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Part Three: Allen Mendenhall Interviews Mark Zunac about his new edition, “Literature and the Conservative Ideal”

In Academia, America, American Literature, Arts & Letters, Books, British Literature, Conservatism, Fiction, History, Humanities, liberal arts, Liberalism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Novels, Pedagogy, Philosophy, Politics, Postmodernism, Scholarship, Teaching, The Academy, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on November 23, 2016 at 6:45 am
Mark Zunac

Mark Zunac

Mark Zunac is associate professor in the Department of Languages and Literatures at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.  Editor of Literature and the Conservative Ideal, he researches revolution, writing, and the rise of intellectual conservatism in Britain following the French Revolution. He received his Ph.D. from Marquette University in 2008.

 

AM:  James Seaton is a good friend.  He and I began corresponding roughly a decade ago, and we first met in person about six years ago at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal in Mecosta, Michigan.  His edition of Santayana had just come out with Yale University Press, and he was there to give a lecture on it.  Seaton opens his essay for your volume with the following sentence:  “Neither Henry James nor George Santayana were active participants in the politics of their time.”  Don’t you think there’s something inherently conservative in this very distance from one’s own cultural and political moment?  I’m thinking of Kirk’s admonition that conservatism is about the rejection of ideology. 

MZ:  It was actually James Seaton who, some time ago, in an innocuous but characteristically trenchant review of the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism published in The Weekly Standard, provided for me the framework for thinking deeply about literature’s authenticity and its exploitation by postmodern criticism. I very regrettably lacked a lot of exposure to more traditional approaches to literature and, while I instinctively eschewed the most obscure theoretics, I remained unaware that the critic could do more than scamper around the edges of territory claimed by Jürgen Habermas and Paul de Man. To Kirk’s point, I think I had always rejected the ideology – I just wasn’t fully aware that there might be a viable alternative to it.

I do think there is something to be said for one’s distance from the cultural and political moment. The conservative disposition doesn’t really lend itself well to the act of politics, and this is perhaps why conservatives have been consistently rolled in nearly every public debate over culture for the last half-century. Being always on the defensive and lacking the language to explain the intuitive – Lee Harris calls this the “visceral code” – puts the conservative at a rhetorical, if not moral, disadvantage. For me, the everyday analogy to Seaton’s statement is the conservative tendency to focus on the admittedly prosaic underpinnings of civic life – largely the familial and the associational. As we are witnessing with the ever-increasing presence of the state in the daily lives of individuals, the absence of participation in politics by those whose disposition might be called “conservative” is conspicuous.

AM:  I remember where I was when I read Seaton’s review that you mention. In his book Cultural Conservatism, Political Liberalism, in the context of remarks about E. D. Hirsch, he says that “’[c]ultural literacy’ would be particularly valuable for those now termed the ‘culturally disadvantaged’ in achieving individual economic mobility,” and he adds that the “spread of cultural literacy would also promote political democracy, since discussion can only take place on the basis of at least some shared assumptions and common vocabulary.”  Do you agree with this?

 MZ: I would agree wholeheartedly. There has been much invested, however, in facilitating a kind of cultural amnesia. Some of it has been inadvertent, but much of it has not. As reflexive relativism has taken hold, any semblance of commonality has been superseded by historical moral equivalencies. Consequently, we are left with little more than recriminations and collective guilt. Western culture perhaps has much to atone for, but past transgressions cannot be the sole basis for self-definition. There just may be certain shared values and traditions that could serve as the basis for a common culture and a source of pride, but it is often more expedient to assign particular beliefs and behaviors to discrete and easily identifiable groups.

This may be cynical, but I think there is much to be gained politically – the recent election notwithstanding – from the veneration of difference. I’m not sure the individual is or ever has been truly dignified when human worth is either enhanced or degraded by how that individual is situated during any given cultural moment. It is difficult to argue that this is not what is happening now, at least to some degree. Perhaps by expanding our very narrow conceptions of diversity, we would have a much greater chance of constructive dialogue, which might then enact a more conscientious effort to promote this notion of cultural literacy. The deliberately false promise that multiculturalism is the surest path to unity and a common, mutual understanding has generated much confusion and it has, against its fundamental premise, created self-defeating forms of tribalism. The multiculturalist program has sought to validate rather than engage and evaluate global cultures, and its underside has been the raw factionalizing that consumes so much public discourse.

AM:  It is interesting and bothersome to see how multiculturalism has degenerated into a monolithic orthodoxy, which is by its very form and function against diversity, not for it.  I wonder what would happen if we exposed more students to political theory in the vein of Michael Polanyi of F. A. Hayek, thinkers whose intelligence and theoretical sophistication have to be taken seriously by those who study literary theory and criticism.  The forms of devolution and subsidiarity advocated by these men might provide challenges to the prevailing consensus among many students and teachers in English departments about the kind of ideas motivating certain figures on the right.

 MZ:  I do believe that radical multiculturalism militates against diversity, and in this regard the university has failed in one of its stated core missions. The failure to cultivate an inclusive campus community has been made evident not only by civil disobedience and other visible forms of unrest, but also by the imposition of predictable bureaucratic programs aimed at solving problems that the administrative bureaucracy has itself made worse. Obsessing about difference and instituting special privileges for certain groups, and then pontificating about equality just seems disingenuous. Current narratives on race as well as the devaluing of our common culture have been toxic for the university, as a lot of students, I think rightly, feel as though justice in this context is punitive. If there is any palpable hostility to the learning process or to intellectual climate on today’s typical campus, perhaps we as the academy should look inward rather than to historical prejudices that we can conveniently circle back to after having tried to address all of them through administrative means and a thoroughly politicized curriculum.

