An Unenviable Situation

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Saturday, August 03, 2019

From 2004, on Posner, writing at Leiter's page. Still not bad

Sunday, July 28, 2019

From 2010, linked in the previous post, but it fits with other recent posts. I should use it.
---
For a couple of decades the lowly plastic cassette tape, full of good sounds, cheaply copied and passed around like samizdat, served as creative raw material mostly in the indie-music world and the college dorm room.
But in London in the early 1970s, a conceptual artist named William Furlong began harnessing the cassette for his unlikely purposes in the visual arts. The motivation wasn’t dauntingly conceptual: he and his friends talked a lot and listened to the conversations of other artists and realized something.
“It became apparent to us,” Mr. Furlong said in a telephone interview last week from his home and modest recording studio in the Clapham section of London, “that none of that talk and none of our interests were being met by any traditional arts publications.”
Phaidon Press has now published “Speaking of Art,” a small sampling of the immense undertaking that resulted from that dissatisfaction. Beginning in 1973, with the help of a few collaborators, Mr. Furlong created Audio Arts, a no-budget “magazine” composed solely of cassette recordings of interviews with artists Mr. Furlong found interesting. He mailed them to friends and subscribers, at first hundreds and then thousands.

...Mr. Furlong considers the magazine a work of art itself: a monumental audio sculpture.
Considering himself a sculptor he refers to his projects as sculptures; whether they're best defined as that is irrelevant. His pretense fits with the history of video and performance art and of every other process of cultural transformation wherein one formal system acclimates itself to change while maintaining a pretense of continuity.

Culture in the 1960's continued the fraught process of return to a model of non-ideal representation, of representation involving time rather than timelessness, the fine arts specifically struggling to accept what photography and film took for granted. But art was art and movies and theater were entertainment. This is the tension as I've said that marks the mixture of smart observation and absurd prescription in Michael Fried's Art and Objecthood, as well as art-school teachers' fondness for Vertov and indifference to Eisenstein.

This brings us (since I was lucky enough to find both last week) to another example of the same process of change: philosophy, poaching on experimental psychology as "experimental philosophy"

Joshua Knobe, and the "Knobe Effect"
Rather than consulting his own philosophical intuitions, Knobe set out to find out how ordinary people think about intentional action. In a study published in 2003, Knobe presented passers-by in a Manhattan park with the following scenario. The CEO of a company is sitting in his office when his Vice President of R&D comes in and says, ‘We are thinking of starting a new programme. It will help us increase profits, but it will also harm the environment.’ The CEO responds that he doesn’t care about harming the environment and just wants to make as much profit as possible. The programme is carried out, profits are made and the environment is harmed.

Did the CEO intentionally harm the environment? The vast majority of people Knobe quizzed – 82 per cent – said he did. But what if the scenario is changed such that the word ‘harm’ is replaced with ‘help’? In this case the CEO doesn’t care about helping the environment, and still just wants to make a profit – and his actions result in both outcomes. Now faced with the question ‘Did the CEO intentionally help the environment?’, just 23 per cent of Knobe’s participants said ‘yes’ (Knobe, 2003a).

This asymmetry in responses between the ‘harm’ and ‘help’ scenarios, now known as the Knobe effect, provides a direct challenge to the idea of a one-way flow of judgments from the factual or non-moral domain to the moral sphere. ‘These data show that the process is actually much more complex,’ argues Knobe. Instead, the moral character of an action’s consequences also seems to influence how non-moral aspects of the action – in this case, whether someone did something intentionally or not – are judged.
The fact that people are held responsible for thoughtlessness that results in a bad outcome while not given credit for thoughtlessness that results in a good one -an "asymmetry in responses"- is common knowledge.  Here it's somehow a new and surprising thing, named for its "discoverer". Knobe may want to make a distinction between intention and responsibility but the author of the passage doesn't give it much thought, slipping from one to the other just as I assume the "folk" Knobe interviewed did.  It's as if Knobe were surprised to see a woman on the street wearing a bikini while he doesn't notice that the road is running by a beach. Taking a break from his life in the library stacks -and not the stacks in the law library where he'd find discussion of why "ignorance of the law is no excuse"- he thinks he's discovered something new.

Law is a function of organized society. Its job is the management of conflict, and needs to be consistent in its application. No one has ever insisted that it's absolutely consistent in its formal structure. Similarly there's no reason that people's responses are internally consistent according to one definition of rationality. Responses may be predictable, but that's not the same thing.

People argue from values. The respondents transposed questions of intent into questions of praiseworthiness. Should the CEO be praised by helping the environment without caring one way or the other? No.
Modern empiricism has been conditioned in large part by two dogmas. One is a belief in some fundamental cleavage between truths which are analytic, or grounded in meanings independently of matters of fact and truths which are synthetic, or grounded in fact. The other dogma is reductionism: the belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience. Both dogmas, I shall argue, are ill founded. One effect of abandoning them is, as we shall see, a blurring of the supposed boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science. Another effect is a shift toward pragmatism.
The penultimate sentence in that paragraph is more absurd, and more perverse, than anything by Derrida, and it's done more lasting harm.

I posted this before but again it's apropos. The meanings of words change over time. Here's some mainstream left-liberalism from 1965. It does not represent mainstream left-liberalism now.



Language games describe the era in which they're used. There is no access to the language of the past without both an imaginative sympathy and a knowledge of function. There is no valid empiricism absent an (empirically derived) knowledge of history and of historical change. The rigors of formal logic brought into the world become pedantry.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

New tag for experimental philosophy (aka, border-hopping by specialists in dying fields)
---

Today:
Philosopher Kathleen Stock, linking to Philosopher Holly Lawford-Smith on Twitter
If you’re tempted by the currently fashionable philosophical idea that working descriptive categories are a bit like clubs, and should be “expanded” or “ameliorated” for humane reasons, to be more “inclusive” of people who want to be counted, then see if this tests your resolve.
Lawford-Smith
this is a real paper:
‘How dare you pretend to be disabled?’ The discounting of transabled people and their claims in disability movements and studies

Abstract
Although the contours of the ‘disabled person’ category are questioned by anti-ableist activists, they remain rigid regarding transabled people (who want to become disabled). For anti-ableist activists, transabled people do not count as disabled. They are perceived to: be falsely disabled; steal resources from disabled people; and be disrespectful by denying, fetishizing, or appropriating marginalized realities. By combining critical discourse analysis, genealogy, and deconstruction, I examine these negative discourses to encourage alliances between anti-ableist activists and transabled people. Ideas developed in disability and trans studies reveal the limits of these discourses anchored in ableist and cisnormative* assumptions.
Yesterday:
Leiter
Blast from the past: when the Associate Editors of Hypatia defamed Rebecca Tuvel
Back in 2017
Tuvel's paper: In Defense of Transracialism

If you accept that Tuvel's paper is reasonable then you have to accept that "transablism" is reasonable.

That's a problem for professional rationalists. When the rubber meets the road, Stock and Lawford-Smith, as women and feminists, go against their training. They won't admit it but they do. Leiter is so caught up in defending the profession, and so removed from the issues themselves, that he ties himself in knots.

repeat:
Feminist philosophers do that as well, when they can twist their rationalizations towards what they want. Empiricism for philosophers is always the last option, only in a crisis, even if only a crisis of confidence 

Sunday, July 07, 2019

"To add to the military metaphors: Soldier of the judicial press (Bertin). The poets of strife. The litterateurs of the advance guard. This habitude of military metaphors denotes minds not military, but made for discipline, that is, for conformity, minds born domesticated, Belgian minds, which can think only in society." 
---
New tag for Advertising and Happy Talk 
Unless and until I forget, every post with that tag is also tagged under Utopia and Intentional Communities. Yeah, it's obvious.
---
Nochlin, "The Invention of the Avant-garde" first published in Art News in 1968,  and the opening essay in The Politics of Vision

The first paragraph.
"Art changes only through strong convictions, convictions strong enough to change society at the same time." So proclaimed Theophile Thore, quarante-buitard critic, admirer of Theodore Rousseau, Millet, and Courbet, an art historian who discovered Vermeer and one of the spokesmen for a new, more democratic art, in 1855, in exile from Louis Napoleon's imperial France. Whether or not one agrees with Thore's assertion, it is certainly typical in its equation of revolutionary art and revolutionary politics of progressive thought in the visual arts at the middle of the nineteenth century.

...The very term "avant-garde" was first used figuratively to designate radical or advanced activity in both the artistic and social realms. It was in this sense that it was first employed by the French Utopian socialist Henri de Saint-Simon, in the third decade of the nineteenth century, when he designated artists, scientists, and industrialists as the elite leader- ship of the new social order:
It is we artists who will serve you as avant-garde [Saint-Simon has his artist proclaim, in an imaginary dialogue between the latter and a scientist] ... the power of the arts is in fact most immediate and most rapid: when we wish to spread new ideas among men, we inscribe them on marble or on canvas.  
...What a magnificent destiny for the arts is that of exercising a positive power over society, a true priestly function, and of marching forcefully in the van of all the intellectual faculties ... !'
My copy has "NO" scrawled above the first line. "The 'convictions' are that society has changed and that the artist is honest enough to admit it."

Nochlin: "Whether or not one agrees with Thore's assertion,..."  She was a smart woman and a serious historian, but aside from some scribbling on margins,  I've just ignored the history before the mid 20th century. I attacked the Pompiers and defended Baudelaire, but I ignored the earnest Socialists.

The direct line from from utopianism to Madison Ave, but I bypassed Saint-Simon.

