QUOTATION OF THE DAY
Most teachers become part of the classical education movement because they love the liberal education they themselves received in school and want to hand it on to the next generation.
The past is a foreign country, but no educated person should want it turned into enemy country, the exclusive preserve of “white supremacists” and “right-wingers.” The Western tradition is too valuable for it to become the foster child of one political party. It should be handed down, with all candor and suitable critical rigor, to future generations. The current tendency to subject it to ignorant attacks and demonization is destructive of civilized values.
James Haskins, from a letter to
The New York Review of Books, Dec. 7, 2023
“How could I abandon a young girl?” (recognized as The Swan Song of Chivalric Man)
Reverand Al. Sharpton, 1980’s.
On his support for Tawana Brawley
after it was clear that her tale was a hoax.
No nation has ever produced a military history of such verbal nobility as the British. Retreat or advance, win or lose, blunder or bravery, murderous folly or unyielding resolution, all emerge alike clothed in dignity and touched with glory. Every engagement is gallant, every battle a decisive action. There is no shrinking from superlatives: every campaign produces a general or generalship hailed as the most brilliant of the war. Everyone is splendid: soldiers are staunch, commanders are cool, the fighting magnificent. Whatever the fiasco, aplomb is unbroken. Mistakes, failures, stupidities or other causes of disaster mysteriously vanish. Disasters are recorded with care and pride and become transmuted into things of beauty. Official histories record every move in monumental and infinite detail but the details serve to obscure. Why Singapore fell or how the Sittang happened remains shrouded. Other nations attempt but never quite achieve the same self-esteem. It was not by might but by the power of her self-image that Britain in her century dominated the world. That this was irrecoverable (and that no successor would inherit it) was not yet clear in 1944.
Barbara W. Tuchman, "Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945"
From the Contributors List in Poetry Magazine, June, 1915, where “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” first appeared.
Of the three poets who make their first appearance, Dorothy Dudley (Mrs. Henry B. Harvey), of Chicago, who is a sister of Miss Helen Dudley, an earlier contributor, has published nowhere else as yet. This is true also of "Ajan Syrian," who, born twenty-eight years ago on the Syrian desert, has studied at Columbia University, and is now the adopted son and em- ploye of Mr. Gajor M. Berugjian, of Brooklyn. Mr. T. S. Eliot is a young American poet resident in England, who has published nothing hitherto in this country.
Owen Wister on Henry James (letter to Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, c.1908)
Our language has no artist more serious or austere at this moment. I explain to myself his bewildering style thus: he is attempting the impossible with it—a certain very particular form of the impossible; namely, to produce upon the reader, as a painting produces upon the gazer, a number of superimposed, simultaneous impressions. He would like to put several sentences on top of each other so that you could read them all at once, and get all at once the various shadings and complexities, instead of getting them consecutively as the mechanical nature of his medium compels. This I am sure is the secret of his involved parentheses, his strangely injected adverbs, the whole structure, in short, of his twisted syntax.
Generally speaking, the systems of natural science do not differ from schizophrenic systems because of any difference in a desire for a unifying logical integration. The difference lies solely in the treatment of empiric data. With systems of natural science, the empiric data are primary and the theory secondary; at every step the logical implications of the theory are tested empirically, with the theory modified in the light of the empiric observations. With schizophrenic systems, on the other hand, the theory comes first and the facts are selected, defined, and correlated for the sake of buttressing the theory.
George Kingsley Zipf, Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort
Matthew Arnold, commenting on the concluding passage of Edmund Burke’s “Thoughts on French Affairs” (1791)--not Burke’s famous “Reflections (I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult) on the French Revolution” (1790), but just as scathing a tirade. [The italics are Arnold’s]
The evil is stated, in my opinion, as it exists. The remedy must be where power, wisdom, and information, I hope, are more united with good intentions than they can be with me. I have done with this subject, I believe, forever. It has given me many anxious moments for the last two years. If a great change is to be made in human affairs, the minds of men will be fitted to it; the general opinions and feelings will draw that way. Every fear, every hope will forward it: and then they who persist in opposing this mighty current in human affairs, will appear rather to resist the decrees of Providence itself, than the mere designs of men. They will not be resolute and firm, but perverse and obstinate."
