The prospect of reviewing anything by a man of Theodore Dalrymple’s Brobdingnagian intellect is about as appealing to me as skinny-dipping in Lake Vostok. But I’m going to take a stab at it anyway – reviewing, not skinny-dipping – in the hopes that I can inspire one of you to buy this most gloriously electrifying book: Our Culture, What’s Left of It.
Dalrymple, by the way, is the nom de plume of Englishman Anthony Daniels, a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist. His years of medical practice, in locales as varied as Zimbabwe and London’s East End, are the substratum of many (if not all) of his essays. This means, in the first place, that his writing is married to a wealth of gritty, hands-on experience. Consequently, and in the second place, he has little use for “good intentions unadulterated by any grasp of reality.”
Which brings me to my little caveat emptor: readers will find Dalrymple to be consistently and infuriatingly logical. Which, of course, sucks, if you happen to be of the liberal progressive mindset.
In these twenty six essays – touching on everything from Macbeth to Marilynn Manson to sexual enlightenment and modern art – Dalrymple’s target is the increasing debasement of Western culture, and more specifically, the ideas that precipitate this debasement. It is, by turns, a poignant and blistering read. Dalrymple is hardly what you might call a happy camper, which will lead some to dismiss him as a misanthropic curmudgeon. He isn’t. Love and honest-to-God concern for mankind is what drives him to write as he does. He merely takes a dim view of the moral and aesthetic garbage chute we seem to be sliding down.
A taste of Dalrymple at his Dalrympliest:
The problem of upholding virtue and denouncing vice without appearing priggish, killjoy, bigoted, and narrow-minded has become so acute that intellectuals are now inclined either to deny that there is a distinction between the two or to invert their value. There is no higher word of praise in the art critic’s vocabulary, for example, than ‘transgressive,’ as if transgression were in itself good, regardless of what is being transgressed. Likewise, to break a taboo is to be a hero, irrespective of the content of the taboo. Who is more contemned than he who clings stubbornly to old moral insights?
I had to laugh at one description of the book as “incisive yet undogmatic” – an intended compliment, but one I doubt Dalrymple would appreciate. Dogma (contrary to all the wisdom of our postmodern seers) is no four-letter word, and to be dogmatic about something (the truth, for example) is not necessarily a sin. No teacher worth his salt is undogmatic. Dalrymple knows this. Pussy-footing around isn’t the name of his game. Assertion, with authority and conviction, is.
Every piece in this book is worth your time and consideration, but you’ll want to pay special attention to –
- “The Frivolity of Evil”
- “The Goddess of Domestic Tribulations”
- “Why Shakespeare Is For All Time”
- “What’s Wrong With Twinkling Buttocks?” (worth the price of the book all by itself)
- “How – And How Not – To Love Mankind”
- “Trash, Violence, and Versace – But Is It Art?”
- “Don’t Legalize Drugs”
- “All Sex, All the Time”
For what it may be worth, I loved this book so much that my kids will have to read it before I let them leave the house.
And no, I don’t have any kids at the moment. It’s called planning ahead.