Perhaps … we ought to take a hint from the increasingly ironic aspect to Olson’s kind of refusal and ask whether Melville’s steadily deepening use of Christian logic might more adequately explain Melville’s development as a writer. For Melville didn’t just lean toward Christian biases. Rather, he cultivated them—first by spying out the importance of sacramentality, second by developing a homemade, “desperado” theology of being that was strong enough to withstand Matthew Arnold’s kind of “Dover Beach” doubt, and, thirdly and most provocatively, by declaring de facto allegiance to Rome.
Monday, August 31, 2020
Tomorrow, he said, is fixed for death’s birthday party […]
At 0-four hundred hours when the night grows sickly
And the sand slips under your boots like a child’s nightmare,
Clumsy and humped and shrunken inside your clothes
You will shamble up the shore to give him your greeting.
This reminds me of what I was once told by a friend who was a veteran of 25 bombing missions in World War II.
The other number of interest is the official coronadoom death total, which as of Sunday night is 167,558. Math is easy: 167,558 * 0.06 = 10,054. Rounded up, to be fair.
The remaining 157,504 died of other things—an average 2.6 other things!—with the presence of coronadoom. Some fraction of these poor people, considering false positives, died of just other things.
Rather than so often pretending our convictions are the only “scientific” ones—and pointing to someone in a lab coat with letters after their name to justify that (let’s be honest, we’re all doing that)—maybe it’s time to do something else. Recognize what we’re hearing as arguments—including those referring to data. Listening to them all as best we can, and then doing the hard work of deliberating together—openly, and without bitter accusation—to discern for ourselves what is true and right.
Sunday, August 30, 2020
One of the stories at the heart of Tobacco Road -- Erskine Caldwell's critical review of the American south -- involves the purchase of a new car. In each chapter, the car is damaged: first the bumper is hit, then the interior ripped, then the brakes shot. This continues until the car is seriously dented, not days after its purchase. The point Caldwell seems to be making is: at least the thing still runs.
Like most other material objects in Tobacco Road, this car -- this is glimmer of hope, of ascension -- is subject to immediate decay: and there is nothing, it seems, to reverse it.
Tobacco Road is not a subtle book: Caldwell's shows through dialogue; he indicts through characters. The Lester family -- of poor white Georgians -- are equal parts racist and religious. What's more, they are hopeless: there is no sense of growth or progress here; there's not even a sense of impending tragedy. Instead, Caldwell casts a vision of stasis, of lives expired before the action begins.
The sense I have from a few reviews is that Tobacco Road was seen by some as reductionist, as an unbalanced assault of southern living. To an extent, that is true: Caldwell does not explore racial relations, for instance; nor does he touch on a social system in which having more than ten children is considered acceptable. The result is a book which assumes assumes certain truths -- around race, or education -- but which does not consider theirs contours, their geneses.
One theme which Caldwell does scrutinize, however, is the land, and the faded dream of agricultural subsistence. Jeeter Lester -- the father figure of Tobacco Road -- is ruined in part because of his insistence on cotton production, on working what might rightly be labelled The Land. This dream, Caldwell argues, has passed: Jeeter can find no credit, no mule, and no seed. He searches for it, but is frustrated at every turn. What he encounters, in the end, is not only an economic system set against him: what he confronts are the limits of his own intellectual capabilities.
I can't remember a book quite like Tobacco Road: a book so insistent, so focused. There's no escaping Caldwell's indictment of the American south. And yet, it's as a result of this insistence that I experienced an element of doubt, of suspicion. This is a heated novel motivated by a singular focus: to lay bare the ruin of rural white populations across the American south. But what is a novel without redemption? If characters do not progress or evolve, there is no prospect of recovery. And without that, a novel is transformed into a portrait, a sketch. That, ultimately, is what Caldwell has constructed: a vision in black and white, a drawing at the end of the day.
