Saturday, December 29, 2018

Notes and Links

* I just yesterday got back from a brief trip to see family for the holidays, during which I had a chance to read a few things, among which were:

Tom Holland's Dynasty, about the House of Caesar. It's very uneven in style, and at times unnecessarily vulgar, but the latter is not so out of place dealing with the likes of Caligula and Nero, and the whole is quite a readable account of how a bunch of autocrats managed to become indispensable and imperial despite, in principle, having no formal office, and managed to strip Roman citizens of their liberty while nonetheless remaining quite popular. I found the parts about Augustus to be particularly good. The whole has the refreshing tendency to avoid the false tone of just-the-facts objectivity that has come to infect works by historians; it's quite clear that the bulk of what we have about the August Household is gossip, and it salvages what it can of objectivity by recognizing various points of view in the gossip. You can ignore almost all of the reviews for the work, I think; none that I have seen are very good or even very accurate, probably because reviewers for history are addicted to trying to assess history texts in terms of arbitrary standards of relevance 'for our times'.

Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, the founding novel of the popular nineteenth century genre of Ruritanian Romance, is a short, quick, and rollicking read. I don't think I've ever read it before, but it was excellent. It doesn't have any pretensions as great literature, and yet it has the distinctive characteristic of great literature, that it never ceases to delight. Hope apparently wrote a more tragic sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, as well some other, more loosely related, Ruritania works, which I will eventually have to look up.

Jean Paul Sartre's The Words is a writer's autobiography, although perhaps one should say it's an elaborate fakery of an autobiography. Everyone I have seen discuss it reads it as a straight autobiography of Sartre's early life, but there are too many signs that this can't be the whole story: his repeated tying of literature to imposture and illusion, the careful tuning of his memories to meet psychoanalytic expectations, the endless (but indirect and subtle!) flattering of the reader as a reader. In reality, I think it should be seen as a literary exploration of Sartre's own experience of reading and writing, draped loosely and somewhat artificially over a chronological frame of Sartre's childhood.

* I saw Aquaman in 3D. It lacks some of the charm of Wonder Woman, but is more consistent story-wise. Despite being a DC offering, it's OK as a movie. As a 3D movie, however, it is splendid; they obviously put a lot of thought into the visual aspect of the movie, and unlike a lot of movies where they mostly just use the 3D to spruce up some fight scenes, practically every scene of this movie is enriched in some way by it. If you like 3D, this is one to see. Even if you aren't interested in 3D, this is a great movie for visual spectacle -- wide, sweeping ocean scenes and the like -- and so probably worth a splurge for theater viewing.

* Thony Christie discusses internalism vs. externalism in historical writing and The Seven Learned Sisters.

* Kenny Pearce compares Ibn Sina and Descartes on the nature of body.

* David Evans discusses how the gospel of Mark draws on the Old Testament to construct a Christology.

* C. S. Lewis, Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus

* Nathaniel McCallum, Inherited Guilt in Ss. Augustine and Cyril. I've noted before that reatus is often broader than 'guilt', being something more like 'liability'; so we always have to be careful, as McCallum notes, to take the context into account.

* Timothy Larsen on John Stuart Mill's religious views.

* Roger Scruton, The Fury of the Modernists.

* A journalist from Der Spiegel by the name of Claas Relotius was tasked with reporting on rural America in the age of Trump, and wrote a piece on the little town of Fergus Falls. He was caught manufacturing lies to spice up the story with rural American stereotypes for his German readers by a couple of local reporters -- fictional persons, fictional stories, events that could not possibly have happened. He eventually was fired, and a number of other articles written by him have been shown to have fabricated information. Given that some of the manufactured stories won awards, it would be worthwhile for Der Spiegel and the journalistic community in Germany to contemplate why they were taken in so completely by stories that read like crazy caricatures; Relotius got away with what he did because he was giving people what they wanted to read. That reflection will, of course, not happen. But it's a good example of how absolutely crucial local journalists on local beats are to the journalistic ecosystem.

* The PNC Christmas Price Index jumps up a bit due to a surge in the price of geese and in wages for entertainers.

* Eduard Habsburg on how to make a Hungarian pörkölt:

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