August 19, 2008

What? Not interested in "squishy grey area between the analytical/political and the creative/autobiographical"?

This blog post aptly titled "Blog headings are pointless" is making me — me the blogger — nervous.

And the subject makes me want — oh, yeah, me and my emotions — to link to this review of Maria Wyke's: "Caesar: A Life in Western Culture":
Ms. Wyke's concern is how we have created and adapted Caesar's image and historical importance over the past 2,000 years....

The principle behind this kind of study is known as "reception theory." Its typical proponent is skeptical of how much we can know of what someone like Caesar and his contemporaries did and thought; a reception theorist is much more confident of how we have come to use and think about them ourselves....

Ms. Wyke offers a sharp analysis of how John Wilkes Booth took up the mantle of Brutus against the Caesar Lincoln -- and how Shakespeare's language was propelled into the assassination coverage by the American press. (Booth himself called the day of his attack "the Ides.") She deals briskly with how Napoleon used Caesar's example to justify and extend his emergency powers -- and how critics of Bonapartism stressed Caesar's role in turning military adventures abroad into despotism at home.
I'm always going to be more interested in the way people understand and use things than in what is actually true.

14 comments:

donohue2 said...

I think the "which one was the good guy- Caesar or Brutus?" argument one of the most fascinating arguments from a historical perspective. Every era seems to flip-flop. Brutus was with Judas in the lowest circle of hell (that's pretty rough), and yet in other eras Brutus has been the one praised and Caesar attacked, like for example during the French Revolution.

Christy said...

Thus your support of Obama.

Christy said...

Science, when it intersects public policy, is full of such framing. "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

Meade said...

Oh come on - you're much too young to be giving up on squishy areas.

bleeper said...

Squishy "grey" areas - come on - unless you are a brain surgeon, you should try to avoid such areas. Prions and viruses are abounding there...

vbspurs said...

Brutus has been the one praised and Caesar attacked, like for example during the French Revolution.

That's because the French Revolution was a cesspool of blood and crap. With no moral centre, you can romanticise Robespierre as both Brutus and Caesar according to your whims.

And as the French Revolution highlighted, whims are a very poor substitute for principles.

David said...

If it's not possible to know what Caesar actually did and thought, why would it be possible to know how Caesar was thought about during the Napoleonic period?

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

JAC's post, especially the last paragraph of his quote from Nehring, reminded me of a scathing review of a book of anti-Iraq-war poetry.

The reviewer pointed out that many of the poems focused on how bad the poets felt when they saw something in the news. They had nothing to say about the big topic -- war -- all they had was their pained sensibilities.

Edmund said...

Your second link doesn't go to the review. And the third (Amazon) link goes to a book Wykes edited that has the same title as one she wrote. The one she wrote is a recent release, the edited one is a couple of years old

former law student said...

Most blogs are written at the level of cocktail party conversation: "This is what I think about X" "Oh really? I agree with you on Xprime, but I disagree with you on Xdoubleprime; I propose Xtripleprime." If you enjoy that, your needs are met. If the blogger is boring, you will find someone else to listen to, injecting the occasional comment.

As far as the essay discussion in J-a-c's post: The essay proposes that you read it for the sheer enjoyment of reading the essay. You will take the scenic route. The conclusion will not be signposted. My father would propose taking a Sunday drive in the country, just for the enjoyment of the drive, and seeing the scenery. (My mother might pack a picnic, or we might stop somewhere to eat. But eating was not the purpose of the drive.)

Now J-a-c does not see the point of the Sunday drive: He either wants to go from Point A to Point B, or he doesn't want to get into the metaphorical car at all. He'd rather ride a bike, or go for a swim.

Ann Althouse said...

Links fixed. Sorry.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Oh come on - you're much too young to be giving up on squishy areas.

I'm not "giving up on" anything -- I never liked them.

In fact, I probably developed this aversion specifically when I was in high school or middle school and had to read novels where you were supposed to appreciate the social context and commentary.

Also, I'm going to do what I want -- I'm not going to base my preferences on whether I'm conforming to blog commenters' ideas of how people in certain categories should behave.

Meade said...

Okay, and more power to you. But talk about squishiness:

So more and more I am focusing on real writing, detailed reporting for magazines where you can do some real investigation and reporting and your audience isn't just people reading over their calzone at lunch. I don't want to end up some vapid blogger who tries to say everything and so who says nothing whatsoever. Life is too short. I'm really not sure what the solution is.

Yeesh! Sounds a little emo to me.