Why Should You Read Poems, Prose & The Great Works, Anyways?

Whitney Sha at The Point: ‘Subjectivity and Its Discontents

‘This conclusion is rarely discussed on a systematic level, although humanists have proposed individual responses to it. Some, for starters, play the “no true humanist” card: there may be bullshit in some humanistic disciplines or by some humanists, but real work in the humanities is just as rigorous and legitimate as work in the sciences. Classicist and philosopher Martha Nussbaum, for example, has accused literary scholar Stanley Fish of radical relativism and gender theorist Judith Butler of deliberate obfuscation; philosopher John Searle has combed through Jacques Derrida’s work to reveal that, for all its ambition and difficulty, it is ultimately “unintelligible.” If Fish and Butler and Derrida have somehow failed in their charge as humanists, then the humanities as a whole don’t have to be responsible for justifying their work.’

I suspect the search for deeper metaphysical and epistemological grounds in the humanities will always be afoot, be they ‘postmodern’ or otherwise.  Simply reading texts is probably not enough for quicker minds, which often seek deeper truth and knowledge claims to anchor thought and so often, reinforce behavioral norms.  The ‘why’ questions will nag and often coalesce into higher and competing spires, especially upon university grounds.

On this site, see:

A more religious defense (Roger Scruton) of why you should read great works and the religion-sized-hole-filled by-Marxism-approach (Terry Eagleton) mirroring many downstream debates occuring within the British political economy.

A particularly British affair (hopefully the centuries of stratification support a deeper Marxism on that side of the pond):

Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Repost-From Edge: ‘Dennett On Wieseltier V. Pinker In The New Republic’

Art, iconography, art education, culture, feminism as well as 60’s cultural revolution radicalism and deeply Catholic impulses?:Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

What have I gotten wrong, here?: Jordan Peterson deploys Jungian metaphysics, downstream of Nietzsche, to make knowledge claims which challenge Blackmore’s reasonably pedestrian modern materialism and atheism.

In other words, Peterson’s defense of Jungian archetypes, including those potentially found in the Bible (and perhaps viewed from the depths of Nietzsche’s nihilism), might connect with biology more profoundly than Blackmore’s psychological materialism might have been able to address.

Nihilism is an interesting epistemological ground out of which to make knowledge claims of transcendant objects, or at least, out of which to synthesize biological knowledge and knowledge claims which align within the burgeoning field of neuroscience.

The desire each of us seems to have for transcendence, wisdom and stories (especially kids) within the subjectivity of our own lived experiences, the deeper hopes and beliefs which seem ever-present (if not consciously realized) in our waking lives, the relationships with loved ones which inform, and probably ought to inform our moral judgments and moral thinking, might align with Jungian archetypes, Greek myths and the King James Bible, and thus some sort of Nietzschen nihilist denial of objective reality or the structure of the material world explored by the sciences…or…they might not.

A return to Straussian neo-classicism?: From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’Harvey Mansfield At Defining Ideas: ‘Democracy Without Politics?’

Neo-neo conservatism, new atheism and post socialism for the ’68ers? Via Youtube: Christopher Hitchens On Faith And Virtue

Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity:

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Repost-Via The New Criterion: ‘The Intolerable Dream’-Don Quixote, The Lone Genius & Bathing Within The Warm Bath Of The (S)elf

Full piece here.

Of some interest:

‘Having read so many chivalric epics that his brains have “dried up,” the hero decides that he has been called to revive chivalry and restore the Golden Age in this Age of Iron. But as the book proceeded, Cervantes realized that he had hit on something much more profound than a simple parody. The story kept raising ultimate questions about faith, belief, evidence, and utopian ideals. When do we need caution and when risk? Should we seek to transform reality or the way we perceive it? Do good intentions or good results define moral actions? And what is the proper role of literature itself?’

Tilting at Windmills, a reading group of Don Quixote done back in 2007.

On Nabokov’s reading of Don Quixote, via a NY Times article:

What Nabokov’s eyes kept seeing as he prepared his lectures was the accurately perceived fact that the book elicits cruel laughter. Cervantes’ old man who had read himself into insanity and his smelly squire were created to be the butt of mockery. Quite early, readers and critics began to sidestep this Spanish fun and to interpret that story as another kind of satire: one in which an essentially sane, humane soul in a crass and unromantic world can only appear as insane.

