Repost-High & Low Art, The Racial Divide In America & The French-Some Links

Tom Wolfe from ‘Stalking the billion-footed beast‘:

The truth was, as Arnold Hauser had gone to great pains to demonstrate in The Social History of Art, the intelligentsia have always had contempt for the realistic novel—a form that wallows so enthusiastically in the dirt of everyday life and the dirty secrets of class envy and that, still worse, is so easily understood and obviously relished by the mob, i.e., the middle class. In Victorian England, the intelligentsia regarded Dickens as “the author of the uneducated, undiscriminating public.” It required a chasm of time—eighty years, in fact—to separate his work from its vulgar milieu so that Dickens might be canonized in British literary circles. The intelligentsia have always preferred more refined forms of fiction, such as that longtime French intellectual favorite, the psychological novel.

Sacre Bleu!

Let’s not get too French: Theodore Dalrymple on prostitution during COVID19:

‘The spokeswoman for the Union of Sex Workers in France, Anaïs de Lenclos (a pseudonym, one wonders?), eloquently pointed out the difficulties that prostitutes, male and female, now face.

That sounds pretty French.

In fact, let’s go to Charles Baudelaire, live on the street:

Twilight

Behold the sweet evening, friend of the criminal;
It comes like an accomplice, stealthily; the sky
Closes slowly like an immense alcove,
And impatient man turns into a beast of prey.
O evening, kind evening, desired by him
Whose arms can say, without lying: “Today
We labored!” — It is the evening that comforts
Those minds that are consumed by a savage sorrow,
The obstinate scholar whose head bends with fatigue
And the bowed laborer who returns to his bed.

Meanwhile in the atmosphere malefic demons
Awaken sluggishly, like businessmen,
And take flight, bumping against porch roofs and shutters.
Among the gas flames worried by the wind
Prostitution catches alight in the streets;
Like an ant-hill she lets her workers out;
Everywhere she blazes a secret path,
Like an enemy who plans a surprise attack;
She moves in the heart of the city of mire
Like a worm that steals from Man what he eats.
Here and there one hears food sizzle in the kitchens,
The theaters yell, the orchestras moan;

The gambling dens, where games of chance delight,
Fill up with whores and cardsharps, their accomplices;
The burglars, who know neither respite nor mercy,
Are soon going to begin their work, they also,
And quietly force open cash-boxes and doors
To enjoy life awhile and dress their mistresses.

Meditate, O my soul, in this solemn moment,
And close your ears to this uproar;
It is now that the pains of the sick grow sharper!
Somber Night grabs them by the throat; they reach the end
Of their destinies and go to the common pit;
The hospitals are filled with their sighs. — More than one
Will come no more to get his fragrant soup
By the fireside, in the evening, with a loved one.

However, most of them have never known
The sweetness of a home, have never lived!

— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

Shelby Steele weaves Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary‘ into his insights about the world, coming to realize the Black Panthers in North Africa..had problems:

How (B)lack should you become when reality intrudes, and reality doesn’t have much good to say?

Which are the rules all of us should follow when it comes to right and wrong?

Full piece here.

Sent in by a reader:

The purpose of today’s civil-rights establishment is not to seek justice, but to seek power for blacks in American life based on the presumption that they are still, in a thousand subtle ways, victimized by white racism. This idea of victimization is an example of what I call a “poetic truth.” Like poetic license, it bends the actual truth in order to put forward a larger and more essential truth—one that, of course, serves one’s cause. Poetic truths succeed by casting themselves as perfectly obvious: “America is a racist nation”; “the immigration debate is driven by racism”; “Zimmerman racially stereotyped Trayvon.” And we say, “Yes, of course,” lest we seem to be racist. Poetic truths work by moral intimidation, not reason.’

What was George Orwell looking for, exactly?:  Down And Out In Paris And London:

‘There were eccentric characters in the hotel. The Paris slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people—people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived lives that were curious beyond words.’

I have my doubts all will be made well, in human affairs, by simply including the oldest profession within the latest politico-moral doctrines.