Moreover, as politics has regrettably become a proxy for character, even reasoned opposition to progressive ideals, particularly on the campus, is delegitimized and discounted as having been informed by sinister motives. I argue in the book that too often conservative ideas are either ignored by their critics or deliberately distorted so as to identify an enemy against which the social justice war may be fought. There is ample evidence of this, and I hesitate to identify any one event or episode to draw conclusions. Yet I recently find myself coming back to a video passed along to me that recorded the Young Americas Foundation at the University of Kansas being aggressively confronted at one of their meetings by protesters. What strikes me in that video is that the person behind the camera seems to be officiating the ensuing debate, commenting on and critiquing every gesture or utterance made by members of the YAF group, essentially flagging them for violations of rules to which they never agreed. The concept of civil discourse is applied so lopsidedly that only one set of ideas is allowed to prevail. I think this is by design, even though, as you suggest, a serious consideration of conservative ideas and philosophies would broaden minds and better prepare us all for the responsibilities of civic life.

AM:  Do you worry about our habits of reading in our technological and digital age?  I recall Harold Bloom once saying that we all read “against the clock.”  Readers of the Bible, he says, read with more urgency than, say, readers of Shakespeare, but there’s always the problem of the limitations of time: Life just isn’t long enough for us to read everything worth reading.  Thinking about that has sometimes led me into a feeling of existential angst, especially after I spent a few years on a self-imposed reading diet that included the consumption of a canonical work from Western Civilization per week.  When I finished the program each year, I was distraught at how little I’d actually read.  I’m concerned that we’re wasting a lot of precious time reading texts that just aren’t that fulfilling or edifying. 

MZ:  The reading project you describe is an ambitious one. I merely committed to reading a page of Waugh every day this year, and I couldn’t even do that. On a related note, a current depressing irony for me is that I have volume I of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time sitting on my shelf, and I have spent precious minutes staring at it, wondering if I could actually ever get through all 7 volumes. There are a lot of reasons for our society’s detachment from literature, and reading has definitely been made very difficult in the digital age. The sheer amount of available information is daunting, and it has led to a frenetic search for the quick, easy, and thereby ungratifying.

I think, though, that while the internet has shifted our ability to focus and perhaps even changed how our brains process information, it has also caused a loss of discipline. It appeals to human nature to swipe to the next task if something becomes intellectually difficult, and this is made almost compulsory by technology, especially for those young people who have been immersed in it almost literally from day 1. Maybe I’m just projecting, though. I struggle with it as well, and I also find myself often wondering, in this day and age of always needing to be busy, how much we all might benefit from slowing down and reading a little Austen.

AM:  This has been a fun interview for me.  One last question: are you working on any projects right now that readers should know about?

MZ:  Thanks, Allen, for the opportunity to talk with you. I have enjoyed it as well. I have shifted my research focus a bit from literature toward the state of the university more generally. Editing Literature and the Conservative Ideal prompted much thought about the future of higher education and the increasing importance of broad-mindedness on the campus.

I am currently editing a collection for Rowman & Littlefield tentatively titled Remaking the University: Liberal Learning, the West, and the Revival of American Higher Education. I am also in discussions to publish a separate volume entitled Defending the West: Finding Culture and Common Humanity in the Postmodern Age. Both books seek to build on a long tradition of support for free expression and the pursuit of truth as well as Western culture’s influence on both. After our discussion, though, I am realizing I might need to just be doing a bit more reading.

AM:  We all need that.  Thanks for the interview, Mark.

Paul H. Fry on the Political Unconscious

In Arts & Letters, Books, Historicism, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Pedagogy, Philosophy, Shakespeare, The Academy, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on December 16, 2015 at 8:45 am

Below is the next installment in the lecture series on literary theory and criticism by Paul H. Fry.  The previous lectures are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Scene from “A Trial of Recognition,” by F L Light

In Arts & Letters, Britain, British Literature, Creative Writing, Fiction, History, Humanities, Law, Literature, Shakespeare on September 16, 2015 at 8:45 am

Fred Light

A Shakespearean proficiency in meter and rhetoric may to F L Light be ascribed. Nearly forty of his dramas are now available on Amazon, and twenty have been produced for Audible. His Gouldium is a series of twenty four dramas on the life and times of Jay Gould which he followed with six plays on Henry Clay Frick. The whole first book of his translation of The Iliad was published serially in Sonnetto Poesia. He has also appeared in Classical Outlook and The Raintown Review. Most of his thirty five books of couplets are on economics, such as Shakespeare Versus Keynes and Upwards to Emptiness the State Expands.

The Earls of Essex and Southampton are tried together for High Treason before a jury of the noblest peers. Pleading not guilty, they strive in angry and arrant disputation with Attorney General Edward Coke and Francis Bacon. This drama is the third part of an Aeschylean trilogy and maintains the classical form of tragedy in English with seven scenes of dialogue and seven choral performances.

This trial was conducted in Westminster Hall, February 19th, 1601.

Yelverton: Now the Attorney General will speak.

Coke: My lords of courtly justice, chief pronouncers
And primest fathers of preceptive law,
Treason unsettles what is set by God.
Thrones of established exaltation it
Would overthrow. The firmest Tudor fundament
Upon immediate evanescence fades
To nothing should betrayal triumph, come
Upon premeditated compassments
Of power. Therefore to think projected thoughts
Of treason, all in violent mindfulness
For power, is death. And he that strides against
The realm, with royalty striving, must be judged
By the intent transgression of his thought.
Whoever is at arms in his array
Of might amid a kingdomed commonwealth
Founded on authentic ancestry,
Cannot be suffered by the law, perceived
As lawless as usurpers are.

Essex: But sir,
No duke would a defenseless dukedom in
This realm maintain. No helpless earldom would
An earl endure. Their settlements are set
Apart from central pertinence in Whitehall.
By vassalled mightiness they serve the main.
And undefended danger I would not
Support, assured that Lord Grey or Sir Walter Raleigh
Were raising homicides against me. Thus
I am no traitor, here a man traduced
For his defensive force.

