Apr 27 2017

Jonathan Swift and the Benedict Option

Some scattered thoughts:

I don’t know whether Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) would’ve endorsed Rod Dreher’s proposals (which I have yet to read in book form), but one of Swift’s quips seems relevant:

Lastly, ’tis proposed as a singular advantage that the abolishing of Christianity will very much contribute to the uniting of Protestants. [1]

It’s a kind of backhanded, reverse-psychology, move–Swift seems to say the best way to build disciples is to discipline them.  For as Swift observes:

There is one darling inclination of mankind which usually affects to be a retainer to religion, though she be neither its parent, its godmother, nor its friend. I mean the spirit of opposition, that lived long before Christianity, and can easily subsist without it. [2]

Swift might’ve agreed with Dreher that Moral Therapeutic Deism is milquetoast Christianity:

The two principal qualifications  of a fanatic preacher are his inward light, and his head full of maggots; and the two different fates of his writings are to be burnt, or worm-eaten.[3]


Why should any clergyman of our church be angry to see the follies of fanaticism and superstition exposed, through in the most ridiculous manner; since that is perhaps the most probable way to cure them, or at least to hinder them from farther spreading? [4]

Dreher’s diagnosis on his blog (and most likely in his latest book) seems to agree with Swift’s character of Gulliver who confesses to readers amid his travels that: “I was chiefly disgusted with modern History.” [5]

I too am disgusted with modern History when I see things like this on my morning commute:


Death of art = life of Vandals #streetart #grafitti #ATX #UT

A post shared by Christopher Landrum (@bookbread2) on

Dreher’s book The Benedict Option is a remedy for this diagnosis of disgust; it seeks, to harmonize the community, something (I think) Swift yearned for:

And I think the reason is easy to be assigned, for there is a peculiar string in the harmony of human understanding, which in several individuals is exactly of the same tuning.  This, if you can dexterously screw up to its right key, and then strike gently upon it whenever you have the good fortune to light among those of the same pitch, they will by a secret necessary sympathy strike exactly at the same time. [6]

Recall that Nietzsche’s hammer was but a tuning fork.[7]


[1] Swift, “An Argument to Prove that the Abolishing of Christianity in England May, as Things Now Stand, be Attended with some Inconveniences, and Perhaps Not Produce those Many Good Effects Proposed Thereby.” 1708.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Swift, A Tale of a Tub. 1704. Sect. I.

[4] Swift, A Tale of a Tub. 1704. “An Apology For the Book.”

[5] Swift, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World by Lemuel Gulliver. 1726. III, viii.

[6] Swift, A Tale of a Tub. 1704. Sect. IX.

[7] Kaufmann, Walter. Discovering the Mind Vol. IINietzsche, Heidegger, Buber. NY: McGraw Hill. 1981.  153–54.

Apr 26 2017

Too Fat for Ireland (Forget the Famine)

I’ve been trying to lose weight before I head off to Ireland.

Can you imagine anything more absurd than someone uttering the phrase “I’m trying to lose weight” in mid-19th century potato-famished Ireland?

I recall some vivid moments in William Carleton‘s (1794-1869) novel The Black Prophet:a Tale of Irish Famine (1847), such as thinning one’s plate when starving in Ireland:

The next morning the Sullivan family rose to witness another weary and dismal day of incessant rain, and to partake of a breakfast of thin stirabout, made and served up with that woful ingenuity, which necessity, the mother of invention in periods of scarcity, as well as in matters of a different character, had made known to the benevolent hearted wife of Jerry Sullivan. That is to say, the victuals were made so unsubstantially thin, that in order to impose, if possible, on the appetite, it was deemed necessary to deceive the eye by turning the plates and dishes round and round several times, while the viands were hot, so as by spreading them over a larger surface, to give the appearance of a greater quantity. It is, heaven knows, a melancholy cheat, but one with which the periodical famines of our unhappy country have made our people too well acquainted. [1]

Or sometimes laying on one’s belly:

“What is the matter with you, Con?” asked his mother, “you seem dreadfully uneasy.”

“I am ill, mother,” he replied—“the fever that was near taking Tom away, is upon me; I feel that I have it by the pains that’s in my head and the small o’ my back.”

