Change and Continuity
It is with great pleasure and a deep sense of gratitude that I assume the role of editor of The University Bookman. I want to extend my thanks to Jeff Nelson, Annette Kirk, the Earhart Foundation, the Bookman advisory board, and all the staff at the Kirk Center and ISI for their support of the Bookman and their help in preparing this new issue. I am thankful for the successful efforts of my predecessors Jeff Nelson and Ian Crowe to produce a journal that is consistently principled and thought-provoking and they are both examples worthy of following, as I hope to do.
My familiarity with the Bookman as both avid reader and eventual contributor spans more than a decade. During college and law school, it was ever an oasis of serious ideas and a commitment to ideas and the moral imagination. My discovery of the Bookman occurred in tandem with my introduction to the works of Russell Kirk, the founder of this journal and a strong intellectual influence on me. My stewardship of the Bookman will be guided by his insight that what he called “the traditional conservative symbols” had been disrupted by the ideological predations of the last two centuries; a new vision rooted in tradition and the moral imagination is needed to redeem the time.
The Bookman recommences publication at an important time, as book reviewing has found itself in the midst of a cultural skirmish. In early 2003, Heidi Julavitz, the editor of the book-review magazine, The Believer, started several years ago by novelist David Eggers and colleagues, issued a manifesto on reviewing. In it, she makes a plea against needlessly negative reviewing, which she calls “snark,” because it distracts readers from the merits of books and focuses instead on personalities and the quest for publicity. Instead, Julavitz called for a “dialogue” among books, reviewers, and readers that focuses on the books themselves. She sees the book review as a way to “remind people of writers who were overlooked last month or thirty years ago.”
Of course, this is exactly what the Bookman has been doing for over forty years: treating books respectfully and seriously, without needless antagonism, and focusing on works that have or will withstand the test of time. The Bookman takes its stand with those who believe in the power of the imagination to redeem the time, and we stand against those cultural destroyers who argue that the fad of the moment, expressed rapid-fire, can substitute for thought. Contrary to the assertions of some intellectuals, tradition and the imagination are not mere Marxist superstructures or postmodern playthings, but the sources of a society of ordered freedom. As for “snark,” conservatives have had enough directed at them that they should be wary of succumbing to that temptation.
T. S. Eliot wrote in the final issue of his journal, the Criterion, that “the small and obscure papers and reviews” bore responsibility for “the continuity of culture.” It was they that would “keep critical thought alive” amidst troubled times. And despite the wonders of the Internet and the variety of multimedia spectacles that are supposed to replace “obsolete” books, we believe Eliot still, as did Kirk when he founded this journal. Books, and the periodicals that engage them seriously, will continue to have a place in cultural debate, and the Bookman seeks to be an engaged participant.
Our current number, I think, exemplifies Eliot’s dictum. We highlight neglected figures, such as Fr. Vincent McNabb and John Jay, who each in his own way illustrates how much has changed in the way the West conceives of itself and its own political life. Tom Bertonneau discusses composers forgotten by elite musical opinion but who nevertheless represent the best of Western musical tradition, which combines sophistication with populism. Stephen Presser’s review of Bruce Frohnen’s collection of important American documents reminds us how much of our history elites have tried to consign to the memory hole. We also take a look at the prospects for conservatism in Russia. Over the coming issues, we will continue to seek out authors who should be remembered, and to feature books defending what Kirk called the Permanent Things.
Gerald J. Russello
Posted: February 18, 2007 in Editor’s Notes.