52 Poems, Week 48: Danny Deever (Kipling)
52 Poems, Week 49: Corruption (Henry Vaughan)

Sunday Night Journal, December 2, 2018

I find that I'm unable to stick with the intention of only reading one book at a time, so I try to limit myself to two, one fiction and one non-fiction. But I've just broken that, too, by starting Phillip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle before finishing Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. (The non-fiction is Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise.) I had looked for Man in the High Castle at the library a month or so ago after watching the third series in the Amazon adaptation, but it was checked out. Yesterday my wife happened to be going to the library, so I asked her to see if the book was back on the shelf. It was, she got it for me, and now I have to finish it within two weeks, because it's on her card. As King's Men is pretty long and I'm only halfway through it, I thought I'd better go ahead and get started on High Castle

I'm only a few chapters in so have no opinion yet beyond the fact that it's interesting, but I was struck by this exchange between a Nazi artist and a Swedish businessman. (For those who don't know, the book is set in approximately 1960 in an alternate universe where the Germans and the Japanese won the Second World War.) 

"Afraid I do not care for modern art," [the Swede] said. "I like the old prewar cubists and abstractionists. I like a picture to mean something, not merely to represent the idea." He turned away.

"But that's the task of art," [the artist] said. "To advance the spirituality of man, over the sensual. Your abstract art represented a period of spiritual decadence, of spiritual chaos, due to the disintegration of society, the old plutocracy."

As a skeptic toward the religion of High Art, I enjoyed this. The notion that art is always on the way toward something ever more antagonistic to the ordinary and human has been a harmful one, and accounts for some of the pathologies, especially in the current visual arts scene. To have cubists and the like put in the position of being the old fogies is amusing. But of course in this picture the cure is considerably worse than the disease. If you don't know what Nazi art was like, see this Wikipedia article.

Nazi art resembles Communist art, for reasons that should be obvious, and which I will leave you to figure out for yourself if you don't think they're obvious. Art driven by ideology is generally bad, and if it succeeds it's in spite of the ideology, not because of it. And art driven by totalitarian ideology is some of the worst.

This got me to thinking of a topic that comes up now and again among conservatives: someone asks "Why aren't there more conservative artists?" and that's often followed by a list of books and music and movies that are either produced by conservatives or have a conservative message. (Of course there have plenty of artists who could broadly be described as "conservative," though not necessarily in the contemporary sense. T.S. Eliot, for instance.)

The subject came up on Rod Dreher's blog one day last week, and I responded with a comment which I can't find now but which was something along the lines of "The term 'conservative art' nauseates me." It makes me think first of Ayn Rand's awful fiction (she wasn't a conservative, but she was right-wing), and then of those lists. I can sum up the way the lists tend to go by saying that the Beatles' "Taxman" is always on them. It's a good song, or rather a good track, because while I like the music the words are not very interesting. Is griping about taxes really a very important aspect of conservatism?

Such discussions and such lists always make me think that if there were somewhere a master list of conservatives and my name was on it, I would take it off. After an initial period of resistance ca. 1980, I long ago acquiesced to the fact that "conservative" is a more or less accurate description of my political views. But as someone said once the term is descriptive, not prescriptive, and sometimes it's much more less than more, especially when I see the term defined with some such formula as "free markets and strong defense." Russell Kirk always insisted that conservatism is the negation of ideology. 

Well, few things are duller to me now than an attempt to define The Nature of True Conservatism, so I won't go off on that path. Almost as dull is the discussion of how Liberal and Conservative Are Inadequate Descriptions Of Contemporary Political Reality, so I won't go off on that path, either. But that one's dull for a very different reason: it's so plainly true that discussing it seems to be unnecessary. The gap between anything that the terms can reasonably be said to mean, and the beliefs and behavior of the parties to which the labels are still attached, is so great that they serve no purpose except for distinguishing two things that are, whatever you call them, still pretty different from each other in principle, and very different with respect to what they want.

