Monday, May 28, 2007

Stamping on the Shoulders of Giants

C.S. Lewis once wrote that it is one of history's misfortunes that the great minds of one age always despise those of the age immediately preceeding their own. Petrarch enjoyed a few laughs at the expense of the Medieval period (the term "Dark Ages" was his brainchild), Voltaire took a few potshots at the age of religious turmoil which produced The Thirty Years' War, and Blake corrected Voltaire after the fact. I don't know that anyone bothered to correct Blake. Lunatics are difficult in that respect.

One commonality here, perhaps obvious, but worthy of mention, is that all of the above examples occur in what is termed for the sake of convenience the Modern Age. Prior to this, there isn't any discernable precedent for granting the badge of enlightenment to one's own era and adopting an air of condesention toward one's predecessors. Examining the succeeding layers of the Modern Age, we find that not only does it grind down harshly on the periods it succeeds, but that the same friction exists between its own substrata. The exemplars of Romanticism were as much at odds with their Augustan forbears as both were with the superstitions of the Middle Ages. I would submit as a likely cause the belief that the ascending arc purported to terminate in the perfection of humankind grows ever steeper, allowing its self-appointed prophets to stamp with increasing ease on the shoulders of the giants below them. Sadly, the upward path to that Paradisal Nowhere never materializes into anything but a continuation of itself, just as any arc never attains to zero. But its points have slowly grown aware of their relative elavation, and used it as an excuse to feed on their ancestors.

The damage attendant on this epochal parricide amounts to more than disrespect; if it were only that, I woudn't bother with any of this. I don't have any problem with the rejection of a particular tradition or periodical bias, and certainly have no attachment to tradition for its own sake; the latter fidelity can't help but be grossly sentimental, and while a tradition accepted on the strength of its own recommendation goes far in teaching motions, it fails to teach matter. But the problem of impertinence still remains. What perpetuates it-a blindly optimistic view of our own position aside- is a latent understanding that history is naturally at war with itself; one age presses against the next, its predecessor trampled underfoot, and the engine grinds massively and messily on. This type of thinking errs by inviting too much of a personalized view of the movements of history at the expense of the living personalities we most associate with them; we see Alexander forced into his conquests by the necessity of Hellenization, and by two centuries' preparation for a world dominated by Western, and not by Oriental ideals, rather than driven on by his own sublime ego. Alexander becomes a pawn moved only by so much Mechanism, as do the rest of the Outstanding. The same Mechanism finds Rome in brick and leaves her in marble, and then opens her gates to the Goths four centuries later. The Historical Mechanism cannot satisfy itself with any of its apparent conclusions, and sweeps all of them aside, and in accordance with nature, fills the abhorent vacuum with whatever it pleases.
We don't need to account for personalities or passions anymore, but only motions, pressures, colisions and collapses; this pattern, since the earliest origins of the universe has been the only pattern, and it is liable to stay that way, until the collective energy behind it resolves itself into whatever Utopia our more refined impulses proclaim as the necessary and final result.

That any sort of egotism should proceed from as inhumane a view of history as the one above is astonishing in the uttermost. The individual is no longer a factor, but the age which the individual inhabits certainly is, and possibly even the centerpiece. The individual no longer cares about any succesful application of his own will, but is content to be a part of the motion definitive of his age-its "Movement." The individual in question ceases to function as an individual, and begins to do so as a private citizen, dutifully making donations and signing ballots as his Movement demands. He doesn't expect any triumphs of his own, but only the triumph of his time, and that in its triumph some of its reflective glory might fall on him, who faithfully wore the right color ribbons. It doesn't take long for his expectancy to become impatience, and for impatience to become envy-envy of the individuals that achieved by their own capacity what he waited for his precious Movement to achieve for him. Soon enough, the spectator has grown as conceited as the figure on the stage; this is the only way in which arrogance today distinguishes itself from arrogance in any other frame in history; it has simply grown tired of pretending to be humble.