If you have any good links, or links to reviews, please pass them along…

My two cents: I’m currently thinking that the modern ‘Well of The Self’ has deep roots within Romanticism, and the idea that the artistic genius alone must make sense of the world. This lone genius will Return to Nature as cradle, delivering man or (M)an back to himself, and back to his most basic experiences, hopes and a sense of wonder (once with a Christian, now often within a modern, transmogrified metaphysic).

The Romantic genius, to some extent, must turn against the city, industry and technological change, going back to the countryside. The (M)odern Man, a la Eliot, must turn back to the city, man’s industry, and technological change and remake the world anew, so that we may carry our souls forward. The (P)ostmodern man must create entire worlds and meaning for himself, isolated and alienated from all traditions and other people, left struggling against the void.

There are options, of course, and nihilism is clearly one.

If true, one can easily extrapolate from such a vision towards how we’ve ended up not only with individualism, but radical individualism, and a constant negotiation left up to each individual between all existing institutions of authority and moral/immoral legitimacy.

I’m seeing a lot of basic individual loneliness, desperation for group membership, meaning, and search for some kind of relationship between (N)ature and the (S)elf through others and through political tribalism.

This also can lead to the clear and present unstabilizing political dangers of anarchy, radical liberation, and doctrinal certainty forming beneath the reasonableness found within the high, liberal doctrines of Enlightenment (R)eason and (M)an. The social activists and ‘wokists’ on the scene are nothing if not zealous about their ideas. The ‘-Ismologists’ keep promising some kind of ideal world, which always seems to fail in fully arriving (and this failure always seems to be someone else’s fault).

Perhaps many people are inflating politics and the study of politics, the study of people in groups (sociology), and the study of our interior lives (psychology) to idealistic and almost mythic proportions, coming to lean upon these epistemologies, and politics itself, with hopes I do not necessarily share.

It wasn’t so long ago that all sins were to be reconciled with a loving God; a confession in the booth. I’m seeing many of the same human desires, hopes and beliefs now directed at therapists, comedians, politicians and artists, sometimes able to bear significant weight, often unable to do so.

Ah well, Dear Reader.

There’s a lot of wisdom in reading Don Quixote.

Have I convinced you of any of this?

Here’s a stanza from ‘Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird‘ by Wallace Stevens, transitioning from Romanticism to Modernism, wrestling with faith and more modern doubt, staying the course with good Dutch-German insurance-executive sobriety and also lasting late in the night with passionately abstract poetic imaginings:

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

Also:

The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.

More On The Salman Rushdie Attack: Speech, Violence & Revolutionary Regimes-The Motive Is Remarkably Clear

Sadly, I don’t trust mainstream outlets, nor their major driver of traffic, and business partner (Google), to report the facts. Of course, I can’t trust them to report the facts without accepting constraints I simply will not accept in defense of speech and Western Civilization, having been captured by activist/radical discontents (I don’t allow my baseline to be driven by those in the West who conditionally support speech, driving American idealism towards the regime in Tehran).

This means all of us, in defense of our own speech, and criticism of authority (think long and hard about this), will presumably find conditional support from similar outlets here at home. This does not bode well.

From The NY Post:

This is a novelist!

“I was completely shocked. I was probably 60 feet away from the incident. I saw the attacker jump onto the stage and immediately run to Mr. Rushdie and he started pummeling him is the best way to describe it. Hitting him very rapidly. I could not tell he had a knife,” Davies, a Brooklyn-based urban planner, told The Post.

Rushdie has potentially suffered serious injuries (eye, liver etc.)

Rushdie has spent decades looking over his shoulder after Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a call for his death after the publication of his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. The suspect, Hadi Matar, 24, of New Jersey, is said to be sympathetic to the Iranian regime.

As previously posted:

From The Independent- Ah, those tolerant mullahs:

‘Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in 2005 the order still stands.

The new bounty is the largest organised effort to assassinate Rushdie since the fatwa was issued.’

As previously posted. Salman Rushdie went into hiding for years for expressing his views in works of fiction (the kind which might well benefit parts of the Muslim world (and Iran) in evaluating just how it deals with the West, and the ‘modern world’:

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The mullahs with their moral absolutes and thuggish political opportunism aside, there are some in the West who won’t stand-up to such thuggishness.

