Roger Kimball

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball (born 1953), an American art critic and social commentator, is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the publisher of Encounter Books. He was educated at Cheverus High School, a Jesuit institution in South Portland, Maine, and then at Bennington College, where he received his B.A. in philosophy and classical Greek, and at Yale University. He first gained prominence in the early 1990s with the publication of his book Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Higher Education. He currently serves on the board of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the board of Transaction Publishers and as a Visitor of Ralston College, a start-up liberal arts college based in Savannah, Georgia.[1] He also served on the Board of Visitors of St. John's College (Annapolis and Santa Fe). His latest book, The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia, was published by St. Augustine's Press in June 2012.

Essays and media appearances[edit]

Kimball lectures widely and is a frequent contributor to many newspapers and journals, including The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Spectator, The New Criterion, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Sun, Modern Painters, Literary Review, The Public Interest, Commentary, The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Telegraph, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, and The National Interest. Kimball is also a regular contributor to The New Criterion's weblog Armavirumque. In the autumn of 2007 he inaugurated Roger's Rules,[2] a regular column at the Pajamas Media weblog,[3] which was launched in the spring of 2006.

Some of Kimball's work as a writer is polemical, directed against what he sees as the politicization and "dumbing down" of Western culture and the arts. As Kimball wrote:

For us, the imperative of criticism has revolved primarily around two tasks. . . . The first is the negative task of forthright critical discrimination. To a large extent, that means the gritty job of intellectual and cultural trash collector. . . . [M]uch of what presents itself as art today can scarcely be distinguished from political sermonizing, on the one hand, or the pathetic recapitulation of Dadaist pathologies, on the other. Mastery of the artifice of art is mostly a forgotten, often an actively disparaged, goal. At such a time, simply telling the truth is bound to be regarded as an unwelcome provocation. . . . An equally important part of criticism revolves around the task of battling cultural amnesia. From our first issue, we have labored in the vast storehouse of cultural achievement to introduce, or reintroduce, readers to some of the salient figures whose works helped weave the great unfolding tapestry of our civilization. Writers and artists, philosophers and musicians, scientists, historians, controversialists, explorers, and politicians: The New Criterion has specialized in resuscitating important figures whose voices have been drowned out by the demotic inanities of pop culture or embalmed by the dead hand of the academy.

Many of Kimball's essays in The New Criterion, and in books like Experiments Against Reality and Lives of the Mind, endeavor to reacquaint readers with important figures from the Western canon whose work he feels has been neglected or misunderstood. Kimball's interests range from the work of literary figures such as G.C. Lichtenberg, Robert Musil, Walter Pater, Anthony Trollope, Milan Kundera, and P.G. Wodehouse, to philosophers and historians such as Plutarch, Hegel, Walter Bagehot, George Santayana, Raymond Aron, and Leszek Kołakowski. Kimball, in the words of the critic Wilfred McClay, has gradually turned "The New Criterion into an organ dedicated to the recovery of the West’s longer cultural heritage. In the process, he has made The New Criterion a voice not only for the seriousness of high modernism but also for the necessity of the Permanent Things."[4] Kimball also writes regularly about art. He has devoted essays to artists from Delacroix and Vuillard to Robert Motherwell, Frank Stella, and Robert Rauschenberg; in recent years, he has been particularly interested in bringing attention to Classical Realism and other contemporary art movements that champion the traditional values and techniques of representational art. In addition, Kimball was instrumental in bringing the thought of the Australian philosopher David Stove (1927–1994) to a wider audience through his anthology of Stove's writings, Against the Idols of the Age.

