Archive | Literature

Sundays With Stendhal … Revived

‘What are you dreaming of, sir?’ Mathilde asked him.  There was a note of intimacy in her question, and she had come back running and was quite out of breath in her eagerness to be with him.  Julian was tired of self-suppression.  In a moment of pride, he told frankly what he was thinking.

The Red and the Black (C.K. Scott Moncrieff transl.), Book II, Chapter 40.

Long time VC readers might recall my ‘Sundays With Stendhal’ posts.  I’ve decided to try a return to them, though they might be somewhat irregular and I’ll almost certainly use passages that I also posted years ago.  I’ll also add quotations from other writers when the mood takes me, as well.  This isn’t an exercise in scholarship, so I’m not worried about taking quotations out of context, leaving aside the French unless I have a particular interest, using different translations, and similar liberties.  I am passionate about Stendhal – one of the happy few, etc. – having read and re-read The Red and the Black nearly every year since I was fourteen, when (a) I was madly in love with L. and (b) one of my older high school friends handed it to me, from pity, I think.  (He was also passionate about French literature, when not being passionate about his devotion to the Revolution, this being public high school in a college town in the early 1970s.)

Stendhal seems to have fallen out of the curriculum everywhere; even my French law students have never read anything by him and my American students have not so much as heard the name.  I asked a dear friend of mine about this several years back – a serious French intellectual, writer and editor in Paris – and he said, I know you consider yourself devoted [...]

Continue Reading

Verse for Sunday: “On the Vnion”

WHEN was there contract better driven by Fate,
Or celebrated with more truth of state?
The world the temple was, the priest a king,
The spoused pair two realms, the sea the ring.

-Ben Jonson (1613). The poem was apparently occasioned by comments by James I at the opening of Parliament in 1604, following the Union with Scotland: “What God hath conioyned then, let no man separate. I am the husband, and the Whole Isle is my lawfull Wife.” [...]

Continue Reading 0

Batman, Appropriations, and “Augmentation”

My co-author James has made a few posts already this week, and I’d like to thank Professor Volokh for the opportunity to participate here. I’m going to chip in with a post about Batman based on the last few issues of Detective Comics vol. 1, # 871-881. Number 881 is actually the very last issue before the “New 52” renumbering/revamp/reboot DC Comics did at the end of 2011. The issues in question are collected in trade paperback form. The legal issue we’ll be looking at has to do with government appropriations law. Specifically: is it legal for Bruce Wayne/Batman to donate a privately-funded forensics lab to the Gotham City Police Department?

The background is that, in the aftermath of his return after the events of Final Crisis, Batman decided to start up franchises around the world. This is reflected in Batman, Incorporated, a title which survived the New 52 revamp and continues in its monthly format. But realizing that Gotham City might feel somewhat slighted if Batman simply expanded his activities without giving Gotham any special attention, Bruce Wayne decided to give the G.C.P.D. a fully-equipped, state-of-the-art forensics lab. But because of the somewhat fraught relationship between Batman and the Department, G.C.P.D. does not make routine use of the facilities and only seems to do so when they’re dealing with a super criminal. Regardless, the question for our purposes is whether this kind of arrangement is legally permissible.

I. Federal Appropriations

If the G.C.P.D. were a federal agency, the answer would be “Definitely not.” The Antideficiency Act (31 U.S.C. § 1341) explicitly prohibits an officer or employee of the United States from “mak[ing] or authoriz[ing] an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure or obligation”. In other [...]

Continue Reading 0

Lucia Perillo and the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt Award at the Library of Congress

I have just returned from a poetry reading at the Library of Congress, the awarding of the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt prize in poetry, hosted by Rebekah Bobbitt’s son, Columbia and UT law professor and my dear friend Philip Bobbitt.  It was great.  I was prepared for a (deadly) serious Encounter with the Arts, and Lucia Perillo turned out to have one of the most cheerfully witty sensibilities I’ve heard or read in a long time.  It took me completely out of my ordinary and somewhat tense and dreary space today – final exams, crazed students, rank and tenure faculty meetings, nothing life-threatening but still pressured.  I was charmed and provoked.  I also was pleased to buy a copy of the book, Inseminating the Elephant.

