Category Archive 'Modernism'
16 Jun 2017

“More Youthful, More Urban, and More Inclusive of Women”

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Bad! Male shooting trap.

GunsAmerica makes it clear that entirely the wrong kind of people are on the International Olympic Committee.

The International Olympic Committee has dropped three men’s shooting events from the Tokyo 2020 lineup in an effort to make the games “more youthful, more urban” and more inclusive of women.

The Committee announced last Friday that men’s double trap, 50m rifle prone, and 50m pistol will be replaced by events in air rifle, trap, and air shooting, which will be open to competitors of any gender.

IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement, “I am delighted that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will be more youthful, more urban and will include more women.”

———————-

Evelyn Waugh’s Scott-King’s Modern Europe follows the declining career of a balding & corpulent classics teacher at Granchester, a fictional English public school. Granchester is “entirely respectable” but in need of a bit of modernizing, at least in the opinion of its pragmatic headmaster, who is attuned to consumer demands. The story ends with a poignant conversation between Scott-King and the headmaster:

“You know,” [the headmaster] said, “we are starting this year with fifteen fewer classical specialists than we had last term?”

“I thought that would be about the number.”

“As you know I’m an old Greats man myself. I deplore it as much as you do. But what are we to do? Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?”

“Oh yes,” said Scott-King. “I can and do.”

“I always say you are a much more important man here than I am. One couldn’t conceive of Granchester without Scott-King. But has it ever occurred to you that a time may come when there will be no more classical boys at all?”

“Oh yes. Often.”

“What I was going to suggest was—I wonder if you will consider taking some other subject as well as the classics? History, for example, preferably economic history?”

“No, headmaster.”

“But, you know, there may be something of a crisis ahead.”

“Yes, headmaster.”

“Then what do you intend to do?”

“If you approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. [Emphasis added] I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.

“It’s a short-sighted view, Scott-King.”

“There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take.”

29 Nov 2016

True

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davilaquote

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

06 Oct 2016

Liberal Democracy’s Minimalist View of Humanity Leads Directly to Unlimited Entitlement

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legutko
Ryszard Lugutko, Professor of philosophy at the Jagellonian University in Cracow.

From The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies by Ryszard Legutko.

Liberal and democratic thought had been, from the very beginning –- with few exceptions -– minimalist when it came to its image of the human being. The triumph of liberalism and democracy was supposed to be emancipatory also in the sense that man was to become free from excessive demands imposed on him by unrealistic metaphysics invented by an aristocratic culture in antiquity and the Middle Ages. In other words, an important part of the message of modernity was to legitimize a lowering of human aspirations. Aspiring to great goals was not ruled out in particular cases, but greatness was no longer inscribed in the essence of humanity. The main principle behind the minimalist perspective was equality: from the point of view of a liberal order one cannot prioritize human objectives. Only the means can be prioritized in terms of efficiency, provided this does not jeopardize the rules of peaceful cooperation. …

There were, as I’ve said, exceptions to this view –- few, but worth noting. Among the eighteenth century authors, Kant, who defended liberalism, set up high standards for humanity; in the 19th century, John Stuart Mill and T.H. Green had similar intentions. The last two aptly perceived the danger of mediocrity that the democratic rule was inconspicuously imposing on modern societies. They both believed –- differences notwithstanding -– that some form of liberalism, or rather, a philosophy of liberty, was a possible remedy to the creeping disease of mediocrity. Mill remained under the partial, albeit indirect influence of German Romanticism, and thus attributed a particular role to great, creative individuals whose exceptionality or even eccentricity could –- in a free environment -– pull men out of a democratic slumber.

But these ideas did not find followers, and liberal democratic thought and practice increasingly fell into the logic of minimalism. Lowering the requirements is a process that has no end. Once people become used to disqualifying certain standards as too high, impractical, or unnecessary, it is only a matter of time before natural inertia takes its course and even the new lowered standards are deemed unacceptable. One can look at the history of liberal democracy as a gradual sliding down from the high to the low, from the refined to the coarse. Quite often a step down as been welcomed as refreshing, natural, and healthy, and indeed it sometimes was. But whatever the merits of this process of simplification, it too often brought vulgarity to language, behavior, education, and moral rules. The growing vulgarity of form was particularly striking, especially in the last decades, moving away from sophistication and decorum. A liberal-democratic man refused to learn these artificial and awkward arrangements, the usefulness of which seemed to him at first doubtful, and soon -– null. He felt he had no time for them, apparently believing that their absence would make life easier and more enjoyable. In their place he establish new criteria: use, practicality, usefulness, pleasure, convenience, and immediate gratification, the combination of which turned out to be a deadly weapon against the old social forms. The old customs crumbled, and so did rules of propriety, a sense of decorum, a respect for hierarchy.