Coke: You say, my lord,
In a protective insurrection you
Arose, forfending murder by revolt,
Who would insurgently secure yourself.
But all rebels would dissemble their revolt
Or revocation of regimes. Lord Darcy,
That traitor in the Pilgrimage of Grace,
By wrongful reprobation Thomas Cromwell
Blamed for his rebellion, that he feared
The King’s chief minister would murder him.
And like yourself Sir Thomas Wyatt to check
The Spanish from an English crown presumed
At arms his Protestant resolve, who drew
A proditory rise upon the realm.
But as a culpable defendant he
Was put to death. A guiltier prisoner
Than Wyatt you are who by her Majesty
The loftiest rooms of favor were allowed,
Made Master of the Horse at twenty two,
Admitted to the Privy Council then.
Soon as Earl Marshal of the realm you were
Preferred, and for Cadiz were given high
Command, and by her Majesty’s regard
The Azores’ were your charge. And higher yet
For Lord Lieutenant and Governor of Ireland
Her Majesty’s commission you received.
Beyond this, you had bounteous delectation
In her gifts to you, deemed more than thirty
Thousand pounds in favor. But you for pride
And inconsiderate presumption thanklessly
Repressed your memories of wealth. No man
A more ungrateful appetite, when fed
With grace, could manifest than you, who’d by
The kingliest insatiety consume
Yourself, your loyalty, and your liege. All this
Concerns her Majesty, against whose throne
Your rising throbbed. And though no Britishman
Without applause can of her Majesty’s
Protective justice speak, I must remark
That overmeasured mercy by the Queen
Will bring unmerciful exorbitance
On her. For though inhuman disobedience
Would have disabled England, yet no man
Howso wayward ever, violent ever,
Was crossly racked or tortured overthwart
For his confession. Most of them would make
Their conscientious peace with God. The truth
Came forth with faithful certitude in God,
As true religion can relinquish enmity.
Accordant attestations they conveyed,
Though sifted severally.

Essex: Now your unsifted speech
I’ve suffered, Master Coke, at culpable
Traducements kept before you, by confined
Civility not answering forthwith
The guiltiest allegations laid on me.
With insurrectional salvation might
The realm be saved from priestly sinfulness
Of blameful priests who’d stupefaction stress.

Excerpts from “Westminster Hall,” by F L Light

In Arts & Letters, British Literature, Creative Writing, Humanities, Literature, Poetry, Shakespeare on August 5, 2015 at 8:45 am

Fred Light

A Shakespearean proficiency in meter and rhetoric may to F L Light be ascribed. Nearly forty of his dramas are now available on Amazon, and twenty have been produced for Audible. His Gouldium is a series of twenty four dramas on the life and times of Jay Gould which he followed with six plays on Henry Clay Frick. The whole first book of his translation of The Iliad was published serially in Sonnetto Poesia. He has also appeared in Classical Outlook  and The Raintown Review. Most of his thirty five books of couplets are on economics, such as Shakespeare Versus Keynes and Upwards to Emptiness the State Expands.

Westminster Hall. James Burbage and Shakespeare are seated.

Burbage: The Privy Council can on riddances
Pronounce. It governs the legalities
Outside the city’s scope or what the Crown
Would touch.

WS:             As a patrician council how
Should they abide your common plea?

Burbage:                                               Why, Will,
Assure yourself, the Council favors quality.
Opinionated oligarchs prefer
Their kind. Ignoble verities will be
Unnoted. Evidential knowledge is
Not high enough in rank to weigh against
Renown. Her name ennobles her complaint.
She is too glorious for a loss in court,
Where reputation has more proof than real
Disproof. Her reputable rank is heard
More readily than ours of trade. She has
Momentous notability while ours
Is mean.

WS:    Thus for a coat of arms I have
In proper requisition been precise;
For with a gentleman’s esteem I’d stand
Protected from the contumelies of power.

Burbage: Yes, yes. Armorial fortitude avails
In litigation where one’s stature is
Observed.

WS:          Incarcerated debtors have
No rank while lordly borrowers are left
At large.
Burbage:     I think the giddy nobleness
Of Oxford fit for jail.

WS:                           He is too high
To see himself deluded.

Burbage:                        And your friend,
Southampton, in excess of easiness
Expends himself.

WS:                     I fear he is far gone
In impecunious vacancies. His goings
Of gold are lightly gamed away.

Burbage:                                     There is
The bloated bonnet of the dowager. Enter Lady Russell.

WS: It swells herself conceitedly to suit
Her rank.

Burbage: The bailiff comes. Enter bailiff.

Bailiff:                                      All present rise
In subject salutation to the lords
Of state. Enter four members of the Privy Council, Sir Robert Cecil, Lord Burghley, Lord Cobham, and Sir Edward Coke, who sit down about a table.
All sit.

Burghley:       What matter, bailiff, is
Before us?

Bailiff:     The petitioners in Blackfriars,
My lord, beseech the Privy Council now
To let no playhouse in their midst be wrought.

Burghley: How many have petitioned with their names?
And who are chief among them?

Bailiff:                                            Twenty nine
Are named thereon. The chief of them are Lady
Elizabeth Russell, Dowager; George Lord Hunsdon; Sir Thomas Browne, knight, Stephen Egerton of Saint Anne’s church, and Richard Field, printer to the Crown.

Burghley: Who would defend the playhouse from this plea?

Burbage: My lord, I am James Burbage, bound
In ownership to build this theatre for
My company, the Lord Hunsdon’s Men, of which
A sharer, William Shakespeare, would with me
Defend it.

Burghley: How then guard your venture when
Your patron is averse thereto?

Burbage:                                   He weighed
His spirit with my lady’s spite and could
Not desperate inspiration brook.

Burghley:                                      That may
Be so. Now Lady Russell, as the prime
Complainant on this parchment, read it out.
Bailiff, to Lady Russell bring the writ.

