Archive | Literature

Saturdays with Stendhal 5

In honor of the DC snowstorm – it is still coming down! – this passage from On Love, Book 2, Chapter 50, Love in the United States:

In the Winter, which as in Russia is the festive season of the country, young people of both sexes drive about night and day over the snow in sleighs, gaily traveling distances of fifteen or twenty miles without anyone to look after them; and nothing untoward ever occurs.

Unchaperoned and “nothing untoward” happens … does Stendhal here anticipate the courtship culture brought about by the automobile a century later?  (It is important to keep in mind both how little Stendhal actually knew about the United States, apart from thinking it even more a Nation of Shopkeepers than England, and how willing he was to imagine anything he didn’t actually know.  Still, at least for those of us who are Stendhal’s Happy Few, no less fun for all that.) [...]

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Cities in Flight

Instead of a Stendhal post this week – I missed Saturday lost in the DC snow – and further to my Foundation post below, which has garnered some very interesting comments … do we have any fans of James Blish’s Cities in Flight novels?

As an exercise in future history social theory, I actually think they are deeper than the Foundation novels; certainly I found the characters more psychologically interesting and in many respects, the interplay of society with ideas from science deeper, too.  I used to think – and say below – that they are emotionally rather bleak, pessimistic.  I think today I would say it is not so much pessimism as a very adult sensibility of mortality.  The original Foundation series is aimed at cleverness in holding out on the ending; Blish was a surprisingly psychological writer, particularly for that era in science fiction.

Here is what I wrote about the series on a family blog in 2005, reading them with my daughter: [...]

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“The New Foundation”

Peggy Noonan notes in her weekend column that President Obama’s SOTU address worked in a name for the new program – in the tradition of the “New Deal” or Kennedy’s “New Frontier.  For the Obama administration, it is the New Foundation.  She is skeptical:

They’ve chosen a phrase for the president’s program. They call it the “New Foundation.” They sneaked it in rather tentatively, probably not sure it would take off. It won’t. Such labels work when they clearly capture something that is already clear. “The New Deal” captured FDR’s historic shift to an increased governmental presence in individual American lives. It was a new deal. “The New Frontier”—we are a young and vibrant nation still, and adventures await us in space and elsewhere. It was a mood, not a program, but a mood well captured.

“The New Foundation” is solid and workmanlike, but it attempts to put form and order to a governing philosophy that is still too herky-jerky to be summed up.

I am equally skeptical, but my interest here is a different one.  We here at Volokh Conspiracy tend to be well aware of the Foundation novels – only too aware, possibly.  But I recall reading here or somewhere that Paul Krugman and several other leading economic and legal academic-policymakers had come to their professions wanting to be … Hari Seldon.  Deeply attracted to the idea of a mathematically-based psychohistory.  Certainly includes me.  I am the son of a physical scientist; I spent my early years playing with dangerous chemicals in my father’s lab.  But from the time I read the Foundation books, I was lost to physical sciences – I wanted the vision of a science of mass behavior.

This is not a liberal versus conservative thing although, it bears noting, nothing about Asimov’s Foundation [...]

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Saturdays with Stendhal 4

The Red and the Black, Volume 1, Chapter 26, “The World, Or What the Rich Lack.”

After several months of application kept up at every moment, Julien still had the air of a thinker. His way of moving his eyes and opening his lips did not reveal an implicit faith ready to believe everything and uphold everything, even by martyrdom.  It was with anger that Julien saw himself surpassed in this respect by the most boorish peasants.  They had good reasons for not having the air of thinkers.

Or in the French (corrected, with thanks to Sasha Volokh):

Après plusieurs mois d’application de tous les instants, Julien avait encore l’air de penser. Sa façon de remuer les yeux et de porter la bouche n’annonçait pas la foi implicite et prête à tout croire et à tout soutenir, même par le martyre. C’était avec colère que Julien se voyait primé dans ce genre par les paysans les plus grossiers. Il y avait de bonnes raisons pour qu’ils n’eussent pas l’air penseur.

I feel strangely compelled to add the following confession.  I just finished re-reading The Charterhouse of Parma.  I have always supposed, following everyone else so far as I can tell, that it is a greater work than The Red and the Black.  But it has been a very long time since I read Charterhouse.  And, I’m slightly embarrassed to say, I find upon re-reading that I much prefer The Red and the Black.  Fabrizio seems so much less interesting than Julien, and fond as I am of Clelia, I am much, much more fond of Mathilde and Madame de Renal.  (I have, since I was young, been in love with Mathilde de la Mole, and always will be.) [...]

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Saturdays with Stendhal 3

From The Red and the Black, Volume I, Chapter 34, The Hotel de la Mole (free translation), and yes, I will manage to get it back to Saturdays!:

The abbe Pirard to Julien …  “The Marquis does not like scribblers bloggers, I warn you; it is his one antipathy.  Know Latin, Greek if you can, the history of the Egyptians, of the Persians, and so forth; he will honour you and protect you as a scholar.  But do not go and write a single page in French blog post at Volokh Conspiracy or anywhere else, especially upon grave subjects, that are above your position in society; he would call you a scribbler blogger and take a dislike to you.  What, living in a great nobleman’s mansion, don’t you know the Duc de Castries’s saying about d’Alembert and Rousseau: ‘That sort of fellow wishes to argue blog about everything, and that other wishes to comment extravagantly and betimes rudely on everything at the blog, and neither has a thousand crowns a year?'”

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Saturdays with Stendhal 2

Notional Saturday.  Saturday in my heart.  This, from On Love:

I crave leave to slander France a little more.

Actually, not.  I am great lover of France.  (Recall that the poet Blaise Cendrars, on the outbreak of the First World War, distributed a manifesto proclaiming that all true poets would fight for France.  Cendrars joined the Foreign Legion and faced some of the worst fighting, losing an arm.) (On Love, Chapter 42, Love in France, cont.) [...]

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Reading Kindle Books on the Ipod Touch

I got tired of hauling so many books around on plane flights, and decided to try downloading some Kindle books to my Ipod Touch.  I don’t yet have a Kindle, although apparently if I am very, very good …  I know that Glenn Reynolds prefers the Ipod to read Kindle over the Kindle, but then he is a Known Geek.  However, I downloaded Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked for Kindle, and have been reading it more than I should on the Ipod.  Including late at night in bed, and my wife informs me she likes not having a reading light on and I should do all my late night reading this way.  At least when reading Hornby – many quick, humorous asides and cuts, light and easily picked up and put down – the small screen is okay.  However, reading on planes is one thing, but I’ve been sitting on the porch taking in the sun and reading on my Ipod.  Sublime ahead of the curveness or terminal geekiness? [...]

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