Such is my diagnosis, and to tell the truth, no real corrective measure comes to mind. We enjoy our vantage point more than it merits, and are not likely to surrender our ego when admonished of the vanity of our position; Seneca and Aurelius offered similar warnings, but no one ever paid attention. If anything humbles us, it will probably not be our own motives, newly purified. Nonetheless, I am confident that we will eventually realize, though due less to our own docile nature than by the approach of calamity, that the contempt we hold towards the art of gauging the Self and the extent of its perimeters, and that our overwillingness to delegate this function to some uninterested superintendent, will be channeled into a more realistic appraisal of our position in the greater order of things. This new estimation inflicts a sudden sobriety upon us; it gives us pause, and makes us consider that our star is no longer in its ascendancy. But whatever else it strips away, it leaves us at least the minimal trappings of Personality and of Will. We each of us admit our limitations, we take the first step down from the pedestal, and soon find ourselves face to face with those historical predecessors whom we previously only knew how to laugh at for not having been born as lately as ourselves.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

In the Ending We Kindly Desire

In the ending we kindly desire,
The conclusion we humbly request,
Love be thwarted, Thou Bard, the Muse wills it-
Do believe me, it's all for the best.

For if in passion received you should flourish,
Or Thy affection find its return,
All my best, but where's our "Vita Nuova?"
Or our "Ode on a Graecian Urn?"

If Laura had been more obliging,
Our Petrarch, in elation undone,
Left unpolished his "Canzoniere;"
Such the prize we should lose, his being won.

Had Beatrice been more giving with Dante-
Ah, behold the delight that it mars!
Would he trade for her love that far greater,
"That Moveth the Sun and the Stars?"

Had Keats gotten farther with Fanny-
Had consumption not cancelled his breath,
Hyperion's author were tarnished, though by half
Less "In love with easeful death."

Their passions have all been diminished;
Yeats', I believe, is far Gonne;
Ianthe, Leonetta- where were they, but for
Their Patronage that ever lives on?

An Essay on Hobbies

I have never liked the idea of a Hobby, either of having one or of being exposed to those of others. There are two possible explanations for this aversion, catalogued to the best of my abilities:

1) There is the chance that this is the result of a subconcious awareness of my own tenuous command of sociability. Perhaps I do not get out as much as I should. This potentiality may be the source of more consternation than I am willing to admit, and may have (outside of my knowledge) discouraged my latent desire for a collection, say, of outdated coinage; the explanation, of course, that all such habits have the unfortunate consequence of creating an overfixation in their practitioner; one moment, he's collecting buffalo nickels out of boredom; the next, he's an obsessed quasi-sociopath nervously looking for minting flaws in an antique guinea. All of his previous occupations devolve to this one absurdity, E Pluribus Unum mocking him all the while.

I can't help but feel that there's a morbid side to most any collection of pointless mementos; it picks up the slack left by the insufficient self and attatches to him one more anecdote by which he might be known. But in the end, the only thing more ignominious than not being remembered for one's exhaustive assortment of postage stamps is the ironic possibility that one be commemorated for it and little else: "Father, Husband, Collector." Gray may have rethought his position on the Paths of Glory when confronted with the fact that they at least provide for half-interesting epitaphs.

2) Another possible source of repulsion is that a hobby is by nature selfish; to better qualify this, I am excluding from the category of "Hobbies" any activity which encourages productive commeraderie or offers any useful material or intellectual result. To prove that I am not begging the question, let me also suggest that Hobbies are usually assumed to provide more of a distraction from one's world than an opportunity to engage with it; the latter convenience presents itself in all sorts of entertainments, but World of Warcraft, to the best of my knowledge, is not among them.

That said, Hobbies do not add to the self. They do not provide us with any of the augmentations available in a good book or enlivened conversation, nor then do they thrust us back into the prosaic realm of things better equiped to offer a graceful response. They invite the self that is already there to paint more of its own substance absent-mindedly on a new canvass. There is nothing more intrusive than a person who wants to share their hobbies with us; we don't want to know all that; at least not until we've known them, their pets and mother's maiden name for a good six months; even these are of comparative interest. Sharing one's Hobby at first meeting is a cheap dime tour route to acquaintance, and as good a reason as any for not using up precious space in one's rolodex to record the proverbial Hobbyist's further credentials.

Weighed among human activities, the Hobby has yet to find any notable patron to celebrate it.
The only literary example that comes even close to mind is Walton's "The Compleate Angler," and in all fairness, fishing invites too much reflection to interest the Hobbyist; it catches a variety of Officianadoes, Amateurs, and Poseurs, the latter of which are usually cast back of their own accord, due to a surprising lack of those photoshopped sunset moments promised in the Field and Stream advertisements.