Read the rest of this entry »

13 Jan 2015

Aesthetic Confusion

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Tweet71

17 Aug 2014

A Dogmatic “Libertarian” Age?

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Eric Fischl, The Old Man’s Boat and the Old Man’s Dog, 1982. –Our time’s version of The Raft of the Medusa.

Mark Lila, back in June, published an important essay on contemporary ideology in the New Republic, which I would say misidentifies the contemporary ideology of secular egalitarianism as “Libertarianism.”

The social liberalization that began in a few Western countries in the 1960s is meeting less resistance among educated urban elites nearly everywhere, and a new cultural outlook, or at least questioning, has emerged. This outlook treats as axiomatic the primacy of individual self-determination over traditional social ties, indifference in matters of religion and sex, and the a priori obligation to tolerate others. Of course there have also been powerful reactions against this outlook, even in the West. But outside the Islamic world, where theological principles still have authority, there are fewer and fewer objections that persuade people who have no such principles. The recent, and astonishingly rapid, acceptance of homosexuality and even gay marriage in so many Western countries—a historically unprecedented transformation of traditional morality and customs—says more about our time than anything else.

It tells us that this is a libertarian age. That is not because democracy is on the march (it is regressing in many places), or because the bounty of the free market has reached everyone (we have a new class of paupers), or because we are now all free to do as we wish (since wishes inevitably conflict). No, ours is a libertarian age by default: whatever ideas or beliefs or feelings muted the demand for individual autonomy in the past have atrophied. There were no public debates on this and no votes were taken. Since the cold war ended we have simply found ourselves in a world in which every advance of the principle of freedom in one sphere advances it in the others, whether we wish it to or not. The only freedom we are losing is the freedom to choose our freedoms.

Not everyone is happy about this. The left, especially in Europe and Latin America, wants to limit economic autonomy for the public good. Yet they reject out of hand legal limits to individual autonomy in other spheres, such as surveillance and censorship of the Internet, which might also serve the public good. They want an uncontrolled cyberspace in a controlled economy—a technological and sociological impossibility. Those on the right, whether in China, the United States, or elsewhere, would like the inverse: a permissive economy with a restrictive culture, which is equally impossible in the long run. We find ourselves like the man on the speeding train who tried to stop it by pulling on the seat in front of him.

Yet our libertarianism is not an ideology in the old sense. It is a dogma. The distinction between ideology and dogma is worth bearing in mind. Ideology tries to master the historical forces shaping society by first understanding them. The grand ideologies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries did just that, and much too well; since they were intellectually “totalizing,” they countenanced political totalitarianism. Our libertarianism operates differently: it is supremely dogmatic, and like every dogma it sanctions ignorance about the world, and therefore blinds adherents to its effects in that world. It begins with basic liberal principles—the sanctity of the individual, the priority of freedom, distrust of public authority, tolerance—and advances no further. It has no taste for reality, no curiosity about how we got here or where we are going. There is no libertarian sociology (an oxymoron) or psychology or philosophy of history. Nor, strictly speaking, is there a libertarian political theory, since it has no interest in institutions and has nothing to say about the necessary, and productive, tension between individual and collective purposes. It is not liberal in a sense that Montesquieu, the American Framers, Tocqueville, or Mill would have recognized. They would have seen it as a creed little different from Luther’s sola fide: give individuals maximum freedom in every aspect of their lives and all will be well. And if not, then pereat mundus.

Libertarianism’s dogmatic simplicity explains why people who otherwise share little can subscribe to it: small-government fundamentalists on the American right, anarchists on the European and Latin American left, democratization prophets, civil liberties absolutists, human rights crusaders, neoliberal growth evangelists, rogue hackers, gun fanatics, porn manufacturers, and Chicago School economists the world over. The dogma that unites them is implicit and does not require explication; it is a mentality, a mood, a presumption—what used to be called, non-pejoratively, a prejudice. Maintaining an ideology requires work because political developments always threaten its plausibility. Theories must be tweaked, revisions must be revised. Since ideology makes a claim about the way the world actually works, it invites and resists refutation. A dogma, by contrast, does not. That is why our libertarian age is an illegible age.

A must read.