Confined to a wheelchair today with multiple sclerosis, Perillo trained originally in wildlife management – her first job was at a lab figuring out the doses for killing various varmints troubling farmers and ranchers, coyotes, vampire bats, lots of things.  Nothing pretentious, although a keen, keen intelligence lies beneath an apparently nonchalant exterior.  Her romp about her professor of Transcendentalism through to postmodernism was wonderful.  Great evening; my thanks to Philip for thinking to invite me.  And Philip gave a wonderful introduction, talking about how his parents had met in working in the Library of Congress in the 1930s. [...]

Continue Reading

Theatre of Capitalism and Anti-Capitalism?

In my last post, on microfinance, I mentioned toward the end a play by Bertolt Brecht, The Good Person of Szechuan.  In it, a young woman inherits a small shop in a village, but because of her generous heart, nearly runs it into the ground because she can’t say no to anyone.  So she goes away, and mysteriously her cousin arrives to run the shop in her absence – utterly unsentimentally, completely businesslike in his way, and returns the store to profitability.  The young woman returns, allows it to slide downhill again, and her cousin returns again to bring it back to profitability.  They are, of course, the same person, and Brecht implies this is the terrible condition of capitalism and why we need to embrace communism.  To someone like me today, as I suggest in the microfinance post, the play is more like a warning against mixing motives within capitalism – confusing profit and philanthropy might lead to the worst of both, rather than the best.

But now I have a question.  What are other plays – let’s say back to 1900 or thereabouts – that express or comment in some important way on the economic conditions of capitalism, which is to say, the economic condition of modernity, markets, and capitalism?  Brecht, of course, wrote several, including this one.  He wrote others in this vein, including a re-write of Shaw’s St. Joan.  I think probably the most important comment on capitalism that Brecht wrote was the musical, The Rise and Fall of the City Mahagonny, or alternatively its shorter version, The Mahagonny Song-Cycle.  It weirdly anticipates the founding of Las Vegas (Brecht penned this in the 1930s; for many people in the English-speaking world, it is thought of as a Kurt Weill musical); a group [...]

Continue Reading 38

The Ethics of Not Finishing, But Still Criticizing, Books

Althouse notes the following, in a discussion of Megan McArdle criticizing a book while only half-way through it:

A rule against criticizing books you haven’t finished would overprotect authors, since you shouldn’t finish a bad book, and it would also underprotect authors, since the critics wouldn’t disclose that they hadn’t read the whole thing.

I think Althouse is right; she goes on to talk about the difference between blogging and a formal book review, and I think that’s right as well – although there are blogs and there are blogs when it comes to books, given the general collapse of the formal book review as a publication in newspapers.  Blogs are a large part of the critical review commentary still left standing.  And yet blogs, including my own blog posts, have this troubling tendency to switch back and forth at will (and too often at the intellectually laziest point, I have to say in my own case) from a certain formal rigor into deliberately informal, and suddenly indistinct and chatty mode that somehow never quite gets to the deep insight, or more precisely, the argument for the deep insight.

That’s about criticizing, though.  What about just plain reading?  The older I get, the fewer books I finish, and the more I read highly selectively – fast forward set on high.  This is either the getting of wisdom – or the gradual shutting down of (what to call it?) one’s social and engagement functions as one gets closer to in-turnedness of dying, the inability of the aging to take in new stuff because we are too occupied trying to process the accumulation of the previous decades.

But I am also reminded of that book from a couple of years ago, which I did read cover to cover, albeit quickly, by [...]

Continue Reading 87

Anis Shivani on University Presses

My Washington College of Law colleague Robert Tsai points me to an interesting Huffington Post article  by Anis Shivani on new directions for university presses.  I have a somewhat more critical take on this, in the sense of an interest in the economic and business models driving the presses as they move in different directions.