“Lie down a little, dear,” she added, “its only the pain, poor boy, of an empty stomach—lie down on your poor bed, God help you, and when the supper’s ready you’ll be better.”[2]

UPDATE: Forgot about this gem from the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser (1553-1599), who lived in Ireland for much of his adult life:

Out of every corner of the woods and glynnes they came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legges could not beare them; they looked like anatomies of death, they spake like ghosts crying out of their graves; they did eate the dead carrions, happy where they could finde them, yea, and one another soone after, insomuch as the very carcasses they spared not to scrape out of their graves; and, if they found a plot of water-cresesses or shamrocks, there they flocked as to a feast for the time, yet not able long to continue therewithal; that in short space there were none almost left, and a most populous and plentifull country suddainely left voyde of man and beast; yet sure in all that warre, there perished not many by the sword, but all by the extrremitie of famine, which they themselves had wrought. [3]


[1] Carleton, William. The Black Prophet: a Tale of Irish Famine. Belfast: Simm and McIntyre. 1847. “III, A Family on the Decline—Omens.” 34–35.

[2] Carleton, The Black Prophet: a Tale of Irish Famine. “XI, Pity and Remorse.” 107.

[3] Spenser, Edmund. A View of the State of Ireland. 1596. 1633. Edited by Andrew Hadfield and Willy Maley. Blackwell, Oxford. 1997. pp. 101–02.

Apr 25 2017

Gloria: The Difference Between Northern Ireland & the Republic

Northern Ireland’s “Gloria” (1967):

Republic of Ireland’s “Gloria” (1981):

Compare Joseph Le Fanu (1814-1873):

And so he went on; and she was more silent and more a listener than usual. I don’t know all that was passing in pretty Lilias’s fancy—in her heart—near the hum of the waters and the spell of that musical voice. Love speaks in allegories and a language of signs; looks and tones tell his tale most truly. So Devereux’s talk held her for a while in a sort of trance, melancholy and delightful. There must be, of course, the affinity—the rapport—the what you please to call it—to begin with—it matters not how faint and slender; and then the spell steals on and grows. See how the poor little woodbine, or the jessamine, or the vine, will lean towards the rugged elm, appointed by Virgil, in his epic of husbandry (I mean no pun) for their natural support—the elm, you know it hath been said, is the gentleman of the forest:—see all the little tendrils turn his way silently, and cling, and long years after, maybe, clothe the broken and blighted tree with a fragrance and beauty not its own. Those feeble feminine plants, are, it sometimes seems to me, the strength and perfection of creation—strength perfected in weakness; the ivy, green among the snows of winter, and clasping together in its true embrace the loveless ruin; and the vine that maketh glad the heart of man amidst the miseries of life. I must not be mistaken, though, for Devereux’s talk was only a tender sort of trifling, and Lilias had said nothing to encourage him to risk more; but she now felt sure that Devereux liked her—that, indeed, he took a deep interest in her—and somehow she was happy. [1]

Compare (American) Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882):

Thus long I have been in Cambridge this term (three of four weeks) & have not before this moment paid my deviors to the Gnomes to whom I dedicated this quaint & heterogeneous manuscript. Is it because matter has been wanting—no—I have written much elsewhere in prose, poetry, & miscellany—let me put the most favourable construction on the case & say that I have been better employed. Beside considerable attention however unsuccessful to college studies I have finished Bisset’s Life of Burke as well as Burke’s regicide Peace together with considerable variety of desultory reading generally speaking highly entertaining & instructive. The Pythologian Poem does not proceed very rapidly though I have experienced some poetic moments. Could I seat myself in the alcove of one of those public libraries which human pride & literary rivalship have made costly, splendid, & magnificent it would indeed be an enviable situation. I would plunge into the classic lore of chivalrous story & of the fairy-land bards & unclosing the ponderous volumes of the firmest believers in magic & in the potency of consecrated crosier or elfin ring I would let my soul sail away delighted in to their wildest phantasies. Pendragon is rising before my fancy & has given me permission to wander in his walks of Fairy-land & to present myself at the bower of Gloriana. I stand in the fair assembly of the chosen; the brave & the beautiful; honour & virtue, courage & delicacy are mingling in magnificent joy. Unstained knighthood is sheathing the successful blade in the presence of unstained chastity. And the festal jubilee of Fairy land is announced by the tinkling of its silver bells. The halls & beauty. The birds partake & magnify the happiness of the green-wood shades. & the music of the harp comes swelling on the gay breezes. Or other views more real[,] scarcely less beautiful should attract, enchain me. All the stores of Grecian & Roman literature may be unlocked & fully displayed—or with the Indian enchanters send my soul up to wander among the stars till “the twilight of the gods[.]”[2]


[1] Le Fanu, The House by the Churchyard, “Chapter XXIV – In Which Two Young Persons Understand one another Better, perhaps, than ever They did Before, without Saying So,” 115–16.

