T. S. Eliot and violence, right-wing Oxfordians, finding time, Beethoven’s DNA, and more.
If you have been a longtime subscriber of Prufrock, you will remember when I used to send out six emails a week. It was a significant amount of work and included links to more articles than most people could read in a week. I am not sure what I was thinking. When I moved the email to Spectator World, I cut the number of emails from six to three, and then when I moved the email to Substack last year, I reduced it to two. Two has certainly been more manageable, but five days between emails—Wednesday to Monday—is a big gap.
So, I have decided to add a Saturday email of links. This first email will be free for all subscribers, but you will need to become a paid subscriber to receive subsequent ones, plus, of course, the two more substantial emails on Monday and Wednesday. (Why not give it a try?) I will also be adding a poem to the Saturday email and a forthcoming book of note. Enjoy!
Heading today’s list of links is James Matthew Wilson’s essay in the latest issue of The New Criterion on T. S. Eliot’s preoccupation with violence: “His career displayed all the restless struggle with form and expression that Yeats’s had. Indeed, the literary critic Malcolm Cowley spoke for many when he observed that Eliot ‘never repeated himself and never . . . persisted in any attitude or technique: once having suggested its possibilities, he moved on.’ But where Yeats’s work remained, to the end, a romantic and, at times, even juvenile celebration of the ecstasy of violence and the poetic fruitfulness of conflict, Eliot’s poetry, from the very beginning, considered violence and conflict a nightmare from which one struggled to wake up.”
While you’re at The New Criterion, why not read Boris Dralyuk’s account of Hollywood’s brief “Russian craze” and the poetry of Alexander Voloshin? “A longtime Angeleno, I myself am a Russian-speaking émigré from Odessa, Ukraine, and for well over a decade I’ve been gathering, with some success, the scant literary traces left by my predecessors. Not long ago, I struck the mother lode. Alexander Voloshin has not gone unmentioned in the few existing accounts of Hollywood’s White Russian colony, but when I finally acquired a fragile, hard-to-find copy of his slim collection of poems and prose, Na putiakh i pereput’iakh (‘On the Tracks and at Crossroads,’ 1953), and read it cover to cover, I was astounded that he hadn’t received more attention.”
The new Oxfordians are the same as the old Oxfordians: Matthew Gasda explains why the latest critics to question the authorship of Shakespeare come from the Right—and why they are wrong: “The current right-inflected version of the Oxfordian theory of authorship states that in order to write about kings and queens, princes and princesses, the court, foreign places, the law, philosophy, you have to have been raised among kings and queens, and traveled the world, and studied the law, and studied political theory, and studied the classics, and studied archery, and whatever else. There is an almost one-to-one relationship between input and output, and shockingly little opportunity, in this model of how writing works, for imagination and iteration. If you haven’t been formally trained in a subject, you can’t represent it in fictional form. Genius is a matter of having learned everything there is to know, and being able to reproduce it in the form of poetry or drama or fiction. This theory entails that only those with the finest education can give the most elevated expression to the human spirit. It goes without saying that a good education carries countless advantages, but the Oxfordian theory relies on an excessively rigid view of intelligence and how creativity works. What might be called “based Oxfordianism” sees the human mind as being something like the current version of AI: in many ways impressive, but also bounded and mechanical. There is no room for that leap, which we identify with genius, beyond the expected and received.”
Oxfam’s 92-page “inclusive language guide” is “silly,” Peter Williams writes, but it too shall pass: “Language is neither progressive nor regressive. It does not move along a line of continuous, consensus-led improvement, nor will it wholly degrade into meaningless relativism. What it does do is change – change being the mess made by the passage of time. It evolves as nature evolves: scruffily, multifariously and incrementally, its infinite variety matching that of the needs and circumstances of the people it serves . . . Silly episodes such as this serve only to preach to the choir and demand that the rest of us take a side. So, what’s your poison? Blustering bigotry or preening sanctimony? Hell-in-a-handcart harrumphing that asserts man’s inalienable right to unthinkingly offend, or the bracing certitude of knowing that you are among the select few who speak correctly? Or, somewhere in between and with better things to do?”