Nochlin, from "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" 1971
The difficulties imposed by such demands on the woman artist continue to add to her already difficult enterprise even today. Compare, for example, the noted contemporary, Louise Nevelson, with her combination of utter, “unfeminine” dedication to her work and her conspicuously “feminine” false eyelashes; her admission that she got married at 17 despite her certainty that she couldn’t live without creating because “the world said you should get married.” Even in the case of these two outstanding artists—and whether we like The Horsefair or not, we still must admire Rosa Bonheur’s achievement—the voice of the feminine mystique with its potpourri of ambivalent narcissism and guilt, internalized, subtly dilutes and subverts that total inner confidence, that absolute certitude and self-determination, moral and esthetic, demanded by the highest and most innovative work in art. 
Conclusion 
We have tried to deal with one of the perennial questions used to challenge women’s demand for true, rather than token, equality, by examining the whole erroneous intellectual substructure upon which the question “Why have there been no great women artists?” is based; by questioning the validity of the formulation of so-called “problems” in general and the “problem” of women specifically; and then, by probing some of the limitations of the discipline of art history itself. Hopefully, by stressing the institutional—i.e. the public—rather than the individual, or private, pre-conditions for achievement or the lack of it in the arts, we have provided a paradigm for the investigation of other areas in the field. By examining in some detail a single instance of deprivation or disadvantage—the unavailability of nude models to women art students—we have suggested that it was indeed institutionally made impossible for women to achieve artistic excellence, or success, on the same footing as men, no matter what the potency of their so-called talent, or genius. The existence of a tiny band of successful, if not great, women artists throughout history does nothing to gainsay this fact, any more than does the existence of a few superstars or token achievers among the members of any minority groups. And while great achievement is rare and difficult at best, it is still rarer and more difficult if, while you work, you must at the same time wrestle with inner demons of self-doubt and guilt and outer monsters of ridicule or patronizing encouragement, neither of which have any specific connection with the quality of the art work as such. 
What is important is that women face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation, without making excuses or puffing mediocrity. Disadvantage may indeed be an excuse; it is not, however, an intellectual position. Rather, using as a vantage point their situation as underdogs in the realm of grandeur, and outsiders in that of ideology, women can reveal institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and, at the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take part in the creation of institutions in which clear thought—and true greatness—are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown.
--

More history

Calinescu,  Five Faces Of Modernity: Modernism Avant-Garde Decadence Kitsch Postmodernism, Duke, 1987  A reprint of Faces of Modernity, Indiana, 1977, with an additional essay.
The word "avant-garde" (fore-guard) has an old history in French. As a term of warfare it dates back to the Middle Ages, and it developed a figurative meaning at least as early as the Renaissance. However, the metaphor of the avant-garde -- expressing a selfconsciously advanced position in politics, literature and art, religion, etc. -- was not employed with any consistency before the nineteenth century. Among other things, this fact accounts for the indelibly modern appearance of the label "avant-garde." Poggioli's earliest example of the cultural use of the term is from a little-known pamphlet published in 1845 by Gabriel Désiré Laverdant, a follower of Charles Fourier.  I was convinced, with Donald Drew Egbert, that the cultural notion of the avant-garde had been introduced at least two decades earlier, in 1825, and that the utopian philosophy of Saint-Simon had been responsible for this specific application of the term. Actually, the avant-garde metaphor was applied to poetry almost three centuries earlier, as I found out looking up the word "avant-garde" in the recent and excellent Trésor de la langue française ( Paris: Editions du CNRS, 1974, vol. 3, pp. 1056-57). During the second half of the sixteenth century, in a period that anticipates certain themes of the later Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns, the French humanist lawyer and historian Etienne Pasquier (1529-1615) wrote in his Recherches de la France
A glorious war was then being waged against ignorance, a war in which, I would say, Scève, Bèze, and Pelletier constituted the avant-garde; or, if you prefer, they were the fore-runners of the other poets. After them, Pierre de Ronsard of Vendôme and Joachim du Bellay of Anjou, both gentlemen of noblest ancestry, joined the ranks. The two of them fought valiantly, and Ronsard in the first place, so that several others entered the battle under their banners. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Grant McCracken is a research affiliate with the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT who has consulted widely in the corporate world, including the Coca-Cola Company, IKEA, Ford, Kraft, Kodak, and Kimberly Clark. He is a Futures of Entertainment Fellow and a member of the IBM Social Networking Advisory Board. 

He is author of the forthcoming book Culturematicfrom Harvard Business Review Press. Previously, he authored the 2009 book Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation, the 2008 book Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture,the 2006 book Flock and Flow: Predicting and Managing Change in a Dynamic Marketplace, the 2005 book Culture and Consumption II: Markets, Meaning, and Brand Management, the 1997 book Plenitude: Culture by Commotion, the 1996 book Big Hair: A Journey into the Transformation of Self, the 1990 book Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities, and the 1988 book The Long Interview. For the Convergence Culture Consortium, he wrote "Assumption Hunters: A New Corporation in the Throes of Structural Change". 

Grant has been the director of the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge, and an adjunct professor at McGill University. He holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago.
[i]
The central thing to understand about all of this is that once again art as craft has been separated from meaning, while the statements of academics are granted the authority of truths. But this time the false dichotomy of aestheticized politics and politicized aesthetics, central to Modernism since Benjamin –a distinction would have made Baudelaire  howl– has become a unified positivist theory of capitalism.  If the study of communication is akin to botany, or since this is MIT, akin to physics, it makes sense this is where Chomsky's rationalist formalism reaches its nadir, in the same place where 'theory' is now the theory of advertising as taught in business schools. An outsider might notice that MIT linguistics is akin to Chicago economics, but technocracy knows no subtexts.
This is the crude positivism that allows the crossover from Marxism to marketing. The shallowness is the same, and the pedantry, as mode or form, becomes more  important than the subject matter. It's easy to say that Analytical Marxism has the same relation to Marx as the debates of scholastic theologians had to the teachings of Jesus, but both exist at the end of a tradition, and traditions can be full or empty, thick or thin, can function as part of a debate in the wider world, or decay into arguments among specialists and pedants. This is something else: a scholastic philosophy of market practice, a high theory of the practice of the low, the theology of confidence tricksterism, not as trade school in comic theater but within the scholastic tradition of the search for truth. In the logic of modern philosophy, and theory, Episteme undermines and supplants Techne and then replaces it with an enlightened Praxis. That's been bad enough. In America, following Tocqueville's description of the focus on the practical, every craft must have its own theology, so even Cornell University now offers degrees in "Hospitality Science", while not yet at least going beyond offering an MFA in creative writing. Some programs now offer PhDs.

[i ] http://www.convergenceculture.org/aboutc3/people.php
I've linked to it recently, but my history with McCracken begins here. I should probably reuse some of the writing from 2006.

I've been coy about it if that's the best word but all the footnoted posts recently, different fonts etc., have been cut and pasted from my continuing disaster. It's spinning out of control but I'm enjoying the ride.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

McCracken


My transcription of the first minutes.
What we're gonna talk about today is culture, which is a kind of dark matter for the commercial world, not so much for the creative world, but it's exactly that thing, that interface between the creative community, the cultural creatives as we now talk about them. And the world of commerce and the world of business and the world of some part of marketing doesn't really get the cultural proposition... The world has just got steadily more more complicated right? It changes almost almost as you look at... Joseph Schumpeter is one of the great kind of economists here to glimpse the fact that capitalism was a creative destructive force in the world... He had no idea what the world is going to look like. He was active about 80 years ago. We could you know bring him back to life and prop him up he would be astonished by just how destructive, how creative, capitalism has become.

The same is true of Alvin Toffler right? This is the guy who talked about Future Shock, the sheer force of the world the speed of the world how difficult that is how new that is as a structural feature of our world, and I think he too would look at the speed at which we're moving now and go oh my god. Clayton Christensen of course has this has blessed us with this notion of disruption, given us this idea that disruption is built into the playbook of capitalism. So capitalism is now eating itself in some sense, right? The takeaway here for this little section is the sudden, the difficult truth that capitalism is complicated and turbulent... And the good news here is that the people in this room can help a corporation live in a world like this. 
So strategy is struggle, right? Strategy was the the traditional way with which the corporations said OK what's out there? And how do we make ready for what's out there.... Peter Schwartz, this is the guy who was at Shell, and created the Global Business Network and his notion is that organizations exist in a state of perpetual surprise... You just wake up one day and you go oh my god my business model just got ripped out from under me what now? This is our own Michael Rayner. He was the co-author for the Disruption book written by Clayton Christensen. And he works here in Toronto I think at DeLoitte. But he wrote a book The Strategy Paradox in which he said strategy is dead. It doesn't work. We can't use it the way we used to. That's how difficult the world has become. And this of course is Nassim Talib, the guy who talked about black swans. And for me black swans is another language for disruptions right stuff can happen a Black swan is something out there on the horizon that you can't anticipate you can think as hard as you want about the future but you can't anticipate this black swan until it's upon you until it's sweeps into the marketplace, rips your business model out from under you.

Monday, June 10, 2019

the rediscovery of experience, followed the loss of it, etc. 