Someone tell the French ladies of the night:  Technology has made it possible for people to sell the lowest and highest of things online.  There might be…options.  Let’s expect the same old problems, however, in new venues (a few moments of beauty, grace and kindness but mostly pimps, drug abuse, robbery, extortion etc).

There’s absolutely nothing funny about Telly Savalas playing Kojak as reported by Norm MacDonald to Jerry Seinfeld, shattering naive fictions in solving a T.V. crime-drama:

On French problems of liberte: Theodore Dalrymple on Michel Houellebecq here:

‘Houellebecq has been accused of being a nihilist and cynic, but far from that, his work is an extended protest against nihilism and cynicism. It is true that he offers no solution to the problem, but it is not the purpose of novels, but rather of tracts, to offer solutions to such problems. For him to tell his readers to take up basket-weaving or some such as the answer to existential emptiness would in fact be an instance of that very existential emptiness.’

Don’t worry, once we get the right global people and laws in place, the human problems will become manageable: Martha Nussbaum on Eliot Spitzter visiting prositutes while enforcing prostitutions laws:. (updated)

I’m not much of a feminist nor a Main Line (Philadelphia) liberal myself:

Martha Nussbaum writes:

“Spitzer’s offense was an offense against his family. It was not an offense against the public. If he broke any laws, these are laws that never should have existed and that have been repudiated by sensible nations.”

T.S. Eliot (Preludes: Stanza 3)

3.

You tossed a blanket from the bed
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

The world will stain you, and it is a fallen, modern world, rendered profoundly and exquisitely.

Repost-Michael Dirda At The Washington Post-Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Son

Full post here.

Dirda reviews this biography of Julian Hawthorne.

Did you know Hawthorne had a son who wrote for Hearst and rubbed shoulders with Twain?:

Over the course of his long life, Julian Hawthorne seems to have met every major literary and public figure of his time. As a child, he sometimes listened in as his father conversed with Emerson, Thoreau and Melville. At birthday parties, he played games with little Louisa May Alcott.’

Also from Michael Dirda, check out his visit to ‘Mencken Day’ in Baltimore:

‘We stayed for the afternoon talk-in which Richard Schrader revealed how slanted and inaccurate Mencken’s account of the Scopes evolution trial had been…’

The business of monkeys…

I’m often returned to the simple pleasures of bookishness while reading Dirda.

From a previous piece at the Times Literary Supplement (subscription required):

“As a student of his native literature, Mencken favours writers with the authentic American yawp – Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, the humorists George Ade and Ring Lardner. Huckleberry Finn is the novel he loves most (followed, somewhat surprisingly, by Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim). He judges Emerson to be overrated – “an importer of stale German elixirs, sometimes direct and sometimes through the Carlylean branch house”. He can’t bear the circumlocutions of Henry James and the gentility of William Dean Howells”

See Also: How To Study Literature: M.H. Abrams In The Chronicle Of Higher Ed

Elixirs and ideas Roger Scruton At The New Atlantis: ‘Scientism In The Arts & Humanities’ From Scientific Blogging: ‘The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not’ Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’…Repost-Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’

Menand wonders in his new book, why it often can take 9 years for a humanities PhD to get their doctorate.  He suggests part of the answer lies in the numbers:  fewer opportunities and fewer university programs since 1970.  Overtrained and underpaid.

Hemingway, Melville & O’Connor-Safaris, Wasting Away In A Courtyard & A Gothic Vision Of The South: A Lot Of What We Need May Already Be Here

The Short, Happy Life Of Francis Macomber, by Ernest Hemingway:

‘Francis Macomber had, half an hour before, been carried to his tent from the edge of the camp in triumph on the arms and shoulders of the cook, the personal boys, the skinner and the porters. The gun-bearers had taken no part in the demonstration. When the native boys put him down at the door of his tent, he had shaken all their hands, received their congratulations, and then gone into the tent and sat on the bed until his wife came in.’

I’m not sure what to think, exactly (baboons, not water buffalo):

Russians in Zimbabwe!

Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story Of Wall Street

Herman Melville

Catch-up with Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut; their daily routines at the office.

Our narrator:

‘I am one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquillity of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men’s bonds and mortgages and title-deeds. All who know me consider me an eminently safe man. The late John Jacob Astor, a personage little given to poetic enthusiasm, had no hesitation in pronouncing my first grand point to be prudence; my next, method.’

We all want to be alone, and to be with others, and Bartleby…Bartleby would just prefer not to:

‘Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!  ‘


Old Playboy MLK Jr interview here.

Worth a read:

‘That night will never leave my memory. It was the angriest I have ever been in my life.’

—————–

A short story by Flannery O’Connor, as sent in by a reader:

‘He had not walked five hundred yards down the road when he saw, within reach of him, the plaster figure of a Negro sitting bent over on a low yellow brick fence that curved around a wide lawn. The Negro was about Nelson’s size and he was pitched forward at an unsteady angle because the putty that held him to the wall had cracked. One of his eyes was entirely white and he held a piece of brown watermelon.’

Redemption, mercy, original sin, and a decent short-story leaving you not knowing what to think, exactly.

Dogs, Snakes & Alas, Words

In the moment: There’s mention of Roger Scruton and some other interesting thoughts: ‘The ways of dog to Mann.’

Having had many dogs, I’m pretty sure I could infer what they were thinking a lot of the time (where are we going now? can I eat that? I’m gonna eat that), but I’m pretty sure I’ll never know what it’s like to be a dog.

Speaking of which, what’s it’s like to imagine oneself a snake and write about that? What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?

From Paul Bowles Allal, found within this collection of short stories.

‘Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’

Long experience, but none yet yours?

 XXIV

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him, — did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun, —
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone

Emily Dickinson

It’s not so much the social science knowledge claims which worry, though there are epistemological problems of accuracy and reproducibility.  More often, it’s the hopes and moral sentiments which can follow into institutional rules, group-think, policy, and law.

Many people are quite reasonable, but some people need to be right because they can’t be anything else (watch out for this part of yourself).  Deeper problems within the latest published paper can be mere loose-ends, whereas getting funding to meet payroll and printing-out motivational mantras for the next meeting are what really matters.  Or worse yet, making the personal political and punishing political enemies.

Still, it’s interesting to get some data from longitudinal studies.  Tyler Cowen links to this book.

Cowen:

The traits of being “undercontrolled” or “inhibited,” as a toddler are the traits most likely to persist up through age eighteen. The undercontrolled tend to end up as danger-seeking or impulsive. Those same individuals were most likely to have gambling disorders at age 32. Girls with an undercontrolled temperament, however, ran into much less later danger than did the boys, including for gambling.’

Just thought I’d Throw This In There:

An interesting take from Slate Star Codex-‘The APA Meeting: A Photo-Essay:’

There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry. That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?

No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.

This reminds me of a poem by Robert Pinsky, entitled ‘Essay On Psychiatrists’

V. Physical Comparison With Professors And Others

Pink and a bit soft-bodied, with a somewhat jazzy
Middle-class bathing suit and sandy sideburns, to me
He looked from the back like one more professor.

And from the front, too—the boyish, unformed carriage
Which foreigners always note in American men, combined
As in a professor with that liberal, quizzical,

Articulate gaze so unlike the more focused, more
Tolerant expression worn by a man of action (surgeon,
Salesman, athlete). On closer inspection was there,

Perhaps, a self-satisfied benign air, a too studied
Gentleness toward the child whose hand he held loosely?
Absurd to speculate; but then—the woman saw something

Maintaining a healthy skepticism:

Previous ‘elite’ links on this site, arriving at some yet predictable, unrealized truths:  Via Marginal Revolution via American Affairs: ‘The Western Elite From A Chinese Perspective:’

Kenneth Anderson At Volokh: ‘The Fragmenting of the New Class Elites, Or, Downward Mobility

Two Kinds Of Elite Cities in America?

