Category: impressions

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Even if you haven’t read Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you almost certainly know the premise. The image of Jekyll and Hyde has entered the English language as an idiom right along many allusions to Scripture and Shakespeare, and it’s been adapted into other media many times. Talking about it here, then, seems almost like a waste of time; after all, it’s already one of the most famous stories in English.

Well, I’ve found that many classic books, even if they are well-known, are in reality often seldom read, so one can never assume that just because something is famous that many people are actually familiar with the original work. Besides, there are a handful of books that are more enjoyable in their adaptations than in their original form, like Dracula, I’m afraid to say. At a glance, Jekyll looks like it may fall into that category, since it’s old, everyone knows the plot twist and themes, and it’s written in a slow-paced, wordy style common in the Nineteenth Century but unpalatable to many today. So, is Jekyll still worth reading?

I’m actually not going to give an unqualified “yes,” but will say that for most people, especially if you’ve managed to avoid spoilers your whole life, will enjoy it as long as you have the patience for Stevenson’s writing style. Not that his style is bad, of course – as we’ll discuss shortly, I think it’s very good. It’s just not for everyone. It is short, though, so it’s worth a shot.…

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Examining Neovictorian’s Sanity

Note: This is another article first published at Thermidor, on May 24, 2018. I’ve been republishing these in chronological order, but since Sanity is still fairly new I decided to expedite this one.


How does one go about writing a “Right-wing” novel? The wrong way is to emphasise the “Right-wing” part, which transforms the novel into mere propaganda. At best, an ideological novel will succeed only in entertaining the already converted. Rather, the author should focus on writing a good novel. For those deeply invested in politics this can be hard to do, since they likely took up the pen at least in part because of a belief in the role of art in the culture war. Why take the time to write something and not take full advantage of an opportunity to spread the gospel, so to speak?

It’s important to understand, though, that few have ever changed their beliefs based on a single work of fiction. Rather, fiction operates as part of a larger cultural milieu, not acting alone as a single work but in combination with dozens of other books, movies, songs, and so on, and even then the effect is generally subtle. Besides, it’s unlikely that a Reactionary author will be confused for a Leftist since one can typically guess the rough ideological position of several of the Right’s favourite authors even if they aren’t explicit, as with, say, Tolkien or O’Connor. Even Chesterton almost managed to restrain himself in his fiction.

I bring this all up because preachiness was my main concern going into today’s novel, Sanity, written by Neoreactionary blogger Neovictorian. Since I only knew him through Twitter and his articles and was unaware of any previous experience he may have writing fiction, I feared that his book would turn out as either a political tract thinly disguised as a story or a wish-fulfilment fantasy. Though there are NRx and broader dissident Right gang signs all over the joint, they never get in the way of the narrative and the end result is, I’m happy to say, a genuinely good novel that stands well on its own as a novel.

Though fairly short, Sanity is difficult to summarise because it’s one of the fastest-paced books I’ve ever read. Chapters are seldom more than a few pages long, and every one skips to a new time or location with something significant happening in all of them. Even the slower chapters, with the protagonist, Cal Adler, camping out in the desert or just having a conversation with someone take on a narrative significance in part because of the contrast with the frenetic pace of the rest of the book. To give an idea, the very first chapter opens with a mass shooting, then the next chapter skips ahead a few years to Cal thinking back on the experience, and the next skips all the way back to his school days dealing with a playground bully. Soon he’s in high school and the guidance counsellor is essentially giving him an invitation to a secret society, and the rest of the work follows Cal as he moves from one experience to the next, job to job, place to place, in a way that seems almost random but which, by the novel’s climax, has has worked its way to a classic rebirth metaphor.…

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Hesiod’s Works (and his Days, as Well)

Note: This is another old Thermidor post, originally published on May 18, 2017.


Among Greek poets, two stand tall above all the others, Homer and Hesiod. One can easily see Homer’s appeal, with his renowned tales of heroes, war, and adventure, told with great craftsmanship and sublimity. Then you have Hesiod, who surveys the fields, tugs at his overalls, and says, “Good season for crops.”

Well, okay, that’s totally unfair to Hesiod, but the two poets’ themes and subject matter could hardly be more different. Before getting into that, though, let’s back up a little.

Hesiod lived between 750 and 650 B.C., roughly a contemporary of Homer. There’s even a story among the ancient Greeks that the two competed against each other in a poetry competition, but historians apparently dispute this, because there’s nothing historians hate more than a good story. Hesiod won that alleged competition, but even if that did happen, Homer got the last laugh since Hesiod today sits in his rival’s shadow. Many people have read The Odyssey for school, and possibly The Iliad as well. Even the average philistine, then, is at least aware of these works. On the other hand, though Hesiod is by no means an obscure figure, The Works and Days, Theogeny, and The Shield of Herakles have nowhere near the presence of Homer’s epics.