Panofsky, again and again, and Auerbach.
When an acquaintance greets me on the street by lifting his hat, what I see from a formal point of view is nothing but the change of certain details within a configuration forming part of the general pattern of color, lines and volumes which constitutes my world of vision. When I identify, as I automatically do, this configuration as an object (gentleman), and the change of detail as an event (hatlifting), I have already overstepped the limits of purely formal perception and entered a first sphere of subject matter or meaning. The meaning thus perceived is of an elementary and easily understandable nature. and we shall call it the factual meaning; it is apprehended by simply identifying certain visible forms with certain objects known to me from practical experience and by identifying the change in their relations with certain action or events

Now the objects and events thus identified will naturally produce a certain reaction within myself. From the way my acquaintance performs his action I may be able to sense whether he is in a good or bad humor and whether his feelings towards me are indifferent, friendly or hostile. These psychological nuances will invest the gestures of my acquaintance with a further meaning which we shall call expressional. It differs from the factual one in that it is apprehended, not by simple identification, but by "empathy". To understand it, I need a certain sensitivity, but this sensitivity is still part of my practical experience that is, of my everyday familiarity with objects and events. Therefore both the factual and the expressional meaning may be classified together: they constitute the class of primary or natural meanings.
LRB   Stefan Collini reviews Marina Warner on  Ian Watt LRB
He liked to quote Erich Auerbach’s assertion that in reading literature we need an ‘empirical confidence in our spontaneous faculty for understanding others on the basis of our own experience’.
Auerbach  Literary Language and Its Public in Late Latin Antiquity and in the Middle Ages
First there is Vico's theory of historical knowledge. It developed out of his polemic against Descartes' geometrical method and is grounded in the principle that we can only know what we ourselves have made. The history of mankind, or the “world of the nations” (in contrast to the world of nature, which God created), was made by men themselves; accordingly, men themselves can know it. Even the earlier and most remote forms of human thought and action must be present in the potentialities (Vico’s term is modificazioni) of our own human mind, and this is what enables us to understand those early forms. With his theory Vico tried to provide an epistemological foundation for his vision of the beginnings of culture, of the genesis of the first social forms, and of the poetic, ritualistic origins of human thought and expression. Vico’s was probably the first systematic attempt at a theory of historical knowledge. and it offers a clear statement, if not a logical justification, of an important and inescapable fact, namely, that we judge historical phenomena and all human affairs, whether of a private, economic, or political nature, according to our own experience, that we try, in other words, “to find their principles within the modification of our own human mind." Since Vico’s time, it is true, far more rigorous methods of observing and recording human behavior have been devised; but they have neither shaken nor supplanted our empirical confidence in our spontaneous faculty for understanding others on the basis of our own experience (actually this faculty has been very much enriched by the findings of modern science). Indeed, strict scientific methods are not applicable to historical phenomena or to any other phenomena that cannot be subjected to the special conditions required by scientific experimentation. Thus the investigation of historical processes in the broadest sense (we shall presently discuss the scope of the term “historical” as used in the present context) still depends very largely on the investigator’s judgment, that is, on his faculty for “rediscovering” them in his own mind. Historical research, indeed, has an exact side, which perhaps should be termed learned rather than scientific, namely the techniques of finding, transmitting, interpreting (in the more elementary sense), and comparing documents. But where selection, interpretation (in the higher, more general sense), and classification enter into the picture, the historian’s activity is far more comparable to an art than to a modern science. It is an art that works with scholarly material.
Leibniz and Vico.

This is fun

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Updated again.

But for all the empty pretension of the technocratic intellectual elite, most of life, one way or another, is craft.  

I remember once, long ago, I used to not do commercials and said I didn’t believe in them. And then they said, “Ken Loach has done quite a few of them.” So I phoned up Ken and he said, “If you don’t take money out of those capitalist pockets, then someone else will, and you’ve got mouths to feed. Do it!”

Mike Leigh, just like the biggest Hollywood directors, production designers and cinematographers, makes commercials. The money flows like water. You can have a lot of fun spending three million dollars for a 30 second spot.  But as with cathedral ceilings, it’s not the dogma that matters, but what you do with it. As I tried to explain to one of the leaders of the MIT symposia, an anthropologist with a PhD from the University of Chicago, the interesting thing about ads now is that they’ve become almost independent of their function: a good spot can by no more than a 30 second movie with a name at the end; the actual “ad” is 2 seconds, now associated with the 28 second comedy that preceded it. Or it’s tiny film with "product placement". The definition of art hasn’t changed, because people haven’t changed. And the men and women, the craftspeople, some with hand tools and paint who get their hands dirty, and some with electronics, who together make the ads that the intellectuals of Madison avenue dream up, laugh. And if the ads are remembered they’ll be remembered as cathedral ceilings are, by people who have no interest in Jesus Christ or Alka Seltzer. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Dwight Macdonald
THE TRIUMPH OF THE FACT (1957)
Against the American Grain, (1962). My copy's a first edition, but not from my parents.

According to an old friend he was ridiculously anti-Semitic, which means in this case that he wouldn't shut up about the Jews, especially –or very possibly only– when talking to Jews, including his friends' 15 year old sons. "And all Dwight wanted to do was watch reruns of Taxi."

I began transcribing this in Jan 2017. Double-check if you want to quote it.

As with Kazin – “The President and Other Intellectuals”–  it's the kind of intelligence that was a given in my childhood, that now just draws a blank.
---
The Western world has paid a good deal of attention to data ever since some unrecorded genius had the original idea of finding out whether a live person weighs more, less, or the same as a dead person, not by speculating on the Vital Principle and the Intrinsic Substance of the Soul, as described in Aristotle and the Church Fathers, but by weighing a condemned criminal before and after execu-tion. The historical moment at which this unknown (and indeed fictitious) genius made his great intellectual leap might be called, had it existed, the end of the Middle Ages. But commonplace as this aspect of the scientific method has been for centuries throughout the West, it has achieved in the United States a unique importance. Our mass culture—and a good deal of our high, or serious, culture as well—is dominated by an emphasis on data and a corresponding lack of interest in theory, by a frank admiration of the factual and an uneasy contempt for imagination, sensibility, and speculation. We are obsessed with technique, hagridden by Facts, in love with information. Our popular novelists must tell us all about the historical and professional backgrounds of their puppets; our press lords make millions by giving us this day our daily Fact; our scholars—or, more accurately, our research administrators—erect pyramids of data to cover the corpse of a stillborn idea; our way of "following" a sport is to amass an extraordinary amount of data about batting averages, past performances, yards gained, etc., so that many Americans who can't read without moving their lips have a fund of sports scholar-ship that would stagger Lord Acton; our politicians are mostly for-mer lawyers, a profession where the manipulation of Facts is of first importance; we are brought up according to Spock, Gessell and the other Aristotles of child care; we make love according to the best man-uals of sexual technique; and before we die we brief our wives with Donald I. Rogers' Teach Your Wife to be a Widow (Holt, 1953, $2.).

Soon after he started sharing quarters in Baker Street with Sherlock Holmes, young Dr. Watson was shocked to find that his brainy friend was an ignoramus:
Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he ap-peared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be or what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican theory and of the composition of the solar system. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled around the sun appeared such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.
    "You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it."
Holmes then develops a rather bogus theory about the brain being like an attic with a fixed capacity. "Depend upon it," he concludes, "there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you for-get something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones." This is too much for the good doctor:
"But the solar system!" I protested. "What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently. "You say that we go around the sun. If we went around the moon, it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work."
There is something magnificent about this carrying the principle of utility to its logical conclusion. And Holmes was right to insist that the only good reason for acquiring any knowledge, even of whether the earth goes around the sun or the moon, is its utility for the individual knower. But his idea of utility was too narrowly practical. Like Holmes, I know little about the physical sciences and am not curious to know more—pace Sir Charles Snow—but my lack of interest is due not just to their irrelevance to my professional needs but, more important, to my feeling that they aren't useful to me in a broader sense, one which Holmes's logic doesn't recognize—they don't appeal to my kind of mind and feelings. Others do find the physical sciences "useful" in this sense, as I myself find literature and history and philosophy "useful," and so they are rightly concerned to know that the earth goes around the sun rather than the moon. (I do happen to have picked up that particular bit of information somewhere, but in general, when the solar system is on the agenda, I feel like echoing, "What the deuce is it to me?")
    One of the nicest touches in the characterization of Sherlock Holmes is that he is not entirely consistent even here. Dr. Watson's well-known inventory of the great detective's knowledge put "Nil" opposite Literature, Philosophy and Astronomy, while Politics was "Feeble," Botany "Variable—well-up in belladonna, opium, and poi-sons; knows nothing of practical gardening," and Sensational Literature "Immense." This is all as one might expect, but there is one incongruous item: "Plays the violin well." Doyle realized that, to be a man and not a monster, even the folk hero of applied science had to have at least one nonutilitarian interest, one skill of importance to him only because it fed his sensibilities. Cocaine was for Holmes another method of transcending the brute, confining realm of the Practical.