Mindfulness aims to achieve mental tranquility; contemplation aims for no less than “union with Reality,” to use Underhill’s phrase. A reduction in mental distractions is a common benefit of contemplative practice, but it is not the goal. In fact, contemplation often demands that the practitioner accepts distractions in prayer, and even grows comfortable with them, rather than trying to eliminate them. The anonymous fourteenth-century author of The Cloud of Unknowing encourages us to live with distractions, as if looking over their shoulder to where “God is hidden in the dark cloud of unknowing.” Aiming only for freedom from distraction—that is, for pure attention—falls short of genuine contemplation, as it tethers success and failure to our own desired outcomes. As such, mindfulness reinforces the self at the center of the spiritual project, whereas the goal of contemplative prayer is the opposite.
The last time I dropped acid — which was more than 45 years ago — the first thought that occurred to me as the drug started to take effect was that I would have to spend the rest if the day dealing with being high. I decided then never to drop acid again. And I never have. I did take some psychedelics after that — mushrooms — but that experience was different. Acid always seemed inorganic. Mushrooms felt more natural. I have found that centering prayer is better than either.
“No one becomes a saint by wanting to be one; it happens by loving God.”
You don’t need to have learnt Latin to learn Latin botanical terms – the excellent RHS Latin for Gardeners, by Lorraine Harrison, explains it all. And what a lot of romance, history and sheer knowledge you kiss goodbye to, when you jettison botanical Latin.What is wrong with people these days? God forbid that you expand your knowledge beyond the merely contemporary.
Fungi live in all kinds of organisms, on surfaces, in and below the soil, in the air, in water, in deep ocean floors and inside solid rock. In these places, fungi are not merely present. They are structural. Their interaction with other matter has played an essential role in making the world we inhabit. The symbiotic merging of algae and fungi to form lichens enabled the rootless ancestors of all our plants to emerge from water. Ninety per cent of all plants depend on fungi for minerals. Fungi can eat most rubbish, and even oil spills. We can use them in numerous ways (drugs, cooking, even furniture building). And when we look closely, we meet large, unsettling questions.
Saturday, August 29, 2020
… for both these extraordinary poets, bleakness and bewilderment yielded, in the end, to bliss. The members of Hopkins’ Dublin community who sat at his deathbed heard him murmur “I am so happy, I am so happy”. George died in the Balfour Hospital in Kirkwall in April 1996. Just before he lost consciousness, he said to the doctor and nurses attending him, “I see hundreds and hundreds of ships sailing out of the harbour.”
At age eighty-three, Epstein remains our most entertaining, wide-ranging, industrious, learned practitioner of both familiar and critical essays. In his hands, the distinction between the two forms is hardly worthy of notice. Like most of the best essayists, he is a utility player, broadly curious and competent. His interest in books and his fellow humans has never dimmed. Sadly, Epstein, that most congenial of men, has come to look like what Ishmael calls, speaking of the Pequod’s crew, an “isolato.”
Presumably Powers felt some kinship with these poor, lonely priests of his—who have devoted themselves, however imperfectly, to God, just as he devoted himself to art. The difference was that he himself was a zealot, and of a stubbornly uncompromising sort. We know this from Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life, a 2013 anthology of letters edited by his daughter Katherine A. Powers, recently reissued in paperback. In an introduction and an afterword, she talks about her father with a mixture of fondness and extreme exasperation. “Growing up in this family is not something I would care to do again,” she says, and the reader comes to feel much the same way.
These developments illustrate the ways in which the practice of science can sometimes be arbitrary, dogmatic, authoritarian, politicized, blinkered, highly fallible, and destructive of other social values—just as Feyerabend warned. That does not entail that COVID-19 is not a serious problem (it is) or that the lockdown was not initially justifiable (it was). But expertise that does not acknowledge its own limitations takes from us as much as it gives, and irrationalism is never more dangerous than when clothed in rationalist drag.
What is being promoted, you must understand, is the growing organization of youth everywhere against their mode of government; against their parental customs, against very often the religions in which they have been brought up. There is the insidious cult of permissiveness, there is the increasing cult of violence. Violence not as a means of gaining money, but violence for the love of violence. That particularly is stressed, and the reasons for it are to the people concerned one of the most important things and of the utmost significance.
