… from Salvador Dali. (Via Amy Welborn.)
I want a hero: an uncommon want,
…..When every year and month sends forth a new one,
Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant,
…..The age discovers he is not the true one;
Of such as these I should not care to vaunt,
…..I’ll therefore take our ancient friend Don Juan—
We all have seen him, in the pantomime,
Sent to the devil somewhat ere his time.
The Great Books are more damaging than helpful when taught outside the traditions that produced most of them. I hate to admit this, as I love the classics, but if they are read as just a bunch of interesting books whose ideas are merely a smorgasbord from which everybody gets to pick what they want and interpret it as they see fit, the Great Books become little more than an excuse for unearned elitism, a closed mind, and the false belief that one is educated simply by having skimmed a bunch of old books.
In context, which is Christendom and the ancient civilizations it saved, the books have something worthy to tell us. This knowledge leads to humility rather than elitism, and destroys the canard that people nowadays are just so much more enlightened and intelligent than those old dead guys. Out of this context, the Great Books are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
(See also “The Sign of the Broken Sword.”)
Every day a Western leader publicly frets about civil unrest over food and energy shortages, despite the fact that the people have shown no signs of revolt. The reason the politicians keep talking about potential revolts is the same reason Washington is obsessing over fictional insurrections. These are people who think they deserve a revolution.
Some years back, Hutchinson, Kansas declared itself to be Smallville, the hometown of Clark Kent. This was an excuse to launch the Smallville Comic Con, held most years around this time at the fairgrounds. I spent a couple hours there this morning taking pictures of people in eccentric clothing, plus the occasional dalek and other oddities. It may take a few days to go through them all. Here’s the first batch.
A long, long time ago I came across a humorous/satirical website called The Lemon. It’s long gone now; as far as I can tell all that remains is the panel reproduced here. It was the work of Shamus Young, one of the crew who hung around Steven Den Beste’s place. He was perceptive and insightful on gaming, anime and whatever else caught his attention. Over the years he focused increasingly on gaming, but even so he was still worth reading. He wrote well, and his detailed analyses and critiques of games were interesting even to non-gamers like me.
And he was funny. The Lemon may be gone, but DM of the Rings, the one good result of the Peter Jackson catastrophe, is there to read on his website, as is Chainmail Bikini. It is not necessary to have played D&D to enjoy them.
Shamus’s autobiography worth reading, too. His account of his ordeals in grade school is sufficient reason utterly reform or just flat eliminate the education establishment. It starts here.
Shamus Young died Wednesday. Please keep him and his family in your prayers.
Here are the answers to Thursday’s quiz.
Versified and rhythmic non-prose verbal arrangements are fashioned by people of alternative intelligence such as myself, but only the divine entity, should he or she actually exist, can create a solar-shielding park structure from low-rise indigenous vegetative material.
John Leo, a very funny, very serious writer whose columns were among the few things worth reading in the newspaper1 before the turn of the century, died earlier this month. His collection Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police2 is fun to browse through.
(Via Kim Du Toit.)
I’m down to two shows, which is still twice as many as I was following at this time last year. The best remains Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department. However, despite its squicky premise, Life with an Ordinary Guy… hasn’t made me throw up yet. It helps to know your isekai clichés.
A long time ago I decided against a career in academia. It was one of the few major life decisions I got right.
… pluralism in academic settings rarely lasts for long. There has to be a truth at the end of the day, even if it’s the “truth” of an artificial academic consensus. When theory killed literary truth, it doomed the discipline. Into this vacuum, identity professors in English departments poured ersatz truths about race and sex, which have failed to shore it up. At the time I was baffled at this suicidal trend, but in retrospect I can see that it was only natural that identity politics should have ascended so quickly in the nineties. Its urgent claims gave English a moral meaning that theory had undermined. When literature itself no longer sparked the heat of conviction that divided Bloom and Hirsch in the early sixties, the discipline had to find another source of energy. Identity critics had the answer. They weren’t decadent—they were impassioned. By 1992, “post-structuralism” had a stale tang, but gender and queer sounded fresh and potent. A theory panel at the MLA Convention on “Shelley and the Sign” was ho-hum, but “Queer Shakespeare” down the hall was packed.
