WRB—August 23, 2023
"The most overworked city"
The Managing Editors are extremely radical. Do you know they select their links on the assumption that people can not only read, but actually can think?
In today’s edition:
(working backwards from the bottom):
“separate music”…Oedipus Rex…pumpkin spice lattes…2012…Ted Hughes…almanacs…Moneyball…hatred…Vergil…
In Salmagundi, Daniel Swift on his own experience of teaching Shakespeare and two books that attempt to track changes to the academy in the age of neoliberalism (Immeasurable Outcomes: Teaching Shakespeare in the Age of the Algorithm, by Gayle Green, January; and Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History, by Joseph North, 2017):
What happened instead—and this is where North’s story meets up with Greene’s—is that in the late 1970s literary studies embraced literary theory. This adoption of theory as a dominant mode of doing literary criticism, followed by a theoretically-informed turn to historicist analysis of literary works, is often celebrated by academics as a victory for the left. But this is, North notes, better seen as the triumph of the forces of neo-liberalism. Following the 1980s, North writes, literary studies became increasingly technical, a discipline of “professional scholarship, or ‘technological expertise’” (he is quoting Terry Eagleton). The scholars won, the critics lost, and literary studies turned away from the world: “the discipline agreed to transform itself into a discipline of observation, tracking developments in the culture without any broader mandate to intervene in it.”
In The American Scholar, an essay adapted from Sarah Ruden’s book on Vergil (Vergil: A Poet’s Life, August 22):
Vergil, with such conspicuous negatives for his time and class (no wife, no children, no settled home, extreme reserve, a chief patron he pushed to the edge of his tolerance for delay), looks very good at this gamesmanship. In that sense, he is the first truly modern author, an extraordinary individual whose work swallows up his identity. He was, at the very least, an unusual writerly persona in the ancient world, where civic and professional duty and public performance in an authoritative forum tended to define literary roles. Even stars such as Plato, Cicero, and Horace appear anxious to depict their own literary achievements as situated among or fostered by others. Vergil started as they did, on the evidence of the chummier Eclogues. But so different was his mature mood that on his deathbed, he defied the regime that had made him rich and famous: he demanded that the draft of the Aeneid be destroyed because he had not polished it to his satisfaction.
- on hatred:
So why then does that temptation to invest in something as really dangerous as an enemy remain? Consider what making an enemy out of someone concretely does to the shape of your soul. In a sense, to pin the tail on the donkey of a rival in this way animates something that was not, strictly speaking, alive before. Hence the saying to “have an animus” for someone, so much does hatred seem to be creative in its energies. This creative energy even extends to actual inanimate objects – when something as banal as a toaster or the kitchen sink doesn’t act as you like it, you treat it as though that toaster had a self, a self you could blame for your burnt toast.
In this way, hatred makes something out of nothing – the stranger irony being that hatred itself, as Aristotle notes, is the very wish that something would vanish from or be destroyed out of existence, forever. In fact, the phenomenon is deeply self-contradictory: hatred is aggrieved at the very existence of what it hates; but to cultivate enmity for the sake of having an enemy is to create the very thing you claim to wish to destroy.
Kathleen A. Mulhern on what happens when we get off work:
Part of the diagnosis must lie in the fact that we think of spiritual discipline as work, a sort of spiritual productivity, not as the avenue of spiritual rest. Spiritual disciplines are used as self-management techniques, achievement markers, or DIY transformation tools rather than as openings for the Spirit. Meanwhile, “leisure” has morphed from a gift of the Spirit for our renewal into merely entertainment and pleasure. The spiritual life is hard work, right? We all need “time off.” The home space, then, creates a freedom and privacy that allows us to embrace our carnal selves without anyone else seeing. After all, who can sustain twenty-four-hour godliness?
[I tend to work on the Washington Review of Books in the evening, as St. Paul enjoins. —Steve]
- on hatred:
So why do I still care about this obsolete artifact? Its close-set tables, charts and maps pull me in as strongly as they did when I was a teenager. I riffle through its pages and see where I land. My synapses fire with delight. Tunisia has 15 airports. The average commute in Lubbock, Texas: 16 minutes. I scan a chart of U.S. production of corn, oats, barley and wheat for 1990, 2000, 2010. Minutes pass, an hour, and I know a bit more, but there’s nothing to do with what I’ve learned. I’ve become no wiser.
The thrill of the exercise lies in its pointlessness. It feels good to know things for their own sake, without the pressure to share, defend or monetize them. Still, the Almanac delivers more than the forking paths of Wikipedia links can. Leave aside the fact that you can’t hold Wikipedia, can’t thump it. Wikipedia’s problem is that it’s just too useful. Its articles tend toward dreary explanatory narrative. It has charts, but seemingly fewer than the Almanac has. Above all, its rhizomatic architecture is nearly invisible. You can’t take it in at a glance.