The importance of T.E. Hulme, by Roger Kimball

The history of philosophers we know, but who will write the history of the philosophic amateurs and readers?” Thus did the Imagist poet and essayist T. E. Hulme begin “Cinders,” a posthumously published collection of notes and aphorisms about art, life, and language that he scribbled in his early twenties while traveling across Canada working on railways, farms, and in timber mills. Hulme (the name is pronounced “Hume”) was himself a conspicuously philosophical amateur. Or perhaps one should say “amateur philosopher” (I use “amateur,” as he did, in its most flattering sense). Among much else, he was a translator and—for a few years, anyway–champion of the work of the French philosopher Henri Bergson; he was an early and voluble reader of Edmund Husserl, G. E. Moore, Alexius Meinong, Georges Sorel, Max Scheler, and other difficult, path-breaking thinkers; he was the first to disseminate in England Wilhelm Worringer’s ideas about the “urge to abstraction” in art; he was an enthusiastic proponent of certain strains of avant-garde art, an implacable critic of others. Above all, Hulme was a committed if idiosyncratic Tory, an ardent propagandist for “classicism” and “the religious attitude,” an adamant scourge of pacificism and anything that he could construe as “romanticism” or “humanism.”

Today, Hulme merits an extended footnote in the history of English modernism— the high modernism of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Wyndham Lewis. In her recent edition of Hulme’s writings for Oxford’s Clarendon Press,[1] Karen Csengeri calls Hulme “one of the most misunderstood figures in twentieth-century letters.” He is at any rate one of the most fugitive. Hulme is one of those curious figures whose influence outruns his achievement—or at least whose achievement is difficult to reckon by the usual standards. The aesthetic movement with which he is most closely associated—Imagism—is, as René Wellek observed, based on ideas that are “extremely simple and even trite.” Poetry, Hulme wrote in one typical exhortation, should be “a visual concrete” language that “always endeavors to arrest you, and to make you continuously see a physical thing, to prevent you gliding through an abstract process.”

read the complete article in The New Criterion

Eric Hobsbawm, 1917-2012, by Roger Kimball

In the annals of moral idiocy, the Marxist British historian Eric Hobsbawm, who died yesterday at 95, will ever enjoy a conspicuous place. A gifted and prolific writer, the Egyptian-born Hobsbawm was utterly absorbed by the ideology that fired his youthful dreams of utopia.  How he must have savored the fact that he was born in 1917, the year of the Bolshevist revolution in Russia which ushered in so much poverty, misery, terror, and freedom-blighting totalitarian oppression. “The dream of the October Revolution is still there somewhere inside me,” Hobsbawm wrote in his memoir Interesting Times in 2002, “I have abandoned, nay, rejected it, but it has not been obliterated. To this day, I notice myself treating the memory and tradition of the USSR with an indulgence and tenderness.”

Indeed. Hobsbawm was adulated by an academic establishment inured to celebrating partisans of totalitarian regimes so long as they are identifiably left-wing totalitarian regimes. Although he claimed to have been victim of a “weaker McCarthyism” that retard advancement of leftists in the UK, Hobsbawm enjoyed a stellar career replete with official honors, preferments, and perquisites. He was  showered with honors and academic appointments at home  and abroad. His books won all manner of awards. In 1998 he was appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honor. But the central fact about Hobsbawm, as about so many doctrinaire leftists, was his willingness to barter real people for imaginary social progress.  If he “abandoned, nay rejected” the “dream” of the October Revolution, he never abandoned its animating core: an almost reflexive willingness to sacrifice innocent lives for the sake of a spurious ideal.

The philosopher David Stove once identified “bloodthirstyness” as  the motivating force of Communism and its offshoots.  Scratch a socialist and you  discover a fondness for the gulag.  This describes Hobsbawm to a T.  In 1994, the venerable historian discussed the former Soviet Union with a television interviewer. What Hobsbawm’s position comes down to, the interviewer suggested, “is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?” Hobsbawm: “Yes.”

I think that says us all we need to know about this repellent figure who has at last gone to his reward.
Published at Roger’s Rules

Powered by WordPress | Designed by Kerygma