Also last week...or was it the week before?...someone on Facebook linked to this piece at The Week (which by the way seems to be a somewhat balanced publication, socio-politically speaking). It's about the possibility of splitting the U.S. into separate nations as a way of dealing with our deep and seemingly intractable divisions. In discussing that, I found myself discarding "left," "right," "liberal," "conservative," and the like in favor of the conceptually empty but politically and culturally significant Red and Blue. I think I'm going to continue that. The terms are functionally intelligible, and they allow one to discuss the division without getting bogged down in definitions.

Of course as I'm always saying we don't actually need to split the country. We only need to accept its diversity and quit attempting to impose uniform national rules in matters where there is deep disagreement. But--and I think I said this in the Red-Blue comment I just mentioned--I think Red would be willing to accept that (though unhappily), but Blue wouldn't, because of its quasi-religious sense of mission. (I think I'll refrain from following that line of thought at the moment, because I want to finish this post fairly quickly.)

In any case it does seem to me that the great American experiment in republican government is coming to an end. There are many reasons, but the one that makes the situation seem hopeless is that the number of citizens who really want it to continue is diminishing. I suspect that human nature makes human government tend more or less automatically toward the monarchical and autocratic. There are many, many signs that both Red and Blue are going this way, knowing little and caring less about the scheme of government defined in our constitution. Red's enthusiasm for Donald Trump is one such. I mock those who think Trump is a Nazi, but that doesn't mean that he wouldn't be a dictator if he could; it's just that Nazism is far (far, far) more than that. And Blue has been for a long time now plainly longing for a king-messiah, and thought it had found one in Barack Obama, which is why Trump's occupation of the throne is simply intolerable to those on that side.

And then there's the outcry against the Electoral College. And, very strangely, the notion that if Blue (i.e. Democrats) gets more votes, in nationwide total, in congressional elections than Red (i.e. Republicans), then Blue ought by rights to have control, and that if it does not an injustice has been done. It's hard to overstate how bizarre that is when considered in light of our actual form of government. Kevin Williamson said it well:

The Democrats don’t seem to understand what it is they are really fighting, which, in no small part, is not the Republicans but the constitutional architecture of the United States. The United States is, as the name suggests, a union of states, which have interests, powers, and characters of their own. They are not administrative subdivisions of the federal government. All that talk about winning x percent of the “national House vote” or the “national Senate vote” — neither of which, you know, exists — is a backhanded way of getting at the fact that they do not like how our governments are organized, and that they would prefer a more unitary national government under which the states are so subordinated as to be effectively inconsequential. They complain that, under President Trump, “the Constitution is hanging by a thread” — but they don’t really much care for the actual order established by that Constitution, and certainly not for the limitations it puts on government power through the Bill of Rights and other impediments to étatism.

A simple nationwide democracy might or might not be a good idea (I think not, but for the sake of argument can admit that it might not). But it is not the system we have. I don't know what will replace the republic. We probably won't really feel the difference for a long time. It won't even necessarily be bad, or all bad, but it won't be the "constitutional architecture," as Williamson calls it.


All the King's Men is great, by the way, and I'm sure I will have something to say about it when I've finished it, presumably by next week.


Also by the way: I am almost certainly going to end the Sunday Night Journal at the end of the year. I'm finding it too burdensome to devote several hours every Sunday to it. I'm considering ending the blog altogether, but I probably won't do that. Most likely I'll keep it going, but revert to posting whenever I have something I want to say, and the emphasis will be on books and music and film/tv. That will probably reduce the readership, which is not that high anyway: as best I can tell from the site stats, there are somewhere between 100 and 200 people who read the blog regularly. That's minuscule in comparison to very popular blogs. But to increase that number would probably require posting much more often and about more controversial topics, and I don't want to do that.


Usually the photos I post here are recent, but this one is from 2009. Yesterday on the way to Mass we passed a gingko tree in full autumn glow. I didn't have time to take a picture of it, but I remembered a set I had taken at Spring Hill College. 


It was windy today, and on the way back from church it seemed to me that there were many fewer leaves on the gingko than there had been several hours earlier. A girl who looked to be about thirteen or so was taking a picture of her companion who was stretched out on the golden carpet.


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Lately I've been impressed with public figures I admire who have no interest in wading into the fray that is our discordant politics. I think I read less political pieces online than most of the rest of the people who comment here (except for maybe Janet, who may read none), but I am painfully aware of what is going on.