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Ego

Time for the conclusion of serial experiments lain.

Layer 13: Ego begins with blue static and Lain saying she’s confused again. Well, so are we. Rather than a voice-over we start with a recap of the last part of Layer 12. Alice doesn’t handle it so well, and we’re then shown a screen with the message, “ALL RESET” and on a second line, “Return.” Rewind!

The next few scenes show us what the different characters are up to now, after Lain presumably fixed things by undoing everything Eiri had done. Everyone is living, well, not quite happily ever after, but better. Only a couple people seem to notice that Lain isn’t there. Lain, however, is not happy. She has a conversation with a double about omnipotence and omnipresence. When Lain gets fed up with that, the image of her father appears in the sky, and they have some tea in the clouds.

Now comforted, Lain meets a now adult Alice, and they have a short conversation. The blue static returns, one more time, and Lain says to the camera, “I promise you I’ll always be right here. I’ll always be right next to you, forever.”

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Aristotle’s Poetics

Note: This is another post originally published at Thermidor Magazine, in this case on March 21, 2017. Again, I’m posting this with only minimal editing.


Much of the process of moving politically Rightward consists in correcting the inadequacies of ones education. This process is most obvious in things like history or human biodiversity, but is certainly present in the arts, as well. Though a handful of books from the Western canon are still commonly covered in school, like Beowulf or The Odyssey, most curricula, even at the university level, fall far short of a comprehensive treatment. I majored in literature in college, and even aside from the cultural problem of being one of the few students truly passionate about this stuff, my formal education covered very little written prior to about 1800 aside from Shakespeare, and almost nothing not originally in English.

How does one go about correcting this? The simplest is just to start reading. Beginning with the Classics is a solid option, and I’ve offered my own suggestions elsewhere, but almost anything is better than nothing, so, as long as one builds a habit of reading, most works above the level of young adult literature will do as a start. SWPLs are deservedly mocked for their obsession with the Harry Potter series, not because they started their reading “careers” there but because they stopped there. So even relatively light material will work as a starting point, as long as one progresses towards the Classics.

Now, though selecting one’s reading according to whim is good enough for many, some of us do prefer a more structured approach and appreciate some guidance. One often recommended resource is Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren’s How to Read a Book, which focuses on non-fiction but much of their advice is broadly applicable. They also include a handy list of recommended reading. Henry Dampier’s review from a couple years ago offers a solid overview. For something more specific to poetry, there’s Ezra Pound’s idiosyncratic but helpful ABC of Reading, which is especially valuable for anyone interested in Pound’s own work. Those who feel a little braver, though, and really want to get into the nuts-and-bolts of how fiction is put together, may want to take a look at Aristotle’s straightforwardly-titled Poetics.…

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Landscape

We’re coming into the home stretch of serial experiments lain. In Layer 12: Landscape, the voice-over returns. “Oh, okay… So that’s how it works. I had no idea the world was this simple. I always thought the world was such a big and scary place, but once you figure it all out, it’s all so easy.” A second voice adds, “See? I told you it would be.” The episode proper opens at school, with Alice gloomily watching Lain gossip with Julie and Reika. Lain sends Alice a message saying she should just rewrite bad memories. A static-covered image of Lain takes up the screen and apparently addresses the audience directly. “People only have substance in the memories of others. That’s why there were all kinds of me’s. There weren’t a lot of me’s, I was just inside all sorts of people, that’s all.”

In a voice-over, Eiri talks about how the world can be explained entirely in materialistic terms, and how people were originally all connected – and have now been reconnected through Lain’s efforts. By sharing information seemlessly Man can figure out what kind of animal he is and evolve by his own power. In a parking garage the MIBs discuss their situation, and how their client had been working with Eiri all along. The Tachibana boss shows up, hands over a suitcase full of money and tells them to run to a place with no electricity or satellite coverage, and leaves. Both die after seeing a vision of Lain.

Alice goes to Lain’s trashed house, and speaks with her. Eiri appears, is goaded into manifesting bodily, and is destroyed.

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Chesterton and The Man Who Was Thursday

Note: This post was originally published at Thermidor on March 6, 2017, but since it recently shut down I’ve decided to republish my articles here. I plan to post one per week until they’re all back up, with only light editing.


What’s there to say about G. K. Chesterton? He’s a contender for the most-quoted man on the Right; spend some time in any broadly Right-wing community, Conservative, Reactionary, or even just moderate Christian, and it won’t be long before someone quotes one of his famous aphorisms or anecdotes. Though not a particularly rigorous thinker, and a bit light for those used to reading the Joseph de Maistres and Julius Evolas of the world, he’s among the best authors who’ve written primarily for popular audiences.

