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Post C. S. Lewis's *The Four Loves*
Created by John Eipper on 01/20/14 4:06 AM

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C. S. Lewis's *The Four Loves* (Robert Whealey, USA, 01/20/14 4:06 am)

From my Brooklyn visit, I had time during the three weeks not to see anything on TV and or hear anything on the radio, except the weather report. For twenty minutes each day, as I soaked my feet, I read a book of C. S. Lewis called The Four Loves (1st ed. 1980, reprint 1993). The book has 5 chapters. 1. Affection, 2. Friendship, 3. Eros, 4. Charity. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 were known to St Paul as Philos, Eros, and Agape. Lewis's chapter on Affection include loves and likes for country, the military, sports, one's home town, (Cambridge in the case of Lewis). Some people are patriotic, but Lewis rejects patriotism as a love with turns into fanaticism and the love of demons. Lewis agrees with me that the First World War was Western civilization's great catastrophe. Love of the British Empire was a false faith.

He also has an introduction and fifth chapter which blends into Affection. This chapter deals with non-human likes and loves, for cats, dogs, a walk in the garden, etc. Some day I shall read the book a third time and take notes.

Lewis is a poor historian, bad on dates. He provides no index and no bibliography. He makes one-sentence allusions to Lewis Carroll, George Orwell, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, St. John, St. Paul, and possibly 15 other writers. He calls himself a Christian, but he has a very personal individual understanding of God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus. There is no index or bibliography in his book. I gather that if he did not die in 1963 at the age 64 and lived in America today, he would conclude that American society with its obsession with sexuality could probably not survive another 50 years. It is a very sober book,. He even refers to his love for a glass of claret that with some people becomes an addiction.

JE comments: It's Whealey day on WAIS! To be fair to C. S. Lewis, he would not have considered his book a work of history, but rather of philosophical and spiritual reflection. Who else has read The Four Loves? In much the same literary vein, David Duggan's new book Glimpses of Grace should be showing up at WAIS HQ this week.  Looking forward to it.

It sounds like Robert Whealey went to Brooklyn to "get away from it all."  Interesting choice!

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  • C. S. Lewis's *The Four Loves* (David Duggan, USA 01/23/14 12:38 PM)
    I read C.S. Lewis's The Four Loves some 15 years ago (see Robert Whealey, 20 January) during the period that I refer to in my book as my "meltdown." (I've been looking for my copy for the last 48 hours without success; it may be on loan to one person or another.)

    At least as I recall it, it is analytical, and with due respect to the great man, tedious. In fact, I think "tedious" can be applied to all of Lewis's non-fantasy works (at least those which I have read, or started, and I've never read any of his fantasies [Chronicles of Narnia; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe]); he takes quite a while to make a point. As I recall it, Lewis's manifesto of belief, "Surprised by Joy," takes 100+ pages to tell how he became a Christian while riding in a motorcycle sidecar driven by his brother, Warnie, along a tree-lined English lane. Having studied medieval and Norse myths for his academic discipline, Lewis simply came to believe while in that pristine setting that the story of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection was more than a myth: it was truth. Not exactly a Damascus road experience. The lead-up to this event, which chronicles the death of his mother, service in the trenches during the Great War, and his budding academic career at Oxford is, to say no more, tedious.

    Having said that, Lewis could to a degree otherwise unknown in the English language describe the utter paradox of Christianity: that we who believe seek after a love that is unattainable on this side of the grave, and yet because we believe, we strive on and love others. I have set out below the crux of Lewis's argument:

    "In words which can still bring tears to the eyes, St. Augustine describes the desolation into which the death of his friend Nebridius plunged him (Confessions IV, 10). Then he draws a moral. This is what comes, he says, of giving one's heart to anything but God. All human beings pass away. Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away."

    "There is no escape along the lines St. Augustine suggests. Nor along any other lines. There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."

    Wow. But you had to read 120 pages to get there. Perhaps the tedium of Lewis's writings is part of the pain of our existence: we go through an awful lot to get a little. Still, I wonder if there might be an easier path. So far, I haven't found it.

