Friday, November 25, 2011

V. L. Parrington, Dreiser & James

I find it difficult to read a collection of essays straight through, at least the two collections I’m working on at the present time, namely Hitchens’ Arguably and Trilling’s The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent. Picking up Hitchens after a few days I noticed that I look forward to whatever he is going to discuss because he is such an entertaining writer. Trilling on the other hand requires more work and he is very likely going to challenge some inadequate notion I’ve left unexamined.

Hitchens mentioned Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran “in which young female students meet in secret with Xeroxed copies of Nabokov’s masterpiece on their chaste and chadored laps,” and of how “it is at first a surprise to discover how unscandalized the women are.” Hitchens moves on from that provocative comment to other reactions to Nabokov’s novel; which didn’t interest me quite as much. One suspects that keeping women’s minds in the thirteenth century in an age when copying machines, computers and iPods proliferate will be an difficulty Fundamentalist Muslims aren’t going to be able to overcome.

I was more interested in Trilling’s essay “Reality in America, 1940-46.” He begins with a lengthy discussion of V. L. Parrington’s Main Currents in American Thought. I either read this book as a requirement of a class or read it on my own, but in either case I wasn’t as perceptive as Trilling has been – or if I was it was with a very low level of concern. I can’t recall being positively impressed with the book but have the impression that some professor had implied that we all ought to be; so rather than assuming Trilling’s critical stance I felt a bit guilty for not measuring up to someone else’s idea of excellence.

Parrington had the Liberal view that literature should be “realistic,” thus he doesn’t rate Hawthorne very highly. “Hawthorne’s insufficiency as a writer,” Parrington tells us “comes from his failure to get around and meet people. Hawthorne could not, he tells us, establish contact with the ‘Yankee reality,’ and was scarcely aware of the ‘substantial world of Puritan reality that Samuel Sewall knew. . . We learn, too, that his romance of ethics is not admirable because it requires the hard, fine pressing of ideas, and we are told that ‘a romantic uninterested in adventure and afraid of sex is likely to become somewhat graveled for matter.’ In short, Hawthorne’s mind was a thin one, and Parrington puts in evidence his use of allegory and symbol and the very severity and precision of his art to prove that he suffered from a sadly limited intellect, for so much fancy and so much art could scarcely be needed unless the writer were trying to exploit to the utmost the few poor ideas that he had.”

Parrington’s ideas about realism are still widely held, but those who hold them are a bit more cautious, I suspect, about denigrating Hawthorne and some of the others Parrington finds wanting: “To throw out Poe because he cannot be conveniently fitted into a theory of American culture, to speak of him as a biological sport and as a mind apart from the main current, to find his gloom to be merely personal and eccentric, ‘only the attribilious wretchedness of a dipsomaniac,’ as Hawthorne’s was ‘no more than the skeptical questioning of life by a nature that knew no fierce storms,’ to judge Melville’s response to American life to be less noble than that of Bryant or of Greeley, to speak of Henry James as an escapist, as an artist similar to Whistler, a man characteristically afraid of stress – this is not merely to be mistaken in aesthetic judgment; rather it is to examine without attention and from the point of view of a limited and essentially arrogant conception of reality the documents which are in some respects the most suggestive testimony to what America was and is, and of course to get no answer from them.

“Parrington lies twenty years behind us, and in the intervening time there has developed a body of opinion which is aware of his inadequacies and of the inadequacies of his coadjutors and disciples, who make up what might be called the literary academicism of liberalism. Yet Parrington still stands at the century of American thought about American culture because, as I say, he expresses the chronic American belief that there exists an opposition between reality and mind and that one must enlist oneself in the party of reality.

“This belief in the incompatibility of mind and reality is exemplified by the doctrinaire indulgence which liberal intellectuals have always displayed toward Theodore Dreiser, an indulgence which becomes the worthier of remark when it is contrasted with the liberal severity toward Henry James. Dreiser and James: with that juxtaposition we are immediately at the dark and bloody crossroads where literature and politics meet.”

