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cover of the book Theory's Empire

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cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

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cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

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cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Make loudest possible proclamation of your Hat!

Posted by Rohan Maitzen on 01/16/09 at 01:31 PM

As noted in my previous post, there’s a head-punching-needed quality to Carlyle’s prose (the editors of my edition of Sartor Resartus quote his one-time friend J. S. Mill writing to him cautiously to ask whether his points could not be “as well or better said in a more direct way? The same doubt has occasionally occurred to me [as it would to most subsequent readers] respecting much of your phraseology"). But there are moments of sheer delight, too, and this time it was the seven-foot hat that did it for me, so here it is for you to enjoy as well. It’s hard not to feel, when reading it, that Carlyle is, in his own crazed way, a prophet for our time as well as his own. It is part of his general indictment of society for having “given up hope in the Everlasting, True, and placed its hope in the Temporary, half or wholly false.”

Consider, for example, that great Hat seven-feet high, which now perambulates London Streets. . . The Hatter in the Strand of London, instead of making better felt-hats than another, mounts a huge lath-and-plaster Hat, seven-feet high, upon wheels; sends a man to drive it through the streets, hoping to be saved thereby. He has not attempted to make better hats, as he was appointed by the Universe to do, and as with this ingenuity of his he could very probably have done; but his whole industry is turned to persuade us that he has made such! He too knows that the Quack has become God. Laugh not at him, O reader; or do not laugh only. He has ceased to be comic; he is fast becoming tragic. To me this all-deafening blast of Puffery, of poor Falsehood grown necessitous, of poor Heart-Atheism fallen now into Enchanted Workhouses, sounds too surely like a Doom’s-blast! . . .

We take it for granted, the most rigorous of us, that all men who have made anything are expected and entitled to make the loudest possible proclamation of it, and call on a discerning public to reward them for it. Every man his own trumpeter--that is, to a really alarming extent, the accepted rule. Make loudest possible proclamation of your Hat: true proclamation if that will do; if that will not do, then false proclamation--to such extent of falsity as will serve your purpose, as will not seem too false to be credible!

“Make loudest possible proclamation of your Hat"--here, indeed, is a motto for our times. Carlyle’s view, of course, is that “Nature requires no man to make proclamation of of his doings and hat-makings.” And a “finite quantity of Unveracity” may leave real life and Faithfulness sustainable, but beware when “your self-trumpeting Hatmaker” becomes emblematic of “all makers, and workers, and men”:

Not one false man but does uncountable mischief: how much, in a generation or two, will Twenty-seven millions, mostly false, manage to accumulate? The sum of it, visible in every street, market-place, senate-house, circulating library, cathedral, cotton-mill, and union-workhous, fills one not with a comic feeling!

Indeed. I’m off now, to try to make a better Hat, as appointed by the Universe. O reader, go thou and do likewise! (OK, no more Carlyle for me, at least not without a chaser of Mill.)


It strikes me that an anthology of snippets from Carlyle chosen entirely for readability would be a lot of fun.

That passage reminded me of Melville, and lo and behold!

By John Emerson on 01/16/09 at 03:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment


By Adam Roberts on 01/16/09 at 05:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"an anthology of snippets from Carlyle chosen entirely for readability would be a lot of fun”

Twould be very bastardy; the genius of Carlyle lies in his terribilità: you may as well offer up a disc of Ring highlights, or a picture album of great Michelangelo fingers. Sartor is one long sheer delight. As for oversized headwear:

“The two cavaliers had now approached within the throw of a lance, when the stranger desired a parley, and, lifting up the visor of his helmet, a face hardly appeared from within which, after a pause, was known for that of the renowned Dryden.  The brave Ancient suddenly started, as one possessed with surprise and disappointment together; for the helmet was nine times too large for the head, which appeared situate far in the hinder part, even like the lady in a lobster, or like a mouse under a canopy of state, or like a shrivelled beau from within the penthouse of a modern periwig; and the voice was suited to the visage, sounding weak and remote.”

By Conrad on 01/17/09 at 02:43 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Damn, Adam beat me to the Seuss joke.

I love Carlyle, for exactly these 7-foot hat moments. Of course, he’s also an idiot, which is a problem. Nietzsche accused Carlyle precisely of walking around with a 7-foot hat, and thereby dodging his responsibility to make a good hat.

“What is lacking in England and always has been lacking was realized well enough by that semi-actor and rhetorician, the tasteless muddlehead Carlyle, who tried to conceal behind passionate grimaces what he knew about himself: namely what was lacking in Carlyle — real power of spirituality, real depth of spiritual insight, in short philosophy.”

By John Holbo on 01/17/09 at 03:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

A disc of Ring highlights would be better than the entire Ring, but not better than nothing.

I’m sure that Sartor is a sheer delight for those that like that kind of thing, but small doses would be enough for me. I suppose that Carlyle is due for a revival, but he still seems to be one of those guys who is admired, if he’s admired, as a stylist rather than for any substantive reason.

By John Emerson on 01/17/09 at 10:29 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Not that I’m a Carlyle fan, but ... surely ... style can be a substantive reason for admiring (or disliking) someone. John, your sentiment is dangerously close to that of those who wish Plato had written straightforward treatises.

By on 01/17/09 at 01:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"as a stylist rather than for any substantive reason”

I admire him for embodying, in “style” (in the broadest sense of the word, including structural organization, his sense of humour, use of allusions, etc. etc.), the aesthetic and philosophical problems of early Romanticism. This is an admiration of his style, yes, but style as substance.

By Conrad on 01/17/09 at 02:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

There are a fair number of authors whose style is readable even though their substance is stupid, stereotyped or lacking in interest. Other authors write rather badly but have valuable things to say. And then some who are good in both respects. To me the first category is less interesting than the other two. Others may disagree.

By John Emerson on 01/17/09 at 03:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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