Obligatory shilling. I briefly reviewed Donald J. Devine's defence of liberalism The Enduring Tension for the new edition of First Things. I wrote for my paying subscribers about age and narrative, and a free post about the absurdities of COVID regulations.
If you’ll forgive a little marketing, Paul Brian and Titus Techera have both commented in kind terms on my book of short stories. Paul says “Ben’s skill for detail, wry humor and cutting observations makes these stories a joy to read” and Titus says “the magic in [this] short volume comes from [Ben’s] sure knowledge that people have moved on from the fantasies of the early 21st c. to memories of those fantasies.”
Ageing blues. I turned 31 this week. Advancing through one’s thirties is quite depressing for many people. It can feel like life is over. To minimise this blow, I recommend feeling depressed, and like your life is over, in your early twenties. Then whatever good things follow them feel like a nice surprise.
Against mandates. Helen Andrews attacks vaccine mandates with rare but righteous urgency:
But that’s not the most important reason to oppose vaccine passports. The most important reason is that once you create the infrastructure for a social credit system, you will never get rid of it.
Once Americans get accustomed to scanning a QR code every time they enter a building, there is no limit to the surveillance and nudges that can be built on top of it.
Lovely light. Rest in peace Terry Teachout, the great cultural critic, who died in his sleep last week. I followed his charming, eclectic and humane blog About Last Night for years and learned a lot thanks to his curiosity and balance of seriousness and good humour. He wrote in 2010:
Vladimir Nabokov said it: “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” Perhaps–but oh, how lovely a light!
Titus Techera writes a fine obituary.
An epidemic that is not. Tish Still debunks hyperbolic claims regarding the murder of trans people:
…pretending that there’s a trans murder epidemic, when incidents are isolated and largely confined to prostitution, is equally unhelpful and even dangerous…
Worst defence ever. A Polish Catholic diocese which is being sued by a man who was abused by a priest as an altar boy has whipped up controversy after requesting that the court determine whether the claimant is gay and might have enjoyed it. Senior Catholic authorities in Poland have strongly criticised the diocese, so I am by no means casting aspersions on the Church in general, but it is astounding when people think this sort of glutinous minimisation makes them look better and not worse. Catholics, under the spotlight for cynical reasons but also because the Church makes claims to moral authority, should have no time for it.
Life beyond the author. Francesca Peacock considers the personal essay:
Her essays are the equivalent of Bourgeois’s sculptures and installations; they were created by the artist — and bear her fingerprints — but they now stand independently of her.
The personal essay need not die. It just needs to find a life beyond its author.
Indeed, it should express something about what it means to be a person rather than just one particular person.
Endless little seals of approval. B.D. McClay dissects the pseudo-respectability of Miss America:
At its kitschy center sits the perfect symbol of one America: the woman who works, for whom everything is work, whose only passion is work, whose goal is to attain meritocratic credentials, endless little seals of approval, so as to work better and harder, and who could never admit that to make work the point and not the means was to make all that work meaningless in the end. There she is: your ideal.
We might disagree on what are good alternatives to work for the sake of work, of course, but I like how McClay exposes its higher pretensions.
Ashes to ashes. England were absolutely crushed by Australia in the recent Ashes series. For me, cricket itself should possibly have ended in 2005 after England won the Ashes for the first time in almost two decades. It would have been a wonderful fairytale ending for the sport as the underdog triumphed at last. But sports don’t just “end” so we are regularly treated to the sight of Dr Octopus beating the absolute piss out of Spider-Man.
Mercy in action. My dad is cycling up Everest (from home) for charity next weekend. Do consider donating if you’re feeling rich and generous.
Have a lovely week,