Fog and Moonlight

The End of Literary Culture (part 2)

Sunday Night Journal — December 13, 2010

The flight from Christianity has been a prominent feature of Western intellectual life since the 18th century, and it can be said that the anti-culture has existed since then. Mockery has always been an important part of its response to the faith it rejects. Mockery is a good thing as far as it goes; there is much in the world that deserves it, and much in the Church (or churches). Christian artists have always known how to mock those who speak in the name of God without mocking God, but the anti-culture does not know that distinction. Where the Christian tradition is concerned, it operates chiefly with mockery, sarcasm, and irony, with occasional lapses into violent rage (which seem to be growing more frequent).

Mockery is required because one cannot seriously engage Christian thought, and the entire Christian worldview, without realizing that it is a deep and deeply coherent understanding of what mankind is, why we exist, and where we are going. Such an engagement does not necessarily lead to conversion, but it leads almost necessarily to respect and to some degree of sympathy, which is not helpful when waging war. Moreover, it requires thought and effort. It is much easier and more effective (seemingly) to assume all such matters settled long ago, that all of it is myth and superstition now disproved by “science.”

Mockery is the natural expression of this attitude; one does not argue with the absurd. In our time it is less likely to be active wit (as in Mark Twain, who is funny even to those who disagree profoundly with him) than the pose of wit: the sneer, the smirk, the merely snide. An excellent new word has appeared in recent years to denote the verbal equivalent of these: “snark.” I don’t know its origin, but it suggests “snide,” “sneer,” and “bark,” making it an excellent name for the thing itself, which is a bit of quick, casual, and petty meanness, not deeply significant but annoying. One disagrees with a politician’s views; one snarks about his haircut. (Or, in Sarah Palin’s case, the names of her children.)

To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, snarks are not literature. But the snarky tone is widespread in the literature and especially in the criticism of our day. I won’t say it is dominant, because I don’t read enough of it to make that judgment. I will say that it is common enough that I ceased many years ago to find bookstores the alluring places they once had been. Aside from the preponderance of frothy popular titles that I always ignored, far too many of the serious books seemed to come from the anti-culture, or at least to be heavily influenced by it: the snarky tone, the ill-concealed desire to reduce the stature of everything that came before the 1960s, the heavy-handed but light-headed leftist political attitude applied retroactively to the past two thousand years. I find the influential reviews mostly a waste of time (Benjamin Schwartz in The Atlantic is a happy exception, and one of the main reasons I keep my subscription to that magazine). I have fewer friends with literary interests, and those of my friends with whom I still enjoy talking about books are not part of the literary establishment. Libraries have remained as attractive and fascinating as ever: it’s easy to walk past the new-book shelves and lose oneself in the stacks. But the only booksellers that intrigue me are secondhand stores where one may hope to find gems from a generation or two ago.

Having taken up a posture of disdain toward the Christian tradition, the anti-culture finds itself needing to mock not only the Christian faith itself but all those absolutes which are associated philosophically with the tradition. (I should pause here to mention that what I’m referring to as the Christian tradition is not only Christian, but also Jewish and Greco-Roman. And many other things, but especially those. When I speak of the Christian tradition, as distinct from Christian doctrine, or of Western culture, I intend to include those.) And so the anti-culture has difficulty using words like beauty, truth, and goodness without irony. It knows them, of course—you can’t be human without recognizing them and being drawn to them—but it has difficulty in talking or thinking very seriously about them, because one cannot do so without coming up against the question of their objective validity—whether or not they refer to anything other than personal opinion (that semi-sacred thing)—which in turn leads to the question of their source and authority.

But these are the matters toward which all serious thought naturally gravitates. “Gravitate” is the apt word: we are pulled toward them, as lesser cosmic bodies are pulled toward greater, and we can only hold ourselves back from them by effort. More importantly, we gravitate toward the belief that those three things—beauty, truth, and goodness—do in fact exist as standards of judgment independent of our own minds.

In spite of its bourgeois-baiting (now the most tiresome cliché of all) and revolutionary posturing, the anti-culture is fundamentally materialistic. I now return to Eliot as quoted by Epstein:

…[contemporary literature’s] tendency is to encourage its readers to get what they can out of life while it lasts, to miss no ‘experience’ that presents itself, and to sacrifice themselves, if they make any sacrifice at all, only for the sake of tangible benefits to others in this world either now or in the future.