[2] Emerson, Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks. Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard UP. 1960-82. Vol. I, March 11, 1820, pp. 10–11.



Apr 24 2017

What I Read to Prepare for Ireland

Things Previously Read and Re-reviewed

Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. 1954.

Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. 1791.

Gantz, Jeffrey. Early Irish Myths and Sagas. NY: Penguin. 1981.

Graves, Robert. Oxford Addresses on Poetry. NY: Garden City. 1962.

  • —–. The White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. 1948. NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Second Edition. 1975.

Joyce, James. Dubliners. 1914. Penguin Classics with Notes by Terence Brown. 1992.

  • —–. Ulysses. 1922. Random House: NY. 1946.

Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. The House by the Churchyard. London: Tinsley, Brothers. 1863. Reprint. Dublin: James Duffey. 1904.

Lewis, Clive Stapes. “The Inner Ring.” They Asked for a Paper: Papers and Addresses. London, G. Bles, 1962.

  • —–. “De Descriptione Temporum,” They Asked for a Paper.
  • —–. “Correspondence: Spenser’s Irish Experiences and The Faerie Queene.” Review of English Studies. Vol. 7. No. 25. (January 1931.) 83–85.
  • —–. “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages.” Chapter 3 from The Discarded Image: Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Cambridge UP. 1966.
  • —–. The Allegory of Love. Clarendon: Oxford UP. 1936. Second Edition. 1946.
  • —–. A Preface to Paradise Lost. 1942. Oxford UP – A Galaxy Book. 1961.
  • —–. The Great Divorce: a Dream.  London: Geoffrey Bles. 1946.
  • —–. The Four Loves. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1960.
  • —–. Studies in Words. Cambridge UP. 1960.
  • —–. An Experiment in Criticism. Cambridge UP. 1962.
  • —–. Mere Christianity. 1944. Macmillan, NY. 1952.

Patrick (Saint). Il Confessio. (Declaration of Patrick.) From St. PatrickHis Writings and Muirchus Life. Edited and Translated by A. B. E. Hood. Phillimore & Co. London. 1978.

Sterne, Laurence. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. 1756–1767. NY: Oxford World Classics. Edited by Ian Campbell Ross. 1983. 1998.

Thompson, E. A.. “Introduction” Who was Saint Patrick? Rochester, NY Boydell & Brewer Ltd. 1982. Electronic Edition 1999.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels: Jonathan Swift. Edited by Albert J. Rivero. NY: Norton Critical Edition. 2002.

  • —–. Jonathan Swift – Major Works. Oxford World Classics. 2008.

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. 1890. Barnes & Noble Classics Edition. 2003.

  • —–. “The Critic As Artist” Parts I & II (1891)
  • —–. “The Decay of Lying” in Intentions (Volume 7 of The Complete Writings of Oscar Wilde). New York: The Nottingham Society, 1909.

Books Read for the First Time

Beckett, Samuel. Murphy. 1938. NY: First Grove Press Edition 1957. First Printing, Collected Works. 1970.

Boswell, James. Life of Johnson (1791)

  • Read all passages regarding: Burke, Goldsmith, Sterne, and Swift.

Carleton, William. The Black Prophet: a Tale of Irish Famine. Belfast: Simm and McIntyre. 1847.

Davis, B. E. C. Edmund Spenser: a Critical Study. Cambridge UP. 1933.

Dillon, Martin. The Shankill Butchers: a Case Study of Mass Murder. London: Arrow Books. 1990.

Doyle, Roddy. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. London: Secker & Warburg. 1993.

  • —–.Bullfighting. NY: Viking. 2011.

Goldsmith, Oliver. The Vicar of Wakefield. 1766.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. 1916. NY: Penguin. Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Seamus Deane. 1993.

O’Brien, Edna. The Country Girls. 1960. NY: Penguin. 1963. 1975.

O’Casey, Sean. Shadow of a Gunman. 1923. Two Plays. NY: Macmillan Co. 1925.

  • —–Juno and the Paycock (1924).

O’Connor, Frank. A Short History of Irish Literature: a Backward Look. NY: Viking. 1967.

O’Hara, Maureen with John Nicoletti. ‘Tis Herself. NY: Simon and Schuster. 2004.

