29 September 2008

Credo (Arvo Pärt)

26 September 2008

Interview: Trevor Myburgh

Trevor Myburgh is author of the forthcoming The Hotchkiss Quandary (Castelmann, 2017) and a co-founder of the Tradpunk literary movement. He lives in Brooklyn and works as a free lance writer.

Q: Please tell my readers a little about yourself. What experiences have shaped your outlook on literature and life in general? When did you first become interested in writing?

A: I grew up in the Northeast, where literature was part of family life. I attended boarding school and obtained my B.A. in English literature in 1994. I have been influenced by my father, an attorney and a former political prisoner whose access to American and European authors sustained him in captivity. Being reared on books in several languages helped me to complete my university degree and put myself into a wider perspective. For example, I like to speculate as to how my interlocutor or enemy perceives me. This requires a great deal of intellectual effort and emotional detachment. I think that never during my formal educational period did I take anything for granted: no ideology, no system, no belief, no sense of group victimhood. One needs not just to reexamine history; one must first reexamine his often self-serving assumptions. To be honest, my curricular period at college was largely a waste of time. What I was taught was mostly ideologically based drivel delivered by mediocre academics, with remarkably similar freudo-marxophile affinities.

Q: Your new book, The Hotchkiss Quandary, is set in the glittering world of America’s privileged elite, a world of prep schools, Ivy League colleges, country clubs, and wood-panelled banking offices. What are the basic ideas of this book? What was your motivation for writing it?

A: This book is a fictional exploration of a group of young Americans, following their progression through prep school, college, and the Manhattan world of publishing and banking. I am appalled by the dogmatic spirit and bias in higher education, which has for decades been subject to fraudulent scholasticism. I am also shocked by the false meritocracy in the American establishment and by the quota system, which definitely reminds me of the quota system in hiring that was in place in the ex-Soviet Union. The best and the brightest are, as a rule, shoved aside. The modern ideology of the big buck, the dictatorship of well-being, coupled with the false misnomer of "consumerism," destroys all values and all cultures, including our own. I do not blame Europeans, and I reject conspiracy theories. I primarily hold responsible lazy and corrupted academics, the modern media, and politicians who are mortgaging the American future. However, most likely, we need more chaos in our polity, because only out of chaos new literature and a new value system can emerge.

Q: In your book you also paint a grim and gloomy portrait of the future for America and American culture. What are the causes of this catastrophic situation, and what, if anything, can be done to reverse the trend?

A: Unlike many writers, I tend to look critically at the root causes of our approaching death. Was it not the millennium-long belief in one bizarre form of Oriental monotheism, that is, Christianity, along with its modern egalitarian derivatives, that have brought us today to our modern “love thy exotic neighbor” entropy, and self-hate? It seems to me that the only way to stop the process of collective suicide is by discarding the ideology of progress, the myth of egalitarianism, and the theology of market democracy.

Q: Readers may find that hard to digest. How much do readers really “learn” from literature?

A: They never do, because they never bother to learn in the first place. The linear concept of fiction, a currently fashionable notion in post-post-modern academic circles, is a willful act of intellectual stupidity. Literature is always open to new deliriums and hoaxes, but it is also open to new rebirth. The great problem is that many fine people are damaged in the process. I have no illusions about a static genre. After all who says that even in a static paradise we would not experience, after a prolonged bliss, periods of intense boredom?

Q: Do writers no longer play a significant role in American society?

A: They do, but not in the way people assume. I am fascinated by the current disintegration of critical thought. Yesterday writers were the bad conscience of the existing order. Many today have become the good conscience of the established disorder. Prepared to do anything to get some crumbs from the media's cake, they do not realize that they are cutting the branch on which they sit. One should also take into account the divorce between intellectual families and political families. Ideological differences are no longer pertinent when it is a question of describing the content of major books appearing today in The New York Times Book Review. As far as the realm of ideas and the work of thought go, the ideological paradigm seems increasingly to have been replaced by a break between the "center" and the "periphery." The former corresponds to a dominant ideology which is to legitimate the system and the latter includes all those who, no matter what their own itinerary, challenge the axiomatic content of interest and blend of economism, productivism and utilitarianism to which society has led. Fruitful dialogues are possible in this "periphery."

Q: In your writing you tend to place emphasis on what your characters are wearing. How does this reflect your own interest in clothing, and in classic style? Who are your favourite designers?

A: It is acceptable now to be refined. It is acceptable to wear a well-tailored suit again in the evening and in your spare time. The vast movement of techno-economic homogenization, which is eroding individual identities nearly everywhere and is producing a new form of sartorial distress, is fading. Classic style is a principle and has value only as a principle. The cult of fashion is not a response to the real problems of the world but an escape, a mystifying effusion or, worse still, a fearful diversion to internal deficiencies. In which case, the metaphysics of subjectivity remains and it is often only the windbreaker for social egoism. My own style tends towards oblique tailoring.

