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Who’s Afraid of T.S. Eliot


A reader tells me that: “The latest (1999) edition of the Oxford Book of
English Verse
gives Eliot ten pages, more than all but a handful of other
poets. Milton gets twelve, Shakespeare twenty, Wordsworth thirteen,
Christina Rossetti (affirmative action, no doubt) fifteen.”

I discount this entirely. (1) The OBEV is compiled by scholars, and what
the hell do they know? If the progress of poetry had been decided by the
opinions of scholars, we should never have got any further than reading
Horace and Virgil in Latin. (2) OUP are looking for the American market.
Some years ago, trying unsuccessfully to place a novel with New York
publishers, I said to my agent: “Let’s try London. Maybe we can get it
published over there.” He waved this away: “Not worth the trouble. The US
market is the thing.” (3) The kinds of scholars who work at Eng. Lit. in
English univerisities are very badly paid, and go to bed dreaming of a post
at an American college.

For a more representative look at UK non-scholarly opinion on Eliot, I refer
readers to the “Classic FM One Hundred Favorite Poems,” available on Amazon
UK. This is a series of cassettes, featuring English actors–including some
quite famous ones like Vanessa Redgrave and Simon Callow–reading poems.
The poems were chosen by polling the listeners to Classic FM, a
middle-to-highbrow UK radio station, asking them to send in the name of
their favorite poem. The results were then ranked by number of votes, and
the top 100 chosen for reading. T.S. Eliot makes three appearances, the
first in 30th place:

30 Journey of the Magi (those sentimental Anglican old ladies, see?)

68 Macavity (what _is_ it about that darn poem?)

88 The Waste Land.

The prosecution rests. Oh, not quite: while I was typing that out, a
reader came through with the British critic I mentioned taking a 14-lb
hammer to Eliot’s poetry. This was Bevis Hillier in The Spectator for
9/7/96. He ranks Eliot as a poet with Edward Lear(!) as “a misanthrope
nonsense-poet.” Tempting fate yet again, in the form of _The Spectator’s_
attorneys, I shall post the piece on my website in half an hour or so.

Sexy, But Not Pretty


By the miracle of Microsoft Excel, I can now bring you the results of my
reader poll on famous women who are sexy but not pretty.

I got a huge e-mail bag on this. I discounted a small proportion because
the nominee was obviously pretty. Anyone who thinks that Marilyn Monroe was
not pretty is in desperate need of a good optometrist.

That left me with 343 nominations covering 166 names. The only names with 5
or more nominations were as follows:

Barkin, Ellen————–30

Bernhard, Sandra———–14

West, Mae——————13


Parker, Sarah Jessica——12

Lewis, Juliette————-6

Aguilera, Christina———5

Cher (in her original bod)–5

Davis, Bette—————-5

Fiorentino, Linda———–5

Gershon, Gina—————5

Huston, Anjelica————5

Jolie, Angelina————-5

Mirren, Helen—————5

Thatcher, Margaret———-5

Ellen Barkin is the clear winner for the title America’s Not-Pretty-But-Sexy

And, as if I didn’t already know what a peculiar person I am, not one of
those hundreds of nominations agreed with my own.


John, Your Problem Is Solved


Proving that Corner readers are capable of solving all problems short of sin and redemption, I just received the following:

“Tell Mr. Miller to go to These things were all the rage back in the 80’s when I was about 6 years old – and everyone in the class had one. I think they may have even been given to us as part of science class. They used to sell the little cube-like tanks in stores, and you sent away for the live tadpoles (which arrived newly hatched), which you then watched grow into adults.”

Web Briefing: August 22, 2014

No Easy Solution


There are two key problems with the idea of a negotiated end to the stand-off with North Korea. First, a negotiated settlement requires us to believe that Kim Jong Il actually means to drop his nuclear program in exchange for economic aid and security guarantees. That is very unlikely. Kim is far more likely to believe that, no matter what we offer, he cannot guarantee his own power without nuclear weapons. Second, any agreement we might reach is essentially unverifiable. There are too many secret underground military facilities in Korea. We don’t even know where the uranium enrichment plant the North Koreans have admitted to having actually is. Kim would never give us the sort of free run of his military installations we’d need for verification. Even if he did, he could still hide something from us. Those who advocate a negotiated solution need to confront this problem. Today’s Op-Ed in the New York Times by James Laney and Jason T. Shaplen avoids the issue. They assume that a negotiated settlement is achievable, without even addressing the verification problem. By contrast, this pro-negotiation piece in the American Prospect at least acknowledges the problem. But the authors essentially concede that it is not solvable. North Korea has already broken one agreement. No matter what we offer it, I believe that it will break another. And we won’t know it until it’s too late. In any case, next time you read a pro-negotiated settlement piece on North Korea, look for any mention of the verification problem. That is the real sticking point. Without a solution there, negotiations are just an illusion.


