A lovely collection of essays about a wide range of topics, including government, the environment, animals, architecture, art, and how we die. This isA lovely collection of essays about a wide range of topics, including government, the environment, animals, architecture, art, and how we die. This is the third book by Scruton that I've read; I've also read several uncollected essays, seen/listened to some interviews, lectures, etc. While his Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy perhaps gives the more nuanced overview of his thought, this collection, in being less abstract and permitting his wit, charm, and sometimes-acid critiques to shine through, reveals the essential touchstones and first principles of his thought clearly, cogently, and entertainingly.
Essentially, what we see in different ways and to different extents in every essay is an exploration of the relationship between an "I" and another "I." In Scruton's thought, subjecthood is contingent upon the recognition of the subjecthood of others, and expected reciprocation of that recognition by others unto us. From this "I" & "I" flows a concept of mutual obligation and duty, and a sense that statist, technocratic diktat and fiat destroys this "I" & "I" relationship, and thus undermines our status as thinking subjects--and ultimately our humanity. All of Scruton's thinking in these essays seems to be based in some articulation of the relationship of a subject to other subjects, governed by mutual obligation and duty, and the way these first principles play out in considerations of art, environment, government, and the many more subjects he considers here are fascinating, challenging, and illuminating....more
This is no classic, but it is a truly good novel, and a perfect, realistic portrayal of marriage in the age of the Cleavers. Told from three perspectiThis is no classic, but it is a truly good novel, and a perfect, realistic portrayal of marriage in the age of the Cleavers. Told from three perspectives--that of a professor having an affair with a student, his precociously, dangerously intelligent, yet incredibly naive son, & a wife the professor treats as an ignored china doll placed away in a curio cabinet--we hear of the confusions each member of this family has within themselves and towards the others, their inability to understand each other, their mutual alienation, and their various, often abortive, normally destructive, attempts at self-discovery. This is a superb novel of the deleterious effects of hyper-individualism and the very American desire to seal off the process of creating ones own identity from those who surround us.
What truly sets this novel apart is the quality and variety of MacAuley's prose. The man can flat-out write a sentence, and he voices each of the three characters perfectly. Each character has two voices; that which he or she uses in relationship to the other two family members, and that used in reference to the self. Howard, the professor, is coldly clinical (he's a psychologist by training) about his son and wife and their development; Gordon, the son, thinks about each of his parents in a naive, confused teenaged way that is complicated by his Holden Caulfield-like hyper-intellectual malaise; Helen, the wife, thinks of her son and husband (and her social circle, as well) in the polite, deferential somewhat flighty way that "good hosuewives" would have been expected to express. But each character's self-directed voice, a self-directed voice that comes alive as a result of the conflict precipitated by Howard's infidelity, is full of complexity, nuance, and sad humanity. Watching the characters vacillate between these voices is moving, beautiful, harrowing, distressing, and deeply rewarding.
While marred by a lack of focus in places that makes it perhaps a chapter or two too long, as well as an annoying, unnecessary subplot between Gordon and a Falstaffian art professor, The Disguises of Love is a strong novel, and one that deserves wider readership. It's out of print, but worth searching out. ...more
A cogent analysis of the ways in which the forms and features of our technologies--rather than the content they deliver to us--shape our perceptions,A cogent analysis of the ways in which the forms and features of our technologies--rather than the content they deliver to us--shape our perceptions, understandings, and ways of interacting with the world. For Postman, the age of print was the age most suited to participation in democratic life, as the logic of print demands that we consider context, historicity, rhetorical features and generic form, active engagement between reader and that which is written, and the expectation that we can hold complex ideas for later consideration and reflection. In a society in which we are given the awesome task of governing ourselves and determining the direction of our culture, such a logic is, Postman convincingly argues, not only useful, but absolutely necessary.
Postman's critique of television (a critique that seems all the more prophetic 30 years later, in the age of social media) is not that television contains bad content; to the contrary, he celebrates the ways in which television can be entertaining and help us to escape from the humdrum and burdensome aspects of our lives. But television's logic--instant gratification, de-contextualization, an expectation of forgetfulness, and tacit approval of anticipated and expected disruptions to linear, logical exposition--does not provide us with the type of sober, nuanced reflectiveness necessary to engage the awesome responsibility of self-governance. Television's epistemology is that of un-reflective entertainment, rather than highly-reflective consideration. If television was merely a vehicle for delivering entertainment (or, I would add, art, as teleplays can be artistic just as a novel or drama or poem or symphony can), this would not be an issue. But in an age and era where television--and now, social media--are our primary vehicles for relaying "truth" (and even "Truth") and those things we need to know and consider in order to enact self-governance properly, we are faced with the deep insufficiency of television for this task.
Postman asserts that the late 20th century was afraid of the Orwellian world of 1984, with its totalitarian governance and thought-policing foisted upon us from without. He argues that was an error, as what we should have feared was the world Huxley outlines in Brave New World, in which we unthinkingly and voluntarily give up self-governance so as to pursue pleasure. This vision, for Postman, is the logical end of an epistemologically televisual culture.