That return of Burke upon himself has always seemed to me one of the finest things in English literature, or indeed in any literature. That is what I call living by ideas: when one side of a question has long had your earnest support, when all your feelings are engaged, when you hear all round you no language but one, when your party talks this language like a steam-engine and can imagine no other,— still to be able to think, still to be irresistibly carried, if so it be, by the current of thought to the opposite side of the question, and, like Balaam, to be unable to speak anything but what the Lord has put in your mouth. I know nothing more striking, and I must add that I know nothing more
The nihilism and rage sweeping across the globe are not generated by warped ideologies or medieval religious beliefs. These destructive forces have their roots in the obliterating of social, cultural and religious traditions by modernization and the consumer society, the disastrous attempts by the United States to carry out regime change, often through coups and wars, and the utopian neoliberal ideology that has concentrated wealth in the hands of a tiny cabal of corrupt global oligarchs.
Chris Hedges, "The Age of Anger", Truthdig, June 11, 2017
A spilled drop of soup, long since absorbed into the cloth, these flies are capable of eating molecule by molecule, as though with a spoon.
Joseph Roth, "The Wonders of Astrakhan", Frankfurter Zeitung, Oct. 12, 1926 (trans. Michael Hoffman)
(Sept. 19, 2014)
If ISIS were winning battles, gaining territory, terrorizing and beheading, just as it is now, but were not as adroit in broadcasting its exploits on the internet, would Washington’s war drums be beating as loudly as they are?
If ISIS were to remain engaged in a prolonged struggle with forces from Syria and Iraq and neighboring countries, instead of being “ousted” (as your headline puts it) by the United States and its allies, would ISIS jihadists from the West be more likely or less likely to return home to perpetrate terrorist acts?
What significant difference does it make to the United States whether or not there is a caliphate in the northern Arabian peninsula?
Denkof Zwemmen, Lunacy Outreach Program, "To the NY Times on ‘U. S. Faces Tough Struggle on Ground to Oust ISIS’"
A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.
The diminishing tolerance of Israeli society for terrorist attacks has produced the doctrine, promoted by some political leaders, that anyone who attacks Jews should die, even when the attacker is neutralized and no longer poses a threat That does not bode well for Israeli society's commitment to the value of human life.
While in the past the Israeli public believed we were in a difficult but temporary situation and would soon reach an agreement that would bring quiet, the dominant narrative now is that this is an endless conflict with a foe that opposes our very existence... The loss of hope for change has eroded sensitivity.
...There's a struggle going on between those who believe that despite the terrorism we have to maintain our humanity and basic values, and others who think those values are a luxury for a society in constant conflict with no end in sight.
Mordechai Kremnitzer, Israel Democracy Institute, quoted in “In Reaction to Soldier's Guilty Verdict, a Hardened Israel”, Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 12, 2017
One simply cannot understand modern history without understanding how the reactionary’s political nostalgia helped to shape it.
Mark Lilla, The Shipwrecked Mind, New York Review Books, 2016
We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism.
Mark Lilla, "The End of Identity Liberalism", The New York Times, November 20, 2016.
Taking note of the recent protests that forced the ‘disinviting’ of commencement speakers at Brown, Johns Hopkins, Williams and Haverford, the censorious monitoring at Brandeis University of a teacher who said that Mexican labourers were once called ‘wetbacks’, and many similar incidents over the last three years, the sociologist Jonathan Cole pointed out in the Atlantic that the students at these elite establishments, including the most vigilant of the speech monitors, have followed all their lives ‘a straight and narrow path’. They have never deviated into ‘a passion unrelated to school work, and have not been allowed, therefore, to live what many would consider a normal childhood – to play, to learn by doing, to challenge their teachers, to make mistakes’. They have always been on good behaviour; and they don’t regret it. They are therefore ill-equipped to defend anything the authorities or their activist classmates tell them should count as bad behaviour. These people have grown up, Cole adds, in the years since 2001 when the schools and the popular culture, in America above all, kept up an incessant drone about personal safety, the danger of terrorist attacks, and the opacity of every culture to every other culture. It is a generation in which the word ‘fragile’ is routinely applied to daily shifts of mood.
David Bromwich, "What are We Allowed to Say?" London Review of Books, September 22, 2016
A bill of rights is not there just to enable oppressed people to fight back against oppressive governments. It also equips the rich and powerful with another weapon with which to defend themselves. But unlike the disadvantaged and dispossessed they are likely to be able to use it more often.
