Restoring the middle class

America taught Hitler that need blurred into desire, and that desire arose from comparison. . . . Families observed other families: around the corner, but also, thanks to modern media, around the world. . . . “Through modern technology and the communication it enables,” wrote Hitler, “international relations between peoples have become so effortless and intimate that Europeans — often without realizing it — take the circumstances of American life as the benchmarks for their own lives.” Globalization led Hitler to the American dream. Behind every imaginary German racial warrior stood an imaginary German woman who wanted ever more. . . . Before the First World War, when Hitler was a young man, German colonial rhetoric had played on the double meaning of the word Wirtschaft: both a household and an economy. German women had been instructed to equate comfort and empire. And since comfort was always relative, the political justification for colonies was inexhaustible. (12 – 13)

– Timothy Snyder, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (2015)

The trouble with Faulkner, says [Norman] Podhoretz, is that the Enlightenment has passed him by. “As far as Yoknapatawpha is concerned, the Enlightenment might just as well have never been.” This is one of the most comical remarks in all Faulkner criticism. Not only is it a prize understatement, but it serenely ignores the fact that it is precisely in the midst of the “enlightened” middle class world that we have not only Yoknapatawpha but Auschwitz, Hiroshima, the Vietnam War, Watts, South Africa, and a whole litany of some of the choicest atrocities in human history. . . . [An] artificially lucid, one-dimensional view of life, in which there is no place for madness or tragedy, will obviously fail to comprehend a Faulkner. . . . As Michael Foucault has pointed out, the refusal of madness, the clear delimitation of reason and madness, creates a demand for madness. Far from getting on as if the Enlightenment had never been, Yoknapatawpha was made necessary by the Enlightenment — and was necessary to it. Faulkner saw that the reason, justice, and humanity of the Enlightenment and the lunacy, injustice, and inhumanity of the South were in reality two aspects of the same thing. How many rapes, murders, lynchings occur in the little city called, so ironically, “Jefferson”?

– Thomas Merton, “Faulkner and His Critics” (1967) (Anthologized in The Literary Essays of Thomas Merton, pages 120 – 121. Emphasis original.)

“Agricultural Suburbs” by morisius cosmonaut. Used by permission.

Trompement: Making the grade

[This] is a criticism of the tendency to burden institutions, especially educational institutions, with the impossible task of selecting the best. This should never be made their task. This tendency transforms our educational system into a racecourse, and turns a course of studies into a hurdle-race. Instead of encouraging the student to devote himself to his studies for the sake of studying, instead of encouraging in him a real love for his subject and for inquiry, he is encouraged to study for the sake of his personal career; he is led to acquire only such knowledge as is serviceable in getting him over the hurdles which he must clear for the sake of his advancement.

Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (Kindle Locations 2678-2683)

To teach literature as if it were some kind of urbane trade, of professional routine, is to do worse than teach badly. To teach it as if the critical text were more important, more profitable than the poem, as if the examination syllabus mattered more than the adventure of private discovery, of passionate digression, is worst of all.

George Steiner, Language and Silence (page 67)

And yet perhaps, after all, it is better for a country that its seats of learning should do more to suppress mental growth than to encourage it. Were it not for a certain priggishness which these places infuse into so great a number of their alumni, genuine work would become dangerously common. It is essential that by far the greater part of what is said or done in the world should be so ephemeral as to take itself away quickly; it should keep good for twenty-four hours, or even twice as long, but it should not be good enough a week hence to prevent people from going on to something else. No doubt the marvellous development of journalism in England, as also the fact that our seats of learning aim rather at fostering mediocrity than anything higher, is due to our subconscious recognition of the fact that it is even more necessary to check exuberance of mental development than to encourage it. There can be no doubt that this is what our academic bodies do, and they do it the more effectually because they do it only subconsciously. They think they are advancing healthy mental assimilation and digestion, whereas in reality they are little better than cancer in the stomach.

Samuel Butler, Erewhon (Collected Works of Samuel Butler, Kindle Locations 2953-2961)


Above: Karl Popper

From “The Chalice – Part 2 of 2”

I do not believe that at a fundamental level the universe, if left to itself, is interested in complication. Rather it deals in complexity. It is the ego that likes to complicate matters. . . .

But who is my pack, my family, even my neighbour? I would suggest that it is everyone with whom I am in contact. To practise the art of love is a life-long apprenticeship, and that is what I now realise I have been called to do. From practice, sometimes tentative and inept, has come conviction and affirmation. And there is no worthier activity than open-eyed love, offered in wisdom, in which to engage because it is inclusive and not divisive. All other worthwhile pursuits stem from this one activity because in the end it is not so much that, as scripture teaches, “God is love,” it is rather that “Love is God.”

via Gwynt.

Categorized as Quotes

When I speak

Dale’s blog was the first I’d ever read. I started blogging myself a few minutes later.

