Autumnal Equinox Roundup

–The Sydney Morning Herald has posted an article by Tony Wright entitled: “In memory of cleft sticks and the frustrations of sending a story.” It opens with this:

There were times in strange places when I longed for a cleft stick or two. The usage of the cleft stick in long-distance news communication was brought to the literary world’s attention by Evelyn Waugh’s novel of 1938, Scoop. It remains the finest farce written about the work of travelling newspaper correspondents. […]

Furnished with a fabulous expense account, the unlikely Boot of the Beast sets off with a small mountain of essential equipment. His kit includes a portable typewriter, six hockey sticks and six polo mallets, a furnished tent, three months’ rations, a collapsible canoe, a Union Jack, a hand-pump and sterilising plant, an astrolabe for calculating latitude, six suits of tropical linen, a sou’-wester, a camp operating table and surgical instruments, a portable humidor, a Christmas hamper complete with Santa Claus costume and mistletoe stand, a cane for whacking snakes, a coil of rope and a sheet of tin for unspecified purposes.

Oh, yes, and a large supply of cleft sticks.

Wright then describes the convoluted and ingenious methods that correspondents used to deliver their stories to distant publishers before the internet took much of the excitement out of the trade. One of the most interesting was this story of an early pre-internet “word processor”:

Technology intervened in the 1980s. A photographer and I travelled around Australia in 1988, sending stories every day for months. I typed on a little word processor that had only eight lines of words visible. Shooting the story to the news desk involved finding a phone – booths sat even in the desert those days – and connecting two rubberised suction caps to the clunky handpiece. A satisfying whooshing sound ensured – the words were converted to electrical sound, and hurtled off to a receiver far away.

I do not recall ever seeing such a device. Waugh would have loved to satirize that machine and its users if he had lived long enough. He had trouble using the telephone and never learned how to type.

–The New Republic has published a profile of TV personality Tucker Carlson. In his early years, before he became (according to Alan Shephard) “the most important right-wing voice in the country”, he was building a success as a journalist:

In these [early] pieces, we see the nucleus of Carlson’s later persona: He cares not one iota for public policy; what gets his blood up is hypocrisy, particularly when it comes from women, people of color, and LGBTQ people. He continued writing for The Weekly Standard but became one of the most sought-after long-form magazine writers in the country publishing pieces for EsquireThe New York Times Magazine, and, later, The New Republic.

In 1999, he profiled George W. Bush for Tina Brown’s Talk magazine. Bush was running as “a compassionate conservative,” a Christian of deep faith, and a moral leader who could lift the country out of the debauched Clinton years. Carlson’s profile was glowing—mostly. But he also caught Bush’s naughty, frat boy side: He quotes the Texas governor saying “fuck,” over and over again, something Bush’s communications director, Karen Hughes, went to great lengths to deny. More chillingly, Carlson also noted Bush mocking Karla Faye Tucker, a recently executed death row inmate in Texas: “‘Please,’ Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, ‘don’t kill me.’”

Carlson “was really a kind of hilarious—at that time—gadfly scamp,” Brown said. “Tucker is a fantastic writer. One of the things I find regrettable in all of this is that Tucker had an almost Evelyn Waugh–ish ability to skewer people and make it really funny. He had such a hilarious touch and truth. I thought he had the makings of a top talent.”

Shephard goes on to describe how, after these early successes, Carlson overcame several setbacks on his road to conservative stardom. Alas, we no longer have The Weekly Standard, but Tucker Carlson is still very much with us.

–The New York Times interviews CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper for its weekly “By the Book” column. Here’s an excerpt from the Q&A:

Q. Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

A. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. I’ve watched the mini-series many times and it is still so great, so I thought I should read the book. I loved it.

–Brooke Allen in the New Criterion reviews a new biography of art critic Clive Bell. The review opens with this:

When Charles Ryder, the protagonist of Evelyn Waugh’s semi-autobiographical Brideshead Revisited (1945), arrives as an undergraduate at Oxford in the early 1920s, he fills his bookshelf with volumes by Lytton Strachey, A. E. Housman, Norman Douglas, Compton Mackenzie, and a copy of Clive Bell’s Art (1914), a touchstone of modernist theory. It is a nice detail, indicating not only the boy’s aspirations to intellectual modishness but his cultural insularity, a point that will be underscored later in the novel when, in thrall to the Flyte family, Charles makes an aesthetic conversion to the international Baroque.

For Bell (along with his older comrade-in-arms, Roger Fry—also featured on Ryder’s bookshelf) was modern art’s apostle to the Anglo-Saxons, the island nation’s interpreter of the ideas behind the post-Impressionist revolution taking place across the Channel. Most famously, Bell explicated the concept of “significant form.” […] Bell took the line (followed by the callow, impressionable Charles Ryder) that artistic genius had dimmed since the quattrocento, and he breezily dismissed most of the masterpieces of the High Renaissance and the Baroque. Art had reignited, he said, with the post-Impressionists and Cubists, who far from initiating a radical break with the past had rejoined the European tradition from which mainstream art had long deviated. Giotto, he opined, was perhaps the “greatest painter of all time.”

It is telling that already in 1945 Waugh was presenting Art as a period piece, though Bell was to live into the 1960s. Bell himself, in later life, described the book as a record of “what people like myself were thinking and feeling in the years before [World War I],” and [his biographer Mark] Hussey states that now, in the twenty-first century, it is generally “regarded as solely of historical interest.” …

The review is entitled “Clive Bell’s chimes” and is available here. The book reviewed is entitled Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism by Mark Hussey and is available here.

–Finally the University of Dayton in Ohio has posted a Master’s Degree thesis on the internet. This is entitled “Beyond Sins and Symptoms: Suffering in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited” and is written by Sarah Miller. Here’s the abstract:

This work interrogates the ongoing popularity of Catholic Modern novelist Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 classic Brideshead Revisited as a novel that depicts the modern struggle to find hope and meaning in the midst of suffering after the widespread onset of modernity and decline of Christianity in the wake of World Wars I and II. I argue that Waugh’s characterization of Sebastian Flyte, a lapsed Catholic aristocrat struggling with familial dysfunction and subsequent alcoholism, confounds both traditional models of sin as well as psychological frameworks of diagnosis. Employing close readings from the novel as well as historical and theological context, I demonstrate that Sebastian’s suffering falls into the no-mans-land between modernity and spirituality, highlighting the failures of each to support healing and the importance of embracing suffering with compassion.

The paper (36 pp.) is posted at this link. Thanks to Dave Lull for sending the link.

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