One of the good things about the trump presidency is how much appreciation I now have for the Bush family, due to their being decent people. I watched a lot of GHW Bush coverage over the weekend, wishing we had a leader with a real interest in others and not just himself.

Mac, I have had so much trouble reading since my move began! I am now settled, and unfortunately I have the dreaded Cable TV because out here with an antenna you get ONE channel, and not very well. So I can always find some silly sitcom to watch, or something to take up my time that I used to give only to reading. So I keep starting books hoping to be hooked - my best headway so far is Little Women. We'll see what happens.

I've had trouble ever since I stopped working full-time convincing myself that it's ok for me to read for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time. Feels like I'm just goofing off. I'm getting better though. Cable TV (Netflix, all that sort of thing) can be a serious drug if you let it. I found action movies to be very tempting, although I think watching all the Die Hard movies in fairly quick succession may have cured me.

Do you have in mind any particular admirable public figures who aren't wading in to the fray? Seems like everybody is. Of course most of them aren't especially admirable--all those show-biz people, for instance.

I read that piece by Williamson and thought it was particularly good.

I'm talking celebrities, that when asked to comment on trump etc. they refuse to do so. Chrissie Hynde said, "Concentrate on the positive things happening." When the interviewer said the news was all bad, she said, "Don't watch the news!" Then Morrissey has a new song where he sings about not watching the news. I wish I could get myself not to watch, but I'm a lot less upset than I used to be. As my uncle said, "None of it matters, just enjoy the clown show!"

It is kind a amazing to me that although I read no news and watch no news shows, I still am able to understand almost any conversation about current politics. I do listen to NPR, so I hear a lot there. The more I listen to them, the more they convince me that their positions are wrong, and the less I trust them. I might very well have the same reaction to talk radio.

Gingkos turn that lovely color and then boom the leaves seem to all fall in one night and leave that beautiful carpet--usually. We have a very large gingko in our backyard which I can see out of the window above the sink, so I see it often. ;-) This year and last, the leaves have just barely turned--they have a very slight yellow tint--and then they fall. It is depressing.

On the other hand, Bill saw a bald eagle in the back yard. I hope I get to see it.

There are things in the Netflix Man in the High Castle that I think are meant to be a criticism not just of Nazis, but of the current left.

For some reason, I have to fill in the information below EVERY TIME I commment.



I have had that problem of feeling guilty if I sit and read too long. I am trying to overcome it. I am also trying to keep away from the TV as much as possible during Lent. I saw "as much as possible" because I don't want to sequester myself from my husband the whole month.


I also have a problem with getting sleepy when I sit and read, if it's early-to-mid afternoon or fairly late at night.

I don't have much occasion to listen to the radio, but I find I can only take NPR news for a fairly short time. Some things they do really well, but most of their people sound *so* smug.

What are you thinking of in Man in the High Castle, Janet? I vaguely remember having some sort of thought along those lines flit through my mind, but that's all.

Good for Chrissie and Morrisey. The first thing I thought of when you mention public figures wading or not wading into the fray was the brief furor a few weeks ago when Taylor Swift decided it was time for her to Speak Out.

Janet, I think control over filling out that info resides in your browser. Not 100% sure. I noticed the behavior changed for me a couple of weeks ago when I installed a new version of the browser I use (Opera).

Destroying statues and monuments to destroy history is something that came to mind, but there were other things that I can't remember at the moment.

Something happened with Chrome a while back and it's been wacky ever since.

The thing about NPR is that I am in the car for hours and most of the time it's the only station I can get clearly. Music puts me to sleep. The irritation keeps me awake. ;-) I have a new phone now, though, and I can listen to books--too bad I can't afford them.


Oh yeah, that Jahr Null stuff. I wonder if the Nazis did that. I know some leftist revolutions have tried it.

I just searched for it and every single reference was related to the series. So I guess maybe the real Nazis didn't do it, at least not by that name. But then, now that I think about it, since they never had power outside of Europe and they thought of themselves as being the culmination of that history, the concept wouldn't have been applicable. Had they conquered other cultures they might have wanted to I guess.

