Sunday, December 31, 2017

Noteworthies (29)

• David Marcus, "It’s Not Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Fault White Liberals Have Anointed Him Their Prophet" (and related, Loury and McWhorter)

• Justin Stover, "There Is No Case for the Humanities"

• A conversation with Robert P. Waxler, "Literature as Counterculture"

• Mark Forsyth, "Kalsarikännit"

• Stephen Lovell, "The Great Error"

• Interview with Francis O'Gorman, "The Perils of Forgetting"

• Toril Moi, "Describing My Struggle"

The good old days.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Obiter Dicta, no. 26

Nothing should so much shrivel our self-satisfaction as realizing that what we once approved of we now disparage.

— La Rochefoucauld, Maxims

Even in adolescence, I noticed that I frequently had a sense of outgrowing friends. People who used to seem fascinating or attractive came to seem boring, or even annoying. And even then, I wondered if this was a character flaw. Was I too superficial, impatient, unforgiving, or restless? Am I some kind of vampire taking what I need from people before tossing them aside? Yet, in most ways, I'm a creature of utterly predictable routine and habit. Why would I be any different in my personal relationships? But still, to this day, the pattern appears even in my intellectual relationships with writers and thinkers. Inspiration often decays into irritation; flaws come to overshadow virtues. Perhaps, like Diogenes, I'm wandering around with a lantern searching for honesty and integrity. Or perhaps, also like Diogenes, I'm only doing so ironically, to bring heroes down to my lowly level.

Nietzsche wrote a beautiful — and perhaps self-serving — aphorism about outgrowing beautiful things in the course of a relentless search for truth. The cork-like buoyancy of our self-regard keeps us from drowning in doubts, so it's easy to rationalize our former enthusiasms away as necessary steps on the path to wisdom. Perhaps we have very high standards. But what if we're simply selfish and easily bored?

Friday, December 29, 2017

Children of the Grave

Farah Mohammed:

Yet, a popular question today is whether blogs still have any relevance. A quick Google search will yield suggested results, “are blogs still relevant 2016,” “are blogs still relevant 2017,” and “is blogging dead.”

...Today, writers lament the irrelevance of blogs not just because there’s too many of them; but because not enough people are engaging with even the more popular ones. Blogs are still important to those invested in their specific subjects, but not to a more general audience, who are more likely to turn to Twitter or Facebook for a quick news fix or take on current events.

Explains author Gina Bianchini as she advises not starting a blog, “2017 is a very different world than 2007. Today is noisier and people’s attention spans shorter than any other time in history…and things are only getting worse. Facebook counts a ‘view’ as 1.7 seconds and we have 84,600 of those in a day. Your new blog isn’t equipped to compete in this new attention-deficit-disorder Thunderdome.”

Suits me fine. Hermits have long been known for dwelling among ruins, or meditating in cemeteries. As my copy of the Tao Te Ching says:

The people of the world excitedly run about as if they were going to miss the yearly, royal, sacrificial feast, or as if they were going to be the last one to climb a high tower on a beautiful spring day.
I alone remain quiet and indifferent.
I anchor my being to that which existed before Heaven and Earth were formed.
I alone am innocent and unknowing, like a newborn babe.
Unoccupied by worldly cares, I move forward to nowhere.
The people of the world have more than enough.
I alone appear to have nothing.
The people of the world appear shrewd and wise.
I alone look foolish.
I like to be forgotten by the world and left alone.

If only it were true, though. I'm reminded of a Suicidal Tendencies lyric: "Why should they be resting so peacefully when we're up above in pure misery?" With regard to the dearly departed, it's terribly difficult to pay your respects when all these graverobbers keep disinterring the supposedly-irrelevant corpse for their deviant necrophilic purposes.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Oops, I Did It Again

I got enough money to order fourteen books, plus a friend gave me one unexpectedly. Now I get the extended pleasure of looking forward to the mail each day for the next few weeks. I hope your Christmas was as merry as mine.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Noteworthies (28)

• Claire Berlinski, "The Warlock Hunt"

• Chris Martin, "An Interview With John McWhorter About Politics and Protest"

• Douglas Dalrymple, "Eiseley on the Moon" (I'm assuming he's still using his former pen name. His original site, The New Psalmanazar, was my favorite blog of recent years, and I'm pleased to find that he's back with a new one.)

• William Buckner, "Romanticizing the Hunter-Gatherer"

• Jonathan Haidt, "The Age of Outrage"

• Fred Baumann, "Can Fairness Make a Comeback?"

• Costica Bradatan, "Philosophy Needs a New Definition"

Hear, hear.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Holiday, Holiday; I Declare a Holiday

Guinevere de la Mare:

Thus begins the Icelandic tradition of jólabókaflóð. What is jólabókaflóð? Jólabókaflóð, or “Yule Book Flood,” originated during World War II when foreign imports were restricted, but paper was cheap. Iceland’s population was not large enough to support a year-round publishing industry, so book publishers flooded the market with new titles in the final weeks of the year. While giving books is not unique to Iceland, the tradition of exchanging books on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading, is becoming a cultural phenomenon. In recent years the meme has spread on social media, and bookworms around the world are cottoning on to the idea.