Friday, August 28, 2020
Thursday, August 27, 2020
The books are what they are. If you don’t like what they are, don’t read them. It’s your loss.
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
In a statement to PW following the release of the voting results, Romano said he is "grateful to the authentic NBCC critics who understood that you don’t cancel a fellow critic because you disagree with him. But," he continued, "we plainly have a big problem in the NBCC when so many of our current 'book people' members can’t listen to someone who disagrees with them without thinking: 'Enemy, villain, destroy!' There’s a lot of internal work to do to restore the National Book Critics Circle to being worthy of the third word in its name, and to stop it from being an instrument of one-sided ideological censorship."Hear, hear.
Apollinare was born 140 years ago yesterday.
The authors are more concerned with descriptions and typologies of cant than with explanations of why it should be so prevalent now. They are very anxious, understandably so since they are academics working in universities, to be politically even-handed that they miss an obvious point, that cant is now much more prevalent and powerful on the left than on the right. (Outright lying seems to be evenly distributed across the political spectrum.)
It was not always so: cant can switch sides, and it is within living memory in Wales, for example, that religious cant held sway. Indeed, the only Welsh joke that I know pokes fun at that religious cant: a young congregant asks a preacher whether it is permissible to have sex on Sundays, to which, after thinking for a while, the preacher replies, “Yes, so long as you don’t enjoy it.” A great deal of Islamism is also cant, which the authors do not mention.
There are three elements to this motif of turning: The first is that turning aside brings us “within listening distance” of the ineffable, whether that be the Welsh landscape, other people, or God himself. Second, as in “A Bright Field,” turning aside becomes an alternative both to mechanistic progress and to simplistic nostalgia. Finally, though Thomas may not see God “when I turn,” he finds him “in the turning” itself; the practice of Christian faith entails precisely this turning aside to “the eternity that awaits.”
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Moreover, Sweden introduced other reforms that make it more free market in some areas than the United States. School choice, for example, is not only the model for education in Sweden, its introduction had the support of the teachers’ unions. Social Security has also been partly privatized. This all means that Sweden has an economic freedom index score of 74.9, barely below America’s index score of 76.6.Anyone who follows the news abroad would know this.
The takeaway from this, I think, is that from the start the politicians and “experts” have been winging it. And still are. See COVID – What have we learned? (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
We have learned that medical science is not a pure thing – not in the slightest. We have also learned that the world of research has not come together to conquer COVID, it has split apart.
Those wanting to make money, have distorted and damaged research for their own ends. Those who want to vaccinate the world, forever, have seen a door open to the promised land. Those who wanted lockdown, are inflating the numbers of those killed.Dr. Kendrick is obviously a more qualified observer than I and many others. But I have some expertise in the matter of reporting. And the reporting in this case has been all over the place from the start.
Monday, August 24, 2020
The confusion was created in part by an article in The World Socialist Website, which rightly criticized the students for advancing "the interests of a very small, privileged layer of the population." (As a socialist publication, TWSW sometimes criticizes the progressive left for being preoccupied with issues unrelated to class.)
There is nothing progressive about the establishment of racially segregated housing at NYU. It is irrelevant whether the segregation being implemented is voluntary or mandatory. Racial segregation, in all forms, is entirely reactionary.
“I believe the harm lockdown is doing to our education, health care access, and broader aspects of our economy and society will turn out to be at least as great as the harm done by Covid-19.”I think we’re going to hear more like this in the coming months. Some, of course, are bound to disagree.
Sunday, August 23, 2020
I am particularly moved by Conquest’s poems about World War II. Another early work, “For the Death of a Poet,” echoes elders such as Eliot and Auden, while touching a nerve of its own: “But how shall I answer? I am like you, / I have only a voice and the universal zeals / And severities continue to state loudly / That all is well. / Even the landscape has no help to offer./A man dies and the river flows softly on. / There is no sign of recognition from the calm/And marvellous sky.”
