We must believe in free will — we have no choice.
— Isaac Bashevis Singer, born on this date in 1902
Following the unexpected death of Tom Spurgeon, my best friend and an inveterate supporter of the show, I’ve re-posted our 2012 conversation, along with a new (and emotional) introduction.
I got today the one Emily Dixkinson book everyone should have:
Edward Hopper and the American Hotel, a rich exhibition now at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, highlights the contrast between Hopper’s early, lesser-known years as a commercial illustrator and his later eminence as laconic American icon, the serious solitary who painted crumbling Victorian boarding houses, faded hotel lobbies and highway motels.
Higher education would be vastly improved by greatly reducing the number of administrators — and curbing their power. They could be a pain even when I was in college.
Margaret Atwood turned 80 today.
The man is being kept stable on ideology support at St. Francis medical center, surrounded by friends and family who agree with him 100% on every single issue.
If on your thirteenth birthday you discovered that your soul looked like a cockroach, an urban pigeon, or a rat, and would for the rest of your life, it would be a bit like being branded on your forehead with the word “failure.” Then again, if the ambitious new executive in your office had a vulture perched on his shoulder, or a rattlesnake coiled round his arm, you’d obviously know to be careful. But then, anyone so obviously nasty would surely never get the job. Novels and plays might become very hard to write, for deviousness, alas, makes fiction function. In many ways it makes the world go round. A world without dissembling sounds wonderful, but is it practical?
How … could a woman who was so inadequate a mother, so untrustworthy a friend, so out of touch with the most commonplace realities, have been a penetrating analyst of culture and politics? The short answer is that she wasn’t.
Hirschfeld’s primary objective, however, is to establish a Thomist foundation for economics, if not outline the contours of a fully Thomist economics. This, she believes, will allow a Thomist understanding of the nature of the good to shape economic ideas, practices and institutions so as to contribute to the growth of what she regards as a more humane economy. According to Hirschfeld, such a project would help economics take into account some of those truths about the good and justice that, in her estimation, modern economics willfully excludes from its typical modes of inquiry.
The aim of education is to guide young persons in the process through which they shape themselves as human persons-armed with knowledge, strength of judgment, and moral virtues-while at the same time conveying to them the spiritual heritage of the nation and the civilization in which they are involved.
— Jacques Maritain, born on this date in 1882
Dickinson is a pandering distortion of the life of America’s most important 19th-century poet, and thus viewers should be careful to treat it for what it is—an intermittently amusing cartoon driven by trendy ideology, and not a serious appreciation of Emily Dickinson’s poetry or life.The past and its inhabitants are best understood on their own terms, not our trendy ones.
Much of the fault, [Taibbi] thinks, arises from the homogeneity of the journalistic milieu. Fifty years ago, a good many newspapermen and -women came from working-class backgrounds. Now, most political journalists have gone to “expensive colleges,” and “literature degrees are common among our kind (I have one).” Telling stories is what these people do, and their lack of political knowledge is atoned for by their shared possession of an attitude. This imparts an unruffled confidence to their judgments and assures their lack of curiosity about stories or angles that others of their group have identified as pointless. “They are on social media day and night,” Taibbi says, and the people they talk to are each other. “They share everything, from pictures of their cats to takes on the North Korean nuclear crisis.”
… Ibsen’s vision inclined toward the tragic. He subjected all the good things he praised—freedom, self-fulfillment, love, nobility, happiness—to the acid test, which revealed every flaw and sometimes dissolved every shred of the ideal. Impediments to happy endings abounded. Ibsen knew how difficult it could be to escape one’s past, even when the failing was not one’s own. The sins of the fathers were indeed visited upon the children, and pain was transmitted in the blood, sometimes literally, down the generations. He also understood that certain goods, most desirable in themselves, may be incompatible with one another—that self-realization in one’s chosen work may preclude love, or nobility foreclose happiness. He proved, in the lives he imagined, the tragic nature of the liberal order as Isaiah Berlin would later describe it, in which there is no fixed hierarchy of virtues, and ideas evidently of equal worth, such as freedom, nobility, and equality, might not agreeably coexist.
