The Moviegoer

The Moviegoer, Walker Percy, 1961

This is Walker Percy’s first novel, which won the U.S. National Book Award, when things like that still mattered, in 1961.

I admit I cheated in reading this.  About one-third of the way through, I checked online to see what this was all about, because I was not liking this.  It was unpleasant, not in the manner of horror, but that the main character, the narrator Jack “Binx” Bolling, is so unlikable, but in such an uninteresting way.  You will be glad to know I was right in my assessment.

Bolling is on “the search” but he never makes clear what he is in search of, but he makes it amply clear that it is not for God.  He is restless, bored, and terrorized by the prospect of malaise.  His relations with other people are like in a dream or fog.  He is alienated, or atomized, and can only have significant conversation with his depressive cousin, whom he eventually marries (it appears).  He finds reality in movies, and if a place he knows shows up in a movie, it is “certified”, meaning real.  William Holden makes an appearance on the streets of New Orleans and he is more real than reality to Bolling.

Bolling could have achieved something in scientific research–he is prodded about it often–but found his sweet spot in making money.

This is America.  There are people who really like this book, who identify with it, and quote Bolling approvingly.  These people are lost at sea.

I find it fascinating this came out in 1961, right at peak America.  Percy, a Catholic, had it diagnosed.  I hear his work added up to, “There is a way through this:  Christianity.”


Fathers and Sons (Book Review)

Ivan Turgenev, Oxford World’s Classics (translated by Richard Freeborn).

 I first read this novel in high school English, of all places.  Being sophomores, my friends and I didn’t really get it, but in retrospect I think our teacher was trying to subvert us, in a good way.  I wanted to re-read it to see what Turgenev had to say about nihilists.

Turgenev introduced the literary world to the nihilists, a Russian movement of the 19th Century.  Published in 1862 right after Tsar Alexander II’s emancipation of the serfs (is there a “legacy of serfdom” in Russia??), it deals with the two generations in action at the time:  the Fathers and the Sons.  He is not really anti-nihilist (go to Dostoyevsky for that), but is just telling a story of his time.  Turgenev apparently identified with the fathers.  He does not present them in a very good light and sympathizes with some of the charges of the nihilists against his own generation.

The fathers are represented by:

  • Nikolai Kirsanov. A soft-hearted, cowardly, romantic, having difficulty running his estate; he has, like a good liberal, liberated some of his serfs already.
  • Pavel Kirsanov. Nikolai’s brother, an embodiment of aristocracy but lacking any substance at all.  He is a hollow shell haunted by a failed love.

The sons by:

  • Arkady Kirsanov. Nikolai’s son, in a way the story turns around which way he is going to go.
  • Evgeny Bazarov. A friend of Arkady’s from university.  He is the engine of the story.

Arkady and Bazarov start the story by returning to the Kirsanov estate from university.  It transpires that the blunt and rude Bazarov is a nihilist and Arkady is his disciple:

‘What is Bazarov?’  Arkady grinned.  ‘Do you want me, uncle, to tell you precisely what he is?’

‘Please be good enough, nephew.’

‘He is a nihilist.’

‘What?’ asked Nikolai Petrovich, while Pavel Petrovich raised his knife in the air with a piece of butter on the end of the blade and remained motionless.

‘He is a nihilist,’ repeaded Arkady.

‘A nihilist,’ said Nikolai Petrovich.  ‘That’s from the Latin nihil, nothing, so far as I can judge.  Therefore, the denotes a man who … who doesn’t recognize anything?’

‘Say, rather, who doesn’t respect anything,’ added Pavel Petrovich and once more busied himself with the butter.

‘Who approaches everything from a critical point of view,’ remarked Arkady.

‘Isn’t that the same thing?’

‘No, it’s not the same thing.  A nihilist is a man who doesn’t acknowledge any authorities, who doesn’t accept a single principle on faith, no matter how much this principle may be surrounded by respect.’

‘And that’s a good thing, is it?’ interjected Pavel Petrovich.

‘It depends on who you are, uncle.  It’s a good thing for one man and a bad thing for another.’

‘Is that so!  Well, I can see it’s not for us…’

Later, Pavel and Bazarov lock horns; it’s quite clear Pavel hates Bazarov (later in the novel there is a duel):

‘I see,’ interrupted Pavel Petrovich, ‘I see.  Meaning you’re convinced of all this and have decided for yourselves not to do anything serious about anything.’

‘And we’ve decided not to do anything about anything,’ Bazarov repeated sombrely.

He had suddenly grown annoyed with himself for having talked so much in front of this lordly gentleman.

‘And just swear at everything?’

‘And swear at everything.’

‘And that’s called nihilism?’

‘And that’s called nihilism,’ Bazarov repeated, this time with particular cockiness.

Pavel Petrovich made a slight face.

‘So that’s it!’ he declared in a strangely calm voice.  ‘Nihilism’s got to come to the aid of all the wrongs in the world and you, you’re our saviours and heroes.  But why in that case do you abuse others, like those so-called social critics?  Don’t you chatter on just as much as the rest?’

‘We’re guilty of most things but not of that,’ Bazaraov spat out through his teeth.

‘Is that so?’  Are you taking action, then?  Are you preparing to act?’

Bazarov did not answer.  Pavel Petrovich literally shook with rage, but at once took control of himself.

‘Hmm!  To take action, to smash things…’ he went on.  ‘But how can you smash something without even knowing why you’re doing it?’

‘We smash things because we’re a force,’ remarked Arkady.

Pavel Petrovich looked at his nephew and smiled faintly.

‘Yes, a force literally doesn’t take account of anything,’ declared Arkady and sat up straight.

‘Oh, you wretch!’ yelled Pavel Petrovich.  He was positively in no condition to restrain himself any longer.  ‘If only you’d give a moment’s thought to what it is in Russia you’re supporting with your banal maxim!  No, this could try the patience of an angel!  Force!  There’s force in the wild Kalmuck and the Mongol–so what’s that to us?  Civilization is what’s dear to us–yes, indeed, my good sir.    Its fruits are dear to us.  And don’t you tell me that its fruits are worth nothing at all.  The meanest dauber, un barbouilleur, a chap playing a piano for five copecks an evening–they’re all more useful than you are, because they are representatives of civilization and not of brute Mongol force!  You imagine you are leaders of society, but all you want to do is live in Kalmuck huts!  Force!  Just you remember finally, you men of force, that there’re only four and a half of you but there are millions of others who won’t allow you to trample underfoot their most sacred convictions, who’ll stamp you out once and for all!’

Arkady and Bazarov eventually leave the estate and visit Anna Odintsova, a not very old widow over whom Bazarov falls in love.  She spurns him–he strikes fear in her heart when she realizes his serious intent.  This is the beginning of the end for Bazarov, for he has fallen from his anti-romantic state and has failed at love.  He sinks into despondency and anger with himself.

Arkady, on the other hand, meets Katya, Anna’s younger sister, and he begins growing fond of her.  Eventually they marry.  This sets him on a path directly away from Bazarov.  The trajectory of the two sons is interesting:  Arkady eventually rejects nihilism and embraces the ways of his father and has a happy end.  Barzarov returns home, and in helping his retired doctor father, is infected with typhus and dies.

As Arkady and Bazarov part ways, Bazarov tells him,

‘You’ve behaved sensibly.  You’re not made for the bitter, sour-tasting, rootless life of people like me.  You haven’t got the daring, you haven’t got the anger, all you’ve got is youthful courage and youthful fervour–and that’s not enough for what I’ve got to do.  Aristos [aristocrats] like you’ll never go beyond noble humility or noble indignation and that’s all nonsense.  You, for example, won’t fight–and yet you think you’re fine chaps–but people like us, we want to fight.  And we will!  The dust we kick up’ll eat out your eyes, our mud’ll get all over you, but you–you’re not as grown up as we are, you can’t help admiring yourselves, you think it’s pleasant to give yourselves a hard time.  But to us that’s all a yawn.  Give us other people! I say.  We’ve got others to destroy!’

And so they did!  But don’t think it was only Russia which suffered at the hands of the nihilists.  Look around you, we live among the ruins.