K.D. Ewing and C.A. Gearty, Democracy or a Bill of Rights (arguing against the U. K.'s adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights), Society of Labour Lawyers, 1991. [Found in Stephen Sedley, Ashes and Sparks, Essays on Law and Justice, Cambridge University Press, 2011.]
A minefield in a cow pasture, political correctness has put nearly every significant subject out of bounds. Under political correctness, once-innocent jokes are now considered ugly and dangerous. If political correctness continues to make further inroads in American life, the day may not be far off when we shall all sit around, nothing to talk about, nothing to laugh at, nothing to do but quietly contemplate our own extraordinary virtue.
Joseph Epstein, "Not Many Laughs," The Weekly Standard, June 13, 2016
...treating opponents respectfully; opposing those who work up hatreds, but doing so non-violently; trying to understand people and to explain them to each other; valuing differences; not exaggerating your own case; avoiding over-dramatisation or enjoyment of the sensational; practising moral courage, particularly daring to stand up to ridicule, and showing respect for that in others; discouraging herd thinking, particularly among those ‘on our side’; religiously, pedantically respecting truth; honouring reason and its extension to the study of the overwhelmingly irrational in all of us; challenging taboos and legends, particularly those our sort of reader usually accepts; avoiding the cheap and the spurious … deliberately cultivating doubt and scepticism, but not cynicism; practising self-criticism – as liberals, as internationalists, as journalists – as well as dishing it out to everyone else.
David Astor (publisher and editor of The Observer, 1948-1975), "Memo on the Soul of the Paper" (quoted in Ian Jack, "The Best Stuff", a review of a biography of Astor by Jeremy Lewis, London Review of Books, June 2, 2016)
I think my own dissatisfaction with this apologue is that the effect is simply one of negation. It ought to excite some sympathy with what the author wants, as well as sympathy with his objections to something: and the positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing. And after all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm – in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.
T. S. Eliot, July 13, 1944, rejection letter from Faber & Faber to George Orwell
Ah! that was long, long ago. Then I was young and foolish. Now I am old and foolish.
Heinrich Heine, From the Memoirs of Herr von Schnabelewopski (translated by Alfred Werner)
Punctuation is the relation of time to eternity.
Christopher Ricks, in a seminar on Bob Dylan, in a lecture on The Waste Land, and probably elsewhere.
The founder of the Vanguard Group, John C. Bogle, told the following story in a 2007 commencement speech: “At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, the late Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, the author Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel ‘Catch-22’ over its whole history. Heller responds, ‘Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . Enough.’ ”
The sooner our society recognizes sociopathic greed as the economically violent, destabilizing disorder it truly is, the better off and more stable the world will be.
Glen Handler, letter to the editor, The New York Times, April 8, 2016
So Blakey, Bev and I are among the lucky ticket-holders to a big Silicon Valley campaign fundraiser for HRC. (Don’t ask, don’t tell.) Yes: Her Herness Herself! A friendly little plush-covered gathering for six hundred at some well-connected Palo Alto dweller’s farcically supersized manse! The next best thing to a private audience with the Hilldebeest! The Many-Horned Hillaria! (Bernie who?) Hellza-poppin’ H-Rod! (Not the Donald?) The Grinch Who Lost Her Emails! The Ethical Wreck! Our Straight-Talking-Thick-Ankled Lady of the Half-Explained! (Will Huma be there?) OMGoddess!
It should be awesome, we figure: our first sighting, not only of the She-Deity, but also of her millionaire internet-drone advance guard – boyish CEO putti of Cupertino and Mountain View, who have begun (it is rumoured) to flutter Democratically about her. Young-Titan Tesla guys with entrepreneurial dream-teeth and a no doubt healthy obsession with other men. (They’re good boys at heart: their artisanal leather wallets are made from 100 per cent organic Niman Ranch grain-fed beef.) The rail-thin wives should be there, too, of course: agile, urgent, newly hatched Clintonistas, vaguely dissatisfied with everything, but keeping it real enough with teal-green silicon eyeballs and pricey MRS degrees from Stanford. Not to mention the usual klatsch of ruling-class hangers-on: radical Botoxers; Pilates Instructors for Peace and Zero Body Fat; members of the pedicure-rights community – all Teetering-for-Hillary in black sheath dresses and fuck-me pumps.