I considered myself a Liberal during the time I read Parrington, but I was probably not a consistent one because I loved Henry James and didn’t at all appreciate Theodore Dreiser. I recall classes in which Dreiser was presented as worthy of appreciation but I couldn’t manage it. I got hung up on what Parrington would have urged me to overlook: “It was Parrington who established the formula for the liberal criticism of Dreiser calling him a ‘peasant’: when Dreiser thinks stupidly, it is because he has the slow stubbornness of a peasant; when he writes badly, it is because he is impatient of the sterile literary gentility of the bourgeoisie. It is as if wit, and flexibility of mind, and perception, and knowledge were to be equated with aristocracy and political reaction, while dullness and stupidity must naturally suggest a virtuous democracy . . .”

I was raised in the “reality” Parrington lauds. I knew only manual labor growing. I worked on trucks delivering watermelons. I stoked boilers in the dry-kiln of a lumber yard. I delivered heavy equipment and drove lumber carriers and fork-lifts. I worked salvaging pot metal and clockworks from a burnt-down warehouse. And while going to college I worked part time as a “swamper,” loading and unloading trucks at the docks. But this background didn’t incline me to overlook Dreiser’s inadequacies or to denigrate James’ virtues. But “To James no quarter is given by American criticism in its political and liberal aspect.”

“In The Rise of American Civilisation, Professor Beard uses a significant phrase when, in the course of an ironic account of James’s career, he implies that we have a clue to the irrelevance of that career when we know that James was ‘a whole generation removed from the odours of the shop.’ Of a piece with this, and in itself even more significant, is the comment which Granville Hicks makes in The Great Tradition when he deals with James’s stories about artists and remarks that such artists as James portrays, so concerned for their art and their integrity in art, do not really exist: ‘After all, who has ever known such artists? Where are the Hugh Verekers, the Mark Ambients, the Neil Paradays, the Overts, Limberts, Dencombes, Delavoys?’ This question, as Mr. Hicks admits, had occurred to James himself, but what answer had James given to it? ‘If the life about us for the last thirty years refused warrant for these examples . . . then so much the worse for that life. . . . There are decencies that in the name of the general self-respect we must take for granted, there’s a rudimentary intellectual honour to which we must, in the interest of civilization, at least pretend.’

“And to this, Mr. Hicks, shocked beyond argument, makes this reply, which would be astonishing had we not heard it before: ‘But this is the purest romanticism, this writing about what ought to be rather than what is!’ . . .”

Comment: I read most of James’ novels and a substantial number of his short stories but it wouldn’t have occurred to me suggest that James was writing about “what ought to be.” After reading what James actually wrote I can understand his self-assessment, especially if he compared himself to naturalists like Zola. No one can avoid the “naturalism” of life, but not everyone wants to read about it as well. I recall once visiting an aunt during her lunch period at a Potato chip factory. In the old days before my uncle died she had leisure to read whatever she liked, but after he died she had to go to work and wasn’t interested in reading anything of a “naturalistic” nature. She lived it, she told me. Why would she want to read about it?

There is a Biblical principle that might be brought to bear here: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” [Phil. 4:8] It seems safe to say that those who do the opposite of what Paul is here recommending would lead more pessimistic and depressed lives. Those who can manage to live more as Paul recommends could be expected to be more optimistic and cheerful. Someone might counter with the old Philosophy 1A question, is it better to be a happy fool than an unhappy Socrates? But Paul doesn’t neglect “things” that “are true.” We might guess however that his definition of whatsoever is true would be different from Parrington’s definition of whatsoever is “realistic.” Virgins were being sacrificed at pagan temples in Paul’s day. Those sacrifices were “real” and a Theodore Dreiser of Paul’s day could have written about them and been called by V. L. Parrington “realistic,” but they wouldn’t have met Paul’s criteria of what we ought to think about.

Naturalism isn’t dead. The teachings of Parrington, Beard and Hicks are still being followed. One can still buy recent copies of Dreiser’s works on – and his major works rate higher than the major works of Henry James. The “moral obligation to be intelligent” has never been entertained as a burning need by a majority of those in America – or a majority of those buying books from it would seem.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pfaff on Fukuyama’s Origin of Political Order

The above article appears in the November 24th edition of the NYROB. It is a review by William Pfaff of Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order: from Prehuman Times to the French Revolution.