Bad Times Re: N.K.


The North Korean situation is bad, as usual. We face a series of options, ranging from hopelessly naive to downright horrible. Here’s the view of Michael O’Hanlon, a key Democratic defense and foreign policy expert. I find his proposal for a comprehensive political and economic reform of North Korea completely implausible. It amounts to the claim that we can obtain regime change through negotiations. O’Hanlon himself is clear that Korea’s leaders are likely to reject such an effort. He seems to see his plan more as something that must be tried (even if it fails, which is likely) as a prelude to tougher measures. But what really comes through here is an underlying sense, even from a Democrat who favors an ambitious negotiating strategy, that this conflict is a pressing crisis that has no real solution.

Wars Go On


I remember when I used to have to argue that the culture war wouldn’t be ending any time soon. (For my detailed thoughts on this, go here.) Now I don’t even have to bother to make the argument. Still, it’s worth noticing how intense the culture war is right now. I’m not just talking about gay marriage. The presidential campaign is clearly being driven by the culture war. The last presidential campaign was too (remember red versus blue America), but now the effect is out in the open. The notion that September 11 would somehow suspend the culture war was never correct. After September 11, our cultural disputes simply crystalized around the war on terror. After all, the culture war began with our divisions over Vietnam. Now the remnants and descendants of the sixties cultural left have captured their party’s nomination process. With war, terrorism and gay marriage on the table, this election promises to turn into an open showdown between our cultural disputants.

Time’s Up


Since the day after September 11, I’ve been saying we need more troops. Powerful Washington Post Op-Eds over the holiday weekend by John McCain and Robert Kagan make it clear that we can no longer put off a decision to expand our military forces. (Would that we had done it sooner.) It is also time for those who have supported the war in Iraq to speak directly to this issue. It’s obvious that there is no political support for a draft. So we’re going to have to pay a lot of money for a larger military.

Carter On N.K.


Jimmy Carter sees an approaching war with North Korea.

Since You Brought It Up, Jonah


The front-page article by Clifford Krauss on Canadian gay marriage in last Sunday’s New York Times confirmed what I’ve been saying for some time. Because many gays reject monogamy, they are deeply ambivalent about marriage. Some of these gays will avoid marriage altogether. Others are clearly considering entering marriage–but with a different view of what marriage should mean. As the editor of Fab put it, “I’d be for marriage if I thought gay people would challenge the institution and not buy into the traditional meaning of ’til death do us part’ and monogamy for ever.” There are major lessons for America here. So far, only a very small percentage of the 6,685 gay couples registered as permanent partners in Toronto have married. While that number will no doubt increase with time, it seems clear that a great many gay couples will remain as registered partners. That’s because Canada has eliminated many of the differences between marriage and cohabitation. Registered gay partners who do not identify commitment with monogamy can therefore obtain many of the benefits of marriage, without actually marrying. In America, without national health insurance, and with few legal or financial benefits associated with cohabitation, many more gay couples than in Canada are likely to marry, for the sake of the benefits. So an anti-monogamy couple that would remain in a registered partnership in Canada will marry in America.. Maybe the most interesting thing about this article is the fact that it has been published at all. What’s enabled the Times to cover this issue more honestly is the re-emergence of the gay community’s internal debate over marriage. That debate was put on hold in the mid-nineties when all agreed that they favored the social endorsement that gay marriage would represent, even if many opposed the institution of marriage itself. What the Canada case shows is that, once gay marriage actually becomes legal, those gays who oppose marriage, or want to change it from within, will reemerge as a force to be reckoned with.

Customers Also Shopped For....


I clicked on the Amazon link for Rich’s forthcoming book. Customers who shopped for Rich’s book also shopped for:

* Freud’s Paranoid Quest by John Farrell
* How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life by Peter Robinson (Author)
* The Fifty-Nine Icosahedra by H. S. M. Coxeter, et al
* The Boat of a Million Years by Poul Anderson
* Modernity Without Restraint by Eric Voegelin, Manfred Henningsen (Editor)

Some of these make sense, but I suspect that The Fifty-Nine Icosahedra must be the result of the increasing Derbyification of NRO’s readership.

