Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Arthur Krystal Interview

Mr. Krystal’s New Yorker essay on Jacques Barzun is often cited. In this Harper’s Magazine interview, Barzun is but one of the subjects discussed. Excerpt:

You studied with Barzun at Columbia, and acknowledge him as an influence. Which of his essays have you most often re-read? Which of his books do you most value (or recommend)?

To be strictly accurate, I did not study with Barzun at Columbia. I took only one course with him, a course on the writing of history, and I’m quite sure that my views on poets and novelists were formed before we met. If they hadn’t been, Barzun would never have bothered with me. He didn’t want acolytes; he wanted people with whom he could discuss books. That said, let me add that I have been matriculating at Barzun University for the last thirty-five years and that I’ll probably never know enough to graduate. He’s approaching his one-hundredth-and-first birthday and he just finished re-reading G. Lowes Dickinson’s A Modern Symposium (1905), a book I had never even heard of. Recommending essays and books by Barzun is easy. As long as your area of interest isn’t quantum mechanics or animal husbandry, there’s probably a Barzun work that’ll work for you. I happen to like the essays in The Culture We Deserve. Of course, I happen also to have chosen and edited them. If from Dawn to Decadence seems too daunting, try Clio and the Doctors. If you read poetry, then read his Essay on French Verse. And if you want to know why we shouldn’t be in Iraq, go online and find an address he delivered over twenty years ago, "Is Democratic Theory For Export?".

Thanks again to Dave Lull.