Pfaff doesn’t think much of Fukuyama or his book. He refers to both Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man with disapproval A biographical article at provides some insight into why he does so:

“In a long assessment of William Pfaff’s work and influence in The New York Review of Books (May 26, 2005 . . . Pankaj Mishra wrote ‘His broad-ranging intellectual and emotional sympathies distinguish him from most foreign policy commentators who tend to serve what they see, narrowly, as their national interest.’ Pfaff is also indifferent to, and often brusquely dismissive of, the modish theories that describe how and why dominoes fall, history ends, and civilizations clash....

“[In his book, The Bullet’s Song], a long essay on utopian violence, he reiterates his conviction that the idea of total and redemptive transformation of human society through political means is ‘the most influential myth of modern political society from 1789 to the present days.’ Pfaff is especially wary of its ‘na├»ve American version,’ which, ‘although rarely recognized as such, survives, consisting in the belief that generalizing American political principles and economic practices to the world at large will bring history (or at least historical progress) to its fulfillment.”

I have not been “dismissive” of Fukuyama’s and Huntington’s theses, but have been inclined to pit them against each other in the evaluation of current events and of future possibilities. If Fukuyama were indeed proposing a utopian future based on Liberal Democracy then I would agree with Pfaff, but I haven’t seen that in anything of Fukuyama’s thus far. Could that argument be in the book Pfaff reviews (which I have not yet read)? I doubt it. Fukuyama’s thesis is based upon Hegel’s as “interpreted” by Alexandre Kojeve. This thesis argues that the “end of history” will not be a Marxian one (who turned Hegel upside down) but Hegel’s (thus turning Hegel right-side up). Marxism is indeed Utopian but in all my reading of Fukuyama I have never seen any suggestion that Liberal Democracy, even as the “end of history” comprises a Utopia (unless Pfaff views the end of war as constituting a Utopia). Quite the contrary as his reference to “the last man” signifies.

Pfaff in his review writes “Fukuyama assumes that what Huntington called the ‘third wave of democratization’ has already largely taken place, since at the time he was writing this book the number of ‘democracies and market-oriented economies,’ forty-five at the start of the 1970s (according to Freedom House), had increased to some 120 – ‘more than 60 percent of the world’s independent states.’ Fukuyama therefore claims that liberal democracy is now ‘the default form of government.’ To increase that total and ensure the enlargement of a new democratic international order, it will be necessary to rescue ‘collapsed or unstable governments,’ the issue he says has most interested him as a Washington scholar and think-tank analyst. . .”

We see Pfaff’s “dismissiveness” when he writes “his interpretation of prehistory and history, despite his disclaimer, is close to what the British historian Herbert Butterfield in 1931 termed ‘the Whig interpretation of history,’ which is to say that the past has been a progressive process leading up to us. ‘Us’ is not only England and the United States but Denmark, Sweden, and other exemplary democracies.” The foundation for Fukuyama’s thesis is in Germany (Hegel) and France (Kojeve) not in the ideas Butterfield criticized.

I was surprised later in his review to see this criticism: “He acknowledges the influence of the Enlightenment’s conception and promotion of the rights of man and human equality, and the challenge of its humanist ideas to religion, which widely replaced religious with secular values. But he ignores the most important political consequences of this introduction of the possibility of an earthly utopia, which largely replaced religion’s teaching and that the afterlife was where men and women would find salvation.” Pfaff doesn’t sound here as though he read Fukuyama’s The Great Disruption, Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order. If he discusses these matters in The Great Disruption, is he guilty of ignoring them if he doesn’t repeat himself in The Origins of Political Order? Perhaps, if their absence comprises a logical inconsistency, but I am more incline to think the dismissive William Pfaff hasn’t read the former book.

