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Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mind Hardcover – November 10, 2011
"My Father, the Pornographer" by Fang Lizhi
A son tries to understand his late father, by reading the 400-plus novels left to him in his father's will. Check out "My Father, the Pornographer".
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Murray identifies what, for me at least, is the "problem" of taking Barzun's life and achievement as a whole. At the start, Murray recognizes that "it may seem odd that [Barzun] never achieved a vogue," best-selling books notwithstanding, but "usually authors who achieve a vogue stand for some single startling view" (p. xxiv). And what, exactly, does Barzun stand for? A very superficial reading, based principally on From Dawn to Decadence, would cast Barzun as yet another prophet of Western decline, which irks the young and the progressive and pleases the fogeyish and the conservative.
Murray's bio shows how very inadequate such a reading is, though it treats extensively of Barzun's engagement with the idea of decline or decadence. Insofar as Barzun judges the West to have spent its force culturally, he has reached the conclusion inductively, through long reading and absorption of European culture of the past several hundred years and through active engagement with attempts in his own century to advance it (Barzun, for instance, fought a resistant administration to get an electronic music center established at Columbia University in the 1950s (pp. 170-71)).Read more ›