The Quarterly Book Report


Wulp, I still haven’t formulated my thoughts on migrant farm workers, I’m sorry to say. I’ll do my bestest to get to that before next Wednesday. I have been grading a wheel-barrel full of essays. Most teachers usually complain about their students’ writing (I’ve been known to gripe ’bout this), but I’m very encouraged by my students. Their essays so far — since you’re itching to know — are intelligent, and the students have something unique to say in them. AND, even though we’ve only had about three weeks of classes, I seem to have taught them that it’s okay to be funny in their essays.

When I’m not reading student essays, I’m reading: Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. It’s funny and good for those of us who struggle with Christianity. Even if it is a bit touchy-feely for my taste. Enemy Combatant, by Moazzem Begg. I know I’m spelling his name wrong. Almost finished with it. He was arrested and interrogated by Pakistani and British and U.S. intelligence officers. Other than having sympathies for the Taliban, he had done no crime. He was imprisoned for 2 or 3 years. Occassional physical torture. And then the even worse torture of not knowing what had happened to his wife and three young children when he was arrested. The subject of the book is disturbing and interesting, but he really isn’t the best writer in the world. Plus he’s a little full of himself. So along with his getting beaten and whatnot, you get to hear about how he’s the smartest person in the world. NeoConservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, by Kristol. I wanted to know what NeoConservatism was, so I decided to read the “Godfather” of the movement’s book about the movement. I still don’t know what NeoConservatism is. They should drop the “Neo.” Credit where credit is due: he’s a good writer, even if I disagree with a lot of what he says. Only Revolutions, by Mark Danielewski. I loved his first book, House of Leaves, so I bought this one without really looking at it too much in the bookstore. I’m loyal that way. Ummm…I’m trying to reserve judgement until I’m farther into it. It’d better get better soon, though, else judgements will be made early. Oh, and I almost forgot: Memories of my Meloncholy Whores, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Not a bad sentence in the book. Very good. It’s short and you should pick it up at the library.

7 Responses to “The Quarterly Book Report”

  1. Whitney Says:

    Mikey! I thought you were going to talk about immigration this week. C’mon, please? 🙂

    Glad to hear school is going well. I’ve been refreshingly surprised by my freshmen this year. They are very involved in my class, ask lots of good questions, and seem genuinely interested. A nice change of pace.
    Of course, that is Psych 101 where we can talk about all sorts of cool stuff. Now if I could find a way to make my Statistics class interesting…

    Have a great semester!

  2. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I never read House of Leaves — it didn’t seem like my kind of book — but I’d been wondering if his new one was any good.

    Trying to figure out what’s “neo” about neoconservatism kinda points out how meaningless the labels “conservative” and “liberal” can be in American politics. Their meanings change so much from one generation to the next that, in one sense, every generation’s conservatives are neoconservatives, and the liberals are neoliberals.

    I think “neoconservative” is akin to “postmodern.” It doesn’t really mean anything, other than its most literal sense. “Postmodern” is just the thing that comes after modernism, and a “neoconservative” is (or was) just a new conservative — i.e., a person who used to be a liberal, but has changed teams.

    This was literally true of Irving Kristol and his generation of “new conservatives,” most of whom were former intellectual Marxists, disillusioned by Soviet communism (Stalin, in particular). It’s not at all true of the current crop of neoconservatives, who are congenitally incapable of liberalism; now the term just indicates that somebody subscribes to the same general outlook advocated by Kristol, et al. A better term for them might be “illiberals.”

  3. juvenal_urbino Says:

    All that said, there are some things about Kristol’s brand of conservatism that are different from pre-Cold War conservatism.

  4. Michael Lasley Says:

    Whitney — I hope to talk about immigration soon. I just haven’t taken the time to do so yet.

    Statistics, I’m thinking, may be a lost cause, as far as making it interesting. (Do you ever teach Abnormal Psychology? That was one of my favorites as an undergrad.)

    JU — The major problem I have with Kristol is that he makes fairly compelling arguments, yet he does so by misrepresenting or distorting the liberals he’s arguing against. Now, he doesn’t always do that, but he does it enough that it’s disturbing. What I do like about the essays, though, is that he seems to genuinely care about the topics he’s writing about — not for his own political benefit but because he seems to care about the issues. So I respect that part of his thinking. I just don’t agree with the steps he takes to reach his conclusions (like equating Marxism with Stalinism).

  5. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Yeah, there is a certain guilelessness about those early neocons. That’s closely related to how they differed from pre-Cold War conservatives. Kristol, et al., were (and are) very idealistic, especially about the ability of the U.S. (especially the military) to do good in the world. The pre-Cold War conservatives were pretty staunch isolationists.

    I think his conflating Marxism with Stalinism is another expression of his generation’s idealism. They really believed in Marxism as something that would make the world a better place. When Stalin came along and corrupted it (and made them look foolish), they felt a very deep sense of betrayal and overreacted.

    That’s just my take on it, though.

  6. Michael Lasley Says:

    That helps explain some of the essays, actually, JU. And it will help me be a more sympathetic reader towards his stuff rather than dismissing it. But, then again, the problem is that a lot of people are probably like me and don’t have a lot of context to go on, as far as his personal intellectual journey and whathaveyou, and his arguments can be compelling. But if you were to read them thinking he’s representing Marxism (let’s just stick with that) in an unbiased way, a person could reach some conclusions based on distorted information.

  7. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Yup. A duly sympathetic reading is all well and good, but it doesn’t make him right. It’s sort of interesting, actually, that neoconservatism is turning out to be much like Soviet communism — very well-intentioned, and not wholly without appeal, but when you see the results of its being implemented in the real world, yech!

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