Thursday, September 30, 2021
De la Mare … as Wootten argues, often seems to be “less interested in the thing itself than in the effect it happens to produce”, a Symbolist poetics that fosters mystery as a stylistic equivalent to the pervasive theme of otherness. Modernism might have seen poets like de la Mare as escapist, retreating from a direct engagement with objective reality, but as this often metaphysical poet illustrates, the imaginative world has its own veracity, seeking to offer not absolute truths but intuitive ones. Looked at like this, de la Mare’s fascination with childhood (and, in many cases, his desire to write poems that could be enjoyed by children and adults alike), seems less a regress than a deeply felt belief that this period was “the fullest of life”, one where “imagination and perception were more acute and alive than they could be again”. De la Mare might even be considered a discreet Surrealist, occasionally anachronistic but of a mind with André Breton’s claim that “childhood is the only reality”.
We certainly wouldn't notice their absence.
One of the themes of Scruton's short but dense book, as it is of England: An Elegy, is 'enchantment'. For a people with a reputation for prosaic common sense, the English, he argues, have been peculiarly prone to investing the most commonplace realities with an air of magic, mystique, enchantment. In An Elegy, Scruton speaks frequently of 'the enchantment that lay over England' (note past tense).
I think people generally know, and accept, that language changes, but a lot of the illogical bits in language come from the fact that language also stays the same. Certain parts resist the change around them and they become fossils, part of the language today, but stuck with the forms of a previous era. Language is two opposing things at once: an infinitely creative tool for expressing any kind of meaning that comes along in the world, and a very conservative tradition that must be stable enough to pass from one generation to the next. We are able to say things that have never been said before, while most of the time repeating the same things over and over again. The repetition embeds and entrenches habits. The creativity introduces departures from the habits. It needs to be both. It’s amazing that it’s both!
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Apparently YouTube thinks it need not obey the First Amendment. Twitter and Facebook and Google apparently feel the same way. Punitive action should be taken against all if them.
- Handel has been my unexpected companion, across several continents, for thirty years now. It feels strange to say that because if my friends were asked, they’d likely tell you that I listen to Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell, to Springsteen and U2, and in recent times to my wife’s beloved Green Day. My colleagues recall how close I was to a boyhood hero who became in time a boon companion, Leonard Cohen, whose liner notes I used to write. But my private joy, known only to my wife, perhaps, is George Frideric Handel, and in particular the choral music.
… The Permanent War for Culture. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
The Critical Temper contains four sections of essays: One excoriates venerated figures and notions, one celebrates artists who have divided opinion, one explores the importance of our Anglosphere patrimony, and one gathers pieces that do not quite fit into the other categories. Ayn Rand, kitsch, V. I. Lenin, and the 1619 Project get a proper seeing-to; Harry Flashman, Madame Bovary, P. G. Wodehouse, and Edmund Burke are heaped with laurels.
Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Appearances are seldom deceiving to the clear-eyed observer, and Peter Pettinger writes frankly in his fine new biography of what was no secret to Evans's appalled colleagues: The most influential jazz pianist of the past half-century was addicted to drugs -- first heroin, then cocaine -- for much of his adult life. He picked up the habit in 1958 as a member of Miles Davis's sextet, and despite occasional interludes of sobriety, it stayed with him, finally leading to his death in 1980. Pettinger, who died last month, was an English concert pianist who began listening to Evans as a teen-ager. He is as interested in his playing as his private life; his book is packed with so much shrewd critical commentary that it reads at times more like an annotated discography than a biography. But ''Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings'' is also the first full-length biography of Evans, and most readers will doubtless pay special attention to the grisly mparticulars of what the writer Gene Lees, who knew him well, tersely called ''the longest suicide in history.''
I’ve done my share of drugs, including the hard ones. I had a craving for experience. I used to tell my friends that the point of the drug game is not to be dead. A lot of them lost.