This keeps its literature confined within limits which make it unsuitable as a dwelling for the human soul.

And this is appropriate, because it denies the objective reality of spirit. Even when it uses the language of spirit, it adapts more than it adopts, as in the “spiritual but not religious” self-description favored by many. This spirituality is in general more accurately described as emotionality, because it is primarily concerned with maintaining a balanced and orderly emotional life: a worthy enough effort, but one concerned only with living comfortably in this world. It characteristically borrows religious doctrines meant by those who formulated them as referring to an objectively existing spiritual order, and treats them as meaningful only as aspects of psychology.

(Who hasn’t heard this done with “The kingdom of heaven is within you”? I happened to run across a good example as I was writing this, in an obituary: “[she] seemed increasingly embedded in what might be described as the ‘communion of saints,’ relying on those around her to provide the spiritual support she so badly needed and desired.” Well that, of course, is only a small part at best of what the communion of saints means to a Christian, and it’s clear in the context that the spiritual support referred to is primarily emotional support.)

In its need to escape from the gravitational force of the Christian tradition, the anti-culture attempts to escape from the human. I don’t know a great deal about non-European art, but I venture to say that as a producer of humanistic art—art that is specifically interested in the phenomenon of the human—the Christian culture of the past thousand years has no equal. That humanism appears to be dying. Abstract art, music without recognizable structure, free verse of almost impenetrable obscurity, all have their aesthetic merits (there are works in all these styles that I like a great deal), but they do not point a way forward, but rather represent exhaustion.

Eliot spoke of the Incarnation as having bisected history. It is now impossible to disconnect consideration of the ultimate questions from consideration of Christianity. Christianity is too big, its answers too profound, to be ignored. And so the dismissal of Christianity is often, in a post-Christian culture, the dismissal of any possibility of ultimate meaning. However much it may try, the world cannot will itself into a condition in which Christianity has not been. The word cannot be unsaid, though in principle it could in time be forgotten.

I speak not as a professional with a wide acquaintance of contemporary literary culture, but as an amateur who has concluded that it isn’t worth the trouble to make that acquaintance. It’s not that the literature is so bad; most of the literature of any time is not very good. It’s the particular way in which it fails, by looking in every possible direction except up, inducing a sense of oppression, a sort of modified claustrophobia, such as one might experience in a large open room in which the ceiling is only an inch above one’s head.


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"However much it may try, the world cannot will itself into a condition in which Christianity has not been"

This is one of the points of David B. Hart's indispensible essay "Christ and Nothing."

"it isn’t worth the trouble to make that acquaintance"

Generally speaking, I've found this to be true. One can usually tell by the type of review (and reviewer) if a certain "award winning" piece of modern fiction is worth looking at. I've found a few gems here and there over the years, but for the most part the stuff stimulates no interest in me whatsoever.

Great post, Mac.

I really need to read more DBH.

Yes, I used to do read between the lines of reviews in that same way. Then I gradually quit reading them altogether. I must say I was pleasantly surprised when I read No Country for Old Men. That's the real stuff. (I guess "pleasantly surprised" is not exactly the right word for such a grim book.)

Thank you.

What I was thinking when I read Rob's comment was that it might be interesting to discuss what recent fiction we have found that is worth looking at--what are Rob's gems?

McCarthy's novels are certainly some of them, especially NDFOM and The Road.

Not that I want to hijack the thread or anything.


I started reading book review sources such as the TLS, the New York Times Book Review, etc., as an undergraduate. I decided that, if a new book that was getting a lot f attention really was good, it would be remembered years later and I could always read it then, and in the meantime I had a great many acknowledged classics (Dickens, Austen, Scott, the great Russians, and more) to catch up on.

So here I am, many years later, never having read (let's see what I can remember quickly without looking anything up) Ragtime, The World According to Garp, Daniel Martin, The Public Burning, S, Earthly Powers, Ancient Evenings, and... and, well, many others, whose titles I've forgotten! Anyone want to contend: "No, you really should read X"?

Poor me -- to have missed all those great literary works!!

