Beauty

Wednesday Poem-Donald Justice

Variations On A Neo-Classic Theme

It’s not a landscape from too near.
Like sorrows, they require some distance
Not to bulk up larger than they are.
The risk is, backing off too far.
But finger trees are hand from here.
The wounds of mines, the growth of pines
Both appear and disappear.
There’s but a shagginess remains,
An olive or a purple haze,
That nice, unshaven atmosphere
Of averages faces, average hills.

Whatever goats are dancing there,
Being all invisible,
Animate objects of a will
Contemplative without desire,
Suffer no vertigo at all
But dance until our spirits tire,
Or dine forever, or until
The speculative garbage fail–
Tin cans and comic books–which small
Imaginary campers there
Forgot against this very hour.

Donald Justice

Weekend Poems Around A Theme-Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens & Robert Frost

Luck is not chance (1350)

Luck is not chance—
It’s Toil—
Fortune’s expensive smile
Is earned—
The Father of the Mine
Is that old-fashioned Coin
We spurned—

Emily Dickinson

To A High-Toned Old Christian Woman

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That’s clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.

Wallace Stevens

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth–
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

Sunday Poem-W.H. Auden

Three Short Poems

The underground roads
Are, as the dead prefer them,
Always tortuous.
– – –
When he looked the cave in the eye,
Hercules
Had a moment of doubt.
– – –
Leaning out over
The dreadful precipice,
One contemptuous tree.

W.H. Auden

Wandering the Sea Of Fog Above Your Hotel Bed-Diminished Things: Theodore Dalrymple On Susan Sontag

From Fans Of Theodore Dalrymple: ‘The White Race Is The Cancer Of The Human History.’

Susan Sontag couldn’t mean such nonsense, could she?

‘The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilisation has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone — its ideologies and inventions.’

Yes and no, probably.

Traversing the rocky outcrops of the postmodern landscape can lead to occasional outbursts of moral grandeur.  Beneath the fog, hilltops can present themselves as though all of ‘(H)istory’ is coming into view.

Bathing in the thermal pools of group identity, deep inside of this ritual or that, perhaps chanting ‘power-theories’ to feel some warmth and comfort; all may quiet the conscience for a time.

Sooner or later, though, action is required. The injustice becomes unbearable.  The Self lies suspended atop ‘(H)istory’ and the utopias to come under its oppressions.

What were once Romantic visions of grandeur high above the clouds (is that an old German castle?) were still available to some Modernists, but maybe even fewer postmodernists, yet.

Where are these things headed?

Addition: It would seem I can state the radical case well enough that actual radicals are mistaking this post for one of sympathy.

—-

Be careful where you put your Self, dear reader, as your moral sentiments, hope and despair will follow.

If I’m going to make an appeal to your Self, then at least let me do it in more pragmatic fashion, away from these many post-Enlightenment dead-ends and radical discontents.

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Somewhere from the old aristocratic Russia softly speaks a keen mind in beautiful, strange English: Michael Dirda At The Washington Post Reviews ‘Nabokov in America’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

A Sterile Garden-Bjorn Lomborg At Project Syndicate

Do Children Cause Global Warming?

Lomborg:

‘Across all cultures, raising a child is considered one of the most rewarding things a person can do. Yet a chorus of campaigners, scientists, and journalists suggest that everyone should think twice before procreating.’

As I see things, many in the West are replacing belief in a deeper substrate of religious doctrines with belief in a substrate of secular humanist ideals and various flavors of political idealism.

Pursuing one’s professional, political and moral ends is to be expected, of course, according to one’s beliefs and guiding principles.

Mainstreaming secular humanist ideals, however, also has professional, political and moral consequences for everyone.   The latest moral idea also has its true-believers, purists, and ecstatics.

Within environmental circles, the logic can lead to no humans at all!

Man will not simply return to his once free, Romantically Primitive state in Nature (no cars, no industry, no pollution…innocence).

There will be no Man!

Mind you, this isn’t even the more placid, flaccid, Shaker dead-end which did leave some behind some good music.

It’s crazy!:

Related On This Site:  Jonathan Adler At The Atlantic: ‘A Conservative’s Approach to Combating Climate Change’ Monbiot invokes Isaiah Berlin and attacks libertarians:  From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Instead of global green governance, what about a World Leviathan…food for thought, and a little frightening…there are other sources rather than Hobbes: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Ronald Bailey At Reason: ‘Delusional in Durban’A Few Links On Environmentalism And Liberty

 

Thoughts From The Anglosphere-Some Links

Denis Dutton: ‘Delusions Of Postmodernism:’

‘Here perhaps lies postmodernism’s greatest failure of nerve: as Khanin puts it, where the modernist posture was one of pathfinder and conqueror, the postmodernist prefers the passive life of a voyeur. The former posture may have been presumptuous, but the latter is senseless. Why this mood of fatigue has so much current appeal in the industrialized world is, I readily admit, mysterious to me. I can only affirm my view that the Enlightenment in its modernist and postmodernist manifestations is still a vital enterprise in science, politics, and even art. Though its completion is nowhere within our sights, it demands our active engagement.’

