It has been a brutal week, amigos. Record-setting levels of work, and an employee out with Covid until Tuesday. So, while I stare vacantly into the middle distance, trying to remember what it was like when I was capable of stringing two thoughts together, I want to encourage you to read Ed West’s Substack if you aren’t doing so already. I know, everyone and their mother has a Substack these days, and I read quite a few of them, but Ed’s is the only one to which I am an actual paid subscriber, because I don’t want to limit myself to only the free posts. If that isn’t enough to get your clicky finger twitching, well, I have read all of his “banterous short history books” and enjoyed them as well. Hell, even his Twitter feed manages to be full of interesting, dare I say uplifting, content, like a lotus flower floating above the stagnant, stinking swamp of social media. He’s a good fellow with a quintessentially dry British sense of humor, so go check it out while I return to my catatonic trance.
In her new book, Ars Vitae: The Fate of Inwardness and the Return of the Ancient Arts of Living, historian Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn offers a clear-eyed diagnosis of what she considers today’s culture of therapy. “We live in an era of the aphorism and the several-step program promising to fix everything imaginable,” she writes. But without a deeper vision of what life is about, we are subject to a tyranny of selfhood. Lasch-Quinn explains, “With no vision of the good, we are lost and bereft. All our projects become self-serving.”
…In elegant prose, Lasch-Quinn encourages us to look beyond self-optimization or political activism. At some point, we must ask ourselves: What if there actually is a coherent purpose of existence? What if living is an art? Ancient philosophy, she contends, can help us navigate these questions. She surveys five ancient schools of thought—Gnosticism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, and Platonism—for possible guidance, locating echoes of their themes in contemporary culture.
Sounds interesting. I’ve enjoyed both her and her father’s books. Well, I guess that’s my Christmas present sorted!
I know it’s fashionable to display a haughty contempt for algorithmic recommendations, but Amazon suggested to me what looks to be a very interesting book by Zena Hitz, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life. I found one appreciative review here which I’d missed back in the summer, and, to quote another few from the publisher’s website:
“Hitz’s memoir is profoundly affecting as she describes how academic life made her lose her love of learning before, finally, she found a meaningful path.”
“[Lost in Thought is] full of wonder, full of the joyful smiles of somebody who’s been saved, or saved herself, from empty toils of ledger-sheet learning. In her good-natured way, Hitz chastises the increasing commodification of intellectual endeavor. . . . This is a book to savor in your quietest reading nook. Which is very much the point.”
“In her rich and rewarding book Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life, Professor Zena Hitz argues that the goal of education is not the status or privileges it confers upon us, or even the valuable life skills it demands that we acquire. In line with classical pagan and Christian traditions, she argues that we have a natural desire to understand the world outside of us, and that a true education carefully cultivates this natural love of learning and helps to bring it to its full maturity. . . . [A] rich, timely book, a book educators and students alike would do well to read.”
(While we’re on the theme, you should read what another guerrilla-philosopher-in-exile from the realm of Arts & Letters had to say recently.)
Websites and social media accounts are evanescent things, prone to disappearing in an eyeblink, leaving no trace of their existence. Some are so obviously a product of their moment that it’s hard to imagine them having any longevity. Nonetheless, just as we can enjoy the beauty of the wild violets during their brief appearance on spring lawns, we can appreciate a Twitter account devoted to critiquing the credibility of bookcases. (You may be aware that, in this age of enforced video interaction, it has become a “thing” to sit in front of a bookshelf during your calls, to help lend an air of erudition and gravitas.) So allow me to introduce you to Bookcase Credibility. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Somehow, I’ve failed to regularly keep up with Lesley Chamberlain’s blog in the last couple of years, which is why I’m tardy in bringing her appreciation of the late Roger Scruton to your attention. I trust you won’t hold it against me.
Well, this is interesting. This evening, I stumbled across a site I’ve never seen before, which— oh, I’ll just get out of the way and let them explain it:
After Montaigne—a collection of twenty-four new personal essays intended as tribute— aims to correct this collective lapse of memory and introduce modern readers and writers to their stylistic forebear.
Though it’s been over four hundred years since he began writing his essays, Montaigne’s writing is still fresh, and his use of the form as a means of self-exploration in the world around him reads as innovative—even by modern standards. He is, simply put, the writer to whom all essayists are indebted. Each contributor has chosen one of Montaigne’s 107 essays and has written his/her own essay of the same title and on the same theme, using a quote from Montaigne’s essay as an epigraph. The overall effect is akin to a covers album, with each writer offering his or her own interpretation and stylistic verve to Montaigne’s themes in ways that both reinforce and challenge the French writer’s prose, ideas, and forms. Featuring a who’s who of contemporary essayists, After Montaigne offers a startling engagement with Montaigne and the essay form while also pointing the way to the genre’s potential new directions.
…This site contains all 107 of Montaigne’s essays, in Charles Cotton’s 1685 translation (John Florio produced the first English translation, in 1605, and several other twentieth-century translators have made their attempts at rendering Montaigne’s mind in English as well). We hope that you will enjoy spending time with this quirky sixteenth-century Frenchman, that by reading his essays you will find yourself pondering timeless ideas, and that in reading his essays, you will begin to create your own essays.
I have recently learned of two great sites which may also be of interest to you: SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE (“Are you in search of the ‘wisdom’ of the ancients, but don’t know where to begin? Are you looking for more than the locus classicus–do you long for the odd and the obscure as well? Then you’ve come to the right place!”), and Haggard Hawks (“Strange words, etymology & language facts”), whose Twitter feed is more frequently updated than the blog itself. Give them both a try.
Sunday and Monday were glorious — unseasonably cool temperatures in the 60s, overcast and drizzly. We spent the days hiking in the national park. Now we’ve got the first truly scorching weather of the summer, perfect for spending time in the pool. Reading about stupid people saying stupid things online has taken a reduced role as a consequence. So, until I feel truly inspired to write something, here’s some links that might be worth your time.
Andrew Orlowski, “The Great Brain Scandal”
Yeah, I have to say, this doesn’t sound all that outlandish to me anymore.
Helen Andrews, “The New Ruling Class”
Lawrence Glickman, “Everyone Was a Liberal”
Zach Weinersmith imagines Nietzschean trucks (really, though, it’s unfair to single out any one of his comics; you should just read them daily).
Ben Sixsmith on the tiresome contrarianism of Spiked! magazine. I find them equally exasperating and stimulating, but on balance, I’m glad they exist in the media landscape.
Ed Krayewski on guns, or rather, to be specific, on empty political grandstanding, due process, and the amazing way in which people who can recite from memory a hundred reasons why the War on Drugs has been a catastrophic failure and a moral travesty can still convince themselves that a War on Guns would somehow avoid the same problems.
Sonny Bunch on “artisanship”, i.e. the culture war commissars.
Working hard. Traveling far. Very tired. Here’s links. Nothing to add. Good articles. You read. I rest now.
• Lionel Shriver, “Gender — Good for Nothing“
• Arnold Kling, “Cultural Intelligence“
• Russell Jacoby, “Academe is Overrun by Liberals. So What?“
• Yohan John, “Persons All the Way Down“
• John McWhorter, “When Slogans Replace Arguments“