… the diminutive (5’2″), determined and affable Man Ray seemed to make friends with and be accepted as major player by everyone – at least in Paris. As for copying his work, he insisted that it’s the concept informing a work that matters, not the resulting hardware. Both he and Marcel Duchamp, the originator of Readymades and his lifelong friend and early collaborator, reproduced their art for sale as they aged. Man Ray said, “I have no compunction about this — an important book or musical score is not destroyed by burning it … An original is a creation motivated by desire. Any reproduction of an originals motivated be necessity. It is marvelous that we are the only species that creates gratuitous forms. To create is divine, to reproduce is human.”
He was born here in South Philly, but his family moved to Brooklyn when he was about 7.
I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of these journalistic exercises. This unwanted education has made me a better critic, or at least a less clumsy and heavy-handed one.
A few days after Cormac McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize for The Road, a piece of mine saying it was a really lousy book appeared in The Inquirer. I had not intended to write about it. I don’t especially like writing negative reviews. But the paperback of The Road had just arrived in my office and I had been paging through it and reading passages I thought underwhelming to my boss, who then begged me to write about it. So I did. So for a while I could tell friends to Google “Wilson Cormac Inquirer, asshole” so they could be entertained by all the people calling me an asshole for writing what I had about a book they thought was great. If they were trying to hurt my feelings, they failed. I had no affect regarding what they had said. Here is the review.
Monday, September 27, 2021
Sunday, September 26, 2021
… “My Way” or the Highway? (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
America wanted a song like “My Way,” and there was only one person who could sing it the way it needed to be sung. Perhaps the only surprise is that Sinatra didn’t actually compose it. “My Way” borrows the music of "Comme d'habitude," a French song with more conventional love lyrics. Paul Anka acquired the English adaptation rights, and wrote new lyrics—but with Sinatra specifically in mind. (Are you surprised?).
I never had a problem with Sinatra, probably because Ive been listening to him since I was little kid in the '40s. What was it Jack Kerouac — another fan — said of him, that he taught American singers how to singAmerican?
Saturday, September 25, 2021
Updike’s self-effacing public manner now looks like a tactical error in the long game of literary reputation. Philip Roth and Toni Morrison never tired of singing the song of themselves—and why not, in the end, when the world is so crowded and busy? It’s not that Updike was modest about his talent; it’s simply that he embodied the cultural style we associate with American Protestantism. The vanquishing of that once-dominant mode has contributed to a growing incomprehension of Updike’s work.
I always liked Updike's essays, but I never really got to know his fiction because, when I read Rabbit, Run in college I just didn't like it.
Friday, September 24, 2021
“A Phoenix Too Frequent” runs for 80 minutes without an intermission, but while it is sometimes performed with a companion curtain-raiser, it doesn’t need one to make you feel that you’ve gotten your money’s worth of pleasure. The enjoyment of the audience present at this performance was palpable, and you’ll appreciate their “company” as you watch: They definitely get Fry’s jokes.
The beautiful young lady I took to my senior prom in college had just starred as Helen of Troy in Tiger at the Gates, Christopher Fry's adaptation of Jean Giraudoux's The Trojan War Will Not Take Place. She has probably long since forgotten me, but I have never forgotten her.
Thursday, September 23, 2021
it seems clear why Hart “edited” this scene of his life. The whole book is a lesson in storytelling. The truth spoiled the mood of the act, so he fixed it, as a good playwright does.
I remember seeing Moss Hart on the Jack Paar show. Always a fascinating guest.
‘life on Earth, with all its drama, all its comings and goings, is governed by just two things. One of them is a slow decline in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The other is the steady increase in the brightness of the Sun.’
What you see in American literature is a really interesting moment. You have a fellow who didn’t go to college. That’s probably the only reason that Bradbury was able to be this innovative; he just made it up on his own. He read the books that he wanted to in the order he wanted to, and he began to write children’s literature, which is to say, pulp science fiction. For ten years, ten of the most extraordinary years in the history of fantasy or science fiction, he wrote seven books—six of them are short story collections, one of them is a novel—in which, for the first time in American literature, somebody brought the subtlety and psychological insight of high culture fiction into science fiction without losing the imagination of science fiction.
