Sunday, October 16, 2016


The fall colors are at a peak again here and as usual reaffirm how good it is to live in Vermont. The mountaintops turn orange first, and the colors slowly flow downward to sea level until everything has turned brown. You can extend the experience by hiking at higher elevations when the change begins. Frost has finally struck the garden, ending the growing season. This winter will probably be snowier than last. I am at a lull between books and have a couple of new ones on hand for whenever I resume. At this point I'm a little overdosed on French writers and will be returning to Hungary, England and elsewhere. American fiction remains too painful for me to read.

William became an outdoor/indoor cat last month and is much happier as a result. At first he went on a spree catching goldfinches, moles, voles and chipmunks, but he has since calmed down and hasn't deposited many dead animals by the door recently. He had one serious fight with a feral cat, in which he could have lost an eye, but he has recovered except for missing patches of fur that have yet to grow back. He loves following us around the yard during the day. Because there are dangerous predators out there, we bring him in at night.

I don't particularly like to comment on current events, but thought I should say something about Donald Trump. His political ascent is one of the most bizarre events in American political history for a number of reasons. If you analyze it purely on a political level it is a predictable development in the sense that the Republican Party has gradually wandered into a remote ideological region and has left its door open to fringe candidates who have nothing coherent to offer. To me it is a sign that the party lacks a central idea. The more disturbing aspect of it is that there are people who actually vote for someone like Trump, whose shortcomings are obvious. He is one of the most overtly elitist candidates ever, yet he has managed to make himself appealing to the common man. Any critical analysis of him immediately reveals that he has no qualifications for the job: he clearly does not understand politics, government, economics, science or world affairs, and he has unusually low ethical standards at a time when they are more essential than ever for most political candidates. Trump is a blatant example of the pitfalls of the American democratic process. Voters need training in how to make rational voting decisions or else have their right to vote rescinded. Fortunately, it appears that Trump will lose by a landslide to Hillary Clinton, who, though by no means an ideal candidate, is a reliable person with an appropriate background.

The other news event, which seems to be exciting literary people, is the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan. I have been avoiding reading people's reactions, because I don't care what they think. Nothing has changed in how I see Dylan, and this event is really about the Nobel Committee. The Swedes would have been wise to stay away from aesthetic judgments, because that is not one of their fortes, if they have any. As I've said, Dylan's talent emerged in the 1960's, but has been followed by a barren half-century. Like Richard Feynman, a fellow Ashkenazim, he started with an extraordinary talent. In his case he was able to assimilate vast amounts of music and oral tradition during a time of social upheaval to produce a unique synthesis – all without quite understanding what he was doing. Dylan was never disciplined enough to meet my definition of a great artist; he was a raw talent that fizzled. Since both Dylan and Feynman took up painting as a hobby, you can compare their works and use that as a neutral basis to decide which of them is the better artist. In my judgment, Feynman is the better artist, and that may be because he was more disciplined and a clearer thinker than Dylan. On close examination everything that Dylan ever had to say was derivative of what other people had said, thus he remains an enigma rather than an exemplar of artistic expression.

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