Some stimulating pixels for your viewing pleasure:
– Ross Douthat discusses Jules Verne sans Captain Nemo over at Books & Culture:
Memory forgives a multitude of literary sins. Middling prose, wooden characterization, boilerplate dialogueâ€”all of these will be overlooked, if a writer can only seize upon one great story and carry it off reasonably well. James Fenimore Cooper’s novels are bathed in bathos and bad writing, but he has survived two centuries of critical disdain because of five thrilling words: The Last of the Mohicans. H. Rider Haggard churned out 69 books that are forgotten by everyone save scholars of Victorian arcaneâ€”but King Solomon’s Mines ensured his immortality even so. Bram Stoker wrote 12 terrible novels, but nobody cares, because the thirteenth was Dracula.
Then there is Jules Verne. He is remembered by the critics as “the father of science fiction” and hailed for his uncanny technological forecasts: submarines and skyscrapers, rocket ships and long-range missiles. But in the popular imagination, it doesn’t matter much anymore that Verne wrote about space flight 90 years before it happened, or that his descriptions of a deep-diving submarine inspired inventors to improve upon the primitive designs of the 1860s. What endures are his stories, not his prophecies: Phileas Fogg racing around the world and against the clock; Captain Nemo, the deep-sea revolutionary, plotting his course through depths where even Ahab feared to tread.
Robert Birnbaum has another interview up at Identity Theory. This time he talks with Elizabeth Benedict author of The Practice of Deceit. Here is his description:
Elizabeth Benedict and I (and Rosie) met on a fair, late summer Saturday at a favored venue, The Mt. Auburn Cemetery, for a wide-ranging conversation. It, of course, included her latest novel, literary generational divides, cultural distractions from literature, Philip Roth’s Everyman, high school literature, the con artist story, Grub Street, sex (or at least writing about sex), Sigrid Nunez and a generous portion of snappy repartee (which may have been edited out).
– Also in Books & Culture, it appears I was not the only one disappointed in Randall Balmer’s Thy Kingdom Come. Editor John Wilson laments The Strange Case of Dr. Balmer and Mr. Hyde:
Among the many books this season warning about the dire influence of the Religious Right, the one I was most looking forward toâ€”maybe the only one I was looking forward toâ€”was Randall Balmer’s Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens Americaâ€”An Evangelical’s Lament (Basic Books; not to be confused with Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, published by Norton, nor with Mel White’s Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Religious Right, from Tarcher, or any one of a dozen or so other books with similar titles or subtitles). Balmer is an excellent writer as well as a first-rate scholar; his 1998 Christianity Today profile of Jimmy Swaggart, “Still Wrestling with the Devil,” is one of the finest pieces I’ve read in the past ten years. Randy is also someone I consider a friend. I think he would say the same of me, though we don’t see each other often. And although we disagree about all sorts of things, I’ve always felt that the core convictions we share as believers outweighed such differences.
I still felt that way after reading Thy Kingdom Come, but the book was very disappointing. “Disappointment” suggests that reasonable expectations were not fulfilled. I couldn’t honestly say I was disappointed by Balmer’s apocalyptic take on the Religious Right, since other things he’s written have already pointed in that direction. And I have become resigned to a state of affairs in which many people I respect seem to be living in a parallel universe, whereâ€”as in a number of science fiction novels published in the late 1980s, when the “Moral Majority” was on every pundit’s lips and Pat Robertson was being described as a plausible presidential candidateâ€”theocracy is the greatest threat to our nation, and where evangelicals in particular need to walk around wearing placards disassociating themselves from the excesses of their mean-spirited brethren, as Brian McLaren lamented recently in The New York Times.
[. . .]
I hope that in time Balmer will write another book covering some of this territory, a book in which the moral passion that informs Thy Kingdom Come will not be dimmed but which will do greater justice to the moral complexity of the terrain, a book that will be likely to unsettle some of his university colleagues as much as it angers many on the Religious Right. That’s a book I’m eager to read.
– Paul Beston reviews Honor: A History by James Bowman at TAS, X-Ray Vision:
ANYONE WHO HAS READ Bowman’s film reviews (he is TAS’s film critic) knows that he specializes in identifying deep-seated cultural assumptions beneath the surface of even the most innocent-seeming popular fare. He can take apart a romantic comedy or a crime drama in a way that leaves the reader wondering about manners, history, the roles of men and women, and other subjects not normally on the marquee at multiplexes. Often, the assumptions he exposes have to do with the idea of honor.
In his new book, Honor: A History, he crafts an intricate scholarly argument that takes the decline of Western honor far beyond a phenomenon of changing manners into an underlying force of much of 20th-century history, as well as a crucial signpost on the road ahead. His sources range from military and political history to psychology and religion, from the pages of Sir Walter Scott to the latest barbarism uttered by Madonna. There is so much to digest here it is dizzying.
– NRO’s Kathryn Lopez has had a number of Q&A’s with authors. Today she talks with Elizabeth Edwards Spalding, author of The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, And the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism:
Lopez: And just to clarify, youâ€™d not call Bush Wilsonian in the least?
Spalding: Wilsonian means embracing the progressive view of government and world affairs, believing that one man at a given time is destined to steer events along an inevitably unfolding path of history, transforming sovereignty, and vesting legitimacy and authority in the community of nations. It means collective security, rather than collective defense. Having ideals doesnâ€™t make you Wilsonian; expressing and acting on those ideals doesnâ€™t make you Wilsonian. Like Truman and Reagan, Bush expresses and acts on his ideals. Also like them, he is not Wilsonian.
Lopez: What can the Democratic party, in particular, learn from Harry Truman in the early days of the Cold War, as they approach the war on terror?
Spalding: Truman acted from permanent principles, and he understood the character of the regime â€” its government, constitution, and principles â€” as central to foreign policy. He was no relativist (like realists, whether liberal or conservative), nor was he a wishful idealist (aiming to replay Wilsonianism after World War II). Truman was a liberal internationalist â€” not an inflexible multilateralist. Like Bush, Truman was pro-international institutions when it came to trade. He was focused on key bilateral and regional relationships and created perhaps the most successful regional alliance: NATO, which was grounded, in a revolutionary way, in collective defense, rather than collective security. This sets Truman apart from Wilson, and itâ€™s what many Democrats today fail to see.