Or, at least, they certainly didn’t in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders:

‘The decision by PEN American Center to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has prompted six writers to withdraw as literary hosts at the group’s annual gala on May 5, adding a new twist to the continuing debate over the publication’s status as a martyr for free speech.

The novelists Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from the gala, at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.’

The reasons? Here are a few:

‘In an email to PEN’s leadership on Friday, Ms. Kushner said she was withdrawing out of discomfort with what she called the magazine’s “cultural intolerance” and promotion of “a kind of forced secular view,”’

Rushdie on such cowardice:

“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” Mr. Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

In their exercise of freedom, let such writers be one day judged by the truth they’ve expressed here.

No doubt, though, new levels of cosmic conscientious-objective-consciousness have been reached.

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.As previously posted:

How do you marry liberal idealism with the radical roots? Shotgun-style.

Our institutions, bending to liberal ideals, will also involve a bending towards the radical base, which is not necessarily liberal.

Michael Moynihan at the Daily Beast ‘‘Whitewashing The Black Panthers’

When his captors uncinched the noose around his neck and shoved him into a wooden chair, Alex Rackley might have assumed his ordeal was over. He had already endured a flurry of kicks and punches, the repeated crack of a wooden truncheon, ritual humiliation, and a mock lynching. But it wasn’t over. It was about to get much, much worse.’

That party at Lenny’s is still pretty awkward, at least the way Tom Wolfe tells it:

‘. . and now, in the season of Radical Chic, the Black Panthers. That huge Panther there, the one Felicia is smiling her tango smile at, is Robert Bay, who just 41 hours ago was arrested in an altercation with the police, supposedly over a .38-caliber revolver that someone had, in a parked car in Queens at Northern Boulevard and 104th Street or some such unbelievable place, and taken to jail on a most unusual charge called “criminal facilitation.” And now he is out on bail and walking into Leonard and Felicia Bernstein’s 13-room penthouse duplex on Park Avenue. Harassment & Hassles, Guns & Pigs, Jail & Bail—they’re real, these Black Panthers. The very idea of them, these real revolutionaries, who actually put their lives on the line, runs through Lenny’s duplex like a rogue hormone.’

A British Muslim tells his story, suggesting that classical liberalism wouldn’t be a bad idea…as a more entrenched radical British Left and Muslim immigration don’t mix too well: From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’

Free speech (used both well and unwell) meets offended Muslims: Mohammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks HeadbuttedDuring Lecture’From The OC Jewish Experience: ‘UC Irvine Muslim Student Union Suspended’From Volokh: ‘”South Park” Creators Warned (Threatened) Over Mohammed’

From Spiked: ‘Islamism & Identity Politics-A Destructive Mix’

‘Advocating voluntary restraint of speech (on grounds of common civility, community harmony or fear of violence) ultimately establishes a climate of silence in which any criticism of Islam can be dismissed as provocation – as racism qua Islamophobia, a label that is used to discredit critics.

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Kenan Malik review here.

Malik takes issue with some of the British left’s handling of the Salman Rushdie (wikipedia) affair:

“It has now become widely accepted that we live in a multicultural world, and that in such a world it is important not to cause offence to other peoples and cultures.”

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From this piece ‘Moderate Muslims Must Oppose Islamism‘ at the National Review published in the wake of the Marathon bombing:

‘Though these two brothers may have acted like regular American youth to unsuspecting neighbors, participating in sports, attending public schools, and hailing from neighborhoods in the Boston community, at some point they were taken in by the ideology of political Islam, which, like an intoxicating drug, lured them down the path of separatist Islamism and its common endpoint of militant jihadism against both non-Islamist Muslims and non-Muslim societies’

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See Also On This SiteVia Youtube: ‘Roger Scruton On Islam And The West’

.From The Middle East Quarterly Via A & L Daily: Europe’s Shifting Immigration Dynamic

Related On This Site: A British neo-conservative type?:  Islamism, Immigration & Multiculturalism-Melanie Phillips Via Youtube

It’s the fierce critic of religion, new Atheist, and 68er Christopher Hitchens who has defended free speech most vigorously:  Repost-From Beautiful Horizons: ‘Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan at the 92nd Street Y’