26 Jul 2014

American Culture

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Eric Fischl, The Old Man’s Boat and the Old Man’s Dog, 1982. –Our time’s version of The Raft of the Medusa.

Fred Reed is not impressed with what egalitarian progressive modernism has wrought.

The bleakness of American culture leads one to despair. Subtract technology and nothing is left. Music? Classical composition is dead. The symphony orchestras hold on by their teeth. Opera is unheard and almost unheard of. Book sales drop, and those that sell are mostly trash. Poetry is dead, Shakespeare a comic shorthand for ridiculous irrelevant pedantry.

Talented painters abound, but the nation has no interest in them. Sculpture means curious blobs and shapes said to be art and chosen by suburban arts committees. Theater? How many people have seen a play recently other than a high-school production?

In all the things that once marked civilization, the United States has become a desert, a waste of self-satisfied, pampered, arrogantly ignorant sidewalk peasants. This is curious, since anything the cultivated might want awaits on the web. One may think of Amazon as an automated fifth-century monastery, saving things of worth for an awakening centuries hence.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

28 Jun 2014

Lev Grossman: On Modernism & Modern Fantasy

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LeonardWoolf

In his 2010 essay, “The Death of a Civil Servant,” fantasy novelist Lev Grossman finds the collision between Modernism and the Revulsion Against Modernism Expressed as Fantasy exemplified in the 1905 colonial experiences of Bloomsbury’s Leonard Woolf.

All Englishmen who were in their twenties in 1905 had at least one thing in common: They’d watched the world of their childhoods die. Just as they were coming of age, electricity replaced gaslight. Cars and buses replaced horses and bicycles. Urban populations were exploding, mass media and advertising were yammering, and mechanized warfare crouched in the wings, ready and waiting. The early twentieth century looked and sounded and smelled nothing like the late nineteenth. “In those days of the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century the rhythm of London traffic which one listened to as one fell asleep in one’s nursery was the rhythm of horses’ hooves clopclopping down London streets in broughams, hansom cabs, and four-wheelers,” Woolf would write, toward the end of his life, in the unimaginable year of 1960. “And the rhythm, the tempo got into one’s blood and one’s brain, so that in a sense I have never become entirely reconciled in London to the rhythm and tempo of the whizzing and rushing cars.” Woolf felt displaced, like the hero of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine, exiled in the future. So did everybody else—Evelyn Waugh once remarked that if he ever got ahold of a time machine, he’d put it in reverse and go backward, into the past.

It’s no accident that both modernism and modern fantasy made their entrances at that moment, in that same displaced generation. It’s rarely remarked upon, but just as Virginia Woolf and Joyce and Hemingway were inventing the modernist novel, Hope Mirrlees and Lord Dunsany and Eric Rücker Eddison were writing the first modern fantasy novels, at least in the form most fans are familiar with. This happened for a reason. Modernism and fantasy were two very different responses to the same disaster: the arrival of the modern era and the death of Woolf’s beloved nursery-world. Though like siblings—or roommates—who are mortally embarrassed by each other, they’re not in the habit of acknowledging the connection. …

But fantasy and modernism aren’t just opposites, they’re mirror images of each other. When the social, cultural, and technological catastrophe that inaugurated the twentieth century took place, leaving the neat, coherent Victorian universe a desecrated ruin, all that was left for writers to do was to sift disconsolately through the rubble and dream of the organic, vital world that had once been. Modernism was pieced together out of the jagged shards of that shattered world—it’s a literature made of fragments, the better to resemble the carnage it represented. Whereas fantasy was a vision of that lost, longed-for world itself, a dream of a medieval England that never was: green, whole, prelapsarian, magical.

Here and there you can spot their shared heritage, the places where modernism and fantasy touch. Modernists and fantasists both rework myths and legends: you can watch King Arthur and his knights trot, obscured but still visible, through Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (in the person of the knightly Percival), and Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (“Arser of the Rum Tipple”) to emerge into the sunlit meadows of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. Modernism and fantasy are set against the same landscapes: verdant preindustrial hills and dark, broken ruins. La tour abolie of “The Waste Land” is the architectural double of Orthanc, the tower of Saruman the White in The Lord of the Rings. The green fields of Narnia abut the “fresh green breast of the new world” that Fitzgerald invokes at the end of The Great Gatsby.

