Category Archives: Authors

Miłosz: “All I Wanted Was to Get Out”

Someone will read as moral
that the people of Rome or Warsaw
haggle, laugh, make love
as they pass by the martyrs’ pyres.
Someone else will read
of the passing of things human,
of the oblivion
born before the flames have died. (from “Campo dei Fiori“)

His biographer notes his depression, even at least one moment of despair.

Half a deadpan paragraph treats as more or less normal the moment when Miłosz swallowed a quantity of vodka, loaded a revolver with a single bullet, and played Russian roulette. Graham Greene, a not-so-dissimilar character, also gave way to this particular form of nihilism—or is it vanity? . . .

The Sovietization of Poland was bound to be fraught with moral choices that would lead either to reward or to punishment, possibly a concentration camp and death. . . . Once he was in the West, Miłosz himself was to observe, “All I wanted was to get out, and see what would happen next,” accepting that this amounted to making “a pact with the devil.”

Cowles on Sally Wright

Ashlee Cowles has an appreciation of the mystery novels of Sally Wright at The University Bookman:

Thematically, the Ben Reese mysteries touch on many topics that will resonate with “bohemian Tory” conservatives of the Kirkian variety, where local culture, a living connection to the past, and a love of the land are more important than the “hot button” political squabbles of the day. In Out of the Ruins, for example, Ben Reese must solve a murder linked to a historic family’s ownership of Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia, “now threatened by developers and government takeover.” This notion of big business and big government as equal threats to authentic culture and human flourishing was one of Russell Kirk’s favorite themes, evident in several of the ghostly tales collected in Ancestral Shadows.

On the strength of this article, I’m reading my first Ben Reese book now.

Tip: Dave Lull.

Call to Fund Finishing of Unpublished Burgess Novel

Prance, Noah!

There are many kinds of flood, not all of them water. Here: France, green and grey beneath a swift blue sky, and wholly submerged. The flood here is war.

Adam Roberts, professor of nineteenth-century literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, has been inspired to take up a screenplay left unproduced by Anthony Burgess, a historical movie on The Black Prince. Roberts is working on developing it into a novel. Above is an excerpt from the work in progress.

Roberts said he talked over his idea “with Andrew Biswell (director of the Burgess Foundation in Manchester the world’s leading expert on Burgess’s writing) and we agreed it would be worth seeing if the work could be completed. I have always felt that a science fiction writer is working in the same sort of territory as the writer of historical fiction (and several of my SF novels have been historical, or included historical elements): the creation of a world, the estrangement of the familiar.”

He has been crowd sourcing his fund this year and is 72 percent to his goal this morning.

Looking for Missing Pieces

In the vein of the news we shared several days ago (“Worse Than You’ve Heard” ), Abby Perry writes about a few people who have provoked her over the years, teachers and singers who were “edgy” in different ways, and our responses to those people.

I knew my salvation was secure, but I wondered if perhaps the hollowness I’d sometimes felt in the conservative evangelicalism of my childhood could be filled by the fresh air this singing provocateur was breathing. Maybe this was the missing piece.

But, she says, maybe this desire for finding a missing piece is a significant problem that draws us away from our own families and churches.

“The church isn’t a static commodity—it’s a living thing, and living things often cause and experience pain.”

What Can We Gain Looking Back?

What can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? The hard reality is, surely, that for the likes of you and I, there is little choice other than to leave our fate, ultimately, in the hands of those great gentlemen at the hub of this world who employ our services. What is the point in worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy.

From The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro, who just won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Conflicted, Divided Mr. Lear

A new biography of English poet and artist Edward Lear will be released next year from historian Jenny Uglow. A.N. Wilson reviews it.

In the case of both Lear and Tennyson, Uglow gives the sense that their introspection and private melancholy – their very non-public selves – were what enabled them to speak so effectively to an enormous audience, both in their own time and since. Of the two, however, it is Lear, translating the numbness of private sorrows into nonsense, who seems the more modern. Uglow wisely analyses this limerick:

There was an Old Man of Nepaul
From his horse had a terrible fall
But though quite split in two, By some very strong glue,
They mended the Man of Nepaul.

‘The glue of the rhyme sticks the pieces together,’ she writes, ‘but in the drawing the man’s two halves are still wide apart.’ That, really, is the essence of this psychologically brilliant portrait of Lear. There was at his core an unmendable dissonance, reflective of his times.