Lady R: In chambered transformation of the Friars’
Refectory beside Lord Hunsdon’s house
And near Lord Cobham’s, now James Burbage would
By framework a theatrical resort
Complete. An arduous nuisance, cynosurally
Not sane, seductively seditious, would
With brigand congregations Blackfriars crowd.
Amassed in molestation, Londoners
Like jouncers, vagrant japers, changefully
Conjoined, our gentle precinct would deject.
And should diffusive pestilence come down
From God, these crowds will aggravate the course
Of death. And fanfaron profaners would
With throbbing respiration trumpet forth
The entrance for a play, so near the church
In blazing perturbation as to throw
The rightful services of ministers
And pews into distraction. Thus, my lords,
In sensed consideration of this shame
And for that never hitherto there was
In Blackfriars such a playhouse, nor should be
While the Lord Mayor has from London barred
Such faults, which try in unprotected liberties
Their trials of plays, you should this troop displace
And have the rooms reframed for trades of use.

Burghley: What little replication would you players
Pursue?

WS:      My lord, the grandest comprehension was
Required in Rome, where presses ten times broader than
Would come in Blackfriars filled the lanes for plays,
As public delectation laudative
Of Plautus proved. In flowed conventions Romans,
Encompassing convergent wholeness, would
By theatres magnify themselves, immense
Assertions gathering, where Caesar was
Revered. To legion generalities
Extending, throngers without prejudice
To Rome would in the Circus Maximus
Comprise one hundred thousand for the cheer
Of rival favorites on the road. Convened
Contentiousness appeased the populace,
Not their insurgent fluency provoking.
Municipal atonements, unified
Amassments, would be found in theatres, where
The vices are depicted for distaste,
And nothing virtuous is deformed.

Excerpts from “The Trial of Lopez,” by F L Light

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Humanities, Law, Literature, Poetry, Shakespeare, Writing on March 4, 2015 at 8:45 am

F L Light

A Shakespearean proficiency in meter and rhetoric may to F L Light be ascribed. Nearly forty of his dramas are now available on Amazon, and twenty have been produced for Audible. His Gouldium is a series of twenty four dramas on the life and times of Jay Gould which he followed with six plays on Henry Clay Frick. The whole first book of his translation of The Iliad was published serially in Sonnetto Poesia. He has also appeared in Classical Outlook and The Raintown Review. Most of his thirty five books of couplets are on economics, such as Shakespeare Versus Keynes and Upwards to Emptiness the State Expands.

Excerpt from the trial of Lopez in the Guildhall, London. Behind Lopez and Sir Edward Coke sits a commission of fifteen jurors, including Sir Robert Cecil.

Lopez:      A tortured oneness you demand
In all your towns. This nation’s consonance
Upon tormented uniformity
Depends. Invariable ignorance,
As constant as oblivion, is coerced
Forever, as incarcerated shocks
For all dissenters you account deserved.
Whoever is untortured will be tamed
Erelong. Minacious penalties, immense
In deprivation, mean no differers
Are free. What sanctimonious calumnies
You cast at them, for blank monotony
Suppressing faces.

Coke:                    Lopez, what pertains
To this? Vociferating mutiny
Condemns you, so against the crown you seem.

Lopez: I in the Tower was a tamed attester.
The threatful rack my truthfulness repressed.
I saw my menacers decisive. What
Lord Burghley wished he meant to wrench, as did
Sir Robert Cecil and the Earl of Essex
And William Wade. To them I lied of guilt.
Not striving with their threat, no torture I’d
Endure, too haplessly exposed to speak
My mind.

Cecil:      Thou Hebrew, vilest impotence
Befall you! Liar, be hapless on the block!

Lopez: Cecil, you deceitful statuette,
What can you state but a resentful threat?

Cecil: Asseveration soulful I believe
That says thou liest, in this assemblage blurting.

Lopez: Your crooking of my cause befits a crossed
Deformity whose manliness is lost.

Cecil: Corrupted pest! As deathful as your care
A traitor is with all the tricks you bear!

Lopez: You queenish midget, whom gigantic mocks
Should judge, be found a proditory fox!

Coke: Leave insultation, losel! Who are you
To counter Robert Cecil with contempt?
Now you commissioners, your votes in sums
Of guilt or innocence discover here.
Either of treason to her Majesty
Or for acquittal in this case hold forth.

 

Excerpts from “The Mortal Lopez,” by F L Light

In Arts & Letters, British Literature, Creative Writing, Fiction, Humanities, Literature, Poetry, Shakespeare on February 25, 2015 at 8:45 am

F L Light

A Shakespearean proficiency in meter and rhetoric may to F L Light be ascribed. Nearly forty of his dramas are now available on Amazon, and twenty have been produced for Audible. His Gouldium is a series of twenty four dramas on the life and times of Jay Gould which he followed with six plays on Henry Clay Frick. The whole first book of his translation of The Iliad was published serially in Sonnetto Poesia. He has also appeared in Classical Outlook  and The Raintown Review. Most of his thirty five books of couplets are on economics, such as Shakespeare Versus Keynes and Upwards to Emptiness the State Expands.

Speech of the Inquisitor

Scene: The Tower of London. William Wade the Inquisitor comes forth. Ferreira lies on a pallet in background.

Wade: Jailers are omnipotent in England.
Imprisoned alteration of the truth
We proffer. Catholic prisoners to warped
Incarceration of their words submit,
A tortured metamorphosis enduring.
In twisted transmutations they must truth
Convey or harsher twists will set them right.
What may be realized here will suit the realm,
Where racked distortions may seem right to all.
Whatever tidings we allow may not
Be true. Incarcerated verities
Are kept from view. We are the jailers of
Particulars, the keepers of events,
Who keep them in the Tower hid from England.
Our willful falsehoods shall not be unwarped,
As factious propagations verily
Prevail, annunciated oneness on
This land annealing. Fiction is the fountainhead
Of sovereign force. As omnipresent as
Obscurity or too pervasive for
Dissent by sight the Crown’s pronouncements are.
Our words dissimulate our works. We own
The light immured in these affairs. What we
Suppress remains in prison. Keeping vision to
Ourselves and giving darkness out, we can
The foisted preference of fraud provide.