Since it takes a village, we anticipate, too, the requisite flock of drugged up toddlers cordoned off somewhere in a nanny-pen, raptly checking the Nasdaq with tiny fingers or watching start-up porn on Androids larger than they are. Overlooking everything (or so one hopes), a magisterial phalanx of burly fellows in dark suits, sporting ear buds and bulletproof vests. We’ve heard that upper and lower colonic ‘background checks’ have already been performed on us in advance (without our knowledge!) and that tonight will feature metal detectors, iris scans and hologram IDs. Fine, fine, fine. After all, we’re going to have our official pictures taken with HER: who wouldn’t want to be safe? Sad to get wasted even as one stands leering hysterically at the (Possibly?) To Be Anointed One. I have a particular investment in survival tonight: I’m hoping that one magic handshake with HRH Hillary the First will cure my life-long scrofula.
Terry Castle, Diary, London Review of Books, March 31, 2016
My uncle is verbally abusive to me, and the sound of sirens calms him down.
Kenneth Campbell, who was arrested for making 30 false 911 calls in one month, The New York Times, March 26, 2016.
Robin Elliott's odes To the Freemasons and Other Verses is an original and interesting collection of poems from a modern man. It consists mainly of short poems dealing with a wide variety of topics such as love, sex, religion, astronomy, natural history, the weather, the seasons and much more. Some deal with the author's experiences as a businessman dealing with corrupt freemasons and his subsequent admission to a psychiatric hospital.
Advertisement, London Review of Books, March 17, 2016
More or less, it’s the statement: Listen, we’re sick and tired of what you people do. And we’re going to put somebody in there — now that it’s our choice, we’re going to put somebody in there that basically you don’t like.
Ken Magno, man-on-the-street remark in "Why They Voted for Trump", The New York Times, March 2, 2016
Juan Linz told us this might happen. The late Yale political scientist spent his life studying political systems around the world, and in a celebrated 1990 essay warned that presidential democracies like ours are inherently unstable and prone to paralysis and collapse. In parliamentary systems, Linz explained in "The Perils of Presidentialism," the legislature and the prime minister, are of the same party and govern jointly. If they lose popular support, they can be ousted in early elections. But in presidential systems, the president and the legislature (Congress) are elected separately; when they're controlled by opposing parties with acute differences, Linz said, both branches insist they represent the will of the people, and "there is no democratic principle on the basis of which [the power struggle] can be resolved." Presidents then often abuse their powers. The legislature responds with abuses of its own. A coup or civil war can ensue, with democracy giving way to Latin American authoritarianism.
We are not yet Argentina or Chile (or America in 1860), but our democracy is headed toward a dangerous place. Linz always said the U.S. presidential system had been an exception to his rule only because of its "moderate consensus" — a middle ground on which both major parties met in civil compromise. That middle ground is gone.
William Falk, Editorial, "How Democracies Collapse", The Week, February 26, 2016
As for the allusions [in Ash Wednesday] you mention, that is perfectly deliberate, and it was my intention that the reader should recognize them. As for the question why I made the allusions at all, that seems to me definitely a matter which should not concern the reader. That, as you know, is a theory of mine, that very often it is possible to increase the effect for the reader by letting him know a reference or a meaning; but if the reader knew more, the poetic effect would actually be diminished; that is the reader knows too much about the crude material in the author’s mind, his own reaction may tend to become at best merely a kind of feeble image of the author’s feelings, whereas a good poem should have the potentiality of evoking feelings and associations in the reader of which the author is wholly ignorant. I am rather inclined to believe, for myself, that my best poems are possibly those which evoke the greatest number and variety of interpretations surprising to myself.
T. S. Eliot, letter to I. A. Richards, November 11, 1931
Crawford writes reverently of Eliot’s poetry and critical prose; but he adds critical distancing comments whenever he detects “a hint of misogyny or homophobia,” as if to reassure censorious readers that he shares their sense of the moral urgency of scolding dead people.