Concurrent with [the] loss of what Guardini calls “natural religious experience” has been a move toward mass conformity—what we might call the “hive mind.” “Mass man has no desire for independence or originality in either the management or the conduct of his life,” Guardini writes in The End of the Modern World. “Nor does he seek to create an environment belonging only to himself, reflecting only his self. The gadgets and technics forced upon him by the patterns of machine production and of abstract planning mass man accepts quite simply; they are the forms of life itself.”Guardini is a great writer and thinker. I have been re-reading The End of the Modern World. It could been written yesterday. I notice this piece has the usual boilerplate reference to the "conformist" 1950s. Check out the books and plays that were written then, sir.
How had a writer this good fallen into this level of obscurity? The more I looked into Ford’s career, the more frustrating and mystifying his posthumous invisibility came to seem. Ford had won the Philip K. Dick Award and multiple World Fantasy Awards. He was a beloved and influential peer to writers including Neil Gaiman, Jo Walton, Ellen Kushner, James Rigney (better known as Robert Jordan), Jack Womack, and Daniel Abraham. So why had so few people heard of him? Why wasn’t anyone publishing his books?
… Auden was wrong to think that “the whole poem…was infected with an incurable dishonesty.” Indeed, “September 1, 1939” is powerful above all because of its willingness to tell the unvarnished truth about England and Europe in the ’30s, and it is noteworthy that Sansom’s book retreats into a flurry of evasive obscurity just as Auden becomes most specific about what he has to say. For “September 1, 1939” is above all a repudiation of the “low dishonest” politics of the ’30s and an acknowledgment of the failure of left-wing ideology to provide an answer to the “psychopathic god” of Hitlerian nationalism.
Ultimately, I wondered if the problem I was having was more than anything a difference of temperament. I have noticed that fans of the apocalyptic and the Gothic tend not to be strong on humour and I felt that Blake too, although in some ways perhaps an absurd figure himself, had no sense of the absurd. There is a poignance in some of the accounts contained in the exhibition of how even in his own time barely anyone - possibly no one - understood his larger projects. Now I notice that they are being championed by Patti Smith among others - another charismatic but solemn figure. Perhaps at heart I am too flippant to be a romantic and this is where William Blake and I parted our ways?I think this is wonderful. It is how we ought to encounter art and artists. Honestly.
In religious belief as elsewhere, we must take our chances, recognizing that we could be wrong, dreadfully wrong. There are no guarantees; the religious life is a venture; foolish and debilitating error is a permanent possibility. (If we can be wrong, however, we can also be right.)
— Alvin Plantinga, born on this date in 1932
… all editors and publishers can take a couple of basic steps. One is to concentrate on hiring journalists committed to the most important kind of diversity: a wide range of ideas open for vigorous debate. The other step is even simpler: stop capitulating. Ignore the online speech police, and don’t reward the staff censors, either. Instead of feeling their pain or acceding to their demands, give them a copy of Nat Hentoff’s Free Speech for Me—but Not for Thee. If they still don’t get it—if they still don’t see that free speech is their profession’s paramount principle—tactfully suggest that their talents would be better suited to another line of work.If your only response to ideas you disagree with is to have them banned, there's a damn good possibility you can't defend your own ideas.
… important poets are indeed under-read, inadequately appreciated, or simply forgotten for myriad reasons, not the least of which is the ever-changing Zeitgeist. And sometimes it’s just a matter of bad luck — of careers cut short by unforeseen circumstances, including untimely death. This was the case with the two poets under consideration here.
Well, in the past month, five children have died from gunfire in Philadelphia. Two others were critically wounded.
The artist is simply one who perceives the order embedded in and constituting reality and makes it visible in some striking, new, analogous way. The artist is a receptive medium for truth to speak again to us, in the world and of the world, in all its depth, form, and wisdom.
Victims had their hearts cut out or were decapitated, shot full of arrows, clawed, sliced, stoned, crushed, skinned, buried alive or tossed from the tops of temples. Children were said to be frequent victims, in part because they were considered pure and unspoiled.
