Editor’s Note: Yesterday, Jay Nordlinger began a series about Roger Kimball’s book The Fortunes of Permanence. For that installment, go here. We continue today.
Talking about Huxley’s book, Brave New World, Kimball writes,
. . . we have not — not quite, not yet — caught up with the situation he describes. We do not — not quite, not yet — inhabit a world in which “mother” and “monogamy” are blasphemous terms from which people have been conditioned to recoil in visceral revulsion. Maybe it will never come to that. (Though monogamy, of course, has long been high on the social and sexual revolutionary’s list of hated institutions.)
I have a story to tell — a couple, actually. Years ago, I knew a woman whose sister was a graduate student in California. The sister was married to a fellow graduate student. But nobody on campus knew they were married: They were living in sin, so to speak — living as a married couple, under cover. The campus community thought they were just living together, as everyone else did. They didn’t want the stigma of being known as married.
As I remember, they had married in order to please their parents. But they didn’t tell anyone else.
Okay, the second story — not quite as good. About ten years ago, I heard a prominent writer sneer at someone else as a “monogamist.” That’s the first time I had ever heard that term as a putdown. In fact, I don’t think I had ever heard the term at all.
But I must report: I have not heard it since.
Again talking about Brave New World
, Kimball writes, “Promiscuity is encouraged because it is a prophylactic against emotional depth.” Reading this, I thought, “So true” — which is a thought I had a lot in reading The Fortunes of Permanence.
At one point, Kimball has occasion to write, “[C]onsider the recently acquired habit of using the term ‘gender’ when what we mean is ‘sex.’” A couple of weeks ago, I heard an interview with Charles Moore. Thatcher had just died, and he is writing the authorized biography. (Volume I has just appeared.)
In the interview, Moore spoke of the opposition Thatcher faced from certain “Whiggish” types in her own party. The interviewer — young — asked him, “Was it anything to do with her class or her gender?” Moore answered, “I think it was related both to her class and to her sex.”
Now, I don’t think Moore was being rude — I don’t think he was correcting the interviewer, or rebuking him. I think he just couldn’t go along with “gender.” I think the word stuck in his throat. He could not say it.
Several times, Roger uses a word I didn’t know: “bootless.” Seems like such a simple English word. But I wasn’t familiar with it: “without result, gain, or advantage; unavailing; useless.”
There is a tendency, writes Roger, “to confuse propinquity with possession.” He goes on to say, “We can download a veritable library of material to our computer in a few minutes; that does not mean we have mastered its riches. Information is not synonymous with knowledge, let alone wisdom.”
Reading Roger in this section, I thought of the line, “I resemble that remark.” I am surrounded by materials, as we all are — literary, musical, and otherwise. Never has man had so much at his fingertips. But what do we really master?
I also think this — something I’ve always thought, but something I feel even surer of now: People tend to value something more if they pay for it. If you subscribe to a magazine, i.e., pay for it, do you value it more than the free stuff?
Today, people have virtually the whole of music on YouTube. Are they as appreciative, I wonder, as kids a few generations ago who might have been able to buy a few records a year?
Kimball writes, “The problem with computers is not the worlds they give us instant access to but the world they encourage us to neglect.” Roger reminds me of another book by another friend of mine: Mark Helprin’s Digital Barbarism.
In fact, many of the themes of Roger’s book show up in the novels of Mark. Mark, too, is interested in “permanence” — and the struggle of the permanent against the ephemeral, degrading, and cheap.
Kimball quotes Matthew Arnold on criticism — whose purpose, said Arnold, is to “create a current of true and fresh ideas,” and “to do this with inflexible honesty.”
Makes me feel better about being a critic (which I am in part of my daily, or weekly, work).
Sizing up Susan Sontag, Kimball notes “that curious compact of moral levity and grim self-absorption that has characterized so many partisans of ‘advanced’ opinion . . .”
Recently in this column, I quoted what Joseph Addison said when founding, or co-founding, his magazine, The Spectator: “I shall endeavour to enliven Morality with Wit, and to temper Wit with Morality . . .”