“As both the main station in its hometown and its headquarters, Broad Street Station was the consummate symbol of the nation’s most powerful railroad, one that carried 10 percent of all freight and 20 percent of all passengers in the U.S.,” said Dan Cupper, editor of Railroad History, the journal of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society and the author of several books on the railroad.“Philadelphia sat at the nexus of the railroad’s two most important routes – New York to Washington (today’s Amtrak Northeast Corridor) and Philadelphia to the Midwest (Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Detroit). In its heyday, the PRR operated 5,000 trains a day,” he said.
Some things just aren't open to improv.
Saturday, August 22, 2020
The following is from the online etymology dictionary:
Serfs were not freemen. They were bound to the land and the landowner. The word churl (O.E., ceorl) came to be used to refer to a rude person because churls, though low-born, were freemen and, after the Norman invasion of England, made a point of their free status, often pointedly.
His argument … The emergency declared by public-health experts replaces the discredited narrative of “national security experts” as a pretext for withdrawing rights and privacy from citizens. “Biosecurity” now serves as a reason for governments to rule in terms of “worst-case scenarios.” This means there is no level of cases or deaths below which locking down an entire nation of 60 million becomes unreasonable. Many European governments, including Italy’s, have developed national contact tracing apps that allow them to track their citizens using cellphones.
Inside Story begins with an invitation to join Amis in his home, and one of the best qualities of the book is its regard for the reader. Amis acknowledges this during a call from his home in Brooklyn. “You have to love the reader,” he says. “It’s not about toadying to the reader but loving and respecting them. A book is nothing without a reader. The relationship between writer and reader is very mysterious and fascinating and not terribly well explained. There is an intimacy to reading a novel because you feel you know the writer embarrassingly well. The great excuse for a public event is that it’s great to meet a reader.”I wonder how many people remember Martin Amis in the film version of A High Wind in Jamaica. He was quite good.
Friday, August 21, 2020
I’ll be voting in person.
On the other hand: If Your School District Pulls What One Tennessee District Did, Know Your Rights.
A founding teacher at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia also took to Twitter to express concern over parent observation of virtual classes. His laments about parents, especially conservative parents, had been retweeted over 1,000 times before he locked his account. Retweeting means other people were sharing his concerns with their own followers.So it’s OK for them to spy on your kids and report them to the police, but please don’t have the temerity to look into how they’re doing their job. Does anybody have a problem with this? I sure hope so.
Imagine a French class where they teach you non-standard French. You go to school to learn what you need to learn to get ahead in the world.
My point, which cannot be adequately pursued in the space of a short essay, is again that the “traditional family,” which Spar treats mockingly, should be thought of as a tremendous cultural accomplishment, not a matter of historical indifference.
As Orwell said, “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”
Hogeland's book painstakingly describes the fiercely independent men and women of western Pennsylvania; the small farmers, tradesmen, and merchants of the region wanted very much to protect their individual freedoms, and they had little use for the centralized powers of the federal government.
The essential rhythm between author and amanuensis, the exchange of the briefcase, altered as time went on, moving later into the day. They developed a visual code. Currier was to watch for the briefcase from her window, and when it appeared on its porch chair, she would know her day’s work awaited. When she finished the work, she carried the briefcase back to its chair and placed it on its side, so Hall would understand that its contents were ready for inspection.
Thursday, August 20, 2020
Of the two books, Kendi’s is slightly the better, for it is part-memoir and occasionally has an anecdote from his life that is not told wholly through the lens of ideology, and which actually does speak to the undoubted difficulties of blacks in America with which it is easy to sympathize.
DiAngelo’s book displays a curious admixture of influences: the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Jimmy Swaggart, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Uriah Heep, the four of them being present in approximately equal proportion.I wonder how many people get the literary reference in this review’s title.
What’s perhaps most striking from the survey is the connection between age of the respondents and their misconception about the virus. The younger you are, the more likely it is that you don’t understand.