High seriousness was restored, but literature was the victim. It wasn’t Shakespeare that drew the crowd, but queerness: Lear was a pretext. Literature had become a booster rocket, at best, one that you jettison when you reach the orbit of political relevance. The institutional effects are plain to see at this late date. Fifty years ago, a university couldn’t call itself “Tier One” unless it had a renowned English department. No more: Abysmal enrollment numbers in the humanities at such universities prove the irrelevance of literary study. My colleagues around the country bemoan the decline, but they blame the wrong things. English did not fall because a bunch of conservatives trashed the humanities as a den of political correctness. It didn’t fall because it lost funding or because business leaders promoted STEM fields. It fell because the dominant schools of thought stopped speaking about the truth of literature. Once the professors could no longer insist, “You absolutely must read Dryden, Pope, and Swift—they are the essence of wit and discernment”; when they lost the confidence to say that nothing reveals the social complexity of the colonial situation better than Nostromo; if they couldn’t assure anyone that Hawthorne’s sentences showed the American language in its most exquisite form, they lost the competition for majors. Students stopped caring about literature because the professors stopped believing in its promises of revelation and delight.
Critical Race Theory, and Critical Theory in general doesn’t have any art I can think of. Not poetry, not music, theater, film, painting, sculpture, nor literature. It may just be that I am not up on such things. I don’t think it is mere recency, as both have been around for years, nor is it a bias from unfair comparisons from centuries ago. I am not asking that it produce an equivalent to the high Renaissance. Existentialism is also recent but does not suffer from the same lack. There is plenty of interesting theater, poetry, and literature from them, and I think only a little stretch of the concept brings in the visual arts including film….
This is a major red flag for the intellectual foundation of a philosophy, that artists in no medium can bring forth anything of interest. The heart of artistic expression is transposition, of reframing or new understanding of one concept and making it manifest in another. If you can find nothing to transpose, it means there is nothing there.
How many boys doze off in English class because no one made clear that poetry is also the province of Satanic wizards, voodoo queens, blood-flecked Vikings, Puritan swordsmen, and frantic barbarian hordes?
In 2008 I was wary of Obama but never bought into the “born in Kenya” crap and thought maybe he could do some great good in uniting our country racially. I think by 2012-ish I realized the enemy was within. By 2017 I realized we were in a Cold Civil War. And now in 2021 I think it’s a tossup as to who is the bigger enemy: the Left in this country or China.
Historical note: Dave Mustaine in 2012:
I’m just hoping that whatever is in the White House next year is a Republican. I can’t bear to watch what’s happened to our great country. Everybody’s got their head in the sand. Everybody in the industry is like, ‘Oh, Obama’s doing such a great job…’ I don’t think so. Not from what I see.
Looking at the Republican candidates, I’ve got to tell you, I was floored the other day to see that Mitt Romney’s five boys have a $100 million trust fund. Where does a guy make that much money? So there’s some questions there. And watching Newt Gingrich, I was pretty excited for a while, but now he’s just gone back to being that person that everybody said he was – that angry little man. I still like him, but I don’t think I’d vote for him.
Ron Paul… you know, I heard somebody say he was like insecticide – 98 percent of it’s inert gases, but it’s the two percent that’s left that will kill you. What that means is that he’ll make total sense for a while, and then he’ll say something so way out that it negates everything else. I like the guy because he knows how to excite the youth of America and fill them in on some things. But when he says that we’re like the Taliban… I’m sorry, Congressman Paul, but I’m nothing like the Taliban.