Sherlock Holmes's attitude was American—Ben Franklin would have approved—but old-fashioned American. It is, of course, still widespread. Our colleges are still full of what Ortega y Gasset calls "barbarians of specialization": historians who know all about medieval land tenure but never enter an art museum; economists who manipulate the tools of their trade with precision and refinement and get their non-economic ideas from The Reader's Digest; political "scientists"—the quotes are intentional—whose literary tastes don't differ from their butcher's (Marx read Aeschylus once a year); English professors who have devoted a lifetime's study to the Elizabethan sonnet and who haven't read Auden or Baudelaire.1 Our businessmen still are notorious for their lack of interest in arts and letters—they leave such kickshaws to their wives. Our politicians still are men of narrow culture; compare Eisenhower and Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose antipathy to reading is well known, with such early presidents as Jefferson, Madison and the two Adamses. The liberal arts are still being displaced in our high schools and colleges by vocational courses: Teacher's College, Columbia University, notes with satisfaction that "driver-education is the fastest-growing program in the country's high schools," four out of ten of which now teach their pupils how to become "safer members of traffic society."
    But this aspect of the Triumph of the Fact is a holdover from the period, which ended roughly with the 1929 stock-market crash, when our capitalism was still in the stage of production. Here I am concerned with a kind of fact-fetishism that is characteristic of the age of consumption the economy has moved into. Compared to the straight-forward old utilitarian attitude toward Facts, this new approach is decadent, even a bit perverse. Instead of being interested only in useful information, we now tend to the opposite extreme, valuing Facts in themselves, collecting them as boys collect postage stamps, treating them, in short, as objects of consumption rather than as productive tools. This attitude, of course, is not wholly new, as Dr. Watson's horror at his friend's ignorance about the solar system shows; but we have carried it much further. A newspaper review, for example, of Cassell's Encyclopaedia of World Literature has this passage:
How useful it may be to have "Who's Who" information on Arabic, Cuban, Dalmatian, Flemish, Persian, Raeto-Romanisch, Sanskrit and Slovak writers is problematical. But that the information should be available somewhere seems like a good idea and here it is. 
We just like to have the little things around, like pets. Because the gathering of Facts is an important part of the scientific method, which with us has more prestige than the artistic, ethical, or philosophical modes of apprehending te ality, a confused but powerful notion has arisen that the mere accumulation of Facts is a sensible activity. The Well-informed Man is our Poet, our Sage, our Prophet.2
    Journalists like Walter Winchell and John Gunther have made careers out of exploiting the enormous American appetite for Facts. Every year a great range of books appear to soothe our itch for information: digests of ever thin anthropology to palm reading; popular encyclopedia'; and introductory guides to painting, music, philosophy, world history; manuals on birds, politics, economic theory, American history, baseball, polar exploration, what not. Such curiosity is not in itself bad, though often rather pointless, and the level of this kind of popularization is probably higher today than it has ever been before. What is bad is the devaluation of other modes of understanding if only because one hasn't time for everything. (The non-expandable attic isn't the brain, but rather time.) Books that are speculative rather than informative, that present their authors' own thinking and sensibility without any apparatus of scientific or journalistic research, sell badly in this country. There is a good market for the latest "Inside Russia" reportage, but when Knopf published Czeslaw Milosz' The Captive Mind, an original and brilliant analysis of the Communist mentality, it sold less than 3,000 copies. We want to know how, what, who, when, where, everything but why.
    Henry Luce has built a journalistic empire on this national weakness for being "well informed." Time attributes its present two-million circulation to a steady increase, since it first appeared in 1925, in what it calls "functional curiosity." Unlike the old-fashioned idle variety, this is "a kind of searching, hungry interest in what is happening, everywhere—born not of an idle desire to be entertained 0 or amused, but of a solid conviction that the news intimately and vitally affects the lives of everyone now, Functional curiosity grows as the number of educated people grows." The curiosity exists, but it is not functional since it doesn't help the individual function. A very small part of the mass of miscellaneous Facts offered in each week's issue of Time (or, for that matter, in the depressing quantity of newspapers and magazines visible on any large news-stand) is useful to the reader; they don't help him make more money, take some political or other action to advance his interests, or become a better person. About the only functional gain, (though the New York Times, in a recent advertising campaign proclaimed that reading it would help one to "be more interesting") the reader gets out of them is practice in reading. And even this is a doubtful advantage. Times's educated people read too many irrelevant words -irrelevant, that is to their personal interests, either narrow (practical) or broad (cultural). Imagine a similar person of, say the sixteenth century confronted with a copy of Time or the New York Times. He would take a whole day to master it, perhaps two, because he would be accustomed to take the time to think and even feel about what he read; and he could take the time because there was time, there being comparatively little to read in that golden age. (The very name of Luce's magazine is significant; Time, just because we don't have it.) Feeling a duty — or perhaps simply a compulsion- at least to glance over the printed matter that inundates us daily, we have developed of necessity a rapid, purely rational classifying habit of mind, something like the operations of a Mark IV calculating machine, making a great many small decisions every minute: read or not read? If read, then take in this, skim over that, and let the rest go by, This we do with the surface of our minds, since we "just don't have time" to bring the slow, cumbersome depths into play, to ruminate speculate, reflect, wonder, experience what the eye flits over. This gives a greatly extended coverage to our minds, but also makes them, compared to the kind of minds similar people had in past centuries, coarse, shallow, passive, and unoriginal. Such reading habits have produced a similar kind of reading matter, since, except for a few stubborn old-fashioned types the handcraftsmen who produce whatever is written today of quality, whether in poetry, fiction, scholarship or journalism—our writers produce work that is to be read quickly and then buried under the next day's spate of "news" or the next month's best seller; hastily slapped-together stuff which it would be foolish to waste much time or effort on either writing or reading. For those who, as readers or as writers, would get a little under the surface, the real problem of our day is how to escape being "well informed," how to resist the temptation to acquire too much information (never more seductive than when it appears in the chaste garb of duty), and how in general to elude the voracious demands on one's attention enough to think a little. The problem is as acute in the groves of Academe as in the profane world of journal-ism—one has only to consider the appalling mass of words available in any large college library on any topic of scholarly interest (that is, now that the "social sciences" have so proliferated, on any topic). The amount of verbal pomposity, elaboration of the obvious, repetition, trivia, low-grade statistics, tedious factification, drudging recapitulations of the half comprehended, and generally inane and laborious junk that one encounters suggests that the thinkers of earlier ages had one decisive advantage over those of today: they could draw on very little research.
    If the kind of curiosity Time exploits is not functional, neither is it exactly "idle" (which implies a kind of leisurely enjoyment). It is, rather, a nervous habit. As smoking gives us something to do with our hands when we aren't using them, Time gives us something to do with our minds when we aren't thinking. This sort of mental indulgence—most of the daily papers should also be included—is considered a sensible use of time, as against "wasting" it on movies or detective stories. Only the honorific status of science can explain why the enjoyment of trivial and debased art products is looked down on while acquiring data in similarly trivial and debased forms is thought admirable.

A friend of mine complained to her eight-year-old child's teacher that fairy tales, myths, and other kinds of imaginative literature had been almost eliminated from the curriculum in favor of handbooks of information. "But children want to know how things work," she was told. "They aren't really satisfied by escape books." Similarly when I asked why my fourteen-year-old son and his classmates were learning a great deal about the natural resources of Latin America but nothing about ancient history or Greek literature, I was told that Latin America is "closer to them" than Homer. I venture to doubt both these explanations. The books I read in my childhood were, with the important exception of The Book of Knowledge (and even that had much art and literature in it), almost all works of the imagination, from Grimm's Fairy Tales to the Rover Boys. Today the informative genre is dominant. A recent very successful series, for example, is called "First Books" and presents a fact-crammed First Book on practically everything: ballet and bees, chess and electricity, puppets and presidents, space travel and snakes, trains, trees, trucks—even, God save us, a First Book of Negroes. There are three or four extremely popular series of biographies of famous Americans—and also of less famous ones, since the demand seems inexhaustible and there is a limit to rewrites on Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia. In one recent year, three different firms published children's biographies of a minor Indian chief named Cohees, doubtless on the theory that being (a) real and (b) American, Chief Cohees is "closer" to our children than Achilles or King Arthur.
    Speaking on "Mass Information or Mass Entertainment," Dr. George Gallup, a high priest of research, expressed a point of view common among serious-minded, public-spirited Americans:
One of the real threats to America's first place in the world is a citizenery which daily elects to be entertained and not in-formed ...The present lack of interest in the information-type show is shocking. The total number of hours devoted to just two shows, I Love Lucy and Show of Shows, is greater than the hours spent on all information or educational shows put to-gether ... In the entire history of radio, not one serious educational show has ever reached top rating, and most programs of this type have such small audiences that they are kept on the air solely for prestige ...3

The newspaper itself has had to make concessions. Within the last two decades, the number of comic strips printed daily and Sunday has increased by many times, and . . . more adults read the most popular comics on a given clay than read the most important news story on the first page .. . In a recent study of metropolitan newspapers, it was found that the average reader spends less than four minutes a day on the important news. He spends ten times as much on sports, local gossips, and the service and entertainment features.
Although we have the highest level of formal education in the world, fewer people buy and read books in this nation than in any other modern democracy. The typical Englishman with far less education reads nearly three times as many books; if he leaves school at fourteen, he reads as many books per year as our college graduates.
Public-spirited, serious-minded—yes—this indictment, delivered at a peculiarly American Ritual of The Fact: the ceremonies at the University of Iowa several years ago, incident to the burying of a "time capsule," a big metal container packed with typical books, newspapers, and other artifacts of our culture, so that future archaeologists will have no trouble assembling The Facts about American twentieth-century civilization. But there are subtleties to the question of Information and Entertainment that are perhaps not dreamed of in the Gallup Poll. That almost all the Entertainment on radio and TV is of poor quality is true, but is the Information much better? Are the dynamic "news commentators" superior to the hopped-up comedians? Are the interviews with senators, the panel discussions that worry some vast problem for twenty-five minutes, the once-over-lightly travelogues-cum-statistics on The Communist Problem in Asia—are these really more "serious" and "cultural" than the "Ed Sullivan Show"? Furthermore, there is, though Dr. Gallup forgets to note it, good Entertainment as well as the cheap kind. The works of Homer, Shakespeare, Bernard Shaw, and F. Scott Fitzgerald are Entertainment, in the Doctor's categorizing —they are certainly not Information. The fault would seem to lie not in the predominance of one genre over the other, but in the low level of both. Finally, may there not be a compensatory relation between In-formation and Entertainment as practiced in our mass culture, the former being so aridly factual, the latter so tropical, lush, unrestrained? Kitsch and Know-How, soap opera and quiz show—neither of these polar extremes provides the temperate climate in which mind and feelings can flourish; one extreme is the craved antidote to the other, each calls its opposite number into being. As the frontiers-man escapes from the excessive factuality of his life, preoccupied with food and shelter, by occasional debauches of raw alcohol, raw sex, raw sentiment (the tear-jerking ballad about Home and Mother being a cultural bender), so we shuttle from extreme practicality to extreme frivolity, from the hard glare of the prosaic to the inchoate mists of daydreaming, either obsessing ourselves with Facts or compulsively escaping from them.

