April 23 was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death — the false Shakespeare, the man from Stratford who could barely write his own name. Amidst all the talk about the anniversary, there was little mention of the real Shakespeare, the 17th Earl of Oxford. (There was, however, an excellent 7-minute discussion on NPR.) It might be supposed that Oxfordians like myself would be distressed that our theory appears to be making little headway. But our confidence isn’t shaken; we have truth on our side, we have our mountain of evidence, even if the Oxford Theory never becomes the standard view of Shakespeare.
To commemorate the 400th anniversary, the Weekly Standard published an essay by Paul Cantor, “Against Chivalry: The Achievement of Cervantes and Shakespeare.” Cantor notes that Shakespeare and Cervantes died on (approximately) the same day. (Cantor is a Stratfordian, so when he says “Shakespeare,” he means the Stratford man.)
Cantor presents large ideas in a readable way; I look forward to reading more of his work. Now about 70, Cantor is a professor at the University of Virginia, a specialist in Comparative Literature and Shakespeare, perhaps best known for his writings on TV and popular culture. Wikipedia says that “As a young man, Cantor attended [the economist] Ludwig von Mises’ seminars in New York City.” Cantor’s writings often deal with economics; for example, he wrote an essay called “The Invisible Man and the Invisible Hand: H. G. Wells’s Critique of Capitalism.”
Cantor is a member of what might be called The Straussian Circle. As an undergrad at Harvard, Cantor majored in English, but he studied with Harvey Mansfield, a Government professor and a leading Straussian. Cantor has periodically returned to Harvard, and been a Visiting Professor in Harvard’s Government Department. Doubtless Cantor is both a political conservative and a cultural conservative. Doubtless he has clashed with the academic establishment; among Cantor’s writings, one finds titles like “When Is Diversity Not Diversity: A Brief History of the English Department.”
Ideas are often the product of a particular era. For example, Darwin’s idea seemed to be the product of Darwin’s era, hence his contemporary, Alfred Russel Wallace, reached almost the same idea as Darwin. Likewise, Newton and Leibniz discovered calculus at the same time, and argued about who discovered it first. Since Shakespeare and Cervantes were contemporaries, we might expect that they would have some of the same ideas/attitudes.
Cantor argues that Shakespeare and Cervantes had the same attitude toward chivalry — they both felt that chivalry was a false, harmful approach to life. Cantor realizes, however, that there is some justification for chivalry; chivalry helped to tame the barbarian impulses that threatened to destroy civilization during the Dark Ages. By the time of Shakespeare and Cervantes, however, chivalry was holding back civilization, not advancing it.
Cantor says that Cervantes wasn’t familiar with Shakespeare’s work, but Shakespeare “almost certainly” read Don Quixote. One of the “interpolated tales” in Don Quixote deals with an “unfortunate lover” named Cardenio, and Cardenio is the subject of a play that Shakespeare probably wrote or co-wrote.1 Cantor doesn’t argue, however, that Cervantes influenced Shakespeare’s view of chivalry; rather, he argues that Cervantes and Shakespeare reached similar views of chivalry independently.
What is chivalry? The word “chivalry” is related to the word “cavalry” — a mounted soldier, a knight on horseback. Peasants fought on foot, nobles fought on horseback; only nobles could afford a horse, armor, etc. The Spanish word for chivalry is “caballeria,” the French word is “chevalerie.” Cantor writes,
|Chivalry was an attempt to give a religious dimension to all aspects of life — to saturate the world with Christianity. The famous chivalric romances sought to civilize war, to temper its savagery with Christian notions of mercy.|
The link between the chivalric knight and Christianity is apparent in the Quest for the Holy Grail — that is, the knight’s quest for the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, the cup in which Joseph of Arimathea caught Jesus’ blood when Jesus was on the cross.
