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
7.3 (Summer 2007)
The previous issue of Praesidium (Spring 2007) may be viewed by clicking here.
John R. Harris, Ph.D.
Thomas F. Bertonneau, Ph.D.
Helen R. Andretta, Ph.D.
Michael H. Lythgoe
Lt. Col. USAF (Retd.)
© 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.
A Few Words from the Editor (see below)
No particular theme emerges in this issue: our recurrent concern for the decay of Western culture and our vigorous interest in “the finer things” is again at center-stage.
Thomas F. Bertonneau
Arguably the greatest composer to be produced by France was constantly ignored, obstructed, and insulted by a stuffy establishment in his day. Now, in a telling irony, France’s ruling elite will have none of him for imaginary slights to unhealthy sensibilities..
John R. Harris
Scholars have conventionally dramatized the struggle of the written word against the spoken one. When the contest shifts from history to psychology, however, these two means of communication may be allies against the visual.
This review of Frank Ellis’s Marxism, Multiculturalism, and Free Speech maintains that the author has failed to arrive at the essence of political correctness.
Michael H. Lythgoe
This poem was inspired by one of Philip Morsberger’s paintings.
Still Life (short story)
A close encounter with a tornado is insufficient to lift a sensitive young man from a life of quiet desperation.
A Few Words from the Editor
As an American, and indeed as a Westerner, one is thoroughly programmed to view every sequence of events as either progressive or decadent. Things don’t just stay the same. Indeed, lines such as, “It hasn’t changed in the past twenty years!” usually pop up in public discourse as spirited criticism, their outrage considered to be self-justifying. For a people which can place a man on the moon to permit any mass-transit system’s or chronic health problem’s unaltered persistence through two decades smacks of incompetence, if not malfeasance. Why, we must be losing ground: if we still do something—anything at all—the same way that our parents did it, our society must be embarked upon a decline.
And the sensation of decline is very real. Because we make money by changing things and amuse ourselves by changing things, the experience of the unchanging alarms us. How will we survive? How will we avert boredom? The incomparable author of The Revolt of the Masses, José Ortega y Gasset, has been much on my mind lately and often appears among my citations (as in my piece for this issue); yet I have come to recognize upon re-reading Ortega y Gasset this summer that he presupposes the presence of a great void just beyond all human affairs and, for that matter, beyond all terrestrial existence of any kind. It’s a familiar theme in authors who came of age just after the Great War. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, about whom I once wrote a book many years ago, gropes in his writings toward just such an “arbitrarism”—a worldview, that is, in which value begins in the arbitrary declaration of some founding group that this ritual is reverent, this mountain holy. The savants of our own day have carved notches into their academic six-shooters by blasting away lustily at human culture’s whimsical origins; but before World War II, one finds that the very vulnerability of our institutions and beliefs to the iconoclast’s assault rendered them more precious. They were like delicate plants that required a highly artificial environment.
Specifically, Ortega y Gasset builds his case for a new United States of Europe upon the notion that societies must be inspired with a sense of common endeavor—of mission—if they are not to wilt and perish. Saint-Exupéry’s literary hymns to technological advance (such as the early Vol de Nuit) are fully in step with such an outlook. The trouble here is that human values cannot be arbitrary, after all, if vast numbers of people are not to be beguiled by a very small elite of paternal nihilists pledged to shield them from the void: the creed of Ivan Karamazov’s Grand Inquisitor. For why would an entire society race to the moon or dedicate itself to colonizing a new planet if its members understand full well that croquet on a Martian Sunday afternoon would end up being as boring as croquet on a Sunday afternoon in mid-American suburbia? The masses would have to be kept busy, kept too preoccupied to think. The President or Emperor or People’s Choice would have to resemble the Duke of Marlborough in the English nursery rhyme: “He marched his soldiers up the hill / And marched them down again.”
The impression grows upon me daily that we are being marched in any number of directions by drill instructors who themselves can foresee perfectly well the sterility of each particular destination. We are being kept busy—with war, with pleasure, with neurotic anxiety, with drooling ambition. We are being handled quite deliberately so that we may not stop and think any of it through.
My own inclination, as must be quite apparent, is to see such trends as degenerative… but then, degeneracy is the flip side of progress. If I really believed in the vast downward turn of things, why would I be so committed to the work of The Center for Literate Values? Why would I be so delighted to report that we have just received a grant of $1,000 from the Earhart Foundation—the first four-figure donation in our brief history? Our position as a society is unstable, to say the least; but this journal and those who create and read it are proof that the will to resist unpromising trends lingers on. Despite the very best efforts of our surroundings to keep us from it, some of us are indeed thinking very hard about where we’re going.
My own suspicion, revealed in this issue for the first time, that our communications technology is dumbing us down primarily by emphasizing the visual came to me recently and as rather a shock. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to explain. Another happy accident occurred when Tom Bertonneau, quite unprovoked by me, decided to train his vast learning and keen understanding in the direction of music—real music, the kind which can only be appreciated after several hearings in a quiet, still environment; the kind that has been supplanted by highly lucrative racket. Can it really be complete accident that our declining taste in music has paralleled our declining familiarity and facility with the written or printed word?
Yet as our own creative artists remind us in these pages, high expectation and bitter disillusionment are a substantial part of what stays the same in human affairs. If there is not much cause to hope in this world, there’s plenty of cause to smile… and the expectation of a smile is not at all an uncivilized hope. J. H.