Archives for category: Literature

Every now and then I search for friends and colleagues with whom I have lost touch. Until today, I had tried numerous times to find Terry Campbell, with whom I worked briefly in the late 1990s, with no luck. I just did a search, only to discover he had died a year and a half ago:

Terry was found in his car, which had veered from his driveway into the woods. He lived near a field where llamas graze in rural Chimacum, Washington, a tiny speck on the map near Port Townsend, not far from Seattle. My heart was wrenched by the news.

Warren Goldie, “A Good Friend Is Forever: Discovering the Terry Campbell Fan Club” (November 30, 2019).

The author of this appreciation for Terry wrote well and meant well, with a boyhood cartoon and a fine photo. I wish I had known Terry when he sported the beard, for, sans beard, he looked eerily like author Stephen King. But Mr. Goldie, the eulogist, was misinformed about the nature of the job for which Terry had crossed the country:

Terry found a job as the managing editor of a libertarian magazine in Port Townsend that promptly went out of business right after Terry arrived. He landed on hard times, working a string of part-time jobs—apartment manager, librarian, custodian. Often, he was down on his luck.

The magazine was Liberty, which I helped found in 1987. The publisher, Bill Bradford, hired Terry largely because I didn’t want the job of managing Liberty’s editorial operations. Terry was fired from the job about a half year after joining; I left soon after. In our negotiations for my departure, Bradford expressed his surprise at my lack of interest in doing the job that Terry had applied for and won. “Bill,” I said. “The job of managing editor is basically managing you. I knew I was utterly incapable of doing it successfully. Terry is the only person I have witnessed pulling it off, professionally. And he grew to hate you. Because you were the problem. Not anyone else. You.”

It was a sad conversation. But after Terry and I left, Bradford managed to find competent help, I gather, for the magazine lasted past Bradford’s death in 2005. So maybe he was easier to manage during that stage of his life. I know I thought the prospect hopeless, and Terry judged it vexing.

Terry was a terrific at his job. Never before had the editorial process at the magazine flowed in a timely manner, without bottlenecks. But the half a year at Liberty almost destroyed him. I always felt badly about that. To what extent was I responsible? For the record, Bradford did indeed blame me. But it was Terry he fired. For what Terry could not do was contain his well-developed rage at Bradford; he could not believe that the toughest part of his job was to get his boss to perform tasks within a rational time frame. I had it much easier, in a sense, for whatever anger I felt at how badly the magazine ran, I felt a dozen other emotions as well. To be consumed by one emotion is not good.

Terry kept my cat for half a year after I left, but I never really kept track of the man, because I was far away and knew I could only sympathize — as I figured it, since I had not tried to place myself as a buffer between him and Bradford, as I had for several others, I was not the person for him to fall back upon. I couldn’t make up for what I had not done.

Besides, both he and Bill were strong-willed, obstinate people. I do not try to control such folks. I do what I can and watch them reap what they sow.

It is a tough world. It is sad to see another Liberty laborer leave us. First Bradford in 2005, then Eric and Terry in 2019. Perhaps I will be next.

twv

Angus Wilson was a second-tier literary figure of post-war Britain. Does anyone read him any longer? I know that I have not. But I do own four of his novels. And the openings are quite good:

This opening of The Middle Age of Mrs. Eliot strikes me as perfect. We are going to get a good character study by a competent observer of the social world. The book is my age. I really should read it.

Perhaps only because I recognized the fine writing of the first novel, above, I bought this second, on a whim. I did not carefully read this first page in the book store. Buying Late Call was an impulse purchase. But his 1964 novel’s first page is unexceptionable, indeed worthy of more attention than I have given it. It is a pity that Angus Wilson just looms in my imagination as an less as a vital author and more as Terra incognita.

Old Men at the Zoo (1961) is one of his most popular books, from what I have so far gathered, and I bought the Granada/Panther paperback with assurance from John Wain on the front cover — the back cover blurbs being most unhelpful. Wilson’s cautionary note up front is fairly amusing:

The fourth book of his in my library is the oldest, from 1956 (though this is a second edition), and the paper cover of my copy is creased and worn. Somebody almost certainly read it, years ago.

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes was written long before the very concept “Anglo-Saxon” was considered racist, as it is today amongst the college crowd and cognitive elite in America, but not before the notion conveyed some comic embarrassment and a whiff of the absurd. The main character appears to be “depressed”:

Now, Angus Wilson usually suffers from the inevitable comparison with Kingsley Amis, whose comic novels usually place him above the rest of the Angry Young Men set. Lucky Jim (1954), which I have read three times, at least, is a perfect confection. In my Twenties I read a whole shelf of Amis books, including Take a Girl Like You (1960) and One Fat Englishman (1963) and even The Alteration (1976). But I haven’t read Amis’s fiction in years, and what I have in my shelves includes several I haven’t read past the first chapter.

