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
9.3 (Summer 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.)
A Few Words from the Editor
Questions of progress and progressivism recur in this issue’s essays. A case is made that the Roman poet Vergil was really not as convinced of progress’s possibility as scholars have made out; and in the contemporary academy, the Right is more divided in its view of this same possibility than the Left seems to understand.
John R. Harris
Though the allegorized forces of passion most readily attract the reader’s attention in ancient Rome’s great epic, the stunningly original roles which Vergil assigns to Jupiter and Venus are the key to understanding the whole.
An experienced teacher of Great Books classes at major universities is driven to opine upon how anemic such courses commonly are due to a politicized faculty’s ignorance of and resistance to canonical texts.
John R. Harris
The Center for Literate Values is naturally sympathetic to various forms of cultural conservatism… but does not the shrill, outlandish anti-Western bias of the academy conceal valid evidence that the West has indeed failed?
Col. Lythgoe’s poetry combines a strong sense of place (in this case, the Southeast) with an intricate appreciation of nature and an awareness of the spiritual meaning lurking behind the simplest of encounters.
The Old Man and the Boys of Summer (short story)
America’s favorite pastime—piling up money to scale the social ladder—sometimes intersects with baseball, in an odd way: an often laughable way, in this “logbook” short story.
This short poem may keep you awake (or wake you up).
A Few Words from the Editor
I should probably apologize for the length of my own piece in this issue—the second half of an essay about Vergil’s Aeneid which must surely set a new record for gourmandizing precious space. However, I am confident that anyone who possesses a sincere interest in the classics or the Western tradition will find my conclusions thought-provoking. As a writer, I am basking in that rare sense of having exceeded myself, for this somewhat speculative explanation of the epic’s allegory is simply the best thing of its sort that I have ever done. The exercise was both uplifting and humbling in that it brought me to what I take for deeper insights only after I began writing, and clearly by means of writing. My young students are often puzzled by my suspicion of e-communication, with its speed-of-light promptness and ease. This is why I am suspicious: i.e., because we often do not know quite what we believe about a subject, even if we have pondered it for years, until we anguish over putting our ideas precisely into words.
“Progress” is in the air, poisoning our political and cultural life like some sort of greenhouse gas: that sad fact, too, must have contributed to how I looked back at Vergil’s incurable and ruinous optimist, Jupiter. I would not dream of denying that our view of the past, and of such relics of the past as literature, is affected by events of our own time (not to mention by our personality). Yet pointing this out as a means of disqualifying certain interpretations strikes me as immensely duplicitous. Why should not peculiar circumstances initiate important discoveries rather than mar reading with subjectivity, if the investigator can undergird claims with solid textual evidence? Galileo appears to have been almost alone among his contemporaries in reading Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso as a wry parody—but such it certainly is. The Zeitgeist of sixteenth-century Italy did not nourish a more coherent reading of that unique epic romance, but—on the contrary—impeded it in favor of a stale, dull approach. Furthermore, the “scientific” scholar who deplores all inspiration in commentary and insists, rather, upon “method” (meaning historical parallel: rendering intra-textual imagery and atmosphere resonantly consistent is hardly un-methodical, but it calls for taste) is by no means himself objective. Arid mandarinism may well be no more than a way to promote one’s own subjectively attractive worldview by implication—the last view standing, usually, after others have been ridiculed for lacking “historical probability”.
This isn’t exactly the kind of academic abuse which Michael Sugrue has in mind. In fact, in the early days of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics (a group with which some of our board once had close ties), the subversive work of long-haired radicals about the canon’s foundation was seen as antithetical to respectable endeavor in the Ivory Tower. My own feeling, as a scholar who came of age in the chaotic seventies and eighties, is that both sides were busily killing the canon from opposite directions. Sugrue very correctly observes (as I think I have just done) that theoretical subversion can have no moral justification, since the sapper, having toppled a tower, immediately declares himself the new king of a hill of rubble. Texts do not lose all their beauty and power forever simply because we find them being used as propaganda—not even if we also find that their authors foresaw their being so used. The charge that all is propaganda is itself propaganda. Rather, the complexity of motives behind any literary classic requires that we employ an objective subjectivity to determine what parts of it allow sunlight through a miasma of self-interest. Scholars with careers in desperate need of promotion are not necessarily the best guides through the haze.
As always, I have managed (and I am both proud of this success and deeply grateful to those responsible for it) to include creative works within the same two covers as wrap our scholarly discussions of such works. It would do none of us any harm to recall often that a critic without an artist is in much worse shape than an artist without a critic. Magic first, analysis after. The analysis of the human heart’s attraction to certain visionary spectacles or mysterious metaphors no doubt holds vital lessons about our nature, some of them essential to discovering the good life. That many of our poorly schooled contemporaries, for instance, seem eager to create a “beautiful society” with the same zeal (and the same absolute authority over “materials”) as a painter would display in filling out a canvas suggests to me a boorish educational inadequacy—an insane confusion of aesthetic and practical judgment. Yet turning away from true art was the initial phase of this boorishness, I believe, just as the rediscovery of genuine beauty may lead us back to spiritual maturity in the very difficult times that await us. ~JRH