The link between the chivalric knight and Christianity is also apparent in the Quest for the Holy Land — that is, the crusaders’ quest to “liberate” the Holy Land from the Muslims. The chivalric ideal inspired the Crusades, the holy war.
|Cervantes in Don Quixote and Shakespeare in his English history plays call the crusader ideal into question and show the catastrophic results of mixing religious and military motives — more generally of mixing religion with politics.|
The knight dedicates his battles to his lady love, he fights for his lady. The knight is a lover as well as a warrior, and both his loving and his fighting are imbued with the chivalric ideal, the ideal of the Christian knight.
The chivalric lover wasn’t always a warrior, he could also be a courtier or a poet. Cantor writes,
|The ideal of courtly love — as developed by the troubadour poets of France and their successors, Dante and Petrarch, in Italy — sought to fuse erotic and religious experience. These authors introduced a new range of emotions into love poetry and opened up spiritual depths never before explored in literature. But by demanding so much of love — no less than spiritual and even divine perfection — they made the ordinary relations between men and women, on which the future of the human race depends, seem crass and base by comparison with the poetic ideal. The dream of a perfect love left men and women dissatisfied with conventional forms of romance, particularly the commonplace institution of marriage.|
According to Cantor, Shakespeare criticizes the ideal of courtly love. Romeo and Juliet shows that total love can have tragic consequences. Shakespeare takes a jab at Petrarch: “Romeo’s friend Mercutio, seeing him in the grip of love, cynically comments: ‘Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in.’”
In his comedies, Shakespeare also criticizes courtly love, chivalric love. Cantor writes,
|The action in his comedies forces the lovers to abandon their courtly love conceptions and come to terms with the reality of day-to-day relations between men and women. Shakespeare’s comic figures typically begin by over-idealizing love. They must learn to compromise, to give up their unrealistic expectations for love and accept their limited possibilities as imperfect human beings. The comic confusions in plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It — all the role-changing and especially the gender-bending complications — have the result of breaking the young men and women out of the conventional poses of courtly lovers they learned from books and getting them to recognize that finding a real and available companion for life is preferable to hopelessly questing for a perfect — but unattainable — love.|
In As You Like It, Rosalind scoffs at the chivalric ideal of the man who dies for love: “These are all lies; men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.”
Cantor argues that, in Shakespeare’s history plays, one finds the same disapproval of chivalry that one finds in his comedies. “The histories criticize chivalry in politics; the comedies make fun of chivalry in love.” Cantor says that Richard II depicts the world of “knights in shining armor,” but it also depicts the sordid reality of a king’s efforts to raise money. Richard II is eventually overthrown by Bolingbroke, who becomes Henry IV. Bolingbroke “realizes that a king is no stronger than the armies that fight for him, and his Machiavellian actions speak louder than Richard’s chivalric words.”
But Bolingbroke (Henry IV) isn’t entirely free from chivalric ideas, and he dreams of leading a crusade to the Holy Land. “It has been prophesied that he will die in Jerusalem. In a deflating irony, he learns on his deathbed that the prophecy referred merely to a room in Westminster named ‘Jerusalem.’” Henry IV’s son and successor, Henry V, abandons the dream of a crusade to the Holy Land, and focuses instead on leading his countrymen against the French. At the end of his life, however, Henry V is trying to organize a crusade against the Turks in Constantinople.
According to Cantor, Shakespeare’s history plays depict the transition from religious politics to secular politics, “from medieval to modern monarchy.” According to Cantor, Shakespeare shared Cervantes’ disapproval of religious politics, and his support for realistic, secular politics.
|Henry V opens with a scene that shows the king using the threat of seizing church lands to get the prelates to support his war policy against the French. This scene foreshadows the subordination of religion to politics that became the cornerstone of the Tudor and Elizabethan regimes.|
The chivalric ideal may have been stronger in Spain than in England, hence Cervantes may have been more preoccupied with ridiculing that ideal than Shakespeare was. The whole thrust of Don Quixote is to ridicule chivalry. Cantor writes, “In the prologue, Cervantes has a friend state explicitly the purpose of the book: ‘to destroy the authority and influence that books of chivalry have in the world.’”