Pfaff might be saying that if Fukuyama were more aware of myths about “an earthly utopia” he might have avoided creating such a myth of his own (a view that a wider reading of Fukuyama would disabuse him of), for further down Pfaff writes, “Post-Enlightenment secular theories of history, as generally recognized today, had the characteristics of substitute religions. Marxism-Leninism and National Socialism, the most important of them, were teleological and utopian. Marxism claimed to provide a comprehensive explanation of society’s existence and its foreordained outcome. It expected to transform the human condition, and, when achieved, to explain and justify all that had gone before.”

Pfaff spends most of the rest of his article arguing that there is no evidence that human nature has in any way improved since the beginning of recorded history. I agree with him here, but so does Fukuyama. Fukuyama treats human nature, at least in The Great Disruption as unimprovable. He begins that book with a quote from Horace, which translated reads “You can throw out Nature with a pitchfork, but it always comes running back and will burst through your foolish contempt in triumph.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Duffy the crow hunter

The last 23 photos in the November 2011 gallery were from this morning.  The watermelon and squash fields had been picked and plowed and no one was about so we went down a farm road separating two of the fields.  I noticed a few crows.  One passed somewhat close to us and I photographed it going away.

On the way back Ginger and Sage dawdled underneath some trees while Duffy and I went on ahead.  Duffy got 30 or 40 feet in front of me when a crow dived at him, cawing the while.  Duffy was startled and crouched out of the way.  The crow wasn’t more than a foot or two above him as it flew past.  After this Duffy ran back and got behind me.

“Those crows are mean, better stay with me, Duffy,” I said to him, but I had no sooner spoken than he decided he wasn’t afraid of any stinking crow and chased back after it.  I didn’t get the photo of the first close pass but photo 224 shows him chasing into the field after one of the crows.  Several of them took offense at that and about 4 came after him.  I have one shot of that going on, photo 226.  Duffy seemed befuddled, but he didn’t run off.  When the crows flew a short distance away he chased one of them.  Photos 229 and 230 show him looking back to see if I had a problem with anything he was doing.  When I didn’t say anything one way or the other he seems to have decided that he would leave them alone if they left him alone.  Photos 231-235 show him watching the trouble makers.

Btw, I finished the March 2001 gallery, and started on the February 2011 gallery, posting some of the older photos.  These two months have a lot of Duffy in them.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thomas Hart’s “Reading”

I attempted to respond to Thomas Hart’s blog note on “Reading” but his blog wouldn’t let me; so I’ll respond on mine. The first difference I noticed is that Hart’s reading program is much more organized than mine. Also, he seems to have mapped out the reading he expects to do in the next ten to twenty years he expects to live (barring accidents). I haven’t any such schedule but my doctor leads me to believe I can expect to accompany Hart through most of the next twenty years – barring accidents and illnesses such as cancer which doctors can’t always anticipate.

Hart is a Carmelite secular, we read in his note “About Me” at . He maps out the books he expects to enjoy through his remaining years which savors of monastic order, and a resting in secure belief. I on the other hand am Presbyterian, of a denomination consistent with the early American Presbyterians whom George III accused of starting the American Revolutionary War. The early Presbyterians were Calvinists and it was Calvinism, according to Max Weber, that gave rise to the “Protestant Work Ethic.” I didn’t become a Presbyterian until I was in my early 40s, but I always had something like the Protestant Work Ethic. I wouldn’t have been out of place in Pre-Revolutionary America.

I have a library like the one Thomas Hart has in his basement. Perhaps we have some of the same books. I have a substantial number of Catholic Theologians on my shelves, but perhaps not the same ones that Hart has. I had a very brief interest in Aquinas after having been called a Thomist by a Process Theologist (Process Theology was derived from the Process Philosophy of A. N. Whitehead). At the time I knew little about Aquinas and nothing about Process Theology. In the course of debating this fellow I rectified my lack of knowledge about the latter. My counter arguments caused this fellow to resort to insult in lieu of anything better. I set out on a mild quest to read Aquinas, but in the absence of a strong incentive my interest waned. I respect Aquinas and have nothing against him. I would probably have studied him at greater length were I Catholic. I recall that Martin Heidegger was offered a permanent position if he would agree to being a Thomistic philosopher. He rejected the offer believing it would confine him too much. I had no such worry in my own study of theology. I was doing it on my own without oversight.