Peter Goetzche argued in his book, “Deadly medicines and organized crime”, that no-one should take a new drug that’s been on the market for less than seven years, in light of the fact that it often takes that long for dangers to become known and dangerous drugs to be pulled off the market. In recent months, we’ve learned that the Astra-Zeneca vaccine can cause deadly blood clots in the brain, and we’ve learned that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can cause myocarditis. The authorities say that these events are extremely rare, based on the number of events that are reported to the authorities. But this ignores the fact that most adverse events don’t get reported.
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Writing in 1751, Franklin argued that:
It would be a very strange Thing, if six Nations of ignorant Savages [sic] should be capable of forming a Scheme for such a Union, and be able to execute it in such a Manner as that it has subsisted Ages, and appears indissoluble; and yet a like Union should be impractical for ten or a Dozen English Colonies[…]
The only one of Austen’s novels that I have read is Pride and Prejudice. It was a class assignment. I know I passed the test. The world she depicts was utterly different from the world that I knew, and her book did not make me want to know more of that world. I suppose I should read her again sometime before I shuffle off my mortal coil.
A poem by Stephen Yenser, from his collection STONE FRUIT (2016). (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
Emily Dickinson said of herself: “I… am small, like the wren; and my hair is bold, like the chestnut burr; and my eyes, like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves.”
Tuesday, September 21, 2021
I think one should decide which it is one wants to be — a reporter or an activist.News is news. Opinion is opinion. Most papers have sections for both. The twain should never meet.
Monday, September 20, 2021
As always, one should attend to one's soul. Where does one start? Best to return to the solitary maple tree in the clearing among the pines. Everything begins and ends with a single beautiful particular.
… just as Saad gains some momentum in his sixth chapter, the next chapter, “How to Seek Truth: Nomological Networks of Cumulative Evidence,” is an enormous letdown. In it, he shoehorns so much of his research on sexual differences and Islamic extremism, proving that that men and women are different and that Islam lends itself to violence. Somehow, Saad believes that using evidence across disciplines will do the trick of convincing the other side, as though no one else has tried this already.
Sunday, September 19, 2021
On Constitution Day, I say drink a toast to the losers. After all, some of them agitated for a Bill of Rights, a proposal that was rejected by the framers in September of 1787. Let us study their criticisms of our imperfect system. Imagine what might have been and what might be as the republic suffers in a realm of political dysfunction caused in no small part by our odd framework of government.
In Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, the notion is advanced that conclusion arrived at by means of a counterfactual proposition is always correct precisely because the premise is false. If that had not happened, then … whatever.
Saturday, September 18, 2021
… Mullins argues that we need to train young readers to recover the pleasurable delight in encountering the subtleties of language, the repetition, the imagery, the narrative arc . . . the literariness of Scripture. This is not just a better form of reading, but a way of loving communion with the God who breathes and inspires the truth in his authoritative Scripture. Good reading is a full-bodied encounter.
In college I wrote the poetry that Big Poetry was promoting, but eventually found it unsatisfying and stopped writing poetry altogether for about a decade. In my 30s, I realized that I could write the kind of poetry I loved rather than the poetry that others wanted me to love, so that’s what I set out to do.
Friday, September 17, 2021
There is paradox here, but no contradiction. What Lao Tzu is telling us is that while of course the Tao can be named or spoken of in onesense – that’s the point of saying what we’ve so far heard him say, after all – what we are speaking about is something that ultimately cannot adequately be captured in language, because it is so radically unlike the temporary, changing, differentiated, dependent things of our experience. In that sense it is nameless. The best we can do is to suggest the ways in which it is not like the things of our experience – it is not temporary, not changing, not differentiated, not dependent, and so on.