In Cervantes’ society, chivalry still had devotees, still influenced behavior. “We know for a fact,” Cantor writes, “that the conquistadors read books of chivalry, including Amadis of Gaul.” Don Quixote admires the conquistadors, but Cervantes doesn’t. “Don Quixote admires the conquistador Cortez; he calls him ‘most courteous.’”
When Don Quixote prepares to tilt at the windmills, he says to Sancho Panza, “With their spoils we shall begin to be rich, for this is a good war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.” Cortez might have used these very words to justify the extermination of native peoples.
|Don Quixote’s lunatic adventures are Cervantes’s image of the Spanish Empire run amok in holy war, redirecting the medieval crusading spirit to the conquest of the New World, with brutal consequences for the native population.|
Cervantes often mentions the Spanish Empire and the Spanish Inquisition.
While Shakespeare and Cervantes poked fun at chivalry, the pendulum eventually swung in the other direction, and chivalry was respected once again. The Romantic period admired the lofty idealism of chivalry. Goethe said, “I love the man who craves the impossible.” Novelists like Walter Scott depicted the Middle Ages, and its chivalric knights, in a positive light. Edmund Burke complained that the French Revolution had destroyed chivalry:
|The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience... which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched.2|
Then the pendulum swung once again, and writers like Mark Twain ridiculed Scott. Cantor writes, “Twain wrote A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court in imitation of Don Quixote, once again to expose the delusions and the sham nobility of the Middle Ages.” Twain blamed Scott for filling the heads of Southerners with false notions, chivalric notions.
The pendulum will keep swinging. As Proust said, “The critics of each generation confine themselves to maintaining the direct opposite of the truths admitted by their predecessors.”3 As Hegel would say, human thought naturally follows a thesis-antithesis pattern, a “dialectical” pattern. Chivalry is a high ideal, but somewhat one-sided; it deserves respect, but also ridicule. If one generation respects it, the next will ridicule it, and vice versa. Cantor says that in the time of Shakespeare and Cervantes, chivalry “threatened to distort the common-sense understanding of down-to-earth human affairs and to unleash the dark side of human nature by pretending that it did not exist.”4
Twice Cantor was interviewed by Bill Kristol, part of the series Conversations With Bill Kristol. The first interview is a 60-minute discussion of Shakespeare, the second a 90-minute discussion of popular culture. Cantor says that his first foray into pop-culture criticism was an essay on The Simpsons, an essay that was translated into several languages, re-printed several times, and even included in a textbook on expository writing. It’s unusual for a conservative scholar to deal with pop culture, even more unusual for a conservative scholar to respect pop culture.
Cantor’s essay on The Simpsons was published in 1999. It seems to have a special relevance to our time, to the time of Trump and Sanders. Cantor argues that The Simpsons is “based on distrust of power and especially of power remote from ordinary people.... This is a view of politics that cuts across the normal distinctions between Left and Right.” Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, said that its subtext is “the people in power don’t always have your best interests in mind.” Cantor says, “Oddly enough, this theme is also at the heart of Fox’s other great television series, The X-Files.”5 Perhaps we wouldn’t say “oddly enough” today, because it’s now clear that there’s a widespread aversion for the federal government, the establishment.
