There is a moment in the life of Oscar Wilde that is difficult to interpret. In Paris in 1899, two years after his release from prison and seventeen months before his death, he wrote a short letter to Morton Fullerton, who worked in Paris for the London Times, asking for money. Fullerton, known for his charm and good looks, would later have an affair with Edith Wharton and had been the lover of the English writer and sculptor Lord Ronald Gower, often identified as the model for the louche and cynical Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is hard not to wonder why Wilde selected Fullerton and if Fullerton’s high-toned reply did not contain something more than a mere refusal. He ended it with, “I grope at the hope that meanwhile the stress has passed, and that you will not have occasion to put, malgré vous, either me or anyone else again into such a position of positive literal chagrin.”
Like many others, Fullerton may have felt a distinct chill at the prospect of being associated with Wilde. Since the two were never friends, and since Fullerton, as far as we can make out, had forsaken his homosexual life when he left England, one possible explanation for his haughty reply (to which Wilde responded, “In so slight a matter, my dear Fullerton, sentiment need not borrow stilts”) is that there may have been a faint whiff of blackmail in the request for money. Wilde wrote as a voice from Fullerton’s London years, and Fullerton in Paris had left all that behind to become an enthusiastic heterosexual.
In his essays Rohmer generally refrained from writing about Christianity in apologetic or confessional modes, though he would not hesitate to confront opposing ideologies. In a piece for Cahiers responding to a secular colleague, Rohmer charged, “Be an atheist and the camera will offer you the spectacle of a world without God in which there is no law other than the pure mechanism of cause and effect.”
One could also say that his whole filmography is a continuation of this rebuttal. The hairdresser miraculously reunited with her true love in The Winter’s Tale; grace bursting through Delphine’s malaise in the form of the green ray at sunset at the end of The Green Ray; the reconciliation between the marquise and her mother in The Marquise of O; the turn from adultery back to fidelity at the end of Love in the Afternoon; the extemporaneous defense of monotheism in The Romance of Astrea and Céladon; the reenactment of the Passion Gospels at the end of Perceval. And of course, My Night at Maud’s.
It would be churlish to extrapolate from Jean-Louis’s personal expression of faith in My Night at Maud’s – except for in A Summer’s Tale, Rohmer denied that his characters were inspired by his own life – but elements of it ring true in the light of his filmography. In a conversation about Blaise Pascal, the young engineer Jean-Louis tells his Marxist friend Vidal, “I’m a Catholic, or at least I try to be, but he [Pascal] doesn’t fit in with my notion of Catholicism. It’s precisely because I’m a Christian that his austerity offends me. If that’s what Christianity is about, then I’m an atheist.” The subject comes up again at dinner with Vidal’s friend Maud, a charming doctor who spends the night pressing him on his beliefs. Over wine and dinner, Pascal comes up again. “I think there’s another way to look at Christianity,” Jean-Louis says of Pascal’s strict asceticism. Vidal notes, “his sister Gilberte wrote how he never said, ‘This is good.’”
“Well I say, ‘This is good!” Jean-Louis replies excitedly. “As a Christian, I say not acknowledging what’s good is evil.” If his movies are any indication, it is obvious that Rohmer believed the same.
"It is the problem of the predicate, memorably summed up by Roland Barthes in his impatient dismissal of the way we talk about the singing voice. “Are we doomed to the adjective?” he asked. “Are we faced with this dilemma: the predicable or the ineffable?” Barthes’s discomfort with description extended as far as objecting to human relationships being figured in language: “A relationship which adjectivizes is on the side of the image, on the side of domination, of death.” The aim should be to abolish within oneself, and between oneself and others, adjectives. He felt the same way about metaphor, the drawing of analogies. And it is true, the point about dancing is not to be like anything, or compared with anything, not to be this or that, but to be."
Not even Fitzgerald, it would seem, knew what he was dealing with—the taut incompleteness that has allowed generations of Americans and non-Americans of every stripe to imagine themselves into a story set on Long Island in the 1920s. When a professor named Carlyle V. Thompson published a paper arguing that Gatsby must have been a Black man, his fervor was understandable, even if he’d missed the point. Gatsby is Black—and Jewish, and an immigrant, and JFK, and Obama, and Zuckerberg, and Trump, and Jay-Z, and Anna Delvey. American fiction is full of thinly veiled Gatsbys: Don Draper in Mad Men, Alien in Spring Breakers, Coleman Silk in The Human Stain, Tom Ripley in Patricia Highsmith’s novels and their various adaptations. These imitators, conscious and unconscious, real and fictional, give the original character a richness and a solidity that can’t be found in Fitzgerald’s text alone.