One explanation of our passion for sports, as contrasted with our apathy toward arts and letters, may be that the quality of performance in sports can be determined statistically. It was a Fact, at the moment this essay was written, that Mickey Mantle of the Yankees had a higher batting average than Ken Boyer of the Cardinals—one that could easily have been proved by turning to the figures, which were .388 and .343 respectively—but it is impossible to prove that William Faulkner has a higher batting average than, say, J. P. Marquand. An umpire, like a scientist, deals with measurable phenomena according to generally accepted rules, but the critic works with standards peculiar to himself, although they somehow correspond to standards each of his readers has individually developed. From the purely factual-scientific point of view, the wonder is not that there is so much disagreement in aesthetic matters but that there should be any agreement at all. Agreement is possible, however, be-cause, while Faulkner's superiority over Marquand cannot be proved, it can be demonstrated. This is a different operation involving an appeal—by reason, analysis, illustration, and rhetoric—to cultural values which critic and reader have in common, values no more susceptible of scientific statement than are the moral values-in-common to which Jesus appealed but which, for all that, exist as vividly and definitely as do mercy, humility, and love.

In short, arguments about sports performances can be settled à l'Ariméricaine by an appeal to The Facts, since quality can be measured by quantity. This is very reassuring and explains why we take sports seriously, art not. Although, as I have already observed, any stock boy—or any vice-president-in-charge-of-production—knows the batting averages of dozens of ballplayers, half our high-school graduates and a quarter of our college graduates did not read a single book in 1955. And 39 per cent of the college graduates, asked to name the authors of twelve famous works—Leaves of Grass, Gulliver's Travels, The Origin of Species, etc.—could not name more than three. (Time, May 7, 5956, reporting a Gallup poll). For sophisticated literary criticism one must go to the "little" magazines, but for the same thing in sports one merely opens up the daily paper, or turns to the Luce weekly Sports Illustrated, whose savants analyze Ben Hogan's technique with the scholarship (is he in the Jones tradition? the Hagen canon? or was he influenced by the Sarazen school?) and the subtle discriminations (his backswing is perhaps excessive but his putting is classically restrained) of R. P. Blackmur on Henry Adams.4 These speculations are reinforced by the kind of interest Americans have in sports. Not only are we, as has often been noted, spectators rather than participants, but most of the time we aren't even spectators. Every morning we "follow" sports in the newspapers, scanning the reports—and statistiCs—on games we have not seen with the nervous avidity of a stockbroker reading the ticker. But while the broker's interest in The Facts is personal and practical. since his living depends on them. the sports mania is an abstraCt passion. unrelated to personal interest and exercised for the most part not even as a spectator. but as a reader. My youngest son. at eleven. on some minor clash at the breakfast table. suddenly and mysteriously burst into tears: I found later that he had just read in the morning paper that the New York Rangers had lost a crucial hockey game.

It is their respect for 'The Facts that makes most Americans so touchingly willing to give information to anyone who asks them for it. \V’e take easily to being profiled. galluped. kinseyed, luced, and other-wise made the object of journalistic or scientific curiosity. With amazing docility, we tell the voice on the phone what TV program we are looking at (so that advertisers can plan their strategy for extracting $53 from us). answer impertinent questions from reporters (whose papers then sell the answers back to us), co-operate on elaborate and boring questionnaires administered by sociologists (so they can get their. not our. associate professorships). and voluntarily appear as stooges on broadcast shows which bare the most intimate details of. our lives or—if we miss out on a Fact question—put us through stunts as if we were laboratory animals in the grip of a mad scientist. In the last instance there is, of course, “something in it" for us. but the prizes seem not worth the humiliation. and I suspect are often more of an excuse than a motive; i.e.. that the participant thinks of himself objectively—as an object, a Fact—and not subjectively—in value-terms like pride. honor. or even vanity—and so either welcomes or doesn't mind the public exposure of his Factuality; but that he senses there is something monstrous in this detachment and is glad to conceal it by affecting greed. a base motive but at least a subjective one.
    In the thirty years I have been asking people questions as a journalist, I have often wondered why almost no one refuses to give an interview, even though, in many cases, there is more to be lost than gained by so doing. There are some obvious reasons for this—vanity, the American illusion that publicity is always in some vague way to one’s advantage, and the pleasure most people take in hearing themselves talk, especially when the listener is professionally sympathetic and informed. A less obvious reason perhaps is that the gathering of data by journalists has come to be accepted as a normal and indeed praiseworthy practice, and people seem to feel it their duty to “co-operate.” If the story is about themselves, they take the line they “have nothing to hide,” they “stand on the record,” and insist they “just want to give you the facts and let you decide.” In reality, they often have plenty to hide, but it would be a cynical and untypical American who would admit this even to himself.
    These assumptions—that it is virtuous to give information and somehow disreputable to refuse to—would arise only in a highly scientized culture. Commenting on David Riesman’s complaint about the difficulty of “drawing a portrait of the autonomous man in a society dependent on other-direction,” Paul Goodman has acutely observed: “It does not strike Professor Riesman that his scientific difficulty might lie in the questionnaire form he employs. For why would a free self-regulating person choose to submit to the impertinent questions of a mere theorist, rather than laugh at him, or pat his head, or be Socratically ignorant and turn the questioning the other way, or maybe weep like Heraclitus? If the sociologist seriously has need, on some practical issue, of the opinions and assistance of a free man, then obviously he must come, himself committed to an active position, and argue, reason, implore; risking getting rejected, getting a black eye, or getting more involved than he bargained for.” (Resistance, December 1949.) The great majority of Americans, of course, are “other-directed” and so give Riesman no trouble; answering questionnaires is a ritual they delight to perform.
    Naturally, our government agencies go in for questionnaires, and on a scale which amazes Europeans, used though they are to bureaucracy. One of the biggest post-Hitler best sellers in Germany was Ernst von Salomon’s Der Fragebogen (The Questionnaire), an autobiography written in the form of answers to the stupefyingly complex set of questions by which the American authorities tried—and failed—to decide who had “really” been a Nazi. Refugees wishing to flee to the land of liberty must be able to supply an enormous mass of personal data, including every address they have had for the past twenty-five years. The inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty should be revised: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, provided they have satisfactorily filled out forms 3584-A through 3597-Q.”


Our popular fiction is curiously affected by our mania for information. We are fascinated by the lingo, the folkways, the techniques peculiar to a profession or a social group, and we want to get the inside dope on the way of life of a telephone linesman, a Renaissance nobleman, a professional game hunter in Africa. The charms of many a best-selling historical novel are not all to be found inside the heroine’s bodice. The late Samuel Shellabarger, for example, who made a small fortune turning out this kind of merchandise, had no success until he spent three years “getting up” the background for a heavily documented piece of nonsense called Captain from Castile. This was followed by three more erudite best sellers entitled Prince of Foxes (the author’s clever name for Machiavelli), The King’s Cavalier, and Lord Vanity; and Dr. Shellabarger—he was, fittingly, a professor of English—was at work writing, or rather researching, a fifth when he died in 1954. An obituary noted that he “did painstaking background research for his historical swashbucklers, studying the literature, the customs, and the other externals of the period. ‘I suppose I am a fool,’ he once said, ‘but if I have a character going from one side of the city to another, I want to know what he sees and hears.’” What he thinks and feels might also have been interesting, though probably not in this particular instance.
    In the art workshops of the Renaissance, the figures in the foreground were done by the master, while the apprentices filled in the background, a sensible division of labor which has been inverted by the fiction hacks of today, who work up the background with great care and botch in a few lay figures to carry the story. The same process may be observed in the evolution of The New Yorker profiles, which began thirty years ago as brief studies in personality and have grown steadily more encumbered with documentation, until often the reader feels he has learned everything about the subject except what kind of a person he is. Or in the Luce magazines’ obsession with factual trivia—a huge and expensive research department produces a weekly warehouseful of certified, pasteurized, 100 per cent double-checked Facts, and everything is accurate about any given article except its main points. Or in Hollywood, which gives us miracles in “authenticity” of costume and furniture, all verified by experts, but doesn’t bother about the authenticity of the human beings who wear the costumes and sit on the period chairs, reversing Marianne Moore’s famous description of the poet as one who creates “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” (In Hollywood, the gardens are real but the toads are synthetic and all of them are named Natalie Wood.)
    A case in point is the best-selling novel, Andersonville, a sprawling compost heap of historical research piled up by MacKinlay Kantor, one of our most diligent and successful literary artisans. Or cf., the typical Saturday Evening Post story. In one specimen, two lovers converse as follows:

“Pop won’t admit it,” said Maggie, “but he’s going to lose his shirt. He was low bidder on a job of building a concrete flume across Arroyo Diablo. That’s on the desert, about a hundred miles east of here.”
    “Pop’s been low bidder on every job he’s built,” Dugan said. “That’s how contractors get work…”
    “The bolts at the corners of the timber collars that locked the forms together sheared in two,” Maggie said.
    “That’s important,” Dugan declared. “A bolt that size wouldn’t shear under a pressure of less than 1000 pounds. The timbers would have split first.” [to which Maggie, in love’s eternal duet:] “Only these bolts didn’t get sheared in a materials-testing lab. The real collar bolts were removed and the sheared ones hammered back in place top and bottom.”
After seven thousand words of this, one has learned a good deal about the contracting business and about the tensile qualities of timber bolts but not much about Maggie and Dugan. This is reasonable (if not sensible), since the lovers are only stooges for the timber bolts. Another idyll, “No Room for Love,” turns on the echt-American theme, should a boy marry his girl or his car, and produces yards of dialogue like:
“What do you do when the head bolts are frozen?”
    “You tap them easy with a hammer. You don’t want to crack the head. Then you put a long-handled wrench…”
    “You got rust on your cylinder block. Face it.”
    “For Pete’s sake, listen, will you? Krucek’s got a used ’41 block in there, never been rebored.”
    “You got a ’39 car. It’ll mean new pistons, and you got a pitted camshaft.”
Fairness compels me to note that this dialogue is not between the lovers, and also that the car loses out: “For once in his life, Charlie was more interested in a girl than a motor.”