There are people with careers writing about elites, becoming somewhat elite themselves, which haven’t fared too well

An Excerpt From Paul Bowles’ ‘Allal’ & A Strange, Schlocky Scene From ‘Conan The Barbarian’

From Paul Bowles Allal, found within this collection of short stories.

I recall musical and deeply rhythmic English (Bowles was a composer who lived in Morocco for most of his life), along with a recurrent theme of Western innocence, ignorance and arrogance meeting ancient North African realities and brutalities.

‘Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’

What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?

Something tells me the kind of fantastical savagery and imaginative schlock of Conan the Barbarian doesn’t quite capture the deeply moral, frighteningly real and lushly imagined Bowlesian world…

But maybe it does highlight some themes Bowles’ drew into relief:

You know, maybe I’d just better put this up:

Via A Reader-From Brain Pickings, An Old BBC Nabokov Interview

Thanks, reader.


As previously posted:

Full piece here

‘Therein lies the central tension of Speak, Memory. Its prose is meticulous, suggesting memory as an exercise in exacting dictation from an omniscient oracle, yet its message points to memory as mutable, prone to the passage of time and the vagaries of imagination’

I merely enjoy good writing.


Michael Dirda’s review of a review here.

Book here.

“Nabokov in America” is rewarding on all counts, as biography, as photo album (there are many pictures of people, Western landscapes and motels) and as appreciative criticism. Not least, Roper even avoids the arch style so often adopted by critics faintly trying to emulate their inimitable subject.’

What’s more American than an exiled member of the Russian aristocracy intimately making his way into the English language and peering out from a thousand Motor Lodges?

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

As previously posted an interview with Nabokov at The Paris Review.

A little bit about politics and also the politics amidst fellow writers and critics:

‘…when in doubt, I always follow the simple method of choosing that line of conduct which may be the most displeasing to the Reds and the Russells.’

and:

‘Who’s in, who’s out, and where are the snows of yesteryear. All very amusing. I am a little sorry to be left out. Nobody can decide if I am a middle-aged American writer or an old Russian writer—or an ageless international freak.’

On his professional collection of butterflies:

‘The pleasures and rewards of literary inspiration are nothing beside the rapture of discovering a new organ under the microscope or an undescribed species on a mountainside in Iran or Peru. It is not improbable that had there been no revolution in Russia, I would have devoted myself entirely to lepidopterology and never written any novels at all.’

Via Youtube: An interviewer, Nabokov and Lionel Trilling discuss ‘Lolita:’

Via A Reader, Alex Beam At The New York Review Of Books-‘When Pushkin Came To Shove: How Nabokov And Edmund Wilson Fell Out Over A Poem’

Full piece here.

‘By 1958, Wilson was past his prime and so were his cherished subjects, Marxism and modernism. But throughout the 1920s and ’30s, he had written selflessly and gorgeously about his contemporaries, literary and otherwise, making a contribution to American literature as large as, and much broader than, Nabokov’s brilliant but narrow one. It’s not surprising that Nabokov’s reputation has endured while Wilson’s has faded. Personality sells. But it would be a shame if “The Feud,” so brisk and entertaining, provided a reader’s only glimpse of one of America’s best critics.’

I got nuttin’, so thanks…reader.

 

Interview With Vladimir Nabokov In The Paris Review

Interview here.

A little bit about politics and also the politics amidst fellow writers and critics:

‘…when in doubt, I always follow the simple method of choosing that line of conduct which may be the most displeasing to the Reds and the Russells.’

and:

‘Who’s in, who’s out, and where are the snows of yesteryear. All very amusing. I am a little sorry to be left out. Nobody can decide if I am a middle-aged American writer or an old Russian writer—or an ageless international freak.’

On his professional collection of butterflies:

‘The pleasures and rewards of literary inspiration are nothing beside the rapture of discovering a new organ under the microscope or an undescribed species on a mountainside in Iran or Peru. It is not improbable that had there been no revolution in Russia, I would have devoted myself entirely to lepidopterology and never written any novels at all.’

