12/28/16…A journey to Hell…

Most notably on the opera stage, but in other high-cultural venues as well, it isn’t uncommon to update canonical works to the modern day, at least in terms of such externalities as mise-en-scene, costumes etc. Take, for instance, a towering masterwork with which most people over 50 have some familiarity and most of those below that age probably none. It’s the epic in which the narrator, having midway in the journey of his life found himself in a dark wood where the direct path was lost, is taken on a journey through the afterlife that starts in Hell and terminates in the Empyrean. Yesterday I had an experience that could well provide the basis for a transference of the great poem from the 14th to the 21st Century.

In my version, that narrator encounters a guide who promises to show him all eternity, but being a very postmodern positivist, urges that they start at the very lowest circle of Hell, after which things can only get better. And so the narrator is taken to a strange place, noisome and noisy, surrounded by odd shapes, many seeming to be little more that splotches of paint and clumps of plastic randomly dispersed. Among these aimlessly weaves a packed throng of confused beings of hideous dress and aspect, sending up a wailing babel of many tongues. The narrator, his agoraphobia and aural and visual sensitivities challenged to the boiling/breaking point, inquires of his guide: “What is this horrible place? It is the worst I have ever seen! I can hardly bear it!” His guide smiles: ‘It is the summit of this age’s culture,” he replies. “This is the Museum of Modern Art during Christmas Week.”

“Well, if it is,” the narrator exclaims, “I say the hell with it, no pun intended,” and with that he abandons his guide, rushes out of the dire place, and races back through the woods to Rimini, where he gets a job as a barista.

And that is that.

1.Now – to the day’s serious business, here’s David Pryce Jones on the current state of Brexit and EU affairs. He’s writing in The New Criterion, a magazine that lovers of best culture must read for Karen Wilkin, Marco Grassi, Kyle Smith and Jay Nordlinger, but which, in its political pages, is showing signs, post-Trump, of reverting to the right-wing looniness that characterized it back in the days of its Founder Hilton Kramer. That said, I feel Pryce Jones’s point is well taken:  “Nationalism is heating everywhere to a temperature already close to explosion. In the absence of any known cure, this [atient (the EU) must either recover miraculously or die. The watchers at the bedside do not know what is to be hoped for, or to be feared.

“Would-be doctors are coming off badly. One of the foremost among them is President Obama, who flew in to advise the British that in a referendum then about to occur, they should vote to stay within the European Union. The vote to leave, Brexit for short, exposed him as an airhead without influence or the prestige due to his office.”

2.Totally agree: http://nypost.com/2016/12/27/12-reasons-i-hate-eating-out-in-new-york/  I would footnote Cuozzo’s diatribe with the famous remark by Ernest Thesiger. Returning to London from the Western Front in 1916, he was asked what it was like in the trenches. “My dears,” he replied, “the noise! And the people!”

3. The media are full of articles about how to combat Trump. This is typical: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/12/fight-donald-trump-with-normal-politics.html – especially since, to my recollection, the writer has never been more than half-right on any subject of importance (except, naturally, importance of the “self-” variety). In my view, the way to get to Trump is make him lose it, and the way to do that is to take him on at Twitter. Organize a Twitter “hit squad” of, say, 100 articulate people (I’ll volunteer) that will challenge his tweets (nothing will make him stop; he seems addicted)by fighting dirty in the 140-character format, inducing him tweet back and back again until he goes apeshit.

4. Indeed, sir, indeed: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/12/ilargi-2017-where-the-truth-lies.html and this too, sir: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/12/wrong-withering-west-161226104409143.html

5. A couple of years ago, mainly as a favor and gesture of respect and affection for two friends, Scott McConnell and Taki, I took out a subscription to The American Conservative. What with one thing or another, I barely skimmed the issues, but I kept them and recently started to go through the stack. It’s an interesting magazine. Doctrinaire to be sure, but a grownup expects that, and there’s a lot of other good stuff in there. Taki’s on the back page, doing his thing (which I’ve described elsewhere as derived from the little boy in Alice… “who only does it annoy because he knows it teases”) and I have to say, judging from the intemperate reaction his latest screed elicited from the adjacent pillow, he succeeds. I consider myself a conservative progressive – one who examines the bathwater to see if there might be a baby in it – and I’ve followed a sort of backwards path through life: usually, one starts out young and relatively impecunious and then as one becomes wealthier, turns conservative (it’s the money, you see). But I had money when I was young, and therefore could afford to be idealistic despite my circumstances, and then as I’ve grown older, and relatively poorer, my idealism – compassion for others, mainly – has stuck with me because there’s been no incentive to go in the opposite direction.

6. Headed by prize asshole Larry Kudlow, certain people on the Trump transition team are arguing that his plutocratic choices for his Cabinet and inner circle are immunized by their wealth from any temptation to steal or to corrupt for pecuniary reasons. Based on my observations over 50-plus years, this is absolute bullshit. Indeed the reverse is true. While there are obvious exceptions, as a general rule, the richer one becomes, the more rapacious, avaricious, greedy and morally provincial one becomes. The word “enough” disappears from the vocabulary. The notion that with advantages come responsibilities is put out of mind. One becomes psychologically interwoven with one’s wealth to the extent that any diminishment of one’s pile will be like having a limb cut off. And since big hitters have easier access to piggy banks – pension funds, the taxpayers’ full faith and credit, corporate accounts etc – temptation is easier to yield to.

Signing off: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/mathematical-economics-training-too-narrow-by-robert-skidelsky-2016-12