In the wake of Tim Russert’s I’ve noticed among a lot of my journalistic friends an enormous amount of introspection and self-assessment, even among those who, like me, did not know Tim well. It is a perfectly appropriate to remark upon and even to criticize, the fact that the media treats a death in its family like a death in its family. But Tim’s death seems to have hit the Washington political community by an order of magnitude greater than the passing of a loved one.
Is Marc really saying that the impact of the death of Tim Russert is an order of magnitude greater than the death of a partner or parent?
After a hiatus I have posted an article, Everything of Higher Consequence, on my Mansfield Park blog. Here I have brought together some of my thinking on the novel which also intersects with some recent thoughts on what makes progressives and conservatives tick. Given that the two stream of thought originated with the French revolution and Edmund Burke’s reaction to it, and the way that the baby-boomer culture wars have been fought out in Austen criticism (see Conservatives and Progressives) and Barack Obama’s objective to move beyond these culture wars (see about half of the posts on Andrew Sullivan’s blog), you can see strong convergence in these seemingly disparate areas covering philosophy and the enlightenment, Jane Austen’s writing and contemporary politics.
Posted in Christianity, Culture Wars, FEATURE ARTICLES, Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Philosophy, Religion, The Enlightenment
Tagged Barack Obama, Christianity, Conservatives, Culture Wars, Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Progressives, The Enlightenment
The Daily Duck wants to know why the seemingly perpetual interest in inter-disciplinary scholarship, especially when comes to jamming fields as disparate as the arts and sciences together.
More to the point, what’s the problem? Is literature suffering from it’s distance from science? Is science suffering? No. There is no magical middle ground between science and art where some mystical synergy kicks in to enable fantastic realms of new possibilities. Like most border areas it is a dead zone, a no-man’s land of barbed wire and trenches. That’s what keeps Germans in Germany and what keeps scientists productive.
Apparently C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures is being cited as an inspiration for this. This I think is highly ironic as I agree with F. R. Levis’s critique, that Snow was neither especially proficient in the arts or the sciences, and in any case most of the Two Cultures was poorly thought through, the Two Cultures being itself an illustration of why simply ramming the arts and sciences together is unlikely to produce much of lasting value.
[Part of a series of articles reviewing blogs and websites (here Talking Philosophy) on my blog-roll; see the about page.]
After picking up Peter Singer on his inability to even attempt to address the ‘problem of evil’ seriously I see Julian Baggini has written a similar article on karma in the wake of Sharon Stone’s clumsy remarks. Just as Singer chose a hopelessly weak foil, one that is not known for any mastery of theology to make his point Baggini has chosen Glen Hoddle and Sharon Stone. As I suggested in the earlier article this I think fits a pattern of a particular kind of atheism, the faith system being based on the incompetence of the religious. This can’t be stated too clearly: the object of their faith, the thing to be protected, is the belief in the irrationality, stupidity, confusion, corruption, etc., of religious people. It is a profoundly negative belief system.
The earlier article, Why I am not an Atheist, avoided getting down into the issues themselves as I was convinced that this would trigger a tedious repetition of entrenched positions. Also not being a Christian I didn’t feel it was my place to wade in, but I have since promised to engage the issues and write a blog article, Theism for non-Theists. Here I do get involved with the Buddhist issues and you can consider it a bridge to the promised article, as the misunderstanding of karma and failure to grasp the Christian approach to the ‘problem of evil’ seem have similar underlying causes.
David Baddiel has an interesting take on both Jane Austen and the way she is being depicted in bioepics, slyly suggesting that they may have it about right for popular children’s entertainment, making a refreshingly bold case for her merit that avoids the usual apologetics and condescension.
Because here’s the thing about Jane Austen. She was a very great genius. She is possibly the greatest genius in the history of English literature, arguably greater than Shakespeare. And her achievement is not that much to do with love, although that was her subject matter. It’s to do with technique. Before her there are three strands in English fiction: the somewhat mental, directly-reader-addressing semi-oral romps of Nashe and Sterne and Fielding; the sensationalist Gothic work of Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe; and the romances of Eliza Haywood and Fanny Burney.