 

The Queen’s Announcement

The Earl of Essex and Francis Bacon have been conversing.
Enter Sir Robert Cecil and Sir Edward Coke.

Essex: Sirs, may my present greetings pleasure you.

Cecil: A pleasant cause, my lord, your presence carries.

Bacon: My hopeful salutation, sirs, although
Your hopes should meet no hap.

Coke: Where hope
Is meritorious rightful haps pertain.

Bacon: No hapless merits have been manifest
In you, Sir Edward.

Coke: All my haps are fit
To raise my hopes.

Bacon: Eristic jurists, as
We are, would in juristic emulation rise.

Coke: My ripened erudition is more right
For office than your own as neophyte.

Bacon: I see unequal precedents in all
The convoluted chronicles of law.

Coke: And you in my Reports and Institutes
Have learned how common law no tyranny
Allows. Enter guards, Maids of Honor and trumpeters. Fanfare for the Queen. Enter Elizabeth.

The Queen: By counted estimation of concerns
And seasoned inference from sums of thought,
Upon decisive maturation not misled,
I will the next Attorney General
Announce. For scholarly prodigiousness
No legal connoisseur is like to Coke,
A lawyer scrutinizingly discreet.
Of expert opposition, apt for trials
Of contradiction, legal excellence
In suits confirming, breathful wisdom not
Abating, Edward Coke immediate comeliness
In speech maintains. As loud as Cicero,
Tonitruous his knowledge is, expounding what
Was never reached before. He pierces far
What is perceivable by rational
Pursuits, and by experienced aptitude
Sir Edward will expose injustice to
The law. We think ingenious gratitude
In him will never pall the crown. Wilt thou
Maintain this place, Sir Edward, or forbear
Promotion?

Coke: For judicial decency
In England and the undistorted wealth
Of order in this strenuous place my strength
I’d prove.

Literature and Liberty: Essays in Libertarian Literary Criticism

In Arts & Letters, Books, Economics, Essays, Humane Economy, Humanities, Law-and-Literature, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, News Release, Philosophy, Politics, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on December 17, 2014 at 8:45 am

Literature and Liberty

A Christmas gift available here at Rowman & Littlefield’s website, here at Amazon, here at ebay, and here at Barnes & Noble.   

The economic theories of Karl Marx and his disciples continue to be anthologized in books of literary theory and criticism and taught in humanities classrooms to the exclusion of other, competing economic paradigms. Marxism is collectivist, predictable, monolithic, impersonal, linear, reductive — in short, wholly inadequate as an instrument for good in an era when we know better than to reduce the variety of human experience to simplistic formulae. A person’s creative and intellectual energies are never completely the products of culture or class. People are rational agents who choose between different courses of action based on their reason, knowledge, and experience. A person’s choices affect lives, circumstances, and communities. Even literary scholars who reject pure Marxism are still motivated by it, because nearly all economic literary theory derives from Marxism or advocates for vast economic interventionism as a solution to social problems.

Such interventionism, however, has a track-record of mass murder, war, taxation, colonization, pollution, imprisonment, espionage, and enslavement — things most scholars of imaginative literature deplore. Yet most scholars of imaginative literature remain interventionists. Literature and Liberty offers these scholars an alternative economic paradigm, one that over the course of human history has eliminated more generic bads than any other system. It argues that free market or libertarian literary theory is more humane than any variety of Marxism or interventionism. Just as Marxist historiography can be identified in the use of structuralism and materialist literary theory, so should free-market libertarianism be identifiable in all sorts of literary theory. Literature and Liberty disrupts the near monopolistic control of economic ideas in literary studies and offers a new mode of thinking for those who believe that arts and literature should play a role in discussions about law, politics, government, and economics. Drawing from authors as wide-ranging as Emerson, Shakespeare, E.M. Forster, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Henry Hazlitt, and Mark Twain, Literature and Liberty is a significant contribution to libertarianism and literary studies.

Here’s what others are saying about Literature and Liberty:

By subtitling his book “Essays in Libertarian Literary Criticism,” Allen Mendenhall situates his work within an exciting methodological approach that is still off the radar screens of most academicians.  Not since the appearance of Edward Said’s Orientalism has a new literary approach invited us to read texts from a vantage point that jolts us into recognition of deep-seated ideological undercurrents that had previously remained unnoticed, or were simply passed over in silence. … It is a pleasure to now add Mendenhall’s deftly argued and passionately engaged volume to my list of recommended readings in libertarian scholarship.— Jo Ann Cavallo, Professor of Italian and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Columbia University

The much celebrated interdisciplinarity of contemporary criticism often amounts to nothing more than the absence of grounding in any traditional intellectual discipline, literary or otherwise. By contrast, Allen Mendenhall’s book is genuinely interdisciplinary. With solid credentials in law, economics, and literature, he moves seamlessly and productively among the fields. Covering a wide range of topics—from medieval history to postcolonial studies—Mendenhall opens up fresh perspectives on long-debated critical issues and raises new questions of his own.Paul A. Cantor, Clifton Waller Barrett Professor of English, University of Virginia

Freedom is all around us, but we sometimes need expert guides to help us see it. This is exactly what the brilliant Allen Mendenhall has done with his outstanding collection of essays on the way great literary fiction interacts with the themes of human liberty. In taking this approach, he is turning certain academic conventions on their heads, finding individualism and property rights where others look for social forces and collectivist imperatives. He helps us to have a rich and deeper appreciation of the libertarian tradition and its expanse beyond economics and politics.Jeffrey Tucker, CEO of Liberty.me, Distinguished Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education, executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, and Research Fellow at the Acton Institute

