8 Sep

Music by Dionysus.

Take a wander thru a bookstore, go to the classics section. See a library bigger than that of your ‘average’ learned nobleman c. 1190. Noblewoman even. Contrary to popular belief there were well-read women in the 12th century. Classics sections typically feature titles that would appear in Latin in a 12th century private library. Reading wasn’t much done in Europe, those days. But there were readers then as now. And they did read Aristotle as you can too at much less cost in multinational bookstores that can finally afford to be a library.

If nothing else consider Aristotle’s Politics. Spells out the basic problems of different political systems especially liberal democracies, in plain Greek English. It’s not all there is, but it’s all you really need to know about the philosophical aspect of politics. Or so I suppose.

Economics? Different matter entirely. Remember, Aristotle was a rube by our standards. He knew very little. Economics is the most scientific of the three branches of practical philosophy. And, unlike ethics and politics, economics has evolved alongside science and technology. It has progressed.

Ethics and politics don’t seem to evolve, not as quickly, anyway. We look back across the vast millenia and the same complaints, the same events, the same basic views on the same matters. Aristotle well knew the folly of political revolution, that the violent struggle for social justice inevitably results in the iron fist of the big man etc. By 1930 we’d forgotten it. Again. He also knew that the danger to a democracy came from the very rich and the very poor. Here in the early 21st century we see the same problem. This time on a global scale. Politics goes around in circles but economics rises in a forward motion. Or does it? New insights into human nature have emerged since Smith published his most popular book but will we see, in respectable studies of the Global Financial Crisis, a repeat of the same arguments that still rage viz the Great Depression?

More music by Dionysus.

I have two books in front of me by dead people. Messrs Chandler and Emerson. No reason, they just came to mind. They would, they’re class. I flip the first volume open, Chandler’s Little Sister:

“Anybody can smoke reefers,” I said. “If you’re dull and lonely and depressed and out of a job, they might be very attractive. But when you smoke them you get warped ideas and calloused emotions. And marijuana affects different people different ways. Some it makes very tough and some it just makes never no-mind. Suppose Quest tried to put the bite on somebody and threatened to go to the police. Quite possibly all three murders are connected with the reefer gang.”

If you’re looking for the bard of the American prose-poetics now dominating the Anglosphere, Chandler’s it. People might remind me that Raymond Chandler wrote pulp fiction and Hollywood screenplays. That, despite the cultural legitimacy of these forms now, there were limitations on him stopping him going places Fitzgerald and Hemingway did. Maybe they’ll scoff that I’m behind the times. That cultural studies has been going since the 80s and to get with the postmodern, post-Truth world. Someone might be clever and point out that Chandler went to school in England. (That figures, so what?) But, to the real readers reading this: I’m not talking about what you think but the way you feel.

Dionysus plays with Apollo’s instruments.

Chandler’s speeches are where you find his claims to the Canon. The above is a random selection, not his finest writing. He was, as he said, only interested in the music of words. His famously complex narratives were the result of boredom with storycraft. He took from his pulp magazine work, mashing short stories together to make a novel, so he could concentrate on his personal project – lifting the American wisecrack to High Art.

I’m not bagging Hemingway, much, and Fitzgerald’s, well, Fitzgerald. But the clipped poetry of American prose, the melody and beat of American speech, was captured, evoked and cultivated best by Chandler. He is the poet of the era. I stand on it. And if I come across as a wanker that because I am. I’m improvising and this stream-of-consciousness schtick is pure self-pleasuring.

Now, some random Emerson:

I now require this of all pictures, that they domesticate me, not that they dazzle me. Pictures must not be too picturesque. Nothing astonishes men so much as common-sense and plain dealing. All great actions have been simple, and all great pictures are.

The Transfiguration, by Raphael, is an eminent example of this peculiar merit. A calm, benignant beauty shines over all this picture, and goes directly to the heart. It seem to almost call you by name.

As I grab it I realize I’ve actually never read Emerson’s essay on art! I’ve read but a few of Emerson’s essays and verses. (All are poetry). I’ve read everything Chandler published and what he left unfinished (damn booze!). An old friend and a new love. Grab a quote; it scans, it makes sense, it plays. There’s something… rare about it.

How many books are there in that classics section that might be that way? Not so many? Things are lost in translation across languages and time. Livy was at one time all the rage in Rome, he’s maybe a bit stale to text-message kids. Does Shakespeare still call to us truly? Would he? in an era that has seen the language we speak long dead and gone?

The classics section is a small part of the shop. Most people don’t go near it. I’ve seen private bookshelves great and small stuffed with titles that have nothing to do with literature, classic, modern or contemporary. The Celestine Prophecy, Adobe Photoshop manuals, On Killing by David Grossman, Linda Goodman, Jamie Oliver, Donald Trump, Dilbert. I’ve seen private bookshelves containing nothing but classic fiction. Warholian sculptures – rows of torn Penguin logos in flaking paint and rotten wood, .

Most don’t read classics but many more do now than ever before and across the boundaries of civilizations. Lao Tze and Cicero mix together quite naturally in a 21st century Australian home do they not? The Talmud, the Gospels and the Qu’ran side by side, why not? What new permutations of the same old dramas will obtain consequence of this fresh recipe? We are a young culture. Like a 21 year-old, most of Australia’s triumphs and tragedies lie before us. What will be made of this fusion going on east of India and west of Hawaii? This new mixture at the start of this age of planetary culture?

How the Hell should I know? I’ve busted the word limit. So over to Apollo.

And out.



  1. TimT September 9, 2010 at 2:09 am #

    Go for some of the real stuff man. Be hardcore!

  2. AC Stewart September 11, 2010 at 7:17 am #

    Interesting. I was just wondering if people still played the lyre.

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