… Bouyer carries out a very interesting philosophical analysis of the reasoning inherent to modern systems of philosophical materialism that draws on sources that are rather unusual for a Catholic theologian. He looks at new developments in physics, biology, and psychology that seem to undermine the materialistic pre-commitments of scientific naturalists. Quantum physics and the discovery of the unconscious in psychology are examples of this.
“They are quite something, it has been a real treat,” he said. “They are an extraordinary read because Ian Fleming is pretty much incapable of writing a dull sentence.”
In an important book first published in 1924, the American philosopher E. A. Burtt wrote that “the only way to avoid being a metaphysician is to say nothing.” Language is metaphysical — not only physical marks on paper or sound-waves through air. Not to see and understand this momentous, dualistic fact of civilization is to be utterly blind and deaf to the history of culture and literacy from Moses, Plato, and the Gospels to Martin Luther King and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Cognition, conceptualization, and language themselves are irreducible aspects of “the worth of things” that Dante’s poem both indicates and embodies (to use a phrase of A. N. Whitehead). I
Michael is, and I say this in the clinical sense with no judgment or insult intended, a bastard. He was raised by his mother Mary Ellen in Putnam and Westchester counties, New York, while his own father lived in Ireland and brought up a brood there with his new wife. Michael’s father Brendan never denied his son’s existence and pitched in occasional financial support. But Michael only saw his old man a handful of times in his childhood. His late mother was effectively the only parent that he had.
For a long time, people lived in a Catholic culture. The church bells gave their day a certain rhythm; they followed some offices and saw one another at Mass on Sunday. Even if in their inner depths they were not animated by an intense faith, they had recourse to the services of the curé in the important moments: marriage, sickness, death. I love very much the idea of the “collier’s faith” described by Honoré de Balzac: “lov[ing] the Holy Virgin as he might have loved his wife,” a filial piety, an attachment devoid of theological or philosophical reflection, a fidelity to a history and to roots more than to a mystical revelation. I put myself in this category; this simple faith was the cement of a civilization.
… it was all a performance. Any journalists who presumed to know what Nabokov really thought about anything, let alone those Italian idiots under the impression that Lolita had an autobiographical aspect, were quickly seen off. Did anyone know what was inside there? Did even Nabokov? Or was there just the splendor of his sentences, which can present feeling, impersonate it and retreat heartlessly from it, making the reader weep or laugh heartily when someone is horribly killed in two words: ‘(picnic, lightning)’?
Do read the link regarding authenticity at the very end.
I turned 4 a few weeks after World War II ended. But I have memories connected to it. We lived in North Philly then, at that time the city’s industrial heart. (They made American Flyer sleds just a few blocks from where we lived.) Across the street was a stretch of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s main line (not the classy stretch in the suburbs) and troop trains passed by regularly. I can remember the grownups whispering among themselves about the young man who had returned from the war shell-shocked. A guy who worked in the butcher shop had spent time in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
On my fourth birthday, my Aunt Alice stopped by and gave me a present — a toy machine gun that fired sparks. We were sitting in the kitchen, and when she learned that I didn’t know how to tell time, she taught me how. God rest her soul.
Do you believe you have a soul? Can you tell me where in your body it is? Well, translation is the art form that thrives on that kind of certainty/uncertainty.Translation is necessary: without it, in English, we wouldn’t have the Bible, we wouldn’t have Homer, we wouldn’t have Dante. Or, in Russian: we wouldn’t have Shakespeare, Milton, and so forth.It’s a necessary art.But it is also impossible. Which is why every single year we get another Dante, or two or three Dantes, published.It is an ongoing conversation, it is an attempt to summon the spirits via our very primitive tools, so to speak.
This Veterans Day we can reflect on the sacrifices made by those who volunteered to defend the United States. But let’s also find time to consider that these sacrifices were undertaken to defend values that our ruling-class-in-waiting seeks to undermine. Many students at elite colleges are duping themselves, too. They don’t realize that they are protected by the very principles they despise and the people to whom they condescend.