In Literature and Liberty, Allen Mendenhall aims to expand the marketplace of ideas in literary studies to include the entire spectrum of free-market theories. His goal is to break Marxism’s monopolistic hold over economic ideas in the study of imaginative literature. In his diverse chapters, he convincingly offers multiple transdisciplinary approaches to libertarian theory that literature scholars could adopt and build upon. Celebrating individualism and freedom in place of collectivism and determinism, Mendenhall focuses on commonalities and areas of agreement with respect to free-market theories. This approach increases the probability that the ideas in this ground-breaking volume will be widely embraced by thinkers from various schools of pro-capitalist thought, including, but not limited to Classical Liberalism, the Austrian School, the Judeo-Christian perspective, the Public Choice School, the Chicago School, the Human Flourishing School, and Objectivism.Edward W. Younkins, Professor of Accountancy and Business Administration and Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of Capitalism and Morality, Wheeling Jesuit University

Allen Mendenhall is both an attorney and an advanced student of literature. He also has an excellent knowledge of modern economics. … [A]s Mendenhall notes, non-Marxist treatments of economics and literature have been slow to develop. His new book, Literature and Liberty, goes far toward supplying this lack. It shows how much work can be done, and good work too, when law and literature are studied from the perspectives offered by a real competence in economic ideas. … Every part of the book shows the fully interdisciplinary character of Mendenhall’s understanding of his subjects and his large knowledge of the historical periods he treats. Only the rare reader will be unable to learn from Mendenhall. … The kind of interdisciplinary work that Mendenhall advocates is an exciting enterprise, and one hopes that he will have much more to do with it.— Stephen Cox, Professor of Literature, University of California, San Diego, and Editor in Chief, Liberty

Are Lawyers Illiterate?

In Arts & Letters, Books, Essays, History, Humanities, Imagination, Law, Literature, Philosophy, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on September 3, 2014 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

This piece originally appeared here in The Imaginative Conservative.

Webster’s defines “intelligent” as “endowed with intelligence or intellect; possessed of, or exhibiting, a high or fitting degree of intelligence or understanding.” This modern understanding of “intelligence” as an innate disposition or propensity differs from earlier understandings of the word as meaning “versed” or “skilled.” Milton, for instance, in Paradise Lost, calls the eagle and the stork “intelligent of seasons,” by which he meant that these birds, because of their experience, were cognizant of the seasons.

The older meaning of “intelligent” has less to do with native endowment than it does with gradual understanding. The older meaning, in other words, is that intelligence is acquired by effort and exposure rather than fixed by biological inheritance or natural capacity: one may become intelligent and is not just born that way; intelligence is a cultivated faculty, not an intrinsic feature.

Because of the altered signification of “intelligent,” we use today different words to describe the older meaning: erudite, knowledgeable, informed, traveled, educated. These words seem to us more palatable than their once-favored predecessors: civilized, polished, cultured, genteel, refined. I myself prefer words like “lettered” or “versed” that imply a knowledge of important books and the humanities generally.

The most apt term in this regard is also the most butchered in the current lexicon: “literate.” Contrary to what appears to be the prevailing assumption, “literate” does not simply refer to an ability to read. According to Webster’s, “literate” means “instructed in letters, educated; pertaining to, or learned in, literature.”

Not just to read, but to read well and widely—that is how you become “literate.” Accepting this traditional meaning, I question how many lawyers are or can become literate.

In the 1980s, Ithiel de Sola Pool, a professor of communications and media, determined that the average American adult reads approximately 240 words per minute. At that rate, it would take a person around 2,268.36 minutes (or 37 hours, 48 minutes, and 21.6 seconds) to read War and Peace, which comes in at 544,406 words. If that sounds encouraging—ever wanted to read War and Peace in a day-and-a-half?—consider these offsetting variables: reading at one sitting slows over time; attention span and memory recall are limited; the mind can be exercised only so much before it requires rest; people cannot constantly read for 2,268.36 minutes without going to the restroom or eating or daydreaming, among other things; a healthy lifestyle entails seven to nine hours of sleep per day; large portions of the day are spent carrying out quotidian operations, including showering, cooking, brushing teeth, commuting to and from work, getting dressed and undressed, answering phone calls, reading emails, cleaning, filling out paperwork, paying bills, and so on. Pool, moreover, was not using a text like War and Peace to gather his data, and his subjects were not writing in the margins of their books, taking notes on their laptops, or pausing to engage others in critical conversations about some narrative.

The National Association for Legal Career Professionals has estimated that lawyers at large firms bill on average 1,859 hours per year and work 2,208 hours per year. These numbers are more troubling in view of the fact that large law firms require their attorneys to attend functions with clients and potential clients, time that is neither billable nor considered “working hours.”

If there are around 8,760 hours in a year, and if a healthy person spends about 2,920 of those sleeping, there remain only around 5,840 hours per year for everything else. If “everything else” consisted of nothing—nothing at all—except reading War and Peace, then a lawyer at a large law firm could read that book about 154 times a year. But of course this is not possible, because no person can function as a machine functions. Once the offsetting variables are accounted for—and I have listed only a few that immediately spring to mind, and these for people with no families—it becomes apparent that it is nearly impossible for a lawyer to read more than about four lengthy or difficult books each month, and only the most diligent and disciplined can accomplish that.

Numbers can lead us astray, so let us consider some anecdotal evidence—my own testimony—which suggests that most lawyers are illiterate, or perhaps that lawyers have to try really hard to become literate or to avoid losing their literacy.

I am a lawyer, one who considers himself literate but increasingly in danger of becoming illiterate the longer I remain in my chosen profession. My hope is that literacy stays with you, that if you “frontload,” as it were, you can build a wide enough base to allow for slack in later years.