One thing that makes his work especially impressive is that, besides his innumerable essays, he wrote several deservedly popular novels. After burning myself out a bit on his non-fiction, I recently decided to revisit some of his novels, beginning with The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. It’s about poet Gabriel Syme, recruited by Scotland Yard and tasked with infiltrating a cabal of anarchists. It’s a classic setup for a spy or detective story, aside from the poet protagonist, and up until the final chapter plays out much as one would expect of a Chestertonian detective novel.…

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Infornography

On to more serial experiments lain. In Layer 11: Infornography, the opening changes a bit. The title screen is made of up screens from the previous episode, and the voice-over is still missing from the cityscape. Instead, we see Lain being tied up in cables. Much of the episode is essentially a recap, going through the events of the series so far in a fast edited series of clips of previous episodes and a handful of other phrases flashing on the screen, but with the largest portion, especially near the end, focusing on Alice. Eiri then appears and tells Lain that she is, essentially, software, though Lain doesn’t like him talking about her as if she’s a machine. She then appears in the street and sees Chisa and the Cyberia shooter, who have a brief discussion about dying, and Lain finds herself holding the shooter’s gun with him telling her how to shoot herself (she doesn’t).

Then, it cuts to Alice’s room, where Alice is watching a message from Julie, who wants to set her up on a date to dispel rumours about her relationship with a teacher. Lain shows up with the body of that alien from last episode, talks about the “other” Lain and how she can fix the rumours. Alice is skeptical, but of course, the next day she realises that Lain really did make everyone but her forget what had happened.

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Plato’s Dialogues: Menexenus

If you’re wondering how I managed to write up another post on Plato’s dialogues so quickly after the last one, the answer is that this is Menexenus, which is both very short (twelve pages in the Bollingen Series edition), and because it’s not quite like Plato’s other work. It begins with Socrates meeting an acquaintance, Menexenus, who is on his way back from the Agora. There is to be a public funeral soon, so a speaker must be chosen for the occasion. Menexenus mentions the short amount of time speakers have to prepare for these things, but Socrates points out that such speeches are often ready-made and easy for a decent orator to compose quickly. It’s also not difficult to win the audience’s approval, since this genre of speech typically involves praising the deceased and the city he came from. As Socrates puts it:

SOCRATES: The speakers praise [the deceased] for what he has done and for what he has not done—that is the beauty of them—and they steal away our souls with their embellished words; in every conceivable form they praise the city; and they praise those who died in war, and all our ancestors who went before us; and they praise ourselves also who are still alive, until I feel quite elevated by their laudations, and I stand listening to their words, Menexenus, and become enchanted by them, and all in a moment I imagine myself to have become a greater and nobler and finer man than I was before. […]

MENEXENUS: You are always making fun of the rhetoricians, Socrates; this time, however, I am inclined to think that the speaker who is chosen will not have much to say, for he has been called upon to speak at a moment’s notice, and he will be compelled almost to improvise.

SOCRATES: But why, my friend, should he not have plenty to say? Every rhetorician has speeches ready made; nor is there any difficulty in improvising that sort of stuff. Had the orator to praise Athenians among Peloponnesians, or Peloponnesians among Athenians, he must be a good rhetorician who could succeed and gain credit. But there is no difficulty in a man’s winning applause when he is contending for fame among the persons whom he is praising.…

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Notes on the Odyssey

One notable thing about the Iliad is that it inspired a huge number of other poets and playwrights to use it as source material for their own works. Some filled in the gaps left by Homer, since he’d only addressed a relatively small part of the Trojan War, while others covered the adventures of the poem’s heroes after the war. The Greeks themselves were the most prolific and successful at this, but the Romans and even modern authors, musicians, and filmmakers have attempted their own additions and adaptations to the epic. I think it’s safe to say the most celebrated of these attempts was the Aeneid, making Virgil the world’s greatest author of fanfiction, but we’ll get to his work some other time.

Today, I thought I’d share some observations on the only official sequel, the Odyssey. This one needs less of an introduction than the Iliad, since it’s one of the few Classical works still commonly assigned to high school and college students, at least among Americans. I still won’t assume much familiarity – after all, I’m writing in large part for people who’ve finished schooling and are ready for an education. Since it is more accessible than the Iliad, though, I’ll talk about it less formally than I did about that epic and just offer a few observations about it.

So, as you might guess from the title Odyssey follows Odysseus after the Trojan War, whose trip home went about as well as every other hero’s – badly.

Very badly.

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