That particular DBH essay is a gem; it's available online in a couple places.

I very much liked Marilynne Robinson's 'Gilead' which won the Pulitzer a few years back, and its follow-up 'Home.' Paul Harding's 'Tinkers,' which won the Pulitzer this year was also pretty good. The four living fiction writers that I follow faithfully are Helprin, Ishiguro, Berry and Madison Jones. I read an Ernest J. Gaines novel for the first time this past year and liked it a lot. I'll probably read more of him eventually.

Janet's post crossed with mine, but there are a few recommendations there. I should also mention A.S. Byatt's 'Possession,' which I reread this year after having read it when it first came out. It's quite good. I remember liking Graham Swift's 'Waterland' but I've not yet felt the urge to revisit it. And I can unreservedly recommend William Maxwell, who died a few years back, esp. his novella 'So Long, See You Tomorrow,' which is one of my all-time favorite works of fiction.

I'd like to hear other folks' recommendations...

Someone recommended Marilynne Robinson very highly to me a while back, but I've never followed up. Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter is great.

Dale, I've been of much the same mind for some time now. There are still way too many acknowledged classics that I haven't read. As for your list of past books of the moment, I haven't read any of them either.

A very good piece (sorry, I'm marking essays and it shows!) - I especially like the bit about how we naturally gravitate toward the good and the beautiful. I couldn't really say whether my disinclination for contemporary fiction is due to my having got stuck in a certain groove and never moved on, or because it's really all just bad stuff. I don't like to say, because even when I get recommendations from people who might know, I buy the book and somehow never read it. Books wise people have recommended to me and I never got to include White Teeth and The Fundamentalist. Also The Road and No Country. I'm hesitant to judge because my work (reading theology books all day) has slowly disinclined me for reading serious fiction when I'm not working. I did read and enjoy Gilead. But I'm no longer the haunter of the literary sections of papers and of bookstores which I once was and assumed I would always be.

It is true that a certain strand of modern British fiction is not just casually materialist, but deliberately sets out to show the reader that material reality is all that is there. I mean Ian McEuan and Martin Amis, but also AS Byatt.

Oh yes. I forget that Wendell Berry is still alive and I love Hannah Coulter. I mean, I want her to be my next door neighbor. I think most of Berry's novels are great.


The only other Berry novel I've read is The Memory of Old Jack, which I thought was pretty good but not as good as HC.

Once you've read several of them you are so involved with the characters that you are automatically drawn into them. In my opinion, HC is the best. It's like the fruit of all the others.


I've actually read all of Berry's fiction. 'Jayber Crow' is my favorite with 'The Memory of Old Jack' coming in second. While it's not all on that same level I can say that I've never read anything of his that I didn't like.

Hannah Coulter is very good. Janet pressed a copy on me when I visited her.

Whenever the opportuntiy arises, I will read the TLS. It generally saves me having to read the books themselves.

I started to mention Jayber Crow. That's probably my second favorite.

I'm probably repeating myself, but I am fascinated by the later work of Dean Koontz. When a friend suggested I read his books, I thought she had lost her mind. However, as he has become more serious about his Catholic faith, his novels have begun to reflect that seriousness. Paradoxically, though, the more serious they are, the more humor you find in them. He does not write as well as Flannery O'Connor, but it seems to me that he is trying to do much the same thing. He exaggerates the cult of the anti-culture (What the degree of exaggeration is may be questionnable.) to reveal it's nature to those who are insensible to it.


How about...oh heck, can't think of her name...English Catholic woman who died a few years ago...Alice Thomas Ellis? I read a book of her essays, which was good, and a rather strange novel called Fairy Tale, which was good but not so good that I've been in a hurry to read another. The Sin Eater is supposed to be one of her best but I haven't read it.

I liked Fairy Tale, and there was another about two friends; one who is married and agnostic and the other who is a nun. In the course of the novel, the nun takes up with the other woman's husband and the other takes up some sort of religious life. In the end, they both go back to the starting place. I'm not telling this very well. It was written shortly after Vatican II when so many religious were leaving their orders and so many orders were deserting their charisms.


I read some of Alice Thomas Ellis' novels about 20 years ago. They were very amusing.