But by the time we reach them, those green fields are always in decline. The spell never lasts. King Arthur is always dying, and the Elves are always shuffling off toward Valinor, where mortals cannot follow. Narnia falls into chaos, then drowns and freezes, and the survivors retreat into Aslan’s Land. We think of fantasy and modernism as worlds apart, but somehow they always end up in the same place. They are perfectly symmetrical. Fantasy is a prelude to the apocalypse. Modernism is the epilogue.

Read the whole thing.

Via Ratak Monodosico.

22 Mar 2013

No Breeders (Or Drunkards) Need Apply

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Projectophile pokes fun at mid-last-century architectural modernism’s dramatic gestures, economies, and built-in lethalities.

The clean lines, the geometric decorative elements, the seamless blending of indoor and outdoor space… I sure do love mid-century modern architecture.

Do you know what I love more? My children. And that is why I will never live in my MCM dream home. Because mid-century modern architecture is designed to KILL YOUR CHILDREN. (Also, moderately clumsy or drunk adults).

Read the whole thing.

Via Walter Olson and Terry Teachout.

03 Dec 2012

American Birthrate Plummets

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Thomas Couture, Les Romains de la décadence [Romans in the Period of Decadence], 1847, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

And even Ross Douthat begins to recognize in the distance the final stop at end of the rail line of progressive modernism.

It’s a near-universal law that modernity reduces fertility. …

American fertility plunged with the stock market in 2008, and it hasn’t recovered. Last week, the Pew Research Center reported that U.S. birthrates hit the lowest rate ever recorded in 2011, with just 63 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. (The rate was 71 per 1,000 in 1990.) For the first time in recent memory, Americans are having fewer babies than the French or British. …

Beneath… policy debates, though, lie cultural forces that no legislator can really hope to change. The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion — a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be. It embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.

Read the whole thing.

16 Nov 2011

The Severed Wasp

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Virginia Woolf

David Wemyss takes an anecdote from George Orwell as the title of a thoughtful essay on alienation (which he refers to as “insularity”) as seen in the writings Orwell, Woolf, and Kierkegaard, man’s alienation from his fellow man (particularly those of other classes and conditions) and the alienation of some modern intellectuals from values and self.

Virginia Woolf is treated harshly.

It was a salutary lesson for me that the pellucid beauty of “On Being Ill” led eight years later to “Three Guineas”, with its insistence that Britain in the thirties was a tyranny as bad as Nazi Germany, that all loyalties were false (except those emanating from the virgin forest of course), that all uniforms were evil, and that war was a male desire to dominate brought about by competitive education.

Indeed, not many people realise that Virginia Woolf in 1938 was pretty well recommending the post-1967 British comprehensive school – except that it would have been a university – one so given over to cultural destructiveness that her own books would have fallen out of the syllabus.

Theodore Dalrymple put it characteristically well in the City Journal a few years ago when he said that, had she survived to our own time, Woolf would have had the satisfaction of observing that her cast of mind – shallow, dishonest, resentful, envious, snobbish, self-absorbed, trivial, philistine, and ultimately brutal – had triumphed among the elites of the Western world. And if that seems a little harsh on someone who did I think have a considerable gift – Mrs Dalloway is surely a very good novel – just remember that she also wrote the most immitigably stupid book of the twentieth century.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

28 Aug 2011

The Train of History

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Malcolm Muggeridge, 1903-1990

Malcolm Muggeridge recalls, in the first volume of his autobiography, Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Green Stick:

On one of my early birthdays I was given a toy printing-set with whose large rubber letters I was able to print off my first composition. It was a story of a train going along very fast and, to the satisfaction of the passengers, racing through the small stations along the track without stopping. Their satisfaction, however, turned to dismay, and then to panic fury, as it dawned on them that it was not going to stop at their stations either when it came to them. They raged and shouted and shook their fists, but all to no avail. The train went roaring on. At the time I had no notion what, if anything, the story signified. It just came into my mind, and the rubber letters dropped into place of themselves. Yet, as I came to see, and see now more clearly than ever, it is the story I have been writing ever since; the story
of our time. The imagination, at however rudimentary a level, reaches into the future. So its works have a prophetic quality. A Dostoevsky foresees just what a revolution will mean in Russia – in a sense, foresees the Soviet regime and Stalin; whereas a historian like Miliukov and his liberal-intellectual friends envisage the coming to pass of an amiable parliamentary democracy. Similarly, a Blake or a Herman Melville sees clearly through the imagination the dread consequences industrial¬ism and technology must have for mankind, whereas, as envisaged in the mind of a Herbert Spencer or an H. G. Wells, they can bring only expanding wealth and lasting well-being. It was not until much later that I came to identify the passengers in my train as Lord Beveridge, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Kingsley Martin, Eleanor Roosevelt, and any number of progressive prelates, mahatmas, millionaires, regius professors and other such eminent persons.