Truth be told, the Hobby is a fairly recent distraction. Masturbatory forms of self-expression were uncommon before Descartes, and often quite dangerous for those as might indulge; the coin collector previously mentioned, if he had lived in 12th century instead of the 20th, would probably have been made suspect in any number of witch hunts and ended up on the wrong end of a stake. Say what you will about the Inquisition, it went far to keep asses of this ilk far from sharing their lack of taste and surplus of time with the rest of us.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Before I Sleep

An obscure yet moving piece from Rupert Brooke.

Lines Written in the Belief That the Ancient Roman Festival of the Dead Was Called Ambervalia
Swings the way still by hollow and hill,
And all the world's a song;
"She's far," it sings me, "but fair," it rings me,
"Quiet," it laughs, "and strong!"
Oh! spite of the miles and years between us,
Spite of your chosen part,
I do remember: and I go
With laughter in my heart.
So above the little folk that know not,
Out of the white hill-town,
High up I clamber; and I remember;
And watch the day go down.
Gold is my heart, and the world's golden,
And one peak tipped with light;
And the air lies still about the hill
With the first fear of night;
Till mystery down the soundless valley
Thunders, and dark is here;
And the wind blows, and the light goes,
And the night is full of fear,
And I know, one night, on some far height,
In the tongue I never knew,
I yet shall hear the tidings clear
From them that were friends of you.
They'll call the news from hill to hill,
Dark and uncomforted,
Earth and sky and the winds; and I
Shall know that you are dead.
I shall not hear your trentals,
Nor eat your arval bread;
For the kin of you shall surely do
Their duty by the dead.
Their little dull greasy eyes will water,
They'll paw you, and gulp afresh.
They'll sniff and weep, and their thoughts will creep
Like flies on the cold flesh.
They will put pence on your grey eyes,
Bind up your fallen chin,
And lay you straight, the fools that loved you
Because you were their kin.
They will praise all the bad about you,
And hush the good away.
And wonder how they'll do without you,
And then they'll go away.
But quieter than one sleeping,
And stranger than of old,
You will not stir for weeping,
You will not mind the cold;
But through the lips which laugh not,
The hands will be in place,
And at length the hair be lying still
About the quiet face.
With snuffle and sniff and handkerchief,
With dim and decorous mirth,
With ham and sherry, they'll meet to bury
The lordliest lass of earth.
The little dead hearts will tramp ungrieving
Beside lone-riding you,
The heart so high, the heart so living
Heart that they never knew.
I shall not hear your trentals,
Nor eat your arval bread,
Nor with smug breath tell lies of death
To the unanswering dead.
With snuffle and sniff and handkerchief,
The folk who loved you not
Will bury you, and go wondering
Back home. And you will rot.
But laughing and halfway up to heaven,
With wind, and hill and star,
I yet shall keep, before I sleep,
Your Ambervalia.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


After Dorothy Parker and Dunhill Lights
A cigarette if you don't mind; yours be the hand to lend it
And grant me this my one request, to save my life and end it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Post That Will Not Be Funny at All Unless You Know How to, and Do in Fact Read

Was amusing myself with my brother by mixing and matching the titles of famous works of literature. Here are some of the results. Warning: the only thing more irritating than a nerd is a nerd who is also a pompous ass.

1) The Divine Comedy of Errors

2) Fathers and Sons and Lovers

3) The Portrait of Dorian Gray as a Young Man

4) Huckleberry Finnegan's Wake

5) Of Mice and Human Bondage

6) The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Nothingness

7) The Death of Ivan Ilych, a Salesman

8) The Screwtape Letters to a Young Poet

9) Bleak House of Mirth

10) A Farewell to Arms and the Man

11) This Side of Paradise Lost

12) The Sentimental Education of Henry Adams

13) Women in Love in the Time of Cholera

14) Lie Down in Darkness at Noon

15) House Full of Don Quixote

16) The Decline and Fall of the House of Usher

17) The Telltale Heart of Darkness

18) The Light in August That Failed

19) Fear and Trembling in Las Vegas

20) The Last Tycoon of the Mohicans

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Some Relatively Unfavorable Commentary on the Recent Death of Jerry Falwell

I am not aware that any of the criticism, deserved or otherwise, that attatched itself to Jerry Falwell over the length of his career ever took note of the fundamental (no pun intended) contradiction that was at the heart of his favorite line of rhetoric. Falwell's critics invariably took aim at his deliberate and frequent divisiveness and at the lack of both taste and humanity denoted by his comments. Often, his critics were correct in so doing-certainly his suggestion that gay and lesbian couples were the sole parties that ought to be taken to account for the September Eleventh Attacks would have been best left unsaid-but they have been strangely silent on the chief paradox of his ideological platform, namely, that he wished to both act as the chosen arbiter in dealing with a social ill and appear as one of its chief victims.

