T.S. Eliot on Writing and Politics

I keep referencing this paragraph from T.S. Eliot’s “The Literature of Politics” in various places, but it’s not on the web that I know of.  So I’m putting it here.

I confess, however, that I am not myself very much concerned with the question of influence, or with those publicists who have impressed their names upon the public by catching the morning tide and rowing very fast in the direction in which the current was flowing; but rather that there should always be a few writers preoccupied in penetrating to the core of the matter, in trying to arrive at the truth and to set it forth, without too much hope, without ambition to alter the immediate course of affairs, and without being downcast or defeated when nothing appears to ensue. The proper area for such men is what may be called, not the political, but the pre-political area…

It is this area also that my own much slighter talents have been employed. But we can look still farther for literary influences, not only philosophical, but imaginative, upon politics. Disraeli gained much from his early association with Smythe and Manners who owed a good deal to Walter Scott. And my defence of the importance of the pre-political is simply this, that it is the stratum down to which any sound political thinking must push its roots and from which it must derive its nourishment.

Koyzis on Millennials and the Church

David Koyzis:

Let’s for the moment leave aside the Episcopal Church. Held Evans appears to see Rome and Constantinople as little more than exotic ports of call for a disaffected generation whose members nevertheless retain their own spiritual autonomy. In all things, including spiritual, they jealously guard their right to choose, and their criteria for doing so tend to be idiosyncratic at best. Some people simply like smells and bells, so go for it!

Yet that is definitely not how these two communions understand themselves. To become Roman Catholic is to accept the authority of the Bishop of Rome, the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the decisions of Vatican II, the Bible, etc. To become Orthodox entails accepting the authority of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Bible, the patriarchs and bishops, etc. Both of these communions set forth teachings on sexuality, ordination, contraception and other issues with which it is difficult to imagine Held Evans agreeing.

Can Classical Music Matter?

Ivan Hewett:

I’m starting to feel like classical music’s Official Youth Spokesperson. Last year, I faced an audience at the Cambridge Union, opposing the motion that classical music is irrelevant to young people (we opposers won, I’m pleased to say). A few months ago, it was a group of Peckham youths who were curious to know from me what classical music is all about. Last weekend I gave a lecture entitled “What is classical music?” to around 50 or so university students, at the annual Academy organised by that excellent, indispensable intellectual forum, the Institute of Ideas.

What struck me about all three events was how keen the interest was. I’ve felt a hunger out there for what I’m saying, and afterwards I’ve had emails from students wanting to know more. What accounts for this appetite? It can’t be entirely unprompted; somebody or something must have sown a seed. These days it’s rarely an encounter with classical music at home. Schools might have been responsible at one time, but now classical music is carefully presented there in a “non-judgemental” way, as just one way of making music amongst many. And it’s not the prestige or high profile of classical music in culture in general. The days when a conductor like Toscanini or John Barbirolli could be a cultural luminary for the entire population, accessible to anyone with a radio, are long gone.

The Disappearing Scottish Isle

An interesting story via The Atlantic: Cities:

You can’t find the Western Scottish isle of Jura, a remote 141-square-mile mass of green and bog in the Atlantic’s Inner Hebrides archipelago, on Google Maps any longer. It’s name — thought to be derived from the Norse term for “Island of Deer” — and its single road now simply float in the middle of the pixelated ocean, unconnected to any actual geographic feature.

Rising seas have not swallowed the territory; its odd disappearance is merely a product of a data glitch somewhere on the computer giant’s servers. Locals first discovered that their remote island — which is 31 miles long and has lots of wilderness but only one real village — had fallen into the digital abyss at the beginning of July, according to an initial report from the Scottish press agency Deadline. Lisa McDonald, an employee of the Jura Hotel in Craighouse, a small hamlet on the eastern shores, confirmed to the outlet that, despite their digital absence, Jura-ians were still very much alive. “It’s definitely still here,” McDonald said. “I’m on it at the moment. We’re all safe and sound.” More than three weeks later, the coastline is still submerged.

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Chomsky contra Postmodernism, etc., Part 2

Reading Jake’s post on Chomsky vs. Zizek reminded me of something by Chomsky I read back in 1995 or 1996 that was along the same lines. A quick Google search took me to the piece I recall reading back in the day. I don’t know the exact date (or the original context) of the piece by Chomsky–it seems to have been taken from a listserv, and I have no idea who “Mike” is–but I do recall being impressed by the force of Chomsky’s main point, which is partially summarized in the following passage:

As for the “deconstruction” that is carried out (also mentioned in the debate), I can’t comment, because most of it seems to me gibberish. But if this is just another sign of my incapacity to recognize profundities, the course to follow is clear: just restate the results to me in plain words that I can understand, and show why they are different from, or better than, what others had been doing long before and and have continued to do since without three-syllable words, incoherent sentences, inflated rhetoric that (to me, at least) is largely meaningless, etc. That will cure my deficiencies–of course, if they are curable; maybe they aren’t, a possibility to which I’ll return.

These are very easy requests to fulfill, if there is any basis to the claims put forth with such fervor and indignation. But instead of trying to provide an answer to this simple requests, the response is cries of anger: to raise these questions shows “elitism,” “anti-intellectualism,” and other crimes — though apparently it is not “elitist” to stay within the self- and mutual-admiration societies of intellectuals who talk only to one another and (to my knowledge) don’t enter into the kind of world in which I’d prefer to live. As for that world, I can reel off my speaking and writing schedule to illustrate what I mean, though I presume that most people in this discussion know, or can easily find out; and somehow I never find the “theoreticians” there, nor do I go to their conferences and parties. In short, we seem to inhabit quite different worlds, and I find it hard to see why mine is “elitist,” not theirs. The opposite seems to be transparently the case, though I won’t amplify.

