You will hear people saying, “Americans are more divided than ever!” Then they will tell you why. Then they will tell you how “we” might turn the tide. They say these things in newspapers and magazines and books, online and in print. Why pay attention to such ahistorical nonsense? It is an insult to our intelligence.
I recently read the following in a medical journal:
At present, movement analysis laboratories are equipped with sophisticated instruments and systems, including dynamometric platforms, instrumented insoles, infrared cameras, and electromyography and posturography techniques, all of which measure gait parameters. In this technologically advanced setting, it may come as a surprise that there could be a link between gait analysis and Balzac, a French novelist active in the first half of the 19th century. And yet, several published medical articles have already mentioned Balzac's fascination with the study of human gait. Balzac felt it was important to describe the walk of the characters in his novels, and he also wrote a treatise on gait titled Theory of Walking in which he employed a literary style, his usual dose of sarcasm, and in many cases, a measure of social criticism. This erudite personal style, however, does not detract from the fact that Balzac’s pronouncements on gait were quite accurate.
Hmmm. I have tried to find an English translation of Balzac’s treatise on walking but have failed to do so. If anyone knows of such, please tell me. In the meantime, it occurs to me that we could use a contemporary counterpart to Balzac’s work, describing and analyzing current styles of walking among various representative types. Since we are seeing a torrent of books devoted to walking, such a project would likely find a publisher and an audience. What writer would you particularly like to see taking this on? Is the vogue for books on walking inspired in part by a reaction against the trajectory of our era, a nostalgia for a lost world?
In October 2019, I wrote a column about Peter Handke, occasioned by the absurd and despicable “flood of articles and ‘statements’ denouncing Handke as a fascist and an apologist for genocide” that followed when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The former editor of a major newspaper’s review section bragged that she had never read Handke and certainly wasn’t going to start now. As I wrote in that column, “I have no desire to insist ‘You must read Handke!’ I’m a firm believer in the irreducibility of taste, and (setting slanderous judgments aside) he’s not to everyone’s liking.” But he is among my favorites. In March, FSG will publish The Fruit Thief, his first novel to appear in English since the Nobel award. (It was published in German in 2017; Krishna Winston is the translator.) I started reading a galley of the novel last night; it is quite wonderful. Mark it down in your calendar. I will review it in due course.
Cats, like people, change as they grow older. A few months ago, our cats, Boom-Boom and Nina, began to pester us to feed them earlier than usual in the morning. Nina does most of the work, beginning with mournful yowls and then shifting to scratching (with both paws) the closed door at the foot of the stairs leading up to our bedroom, the scratching becoming frenzied in due course. Boom-Boom occasionally draws one paw discreetly along the side of the door, much more quietly yet with a sound that’s sure to reach us.
At our church, Faith Covenant in Wheaton, we have Communion monthly, on the first Sunday of the month. (I wish it were much more often.) At the conclusion of that service, we collectively say the Apostles’ Creed. As we were doing so at the beginning of August, I was affected in a new way by the familiar words. As we said, “I believe . . . I believe,” I was struck by the extent to which these most basic Christian affirmations must strike many of our neighbors, many of the people we encounter every day in the course of our lives, many of the people we read and correspond with, even relatives and family members, as wildly strange if not offensive. You don’t really believe all that, do you? I already knew this, of course—it hardly counted as a sudden “revelation”—but suddenly I felt it with a particular intensity. And the theme of the sermon that day, preached by an Anglican pastor from Chile, Felipe Chamy, who is getting his PhD in Theology and Biblical Studies at Wheaton College, took on added force. The foolishness of God is stronger than human wisdom.
John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books and senior editor at The Marginalia Review of Books.
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