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26 July 2011


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Sidney O. Smith III

Mr. Sale

Since our brief correspondence, I have read with closer scrutiny your essays. They are so extraordinarily well-written, so moving, and so profound, I concede completely on all points. There really is nothing more for me to say.


Well...actually…simply for the record, I would like to note that I believe you did post this exact reply during our original exchange from December 20-22, 2010. So I already have left a couple of admittedly out-of-date responses. Here’s the thread (scroll down).


Those comments notwithstanding, since reading your recent response to Walrus, I must leave an addendum that further clarifies. That particular essay all but knocked me unconscious. And during that time, it was as if Flannery O’Connor tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Richard Sale is aok. He views neither Tolstoy nor the human ego as religion. Probably has a keen sense of humor too. After all, a good man is hard to find.”

Again, many thanks. Sid

Jose L campos

Sale, the scene of the delivery in Anna Karenina is the most awesome piece of description. However the Divine Comedy is angelic spheres beyond those works.

Sidney O. Smith III

Mr. Sale

All this said, I do hope you read my two responses to your reply that I posted way back in December 2010 and linked above.

Yes? No?

I still stand behind the general propositions contained in those two responses and summarized as follows:

1. Generally speaking, I believe it unwise, at least around Russians, to say Tolstoy was almost as good as the Germans.

2. I continue to stand by my interpretation of Holbrooke’s final words as he went into the death experience, and I got there via the lady’s art, particularly her most famous story.

3. Hemingway’s small world art touches the rim of mysteries. I left a respectful challenge in that December comment, and I will just leave it at that.

Where I went wrong -- and I was egregiously wrong -- was that I thought you were just some DC guy talking the talk. You know, Georgetown martini circuit with all them people from the Pentagon and reporters -- the A list.

But I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

And if you have any thoughts about Dante, I will nary say a word because I haven’t read Dante. All I know is that he invoked Apollo in his most important canto -- the Paradiso.

That is when you know you are good. Invoke Apollo before experiencing the beatific vision, and the popes still love it. Talking about living on the edge. Here’s the money quote from the Paradiso canto:

“O good Apollo, for the final effort, make me such a vessel of your genius, as you demand for the gift of your beloved laurel. Till now, one peak of Parnassus was enough…
What’s amazing is the other peak of Mt. Parnassus was where all those lady muses were hanging out. Popes were ok with that too.

Raphael did the same thing with his paintings of Mt. Parnassus depicting Apollo and the muses, followed with the school of Athens and both in the stanza della segnatura -- the Pope’s library for goodness sakes!

Edgy. Edgy. Edgy. You gotta’ love it.

William R. Cumming

The important thing is that great literature persists and wondering what of the 21st Century will have that persistence?

In six years off grid read some fiction including all of Hemingway,
Wharton, and Dickens. Some for the first time. English is an amazing language for the novel but reading for the first time "The Tale of Genji" by Lady Muraska in two different translations find that very first novel to have fascinating insights into the relations between the sexes. SOS's and Richard Sale's comments and posts always fascinate me and illuminate the darkness for me. So thanks to both. Isabel Allende's writing also of interest.


It's not how long the story is but how wide that matters.

From what I could tell Woody Allen used Hemmingways own words from his writings in "Midnight in Paris." I recommend.

Sidney O. Smith III


You write: "It's not how long the story is but how wide that matters."

You condensed it all into just a few words and better than I ever could. Such is the art of songwriting and poetry.

And yes, I saw the extremely well-crafted film you mentioned, one of the few times of late I have allowed myself to get dragged into a movie theatre at a mall.

Like you, I recommend the film, but I have other, somewhat darker, thoughts as to the psychology underlying Allen’s creativity. Unfortunately, I just don‘t have time to describe those thoughts, although I would have liked to have known your view. (For starters, compare the ending of this film with that of the film Manhattan).



I don't remember the ending to Manhattan but MIP reminds me of The Purple Rose of Cairo. For awhile I didn't watch Allen's films because I tired of his theme of a man unable to reconcile sexual and romantic love--especially a middle-aged man--and found the resulting neurosis less funny with each film.

But did enjoy and identify with theme of MIP: the nostalgia of a Golden Age can hinder a person's ability to live to the fullest in the present. Toaday's art is seen by Wilson as a cheap byproduct of the heroic struggles of the artists living in Paris in the 1920s. Wilson finds the key to the predicament of his present life in his time-travel back to the 20s--Hemmingway points out the obvious. I like the ending where he learns to live in the present and still have nostalgia for, and learns from, the past.

Sorry, I havge to go.


To finish what I started, Midnight in Paris's theme is a twist on the old one of you can never go home again. As for the the psychology of Woody Allen's love affair with the metropolis and the artists of the past, I don't know. To try to understand an artist from his works of fiction seems futile to me.

Sidney O. Smith III

Mr. Sale

Well…since I haven’t heard from you, then I guess we can this one a wrap.

