Flowers of the Mind – live journal series
From September 2021, I began a live journal series, Flowers of my Mind, that recounted my contemplative adventures and cultural, imaginative, intellectual, poetic discoveries of the week. Here they are in reverse date order:
- 30 January 2022 – Flowers of the Mind 17 – A holiday of regeneration. The crisis in Europe, Ukraine, the failure of American diplomacy and the end of NATO. The Siege of Leningrad, Vladimir Putin, Operation Barbarossa, and Dmitri Likhachev on the Russian Soul. Elena Shvarts and the Flora of Ukraine. Russian Ark and the survival of culture in the floating hermitage of the Neva.
- 16 January 2022 – Flowers of the Mind 16 – Elena Shvarts and the burnt archive. Olga Tokarczuk, The Books of Jacob, and the perils of order in history. The Stranger Effect and the charisma of Messiahs. The Coming of the Third Reich. Hermann Broch, The Death of Virgil and the ethics of poetry as gathering flowers of the mind.
- 30 December 2021 – Flowers of the Mind 15 – Elena Shvarts, New Jerusalem Monastery, Patriarch Nikon and the Resurrection of religious life in Russia. A definition of empire. Olga Tokarczuk and The Books of Jacob. Please consider purchasing my collected poems, Gathering Flowers of the Mind, and listening to my podcast, The Burning Archive. Best wishes for renewal in the New Year.
- 18 December 2021 – Flowers of the Mind 14 – Journalists draft history? The public sphere, Habermas and the post-democratic society. Emmanuel Todd on the tasks ahead for advanced societies. History as a moral art that encounters the living past in an infinite conversation.
- 11 December 2021 – Flowers of the Mind 13 – Dominic Lieven, Napoleon vs Russia, and the eastward expansion of NATO. The Hundred Years Cold War. Mary Sarotte, Not One Inch, James Baker and Mikhail Gorbachev. Totalitarianism and public health.
- 4 December 2021 – Flowers of the Mind 12 – Omricon, fear and crowd psychology. Jay Bhattacharya and the catastrophic errors of public health. Grieving memories of Stuart Macintyre. Szymborska on what matters. Paul Kingsnorth on fear, tyranny and the vaccine wars. Elena Shvarts on both hopelessness and hope.
- 27 November 2021 – Flowers of the Mind 11 – Evil triads and power. Will the West decouple from America? Mattias Desmet and mass formation psychosis. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. Troubadors and Pound’s Cantos.
- 21 November 2021 – Flowers of the Mind 10 – Robert Lowell on George Santayana. The silence of the doctors and the rule of public health. Virus gonna virus. Jordan B. Peterson on saying no to tyranny. The exposure of the RussiaGate and Steele dossier hoax. On prophecy. Bhagavad Gita and the sacrifice of the soul in the fire of the Gods.
- 13 November 2021 – Flowers of the Mind 9. – The escapades of the American Imperial War Faction in the Black Sea. Corruption investigation in Victoria, political patronage, branch stacking, Red Shirts and political decay. Rene Girard on scapegoating. Tennyson’s temper of heroic hearts. Regenerated tradition.
- 6 November 2021 – Flowers of the Mind 8. – Beowulf, polyphony and Mikhail Bakhtin. RussiaGate indictments approach the spider. Peter Frankopan and Fiona Hill. Jordan B Peterson. Elena Shvarts. Jonathon Sumption on how fear has undone democracy.
- 30 October 2021 Flowers of the Mind 7. Asvina (week 5) 2021 – Michael Anton, Machiavelli, and the way. David Starkey, rootedness and Chaucer. Dalai Lama. Jordan B. Peterson and self-transformation. Zbigniew Herbert and dreams.
- 22 October 2021 Flowers of the Mind 6. Asvina (week 4) 2021 – Glenn Greenwald, Havana Syndrome and Anglophone Russophobia. Vladimir Putin, Nikolai Berdyaev and the Free Academy of the Infinite Conversation. The return of history and the last democracy. Woke cults. Saint Thomas More and Thomas a Kempis. Elena Shvarts. Culaincourt and the retreat from Moscow…. and Afghanistan. Gideon Haigh, Melbourne lockdowns, wastelands, and the false freedom event.
- 16 October 2021 Flowers of the Mind 5. Asvina (week 3) 2021 – Karamzin, Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia. Thomas Gray Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard and lockdown. Andrew Marvell’s The Garden. Elena Shvarts. Poetry. Prophecy. The traditions of St Petersburg and modernism.
- 9 October 2021 Flowers of the Mind 4. Asvina (week 2) 2021 – Konstantin Leontyev and Byzantism. Henry Lawson, Past Carin’. Hart Crane. Tomas Tranströmer. Supply chain fragility. Alexander I and the defeat of Napoleon in 1812. Every poet is an émigré. Nobel Peace Prize misses the point.