    Lewis might be one of those authors who, prolific as he was, is more written about than actually read. (Hemingway? Salinger? Fitzgerald?) How many more people saw the film, "Shadowlands," with a hopelessly mis-cast Debra Winger as Joy Davidman Gresham and Anthony Hopkins as Lewis, than have read his serious books? (Do yourself a favor: track down the Episcopal TV production which starred Joss Ackland as Lewis [unlike Hopkins, Ackland bore some physical resemblance to Lewis] and the always top-ten Claire Bloom as Joy; it's infinitely better.) A mile from my house there have been two productions of plays after Lewis's work: The Screwtape Letters, starring Max McLean as His Abysmal Sublimity (McLean had done a Broadway production simply reciting the Gospel of Mark about two decades earlier); and Freud's Last Session, which depicts an apocryphal meeting between Freud and Lewis, in which they debate the existence of God. I saw the former and it was tedious. Maybe it was the company.

    Oh, and a propos of our editor's comments on the absence of an American "Middle Ages": I'm not sure that the descendants of the indigenous people in the Americas (obviously a Western-ascribed name to the two continents lying between 30 and 165 degrees west of the Greenwich meridian) would agree that there were no "middle ages" on these continents. Or maybe they would view the decline of the Mayan and Anasazi civilizations and later emergence of the Incas and Aztecs as simply part of the normal progression of events. Lewis had a belief that our earthly existence was "shadowlands," which is somewhat inconsistent with the Western belief in a progression of human history from error into truth. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday was celebrated earlier this week (though the actual date is January 15), may have said it best: "The arc of human history is long, but it bends toward justice."

    JE comments:  I am happy to report that I'll be reading a good deal of Duggan in the coming days; David's new book, Glimpses of Grace, has arrived in the mail!  Many thanks for sending it, David.

    By saying that there were no Middle Ages in the Americas, I hope I didn't imply that there was no history during, say, the 9th through 15th centuries.  I was simply suggesting that the Old World rubric doesn't apply to the Western Hemisphere and its civilizations before the era of "contact," post-1492.

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    • C. S. Lewis (David Gress, Denmark 01/24/14 4:36 AM)

      Some people say that C. S. Lewis's memoir Surprised by Joy should in fact have been entitled Suppressed by Jack, which is a triple joke, because C. S. Lewis was called Jack by his friends, because he, being a literary man, was notoriously inaccurate about dates and stories, and because unknownst to him when he wrote it, his later wife was named Joy, and she did surprise him. That last fact is a tremendous irony.

      That book played no small part in leading me to Christianity in my early adulthood, and I have not read it since, which is now well over 40 years ago.

      His story of the motorcycle ride with his brother may or may not be pertinent to his conversion, but as his biographer Alister McGrath, a Protestant like Lewis and professor at Oxford, makes clear, the breakthrough for Lewis came in the spring of 1931 during and after a night-time conversation which took place on Addison's Walk in the grounds of Magdalen College, Oxford, with J.R.R. Tolkien and a mutual friend, Hugo Dyson. The motorcycle ride took place, most likely, a year or so later.

      David Duggan (23 January) is right that the TV play with Joss Ackland is superior to the romanticized film with Hopkins and Winger. The whole story is much more complicated and interesting, and can be followed in McGrath's biography, published last year (2013).

      To my young mind 40-odd years ago, Lewis's apologetic writings, including Surprised by Joy, were tremendously impressive, because I had never encountered anything like them before, and in particular, as David Duggan suggests, his vivid account of the paradox of Christianity.

      Now, in later life, I find Lewis's fiction much more satisfying. Not so much the Narnia stories as his Ransom trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, all of which I re-read regularly, especially the first two. As a writer, he is not really a match for Tolkien, but he had another agenda, and had a very different mind, good friends though the two were for many years. Lewis thought as a medieval person; his imagination was full of the cosmos of the medieval romances, whereas Tolkien was much more authentically Northern and above all a philologist, whereas Lewis was a literary person. Lewis thought in styles and conceits, Tolkien in principles and cosmologies. Lewis could have a faun walking through a wintry wood with gift parcels; Tolkien would never commit the inconsistency of putting a faun, a creature out of Greek legend, into a heroic story derived from a Norse-inspired mythology of his own invention. What arguments those two must have had!

      JE comments:  Lewis's wife Joy Davidman, an American 17 years his junior, died of bone cancer just four years into their marriage.  Lewis himself died on 22 November 1963, the day of the Kennedy assassination.  (Aldous Huxley also passed away that same day--uncanny.)

