Novak (novak) wrote,

Personal: Seeing Dr. Jones; Re-reading Jordan; Russert's Funeral; "1958: War of the Intellectuals"

Another waking in the middle of the night. (Heh. Just found your note. Thanks, Em.) Took a few hours out to finally catch Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull this past evening with Mike and Donna, over at the glamourous Oriental Theatre, though not, unfortunately, in the main theatre, as it would have been if I'd seen it in the first week or so. That was just pure popcorn fun, as expected, with Spielberg enjoying himself playing with all sorts of 1950s cultural motifs.

Pulled down my copy of Jordan's A Crown of Swords for fun reading during meals, sleepless interludes, and such. My copy of Lord of Chaos is now fallen into three large chunks still hanging together in its hardcover: the rush to printing always made me feel that these were not the best-bound books in the world. But this read-through has had a bit of a nostalgic feel to me. I always remember reading the first blazing sentence of Lord of Chaos from my brother Joe's new copy, sitting cross-legged on a table in a hallway waiting on him while he was in his Portuguese class at the U of I, coincidentally as a classmate of one of my favourite L.O.M.C. campers, Dana Ingman. A Crown of Swords was the first volume of The Wheel of Time that I'd made a point of buying on the day of release, and the first one to make promotional use of that newfangled "internet," posting the Prologue for free on Tor Book's webpage, before they figured out how to charge for that, too. Reading the prologue always makes me remember walking up to Holy Cross House on a sunny day, reading a copy of the Prologue I'd printed out at the library, and of handing it around to Brett Boessen and Kate Keating, sharing the excitement of the coming story with them. I can't think of many books that have so many memories attached to the reading of it in this way, but it certainly reinforces the fact that it's fun to find friends who share our fandoms.

Miscellanea from the web that I wanted to jot down in my journal: Two news stories about Tim Russert's funeral,

Political leaders pay tribute to TV's Russert
Obama, McCain among mourners at Washington funeral Mass for Russert
and an interesting cultural essay that caught my eye reposted in crookedfingers' journal:
1958: The War of the Intellectuals

Political leaders pay tribute to TV's Russert
Jun 18 01:17 PM US/Eastern
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The crowd at Tim Russert's funeral Wednesday would have made a great panel on his Sunday morning news show.

The two men vying to become president, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, were there, as were members of Congress, television journalists and several generations of politicians from both parties.

"It is not easy to preach a homily for Tim and to communicate the feelings we all share concerning this remarkable man, for he was truly one of the great communicators in American society," Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., said in his homily.

Russert, the host of the Sunday-morning talk show "Meet the Press," died Friday of a heart attack at the age of 58. He also served as the Washington bureau chief for NBC News. A political insider, Russert was known for conducting tough interviews of Washington's most powerful politicians, yet he evoked an everyman quality that showed his blue- collar, Buffalo, N.Y., roots.

Among the dignitaries were former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

There were also enough TV journalists and political strategists to fill several political roundtables. Among the honorary pallbearers were NBC News anchor Brian Williams, "Today" show host Matt Lauer and Bryant Gumbel. Retired anchor Tom Brokaw greeted the guests, saying no house meant more to Russert than "the house of the Lord."

The funeral service at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Georgetown was private, but a loud speaker broadcast the service to about 100 onlookers standing along the tree-lined street. A man wearing a kilt played the bagpipes as the crowd arrived, and delivered a rendition of "Amazing Grace" as Russert's casket was taken from the church.

Russert's 22-year-old son, Luke, gave the eulogy. His mother and Russert's widow, Maureen Orth, looked on.

"My dad was my best friend," Luke Russert said, his voice strong and clear. "To explain my bond with my father is utterly impossible to put into words."

Luke Russert then gave what he described as his father's last speech.

He urged parents to hug their children, politicians to avoid "low tactics," and journalists to practice integrity and honesty.

Luke Russert said that whenever he did well on a school assignment, his father would yell, "Yahoo! You smoked 'em, buddy!"

He asked the crowd to imagine a special edition of "Meet the Press" this Sunday in heaven, perhaps with a debate between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, or John F. Kennedy and Barry Goldwater. He even suggested a talk on the need for a new political party involving Teddy Roosevelt, the former president who later ran unsuccessfully for president as a member of the Bull Moose party.

"Tim Russert led with his heart, his compassion and most of all his honor," his son said. "I love you, dad, and in his words, let us all go get 'em!"

An invitation-only memorial service was scheduled at the Kennedy Center later on Wednesday.

Obama, McCain among mourners at Washington funeral Mass for Russert
By Chaz Muth
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential nominees were among the scores of mourners at the June 18 private funeral Mass for NBC News Washington bureau chief and "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert, who died June 13 at the age of 58.

In his homily, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, said the presence of both Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain was not only a special tribute to Russert, but to the U.S., speaking to the country's "values of respect and to those fundamental virtues which ultimately are more important even than politics and the shifting sands of public life."

Before his unexpected death, Russert expressed his excitement about the 2008 presidential race and was eager to see the Obama-McCain race through to November.

Though the funeral Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Georgetown section of Washington -- Russert's parish -- was a private service, Catholic News Service obtained a copy of Cardinal McCarrick's homily.

"It is not easy to preach a homily for Tim and to communicate the feelings we all share concerning this remarkable man, for he was surely one of the great communicators in American society," the cardinal told family and friends who gathered for the Mass, concelebrated by Holy Trinity pastor Jesuit Father James M. Shea and associate pastor Jesuit Father Leo A. Murray.

"His passion for truth, his dedication for integrity in the media, in public life and throughout the kaleidoscope that marks American society was unequalled," the cardinal said.

Though he lavished praise on Russert's work ethic, loyalty to his staff and colleagues, love for his family and enthusiasm for life, Cardinal McCarrick said it was the broadcaster's undying Catholic faith that most influenced his life.

"He truly knew the Good Shepherd and found strength in his protection and in his love," Cardinal McCarrick said. "The man of faith knows who his Redeemer is -- and so did Tim. And God always took care of him -- as we believe he took care of him last Friday when he reached out and called him home."

Russert collapsed at NBC's Washington studios June 13, suffering a heart attack.

Cardinal McCarrick told the congregation that though Russert was still young and energetic, he believes his longtime friend was ready to be called to God's kingdom, because in life he followed the lessons of the Gospel, "that we must always be ready," and "that we must always be generous."

"No matter how busy, no matter how harried, Tim never turned his back on a good cause," he said. "How many times have many of us asked him to lend his name, to give his time and to reach out in help to a worthy cause or a person in need. A list of his benefactions would be hard to compute, but it was always done with graciousness and generosity."

The tributes for Russert that have flooded the airwaves and print media since June 13 also speak volumes about the impact he had on his family, colleagues, viewers and listeners, Cardinal McCarrick said.

"It has been said in the valiant love and deep faith of his wife and son," he said. "All that remains is to say thank you to the good and gracious God who gave us Tim Russert for 58 years and to pray that the beloved anchor of 'Meet the Press' is now sitting at the large table of the Lord to begin a conversation which will last forever."

1958: The War of the Intellectuals
Published: May 11, 2008

Much has been made of 1968 -- the student uprisings in Paris, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the full flowering of youth culture. But what of its more unassuming antecedent, 1958? Fifty years ago, Eisenhower was in the White House, the country was in a recession and the American intellectual scene was crackling with energy.

The year saw the advent of everything from Chuck Berry's ''Johnny B. Goode'' and Dr. Seuss' ''Yertle the Turtle'' to ''Doctor Zhivago'' by Boris Pasternak, that year's Nobel laureate in literature; the first American edition of Vladimir Nabokov's ''Lolita''; Truman Capote's ''Breakfast at Tiffany's''; John Kenneth Galbraith's ''Affluent Society''; Philip Roth's story ''Goodbye, Columbus''; and Jack Kerouac's ''Dharma Bums'' -- not to mention Samuel Beckett's ''Krapp's Last Tape,'' Harold Pinter's ''Birthday Party,'' Alfred Hitchcock's ''Vertigo'' and Orson Welles's ''Touch of Evil.'' Robert Frank captured the uncertain tenor of the time in his 1958 photography book, ''The Americans,'' as did Jasper Johns in his 1958 painting ''Three Flags,'' in which he superimposed three American flags, each smaller than the next, transforming the familiar into the abstract, the iconic into the unsettled.

It's hard to generalize about any historical moment, but in the intellectual journals of the era, some central themes emerge: a debate over the merits of the Beat movement, and the attempt by some influential critics to preserve the quickly dissolving distinctions among highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow culture that had previously held sway. At the same time, the distinction between artistic achievement and commercial success, which American intellectuals had long assumed to be mutually exclusive, was losing its hold.

From their redoubts at ''little magazines'' like Partisan Review and Commentary -- whose cultural authority far surpassed their low circulation -- writers like Leslie Fiedler, Dwight Macdonald, Norman Podhoretz and Lionel Trilling were trying, in their different ways, to preserve the idea of serious literature against the rising tide of mass culture. ''The '50s really was a period when to be a highbrow meant that you had to really have problems with middlebrow and lowbrow and commercial culture,'' said Louis Menand, a professor of English at Harvard and a staff writer at The New Yorker who is writing a cultural history of the cold war. Among the intellectuals, for example, ''there was a feeling the Beats were not serious,'' Menand said. And back then, ''serious'' was the benchmark of high praise.

When Kerouac's impressionistic second novel, ''The Dharma Bums,'' hit the scene one year after ''On the Road,'' Allen Ginsberg called it an ''extraordinary mystic testament,'' a ''record of various inner signposts on the road to understanding of the Illusion of Being.'' In ''the present American scene in prose,'' Ginsberg wrote in The Village Voice, Kerouac was ''the great master innovator.'' But ''don't expect much understanding from academic journalists,'' he warned, ''who, for all their pretense at civilization, have learned little but wicked opinion.''

The critics seemed eager to live up to this billing. In the Book Review, the novelist Nancy Wilson Ross praised Kerouac's descriptions of food and nature but found his ''philosophical final statement'' in a contemporary ''autobiographical sketch'' -- ''I don't know. I don't care. And it doesn't make any difference'' -- ''curiously juvenile.'' Was Beat rebellion in the exuberant American tradition of Whitman and Emerson, some wondered, or was it a kind of anti-intellectualism and abdication of adult responsibility? As Time magazine wrote in a review of a 1958 anthology, ''The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men,'' ''are these self-appointed spokesmen for the 20th-century young moving in a quest for meaning, or a flight from it?''

The highbrow New York intellectuals were even harsher in their assessment. They found the Beats intellectually bankrupt and politically incoherent. In ''The Know-Nothing Bohemians,'' an essay in Partisan Review, the young Norman Podhoretz wrote that ''the Beat generation's worship of primitivism and spontaneity is more than a cover for hostility to intelligence; it arises from a pathetic poverty of feeling as well.'' Podhoretz detected a ''suppressed cry'' of ''brutality'' in the Beats, which he summarized as ''kill the intellectuals who can talk coherently, kill the people who can sit still for five minutes at a time, kill those incomprehensible characters who are capable of getting seriously involved with a woman, a job, a cause.''

Yet for all their differences, the Beats and their intellectual critics were both in open rebellion against middlebrow culture and values, which Dwight Macdonald saw epitomized by the Book of the Month Club and the New York Times best-seller list. In the January 1958 issue of Commentary, Macdonald wrote a scathing critique of James Gould Cozzens's ''By Love Possessed,'' a literary romance set in small-town Pennsylvania that spent months atop the best-seller list (replacing ''Peyton Place''). ''He is a 'serious' writer, and never more serious than in this book,'' Macdonald wrote with scorn. ''That so uncompromising a work, written in prose of an artificiality and complexity that approaches the impenetrable -- indeed often achieves it -- that this should have become what the publishers gloatingly call 'a runaway best-seller' is something new.''

Macdonald went on to accuse Cozzens of anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism and a lack of awareness for ''the real nature of his characters.'' Praise from distinguished literary reviewers like Howard Nemerov in The Nation, Richard Ellmann in The Reporter and Brendan Gill in The New Yorker indicated a ''general lowering of standards,'' Macdonald wrote. In his view, Cozzens's critical success also marked ''the latest episode in the Middlebrow Counter-Revolution,'' in which critics were rebelling against the exclusive elitism and ''destructive superiority'' of the avant-garde and trying to connect more with popular taste. ''The requirements of the mass market explain a good deal of bad writing today,'' Macdonald continued. ''But such reviews, such enthusiasm, such unanimity, such nonsense!''

Macdonald would go on to defend this line even more vigorously in his 1960 essay ''Masscult and Midcult,'' an exhaustive taxonomy of the American cultural scene, from high literature to middlebrow magazines to low arts like television. This was a moment of uncertainty for critics. The leveling process taking place in the culture ''destroys all values, since value judgments require discrimination, an ugly word in liberal-democratic America,'' Macdonald wrote. Masscult, he added, ''is very, very democratic; it refuses to discriminate against or between anything or anybody.''

Macdonald wasn't the only one weighing in on this transition. In ''The Un-Angry Young Men,'' an essay in the British monthly Encounter in 1958, Leslie Fiedler wrote that American popular culture ''has never been in a duller or less promising condition.'' Meanwhile, ''everyone, and not least the highbrows, wants to read about popular culture'' -- to the point that ''the study of popular culture threatens itself to become a branch of popular culture.'' American sensibility, he argued, needed to rebel against something, starting with the snobbish intellectualism of the critics. (Fiedler later wrote admiring essays on pop cultural subjects including ''Tarzan of the Apes,'' comic strips and horror films, while Macdonald wrote a movie column for Esquire.)

Of course, momentous things were happening outside the journals, too. NASA was founded in 1958, and something else came along that year: integrated circuitry, which paved the way for the microchip, then the personal computer, then the Internet -- which collapsed all the old cultural hierarchies. In today's blog-crazy culture, everyone's a critic. What would Dwight Macdonald say?

Correction: May 25, 2008, Sunday An essay on May 11 about the American intellectual scene in 1958 referred incorrectly to Jack Kerouac's ''Dharma Bums,'' published that year. It was his fourth novel, not the second. It followed ''The Town and the City'' (1950), ''On the Road'' (1957) and ''The Subterraneans'' (also 1958)

Rachel Donadio is a writer and editor at the Book Review.
Tags: academia, america, architecture, books, cultural, friends-marquette era, friends-niu era, friends-notre dame era, historical, milwaukee, movies/film/tv, obituary, personal, political, robert jordan

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