Greetings, people of Earth! I am really grateful to Dan McCarthy and the other good folks at The American Conservative for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts, or perhaps “thoughts,” with y’all. You can get some of the nitty-gritty about me by visiting my home page, but I thought I might start out here by offering a random selection of opinions — just so you folks get a sense of the kinds of things I think about and what I think about them. Think of this as a pretty random, and yet generally representative, selection.
1) I have lived in the suburbs of Chicago for nearly thirty years, but I am an Alabamian by birth and upbringing, and that continues to be central to my identity. The Midwest is an admirable region in many ways, but I am a stranger in a strange land here and I suppose always will be.
2) Around 250 years ago Samuel Johnson wrote, “How small, of all that human hearts endure, / That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!” That’s not as true as it once was, but still powerfully true, and my understanding of conservatism — at least, the conservatism I practice — focuses on nurturing and strengthening those elements of life that are or ought to be beyond the reach of laws or kings.
3) I am one of those rare Anglicans who does not want to be anything else. I harbor no particular affection for Rome or Byzantium (nor disdain for them either): Canterbury is my spiritual home, and its traditions provide more spiritual nourishment than I am ever likely to exhaust. My beliefs and practices are deeply traditional in most ways, and I adore the language of the old Prayer Book, but I think much of the material in the Church of England’s Common Worship project provides, when taken as a whole, better liturgy and better theology than dear old Cranmer did.
4) When I was a young Christian I read and delighted in the works of C. S. Lewis, but as my education developed I found that he did little to prepare me for constructive engagement with late-modern thought; in seeking such engagement I learned far more from two other Christians whom I think of as my Masters (in much the way that Lewis himself thought of George MacDonald): W. H. Auden and Mikhail Bakhtin.
5) The idea, so often associated with the late Cardinal Bernadin, of the “seamless garment” of life or a consistent life ethic need not be an evasion of the abortion issue, even though I have often heard it used in just that way. Properly understood, it is the politics that we all should strive for, and which both leading political parties fall wildly short of embodying. I want more than anything to be “consistently pro-life,” though I do not find it obvious how to do that through voting or any of the other usual forms of political activity. I therefore prefer political eccentricity to affiliation with either party. (I used to think of the Republicans as my family — my eccentric, perverse, troubled, thoroughly weird family — but I can’t even say that much any more.)
6) I read voraciously and omnivorously, and don’t especially care whether I do so via a codex, a Kindle, or an iPad. But I am passionately attentive to the effects technology has on on reading, writing, and ways of thinking. I write often about technology now, and have done so in the past, but that will be an occasional rather than a major feature of this blog. Or at least, that’s what I think now.
7) I love to teach, and given the opportunity to get the same pay for full-time writing, I would turn it down in order to stay in the classroom. (However, if you cut a class or two from my teaching load I wouldn’t complain very loudly.) Much of what I write here about literature and culture is likely to emerge, directly or indirectly, from conversations with my students.
8) I love all literature — poetry, drama, fiction — but I have a particular affection for the essay, both because I practice it myself and because I think of it as the mistreated stepchild of literature. It is sad to me to see how many great essayists have been lost to the world (or anyway produced fewer essays than they would have otherwise) because writers believed that they had to write something else in order to become Truly Great. I seriously wonder if David Foster Wallace would have killed himself had he not been convinced that his next big book had to be a novel: if he had allowed The Pale King to become what it wanted to be, a big sprawling essayistic meditation, both he and it would have been better off. Similarly, Walker Percy wrote only one successful novel (The Moviegoer) and would have made a far greater contribution to literature had he focused his attention on the essay, of which he was a great master.
9) Several years ago I wrote a column for Books and Culture magazine that I called “Rumors of Glory” — I explain the reference here. Most of what I write about everything could be placed in the “rumors of glory” category.
10) A good blog is, or can be, a way of writing essays by installments. Watch and see.
There. That’s enough to be going on with. I look forward to interlocution.