Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Recent Reads of Note -- Daniels & Steyn

* In the March 2011 New Criterion, a great journal of criticism, physician and author Anthony Daniels, one of my favorites who sometimes goes by Theodore Dalrymple, writes compellingly of an experiment of his, motivated by a regret of formal training in literature, in which he somewhat randomly selected two slim books of WWII-era poetry, by two poets unknown to him and seemingly most anyone else, from a dusty shelf in an old used bookshop to see if he could discern whether the poetry was any good.  He could and, by chance, it was.  On the Doorstep of Valhalla.   Four fragments I will return to enjoy:
One of my many regrets—and there comes a time in life when regret is almost inseparable from memory itself—is that I received no formal literary education, at least not after the age of sixteen....  Even now, nearly half a century later, as I walk through the woods around my house in France and the sunlight comes variegated through the leafy canopy, I cannot but think of the poem that begins: “Glory be to God for dappled things—/ For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow.”
To say that the verse of both men has been forgotten is not to court contradiction....  I felt slightly nervous at being moved by both, as if I lacked the discrimination to realize that they were rightly consigned to the literary equivalent of Trotsky’s dustbin of history, in other words to the shelves of the unsaleable in a shop that was destined to close when the slender resources of its new owner ran out.
It is difficult not to see in the contrast between the two poets the caesura in European culture, or rather sensibility, caused by the First World War; Elwes could not see that his generation was sacrificed for nothing; Monahan could see nothing else. Oddly enough, I find myself able to sympathize on both sides of the caesura, with both of Elwes and of Monahan—nostalgic for the past, I am immersed in the modern.
Just as Elwes saw the war in clear moral terms as Monahan did not, so too he saw love as lasting and permanent, as Monahan did not. It is as if enchantment and disenchantment were lenses through which the two of them looked at the world, each lens no doubt with its power of distortion, but each also capable of revealing truths that the other cannot.
* The inimitable Mark Steyn writes trenchantly, sarcastically, and somewhat forlornly about the recent Islamist terrorist attack on American servicemen in Germany, citing Western fecklessness and unrelenting demographic arithmetic in Arid Uka’s Gratitude.  Excerpt: 
According to Bismarck’s best-known maxim on Europe’s most troublesome region, the Balkans are not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. Americans could be forgiven for harboring similar sentiments after the murder of two U.S. airmen in Germany by a Kosovar Muslim....  Remember Kosovo? Me neither. But it was big at the time, launched by Bill Clinton....  And the Left didn’t mind at all — because, for a modern Western nation, war is only legitimate if you have no conceivable national interest in whatever war you’re waging....  A decade on.... a young airport employee is so grateful for what America did for his people that he guns down U.S. servicemen while yelling “Allahu akbar!”
John M Greco