Thursday, December 31, 2020
It's been a trying year, a difficult one. But next year is coming soon. Let's hope it brings improved health, increased civility, and a renewed sense of generosity and purpose. To all our readers, please continue to stay safe and to care for yourselves and your families. 2021, you're just around the bend.
* * *
As is customary, I wanted to list a few highlights about the blog: this past year, we passed 65,000 posts, 22,000 comments, and over 5,000,000 visits. Not bad at all for a blog about books and literary culture! Here's to the next set of milestones under the steady hand of Frank Wilson.
… for today’s pusillanimous prelates:
Burning the candle at both ends for God’s sake may be foolishness to the world, but it is a profitable Christian exercise for so much better the light! Only one thing in life matters: Being found worthy of the Light of the World in the hour of His visitation. We need have no undue fear for our health if we work hard for the Kingdom of God; God will take care of our health if we take care of His cause. In any case, it is better to burn out than to rust out.
— Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
… this book is a bit nuts. The story Lovelock is telling here falls within the realm of speculation, not prediction, which he acknowledges with a generous peppering of ‘maybe’ and ‘perhaps’, as well as some winking flights of fancy (‘No such assumption can be made about the cyborgs of the Novacene But what would they look like? Anything is possible, but I see them, entirely speculatively, as spheres’). In this story, the Novacene is the next stage in the cosmos awakening to consciousness, and in our current age of climate catastrophe it is not individuals, or communities, or even human civilisation that must be saved, it is the possibility of this awakening.
I'll stick with Arthur Eddington: The idea of a universal mind or Logos would be, I think, a fairly plausible inference from the present state of scientific theory
— Rudyard Kipling, born on this date in 1865
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
Most admirers of Dickinson's poetry know that she spent a considerable part of her adult life in what we call self-imposed confinement, rarely venturing outside the family homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts. Less known, perhaps, is that the final 12 years of her life were passed in a state of nearly perpetual mourning.
What the encyclical does do, in its central chapters, however, is a great blessing. Hans Urs von Balthasar writes somewhere that “the Christian is called to be the guardian of metaphysics in our time.” This entails the defense of the person as destined for the knowledge of God, as I mentioned above, but it also entails guarding a proper understanding of natural being, that is to say, of the intrinsic and deep meaning and mystery inherent in all created things.
When I got to Quantico at 32, I was the youngest of all the agents. The Behavioral Science Unit had about eight or nine agents and I was assigned to teaching criminal psychology. We had road schools two weeks at a time going from one city to another. I told my partner, let’s go into the prisons and conduct these interviews of Ed Kempner, Charles Manson and David Berkowitz. We went into the prisons and conducted the interviews as I wanted to be a good instructor.
Monday, December 28, 2020
McDowell’s judicious weighing of the historical evidence relating to the young Milton’s religious and literary development serves as a welcome reminder of a common flaw in Milton scholarship, the tendency to paint a reductionist portrait of the mature Milton and then to fit the younger Milton into that same narrow interpretive frame. McDowell often makes this same point, albeit more diplomatically:
A common interpretation of ‘The Passion’ is that it “reveals Milton’s difficulties with the crucifixion as a subject.” This is to read backwards from the anti-trinitarianism of the mature Milton’s De Doctrina Christiana to find a naturally heterodox thinker already uncomfortable with orthodox protestant Christology.
If you look at a similar list today, all but three of the top films — Titanic and two Fast and Furious sequels — are science fiction or fantasy. That is 94 percent of the hits. That means in a 70-year period, American popular culture (and to a great degree world popular culture) went from “realism” to fantasy and science fiction. The kids’ stuff became everybody’s stuff. How did that happen? There were many significant factors, but there is no doubt that Ray Bradbury was the most influential writer involved.
Sunday, December 27, 2020
“It’s a tragedy that this anti-intellectual movement of canceling the classics is gaining traction among educators and the mainstream publishing industry,” says science-fiction writer Jon Del Arroz, one of the rare industry voices to defend Ms. Cluess. “Erasing the history of great works only limits the ability of children to become literate.”