While I haven’t too terribly much about theology on my blog, I studied it for about eight years back in the 80s. When I retired to San Jacinto in 1998 I may have had one of the largest theological libraries in town. Mine was larger than the pastors of the Presbyterian churches we were members of. I came to Presbyterianism because it was closest to what I believed not because I was brought up in it. I was never interested in restricting myself to Presbyterian writers. On Church history I was very impressed by Jaroslav Pelikan, especially his five-volume series on The Christian Tradition. In an on-line discussion at the time a Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary (the seminary which educates most of the conservative Presbyterian pastors) asked me why I spent so much time with Lutherans so I asked him for the names of some alternatives. He mentioned Heiko Augustinus Oberman. I appreciated Oberman but I appreciate Pelikan as well. As to Catholics, I have appreciated among others Aloys Grillmeier’s series Christ in Christian Tradition, although I have not read Grillmeier in a systematic way.

My theological presuppositions, a la Cornelius Van Till, were centered on the canon. I accumulated a wide variety of points of view on each book of the Bible and would pit them against each other as I studied. After several years and numerous debates, the aforementioned professor asked me why I kept on. I wasn’t going to be a pastor or teach in a seminary, so why did I keep studying? I didn’t have a good answer.

Later I thought the best answer was that I was a sort-of lower-case polymath who believed in the ethic presented in Proverbs which isn’t inconsistent with the Protestant Work Ethic, “whatever thy hand finds to do, do it with all thy might.” I haven’t just studied theology. I mastered engineering well enough while working in aerospace. At one time I was interested in geology and went on rock and mineral expeditions in Southern California. At another time I was interested in astronomy and cosmology. I had an even greater interest in archaeology and anthropology. Later I became interested in genetics. I am very interested in European, Medieval, and Military history. All the while I have been interested in writing. I have written a good deal of poetry and seven novels, although I haven’t tried in any more than a perfunctory way to get any of them published.

Unlike Hart, after 9/11 I studied Islam, Islamism, and the histories of the most of the Muslim nations. I tend to do everything with “all my might”; which sometimes translates into a great deal of thoroughness.

Most recently I have taken up an interest in photography. One can see a number of these photographs at A few people asked if I intended to become a “professional photographer.” I understand that to be asking whether I intended to sell any of my photographs. I told them I did not. I am pursuing photography with the same intensity I have pursued everything else. Perhaps because of this I have become a better photographer than most people are willing to become, but so what? Christians are taught not to compare themselves with others but to compare themselves with themselves; which I take to mean an evaluation of one’s gifts and then a determining through self-examination whether one is exercising them to the fullest extent. I haven’t the comfort of a Carmelite framework. When I expire during the next twenty years, I hope to be “about my father’s business.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Trilling on Eliot, VI, the notion of human progress

Trilling writes that the “. . . notion of progress [is] a belief shared by the bourgeois and the Marxist, that the direction of the world is that of never-ceasing improvement.  So far as Marxism goes, this idea seems to have a discrepancy with the Marxist dialectic, for it depends on a standard of judgment . . . the judgment of direction, the certainty of what ‘higher’ signifies and what ‘better’ signifies.  One has only to hear a Marxist defend (as many a Marxist will) the belief that through the ages even art shows a definable progress and improvement to understand how untenable the notion is in any of its usual statements.  And the progress which is held to be observable in art is held to be no less observable in human relations. 

“And from the notion of progress has grown that contempt for the past and that worship of the future which so characteristically marks the radical thought of our time.  The past is seen as a series of necessary failures which perhaps have their value as, in the dialectical way, they contribute to what comes after.  The past has been a failure: the present – what can it matter in the light of the perfecting future?  And from – or with – a sense of the past as failure, and of the present as nothing better than a willing tributary to the future, comes the sense of the wrongness of the human quality at any given moment.  For while they have always violently reprobated any such notion as Original Sin and by and large have held the belief that, by nature, man is good, most radical philosophies have contradicted themselves by implying that man, in his quality, in his kind, will be wholly changed by socialism in fine ways that we cannot predict:  man will be good not as some men have been, but good in new and unspecified fashions.  At the bottom of at least popular Marxism there has always been a kind of disgust with humanity as it is and a perfect faith in humanity as it is to be.”