Indeed, I have read only two of these: Jake’s Thing (1979) and The Green Man (1969). The former is hilarious and first rate while the latter is a surprisingly good ghost story, with a transcendent aspect (God makes a showing).

Jake’s Thing benefits from being a comedy of impotence and growing old — built-in hilarity — but more substantive is the satire on modern faddish therapeutics. I remember this being one of Amis’s very best novels.

But I probably enjoyed The Green Man more. It is the Amis book I am most likely to re-read.

Until taking this snap of the first page, I may never have cracked open The Crime of the Century (1975). It does not really move me to read on.

I tried to read The Russian Girl (1992) just this last winter, but the writing struck me as bad; looking at it again, now, and I am mystified as to why I leveled such a strong negative judgment against it.

Difficulties With Girls (1988), on the other hand, entices. It is probably the next Amis I will read. But I don’t think it has much of a reputation. Which is probably why I have neglected it so far.

twv

Nelson Bond, a bookseller who specialized in the work of James Branch Cabell — and from whom I may have purchased a Cabell volume back in the 1980s or ’90s — was also a writer. In 2002, a few years before he died, Arkham House published a collection of his stories, The Far Side of Nowhere. I just read its first story, “Command Performance,” first published in a pulp in 1951.

It is a tale of madness and psychological treatment. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this science fiction story is that the science which provides the backbone of it is “dianetics.” Which is a technique developed by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who would build on it to make a religion, Scientology.

Dianetics is treated most matter-of-factly. There is no gosh-wow or super-science, and though the author insists that the technique is not hypnosis, it sure seems like hypnosis.

The story is no masterwork, but it has its charms. And it ends with a twist. A very pulpy, science-fiction-y twist. A twist with the word “twist” in it, for “The Twisted Ones” is a key concept.

It would make a good hour-long episode of The Twilight Zone.

twv

Why do conservatives love Ayn Rand?

…as answered  on Quora….

Only some conservatives love Ayn Rand’s work. But why do they do so?

Since I am not a conservative or extremely enamored of Rand, I am going to try to answer this based on observation of others.

  1. Rand was a good writer. She did some literary things very well. Quite a few people who dislike her politics, or other aspects of her philosophy, often say she is not, but a former colleague of mine took passages from her novels around to his fellow literature professors in a ‘blind taste test,’ so to speak, and they rated those passages very highly, recognizing the genre and tradition which they exemplified and judged them as quite successful literarily. So one reason to like or even love an author is because the author wrote well.
  2. Rand extolled human industry, vision and responsibility. Conservatives tend to love that stuff, and since many political writers (especially on the left) sure seem to be opposed to these things, characterizing entrepreneurs and businessmen as thieves and the standards of individual responsibility as somehow compromised and/or oppressive, it is no wonder that conservatives find some comfort in her writings.
  3. Rand dramatically showed the tyrannical and exploitative nature of leftist ideologies and leftists’ beloved dirigiste state. Conservatives generally favor some limits on government, and are deeply opposed to totalitarian government, so understandably some are drawn to her work.
  4. Rand supported individual rights, including rights to person and property. Many strands of American conservatism do the same, and appreciate attempts to clarify such issues, which, right or wrong, Rand attempted to do, with bravura and persuasiveness.

I could go on and on in this vein. There is much in Rand for conservatives to hate, of course — her atheism, alien moralistic dogmatism, and surrounding cult (!) — but we tend to love writers for their merits and, if those merits speak to us, we ignore or downplay their demerits.

twv

N.B. Do a search on this site and you will discover many “anti-Randian” thoughts. Ayn Rand had no significant influence on my intellectual development, other than in the reverse. That is, dissecting a few of her errors helped me to hone my normative social philosophy. Of the handful of Rand’s major literary works, I’ve seen her most famous play in a local production and read the novel The Fountainhead. The latter I deemed a brilliant but imperfect work.

One of the reasons I got along with Bill Bradford, late editor of Liberty, so well for so long — long after most of his hires could tolerate his supervision — was his glee in acknowledging criticism. Not personal criticism, mind you, but literary. Specifically, he liked printing negative letters-to-the-editor, and did not really think most should be responded to by the authors or editors criticized. If someone marshaled a negative judgment, well, the letter-writers in the Letters column should, if at all possible, retain the last word. If the critic were correct, well, there it be; were he were not, then, the idiocy should be plain to see, and the criticized author should know when he was being unjustly criticized. And be content. With the content. In context.