And this, from Mole, almost ten years later:

The young woman on my table today was so slender that with one hand under the small of her back, and one on her belly, I had her almost compassed. All lean muscle. Radiantly beautiful, with the winter light falling across her face and her shoulders. Sometimes I think my table is a boat drifting by Avalon, half-submerged, carrying the lady from one world to the next; and I am one of those fixtures, the old waterman who steers it, neither of this world nor of that; and my straggly gray beard is threaded through the buttonholes of my coat. When I speak it is like the twitter of birds, or the splash of water, or the snapping of dry reedstalks. I belong to the boat: I have no story apart from it.

Sometimes I remember, amazed and laughing, that I’ve never met or spoken with Dale. He has, I know, been speaking with me all along.


Above: Voyage of King Author and Morgan Le Fay to the Isle of Avalon by Frank William Warwick Topham (1888).

Riposte 4

One day [Montessori] was watching a child of about five years composing the numbers 1 – 100 with the number frame. . . . To Montessori it seemed a dreadfully slow and long-drawn-out business. So, thinking she could help the child to arrive more quickly at her goal — which she took to be the number 100 — she began asking her to compose some numbers further on, skipping out others to accelerate the process. The child submitted to her suggestions for some time with quiet patience, obediently doing what she was asked to do. Then, as if she could stand it no longer, she said, politely but firmly, “Please will you go away and let me do it my own way.” . . . . “I felt justly rebuked,” said Montessori, “for my stupidity. I had made the mistake of thinking the child’s interest lay in getting to the end of the process and not in the process itself.”

. . . .The inner rhythm of the child’s life in some ways resembles that of a mystic; for both may be said to live in a sort of “eternal now.” The contemplation of the mystic does not produce anything practical outside himself — it is an end in itself — and the end is self-perfection.

– E. M. Standing, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work

[Tzu Kung] saw a lone old man working on his land. The man had prepared the ground and had drawn water from the well and was carrying a jar of water to pour on the earth. Huffing and puffing, he was using up much of his strength and yet had little to show for it. Tzu Kung said, “There are machines which can water a hundred fields in one day, for very little effort but with much to show for it. Wouldn’t you like to have one, Master?”

. . . . The gardener was furious, then laughed and said, “I have heard from my teacher that where you have machines, then you get certain kinds of problems; where you get certain kinds of problems, then you find a heart warped by those problems. Where you get a heart warped, its purity and simplicity are disturbed. When purity and simplicity are disturbed, then the spirit is alarmed and an alarmed spirit is no place for the Tao to dwell. It isn’t that I don’t know of these machines, but I would be ashamed to use one . . . . Off you go, Sir, and do not disturb my work!”

The Book of Chuang Tzu, Martin Palmer, Tr.

Riposte 2

“The characteristic of a man when he is awake is never that he is calculating and sensible. Today  we are so afraid of poverty that we never dream of doing anything that might involve us in being poor.”

– Oswald Chambers (from Shade of His Hand)

“As we talked, [South African businessman Andile Ngcaba’s sixteen-year-old son, who had been touring U.S. colleges] told me he met a person at a school who kept talking about how graduates get jobs. ‘And I thought, What is this obsession with getting a job? You make a job!'”

– Baratunde Thurston (June 2013 issue of Fast Company)


Many a deep glance, and often with unspeakable precision, has [Teufelsdrockh] cast into mysterious Nature, and the still more mysterious Life of Man. . . . Often after some such feat, he will play truant for long pages, and go dawdling and dreaming, and mumbling and meandering the merest commonplaces, as if he were asleep with eyes open, which indeed he is.

Sartor Resartus, Book 1, Chapter IV

But [Nate] Silver adds a crucial caveat: The flood of data means more noise (i.e., useless information) but not necessarily more signal (i.e., truth).

Fast Company (June 2013 print edition)

A car beam

When I grow up, I want to write like this:

A car beam — like something sprayed out of a hose — lights up the room he is in, and he pauses once again in mid-step, seeing that same woman’s eyes on him, a man moving on top of her, his fingers in her blonde hair. And she has seen, he knows, even though now he is naked, the same man she photographed earlier in the crowded party, for by accident he stands the same way now, half turned in surprise at the light that reveals his body in the darkness. The car lights sweep up into a corner of the room and disappear.

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient, pg. 36. What is revealed, not by the headlights but by the prose, stands starkly against the tone.  The still shot; the ironic, beguiling syntax; Faulkner without the fireworks.

It sounds so modern

From “Samuel Johnson on Pope,” which appeared on The Lives of the English Poets (1779-1781):

Poetry was not the sole praise of either; for both excelled likewise in prose. The style of Dryden is capricious and varied; that of Pope is cautious and uniform. Dryden observes the motions of his own mind; Pope constrains his mind to his own rules of composition. Dryden’s page is a natural field, diversified by the exuberance of abundant vegetation. Pope’s is a velvet lawn, shaven by the scythe, and leveled by the roller.

That is criticism, I believe!