The Tate curators, Martin Myrone and Amy Concannon, argue that Blake the artist has been ignored in recent years in favor of Blake the poet. Yet the two are surely indivisible. After he invented his complex process of “relief etching”—its technique still unknown—text and image flow together, each reinterpreting the other. In the prophetic books, with their mix of historical characters and beings from his own mythology, the pages speak as one, visually and verbally. The tiny pages of the Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794), Blake’s first attempt to integrate text and image, mounted here so that one can see both sides of each page are almost dreamlike in their intensity.
“One of the reasons I wrote about these three women for my books is that the lives they led give me something to draw.”
If you go back a few years ago, there was a value chain in music — started with the musician, worked for the record label. The records went to the record distributor. They went to the retailer, who sold the record to the consumer. At that point, everybody in that chain had a vested interest in a healthy music ecosystem in which people enjoyed songs. The more people enjoyed songs, the better business was for everybody.That chain has been broken now. Apple would give away songs for free to sell devices. They don’t care about the viability of the music sub-economy. For them, it could be a loss leader. Google doesn’t care about music. They would give music away for free to sell ads. In fact, they do that on YouTube.
Above all, Diamond rejects the philosophers’ conception of God as utterly unchanging—“the unmoved mover,” to cite Aristotle again. Instead he maintains that the biblical God is “unbound” by any fixed attributes, positive or negative; a dynamic being, God changes and advances along with humanity. In his own words, Diamond is set on exchanging “austere rational notions of [God’s] perfection and immutability . . . for a vital, fluctuating God who is aided by human beings in the attainment of new cognitions and ever-developing states of self-awareness.”
The friendship of O’Connor and Hester is one of the great literary tragedies, similar to Poe dying delirious on the streets of Baltimore or Christopher Marlowe stabbed in a barroom brawl. Like Poe and Marlowe, Hester endured a series of horrendous personal events. O’Connor remained a stalwart friend and baptismal sponsor, anchoring Hester through the later vicissitudes and encouraging her own writing. As the letters reveal, O’Connor saw her as every bit her equal and was one of the few whom she asked to review her stories. As with another friend, Robert Lowell, O’Connor feared for those who left the Church and found themselves vulnerable without sacramental graces to combat ravening personal demons. O’Connor’s fears were borne out with Hester’s suicide in 1998. (Some of her writings are in her archives at Emory University.)
Those who willingly, enthusiastically join mobs are already predisposed to their madness. They feed on the collective energy, become something that is not themselves, something stronger and more dangerous.
A crowd - not this or that, one now living or long dead, a crowd of the lowly or of nobles, of rich or poor, etc., but in its very concept 4 - is untruth, since a crowd either renders the single individual wholly unrepentant and irresponsible, or weakens his responsibility by making it a fraction of his decision. Observe, there was not a single soldier who dared lay a hand on Caius Marius; this was the truth. But given three or four women with the consciousness or idea of being a crowd, with a certain hope in the possibility that no one could definitely say who it was or who started it: then they had the courage for it; what untruth! The untruth is first that it is "the crowd," which does either what only the single individual in the crowd does, or in every case what each single individual does. For a crowd is an abstraction, which does not have hands; each single individual, on the other hand, normally has two hands, and when he, as a single individual, lays his two hands on Caius Marius, then it is the two hands of this single individual, not after all his neighbor's, even less - the crowd's, which has no hands. In the next place, the untruth is that the crowd had "the courage" for it, since never at any time was even the most cowardly of all single individuals so cowardly, as the crowd always is. For every single individual who escapes into the crowd, and thus flees in cowardice from being a single individual (who either had the courage to lay his hand on Caius Marius, or the courage to admit that he did not have it), contributes his share of cowardice to "the cowardice," which is: the crowd. Take the highest, think of Christ - and the whole human race, all human beings, which were ever born and ever will be born; the situation is the single individual, as an individual, in solitary surroundings alone with him; as a single individual he walks up to him and spits on him: the human being has never been born and never will be, who would have the courage or the impudence for it; this is the truth. But since they remain in a crowd, they have the courage for it - what frightening untruth.