“Intellectual nihilism becomes boring in the end because it just seems to be an expression of unresolved adolescence. Moreover, in practise it is tied to a substantive conservatism: all attempts at serious analytical explanation are derided, leaving force and established mores in possession.”
Stefan Collini’s essays on the literary and intellectual culture of Britain from, roughly, the early twentieth century to the present, from which the above fragment comes, are stimulating and thought provoking. I’ve been reading the essays in Common Reading and intend to read his latest Common Writing, before taking in his earlier Absent Minds.
Discovery of Collini’s work is timely as I have little appetite for fiction at present. I found David Bellos’s Is That a Fish in Your Ear? rewarding. Its humour is endurable; lurking beneath is a decent study of the art and ethics of translation along the lines of Edith Grossman’s Why Translation Matters.
Last night, on my way back from listening to Alexander Kniazev & Nikolai Lugansky perform at Wigmore Hall, I listened to a Craig Raine interview on Radio 4. I find Raine’s work puerile but he quoted a letter of Henrich Heine’s that I found both unusual and beautiful. The “macaroni” is a good touch.
“There is nothing new to tell you, my dear Robert, except that I am alive and still love you. The last will endure as long as the first, for the duration of my life is very uncertain. Beyond life I promise nothing. With the last breath all is done: joy, love, sorrow, macaroni, the normal theatre, lime-trees, raspberry drops, the power of human relations, gossip, the barking of dogs, champagne.”
You might like an essay by Rob Hardy in the current New England Review.
It is about an early 19th C. American politico and poet as the focus of issues of slavery, economic value and standards of truth. As part of his exposition, Mr. Hardy cites Michael O’Malley:
“Americans resorted to slavery, and resorted to it with particular enthusiasm, because racial slavery recapitulated the assumptions and tensions underlying free market exchange itself.The slave had a generative, speculative potential to make wealth, like money loaned on credit,… but also a fixed character that could never be negotiated away or altered… Slaves literally embodied the contrary desires at the heart of capitalism… “(NER vol 37,2016 #2)
Thanks. An interesting perspective. I’ll seek it out.
I really don’t agree that nihilism=adolescence. The =adolescence is a trope that is used by people who, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, want to tell you they have matured to another level. Enjoying the blog by the way!
It is hard to argue that adolescence is a transitional stage between childhood and adulthood, is it not? I’m not sure I’d conflate the concept of transition with a cult’s concepts of moral growth/awakening. Adolescents, in my experience, for as long as adolescence persists (a lifetime in some cases) are drawn toward simple answers to every question. Nihilism is a very simple response, however sophisticated some European thinkers have tried to make it appear.
Pleased you are enjoying the blog – thanks for commenting.
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Yes, I suppose so, but I still have the sensation that I was right about some things when I was an adolescent that I am no longer right about now, if that makes any sense.
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Yes, that makes perfect sense. My memory of my distant adolescence is not reliable enough to make any such claim.