The Inertia of Reputation

From the March 2012 Print Edition

I managed”aided by a combination of piteous entreaties, furious threats, and the occasional application of the lash”to drag my refractory attention span across the finish line of Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery , but by that point I had already decided that it is a text whose . . . . Continue Reading »

The Needle’s Eye

From the February 2012 Print Edition

An old textual conundrum regarding the New Testament, frequently revisited by those who fret over every jot and tittle, is whether Christ was really talking about a camel or only about a very thick rope. My money is on the camel, and not only because I am fond of both camels and outlandish . . . . Continue Reading »

The Precious Steven Pinker

From the January 2012 Print Edition

I sometimes find it hard to believe that Steven Pinker really believes what he believes; surely, I think, some occult agency in his mind is forcing his conscious intellect to accept premises and conclusions that it ought to reject as utterly fantastic. I suppose, though, that that is one’s normal . . . . Continue Reading »

Luminous Wisdom

From the December 2011 Print Edition

Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Shobo Genzo ?by Dogen, ?edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi (multiple translators) Shambhala, 2 volumes, 1280 pages, $150 Dogen lived from 1200 to 1253 and is generally regarded as the father of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism in Japan, and, . . . . Continue Reading »

Mediocrity’s Tribute

From Web Exclusives

Along the coast, it was the sort of morning one can describe only as “Homeric.” You know what I mean: rhododactylic Dawn rising from her loom to spread her shimmering gossamers over the shadowy mountains and echoing sea, dark-prowed fishing-barks drawn up on the milky strand and caressed by the golden foam, the distant thunders of ennosigaean Poseidon and argikeraunic Zeus vying above the wine-dark waves, and so on. Or so I imagine. I was actually a few hundred miles inland, in a montane grove of loblolly pines and mixed deciduous trees, awash in flickering sunlight, drinking coffee and reading a newspaper… . Continue Reading »

Lupinity, Felinity, and the Limits of Method

From Web Exclusives

Sometimes, late at night, when the branches of the large pine outside my window are swaying in a hot breeze and brushing with a sinister whisper against my window panes, and sleep seems to loom far above me like some inaccessible peak floating in the cerulean depths of the Himalayan sky, I find myself worrying obsessively about the thylacine and the fossa. What accounts for them? Are they perhaps signs of some cosmic mystery that the sciences will ultimately prove impotent to penetrate? Are they quadrupedal portents of the transcendent? Or are they signs of a physical determinism so absolute as to be indistinguishable from fate? … Continue Reading »

Aloysius Bentley’s Melancholy

From Web Exclusives

Certain readers have requested in various ways (pseudonymous emails, menacing telegrams delivered in the dead of night, and so on) that I supply a few more details from the biography of my great uncle Aloysius Bentley (1895-1987). As you may recall, he was the last practicing pagan in my extended family; once his obsequies had been performed, and the last flickering embers of his funeral-bark had disappeared beneath the waves of the Chesapeake, the old faith had no remaining votaries in the clan… . Continue Reading »

Saith the Prescriptivist, There is nothing new transpired under the sun

From Web Exclusives

Not to rouse bad memories, but you may recall that my last column contained a list of complaints regarding the misuse of certain words. You may also remember other things about it: Cuchulain battling the sea, mention of “psychotic episodes,” uncongenial dictionaries described as “scented and brilliantined degenerates” … Or perhaps my assertions that grammatical laxity leads to cannibalism … Continue Reading »

Le Mot Juste

From Web Exclusives

It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is only a short road that leads from grammatical laxity to cannibalism. At least, it should be universally acknowledged. Human beings are linguistic beings through and through, after all. Because of our miraculous, almost certainly extra-natural capacity for symbolic communication”uttered, written, or mimed”we are the only terrestrial species that possesses a history… . . Continue Reading »