Tenured Radicals[edit]

First published in 1990, Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education was updated in 1998 and again in 2008. The most recent third edition includes a new introduction by Kimball as well as the preface to the 1998 edition. The book critiques the ways in which humanities are currently taught and studied in American universities. The book takes the stance that modern humanities have become politicized while seeking to subvert "the tradition of high culture embodied in the classics of Western art and thought".[5] Kimball maintains that yesterday's radical thinker has become today's tenured professor carrying out "ideologically motivated assaults on the intellectual and moral substance of our culture". As he stated in the introduction to the original edition:

″With a few notable exceptions, our most prestigious liberal arts colleges and universities have installed the entire radical menu at the center of their humanities curriculum at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. Every special interest—women’s studies, black studies, gay studies, and the like—and every modish interpretative gambit—deconstruction, post-structuralism, new historicism, and other postmodernist vairieties of what literary critic Frederick Crews aptly dubbed ″Left Ecleticism″—has found a welcome roost in the academy, while the traditional curriculum and modes of intellectual inquiry are excoriated as sexist, racist, or just plain reactionary.″[6]

Almost two decades later, in his introduction to the 2008 edition, Kimball noted that:

″The intervening years have done nothing to gainsay that observation, but with the passage of time I realize that, critical though I was in 1990 (and again in 1998 when I published an updated edition of the book), I had in some respects underestimated the severity or at least the extent of the problem.″[7]

The book has been deemed controversial due to its specificity, with the New York Times Book Review's Roger Rosenblatt noting, "Mr. Kimball names his enemies precisely...This book will breed fistfights."[8] When it was first published, some of its critics aligned Tenured Radicals with Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students and former Secretary of Education William Bennet’s A Report on the Humanities in Higher Education.

Kimball summarizes his response in his postscript: ″Tenured Radicals is about the privileged beneficiaries of the spiritual and material achievements of our history who, out of ignorance, perversity, or malice, have chosen to turn their backs on the culture that nourished them and made them what they are. It is about intellectuals who have defiled reason with sophistries, and teachers who have defrauded their students of knowledge. Because of the times we live in and the hard choices we face as a society, it is, above all, a cautionary tale.″ [9]

The Long March[edit]

One abiding concern of Kimball's work is the legacy of the 1960s. In The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America, Kimball critically examined many of the accepted notions about that decade and its influential figures, including Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, William Sloane Coffin, Eldridge Cleaver, Charles Reich, Norman O. Brown, and Herbert Marcuse. The aim of the book, Kimball wrote in his introduction, was to "show how the paroxysms of the 1960s continue to reverberate throughout our culture". Kimball contended that

The Age of Aquarius did not end when the last electric guitar was unplugged at Woodstock. It lives on in our values and habits, in our tastes, pleasures, and aspirations. It lives on especially in our educational and cultural institutions, and in the degraded pop culture that permeates our lives like a corrosive fog.[10]

The title of the book is thus explained:

In the Sixties and Seventies, after fantasies of overt political revolution faded, many students radicals urged their followers to undertake the “long march though the institutions”. The phrase, popularized by the German New Leftist Rudi Dutschke, is often attibuted to the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci – an unimpeachable authority for countercultural standard-bearers. But of course, the phrase also carries the aura of an even higher authority: that of Mao Tse-tung and his long march and cultural revolution.[11]

In some aspects, the book is an investigation into the mentality of the gurus of the Tenured Radicals, of those intellectuals who contributed to the Sixties Weltanschauung. According to Kimball, ″one of the most conspicuous, and conspicuously jejune, features of America’s cultural revolution has been the union of … hedonism with a species of radical (or radical-chic) politics”, one that amounts to “the triumph of babydom, … an attack on maturity… a glorification of youth, of immaturity.″[12] As for the consequences of the cultural revolution, he believes that:

The effect of these developments on cultural life in America has been immense. One of the most far-reaching and destructive effects has been the simultaneous glorification and degradation of popular culture . Even as the most ephemeral and intellectually vacuous products of pop culture – rock videos, comic books, television sit-coms – are enlisted as fit subjects for the college curriculum, so, too, has the character of popular culture itself become ever more vulgar, vicious and degrading.” […] In addition to its general coarsening effect on cultural life, this triumph of vulgarity has helped to pave the way for the twin banes of political correctness and radical multiculturalism. The abandonment of intrinsic standards of achievement creates (in Hermann Broch’s phrase) a “value vacuum” in which everything is sucked through the sieve of politics and the ideology of victimhood.[13]

