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
8.3 (Summer 2008)
The previous issue of Praesidium (Spring 2008) 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.)
Praesidium 8.3 (Summer 2008)
A Few Words from the Editor (see below)
Carrying literacy’s banner forward into e-space continues to be a mildly contradictory adventure whose tensions can sometimes drive its footsoldiers to despair.
Thomas F. Bertonneau
Professor Bertonneau, a veteran of many classroom campaigns, laments that the coed undergraduate, far from being the English teacher’s joy to instruct that she once was, has become frequently downright adversarial thanks to feminism’s having applied rough edges liberally.
John R. Harris
In a rather routine presentation of a literary survey class, this professor was struck by the prominent—but largely unremarked—presence of the sublime in English literature since the Renaissance. Why did English theorists like Edmund Burke themselves appear to disparage the sublime experience?
Words and notions are brutally abused in today’s raging political disputes: some essential definitions and elementary distinctions would go far toward making such exchanges more responsible.
(Thomas F. Bertonneau)
A previous issue had some fun with Ivory Tower culture and “liberal chic”. It seems only fair now to report on what neo-conservatives are up to—or would be, if they were given free reign to create their own campus.
Summer Storm (poem)
Next Door Burned Ucalegon (short story)
A Few Words from the Editor
I wrote several of you toward the end of June that The Center’s last days may have come. Our Web site had inexplicably vanished from cyberspace, replaced by a pretty young blonde carrying a backpack but otherwise not even implicitly affiliated with matters academic, intellectual, or cultural. A few phrases had randomly been snatched and posted on the “home page”, rather as the entrails of a huge Cretaceous raptor’s victim might be sprinkled upon a lawn… a fingertip here, a shorn spleen there. Most of the phrases did not coalesce into any sense from any angle. All too abundant and comprehensible, however, were two menus of invitations to engage in financial activity—buy a plane ticket, sign up for online dating—which would involve the release of delicate personal information.
I panicked, quite honestly—not only because I hadn’t the slightest idea what had happened, but because the dozen of dignitaries I had lately invited to visit the site would never take me seriously again if their eyes should light upon such rubbish. I assumed that we had been “hijacked”, and proceeded to notify my Web hosting service (which answered none of my Priority One messages until after the weekend) and the FBI (which has yet to send me so much as a standardized auto-response). It turns out that the exotic port of Shanghai should not have stirred in my imagination: the heist was entirely home-grown. My Web host, having divided technical assistance and billing into two distinct departments, could not seem to pass the word from one to the other that I had properly renewed my domain name (“literatevalues.org”). I learned that a certain species of vulture swoops down upon these names the instant they become available, purchases them for pennies, and then offers them at a re-sell price of thousands of dollars in the event that some hapless outfit like The Center is facing a massive loss of clientele. Of course, just in case the domain name’s quondam owner really does not care to keep it, these dusky operators set several snares for any visitor so foolish as to divulge credit card information.
The Web host did right by me on the Monday morning in question (though only two weeks later was my card finally charged for the domain name’s renewal). I did not walk away from this adventure chirping, “All’s well that ends well,” however. Though our site was actually much improved by the thorough scrub-down and manicure I gave it in consequence of the scare (see for yourself sometime), I nevertheless remain deeply impressed by the multiplied opportunities for fraud, waste, and ruin in our Internet “culture”. I am disturbed that so many sleazy businesses can operate so openly, that virtually no legal oversight is effective, and—most of all—that casual errors on the part of well-meaning parties can create tidal waves rather than mere ripples. Of course, I really have no way of ever finding out if The Center failed to receive a grant or endorsement because an important person visited its site during those sixty-something hours. I have no way of knowing, really, if our PayPal button is working as it should. Links on the site cease functioning without warning. On this particular morning as I write, I plan to see a man about a camera that was supposed to create DVDs capable of being viewed on a TV screen… and it doesn’t. My home computer (and the one at my workplace) will not even burn simple text files onto a disc after receiving all the right commands until I eject my disc and am told in effect (like a patient beau saddled with an airy flirt), “Wait! Put that back! I haven’t finished with it!”
I wrote some of you during my panic attack that the latent contradiction between The Center’s work and the Internet’s importance to that work had at last reached the snapping point—that readers and other thoughtful people simply don’t waste time clicking around on a flashy box, and that the hit-or-miss, all-or-nothing links upon which every stage of such communication depends cannot long be tolerated by responsible adults. The failure rate is unacceptable. The risk, the margin of error, are too great. The impenetrability of the failure’s causes and the inaccessibility of a competent technician are infuriating. To those of us who are dedicated professionals rather than bored adolescents with an attention deficit, our culture does not seem to be advancing… quite the contrary.
In various ways, I think our contributors are constantly noticing this inadequacy of “progressive existence”. Tom Bertonneau writes in this issue of the gross incivility observable in the undergraduate coed who swaggers down college corridors with a New Woman chip on her shoulder. I wonder how much this situation is worsened by the absence of young men who are not trapped in adolescence by a panoply of electronic games? My own essay about the sublime in English literature argues that applied science has a built-in contempt for the incomprehensible (or even the “unprocessable” as the technician understands it in his narrow terms: try finding a young “geek” at Radio Shack who sympathizes with your computer anxiety). Ivor Davies has given us a short story which all too well illustrates the squalor of prose-writing in this epoch of lunging at “icons” (a word whose transformed meaning packs a walloping irony which will never graze Bill Gates, let alone his cultural progeny).
In short, “e-culture” is not, and will never be, civilization. ~J. H.