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    • C. S. Lewis: Tedious? (Robert Whealey, USA 01/24/14 12:35 PM)
      David Duggan (23 January) is right that Lewis turns from literature to philosophy and history in The Four Loves, but I disagree with David that the work is tedious. Some might say the New Testament is tedious. Crime and sin are serious philosophy for Christians, liberals and socialists.

      JE comments: And for (nearly) everyone else...

      I admire David Duggan's chutzpah in slapping the "tedious" label on a revered literary icon. Which leads me to lay a wider question before the WAISitudes: who is the most tedious major literary figure, and why?

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      • Who is the Most Tedious Literary Icon? Vote Now! (John Eipper, USA 01/25/14 4:40 AM)

        The WAISer response to yesterday's question was, ehem, underwhelming, so I'll run it again:

        Who is the most tedious major literary figure, and why? 

        Aritz and I are hitting the slopes in an hour, at Mt Holly, "Southeast Michigan's premier ski and snowboard facility."  Given the topography of these parts, it should be called Holly Hill, but no complaints from me--it's been twenty years since my last ski adventure, and I'll ease into it.  After a few hours' practice, I'll be ready for a blast down the Streif at Kitzbühel.

        So today for us will be anything but tedious!  In the meantime, I hope you'll reflect on Painful readings Past, and share your thoughts on the literary world's Titans of Tedium.  A "Pax et Lux Lux" keychain to the best (or should it be the most tedious?) responses.

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        • Most Tedious Literary Icon (Mendo Henriques, Portugal 01/25/14 2:22 PM)
          The most tedious major literary figure is John Milton.  In Paradise Lost, the only somehow interesting character is the Devil.

          PS: What a pity he is called John...

          JE comments: Excellent choice. Who can forget the Milton crack in the 1978 comedy classic, Animal House? Professor Jennings (played by Donald Sutherland) concludes his lecture with this remark: "Don't write this down, but I find Milton probably as boring as you find Milton. Mrs. Milton found him boring too. He's a little bit long-winded, he doesn't translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible."

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          • Milton and the Charge of Tedium (David Pike, -France 01/26/14 3:44 PM)
            Milton as tedious? I had a professor who presented Milton as "good fun," and in parts that's what Paradise Lost/Paradise Regained is. Mendo Henriques writes as if there's only one Devil (25 January). Not so. The debate among the Fallen Angels on the question of the day (What is to be Done?) is anything but unanimous, and Moloch and "My sentence is for open war" failed in committee (like Trotsky's).

            I agree that Milton made Hell more interesting than Heaven. But if you take the theology out of PL and PR, and turn also to his other great poems, you can recognize him as the undisputed second poet of the language.

            I have often asked myself how can anyone ever rate the worth of a poet (or any writer or any creator, for that matter). I finally got an answer, at the University of Tunis, where the head of the English Department is a Wordsworth scholar. He explained it, and explained the place of Wordsworth as the undisputed third greatest (there is no undisputed fourth greatest). His answer: the influence the poet has had on other poets since. Ronald Hilton, who venerated poets, often quoted Milton.

            JE comments:  A good defense of Milton is never out of style.  And David Pike is correct:  Prof. Hilton was fond of invoking him.  Here's an example from the close of the last century (15 March 1998):


            But the nominations for "most tedious" keep coming in.  More on the morrow.
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        • Most Tedious Literary Icon (Alan Levine, USA 01/26/14 4:47 AM)

          As for tedium, I submit this paradox: the more a thinker talks about communication (semiotics, postmoderns), the poorer they are at it.

          JE comments:  As the great Elías Castelnuovo said, it's easy to write in difficult; the difficult thing is to write in easy ("lo difícil es escribir en fácil").  Sample some Derrida, and you'll see what Alan Levine means. 

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          • Derridada (Paul Preston, -UK 01/26/14 6:51 AM)

            Regarding the banality that passes for contemporary French philosophy (what I like to think of as Derridada for its surrealistic nonsense--Derrida meets Dadaisme), I believe that in many social science disciplines, practitioners like to think that they are scientists. Since the only thing they know about science is that it is difficult to understand, they seem to have reached the conclusion that, if they write in an incomprehensible manner, they will have attained the status of scientists.