Among comedies, Cantor has a high opinion of The Simpsons, and also of South Park and Seinfeld. He says that Seinfeld often resembles Waiting for Godot, which in turn was influenced by Laurel & Hardy movies. Cantor says that Jerry Seinfeld understood that comedy breaks taboos, comedy says what people are afraid to say, but nowadays there are few taboos left. Political Correctness is now the strongest taboo, the current frontier for comedy. “Sex is no longer taboo,” Cantor says, “but sexism is.” Seinfeld doesn’t want to appear at colleges because colleges are so serious about Political Correctness; he can’t tell jokes at colleges.6
The best TV shows, in Cantor’s view, are Deadwood and Breaking Bad. Deadwood takes place on the frontier in the late 1800s, and shows how people try to function without government, try to create a polity where none exists. Deadwood shows, in Cantor’s view, the importance of cooperating, and forming associations, just as Tocqueville emphasizes the importance of associations. As for Breaking Bad, Cantor compares it to Macbeth insofar as the protagonist is a man who’s potentially good, but is drawn into evil.7
Cantor ranks The Walking Dead just behind Deadwood and Breaking Bad. In The Walking Dead, people try to survive by cooperating in a country overrun by zombies. Thus, it’s not entirely unlike the frontier world of Deadwood. Cantor says that the Western is the prototype for much of American pop culture; Deadwood, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead can all be seen as Westerns.
Cantor also praises classic Westerns, such as The Searchers, which he thinks deserves comparison with Shakespeare. He also thinks that The Godfather deserves comparison with Shakespeare; he views The Godfather as the acme of American pop culture.8
Both Kristol and Cantor speak highly of Robert Warshow, a pop-culture critic who was active around 1950. Two of Warshow’s essays are especially well-known, “The Westerner” and “The Gangster as Tragic Hero.”
One of the most famous commando operations of World War II was the abduction of General Kreipe, who commanded German troops on Crete. Ill Met By Moonlight is the story of the Kreipe abduction; it’s a popular book, and was made into a movie in 1957.9 The author is William Stanley “Billy” Moss, and much of the book consists of Moss’s diary, which he wrote during the long hours of waiting and hiding on Crete.
It’s an excellent book, I recommend it highly. It gives you a sense of the mountainous country, the people with their flocks of sheep and their vineyards, the constant friction between Greeks and Germans, etc. Moss and the other commandos had to hike long distances at night (it was too dangerous in the daytime), and they often reached their physical and mental breaking-points. One Greek member of the commando team lost his mind and “started frothing at the mouth and staring and gibbering.” This man had to be left behind, as did some of the older Greeks who were unable to go on. The commandos were sometimes so cold that they couldn’t sleep. They often lacked food and water. On the other hand, when they stayed with Cretan families, they often enjoyed sumptuous banquets, which Moss vividly describes.
The commando team was led by Patrick Leigh “Paddy” Fermor. Fermor and Moss were in the SOE (Special Operations Executive). Wikipedia says that Fermor was “widely regarded as Britain’s greatest living travel writer during his lifetime.” Both Fermor and Moss have a literary bent. When they came to Crete from their base in Cairo, they brought a small library with them:
|I have with me [Moss writes] the books which Paddy and I selected in Cairo to take with us, and among them there is something to suit every mood. My literary companions are Cellini, Donne, Sir Thomas Browne, Tolstoy, and Marco Polo, while in lighter vein there are Les Fleurs du Mal, Les Yeux d’Elsa, and Alice in Wonderland. Then there are The Oxford Book of Verse and the collected Shakespeare which Billy McLean gave us on our last night in Tara. [Tara was the spacious house in Cairo where several of the commandos lived; it was the scene of much revelry. Billy McLean was a commando who had operated in Albania.]|
Moss (left) and Fermor, in German uniforms
Even on the morning of the abduction, Moss and Fermor were reading: “Paddy and I spent the morning reading short stories aloud to each other — this, because we have only one book left between the two of us.” Moss mentions “Saki’s wonderful ‘The Interlopers.’” (Saki is the pen name of H. H. Munro.9B)
After abducting General Kreipe, they have to spend weeks hiking and hiding before they can get a boat back to Egypt. During their long hours with the General, they find that he, too, has a literary education: “Paddy discovered that the General is a fair Greek scholar, and, much to the amusement of our Cretan colleagues, the two of them entertained each other by exchanging verses from Sophocles.”