A British Muslim tells his story, suggesting that classical liberalism wouldn’t be a bad idea…as a more entrenched radical British Left and Muslim immigration don’t mix too well: From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’

Free speech (used both well and unwell) meets offended Muslims: Mohammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks HeadbuttedDuring Lecture’From The OC Jewish Experience: ‘UC Irvine Muslim Student Union Suspended’From Volokh: ‘”South Park” Creators Warned (Threatened) Over Mohammed’

Najat Fawzy Alsaeid At The Center For Islamic Pluralism: ‘The War Of Ideologies In The Arab World’

More On Lars Hedegaard Via the NY Times: Is Europe Waking Up?

———–

Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal: ‘What The New Atheists Don’t See’Theodore Dalrymple Still Attacking Multi-Culturalism In Britain…From The WSJ Weekend Journal-Theodore Dalrymple: “Man Vs. Mutt”

How do you reasonably deal with relativism anyways?: From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn

Repost-Roger Scruton ‘Farewell To Judgment’

Full article here.

So what’s lacking in the humanities?  Roger Scruton had some keen insights:

“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”

So forget the recent, and rather desperate, attempts to make the humanities into a science  (however…it’s been done before with some success).  Scruton suggests it’s been a long slide for the humanities to arrive where they’ve arrived:

“In the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

And now that we’re left with somewhat balkanized and politicized departments of English, these departments have become a target of the political right, dragging many people into a nasty fight that eats up political capital:

“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”

So how to restore the vision? Scruton advised to restore (and not eschew) judgment:

Of course, Shakespeare invites judgment, as do all writers of fiction. But it is not political judgment that is relevant. We judge Shakespeare plays in terms of their expressiveness, truth to life, profundity, and beauty.”

This is deep insight and I think the better part of Scruton’s thinking in the article comes when he resisted his own political (anti multi-cultural, pro-conservative, pro-church of England conservatism) impulses.  Here are the last few lines:

“It will require a confrontation with the culture of youth, and an insistence that the real purpose of universities is not to flatter the tastes of those who arrive there, but to present them with a rite of passage into something better.”

One could argue that this is necessary though how to arrive there is in doubt.

Here’s a quote from George Santayana:

The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”

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On another note:  Despite the importance of beauty, the refinement of our experiences through poems and prose, the difficult work of cultivating”taste” for ourselves as well providing a rite of passage for our youth:  Aren’t we still attaching the humanities to something else?

We know the humanities will never be a science.  Politics is always in conflict with the arts.   Much philosophy is indifferent to the humanities at best.   In fact, Plato was quite suspicious of their influence on the republic (good overview here).

One target here may be somewhat political as well:  anti-social constructionism and anti-multiculturalism, though I am speculating.

Just some food for thought.

See Also On This Site:  Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’ 

Stanley Fish also says keep politics out of academia: From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux…

Scruton again has deep insight, but will Christian religious idealism have to bump heads with Islamic religious idealism?: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Thanks to iri5

Michael Dirda On Auden & A Wednesday Poem-Enormous, Simple Grief

Michael Dirda at The Washington Post (DDiD, man…DDiD):

In his youth, Auden planned to become a mining engineer, and he’s always terrific at depicting industrial landscapes — he gravitates to tram lines and slag heaps — but he can also survey rough terrain through the eyes of a secret agent: “Control of the passes was, he saw, the key” or “Watching with binoculars the movement of the grass for an ambush,/ The pistol cocked, the code-word committed to memory …”

Atlantis

Being set on the idea
Of getting to Atlantis,
You have discovered of course
Only the Ship of Fools is
Making the voyage this year,
As gales of abnormal force
Are predicted, and that you
Must therefore be ready to
Behave absurdly enough
To pass for one of The Boys,
At least appearing to love
Hard liquor, horseplay and noise.

Should storms, as may well happen,
Drive you to anchor a week
In some old harbour-city
Of Ionia, then speak
With her witty scholars, men
Who have proved there cannot be
Such a place as Atlantis:
Learn their logic, but notice
How its subtlety betrays
Their enormous simple grief;
Thus they shall teach you the ways
To doubt that you may believe.