            JE comments:  Thanks, Paul!  And never forget this anonymous ditty, posted on the office door of many a graduate student in Comp Lit: 

            Lemme tell ya bout Jacques Derrida

            There ain’t no readuh

            And there ain’t no writah


            WAIS is all about hearing every side; we're fair & balanced, wide tent, win-win , etc.  So who is going to come to Derrida's defense?

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            • Scientifism of Social Sciences; Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) (Henry Levin, USA 01/27/14 6:29 AM)
              To complement Paul Preston's perception (26 January) of the scientifism of the social sciences, the latest trend is to argue that the only true scientific results are produced by pure experimentation, or what is known in the social and health sciences as the randomized control trial.

              Of course, with human beings the randomized control trial (RCT) is often difficult to control with such threats to validity as differential attrition among groups and cross-contamination, as groups interact or information gets out about the trial that affects behavior of the groups or many other threats. Indeed, look at the recent reversals of experimental findings on cholesterol and impacts of medications on breast cancer that were believed for years (and generated billions of dollars in sales of pharmaceuticals), which have now been overturned by newer reviews or newer RCTs or meta-analysis of previous studies. But, in the social sciences the RCT is called "the gold standard," and articles based upon RCTs have a higher probability of publication in the most prestigious journals. Most social scientists (and laypersons) are unaware of the serious challenges and flaws in the methods and the contradictions among findings using "the gold standard." It is also important to know that there is a general tendency in many of the sciences for "effects" of treatments or interventions to decline over time or even evaporate or change signs, despite the evidence being produced by RCTs.

              See the following:

              Nancy Cartwright is a noted philosopher of science who has had major appointments at Stanford and University of California-San Diego, and is now at the London School of Economics.

              N Cartwright, Are RCTs the gold standard?


              On Declining Effects:


              JE comments:  In the US academy, the RCT has become what researchers "do" in sociology and psychology.  Isn't the field of education much the same?  I hope Henry Levin will set me straight if I'm wrong.

              Nancy Cartwright:  many will say, "Bart Simpson!"  No, there are two:  the voice actress (b. 1957) and the philosopher (b. 1944).

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              • More on Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) (Henry Levin, USA 01/28/14 6:58 AM)
                In response to JE's questions to my post of 27 January, of course experimental psychology has long used the RCT, but more typically within limited groups such as first-year psychology courses. This is an additional problem in both education and psychology, where students within a school are randomly assigned, and the trial will typically last a few weeks. Then the researcher will extrapolate any effects to what they would be if the treatment were used for a semester or a year (completely invalid) as well as generalizing to similar students everywhere. The RCT, when it meets all of the required conditions, has internal validity. That means for the population and setting and scope conditions, a statistically significant finding can be accepted as valid. But, it cannot be generalized to other populations, settings, and different scope conditions, the issue of external validity. Unfortunately, both scientists and the media often generalize from a small and narrow RCT to the universe of populations, settings, and range of treatments and conditions.

                It is a good living. Now economists have adopted experimental economics and have taken it very seriously. You should see how many limited classroom RCTs are used to generalize about consumer and investment behavior.

                JE comments:  And all of this is wrapped in the legitimizing mantle of "science."  There are definitely some cracks in the RCT Gold Standard.
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              • The Sokal Hoax (John Heelan, -UK 01/28/14 7:09 AM)
                In their book Intellectual Impostures (1997), Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont criticise social scientists who claim support for their theories from physical sciences, of which they have only a hazy understanding. Sokal experimented in 1996 by submitting an pseudo-scientific article "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"--full of absurdities and non-sequiturs--to the fashionable US cultural-studies journal Social Text.

                Not only did the journal accept the article, it published it in a special edition devoted to rebutting the criticisms leveled against postmodernism and social constructivism by several distinguished scientists. (See Social Text 46/47, Spring/Summer 1996, pp 217-52, Duke University Press.) Sokal's revealing the parody a little later caused severe fluttering in the social sciences hen-houses of US academe!

                A book well worth reading!

                JE comments: The Sokal Affair was the talk of the day in Academia. Now we're more concerned with weightier problems--tenure under threat, the increase in adjunct and "distance" teaching, funding for higher education, the rise of for-profit diploma mills, etc.  And Cultural Studies has become less jargony since the Clinton/O.J. era.  I wonder if Sokal actually had a hand in this?

