Monday, August 19, 2013

Midnight in the Garden

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 12:00 AM


From a 2003 interview by Paul Devlin (PD) with poet John Hollander (JH),
who reportedly died Saturday

PD: You wrote in the introduction to the new edition of  Reflections on Espionage that whenever you have been "free of political callowness" it was partly as a result of reading W.H. Auden, George Orwell, and George Bernard Shaw. Do you think these writers might possibly be an antidote to political callowness that exists in much contemporary literary criticism?

JH: If not they, then some other writers who can help one develop within one a skepticism strongly intertwined with passion, so that each can simultaneously check and reinforce the other. It provides great protection from being overcome by blind, true-believing zeal and corrupting cynicism (which may be two sides of the same false coin). Shaw was a great teacher for many in my generation. I started reading him when I was in sixth grade, and I responded strongly not only to the wit but to various modes, scene and occasions of argument and debate as they were framed by various kinds of dramatic situation. I remember being electrified when quite young by the moment in the epilogue scene of Saint  Joan  when the English chaplain, De Stogumber, who had been so zealous in urging for Joan’s being burned at the stake, returns to testify about how seeing her suffering the flames had made a changed man of him. The Inquisitor, Peter Cauchon, calls out (with what I imagined was a kind of moral distaste I’d never been aware of before), "Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those who have no imagination?" It introduced me to a skepticism about the self-satisfaction of the born-again, of any persuasion. With Auden and Orwell, much later on and after my mental world had become more complicated, it was education in negotiating a living way between a destructively naïve idealism and the crackpot realism—equally inimical to the pragmatic.

PD: Would you consider yourself a "formal" pragmatist, i.e., a student of Peirce, James, Dewey, Mead (etc.) or an "informal" pragmatist – someone taking the common-sense position on events…or someone who refuses to be pigeon-holed politically?

JH: "Informal" – of the sort that often leads me to ask of theoretical formulations, "Yes, but what’s it for ?"

PD: Which other authors do you think might help us negotiate between "naïve idealism" and "crackpot realism"? I think of Joyce, Wallace Stevens, perhaps Faulkner?

JH: When I was in college, a strong teacher for just this question was Cervantes. One feels, in an Emersonian way, that the Don’s view of the world is correct at midnight, and Sancho’s at noon.

Then there is mathematical  realism.

A post in this journal on Saturday, the reported date of Hollander's death,
discussed a possible 21st-century application of 19th-century geometry.
For some background, see Peter J. Cameron's May 11, 2010, remarks
on Sylvester's duads  and synthemes . The following figure from the 
paper discussed here Saturday is related to figures in Cameron's remarks.

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