I hope everyone had a happy Columbus Day. Here in his namesake city I enjoyed the day off, but spent most of it cleaning my desk and getting my financial records up to date (balance the checkbook, etc.) Hence no posting.
To get things started for this short week, here are some links worth reading:
We may reflexively associate Melville with New England, but Delbanco makes a forceful case for him as the quintessential New York writer. He settled in the city just as it entered a period of explosive growth that saw it almost double in size, from 400,000 to 700,000 inhabitants, in a decade. Stimulated by the vigor of the city’s life, Melville experienced “a breakout into freedom,” as the languid prose of the early sea tales gave way to a brisk, rhythmic exploration of human experience by way of daring analogies and audacious associations. Delbanco claims the city equipped Melville with a new vocabulary and a fresh understanding of the possibilities of language. It was not so much on Melville’s plots, characters, or settings that New York made its mark as “in the nerve and sinew of his prose.”
New York made that mark by breaking open Melville’s style and opening “his mind to the cosmopolitan idea of a nation” that had been fashioned not in the darkness of the ethnic past but in the light cast by a yet unrealized democratic future. The city and all it symbolized impressed itself upon Melville’s imagination, as the brazen daring of its daily life liberated him to experiment with different fictional forms, even with formlessness itself. “There never has been,” Delbanco says, “an American writer more deeply affected, indeed infected, by the tone and rhythm of the city.”
OVER the last few years, William F. Buckley Jr., who lives in Stamford, has divested himself of many of his trademark possessions and pursuits. He abandoned his pioneering television talk show, “Firing Line,” after 35 years on the air; gave up control of National Review, the opinion journal he founded in 1955; canceled his annual writing trip to Switzerland because he no longer skis; and sold his beloved sailboat, Patito.
Now Mr. Buckley is ending yet another long-running pursuit. “Last Call for Blackford Oakes,” his 11th spy novel featuring Oakes, a fictional C.I.A. agent, will be the final book in the series. As Mr. Buckley closes out these various parts of his storied past, a passage he wrote in an article for The Atlantic Monthly last year, about selling his boat, assumes greater weight. He told readers that the decision to give up sailing “is not lightly taken, bringing to mind a step yet ahead, which is giving up life itself.”
Readers of this space will no doubt recall that I am a fan of William F. Buckley. With National Review turning fifty and WFB himself approaching 80 there will be much hoopla in the press. WFB and NR deserve the accolades that are sure to come their way. I know I will be sad when the day comes that I can no longer eagerly await the next book from Mr. Buckley. For now I will read the stories and appreciate his contribution to our times.
– Is blogging bad for your career (Part XXVIII)?
Academic bloggers interviewed say the most common problem they face is convincing their colleagues that their online activity does not come at the expense of scholarly research. While some of the nation’s most prominent scholars have started their own blogs, most notably Chicago giants Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, and Richard Posner, a federal judge, blogging is still perceived by some academics as a slight activity lacking in intellectual value.
– I have on Our Culture, What’s Left of It by Theodore Dalrymple on the TBR list and this New Statesman review will probably move it up a few spots:
Turning aside from these displeasing subjects, Dalrymple is at his most beguiling when he writes about books. He gets in some liberal-bashing here, too, when he returns to the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which produced a fine display of humbug on behalf of a remarkably bad book (whatever D H Lawrence’s gifts as a lyric poet, a man who could write the lines “he saw nothing but the round wet head, the wet back leaning forward in flight, the rounded buttocks twinkling” was entirely without a sense of the ridiculous). There is a deft essay on Shakespeare, in which Dalrymple shows that while he was no sex-hating puritan (in Measure for Measure, Angelo’s hatred of carnality and his hope to “extirp it quite” fly against human nature), he none the less saw that complete surrender to instinct is as disastrous as total repression. Another excellent essay, on Turgenev, compares the Russian favourably with his contemporary Karl Marx. Turgenev’s intolerably poignant story “Mumu”, about a deaf-mute serf forced to kill the dog who is his only friend, displays an authentic humanity that eludes political economists.