Besides being the Pope’s Latinist and “one of the Vatican’s most colorful characters” (as the Catholic News Service called him), Foster has been a tireless champion of Latin in the classroom. Indeed, Foster’s greatest legacy may be as a teacher. “The most influential Latin teacher in the last half-century is Reggie Foster,” says Dr. Nancy Llewellyn, professor of Latin at Wyoming Catholic College. “That’s not just my opinion—that’s a fact. For decades, he had the power to change lives like no other teacher in our field. I saw him for an hour in Rome in 1985 and that one hour completely changed my life. His approach was completely different from every other Latin teacher out there, and it was totally transformative.”
Detectives and security specialists I’ve spoken to over the years say that most burglaries can be prevented. To avoid being burglarized, simply install an alarm system with cameras, place a sign in plain sight that states the property has an alarm system, and install good locks on the doors and windows. The cops see that many of the victims of burglary often have apparent security weaknesses that the burglars probably saw as well. The victims’ homes had no exterior lights, no alarm system, no signs and poor locks on the doors and windows.
Saturday, December 26, 2020
— Henry Miller, born on this date in 1890
Of course, the timid faithful will object, as usual. Which is fine by me. I still believe in free speech, which means the right to disagree with me or anyone else. Just remember: It works both ways.
Epstein were being misogynistic in pointing out a home truth to Jill Biden, was engaging in xenophobia when it made fun of the foreign-born Hungarian-American commentator and Trump supporter Sebastian Gorka for identifying himself as “Dr. Gorka?” He “likes to be called ‘Dr. Gorka,’ ” sniffed in 2017 But “he gets his way only in conservative media.” And what about Ben Carson? The current Secretary of is also the former Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, that is, a real doctor. Yet regularly identifies him as “Mr. Carson” even as it lovingly refers to Jill Biden as “Dr.” Is that racist, or is it merely intolerant woke leftism in action? As the author and commentator Glenn Reynolds sharply observed, “It’s good to see the weight of our journalistic and academic establishments being brought to bear to protect the self-esteem of a rich, powerful white woman.”
Friday, December 25, 2020
Thursday, December 24, 2020
… the most compelling reason for being open is the same reason for being closed: the presence of death. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined”. These words from Isaiah have long been taken by Christians as an indication of what Christmas is all about. God does not exist in some pristine ethereal space, hovering high above human misery like some distant potentate safe in all that glorious omnipotence.
I prefer trusting in God to being governed by fear of death. Were I to contract Covid-19 I could well die of it, since I am in my 80th year. So I take common-sense precautions in the hope of avoiding it. But I am not inclined to spend my days cringing.
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
There is no midnight knock on the door, at least not yet, to ensure conformity, but those who question these little orthodoxies (whose content, incidentally, changes all the time, but also extends in scope, like multiplying starfish crawling over a coral reef) are subject to such punishments as ostracism or black-listing.
Does David Cornwell — better known as John le Carré — admire George Smiley, his most celebrated spy? “He is the best of me, the most rational — I admire his commitment to his task and his sense of responsibility to humankind. Insofar as I am capable of self-love, I love him.”
When we have tasted and tested too much, it is time for us to narrow the chink through which we let the world in. A smaller aperture renews our focus; it allows us to turn our attention from what things can do for us to what they are in themselves.
Monday, December 21, 2020
Though he continues to be known for his partnership with May as one of the founders of the modern comedy movement exemplified by the four-decade run of Saturday Night Live, it was Nichols’s career as a director that made him notable. He spent nearly five decades on Broadway, staging versions of such plays as Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
Reading Oakeshott is a peculiar experience in these days of intense political polarization. It reminds us that politics should not be a totalizing part of human life and cautions us about the dangers of considering political philosophy a blueprint for political action. It impresses upon us a sense of the limits of politics as such not so much because of the existence of “individual rights” that should be respected, but because when politics becomes ambitious it becomes dangerous and grotesque at once.
— Anthony Powell, born on this date in 1905
Sunday, December 20, 2020
As long as you’re alive, life presents you with challenges. Living means dealing with them. Never back down.
Beethoven’s audience is so all-encompassing as to include those whose familiarity with his work is limited at best. Indeed, he is the only classical composer whose name is generally known to people who do not listen to classical music. It is as revealing that the cartoonist Charles Schulz chose Beethoven as the favorite composer of one of the characters in Peanuts as it is that Lorin Maazel chose the Ninth Symphony to perform last fall at his inaugural concerts as music director of the New York Philharmonic.