But you guessed it, we did gloat over some especially silly responses.

Of course every writer prefers praise to contempt. And when we learn something, we find it difficult to complain. Indeed, learning should always be welcome.

That being said, expressions of disapproval that performatively prove our points are especially rich.

I get some pushback on Quora, for example, primarily from leftists. Some of it is instructive, but most is gloat fodder. And then there is the praise, too. For example, from a recent answer:

And I wonder if Bill Bradford would advise me never to hit REPLY. I suspect he would.

twv

“Pics or it didn’t happen.”

That’s a popular online taunt: #POIDH. Say something that stretches credulity, and get back that challenge: show us your photographic evidence. 

That’s the idea.

President Donald J. Trump is challenging the outcome of the presidential election, on the basis that it was stolen. Yesterday, Rudy Giuliani gave a 90-minute press conference on the Trump team’s case for massive election fraud, in which Biden pulled out from behind and came up with enough votes to send him to the White House.

Trump has long been warning that the pandemic- (“Dem Panic”-) induced use of hastily contrived mail-in ballots around the country was a recipe for massive vote fraud. And after an election which saw weak Democratic down-ballot performance (losing ground in the House, for example) and in which Trump himself increased his votes by several millions, his case is not altogether implausible — with so weak a general showing, how did Biden come from behind?

Giuliani claims to have thousands of affidavits of vote-count wrongdoing in major Democratic cities in swing states, and . . . yet we see little interest in the press to cover this astounding claim without the framing of the story as “unproven.” Fox Business’s Neil Cavuto actually cut off a White House feed because the claims being made had not been verified — and were apparently too dangerous to allow on the news. Bizarre. For my part, I have not ever believed in the security of electronic voting systems, or the necessary probity of those operating them.

More impressive than Giuliani’s affidavits and astounding stories, as well as more disturbing, is the claim by super-shark Sydney Powell (see photo above) that the software used by Dominion, the company that supplied electronic balloting in 24 states, was designed to rig elections in Venezuela for Hugo Chavez (and others), and was used to flip millions of votes for Biden this election.

Tucker Carlson, of Fox News, not unreasonably asked her to show his audience the evidence. He says she refused.

I don’t know why, yet maybe we all soon will have an answer. But when extraordinary claims are made, we really do require evidence of a non-ordinary nature.

Indictments or it didn’t happen: #IOIDH.

twv

I always think that life is like a fairytale. What should I do to come out from this assumption?

…as answered on Quora….

You could do worse. Fairy tales are folk horror stories so concisely told that usually their morals are fairly easy to discern. In fairy tales dangers abound. Magic is not the power of wish, but potency at great cost. Sometimes good triumphs, but only after a huge setback. Sometimes fairy stories are very sad. Even frightening.

Read the Grimms, Hans Christian Andersen, and Italo Calvino’s collection of Italian Folktales. I do not think you will come away from them with a need to purge them from your imagination, but with some wisdom you can apply their lessons to your life.

You will notice differences between them and your life. The dangers in the woods in the old European fairy tales can at best serve as metaphors for today’s dangers, and the malign and delusive magics in those stories need to be translated to somewhat more mundane if still quite potent dangers, such as fraud, ideology, and so much else of word work and imaging.

My favorite American writer is James Branch Cabell. In his The Rivet in Grandfather’s Neck: A Comedy of Limitations (1915), Cabell synopsizes a sad little Hans Christian Andersen story and then tells a romance set in Virginia (or “Sil.”) in the early 20th century. There you will see a master take a fairy story and apply it to life. After reading that book, I trust you will see a way to transcend superficial “fairy tale” mentality, and grow beyond naïvety. And in “The Music from Behind the Moon: An Epitome” (it can be found in The Witch-Woman: A Trilogy about Her [1948] and elsewhere) you may conclude that a fairy-tale vision is in no way enviable, but also, perhaps, not evitable. The themes in fairy tales are the stuff of life.

If you “always think of life as a fairy tale,” my suggestion is: study fairy tales.

For what I think you really mean is that you tend to think of life as offering up temptations as the magic in fairy tales tempts those that encounter it. If you look at the literature of fairy tales, you will see that in story as in life the magic is not what it seems.


https://guides.library.vcu.edu/cabell/cabell_bibliography

Hans Christian Andersen

The crisis of our time may amount to nothing more than no longer being able to fool our enemies, merely ourselves.

twv

What we aren’t talking about:

A month ago, the New York Times published a major UFO story, doubling down on its previous recent efforts, with research journalist Leslie Kean serving as the driving force. The article relates that not only does the UFO/UAP constitute a real, non-natural/extra-civilizational phenomenon, and that the U.S. military admits this, but it indicates that there seems to be some reality to the ufology lore that there have been crashed UFO retrievals. And that the Deep State is studying them.

Yet almost no one talks about this.

What must we make of this? The ‘newspaper of record’ unleashes onto the world what could be the biggest story in human history, yet smart people either snicker or avert their eyes, back on to (1) the ‘pandemic’ and (2) the riots and (3) the upcoming election.

Honest inquirers should consider the possibility that while we may now be gleaning the first few data from the (4) trickling UFO disclosure, we have indeed learned something HUGE about human nature.

And what is that? 

Well, boy, do we Homo boobiens have an ability to put blinders on and let dogmas rule us, while at the same time allow ourselves to be manipulated by the contrivances of politicians and media, no matter ungainly. 

What if these linked stories are deeply linked?

We may also have been given a clue as to why the coronavirus contagion has successfully turned a whole population into willing serviles to the biggest assault on freedom in American history, for so little good reason. Ours is a decadent civilization, and the people are easy to control because they are poltroonish. Fearful of death. Manipulable.

I cannot help but wonder: are the four major stories of this year related?

It is easy to speculate that the pandemic panic and the protests/riots have been orchestrated by Democrats to regain control of the White House. But what if it . . . be . . . bigger

What if it is all being done to soft-pedal the most unsettling story of all time? That is, what if (1), (2), and (3) all revolve around (4)?

After all, UFO disclosure was a pet project of John Podesta and Hillary Clinton. When Trump won, within the year AATIP was revealed and the TTSA moved mightily behind the scenes to nudge the first disclosures. 

The nature of the disclosure was determined by the Trump win.

And even the Trump win could be part of the story. After all, Trump’s most significant achievement during his presidency so far has been engagement with China. The SARS-CoV-2 came from China. The Democratic Party has served for a generation as the pro-China party. And China is quickly building a powerhouse of a space program. If the world’s governments have been sitting on the biggest story in human history, but the epochal secrecy is now in jeopardy, perhaps this is why (or at least part of why) they are now are scrambling into space. Advantage. Priority. Positioning. 

The Chinese warlords/pseudo-communists want in on whatever is coming.

And the reason the least attractive and least plausible candidates for the Democratic Party’s P/VP ticket were selected over better alternatives? Both are in on parts of the secret — Biden having been Vice President and briefed; Harris being on the Senate Intelligence and briefed — and both can be trusted by the DNC or the donor billionaires (or the archons or whoever) to leverage the information and advantage “correctly.”

Further, Donald Trump, nephew of the scientist who inventoried Nikola Tesla’s many trunks after the inventor’s death, himself may be playing for another faction — also likely Deep State — to gain that UFO advantage.

He who controls the disclosure controls the world.

But I am dubious that it can be controlled. Not really. It is too huge.

twv

The kick-ass female action “hero” was a novelty with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But after the millionth iteration, it is wearing thin, to say the least.

To say the most? It is a form of misogyny.

How so? It imputes to women the natural and traditional propensities and roles that men admire in men and aspire towards — and that women have desired in men and want men to be. So women are now routinely being judged by a standard that was naturally-cum-fancifully apt almost only for men. This functions as a performative repudiation of femininity, and a triumph of masculinity. It is a strange twist on “trans.” And for men to admire women chiefly for filling masculine roles strikes me as preciously close to the liking of women for being like men.

So, what men and women who assert the value of “female action heroes” (NOT heroines) are really doing is saying “no one really likes women”; that the feminine is disgusting or pitiable and that women, to be admired, should “be more like men” or, better yet, aspire to be “better than men” as understood by unrealistic standards once held by men for themselves.

Like so much of modern politics, and of course feminism, this strikes me as creepily misogynistic.

I am reminded of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where the citizenry is “decanted” not begotten naturally, and where “fatherhood” is a joke and “motherhood” a gross indecency. To the extent that the female superhero theme is not pornography (and that is the source of some of the attraction: watching lithe bodies contorting onscreen for our delectation) it’s a repudiation of the feminine telos.

Which strikes me as misogynistic.

Not hatefully misogynistic. It may not be borne of hate. It is borne of discomfort. Queasiness. Distaste. Discomfort with the natural, the animal reality of our species and our very mammalian success. Our civilization is imagining a new non-animalistic conception of life. It used to be the gods, now it is stefnal superheroes and the looming, all-too-real specter of cyborgian AI.

Decadence, for the most part. But hey: maybe the future is less Brave New World and more Day Million.* But I doubt it.

Of course, we have a choice of dystopias.

* “Day Million” is a terrific short story by Frederik Pohl, as well as a name of a short story collection.