For example, I wonder how falling costs of producing books and different and cheaper distribution models via Amazon interacts with a relative decline, at least among senior law professors, in the prestige of law review articles in favor of books.  I wonder about shifts in the hiring, promotion, tenure, and lateral process and ways in which that drives a cycle of academic production – at least among law professors – of crank out articles, repackage as book, start cycle again – but without it being clear to me, at least, that there is great value added in putting the articles between hard or soft covers.  We tell ourselves that we are pulling together a handful of articles into a unified book-y whole, but, well, I wonder how much it is simply driven by a combined shift in the prestige markers within our academic world and shifts downward in the cost of production, along with dissatisfaction with the student law review publishing model.

Is that a bad thing?  The sometimes assumed frivolity and waste of publishing in humanities, social science, and law – the purely critical story is not all there is to it, by any means.  I, for one, do look forward to a revival of the humanities as a source of meaning.  The availability of an increasing number of scholarly books at a much cheaper price than, well, Cambridge UP’s sticker-shocker numbers is a terrific thing.  It takes into account lower productions costs, the [...]

Continue Reading 7

My Wandering Summer Reading

Although only mid-August, school will be starting up for me only too soon … during the summer months, I make a vow (at best half kept most years) to spend two hours a day reading stuff, anything that is not strictly driven by a current writing project.  I’ve found that if I can persuade myself to stop surfing the web, put aside the immediate reading for whatever I’m writing, and read across a wider range of things, I am storing up – marinating, possibly – ideas for the future.  I haven’t done so well on that assignment this summer, but I thought I would share a couple of items on the wandering list of summer reading, ranging from things that are about current writing projects, to beach reading – well, not actual beach reading, because I didn’t go to the beach, but books I read in California while on a not-quite vacation while daughter looked at colleges.  Also some things I was listening to.  Below the fold … [...]

Continue Reading 11


One of these days I will take the plunge and compose a “greatest influences” books list, as some of the other Conspirators have done.  I have hesitated in part because my list would not tend to contain works of monumental ideas, but instead plays, works of fiction, poetry, and fragments that are not always  blockbusters in the history of ideas, as well major works of the left.

Part of this is generational.  I intellectually came of age in a period in which both Marx and Freud were still considered the giants, and in which the humanities had not yet collapsed into its current state of identity politics and post-modernist irrelevance; literature was still believed to shed light on something called the human condition – though these were by then on the way out.  Rational choice economics had not yet won over the academy, partly through its own intellectual strengths but also from being the ‘last man standing’ as the humanities sawed off the intellectual branch, as it were, it was sitting on.  I came from the peculiar position of what Larry Solum once called my “left Burkeanism” with a good bit of American libertarianism thrown in.

But it was not until quite recently that I read a long list of thinkers on the libertarian or conservative end of things – part of this was that I studied philosophy, not economics, and many of the leading thinkers pointed to by other Conspirators such as Hayek or Friedman did not figure into my intellectual education.  I am the classic case of one of the tangential but not unshrewd definitions sometimes given of a neoconservative – a leftwinger who has moved right.  For many of those “neoconservatives,”  including me, the core intellectual influences from early on come, not from the right or even [...]

Continue Reading 36

Lauren Leto Stereotypes Readers/Authors

I like this.  HT Instapundit – I hadn’t heard of Lauren Leto and her blog before, but I found this enjoyable:

Stereotyping People by Their Favorite Author

(by the way – I respect every author on here, kind of)

J.D. Salinger

Kids who don’t fit in (duh).

Stephenie Meyer

People who type like this: OMG. Mah fAvvv <3 <3.

J.K. Rowling

Smart geeks.

Ms. Leto provides many, many examples more.  I’m mildly distressed at how many of the contemporary authors I had not heard of before, but then I don’t read much current fiction.

But there Is A Problem With This List, and the fact that I note it will not surprise regular readers of this blog.  It is missing a certain author, one of Great(est) Importance.  So, dear VC readers, in the spirit of the above – consult the blog for all the rest of the sampled authors, and then tell me how you fill in the Missing Author … drumroll, Stendhal. [...]