COMMENT:  What is being described here is a Marxist eschatology.  The Christian eschatology this most closely approximates is Postmillennialism.  They both hypothesize a future time when humans will be much closer to perfection than they are today.  Close enough so that human failings the world is used to become almost nonexistent.  This is another case, perhaps, where Marx addresses a Christian ideal and proposes to accomplish the same thing by material means.  

Postmillennialism envisions this improvement in human nature to be accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Marxism envisions this improvement to be accomplished by Socialism.  Atheists will argue that there is no Holy Spirit to improve man by changing him in such a way that he more closely approximates the image of Jesus Christ.  Very well, I would ask the Socialistic atheist, what in a material system is to effect this change?  Marx wasn’t specific, but Socialists have had a long time since his death to think about it  We have seen Socialism at work in many forms and stages.  Has anyone at any time in any place seen the sort of human improvement here alluded to?   

Postmillennialism is described as an “optimistic eschatology.”  There will be a time when the “Word of God will cover the world as water covers the floor of the sea.”  It is “optimistic” because this will occur on earth prior to heaven.  The other two major eschatologies, Amillennialism and Premillennialism are “pessimistic.”.  There will be no improvement in human nature and only small numbers will be saved.   The Marxists from Trilling’s time sound “optimistic” about a Materialistic future.  I wonder if that optimism exists in the Marxist remnant that survives today.

Trilling picks up Eliot’s arguments after this to say that while they are no more tenable than Marxism, at least Eliot is not deceiving himself. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Trilling on Eliot, V (Marx, Wordsworth, Hardy, Henley)

Trilling writes, “. . . it is incidentally significant that . . .  in every nation touched by the Revolution, the novel should have taken on its intense life.  For what so animated the novel of the nineteenth century was the passionate – the ‘revolutionary’ – interest in what man should be.  It was, that is, a moral interest, and the world had the sense of a future moral revolution.  Nowadays the novel, and especially in the hands of the radical intellectuals, has become enfeebled and mechanical: its decline coincides with the increasing indifference to the question, What should man become?

“The heightened tempo of events will go far toward explaining the change – the speed with which calamity approached, or sense of the ship sinking and our no doubt natural giving to survival the precedence over the quality of the life that was to be preserved.  Much of the change can be laid to the account of Marx, for it was Marx, with his claim to a science of society, with his concept of materialistic and dialectical causation, who, for his adherents, made the new emphasis seem unavoidable.  Considerations of morality Marx largely scorned; he begins in morality, in the great historical and descriptive chapters of Capital, but he does not continue in it, perhaps because he is led to believe that the order of the world is going to establish morality.  He speaks often of human dignity, but just what human dignity is he does not tell us, nor has any adequate Marxist philosopher or poet told us: it is not a subject which comes within the scope of their science.

“Yet not merely upon the tempo of events nor upon Marx himself can we lay the indifference to the morality and to aims.  It must fall . . . on the total imagination of our time.  It is the characteristic of this imagination so to conceive the human quality that it diminishes with ever-increasing speed before the exigencies of means.

“Lenin gave us the cue when, at the end of The State and Revolution, he told us that we might as well postpone the problem of what man is to become until such time as he might become anything he chose.   One understands how such a thing gets said; but one understands, too, that saying it does not make possible a suspension of choice already made and the making of it was what gave certain people the right to wonder whether the ethics and culture of Communism were anything else than the extension of the ethics and culture of the bourgeois business world.  For many years the hero of our moral myth was the Worker-and-Peasant who smiled from the covers of Soviet Russia Today, simple, industrious, literate – and grateful.  Whether or not people like him actually existed is hard to say; one suspects not and hopes not; but he was what his leaders and the radical intellectuals were glad to propagate as a moral ideal; that probably factitious Worker was the moral maximum which the preoccupation with immediate ends could accommodate.