Saturday, December 19, 2020
Our quickly passing interval of "silent friendship" with the moon, with all the beautiful particulars of the World, is no small thing. And the thought that the World will go on without us, the moon and the seasons forever coming and going, can be a source of comfort and serenity.
Tyranny is always and everywhere the same, while freedom is always various. The well and truly enslaved are dependable; we know what they will say and think and do. The free are quirky. Tyrannies may be overt and violent or covert and insidious, but they all require the same thing, a subject population in which the power of the word is dulled and, thus, the power of thought occluded and the power of deed brought low.
Friday, December 18, 2020
And boy, does he speak truth.
For sheer intellectual range, there are few modern essayists who can rival Susan Sontag. She writes effectively on so many topics: literature, drama, painting, and photography. Together, these amount, roughly, to culture. Her most celebrated collection of essays, Against Interpretation, is emblematic of this range: Sontag displays an unusual command of intellectual life -- of everything from anthropological methods to theories of poetry.
And yet, would it be disappointing if I were to admit a preference for Joan Didion?
Reading Susan Sontag is, for me, an exercise in education. When I read her work, I learn. This isn't always a linear process, and I won't claim that I follow all of Sontag's arguments. But it's a near certainty that, after each chapter, I'll consider some topic anew, with a sharper eye. With Didion, it's different: that experience is nearly linear, because her writing -- her form -- is less exhaustive. Reading Didion is often a reaffirmation, a confirmation: it's the process by which you articulate existing knowledge differently, in a way that's more natural, more representative. This owes to Didion's insights.
My goal here is not to compare Sontag with Didion, nor to declare one more effective than the other. It's clear that they were interested in different topics, and approached the art of the essay in different ways. Ultimately, though, both were essayists: Sontag pursued her subjects with bravery, even sometimes with defiance. Didion, meanwhile, pursued hers with a sort of solemnity. In this way, Sontag was truly a critic; Didion a poet, masked as a critic.
Thursday, December 17, 2020
… there was also a theological insight of Scotus’ which gave even greater depth to Hopkins’ Christocentric view of nature and of human beings. Scotus (who is now a Doctor of the Church and so we can be sure his theology is orthodox) taught that God did not become incarnate in Jesus Christ just as a sort of divine rescue mission because of Man’s sin. Rather, as the early Greek Fathers of the Church had taught (and which is implicit in St. Paul), God always intended, before the Fall, to become incarnate, to share human nature so that humans could come to share God’s nature. Human beings are modeled on Christ and they are Christ. And so we can see Christ in human beings. As Hopkins put it in one poem: “Christ plays in ten thousand places,/Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his/To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
Are lockdowns legal? I cannot be alone in my surprise at how many “emergency powers” governors, mayors, and appointed governmental executives like Directors of Public Health have over us. If all a governor has to do is to close down, say, gun stores is to declare an emergency and then use emergency powers from his own declaration, then we should all be concerned about such power being left unchallenged. The legislatures, boards of supervisors, or city councils, should stand against actions of executive tyranny, but they have remained silent with a handful of exceptions or have been even more extreme than the executives whose power they should temper. The courts exist to thwart excessive governmental power, but sadly as is the norm in the United States, some judges uphold the Constitution while others play the role of both executives and legislatures, but not jurists. That being said, there does thankfully finally seem to be a trend toward courts being more respectful of the rights of the individual particularly with respect to the dicta of governors
But many Americans have become timorous, credulous, and servile. And many do not seem to understand that fear of death is not the same as love of life.
From the online etymology dictionary: Panic — 'from Greek , literally "pertaining to ," the god of woods and fields, who was the source of mysterious sounds that caused contagious, groundless fear in herds and crowds, or in people in lonely spots. In the sense of "panic, fright" the Greek word is short for "panic fright," from neuter of "of Pan."'