I've read two of Ellis' novels, 'The Sin Eater' and 'The Inn at the Edge of the World.' I liked them, but like Mac, not enough to go chasing down her other work. I have a copy of her book of essays but haven't read it yet.

I must say, though, that I do remember Fairy Tale pretty well, which is definitely not always the case with me and novels, so that says something for it. It is a most peculiar story. There seems to be some kind of consensus that Sin Eater is one of her best, if not *the* best, so I'll try it sometime.

In its need to escape from the gravitational force of the Christian tradition, the anti-culture attempts to escape from the human.

Thanks, Mac. This post really resonates with me.

I wonder if anyone else had had an experience like this: when I visit our local university's bookstore, which stocks a lot of new literary fiction and popular books on philosophy, science, history, and religion, I find that I have to "gird up my mental loins" before entering. Instead of browsing the shelves with enthusiasm, I am guarded. Occasionally I will find something that is inviting -- Roger Scruton, for example -- but for the most part it feels like these books come from an intellectual and spiritual place that I don't much like. It is hard to argue with so many books at once -- where should I start? -- and I usually end up with a sinking, disoriented feeling.

On those occasions on which I have forgotten to "gird up my mental loins", the result has been worse: I have actually felt sick, and even sort of dizzy. Strange, but true.

Anyway, thanks for this post.

I read Mark Helprin's "A Soldier of the Great War" on Rob G's recommendation, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I also liked the one book by Cormac McCarthy ("The Road") that I read, and Frederick Buechner's novels are often good. Otherwise, I don't read much contemporary fiction, apart from the occasional mystery novel (P.D. James and C.J. Sansom being my favourites). I've heard good things about Marilynne Robinson.

I don't remember especially liking the Sin Eater. I liked the 27th Kingdom best. Alice Thomas Ellis is fun, but she isn't on the level of, say, Waugh or O'Connor. Another English Catholic novelist who is still alive, and writing, and most of whose novels I have read is Piers Paul Reid. Some are just pot-boilers, but a few, including A Season in the West are close to master-pieces. When I read Reid's novels, I feel what he lacks is not strength as a novelist, but any sort of Catholic intellectual culture with which to resonate. Waugh listened to the sermons of Ronald Knox and Martin D'Arcy and knew them both personally; there was a lot going on in Flannery O'Connor's lifetime which she could read and draw on. I don't know about Ellis but I feel Reid could have been a first rate Catholic novelist if he had had the culture around him and the audience for which to write.

The only book I have read by Reid is "The Death of a Pope." In the book, some of the characters are promoting Liberation Theology and while the more orthodox characters never refute what they are saying, the plot of the story illustrates the errors of the theology. I thought it was really skillfully done. He makes his point without resorting to the kind of verbal stalemate that results between proponents of different sides of the argument.


Craig, I'm really glad to hear your description of your feelings on going to the bookstore. They're very like my own, and since I started writing this piece I've wondered to what degree I'm just expanding on my own idiosyncrasy. An unsympathetic hearer might say "you just don't like it that everybody isn't toeing the Catholic line." But that's really not it. It's much deeper than that.

I'm very busy at work--more later in reply to other comments.

Well, we've long suspected that Craig wasn't a real person--just an alter ego that you created to expand your idiosyncrasies.


Death of a Pope is one of the potboilers. Reid wrote one really good pageturner - The Free Frenchman, about five French people born around the turn of the century, and their lives in the 1930s and during WWII. The problem with the others is that they all have the same plot. Someone bad is going to blow something up in order to prove something, usually that God doesn't exist. In one, it is an art exhibit. There's about three or four like that, including Death of a Pope. He should be good at it by now, he's done it so often! There is one with a slight variant - a Bad Zionist is going to produce the skeleton of Jesus in order to prove something, in this case that the Resurrection didn't happen.

In the 1960s, Reid wrote literary novels. There were some really good ones, including A Married Man, Polonaise, and especially A Season in the West. He still occasionally does a literary one, eg his most recent book, 'The Misogynist.'

But he said quite publically (and who can blame him) that it is now impossible to make a living writing such books. He made a lot of money out of his documentary account of the South American people whose plane crashed and the survivors lived by eating the corpses of the non-survivors. I've never read that one, though I did enjoy his biography of Alec Guinness and his book on the Templars.