Edward Mendelson, "A Different T.S. Eliot" (review of Robert Crawford's Young Eliot: From St. Louis to The Waste Land) New York Review of Books, February 11, 2016
I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starbursts of writing from the Book of Revelation than anything else in the English language—and it is not because I am a biblical scholar, or because of any religious faith, but because I love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music. And there is also the fact that I spend a lot of my time on the road, renting typewriters and hustling FAX machines in strange hotels and always too far from my own massive library at home to get my hands on the wisdom that I suddenly realize—on some sweaty night in Miami or a cold Thanksgiving Day in Minneapolis—I need and want, but that with a deadline just four or five hours away is utterly beyond my reach. You cannot call the desk at the Mark Hopkins or the Las Vegas Hilton or the Arizona Biltmore and have the bell captain bring up the collected works of Sam Coleridge or Stephen Crane at three o'clock in the morning. . . . In some towns Maria has managed to conjure up a volume of H.L. Mencken or Mark Twain, and every once in a while David McCumber would pull a rabbit like Nathanael West's Cool Million out of his hat or his own strange collection in his office at the Examiner. . . . But not often. Fast and total recall of things like page 101 from Snowblind or Marlowe's final judgment on Lord Jim, or what Richard Nixon said to Henry Kissinger when they were both on their knees in front of Abe Lincoln's portrait in the White House on some crazed Thursday night in July of 1974 are just about impossible to locate after midnight on the road, or even at noon. It simply takes too much time, and if they've been sending bottles of Chivas up to your room for the past three days, they get nervous when you start demanding things they've never heard of.
That is when I start bouncing around the room and ripping drawers out of the nightstands and bed-boxes and those flimsy little desks with bent green blotters that they provide for traveling salesmen—looking for a Gideon Bible, which I know will be there somewhere, and with any luck at all it will be a King James Version, and the Book of Revelation will be intact at the end.
If there is a God, I want to thank Him for the Gideons, whoever they are. I have dealt with some of His other messengers and found them utterly useless. But not the Gideons. They have saved me many times, when nobody else could do anything but mutter about calling Security on me unless I turned out my lights and went to sleep like all the others. . .
Hunter S. Thompson: Generation of Swine: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist (1988)
Last year, journalists Etienne Huver and Guillaume Lhotellier got hold of video footage from Syria's civil war. The video features Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a young man who was born in 1987 and raised near the heart of European progressive government and society, in the Sint-Jans-Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels. In the video, he and his comrades load bloody corpses into the back of a pickup truck. Abaaoud turns to the camera and brags, "Before we towed jet skis, motorcycles, quad bikes, big trailers filled with gifts for vacation in Morocco. Now, thank God, following God's path, we're towing apostates, infidels who are fighting us."
This line would be a fitting epitaph for Western civilization itself. You gave us pleasures, we wanted your heads instead...
Abdelhamid Abaaoud is my choice for Man of the Year 2015.
It's that story arc that makes Abaaoud unforgettable and terrifying: "Before we towed jet skis." Now we tow corpses of infidels. It is the perfect rebuke to the conceit of Western materialism... Abaaoud's grin tells us: Your pleasures mean nothing to me.
Abaaoud is the sign that the Syrian civil war can, like the Spanish civil war, engage the imagination, fury, and sympathy of people around the world. The effects of it can be seen everywhere. You see it in the sudden interest in shutting down "parts of the internet," so that our men and women can't be seduced by ISIS propaganda. You can see it when the socialist government of France adopts the policies of repression that were, until yesterday, the property of the National Front. You can see it in the spiritual and quasi-political defection of Eastern European nations from the globalist consensus of Brussels. Hungary and Poland aren't interested in a multicultural Europe, not if it means inviting in people who will raise new Abdelhamid Abaaouds...
Abaaoud is the Man of the Year for personalizing the terror. He is Man of the Year for symbolizing Western impotence and indifference in the battle against ISIS. And he is Man of the Year for being the new thing. He is not like the old terrorists of the Middle East who were battle hardened against Soviet- or American-sponsored enemies at home. He is the monster creation of Western alienation and Middle Eastern religious radicalism. He is a terrorist well-fitted for the age of ambitious startups. And he is Man of the Year because he is the unwelcome reminder that even people who know the Western way of life intimately are capable of despising it.
Michael Brendan Dougherty, "Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Man of the Year 2015", The Week, December 29, 2015
“If a man beats his head against the wall,” the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci once wrote, “it’s his head that breaks and not the wall.”
