of doing this or that and acquire a distaste for what previously
pleased them. All that is human enough, (natura humana
mutabilis est), but nonetheless it is tragic to see those
who have had the enormous privilege of devoting themselves
to things intrinsically good, like the pursuit of truth, grow
jaded and surly. Plato warned against misology, a hatred of
the Ideas that can come after long familiarity with them.
The theological word for it is acedia, a distaste for
spiritual things. It is one of the capital sins.
What Good is Art? is causing the stir he doubtless
hoped it would. In it, after a distinguished career as Professor
of Literature at Oxford, he turns on his erstwhile love and
suggests that there is really nothing to choose between Shakespeare
and comic books. And what, after all, is a work of art? Carey
professes no longer to know. That isn't quite right. He embraces
a radical subjectivism according to which the world, including
the art world, consists of our projections - yours or mine,
that is, not ours. One could of course mention similar efforts
by all too many contemporary philosophers. They make a sad
Why would one
argue that arguments are futile? Such efforts are self-destructive.
All the blithe assertions in such screeds, when the theory
is applied to them, disintegrate into babble. Relativists
have a way of being absolutists, their pronunciamentos
apparently spared from the scorched earth policy they allegedly
We have reached
a point in our intellectual history where the most elementary
principles require defense. And the defense against their
denial remains to show that such denials either exempt themselves
from the target area or go up in smoke with everything else.
If the latter is true, it is pointless to write such books.
If the former, we are confronted, as Plato suggested, with
a profound moral fault. Let us read them as cautionary tales,
twisted reminders of the need for those mores intellectuales
without which the life of the mind can become worse than bestiality.
Lilies that fester smell worse than weeds.