The Triumph of the Fact in modern fiction is, of course, by no means limited either to America or to mass culture. It is one of the things that distinguish the nineteenth-century novel, and is obviously connected with the industrial revolution and the rising prestige of science. Balzac and Zola aspired to nothing less than to re-create, in all their minute factual details, the different occupational and class worlds of their times; the former succeeded better than the latter precisely because he relied on inventive passion rather than scientific method—as Joyce succeeded in Ulysses, for the same reason. Flaubert was an especially interesting case, from this point of view, split as he was between naturalism and symbolism, science and art-for-art’s-sake. In Madame Bovary the conflicting drives are harmonized into a masterpiece, but the synthesis breaks down in Salammbô and Bouvard and Pécuchet. Flaubert could escape the prosaic nineteenth century by turning to ancient Carthage, but the naturalistic technique, which he could not escape, produces a dead, cold, and—in the scenes of battle and torture—even repulsive effect. Bouvard and Pécuchet, which is meant to satirize the bourgeois mania for accumulation and for technical knowledge, becomes itself a monstrous example of the thing he is attacking, because of the author’s own obsession with technique (style) and accumulation (naturalistic detail).
    The same strain runs through our own literature. It appears in Poe’s fascination with solving cryptograms and perpetrating hoaxes, his invention of the detective story—the only literary genre whose point is the discovery, by scientific method, of a Fact (whodunit?)—and especially in his preoccupation with technique. His celebrated account, in “The Philosophy of Composition,” of how he wrote The Raven reads like a cookbook:
Holding in view that a poem should be short enough to be read in one session as well as have that degree of excitement which I deem not above the popular, while not below the critical taste, I reached at once what I conceived the proper length for my intended poem—a length of about 100 lines. It is, in fact, 108…Regarding, then, Beauty as my province [he has given a page of reasons] my next question referred to the tone of its highest manifestation—and all experience has shown that this tone is one of sadness…The length, the province, and the tone being thus determined, I betook myself to ordinary induction, with the view of obtaining some artistic piquancy which might serve me as a keynote in the construction of the poem. [He decides on a refrain whose application should be continually varied, and which therefore must be brief, ideally one word.] The question now arose as to the character of the word which was to form the close of each stanza. That such a close, to have force, must be sonorous and susceptible of protracted emphasis, admitted no doubt; and these considerations inevitably led me to the long o as the most sonorous vowel, in connection with r as the most producible consonant…It would have been absolutely impossible to overlook the word, “Nevermore…” The next desideratum was a pretext for the continuous use of this one word…etc.
Whether Poe actually used this recipe in composing The Raven is doubtful—I’m inclined to agree with Marie Bonaparte that he didn’t, though for common-sense rather than Freudian reasons—but only a nineteenth-century writer would have gone in for this particular kind of mystification.

In their descriptions of the techniques of whaling and of river piloting, large sections of Moby-Dick and of Life on the Mississippi read like Fortune articles written by geniuses, if this may be conceived. (It almost happened with James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.) The whole middle section of Moby-Dick is a strange mixture of story and encyclopedia, with chapters on such topics as “The Line” (what kind is used, how it is coiled in the tubs, etc.), “The Crotch” (“a notched stick of a peculiar form, some two feet in length, which is perpendicularly inserted into the starboard gunwhale near the bow, for the purpose of furnishing a rest for the wooden extremity of the harpoon”), “The Blanket” (all about the whale’s skin), “The Head,” “The Tail,” and “Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton.” Even in the climactic last chapters, when the quarry is at last engaged, Melville adds a typical footnote: “This motion is peculiar to the sperm whale. It receives its designation (pitchpoling) from its being likened to that preliminary up and down poise of the whale-lance….” Moby-Dick is a happy Triumph of the Fact: from an intense concern with the exact “way it is,” a concentration on the minutiae of whaling that reminds one of a mystic centering his whole consciousness on one object, Melville draws a noble poetry. Whitman also draws poetry, of a less noble kind, from Facts; a good deal of Leaves of Grass reads like, in Emerson’s phrase “an auctioneer’s inventory of a warehouse”:
The paving-man leans on his two-handed rammer, the reporter’s lead flies swiftly over the note-book, the sign-painter is lettering with blue and gold… 
The house-builder at work in the cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places, laying them regular,
Setting the studs by their tenons in the mortises according as they were prepared…
Many of his poems, as Salut au Monde, try magically to swallow the world by naming everything in it; to incorporate it all in Walt, democratically embracing everything and everybody, repeatedly proclaiming that one Fact is just as good as another Fact, that it is justified by merely existing (in Walt’s cosmic, omnivorous belly).
I do not call one greater and one smaller,
That which fills its period and its place is equal to any. 
I am large, I contain multitudes.
Even the corpse is on his visiting list:
I think you are good manure, but that does not offend me.
Where Melville contemplated his Facts singly, turning each over in his mind until it had yielded up both its own concrete quality and its meaning as symbol, Whitman was too often the greedy child, grabbing Facts in double handfuls and dropping them quickly to pick up bright new ones:
Beginning my studies, the first step pleas’d me so much,
The mere fact consciousness…
I have hardly gone and hardly wish’d to go any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs
The quality that all these celebrations of the Fact, from the Satevepost to Moby-Dick, have in common is knowingness. “This is the way it is.” One could add The Red Badge of Courage, a tour de force of the Knowing (“You think a battle is a planned, orderly affair, but it’s really like this”) which has been overrated; Stendhal and Tolstoy did it first—and better, raising the knowing to the higher plane of understanding. There is Hemingway: “This is how you go about shooting water buffalo. You take a .44 Borley-Thompson express rifle with supercharger and you…” Or Fitzgerald: “Let me tell you just what it is like to be very rich in the United States in 1924.” Or their epigone, John O’Hara, who, lacking their passion and their sense of literary form, depends wholly on verisimilitude, which he gets by a magisterial “placing” of each character at his or her precise social level by means of carefully discriminated details, so that in O’Hara’s world (though possibly not in the real one) a Yale man gets drunk in a wholly different way from a Penn State man. Knowingness was the stock-in-trade of Rudyard Kipling, the only widely popular writer since Dickens who can be called a genius (though of course a much lesser one). The note is struck in the opening sentences of most of his Plain Tales from the Hills, as:
Far back in the seventies, before they built any public offices at Simla and the broad road round Jakko lived in a pigeon-hole in the P.W.D. hovels, her parents made Miss Gaurey marry Colonel Schreiderling.
Or:
There are more ways of running a horse to suit your book than pulling his head off in the straight. Some men forget this. Understand clearly that all racing is rotten—as everything connected with losing money must be. In India, in addition to its inherent rottenness, it has the merit of being two-thirds sham…Every one knows every one else far too well for business purposes. How on earth can you rack and harry and post a man for his losings, when you are fond of his wife, and live in the same Station with him?…If a man wants your money he ought to ask for it…instead of juggling about the country with an Australian larrikin, a “brumby,” with as much breed as the boy, a brace of chumars in gold-laced caps, three or four ekka-ponies with hogged manes, and a switch-tailed demirep of a mare called Arab because she has a kink in her flag. Racing lead to the shroff quicker than anything else.
Being Kitsch—though of the highest grade—Kipling’s Plain Tales exploit the realistic method rather than use it. His is a bright, dramatic, easily assimilated kind of naturalism, so entertaining that it brings out more clearly than more serious works could one reason for our thirst for the Facts: namely, that the modern world being vast, abstract, and hard to understand, there is something reassuring about a hard, definite Fact. Because we can understand the parts—the Facts—we have the comforting illusion that we understand the whole. And Kipling enhances the appeal of his Facts by limiting them to a very small world. All the folklore, the customs, the gossip, the social color and feel of British India in the late nineteenth century are there, handled with the affection and the untroubled mastery of the village historian. He invites us right inside, and we feel at home, as we cannot in the uncomfortably complex real world. The peculiar charm of Kipling’s India, like Gatsby’s Long Island or D’Artagnan’s France or Dickens’ London, lies partly in the knowingness with which it is presented.