Earlier in the election, I was completely oblivious as to who Rick Santorum was, but when the dude went home to be with his daughter when she was sick, that was very commendable. Also, just watching how he hasn’t gotten into doing these horrible, horrible attack ads like Mitt Romney’s done against Newt Gingrich, and then the volume at which Newt has gone back at Romney… You know, I think Santorum has some presidential qualities, and I’m hoping that if it does come down to it, we’ll see a Republican in the White House… and that it’s Rick Santorum.”
I’ve been browsing around in Marc Aramini’s Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986. In his discussion of Free Live Free, he quotes a couple of passages that have gained force in the years since the year the novel was published. I thought I’d put them here, a bit more fully.
A history of America, delivered by a man in a duffel coat near the end of the story:
“Our country was founded on the principle of the destruction of the wild by the civilized. Let me … go back thirty thousand years before Christ, when the ancestors of the Indians crossed what are now the Bering Straits to occupy what some people have called an empty land. Those Indians represented civilization. The beavers felled trees and built lodges, but the Indians killed the beavers and skinned them.
Barnes said, “Then the whites came and skinned the Indians.”
“Precisely. But the frontiersmen who destroyed the Indians and their culture were destroyed themselves, with their culture, by the settlers who followed. Those settlers lost their farms to the banks, and the banks sold them to companies who have brought the advantages of corporate existence—immortality and amorality—to agriculture.
“In the cities, the same thing occurred. The early city of independent shops and restaurants is properly being displaced by one of the chain outlets, so that progressively greater control is exercised. Perhaps none of you have ever understood before why they are called that—chain outlets….
“You see the progress? The old stores had to sell things their customers wanted. As they’re eliminated, the need for their type of slavery is eliminated, too, and the chains can sell whatever they want. Their customers have to buy it because there is nothing else to buy. I ask you, all of you—how often have you gone into W. T. Grant’s and found there was nothing at all you wanted?”
“The Indians used to be Americans—that’s what an American was. Then the trappers were Americans, the Americans of their day. Then the farmers, with their buggies and plow horses and white clapboard houses. Even today when you look at a picture of Uncle Sam, you’re seeing what those farmers were like dressed up to go to the county fair. Only farmers aren’t real Americans any more. Neither are Indians. Poor bastards of Indians aren’t even foreigners, and we like foreigners more than Americans, because foreigners are the Americans of the future. The trappers are gone, and pretty soon you’ll be gone too.”
After further provocation, one of his audience responds:
“… I am a gypsy and a princess. And a dupe, because you have made me one. But I will speak for the Indians too, because they were nomads when they were shaped by their own thoughts and not by yours, and we are nomads now, who will remain so though you will slay us….
“You have overcome us, but you have not conquered us. To conquer us you must beat us fairly, and you have not beaten us fairly, and so you have struck us to the ground, but you have not won. To conquer us, you must have dignity too, and for that reason you have not conquered us. A man may flee from a wasp and be stung by the wasp, but he has not been conquered by the wasp; it remains an insect and he is still a man. You deck yourselves like fools and chatter and hop like apes, and your princes marry whores. That is why even those you have crushed to dust will not call you master, and none will ever call you master until you meet a nation more foolish than yourselves.”
Earlier in the book the gypsy does some “catoptromancy.” She explains, “… what I have done is the verso of necromancy; I summoned the spirits of the unborn to reveal the future.” According to her,
“The greatest event of the coming decade will be the quadrumvirate. Four leaders, unknown today, shall unite to take political, financial, artistic, and judicial power. They shall create a revolution in thought. Many who are now rulers shall be imprisoned or exiled. Many who are now powerless shall rise to places of great authority. The rich shall be made poor, and the poor rich. Old crimes, now concealed, shall be made public, and their perpetrators given to the people as to a pride of lions. The four shall be hated and idolized, but their rule will not end within the period specified by my prediction.”
It’s time for the quadrumvirate to reveal itself.