Monday, April 09, 2007

In Blogs

I just got this terrific email from a fellow Jacques Barzun-admirer who'd stumbled across one of my Barzun posts. . . .

. . . I recently sent a blind letter to Herman Wouk after I discovered that in The Caine Mutiny he had named a destroyer Barzun. Mr. Wouk kindly replied with details of Barzun’s letter to him when the book first came out – “fine raillery about cheeses” – and invitation to lunch at the Century Club. Turns out that JB was his teacher in the Colloquium on Important Books.

It’s Like I’m Always Saying, Jacques Barzun Will Change Your Life

— Barzun 100 —

Passing . . . from one kind of name to another not only encourages the verbalist in his hopes of achieving science, but by virtue of tables, graphs, and abstract prose in the conclusion, he is also confirmed in the belief that the vague entity to which he gave a generic name does exist as a thing. Soon he sees all of life — all persons and their doings — at once vaguely and generically. In the end, by diffusion through newspapers and other print, the air of common day is colored and thickened by the presence of these supposed entities. The common man soon acquires a vocabulary in excess of his needs, thanks to which he is never at a loss for the wrong word. But meantime he has lost the habit of testing words and ideas by experience and is content to combine them like terms in algebra, without reference to the actual.

— Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect, 1959, p. 228

Orcmid’s Lair, Framing the World: Social Engineering the Conventional Wisdom, 2007-04-03

— Barzun 100 —

Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred.

Shadow of Diogenes, Jacques Barzun on Political Correctness

— Barzun 100 —

A century ago, Gustave Flaubert collected examples of clichéd ideas in France, calling his work The Dictionary of Accepted Ideas (translated for New Directions by Jacques Barzun). The entry for “America,” for instance, reads “If it weren’t for the discovery of America, we should not be suffering from syphilis and phylloxera. Exalt it all the same, especially if you’ve never been there.” And the accepted way to respond to the name “Machiavelli”? – “Though you have not read him, consider him a scoundrel.”

—HANDKE-DISCUSSION, Scott Abbott’s, a Handke translator, Letter to the American Scholar

— Barzun 100 —

I have been aware of books that are labeled “The Age of Reason”, “The Romantic Age”, “The Atomic Age”, “The Information Age”. Whole book series have been labeled this way. Excellent books. But often one author’s book that discusses a particular “Age” may be in flagrant disagreement with a book by another author. The histories written of such “Ages” are filled with contradictions. I always ended up confused about what the “Age” was supposed to demonstrate about the Human Adventure. Then I read a book by Jacques Barzun, who wrote that it is not the answers that unite and create an “Age”, but the questions. This idea exploded in my mind, and all sorts of half-formed ideas I had came into focus in patterns that were suddenly filled with meaning. I had been so involved with judging the answers, the nature of the questions had not attracted my attention. Now they did. Every few generations, people become aware of a body of questions that cry out to be answered, that demand attention, that search for a path into the future. Often, these questions did not or could not have come up at a different time in history. Alternatively, often the questions have followed us from time immemorial, but the answers that could make sense may only have come into being recently. I became aware of how important it is to consider a particular group of Questions and their body of potential Answers as connected, as creatures of their Time, in a way I had not imagined before.

— A Few Shiny Pebbles, How I Think