That Confucius’s characterization of the [Zhou] period as a golden age may have been an idealization is irrelevant. Continuity with a “golden age” lent his vision greater authority and legitimacy, and such continuity validated the rites and practices he advocated. This desire for historical authority and legitimacy—during a period of disrupture and chaos—may help to explain Confucius’s eagerness to present himself as a mere transmitter, a lover of the ancients. Indeed, the Master’s insistence on mere transmission notwithstanding, there can be little doubt that from his study and reconstruction of the early Zhou period he forged an innovative—and enduring—sociopolitical vision. Still, in his presentation of himself as reliant on the past, nothing but a transmitter of what had been, Confucius established what would become something of a cultural template in China. Grand innovation that broke entirely with the past was not much prized in the pre-modern Chinese tradition. A Jackson Pollock who consciously and proudly rejected artistic precedent, for example, would not be acclaimed the creative genius in China that he was in the West. Great writers, great thinkers, and great artists were considered great precisely because they had mastered the tradition—the best ideas and techniques of the past. They learned to be great by linking themselves to past greats and by fully absorbing their styles and techniques. Of course, mere imitation was hardly sufficient; imitation could never be slavish. One had to add something creative, something entirely of one’s own, to mastery of the past.
Thus when you go into a museum gallery to view pre-modern Chinese landscapes, one hanging next to another, they appear at first blush to be quite similar. With closer inspection, however, you find that this artist developed a new sort of brush stroke, and that one a new use of ink-wash, and this one a new style of depicting trees and their vegetation. Now that your eye is becoming trained, more sensitive, it sees the subtle differences in the landscape paintings, with their range of masterful techniques an expression. But even as it sees the differences, it recognizes that the paintings evolved out of a common landscape tradition, in which artists built consciously on the achievements of past masters.
"[A] kimono is made from exactly one bolt of fabric. The way the pattern of a kimono is constructed, not one scrap of fabric remains after the garment is completed. Once the kimono showed signs of wear, it began a long line of transformations - from Sunday best to an everyday item of clothing. When it was further worn, the kimono would be used as a sleeping gown or shortened to make an outdoor jacket. When further worn, the jacket would be turned into a bag or an apron. Finally, layers of scraps were sashiko quilted together into dust cloths. But sashiko was also used to strengthen fabric and in the north, it was used to secure layers of fabric together for protection against the elements. What began as utilitarian stitching began to be used as a decorative element as well and patterns evolved from the daily lives of the quilters."
“As the nights get darker, look no further than our latest item. Take a glance in this fascinating art journal, the ‘Anatomia Humani Corporis’, ultimate Renaissance anatomical sketchbooks – scientific masterpieces with lucid insights into the functioning of the human body.”
I don’t have any advice [for younger writers]. You are asking me to live in an era other than the one that formed me. But I will tell you this: An editor in New York told me the other day that, even as the reading audience for serious prose has diminished, the unsolicited manuscripts she receives are better than ever. Even while I think we are leaving the splendid Victorian age of serious popular literature—novels and poetry—we may be entering the Elizabethan Age, when few in London read, but there was an intensity of thought and beauty to the prose, and the poetry, and, of course, the plays.
Religion still reveres the book—just visit a yeshiva if you want to see devotion to the weight of the holy word. But in our secular lives the digital revolution seems to have eroded the great age of the middle-class reader. And without readers what are we? Half-writers whose sentences are never completed by the stranger’s eyes.
I tell young writers not to give a single sentence away. Charge for every noun! Beyond the matter of strategy, the question really is whether our society needs complicated thought or expressions of beauty that reveal themselves only slowly and with difficulty. The question is whether a civilization can forget the pleasure of difficult, beautiful writing so thoroughly as to ignore its loss.
If history matters – and I think it does just like sentiment and family matter – then whatever this place’s shortcomings and mistakes it’s worth recalling that it’s also the country of William Wilberforce and Alan Turing as well as Adam Smith and Thomas Paine. That should count for something. We are different but not separate. I think of it as being like the relationship between Boswell and Johnson. They complement one another. You may even think they complete one another. There’d be a smaller Johnson without Boswell but a lesser Boswell without Johnson. They improved each other.
Most of all, I like that when you get the train to Scotland from London or Peterborough or Newcastle north and you cross the border in the gloaming you feel your heart soar and you cry hurrah and yippee because you know you’re home now without having been abroad. I like that and think it matters. I don’t know if I know why it does or why it suddenly seems so valuable but I know I do. But that’s the Britain I know and like; a place in which I’m always Scottish but also, when it suits, British too. A country where you travel to very different places and still always come home without having been abroad.
"If Reddit wants to be thought of as a government, we’ll call it what it is: a failed state, unable to control what happens within its borders. At minimum, Reddit is a kleptocracy that speaks to lofty virtues while profiting from vice. It might be forgivable if we were talking about taxing cigarettes and booze, but we’re not talking about that. What we’re talking about is more like sexual assault, condoned by a state that earns revenue from it. “Reddit doesn’t have much of an interest in banning questionable content,” Wong wrote last year. “‘Family-friendly’ is out, ‘edgy’ is in.” Are those the words of a president, or a pimp?"