If, later, you run aground
Among the headlands of Thrace,
Where with torches all night long
A naked barbaric race
Leaps frenziedly to the sound
Of conch and dissonant gong:
On that stony savage shore
Strip off your clothes and dance, for
Unless you are capable
Of forgetting completely
About Atlantis, you will
Never finish your journey.

Again, should you come to gay
Carthage or Corinth, take part
In their endless gaiety;
And if in some bar a  tart,
As she strokes your hair, should say
“This is Atlantis, dearie,”
Listen with attentiveness
To her life-story: unless
You become acquainted now
With each refuge that tries to
Counterfeit Atlantis, how
Will you recognise the true?

Assuming you beach at last
Near Atlantis, and begin
That terrible trek inland
Through squalid woods and frozen
Thundras where all are soon lost;
If, forsaken then, you stand,
Dismissal everywhere,
Stone and now, silence and air,
O remember the great dead
And honour the fate you are,
Travelling and tormented,
Dialectic and bizarre.

Stagger onward rejoicing;
And even then if, perhaps
Having actually got
To the last col, you collapse
With all Atlantis shining
Below you yet you cannot
Descend, you should still be proud
Even to have been allowed
Just to peep at Atlantis
In a poetic vision:
Give thanks and lie down in peace,
Having seen your salvation.

All the little  household gods
Have started crying, but say
Good-bye now, and put to sea.
Farewell, my dear, farewell: may
Hermes, master of the roads,
And the four dwarf Kabiri,
Protect and serve you always;
And may the Ancient of Days
Provide for all you must do
His invisible guidance,
Lifting up, dear, upon you
The light of His countenance.

W.H. Auden

What Are You Doing With The Arts & Humanities? There’s Been A Lot Of Bad Stewardship

I suspect a lot of wisdom can be found throughout ‘Western Civ 101’ about the problems of the human heart, human nature and political power.

Apparently, though, such wisdom is being lost on a lot of people these days.  I humbly submit such people should not merely think their ideas will become more justified, their hearts more pure, simply by organizing coalitions with the purpose of gaining political power.

As previously posted:

Ira Stoll here.

‘There was a wonderful article by an editor at the magazine, Mary Norris, about commas. Wonderful, that is, until this passage, “That was during the Reagan Administration, when many of us suspected that Reagan had some form of dementia, but no one could do anything about it. The country was running on automatic.”

Such politicization can make for bad stewardship of the arts, certainly.

Perhaps New Yorker features are increasingly flogged to maintain readership in a competitive marketplace, or are being put to use for other purposes, like reaffirming political ideology and identities to signal the right beliefs and in-group/out-group loyalties.  Many of the liberal pieties can be found on display at the New Yorker.

Unsolicited advice for The New Yorker: Build a wall around your political stable, don’t bet too much on current trends and politicians, and keep other spaces free for the genuinely ‘avant-garde,’ the strange and beautiful, and biting satire when it shows-up.

For further context:

Here’s one senior New Yorker editor, Hendrik Hertzberg, discussing years ago how to abolish the Electoral College, arrive at a National Vote (to better serve the People, of course) and enact ‘democratic change.’

This strikes me as in-line with much Left and Left-liberal majoritarian populism. activism and softly (ultimately hard) radical change.

He has knowledge, of course, regarding what the People (will, should?) want, and why eroding such checks will lead towards more victims enfranchised voters and the ‘good’ society.

Perhaps some of the publishing decisions at the New Yorker make a little more sense…

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As previously posted-A breath of fresh air from George Packer at the New Yorker: ‘Mute Button:

‘The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception. Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy had more to fear than most of us, but they lived and died as free men.’

Maybe this kind of moral courage will make a comeback…

As for free speech and public sentiment, perhaps we’ll see where a new speech beachhead lies as the tide recedes from the powerful pull of an activist moon.

The problem with ‘brownstone activism’ may be the material itself:

‘Brownstone is a word used both to refer to a type of building material and structures built or sheathed in it. While it is most closely associated with the Eastern United States, this material was at one point used all over the world in construction, particularly in upper class regions. A distinctive architectural style using brownstone is very familiar to many residents of industrialized nations. Its popularity as a building material waned when builders began to realize that it weathered poorly, and that other materials might be more suitable.’