Another good potboiler of his is The White Russian, in which the good white Russians are escaping from the bad Bolsheviks. That's a really gripping ending. I don't mean to mock at all. My favourite scene in the Free Frenchman is where the bad Socialist forces are battering down the doors of the farm house of the good Catholic Vichyite Mayor, intending to get revenge after the Liberation, and some Spanish anarchists the Mayor had helped in the 1930s come down out of the hills with machine guns to rescue him.

The problem is, returning to the comparison with Waugh, that though Waugh certainly didn't like socialists, he had more interesting political opinions that 'socialists are bad eggs'.

Reid's 'theology' as expressed in the literary novels is somewhat Jansenist or Pascalian. He often quotes Pascal. The problem is that one can't make very much in literary terms simply out of the belief that one achieves Catholic faith by non-rational and non-explicable means.

The reason why he doesn't merely create pantomime figures, even of those representing bad socialism or non-belief is that he is very good at social observation.

I've read a couple of novels by Piers Paul Read. The plot line in both was that the protagonist became a thorough rotter in one way or another (burglar and pimp in one; I forget quite what in the other - possiby a trade unionist), described in excruciating/gory detail, and then suddenly and inexplicaby converted to Catholicism about three pages before the end. For some reason I thought he was a journalist, and the novels were more of a sideline.

He gave a talk to the Newman Society once about why it was impossible to be visibly Catholic in the secular media, saying you could either not write anything specificially Catholic, and hope to get ahead; or look eccentric by writing specifically Catholic things that subeditors would in any case remove before they got to the press. That was twenty years ago; things don't really seem quite so bleak at present.

Glad you liked 'A Soldier...', Craig. I really do think that it's a late 20th century masterpiece. I'll have to check out C.J. Sansom. I'm looking for new mysteries to read now that I've got caught up with P.D. James and Ian Rankin.

Paul: 'the protagonist became a thorough rotter in one way or another (burglar and pimp in one; I forget quite what in the other - possiby a trade unionist), described in excruciating/gory detail, and then suddenly and inexplicaby converted to Catholicism about three pages before the end'

That's what I mean by 'Jansenist or Pascalian.' It's not false as a conception of life but it's rather thin material out of which to make a novel.

He gave a talk to the Newman Society once about why it was impossible to be visibly Catholic in the secular media

Christopher Howse has been visibly Catholic in the Telegraph and Spectator for almost as long as I can remember. I'm long enough in the tooth to recall that it's not quite as long as I can remember - he went through a barfly in Soho period when we were in our 20s (I sat next to him at a conference a couple of years ago, and he looks the same age as me). In fact, I would say that in the 1970s and early 1980s there were more visible Catholics in the broadsheets. Mary Kenny was in the Sunday Tel every week, and Victoria Gillick also sometimes wrote there, as did her sister. I saw the Gillick family at church in Norfolk the other week, and Mrs Gillick is not the beauty she once was (which of us is?) but still very striking. I used to know one of the sons, so I introduced myself - they're a great family.

The Spectator was very Catholic in the 1980s when Charles Moore edited it, and continued somewhat in that line under Dominic Lawson. I can remember people writing letters to complain it was too Catholic, at one point. It had many journalists who were sympathetic to Catholicism, such as Patrick Marnham. It was at that time that Alice Thomas Ellis had a weekly piece in the Spec, called 'Home Life'. This became unbearably repetitive after her husband died, and she departed for the Catholic Herald.

And then of course there was Auberon Waugh, who wrote both for the Tel and the Spectator. He was pretty visibly Catholic for most of his writing life, producing each year for instance a piece about which apostate he would light a candle for at the tomb of St. Thomas in Toulouse (AN Wilson, one year). It is true he also visibly renounced his faith at the end of his life, saying he could no longer tolerate the charismatics.

It's only in the past decade that the Telegraph has lost its 'generally Christian' character.

Rob, Sansom is a pretty good mystery writer in the school of P.D. James, though he's not as good as her. His 'Shardlake' books are set in Tudor England, and while the social observation isn't as keen as I would like, his characters and plots are quite interesting. I would recommend his books to people who have a liking for things Tudor; I'm not sure if others would enjoy them.

