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Showing posts from November 2, 2014

Please sir, more Wharton sir, please...

More notes on the House of Mirth You can’t read the secondary literature on Edith Wharton without bumping into the ghost of Henry James. They both wrote about rich Americans, some of whom spent their time in Europe, so the critics have gathered around this obvious clue and have palpated it to death, rather like the rather dim police inspectors in Sherlock Holmes who fail to make subtle deductions from the more apparently trivial clues with which they are presented, while running off the track when big clues are, by malign design, thrown in their way.. I haven’t waded far enough into the secondary literature to see if anybody has connected Wharton to Oscar Wilde, but as I find traces of Wilde all over The House of Mirth, I think I’m going to  take up the theme and give it a good shaking. Wharton does a rather neat trick in The House of Mirth – she manages to convincingly create a hybrid of  social comedy and melodrama. The melodrama is the natural aesthetic correlate of the overwhel

The election

In the 18 th century, there was a craze for Constitutions. Rousseau wrote an outline of one for Poland, and Boswell, of all people, had influenced the Corsican constitution. And of course then came the Americans and the French, who linked constitution making to revolution. The idea of decreeing legislation has become, since, a normal feature of streetcorner and water fountain intellectual life, at least in the States. People, such as myself, who have never successfully organized lunch or an ant farm (when I was a kid, I’d always end up either starving to death the latter or drowing the poor ants in too much sugar water), are undettered by their failures and make and proselytize revolutionary legislative suggestions all the time. Unfortunately, the organizers, if they are good, are usually on the side of the organizations, ie the status quo. There they are rewarded for profiting the heads of those organizations, or the set of them – the establishment. Now that the dust has settled

the wall fell: so what?

So, the end of history, most thumbsuckers think, is itself at an end. What's the damages, bartender? Well, this summing up of what happened to the Communist countries after the fall of the wall is a pretty stunning piece of work. I'm not convinced that all information can be given by GDP growth, but still: only ten percent of the countries in the post-Communist sector have actually converged with the developed world. Ukraine, according to Milanovic's figures, will take fifty more years to achieve the standard of living of the Communist era. Hmm. I especially like it that Milanovic, perhaps because he's a rusty remnant of the old Soviet system, actually values culture. "Let me just focus on one often overlooked fact. It is most strikingly illustrated with respect to Russia. Russia, probably for the first time since the early 1800s, has gone through a quarter of a century without leaving any trace on the international world of arts, literature, philosophy or sci