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A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Monday, September 25, 2017

Quotes of the Day

Today's quote got TOF thinking -- always a scary thing -- and led him to hunt up a couple of other quotes that seemed in the same vein. First, the quote that started the thought process.
"The heroes of declining nations are always the same—the athlete, the singer or the actor. The word ‘celebrity’ today is used to designate a comedian or a football player, not a statesman, a general, or a literary genius." 
-- Glubb pasha, (1897-1986) 

Interestingly, he based this on his studies of the old Abbasid Caliphate, the Mamluq Empire, the 'Osmanli Turkish Empire, and others, compared cross-culturally. 

Sir John's historical analysis may be far too glib. Glubb glib? Say it ain't so! TOF can roll his eyes at some modernist categories used out of context. "Universities" in the 7th century? Forsooth! But recall that a "celebrity" once meant not someone who is merely famous, not to say notorious, but someone in whose honor a formal celebration had been held: a banquet served, scholarly papers read, speeches given. Galileo was given such a fest by the Jesuits shortly after his first book came out and was thereafter referred to as "a celebrated astronomer."

Now some literary geniuses are indeed celebrated in the modern sense of being famed, although genius ought be equated neither with best seller lists nor with the compatibility of their works with one's own prior socio-political commitments. There are surely some generals who can be celebrated -- for their competency in the arts of war, if nothing else. But statesmen? Are there really such things anymore? A slight digression in the sequence of quotes:
"Meanwhile, at the end of the twentieth century a degeneration in the conduct of the relations of states goes on. When I see or hear or read the language or the behavior of foreign ministers and ambassadors, I am a witness of an enormous decline, not only of intelligence but of diplomatic practice (including decorum) and human common sense. I write 'enormous' since the symptoms of a babbling barbarism are all around us... What may succeed it is the rule of tougher barbarians who will not, because they need not, babble." 
-- John Lukacs, At the End of an Age

And yes, he wrote that before Twitter was invented. But now let us couple Glubb's observation with two others. Among other signs of the autumn of the Modern world, John Lukacs cited the shift from books to images (movies, TV shows). "Show, don't tell." The celebrities cited by Glubb pasha seem right in line with this. And earlier, Jacques Barzun remarked:
The new pastimes of the educated amateur are the arts of nonarticulate expression: music and painting…  Everywhere picture and sound crowd out text.  The Word is in disfavor…
 – Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect 
Barzun also noted the replacement by the 1950s of "I think that..." with "I feel that..." in colloquial speech.
More recently we have this comment from the then-archbishop of Denver which puts some consequences of the shift:
Visual and electronic media, today’s dominant media, need a certain kind of content. They thrive on brevity, speed, change, urgency, variety and feelings. But thinking requires the opposite. Thinking takes time. It needs silence and the methodical skills of logic. ... [This trend is] a very dangerous thing in a democracy, which is a form of government that demands intellectual and moral maturity from its citizens to survive.
--Charles Joseph Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., “Catholics and the ‘Fourth Estate’”
But as long as we are attuned to the Spirit of the Age and keep au courant with this morning's fads, all shall be well.

5 comments:

  1. I guess the Elizabethans were all barbarians, given that every educated person and a lot who weren't, were given to singing partsongs at home and playing lutes. In fact, most of the great cultural periods assumed that you wanted to draw or sketch in ink, write poems, dress gorgeously, and also conquer the world and make wise decisions for the state.

    So yeah, there is a point and our society is in trouble; but music and math go together and are not "inarticulate". Rap may have terrible subject matter, but the technical poetic execution is very complex and varied. Our society is plenty articulate; it just lacks good standards and practices.

    Unless your music stinks, I guess.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What's more worrying is that our modern hymns are often so shoddy and theologically inaccurate. People don't put the effort into praising God that they put into rapping about guns, crime, and women of dubious morals.

      Delete
    2. Rap is firmly in the English tradition of letters; many of the more prominent songs are in iambic pentameter, and the "diss song" is an ancient Germanic custom going back to antiquity, called "flyting". (The custom existed in Scotland and northern England into quite modern times—James I&VI used to have people brought from all over the country to have rap battles with him. Something quite similar also exists in West Africa, so, as usual, whether the concepts involved in the diss song, and its African-American cultural precursors, are African or European, is almost impossible to decide.)

      Delete
  2. "Show don't tell" actually properly refers to "don't tell us your protagonist is one of the greatest geniuses of all time and then have them fail to understand a very clear explanation" or "don't tell us the villains are ultra oppressive totalitarians and then have them allow a former rebel to own a very dangerous piece of machinery that he even names after a battle he fought against them". Don't have your narrator write checks that the narrative can't cash; avoid what TV Tropes calls the InformedAttribute and DesignatedHero (and DesignatedVillain).

    ReplyDelete
  3. There certainly does seem to be a trend to a very superficial attitude in the general public. I regularly listen to the BBC's international service. How very often now the death of a singer or movie star who is scarcely known to many listeners is treated as a major event with a lot of detail that is a waste of precious time considering the other very serious problems that the BBC is supposed to be reporting on.

    ReplyDelete

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