Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How Dwight Became Dwight

From R.J. Stove at The University Bookman:
The drug-of-choice for intelligent and literate pagans is the Matthew Arnold doctrine, which can be cruelly epitomized as “Real religion is too much like hard work, so let’s have a religion of art.” ”Arnoldian discourse,” Professor Lewandowski is right to proclaim, “informs the work of Macdonald in many ways previously unrecognized.” Ultimately Macdonald went down to defeat, not so much because post-Macdonald Masscult surpasses in horror the worst depths it plumbed during Macdonald’s own lifetime—we can only be grateful that he was spared acquaintanceship with Kim Kardashian—but above all because Macdonald’s own philosophy owed so much to Arnold’s that it incurred devastating collateral damage when Arnold’s aestheticism became untenable. Once the archetype of the violin-playing, Schubert-loving S.S. guard entered the popular consciousness (helped in this entry, it must be said, by Adorno’s own insolent but half-plausible “No poetry after Auschwitz” outburst), even the least intelligent commentator could dimly realize that, pace Arnold, mere sheepish blather by the unchurched about “the best that has been thought and said” is simply not going to cut it as an antidote to state-subsidized terror of any ideological stripe. T. S. Eliot had already settled Arnold’s hash well before Auschwitz, amid a tribute (Essays Ancient and Modern, 1936) to his maître à penser, Francis Herbert Bradley; but Macdonald’s knowledgeable admiration of Eliot—as with The New Yorker, so with Eliot, Macdonald arrived at admiration only after initial aversion—seems never to have extended to this particular article, which certainly Professor Lewandowski does not cite. (In 1949, it will be recalled, Eliot devoted part of Notes Towards the Definition of Culture to a respectful discussion of Macdonald’s work. Either he never knew, or else he knew and did not care, that Macdonald had been an early detractor of For Lancelot Andrewes.) (Read more.)

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