The abduction was a very risky operation. After stopping the General’s car, stuffing him into the backseat, and taking the front seat themselves, Moss and Fermor had to drive through 22 German checkpoints before they were out of the capital city, Heraklion. They wore German uniforms, and Fermor donned the General’s hat. If they had been caught, they would doubtless have been killed, but first they would have been tortured for information about who had helped them. Would Moss and Fermor have preferred suicide to being tortured? Probably so; they brought with them “lethal cachets sewn into lapels, to be bitten if necessary when in dire straits.”
Moss comments on fate and premonition:
|The General told me it was a strange thing, but he had always felt that if anything were to happen to him in Crete it would be at the very spot where the ambush actually took place — so certain of this had he been, in fact, that he had already given instructions for a guard-post to be mounted on that selfsame T-junction. Even stranger, he added, was the fact that on the way home he had had a premonition that something was going to happen, and had remarked on it to his chauffeur.|
As Kreipe anticipated trouble, so Moss anticipated success: “We awoke [on the morning of the abduction] feeling somehow relieved and, albeit for no obvious reason, filled with a degree of optimism.”
Why did the British abduct Kreipe? Was it just a practical joke? Fermor wrote a valuable Afterword to Moss’s book; in this Afterword, Fermor explains the context of the abduction, and its rationale. In October, 1940, Italy invaded Greece, but the Greeks put up a spirited defense, and the invasion stalled. In April, 1941, the Germans invaded Greece, and won a swift victory. After this victory, Greece was occupied partly by the Germans, partly by the Italians.
Churchill wanted to strike the Germans in Greece, but Eisenhower wanted to focus Allied resources elsewhere. So the British had to content themselves with supplying Greek guerrillas with arms. But the British wanted to confuse the Germans, “keep them guessing,” so they floated rumors of an Allied invasion of Greece. The Greek guerrillas felt emboldened by the rumors of an Allied invasion, and by the new weapons they’d received from the British.
In July, 1943, the Allies invaded Sicily, the Italian people turned against their Fascist government, and Mussolini was arrested. In September, 1943, Italy’s new government signed an armistice with the Allies, and ceased to be on the German side. The Greek guerrillas believed that the armistice would be followed by an Allied invasion of Crete; the guerrillas began attacking small groups of Germans. When the Germans sent out a force to punish these attacks, the guerrillas ambushed and destroyed this force.
Then the Germans sent out a force of 2,000, which “went through the region with fire and sword, killing over five hundred and burning down seven villages.” It was German policy to kill ten civilians for every German soldier killed by the guerrillas. Fermor felt remorse because the guerrillas had been emboldened by rumors of an Allied invasion. Fermor wanted to strike back at the Germans, and raise Greek morale, but he had to strike the Germans in a way that wouldn’t lead to the slaughter of civilians. He felt that if General Kreipe was abducted by British commandos, the Germans wouldn’t retaliate against Greek civilians. The abduction would be “a shrewd blow to the German morale and a great lift to ours.”
After Italy signed an armistice with the Allies, relations between the Italians and the Germans became tense. On the Greek island of Cephalonia, fighting broke out between the Italian garrison and German invaders. When the Italians finally surrendered, the Germans massacred 5,000 Italians.
Fermor had secret talks with the Italians on Crete, some of whom wanted to turn their guns against the Germans. Fermor helped the Italian general to escape to Egypt, infuriating the Germans. Bringing out the Italian general suggested the idea of abducting and bringing out the German general.
After the abduction, Moss and Fermor asked the BBC to report that Kreipe had been abducted, and was “already on his way to Cairo.” This was literally true, but misleading; this would give the Germans the impression that Kreipe was already out of Crete. The BBC changed the phrase to “[Kreipe] was being taken off the island” suggesting to the Germans that he was still on Crete. So the Germans mounted a major effort to find the commandos, an effort that almost succeeded.