Postman makes clear that we cannot get rid of television, of course--and we shouldn't. Rather, we should simply understand its logic, pull back the curtain, understand it not to be magical, and rule it, instead of it ruling us; it should be an entertainment and escapist medium, rather than an epistemological shaper. This was Postman's suggestion and argument some three decades ago. Unfortunately, it seems as if we are only further down the path Postman saw, getting ever-closer to the situation of WALL-E, a movie I wish Postman would have lived long enough to see.
Even more of a clarion call than when it was first written, this is a significant book that deserves to be read and shared....more
Taylor writes a good sentence (though he knows he writes a good sentence, and has a tendency to over-write too many of them), and has a talent for telTaylor writes a good sentence (though he knows he writes a good sentence, and has a tendency to over-write too many of them), and has a talent for telling a good story. But this novel, which begins with so much promise, quickly loses its way. It's entertaining throughout, I'll give it that--but this is, despite its desire to be great literary fiction, little more than a beach read; a dark and twisted one, to be sure, but little more than an afternoon's entertainment.
The contemporary Southern fiction stereotypes are thick here, and the characters are little more than plot devices or exist only as predictably symbolic flat caricatures. The setting is that wasteland of perpetual 1991 that so much post-Harry Crews Southern gothic fiction wallows in, and occasional clunkers of over-done, MFA-workshop moments leave readers shaking their heads in frustration (e.g., when we read of two characters about to have sex, and we're told that the male character observes that he could "smell" the female character's "sex." You've read some version of the sentence "He could smell her sex" before, of course. It's an overdone--and frankly silly--MFA workshop tick that so many contemporary writers seem to have picked up).
Despite this, Taylor could have written a strong novel about the multifaceted struggles of belonging. Instead, what we're given is a pastiche of McCarthy's The Orchard Keeper, No Country for Old Men, and the Judge from Blood Meridian in the guise of a suit-wearing truck driver who very well might be the Devil. Kind-hearted ex-prostitutes and armless, cruel bartenders, and bloody, tawdry scenes a plenty are meant to--well, I don't know what they're meant to do, other than establish this as an over-the-top Southern gothic novel that can't get out from under its influences and actually do anything interesting. I realize that the profoundly dissatisfying ending is intended to be vexed and ambiguous; but it really just seems like the narrative realized it had been running on fumes for a while, and wrapped up in a way that is, despite its ambiguity, still neat, pat, and predictable.
What we've been given here is warmed-over, third-rate Cormac McCarthy. Again, this isn't an insurmountable knock on the novel, as it is fundamentally entertaining. But despite this, The Marble Orchard is an especially frustrating novel in light of the fact that at moments, Taylor shows some real promise and significant talent. Ultimately, this is a debut novel of a writer trying to find his voice, only to have it lost underneath the weight of his influences. If Alex Taylor ever finds a way to have his own voice shine through and sing in harmony with these influences, he will be a very good writer, and one worth paying excited attention to. But until then, we'd be better off just reading McCarthy instead....more
An exceptional brief introduction to Cicero, his life and thought, that doesn't shy away from the warts and flaws. This isn't an hagiography, but an eAn exceptional brief introduction to Cicero, his life and thought, that doesn't shy away from the warts and flaws. This isn't an hagiography, but an even-handed introduction. Collins writes in clear and lucid prose that still feels accessible and lively to us, these 150 or so years later. He does, however, run a bit too quickly past some of the political machinations of the late Republic (especially the Catiline conspiracy and the Caesar/Pompey rivalry), making some parts of the biography seem muddled. But even then, this is a great little introduction to Cicero, and I am quite glad to have found it....more
A solid, highly readable summation of many of the ideas circulating about how technology changes our patterns of attention, what the good of reading iA solid, highly readable summation of many of the ideas circulating about how technology changes our patterns of attention, what the good of reading is, etc. from the late '00s/early '10s. But Jacobs isn't writing a jeremiad here; he's rather frank and honest about his own foibles, and the flaws of his profession (literature professor) in hurting reading as well. This slim little book is itself a pleasure to read, and aims to be a sort of reply to all the "how to read" books of the 20th century, with an eye towards the ways in which the aforementioned discussions of technology and the good of reading change how we read, how we can read, how we should read, and thus how to read.
Jacobs's counsel is simple: we should read at whim, using the power of (capital-W) Whim as a discipline for reading. That is: read for pleasure and enjoyment, with a mind towards how what we're reading now connects to other things written before and to be written, that we've read before and that we might want to read. Stay away from reading as an obligation: after all, Jacobs would have us think, reading is a pleasure like good food, or good wine, or love. It is one of the truly great pleasures--and we should, under the tutelage of Whim, learn to treat it and think of it as such....more
This is a master's thesis, and unfortunately reads like it. Fr. Geromel is quite a learned fellow, and I think he and I would probably get along well.This is a master's thesis, and unfortunately reads like it. Fr. Geromel is quite a learned fellow, and I think he and I would probably get along well. This little book's discussion of the notion of duty in Anglophone Christianity (especially in its High Churchmanly manifestation) is deeply interesting. But the lack of coherence--is this a meditation on the titular subject, or is it a brief historical account of English Churchmanship and late medieval/early modern Britain--makes it a troubling read. Again, all of the information is interesting, his conclusions and connections are well-made, but it's not particularly elegant in its presentation, and it reads like what it is: an academic exercise.