Thanks for that quick guide to P.P. Read, Francesca. I'd only seen "Death of a Pope", and figured he was pot-boilers all the way down. I'm going to keep an eye out for him.

I remembered another visibly Catholic chap who used to write often for the Telegraph - the Cambridge don John Casey. I hadn't seen anything by him recently so I googled, and found a piece from a few years back, which states he is working on a book on heaven and hell. This seems to have appeared.

Perhaps Conrad Black deserved his imprisonment, but the Tel, the Spec and even the dreadful Catholic Herald were better papers when he was the proprietor.

I mention the Tel and the Spec simply because I've read them for 30 years. The Times, for instance, had Rees-Mogg as an editor, and he was reasonably visibly Catholic.

I'm just now (almost 8:30p) catching up on this discussion. I'm really sorry I've been so busy today and unable to participate. And I don't have much time now. A few notes:

I happened to be working in a bookstore when Piers Paul Read's book about the Andean airline crash came out. It was a big best-seller, and I had never heard of him and just assumed he was more or less a hack (the book may be better than that but it was marketed in a pretty sensationalized way). I didn't hear of him again for many years, till maybe the late '80s, when my wife was reading a book called something like Why I'm Still Catholic, and he was in it. His essay was one of the sounder ones--some of them were the usual whiney progressive stuff. But I've never read anything else by him.

Re A.T. Ellis: I knew there was some other claim to fame on her part--it's those Home Life pieces. There used to be a mail-order bookseller called A Common Reader which sent out this really interesting catalog in which the proprietors pushed their favorite books, and a collection of those pieces was one of them. I guess that was before the falling-off--I'm remembering the catalog from the '80s. ACR went online and folded not too long ago. I never actually ordered much from them because their shipping & handling charges were rather high. I didn't have a lot of money to spare at the time, and could only afford the cheaper books, and the s&h would be a third of the price of the book itself.

As far as being visibly Catholic in the media is concerned: you can do it here (or in the arts etc.) but you probably have to be better than average at what you do to get away with it. Ross Douthat, a young conservative & Catholic, has a New York Times gig now. Granted, he's sort of a token, but still, he's there.

Conrad Black has been turning up a lot in American conservative mags (NR & New Criterion). Just read a review by him of Tony Blair's book about himself. I have no idea whether he deserved his conviction or not, either.

That's sad about Auberon Waugh. Somehow I had the idea that he had dumped the faith early on. I can understand people leaving the Church for a lot of reasons, but because they can't stand their fellow Catholics always puzzles me, as with Anne Rice.

Must go.

Dale, I've been of much the same mind for some time now.

Me too. I'm very pleased to see that I'm not alone.

I can understand people leaving the Church for a lot of reasons, but because they can't stand their fellow Catholics always puzzles me, as with Anne Rice.

Yeah, this really makes no sense to me at all. It might if non-Catholics were so obviously more kind, but they're not (in my experience). I always assume there's something more to it. Mortal sin, perhaps.

Yeah, you naturally wonder if that was the real reason.

That piece by John Casey ends "They are chanting: 'Revere the Prophet and honour the family of the Prophet!'" Yes they are different."

Has he never heard Rangers fans chanting "Proud to be a Proddy"?

I should perhaps have given a fuller quotation for context: I assumed it was some equivalent of "Manchester United!" An Arabic speaker set me right: "They are chanting: 'Revere the Prophet and honour the family of the Prophet!'" Yes they are different.

For a Catholic, that 'We revere the prophet' should have overtones of 'Muslims Alright!' does not seem problematic.

I just now made time to read that John Casey piece. I don't understand your last comment, Francesca. But I understand Paul's. I know I've mentioned before the unreconstructed "Proddy" that emerges from time to time in avowedly unbelieving John Derbyshire of National Review.

As for Casey's point, I usually think people who write about this go too far in one direction or the other: either viewing Islam as more benign (re us) than it is, or more hostile. There was a debate some weeks ago between Peter Kreeft and Robert Spencer (novelist and currently anti-Islam polemicist) which is on video online. I haven't watched it, but the reports seemed to indicate that they followed the pattern: Kreeft too irenic, Spencer too hostile. Kreeft reportedly makes the argument that secular liberalism (liberal secularism?) is a greater threat to the faith than Islam, and I think that's true. I suspect Islam is, here and now, a greater direct threat, but that secularism is in the long run a more powerful enemy. I expect Islam to develop like Protestantism, with extreme "liberals" on the one hand and fundamentalists on the other.

