Tag Archives: theodore dalrymple

“Sanctified” Exhibitionism

facepalm_stencil_by_killingspr-d4ngb9nThe other day I happened upon a Christian blogger who felt led to share an erotic poem he had written for and about his wife. I’ll refrain from linking to the thing; all considerations of taste and discretion aside, the poetry itself is really rather bad, and sounds like fifth- or sixth-rate Chaucer. The most interesting part, in my opinion, is that when challenged as to the wisdom of sharing his poem with the world, the author responded by saying that “my marriage, like all marriages, is a public sexual relationship.”

[clears throat]

And now it’s time for Silly Songs with Larry, the part of the show where Larry comes out and sings a Silly Song.

Marriage as a public sexual relationship. Gotcha. I can honestly say I’ve never heard that one before, but as Josip from Island of the World would observe, “you learn something new every day.” You learn, for example, that some people are chowderheads, and ought not to be taken seriously about much of anything – sex least of all.

We are the pirates who don’t do anything/We just stay at home and lie around…

Public sexual relationship. Public sexual relationship. Pray, what crazy hermeneutical gymnastics does one have to perform for this to be a viable statement? Has irony crawled off somewhere and died, or is he just asleep? Can someone please wake him up? My word, people. Some things really should not be said with a straight face. The man who combines “public” and “sexual” in this way and for this purpose clearly has a doubtful grasp of the true meaning of either.

And I’ve never bathed in yogurt/And I don’t look good in leggings…

Let’s not kid ourselves: if escaping the ditch of Victorian prudery tumbles us into the ditch of “sanctified” exhibitionism – all in the name of Christian liberty – we still have not found the road yet.

But what is harmless in private is not necessarily harmless, let alone beneficial, in public; and those who think that their private and public behavior should always be the same, for fear of introducing hypocrisy into it, have a view of human existence that lacks subtlety, irony and above all realism. (Theodore Dalrymple, Spoilt Rotten)

Book Review: Spoilt Rotten

Spoilt_Rotten_Dalrymple_coverTo begin with, Heaven help the man, woman, or Yeti responsible for the – yes, I’ll say it – rotten cover design on display here. What kitsch.

Thankfully, that is the last negative thing I have to say about this book, because the rest of it is pure gold – gold with a British accent, which makes it even shinier. I encourage you to buy a copy for yourself, several for your friends, and a few dozen extra to pass out at the local college campus. Trust me: our colleges need it even more than you do.

As anyone with half a brain can tell, Dalrymple is not into pulling his punches. If you pick up Our Culture, What’s Left of It, it’s rather like scrambling into the ring with Joe Louis, only much better for your health. If you enjoyed that book, as I did, then you will absolutely love Spoilt Rotten. With his typical eloquence and Johnsonian wit, Dalrymple examines the way sentimentality has usurped the public sphere, with disastrous (though frequently unacknowledged) results.

When sentimentality becomes a mass public phenomenon, it becomes manipulative in an aggressive way: it demands of everyone that he join in. A man who refuses to do so, on the grounds that he does not believe that the purported object of sentiment is worthy of demonstrative display, puts himself outside the pale of the virtuous and becomes almost an enemy of the people. His fault is a political one, a refusal to recognize the truth of the old saw, vox populi, vox dei – the voice of the people is the voice of God…

Sentimentality is the expression of emotion without judgment. Perhaps it is worse than that: it is the expression of emotion without an acknowledgment that judgment should enter into how we should react to what we see and hear.

Like I said, buy one or twenty copies. Consider it an investment. In high explosives. With stentorian returns. I bid you all, in the immortal words of that great philosopher Samuel Jackson, to “hold onto your butts.”

Book Review: Our Culture, What’s Left of It

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.

41Wq6gH5iVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_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.

A Reputation for Intolerance

“All this is necessary for evil to triumph, said Burke, is for good men to do nothing; and most good men nowadays can be relied upon to do precisely that. Where a reputation for intolerance is more feared than a reputation for vice itself, all manner of evil may be expected to flourish.”

– Theodore Dalrymple, Our Culture, What’s Left of It

Hubris, Fences, and Fools

It’s good to pause every now and then to appreciate the genius of a great essayist. And Dr. Theodore Dalrymple is a great essayist. This, from the preface to Our Culture, What’s Left of It:

… critics of social institutions and traditions, including writers of imaginative literature, should always be aware that civilization needs conservation at least as much as it needs change, and that immoderate criticism, or criticism from the standpoint of utopian first principals, is capable of doing much – indeed devastating – harm. No man is so brilliant that he can work out everything for himself, so that the wisdom of ages has nothing useful to tell him. To imagine otherwise is to indulge in the most egotistical of hubris.

Another great essayist? G.K. Chesterton. This, from “The Drift from Domesticity”:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principal; a principal which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody.  And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

Connections. One of the greatest joys to be had in reading.