New and Old #102
Friday roundup and commentary
I just finished reading The Wind in the Willows (my wife and I read it with my parents) and I enjoyed it a lot. There’s so little entertainment that’s engaging to an adult but is also light enough and innocent enough to actually be enjoyable. And yet, the book is not really devoid of meaning. Its meaning is an ethos of nature and the English countryside:
He [Grahame] once told his wife that, although she was interested in people, what moved him were places; he might truthfully have added the community of wildlife that populated his favourite places. ‘I like most of my friends among the animals more than I like most of my friends among mankind,’ he once wrote.
Time would harden his conviction ‘that nature has her moments of sympathy with man’ and he was a young man when he replaced conventional Christian orthodoxies with something closer to animism – a belief in the living soul of all natural things. Grahame was never a churchgoer: his spiritual experiences took place outdoors.
The novel exists on several levels and the story of Toad’s rollicking adventures – invariably, children’s favourite element – is only one aspect of a book that, in revisiting with animal characters Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat of 1888, becomes a lyrical commemoration of a world on the brink of change: the Edwardian rural England that swiftly fell prey to Income Tax and death duties, the changes of the First World War, the arrival of the motorcar and sprawling suburbs.
A really good and interesting read.
This is a piece by a Baptist pastor, who finds a sort-of Christian message in The Wind in the Willows, a la C.S. Lewis:
Although the whole book is infused with the numinous, clearly the first and especially the seventh and ninth chapters (entitled, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” and “Wayfarers All”) are its epicenters. One comes away from those chapters, or at least should come away, with a profound sense of the sublime or what Lewis called “joy”—that fleeting sense of profound longing, a longing for the transcendent that no tidy bit of molecular chemistry or DOW Jones averages can quite erase. In this post I want to linger a bit on the significance of the seventh chapter, “Piper at the Gates of the Dawn.”
I’m really flying blind here, I can only comment on my impressions. I would really love to get a hold of more information about Kenneth Grahame and his theological/ philosophical background. Yet based on what little I know of English literary history, Pan was often used as a type of Christ.
He goes to note that these chapters are frequently excised in abridged versions of the book. They seem like breaks in the action, but he sees them as lenses through which to understand the whole book. Again, interesting stuff. Maybe more interesting given that Grahame was not really a Christian, at least not an orthodox one.
Although my father had left behind any relationship with the armed forces when I was young, he found the lack of structure related to having five children too much to bear and he would fly into rages at the chaos. I vowed very early on that I would, instead, be part of the world of chaos rather than a futile force of order, so I joined the Church of England.
When I told my father that I wanted to be ordained, I expected him to be sceptical, but he gazed at me with a well-worn hangdog look and remarked: ‘In many ways it’s not so different from the Army. The outfit’s stupid and the pay’s crap. Carry on.’
Excerpted from a full-length memoir, this article is a fascinating window into the contemporary (Anglican) priesthood. Anglican priests can marry, so there’s discussion of dating here. And also just a lot interesting stuff about trying to keep in touch with friends, not being able to sleep in on Sunday, etc.
It is, in other words, a job as well as a calling. And perhaps the extent to which it is a job is increased by the Church of England’s nature as a state church, with a lot of very broad and weak adherence.
This is a book I’ll look at reading when it comes out. In the meantime, read the whole thing.
Across the New York City suburbs, a thicket of local zoning laws thwarts the building of all but the most expensive single-family homes.
In some parts of Scarsdale, in Westchester County, new homes must be built on lots of at least two acres. In most parts of the village of Muttontown, on Long Island, new homes must be at least 2,000 square feet. The Town of Oyster Bay, also on Long Island, requires that some guest apartments, known as accessory dwelling units, be occupied only by family members or domestic servants.
These zoning laws are among the most restrictive in the country. They severely limit the state’s housing supply, making the entire region less affordable. And they are rooted in Jim Crow.
This piece was making the rounds when it went up last month, as is always the case with this topic. Unfortunately, for a lot of readers, the reference to Jim Crow is all they need to see to dismiss the entire idea of building housing as a leftist plot to ruin the suburbs as payback for America’s history of racism. If you’re an urbanist or housing advocate and you’ve never heard this notion, you’re very lucky.
I use these controversies to try to reframe this whole debate, as I did here, for example. Part of the problem is that new housing is viewed as a choice or an option at all—somewhere along the way, we lost the obvious understanding that of course every human settlement is always subject to change and growth. The economy and the population—obviously linked—should determine where housing goes. And that’s about it. The whole phenomenon of housing being a political issue or debate is very strange, and even some housing advocates, I think, have lost sight of how strange it is.
So I’d say that “the state government should force exclusionary suburbs to build more housing” isn’t exactly the right framing. As a policy, it’s really a stopgap. The right framing is, there should be many fewer veto points for stopping the natural construction of new housing, everywhere.
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