Friday, January 30, 2009

Frank Ordaz

Frank Ordaz, The Use and Abuse of Art, by Jacques Barzun, in On Being Frank, January 29, 2009.

Ode to Abe

From Jurek Martin, Ode to Abe,, January 31, 2009:

Even Mencken, never charitable, thought the Gettysburg address sublime: “Eloquence brought to a pellucid and almost child-like perfection.” He could not, of course, resist adding that it was a one-off and based on a false premise. Ibsen and Whitman wrote odes to Lincoln. But none of them addressed the quality of his writing.

Jacques Barzun, a Columbia University professor, did so, however, in a marvellous 1959 essay. Even in his early political pamphlets and court cases, Lincoln showed control over words, says Barzun. A parallel emerged between the shortness of an Aesop fable “and the mania Lincoln had for condensing any matter into the fewest words”.

According to legend, Lincoln scribbled down the Gettysburg address on a train to the event. He did not write fast but he did write a lot. He stuffed his notes in his desk, his pockets and his stove-pipe hat, to be retrieved when needed. When called to speak, all had already been thought through.

Barzun praises Lincoln’s literary art: “[His] precision, vernacular ease, rhythmical virtuosity and elegance may at a century’s remove seem alien to our tastes,” he writes. But out of Lincoln came Mark Twain, and out of Twain came Sherwood Anderson, Mencken and Ernest Hemingway. His legacy endures.

See The Library of America, The Lincoln Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Legacy from 1860 to Now, Edited by Harold Holzer

Thursday, January 22, 2009


What Obama Should Read

Washington Monthly, January/February 2009:


I recommend that the new president read William James's The Will to Believe and George Santayana's Character and Opinion in the United States. Both books serve a useful purpose to anyone trying to understand America in an overarching sense. They are products of two of our best minds and tell us something of our national character and preferences.

Advice to Obama

from Hugh Fitzgerald:

Obama's First Presidential Visit

And this is what he, Obama, should and could do: he could get on a plane, while the household staff are still vacuuming in the White House and the Old Executive Office Building – not just on any plane, but that special plane, the airforceoney one -- and fly straight down to San Antonio, Texas. And there he should present the very first Presidential Medal of the Obama Administration to Jacques Barzun, aged 100. And then Barack Obama should fly back to Washington.

Read also by the same presidential adviser:

The Inaugural Poem That Should Have Been Read, But Wasn't

Obama had the chance to do things right, and set things straight, but he passed up that chance. He might have chosen, he should have chosen, a good writer, with a good poem. Anthony Hecht is dead, so there was no contest. That someone was 88-year-old Richard Wilbur, of Cummington, Massachusetts and Key West, Florida.

And I've found just the poem for Wilbur to have read. . .