“The discrepancy with the actual mortality data is staggering: for people aged 18–24, the share of those worried about serious health consequences is 400 times higher than the share of total COVID deaths; for those age 25–34 it is 90 times higher,” says the report. “The chart below truly is worth a thousand words:”
From a public interest perspective, we believe the top priority should be better information and a less partisan, more fact-based public debate. It is shocking that six months into the pandemic so many people still ignore the basic mortality statistics, with perceived risk driven by political leanings rather than individual age and health. Misperceptions of risk distort both individual behavior and policy decisions.
Well, the media certainly hasn’t distinguished itself and a good many people seem timorous, credulous, and servile.
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Apparently, despite his degrees, this clown never learned that the point of education is to think for oneself, not as one is told to.
“ Fortunately, Iowa State University takes student academic freedom seriously, too …”
I’ve never read it, and doubt that I ever shall. I love Nabokov’s Pale Fire, though.
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
… when I finally did see it, where I saw it and who I myself was that evening left an indelible mark.
One might have supposed that the world’s largest library devoted to the works and life of Shakespeare would be spared the tsunami of humbug that has overwhelmed so many other institutions and organized activities, from police forces and motor racing to film academies and football. No one would have considered the Folger a racist institution before Floyd’s death or held it responsible for the undoubted injustices in America’s past or present. It was an institution dedicated to pure and disinterested scholarship. Now it is transforming itself into the equivalent of the Marx-Lenin Institute in Moscow, with race instead of class as the master-key to the understanding of history and the world. And just as in Marxist historiography, no one can be a disinterested searcher after truth; in the new racist historiography adopted by the Folger, no one can stand outside his race. He must view everything through its lens.
Several students who spoke to The Daily Princetonian, however, defended the poem’s publication. Destiny Salter ’20, who graduated with a B.A. in African American studies and a certificate in creative writing, read the poem with knowledge of the criticism it had received online. She felt the work had been “completely misinterpreted,” and its language “taken out of context.”
See also: The clear expression of mixed feelings: Steve Duin column. There is a link to the poem in the second paragraph. Having just read it, I agree with Ms.Salter.
(Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)
The Idea of Perfection is an apt title, for Valéry was a perfectionist, endlessly tinkering with his poems. He’s famous for his pronouncement that a poem is never finished, only abandoned; his publisher practically had to tear the manuscript of La Jeune Parqueout of his hands. “He was,” Eliot writes in his introduction to the 1958 collection The Art of Poetry, “the most self-conscious of all poets,” and in large part Valéry’s principal subject was the operations of his own sensibility.
Like Flannery, he had been raised in the Deep South with racist attitudes that he later overcame. She tackled the ugly underbelly of racism through her stories and said, after a shocking experience on a bus, where the driver insulted the black passengers: “Right then and there, I became an integrationist.” He was active in the civil rights movement and proud of establishing the first integrated parish in Fort Valley.
Monday, August 17, 2020
… Flannery O'Connor and the Ideological War on Literature - Quillette. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
The fact that this debate is taking place at all, however—whether or not Flannery O’Connor was a racist, how racist or not she might have been, whether she redeemed herself from her racism via her writing or grew past her racism morally—is exactly what has gone fearfully wrong. The primary evil of cancel culture isn’t toppled statues or renamed buildings or even destroyed livelihoods. It is that, once cancel culture has come for an artist, it becomes impossible to take that artist’s artistry seriously. In his New Yorker essay, Paul Elie complains that O’Connor’s admirers pass over the issue of her racism in order to focus on her literary gifts: “[I]t’s about protecting an author who is now as beloved as her stories.” Now, O’Connor’s admirers will be obliged to pass over her literary gifts in order to focus on the issue of her racism. Flannery O’Connor will forever have an asterisk next to her name, and that asterisk will be the Racism Question. Henceforth, it will be impossible to give a public lecture about O’Connor, teach a college class, write a critical essay, or adapt her fiction to stage or screen without appending a dreary prologue rehearsing all the arguments about her attitudes toward black people. And in the midst of such arguments, all nuance, humor, characterization, and subtlety in the works themselves gets flattened or lost. This is what cancel culture does: It reduces literature to ideology.
This really is an outstanding article — closely reasoned and comprehensive.