Besides, much more significant topics are making the rounds, such as the use of executive orders to create a national police state, a fait accompli in my view. So truth be told, I doubt anyone else cares about this exchange.

But as a final recap: I freely admit that back in Dec. 2010, when you wrote an apologetic for the life and times of Holbrooke and weaved your thoughts into the work of Tolstoy, I decided you were just some DC guy blowing smoke. I assumed you were part of the axis of arrogance that threads its way through the USG, the MSM, the think tanks and beyond.

So, yes, I decided to try to rattle your Georgetown cage as best as I could manage, and Flannery O’ Connor was the hook. Apparently, it worked, much more than I realized. But, if you had the opportunity to read my December comments back when they were somewhat current, it is unlikely we would now find ourselves engaging in point-counterpoint all these many moons later. And all would be well.

Nonetheless, it bears repeating: based on your subsequent essays, I now realize I was gravely mistaken in my initial judgment of you, and I apologize. Obviously, you are a very gifted writer and much the learned man with many experiences in the world of intelligence. Your subsequent essays have taught me much, and I look forward to more of the same.

However, as amply documented in my December responses linked above, I remain convinced that I have presented a worthwhile view of Holbrooke’s final words as he plunged into the death experience. His words, when placed in the context of the art of Flannery O’ (and perhaps that of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, for that matter) take on a very heightened meaning and, therefore, illustrate the transforming power of what you describe as “the art of the small place”.

As for the significance of Hemingway’s art of the small place, particularly the short story I referenced in December, I will let you judge. But I defer to Hemingway’s genius. If you can write something better than Hemingway, then more power to you.

In my opinion, narrative epics like War and Peace rely on a different creative process --a different genius, if you will --than the art forms that entail condensing symbols into tighter and tighter forms. Examples of the latter, off hand, are songwriting, poetry, short stories, and dramatic writing, as well as the visual arts. Certainly sculpture. And these genres all have a power of their own.

If I must cite an academic work dealing with the “power of metaphor” as contrasted to that of discursive and epic creativity, then it is Cassirer’s Language and Myth. As Cassirer points out, discursive expression leans toward logical thinking; the other to mythic ideation. One is expansion of thought, the other is condensation of symbols. I suppose a quote is needed to drive home the validity of the art of the small place. Here’s Cassirer:

“[Discursive expression]...begins with some individual, single perception, which we expand, and carry beyond its original bounds, by viewing it in more and more relationships.

...we find exactly the opposite movement of thought giving rise to mythic ideation. The mental view is not widened but compressed; it is, so to speak, distilled into a single point...All light is concentrated in one focal point of "meaning", while everything that lies outside these focal points of verbal and mythical conception remains practically invisible...This fact, namely, that primitive mythical and linguistic concepts constitute such punctiform units, accounts for the fact that they do not permit of any further quantitative distinctions.”


From what I can tell, in this day and age, the more one’s creativity is formed within an institutional framework, the less likely that person will make it to the land of “mythic ideation”. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of creativity, but the latter, again in this era, usually means the person has to step out of the life of the institutional world, whether it be corporate, government, the msm, or whatever. And to do so, presents its own obstacles and hurdles.

Looking back, one example of this creative process is Michelangelo’s Pieta -- an image to which you refer in your post. Surely this art concentrates the divine drama, in Michelango’s view, into one single point.

But to try to give you one example of someone who made it to the land of “mythic ideation” in this day and age, I am going to go out on a limb and offer you the following as someone who other societies would hail as a national poet. In my opinion, it is highly unlikely a person will reach the same place as this artist without embarking on an individual journey that goes well beyond the parameters put in place by today’s “post modern” institutions. Take a look.


When placed in that light and to return to Holbrooke and, in particular, to place his death into the context of Cassirer’s work, one aspect becomes clear. When Holbrooke entered into the death experience, his “mental view” was not “widened” into an epic with a broad lens, but compressed into a single point of meaning. (Death will sure enough do that, from what I can tell.) In other words, as the elevator door was closing in on Holbrooke‘s life, he had entered the world that Cassirer called “mythic ideation”.

Flannery O’ Connor knew the art of mythic ideation -- she was fearless in her journey -- and she knew as much about the death experience as Tolstoy. And if the film, the Last Station (and to which I alluded in the December comment) is any indication, she would not have put up with all that silliness of Tolstoy idolatry. Status didn’t mean a damn thing to her and she was one tough lady. Funny too.

So, to end on a lighter note, I still believe you are asking for trouble if you say to anyone with a name such as Vladimir that Tolstoy sounds like German music to your ears. And your comparison of Tolstoy to Beethoven was the essence of your reply. The Russians take great pride in their artists, as they should, and that rare, one of a kind genius Tolstoy is near the summit, if not towering above all, and deservedly so.

So much of this is just common sense, imo

With that, I am going to tip my hat for awhile as I have much work to do, but all the while wishing you the very best.

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