The remote roots of the Sixties cultural revolution are traced to Jean-Jacques Rousseau: acknowledged or not, he is an important intellectual and moral grandfather of so much that happened in the cultural revolution of the 1960s. (Important “fathers” include Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud.) Rousseau’s narcissism and megalomania, his paranoia, his fantastic political ideas and sense of absolute entitlement, his sentimentalizing nature-worship, even his twisted, hypertrophied eroticism: all reappeared updated in the tumult of the 1960s. And so did the underlying totalitarian impulse that informs Rousseau’s notion of freedom.″[14] The more proximate sources, according to Kimball, can be found in the Beats of the 1950s:

The Beats are crucial to an understanding of America’s cultural revolution not least because in their lives, their proclamations and (for lack of a more accurate term) their “work” they anticipated so many of the pathologies of the Sixties and Seventies. Their programatic anti-Americanism, their avid celebration of drug abuse, their squalid, promiscuous sex lives, their pseudo-spirituality, their attack on rationality and their degradation of intellectual standards, their aggressive narcissism and juvenile political posturing: in all this and more, the Beats were every bit as “advanced” as any Sixties radical.” [15]

After meticulously and mercilessly analysing some of the most representative figures of the Sixties, Kimball assesses their legacy:

…it may be that what the Sixties have wrought above all is widespread spiritual anesthesia. To a degree frightening to contemplate, we have lost that sixth sense that allows us to discriminate firmly between civilization and its discontents. That this loss goes largely unlamented and even unnoticed is a measure of how successful the long march of America’s cutural revolution has been.”[16]

Experiments Against Reality[edit]

Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age is a book criticizing the literary and philosophical foundations of postmodernity. Examining the work of Eliot, Auden, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault and more, Kimball critiques the ways in which these writers deal with what he views as the intellectual and moral deterioration of modernity. He also laments the state of modern culture, focusing his analysis on the realms of contemporary art and academia. Kimball argues against nihilist, deconstructionist, and anti-enlightenment perspectives prevalent in modern theory, contending that objective truth is an important tenant of any discourse. As one review put it, "Kimball’s writings offer weapons of resistance to such indoctrination" and "they set a traditional criterion: the lessons of history, ordinary experience, beauty, reality."[17] The New York Times Book Review calls Kimball a “scathing critic…whose tirades are usually justified” and whose “intellectual rigor is refreshing”.[18]

Lives of the Mind[edit]

Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse is a book that explores intellect and rationality through western history. Kimball posits that intelligence “is neither good nor bad in itself but rather takes its virtue, its moral coloring, from its application”.[19] He examines a variety of figures, ranging from Plutarch to Kierkegaard to Descartes, illuminating the benefits and dangers of genius as it relates to culture, common sense, and reality.

Art's Prospect[edit]

In 2003's Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity, Kimball turns a critical eye towards what he sees as modern art's avant-garde assault on tradition. He argues that the most invigorating action in today's modern art is a quiet affair that takes place out of the limelight and celebrity that have become part of the art world. In a series of essays and reviews, he touches on numerous subjects including minimalism, the Barnes Foundation, and the Whitney Museum of American Art and examines artists including Vincent van Gogh, Edward Burne-Jones, Gustave Moreau, Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, Paul Klee. Mark Rothko, and more.[20] The book has enjoyed positive critical reception from a variety of publications. The Tennessean called the book's reviews "lucid mini-educations in the exercise of taste"[21] and in The Weekly Standard, Thomas M. Disch wrote that "Kimball knows his business...His reviews make me hungry to see what I've missed" and that "Kimball is an honest hater: deadpan in delivery, deadly in his accuracy".[22]

Rape of the Masters[edit]

Published in 2004, The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art is a critical account of contemporary academic art history and its infatuation with "theory" and the "transgressive" at the expense of aesthetic appreciation and a traditional view of the ennobling resources of art. Among the figures Kimball discusses are Michael Fried on Gustave Courbet, Svetlana Alpers on Peter Paul Rubens, Griselda Pollock on Paul Gauguin, and Martin Heidegger and Meyer Schapiro on Vincent van Gogh.

