Sunday 157


Filed under: Mind, Society, Writing — Tags: — zundel @ pm

What is George Scialabba Good For?” by Mark Oppenheimer in AGNI online 2009

(…seeing the skeptical social democrat Scialabba get in the ring with the pop-psychologizing Malcolm Gladwell would be tasty)

For the left, Lasch’s critique of capitalism was profoundly discomfiting, because it posited “progress” as anything but. “For Lasch, then,” Scialabba writes, “modernization was not the solution but a new form of the problem—the problem, that is, of domination.”

Making the Case for Intellectuals” by Maureen Corrigan on Fresh Air 2009-04-28

Scialabba says: “Though nearly everything Trilling wrote had an ultimate political relevance, almost nothing he wrote had an immediate political reference.”


Monday 151

Orwell’s truths

Filed under: Politics, Society, Writing — Tags: — zundel @ am

Eternal vigilance” by Keith Gessen in the New Statesman 2009-05-28

… he thought a mature totalitarian system would so deform its citizenry that they would not be able to overthrow it.

Orwell may have gotten it right. Some citizens have overthrown totalitarian governments. But dictatorship does correlate with minds incapable of overthrowing it. Which came first?

University is where you sometimes get loaded up with fancy terms whose meaning you’re not quite sure of.

Orwell encapsulates Wilson’s argument with a remarkable concision: “Dickens had grown up near enough to poverty to be terrified of it, and in spite of his generosity of mind, he is not free from the special prejudices of the shabby-genteel.” This is stark, and fair, and that “terrified” is unforgettable.

Sunday 143

Welcome to America, now please shut up

Filed under: Travel, Writing — Tags: , — zundel @ pm

Mirror on America” by David Brooks in The New York Times 2009-05-22

…here will be a prose-poem of pure meaninglessness as his brilliance finally breaks loose from the tethers of observation and oozes across the page in a great, gopping goo of pure pretension.

I know the country, or most of it. It’ll never fit in a book. It has been too cliched, too stereotyped. Describing it truly would require new language, and that would take many words.

Jacques Barzun once observed that of all the books it is impossible to write, the most impossible is a book trying to capture the spirit of America (I first read this truth when I was three-quarters of the way through my own attempt).

Thursday 105

True Britannia

Filed under: Society, Writing — Tags: — zundel @ pm

As the pink bits faded off into the sunset:

Darkness visible” by Philip Hensher in The Guardian 2009-04-11

And the rest of us?

Monday 11

May 5, 1915

Filed under: Writing — Tags: — zundel @ pm

Writing about Horace’s odes, Professor Harris suggests perusing A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad.

I pulled Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory from the shelf and checked the index for Housman.

Which led to this:

Letters from Flanders” by Alexander Gillespie

…This day began for me about midnight, as I lay in my dug-out in the breastwork watching the plough swing slowly round. I shall remember that night; there was a heavy thunder-shower in the evening, but when we marched down it cleared away for a warm still summer night; still, that is, except for the sniper’s rifles, and the rattle of the machine-guns, and sometimes the boom of a big gun far away, coming so long after the flash that you had almost forgotten to expect it. The breastwork which we held ran through an orchard and along some hedgerows. There was a sweet smell of wet earth and wet grass after the rain, and since I could not sleep, I wandered about among the ghostly cherry trees all in white, and watched the star-shells rising and falling to north and south. Presently a misty moon came up, and a nightingale began to sing. I have only heard him once before, in the daytime, near Farly Mount, at Winchester; but, of course, I knew him at once, and it was strange to stand there and listen, for the song seemed to come all the more sweetly and clearly in the quiet intervals between the bursts of firing. There was something infinitely sweet and sad about it, as if the countryside were singing gently to itself, in the midst of all our noise and confusion and muddy work; so that you felt the nightingale’s song was the only real thing which would remain when all the rest was long past and forgotten. It is such an old song too, handed on from nightingale to nightingale through the summer nights of so many innumerable years. … So I stood there, and thought of all the men and women who had listened to that song, just as for the first few weeks after Tom was killed I found myself thinking perpetually of all the men who had been killed in battle—Hector and Achilles and all the heroes of long ago, who were once so strong and active, and now are so quiet. Gradually the night wore on, until day began to break, and I could see clearly the daisies and buttercups in the long grass about my feet. Then I gathered my platoon together, and marched back past the silent farms to our billets. There was a beautiful sunrise, and I went to sleep content.

Fussell writes: What purports to be a letter is more like an unfledged poem … To write like that you have to read all the time.

Gillespie, age 26, died in action 25 September 1915.

Tuesday 350

Turning students off

Filed under: Education, Writing — Tags: — zundel @ am

A frank statement of a grave problem—and a good read.

Leaving Literature Behind” by Bruce Fleming in The Chronicle Review 2008-12-19

We’ve made ourselves into a priestly caste: To understand literature, we tell students, you have to come to us. Yet professionalization is a pyrrhic victory: We’ve won the battle but lost the war. We’ve turned revelation into drudgery, shut ourselves in airless rooms, and covered over the windows.

[from A&LD]

Thursday 338

Fast v Good

Filed under: Design, Writing — Tags: — zundel @ am

An old maxim of engineering: You can have it fast. You can have it cheap. Or you can have it good. Pick two.

The internet: email, this blog, that blog, those news sites; emphasizes immediacy. Now.

But even the most fluent, of which I am not, produce dreck when they hurry. So we waited for useful analysis of the attack on Mumbai. And still wait for consideration of the implications.

Tuesday 329

Criticism’s loss

Filed under: Society, Writing — Tags: — zundel @ am

Deresiewicz writes many nice turns of phrase. And makes a nice point about mimesis. And criticism. Highly recommended.

How Wood Works: The Riches and Limits of James Wood” by William Deresiewicz in The Nation 2008-11-19

For the New York critics, novelists are people; for Wood, people, including novelists, are ideas.

His powerfully associative mind tends to run him into logical cul-de-sacs that his supreme self-assurance prevents him from noticing.

I don’t know how we’re going to get back to the kind of criticism the New York critics wrote, or the kind of intellectual life that criticism made possible. [emphasis added]

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