Blood in the Square (Book Review)

John Bean is a veteran of the nationalist movements in the United Kingdom in the 1960s.  Alternative Right published a lengthy interview with him by Colin Liddell which I found fascinating, even though I had not heard of most of the men mentioned, including Bean himself; it was enough to get me to buy the book and read it.

Blood in the Square: Life, Love and Political Conflict in Sixties Britain is Bean’s fictionalized account of those days.  The book is a quick read, and Bean’s talent is in distilling all the reasons for rightist failure into a simple, readable, fairly entertaining account.  From the preface:

Blood in the Square takes the reader inside the nationalist movements of the mid-sixties vying for support on the anti-immigration bandwagon.  Importantly, it tells you what these people were like, what they thought and how they lived.  Much of this is based on the author’s experiences.

The plot revolves around one Victor Blackwood, an activist in the Nationalist Action Movement (NAM) who travels about meeting with other activists and making speeches while his marriage crumbles.  Other prominent characters are Alan Laudersby, a young chemist drawn to the NAM but wary of anti-Semitism and violence; Charles Barnet, and old veteran activist happy to mix it up; David Pearman, a leftist journalist (but I repeat myself); Len Norris, one of  Blackwood’s guards; and Harris, a NAM follower but also a low-life.  Speeches and meetings are menaced by mobs of “Trots”.

The salient characteristics of the story are:

  • The difficulty of mobilizing a movement in the face of a culture dominated by leftism and all its works;
  • Social and employment pressures working against anyone joining the nationalist right;
  • Fractures in the right, with associated infighting;
  • A movement whose audience is described thusly:  “They ranged from the near criminally insane, via social misfits to ordinary people worried about the change that mass immigration was giving.”
  • The pervasiveness of violence, mostly initiated by the left, but almost always blamed on the right.

There is no happy ending; the efforts failed, just look at the United Kingdom today.  One wonders if Bean simply took today’s environment and anachronistically imposed it on his time in the ’60s, so much of it rings eerily familiar.  That was 50 years ago, the collapse still moves to the same beat.

Wherever you may fall in the disaffected right, you can see we face the same challenges today.  Blood in the Square describes failed efforts to build a following.  The problem with trying to build a following is that, while most people are followers, they have already been led somewhere by our hostile elites.  The chances of getting their attention and leading them somewhere else are low indeed.  I commend efforts to cultivate an alternative elite, because that is what will be needed as our nation unravels.

Casino Royale (Book Review)

Indulge me in a little pulp fiction. I have never read an Ian Fleming book, and I have only seen one James Bond movie. It was a Roger Moore version–I can’t remember which one–and I was not impressed; I want my spy stories to be serious. I loved Mission Impossible and hated Get Smart when I was young. So when Richard Spencer did yet another Radix podcast on James Bond, they mentioned that the books were very different from the movies, so I had to read one.

Figuring I would get necessary background in the first installment, I picked Casino Royale.  It’s a good, short book. Notice how so many books today are long and serialized?  Movies are similar.  It’s a relief to be able to zip through a complete story.  The plot was tight–nothing fantastical–and the writing good enough.  Bond was not the Movie Bond. there was nothing frivolous. Bond has a real human side.  The story lingers in my mind days after reading it.  I’ll probably read another eventually.

It made me think of the Cold War; Casino Royale was published in 1953, the end of the beginning of the Cold War. A few notes about the time:

  • The Berlin Airlift, 1948, touched off the Cold War;
  • Alger Hiss trial, 1948;
  • China goes Communist, 1949;
  • Senator McCarthy’s Wheeling speech on the infiltration of Communism in the State Department, 1950;
  • Julius and Ethel Rosenberg give away the nuclear secret, 1950;
  • The Korean War, 1950-53;
  • Whittaker Chamber’s Witness, 1952;
  • Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, 1953;
  • National Review founded, 1955

The Cold War must have been a huge shock after the struggle of World War II, and now a dark sinister cloud descended over the country, with the government honeycombed with a large Fifth Column. Right wing resistance was rising from a liberal-dominated society.

More on the home front:

  • Boring baseball, and the New York Yankees dominate, win five straight World Series, 1949-53
  • Levittown, NY:  the birth of suburbia, 1947-51
  • The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, 1955

I won’t try to comment on the significance of Ian Fleming’s Bond.  It’s good pulp.