Scott McLemee

The First Flush of Ambition and Other Follies

07.18.2005 | Scott McLemee | The Academy
Principle of the Dangerous Precedent: “...Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.”

Jackson and Wilde, Faces and Masks

06.17.2005 | Scott McLemee | Cultural Affairs | 2 Comments

With the trial over, perhaps it’s appropriate to recall the question Wilde once asked someone about a mutual friend: “When you are alone with him, does he take off his face and reveal his mask?”

Plug In, Tune Out

04.29.2005 | Scott McLemee | Cultural Affairs | 1 Comment
Any halfway serious bout of procrastination is, of course, quite exhausting. The obligation you try to escape keeps returning.

Cafeteria Culture & the Kettle Choppers

"The cafeterias and the automats were the center of New York intellectual life back then," they told me, each one finishing the other's thought, as old couples often will. "You'd buy a sandwich or a piece of pie, both if you could afford it, but what you really went there to do was talk." It was they who explained to me the odd Yiddish idiom, "to chop a tea kettle." "It means," they said, "that a person makes a lot of noise without accomplishing anything."

Bellow and the Communion Wafers

Bellow had made a bitter jab at multiculturalism, asking who the Tolstoy of the Zulus might have been. He made plenty of other irritable gestures disguised as grand pronouncements, or maybe it was vice versa. But no effort to dismiss his comment really worked for me. It stuck in my mind like a burr: “If you don’t give literature a decisive part to play in your existence, then you haven’t got anything but a show of culture. It has no reality whatever.”

A Crypt Full of Professors

03.31.2005 | Scott McLemee | The Academy | 1 Comment
“It was like they wanted to finish their youth through you, somehow,” he said. “They needed your energy. They needed you to admire them. They were hungry for it. It felt like I had wandered into a crypt full of vampires. After a while, I just wanted to flee.”

Genius, Sex and Character

03.21.2005 | Scott McLemee | Cultural Affairs, Unfairly Forgotten | 2 Comments
There are many great books and countless weird ones. Yet there few great weird books. Sex and Character is one of them, the product of a tortured genius. Or at least of someone devoted to the role.