November 24, 2004
On Books

My latest American Enterprise Online column is a review of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s "literary autobiography," Miles Gone By:

William F. Buckley, Jr. is a singular American. A bestselling author at the age of 25, founder of the country’s preeminent conservative periodical by the time he was 30, spy novelist, television host, yachtsman, friend to movie stars and statesmen--and if that wasn’t enough, he even performed as a concert harpsichordist.

Just the sort of person the publication of whose autobiography would be a thrilling event. But much to the disappointment of conservatives everywhere, Buckley has said that he will never sit down to write one. What we do have is Buckley’s latest work, Miles Gone By... [More]

Read on for my (mixed) review and to learn about Lisa Simpson's eating disorder and Florida's ban on library loitering.

November 23, 2004
Buy a copy, it's only $3

Now available on newsstands is the December 6 issue of The American Conservative, which includes my review of two books on the fall of man. That's "man" in the less inclusive sense. Adam's Curse: A Future Without Men and Y: The Descent of Men both predict the demise of the Y-chromosome:

A depressing thought for half the population—but appealing to Sykes. A self-hating male whose view of his sex permeates his book, Sykes connects maleness with everything that is wrong with the world. Like many geneticists, he anthropomorphizes his subject, describing a single-minded chromosome that will stop at nothing to replicate itself. It becomes laughable when, for example, he inexplicably blames the high number of female fetuses aborted in China and India directly on the Y-chromosome.

War, pollution, the extinction of endangered species, all are the fault of men. “Gaia” is “suffering,” Sykes insists. It’s a wonder he can get out of bed in the morning, so heavy is his male guilt at the state of Planet Earth. “I have painted a very black picture of a world driven by the coupling of sexual selection working through its new playthings—wealth, power and greed—hand in hand with the Y-chromosome to deliver the present nightmare of patriarchal dominance, misery, poverty and destruction,” he pronounces. The Y-chromosome’s greedy goal of making itself dominant “is slowly but surely destroying our planet in ways we all know.”

A world of women is a veritable utopia in this view. “Women only rarely commit violent crimes, become tyrants or start wars,” Sykes notes. All true, perhaps (although that first is becoming less and less so). But it is also true that there are fewer female geniuses, fewer successful female heads of state, and fewer female inventors. It is more than politically incorrect to say so, but Camille Paglia was onto something when she declared, “If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts.”

It is exactly the dominating mechanism that Sykes derides that helped forge civilization. Men have always strived to conquer and create. And they have done so, in great part, to win the mating game. Studies show that even from the age of four, boys evince more risk-taking behavior than girls. This is not to say there are no female achievements, of course. In the art form of the novel, for example, women have at least equaled men, if not surpassed them. But it is ridiculous to complain about the control men have had over society without giving them their due for what they have created.

November 21, 2004
Life, or something like it

My latest Brainwash column asks if 2004 was the year of the documentary.

Thought for the day

‘‘It seems to me undeniable that up to this century literature used language in the way we all use it, painting represented what anyone with normal vision sees, and music was an affair of nice noises rather than nasty ones. The innovation of ‘modernism’ in the arts consisted of doing the opposite. I don’t know why, I’m not a historian. You have to distinguish between things that seemed odd when they were new but are now quite familiar, such as Ibsen or Wagner, and things that seemed crazy when they were new and seem crazy now, like Finnegans Wake and Pound and Picasso.’’

—Philip Larkin

The right stuff

He's a sharp dresser, looks great for his age, is one of the greatest American novelists—and he's funny! In case you missed it on television, watch Tom Wolfe play along with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

Stewart: Did you get laid at any of these places?

Wolfe: I don't talk about my personal life.

November 20, 2004
Not bitter at all

"She used every emotional experience as if it were a scrap of material that could be pieced together to make a wonderful dress."
Frieda Hughes, daughter of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, frankly discusses her parents in the foreword to a new edition of her mother's Ariel poems.

Food for thought

Bookslut does a public service, giving a rundown of the major food magazines' Thanksgiving menus:

Gourmet Magazine
Geared towards: Rich housewives with a personal chef and kitchen assistants.

Cooking Light
Geared towards: People who can watch Rachel Ray’s shows on the Food Network without wanting to punch her in the face. Also, people really into yoga.

