Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dreaming of Kings with Ruskin

I recently had the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin on Lake Coniston. It was a very moving experience, and as a keepsake, I bought a copy of the Everyman's Library edition of his autobiography, Praeterita. It opens with a fabulous meditation on just the sort of Toryism I've hinted at here (a conservativism never dreamed of by the nouveau riche neocons, and a Toryism that was socialist). Enjoy these snippets:
I am, and my father was before me, a violent Tory of the old school; --Walter Scott's school, that is to say, and Homer's. I name these two out of the numberless great Tory writers, because they were my own two masters. [...] From my own chosen masters, then, Scott and Homer, I learned the Toryism which my best after-thought has only served to confirm. That is to say, a most sincere love of kings, and dislike of everybody who attempted to disobey them.

He then goes on to note the distance between the kings dreamed of by Scott, and what passes for kingship today (i.e., in his own day--how much more [or rather, less] today). Then this gem:

It was probably much happier to live in a small house, and have Warwick Castle to be astonished at, than to live in Warwick Castle and having nothing to be astonished at; but, at all events, it would not make Brunswick Square in the least more pleasantly habitable, to pull Warwick Castle down. And at this day, though I have kind invitations enough to visit America, I could not, even for a couple of months, live in a country so miserable as to possess no castles.

He then confesses to dreams of restoration and resurrection:

As I grew wiser, the desire for sweet pippins instead of bitter ones, and Living Kings instead of dead ones, appeared to me rational as well as romantic; and gradually it has become the main purpose of my life to grow pippins, and its chief hope, to see Kings... which he appends this note:

The St. George's Company [a guild founded by Ruskin] was founded for the promotion of agricultural instead of town life: and my only hope of prosperity for England, or any other country, in whatever life they lead, is in their discovering and obeying men capable of Kinghood.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Medievalism Makes the New York Times

I once again find myself easily singing along with David Brooks in today's column in which he extols folks like C.S. Lewis and John Ruskin. In the face of the de-humanization of industrialization and its dis-enchantment of the world, they rejected chronological snobbery and looked back to the medieval imagination for hints of an antidote. As globalization and political cynicism continue to disenchant the world even further, Brooks remarks:

Writers like C. S. Lewis and John Ruskin seized on medieval culture as an antidote to industrialism — to mass manufacturing, secularization and urbanization. Without turning into an Arthurian cultist, it’s nice to look up from the latest YouTube campaign moment and imagine a sky populated with creatures, symbols and tales.

In fact, I make a similar case in my introduction to a new book, After Modernity? Secularity, Globalization, and the Re-enchantment of the World--though I draw on Tolkien's re-enchantment of the world that borders on a sort of paganism (which any robust theology of creation will flirt with). As Zizek once commented, only a Christian like Tolkien could have created such a wonderfully pagan world.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Night Visions from The Guardian

I'm worried that it's a tad voyeuristic, but I just love photographic features like The Guardian's series on "Writer's Rooms." And this past weekend they published a similar piece called "Night Visions" that provided a peek at some famous folks nighstands and bedside tables. Of course, one never knows how artificial these snapshots are, but intriguing nonetheless.