The highest mountain on Crete is Mount Ida; it has a central location, and commands a view of the whole island. The commandos hid in a large cave on Mount Ida. Greek guerrillas hid in the same cave during one of Greece’s wars with Turkey (probably the 1897 war). Moss argues that this is the very cave where, according to mythology, the infant Zeus was hidden from his father Cronos.
While Moss died at 44, Fermor lived to be 96, despite smoking 80-100 cigarettes a day. Fermor’s short account of the abduction (Abducting A General) was published after his death. When Fermor was 18, he walked from Holland to Constantinople. Later he described his journey in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Among his friends were the writers Lawrence Durrell, Ian Fleming, and Bruce Chatwin.10
What if everyone had their own rechargeable battery — a battery small enough to carry around, but large enough to power a laptop or a refrigerator? If there were a standard battery, entrepreneurs could devise countless ways to charge the battery, just as entrepreneurs create countless apps for the iPhone. It could be charged by the sun, the wind, rushing water (a stream or a tide or a sailboat), a bicycle, a stationary bicycle, a weight-lifting machine, a hand crank, perhaps even by going for a walk, or riding a horse. There are also countless uses for a battery: lights, cell phones, electric bikes, heating water, making money (by selling the electricity in your battery), etc.
Perhaps every home could have a large battery on the wall, a battery large enough to power a home; the large battery could get its energy from the smaller, personal batteries, and also from solar panels on the roof. Such large batteries are being made by companies like Tesla and BYD; Tesla makes a battery called Powerwall for home use, and a battery called Powerpack for industrial use. These batteries are especially useful during blackouts, and for people who live in remote areas (people who are “off the grid”).
I recently talked with someone who had been traveling in Greece. He said that many houses in Greece have solar panels for heating water (or for making electricity that’s used for heating water).
When I was a kid, I had a light on my bike that got its energy from the front wheel; when the bike stopped, the light stopped. Perhaps bikes should have a battery that can receive electricity from a generator, and also provide electricity to lights, cell phones, etc.
Many flashlights nowadays are powered by a hand crank. Unlike my old bike light, these flashlights don’t go off when you stop turning the crank; evidently they’re able to not only generate power, but also store it.
Here in New England, many little streams have the remains of an old mill, a mill that harnessed the power of rushing water to perform various tasks, such as grinding corn. Will we return to small-scale power-generation?
When my late wife was growing up in China in the 1960s, children would earn points at school by turning off lights, and by other small economies. This became a game, a competition. Why not make a game of generating electricity? If everyone generates electricity, wouldn’t people be more disposed to conserve electricity?
One of man’s basic drives is to do something, do something constructive, accomplish something.11 For the very old and the very young, it’s especially difficult to find a way to be productive. Generating electricity on a small scale may help people to feel productive.
Many people in the world are very poor, and are eager to earn even small amounts of money. In the U.S., poor people often collect cans and bottles; in some countries, poor people pick through garbage dumps. Generating electricity might enable people to earn small amounts of money.
Forbes magazine calculated that if you buy solar panels and a Tesla Powerwall, you’ll spend almost three times as much for electricity as the average American. Forbes concluded that “Tesla’s Powerwall Is Just Another Toy For Rich Green People.” But a small personal battery might be inexpensive. Both small and large batteries are especially useful in places where the “power grid” is unreliable, and places where electricity is expensive (such as Hawaii).
Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, deserves credit for allowing his research/discoveries to be used by anyone who wants to use them, rather than protecting his discoveries with a wall of patents and lawyers. Musk also deserves credit for trying to manufacture affordable cars for a large market. On the other hand, I think Musk deserves “rotten tomatoes” for his determination to make fast cars. Speed is, at best, a cheap thrill, of no real value, though many car-buyers value it.
Tesla is building charging stations where people can charge their electric cars for free. Won’t this encourage people to drive more, perhaps drive just to pass the time? Won’t this discourage the use of mass transit?