Bon Appetit
Geared towards: People intimidated by Gourmet and frightened by Cooking Light’s intended audience.

November 11, 2004
On books

My latest American Enterprise Online column is a review of Frank Furedi's short, sharp Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? Confronting 21st Century Philistinism:

The intellectual was once seen as a solitary, driven being, searching passionately and single-mindedly for the truth. But what happens when there is no truth? Or, at least, when nobody believes that there is any such thing as "one truth"?

November 10, 2004
Thought for the day

Where, like a pillow on a bed,
A pregnant bank swell'd up, to rest
The violet's reclining head,
Sat we two, one another's best.

Our hands were firmly cemented
By a fast balm, which thence did spring ;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string.

So to engraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one ;
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.

As, 'twixt two equal armies, Fate
Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls—which to advance their state,
Were gone out—hung 'twixt her and me.

And whilst our souls negotiate there,
We like sepulchral statues lay ;
All day, the same our postures were,
And we said nothing, all the day.

If any, so by love refined,
That he soul's language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
Within convenient distance stood,

He—though he knew not which soul spake,
Because both meant, both spake the same—
Might thence a new concoction take,
And part far purer than he came.

This ecstasy doth unperplex
(We said) and tell us what we love ;
We see by this, it was not sex ;
We see, we saw not, what did move :

But as all several souls contain
Mixture of things they know not what,
Love these mix'd souls doth mix again,
And makes both one, each this, and that.

A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size—
All which before was poor and scant—
Redoubles still, and multiplies.

When love with one another so
Interanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
Defects of loneliness controls.

We then, who are this new soul, know,
Of what we are composed, and made,
For th' atomies of which we grow
Are souls, whom no change can invade.

But, O alas ! so long, so far,
Our bodies why do we forbear?
They are ours, though not we ; we are
Th' intelligences, they the spheres.

We owe them thanks, because they thus
Did us, to us, at first convey,
Yielded their senses' force to us,
Nor are dross to us, but allay.

On man heaven's influence works not so,
But that it first imprints the air ;
For soul into the soul may flow,
Though it to body first repair.

As our blood labours to beget
Spirits, as like souls as it can ;
Because such fingers need to knit
That subtle knot, which makes us man ;

So must pure lovers' souls descend
To affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.

To our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love reveal'd may look ;
Love's mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.

And if some lover, such as we,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
Small change when we're to bodies gone.

—John Donne, "The Ecstacy"

November 02, 2004
A Wolfe in sheep's clothing

"I do think that if you are not having a fight with somebody, then you are not sure whether you are alive when you wake up in the morning."

wolfe1.jpg

The 73-year-old Tom Wolfe is certainly alive, as this Guardian interview attests. And looking very dapper in his trademark white suit. (What does he wear while writing, I wonder?) After the publication of his last novel, A Man in Full, he had a very public feud with the other big names of American letters—John Updike, Norman Mailer, and John Irving. Now, on the publication of his latest, he pokes both left and right.

On Bush: "I've never met an American who wanted to build an empire. And while the invasion of Afghanistan was something that had to be done, I am stunned that Iraq was invaded."

On Kerry: "He is a man no one should worry about, because he has no beliefs at all. He is not going to introduce some manic radical plan, because he is poll-driven, and it is therefore impossible to know where or for what he stands."

This so-called conservative even has some kind words for PC: "conservatives will not like this new novel because I refuse to take the impact of political correctness seriously - I think PC has probably had a good effect because it is now bad manners to use racial epithets."

November 01, 2004
Thought for the day

"I fear Madox knows about us. He keeps mentioning Anna Karenina. I think that's his idea of a man to man chat. I know that's my idea of a man to man chat."

The English Patient

RIP

John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, better known to the world as legendary BBC broadcaster John Peel, died last week of a heart attack at the age of 65. The London Independent collects tributes, and what strikes one is how many great bands we might never have heard if not for Peel's idiosyncratic ear: Blur, The Undertones, Pulp. Bernard Sumner declares, "If it wasn't for John Peel, there would be no Joy Division and no New Order." A frightening thought. Click through to read as well "Peel's All-Time Festive 50."