Canadian Gay Marriage


No doubt the silence stemmed from the fact that this story appeared on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, but I’m really surprised the front page article in the NYT on gay marriage in Canada hasn’t sparked more of a reaction. It speaks directly to the arguments of Frum, Kurtz, Derb and others — and gives them a great deal of ammo. Gays in Canada don’t want marriage because marriage is “too conservative” for folks who don’t believe in such things as monogamy. Here’s a quote worth pondering:

“Ambiguity is a good word for the feeling among gays about marriage,” said Mitchel Raphael, editor in chief of Fab, a popular gay magazine in Toronto. “I’d be for marriage if I thought gay people would challenge and change the institution and not buy into the traditional meaning of `till death do us part’ and monogamy forever. We should be Oscar Wildes and not like everyone else watching the play.”

Fine, fine. But if that’s the attitude toward marriage, they shouldn’t have marriage as an option. This just demonstrates how the analogy to blacks is so flawed. Blacks didn’t say they wanted to change the institution of marriage when they sought to overturn interracial marriage. Jackie Robinson didn’t want to change the rules of baseball, he wanted to play by the rules of baseball.

Re: Unemployment


Ramesh, you may be right about what actually moves voters, but you can count on reporters to hound on the lagging indicators. See Bush Uno in 1992, when reporters were huddled in New Hampshire in October highlighting the terrible job picture there, even as national GDP growth numbers were higher than expected.

Allen could have described it this way: “Bush is acknowledging that unemployment could be a vulnerable issue with liberal reporters on the prowl for sympathetic unemployed people to interview on how the President has somehow failed them.”

Re: Who’s Afraid of T. S. Eliot?



It’s not just me and King Vlad, honest. There is some profound cultural
gulf here between America and England. There is a whole raft of writers who
are taken very seriously here, but whom English-raised people just don’t
“get.” The other day I was talking with Jeff Hart about Emerson, who
personifies the phenomenon. At Jeff’s urging, I have been trying Emerson
again, but it is hopeless. I can’t keep my eyes focused through three
paragraphs. As Charles II said of George of Hanover: “I have tried him
drunk, and I have tried him sober, and there is nothing in him.” (Though it
is hard to imagine Emerson getting drunk.) And this isn’t just me, either.
Look at Paul Johnson’s treatment of Emerson in Intellectuals. Jeff turned
purple when I mentioned this. “A travesty,” he sputtered.

I can’t account for this phenomenon except by supposing that it is an aspect
of the American lust for self-improvement. To make a crude, and of course
much too broad, generalization out of it: Americans read to be instructed
and improved; other English-speaking people read to be amused, or stirred.
Americans are really a terribly earnest people. Kingsley Amis, veteran of
many exchanges with lectureres in Eng. Lit. at American universities, used
to make fun of the way Americans talk about “important” books. “In
literature,” he said, “‘importance’ is not important. Only good writing
is.” I think that is a very un-American approach. (In fact, I think I can
hear Jeff sputtering again.) Kirk is much more American, with his stamp of
approval on Eliot as an “important” writer.

Across the pond, you will walk a long mile before you find anyone who takes
Eliot seriously as a poet. (His work as a critic is another matter, about
which I know next to nothing.) Aside from elementary-school teachers who
like Eliot’s cats–I had to memorize “McCavity” for a school show at age
9–and sentimental old Anglican ladies who like that thing about the Magi,
Britain is pretty much an Eliot-free zone, and blessedly so. I got a pretty
good education over there in the 3rd quarter of the 20th century, and in my
secondary school I don’t recall Eliot being mentioned at all. 20th-century
poetry, as I was taught it, was Hardy, Housman, Yeats, and the tail-end of
Kipling; then the WW1 poets; then Walter de la Mare, John Masefield, and
Auden. If you did Eng. Lit. to Advanced level (i.e. age 16-18–I didn’t)
you might have got some Eliot, I don’t know. You would more certainly have
got MacNeice, Spender, C. Day Lewis, and Graves. Out of school we all read
Betjeman, Larkin, and Dylan Thomas.

When Eliot’s poetry is mentioned in British literary magazines, it is most
often in a spirit of wonder that anyone is still taken in by his tawdry
tricks. One of the heavyweight lit. critics on _The Spectator_ — Philip
Hensher or Bevis Hillier, I forget which — did a nice demolition piece on
the old mountebank 4-5 yrs ago. (Could any reader who has access to
ProQuest try to capture this piece for me, please?)