- 2 October 2021 Flowers of the Mind 3. Asvina (week 1) 2021 – Wallace Stevens. COVID zero fanatics. The Novel is dead. Saint Galgano. Louise Glück. How democracies die. Solzhenitsyn.
- 25 September 2021, Flowers of the Mind 2. Ochpaniztli (week 4) 2021 – Emily Dickinson, Vaclav Havel, Revolution in Military Affairs, the fall of the Anglo-American Ascendancy, Vale Angelo Codevilla, Boris Pasternak
- 19 September 2021 Flowers of the Mind 1. (zari, week III, 2021) – Michael Oakeshott, Marina Tsvetaeva, Elena Shvarts, Russian Ark, St Petersburg
Reading Journal of 2021
Through 2021 I kept a reading journal, including of my poetry, podcast, film, TV, history and other reading.
I will enter a summary of the year’s reading in here. To be updated.
Old weblog of reading
From March to December 2020 I kept fitfully a weblog of my reading – completing books, not the daily drip of posts, news and commentary… I reviewed each book in three sentences or less.
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States (2014) is written by one of the world’s finest historians, and is remarkably timely in the wake of the American 2020 election that shook up lazy assumptions about the political behaviour of Hispanic Americans, and more broadly of the tensions between race, culture and identity.
Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue (1981/2007) has been on my radar since the early 1980s when I was studying at The University of Melbourne, and over the last fortnight I have finally read it. It proposes grounds for moral philosophy in Aristotle’s virtue, rather than the Enlightenment and Max Weber’s war of the gods of incommensurate values. The modern grounds lead to unresolvable disagreements. McIntyre proposes a return to virtue grounded in a specific idea of what is the best kind of life for a human being like to me to live. Virtue itself needs to be grounded in a practice, a sense of meaning or narrative about one’s whole life, and a tradition. I will take this idea up further in my text on political philosophy, The Ordinary Virtues of Governing Well, prefigured in this post, Do we repair our republics with big ideas or ordinary virtues?
March to July 2020
Angelo Codevilla The Ruling Class: How they corrupted America and what we can do about it (2010) I came to this book through the recommendation of The American Mind podcast, which I greatly enjoy in part because I do not anticipate it and do not always agree. It is ultimately a short and bracing pamphlet against the new nomenklatura, but its statement of faith in the American people I found both alienating and unconvincing. I am not of the Empire.
Patrick J. Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed (2018) is a remarkable condemnation of the liberalism that underpins both progressivism and neo-conservatism, and is rooted in a freedom without the true, ancient liberty of constraint, responsibility and inherited culture. I made extensive notes of this important statement of political philosophy. It condemns liberalism as unsustainable – life without limits; as a collaboration between individualism and statism; as anticulture, a charge most resonant for me; and a degradation of citizenship. I will write a full post on this work, and believe the outline of steps for a life after liberalism, a kind of Benedict Option offers me a path forward by “developing practices that foster new forms of culture, household economics, and polis life.”
K.T. (Kathleen Troia) McFarland’s Revolution: Trump, Washington and ‘We the People’ (2020) is a remarkably observant account of the degradation of American democratic and legal institutions through the attempts by the FBI, CIA, Democratic Party leaders and legal associates to subvert and sabotage the Trump Administration. While McFarland is a brave witness to the political persecution by the American security state, especially in the framing of General Michael Flynn and McFarland, I was ultimately left disappointed by the final declaration of faith in a populist revolution under a banner that declares America is exceptional and the greatest nation on earth. My longer post on McFarland’s book is here: K.T. McFarland’s Revolution in Tamerlane’s Shadow.
Frank Dikötter, The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History 1962-1976 (2016) shows the monstrosity of revolutionary and progressive ideology when combined with the total authority of the state. Tragic portraits of Madame Mao, the Gang of Four, and ultimately that inheritor, not reformer of the party-state, Deng Xiaoping are balanced with remarkable stories from new archival sources of ordinary people who both resisted and succumbed to the fervour of violent ideological possession, including those who learnt over time to beat people without remorse. Its final sentence is the lesson of Tiananmen Square, the ultimate coda of the Cultural Revolution: “The massacre was a display of brutal force and steely resolve, designed to send a signal that still pulsates to this day: do not query the monopoly of the one-party state.” (p. 322)
Peter Bergen, Trump and his Generals: the cost of chaos (2019). I bought this e-book after hearing Bergen speak on Steven K. Bannon’s Warroom: Impeachment podcast (episode 107). Its subtitle does not count the cost of military-intelligence complex which its story shows really dominates the political order of the United States of America. It relied too much on the perspective of that complex, and too little to the challengers of that order, such as Trump, Flynn and Bannon.
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Here are some older posts on what I have been reading, and saving from the flames of progress.