Roger Sandall: ‘Guardianship: The Utopia Of The New Class

‘You can’t keep a good idea down. You can be gently derisive and hope it will go away. You can make things hot for True Believers by exposing their ideas to ridicule and scorn. Or adopting a more serious approach, you can research and write and publish two mighty volumes of overwhelming argument printed in several editions over a period of forty years, which make vividly clear the intellectual error of Platonic politics, the practical folly of using them as a guide to action, and the numberless vices which invariably ensue.’

From an emailer: Revisiting Martha Nussbaum’s paper on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’

Those Artists Are Always Looking Inwards, Tugging At The Heartstrings- Nostalgia, Regret & The Sublime

It’s very lush, bombastic, emotional and Romantic, but those first few minutes of wandering bassoon reach nostalgic, meditative melancholy for me.

Give the first minute a listen, if nothing else:

Towards that theme, David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd) jumps to a lap steel guitar to unleash raw, tattered glory at minute 5:13 of this live performance of High Hopes.

John Williams playing Isaac Albeniz’ Cordoba reaches a more sublime state for me (especially at minute 1:20):

I think this is more reflection and a desire for the holy and larger-than-oneself (ducking into the Mosque away from the busy streets….into quiet interplay of shadow and sun, observing the stars carved into the ceiling).

Is our desire for the transcendent, pure and true simply reflected in this rather useless activity we tend to cherish so much?  Can the arts corrupt you?  Do you need a guide?

As posted:

Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom

Thanks to a reader.

Quite a varied discussion on Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Does rock/popular music corrupt the souls of youth in preventing them from evening-out the passions; from pursuing higher things that a quality humanities education can offer?

Might such a lack allow political ideology to offer young people something to do, something to be, and something of which to be a part?

A questioning of premises, with varied disagreement, including that from an Emersonian.

Related On This Site:

Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

-Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

-Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

Friday Poem-Wallace Stevens

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Wallace Stevens

Throw something at it and see if it sticks.  I like Helen Vendler’s interpretation….

What do you do with an uncivilized, wild land?  Import European learning and literature “atop” it?

The nature/culture divide?  Nature is wonderful but it is to culture where we must return.  If you are an artist, you turn towards direct experience in this land, but…you also turn to that which inspires you…European learning and thought….the products of other cultures.

Live Here And Make Honey In Nature’s Hive

James Lileks:

‘I share many of the New Urbanist ideas for cities, but I can’t cast my lot in with the group because they are screwball-daft when the subject of cars comes up, and will entertain any inconvenience as long as it’s anti-car. I don’t want to ride a got-damned bicycle to work. Most people don’t. Period.’

Woman Who Lived In A Micro-Apartment Doles Out Life Advice:’

“Living in that tiny space made my life so much bigger,” Cohen told The Post. “My book is about living the life you want in whatever size you choose — it’s not just about learning to live smaller, but smarter.”

The simple life has its appeal.

Of course, individual choice eventually comes into conflict with planned communities and group obligations, to say nothing of taxes and regulations borne by other individuals…

I’m guessing Seattle’s Yesler Terrace project is still mostly pipe-dream, but if elected, I promise a social-worker, a community garden, full kindergarten empowerment and adult employment in every cell block:

‘The new neighborhood will bring together people from many walks of life, ethnic backgrounds and income levels. Partnerships will help strengthen the social fabric of the community by providing open spaces and community centers for gathering, and programs to increase health, academic achievement and economic opportunity.’

At the New Urbanist website:

“Only when humans are again permitted to build authentic urbanism — those cities, towns, and villages that nurture us by their comforts and delights — will we cease the despoiling of Nature by escaping to sprawl.”

As previously posted:

Whatever your thoughts on sprawl, here are some of the groups, who, in my opinion, are involved:

Greens and activists who want to control and regulate the energy sector according to their understanding of nature.  Or they at least will control much lawmaking and the political process through activism, while directing massive amounts of federal taxpayer money to developing this vision (chosen and controlled by politicians whom they favor).  Whatever’s going on with the climate, they’re usually willing to overlook the political waste, corruption, higher costs of gas and basic services and fewer jobs that could make us like Europe, without many of the benefits.

The products of modernism and modernist architecture.  Some modernists believe in utopian and semi-utopian visions of the future, or simply, a better world where people should be rounded up and live happily according the visions of a few artists, architects, and city-planners.  They don’t like the suburbs too much.

Collectivists, humanists and multicultural types who like a broad, ‘equality of outcome,’ definition of democracy and believe there will be room for everyone, all races and classes, in the new urban environment (more like European social democrats) if just the right people are in charge.

Anyone with a monied, career or professional, personal or identity-based stake in this vision.