Spenser, Edmund. A View of the State of Ireland. 1596. 1633. Edited by Andrew Hadfield and Willy Maley. Blackwell, Oxford. 1997.

Shaw, George Bernard. The Doctor’s Dilemma. NY: Brentano’s. 1909. [and “Preface”]

  • —–Major Barbara. 1907. Bernard Shaw’s Plays. NY: Norton. Edited by Warren Sylvester Smith. 1970. [and “Preface”]
  • —–St. Joan (1923) [and “Preface”]

State, Paul. F. A Brief History of Ireland. NY: Facts on File Inc. 2009.

Yeats, William Butler. The Celtic Twilight. 1893.

Articles Read

Abravanel, Genevieve. “American Encounters in Dubliners and Ulysses.” Journal of Modern Literature. Vol. 33. No. 4. (Summer 2010.) 153–66.

Bierman, Joseph. “What The Quiet Man Said: Shifting Contexts and the Polysemy of the Text.” Journal of Film and Video. Vol. 63. No. 3. (Fall 2011.) 30–44.

Cremin, Kathy. “The Dispersed and Dismissed: the World of Irish Women’s Best-sellers.” Critical Survey. Vol. 15. No. 1. (2003.) 60–76.

Dobson, Henry Austin. “IX Oliver Goldsmith,” The Cambridge Encyclopedia of English Literature. 1909–1919.

Haliday, Charles. “On the Ancient Name of Dublin.” The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. Vol. 22 (1849.) 437–51.

Jackson, Alvin. “Unionist Myths 1912–1985.” Past & Present. No. 136. (August 1992.) 164–85.

Kirk, Robin. “Belfast: City of Walls.” The American Scholar. Vol. 80. No. 4 (Autumn 2011.) 7–11.

Kirkland, Richard. “The Spectacle of Terrorism in Northern Irish Culture.” Critical Survey. Vol. 15. No. 1. (2003.) 77–90.

Kittredge, George Lyman . “III.––Sir Orfeo.” American Journal of Philology. Vol. 7. No. 2. (1886.) 176–202 at 195–97.

Lysaght, Patricia. “Visible Death: Attitudes to the Dying in Ireland.” Merveilles & contes. Vol. 9. No. 1. (May 1995.) 27–60.

Markwick, Marion. “Marketing Myths and the Cultural Commodification of Ireland: Where the Grass is Always Greener.” Geography. 86:1. (January 2001.) 37–49.

Moorjani, Angela. “Andre Gidé Among the Partisan Ghosts in the ‘Anglo-Irish’ ‘Murphy.’” Samuel Beckett Today. Vol. 21. (2009.) 209–22.

O’Brien, Peggy. “The Silly and the Serious: an Assessment of Edna O’Brien.” The Massachusetts Review. Vol. 28. No. 3. (Autumn 1987.) 474–88.

Pierse, Michael. “The Shadow of Seán: O’Casey, commitment and writing Dublin’s working class.” Saothar. Vol. 35. (2010.) 69–85.

Rapuano, Deborah and Jessica R. Fernandez. “Remembering and Living Irishness: Tourism, Place and Memory.” International Review of Modern Sociology. Vol. 36. No. 1. (Spring 2010.) 1–21.

Townshend, Charles. “The Making of Modern Irish Public Culture.” Journal of Modern History. Vol. 61. No. 3. (September 1989.) 535–54.

Weston, Elizabeth. “Constitutive Trauma in Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls Trilogy: the Romance of Reenactment.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. Vol. 29. No. 1. (Spring 2010.) 83–105.

Wikipedia articles:

Movies, Television, Advertisements

Trailer to The Field

Mar 30 2017

A Eulogy to Bookclubs (in the form of Confession & Resolution)

The few bookclubs I’ve been in have given me the opportunity to network and befriend (at a distance) a few people–but as goes the act of reading (whether for fiction or non) these overall experiences have left me with a bad taste in my mouth– they’ve helped me discover that I don’t read the way other people read, and I’m somehow now resentful to the idea of bookclubs (but not their members) because I feel like an outsider.

I’ve always admitted to being a dilettante, a Tolkien taster,[1] and not a professor, not an expert in anything I’ve ever read or reread.

I have a poor memory, so I take notes when I read, and I reread those notes, so that I can attempt to grasp some inking of the author’s intention upon the page. Then I reread my notes and try to connect them to things previously read (and those notes previously taken).

And I’ve found many good points from a few good people in previous bookclubs and have been exposed to many (not just several) life-changing works I never would’ve discovered on my own.

