What Philip Larkin’s personal objects tell us about the poet
Why I love album rock (I refuse to call it progressive rock) in a nutshell: “Not only did prog lyricists eschew the themes of resentment and cynicism we find in other rock music, but the musicians drew from more staid traditions of classical music and even Anglican hymns…In one of the most infamous sections in The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom complained that young people were listening only to rock music and not to classical music—and that rock music appealed exclusively to the passions, leaving no room for refined, more rationally guided sentiment. Bloom’s assessment of rock music could not be less true of prog, with its elaborate concept albums and musical complexity—to say nothing of the way it was influenced by and carried forth the tradition of European classical music. Here was music that was challenging to compose and to enjoy, and that did not appeal exclusively to the passions…The rise of prog rock shows that it is possible to have artistically ambitious and intellectually sophisticated modern music that embraces and draws on rather than rebelling against artistic tradition.”
A great David Brooks column on how to roll back fanaticism. Here’s an excerpt:
We’re living in an age of anxiety. The country is being transformed by complex forces like changing demographics and technological disruption. Many people live within a bewildering freedom, without institutions to trust, unattached to compelling religions and sources of meaning, uncertain about their own lives. Anxiety is not so much a fear of a specific thing but a fear of everything, an unnamable dread about the future. People will do anything to escape it.
Donald Trump is the perfect snake oil salesman for this moment. He lacks inwardness and therefore is terrified by the possibility of anxiety. He has been escaping self-scrutiny his whole life and has become a genius at the self-exculpating rationalization. He took a nation beset by uncertainty and he gave it a series of “explanations” that were simple, crude, affirming and wrong.
Trump gave people a quick pass out of anxiety. Everything could be blamed on foreigners, the idiotic elites. The problems are clear, and the answers are easy. He has loosed a certain style of thinking. The true link between the Trump administration and those pathetic loons in Charlottesville is not just bigotry, but also conspiracy mongering.
The age of anxiety inevitably leads to an age of fanaticism, as people seek crude palliatives for the dizziness of freedom. I’m beginning to think the whole depressing spectacle of this moment — the Trump presidency and beyond — is caused by a breakdown of intellectual virtue, a breakdown in America’s ability to face evidence objectively, to pay due respect to reality, to deal with complex and unpleasant truths. The intellectual virtues may seem elitist, but once a country tolerates dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness, then everything else falls apart.
In fact, the most powerful answer to fanaticism is modesty. Modesty is an epistemology directly opposed to the conspiracy mongering mind-set. It means having the courage to understand that the world is too complicated to fit into one political belief system. It means understanding there are no easy answers or malevolent conspiracies that can explain the big political questions or the existential problems.
The vanishing world of the Transylvanian aristocracy
One of the world’s most confounding literary mysteries may finally be, in part, solved