Writing is Revenge

I have been reading Theodore Dalrymple since his first and I think best book, Life at the Bottom. Dalrymple’s style of irony worked best when he wrote as a prison doctor reflecting on his patient’s self-deception, since the gentility of his bourgeois diction contrasted with the degeneracy of his underclass subjects in a way that was both amusing and instructive. When Dalrymple retired, moved to France, and began to write about bourgeois culture and the petty vexations of his bourgeois life, this style of irony worked less well, and has sometimes lapsed, I fear, into a degree of cranky pomposity. Continue reading

On Pests

“Tremendous pest, abhorr’d by man and gods!”

Pope’s Odyssey, book xii

The word pestilence comes from the Latin pestis, and a pestis is an affliction that causes dis-ease.  To ease is, of course, to render less painful or difficult, so that which causes dis-ease has the opposite effect.  Dis-ease is what we suffer whenever some pest makes life hard. Continue reading

The Habit-Breaker

It is easy to get out of the habit of writing for a blog. Let it go for a while and you start to wonder what all the old urgency was about, much as you may wonder how you used to get so het up over an old girlfriend. Time is amnestic, and the first thing you forget is why you did all those things you used to do. You remember that you used to do them, but because you have forgotten why, those memories will be colored by remorse, puzzlement or chagrin. Continue reading

Triumph of the Heat Wave Philosophy

“Call it not love, for Love to heaven is fled,
Since sweating Lust on earth usurp’d his name”

Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis (1593)

I was recently stranded in a public space and accosted by an amplified recording of (Love is Like a) Heat Wave, the 1963 hit that is said to have crystalized the “Motown Sound.”  It was the original recording by Martha and the Vandellas, which I certainly recognized, but it mostly served to take me back to the fall of 1975, when I was about to turn eighteen and Linda Ronstadt released her very popular cover of the song.  Since I was in those days eager to master the art of triggering “heat waves” in young women, I would turn up the volume and listen closely whenever Ronstadt’s hit erupted from a radio. Continue reading

The Sciolist Herd

“And straightway the whole sciolist herd . . . all the ‘mob of gentlemen who think with ease,’ and a terrible number of old ladies and boarding-school misses began to scream in chorus.”

Arthur Henry Hallam, “On Some of the Characteristics of Modern Poetry” (1831)

A sciolist is a know-it-all, and sciolists in the “sciolist herd” derive their intellectual assurance from the fact that everyone they know thinks exactly as they do. This allows them to “think with ease” because mimesis is substituted for thinking, and mimesis convinces them that thinking is not all that hard. Continue reading

Crazy Jedediah Whiffs the Migration Question

Jedidiah Morse wrote the first geography books published in the United States.  He was also the father of American conspiracy theorists, being the first to warn his countrymen that a secret cabal of international Illuminati was working to subvert Christianity and foment radical democratic revolution.  He made these wild charges in a sermon delivered in Boston in 1798, wherein he distilled the findings of John Robison’s Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe (1797). Continue reading

Wrong Turns and Bad Choices

Commenter Dale Nelson just shared a quote that deserves better than the swift oblivion of a comment thread, so I am elevating it to the slightly less swift oblivion of a post.  He tells me that the passage was written by Robert Aickman (1914-1981), an English conservationist and writer of weird tales, and that it was warmly approved by the American paleoconservative and ghost-story writer Russell Kirk. Continue reading