Q: Your writing is often accused of being derivative of authors as diverse as Fitzgerald, Wodehouse, and Bret Easton Ellis. How valid are these accusations?

A: Facts and fiction are often intertwined in modern writing. And this is likewise true of every writer’s personal mythology. To endure and survive, every writer resorts to his own mythical narrative, no matter how aberrant it may seem to critics and even future generations. Georges Sorel, the French thinker, understood and described that human trait.

Q: To what extent has your response to these critics fostered an interest in the larger issues raised by your books, including the origins and outcome of society, the Ivy League question, and so forth?

A: Throughout the American literary world, the term “literature,” due in part to its semantic imprecision, has now acquired a pejorative meaning, with an undertone of criminality. Many writers refrain from open debate for fear of having their reputations attacked, including seeing their ideas disparaged in quotation marks in hostile reviews, or ignored altogether. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with what certain writers publish, when a country’s judiciary—that is, its thought police—step in, then freedom of speech becomes an empty phrase. What we see is a form of judicial mind control. I do not think that any freedom loving and tolerant man or woman is a priori trying to “deny” or “assert” anything. With the passage of time, some of our ardently held beliefs or conventional platitudes must inevitably be discarded. Fictional events are inevitably bound to be reexamined within new time frames, and in perpetually new causal relationships.

Trevor, thank you very much for the interview! It was very informative.

25 September 2008

On Sideburns

Never trust a man with sideburns. It is a motto by which I have lived my life, and I think you should too. I think sideburns are repulsive and unsightly. They should be moderately short, as in the diagram (at left). Moderation is the key. Neither freakishly short, nor offensively long. Sideburns should not be allowed or encouraged to creep past the tragus, and they should be kept trimmed at all times. If you possess a set of sideburns, would you be so kind as to remove them immediately? I don't know about you, but there is something about sideburns on a chap that makes me instinctively reach for a disposable razor.

24 September 2008

Confessions of a Beach Banker

I used to work for a European-based private bank in Southern California. My clients were successful, educated professionals looking for investment management, second loans, and lines of credit.

A typical client of mine was a high-level executive or entrepreneur from the East Coast, Europe, or the Middle East. Many of them owned several properties. Their primary residence was in, say, Corona del Mar, but they often owned condos or duplexes in less affluent areas nearby rented to Hispanics, Asians, and other immigrants. In fact, not a few of them told me they wanted to snap up more properties to take advantage of all the immigrants coming in. They were aspiring to be slumlords.

Almost all of these high net worth clients had a belief that the housing boom in Southern California would never end. It simply did not figure into their anlaysis. And it showed. Their mortgages were mostly ARMs, with little to no documentation required. Sometimes a quick 'phone call would suffice. The falsification of income and assets was commonplace, but at the bank we were encouraged to turn a blind eye. Of course, many of the loans and lines we extended to these clients were secured by investment portfolios.

Consumption was out of control. Good taste was rarely if ever noted. My associates were decked out in the latest from Armani, Patek Philippe, and Gucci. Square-toed shoes and loafers were the norm, even amongst people who should have known better. In my Brooks Brothers suits, black half brogues, and repp ties, I stood out from the sartorial crowd.

I was regularly invited to parties in Los Angeles, Newport Beach, and Laguna Beach, at which could be found an unremitting supply of girls and drugs. I recall going to a party at a beach front house in Laguna Beach. Piles of cocaine dotted a glass table in front of a large window overlooking the beach. People were having sex in the jacuzzi outside. I am too young to have experienced the excesses of the 1980s, but I imagine it was similar.

23 September 2008

Optimism is Cowardice

"Faced as we are with this destiny, there is only one world-outlook that is worthy of us, that which has already been mentioned as the Choice of Achilles -- better a short life, full of deeds and glory, than a long life without content. Already the danger is so great, for every individual, every class, every nation, that to cherish any illusion whatever is deplorable. The march of time cannot be halted; there is no question of prudent retreat or clever renunciation. Only dreamers believe there is a way out. Optimism is cowardice."

Men and Technics, Oswald Spengler

22 September 2008

Classic American Club

I have long thought that certain people, like certain dog breeds, should come with a training manual. Success in a friendship requires one to learn the other's story and to respect the significance of it. The notion crossed my mind last week whilst visiting with my friend Toby.

Originally from London, but educated at Buckingham Browne & Nichols and now working as a media attorney, Old Toby (as we call him) was in Los Angeles to see a Dartmouth friend who is involved with what he calls The Office, which he tells me is a televisual entertainment programme broadcast on Thursday evenings. I am far too ignorant of popular electronic media, so I will leave it to you to verify Toby's claim.

The candid photograph, above, depicts Old Toby holding court at the club. Wearing a soft-shouldered tweed Southwick jacket, white OCBD, cuffed gray flannels, and Alden penny loafers, Toby exhibits the symptoms of a devotion to Classic American style, or Ivy League style as some may term it. But there is more to Toby than mere good taste in sartorial matters is concerned.

While his size and tweed-like appearance keep disreputable types at bay, friends learn quickly that Toby will gladly welcome strangers into his circle. And although he is far gentler in character than one might expect for so tweedy a chap, Old Toby can become an overbearing beast if he is allowed to dominate. His insistence that his views be heeded are often met with incomprehension. He therefore requires friends who are not just patient, but accepting as well. In exchange, they will be rewarded with a saucy anecdote or two, delivered over a shared bottle of Macallan and a cigar, as well as the latest hot gossip in the transcontinental jet-set crowd. Watching Old Toby pontificate in his tweeds, or surging forth in his custom tailored waist coat, is recompense enough.

19 September 2008

contre le monde moderne

contre le monde moderne

Inimitable Moments

Last Saturday night, as the storm clouds gathered on the horizon and I lit a Montecristo No. 2 cigar, I was seized by a mild panic. Should a full-fledged economic crisis ensue, I thought, I might experience a disruption in the supply of quality cigars. Serious times call for serious measures, so I decided to ration my existing collection.

A week later, I can only smile. As you know, I am employed in the financial services sector; I run my own firm. I deal with hedge funds, HNWs, and property developers. The economic crisis in which the government and banks have plunged the country represents years of greed, corruption, and incompetence. It does not take a Wall Street quant to figure out how it happened. The signs were there for all to see. There were those of us who saw it coming and planned accordingly.

Almost two years ago I started trimming my real estate holdings in anticipation of a downturn. Unlike many local real estate professionals I know, who behaved as if they would live forever. It amuses me to watch these arrogant young pricks--many with Ivy League MBAs--come begging for money. Just a few years ago they were snapping up interest-only, 'no doc' loans in order to make a quick buck 'flipping' properties. They bought villas in Newport Beach, diamonds and face-lifts for their wives, expensive motor cars, private jets, mistresses, etc. The money has now dried up and they are hurting.

The chaps I do business with on the East Coast are hurting too. They are property developers and have over-extended themselves in a massive way. These old boys, with years of experience and business success behind them, are telling me they have not seen conditions like these in 40 years.

As I light another Montecristo No. 2 and pour a glass of chardonnay, taking care not to spill a drop on my Gucci loafers, I think of them. But only for a second or two. It would be unseemly to gloat. Self-satisfaction is such an ugly trait. I may be contemptuous and mocking; but smug, never.

11 September 2008

Tolkien in Tweed

Tolkien in Tweed may be redundant. Did the man wear anything else? Judging by the photographic record, evidently not. Which makes him even more of an icon in my book. I admit, starting at age 10 or so I was a fan of his books, and I remain so today. At school and university, when I wasn't spending my free time combing through 75 years of back issues of The Spectator magazine, I immersed myself in the writings of The Inklings, the group of Oxford academics and writers--including C.S. Lewis--of which Tolkien was a principal member. They spent their evenings in pubs discussing literature, drinking ale, smoking pipes, and wearing Tweed. Sounds like paradise. Or should I say, Valhalla.

10 September 2008

Leather Bush Pilot Jacket

The recent receipt of an Orvis Bush Pilot Jacket as a present has shifted my thinking on leather jackets.

The new jacket from Orvis is made of lambskin, which means it is extremely soft. It is truly a delight to wear. I pair it with an OCBD or Viyella shirt, flat-front khakis, surcingle belt, and Alden loafers. The last time I wore such a garment was in the early '90s, when in a temporary fit of sartorial madness I acquired a leather flight jacket from Sam Walker in Covent Garden. Although the item met with almost unanimous approval from friends and family, who explained that it was completely out of Sloane Ranger character, the jacket's horsehide construction made it exceedingly uncomfortable. It now languishes in storage.

When I think of leather jackets I think of an elderly gent from my school days. Every afternoon, outside the cafe where my chums and I had tea with our master, an old chap would walk past the window wearing a leather jacket, tweed trousers, brogues, tattersall shirt, knit tie, and tweed deerstalker cap. He had short white hair and a moustache, and carried a plastic Tesco bag. This image has remained.

Photo Copyright © 2008 The Orvis Company, Inc.