In the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris, the British political class has been suffering terrible headaches. Britain’s neighbor and intermittent ally, France, has been attacked by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS); once again, the country seeks a clear and defiant response in support of a friend, just as it did after 9/11; once again, all its leaders can come up with is more bombing—this time, against ISIS in Syria. The logic is always the same: We must do something. Bombing is something. We must bomb...
ISIS represents a true threat against humanity, as is claimed, then we should do the heavy lifting of mobilizing humanity to fight it.
But such an effort takes time, and the bombing advocates want to know what we’re going to do now—as though “now” were its own point in time, unrelated to yesterday or tomorrow. The very people within the political and media elite who have got every major foreign-policy question wrong over the past 15 years are once more leading the charge into oblivion. It’s almost as if they’ve been banging their heads against the wall for so long they’ve stopped thinking straight.
Gary Younge, "Bombing Hasn’t Worked. Bombing Won’t Work. And Yet, We Will Bomb", The Nation, December 3, 2015
The world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering.
Tom Waits, Vanity Fair, July, 2001.
Willoughby became acquainted with one of the most whimsical laws of life, and that is, that when a young man is happy and hopeful, and thinks every new woman he meets is a casket of beauty and delight, he finds those same caskets extremely hard to open. But when, on the other hand, he is disappointed in love, and sees in all other women only the impertinent caricature of loveliness, so that they seem little better than natives, Hottentots, cows, bitches, and to consort with them might well be an offense against the law — when this pleasing combination of circumstances prevails, wives burst into tears in his presence, young girls talk of their appendicitis scars, he receives incredible letters, and almost invariably he has that extraordinary experience which no one can believe has happened before in the history of mankind.
John Collier, Defy the Foul Fiend
This is the first direct hit on music that we've had in this so-called War on Terror or whatever it's called.
Bono (of the band U2), quoted on CNN's website.
Then Rala danced within her comrades' arms and cried:
"The wind of freedom blows and swells the trees, my friends;
let's dash upon the dungeons, smash the brazen doors
and place our three chiefs in the forefront of the battle!
We who have sowed the seeds of hope shall reap the flame!"
All hearts caught fire and swelled with overbrimming hope
but the much-suffering man disdained such easy joys
and rose to place firm order in their hearts and brains:
"Comrades, I've voyaged long and far on sea and soul,
my eyes have seen disease, gods, ghosts, and men, and yet
in no land have I seen a more false, murderous siren
than that wind-headed, babbling, blind bitch-hound called Hope!"
Nikos Kazantzakis, The Odyssey - A Modern Sequel (translation by Kimon Friar)
The Irish...were put on this earth for other people to feel romantic about.
Terry Eagleton, "Dr. Vlad" (review of Edna O'Brien's The Little Red Chairs), London Review of Books, Oct. 22, 2015
Everyone wants to know me...If I wanted, I could have an invitation every day; but first I must consider my health, and second my work.
Franz Josef Haydn, in a letter from London. Ewald Beullen, “What Art was Like before there was Aesthetics”, Gewichtigheid Onderwijs Tijdschrift, Feb. 12, 2015.
A reason for the acquiescence of the majority today, [Steve] Fraser suggests, is the absence of a class of Americans who think of themselves as the proletariat or the working class. The idea of unearned wealth therefore arouses no indignation. Another visible cause is that the last thirty years have seen a leveling downward of manners, costume, and taste, accompanied by a leveling upward of habits of self-indulgence and the satisfaction of superfluous needs—a combination that can seem to make the very idea of class, as one walks the streets of a city, almost unreal.
...For a divided society like ours, a broken democracy at the heart of an empire, not yet tempted by tyranny or overwhelmed by anarchy, the problem remains that we have the wrong actors, and the spectators are asleep.
David Bromwich, “Are We ‘Exceptionally Rapacious Primates’?” (review of Steve Fraser’s The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power), The New York Review of Books, Nov. 5, 2015.
Toleration, liberty of conscience, freedom of speech and of the press are all dogmas; consequently no person ignorant of history will accept them; for they are against all reason. It is for want of historical knowledge that they are not accepted at present. He who remarks that it is a fine morning is not taking a liberty. Galileo took a seventeenth century liberty when he said that the earth moved round the sun; but the most abject slave may say that in the twentieth century. It is from history that we learn that the obvious and immediate evils of allowing individuals and newspapers to utter and publish revolting propositions and to deny sacred beliefs are not so dangerous as the stagnation and retrogression which follow the enforcement of conformity.