In 2013, I made an effort to overcome the time restrictions of my job to read through several canonical texts of Western Civilization. For the most part I undertook a book a week, although, because of scheduling constraints, I read what I took to be the most important or most famous sections of the lengthier books and volumes such as Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, a work that would require years of study to fully appreciate. I found myself, on many Thursday evenings, reading so rapidly to finish the text at hand that I could not enjoy myself or absorb the nuances and complexities established by the author.

Reading only one book a week when you are intelligent enough to read more is shameful and disgraceful, the sacrifice of a gift. During graduate school, I could read five or six books a week and can recall more than one week when I read a book a day. But each day I spend working as a lawyer, I am less able to digest the books I consume and to consume the books necessary for intellectual nourishment.

Economists use the term “opportunity cost” to refer to a choice to forego options or to pursue the benefits of one course of action rather than another. The cost of becoming a lawyer is giving up literacy or making its attainment more difficult; the gain, in theory, is a higher salary and financial stability. Whether the gain neutralizes the loss depends on one’s preferences. I myself would not trade for a million dollars the opportunity to read Tolstoy or Shakespeare or Aristotle or Santayana.

To achieve the admiration enjoyed by lawyers, other professionals must do their jobs several times better. Happily, this is not a high bar. That is why people prefer the company of doctors. It is not that lawyers are incompetent or unskilled; it is that they do not put their faculties to good use. All people think, but it is only by degree and by the object of their thought that the literate are distinguished from the illiterate. To put their minds to humane use would improve lawyers’ reputations considerably and call into question that axiom popularized by one of Dickens’s characters: “If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.”

The way I see it, you can spend all your life billing clients and pushing paper under great stress, by investing your talents and resources in prospects that yield no intellectual returns, or you can spend your life establishing high standards of reason, understanding, and creativity by studying the most important and influential works that humans have produced through the ages. You can spend all your time transacting business, prosecuting and defending lawsuits, and preparing briefs and memoranda, or you can cultivate discernment and understanding. The options are not mutually exclusive: I have overstated to draw a sharp contrast, but the point remains.

Do not misunderstand me: working hard and earning profits are not only good and healthy activities but personally fulfilling. Yet they must be supplemented with humane contemplation and the private study of important ideas. Industry and innovation are requisite to a high quality of life, a robust economy, and human flourishing—and they make possible the time and leisure that enable some people to create great art and literature. Not everyone can be literate, and that is a good thing.

It is just that many lawyers never learn to live well and wisely, to place their seemingly urgent matters into perspective, or to appreciate, as Aristotle did, the virtues of moderation. This failure is directly related to lawyers’ neglect of history and philosophy and to their suppression of the moral imagination that works of good literature can awaken. This failure, as well, puts lawyers at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to spiritual, moral, and intellectual pursuits. As Mark Twain quipped, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”

Lawyers are illiterate, most of them anyway. Trust them to handle your real estate closings or to manage your negligence claims, to finalize your divorce or to dash off angry letters to your competitors, but do not trust them to instruct you on plain living and high thinking. There are exceptions—Gerald Russello and Daniel Kornstein are two—but generally lawyers are not to be consulted on matters of importance to the soul. For those, we have good books, and with luck, the people who write and read them.

Allen Mendenhall Interviews Daniel J. Kornstein

In America, American History, Arts & Letters, Books, British Literature, Communication, Essays, Humanities, Literature, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Politics, Rhetoric & Communication, Shakespeare, Writing on June 4, 2014 at 8:45 am
Dan Kornstein

Daniel J. Kornstein

Daniel J. Kornstein is a senior partner at the law firm of Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard, LLP, in New York City.  He earned his law degree from Yale Law School in 1973 and has served as the president of the Law and Humanities Institute.  He has authored several books including Loose Sallies, Something Else: More Shakespeare and the Law, Unlikely Muse, Kill All the Lawyers? Shakespeare’s Legal Appeal, Thinking under Fire, and The Music of the Laws.  His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and the Boston Globe.  In 2002, Dan received the Prix du Palais Littéraire from the Law and Literature Society of France.  In 2013, King Michael of Romania awarded him the Order of the Crown of Romania.

AM: Thanks for taking the time to discuss your new book with me, Dan. The name of the book is Loose Sallies, and as you state in your introduction, it’s not about fast women named Sally. For those who haven’t read the introduction or purchased the book yet, could you begin by discussing the book generally and say something in particular about your chosen genre: the essay.

Loose SalliesDJK: Thank you, Allen, for this opportunity. Those of us who occasionally write are, as you know from your own experience, always delighted to have a chance to explain a bit about how and why we scribble. Loose Sallies is a collection of essays written over the past 25 years mostly about topics of general interest. The first 75 pages is about the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 and why that remarkable process and its end result are still so important to us today. The rest of the book ranges over a wide variety of topics, from our precious civil liberties to profiles of some famous judges and lawyers to current controversies. It should, I hope, appeal to everyone.

AM: Phillip Lopate has said that the essay is a “diverting” type of literature and that its hallmark is intimacy. You call the essay “intimate, informal and reflective, as if you are sitting at home in your living room or dining room and having a pleasant, sometimes provocative, sometimes stimulating, but always, one hopes, insightful and enlightening conversation.” I agree. The essay is my favorite genre because it’s the genre of the person. You can’t know a person until you’ve met the persona he creates in his essays—and if you don’t write essays, you may not know yourself. Who are your favorite essayists, and what is it about their essays that you find compelling?

DJK: My favorite essayists are the obvious ones: Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Addison & Steele, Hazlitt, Lamb, Orwell, Mencken, Macaulay, Emerson, V.S. Pitchett, E.B. White, Lewis Thomas, George Will, Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson, and Joseph Wood Krutch. My favorite living essayists are Lopate and Joseph Epstein, the former editor of The American Scholar magazine. All these writers make their essays compelling by their clarity of thought and uniqueness of expression and their ability to communicate original, stimulating ideas, making us see familiar things in a new light. Epstein, for example, can write on literary personalities as well as personal topics we all think we know about but do not really. Everyone in my pantheon of great essayists is a superb writer with a distinctive and memorable style.

