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
9.2 (Spring 2009)
The previous issue of Praesidium (Spring 2010) 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.)
The self-styled gurus of a pop-cultural Zen, so abundant and prolific two or three decades ago, are enjoying a revived influence as their aging disciples inherit positions of power. Professor Kogan measures how far such dull awakening is from the real thing, using Kipling’s Kim as a yardstick.
John R. Harris
Rome’s greatest poet is too often caricatured, even in university Classics departments, as a propagandist flunkey. The truth is that Vergil’s flawed, perhaps failed attempt to project a vision of progress without belying the reality of human fallibility poses a lasting challenge to progressive thinking. Part One of two.
Reprinted from May of 2005, this paper has grown more relevant than ever as a new administration pursues the agenda outlined earlier by Robert Reich.
John R. Harris
The charitable impulse historically embedded in liberalism is wandering off target, to be sure—but reason is not the culprit.
The latest in our series of mock “news flashes”, this scoop was created by a professor to calm his students’ surly objections that their iPods and laptops are too much criticized—but nobody laughed!
Parallel Failures (poetry)
Has science become the new poetry? Then some universes will never be reached.
Memento Mori (short story)
Among various surefire but little-explored ways to earn tenure from a reluctant review board, announcing one’s imminent death is perhaps the least violent.
A Few Words from the Editor
Probably no one associated with The Center for Literate Values (i.e., no one who reads and writes at an advanced level) shares the confidence of our ruling class that nations can spend their way to prosperity, that printing paper is an adequate strategy for removing debt, or that the public sector tends to show a higher degree of efficiency than the private sector. These, then, are dismal times for our readers and contributors. I have observed that disagreement is not uncommon among our faithful in the matter of foreign policy, and the recent national elections were said to have been impacted in no small measure by our military entanglements abroad; but it turns out that our aging, ailing nation is to find little respite, even here. Entanglements are to be reshuffled, not reduced.
The arts were created for just such gloomy historical moments. Into the imagination, one may effect an escape which defies the moral opprobrium of escapism, since true art—great art—actually draws one into closer proximity with the immutable facts of human nature. When those facts are fragmented, distorted, or suppressed in a political setting, honest people grow frustrated. They—we—simply cannot endure steady exposure, day after day, to the folderol about an utter end to war or poverty or disease or unhappiness or insulting words which our utopia-purveying oligarchs market to a childish throng. We know how these fairy tales will end—how they have always ended: literature allows us to cut to the chase, finding a closure within a few dozen or hundred pages which a generation of text-messagers may need half a century of living (if God grants them so much) to figure out. We understand; and, understanding, we recover a degree of equanimity. For to desire a world without fools and their folderol, let us admit, would also be to yearn for Never Never Land.
In this particular issue, authors and subjects already consigned to the progressive’s long train of cattle cars for insufficiently ignoring human facts seemed to coalesce unbidden. Rudyard Kipling and the Roman poet Vergil have both been belittled as propagandist hacks by forces within the academy for a good (or a bad, really) four decades now. Through a serendipitous kind of coincidence which has often smiled upon my editorial endeavors, Steve Kogan and I just happened to feel drawn to Kim and the Aeneid as ’08 wore unhealthily into ’09. At about the same time, Gary Inbinder kindly consented to my republishing his protest against the secular idolatry of progressivism; and poet Alan McGinnis was inspired over these weeks to mourn the absorption of metaphor into science. Thus I very nearly ended up with a “special issue” about the corrosion of beauty and vision by demagoguery and the slick sell. Yet rather than favor a mystical explanation of this convergence, I cling to the notion that something about 2009 makes such a choice of subject quite natural.
One day soon—perhaps before this year is out (for the end of any year is beginning to seem soon to me)—I hope to write on the importance of stasis to human fulfillment. I say this not simply because we are likely to get our fill of “change” before the next snow, but because it is a truth far too little respected by both sides of the aisle. That a maturing person should go back to a farm cottage or a neighborhood village once in a while and find the same old trees—or find the same old rooftops framed by mysteriously larger trees—has been a universal experience until our time; and it has been a healthy one, as well, and its deletion from the past half-century has left our humanity the poorer. Men and women should be able to measure the progress of their lives against that which does not progress, but abides. The author of the Critique of Judgment probably would have said that the Old Courthouse which we first saw holding Grandfather’s hand and will last see holding our grandchild’s is a representation of metaphysical permanence, a sublime image of unchanging standards against which a lifetime’s striving to satisfy those standards may be poignantly viewed (much as the struggle of a mountaineer appears to those miles away who see the whole mountain). A society which has undermined such moments of homecoming—which plows under its trees every decade and immerses its granite courthouses in windowless marble “bureaus”—is dangerously likely, by implication, to nurture no sense of abiding value, of reality beyond the here-and-now. In its quest of “change” and “progress”, it increasingly looks with indifference upon the ambush of babies exiting the womb and the fusion of humans with robots. Obviously, this society would have no regard for beauty or literature, which insist upon a frame, a set of references, a telos—a sense of things—rather than forever postponing the moment of justification.
Thank God, then, for literature—true literature! I have buried over half a dozen homes in the life which my change-worshiping culture has forced upon me, though most of them still haunt me in my dreams. Through all these meaningless migrations, however, I have always transported a wealth of books. I thank Steve Kogan for reminding me of Kim, one of the first novels I ever read (assigned when novels were still taught before high school, and just before Kipling was airbrushed from the canon). I shall be returning to its pages very soon. ~J. H.