In this blog post, Alan Jacobs casually quotes Isaiah Berlin, Michael Oakeshott, Robert Conquest, W. B. Yeats, and Christopher Hitchens, and makes several references to George Orwell. I have benefited from Dr. Jacobs’s writing over the years primarily, I think, because of his incredible range of reading and the ease with which he can tie together disparate threads of thought. It’s a skill to aspire to.
What is teaching and why is it comic? The answer includes many things depending on whether you think of the teacher, the pupil, the means used, or the thing taught. But the type situation is simple and familiar. Think of a human pair teaching their child how to walk. There is, on the child’s side, strong desire and latent powers: he has legs and means to use them. He walks and smiles; he totters and looks alarmed; he falls and cries. The parents smile throughout, showering advice, warning, encouragement, and praise. The whole story, not only of teaching, but of man and civilization, is wrapped up in this first academic performance. It is funny because clumsiness makes us laugh, and touching because undaunted effort strikes a chord of gallantry, and finally comic because it has all been done before and is forever to do again.Jacques Barzun, Teacher in America
I love Barzun’s description of this scene. That last sentence especially has a definite Chestertonian twang.
Barzun wasn’t the first to capture the poignancy of a child’s first steps. Rembrandt did it, too, in a simple sketch that artist David Hockney called “a perfect drawing.”
The child is being held by her mother and older sister. The mother grips the child firmly, the sister more hesitantly, and Rembrandt observes her looking at the child’s face to see how anxious she is. The lines of her shoulders beautifully indicate this; Rembrandt even turned his pen round and scratched through the ink to emphasise it. It makes me see the child’s face, a hint of worry in it, indicated only by one or two faint marks. One then begins to look at ink, not mothers and sisters, and marks made by a hand, speedily.
The trace of Rembrandt’s hand is still alive. Your eye can go back and forth between brown ink: sister; fast mark: mother. How rewarding this is, to move from the physical surface of the paper to its disappearance when you read the “subject”, and then back again. How many marvellous layers does this drawing have?
The mother has a double profile, Picassoesque. Was it an accident with the pen that he then used as a master would? Both profiles are fascinating about her character. Her skirt is a bit ragged, without any real detail; one seems to know this, and then marvels at how these few lines suggest it. Then, there’s a passing milkmaid, perhaps glancing at a very common scene, and we know the milk pail is full. You can sense the weight. Rembrandt perfectly and economically indicates this with – what? Six marks, the ones indicating her outstretched arm. Very few people could get near this. It is a perfect drawing.
We can’t throw our hearts away. We can’t get a new heart, or at least we cannot get a new heart on our own. If I were to make a decision to throw my old heart away, that decision would have to be made by my old heart. And if my old heart could do something as wonderful as throwing my old heart away, what is the need for a new heart?Douglas Wilson, Ploductivity
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God…
Jack London claimed to write twenty hours a day. Before he undertook to write, he obtained the University of California course list and all the syllabi; he spent a year reading the textbooks in philosophy and literature. In subsequent years, once he had a book of his own under way, he set his alarm to wake him after four hours’ sleep. Often he slept through the alarm, so, by his own account, he rigged it to drop a weight on his head. I cannot say I believe this, though a novel like The Sea-Wolf is strong evidence that some sort of weight fell on his head with some sort of frequency — but you wouldn’t think a man would claim credit for it. London maintained that every writer needed a technique, experience, and a philosophical position.Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (via)
Nate Wilson taught me writing and rhetoric back in the day. For a long time, he was the only published author of fiction I knew, so I’ve always followed his doings with interest. With an output that includes ten novels, two non-fiction books, a feature film, two nature documentaries, and a Netflix show, he’s a tough guy to keep up with.
His latest endeavor is The Silent Bells, a young adult fantasy novel published on a monthly basis. Each chapter is mailed to subscribers in newspaper form (complete with funnies page and fake adverts). I’ve read most of Nate’s books, and I think this may be my favorite way to read them. His novels have lots of action and lush description that can be exhausting when you try to read a hundred pages at a go. At this new pace, the story is like drinking a Red Bull every four weeks. Not only that, his pacing shines even more, since you can’t just move on to the next chapter when you hit a (literal) cliffhanger. Gotta wait an entire month to find out how (if??) Cyrus will survive…