09 September 2008

Count Tolstoy in Tweed

As you may well have noticed, the season of Tweed is almost upon us. I have therefore decided, in keeping with the times, to publish on an irregular basis a series of favourite tweed photos from my personal archives. I find the sight of Tweed in action immensely inspiring; in fact I feel a devastating urge at this very moment to pour myself a tumbler of whisky, light a pipe, and settle down in a much-loved twill-covered armchair in a raspberry colour; I hope you do too. But there is much work to be done. So to start I am including here a pic of author and historian Count Nikolai Tolstoy in a lovely set of estate tweeds. The image harkens back to a bygone era of civilised cocktail receptions, where learned conversation, witty rejoinders, and mild flirtation were the order of the day. If for some reason you find yourself in serious company and feel the need to discuss the latest Georgian crisis or go over the more obscure points of neo-Gramscian theory, it is best to do it in Tweed.

Chicken Tikka Masala Manifesto

If the way to a chap is through his stomach, then I must be thoroughly beaten. I admit it: I am mad for masala. Chicken tikka masala, to be exact. It has been a favourite of mine for years. I recently experimented with the following tikka masala recipe and the results, I can report, were far above average. Note, there must be dozens of tikka masala recipe variations and although the following worked for me, it might not work for you, so a little trial-and-error might be required. Good luck!

1 pound chicken tikka (marinate chicken in a store-bought tikka or tandoori paste and yoghurt. Grill or barbecue until just cooked)
1/2 inch root ginger peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped
salt as desired
2 ounces unsalted butter
1 onion finely chopped
quarter teaspoon turmeric powder
half teaspoon ground cumin
half teaspoon ground coriander
half teaspoon garam masala
half teaspoon chilli powder

4 fluid ounces chicken juices from grilling/warm water
10 fluid ounces cream
2 tbsps ground almonds

*Note: Items in bold can be purchased individually or in a commercially-available Tikka Masala mix.

1. Pulp together ginger/garlic and some salt - melt butter and fry onions until soft - add pulp and cook for few minutes.

2. Stir in all powdered spices and cook for few minutes.

3 Add juices and water to make a thick sauce. Warm through, then add cream and heat through gently.

4. Now add the cooked chicken and cook for 10 minutes in the sauce.

5. Stir in the ground almonds and simmer for 5 miutes or so.

Serve with saffron rice and naan bread.

08 September 2008

Wedding Suit

*Single-breasted, two-button, twin-vented charcoal Brooks Brothers MTM (Martin Greenfield) suit (with pink lining)
*Brooks Brothers shirt with double cuffs
*C&J Bedfords
*Ben Silver silver and black houndstooth tie
*Tiffany silver monogrammed cufflinks
*Pantherella silver and pink polka dot socks

Fleming Nationalist Style 2: Marie-Rose Morel

A snapshot of Marie-Rose Morel, a member of the Flemish parliament for the Vlaams Belang party in Belgium. As we have seen, bitter controversy surrounds attractive women in politics. Politics is a distraction; I find beauty is an achievement in and of itself.

The White Bucks Connection

In early summer I bought a pair of white bucks for a planned series of events, amongst them the various proceedings surrounding my wedding. I have enjoyed these shoes.

White bucks have long played a role in my collection. When I was younger, during summer holidays in Connecticut and New York, I wore white bucks in a blucher style made of smooth nubuck with red crepe soles. These were (and perhaps still are) ubiqitous amongst certain portions of the Northeast prep school set; in the cooler seasons many students switched to tan bucks--which, back in England, sort of resembled abbreviated desert boots--or saddle shoes, neither of which I particularly care for.

Today I wear my white buck loafers with khakis or colourful shorts, linen dress shirts or polo shirts--and never with socks. They represent an enormous improvement over flip-flops and boat shoes and rarely fail to elicit favourable comments from the public. Worn in warm weather and paired with a cocktail and alluring smile, white bucks convey a spirit of fun and of effortless poise.

Houellebecq On Beauty

"Without beauty a girl is unhappy because she has missed her chance to be loved. People do not jeer at her, they are not cruel to her, but it is as if she were invisible, no eyes follow her as she walks. People feel uncomfortable when they are with her. They find it easier to ignore her. A girl who is exceptionally beautiful, on the other hand, who has something which too far surpasses the customary seductive freshness of adolescence, appears somehow unreal. Great beauty seems invariably to portend some tragic fate."

The Elementary Particles, Michel Houellebecq

05 September 2008

Spotlight on Robert Morley

As the summer season draws to an end, my mind casts about for sartorial inspiration. Few things get my juices flowing more than the sight of flannel and tweed. The cinematic actor Robert Morley (1908-1992), shown above, was often to be found wearing such cloth. Large, rotund, jowly, sporting bushy eyebrows and a plummy accent, Morley was frequently placed in the role of quintessential Englishman. Note, too, his classic hair style, which featured a trimmed "winged" effect at the sides, sans sideburns. As luck would have it I recently saw Morley in the film The African Queen (1951), in which he plays an upright English missionary. Scenes of intense African heat and malarial swamps mingle with shots of sweat-stained bush jackets and moist brows. A timely reminder, one might say, of why I for one look forward to cooler weather.