Jon A. Shields traces the disappearing conservative professor. In 1969, about 25 percent of university professors were at least moderately conservative. Far fewer university professor identify as conservative today. Is that a problem? Perhaps, though as Shields notes, “conservatives are right to insist that racial diversity does not always lead to intellectual diversity. But that is true of political diversity as well. Many conservative and libertarian professors study topics that are fairly removed from their politics.”
Europe's oldest intact book “has been discovered after being closed inside a hermit monk's coffin for over 400 years.”
Jeffrey Meyers reviews Zachary Leader’s Life of Saul Bellow: “Bellow punctured the pretentious, unmasked the delusions and deflated the reputations of several intellectual phonies, blackballing LeRoi Jones, Edward Said and Susan Sontag for MacArthur fellowships. He was severely condemned for his provocative but hilarious challenge: ‘Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? The Proust of the Papuans?’ But no one ever answered his attack on cultural relativism and he did not apologise. Leader criticises Bellow’s willingness to offend by refusing to write an introduction to a late friend’s book. But he was surely right to uphold his high standards and not endorse a mediocre work. Despite his keen intelligence Bellow was also a gullible dupe who indulged his weakness for mitteleuropäische cranks.”
An elegant—if at times wrong-headed—book on the decline of Britain: “Two things should be said at the start about James Hamilton-Paterson. First, he has spent much of his life shunning the UK. In a rare profile in The Guardian fourteen years ago, he spoke of leaving Britain over a quarter of a century earlier and dividing his time between Tuscany and the Philippines. He described himself in those days as a ‘rat-poor literary drifter’ and a ‘professional absentee’. So this book, about the failures of British government and industrial management, inevitably has something of the bitterness and nostalgia of the disappointed expat alongside the broader perspective that distance provides. Second, he writes beautifully.”
Geoff Dyer remembers his native Cheltenham: “In some ways my family’s world was closer to Hardy’s Wessex than it was to late-twentieth-century London. My paternal great-grandfather’s occupation – bird-catcher – could scarcely have been more Hardyesque, and my parents would have felt quite at home if they had wandered into Casterbridge. Even Christminster, with its multiple layers of architectural and behavioural exclusion, felt more familiar to them than, say, Brixton or Notting Hill. This expressed itself less in terms of class – a notion I only understood retrospectively, as a student at Oxford – or even urban versus rural, than in the wish, constantly reiterated by my bricklayer uncles Eric and Daryl, to work outdoors (even if Eric spent half the year complaining about the cold).”
Persisting Scots—“a fascinating centuries-old Germanic language that happens to be one of the most widely spoken minority native languages, by national percentage of speakers, in the world.”
Essay of the Day:
In the American Scholar, the great Tobias Wolff remembers the unpredictable Andre Dubus:
“I first met Andre Dubus in 1981, at a dinner in the home of his publisher and friend David Godine. Andre had written me some months earlier to say he’d liked a story of mine and that he hoped we could get together sometime. I had been reading his stories for years, and teaching them in my classes, as did writer friends of mine, so I was grateful to David when he arranged this dinner, grateful and anxious in a puppyish sort of way. Andre was the last to arrive. I was having a drink with the other guests when he made his entrance—an expression I use deliberately, because, as I came to learn, that man could never simply walk into a room. He had to take it by storm. His raucous voice preceded him like a fanfare, there was some crashing about in the hallway, then he came bustling in, laughing, loud, teeth flashing in his beard, short and bullish in his dense, muscular physicality, advancing directly on us as if to plunge a horn between our ribs.
“Advancing on me, I should say. He must have recognized my face from the photo on my book, because he came straight up to me and grabbed my ears and pulled my face down to his and gave me a smacking wet kiss on the lips. Then he stepped back and burst out laughing at my evident shock and horror. It wasn’t the introduction I’d imagined, but it certainly worked as an icebreaker. He had, among his other gifts, a talent for keeping me off balance, a talent he honed to perfection through the nearly two decades of the close friendship that followed this peculiar beginning.
“I’d first encountered his work in a back issue of Ploughshares, a story called ‘Corporal of Artillery.’ Having spent four years in the military, I was struck by his faithful rendering of that life, and the way the story identified the potential for significant experience in peacetime rather than implying, as most fiction with a military setting does, that important things happen to men only when they are at war.
“From that story I moved on to his collection Adultery & Other Choices, of which ‘Corporal of Artillery’ is a part, and was struck by the emotional honesty of Dubus’s voice, its seriousness, richness, intimacy, and—over a range of subjects, through different characters and settings—his signature braiding of moral concern with compassion for those caught in spiritually challenging situations.”
Poem: Mark Waldron, “Ice Cream for I Scream”
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