Perhaps this dissonance is always present in every society, but it’s sad to take note of it in some individuals. See the “Old Man of Nepaul” illustration on Lear200.

Here’s a little more on Jenny Uglow, who accidentally became an “adviser on every worthwhile period drama” on TV and some movies as well.

(via Prufrock News)

Como on Helprin

James Como (a noted C.S. Lewis scholar) writes an insightful appreciation of the novels of Mark Helprin at New English Review (by way of Books, Inq., by way of Dave Lull).

He delivers (as C. S. Lewis has put it) a realism of presentation, a high definition intensity of multi-sensory appeal, an imagism that, blurring (as do the Romantics) the line between exterior and interior, inexorably involves the reader in its vitality. Light, blue coldness and ice, but also heat, shimmering foliage, dramatic skyscapes, the ocean, the Hudson Valley with its precipices and bays and bordering towns and pastures, a predilection for knowing how tasks are done (and in detail) and how objects work—these are touchstones of Helprin’s prose, these and a rhythmic, phonic drive. He surely writes for the ear. The style is further marked by analogy, by lists (they can make the man), and by hyperbolic wit (with every now and then a punch line).

Worse Than You’ve Heard

Tullian Tchividjian has started blogging again.

“As Charles Spurgeon once said, ‘If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him. For you are worse than he thinks you to be.’ This statement is painfully true. The truth is, I selfishly wrecked my life and the lives of many others.”

He tells the story of seeing his endorsement on the cover of a book and feeling renewed guilt over the blotch of his name.

Having resigned his ministries in 2015, he has remarried and his family now attend a Lutheran Brethren church in Florida.

Rice on the Spirit of Democracy

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to Hugh Hewitt last May about her book, Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom and the many accounts of democracy, mostly in Eastern Europe and Russia. This is from the transcript of their talk.

Hewitt: At the bottom of my notes, I wrote you have to be willing to accept defeat, and you have to really believe that political campaigns and political warfare are much more preferable to the real thing with bullets and artillery. And that the democratic spirit is just the people you hold up to admire, embrace it, and the people that you scold, and sometimes not so gently, don’t.

Rice: Right. Right, because democracy is really right perched, sort of perched between authoritarianism and chaos. So democracy’s that sweet spot. It’s the place where you have institutions where people can carry out their concerns, their interests, they can change their leaders peacefully. I say in the book that democracy is built for disruption, because what we do in democracy is we say okay, you want change? Go and vote in a new candidate, a new president or a new governor or a new senator. You want change? You think your rights have been violated? Take it to the courts. And by the way, take it all the way to the Supreme Court if you want to, Brown V. Board of Education. And because we have this spirit of constitutionalism, or spirit of democracy, we are willing to use the institutions of disruption rather than going into the streets and fighting it out in the streets. And that’s a tremendous gift from our founders, from the people who have sustained that system over the more than 250 years or so of our existence. And we sometimes lose patience with those who are just starting that process. You know, Hugh, democracy is a pretty mysterious thing that you get people to say I’m going to rely on this abstraction called the Constitution rather than my family or my clan or my religious group. And we’ve been very fortunate that we have those institutions, and I think part of our greatness is to be able to help others find them, too.

Honoring Theologian Robert W. Jenson

Throughout modernity, the church has presumed that its mission was directed to persons who already understood themselves as inhabitants of a narratable world. Moreover, since the God of a narratable world is the God of Scripture, the church was also able to presume that the narrative sense people had antecedently tried to make of their lives had somehow to cohere with the particular story, “the gospel,” that the church had to communicate. Somebody who could read Rex Stout or the morning paper with pleasure and increase of self-understanding was for that very reason taken as already situated to grasp the church’s message (which did not of course mean that he or she would necessarily believe it). In effect, the church could say to her hearers: “You know that story you think you must be living out in the real world? We are here to tell you about its turning point and outcome.”

But this is precisely what the postmodern church cannot presume. What then? The obvious answer is that if the church does not find her hearers antecedently inhabiting a narratable world, then the church must herself be that world.

Mars Hill Audio calls Robert Jenson, who taught at at Luther College, Mansfield College (Oxford), Lutheran Seminary, and St. Olaf College, one of our “greatest living theologians.” He passed away early this month. The above quotation is from his essay “How the World Lost Its Story,” which Ken Myers reads in this recording.

