October 15, 2009

another book

Moving has taken just about everything out of me the past two weeks, and likely will continue to for another week or so. I look forward to a long visit with close friends coming up, and then I will have to find a new routine in a place with another rhythm.

My wife and I took separate routes to get here. She went visiting, and I went wandering. I needed the time alone, and we had to get two different cars here one way or another. I cut a path through the plateau, through the ridge and valley and into western Maryland. I went to Antietam, and pondered. I went to Gettysburg, and was turned away by the crass town and the preachy museum. Better still those old, black War Department signs that litter Antietam.

If Gen. Lee said that it is a good thing that war is so terrible, that we should grow too fond of it, it was because he had no idea what a wonderful marketing technique that terror can be. The Civil War is–variously–tragedy, holy war, epic or what-have-you. Rarely is it the slaughter some of my ancestors hid up in the hills to avoid fighting on either side. It was a sort of ideological madness that America is lucky to have only had go fratricidal once.

Oh, it was more than that*–but let me be cranky for a little bit longer.


I let myself get into an unfortunate discussion today–about theology, what else–that really bothered me. I love the person I was talking to, but he has that ever-so-common habit today of denying all sort of formation. You can never question a man's assumptions anymore, because he has none. His thoughts, he holds, are wholly sui generis, but if you would accuse him of that, he would only say that he would never say that.


I finally decided to read Moby Dick, recently. I was turned off by the protestations of family and friends that it was nearly unreadable, and by some distaste for how the book had been so thoughtfully interpreted for me by English professors and the like. I often page through "classics" before reading them–I already know the story, what could be spoiled?–and I am set back by the mastery of the language. Reading prose like this lets you understand that the novel is a τεχνη, even if we shrink at that, today.

Maybe I'll be brave enough to read Hawthorne, next.


I am nearly done with the schizophrenic Earthly Powers, which is worth reading enough to where I will read the sequel, even if it is less likely to have new information for me once the Great War draws to a close. It is a strange book, though, in how it criticizes liberalism while frequently accepting its assumptions. While Andrew Sullivan should have long disabused me of any notion that only in America could Edmund Burke be seen as a bastion of conservatism (pace, all ye Kirkeans), it really is there. It's the Edmund Burke notion of the right: The French Revolution was a bridge too far, the Bourbons were treated nastily, but democracy and all that are really still good in and of themselves. Burleigh is deeper than that, but it is easy to see why the books were so warmly received at First Things, now.

*Even ideological madness is not a sufficient cause, but we can overdetermine the Civil War for weeks.

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