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The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.

 

P R A E S I D I U M

A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

7.1 (Winter 2007)

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The previous issue of Praesidium (Fall 2006) may be viewed by clicking here.

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John R. Harris, Ph.D.

President

Thomas F. Bertonneau, Ph.D.

Secretary

Helen R. Andretta, Ph.D.

York College-CUNY

Director

Michael H. Lythgoe

Lt. Col. USAF (Retd.)

Director

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 ©  All contents of this journal (including poems, articles, fictional works, and short pieces by staff) are copyrighted by The Center for Literate Values of Tyler, Texas (2007), and may not be cited at length or reproduced without The Center’s express permission.

CONTENTS

A Few Words from the Editor (see below)

No particular theme emerges in this edition—but the vectors of “pop culture” and academic trend continue to point toward the danger zone. 

Religion Against Itself: The Revolt of the Elite of the United Church Christ

Howard S. Schwartz  

The scholar who literally wrote the book on the pathology of political correctness examines the curious revolt of the elites against elitism.

Facilis Descensus Averno, Part I A Diffusely Comparative Study of Romantic Illusion and Social Dissolution

John R. Harris

This two-part series studies from the vantage of fictionalized adventures the complex socio-cultural malaise of alienated people putting all their trust in luck and love.

Modernity and the Machine: Viewpoints on Technology and Society  

and

(Postscript) Interpreting the Millennium: The Dilemma of Hypermodernity

Mark Wegierski

Two short essays, written in a condensed schematic which highlights major affinities and tensions, arrange our day’s prevailing assess-ments of where technology is taking us.

And Deliver Us from English

Mark Notzon  

A well-traveled professor writes of his experiences teaching in lands about as remote from Western assumptions as one can find today.

The Ghost of Caesar’s Wife

Ivor Davies  

In this short story, a graduate student far from sold on her major discovers a shocking new perspective lurking in the library’s most neglected section. 

A Few Words from the Editor

    Having obtained a favorable ruling in our application for 501(c)3 charitable status as of September 1, 2006 (the status is actually retroactive to The Center’s inception in 2000), we are now able to assure contributors that their donations are fully tax-deductible.  I am still waiting for the generous deluge of funds which I expected this achievement to incite.  Perhaps I am unreasonable.  When I attempted to approach foundations for a small gift in past years, I was always lectured in gentle avuncular style that So-and-So Foundation’s charter forbids awards to any but 501(c)3’s.  Now the uncle isn’t writing me letters: no one, so far, is writing me letters.  This includes two people with whom I attended school from the tender age of nine—who did absolutely nothing to acquire their vast wealth, frankly, except be born with a certain name, and whose trust fund dispenses thousands to dozens of organizations every year as a tax dodge.  Lest my application be lost in the crush or read by Heinrich Himmler reincarnated as an office flunkey, I directed my appeal directly to the homes of my “friends”.  I even sent warm, chatty e-mails.  Apparently, none of this was à propos.  Not a word in acknowledgment—not even a return e-mail with something like “hi” in the subject box.  Did I grovel too much, or not enough?

     I am a pitiful fund-raiser (now considered one word by most, I fear) and a perfectly miserable self-promoter.  I know that.  I shouldn’t even be writing in this vein within this venue—not even with vague, anonymous references.  But I’m getting old, and I continue to devote those years during which many others my age are piling up wealth to the thankless task of trying to save a few scraps of our culture for our children.  No one—not I, nor any member of The Center’s board, nor any contributing author—receives a farthing in remuneration for all this work.  I am rather irritated at this moment that people who command position, power, and resources in our declining society register no observable interest in preserving from oblivion a priceless tradition of thought wherein reason, conscience, creativity, and the search for transcending and humane purpose are valorized.  This insouciance, of course, is visible at every level in our public life: I am no longer writing about a couple of quondam friends.  If Eric Voegelin was right to style Marxism a “great swindle”, then our generation is witnessing The Great Betrayal among the Free World’s (as we once called it) victors: its politicians, legislators, educators, artists, corporate leaders, jurors, and sometimes even spiritual advisors.

     On the other hand, if enthusiasm for the cause of responsible individualism were high, then we wouldn’t be in our present mess.  The difficulty of securing support for ventures like The Center for Literate Values surely indicates that the crisis in response to which The Center was formed exists and poses a major threat.  So we struggle onward.  For those readers who may find my assertion needlessly theatrical, I can do no better than offer the contents of this issue.  Professor Schwartz has given us the initial version of a paper for which he hopes to find broader exposure later.  This is not to imply that his thesis is under-developed.  On the contrary, he offers a detailed analysis of how our culture’s anointed (often self-anointed) elite superciliously sneers at our few remaining exponents of coherent values for being—of all things—elitist!  My own piece on the evolution of literary romance as a social and psychological phenomenon would have echoed many of Dr. Schwartz’s suggestions if I had not been forced to halve my work.  It grew and grew on me, and the half dealing with contemporary issues will appear in the next edition.  At the very least, one may certainly say that overturning hierarchies in celebration of illogic is no less a sign of cultural collapse than embracing chaotic fantasies where only one or two characters prosper thanks to a lucky star.  Mark Wegierski’s sketch-like commentary anatomizes our most common political and philosophical approaches to the current challenge; while Mark Notzon, now a veteran of teaching English all around the globe, entrusts us with the retrospective testimony of a young scholar somewhat adrift in our time’s turbulent seas.  Ivor Davies’ exquisite short story traces the immensely more confused transit of a young grad-school student through the helter-skelter contemporary campus. 

     A former student of my own—one of the most intelligent, beautiful, sensitive young people I have ever met—wrote me recently of her shock to read on our website that the literate life stood in some danger.  Then she described the inner satisfaction she has found in radical vegetarianism (including abstinence from milk products, since cows may perhaps be pained by milking).  Further exchanges convinced me that this young woman was disciplining her appetites for all the right reasons; but her case reminds me of many where the ascetics concerned carry their sacrifices to extravagant lengths.  Such headlong lunges after spirituality are symptomatic, I think, of a culture in decline.  Our scintillating but misguided children are usually like my friend in discerning no immediate connection between the guilt they feel on behalf of their wasteful, self-indulgent society and the collapse of that intense self-examination fostered by reading and writing.  We must redirect such promising energy along avenues which make full use of its benevolent impulse; for ill-directed energy—passion, as the current parlance has it—can all too readily transfer its attention from the human soul to a symbolic blade of grass, or even (as Dr. Schwartz shows us) from love to narcissism.  J. H.