Friday, May 29, 2009

Simon Schama learns something about Barzun

Charlie Rose, A Conversation with Simon Schama, May 27, 2009.

Thanks to Brian Frank.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

1983 Preface of Teacher in America

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Most Impossible Book

Jacques Barzun once observed that of all the books it is impossible to write, the most impossible is a book trying to capture the spirit of America (I first read this truth when I was three-quarters of the way through my own attempt). Schama has assigned himself a mission impossible. No one should wish a Brilliant Book upon any other human. And at least we can say that while Simon Schama, the Man of Brilliance, comes away from this book bruised and limping, at least Simon Schama the outstanding historian still survives.

— David Brooks on Simon Schama, The American Future: A History, The New York Times Book Review, May 24, 2009.

Thanks to Dave Lull.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The House of Intellect, 50 years ago and today

Rereading The House of Intellect has helped me understand our times more clearly. Certain images recur: abdication, desire for release, and exhausted impotence. The adult world of achieved self-discipline abdicates to an adolescent world of spontaneity and desire. Among those charged with responsibility for cultural standards, Barzun sees a strong desire for “a release from responsibility.” People “idealize youth” and “hope that youth will bring to the conduct of life an energy that manners have sapped in their elders.” The really smart and ambitious intellectuals read the signs of the times and strike poses accordingly: “Nowadays it is assumed that all attacks on culture are equal in virtue, and that attacking society, because it is society, is the one aim and test of genius.”

— R. R. Reno, End of an Era, First Things, March 11, 2009.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Theorizing the Culture Wars

Jacques Barzun predicted the Culture Wars. Well, maybe not. He was both a historian and a product of his times, not a prophet. But there is little doubt that the Culture Wars of his early years, the 1940s and 1950s, bear at least some resemblance to today's battles over books, religion, the arts, and education. . .

— Tim Lacy, Theorizing the Culture Wars: Jacques Barzun, Politics, and Fostering Intellectual Life in a Democracy,

An Education Bubble?

Curiously, the phrase "education bubble" has not appeared at all in the NYT, although it has appeared many times in the blogs that the newspaper hosts. Googling the phrase gets 39,000 hits. Rises and falls in tuition get plenty of coverage, but that doesn't show that the reporters are aware of the irrational bubble -- they just think it's unfair, that college should be cheaper so that more can attend. But just as no one was allowed to say that most low-income borrowers were undeserving of home loans since they were disproportionately black and Hispanic, so we aren't allowed to say that a lot of college students are nowhere near being "college material" -- that would violate the "demotic life and times," as Jacques Barzun has dubbed the zeitgeist from roughly the 1960s until today. We cripple our minds by imbibing political correctness.

— Gene Expression, An education bubble? Data from the explosion of AP tests

Thanks to razibkhan.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Lincoln, Law, Barzun

Reflecting 50 years ago on the sesquicentennial of the president’s birth, cultural historian Jacques Barzun perceptively commented, “Something of Lincoln’s tone obviously comes from the practice of legal thought. It would be surprising if the effort of mind that Lincoln put into his profession had not come out again in his prose.”
— H. Thomas Wells Jr., president, American Bar Association, Celebrating Lincoln On Law Day