Notes & comments: April 2004.
The despicable bombings by the Muslim jihadists in Madrid on March 11 claimed 200 lives (and wounded another 1400); they also formed a prelude to the most important event in international politics since September 11, 2001. For, horrible though that cold-blooded murder of innocent people was, its significance was dwarfed by what happened in Spain a few days later. Timed to coincide with the Spanish national election, the terrorist attack by al Qaeda achieved its desired effect, which was only incidentally the slaughter of a couple hundred infidels. The deeper aim was to interfere in the course of the electoral process of a Western democratic country, and that--thanks to the cravenness of the Spanish electorate--the Muslim fundamentalists did decisively. On March 10, the center-right candidate Jose Maria Aznar was universally favored to win. Come March 15, the Socialist candidate Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero swept into office on a platform of anti-Americanism and hostility to George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and the war in Iraq.
The Spanish people were duly rewarded for their compliance. As Andrew Sullivan noted, one radical Muslim group announced that it would
cease operations in Spain to reward Spanish voters for striking a blow against "the axis of Crusader evil." There's a catch, of course. Here's part of the statement: "Because of this [electoral] decision, the leadership has decided to stop all operations within the Spanish territories ... until we know the intentions of the new government that has promised to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. And we repeat this to all the brigades present in European lands: stop all operations." They've learned something, haven't they?
Indeed, they learned the same thing that Hitler learned when he remilitarized the Rhineland, absorbed Austria, and gobbled up Czechoslovakia. Push and they will capitulate. Bottom line: the Spanish rejection of Aznar was not merely a shameful capitulation to terrorism. It was also a death warrant for--how many do you suppose?--hundreds? thousands? of other Europeans who will surely be targeted by al Qaeda in an effort to blackmail Western countries.
In a characteristically astute observation on the Spanish debacle, Mark Steyn noted that the slogan "Never again" formulated after the Holocaust, has mutated into its opposite: "Neville again," a reprise of Neville Chamberlain at Munich. What we see across Europe now is an orgy of capitulation. In a letter in the London Times, one Peter Goodchild wrote that "History shows that only two strategies have any real effect in dealing with terrorists: negotiation and extirpation."
Since Western democracies are "squeamish about the ruthless measures" needed to pursue the second option, they inevitably drift toward the first without really embracing it. Mr. Goodchild seemed to advocate a wholehearted pursuit of negotiation. But negotiating with terrorists--at least with what Ralph Peters calls "apocalyptic terrorists" like al Qaeda--is tantamount to calling your funeral director and asking for an immediate pick up. Hussein Massawi, a former Hezbollah leader, put it with admirable clarity: "We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you." Worth bearing in mind, isn't it?
It's always worse than you think
We have always fondly thought of England as at least the slightly more vigilant partner when it came to preserving propriety, respecting tradition, and resisting change undertaken merely for the sake of change. A recent visit to London has made us reconsider. One of the first things to greet us was a headline in The Daily Telegraph: "Yet another Labour snub to the Queen." Actually, there were two snubs. The first was the decision--taken by the Labour government without consulting Buckingham Palace--to drop the word "Crown" from the Crown Prosecution Service. The second snub was the decision to rename "Her Majesty's Prison Service" the "National Offenders' Management Service." No, we are not making this up. In part, of course, both renamings are part of the Labour government's not-so-subtle efforts to abolish Britain's Constitutional Monarchy by erasing its stamp from more and more public institutions. But replacing "Prison Service" with "Offenders' Management Service" is not an anti-monarchical gesture so much as a politically correct one. It is exactly the sort of thing that George Orwell would have savored as a specimen piece of Newspeak--before, that is, he savaged it as an insidious euphemism designed to increase state control by redescribing its activities in bureaucratic psychobabble. With the phrase "Prison Service" we know where we are--in the legal realm of specific crimes and corresponding punishment. But substitute "Offenders'" for "Prison" and where are we? In that Kafkaesque realm where yesterday's innocuous remark is tomorrow's punishable outrage. Already "racism" and "xenophobia" have been designated crimes by Europe's masters in Brussels: how much easier to handle such amorphous torts when criminals are rebaptized "offenders" who in turn are no longer "punished" but merely "managed" like the cattle, the sheep, that so much of Europe's populace is eagerly striving to become.
Alas, The Telegraph does not merely report on the degradation of English life, it also abets it. In the special Arts and Books section for the Saturday paper on March 6, for example, readers were treated to a long, wandering piece of hagiography about the pop singer Morrissey. Reprinted from The London Review of Books, the essay by Andrew O'Hagan is a trashy paean to trash culture.
I used to know a girl called Fiona who kept a joint diary with her friend Katherine. They wrote it most evenings in the desolate hours between the end of John Craven's Newsround and the arrival of the ice-cream van in their housing estate, a period marked by the combustion of chip pans in the kitchens of the negligent, and then carried hurriedly on to doorsteps and thrown into the air like torches at a Viking funeral.
O'Hagan goes on to eulogize Morrissey, who "knew how to hate Margaret Thatcher and the Royal Family," and who "had built a career encountering and dramatising his own maladjustment."
This is precisely the sort of vulgar rubbish one expects to find in pop magazines--but The Daily Telegraph? The London Review of Books? The former is Britain's most respected conservative broadsheet. The latter is as reliably left-wing as its model, The New York Review of Books. But what does it mean that these bastions of high- or at least middlebrow culture should stoop to the gutter of mind-numbing pop fandom?