"Centuries of wildly differing interpretations of Machiavelli – tyrant or republican, revolutionary or fascist – fractured his thought from his life. His early biographers, Roberto Ridolfi most wonderfully, as well as feminist political theorists like Hanna Fenichel Pitkin, put the two back together again. (This revisionism hasn’t quite entered the popular imagination: trolls in the more nihilistic corners of the internet still debate whether Machiavelli was, in fact, an incel.) Today, Machiavelli’s ruthlessness and cynicism are mostly embraced by those at the contemptible end of the political spectrum: members of the Trump administration have adopted him as a patron saint; in the UK, we have Dominic Cummings, ‘the Machiavel in Downing Street’. But the Succession fans and trolls who revere Machiavellian shrewdness mistake his cynicism for insensitivity to the world, when in fact it reflected precisely the opposite. His cynicism developed from an almost unbearable clarity of insight (it is true that, more often than not, he was disgusted with what he saw). He obviously wasn’t a feminist – Fortuna, remember, was a woman to be mauled – but his ruthless self-inquiry is bracing to read at a time when the right has claimed a monopoly on political realism and popular feminism confuses the cheap pang of emotional recognition for thought."
Houellebecq wants to show that Schopenhauer’s philosophy is about more than vitality and passion. Schopenhauer did not write to make readers better, more self-aware people but to explain the world’s cruelty and to provide them with an escape hatch. The book is at its most enjoyable when Houellebecq displays Schopenhauer’s lucid prose, which can be “as deep as the abyss, majestic in its desolation and horror,” such as this description of the food chain, which Houellebecq dedicates “especially to ecologists”:
"Junghuhn recounts how in Java he saw a stretch of ground covered with bones, extending as far as the eye could see, that he took for a battlefield: these were actually just the skeletons of large turtles, five feet long, three feet wide and tall; when they leave the sea, these turtles take this path to lay their eggs, and are then assaulted by wild dogs … which combine their efforts to tip them onto their backs, tear off the lower carapace and the small scales on their bellies, and devour them alive. But a tiger often then pounces on the dogs."“
For what fault must they endure such a torment?” Schopenhauer asks. “There is only one answer: in this way the will to live objectifies itself.”
To be radical, then, in the sense that I am after, is to return all the way back to the source of an argument, to dig all the way down to its foundation. To go with the Latinate metaphor, we are radical when we refuse to follow a particular tree along the course of its growth and development, because we think that it has been planted in the wrong place all along. Ditching the metaphor: We refuse to accept a dispute as it has been presented to us, because we know that by then far too much has been presumed already. This, I want to suggest to you, is the stance that we Catholics ought to take towards practically all the debates going on around us today. Rather than taking sides, we need to step back, see what the sides have in common, and, most probably, take sides against that.
As Roger Angell approached his 100th birthday, the Friend Memorial Library on August 8 honored him, its best-known and probably oldest supporter, with a band, a governor, a proclamation, a parade, a speech and plenty of well wishes.
His actual centennial doesn’t happen until September 19. “I crossed my fingers,” he said from the steps of the library to the hundred or so people gathered below him.
“Roger Angell Day” wasn’t the first time Brooklin honored the writer. When he was just 90, the town held a parade to honor veterans, which he described in his book, This Old Man: All in Pieces. He wrote that he got to doff his cap at the appropriate moment, having served in the Air Force during World War II.
The description of a Brooklin parade in This Old Man could almost have described the scaled-down version that celebrated his birthday. “Families of every size walked in from their cars, parked along Route 175,” he wrote. They watched the “fire trucks…shined-up ancient roadsters and kid- and Lab-laden pickups” that, “honking all the way, streamed slowly past.”
Angell’s centennial parade came after a concert by The Treble Makers and the speech-making on the library lawn. Gov. Janet Mills read a proclamation honoring Angell as he sat above her on the porch. She listed some of the baseball stars Angell had profiled, mangling many of the names. “Mordecai Brown,” she said, using the pitcher’s given name. Angell shouted out his better-known nickname, “Three Finger!”
“Bill Mazurski,” said the governor. “Mazeroski,” corrected Angell.
“Dizzy Vance,” she said. “Dazzy,” he yelled.
“Always the editor,” Mills said. “Jeezum.”
"Scholars in both digital humanities and media studies have noted an apparent disconnect between computation and the interpretive methods of the humanities. Alan Liu has argued that literary scholars employing digital methods encounter a “meaning problem” due to the difficulty of reconciling algorithmic methods with interpretive ones. Conversely, the media scholar Friedrich Kittler has questioned the adequacy of hermeneutics as a means of studying computers. This paper argues that that this disconnect results from a set of contingent decisions made in both humanistic and mathematical disciplines in the first half of the nineteenth century that delineated, with implications that continue to resonate in the present day, which aspects of human activity would come to be formalized in algorithms and which would not. I begin with a discussion of Nicolas de Condorcet, who attempted, at the height of the 1789 revolution, to turn algebra into a universal language; his work, I argue, exemplifies the form of algorithmic thinking that existed before the Romantic turn. Next, I discuss William Wordsworth’s arguments about the relationship of poetry and science. While Wordsworth is sometimes viewed as a critic of science, I argue that his polemic is specifically targeted at highly politicized projects like Condorcet’s that sought to supplant existing modes of thought with scientific rationality. Finally, I demonstrate the importance of Romantic thought for George Boole, creator of the logic system that would eventually form the basis of digital electronics. The reason Boole was able to succeed where Condorcet had failed, I argue, was that Romantic notions of culture enabled him to reconcile a mechanical view of mathematical reasoning with an organic view of the development of meaning—a dichotomy that remains a key assumption of computer interfaces in the twenty-first century."
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor