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John XXIII and the Cold War.


roncalliON SUNDAY, 27 April, Pope Francis presided over the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. When Angelo Cardinal Roncalli, the Patriarch of Venice and a former Vatican diplomat, was elected pope on 28 October 1958 at age 76, both Time magazine and the New York Herald-Tribune dismissed the assumption that he would just be a “caretaker” pope. During his short papacy (1958-1963), John XXIII earned considerable acclaim, including from non-Catholics (and even a few anti-Catholics), for supporting peace and nuclear disarmament, improving relations with Jews and other religious groups, and convening the historic Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). As the second Cold War-era pope, John XXIII’s attitudes toward the Soviet Union and communism continue to be misunderstood. Continue reading “John XXIII and the Cold War.” »

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How to start a book: write the ending first.

By VYVYAN HOLLAND [Harper’s Bazaar via Anthony Howell Journal] — What is the urge that makes anyone want to write? Is it divine inspiration? Is it the desire for self-expression? I often feel it is merely a hankering after immortality. And yet a well-known author once confessed to me that the reason he wrote was because he admired his own handwriting so much that the mere tracing of the letters gave him a feeling of creation. It is a curious fact that authors have either extremely good or extremely bad handwriting. The worst hand-writing I ever came across was that of the late Professor George Saintsbury, who wrote so many good books on both English and French literature and, incident­ally, one of the best books on wine ever written, in his Notes from a Cellar Book. His hand-writing was so bad that no-one could read it, and he was eventually persuaded to buy an old typewriter and to learn how to use it. However, this did not really improve matters very much, because in the course of its vicissitudes the typewriter had lost its letter “E.” Nothing daunted, the Professor put an “x” wherever an “e” was needed, so that a word like “exceeding” started “xxcxx.” Continue reading “How to start a book: write the ending first.” »

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The cover-letter as manifesto.

By DANIEL BOSCH [3am Magazine] — Writers who are truly honest about art and pedagogy admit that most of the time both end in failure. At the Bauhaus this fact was bedrock, not pillow-talk: the curriculum was designed around honest play with materials.

I believe a Bauhaus-type approach might help lead to needed reform in the teaching of creative writing. So in a cover letter I submitted in application for the directorship of an MFA program, I proposed a play-based curriculum focused on fundamental “materials”, mandatory cross-genre study, eschewal of contemporary readings, avoidance of cults of personality, use of the full range of grades, unplugging of the phrase “terminal” degree, and more…

THE BAUHAUS CURRICULUM demanded three years of intense coursework under different artist-teachers in such areas as presentation and design; color, composition & space; and “nature study,” (in literary training, these might be courses in Book & E-Book; Space on Stage and in Story; Prologues; Lines; Low Comedy; Images; and Writing from Life) each segment of which was conceived as necessary preliminary training and thus the basis for later workshop courses in the distinct practices associated with materials such as Glass, Metal, Wood, Stone, etc. (In a literary curriculum on this model, the penultimate inner ring might consist of seminars or workshops in specific sub-genres such as Personal Essay, Three-Act Play, Realistic Prose Narrative, Verse Monologue.) Continue reading “The cover-letter as manifesto.” »

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America’s Middle-earth.

By MICHAEL DIRDA [Washington Post] — In the East Coast imagination, the Midwest is populated largely by hicks, and life there is about as exciting as a field of corn. Instead of having a vital, rewarding career as, say, chief assistant to the assistant chief in the personnel department of the Federal Bureau of This or That, Midwesterners plow fields, work in factories and mills, operate small businesses. They belong to the Grange or the Rotarians, go in for church suppers and community singing. Most of them, of course, physically resemble the stern, homespun couple in Grant Wood ’s “American Gothic.” Garrison Keillor is their laureate. Their idea of a good time is a Saturday night hoedown. Continue reading “America’s Middle-earth.” »

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John Tavener’s memory eternal.

From Guardian Music [The Guardian] – TAVENER’S TURN TO a world of spirituality, via the Russian Orthodox church, was the inspiration for much of his music of the late 1970s onwards, and it produced a whole series of works of celestial simplicity and often heavenly length: longest of all his seven-hour dusk-to-dawn vigil, The Veil of the Temple, composed in 2003. Continue reading “John Tavener’s memory eternal.” »

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Looking for a word for ‘European cultural identity’.

By UMBERTO ECO [L’Espresso via PressEurop] — “I learned that Robert de Saint-Loup was killed two days after his return to the front, covering the retreat of his men. Never had any man fed less on hatred of a whole people than he […]. The last words I had heard from his mouth, six days earlier, were those that began a song by Schumann, which he hummed to me on my stairs, in German; but because of the neighbours, I had to shut him up.” Continue reading “Looking for a word for ‘European cultural identity’.” »

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In the future, ‘the rise of bloodthirsty brotherhoods’ and ‘the total eclipse of all values’.

By TOM WOLFE – [Transcribed interview with Peter Robinson on Uncommon Knowledge] — ‘You can see right now there are so many people who have essentially have become Atheists. Less in the US than in Europe, incidentally. And, you know, Nietzsche predicted all of this, he said, when he had his famous—probably the most famous statement ever in modern philosophy—’God is dead’. Which was not an Atheist manifesto, although he was Atheist, it was a warning. He said that educated, well-to-do people—he’s talking about Europe—no longer believe in God. And the result is not going to be what you think. The result is going to be a demoralisation in which Europeans will sort of stumble osteoparodically, through the twentieth century and then a century of—he’s writing in 1885, now-—a century of wars such have never been fought before. The rise of bloodthirsty brotherhoods. They don’t believe in God, they just believe in taking whatever they can. Continue reading “In the future, ‘the rise of bloodthirsty brotherhoods’ and ‘the total eclipse of all values’.” »

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The L-word, literally speaking.

By GLEN NEWEY [London Review of Books] – People are upset that new lexicons, shaped by web usage, have allowed that fine old English word ‘literally’ to be debased. These complaints have a venerable lineage. They worry that ‘literally’ no longer means only ‘literally’ but signals hyperbole, as in: ‘The restroom attendant was like, literally, the size of a whale.’ We infer the guy was fat, or big. Then the L-word lies to hand, for the smartass reply: ‘Really, literally? I mean, how did he get into the restroom?’ Continue reading “The L-word, literally speaking.” »

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Elmore Leonard: ‘Never say more than is necessary.’


JUST HEARD THAT Elmore Leonard died [20 August 2013]. He was one of my favorite writers and his dialogue influenced me when I went to work on Hill Street Blues. The terseness, the irony, the way he caught a character in one sentence or gesture — not to mention the humor.

I discovered him when I was a journalist in England doing a story on the making of Rollerball (the first good Rollerball). I had to interview Jimmy Caan, but he was busy so I had some time to kill. I went to the book store and found this novel which I think was Unknown Man Number 89. (Though now that I think back on it the English title may have been Ryan’s Rules) There were many crime novels to choose from but the name Elmore Leonard was so interesting I picked the book up and read the first page. Continue reading “Elmore Leonard: ‘Never say more than is necessary.’” »

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In politics, the ‘primary role’ of violence.

By BENJAMIN GINSBERG [Chronicle of Higher Education] — Some writers see violence as an instrument of politics. Thomas Hobbes regarded violence as a rational means to achieve such political goals as territory, safety, and glory. Carl von Clausewitz famously referred to war as the continuation of politics by other means. A second group of writers view violence as a result of political failure and miscalculation. The title of an influential paper on the origins of the American Civil War by the historian James Randall, “The Blundering Generation,” expresses that idea. A third group, most recently exemplified by the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, regards violence as a pathological behavior that is diminishing in frequency with the onward march of civilization. Some proponents of that perspective have even declared that violence is essentially a public-health problem. Whatever their differences, each of these perspectives assigns violence a subordinate role in political life. Continue reading “In politics, the ‘primary role’ of violence.” »

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Atheists to Richard Dawkins: go to hell.

By MARTIN ROBBINS [New Statesman] – In the olden days, at the turn of the century, it was hard to come by vaguely-racist bigotry in our day-to-day lives. Back then you had to go and visit your grandparents a few times a year, and sit there quietly while they talked about the coloured folk in the corner shop and how you couldn’t walk to Sainsbury’s to buy your Daily Mail without being robbed by a gang of Asians. Then somebody built Twitter, and then Richard Dawkins joined.  Continue reading “Atheists to Richard Dawkins: go to hell.” »

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Lawrence Joseph and ‘the shock effect of the crowd’.

By NORMAN FINKELSTEIN [Jacket2] – In his magisterial essay “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” Walter Benjamin argues that the menacing spectacle of the urban crowd, described by mid-nineteenth-century writers as diverse as Poe and Engels, “became decisive for Baudelaire. If he succumbed to the force by which he was drawn to them and, as a flaneur, was made one of them, he was nevertheless unable to rid himself of a sense of their essentially inhuman makeup. He becomes their accomplice even as he dissociates himself from them. He becomes deeply involved with them, only to relegate them to oblivion with a single glance of contempt.” Benjamin goes on to analyze the shock effect of the crowd for Baudelaire, and how, for the individual, “nervous impulses flow through him in rapid succession, like the energy from a battery. Baudelaire speaks of a man who plunges into a crowd as into a reservoir of electric energy. Circumscribing the experience of the shock, he calls this man “a kaleidoscope equipped with consciousness.” Continue reading “Lawrence Joseph and ‘the shock effect of the crowd’.” »

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Dickens: great father, unworthy sons.

By TIM PARKS [London Review of Books] – In the following years all the children at some point wrote about their father [Charles Dickens] or did public readings from his works. Some isolated themselves in distant parts; the others went looking for them, or rejected them. Henry, all of whose seven children’s names, boys and girls, included a Charles immediately before the Dickens, became involved in setting up the Boz Club and the Dickens Fellowship, whose purpose was ‘to knit together in a common bond of friendship lovers of the great master of humour and pathos’. The Inimitable had become a focus of community and belonging. Mamie wrote a memoir and edited her father’s letters (another book from ‘the dear dead hand’). Alfred, who spent much of his life rearing sheep in the Australian outback, eventually gave a series of successful lectures and readings in England and the US. ‘I never forget my father for a moment,’ he said. Henry omits to mention these readings in his family memoirs. Mamie said she held her father ‘in my heart of hearts as a man apart from all other men, as one apart from all other beings’. Charley’s elder son disgraced himself by marrying a barmaid and was disowned and excluded by the entire family. Continue reading “Dickens: great father, unworthy sons.” »

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The risks of European postmulticulturalism.

By MARCIN KRÒL [Dziennik Gazeta Prawna] — We have witnessed two phenomena, which prove that multiculturalism – as long as it’s moderate – is better than what we are seeing now. The first is that multiculturalism has been replaced by a largely uncritical acceptance of all cultural phenomena, no matter where they come from or their political, social, spiritual, or religious context. In other words, Scandinavian novels, Iranian movies, Indian music, and Oriental medicine are all equally good. “Equally good” means also that we have no rating scale tied to our (European) culture, but everything that is good is good, even if we do not know why. Continue reading “The risks of European postmulticulturalism.” »

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Surprises from the Annals of Downplayed Incidents: Detroit.

By ROCHELLE RILEY [Detroit Free Press, 23 June 2010] – Otis Mathis should have resigned [his position as president of the Detroit public school board] when it was discovered that he was functionally illiterate. Murray should resign for actually saying out loud that fondling yourself in a business meeting could be anything but objectionable.

But more important, Detroiters have got to stop mistaking these types of sad men for leaders, stop giving our children the idea that these men represent what they should be.

If we want Detroit to be better, then its leadership must be better. That can’t happen if the conversation is about what you can get away with and not what we allow children to see and hear.

The board is trying to downplay the incident, claiming that it shouldn’t affect whether the board — or the mayor — will be in charge of schools. Continue reading “Surprises from the Annals of Downplayed Incidents: Detroit.” »

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