Who is in charge of time? Tom Vanderbilt goes to Colorado to find out: “When I was a kid, in the touch-tone era in the Midwest, I often dialed, for no real reason, the “time lady”—an actress named Jane Barbe, it turns out—who would announce, with prim authority “at the tone,” the correct time to the second. I was, in those days, a bit obsessed with time. I would stare, transfixed, at the Foucault pendulum at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry as it swept slow traces through its day; or gawp at the patinaed green clock, topped by a scythe and hourglass-carrying temporal patriarch and marked with a single word—time—that adorned the Jewelers Building on East Wacker Drive. But nothing felt so immediate, so curiously satisfying, as having the exact time delivered through the intimacy of the phone’s earpiece. Yet it left me with a gnawing inquiry: How does she know what time it is? I imagined that time emanated, like the Emergency Alert System, from some secure government facility, possibly underground. I wasn’t entirely wrong. This summer, after five decades of wondering what drove clock time, I found myself at the nation’s temple of timekeeping: the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics in Boulder, Colorado.”
Saturday Poem: Ryan Wilson, “Remembrance”
Alison Miller goes to 40 Watt in Atlanta to listen to live music and watch wrestling: “Live on stage above the ring, the Dexateens launched into the twang-rock “Makers Mound.” Soon after, luchador Quatro Cabezas salsa-shuffled his way to the ring, stopping to high-five fans in the front row.”
Dominic Green on Lucian Freud’s life and art: “Freud, who was born in Berlin in 1922 and died in 2011 a fixture of English society and the auction house, is perhaps the most over-exposed painter of our time. This is ironic. Freud the painter was a stripper, slashing away at his subjects’ defenses, always looking for the greenish, rotten Rubens tone in the living flesh. Freud the man insisted on the privacy and control that he denied his subjects. Freud used the threat of lawyers to ward off inquiries about his private life. Like Bacon, he played a part in public, with his private parts to the fore; in his case as the difficult Don Juan, in Bacon’s the doomed gay drunk. Yet Freud, who repudiated the theories of his grandpa Sigmund, rejected the idea that the life shapes the art.”
A group of scientists have extracted Beethoven’s DNA from his hair. What did they discover? Not much: “While researchers didn’t find any clear genetic signs of what caused Beethoven’s gastrointestinal issues, they found that celiac disease and lactose intolerance were unlikely causes. In the future, the genome may offer more clues as we learn more about how genes influence health, Begg said. The research also led to a surprising discovery: When they tested DNA from living members of the extended Beethoven family, scientists found a discrepancy in the Y chromosomes that get passed down on the father’s side. The Y chromosomes from the five men matched each other — but they didn’t match the composer’s. This suggests there was an ‘extra-pair paternity event’ somewhere in the generations before Beethoven was born, Begg said.”
The BBC singers are back—maybe: “The BBC has suspended its proposal to close the BBC Singers choir while it explores alternative funding models.”
Banksy is a performer—not an artist. The value of his work comes from his anonymity and the impermanence of his work (or apparent impermanence), which seems counter-cultural until you realize that the point is simply to make the news—very much du jour. The paintings are clever and just political enough to make people—well, journalists, actually, who happen to share his political beliefs—think they are “meaningful.” Because he is a performer and must have his recognition, and because people are starting to get bored, he is starting to pull stunts like having one of his paintings shredded after it was auctioned (which only increased its value and his fame) and now—perhaps—taking a picture of his work wearing a bowler.
Forthcoming: Gary Saul Morson, Wonder Confronts Certainty: Russian Writers on the Timeless Questions and Why Their Answers Matter (Belknap, May 16, 2023). From the jacket: “Since the age of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov, Russian literature has posed questions about good and evil, moral responsibility, and human freedom with a clarity and intensity found nowhere else. In this wide-ranging meditation, Gary Saul Morson delineates intellectual debates that have coursed through two centuries of Russian writing, as the greatest thinkers of the empire and then the Soviet Union enchanted readers with their idealism, philosophical insight, and revolutionary fervor . . . What emerges is a contest between unyielding dogmatism and open-minded dialogue, between heady certainty and a humble sense of wonder at the world’s elusive complexity―a thought-provoking journey into inescapable questions.”
That poem was a treat
This was a pleasant surprise