A reader e-mails in to tell me that even though I don’t have to like Eliot
(thank God for that!) I should at least acknowledge that he has been a
tremendous influence on subsequent poets. I don’t think I _do_ acknowledge
this; but if it is true, it is yet another indictment of him, since the
middle and later 20th century — that is, the post-Eliot decades, the ones
he presumably influenced — were one of the darkest periods in the history
of English verse, with very little being produced above the second-rate.
Just compare the last half of the 20th century with the last half of the
19th! If that was Eliot’s doing, we should exhume his corpse and hang it in
chains, as they did to the regicides after the Restoration.

As for Kirk’s talk about Eliot’s “moral imagination,” as I intimated before,
anyone who wants my attention on this or any other topic, in prose or
verse, should write well, and preferably in English. Eliot’s verse fails on
both counts. (Though to be fair to Kirk, he may be referring to Eliot’s
criticism, which, as I said, I am unacquainted with.)

In my own mind, I think of Eliot as the verse equivalent of Ernest
Hemingway. Both wrote in a way that seemed novel and striking at the time.
Both produced stuff that was well-nigh content-free behind the novelty.
Both were simply terrible models for younger writers to emulate, and spawned
oceans of really bad writing by people who took them more seriously than
they deserved. Both will be utterly forgotten by the end–or, if we get
lucky, the middle–of this century.

In Eliot’s favor, though, he seems to have been quite a nice man, aside from
the plagiarism. This cannot be said of Hemingway, who, if the accounts I
have read can be relied on, was barely human–and, in moments of
self-knowledge (including the last terrible moment), seems to have been
aware of the fact.

(Although, in Hemingway’s favor, it must be said that at least none of his
books was ever made into a fourth-rate musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber!)



While I’m certainly no fan, I almost feel sorry for John Kerry. He’s been planning on running for President for pretty much his entire life. He’s honed his strategy and molded his biography for decades. And now some obnoxious New England transplant from Park Avenue is cleaning his clock. But one of the things that drives me nuts about Kerry is when he says — as he did on Meet The Press last Sunday — that he’s running for President because he’s angry about this or that Bush policy. Garbage. Bush could be doing everything perfectly and Kerry would still be running because that’s his life ambition.

More Gipper Greatness


I’ve long said that one of the most remarkable things about Ronald Reagan was how far ahead of his time he was with so many ideas. And now a fresh example from Lou Cannon’s forthcoming book about Reagan’s governorship that is important to us oneophiles:

“‘You’re not allowed to advertise that alcohol has any food value, but wine has,’ Reagan told me two decades before the New England Journal of Medicine found medicinal value to moderate wine-drinking.”

What a great GREAT man.

Saruman Has a Point


Back from the Labor Day vacation when, besides defending T.S. Eliot, I split and stacked more than a cord of wood and ripped up three wheelbarrows full of bindweed. I begin to sympathize with Saruman in the Lord of the Rings movies–the heck with nature, chop it all down and make orc armies instead.

The Arms of Krupp


The other day I mentioned that I was vaguely disappointed with William Manchester’s The Arms of Krupp. I’m not caving to the complaints from Manchester partisans, but I might have been too harsh. My disappointment was merely the result of my heightened expectations. Also, my wife picked up the book one day when I left it around and has since become entirely engrossed with it. So maybe that’s a better barometer.

Bus From Hell


You know how school buses usually have a number on them so kids can tell which ones are theirs? Today, I saw one marked 666. My wife said she’d drive our kids everyday if that one was assigned to our neighborhood.

Does Unemployment Matter?


Mike Allen, writing in the Washington Post, calls President Bush’s remarks yesterday “an acknowledgment that unemployment is a potential political liability.” That may be true–although the furthest I would go is to say that the president recognizes that appearing indifferent to unemployment would be politically hazardous. Does unemployment itself pose a danger to him?

Arguably, the last time unemployment really affected a national election was in 1982–and even then, redistricting accounted for 15 of the 26 House seats the Republicans lost. In 1992, Michael Barone has shown that Bush I lost votes where housing values had declined, not where unemployment had increased. Since 2000, more Americans have lost wealth in the stock market than have lost their jobs. I suspect that in next year’s election, the markets will matter more than unemployment–and GDP growth will probably matter more than unemployment too.

I Always Hated Compassionate Conservatism


“We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move.” — President George W. Bush, talking to union workers yesterday.


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