And yet I don’t miss going to bookclub, though I sometimes miss meeting and seeing some of the people–I now must come up with some way of reminding myself that whenever I take notes on something I’m reading (and I tend to take notes on the things in a book that make me excited) that I must additionally attempt to remember that I am an oddball when it comes to the act of reading–and I must remember that overbearing, out-of-place feeling so oft felt when attending bookclub–a feeling that on reflection later reveals all the things I overlooked in the books I thought I had already read.


[1] As Tolkien puts it:

I have, in this peculiar sense, studied (‘tasted’ would be better) other languages since. Of all save one among them [Welsh?] the most overwhelming pleasure was provided by Finnish, and I have never quite got over it.

“English and Welsh – the O’Donnell Lecture – Oxford 21 October 1955” The Monsters and Critics: and other Essays. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. NY: Harper Collins. 1983. 2006. p. 192.



Mar 16 2017

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s Day – Part 7 of 7

Behold the words of St. Patrick of Wales and see how he conveys his humility:

But what is the point of excuses, however truthful, especially when linked with my audacity in aspiring now, in my old age, to what I did not acquire in my youth? For my sins prevented me from consolidating what I had previously read through. But who believes me even if I repeat what I have said before? As a youth, indeed almost a boy without any beard, I was taken captive, before I knew what to desire and what I ought to avoid. And so, then, today I am ashamed and terrified to expose my awkwardness, because, being inarticulate, I am unable to explain briefly what I mean, as my mind and spirit long and the inclination of my heart indicates.

Il Confessio. (Declaration of Patrick.) From St. PatrickHis Writings and Muirchus Life. Edited and Translated by A. B. E. Hood. Phillimore & Co. London. 1978. § 10, p. 43.

See also “Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s Day – Part 6 of 7.”

Mar 15 2017

7 Days Till St. Patrick’s Day – Part 6 of 7

From Edmund Burke (1729-1797):

The worst of these politics of revolution is this: they temper and harden the breast, in order to prepare it for the desperate strokes which are sometimes used in extreme occasions. But as these occasions may never arrive, the mind receives a gratuitous taint; and the moral sentiments suffer not a little, when no political purpose is served by the depravation. This sort of people are so taken up with their theories about the rights of man, that they have totally forgot his nature.

Reflections on the Revolution in France (1791)

And since ’tis the Ides of March, let us render under Caesar (100BC-44BC):

Men are generally ready to believe what they want to believe.

Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Gallic Wars) III, xviii

See also “Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s Day – Part 5 of 7” and

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s Day – Part 7 of 7.”

Mar 5 2017

You Don’t Have to be a Mathematician (to be British)

But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded. –Edmund Burke

Lewis Carroll, a.k.a. Charles Dodgson, (1832-1898) is perhaps England’s best known mathematician. But many British writers were not so inclined. Consider a passage about C. S. Lewis (1899-1963) in Philip and Carol Zaleski’s The Fellowship: the Literary Lives of the Inklings (2015):

The Latin and Greek portions of Responsions presented no problem, but Lewis failed the section on mathematics. He had a terrible head for numbers and was unable to handle even the simplest arithmetical problems—counting change was a daily ordeal—much less algebra, a prominent part of the exam. Algebra is defined by the OED as “a calculus of symbols,” and Lewis’s failure to master it is worth bearing in mind, in light of his later controversial forays into the application of logic to metaphysics and theology. Nonetheless, he was accepted into University College and returned to Oxford on April 26, 1917, enrolling as an undergraduate on April 29.[1]

Compare philosopher and Prime Minister Arthur Balfour (1848-1930):

I wish I were a mathematician. There is in the history of the mathematical sciences, as in their substance, something that strangely stirs the imagination even of the most ignorant. Its younger sister, Logic, is as abstract, and its claims are yet wider. But it has never shaken itself free from a certain pretentious futility: it always seems to be telling us, in language quite unnecessarily technical, what we understood much better before it was explained. It never helps to discover, though it may guarantee discovery; it never persuades, though it may show that persuasion has been legitimate; it never aids the work of thought, it only acts as its auditor and accountant-general. I am not referring, of course, to what I see described in recent works as “modern scientific logic.” Of this I do not presume to speak. Still less am I refer ring to so-called Inductive Logic. Of this it is scarce worth while to speak.1 I refer to their more famous predecessor, the formal logic of the schools [i.e. of John Stuart Mill].[2]

