Roger Kimball

American publisher

Roger Kimball (born 1953) is an American art critic and conservative social commentator. He is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the publisher of Encounter Books.

Quotes edit

  • What is not possible is to combine the pursuit of pleasure and the enjoyment of comfort with the characteristic pleasures of a strong mind. If you wish for luxury, you must not nourish the inquisitive instinct.
    • Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse, Ivan R. Dee: Chicago 2002.
  • Without an allegiance to beauty, art degenerates into a caricature of itself. It is beauty that animates aesthetic experience, making it so seductive; but aesthetic experience itself degenerates into a kind of fetish or idol if it is held up as an end in itself, untested by the rest of life.
    • Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age (ed. Ivan R Dee, 2000)

The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (2012) edit

  • The true democrat wishes to share the great works of culture with all who are able to appreciate them; the egalitarian, recognizing that genuine excellence is rare, declares greatness a fraud and sets about obliterating distinctions.
  • Some people regard the astonishing collapse of manners and civility in our society as a superficial event. They are wrong. The fate of decorum expresses the fate of a culture’s dignity, its attitude toward its animating values.
  • "History,” Bagehot wrote, “is strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the movements of the world gave a chance for it.”
  • And let’s not forget “Dane-Geld”: It is always a temptation to a rich and lazy nation, To puff and look important and to say: “Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you. We will therefore pay you cash to go away.” And that is called paying the Dane-geld; But we’ve proved it again and again, That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld You never get rid of the Dane.

The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America (2000) edit

San Francisco: Encounter Books.
  • As with most revolutions, the counterculture's call for total freedom quickly turned into a demand for total control. The phenomenon of 'political correctness', with its speech codes and other efforts to enforce ideological conformity, was one predictable result of this transformation. What began at the University of California at Berkeley with the Free Speech Movement (called by some the 'Filthy Speech Movement'} soon degenerated into an effort to abridge freedom by dictating what could and could not be said about any number of politically sensitive issues.
  • We - the industrialized, technologized world - have never been richer. And yet to an extraordinary extent we in the West continue to inhabit a moral and cultural universe shaped by the hedonistic imperatives and radical ideals of the Sixties. Culturally, morally the world we inhabit is increasingly a trash world: addicted to sensation, besieged everywhere by the cacophonous, mind-numbing din of rock music, saturated with pornography, in thrall to the lowest common denominator wherever questions of taste, manners or intellectual delicacy are concerned. Marwick was right: 'The cultural revolution, in short, had continuous, uninterrupted, and lasting consequences'.
  • The Beats are crucial to an understanding of America's cultural revolution not least because in their lives, their proclamations, and (for lack of a more accurate term) their 'work' they anticipated so many of the pathologies of the Sixties and Seventies. Their programmatic anti-Americanism, their avid celebration of drug abuse, their squalid, promiscuous sex lives, their pseudo-spirituality, their attack on rationality and their degradation of intellectual standards, their aggressive narcissism and juvenile political posturing: in all this and more, the Beats were every bit as 'advanced' as any Sixties radical.
  • Ginsberg turned out to be depressingly prescient when, after a heated argument with Norman Podhoretz in 1958, he yelled, 'We'll get you through your children!' For countless American families, that turned out to be only too true.
  • If the politicization of art and education represents one large part of the counterculture's legacy, the coarsening of feeling and sensibility is another. No phenomenon has done more to advance this coarsening than rock music. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of rock music to the agenda of the cultural revolution. It is also impossible to overstate its soul-deadening destructiveness. The most reviled part of Allan Bloom's book The Closing of the American Mind was his chapter criticizing the effects of rock. But Bloom was right in insisting that rock music is a potent weapon in the arsenal of emotional anarchy. The triumph of rock was not only an aesthetic disaster of giant proportions: it was also a moral disaster whose effects are nearly impossible to calculate precisely because they are so pervasive.
  • Like the medieval heretics that Norm Cohn wrote about in The Pursuit of the Millennium, the Beats cultivated an extreme narcissism that bordered on self-deification and that 'liberated them from all restraints' and allowed them to experience every impulse as a 'divine command'. What Norman Podhoretz observed of Ginsberg was also true of the Beats generally: they 'conjured up a world of complete freedom from the limits imposed by [bourgeois] responsibilities'. Podhoretz added, 'It was a world that promised endless erotic possibility together with the excitements of an expanded consciousness constantly open to new dimensions of being: more adventure, more sex, more intensity, more life'. Alas, the promise was illusory. Instead of an 'expanded consciousness', the Beats purchased madness, ruination, and, for many, an early death. Their attack on bourgeois responsibility led not to greater freedom but to greater chaos. The erotic paradise they envisioned turned out to be rife with misery.
  • The Beats, like their successors in the Sixties, have often been described as 'idealists'. But fantasies of total gratification are not the product of idealism. They arise from a narcissism that, finding the world unequal to its desires, retreats into a realm of heedless self-absorption. Modesty, convention, and self-restraint then appear as the enemies rather than as the allies of humanity. In this sense, the Beat generation marks a step away from civilization.
  • The institutionalization of the Beat ethic has been a moral, aesthetic, and intellectual disaster of the first order. (It has also been a disaster for fashion and manners, but that is a separate subject.) We owe to the 1960s the ultimate institutionalization of immoralist radicalism: the institutionalization of drugs, pseudo-spirituality, promiscuous sex, virulent anti-Americanism, naive anti-capitalism, and the precipitous decline of artistic and intellectual standards. But the1960s and 1970s only codified and extended into the middle class the radical spirit of the Beats, who, in more normal times, would have remained what they were in the beginning; members of a fringe movement that provided stand-up comics with material.
  • The Beats inaugurated the long march through the moral territory of American culture. Who knows how many lives were blighted along the way as a result of their proselytizing on behalf of drugs and promiscuous sex?
  • Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Kerouac were all on the side of the savage. That their penny-ante gnosticism was not only perpetuated but mythologized and spread abroad as a gospel of emancipation is something for which we have the Sixties to thank - or to blame.
  • In short order, the unconventional became the established convention; the perverse was embraced as normal; the unspeakable was broadcast everywhere; the outrageous was met with enthusiastic applause.
  • You cannot step a foot into the literature about the 1960s without being told how 'creative', 'idealistic', and 'loving' it was, especially in comparison to the 1950s. In fact, the counterculture of the Sixties represented the triumph of what the art critic Harold Rosenberg famously called the 'herd of the independent minds'. Its so-called creativity consisted in continually recirculating a small number of radical cliches; its idealism was little more than irresponsible utopianism; and its crusading for 'love' was largely a blind for hedonistic self-indulgence.
  • The Beats were tremendously significant, but chiefly in the way that they provided a preview in the 1950s of the cultural, intellectual, and moral disasters that would fully flower in the late 1960s. The ideas of the Beats, their sensibility, contained in ovo all the characteristics we think of as defining the cultural revolution of the Sixties and Seventies. The adolescent longing for liberation from conventional manners and intellectual standards; the polymorphous sexuality; the narcissism; the destructive absorption in drugs; the undercurrent of criminality; the irrationalism; the naive political radicalism and reflexive anti-Americanism; the adulation of pop music as a kind of spiritual weapon; the Romantic elevation of art as an alternative to rather than as an illumination of normal reality; the pseudo-spirituality, especially the spurious infatuation with Eastern religions: in all this and more the Beats provided a vivid glimpse of what was to come.
  • Incidentally, why is it that drug abuse is always described as an 'experiment', as if some important scientific enterprise were at stake instead of hedonistic self-indulgence?

Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (1990) edit

  • The very concept of "ethnocentrism," which is used like a sledge-hammer to disparage the West, is a Western invention.
  • [B]ehind the many pseudo-sciences that have recently dominated literary criticism . . . you will find the same suspicion of literature, a desire to sever our relation to it by denuding it of meaning. The "methods" proposed are laughable caricatures of science; and the results delivered are useful to no one. But that was not the point. The methods of the new literary theorist are really weapons of subversion: an attempt to destroy humane education from within, to rupture the chain of sympathy that binds us to our culture. That is why the new schools of criticism have acquired a following: they promise to release us from the burden of study by showing that there is nothing after all to learn.
  • [M]eaningful politics must recognize other important values in human life. Indeed, politics makes no sense when it stands by itself. If the question who wields political power is not broadened to take account of what that power is to be used for - that is, what human values it will serve - then it reduces to a matter of who manages to subdue whom.
  • The notion that some works are better and more important than others; that some works exert a special claim on our attention; that "being educated" requires a thoughtful acquaintance with these works and an ability to discriminate between greater and lesser-all this is anathema to the forces arrayed against the traditional understanding of the humanities. The very idea that the works of Shakespeare (for example) might be indisputably greater than the collected cartoons of Bugs Bunny is often rejected as "antidemocratic" and "elitist," an imposition on the freedom and political interests of various groups.
  • The institutionalization of the radical ethos in the academy has brought with it not only an increasing politicization of the humanities, but also an increasing ignorance of the humanistic legacy. Instead of reading the great works of the past, students watch movies, pronounce on the depredations of patriarchal society, or peruse second- or third-rate works dear to their ideological cohort; instead of reading widely among primary texts, they absorb abstruse commentaries on commentaries, resorting to primary texts only to furnish illustrations for their pet critical "theory." Since many older professors have themselves been the beneficiaries of the kind of traditional education they have rejected and are denying their students, it is the students who are the real losers in this fiasco.

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