good enough at that to not even feel pressured. But once the pressure was off, I kept acting as if it were still there. I had to remind myself that I had time now to enjoy the doing of what I was doing. I didn’t simply have to get it done and start on whatever came next.
The paradoxical effect of this was that, while I had more time at my disposal, I was getting less done, largely because I was like a kid on Christmas morning: There was so much I wanted to do and had time to do that I couldn’t decide exactly which thing it was I wanted to do most and if I started something, I soon found myself easily distracted by something else that also seemed interesting. In other words, I was having a hard time prioritizing, as they say, because now I was pretty much altogether free to set my own. Having a job, of course, takes care of a lot of that for you.
Happily, I am starting to notice a routine emerging. More about that, though, in a subsequent post.
My weight is optimum, I have no paunch, and I don't go to the gym. I do walk a lot - the walk to see Dan Hoffman read last week was seven miles round trip. I did just over three and a half miles in just under an hour. Not great, but not bad. I'm not training for anything and I'm not trying to look the way I did when I was in my 30s.
"Customers limited to 200 POUNDS of rice at a time." Sounds like quite a shortage.
As the comment indicates, Lee linked to it himself and sends along this: 'Who is it that can tell me who I am?'
Well, as Dave Lull points out in an email, Lee's comment is gone, and so is mine thanking hime for the link. Worse, the post won't take comments. Thank you, Blogger.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
This needs to be pondered long and long, not commented upon glibly. Reading it, several things came to mind: Rudolf Otto's The Idea of the Holy, nicely summarized in this:
'... best known for his analysis of the experience that, in his view, underlies all religion. He calls this experience "numinous," and says it has three components. These are often designated with a Latin phrase: mysterium tremendum et fascinans. As mysterium, the numinous is "wholly other"--entirely different from anything we experience in ordinary life. It evokes a reaction of silence. But the numinous is also a mysterium tremendum. It provokes terror because it presents itself as overwhelming power. Finally, the numinous presents itself as fascinans, as merciful and gracious.'
Then there is Alfred North Whitehead and his notion of "nature alive" - which you can get
some idea of here.
And of course a passage such as this - "My claim is not simply that we lack sufﬁcient knowledge or wisdom to predict the future evolution of the biosphere, economy, or human culture. It is that these things are inherently beyond prediction" - brings to mind Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan.
The concepts of the tao, the logos, Teilhard's purposeful evolution are also stirred up. I hope Mark Vernon weighs in on this. Also Taleb. Come to think of it, Bryan - if he ever emerges again - might have much of interest to say about it as well.
This also is worth a look: The Philosopher’s Poet: Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago, and Whitehead’s Cosmological Vision.