Culture

The Living and the Dead

When you read a novel by Mark Helprin, a thousand thoughts are stirred in your head. This week, I’m jotting some notes on Helprin’s latest novel, Paris in the Present Tense. Not a thousand of them. But a fair number. My opening installment is here.

I quote Helprin’s main character, who says, “Once, I was animated by ambition. Not only have I failed, but part of the reason ambition has fled is that the people I had wanted to impress are dead. Though my own stature is in no way increased, their places have been taken by midgets, idiots, and mediocrities. Impressing such people, even if I could, would be worse than failure.”

In my column, my notes, I say that I can sing a few verses of this song myself. Perhaps you can, too.

There is one “comment” — one reader comment — now under my column: “hey nordlinger….Helprin is a hack….and so are you.”

Everyone Mark and I ever wanted to impress is dead. (That’s not entirely true, at least in my case — but I generalize.)

Mark’s character also says, “When civilization turned a corner or two, I didn’t. So some people look back and pity me. But it isn’t that I couldn’t make the turn. I wouldn’t make the turn. I’d rather be a rock in the stream, even if submerged, than the glittering scum on the surface, desperately hurrying to be washed away.”

As I say, Helprin stirs in your head a thousand thoughts. And his new novel, as I write at the beginning of my column, is another blow — another of his blows — in behalf of truth and beauty. FWIW, Mark: I’m impressed! Muchly.

Most Popular

U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More