Discovering a Poem by Ezra Pound

Daniel Swift discovered a little poem about bread and flowers by Ezra Pound, written on the back of an envelope. It shows something of his skill but also the inconsistencies of his philosophy. He spent WWII as a propagandist for fascists, condemning equality among nations and races, and was tried and acquitted for treason in 1946.

“And yet the method of his poetry,” Swift says, “insists that ideas can and must be translated across cultures. He mixes African myth with classical Greek epic, ancient Chinese poetry and the American blues.”

This sharply contrasted his poisonous radio diatribes, which Robert Wernick describes:

His scripts for Radio Roma covered political, economic, historical and cultural subjects, interspersed with personal reminiscences, all tumbling over one another in such impulsive and unpredictable order that some Italian officials suspected he was transmitting military secrets to the enemies of Italy in an unbreakable code. He was in fact expressing in his customary percussive prose style his deeply-held beliefs that only a currency reform under a system known as Social Credit would solve the world’s economic problems; that only an authoritarian regime like Mussolini’s could clear out the muck that was stifling modern life; and that something, preferably something violent, should be done to get rid of the Jews, the Bank of England, Franklin Roosevelt (“Stinky Rosenstein”), Winston Churchill, publishers, night-clubs, usury, birth control, muddy painters like Rembrandt, sloppy composers like Beethoven and Puccini (“Spewcini”). Along the way he would drop in gnomic utterances on the order of, “The laws of durable government have been known since the days of King Wen,” or, “The cultural stink betrayed the U. S. in 1863.”

Pound did spend time after the trial in a mental hospital, but I’m inclined to attribute his hateful ideas to simple human hubris more than mental illness. It doesn’t take much to hate other people.

Nabeel Qureshi, 34, Has Died

The author of the brilliant Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi, has passed into glory. He was 34. May 100 more just like him rise up in this generation for the glory of the Lord.

Justin Taylor has a good summary of his life and Ravi Zacharias writes about Nabeel’s enduring faith, boundless energy, and the discovery of the stomach cancer that took his life.

“He was not just an evangelical; he was passionately evangelistic. He desired to cover the globe with that good news: that God’s forgiveness was available to all. When he spoke, he held audiences captive.”

Destroy My Unfinished Works

“There goes the browsing history.”

On August 25, Rob Wilkins, friend of late author Terry Pratchett and manager of the author’s estate, followed his friend’s posthumous directions by putting the hard drive with Pratchett’s unfinished docs under a steamroller.

Stuart Kelly considers whether such wishes should be honored. For instance, Virgil asked for the Aeneid to be burned after his death, and the king refused to allow it (via Prufrock News).

One could no doubt elaborate on the “broken” hexameters of the poem – something I was taught during schoolboy Latin – but the question that interests me is whether having an imperfect Aeneid is better than having no Aeneid at all. Of course, not having it would mean not knowing what we might have had; but there must have been an ethical tangle when Rufus and Tucca went against what they knew the author had wanted.

They Weren’t Stories

Every published writer is the beneficiary of luck. Among my good fortune was the fact that editors began to treat me as if they were my aunts. They were all women, of course. There were no men in the fiction departments. On one of my visits to New York, three or four editors from different magazines sat me down in the Algonquin, plied me with manhattans, and discussed my career. It was now three years since my big resolution. I was selling stories regularly. One year I sold more stories to Redbook than anyone else ever had, using several pen names. It was the consensus of the group that I was ready for more. I needed an agent.

Ralph M. McInerny, author of the Father Dowling series, wrote about his career many years ago in First Things.

“What I thought were stories piled up on the workbench. With time I began to see why they were rejected: They weren’t stories.”

Good Talk with Writer Trevin Wax

The Calling podcast has a good talk this week with Trevin Wax. He talks about his love of books and his calling as a writer in ways they don’t drip with sap (such as you may or may not read in other places). Here’s one quote lifted off the podcast page.

On writing’s challenges: “The biggest struggle is bouncing back and forth between pride and humiliation. If you’re not careful, that mix can paralyze you. If you take praise or criticism too personally, it’s bad for heart. It’ll shut you down.”

I would subscribe to The Calling, if my podcast app would cooperate with me, but it’s showing me the hand this week.