Saturday, December 28, 2013

Vidal v. Updike

Gore Vidal was one of those writers I worshipped from afar as a teenager-- someone I idolized quite as much for his mythology of himself as for his writing.  It was partly his status as the last great "man of letters" that inspired me, his facility in so many different media: essays, plays, novels, and scripts.  It was the romance of his life, spanning all corners of the globe, from the highlife of Rome to decayed mansions in South America to the corridors of power in Washington.  (I recall some chapter in Palimpsest, his memoir, which begins with him insouciantly hopping a jet in Kathmandu, bound for some other exotic locale.  It was apparently as likely a place for the young Vidal to find himself as any other.)  Finally, there was the aura of transgression -- both sexual and political -- that hung around his work-- the seeming independence from all authority and from the ordinary means of grasping one's way up the ladder of life.  He never went to university and was a rebellious student at Philips Exeter, he tells us.  He provoked William F. Buckley into pale rage and a fit of name-calling.  I aspired to be like him, and it seemed a solid enough ambition at the time.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Accountability vs. Forgiveness

The passing of Nelson Mandela is by now old news, but it has gotten me thinking the last few weeks about punishment and reconciliation.  It is clear by now that the global Left wishes, rightly, to claim Mandela as one of their own—and especially to save his legacy from the posthumous beatification that America bestows upon so many great liberators of history--  the sort that kills radicals with kindness, rather than bullets.  This is all to the good; however, one can also detect a residuum of doubt on the Left about Mandela, even after his passing, with regard to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which many felt at the time and still feel today was far too forgiving to the former agents of apartheid.  As Immanuel Wallerstein once summarized the position, without necessarily sharing it himself, the TRC was “strong on reconciliation and short on justice.”

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reconciliation over Gay Rights?: Some Reasons for Skepticism

Friday, the Atlantic ran an article by Brandon Ambrosino, a proponent of gay marriage, arguing that the marriage equality movement has unfairly maligned its opponents by equating their position to "homophobia."  I agree with some of the specific points Ambrosino makes, but I want to call a halt to a larger narrative I can see emerging here: the narrative in which the gay marriage movement has been unduly harsh toward its opponents and unwilling to listen to their arguments.  I think some larger historical perspective is in order.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Affirming Life

In a recent post I described religious asceticism as a "life-denying doctrine."  This is the sort of accusation so often mouthed unthinkingly by cultural liberals and romantic individualists as to have become a cliché-- thus making "life-denying" a term something like "reactionary" or "imperialistic" or "hegemonic"-- in short, a verbal bludgeon, the mere polemical force of which is intended to silence opposition.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Orwell Was Not a Conservative

"[He] is one of those writers who are felt to be worth stealing. He has been stolen by Marxists, by Catholics and, above all, by Conservatives": so wrote Orwell in 1939.  He is ostensibly speaking about Charles Dickens, but like much else in the essay, these lines have a self-relexive character: as well as an eery prescience.  For Orwell too has been found to be "worth stealing" ever since he died.  Not so much, in his case, by Marxists or Catholics (this would be a contorted intellectual heist to pull off, even for the masters of dialectic and casuistry)-- but very much so by conservatives.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Evil and Sainthood Part II

It is always worth revisiting the same theme on a blog, because no matter how many times you think you've said what you meant to say about a given topic, you realize immediately afterward that in fact it eluded you.  The unexpressed thing, whatever it was, got away.  There's a passage in T.S. Eliot's Four Quarters which captures the familiar dilemma: