Belmont Club

The House that Roger Built

Roger Simon’s email announcing that he was leaving the helm of PJ Media to return to creative writing was both a memento mori and a memento vivire to all the recipients. The former because it sadly conveyed that all good things must come to an end.  Yet it was most especially the latter. A reminder that we live. It is hard to find an online story, watch a video clip or indeed listen to a conversation of any length without detecting the difference that Roger and his merry men have wrought.

Listen to Judge Napolitano weigh in on the subject of giving the president unlimited drone power over life and death:

“The core of the argument is ‘trust us.’  That’s an argument that the Supreme Court rejected because it doesn’t trust a single individual to kill,” he said, noting the Constitution gives Congress the authority to declare war and a 12-person jury the power to sentence someone to death.

Or on the difference between the Republican and Democratic parties:

I’ve argued on Fox and elsewhere that we don’t have two political parties anymore. We have one political party, the big government party. It has a Republican wing that likes war and deficits and corporate welfare. It has a Democratic wing that likes war and taxes and individual welfare. Both wings have a single goal and that is staying in power.

They are concepts straight out of PJ Media, the ideas we discuss here every day. They are part of the mainstream now and it is shocking, but not altogether surprising, to realize they were not always.  They came perhaps not from the writing of Roger per se, but from others, including myself or Spengler or Leo Linbeck III — from people too many to mention. But ultimately it came through The House that Roger Built, PJ Media.

In all the talk of the virtual world we should not forget that its principal power lies in being able to recreate in airy castles the familiar universe of brick and mortar. A Tablet, a Desktop, a Cloud. For each thing in our physical lives seeks a correspondence in the life of the mind. Thus ideas need a home just as much as physical bodies do. That’s what Roger built. A mental hearth, a place where you could agree, argue or sometimes quarrel, but where you always felt among friends.

He leaves that home now to answer what used to be termed the call of the Muses. Today most people don’t believe in the Muses anymore. Not in the sense that the ancients did. The three — the goddesses of literature, science and the arts — were at one time supposed to command men to speak. They have largely been replaced by the single all purpose modern deity: the Job. In modern political orthodoxy we do things for one rational reason only, which is to get paid.

We write when the Boss tells us to. We craft a speech of talking points that the committee has approved. But of the Muses we heard no more. Until recently.

If any spiritual debt is owed to the informational technology revolution it has been in the resurrection of the Muses. For no one familiar with the programming world will believe for a minute that its best developers write code to be paid. They code because it is cool. They code and you would have to pay them not to code.

They are laboring, not for the chump change offered on Rent-A-Coder, but under the lash of the Muse. And because they have been so successful at remolding our world modern, cynical, materialistic culture has once again been forced, at iPod-point, to re-acknowledge the impulse of creativity.

We are no more surprised to read of some eminent programmer found dead in a motel room, surrounded by empty boxes of pizza and hundreds of cans of Jolt Cola, expired of heart attack, one bony finger poised to type the final curly bracket of his life than the ancients would have been to find some pilgrim deceased on the path to a seer’s cave, or overcome by the smoke of the Oracle. A victim to the Muse and wanderer along the way.

But if popular mind now understands the archetype of the Mad Scientist or the Mad Programmer as driven to create, it has a poorer understanding of those in thrall of the muse of literature. That is probably because it is easier to fake writing than it is to fake code; and the temple of that Muse is thronged with counterfeits. But to the true devotees in that crowd, Saul Bellow warned against the “unexpected intrusions of beauty.” For it would compel you to utter the things you had to say. It would take you to the place you had to go. Bellow compared answering that Muse to prayer:

I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.

And that is one description of the voice that some people can never escape. So when Roger says, “I am going to return to my creative writing while I still, to be honest, have some ability to do it” he has in some sense no choice in the matter. There are some things he has to say before the curtain falls.

Thus began the Iliad:

Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
since that time when first there stood in division of conflict
Atreus’ son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus.

And thus began the Odyssey:

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy.

Thus begins our life: sing. And never mind the path behind.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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