Falwell was the founder of the notorious "Moral Majority," one of the less disputable proofs that what is good for Republicanism in America is not likewise healthy for Christianity in the same. Falwell credited this organization for the elections of both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and didn't much exaggerate in his claim; his organization raised 70 million dollars for Reagan alone in his first run for the presidency, and has played a significant hand in subsequent Republican bids for office. Falwell set himself up as the spiritual voice of the political party which unquestionably dominated political discourse in the 80's and enjoyed an almost uninterrupted hegemony on capitol hill between 1994 and November of last year.

In spite of the political influence he enjoyed and didn't mind mentioning (he commented once that it was due to his brainchild that America was not in worse spiritual straits than was the case) Falwell also liked to play the proverbial Victim Card when it suited his motives. The picture of America he often painted was one in which Christians (or TheoCons, which in the terms he selected usually came across as the same thing) were gaurding the keep of Christ's Kingdom on Earth while under assault from all sides by a variety of infidels, ranging from illegal immegrants to commentators in the employ of National Public Radio. The advantage derived from this grotesque framing of Christians' place on the political stage of America is that the religious right now feels the paradoxical impulses of a robust and virile demographical voice that has elected three of the last four presidents, and a reactive and self righteous paranoia that ensures that every housewife in Topeka now feels every bit as disenfranchised (and is certainly every bit as vocal) as her enlightened feminist counterpart in Manhattan.

It's certainly not a misrepresentation of most liberals of the post Vietnam era to say that they illegitimately made all victims to appear as martyrs and all the oppressed as angels. This development, I believe, is nothing short of secularized baptism, a baptism in which instead of Man's redemption by Christ's Blood from sin unto righteousness he is redeemed by his own suffering, and uplifted from voicelesness and disenfranchisement and granted a seat at the Table of Righteousness, or excuse me, Special Interest Dialogue. God had His chosen people before Christ died for all, and provided that all might be given membership in His Body, and democracy does more or less the same thing, only by means of extending the vote to those who have not got it and playing upon the bitterness Man feels toward the empowered above him. Thus they "Behold the Man" as did the Jews at Pilate's order, but The Man in question is a white republican who has no other name.

Falwell's greatest legacy was helping to introduce the culture of victimhood to the church in America, and the particular baptism that attends it. With this he also introduced the need for American Christians to choose between yet another counterfeit Christendom and the one that whose provision was made on Calvary two thousand years ago.

May he Rest in Peace.

More Movie Props

Seraphim Falls establishes itself as a solid entry in the naturalistic, Cormac McCarthyesque, quasi-mythopoetic genre of films (if that is in fact a genre) that also includes The Proposition and a few other revisionist westerns. If you're into that sort of thing, its worth three bucks and an empty afternoon. Recommended that you have a Ryan Adams record playing distractingly in the background to complete the experience.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Some Forster

Here is a passage from E.M. Forster's essay "Art for Art's Sake" which I found very enjoyable.