18 Dec 2010

Ecclesiastical Vandalism

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Daily Mail reports on the conflict arising from some unwelcome plans for modernization in a 12th century Essex church.

Worshippers at a 12th century village church have launched a bitter battle to oust their vicar.

Some members of the congregation at St Nicholas Church in Tillingham, Essex, are ‘at war’ with vicar Lorna Smith, claiming that her modernisation plans will be the ‘ruination’ of the historic church.

A petition has been started calling for the Reverend Lorna Smith to quit her post as vicar after she pushed ahead with proposals to rip the pews and replace them with informal plastic chairs, dig up the floor and install underground heating.

Anne Burden, 72, a parishioner, said: ‘I simply can’t believe people can come into our village and do this to our church.

‘There have been little nicks in the picture going on since she has been here, but undoubtedly its got worse since she proposed the removal of the pews.

‘Nobody took it seriously at first when they heard but now I think she wants wall to wall carpets and to turn the place into a social centre.

‘I feel so very sad when I think about it – we were a united congregation before and people from the village who are not churchgoers all got involved with the upkeep.

‘It was a beautiful church which was at the heart of the village now that has all changed.’

The building boasts a Norman Nave and 14th century bell tower and is regarded by English Heritage as a good example of a traditional country parish church.

Mrs Smith is thought to have joined the historic church about five years ago but has divided opinion among worshippers when she backed the Parochial Church Council’s plans to modernise the building.

The Friends of St Nicholas have already raised around £20,000 towards the modernisation plans – which include removing the Victorian pews in favour of more informal seating, installing underfloor heating, building a kitchen, toilet and gallery meeting room under the bell tower.

But the scheme has been met with horror by some villagers and led to a day-long Consistory Court hearing which ruled in favour of the changes to the church.

22 Feb 2010

Modernism, Not Workable Again

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I couldn’t find a decent photo of the interior courtyard of Morse, featuring the Morse Tower. They’ve planted some little trees, which get in the way now.

Morse College (along with Ezra Stiles) is one of two new residential colleges at Yale built circa 1961 featuring back-then very fashionable designs by Eero Saarinen, who whipped up a curious melange, alluding to medieval hill towns in Tuscany via a late 1950s marriage of George Nakashima to a comfy Disneyesque-version of Brutalist modern concrete architecture.

Students wound up receiving a basically ugly, somewhat industrial-looking modernist college with the sort of interior that might have been designed by communist hobbits… if communist hobbits had a lot of money. Their consolations were single rooms, and lots of expensive built in wood. The grain of the corridor doors in Morse was very striking, and I can tell you that back in the early 1970s at least half of the hirsute crowd of stoners in the Morse TV room could normally be found sitting facing away from the set engrossed in the grain patterns of the door. You could get wrecked just walking through that TV room.

One drawback of life in Morse was the fact that Saarinen had an aversion to right angles (too uncreative, I suppose), which produced peculiar room shapes. Two rooms in Morse College were notorious for having eleven walls, none of which was long enough to put the standard issue Yale bed against, while still allowing the resident to open the door.

Over the last decade, Yale has been “remodeling” (read: gutting and completely rebuilding) its residential colleges, completely revising floor plans and installing new PC green mechanicals, doubtless with an eye to packing in more students into less generous spaces.

At the present time, Morse is receiving its remodeling, which the Yale Daily News reports, once again, demonstrates just how feckless and irresponsible architects and the institutional administrators in the prosperous and happy 1960 era of Brutalism really were.

Though the college is built in the Modernist style, its aged facilities were anything but modern, [Evan] Yassky [of the Philadelphia-based architecture firm KieranTimberlake] said. Many of Morse’s internal systems, from electrical to fire safety, needed to be upgraded or replaced. An unexpected challenge was the difficulty of upgrading heating mechanisms inside the college because of the irregular angles of the buildings, Yassky said.

When the college was completed nearly 50 years ago, it was heated by means of hot water pipes cast into the concrete of the college’s floors. But some time in the 1980s, the pipes failed, and because they could not be pried out of the concrete, the University put together a slapdash set of above-ground heaters throughout Morse, said Chris Meyer of Turner Construction Company, the general superintendent of the current renovation. These were neither dependable nor particularly effective, he added.