George Bernard Shaw: Preface, The Workers' Educational Association Year Book, 1918, Part I.
[Hazareesingh] seems to be one of those liberals who needs to feel he’s just to the left of himself.
Mark Lilla, "The Strangely Conservative French" (review of Sudhir Hazareesingh's How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People), The New York Review of Books, Oct. 22, 2015
...but all at once he lay stark still with staring eyes
and gazed on the tree's bark where a cocooned cicada
struggled and slowly squirmed to pierce through into light.
Stretched on the ground, Odysseus watched and held his breath.
Like a warm body buried alive, wrapped up in shrouds,
the poor worm twitched to pierce through its translucent tomb
in a mute, heavy war with death, till the archer stooped
and with his warm breath tried to help the writhing soul.
Then lo! a small nape suddenly slit the shroud in two,
and like a budded vine leaf, soft and curly, poked
a blind, unhardened head in light, swayed gropingly,
then strengthened soon in sun and took on form and color.
It stretched its neck and struggled, crawled from its white sheath,
unglued its soft feet from its belly, clutched with bliss
the tree's gray bark, then slowly stretched its body taut
until its fledgling wings unfurled and shimmered in air.
The honey-pale cicada basked in the simmering sun,
and the three rubies on its brow burst in three flames
as it plunged deeper still in the world's warmth and scent.
Fixing its glassy, greedy eyes on the tree's foliage,
its soft smoke-silver body overbrimmed with song
yet made no sound, enraptured still by sun and light
and the huge joy of birth as on earth's sill it stood
before it entered, speechless, numb with the world's wonders.
The man of many passions quaked and mutely watched
how the soul pokes through earth and squirms out of its shroud;
and thus the world, he thought, crawls like a worm to sun,
and thus the mind, in time, bursts like a withered husk
from which there spring, time after time, new finer thoughts
until the ultimate great thought leaps forward: Death.
Nikos Kazantzakis, The Odyssey - A Modern Sequel (translation by Kimon Friar)
Let me see if I have this right. Russia and Iran are banding together to take on a barbaric, nihilistic group that is so dangerous to the civilized world that it simply must be defeated. They are forming this alliance at a time when the United States is reeling from involvement in too many recent wars and has been unable and unwilling to act effectively in the region.
The region is currently spiraling out of control, and the refugee situation threatens to completely destabilize Europe. The United States, which would benefit greatly from the alliance’s success, has not been asked to supply a single soldier or to contribute a single dollar.
I have only one question for Presidents Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Hassan Rouhani of Iran: “How soon can you start?”
Nancy Stark, letter to The New York Times, Sept. 30, 2015
I was dismayed by Ann Beattie’s offhand dismissal of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. As a study in self-importance taken to the point of narcissism, with the protagonist sending daily status updates while desperately looking for approval, Werther is the novel of our time.
Patrick Fortmann, assistant professor of Germanic studies, University of Illinois (Chicago), letter to The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Sept. 28, 2015
A steamer far out at sea had drawn in the air a great scroll of smoke which stayed there curving and circling decoratively, as if the air were a fine gauze which held things and kept them softly in its mesh, only gently swaying them this way and that.
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
(A deputy sheriff, confronted in real life with the moral conundrum known to philosophers as The Trolley Problem, makes his choice.)
The incident began on Friday in Devore, east of Los Angeles, when police tried to pull over a man believed to have committed a burglary.
The Chevrolet Tahoe SUV drove through residential districts at high speed, narrowly missing pedestrians, before getting on to Interstate 215 the wrong way, a statement from the San Bernardino County sheriff's department said.
A deputy in a helicopter giving chase opened fire, hitting the SUV several times.
The wounded driver jumped from the moving car and ran a short distance before collapsing and dying by the side of the road...
Police spokeswoman Jodi Miller said officers decided to open fire because the driver was threatening public safety.
The driverless SUV crashed head-on into a Dodge Durango injuring three people, one of whom remains in hospital, police added.
BBC News (website), Sept. 20, 2015, “US driver shot from police helicopter”
(A philosopher sets the limits of the no longer new -- and, incidentally, the number of years of lecturing required before one can look back on it as a meaningful career.)
I happen to be both a millennial and, for the past two years, an assistant professor of philosophy. I’ve been using trigger warnings in my teaching — in cases when they seem appropriate — since I began to lecture.
