Wednesday, November 21, 2007


The newspaper this morning like every morning (By starting in this way I have labeled myself as... because I know that reading the newspaper is no longer a normal activity and I self-consciously mention this newspaper reading shadowed by Marina Tsvetaeva's good and necessary cursing of such an activity) reports of another scandal in school testing. There is always a scandal in education.

A long time ago Albert Jay Nock pointed out that when the perfectly good classical high school was disbanded and replaced by the so called modern educational system that of necessity it would have to be endlessly reformed, fixed, reconfigured, fixed again because the people running the education industry dare never think really on what they are doing...

The other night at FREEBIRD BOOKSTORE I was talking with a graduate of Harvard. I mentioned that I had heard it was pretty grim for under-graduates and that they never really got the best professors and that at Harvard there was very little sense of being part of a community of scholars. This no longer young man replied, "Yes, that is all true but you get great contacts for opportunities later in life."


I do not think that our American society will ever return to the Great Tradition. I see no reason why it should not go on repeating the experience of other societies, having already gone as far as it has along the road of that experience, and find that when it as last realises the need of transforming itself, it has no longer the power to do so.

And then from A JOURNAL OF THESE DAYS June 1932 - December 1933

April 24, 1933

I am greatly impressed by the number and quality of the bookstores in Lisbon. They are an interesting and an encouraging sight. The whole population of Portugal is less than New York City's, and I hear that 70 per cent of it is illiterate, which, if so, makes the reading public very small. It is astonishing to estimate, roughly the number of bookstores that New York or any American city, would have if they stood in the same proportion to the number of people who are able to read. The literate Portuguese, moreover, seems able to manage French and Spanish as well as his own tongue, for the shops carry a large stock in both languages. English books are few and of a low order, mostly shilling shockers; and there are hardly any German books, except in translations. All this sets one thinking afresh about the social value of a wide-spread, indiscriminate literacy.

June 30, 1933

One sees a considerable blessing in illiteracy when one remarks the utter absence of signboards along the roadside. They hardly exist in Portugal; one may drive a hundred miles without seeing one. I do not think it would be unfair to say that the only advantage of our general literacy is that it enables people to read advertisements.

REMINDER REMINDER Walking, at that time, those streets of Lisbon was the poet FERNANDO PESSOA whose book THE BOOK OF DISQUIET sits comfortably on the shelf along with ULYSSES, THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES, DEATH OF VIRGIL, THAT AWFUL MESS ON VIA MERULANA, LARVA...

April 21, 1933
In the view of the modern novelist, love is apparently reducible to sheer transactions carried on inter stercus et urinam, and this, I suppose, passes for a realistic view; but I doubt that the human spirit will be permanently satisfied with it, and hence I doubt that the works which reflect it will have any place in literature. Novelists may yet rediscover sentiment as being quite as much a reality as trees and boulders, or even as the determination of blood to this or that part of the human body.

ANOTHER REMINDER. Nock wrote two books tracing out the life and works of Rabelais. He was no dour puritan.

I have not mentioned his great autobiography: MEMOIRS OF A SUPERFLUOUS MAN as the title cuts too close to the very bone of my own life.