It's the sheer vulgarity of the piece that is so depressing--a vulgarity that more and more seems to characterize daily life in London. Fortunately, there is still Oxbridge, the great universities with their many centuries of tradition, their commitment to the life of the mind, their still-cloistered detachment from the hurly-burly of pop culture. Consider Cambridge University, where a group of female students, led by a second-year theology student, used university funds to start a group called "Fellowship of the Pole" and hire a stripper to teach them the ins and outs of erotic "pole dancing." The students intend to use--indeed, apparently already have used--their newly developed skills to supplement their incomes in a local nightclub. According to the London Times, Nadia Messaoud, the theology student from Queens' College,
hopes that her group of pole dancers will be recognised as an official university organisation, alongside the tiddlywinks and bell-ringing societies. "It is art, just the same as ballet, tap or any other kind of dance," Ms. Messaoud said. "Cambridge is definitely getting sexier and pole dancing is just a part of this."
Ms. Messaoud reported that her parents were "100 percent" supportive of her new avocation. Should we be outraged or merely depressed?
Speaking of depression, it is good to know that campuses in the US are doing their bit to keep up with their British counterparts. A friend recently sent along a notice from the University of Chicago announcing a conference on "Depression: What Is It Good For?" "Co-Sponsored by the Arts Planning Council, Critical Inquiry, the Franke Institute for the Humanities, and the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago," this event is intended to address the following:
Is disempowerment the only prognosis for the depressed? Is the goal to "get happy"? This conference asks how we might use the experience of depression as the very index of our current political climate and as a key to future political thinking. We suspect that depression in its many forms has come to suffuse the daily lives and endeavors of a wide range of people, generating important social and political effects. In a time of economic downturns (no longer referred to as "depressions"), corporate and political scandals, rising fundamentalisms, capitalism's "triumph," the expansion of the security state and increasing threats to civil liberties, can depression be used politically?
"Can depression be used politically?" How depressing can things get? Perhaps pole dancing is not so bad after all.
Frederick Morgan, 1922-2004
It is with great sadness that we note the passing of Frederick Morgan, a longstanding friend of and contributor to The New Criterion. He will be well known to our readers: his poems appeared often in our pages, though not as often as we might have liked.
Fred Morgan managed to have three distinguished literary careers. The first was as an editor and (using the term in the highest sense) literary impresario, someone who brings literary talent to the attention of the public. In 1948, shortly after having been graduated from Princeton, Fred started The Hudson Review with his college friends Joseph Bennett and William Arrowsmith, the well-known classicist and translator. The moment had found its men. The world was bursting with literary talent and The Hudson Review--that is, Fred Morgan and his colleagues--had the wit to discern and the charm to attract some of the best. The roster of contributors to the quarterly in its early years reads like a literary Who's Who of the period: not just T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound and Robert Graves, but also Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas, and Theodore Roethke. Eudora Welty and Sylvia Hath published in The Hudson Review, and so did Thomas Mann, John Dos Passos, e.e. cummings, and R. P. Blackmur. It was an extraordinary editorial performance, not so much eclectic (which implies a certain lack of direction) as wide-ranging, non-ideological, focused above all on literary interest and intellectual distinction.
In the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, Fred also published some excellent literary, criticism himself, carving out a quiet but distinguished niche as a literary critic of exacting standards and penetrating observation. By the mid-1960s, Bennett and Arrowsmith had left The Hudson Review. Fred carried on and was joined by Paula Deitz, his collaborator, later his wife and co-editor, who has been editor-in-chief of The Hudson Review since Fred's retirement a few years ago.
Fred did not publish much of his own poetry before the age of fifty, but once he started he made up for lost time. From the early 1970s until his death in February, he published some ten volumes. His Poems: New and Selected, published in 1987, solidified his reputation as one of the most accomplished American poets of his generation. Fred's language tended to be spare, his manner decorous, his matter oscillating between a kind of commemorative eroticism and a certain species of generous though cheerfully disabused meditation. He was a man of deep feeling but equally deep reserve. The result was a poetry of lapidary under statement and keen, immaculately modulated emotion.
Fred wrote many sorts of poems: love poems, celebrations of nature, elegies for the death of loved ones. Among our favorites are what might be described as existential observations: dry, quiet, deep in their confident simplicity. One such poem, read aloud at Fred's funeral, is "The Step":
From where you are at any moment you may step off into death. Is it not a clinching thought? I do not mean a stoical bravado of making the great decision blade in hand but the awareness, all so simple, that right in the middle of the day you may be called to an adjoining room.
A clinching thought, indeed: hardly novel, but how regularly neglected. It was part of Fred's genius to remind us tactfully of what we meant to remember but were too lazy or too distracted to heed. Farewell, Fred. We shall miss you.
The New Criterion on poetry
It is sadly appropriate that our memorial for Fred Morgan should coincide with what has become an annual event in our publishing schedule: a special issue focusing on poetry. We are pleased that David Yezzi, a former Associate Editor of The New Criterion and now the director of the Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y, has returned to edit the poetry and the essays on poetry that we feature in this issue. In addition, we are proud to publish Eric Ormsby's brilliant reflections on the institution of poetry as part of our year-long series, "Lengthened Shadows: America and Its Institutions in the Twenty-first Century" It pleases us to think that Fred Morgan would have delighted in this celebration of and admonition about American poetry.
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|Date:||Apr 1, 2004|
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