May not much of Senator McCarthy’s puzzling success—how did he get so far on so little?—be laid to the mingled boredom and fear the American feels vis-à-vis world politics, the boredom being caused by inability to understand and the fear by inability to act. Like Kipling, McCarthy created a small, neat, understandable world—cops and robbers, to be continued in our next headlines—in which the issues were reduced to personalities, the shadings eliminated in favor of melodramatic black and white. It was a world the newspaper reader could understand and where he could see Results. That it was also as fictional a world as Kipling’s—more so, in fact, since Kipling knew a lot about British India while McCarthy never bothered to find out anything about American Communism—was irrelevant. The Senator was a good enough dramaturge to persuade the public to believe in his provincial little world, and his daily revelations had the same interest that village gossip does. After all, since when did gossip have to be true to be interesting?
    In other ways, also, McCarthy’s years of power—surely one of the strangest episodes in our political history, which suffers from no paucity of the cockeyed—represented a melancholy Triumph of the Fact.
    For half a century, what Theodore Roosevelt contemptuously dubbed “muckraking”—after Bunyan’s Man with a Muck-Rake—was a monopoly of the liberals. The reformers’ ritual began, and often successfully ended, with Getting The Facts. Popular magazines flourished on the formula, notably McClure’s with series like Lincoln Steffens’ “The Shame of the Cities” and Ida Tarbell’s “History of the Standard Oil Company.” Brandeis invented the “sociological brief,” which substituted socio-economic data for legal reasoning—in a ratio of 50 to 1 in his famous 1907 brief in defense of the Oregon Ten-Hour Law. “There is no logic that is properly applicable to these laws except the logic of facts,” he explained, echoing Tom Paine’s “Facts are more powerful than arguments.” But the reformers’ chief instrument was the legislative investigating committee, from the Hughes insurance investigation (1905) and the Pujo Committee’s hearings on the “Money Trust” (1913) through the Nye munitions investigation (1933)[5] to the LaFollette civil-liberties hearings (1937) and the massive economic researches of the Senate’s “Monopoly Committee” (1938–40). The assumption was that The Facts would favor civic virtue, and indeed they generally did. Malefactors trembled when Al Smith, the reform governor of New York, rasped “Let’s look at the record!”
    The junior Senator from Wisconsin turned Let’s-Get-the-Facts in the opposite direction. He was not the first to try, of course. In the ’twenties and ’thirties, the Lusk and Fish committees of the New York legislature, and the “Dies Committee” (on Un-American Activities) of Congress, among others, investigated Communism; but their chairmen lacked McCarthy’s flair for melodrama. More important, the times were not ripe: it was not until the late ’forties, when Soviet Russia first emerged as a powerful and dangerous enemy, that the national temper grew edgy enough for the rise of a McCarthy.
    The puzzling thing about McCarthy was that he had no ideology, no program, not even any prejudices. He was not anti-labor, anti-Negro, anti-Semitic, anti-Wall Street, or anti-Catholic, to name the phobias most exploited by previous demagogues. He never went in for patriotic spellbinding, or indeed for oratory at all, his style being low-keyed and legalistic. Although he was often called a fascist and compared to Hitler, the parallel applied only to his methods. Not only was the historical situation hopeless for a radical change like fascism, the country being unprecedentedly prosperous, but McCarthy never showed any interest in reshaping society. Half confidence man, half ward politician, he was simply out for his own power and profit, and he took advantage of the nervousness about communism to gain these modest perquisites. The same opportunism which made him dangerous in a small way prevented him from being a more serious threat, since for such large historical operations as the subversion of a social order there is required—as the examples of Lenin and Hitler showed—a fanaticism which doesn’t shrink from commitment to programs which are often inopportune.
    The contrast in demagogic styles between Hitler and McCarthy is related to national traits—and foibles. Hitler exploited the German weakness for theory, for vast perspectives of world history, for extremely large and excessively general ideas; McCarthy flourished on the opposite weakness in Americans, their respect for the Facts. A Hitler speech began: “The revolution of the twentieth century will purge the Jewish taint from the cultural bloodstream of Europe!” A McCarthy speech began: “I hold in my hand a letter dated…” He was a district attorney, not a messiah.
    Each of the bold forays which put the Wisconsin condottiere on the front pages between 1949 and 1954 began with factual charges and collapsed when the facts did: the long guerilla campaign against the State Department; the denunciation of General Marshall as a traitor working for the Kremlin (set forth in a 60,000 word speech in the Senate, bursting with Facts, none of them relevant to the charge); the Voice of America circus; the Lattimore fiasco; and the final suicidal Pickett’s charge against the Army and the President. That the letter dated such-and-such almost always turned out to have slight connection with the point he was making (on one occasion it was a blank sheet of paper), that the Facts about the Communist conspiracy he presented with such drama invariably proved to be, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, simple lies—this cramped McCarthy’s style very little.[6] He had working for him our fact-fetishism, which means in practice that a boldly asserted lie or half-truth has the same effect on our minds as if it were true, since few of us have the knowledge, the critical faculties or even the mere time to discriminate between fact and fantasy.
    Furthermore, our press, in its typical American effort to avoid “editorializing”—that is, evaluating the news, or The Facts, in terms of some general criterion—considers any dramatic statement by a prominent person to be important “news” and, by journalistic reflex, puts it on the front page. (If it later turns out that the original Fact was untrue, this new Fact is also duly recorded, but on an inside page, so that the correction never has the force of the original non-Fact. Such are the complications of “just giving the news” without any un-American generalizing or evaluating; in real life, unfortunately, almost nothing is simple, not even The Facts.) A classic instance was the front-paging, several years ago, of a series of charges against Governor Warren of California, who was up before the Senate for confirmation as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The charges were serious indeed, but the following day they were exposed as the fabrications of a recent inmate of a mental hospital; despite their prima facie absurdity, they had been automatically treated as major news because the notoriously irresponsible Senator Langer had given them to the press over his name.
    In the case of McCarthy, the tragicomic situation prevailed for years that although The New York Times and most of the country’s other influential newspapers were editorially opposed to him, they played his game and, in the sacred name of reporting The Facts, gave him the front-page publicity on which his power fattened. (Thus when he “investigated” the scientists at Fort Monmouth, the Times solemnly printed his charges day after day on page one, and then, some weeks later, printed a series of feature articles of its own, demonstrating that the charges were without substance; a little checking in the first place might have evaluated the Monmouth “investigation” more realistically and relegated it to an inside page; but this, of course, would have been “editorializing.”) When McCarthy’s charisma evaporated after the TV public had had a chance to see him in action during the army hearings and after the Watkins Committee had reported unfavorably on his senatorial conduct, the press began running his exposés on the inside pages and he disappeared like a comic-opera Mephisto dropping through a trap door.

Significantly, the Communist issue in postwar America took the form not of a confrontation of principles or even of a propaganda battle, but rather of legalistic haggling over Facts. (McCarthy’s muckraking-in-reverse was simply the demagogue’s instinctive adaption to the Zeitgeist.) The Hiss trial, the Lattimore imbroglio, the prosecution under the Smith Act of the Communist Party leadership, all turned on questions of fact: Did Hiss turn over State Department documents to Chambers? Was Lattimore working with the comrades at the Institute of Pacific Relations? Were the Communist leaders conspiring to advocate the overthrow of the government by violence? In the simple old days, revolutionaries used the courts as forums: Trotsky’s ringing indictment of capitalism at his trial for leading the 1905 revolution, Debs’s similar courtroom behavior during the First World War. But Hiss and Lattimore insisted they had always been respectable to the point of tedium, and the Communist leaders, far from lecturing Judge Medina on the evils of capitalism, competed with the prosecution in avowals of devotion to Jeffersonian democracy. The post-Stalin degeneration of Communism into conspiratorial real-politik was in part responsible; cf., the widespread use of the Fifth Amendment to assert the right not to state one’s politics (the old-style radicals had insisted on the opposite right).[7] But there was also involved the American habit of reducing large issues to matters of Fact. What other nation would have spent so much time, money, and newsprint to arrive at definitive political biographies of so many of its citizens? (Consider one aspect of the federal government’s security checks alone: the amount of expensive man-hours devoted by earnest, clean-cut young FBI agents, all of them law-school graduates, to interviewing many thousands of citizens about the political and personal—sex and alcohol—pasts of many thousands of other citizens working for the government or aspiring to do so.) The evil effects of this obsession have been copiously exposed in the liberal press, and for the most part I agree, but there is also perhaps discernible a political virtue. Granted the criteria for “pro-Communism” were much too broad, still at least a serious attempt was made in each individual case to establish some kind of factual basis for judgment; whole classes of people were not condemned en masse.
    One of the most frightening aspects of the Moscow Trials was that both defendants and accusers seemed to have lost the ability to distinguish between a fact (the defendant committed this or that criminal act) and an inference (his political views were such that it was reasonable to suppose that he committed the act, or, if he didn’t, it was merely because he didn’t have a chance to, and so he was guilty because he was the sort of person from whose politics certain criminal acts “logically followed”). In Soviet Russia questions of fact are decided by appealing to general principles, just as it was in the Middle Ages—the wheel has come full circle again.
    I prefer our own naïve, unimaginative overvaluation of the Fact. It leads us, at least in form, to think of questions as having two sides. Thus a widely distributed monthly financed by a Texas millionaire of pronouncedly illiberal views is called Facts Forum and goes in for features like the one in the November, 1955, issue: “Who Is Right about the Fund for the Republic?” in which Commander Collins of the American Legion and President Robert M. Hutchins of the Fund for the Republic state their antithetical views at equal length. Or there is the example of Fulton Lewis, Jr., a virulently antiliberal radio commentator who used to attack the Fund for the Republic almost nightly. When the Fund bought time on the same network to ask listeners to write in for their annual report, Mr. Lewis commented (September 15, 1955): “Now this, I think, is a really excellent idea, and I want to co-operate with Mr. Hutchins in full. So let me urge you strongly to send for the annual report of the Fund for the Republic, 60 East Forty-second Street, New York City. In that way you can have before you this report and see the pretty words and grandiose language while I am explaining to you night by night what each item means and what is really going on.”
    Perhaps Mr. Lewis’ let’s-look-at-the-record, nothing-up-my-sleeves approach was hypocritical and demagogic. But hypocrisy is preferable to unashamed evil, if only because it puts some restraints on behavior; in the old saw about hypocrisy being the tribute that vice pays to virtue, everyone accents “vice”; but one might also emphasize “tribute.” As for demagogy, it seems to me good that we have a tradition that makes this kind of demagogy profitable. It is surely better to overvalue Facts than to deny their existence. There was something moving about Vice-President Nixon’s anguished cry to the Communist-led students in Lima when they stoned him during his 1958 Latin American tour: “Don’t you want to hear facts?” Attorney-General Kennedy took the same tack, more successfully, when he faced a noisy mob of Socialist students in Japan last winter.

