I’ve been reading and rereading Raymond Chandler’s novels for more than 30 years; also his Letters, the best epistolary volume by an “American” writer (Chandler was an Englishman who arrived in Los Angeles as a young man to work for an oil executive), with the sole exception of Flannery O’Connor’s The Habit of Being.
Chandler liked to say that the work of all really fine writers is endowed with a special magic. His own writing—literary novels under the black flag of detective fiction set in L.A. in the 1920’s and 30’s—had magic and charm in spades: magic of mood, magic of place, and magic of character, particularly where his lowest and most unprepossessing characters were concerned. No more evocative scene has ever been written than the opening pages of The Long Goodbye, where Philip Marlowe enters a bar at opening time and is served a gin gimlet on a cocktail pad by the barman who’s just wiped down the bar wood with a cloth. Rereading Farewell, My Lovely, which I had always considered Chandler’s best book, I am charmed as usual, though I catch myself experiencing a certain reservation about Marlowe’s famous one-liners and wisecracks. All of them are wonderful (none better than, “It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window,” though many others are just as good), but on pages where every other sentence is a punch line the effect can be like hearing a pile driver at work, 24 hours a day, beyond the window. And not only Marlowe but everyone else is at it, more or less—including the women.
I suspect that Chandler’s achievement is, finally, his incomparable success in making 20th-century America seem at once so dreary and so sordid—and so dreamlike and compelling. In this respect he surpassed Hemingway, his contemporary and another specialist in the hardboiled, who captures only the secret terror—for example, in “The Killers”—underlying modern American life.
At any rate, I shall never tire of revisiting this great artist, from whom (along with Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Waugh, and O’Connor) I myself, as a novelist, have learned so much.
—Chilton Williamson, Jr.
In preparation for the speech I wrote for the John Randolph Club, which turned out to be our most successful ever, thanks to the efforts of Tom Piatak, I read a great deal of books on natural law. Most of them were just plain awful. I knew this going in, but I had to refresh my memory, get the lay of the land. The whole exercise made one thing crystal clear: There’s a reason why the teaching and tradition of natural law has fallen on hard times, and it has something to do with the bastardization and bowdlerization of it by its 20th- and 21st-century proponents. Obergefell, women in combat, immigration—these difficult issues are the province of natural law, and conservatives should be appealing to it clearly and often. But how could they, when they’ve been taught that the proper place of natural law is in its usefulness in discovering (inventing) brand-new human rights?
Standing athwart this intellectual history is Joseph Pieper’s deeply illuminating Tradition: Concept and Claim (St. Augustine’s Press). The book includes an equally enlightening Translator’s Introduction by E. Christian Kopff, which among many insights answers the question of why a Confessional Lutheran should read a 20th-century Catholic philosopher. Pieper cuts through the abstractions and delivers, in the most readable prose, a strong argument for the recovery and transmission of sacred tradition—not in the sense of a magisterium, but as the “wisdom of the ancients,” what the first men learned from their Creator and His Creation, and passed on, through the generations—knowledge that gave life to their societies and cultures.
—Aaron D. Wolf