Bob Zubrin pointed out the problems of environmentalism, and the authoritarian impulses behind many environmentalist goals and methods, which I’ve applied to the urbanists in parentheses below:

After the utopian dreams fade, and when the money runs-out, you often just end-up with a movement which further Left types will use to gain leverage, as in Europe:

1.  There isn’t enough to go around (suburbs waste resources like gas, electricity, and materials in addition to lost productivity and time)

2Human nature needs to be constrained as a result (Trains, buses and bikes are the preferred method of transportation instead of cars…while apartments, co-ops and living units instead of houses in the suburbs are the places to live)

3Someone needs to be in charge (Someone like Bloomberg, or similarly paternalistic leaders are ok as long as they line up with the message and enforce the right laws from the top down)

4We volunteer ourselves for the job (Someone’s got to build a vision of the future, and the vision of the artist or architect, or city planners for example, may be enough for the rest of us to live in much like occurs in modernist architecture).

If you’ve been following current cultural trends, there’s been some native New Yorker pushback against the hipsters in Williamsburg.  These urban dwellers often arrive from the suburbs, moving to urban centers in search of identity, group meaning, and membership with a kind of collectivist, artistic, modernist to postmodernist impulse that lines up with urbanism.   They are changing our culture in many ways.

See Also:  Briton Roger Scruton perhaps also wants America to be more like Europe, less rootless, wasteful, and tramping the flowers.  In modernism’s place (souless airports, blank modern facades speaking only to themselves) Scruton suggests Leon Krier’s New Urbanism and a return to more Classical architectureRepost: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?

Brasilia: A Planned City and Review Of Britain’s “Lost Cities” In The Guardian

Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’…Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’

You don’t get the progressive base without the restrictive laws…they are baby steps to paradise: Richard Epstein At Defining Ideas: ‘City Planners Run Amok’Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution Journal: ‘Three Cheers for Income Inequality’Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas: ‘California’s Kafkaesque Rent Control Laws’

What if you’re economy’s already depressed?  Don’t make a maze of laws and build stadiums and museums on the public dime…get new industry: From Reason: ‘Reason Saves Cleveland With Drew Carey’…Reason also suggests that if such creative/entrepenurial spirit gets off the ground, it will have to get around the public sector in Detroit.  From Reason Via Youtube: ‘Is Harrisburg’s Nightmare America’s Future?’

Tom Wolfe Has Passed-R.I.P.

I’m just glad he was there for so long:

Website here.

Michael Lewis at Vanity Fair: ‘How Tom Wolfe Became….Tom Wolfe

‘New York City was—and still is—the only place on earth where a writer might set himself up as a professional tour guide and attract the interest of the entire planet. That’s mainly what Wolfe was, at least in the beginning: his job was to observe the sophisticates in their nutty bubble for the pleasure of the rubes in the hinterlands, and then, from time to time, venture out into the hinterlands and explain what is really going on out there to the sophisticates inside the bubble. He moves back and forth like a bridge player, ruffing the city and the country against each other. He occupies a place in between. He dresses exotically and is talented and intellectually powerful, like the sophisticates in the bubble. But he isn’t really one of them. To an extent that shocks the people inside the bubble, when they learn of it, he shares the values of the hinterland. He believes in God, Country, and even, up to a point, Republican Presidents. He even has his doubts about the reach of evolutionary theory.’

From ‘The Pump House Gang: Introduction

‘Hefner showed me through his chambers. The place was kept completely draped and shuttered. The only light, day or night, was electric. It would be impossible to keep track of the days in there. And presently Hefner jumped onto . . . the center of his world, the bed in his bedroom. Aimed at the bed was a TV camera he was very proud of.’

As posted:

Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

The satire of the liberal intelligentsia is pretty rich, as well as the Southern Gentleman’s WASP ‘rejuvenation.’ You just know Christopher Hitchens had to get-in on that action:

From the Late Show in 1989 with Howard Jacobson:

===============

Was Tom Wolfe seeing things clearly, as they really are?

Certainly the liberal pieties and the conflicted, activist base is still ripe for the picking…for what is preventing the mocking of the Brooklyn hipster and the echoing of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ across the fruited plain?:

Peter Berkowitz review of Tom Wolfe’s Miami novel here.

What are you looking for in a novel: Ideas and the deployment of ideas? A reflection of your life/times/society? Good prose? Characters that pop into your life? Glimpses of the author? Pleasure?

The deeper divisions, as Wolfe’s novel compellingly presents them, are between those who believe that happiness consists in one form of pleasure or another — including the aesthetic pleasure of sensitively glimpsing one’s own sensitivities and the sensitivities of others — and those who, like Tom Wolfe and his heroes, believe that happiness consists in the exercise of courage, self-control, and the other qualities of mind and character that constitute human excellence.’

A New Yorker review here.

See Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic: That Party At Lenny’s for a rich account of the 60′s. I remember reading ‘A Man In Full‘ a while back.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.