Many people are fascinated by electric cars, and by self-driving cars, and they’re lining up to buy Tesla’s latest model. Technology companies are jumping into this new market: Google is a leader in self-driving cars, and Apple is said to have hired 1,000 engineers to develop an electric car.
As I read about the end of the Roman Empire, I’m becoming interested in what came after it — that is, I’m becoming interested in the medieval period. The first American medievalist was Charles Homer Haskins, who’s best known for The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century. Haskins knew Woodrow Wilson, and accompanied him to the Paris Peace Conference. Haskins spent most of his career at Harvard.
Haskins’ star student was Joseph Strayer, who was a leading American medievalist in the mid-20th century. Among Strayer’s books are Feudalism and The Reign of Philip the Fair. Strayer also wrote a textbook/survey of the Middle Ages, and a Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Strayer spent most of his career at Princeton.
In the latter part of the 20th century, one of the best-known American medievalists was Norman Cantor. Cantor managed to make medieval history popular; he’s known for his accessible writing. Wikipedia speaks of Cantor’s “strained relationship” with academia. Wikipedia says that Cantor was “intellectually conservative” and critical of contemporary intellectual fads, like postmodernism. Among Cantor’s books are Medieval Lives: Eight Charismatic Men and Women of the Middle Ages and Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century. Cantor wrote a textbook called The Civilization of the Middle Ages (1993), and he edited The Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages.12 Cantor taught at Columbia, NYU, and other colleges.
One of the most eminent English medievalists is David Knowles, who specialized in English monasteries. Knowles was a monk himself, as well as a Cambridge professor. Among his books are Saints and Scholars: Twenty-Five Medieval Portraits, and biographies of Thomas Becket. Knowles wrote several works on mysticism, including What is Mysticism? Knowles is one of the medievalists profiled in Cantor’s Inventing the Middle Ages.
James Bryce was a British scholar and statesman who wrote a classic on the Holy Roman Empire. Bryce was also a student of the U.S.; he followed Tocqueville’s route through the U.S., noting the changes that had occurred since Tocqueville’s time, and he published a 3-volume work called The American Commonwealth. Later Bryce served as ambassador to the U.S., and was friends with Teddy Roosevelt and other prominent Americans. On several occasions, Bryce was a spokesman for the oppressed: he condemned British treatment of the Boers during the Boer War, he wrote a report on German atrocities in Belgium at the start of World War I, and he decried Armenian genocide in 1915.
A. I recently saw an interview with Leo Damrosch, a Harvard professor who specializes in 18th- and 19th-century literature. Damrosch writes what might be called “intellectual biography,” discussing ideas in their personal and historical context. In the interview, he focuses on his Tocqueville book, which discusses Tocqueville’s travels, and describes the U.S. in Tocqueville’s time. Damrosch praises Arthur Goldhammer’s translation of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (Goldhammer specializes in translation, and has translated numerous books from French into English). Damrosch’s study of Swift won the National Book Critics Circle Award. His latest book is about Blake, and reproduces many of Blake’s paintings and engravings (one of Damrosch’s first books was also about Blake).
B. I saw the popular German movie Run Lola Run (1998), described as an “action thriller.” Intelligent, interesting, enjoyable, a movie I might never forget. But perhaps it falls just short of being a great movie — it’s contrived, it doesn’t portray life as it is, it doesn’t throw light on reality.
C. Philosophy is to civilization what an operating system is to a computer. Just as people who use a computer are often unaware of the operating system, so too people are often unaware of philosophy. When people grow accustomed to a particular operating system, they may want it to stay “as is”; people who were comfortable with DOS, for example, probably lamented the advent of Windows. Likewise, some people want old worldviews, such as the monotheistic religions, to last forever.