It is perhaps worth taking note of the Chinese translation of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God, and the Tao was God.” Regarding anthropomorphism, it seems to me that the Incarnation is as anthropomorphic as it gets.
Thursday, September 16, 2021
A walk through Philadelphia’s streets and alleys exposes the walker to an art, history, and domesticity that validates the walker as an individual, with individual quirks, histories, and significance himself. Apart from Center City, little of Philadelphia rises above four or five stories high. As Bourdain’s visit and my own experience prove, that ground-level appeal is consequently not limited to the city’s architectural features. The Mural Art Project and Isaiah Zagar’s colorful mosaics can be experienced throughout the 142 square miles of the city limits, stopping the solitary walker in his tracks. It is a rare route through the city that fails to traverse cobblestone streets and two-century-old buildings that remind the walker of the city’s and the nation’s history. And the longer one stays in the city, the more frequently one comes across ghostly reminiscences of their own history: after drinks at Dirty Frank’s and visits to Independence Park, the walker begins to see the city as a mirror of their own experience, as an individual, as a Philadelphian, as an American. One senses one’s own paradoxically ghostly permanence as the city itself curates its own history.
This is a really fine piece, and I say that who has walked all over the place. (I feel obliged to mention, though, that Frank Rizzo’s black bodyguards thought the world of him.)
… Moore retains the tart flavour of a well-kept secret. He is not under-rated exactly, nor does he merit the backhanded compliment “writer’s writer” (unless the writer in question is Graham Greene, who called Moore his favourite living novelist). He is, rather, under-read and certainly under-kept-in-print: only about a third of his 20 novels are easy to find at any time. Luckily, enterprising publisher Turnpike Books is marking his centenary this month by reissuing three of his longest-unavailable novels, including one of his best.
Birkerts’ close reading of Nabokov teases out patterns from the dense and meditative prose of the older writer’s work. The opening section deals with the nature of time, showing how Nabokov embeds future moments in early ones. In particular, his nostalgic recollections of childhood innocence foreshadow later events which will disrupt it, such as his father’s sudden death. Brief intimations of later moments in elaborately described early experiences suggest the malleability of time as held in memory.
Blake did not read the Divine Comedy as a medieval Catholic believer but as a visionary 18th and 19th century English artist and poet who invented his own religion. He “taught himself Italian in order to be able to read the original” and had a “ complex relationship” with the text, writes Dante scholar Silvia De Santis.
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
I’ve learned after all these years that the differences between American and British language are very many and often very subtle, and thus it’s extremely difficult for an American to provide 100% convincing dialogue for a Brit, and vice versa. Klara and the Sun proves the point.
Maybe I’ve read too many books by Brits, but some of these sound to me as much American as British. I use clever and others have even used it of me. Certainly Americans sometimes give it a go. But the point is well taken. If I ever wrote a novel, I would make sure all the characters were American. I’d also be careful about regional characters.
Tuesday, September 14, 2021
… if you look at colleges generally, what do you get? Outside of those few departments like the applied sciences, where practical results condemn failure to the garbage can, or mathematics, where proof is proof and wishing doesn’t make it so, higher education is not education at all. It is a racket. I mean the word in its strict sense. The colleges have positioned themselves as the owners of the only bridge across an impassable river. If you want a good job, they say, you have to go through us, and we, with government enablers and enforcers, will make you mortgage yourself over the gables for the privilege.
I had a great time in college and when I visited my alma mater when I was The Inquirer’s book editor it seemed pretty much the place I knew. But I recently learned it may be going woke.
Dialectism is the existence
Of 2 phonemes weaving together
Laws coexist regardless of distance
Example: hot and cold in the weather
There is Form and Matter in everything
All Matter has Form, But not all Form does
For the a Cappella singer sings
All Form precedes Matter and Whole because
There is a divine order in the world
Even chaos is a deviation
Anouk is life: Sapien boy or girl
Everything is woven to formation
Is there free will indeterminism?
Even that is a whole algorithm
— Benjamin Knox