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                • The Sokal Hoax; Malone's *Foolscap* (Paul Preston, -UK 01/29/14 7:11 AM)
                  I read this Sokal article with great delight years ago but lost the reference, so I am indebted to John Heelan (28 January).

                  It reminded me about a wonderful novel by one of my favourite, and strangely unsung, American authors, Michael Malone, which is a wonderful demolition of academic pretentiousness--Foolscap. I seem to remember that Malone is married to Maureen Quilligan who is, or was, a professor in the English department at Duke University, known for its pre-eminence in Derridada. I always assumed that she was the mole, since the foolscap of the title refers to a manuscript by Christopher Marlowe, who I think is someone on whom she worked.

                  JE comments: I have to get my copy! Another great send-up of US academic culture: Nabokov's Pale Fire.

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              • Philosophy of Social Science; A CPR Experiment; from William Kyburz (John Eipper, USA 01/28/14 7:43 AM)
                Our friend in Rochester NY, William Kyburz, sends the following:

                Henry Levin (27 January) brings up a subject dear to my heart, the philosophy of social science. Having written a few papers on it, I think I can share some light. I would like to recount an interesting experiment that elucidates the difference between social scientific theory and social scientific practice. Unfortunately, I can't remember the source. I believe the title was simply, "The Philosophy of Social Science."

                Groups of people are formed (three) as educators, students and practitioners (experts with at least 5 to 7 years of experience). The subject is CPR.

                Each group is filmed performing the procedure.

                Now, each group views these films and gets to choose which one would give them CPR. That is to say, they are told, "Which of these would you most likely choose to perform CPR on you?"  Or put another way, "Which do you think is doing it correctly?"

                The results are interesting. They are performed to statistical significance.

                The educators either pick the educators or the students.

                The students pick the educators or the students.

                The practitioners pick the practitioners.

                The explanation is simple ... the educators see it performed the way they teach it, and the students see the way it was taught.

                The practitioners see the way it should be done.

                So which is "social science"? Theory or practice?

                Given this study, which would you choose?

                I know I would choose the practitioners. So much for social scientific theory.

                JE comments: There's also the question of cultural solidarity (academics feel more comfortable with academics; "real-worlders" with their own kind), or even social class. For example, what do we mean by CPR "practitioners"--MDs or EMTs?

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                • "Relax; I'm a Doctor" (John Heelan, -UK 01/31/14 3:48 AM)
                  William Kyburz's account of the social science experiment (28 January) reminded me of an apocryphal joke.

                  A pedestrian tripped on the sidewalk injuring his ankle, maybe breaking it. A physician walking by went immediately to the injured man's rescue saying, "Relax I am a doctor" and started to treat him. Almost immediately he was pushed out of the way by a woman who said to the patient, "Relax I am a registered nurse" and started to treat him. She in turn was pushed brusquely out of the way by a young lad in a scout's uniform who said to the patient, "Relax I have my first aid badge!" Who would have been the patient's first choice?

                  WAISers might remember the scene in the Disney cartoon "Robin Hood," in which two vultures with Red Cross bags loped about with a stretcher looking for players injured in a football game. In our village's annual charity Street Fair this year attended by hundreds of visitors, black-suited members of the national voluntary ambulance brigade also loped along the street complete with a stretcher, hoping to test their first aid skills on unlucky visitors. (I wonder if they had seen the Disney film?)

                  JE comments: Why have first aid skills if you can't try them out?  I'm reminded of our neighborhood, where at the first sign of flurries, armies of gasoline snow blowers hit the sidewalks.  Their owners are overjoyed to play with their machines.  We don't generalize on WAIS, but all the snow blowists I've seen are male.  What's it with boys and their (power) toys?  The US government reports that "approximately" 5740 snow-blower injuries require medical attention each year.  What a precise number.  At WAIS HQ we use a vintage snow shovel, a freebie that came with the house.  Shoveling might kill your back compared to internal combustion, but at least you get to keep your fingers.

                  Speaking of the King of Rome, as the Spanish say, our next posting is William Kyburz on Holger Terp's topic, peace songs.

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        • Most Tedious Literary Icon (John Heelan, -UK 01/26/14 5:23 AM)

          At the risk of annoying literature buffs, my nomination for the most tedious author is Marcel Proust. Ploughing through In Search of Lost Time, I nearly lost the will to live. Even now, I cannot look at a madeleine without becoming drowsy from boredom.

          JE comments:  'Tis funny:  Milton (Mendo Henriques's vote) and Proust would be on most people's Tedious Top Ten lists.  Or Tedious Top Two

          Keep those nominations coming!

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          • Most Tedious Literary Icon: Proust Steams Ahead (Miles Seeley, USA 01/27/14 3:31 AM)
            I agree with John Heelan (26 January): Proust is the winner here. In college, when I was assigned Proust, I tried valiantly for a while, but finally gave up and got the Cliffs Notes. That was the only time I did that shameful thing.

            JE comments: Ah, Cliffs Notes (now called CliffsNotes):  at least in times of yore, shirking your assignment involved reading an actual book! These days, plot summaries and superficial analyses are just a click or two away.

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            • Remove Milton from the TLI Pantheon? (Paul Preston, -UK 01/27/14 8:30 AM)
              Never having heard of CliffsNotes when I was at school, I would like to put in a shout here for Corneille and Racine to be added to the WAIS Tedious Literary Icon (TLI) list. I would also like to vote for Milton to be removed from the list. Given the proper attention, as is the case with Shakespeare, he repays the effort tenfold.

              JE comments: With apologies to Mendo Henriques, Milton has been rehabilitated: two votes pro-Milton (David Pike and Paul Preston), versus one against. Prof. Hilton would no doubt join David and Paul on this one.

              To Paul's Corneille and Racine, I would add the 17th-century Jesuit writer/philosopher Baltasar Gracián. Important, and influential (Nietzsche claimed him as an influence), but tedious.

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              • TLI Pantheon: Milton is Out, H James and D H Lawrence are In (Nigel Jones, -UK 01/27/14 1:56 PM)
                I too would like to leap to John Milton's defence. (See Paul Preston, 27 January.) If poetry can be defined as "memorable speech," some of Milton's lyrics are superb. Lines from his elegy Lycidas for his drowned friend Edward King (which I studied at school) still hammer in my mind: eg: "The hungry sheep look up and are not fed..." or the ending: "At last he rose and twitched his mantle blue/ Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new."

                I would like to nominate in the Tedium Stakes (apologies to Americans, but he did become British) the monumentally dull Henry James. Simply unreadable, except as a cure for insomnia.

                And--this may be heresy to Lawrentians--but I don't think much of DHL's style as a novelist. Lawrence was a brilliant if idiosyncratic free-verse poet and a magical writer of short stories, but some of his novels--especially the notorious Lady Chatterley's Lover--are, in my humble opinion, the pits (and not on account of its so-called obscenity, but because of the sheer absurdity of some of the prose).

                JE comments:  Much to Milton's relief, he has been granted an unconditional parole from the Pantheon of Tediousness.  Now we've assembled about seven of our Top Ten.  This leaves us with three or four vacancies, and so many qualified candidates.  There's still time to nominate your favorite!

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                • Back to the TLI Pantheon: D. H. Lawrence (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 02/14/14 3:06 AM)

                  I agree with Nigel Jones (27 January) about D. H. Lawrence--who was one of the topmost popular writers among my classmates in high school oh so many years ago. I think D. H. Lawrence had some beautiful ideas, but his writing is, in my humble opinion, pure swill--overblown, sentimental, ultimately empty and trashy. Just right for high school kids. In one of the few cases of the movie far surpassing the book, take Women in Love, perhaps Ken Russell's best film; a delight and a real work of genius. The novel? Trash, in my opinion.

                  D. H. Lawrence is often compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald, another favorite of high school students--but in my opinion, there is no comparison at all. Fitzgerald is so nuanced and so complicated, with such a beautiful touch of real despair at the heart of it all--just the opposite of the smarmy and superficial Lawrence. Far less literary pretension but far more substance. In my opinion, Fitzgerald is as underrated as Lawrence is overrated, as a writer.

                  JE comments:  Agreed, although high schoolers these days (when they read) are reading George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones, or the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer.  Harry Potter is for the slightly younger demographic.

                  (TLI, for those who missed our discussion in January, refers to the Pantheon of Tedious Literary Icons.)

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                  • A Good Word for Fitzgerald; Ray Bradbury (Robert McCabe, -France 02/14/14 6:01 AM)
                    Cameron Sawyer's comment on F. Scott Fitzgerald (14 February) reminds of the late Ray Bradbury's comment one evening chez moi, that he never came back to Paris without rereading Tender Is the Night, which he felt was the most moving of all FSF's work. I think Ray had a point. Much better than Gatsby...

                    JE comments: Fitzgerald yes, but Bob McCabe is teasing us: please tell us more about Ray Bradbury's evening chez McCabe!

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          • Tedious Literary Icons, Revisited (Randy Black, USA 01/29/14 3:15 PM)

            On the matter of tedious reading and Top Ten Lists, John Heelan's comment about reading Marcel Proust and "almost losing the will to live," causes me to add my two cents. I suppose on John's Isle of Wight, it would be adding my "tuppence."

            At the risk of delving too deeply into family issues, on a father-daughter camping trip three years ago we were fortunately out of range of the Internet. With no other way to pass the time after the sun set on the Big Bend, by flashlight Natasha read a couple of chapters of my book Tales from Siberia. (I never leave home without it.)

            The following morning, I asked her how she liked it.

            "Papa, it was great; it really cured my insomnia." She was 10.

            Over this past Christmas break, I caught her peeking through it once again. Quietly, I asked her for an opinion. By now 13, she offered, "Papa, it is still is great cure for my ‘sleepophobia.'" At least her vocabulary is expanding, I thought.

            JE comments:  I never expected a self-nomination for Tedious Literary Icon!  But I assure WAISdom that Natasha Black is mistaken.  Randy's Tales from Siberia is a very entertaining portrait of Russian provincial life in the immediate post-Soviet years.  Highly recommended.  (Randy:  I cheerfully accept payments by personal check, or via PayPal!)

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            • Ric Mauricio on TLIs (Tedious Literary Icons) (John Eipper, USA 01/30/14 7:10 AM)

              [JE:  Our friend Ric Mauricio sends his thoughts on the WAIS TLI list.]

              Oh, this is so good. I will have to get my hands on Randy Black's tome, Tales from Siberia (as well as David Duggan's new book).

              Now I am sure that there will be WAISers who will disagree with me on my Tedious Literary Icon nominations, but I beg for your kindness.

              My first nomination is none other than Machiavelli's The Prince. It took me quite a while to complete my reading, as I found myself dozing off every few pages. I asked myself why I found it so tedious. The explanation that I came up with was I was not in the mindset to accept the Machiavellian premise of "the end justifying the means," having no predisposition to taking over the world (however small that world could be). The question then is: is the tediousness of a reading based on our individual mindset at a particular time and space? Could it also be affected by our own predisposition to certain beliefs and philosophies?

              My second nomination for tedious writings are the writings of Paul the Apostle in the New Testament. This is interesting, since my favorite writings are the teachings of Jesus, through his parables. Although Paul the Apostle is credited with much of the spread of early Christianity, I find myself with more questions than answers when reading his writings. I have no such issue when studying Jesus's parables.

              My third nomination for tedious writings are textbooks, specifically accounting textbooks. I realize that textbook writers are paid by the page, but when it takes one whole chapter (4 pages) to explain an accounting concept that really was explained in one paragraph, I find this very tedious. On top of that, the accounting professor took an hour to explain the concept. I asked him during the break why we couldn't have summarized it and moved onto the next chapter. He said, yeah, we should have done that. Talk about torture, that advanced accounting class.

              JE comments:  I'm quite fond of The Prince.  It's an uncanny and prescient political analysis, a book that makes you shake your head in amazement:  could Machiavelli have said all this 500 years ago?  Another Princely advantage:  it's short.  Baltasar Gracián (my nomination for TLI) said it best:  Lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno.  (Something that is good as well as brief is doubly good.)

              But yes, accounting.  Isn't is supposed to be tedious?

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        • Most Tedious Literary Icon (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 01/27/14 4:15 AM)
          At the risk of offending or looking irreverent for many followers, my choice for the most tedious author is the Brazilian Paulo Coelho, despite that fact that he is considered one of the most successful modern writers, with more than 150 million books sold in 80 languages--O Alquimista, O Diário de um Mago, among many others. When I attempt to read one of his novels, from the very first pages I die of boredom. Maybe he will be one day a Nobel Prize winner, but I have found slow-motion action, timeworn topics, cliché ideas and boring characters and dialogues in his books.

          JE comments: Coelho is the all-time bestselling Portuguese language author, and probably will nab the Nobel before long.  So far, he is the only living writer to make the WAIS Ten Most Tedious list.

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        • More TLIs (Tedious Literary Icons) (Roy Domenico, USA 01/27/14 7:44 AM)
          Regarding tedious literary icons: I have a ranking on this. There are difficult authors who write books that demand your complete attention but deliver great satisfaction--for example, Thomas Mann. There are difficult authors who might deliver great satisfaction but trying to figure out the message might be a bit too much--for example, Marcel Proust. And finally, there are difficult authors who should be avoided because the reader is just wasting his or her time, that is, the writer has become a TLI (tedious literary icon)--for example, the Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner.

          JE comments:  Gee, I don't know about Faulkner. I'd rank him as "hard" (confusing, disorienting) but worthwhile. And given Faulkner's influence on the Latin American literary Boom, he is an excellent writer by David Pike's yardstick (26 January).

          I'd place the Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier in Roy Domenico's "Mann" category: demanding but satisfying. When you finish a novel by Carpentier (Los pasos perdidos, El recurso del método) you're really proud of yourself.

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          • More TLIs; on the Scientifism of the Social Sciences (Robert Gibbs, USA 01/28/14 4:42 AM)

            With all that is going on in the world, our discussion on Tedious Literary Icons (TLIs) seems reminiscent of the monks in Constantinople arguing whether angels had a sex (male or female) while the Ottoman (Osmalli) were at the gates. But to join in, of course Proust belongs on the list as does my choice--Kafka. I was assigned to read him (and Proust) in college. At this point I was about ready to tear my eyes out but did not. I've avoided both ever since, and have been all the better for it. (As an aside, even my spell check will not accept Proust.)

            Also I concur with fellow WAISers like Paul Preston (26 January) and their observations regarding scientific social sciences. The worst case of this for me was at St Catherine's (Oxford), when the University inaugurated a char of US history--the first recipient being a US academic from one of the 7 brothers and a spokesmen for scientific history. I went to the inaugural lecture, thinking it would be about the history of science (as did others). Using terms from science (double bond, thermal dynamic, etc.), he gave a lecture on the slave trade that was impossible to follow or even understand. (He was speaking to both historians and scientists.) When asked why he used so much scientific language, his response was: "History has to become more scientific and use the language of science for validity." Worse, he really thought he scored when several Dons seemed to complement him "on his novel and interesting approach to history." This is Oxford-speak for "this is the craziest and daftest theory on the planet."

            JE comments:  The St Catherine's lecture reminds me of Russian formalism, which strove to give "scientific" rigor to literary analysis.  People in my discipline scoff at the formalists, but the truth is we are still indebted to them for their terminology and methods.

            Robert Gibbs has blown my cover:  WAISers now know what I mean when I praise someone's post as "novel and interesting."

            But Kafka as a TLI?  Say it ain't so, Bob!

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            • Reading Kafka at Oxford (Robert Whealey, USA 01/29/14 9:47 AM)
              Robert Gibbs (28 January) failed to mention the year he was at St. Catherine's, Oxford. When I was at Oxford 1956-1957, nobody mentioned to me Proust or Kafka. I chose not to take any literature course since my BA in America. After I began to teach history, I learned that my English profs assigned the right readings to me in the 1950s. I learned that Herman Melville wrote the great American novel Moby Dick. I also learned from Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Leo Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, George Bernard Shaw, Eugene O'Neil. Death of a Salesman. They wrote commentaries and interpretations on the morality of the Bible.

              I met one professor who read Proust in high school, but never referred to him to me again or in his published works. I also met a professor who recommended Kafka to me. Kafka had great insight into Jewish thinking in Prague in 1919.

              JE comments: Robert Gibbs was at Oxford in the late 1960s. By that time, I presume Kafka had become more canonical.

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