Pound desired an immanent, pagan, and materialist theory of history, one that could confer permanence on history and literature without implying transcendence. … Pound wanted beauty but on a material basis. He also wanted religion. And so, he came to advocate a form of classical polytheism, believing that for “the lack of gods (plural) man suffers, or let us say he very gradually impoverishes his mind by the elimination of irreplaceable concepts.” In the same essay, he condemns Eliot’s call for a restoration of Christianity, and explains antisemitism as “revenge on the race that has brought monotheism into general European circulation.”
This is a wondrously learned and incisive essay, though James Matthew Wilson is kinder to Pound that I could be. My problem with Pound is exemplified in the passage from the Pisan Cantos that Wilson quotes, which strikes me as the worst kind of mannerism. But I just got the Kindle version of Pound's Selected Poems, since I think I ought to take another look.
— Jaroslav Pelikan, born on this date in 1923
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Baring’s work is difficult for the modern reader because Baring was himself much more civilized and much more widely read than the modern reader. This is why I feel in awe in his presence when I read his books. Since Baring is much better read than I, and since he was a polyglot, conversant in several languages and cognizant of many others, ancient and modern, I feel in his presence what Chesterton felt in the presence of the Dominican, Father Vincent McNabb, that he walks on a crystal floor above my head.
“We know that the nuclear private household is where the overwhelming majority of abuse can happen. And then there’s the whole question of what it is for: training us up to be workers, training us to be inhabitants of a binary-gendered and racially stratified system, training us not to be queer,” says Sophie Lewis. For her among the most important steps is to “denaturalize the mother-child bond… the idea that babies belong to anyone — the idea that the product of gestational labor gets transferred as property to a set of people.” Children — excuse me, the “products of labor” — being attached to the women who gave birth to them and being raised by them along with their fathers? Whoever thought of such a ridiculous idea.
Further proof of Orwell's observation that "Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them."
I don’t know if they’re the biggest, and Project Censored seems to have some biases of its own, but they’re certainly worth considering.
Shakespeare's works include mentions of 175 varieties of plants (and not a single butterfly), and many 'Shakespeare gardens', containing some or all of these plants, have been created on both sides of the Atlantic. Most are quite approximate in their approach, aiming more at a vaguely Elizabethan and Shakespearean feel, perhaps concentrating on but one aspect of Shakespeare's flora. One such garden turns up in E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia, in which we find Lucia sitting in her 'Perdita's Garden'.
— Noël Coward, born on this date in 1899
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
The English department at Northwestern also posted a statement: “The Department is aware that a former adjunct lecturer who has not taught here in nearly 20 years has published an opinion piece that casts unmerited aspersion on Dr. Jill Biden’s rightful public claiming of her doctoral credentials and expertise. The Department rejects this opinion as well as the diminishment of anyone’s duly-earned degrees in any field, from any university.”
Why exactly should I give a rat's ass what people like this think?
… Jill Biden’s habit of calling herself a doctor had caused real confusion. Last March, Whoopi Goldberg suggested on The View that, in the case of a Biden victory at the polls, Jill should be named Surgeon General because she’s an “amazing doctor.”
All of which goes to demonstrate Epstein's "actual, and serious, subject. And that subject was the increasing meaninglessness of advanced degrees in the humanities and social sciences."
American politicians and bureaucrats have been gaining and using far too much power against the people.
No lie there. And given that we have the worst political class in our history, this is worrisome indeed.
Now, therefore, ever mindful of Our great duty, We are pleased to ban, extirpate, eradicate, nullify, suppress, cancel, and forbid absolutely the striving after, acquiring, advertising, use, reference to, or insistence upon these pretended doctorates as schismatic, heretical, offensive to pious eyes and ears, unworthy of decent Christians, and altogether unsuitable for men of good will, and likewise enjoin most strictly and without any hope of relief even in the smallest degree, however small one might imagine such a degree, from Our Apostolic Severity and Rigour the use of the title “Doctor” in professional settings, social settings, when obtaining theatrical tickets, when seeking restaurant reservations, when dropping off dry-cleaning, when subscribing to magazines, when introducing oneself to new members at the Club, when having suits of clothes cut, or when doing anything whatsoever, however small and insignificant it may seem, among Christian people, whom, in Our most tender solicitude, We wish to protect and defend, lest they be bewitched and beguiled by the appalling error of wishing to appear be important and learned.