Determined to get it right this time around, the University asked the architects at KieranTimberlake for a thorough overhaul of the heaters. But Morse’s irregular interior corners have turned the otherwise simple task of installing radiators around the rooms’ perimeters into a costly puzzle.

“It’s a challenge that I didn’t quite appreciate when we first started the project,” Yassky said. “It’s not like, instead of 90 degree angles, Saarinen used 70 or 80 degree angles. Every angle was different.”

Fitting each crooked corner with custom pipes would cost millions, Yassky said, so the firm modified the majority of the rooms to include more square corners for the heating. These new perpendicular walls are particularly noticeable inside the college’s new common rooms, where some walls have been opened or removed to create the suite-style residential spaces typical of Yale’s other colleges.

“It’s been a fascinating experience and intellectually stimulating to engage with Saarinen’s design,” Yassky said.

The most prestigious architects of that era could not be bothered to care about how someone a few decades down the road would have to effectuate a repair. Budgets were extravagant, the sky was the limit for materials and designs costs. “Let them tear it down and rebuild, when they need to fix a leaky pipe!” thought the great architect. The administrators never deigned to critique the genius’s design with an eye to how exactly someone was going to change the light bulb placed 50′ in the air or how anyone could repair heating pipes buried in concrete.

Modernist architecture was to buildings a lot like what liberal policy was to society: grandiose, gestural, dismissive of the past, narcissistically self-promotional, staggeringly costly, and totally impractical.

14 Feb 2010

Mark Helprin’s “Jacob Bayer and the Telephone”

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Mark Helprin

I was just reading Mark Helprin’s recent The Pacific and Other Stories, and came upon the marvellous Jacob Bayer and the Telephone (published originally in Forbes ASAP in October of 2000), a profoundly conservative critique of Modernism presented as a fable set in the turn of the last century Jewish Pale of Settlement in White Russia.

“It will bring peace and assure prosperity. In an era of instant communication, no longer will countries go to war. It cannot but revolutionize all our affairs for the better, as we have begun to witness. The citizens of Koidanyev are not philosophers or theologians. They have not chosen to go on the road, like you, to chase dreams. They simply want to live their lives in peace, and, because of the telephone, they look forward to this century, which will be the greatest century of mankind. We in Koidanyev do not wish to be left out. Is that a sin?”

“Yes,” said Jacob Bayer, “it is a sin. Ceaseless, feverish, desperate activity for fear of not having what someone else has, is a sin. Pride in one’s creations is a sin. The conviction that one has mastered the elements of the universe, or soon will, is a sin. Why? They are sins because they are a turning away from what is true. Your span here is less than the brief flash of a spark, and if, after multiplying all you do by that infinitesimal fraction, you still do not understand the requirement of humility, your wishes and deeds will be monstrous, your affections corrupt, your love false.”

“What does this have to do with the telephone?” the simpleton asked again, painfully.

“The telephone,” said Jacob Bayer, “is a perfectly splendid little instrument, but by your unmetered, graceless enthusiasm you have made it a monument to vacuousness and neglect. Recall the passage: I, Kohelet, was King over Israel in Jerusalem. And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven….I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.”

Now came to Jacob Bayer, without his asking, the gift he had of seeing terrible things. He bowed his head, tears came to his eyes, and he said, in despair, “Koidanyev will be destroyed. The tall trees will be cut, the houses will burn, even the stones will be buried. And the souls that have chased the wind will be scattered by the wind.”

In the long silence that ensued, Jacob Bayer’s vision slowly glided away from the silent onlookers, like a thunderstorm that has cracked and boomed overhead and then flees on cool winds, its flashes and concussions fading gently.

“Nonsense!” cried Haskell Samoa, awakening the crowd and quickly turning them against the man they might have followed a moment before. “The Napoleonic Wars have been over for a century. The nightmare you describe has left the world forever, banished by the light of reason. Man can control his destiny, and this light will grow stronger. What could happen? I do not doubt that before us lie the most glorious years in history, and, in contrast to their coming wonders, you are a specter of the darkness and a reminder of the dreadful past. The commission has decided that you must leave and never return. You may stay the night, but in the morning you must go.”

“It won’t be the first time,” said Jacob Bayer.

“Are all the towns and all the people in the towns wrong? Can that be? Is it only you who knows the truth?”

“Rabbi,” said Jacob Bayer, “the truth sits over Koidanyev like the hot sun. It has nothing to do with me.”

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