The New Leviathan[edit]

In 2012, Kimball edited The New Leviathan, a collection of essays that discuss a variety of political topics from "the folly of ObamaCare to the politicization of the Justice Department and the disastrous efforts to nationalize our education system."[23] Many prominent conservative intellectuals serve as contributors including John R. Bolton, Richard Allen Epstein, Peter Ferrara, John Fund, Victor Davis Hanson, Andrew C. McCarthy, Betsy McCaughey, Michael Mukasey, Glenn Reynolds, Kevin D. Williamson, and more.

The Fortunes of Permanence[edit]

Kimball's latest book, published in 2012, The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia looks at cultivation of mind and spirit as intrinsically tied to inherited cultural instructions. He argues that this cultivation is a spiritual enterprise and of utmost importance to political freedom. He uses such figures as G.K. Chesterton, Rudyard Kipling, and Friedrich von Hayek to illuminate these "cultural instructions" and criticize doctrines such as relativism and multiculturalism.[24] Czech President Václav Klaus called the book "completely unified and 'unwavering'...The breadth of the author’s range and knowledge is completely exceptional, both in the world of culture (especially literature and the visual arts) and in the world of philosophy and political thought in general."[25] Michael Uhlmann wrote that "the publication of The Fortunes of Permanence confirms Roger Kimball's status as America's foremost cultural critic."[26]

List of works[edit]

As author[edit]

As editor and contributor[edit]

As editor[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Kimball, Roger (2008). Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. p. 322. ISBN 978-1-56663-796-1. 
  6. ^ Kimball, Roger (2008), p. 4.
  7. ^ Kimball, Roger (2008), p. x.
  8. ^ Rosenblatt, Roger. "The Universities Under Attack". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 3 August 2011. 
  9. ^ Kimball, Roger (2008), p. 309.
  10. ^ Kimball, Roger (2000). The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America, Encounter Books: San Francisco, p. 5.
  11. ^ Kimball, Roger (2000), p. 15.
  12. ^ Kimball, Roger (2000), p. 9
  13. ^ Kimball, Roger (2000), pp. 11-13.
  14. ^ Kimball, Roger (2000), p.18.
  15. ^ Kimball, Roger (2000), p. 27.
  16. ^ Kimball, Roger (2000), p. 282.
  17. ^ "The Politics of Leftist Reality- Partisan Review". Retrieved 9 March 2012. 
  18. ^ Saint Louis, Catherine (12 November 2000). "Experiments Against Reality". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 October 2011. 
  19. ^ Kimball, Roger (2002). Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse. Ivan R. Dee. p. 384. ISBN 978-1-56663-479-3. 
  20. ^ Kimball, Roger (2003). Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity. Ivan R. Dee. p. 275. ISBN 978-1-56663-510-3. 
  21. ^ Buchanan, Brian. "Editorial Reviews". Retrieved 9 Auguse 2011.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  22. ^ Disch, Thomas (2003-09-29). "The Standard Reader". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved 9 August 2011. 
  23. ^ Kimball, Roger (2012). Editor. New York: Encounter Books. p. 348. ISBN 978-1-59403-632-3. 
  24. ^ Kimball, Roger (2012). The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's Press. p. 360. ISBN 978-1-58731-256-4. 
  25. ^ Klaus, Václav (23 February 2013). "Nepřehlédnutelný příspěvek do debaty o současném světě – pokus o recenzi (BEAUTIFUL OLD WORLD An outstanding contribution to the debate about the contemporary world –attempt at a review)". freeglobe. Retrieved 8 March 2013. 
  26. ^ Ulhmann, Michael (March 21, 2013). "Wisdom of the Ages". The Claremont Review of Books. Retrieved August 20, 2013

External links[edit]