Friday, October 24, 2014

“Here Comes the Judge"

photo of Somerset Maugham by Carl Van Vechten
In an Op-Ed piece entitled  “The Good Order,” (NYT, 9/25/14), David Brooks bridges the gap between international and individual order, in comparing the discipline of creation to that of a superpower’s obligation to keep chaos at bay. Brooks’s primary examples are writers like John Cheever, Maya Angelou, Anthony Trollope and Somerset Maugham who created rigid routines or schedules and he quotes W. H. Auden to the effect that “A modern stoic knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.” This idea of the artist is a far cry from the ethos many baby boomers grew up with, influenced as they were by the idea of creative people as drop outs and rebels against rigidity and routine. Their role models were the abstract expressionists of the 50’s or rock stars like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix whose lives were like supernovas which blazed forth a blinding light just as they courted oblivion. The kind of writers and artists that Brooks is writing about seem more like businessmen. Brooks remarks, “They think like artists, but work like accountants.” That statement recalls Flaubert’s famous quote that one should, “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work." How are these two conflicting views translatable on the world stage? Brooks uses the occasion of his piece to praise President Obama’s speech at the U.N. which he says, “put tough minded realism at the service of a high calling.” But is discipline in the political sphere really translatable into inspiration? Artists are attempting to find something through the maintenance of a practice but what is a politician or leader trying to find? The answer is usually a series of intelligent decisions that lead his country out of a quagmire. “Uh-oh, Here Come the Judge, Here Come the Judge/Everybody know That he is the judge," Pigmeat Markham once intoned. A political leader has no choice but to work in a consistent and disciplined way, but it’s no guarantee that his or her actions will lead to the kind of vision that characterizes the work of the artistic geniuses who Brooks cites.

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