“[This] diminished ideal . . . represented by that Worker is what Mr. Eliot would perhaps call, in his way, a heresy.  But from another point of view it is also a practical, a political, error.  It is the error which lies hidden in materialist and rationalist psychology.  Against it a certain part of the nineteenth century was always protesting.  Wordsworth was one of the first to make the protest when he discarded the Godwinian view of mind . . . it was in protest of the view of man shared alike by Liberal manufacturing Whig and radical philosopher, the view that man was very simple and individually of small worth in the cosmic or political scheme.  It was because of this view that Wordsworth deserted the Revolution; and it was to supply what the Revolution lacked or, in some part, denied, that he wrote his best poetry.”

COMMENT:  It is pertinent to think again of Ferry & Renaut’s French Philosophy of the Sixties, subtitled “an Essay on Antihumanism.” Ferry & Renaut’s essay was written in 1985, 45 years after Trilling’s essay on Eliot.  Not all of these Antihumanists could have been known by Trilling, but the idea of them would have been.  That is, Foucault is mentioned, but he is mentioned as deriving from Nietzsche, and Derrida from Heidegger, Bourdieu from Marx and Lacan from Freud.  Trilling didn’t assert that any of the (latter) philosophers had set out to dehumanize man, nor do Ferry and Renaut make this allegation, but an effect of their philosophies has been to diminish man.  What can the “good life” be in the face of such destructive arguments?  What can the intelligent novelist, i.e., the novelist who accepts some form of anti-humanism, write about that is not colored by despair?  Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, The Return of the Native, and The Mayor of Casterbridge come to mind as examples. 

Is there some way to rise above or repudiate the rampant anti-humanism that pervades our thinking?  Religion has that potential.  The Anti-Humanists have all declared God Dead, but backing away from that un-provable hypothesis is a start.  In the West we are used to Christianity.  We Christians are not left in doubt as to what we should become.  The Holy Spirit, Scriptures tell is, is transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.  Transforming us kicking and screaming seems to be the case for most of us, but the ideal, the goal is out there for us to see and we don’t repudiate it. 

Many Christian thinkers today oppose what they perceive as an exalting of man over God, calling it “humanistic.”  But the modern philosophers they have in mind aren’t interesting in elevating man.  There is very little of that in their philosophies.  I was most recently reading Heidegger and a major concern of his was a despairing harking back to tradition as a probably-vain hope that something better could be made of Germany.   The Russian followers of Marx exalted the Worker as Trilling describes, but that Worker and his paradise were shams. 

Wordsworth was no Christian, but he saw the emptiness of a belief in Godwin’s philosophy.  He didn’t advance any alternatives that impressed Trilling.  Eliot turned to Christianity for several reasons.  Anyone who has become a Christian later in life can trace the path through several reasons (or arguments) that led to his becoming a believer.  At least one of those reasons was pragmatic.  Eliot couldn’t survive the conclusions of The Waste Land.  He couldn’t survive the conclusions he drew of the First World War and its aftermath.  

Could Eliot have been faking it, using Christianity as a means and not an end?  That doesn’t seem possible.  What benefit could he have found in a Christ he didn’t really believe in?  Paul wrote in First Corinthians 15 words to the effect that if Christ was not raised from the dead then we are the most miserable of men.  In order to be a Christian one must so believe, and if this belief is entered in to optimism becomes a possibility.  Jesus said, “In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be not afraid for I have overcome the world.” 

Or one can take the approach of Hardy who envied those who can experience optimism:

. . . At once a voice arose among

    The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

    Of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,

    In blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

    Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings

    Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

    Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through

    His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

    And I was unaware.

Or one might try for the self-encouragement of William Earnest Henley partially recovering from a disease writing,

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

I tend to take a pragmatic view of these matters.  Henley was a sickly fellow who spent years in hospitals.  His unconquerable soul lasted him only 53 years.