Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"The miserable and wanton story of their destruction and dereliction"

I've left off Infinite Jest for the foreseeable future.  I'm 700 pages in, more or less, and at this point I have zero interest in continuing.  The moments of inspiration and excitement now come so infrequently as to be almost nonexistent, and I can no longer summon up the faith I need to motivate myself through the endless, unlinked scenes of cruelty and suffering that fill the book.  Wallace's virtuosity as a writer has come to feel increasingly empty, like makeup on the face of a tedious, narcissistic bore.  I may finish the book one day--probably at this point I should--but it will not be soon.

In the meantime, I've started A Time To Keep Silence.  Written by Patrick Leigh Fermor, the book describes the author's experience staying as a guest (but not a believer) at several of Europe's oldest  monasteries.   It's fantastic.  Fermor's prose is formal and yet vibrant, and passages of extraordinary writing appear on almost every page.

A sample (from the introduction):

It is impossible for anyone who has had even this slight experience not to feel, at the sight of empty monasteries, a sorrow sharper than the regret of an antiquarian.  Something of this elegiac sadness overhangs the rock-monasteries of Cappadocia that I have tried to describe.  But, for us in the West, because of all such relics they are the most compelling mementoes of the life that once animated them, the ruined abbeys of England that have remained desolate since the Reformation will always be the most moving and tragic.  For there is no riddle here.  We know the function and purpose of every fragment and the exact details of the holy life that should be sheltering there.  We know, too, the miserable and wanton story of their destruction and their dereliction, and have only to close our eyes for a second for the imagination to rebuild the towers and the pinnacles and summon to our ears the quiet rumor of monkish activity and the sound of bells melted long ago.  They emerge in the fields like the peaks of a vanished Atlantis drowned four centuries deep.  The gutted cloisters stand uselessly among the furrows and only broken pillars mark the former symmetry of the aisles and ambulatories.  Surrounded by elder-flower, with their bases entangled in bracken and blackberry and bridged at their summits with arches and broken spandrels that fly spinning over the tree-tops in slender trajectories, the clustering pillars suspend the the great empty circumference of a rose-window in the rook-haunted sky. It is as though some tremendous Gregorian chant had been interrupted hundreds of years ago to hang there petrified at its climax ever since.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Center Supports Obama

As I believe was made clear in the (excitingly) still-ongoing debate about politics on this blog earlier in the month, I am, at core, a dull, vanilla centrist.  I'm voting Obama because I think he comes closer to the center than Romney who, though once a centrist, has tacked worringly rightward in the last several months.

Of some interest to me, then, is the news that two other bastions of the boring center have just come out to endorse--Obama.  The Economist magazine is one.  The other is New York City's mayor, Michael Bloomberg.  Because it gibes with so much of what I feel myself, I excerpt his endorsement at length.  (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan:)

...I believe Mitt Romney is a good and decent man, and he would bring valuable business experience to the Oval Office. He understands that America was built on the promise of equal opportunity, not equal results. In the past he has also taken sensible positions on immigration, illegal guns, abortion rights and health care. But he has reversed course on all of them, and is even running against the health-care model he signed into law in Massachusetts.
If the 1994 or 2003 version of Mitt Romney were running for president, I may well have voted for him because, like so many other independents, I have found the past four years to be, in a word, disappointing.
In 2008, Obama ran as a pragmatic problem-solver and consensus-builder. But as president, he devoted little time and effort to developing and sustaining a coalition of centrists, which doomed hope for any real progress on illegal guns, immigration, tax reform, job creation and deficit reduction. And rather than uniting the country around a message of shared sacrifice, he engaged in partisan attacks and has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it.
Nevertheless, the president has achieved some important victories on issues that will help define our future. His Race to the Top education program - much of which was opposed by the teachers’ unions, a traditional Democratic Party constituency - has helped drive badly needed reform across the country, giving local districts leverage to strengthen accountability in the classroom and expand charter schools. His health-care law - for all its flaws - will provide insurance coverage to people who need it most and save lives.
When I step into the voting booth, I think about the world I want to leave my two daughters, and the values that are required to guide us there. The two parties’ nominees for president offer different visions of where they want to lead America. One believes a woman’s right to choose should be protected for future generations; one does not. That difference, given the likelihood of Supreme Court vacancies, weighs heavily on my decision. One recognizes marriage equality as consistent with America’s march of freedom; one does not. I want our president to be on the right side of history. One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.
Of course, neither candidate has specified what hard decisions he will make to get our economy back on track while also balancing the budget. But in the end, what matters most isn’t the shape of any particular proposal; it’s the work that must be done to bring members of Congress together to achieve bipartisan solutions. Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan both found success while their parties were out of power in Congress - and President Obama can, too. If he listens to people on both sides of the aisle, and builds the trust of moderates, he can fulfill the hope he inspired four years ago and lead our country toward a better future for my children and yours.
And that’s why I will be voting for him.