Well, today I went to lunch at the cafe in the bookstore where my daughter works and though there were lots of the kind of book that you were talking about the only thing that jumped out at me was xkcd, Volume 0.


Totally OT - is there any reason I could buy a nice looking 4 bedroom home in Austin Texas for under $2000 USD???

I can't imagine that this could be so.


You're missing two zeros, Louise. The only way it could even be $20,000 would be if it's currently serving as a crack house.

I know, Maclin, but the thing says $1800. It occured to me that that might mean $1800k, but then elsewhere on the same site it showed houses for say $500,000 and so on. Anyway,I'll quiz the estate agents about it if I have a need to move to Austin!

Anyone know what the place is like? (obviously bad, b/c it is Texas!)

If we move to the US, I am coming to visit y'all! (I'll even be able to use "y'all" in daily conversation!)

Could that be rent, Louise? $1800 per month? Do you really think Texas is bad, or is that a joke?


An earlier post about liberal snobbery was brought to mind by my just discovering this quotation from a letter that John Stuart Mill wrote to a Conservative MP in 1866:

I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.

Louise, Austin is one of the most fashionable cities in the country, in a class with Seattle and some others. I think most people would consider it a very desirable place to live, even apart from the fashionable-ness. $200,000 is not a very high price for a nice 4-bedroom house in a not-dangerous neighborhood even in a more modest area such as mine. So although I don't know anything about the Austin real estate market, I think $200,000 would certainly not be out of line and might even be on the lower end. This is in part what the housing bubble wrought.

So are y'all actually thinking of moving here?

As you might imagine, Paul, the remark which Mill was apparently following up in that quote is a huge favorite with American liberals. On that point at least Mill is as definitive as Scripture for a fundamentalist.

I don't think it's as true as it once was that stupid people tend to be conservative. A certain sort of leftism has become more and more the default position in some circles in which it is not at all unusual to find very stupid people. This is maybe thanks in part to the democratization of those ideas by the hippie movement and the entertainment industry. Though maybe "thoughtless" is a better word than "stupid."

I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.

Bloody Hell! Although it's kind of nice to see that liberals can be so consistent over such a long period!

I think Nick is about to apply (has applied?) for a job in Austin, so if he were offered it, we would certainly consider the move seriously. This is mostly b/c his current employer's business has taken a fair beating and we're not sure of its long term prospects. I'd prefer to live in Tasmania, as it's my home, but if Nick needs/wants to get a new job, that's more important in my view. Plus, I'm feeling up to another adventure!

Janet, I was joking. Lots of people like to joke about Texas. (And Tasmania for that matter. And Ireland...). But I have no opinion of Texas one way or another, never having visited, much less lived there.

They have big hats! LOL!

Suffice it to say, Maclin, if I could get an attractive 4 bedroom home anywhere for $200k I'd be thrilled! (Our 4 BR home is valued at more than $350k USD and that's at the ends of the Earth!)

I should think that you would be able to get a nice 4 BR house for $200K, and a very nice house indeed for $350K.



That would certainly be true in this area. It's very possible that prices are higher in Austin. In some places, like DC and Silicon Valley, they're *way* higher. In a lot of small towns, they're considerably lower.

Seems a shame to be uprooted from Tas, which you've said is a lovely place. But if you have to...well, all our (Americans & Australians) ancestors were people who didn't stay put.

Well, I was checking out houses in Austin before I said anything.


A friend recommended to me "A Timber Choir" by Berry, but I didn't ever pick up a copy - I'll go on Amazon today and look into the titles you have been quoting, you make them sound like something I can get my teeth into (I love ongoing series in literature).

Linda, read the two Amazon blurbs for Hannah Coulter and if you think they make it sound good, I think it's pretty safe to say you'd like it. The books are about several generations of people living in a Kentucky farming community called Port William.

That was very clever of you, Janet.:-)

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