Compare Balfour’s colleague Winston Churchill (1874-1965):

All my life from time to time I have had to get up disagreeable subjects at short notice, but I consider my triumph, moral and technical, was in learning Mathematics in six months. At the first of these three ordeals I got no more than 500 marks out of 2,500 for Mathematics. At the second I got nearly 2,000. I owe this achievement not only to my own back-to-the-wall resolution for which no credit is too great but to the very kindly interest taken in my case by a much respected Harrow master, Mr. C. H. P. Mayo. He convinced me that Mathematics was not a hopeless bog of nonsense, and that there were meanings and rhythms behind the comical hieroglyphics j and that I was not incapable of catching glimpses of some of these. Of course what I call Mathematics is only what the Civil Service Commissioners expected you to know to pass a very rudimentary examination.

I had a feeling once about Mathematics, that I saw it all Depth beyond depth was revealed to me the Byss and the Abyss. I saw, as one might see the transit of Venus or even the Lord Mayor’s Show, a quantity passing through infinity and changing its sign from plus to minus. I saw exactly how it happened and why the tergiversation was inevitable: and how the one step involved all the others. It was like politics. But it was after dinner and. I let it go![3]

Finally, there’s G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936):

A great deal is said in these days about the value or valuelessness of logic. In the main, indeed, logic is not a productive tool so much as a weapon of defence. A man building up an intellectual system has to build like Nehemiah, with the sword in one hand and the trowel in the other. The imagination, the constructive quality, is the trowel, and argument is the sword. A wide experience of actual intellectual affairs will lead most people to the conclusion that logic is mainly valuable as a weapon wherewith to exterminate logicians. [4]


[1] Zaleski and Zaleski. The Fellowship: the Literary Lives of the Inklings 75.

[2] Balfour, Theism and Humanism: Being the Gifford Lectures 176.

[3] Churchill, My Early Life: a Roving Commission. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1930. Ch. III.

[4] Chesterton, Twelve Types. 1906. “Thomas Carlyle” p. 125.

Feb 19 2017

Why Do Artists Travel? (Part 02)

Two additional quotations I’ve recently come across:

For in writing it is as in travelling: if a man is in haste to be at home (which I acknowledge to be none of my case, having never so little business as when I am there), if his horse be tired with long riding and ill ways, or be naturally a jade, I advise him clearly to make the straightest and the commonest road, be it ever so dirty; but then surely we must own such a man to be a scurvy companion at best.  He spatters himself and his fellow-travellers at every step.  All their thoughts, and wishes, and conversation turn entirely upon the subject of their journey’s end, and at every splash, and plunge, and stumble they heartily wish one another at the devil.

––Jonathan Swift[1]

A car whipped past, the driver eating and a passenger clicking a camera. Moving without going anywhere, taking a trip instead of making one. I laughed at the absurdity of the photographs and then realized I, too, was rolling effortlessly along, turning the windshield into a movie screen in which I, the viewer, did the moving while the subject held still. That was the temptation of the American highway, of the American vacation (from the Latin vacare, “to be empty”). A woman in Texas had told me that she often threatened to write a book about her family vacations. Her title: Zoom! The drama of their trips, she said, occurred on the inside of the windshield with one family crisis after another. Her husband drove a thousand miles, much of it with his right arm over the backseat to hold down one of the children. She said, “Our vacations take us.”

She longed for the true journey of an Odysseus or Ishmael or Gulliver or even a Dorothy of Kansas, wherein passage through space and time becomes only a metaphor of a movement through the interior of being. A true journey, no matter how long the travel takes, has no end. What’s more, as John Le Carré, in speaking of the journey of death, said, “Nothing ever bridged the gulf between the man who went and the man who stayed behind.”

––William Least Heat-Moon[2]

See also: Why Do Artists Travel? (Part 01)


[1] Swift, A Tale of a Tub. (1663.) Section XI in Jonathan Swift – the Major Works 152–53.

[2] Least Heat-Moon, William. Blue Highways. NY: Little and Brown. 1982. p. 88.

Feb 7 2017

Three Articles on Russia

Three things I read about Russia over the weekend:


Putin’s Intelligence Crisis,” by Amy Knight, New York Review of Books, February 3, 2017.


Exxon, Rex, and Russia: a Deep Drilling,” Dana Snitzky, LongReads.com, February 3, 2017.


An Activist is Mysteriously Ill in Russia; and the U.S. Needs to Speak Up,” Editorial Board, Washington Post, February 2, 2017.