September 6, 2012

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote some great stories, and at least one fabulous novel, The Great Gatsby.  His output, however, was very uneven, and some of his most quoted lines are just plain nonsense.  Two that spring to mind:

There are no second acts in American lives.

As Gail Collins wrote today, meet Bill Clinton, Mr. Act Twelve.  Then there’s this, even more famous line:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

Need I mention that Fitzgerald drank too much?  I think Orwell got it right:

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.
Of course, in these post-1984 days, Doublethink has become Goodthink.


May 26, 2012

I figure that in Huxley’s Brave New World,I would rank as a Beta-minus, on the scale from Epsilon-minus up to Alpha-plus.  Not on the basis of my intelligence, mind you, but on examination of my status in society and the nature of Huxley’s dystopia.  Hmm…maybe I should exit for 1984.

It has been eighty years since Huxley’s satire was published, and it remains fresh and entertaining, and sharp, precisely because it was written as a satire, and not an attempt at ‘science-fiction’, which hardly existed as a genre in that day.  Of course, he was remarkably prescient on some points, genetic engineering, before genetics was even developed in its modern form, for example, but that’s a small thing next to his wicked skewering of industrial-consumerist-ideology and religion.  The people of his future world worship Henry Ford, swear by him, “By Ford!”, and display ‘T’ pendants (for the Model T, that is) everywhere, conveniently similar to the ancient Christian cross.

Huxley gets in a sly observation about the literary history of cults and religions, the way that popular culture and orthodoxy twist and mold the facts of history, when he remarks on Ford and Freud.  Freud too, is revered in the new world, but his name is unknown.  His ideas are assumed to have been those of Henry Ford – how could two such moral and mental giants have existed?  Scholars, exegetes, and philosophers have simply determined that Ford, when he spoke of matters psychological, chose to speak under the name of Freud.  The prophets have their ways.

The book is marvelously funny, and the device of having Mr. Savage, a visitor from the ‘uncivilized regions’, speak constantly in Shakespearean verse, a result of his compulsive reading of the only book he has ever seen, is wonderful. Sometimes, I feel exactly the same way when I read The Bard, i.e., that the glorious quality of his words is somehow an ironic comment on, and critique of the world I live in.  It also provides a frame on which Huxley can hang his implied and explicit speculations about culture, civilization, and politics – always the weakest point in any of his books.

Despite his brilliance and originality, Huxley always seems to me to be tip-toeing through the muck of modern culture: shocked and appalled by it, and so concerned that it not dirty his clothes.  How paltry all this is, he is thinking all the time.  Oh dear, nobody has time for real culture, but these…ordinary people…are so interesting at times, their pastimes and songs, and whatnot…  For me, his work’s appeal is limited by the fact that it is that of a man who never quite shakes off the upper-class twit aspect of his social background.

Homage in Catalonia

August 27, 2011

Nothing political here:  The POUM is long gone.  Just me doing pilgrimage to some architectural sites/sights that I’ve been waiting to see for a very long time.  Visiting the Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí was top of the list.

This pretty girl is wearing a dress that seems to fade into the reptilian roof structure on top of the house.  Inside the attic story, where the servants lived and worked, we see the narrow parabolic arches that show up in so much of Gaudi’s work.  It’s hard to see, but on the sides there are vents that allow light and air in no matter what the weather.

The center of he tall and narrow house is an air and light shaft with a small elevator, all tiled in glorious color.  The curvy window frames are equipped with triple louvers below that can be opened to regulate the air circulation.

The house was innovative for its time in having piped water and electric lights.  In this picture, you can see that he wasn’t going to simply substitute electric bulbs for the old fashioned gas  burners.  No, he slits the ceiling as though it were of fabric (or skin?) and nestles the lights within.

Barcelona has a lot of interesting things, including a vacuum system for whisking away trash.  You drop your separated trash into one of two fixtures, and it is sucked into underground pipes and to its final disposal site.  No noisy and dangerous garbage trucks rolling down crooked narrow lanes in the medieval core of the city which is a huge tourist zone.

Other architectural styles are present besides the medieval and Catalan modernismo:  here we see a building that is heavily indebted to Otto Wagner, a contemporary in Vienna.

click for more info

Modern stuff too:  a skyscraper that looks like a…cucumber?  The architect thinks it evokes a geyser of water.  And a needle by Calatrava who designed the monument to NJ commuters that is being built in the World Trade Center site.

Touché !!

February 20, 2008

I am an intellectual!

The Republican “intelligentsia” likes to see itself as the “party of ideas.” Their “public intelllectuals”, the type I refer to as swaydos, (pseudos, if you’re not in the know), are much lauded. William F. Buckley, whom I’ve yet to hear construct an argument that isn’t based on innuendo, snide insult, and dogmatic assertion of troglodyte opinion is the father figure to these wannabee “scholar-statesmen.” William Kristol, now on probationary assignment as water carrier for the conservative cause on the opinion pages of the New York Times, a paper he described as treasonous not long ago, is another star in this cerebral firmament – or is it penumbra?

Fortunately, there are plenty of people who do know a thing or two who can get a good letter published in the Times. I reproduce in full the wonderful response of Todd Gitlin to Kristol’s latest mental drivelling. He correctly cites a prime technique of the right-wing fustigators (love that word, got it from Carlyle!), i.e., attacking “the left,” “liberals,” “academics,” and so on for expressing opinions they deplore without giving a single example:

To the Editor:

In order to impugn “the quality of thought of the Democrats’ academic and media supporters,” none of whom he names or quotes, William Kristol drafts George Orwell, who wrote in 1942 that “a permanent and pensioned opposition” suffers a deterioration in “the quality of its thought.”

By Mr. Kristol’s reasoning, the belligerent right that was out of power from 1932 into the 1970s should have been terminally shriveled by the time it came to power with Ronald Reagan in 1981. Perhaps its long exile explains the ruinous fatuousness of such manifestoes as the declaration on Sept. 20, 2001, that failure to invade Iraq “will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism” — a declaration by William Kristol and fellow conservatives.

Todd Gitlin
New York, Feb. 18, 2008

The writer, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, is the author of several books about politics.

GWB Down the Memory Hole…Again

August 22, 2007

Greetings from the Ministry of Truth!

Here’s one from the memory hole: George Bush speaking today at a VFW post about his “policy” in Iraq. He drew a parallel between the consequences of the American withdrawal from Vietnam and what he claims will happen if we leave off fighting in Iraq. Here is one piece of evidence he presented:

“In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation, torture, or execution.

Just for the record, it was several millions of Cambodians who died under the insane regime of Pol Pot, but who’s counting? Not GWB, for sure. More important, it was the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia that put a stop to the Pol Pot regime’s murder, not that they (ancient enemies of the Khmer) were totally altruistic in their aims in removing him from power. Quite a stretch to claim that it was the Vietnamese Communists that caused the atrocities in Cambodia. Of course, it did happen after we left, but isn’t that a co-inky-dink? Most historians agree that it was America’s involvement in Vietnam that caused, one way or another, the destruction of Cambodia.

Never Out of Date!

March 22, 2005





For a bit more of George Orwell visit these texts. Oh, wait a moment – was that George Orwell or George Bush?