Continue Reading 50

Naval War College International Law Conference and Bleg for French Translation

I’m on radio silence, as I’m at the Naval War College conference on international law, which is where all the cool people are this week.

I was last on radio silence finishing up my short policy manuscript on UN-US relations.  I’m not sure I’d describe it as “done,” but the editors took it away from me, saying that I’d keep fiddling forever.  Which is true, as the following bleg demonstrates.  I’m considering for an epigraph, if there’s room for one in a book so short, a riff on … well, Stendhal.  (So sue me.)

There is a well-known (well, well-known if you’re me) line in The Red and the Black, “Could it be that she is a prude grown tired of her calling?” (This, in the context of advice to Julian on how to court her.)  In the original French, it is (I still can’t figure out how to do the marks on my Mac):  “Ne serait-ce point une prude lasse de son metier?”

Because my little US-UN policy essay, Returning to Earth, is about the appeal to “multilateralism” and “engagement” as mechanisms for US withdrawal from its role as security hegemon and, hence, provider of certain global public goods – what in the book I call “withdrawal into multilateralism” – you can see that the line “lasse de son metier” has appeal for me.  I want to re-work it slightly, and change “prude” to “America.”  My French is good enough for reading Stendhal and a few others with a dictionary, but help me be sure that I’ve handled the cases correctly.  Is this correct French?  Un Amerique?  Une Amerique?  Is “lasse” still the right form?  If not, how would you switch “prude” for “America” but leaving the rest as is except necessary grammatic corrections?:

Ne serait-ce point [...]

Continue Reading 24

Tyler Cowen in the Times Literary Supplement

My congratulations to Tyler Cowen on his lovely essay in the TLS of February 26, 2010, a review of John Lanchester, “Whoops! – Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay.” Behind the subscriber wall, alas, but it is an intriguing, elegant review and has caused me to go order the book.  (IOU rather than Whoops in the US.  Also, the Kindle edition is available since January in the US, but the physical book won’t be released until … September!  Hmm.) [...]

Continue Reading 7

Saturdays with Stendhal 6

‘One never knows what to say in speaking to our great diplomats,’ said Julien.  ‘They have a mania for starting serious discussions.  If one confines oneself to the commonplaces of the newspapers, one is reckoned a fool.  If one allows oneself to say something true and novel, they are astonished, they do not know how to answer, and next morning, at seven o’clock, they send word to one by the First Secretary, that one has been impolite.’

The Red and the Black, Volume 2, Chapter 37, “An Attack of Gout.” [...]

Continue Reading 2

White Out, a Novel

From the online diary of Mr K, inhabitant of the snowbound city of W.

Day 1.15. As the snowdrifts begin to build, making it impossible to go about to Superfresh or Starbuck’s or Pain Quotidien or any other of the city W’s cherished Spring Valley locations, as it mounts just beyond the door, making it impossible even to go out, a slow sense of helplessness and frustration begins to build.  Good, dark Michel Cluizel chocolate helps calm the gnawing anxieties that we will never get out, we will never see the sun again, never get beyond the snowbanks – but the supply, which seemed adequate only yesterday, is now dwindling at an alarming rate.

Day 1.17. Whence this terrible stifled feeling?  The feeling that if I cannot get out, I shall go … go mad!  I have read of this grim phenomenon, cabin fever.  I believe I have it.  Of course, we should not be surprised; after two or three hours cooped up in the house, who would not be in my condition?  Beloved wife and adorable daughter look on with concern.  I pace and pace.  Shall there be no respite from the weather?

Day 2.6.  I pick up my cello and endlessly play the Ricercars of Domenico Gabrielli.  Only a Renaissance Italian can soothe me.  Beloved wife and adorable daughter are mute with horror, particularly upon the many bad notes on Ricercars 3, 5, and 7, which I don’t know very well and play horribly out of tune.  I feel deeply for them.

Day 3.0.  I awaken to a brief weather report from a station that is signing off in the storm, wishing its listeners good luck and God bless.  More snow on the way.

Day 5.0.  I have finished the collected [...]

Continue Reading 11