Friday, February 13, 2009

How they ignored Lincoln

Little did I know, when I tried earlier today to redraw the map of American literary English to include Lincoln, that I would be nearly alone among book bloggers in even mentioning the second centenary of his birth. Edward Byrne, who reread “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” in Lincoln’s honor, was one of the few others.

Over at the Valve, Rohan Maitzen celebrates Darwin Day. It was indeed an extraordinary coincidence that two of the greatest prose writers in English should have been born on the same day. But Maitzen, a Canadian, is not interested in Darwin the writer. He represents a “view of life” in which she finds “grandeur.” And just in case you are in any doubt over what she means, a few days earlier she had said that, if you were in a “Darwinian kind of mood,” you’d probably get a kick out of an interview in which Ian McEwan boasted that atheists enjoy a “much greater and livelier sense of interest and connection with the world. . . .” (What has become of the Valve, by the way? Originally created as a “literary organ” of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, a counter-MLA founded to advocate “the teaching of literature as literature,” the collective blog is more likely to discuss Obama and the stimulus package, the plight of adjunct professors, teaching film or comics in composition classes, the Suleman octuplets, Paul McCartney’s “You Never Give Me Your Money,” robots.)

The National Book Critics Circle continued its roundup of finalists for its annual prizes, examining Helene Cooper’s autobiography The House on Sugar Beach yesterday and studying Allan J. Lichtman’s White Protestant Nation earlier today. The Circle last glanced at Lincoln just before Election Day—in connection with Barack Obama, naturally.

Richard Marcus reviews a DVD from the Lee Boys. Roger K. Miller discusses Jesse James. The New York Times’ Paper Cuts interviews British novelist James Hamilton-Paterson. Mark Sarvas visited the Norton Simon Museum, and brought home Instructions for American Servicemen in France During World War II, the facsimile of a “pocket guide” prepared by the U.S. Army. Bianca Steele considers an argument against traditional meter. Jerome Weeks reviews Brendan McNally’s Germania, an “oddball thriller” by a local author. Ron Silliman lists the books that he has recently received. Maud Newton returns to Muriel Spark. Jessa Crispin admits that she forgot to say Happy Darwin Day yesterday and supposes she should wish her readers a happy Friday the 13th instead. “Did you know,” she asks, “Friday the 13th used to be celebrated by all day sex?” Knowledge that is worth having!

Have our literary intellectuals lost interest in Lincoln? Do they not rank him among the great writers? (Our greatest presidential writers in order: Lincoln, No. 1 . . . Long pause then Adams and Jefferson bracketed second, closely followed by Grant (4) Theodore Roosevelt (5) Reagan (6) Obama (7).) Or is a once-in-a-lifetime national holiday, the second centenary of our greatest president’s birth, too contaminated by patriotism to be deserving of mention?


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Why can't I follow my own schedule? I've still got a lot of Sholem Aleichem to read, and I. L. Peretz, and I want to finish Omoo and Emily Brontë's poems. Maybe I'll get to Lincoln and Darwin in a year or two.

Dave Lull said...

Patrick Kurp quotes ". . . [Jacques] Barzun’s gloss on Lincoln as literary artist:

"'…his style, the plain, undecorated language in which he addresses posterity, is no mere knack with words. It is the manifestation of a mode of thought, of an outlook which colors every act of the writer’s and tells us how he rated life. Only let his choice of words, the rhythm and shape of his utterances, linger in the ear, and you begin to feel as he did – hence to discern unplumbed depths in the quiet intent of a conscious artist.'"

That's from Patrick's blog posting 'He is Crafty'.

Buce said...

We celebrated the occasion (though not mindful that it was an occasion) with a brief readaloud from the Library of America selection. I can never get through the Second Inaugural without whimpering.

Anonymous said...

Maitzen's language comes directly from Darwin's Origin of Species, whose last paragraph begins, "There is grandeur in this view of life...". These words -- all of the words -- in Darwin's masterpiece refer to biology, not theology. By making an unsupported assumption that a blog post celebrating Darwin's bicentennial is actually a cryptic endorsement of atheism, you're displaying your unfamiliarity with his life and thought. Reading atheism into evolutionary biology is a mistake made too often these days, on both sides of the tiresome debate over religion.

D. G. Myers said...

It was not I but Maitzen who had placed Ian McEwan’s endorsement of atheism under a “Darwinian kind of mood.”

Anonymous said...

You're right; I'm wrong; I apologize. In my haste, I failed to follow your link to Maitzen's earlier post, where the false association between Darwinian thought and atheism was made.

D. G. Myers said...

No apology necessary. As a biologist’s son, I am contemptuous of the political effort on both sides to press Darwin into service for and against claims that have nothing whatever to do with biology.