AM: I recently interviewed James Elkins, a law professor at West Virginia University, here on this site, and he talked about lawyer poets and said that “our iconic images of lawyer and of poet are put to the test when we think about one person writing poems and practicing law.” You have something to say about this seeming double life. “Writing,” you say, is “part of my double life. I have a life other than the lawyer’s life I lead on the surface. The two sides—law and writing—reinforce and complement each other.” I’ve heard the phrase “the two worlds” problem used to describe the lawyer who is also a writer. But this doesn’t seem to be a problem for you, does it?

DJK: A lawyer IS a writer. Writing is most of what a lawyer does. To be a good lawyer, one needs to be a good writer. Verbal facility, sensibility to language, and lucid thinking are prerequisites for both. A legal brief and a piece of expository writing have much in common. Both have a point to make to persuade the reader. Both rely on effectively marshaling evidence to demonstrate the correctness of a particular perspective. The topics may differ, but the skill and technique are similar. The problem facing the lawyer-writer is more one of time and energy and desire than anything else. Law is a demanding profession, which means taking time off to do anything else cuts into one’s otherwise free moments. But if you want to write, you make the time.

AM: I’m curious, when did your love of literature begin? Did you have an “aha!” moment, or did the love evolve over time?

DJK: I cannot recall ever not loving literature. My paternal grandfather was a printer at Scribner’s and when I was a little boy he gave me four books by Robert Louis Stevenson that my grandfather had himself set in type in 1907. I gave Treasure Island to my son and Kidnapped to my daughter, and still have the other precious two volumes on my shelves.

I remember my father taking me as a youngster to the Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street to get my first library card. In those days, the main building had a circulation department, and my father’s choice for my first library book was, of course, Tom Sawyer, a good choice for a ten-year old boy.

I remember as a teenager reading as much as I could in addition to books assigned in school. There were nights spent, in classic fashion, with a flashlight under the covers after bed time.

Inspiring teachers helped too.

AM: You’ve written a lot on Shakespeare. How did your fascination with him come about?

DJK: Like most people, I first met Shakespeare in high school English classes. Luckily for me, around the same time New York had a summer program of free Shakespeare in Central Park, which continues to this day. Starting in the summer of my junior year in high school — 1963 — I began to see two of Shakespeare’s plays every summer. It was at one of those performances — Measure for Measure in 1985 — that the passion grabbed me. I was 37 years old and had been practicing law for 12 years. As I sat watching Measure for Measure, I realized for the first time how much the play was about law, and that recognition — the “fascination” you refer to — set me off on a project that would last years. First, I wrote a short essay about Measure for Measure for the New York Law Journal, our daily legal newspaper. Then, months later, I saw a production of The Merchant of Venice and wrote another essay. From there, one thing led to another, and before long, I had the makings of a book.

I reread the plays I had read as a student and read many others for the first time. Then I read as much as I could find about Shakespeare and the law. The result was my 1994 book called Kill All The Lawyers? Shakespeare’s Legal Appeal.

I am still fascinated by Shakespeare. Each time I read or see one of his great plays, I get something new out of it.

AM: Many essays in Loose Sallies concern politics, law, government, and current events. You discuss the Founders, Holmes, Bill Clinton, Hugo Black, Steve Jobs, Ayn Rand—all sorts of people and even some decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. You manage to do so without coming across as overtly political, polemical, or tendentious. How and why?

DJK: It is a question of style and goal. Every one of the essays has a thesis, some of which may even be controversial. The idea is to persuade your reader to accept your thesis, and that requires care and sensitivity, logic and demonstration, not name-calling or verbal table-pounding. If I am “overtly political, polemical or tendentious,” I will probably not convince anyone who does not already agree with me. A writer has to be smoother and subtler. We live in a country right now riven by political and cultural partisanship. Public controversy today between “red” and “blue” is almost always shrill. A reader tires of it; it becomes almost an assault on our sensibilities. To reach people’s hearts and minds, you have to credit both sides of an issue but explain patiently and show convincingly why you think one side is more correct than another. I am not running for public office so I have no “base” to appeal to. But I can at least try to keep the tone of the debates I engage in civil and pleasant.

AM: Do you consider the essays on these topics literary essays?

DJK:Most of the essays in Loose Sallies are not about so-called “literary” topics. True, one is about the literary style of Supreme Court opinions, and two discuss Justice Holmes’s opinion-writing style. But they are exceptions. So I do not think the essays for the most part are “literary” in that narrow sense. Nor do I think they are “literary” by way of being precious or mannered. I genuinely hope, however, that they are “literary” in the sense of being clear, crisp, well-written statements on a variety of topics of interest to all Americans today.

AM: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Loose Sallies has been enjoyable for me. I keep it on my desk in the office so that, when I need a ten-minute break, I can open it and read an essay. I slowly made my way through the entire book in this manner: a break here, a break there, and then, one day, I was finished. I really appreciate all that you have done not just for the law, but for arts and literature. It’s nice to know there are lawyers out there like you.

Shakespeare and the Law

In Arts & Letters, History, Humanities, Law, Law-and-Literature, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Pedagogy, Shakespeare, Western Civilization on January 30, 2014 at 8:45 am

Shakespeare

Below is footage of a panel discussion between Justice Stephen Breyer, Professor Martha Nussbaum, Judge Richard Posner, and Professor Richard Strier that took place at the University of Chicago in 2009.  The subject of the discussion is “Shakespeare and the Law,” and the purpose of the panel was to counteract what was perceived as growing complacency and unoriginality in the law-and-literature movement.  That these four figures are on the same panel is reason enough to watch the video.

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