The paper also quoted Fr. James Martin, who observed, accurately, that "Mr. Biden is a baptized Catholic. Thus, he is a Catholic."Well, Fr. Martin, Herr Hitler was a baptized Catholic. Thus, he was a Catholic. Most people, however, do not think of Hitler as a Catholic, probably because his thoughts and actions were so much at odds with Catholic doctrine. Methinks Fr. Martin is reviving what used to be unflatteringly referred to as Jesuitry.
Biden’s abandonment of Catholic doctrine is between him and God. His espousal of policies that run counter to Church Teaching does have a political dimension that Catholics may rightly take into consideration when judging his candidacy.
As to why Trump’s people got involved with this fellow Marshall (whom I had never heard of until now), well there are Catholics who are not terribly thrilled with Pope Francis. I doubt if Trump himself had anything to do with it.
And that's how we measure out our real respect for people—by the degree of feeling they can register, the voltage of life they can carry and tolerate—and enjoy. End of sermon. As Buddha says: live like a mighty river. And as the old Greeks said: live as though all your ancestors were living again through you.
— Ted Hughes, born on this date in 1930
But in many cases, there are two lessons to keep in mind: One is linguistic, about how metaphor works. The other is sociohistorical, about whether our present-day consciousness can plausibly encompass the entire progression of past stages that preceded it—despite William Faulkner's counsel, sometimes the past really is past.
To jazz listeners and critics for whom bop had become the approved and obvious pathway to the future, that put him on the outside of a large and forbidding fence, the border of those badlands where only non-swinging, pseudo-classical music thrived. Curiously, it was Charles Mingus – bop-literate but not defined by that vocabulary – who pointed out the injustice of that banishment in an “Open Letter to Miles Davis” for Downbeat magazine. “He feels a certain pulse and plays a certain pulse which gives him pleasure and a sense of exaltation because he’s sincerely doing something the way he, Dave Brubeck, feels like doing it.” As for not swinging, Mingus pointed out, Brubeck “had the whole house patting its feet and even clapping its hands” at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Sunday, August 16, 2020
Charles Bukowski was born 100 years ago today.
Here is the riveting conclusion:
Experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the . Strong political and public health leadership to provide reassurance and to ensure that needed medical care services are provided are critical elements. If either is seen to be less than optimal,
In the New Yorker essay, I describe the surging interest in O’Connor’s life, the elevation of her correspondence, and the ways scholars downplay those remarks. And I present the long-withheld remarks near the end of the essay.Well, it looks to me as if Elie may be overplaying them.
Cynthia Haven’s fascinating new collection, Conversations with René Girard: Prophet of Envy, showcases Girard at both his most typical and his most surprising. Like many intellectuals, and not just hedgehogs, Girard returned repeatedly to the same themes throughout his career — what he called with self-mocking charm, in one exchange included here, his “monomania.” Of course, as one would hope, the reader will find in this book explications of the standard Girardian theses about imitative desire, scapegoating, and religion. And yet, throughout the volume, Girard also turns his attention to topics rarely if ever broached in his body of work: opera, eating disorders, Husserlian phenomenology, literary modernism.
One of the first things I noticed was how prescient this book seemed. Set in 2009 but published in 2020 during our cancel culture, the story opens following the downfall of a major public intellectual, Frank Doyle, over a racist joke that he made publicly about President Obama. Readers do not have to stretch their imaginations to cast judgment or feel empathy with this character. His declining trajectory comes to cross with Waxworth’s ascending star. When Waxworth is assigned to write a piece on Doyle, the two meet at a baseball game because Waxworth has been asked to write a redemption story on the fallen writer. Doyle is old hat; Waxworth is becoming a bit of a celebrity. But, more than the labels made by their reputation, the two offer contrasting worldviews about life. While Doyle has spent his career experiencing baseball via his poetic imagination—exalting the senses, unpacking metaphors, playing with the mystery and delight of the sport—Waxworth writes a column called “The Quantifiable World” and enters all the available data of the game to predict outcomes.