Trigger warnings are nothing new. The practice originated in Internet [sic] communities...
Kate Manne, "Why I Use Trigger Warnings", The New York Times, Sept. 20, 2015,
Authorities said they were searching for geography and social science instructor Shannon Lamb in connection with the killing of Ethan Schmidt, an assistant professor of American history. Lamb was also a suspect in the killing of a woman in Mississippi earlier on Monday...
...Lamb was last seen driving a black 2011 Dodge Avenger.
The New York Times, Sept. 15, 2015, "Professor Killed at Mississippi University, Fellow Teacher Sought"
There is a sense in which the great plots submit to, or evoke, the notion of a moral universe. That is to say, the story that can be told – the story of the man who tries but fails to bury the past – tells us something about cosmic justice; whereas the story that cannot be told – the story of the man who buries the past and lives happily ever after – cannot because it lacks justice.
J. M. Coetzee, The Good Story, reprinted in Harper’s, October, 2015.
Corporations can only commit crimes through flesh-and-blood people. It’s only fair that the people who are responsible for committing those crimes be held accountable.
Sally Q. Yates, deputy attorney general, United States Fairness Department, The New York Times, September 10, 2015. (on new policies that prioritize the prosecution of executives — not just their companies)
I’d like to look at the Internet through new eyes. Not to be wowed by it, just to see it at all. I’ve always been terrified of getting used to something that’s actually killing me — a relationship or a job. But in those cases you can count on a friend to say something. The Internet is different because all my friends are in the same relationship.
Miranda July, The New York Times, Arts Section, September 6, 2015. (responding to the question posed in a continuing feature called “Virgin Eyes”: “What would you see for the first time, all over again?”)
Limiting the size of [gun] magazines, while superficially comprehensible, would in practice have the primary effect of reducing the chance that law-abiding people — who often shoot poorly under duress — will be able to defend themselves.
Editorial, National Review, August 26, 2015
It used to be you couldn’t be gay. Now you can be gay but you can’t smoke. There’s always something.
David Hockney, Manchester Guardian, July 16. 2005.
Ukraine existed, exists and will exist. But Novorossiya is the same myth as the famous writer, Tolkien's, Mordor.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko: Independence Day speech, August 24, 2015.
"But what do you mean by living only for yourself?" asked Pierre, growing excited. "What about your son, your sister, and your father?"
"But that's just the same as myself -- they are not others," explained Prince Andrew. "The others, one's neighbors, le prochain, as you and Princess Mary call it, are the chief source of all error and evil."
Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace. (translators, Louise and Aylmer Maude)
She said she had initially turned down Mr. Labrie’s proposition, but when he responded with an email partly in French, she wondered if she had been too harsh, and agreed to join him.
Report of trial testimony of 15 year old alleged rape victim, The New York Times, August 19, 2015, "In Girl’s Account, Rite at St. Paul’s Boarding School Turned Into Rape"
[Redacted] advised subj on recent trip to NYC met with two Shylocks at Hickory House, NYC, known phonetically as [Redacted] and [Redacted]. Informant attempting to further identify above Shylocks. Mail Copy to Miami. Armed and dangerous.
FBI teletype of July 26, 1962, concerning investigation of Anthony Salerno.
Greed is a basic element of our culture; it is not a political ideology.
Denkof Zwemmen: Lament for the Academy
Perhaps I am emblematic of everything that is wrong with elite American education, but I have no idea how to get my students to build a self or become a soul. It isn’t taught in graduate school, and in the hundreds of faculty appointments and promotions I have participated in, we’ve never evaluated a candidate on how well he or she could accomplish it.
Steven Pinker, quoted by William Deresiewicz: The Neoliberal Arts - How college sold its soul to the market. (Deresiewicz's response: "Pinker is correct. He is emblamatic of everything that is wrong with elite American education.")
They were listening without understanding, as when hearing mass. Each by himself, understood nothing, but all of them together understood everything.
João Guimarães Rosa: The Devil to Pay in the Backlands. (translators, James L. Taylor and Harriet de Onis)
You know, sir, how it is: you behave badly, what you do is deplorable, but it lacks narrative substance.
João Guimarães Rosa: The Devil to Pay in the Backlands. (translators, James L. Taylor and Harriet de Onis)
Dedicated to the Maintenance
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