Via Youtube: An interviewer, Nabokov and Lionel Trilling discuss ‘Lolita:’

Michael Dirda At The Washington Post-Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Son

Full post here.

Dirda reviews this biography of Julian Hawthorne.

Did you know Hawthorne had a son who wrote for Hearst and rubbed shoulders with Twain?:

‘Over the course of his long life, Julian Hawthorne seems to have met every major literary and public figure of his time. As a child, he sometimes listened in as his father conversed with Emerson, Thoreau and Melville. At birthday parties, he played games with little Louisa May Alcott.’

Also from Michael Dirda, check out his visit to ‘Mencken Day’ in Baltimore:

‘We stayed for the afternoon talk-in which Richard Schrader revealed how slanted and inaccurate Mencken’s account of the Scopes evolution trial had been…’

The business of monkeys…

I’m often returned to the simple pleasures of bookishness while reading Dirda.

From a previous piece at the Times Literary Supplement (subscription required):

“As a student of his native literature, Mencken favours writers with the authentic American yawp – Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, the humorists George Ade and Ring Lardner. Huckleberry Finn is the novel he loves most (followed, somewhat surprisingly, by Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim). He judges Emerson to be overrated – “an importer of stale German elixirs, sometimes direct and sometimes through the Carlylean branch house”. He can’t bear the circumlocutions of Henry James and the gentility of William Dean Howells”

See Also: How To Study Literature: M.H. Abrams In The Chronicle Of Higher Ed

Elixirs and ideas Roger Scruton At The New Atlantis: ‘Scientism In The Arts & Humanities’ From Scientific Blogging: ‘The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not’ Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’…Repost-Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’

Menand wonders in his new book, why it often can take 9 years for a humanities PhD to get their doctorate.  He suggests part of the answer lies in the numbers:  fewer opportunities and fewer university programs since 1970.  Overtrained and underpaid.

Five Short Stories Likely Worth Your Time

I claim no special literary insight, other than these five short stories have stuck with me, as they have for many other readers besides. Links included.

——————–

1. ‘Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story Of Wall Street

Herman Melville

Catch-up with Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut; their daily routines at the office.

Our narrator:

‘I am one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquillity of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men’s bonds and mortgages and title-deeds. All who know me consider me an eminently safe man. The late John Jacob Astor, a personage little given to poetic enthusiasm, had no hesitation in pronouncing my first grand point to be prudence; my next, method.’

We all want to be alone, and to be with others, and Bartleby…Bartleby would just prefer not to:

‘Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!  ‘

——————–

2. ‘An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge

Ambrose Bierce

As they were for many other high-school boys, the first lines were enough for me:

‘A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck.’

Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man?

———————-

3. ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge

Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor’s Southern Gothic style often flirts with the grotesque, and can traffic in the macabre, but there’s reason behind it, and a brilliantly skeptical, humane eye.  Few writers get so many things right, in my opinion.

The world is changing, and so is the South.

Julian’s mother is living in the past:

‘They had reached the bus stop. There was no bus in sight and Julian, his hands still jammed in his pockets and his head thrust forward, scowled down the empty street. The frustration of having to wait on the bus as well as ride on it began to creep up his neck like a hot hand. The presence of his mother was borne in upon him as she gave a pained sigh. He looked at her bleakly. She was holding herself very erect under the preposterous hat, wearing it like a banner of her imaginary dignity. There was in him an evil urge to break her spirit. He suddenly unloosened his tie and pulled it off and put it in his pocket’

——————–

4. ‘A Distant Episode

Paul Bowles

A lot can be ‘swallowed’ up in the desert, lost in translation; across time, language and civilizations.

Things don’t always end well for the intellectually curious and perhaps naive:

‘It occurred to him that he ought to ask himself shy he was doing this irrational thing, but he was intelligent enough to know that since he Was doing it, it was not so important to probe for explanations at that moment.’

Let’s leave it at that.

——————–

5. ‘Araby

James Joyce

To what does a man put his hopes?

But such wonderful writing:

‘When the short days of winter came, dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.’