Misguided Promotions
Can the Modern World Outlive the Anglosphere?

The Intellectuals

Who shall deliver my soul from the words of men?...

Harken ye loud and presumptuous ones, wind-strewn children of your own caprice:

We are parched beside your well-springs, we are starved by the meat you offer us, we have grown blind by the light of your lamps.

You are like a road that leads nowhither, like so many small steps taken around yourselves.

You are like a driving flood, the sound of your gushing is forever in your mouth.

You are the cradle of your own truth, tomorrow you shall be its grave.

—Gertrude von Le Fort

I had never heard of this German poet until I read an excerpt from a poem called "Return to the Church" in Magnficat. Presumably this is a translation. This is an excerpt from the excerpt, and the title of the post is mine. I especially like the last line. The whole thing seems to me an accurate description of much (or most) contemporary intellectual life.


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I especially like the first line. I frequently feel that way, especially about my own words.



Janet, I feel like that when I read the letters to the editor!

I have to say I very much feel that way about my own words, too. But even more so when I read various pundits and, worst of all, comment boxes on news or political sites. They're enough to make you give up.

Btw I'm going to be offline from now (late Friday morning) till sometime late in the day tomorrow.

"Pundits" and especially "comment boxes on news" sites hardly qualify as intellectual! (Is that too snobby?)

I presume that with that specific title, you're referring to those you often take to task on this blog: professors of (especially) literature, and those scientist-professor-types who are especially hard-nosed about their atheism, e.g. Richard Dawkins.

Otherwise, it could apply to lots of situations....music critics leap to mind....

I do like the poem, though.

I've been trying to remember why I know that name but now I remember that she wrote The Song at the Scaffold, a novelette about the Martyrs of Compiegne. This was a group of Carmelite nuns who went to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Actually, it's more about the two who didn't go. It's quite good.


It was also (I learned from Wikipedia) the basis of a Poulenc opera, Dialog of the Carmelites, which is well-regarded but which I haven't heard.

Yeah, Jesse, pundits et.al. are not what I was originally thinking of when I read the poem, but the shoe fits them just as well. I'm not sure which is worse: the dumber ones can be more annoying but the smarter ones are possibly more harmful.

I wasn't thinking so much of any particular species of intellectual as of the whole nature of intellectual endeavor in our time, which in my eyes is largely without deep roots and tends to be the work of one Smart Guy (or Gal) trying to figure it all out. The systematic philosophers of the past few centuries would be the prime examples of this. That's the particular significance of "You are the cradle of your own truth; tomorrow you shall be its grave."

Yes! I knew about that Poulenc opera, but I just read about it again yesterday and then on Prairie Home Companion last night Garrison Keillor sang a song, or maybe read something, and there was a line in it about a Poulenc opera!


Little coincidences like that are so strange, especially when they don't seem to have any particular meaning but are so striking that they don't seem accidental.

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