However great these writers are, none could be read now and considered modern. When Austen gets into her stride, which she does very quickly with Sense and Sensibility, suddenly, you have all the key modern realist devices: ironic narration; controlled point of view; structural unity; transparency of focus; ensemble characterisation; fixed arenas of time and place; and, most importantly, the giving-up of the fantastical in favour of a notion that art should represent life as it is actually lived in all its wonderful ordinariness. She is the first person, as John Updike put it: “to give the mundane its beautiful due”, and her work leads to Updike as much as it does to George Eliot.
I have no idea how a mainly home-educated rector’s daughter came by all that, but I know that imagining her as a kind of acerbic spinster flattens out this genius. It becomes all about the subject matter and not at all about the huge creative advance her work represents.
[This article is the second in a series on Elitism, Conservatives and Progressives.]
Andrew Sullivan has been chewing over what it means to be a conservative and I would like to clarify my own ideas here. I agree with Sullivan in seeing Edmund Burke as the founder of modern conservatism. (Of course, that I am a Bristolian and the Anglo-Irish Burke represented the city in parliament doesn’t bias me in the least.) Modern conservatism arose as a reaction to the French Revolution, which is not to say that it was a reactionary movement, there being much to be said for the point of view that the French Revolution was a glorious mistake (the same could been achieved much less violently) and that conservatism offers a valuable critique, with Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France setting the terms of the debate.
Posted in Christianity, Elitism, Conservatives and Progressives, FEATURE ARTICLES, Identity Politics, Jane Austen, Politics, Religion, Secularism, Sense and Sensibility, The Enlightenment, US Elections
[This article is the first in a series on Elitism, Conservatives and Progressives.]
I have been meaning to get my ideas straight on elitism for some weeks now, but little did I realise how central it was to so many philosophical issues that I am talking about on this blog. The catalyst for this series of articles was my previous article on Obama’s Appalachian problem, which I thought was explained brilliantly by Senator Jim Webb. Webb is an Appalachian of Scottish-Irish descent, the very demographic that has been causing so many problems for Obama. I will return to the attitudes of progressive elites to the ‘racism’ of the Appalachians later.
One of the clearest explanations of Elitism in US politics was written by Jonathan Chait in a short article, Popular Will, where he says:
Over at Thought Experiments, Nige makes some interesting observations in Ethical Voyeurism and Selective Squeamishness about how susceptible we have become to being manipulated by video imagery–citing the gratuitous voyeuristic images that come out of disaster tele-journalism and the way footage of late abortions , and the proscribing thereof, have been used in the debate over late abortions, finishing with a reflection on how the opinions of scientists become accepted with an authority that it is not clear is merited or healthy.
Over at Comment is free Inayat has another potboiler at the top of the leader-board (heading for 300 comments at the time of writing).
In my late teens I read a book by the Pakistani Islamic scholar and exegete of the Qur’an, Amin Ahsan Islahi. Islahi urged young Muslims to beware of wasting their time with frivolous activities and called on them to adopt a serious reading programme. Naturally, reading and trying to understand the message of the Qur’an was No 1 on his list, but he also recommended searching out books that he said would encourage greater contemplation and self-assessment and pointed us towards the Bible, books on philosophy and the biographies of influential figures in history.
Keen to make the most of my time, I generally avoided fictional literature, though I had immensely enjoyed reading Catch-22 and Animal Farm (oh, and two of the early Adrian Mole books) etc when I was younger.
Inayat’s problem is that he has rather neglected fiction and now feels he has some catching up to do, tried Lucky Jim, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Portnoy’s Complaint from Time’s recent top 100 since its first issue in 1923, only to be somewhat disappointed, and is looking for recommendations. I suggested he might like to consider going back to the source, that he might have a particularly good reason for looking at Jane Austen: