The Long View 2006-08-21: Shabby News; Shabby Editing: Shabby, Shabby, Shabby

By Andrew Tatlow, CC BY-SA 2.0,

By Andrew Tatlow, CC BY-SA 2.0,

I keep meaning to read Eamon Duffy's Stripping of the Altars. I've also got his one-volume history of the papacy, but I haven't got around to that one yet either.

Shabby News; Shabby Editing: Shabby, Shabby, Shabby

Something snapped when I was listening to a National Public Radio report from Tyre on Sunday morning. The report was about the return to their grieving relatives of the bodies of civilian victims of the recent Israeli attacks. The authorities were too few to hold them back, so the keening mourners soon swamped the vehicles on which the bodies were carried. A man collapsed over the coffin of his father. A clerk read off the names of dead children and asked, "Were these guerilla fighters?" Beneath this symphony of grief, the sound of wailing and lamentation flowed unceasingly, like a Wagnerian theme.

I am not a particularly hard-hearted fellow. However, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, there comes a time when a man would need a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell.

* * *

The Commanding Heights is a phrase coined by Lenin to refer to the key features of the economy, things like the banking system and heavy industry, which even a reformist socialist government would need to keep control of. The Public Broadcasting Service used it as the title for their series about the evolution of the world economy. The organizing conceit of the series is that the 20th century was the time of a struggle for the souls of men between Keynes and Hayek. The notion is not self-evidently correct, but it did lend the series more dramatic interest than most economic history can boast.

And look, it's available as a webcast: here's the index page. A helpful feature of the webcast is that it breaks the episodes down into segments of four or five minutes, easily viewable at odd moments during the day. Also, if your boss catches you watching it, you can claim to be doing research.

* * *

The revisionist view of the English Reformation is perhaps best known from Eamon Duffy's study, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580, Second Edition His thesis, I gather, was that the Reformation in England was deeply and persistently unpopular; it was implemented by force from above. That's a plausible idea, and to some extent it is no doubt true, but it is the kind of point that is easy to exaggerate. I was recently given, as a gift, a book that looked like it should have been an answer to the revisionists: The Anti-Christ`s Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists and Players in Post-Reformation England. The principal author is Peter Lake of Princeton, with contributions from Michael Questier of Oxford. One gleans from the book that there was such a thing as popular protestantism, but that it should not be conflated with puritanism. The title comes from Ben Jonson's play, The Alchemist, in which a puritan deacon rebukes a dandy with the words "Thou look'st like Antichrist in that lewd hat!" The joke is on the puritan, but that does not make Jonson a catholic, Roman or otherwise. The book attempts to trace popular protestantism through the "true crime" chapbooks about notorious murders, the relationship of these stories to the stage, the apologetic literature (Roman Catholic and Protestant), with the heaviest emphasis on the theatre. The book points again and again to instances in which the theater, and even the prisons, were not so much channels through which the state imposed its will as places of contestation.

All this should have been fascinating, but in fact The Antichrist's Lewd Hat is unreadable. It's uncanny: I actually got through a great deal of text, much of it quite interesting text, but I never seemed to be making any progress. Lake is not a bad writer (Questier's contribution is hard to single out). Certainly he does not suffer from Lit-Crit Speak: he rather dislikes theory, except for Bakhtin. Nonetheless, this objectively long book (upwards of 700 pages) seemed to get longer with the reading. The problem is that Lake is one of those scholars who likes to explain the history of his research, rather than what he discovered. Such a historical narrative tends to develop a receding eschaton. The reader loses hope of ever reaching the end, or indeed the point of the section he is reading. I finally just dipped into it here and there, but with a miserably short index and a cryptic Table of Contents the book does not lend itself to browsing, either.

The unreadability of The Antichrist's Lewd Hat book is a shame, since there is so much useful material locked inaccessibly inside it. A different format might have produced a happier result. If an author likes to explain the progress of his work, then let him publish his researches in journal form, in which he explains what he read each day and recounts the illuminating conversations he had. Maybe he should try casting the book as a dialogue, perhaps with a dense undergrowth of footnotes.

Editors are supposed to look out for their authors, but that is precisely what Yale University Press did not do for Lake. Here we have a fine idea for a book ruined by a degree of editorial neglect that sinks to the level of malice.

* * *

On a happier note, students of esoteric fascism will be pleased to learn that this dark subject now has its own blog: The Black Sun (Hat tip to HH.) By its own account, the blog highlights:

Researches in the history of the occult, the esoteric and theosophical movements, the Volkische and Ariosophical sects and cults, secret societies, magical orders, rune magicians, the cosmic, free energy, techno-occult and avantgarde technology undergounds and the occult roots of Nazism in Germany, 1900 - 1945

What exactly does free energy have to do with all this?

* * *

Meanwhile, the cruel Spengler at Asia Times has this to say about the abdication of France, and indeed the European Union in general, from taking any actual steps to implement the cease fire in Lebanon that Europe pressed the United Nations to declare:

The Pirates of Penzance
France offers no more than 200 engineers to join the peacekeeping force that the United Nations Security Council has mandated as a buffer on the Israeli-Lebanese border. ...A people without progeny will not accept a single military casualty. ...From this we should conclude that the so-called "international community" is an empty construct.

Again with the progeny.

In any case, it's not strictly true that the "international community" is a Potemkin Global Village, even in the sense of being able to deliver peacekeeping troops. There are lots of men under arms around the world. The problem is that UN armies of late have had a tendency to pillage the regions to which they are deployed, and to run away when shot at.

Earth is a shabby planet.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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