The Lady of the House read about this the other day, but added the caveat that several Icelanders on her social media feed were saying either that they hadn't ever heard of it, or that it wasn't quite the thing that people were making it out to be. To which I say, since when do we care about the literal truth of holidays? Like all myths, this clearly expresses a higher truth beyond mere factuality — namely, in this instance, that it would be good and holy for people to give me lots of books on Christmas Eve. I might be able to make a suggestion or twenty if you need help choosing.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Obiter Dicta, no. 25

It was as if de Gaulle's bursts of eloquence required long periods of silence to recharge his energies and store up more words, or perhaps he had decided that if he could not speak in poetry, he would rather not speak at all...He was silent or silver-tongued, nothing in between. It was maddening and magnetic, this refusal to make the most cursory effort at small talk and then to speak, on his own terms, so beautifully.

— Joe Moran, Shrinking Violets: The Secret Life of Shyness

In both speaking and writing, I, too, tend to be parsimonious. As far back as I can remember, I have always preferred to err on the side of silence, as if words were a finite resource which must be vigilantly conserved. On the page, at least, I think I can occasionally muster up a burst of eloquence. Unfortunately, I have yet to speak in sonnets. Too often, my conversation resembles the most shapeless free verse. At best, I might produce a clever couplet.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Obiter Dicta, no. 24

[T]he code of life of the High Middle Ages said something entirely opposite to this: that it was precisely lack of leisure, an inability to be at leisure, that went together with idleness; that the restlessness of work-for-work's-sake arose from nothing other than idleness. There is a curious connection in the fact that the restlessness of a self-destructive work-fanaticism should take its rise from the absence of a will to accomplish something... Acedia is the "despair of weakness," of which Kierkegaard said, that it consists in someone "despairingly" not wanting "to be oneself." The metaphysical-theological concept of idleness means, then, that man finally does not agree with his own existence; that behind all his energetic activity, he is not at one with himself; that, as the Middle Ages expressed it, sadness has seized him in the face of the divine Goodness that lives within him — and this sadness is that "sadness of the world," (tristitia saeculi) spoken of in the Bible.

...The opposite of acedia is not the industrious spirit of the daily effort to make a living, but rather the cheerful affirmation by man of his own existence, of the world as a whole, and of God — of Love, that is, from which arises that special freshness of action, which would never be confused by anyone with any experience with the narrow activity of the "workaholic."

— Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture

Philosophers dating back to Plato and Aristotle have expressed contempt for manual labor and those who work for a living. But for those of us who aren't slaveowners or members of the landed aristocracy, we unfortunately have to settle for a more anemic form of leisure —  a few minutes of quiet and privacy during the day, a short walk in the evening, an hour's reading before bed. If we want true leisure, we don't have the option to avoid industriousness; we can only choose frugality. The less you owe and need, the harder for the creditors and bosses to catch you by the short hairs. I work entirely for myself now, and while this is an incredibly busy time of year, leaving little in the way of free time, I find it much easier to cheerfully affirm my existence when I don't have to worry about the wolf at the door.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Noteworthies (27)

• Brian Smith, "Walker Percy and the Politics of Deranged Times"

• Andrew Ferguson, "To Be Sure, Nazis Are Evil"

• The New Criterion, "Is Civilization Overrated?"

• Ben Sixsmith, "In Defense of Right-Wing Intellectuals"

• Roger Kimball, "Raymond Aron"

• Frank Furedi, "The Hidden History of Identity Politics" (if you're like me, you're sick of hearing the very phrase I— P—, but this is a really good overview of the history and content of identitarian thinking.)

• Brendan O'Neill, "Black Privilege"

• Joanna Williams, "We Are More Than Our Gender"

• Scott Alexander, "Against Overgendering Harassment"

Monday, December 4, 2017

My Greed Is a Flame

John Lukacs:

Books will always exist.  Jefferson’s category of the educated minority, on whose existence the prospects of civilized mankind depend, is no longer enough.  To educated we need to add interested.  The very impulse of human attention depends on human interest, a quality often involved with humility, with our capacity of seeing beyond ourselves.  This awareness sometimes issues from reading.

Interest may just as well be involved with greed, as Nietzsche noted:

“Oh, my greed! There is no selflessness in my soul but only an all-coveting self that would like to appropriate many individuals as so many additional pairs and eyes and hands – a self that would like to bring back the whole past, too, and that will not lose anything that it could possibly possess. Oh, my greed is a flame! Oh, that I might be reborn in a hundred beings!” – Whoever does not know this sigh from firsthand experience does not know the passion of the search for knowledge.

The Lady of the House and I were traveling on business over the weekend, and during some free time in between engagements, we went foraging for victuals and found ourselves strolling through a gigantic mall which contained a two-story Barnes & Noble. I was doing fine until I got to the philosophy section, where I found a few books which have been on my Amazon wish list for a while, plus a few previously-unknown others which caught my interest.

Nothing else has this kind of pull over me. I know full well that I can have all these books for half the price if I just wait and buy wisely online, and I know equally well that I already have, uh — ::checks Goodreads, blushes, clears throat:: — 38 books waiting to be read, but lord-o-lord, it was a mighty struggle against the temptation to damn frugality and steam full speed ahead to the register with probably $200 worth of titles under my arm, just for the thrill of having them all right there in a bag. It honestly caused me psychic pain to have to walk away empty-handed. This is the only setting in which I have to beware the onset of temporary consumer madness like that. Plug my ears or tie me to the mast, Lady, the sirens are singing to me again!