They were in north Africa

If I had to guess what made the series writers think of that I would say Isis. Islamicists blowing up buddhist statues in Afghanistan

Yeah, that might be more likely, though Islamicists have a very different rationale for what they do. As for north Africa, yes, they were there, but I don't think they ever had settled control, the way they have control of the U.S. in the series.

The different rationale is what I was thinking. They don't destroy Buddhist temples to destroy history.



Im watching Homecoming because that's all I can cope with now. It has thirty minute episodes

Is that the thing with Julia Roberts that Amazon has been advertising?

I've been bouncing back and forth between the French series 'Spiral' and the UK's 'DCI Banks.' Both are in 45-50 minute chunks, so I generally watch either one or two episodes depending on how much time I have (or how tired I am!).

I liked the Banks series a lot. Read one of the books on which it's based a month or so ago and wasn't real enthusiastic about it. Not that it was bad but it didn't seem all that good, either. Unusual for me to like the film/tv series better than the book. May read more at some point.

I've seen only a few DCI Banks episodes and really liked them. A whole lot of that had to do with the actor, Stephen Tompkinson. He's just a very watchable guy.

I wonder if the Banks books get better as they go on like the Rebus series does. That series didn't really kick in until the 4th or 5th book.

I like Tompkinson too. I don't think I've ever seen him in anything else but apparently he's quite well-known in the UK.

Spiral is pretty good too. It's been called the French Wire, but it als0 has some things in common with Law & Order. Apparently the judiciary and law enforcement work much closer together in France than in the U.S. or the U.K., and it took me a little while to figure out exactly who was who.

Yes Homecoming has Julia Roberts

Rob, I took a look at A Ghost Story and the reviews said its for intellectuals. I have to wait till Im less tired

Banks as portrayed in the book seemed a much less interesting character than Banks as played by Tompkinson. No way to know of course if that could just be a matter of which one I encountered first.

I couldn't remember the name of the Banks novel I'd just read, but I looked it up, and it is an early one--Past Reason Hated, from 1991. For what that's worth.

A French show like The Wire sounds interesting.

Spiral sounds great but I think I will stay with Homecoing for the time being.

Spiral is on Netflix, but dvd only.

I must admit I am tempted to deop Homecoming! I will see on Saturday, when 8 out of 10 puppues will be gone. I might even e up for the Ghost movie

I just bought Season 1 of Spiral from Amazon video. Its not DVDs, its on video. It was 12.99

You mean streaming video, I guess? I'm always reluctant to buy something that way. It has to be something I'm either really desperate to see or know that I'll want to see more than once.

Or, well, something the grandchildren want to see....

To me 12.99 for eight or ten episodes is ok, given that going out to ser one movie leaves little change from a tenner

Yeah, it's reasonable enough, but I resist. I think the word "buy" is an obstacle: that implies I want it to be mine forever, even though it's not a physical object that I'll have to make space for.

Watched the first episode of Spiral. Its a lot more gripping than the first episode of Homecoming! But I fell asleep half way through, at 8.15 in the evening! I will finish it tonight. The judicial/police overlap is indeed confusing!

If it was gripping but you nevertheless fell asleep halfway through, you're too tired.

Ive watched two episodes of Spiral and Im firmly attached.

Eight puppies went to their new homes over the past few days, including one that I drove to Chicago OHara to be taken on to Sam Jose. Just two left now, Brett and Chrissie Hound. They are leaving at the weekend. Eight weeks of semester with 10 puppies was very very tiring. I also had several pampaging infections.

Yeah, I'm sure ten puppies was an ordeal. Ten puppies in the house (!). I'm glad they have all found homes. Especially Chrissie, who has the greatest name.

Yes if a bitch of mine ever has puppies again Im going to make damn sure she whelps them in the Spring or Summer. Though having said that, I was determined that Brex should not get pregnant until she was two year old, and look what happened. Olivier has no shame.

Chrissie Hound is going to NJ to be auctioned in a Catholic School. I fear and have good reason to believe that they are going to rename her Fatima.

Oh no. Maybe we should try to talk Stu into taking her. Are you listening Stu?

I never have gotten used to hearing "bitch" as a matter of fact term like "cow." Wasn't around any serious dog people growing up.

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