If one is interested in the title subject, I'd advise picking the book up: read the opening chapter, and then poke around. There's a lot of good here; it just doesn't work as a coherent, enjoyable reading experience....more
A young Fyodor Mikhailovich here pens an ambitious, but profoundly messy, novella that fails--despite its few signs of the greatness that was to comeA young Fyodor Mikhailovich here pens an ambitious, but profoundly messy, novella that fails--despite its few signs of the greatness that was to come very soon (White Nights, that beautiful novella, was a mere two years away). Many of Dosoevsky's mature concerns are present here--madness, self-absorption, isolation, an inability to make sense of one's identity, the difficulties of community. And while these questions receive ever-greater attention as the novella continues (and, as a consequence, the work's quality also improves), it comes too late and too little to overcome several serious flaws. Poor character development (all of Yakov Petrovich's colleagues are interchangeable and confusing) exacerbates the problem of an already confused situation and context. The opening chapters seem like so much mania, and the conflicts that fuel Yakov Petrovich's anxieties and (possible, arguable) madness are ambiguous to the point of absolute frustration. Of course, one could contend that that is part of Dostoevsky's whole point here; true as this may be, it doesn't make the novella any more satisfying, and doesn't lessen the reader's frustration, as he finds himself constantly flipping to early chapters, trying to see what he missed, as there's something going on here but, well, he has no idea what it is. Moments of social satire and humor are well-done, but they seem to exacerbate the lack of focus, distracting from, rather than adding to, the work's meaning and questions. Similarly distracting is Dostoevsky's shifting of his narrative voice in places, where he breaks the fourth wall for a few moments.
In sum: for a novella that explores the repercussions of madness and belonging, a confused presentation may be appropriate, but it makes for profoundly dissatisfying reading. A young Dostoevsky is here finding his voice, trying on multiple techniques, and aiming at something great. While that is commendable, what we have here is a singularly brilliant craftsman putting forth his final amateur effort. Holding that consideration beside The Double's few real successes, the work is an understandable, defensible failure--but still a failure, nevertheless....more
John Sexton, president of New York University, gives us this charming collection of anecdotes and reminiscences that serve to remind us that a sport--John Sexton, president of New York University, gives us this charming collection of anecdotes and reminiscences that serve to remind us that a sport--baseball--can remind of religious faith, can even help us to better understand the religious impulse. Sexton doesn't actually believe that a game is a substitute for religion, of course, but we nevertheless come away with a clearer understanding of the means by which we come to terms with faith, its implications, and the practice of life itself. And we do all this through the easy-to-digest metaphors of a familiar game. There are copious, familiar meditations on baseball's rhythms: how it orders time without a clock, its goal to "get home," its cycles, its repetitions, its symmetries, especially its constant use of the number three (and nine, which is, we must remember, three threes). These are familiar to anyone who's ever reflected on baseball, and are the sorts of things the PBS/Ken Burns documentary on baseball explored. The book also serves as a collection of great baseball lore, and the personal story of Sexton's life as a baseball fan, from Dodgers-obsessed Brooklyn kid to present-day Yankees fan.
Those are all fair enough, and would make for an enjoyable book. But what makes this such an intriguing and challenging little volume is how Sexton connects certain concepts from the study of religion to the game. Baseball is not a religion, but it becomes a way by which we can understand why we want religion, faith, and mystery; the game exists as a metaphor for the practice of life. As we live--if we are the sort of person who actively and contemplatively cultivates life, practices living conscientiously and consciously--we are faced with a draw to ineffable things, those things that are true, but True in a way that can only be explained through myth and mystery. We look for mysterium tremendum et fascinans, mystery both fearful and fascinating. We look for moments that are "hierophonic," moments in which the sacred shines through. In these moments, the everyday is not undone or destroyed, but becomes a window through which we can see and experience something beyond ourselves, find ourselves connected to things larger than the self. These religious ideas, which Sexton draws heavily from religious thinker Mircea Eliade, are themselves manifested in baseball and baseball fans' experiences of the game, Sexton asserts.
While it's true that much of what Sexton sees in baseball could be applied to other sports, and any other number of other pastimes as well, baseball's deeply cyclical structure and unique form of order (artificially imposed, but seeming more organic than the inescapably artificial and highly complex order of, say, football) make it highly suited for exploring and reflecting on the hierophonic. If nothing else, Sexton's book should make us reflect on the need for cycles and order in our lives--whether we be religious or not. For the reflective person, this is a challenging and moving little book. For the baseball fan, Sexton's knowledge of baseball lore and talent for storytelling will get you through the winter months. For the person who is both--like me--this is a book of real and substantial loveliness, that will challenge you to live more reflectively and enjoy the great game all the more fully....more