Celebrity Grudgematch, Chomsky/Zizek Edition

(Thanks to Micah Mattix and his Prufrock email newsletter for sharing this.)

So the dispute between these two left-wing elites began with Chomsky sounding an almost Dawkins-esque note on philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s work:

What you’re referring to is what’s called “theory.” And when I said I’m not interested in theory, what I meant is, I’m not interested in posturing–using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretending you have a theory when you have no theory whatsoever. … Try to find in all of the work you mentioned some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing.Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying.

Zizek fires back:

What is that about, again, the academy and Chomsky and so on? Well with all deep respect that I do have for Chomsky, my first point is that Chomsky, who always emphasizes how one has to be empirical, accurate, not just some crazy Lacanian speculations and so on… well I don’t think I know a guy who was so often empirically wrong in his descriptions in his whatever!

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Reddit and the Future of Journalism

Jay Caspian Kang:

On an overcast day in early May, I traveled to suburban Philadelphia to visit the family of Sunil Tripathi, the deceased 22-year-old Brown University student who, for about four hours on the morning of April 19, was mistakenly identified as Suspect No. 2 in theBoston Marathon bombings. The Tripathis had just arrived home after nearly two months spent in Providence, R.I., where they went to organize the search for Sunil, who disappeared on March 16. When I entered the house, Judy Tripathi, Sunil’s mother, asked me for a hug. In a shattered voice, she said, “I need hugs these days.” We sat at the kitchen table and talked, and at one point Judy handed me a photo of a young, smiling Sunil, caught in the motion of throwing a ball. “Look how happy he looks,” she said. For the next two hours, she and her husband, Akhil, and their daughter, Sangeeta, described what happened to them in the early-morning hours of April 19, and how the false identification of their son derailed their ongoing search for him and further traumatized their lives.


So where do things go from here? Clearly, the ability to instantly gather the firsthand accounts of so many individuals near the site of any breaking-news event is a huge and significant development in the way we generate and take in the news. And yet, at the risk of sounding like an obsolete mass-media apologist, there’s a reason that good journalism traditionally involves a healthy dose of skepticism, and what we saw with the Sunil Tripathi debacle is what happens when two different media spheres — each somewhat ignorant of the rules that guide the other — collide. One mistake by, say, a journalist working for a local TV news station in Connecticut allows rumors percolating in the most speculative depths of Reddit to be repurposed and broadcast with alarming speed and authority. These days, all information runs wild. Dylan Byers, a media reporter at Politico, helped spread the false police-scanner information on Twitter. When asked why he had felt the need to pass along information he could not confirm himself, Byers said he does not necessarily endorse everything he retweets. “When I tweet that CNN is reporting that authorities have someone in custody and then 10 minutes later tweet that NBC is tweeting that nobody was in custody, I’m not saying one is right and the other is wrong. Instead, I’m using Twitter as a tool to get out what information is out there and tracing it back to the source.”

Football as Religion

Two really interesting stories from Europe in the past few days.

First, you have to check out the video above. A Dutch football fan who supported Feyenoord, a club based in Rotterdam, was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. His dying wish was to visit the team’s stadium for the opening days of training one final time, as he had been doing for years. When word of his desire reached the club, they not only gave him a pass to get on the field, they arranged for him to meet several of the players. His fellow supporters also got together and created a huge banner to display at one end of the pitch in honor of the dying fan. And one observer managed to record the entire thing as the fan was brought out onto the field on a hospital bed and then helped across the pitch by friends to meet the team and join the supporters in singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which is something of a football anthem with several European clubs.

Second, out of Germany came a report of a Bosnian man who supported last year’s European champions, Bayern Munich. In 2010, after Bayern lost the European final, he vowed to walk the 600 miles from his home to the Allianz Arena when Bayern did win the cup. And in 2013 they did. So the man kept his word and walked 600 miles over 28 days from his home in Bosnia all the way to Munich.

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Bradley on Rachel Held Evans on What Young Evangelicals Want

Anthony Bradley says that the United Methodist Church is the perfect place for Christians who want what Rachel Held Evans says they want:

When I read the CNN piece it hit me: Evans is saying nothing particularly provocative nor even progressive; she simply represents a standard UMC critique of conservative evangelicalism. Given Evans’ presuppositions, I am not certain she could list a single objection to what the UMC believes and practices. For the record, I have nothing against the UMC, but I do find it odd if Millennials, who are leaving evangelicalism and passionately seeking the kind of church Evans describes, don’t join a mainline denomination like the United Methodist Church. The UMC embodies everything Evans says Millennials want.

Popular Culture and the Apocalypse

Paul Cantor has an essay that is most certainly worth your time in the recent Hedgehog Review. Looking at popular TV shows with apocalyptic themes (notably Falling Skies and The Walking Dead), Cantor examines the way Americans have lost faith in their institutions and, by extension, have drifted away from the sort of American dream those institutions make possible.

This vision of the American dream was bound up with trust in American institutions. The goal of long-term security rested on faith in financial institutions, such as banks, insurance companies, and the stock market. Medical institutions, such as hospitals, clinics, and the pharmaceutical industry, were supposed to keep extending our life expectancy. Americans also looked up to their educational institutions, from primary schools to universities. After all, they were relying on their schools to prepare them for the careers that would underwrite their financial prosperity. In short, Americans relied on their institutions to shape them properly in the first place; in many cases they looked forward to being employed by institutions such as corporations and the professions; and they trusted these institutions in turn to work for their benefit, providing, for example, health care and financial security.

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