Oct 29, 2021, 05:57AM

A Marxist Reading List and the Holiness of Autumn

The glimmers of intelligence among conservatives are touching.

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I find the glimmers of intelligence flashing out among conservatives touching. There’s a pathos to them of the sort that you might find in a particularly stupid child who, for the first time in his life, offers a smart answer in class, raising fond, fleeting hopes among his classmates and teachers of what still might be, given the miraculous intervention of God—before, inevitably, he lapses back into pig-like stupidity.

(“What are you going on about, Harris?” caws Mother, who has paused to look over my shoulder at my laptop screen on her way out the door, a crooked “joint” dangling from her gnarly lip—she has been prescribed “medical marijuana” as a treatment for her many ailments, primarily her glaucoma. “Out with it, man, out with it. Type, Harris. Let’s see the next sentence.”)

I’m “going on” about this: the way in which some conservative commentators, some of the time, have figured out that corporate capitalism hates and wants to destroy them; that the truest thing ever written about the nature of capitalism was by Karl Marx, who noted that, under the reign of capital, “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”; that the “progressivism” and “liberalism” they complain about are 100 percent natural and even inevitable cultural (the old-time Marxists would say “superstructural”) effects of the sort of capitalism (the old-time Marxists would call this the “base”) under which we function; and that any engagement with the sickness of our time needs to concern itself, first and last, with a critique of the logic of contemporary capitalism, a critique grounded to some extent in the work of thinkers who’ve tended to be classified as “leftists.” (In truth, the left-right distinction seems to have lost its utility by now, almost 250 years after it emerged.)

Meanwhile, here at the homestead, Brother Aiden is proposing that we start discussing excerpts from Das Kapital during our weekly “reading groups,” and eventually move on to Jameson’s The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, certain of the more “zesty” essays to be found in Althusser’s Lenin and Philosophy, Adorno’s Negative Dialectics, Horkheimer’s Critique of Instrumental Reason, Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, and Voloshinov’s Marxism and the Philosophy of Language.

We may well take up his suggestion, contributing in that way to the “political realignment” that we all read so much about.


More so even than the Great Lent, our stern Russian Orthodox Pascha, autumn is the time when my thoughts drift particularly toward Our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross. The Midwestern landscape, as we enter November, must remind the faithful of the melting away of flesh from the bone, of Time’s revelation of our essential evanescence. Just as, in late-autumn, the earth starts to show its skeleton, so shall each of us, at that point when we have finished traversing the acre of earthly time that God has allotted us—O meager acre, bookended on each side by infinity!—stand naked before the Throne of Judgment.

O late autumn desolation most instructive! I read God’s Word in so many things in this darkling time: in the flight of the season’s last thistledown, borne away by northern winds; in the patterns of migrating geese etched against the sky; in the burbling of Brother Aiden’s still, promising sips of restorative “moonshine” on frigid winter nights; in the sullen dribble of urine from my penis during Mother’s nightly manipulations of a Harris prostate that has served me well for almost 70 years but that is, alas, in the end human, all too human; in the low Indiana hills that, against a brooding sky, make vivid in the mind’s eye images of GOLGOTHA on the holy, terrible day.

Creation, to quote Saint Porphyry, is a light veil thrown across the book of His doctrine, and we must attend to every letter.


The saga of Daughter’s college admissions process continues. This week I received a cheerful email from the head of her boarding school’s college placement office, informing me that Daughter will apply, with the school’s blessing, to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and Columbia, and warning me of the not-inconsiderable cost that her filing these applications will bring me. And so a long-dreaded moment, one that I’ve avoided, inches inevitably closer: that moment when I will have to accede to Daughter’s entrance in a Western elite I hate, or else, somehow, stand in her way.

I’m gathering my thoughts on this topic, meditating and praying. At what point do the prerogatives of fatherhood end? Is the paternal discipline—some might even say violence—with which I once curtailed the nocturnal adolescent “liberties” that Daughter took with her body appropriate in this very different situation, and now that she is almost 18 years old?

I’m sure that frank advice from my wonderful Russian priest, Father Nicodemus, will help me clarify my thinking on this matter.


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