Category: Books

“Left-wing Indoctrination”

Washington Post headline at the moment of this writing: “Trump alleges ‘left-wing indoctrination’ in schools.” My first reaction: “Gee, what a revelation.” My second: “Does the Washington Post really expect its readers to find Trump’s claim wild and outrageous?”  My third: “Yes they do, and their expectation will prove true. The indoctrinated rarely know they are indoctrinated — and what is more, they...

Learning to Read

One path of a good reader, perhaps the most common modern path:

1. Find depth of meaning in the mediocre books of youth, which usually means the popular books deemed serious in your time, or among those of your “type.”
2. Realize that one’s “found” meaning was in fact deeper than the thoughts of one’s favorite authors, which in effect…

We, Being Pure: Part One

Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of the unquestionable giants of world literature: essential to the development of the nineteenth century anti-romantic novel; one of his century’s two great prophets and critics (Nietzsche being the other) of the then-growing nihilism that was devouring European intellectual life, and has since — as he (like Nietzsche) predicted — settled like volcanic ash over the entire civilized world;...

On Self-Destruction

Among the many remarkable insights of Dante’s Inferno is his assignment of the suicides (successful or merely attempted) to the Seventh Circle, that of The Violent, and one level lower than the murderers. At first glance, a modern reader might wonder how suicide could be judged worse than murder. How could taking one’s own life be more sinful than taking another’s? How, more...

Jot Notes from Underground

If you want a perfect synopsis of our political reality today, and where we are headed, read Brave New World. If you want to grasp the psychological weakness that precipitated the fall of modern civilization, read King Lear. If you want to know the mind of the bureaucratic expert class that is manipulating mass opinion and electoral politics in the name of advancing...

“The whole secret of life in two pages of print!”

Here is an enthusiastic rant about socialists by Razumihin, Dostoevsky’s crystallization of the good-natured man of common sense, in Crime and Punishment: I’ll show you their pamphlets. Everything with them is ‘the influence of environment,’ and nothing else. Their favourite phrase! From which it follows that, if society is normally organised, all crime will cease at once, since there will be nothing to...

How I Feel Today

A few hours ago, I concluded an e-mail reply to a reader about COVID-19, experts, “flattening the curve,” and the abuse of statistics, with this exhausted summary: “I’m getting tired of this story, since there is nothing left to save here, no one left to persuade, and no benefit to be had from muttering common sense into the ether. Slaves want to be...

Is Coronavirus Our Anthrax Bomb?

Just a simple musing, courtesy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Chapter 16. The speaker is Mustapha Mond, World Controller for Western Europe. Mass production demanded the shift. Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t. And, of course, whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered. Still, in spite of...

Critical Modernism

Recently, a student with whom I frequently discuss books and ideas mentioned in an e-mail — God forbid that two humans should meet in the same room these days — that she had just read Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (a book that is extremely popular here in Korea), and was keen to discuss it with me. As I have been a sort of...

Limits Imposed and Removed

Jorge Luis Borges, one of my favorite modern writers, published two distinct but similar poems called “Limits,” dealing with roughly the same philosophical theme, namely the gradual narrowing of our remaining experience as we grow older. I wish to discuss the shorter of the two poems, which, although less well-known, is the one I prefer. I begin with Borges’ work itself, which I...