Soft, crumbly, loosely aggregated, weathers poorly…

Christopher Hitchens at Slate: Yale Surrenders

From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

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

***Whom do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?

Saturday Poem & A Photo-Wallace Stevens

Sailing After Lunch

It is the word pejorative that hurts.
My old boat goes round on a crutch
And doesn’t get under way.
It’s the time of the year
And the time of the day.

Perhaps it’s the lunch that we had
Or the lunch that we should have had.
But I am, in any case,
A most inappropriate man
In a most unpropitious place.

Mon Dieu, hear the poet’s prayer.
The romantic should be here.
The romantic should be there.
It ought to be everywhere.
But the romantic must never remain,

Mon Dieu, and must never again return.
This heavy historical sail
Through the mustiest blue of the lake
In a really vertiginous boat
Is wholly the vapidest fake. . . .

It is least what one ever sees.
It is only the way one feels, to say
Where my spirit is I am,
To say the light wind worries the sail,
To say the water is swift today,

To expunge all people and be a pupil
Of the gorgeous wheel and so to give
That slight transcendence to the dirty sail,
By light, the way one feels, sharp white,
And then rush brightly through the summer air.

Wallace Stevens

Behold, the Wallace Stevens/Ernest Hemingway dustup down in Key West. I don’t know what it means.

Out-of-focus boats in the bay.

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.

Some People In The Humanities Don’t Like Humanity All That Much-Some Links

Many people aren’t content to live with the idea of conservation, nor tradition. It’s unseemly, backwoods, and quaint. Tradition is the place from which change must occur and new thinking must arise. You can’t step in the same river twice. The only constant is change.

All these aphorisms and heuristics, a clever saying or joke passed off as one’s own, or the sometimes chilling ‘that’s always the way we’ve done things around here.’ There’s no shortage of rules thoughtlessly accepted, blindly followed, and sometimes ruthlessly enforced.

Often heard : A lot of what came before isn’t merely an expression of what and who we are, to some extent, it’s just the winners talking. ‘They’ know when to break the rules and when to merely bend them. The main purpose of (H)istory, if such a thing exists, is to develop tools in the space modernity has created. ‘We’ must curate our (S)elves and make a society worth living in, towards the sacred secular ideals based on (S)cience.

How Best To Serve Man?

Current social institutions should be ‘critically’ examined, texts ‘deconstructed,’ and laid end-to-end on the table.

What I’ve encountered: Artists can live wildly in their thought and souls, and their lives, and sometimes all of the above. If the talent is deep, the skill fashioned for purpose, and the thing well-made, the work might live on. Many artists die unrecognized (a thousand tiny deaths until the real one). The mental state of artistic production can be a messy, glorious thing to behold.

The Romantic period brought the individual genius, towering above all else, to a central place in what I’d call ‘modern’ and ‘postmodern’ conceptions of the (S)elf.

Many in the humanities likely believe the goal is to challenge humanity itself. Via Hegelian dialectic, or various flavors of Marxist/post-Marxist thought, and through what I call the ‘-Isms’ (secular idealism up top, radical roots beneath).

What about a good ‘ol Humanities education with such profound institutional failure? What are some possibilities?

Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).

According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.

Friedrich Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.

Martha Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.

Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism.  Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now

Maybe it all started with Beethoven:  Everyone’s a (S)elf.

Isaiah Berlin pretty much blackballed Roger Scruton, so it’s not all roses.

Scruton had some keen insights:

“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”

“…in the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

Repost-‘Stalking The Billion-Footed Beast’-A Few Tom Wolfe Links

Published in Harper’s in 1989: ‘Stalking The Billion-Footed Beast‘:

‘One of the specialties of the realistic novel, from Richardson on, was the demonstration of the influence of society on even the most personal aspects of the life of the individual. Lionel Trilling was right when he said, in 1948, that what produced great characters in the nineteenth-century European novel was the portrayal of “class traits modified by personality.” But he went on to argue that the old class structure by now had disintegrated, particularly in the United States, rendering the technique useless. Again, I would say that precisely the opposite is the case. If we substitute for class, in Trilling’s formulation, the broader term status, that technique has never been more essential in portraying the innermost life of the individual. This is above all true when the subject is the modern city. It strikes me as folly to believe that you can portray the individual in the city today without also portraying the city itself.’

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.