Best of all, however, is to understand the nature of Facts and to treat them accordingly, neither with Russian contempt nor American awe. “A commodity,” Marx writes on the first page of Capital, “is a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.” So is and does a Fact. The word comes from the Latin factum (a thing done, a deed) and is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a particular truth known by actual observation or authentic testimony as opposed to what is merely inferred; a datum of experience as distinguished from the conclusions that may be based upon it.” Facts are thus the raw material from which general conclusions, or theories, may be inferred. But the process also runs the other way. The meaning of a Fact, indeed its very existence in a psychological sense, depends on the context in which it appears—depends, that is, on “the conclusions that may be based upon it.” A Fact by itself is useless, impotent, phantasmal, as weak and wavering as the shades of the dead that Ulysses met in the underworld. And as the shades became strong enough to speak only by drinking the blood from Ulysses’ sacrifices, so a Fact can acquire reality only by drinking the blood of theory, by becoming related to other Facts through some kind of assumption, hypothesis, generalization. Indeed, a Fact not thus fortified is usually too weak even to be perceived; as a rule, one pays attention only to data that fit into some general idea of things one already has.[8] “The facts speak for themselves,” we say, but this is just what they don’t do. Rather, they are like Swift’s Laputans who have to be roused to practical discourse by attendants touching their lips with inflated bladders. Here, the bladders are one’s assumptions.
    The meaninglessness of facts qua facts is shown in the opening scene of Dickens’ Hard Times where Mr. Gradgrind, the type of “hard-headed” Victorian bourgeois, tries to explain his doctrine to a classroom of children:
“Now,” says Mr. Gradgrind, “what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle upon which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!”
. . . . . 
Bitzer,” said Thomas Gradgrind, “your definition of a horse.”
“Quadruped, Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth and twelve incisors. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.” Thus (and much more) Bitzer.
. . . . .
“Very well,” said this gentleman, briskly smiling, and folding his arms. “That’s a horse. Now let me ask you girls and boys, would you paper a room with representations of horses?”
After a pause, one half the children cried in chorus, “Yes, sir.”
Upon which the other half, seeing in the gentleman’s face that yes was wrong, cried out in a chorus, “No, sir!”—as the custom is, in these examinations.
“I’ll explain to you then,” said the gentleman after another and a dismal pause, “why you wouldn’t paper a room with representations of horses. Do you ever see horses walking up and down the sides of rooms in reality? in fact? Do you?”
“Yes, sir!” from one half. “No, sir!” from the other.
“Of course No,” said the gentleman, with an indignant look at the wrong half. “Why, then, you are not to see anywhere what you don’t see in fact; you are not to have anywhere what you don’t have in fact. What is called Taste is only another name for Fact.”

Before Bitzer gives his factual picture, Mr. Gradgrind has asked Sissy Jupe to define a horse. She is unable to satisfy him although her father is a horse trainer and she has ridden and worked with horses all her life. This, indeed, is precisely why she cannot conceive of a horse in the Gradgrind-Bitzer manner. If facts take on meaning only from experience, the converse is also true: experience makes it impossible to reduce the thing experienced to abstract factuality.
    The above passage also suggests the difference between the practical approach to facts and the aesthetic. Half the children see nothing wrong in horses walking up and down a wall, since theirs is the innocent eye of the artist rather than the sophisticated (using the word in its older sense of corrupted) eye of the fact-fetishist.

A hunter looks at a wood in one way, an artist in another. The latter’s eye takes in every twig, branch, trunk, shadow, color, highlight, etc. The former’s eye also records all this data, but his mind rejects everything except the particular Fact (brown fur, speckled feathers) it is looking for. The hunter knows what he will see (or rather, what he hopes he will see) before he looks. Since the artist’s aim is to render the wood in itself and as a whole (he may do it by three lines, as in a Chinese landscape, or by a Dutch proliferation of detail) his problem is how to be conscious of everything. The hunter’s problem is just the reverse: to be conscious of only what he has decided, in advance, to see. The same distinction could be made between the way a Wordsworth looks at a field and the way a farmer looks at it.
    We Americans are hunters rather than artists, a practical race, narrow in our perceptions, men of action rather than of thought or feeling. Our chief contribution to philosophy is pragmatism (pragma is Greek for factum); technique rather than theory distinguishes our science;[9] our homes, our cities, our landscapes are designed for profit or practicality but not generally for beauty; we think it odd that a man should devote his life to writing poems but natural that he should devote it to inducing children to breakfast on Crunchies instead of Krispies; our scholars are strong on research, weak on interpreting the masses of data they collect; we say “That’s just a fact” and we mean not “That’s merely a fact” but rather “Because that is a fact, there is nothing more to be said.”
    This tropism toward the Fact deforms our thinking and impoverishes our humanity. “Theory” (Greek theoria) is literally a “looking at” and thence “contemplation, reflection, speculation.” Children are told: “You may look but you mustn’t touch,” that is, “You mustn’t change what you look at.” This would be good discipline for Americans, just to look at things once in a while without touching them, using them, converting them into means to achieve power, profit, or some other practical end. The artist’s vision, not the hunter’s.

---


[1] The atrocious prose style of most of our academic historians, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, and even literary scholars is a case in point—cf. that three-volume Literary History of the United States, edited by Spiller, Thorp, Johnson, and Canby. The late Richard Chase wrote a memorable review of it in the winter, 1950, Sewanee Review.

[2] “This smooth and easy assimilation of fact, this air of over-all sophistication, is what Americans have learned more and more to admire in journalism, in business, in conversation….It is our national style, intellect-wise. A recent article in a liberal weekly on ‘The Mind of John F. Kennedy’ turns out to be an entirely admiring study of Kennedy’s range as an administrator. This vocational or psychological use of the word ‘mind’ is so typical of our time and place that it probably never occurred to the author to extend the word to cover ‘beliefs.’ Instead we are told that Kennedy’s ‘marshaling of related considerations’ defines Kennedy’s mind ‘as political in the most all-encompassing sense. The whole of politics, in other words, is to such a mind a seamless fabric in which a handshaking session with a delegation of women is an exercise directly related to hearing a report from a task force on Laos.’ And this ability to assimilate on the jump necessary quantities of fact, to get statements of a problem that carry ‘action consequences’—this is what we have come to value as the quality of intellectual all-roundedness or savvy.”

So Alfred Kazin in a most perceptive article, “The President and Other Intellectuals,” reprinted in his recent collection, Contemporaries. Let me add that it is precisely Kennedy’s ability to treat a handshaking session on the same plane as a foreign-policy decision that bothers me most about his presidential style. The decision to invade Cuba by proxy was probably taken in the same spirit; the pragmatic failure has been copiously explored by the New Frontiersmen but I have seen no expression of awareness that there was also a moral issue involved. Morality is qualitative, after all, not quantitative, that is, not factual.

[3] Fact-fetishism is to some extent a class phenomenon, most pronounced among our college graduates, the white-collar “intellectariat” of which the solid core is Time’s two million readers. As Dr. Gallup’s figures here show, the mass audience, though as good Americans they love, honor, and obey The Facts, choose entertainment over information when it comes to making use of their leisure.

[4] Luce had the idea, ten years ago, of starting a highbrow cultural magazine, but after dropping a hundred thousand or so and drawing up, via his then advisor for the arts, Mr. William S. Schlamm, a list of “candidates for possibly sustained contact” that included Mr. Blackmur as well as Auden, Eliot, Orwell and Trilling, he gave it up. Perhaps he realized the hopeless insubstantiality of the field. Or perhaps he decided to merge the unborn magazine into Sports Illustrated, which has printed articles by James T. Farrell on baseball and William Faulkner on ice hockey and by now may well be negotiating with Mr. Auden for a few observations on Pancho Gonzales’ net style.

[5] Whose “merchants of death” theme was so infectious that even Fortune caught it, producing a muckraking feature of its own, “Arms and the Men,” 9,650 of whose 10,000 words were devoted to the infamies of foreign munition-makers, leaving just 350 for the DuPonts and other native sinners.

[6] Nor did it bother Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer, two Hearst journalists who during the McCarthy Era turned out a series of sensational best sellers—New York Confidential, Chicago Confidential, U.S.A. Confidential, etc. These were fact-crammed guidebooks to the seamier side of American life which differed in two ways from the old exposés of the muckrakers: the Facts were marshaled against the underdog (Negro, radical, Jew, labor union) and—they were often not Facts.

[7] I do not mean to imply that all, or even most, of those who “took the Fifth” did so to avoid stating past or present Communist loyalties. Some sincerely believed that inquiries into political allegiances are contrary to democratic principles; more were reluctant to admit party membership in the past lest they be forced to tell on old friends or associates. One can sympathize with such motives and yet admire more the behavior of our pacifists—the heirs in this respect of Debs and Trotsky—who are willing, indeed eager to “bear witness” publicly to their dissident beliefs.

8] Cf., the Ames experiments, at Dartmouth, in visual perception. In one of the simpler demonstrations, a playing card of usual size is placed some distance in front of one twice as big. The spectator almost always sees the more distant card as the nearer one, since what he “sees” is determined by two assumptions based on past experience: that playing cards are always the same size (hence he assumes the bigger card to be this size) and that of two objects the same size, the one that appears to be smaller will be the more distant one. Thus his already-held theory about the size of playing cards prevents him from accepting the Fact reported by his optic nerve.

[9] “In the United States,” Dr. Theodore Von Karman, a leading authority on aerodynamics, recently told the press, “we concentrate on know-how. In Europe, we work on think-how.”