|1.|| If I remember correctly, Oxfordians have much to say about the Cardenio controversy. back|
|2.|| Reflections on the Revolution in France, quoted in the Weekly Standard. back|
|3.|| Guermantes Way, Part II back|
|4.|| Cantor says that the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha sentimentalizes Don Quixote, treating him as a romantic hero. “‘To dream the impossible dream’ is exactly the idea Cervantes is satirizing, but on Broadway it became an anthem celebrating Don Quixote and his idealism.” back|
|5.|| Cantor is a fan of The X-Files. He says it discussed global terrorism before the 9/11 attacks, and its spin-off, The Lone Gunmen, anticipated the 9/11 attacks, depicting a plane being flown into the World Trade Center. This terrorist act was carried out by “members of the U.S. government,” (Wikipedia) who hope to blame terrorists and start a war. Perhaps a show like The Lone Gunmen appeals to the public’s appetite for conspiracies, or perhaps it creates that appetite. At any rate, such conspiracy theories are part of a general distrust of government. back|
|6.|| Cantor also has a high opinion of Curb Your Enthusiasm, a comedy created by Larry David, co-creator (along with Jerry Seinfeld) of Seinfeld. back|
|7.|| Better Call Saul is an acclaimed spin-off of Breaking Bad. back|
|8.|| He praises Godfather I and II equally, but doesn’t mention Godfather III, which is generally considered inferior to I and II.
Cantor wrote about The Searchers in an essay called “The Western and Western Drama: John Ford’s The Searchers and the Oresteia.” The Searchers is the story of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), who seeks revenge against the Indian who killed his brother’s family. Ethan Edwards is sometimes compared to Ahab, who seeks revenge against the whale who crippled him. Cantor argues that Ethan Edwards must get revenge himself because, in frontier society, there are no police, and no courts, to punish criminals. Thus, the frontier resembles ancient Greece in the days of Agamemnon and Orestes. back
|9.|| The movie is sometimes called Night Ambush, sometimes Ill Met By Moonlight. back|
|9B.||The critic Laurence Brander compared Saki to “Max,” and praised both for their hilarity and grace. Max Beerbohm, often called simply “Max,” was known for his fiction and his drawings. back|
|10.|| Lawrence Durrell is best known for Justine, the first novel in his “Alexandria Quartet.” In addition to numerous novels, Durrell also wrote travel books, mostly about Mediterranean locales. Durrell was a friend and fan of the writer Henry Miller.
Lawrence Durrell’s younger brother, Gerald, became well-known for his books about animals, relatives, and Corfu. One of Gerald’s books is called My Family and Other Animals (1956). “[Gerald] Durrell told stories that read like a cross between James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small and James Thurber’s My Life and Hard Times.” Gerald’s books are the basis for a TV show called The Durrells (also known as The Durrells in Corfu).
Bruce Chatwin first became known for his travel book In Patagonia. Later he wrote books that are part-fiction, part-fact, such as The Songlines, which deals with Australian aborigines.
Actually, Fermor didn’t walk all the way to Constantinople, he rode a horse through part of Hungary, and took a boat on the Danube. He didn’t return to England for six years; he was detained by affaires de coeur as well as by his interest in foreign places. He returned to England in 1939, when war broke out; his knowledge of various foreign languages made him valuable to the SOE.
Artemis Cooper edited and published a third volume about Fermor’s trip from Holland to Constantinople; this volume is called The Broken Road. She also edited an anthology of Fermor’s travel writing, Words of Mercury. Cooper wrote about Fermor and Moss in her book, Cairo in the War, 1939-1945; she also wrote a biography of Fermor.
Fermor translated a book about the resistance called The Cretan Runner. Several of Fermor’s SOE associates, including Xan Fielding, David Smiley, and Hugh Dormer, wrote books about their SOE experiences.
If you’re interested in the resistance in Denmark, consider The Boys who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pederson and the Churchill Club, by Phillip Hoose.
|11.|| I believe Veblen called this basic drive “the instinct of workmanship.” back|
|12.||He also co-wrote a textbook called Western Civilization, Its Genesis and Destiny: the Modern Heritage: From 1500 to the Present. back|