"In the world of daily life, the world which we perforce inhabit, there is much talk about order, particularly from statesmen and politicians. They tend, however, to confuse order with orders, just as they confuse creation with regulations. Order, I suggest, is something evolved from within, not something imposed from without; it is an internal stability, a vital harmony, and, in the social and political category, it has never existed except for the convenience of historians. Viewed realistically, the past is really a series of disorders, succeeding one another by discoverable laws, no doubt, and certainly marked by an increasing growth of human interference, but disorders all the same. So that, speaking as a writer, what I hope for today is for disorder which will be more favorable to artists than is the present one, and which will provide them with fuller inspirations and better material conditions. It will not last-nothing lasts-but there have been some advantageous disorders in the past-for instance in ancient Athens, in Renaissance Italy, eighteenth-century France, periods in China and Persia-and we may do something to accelerate the next one. But let us not again fix our hearts where true joys are not to be found. We were promised a new order after the First World War through the League of Nations. It did not come, nor have I faith in present promises, by whomsoever endorsed. The implacable offensive of Science forbids. We cannot reach social and political stability for the reason that we continue to make scientific discoveries and to apply them, and thus to destroy the arrangements which were based on more elementary discoveries. If science would discover rather than apply-if, in other words, men were more interested in knowledge than in power-mankind would be in a far safer position, the stability statesmen talk about would be a possibility, there could be a new order based on vital harmony, and the earthly millenium might approach. But Science shows no sign of doing this: she gave us the internal combustion engine, and before we had digested and assimilated it with terrible pains into our social system, she harnessed the atom, and destroyed any new order that seemed to be evolving. How can man get into harmony with his surroundings when he is constantly altering them? The future of our race is, in this direction, more unpleasant than we care to admit, and it has sometimes seemed to me that its best chance lies through apathy, uninventiveness, and inertia. Universal exhaustion might promote that Change of Heart which is at present so briskly recommended from a thousand pulpits. Universal exhaustion would certainly be a new experience. The human race has never undergone it, and is still too perky to admit that it may be coming and might result in a sprouting of new growth through the decay."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Movie Props

Anyone who has not seen "The Painted Veil" needs to do so. Now. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts both give the performances of their careers. Also it is the most beautifully photographed film of All Time.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Philosophy of Guilt

One of the sticks most widely preferred for beating the Left Wing into submission is the accusation of a "Guilt Complex." "White Guilt," "Bleeding Heart" and other descriptives of like substance are conferred almost exclusively on the liberal contingent of the sociopolitical spectrum, generally in reference to said contingent's disapproval of any conservative policy that has ever caused suffering in some isolated instance in the Third World. There is an implicit assumption attending the resentment of the Guilt Complex that the liberals' protestations of shame for their country's "Mismanagement of Global Affairs" is an attitude divorced from any tradition in the main of American ethical behavior, and therefore only one of the many Freaks that the culture of the lobbyist has offered us. Consequently, the rallying cry of the Right becomes "This is America, (preferably pronounced Amuhrica) and we don't need no smart-assed libruhl faggits tellin' us how to feel guilty 'bout profilin' or Dar Four or nuthin!" For a more completely, and no doubt, cogently devised exposition of this same worldview, try referencing the Toby Keith songbook or conversing with some of Fox News' more adamant focus groups.

Editorials aside, I find myself strangely unoffended by the nationalist elitism apparent in the above statement, hesitant as I am to align myself with any kind of flag waving, especially since the most patriotic of this set usually wants to set the Stars and Bars alongside the Stars and Stripes. In spite of this, I think the sentiment is a not invalid one. Unfortunately, it misunderstands the thing it reacts to.

The liberal guilt in question is not a thing that has developed in a vacuum or even originated in the offices of the New York Times (proud as they might be to claim the contrary) but traces its ancestry at least to a much earlier point in American history. Quite frankly, the immediate descendants of the puritans had a guilt complex to rival that of any of our "Cheese eating surrender monkeys,"* and were able to find quite the audience for it. Our morbid historical fascination with guilt found its literary originators in Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe.
Hawthorne reveled in it noticeably more than Poe, a fact to which "The Scarlet Letter" and "The House of the Seven Gables" bear testimony. Poe's attitude towards personal guilt is more amoral than anything, and reveals him to be more the literary heir of Walpole or Byron than anyone on our side of the Atlantic. And this is one of the fundamental differences between British character and American: At no time in our history have we been particularly willing to forgive our own past, while their excuses for their own reach the level of a fine art. I cannot think of any other nation whose monarchy was built upon myth, whose church was founded by a philanderer and whose empire was premised on piracy that has remained so consistently in love with itself. If America had similar patterns of behavior anywhere on its record, I think that self-flagellation would become a matter of public policy.

None of this, of course, is meant as an apologetic for our infatuation with opening our old wounds and pouring the curious salve of left wing vinegar into them. Whatever else its implications, it does suggest that We on the Right are not such incontestable inheritors of "Traditional Americanism" as we so often flatter ourselves is the case.