What Is “Western Civilization”?

The 16th century is a good time to start caring less about the physical body

Photo by Ahmed Adly on Unsplash

I’d like to make some observations on the Spanish, on time, and on death. All of this has come to my mind after having read the Valdés brothers of the sixteenth century: Alfonso de Valdés and Juan de Valdés, both Erasmists, both included in Ángel del Río’s anthology.

From brother Alfonso, who died in 1532, the editor chose some sections of the Dialog between Mercury and Chiron. The pilot of death, Chiron, poses questions to the souls of the dead who arrive at his boat, to know how they lived their lives in order to arrive on the far shore…


What Is “Western Civilization”?

Un ensayo muy breve sobre una idea muy importante

Photo by Angel Luciano on Unsplash

Hace ya algunos años desde que yo escribiera algo en español. En realidad, hace décadas.

Y no confío bien en mí habilidad de componer algo original, aún del estilo y sentido más sencillo. Pero aquí estoy, sentada a la mesa en nuestro apartamento en la ciudad, después de haber leído selecciones de literatura en español y después de haber visto horas y horas de mi programa favorito nuevo en español o en cualquier idioma, “El Ministerio del Tiempo,” y tengo ganas de decir algo de estos los españoles, en el español.

¿Y qué quiero decir?

Quiero hacer algunas observaciones sobre…


Gear Review

Levenger’s Carrie Convertible Clutch really can do it all

This little crossbody wallet is—or at least carries—my everything. Photo credit: L.D. Burnett

Moving is a pain. Checking in and out of a temporary stay hotel is a pain. Getting new keys for an apartment is a pain. Remembering to carry your checkbook with you for those transactions for which credit cards are not accepted—rent, utility deposit, whatever—is a pain. Keeping track of your phone and your keys and your glasses while you have to walk the dog on a leash for the first time in his life is a pain.

You have to keep all the essentials with you, but you can’t really wrangle a shoulder bag or a backpack or a…


What Is “Western Civilization”?

High and low are brought down together, but does anybody rise?

Photo by Maximilian Kurtius on Unsplash

The literature of conquest tracing the incursions of Spanish explorers and conquistadors in the Americas should be read alongside the Spanish belles lettres of the same period, and vice versa. Indeed, in her introduction to Crónicas de Indias, Mercedes Serna spends a good deal of space explaining the literary choices and characteristics of different chroniclers of the New World.

After reading the anthology of explorers’ accounts through the second letter of Hernán Cortés, I am now reading through Spain’s contemporaneous literary output. …


Putting together your writerly “bug-out bag”

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

As a native Californian, I have long kept something like a “bug-out bag”—a pre-packed backpack or duffel bag filled with essential supplies that I would need if my home were struck by a major earthquake: so much bottled water for so many people for so many days, flashlights and batteries, an emergency radio, dried fruits and high protein snacks for meal replacement, photocopies of crucial documents, and so forth. …


What Is “Western Civilization”?

In her early work of science fiction, Utopia is an academic conference

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

The seventeenth-century writer Margaret Lucas Cavendish was — and is — a phenomenon. She had no formal schooling, but educated herself through both intensive reading and intellectual discourses with her brother, an established scholar. She was a polymath: poet, philosopher, natural scientist, playwright, fiction writer. Indeed, Cavendish’s best-known work of speculative fiction, The Blazing World, is widely regarded as an early work of science fiction. …


That's a primary source for the long 20th century, yes, along with Freud and Spengler and a few other characters. :)


What Is “Western Civilization”?

Filling in the gaps from the Early Modern era to the Enlightenment(s)

The first draft of my chapter on the discourse of “civilization” during the American Enlightenments—to borrow Caroline Winterer’s designation—is finished and I have received editorial feedback on that.

Logically, the next thing to do would be to move forward and trace the uses of “civilization” during the Early Republic and through the Era of Good Feelings (LOL) to the Age of Jackson.

But the logic of argumentation and the logic of composition are two different things. Completing the Enlightenment chapter left me with the sense that before moving forward in time, I need to back up and look more closely…


This Writer’s Life

When you find your voice, you will find your audience

Rather than restore this antique writing slope, I reimagined it for a different user. Photo credit: author.

My foray into the world of eighteenth and nineteenth century portable writing desks — “writing slopes,” in collectors’ parlance — has become a passion. I don’t buy very many specimens, because I can’t afford it, but I do watch the auctions/sales on eBay, Etsy, and other venues, so I have some sense of what’s out there and what things are worth.

Having a sense of what’s out there is important as a writer. You need to listen to and read other voices in your genre or your field. Watch the sales; watch what sells. Watch what sells for less than…


The real threat to “viewpoint diversity” on college campuses is the precarity of faculty employment

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Most college profs in the United States — over 70% — don’t have tenure and aren’t even on the tenure track. We are on year-to-year or semester-to-semester adjunct contracts. We are perilously vulnerable to the prospect of punitive treatment for our viewpoints, from conservative administrators, from boards of trustees drawn from “the business world,” from “angry taxpayers” hollering over the controversies deliberately ginned up by Campus Reform or The College Fix or right wing radio shock jocks.

The biggest risk to viewpoint diversity on campus is the precarity of the professoriate: how can we dare to foster difficult, challenging conversations…

L.D. Burnett

Writer, historian of American thought & culture. Editor of TheMudsill.substack.com, a little magazine publishing new & established authors. Book under contract.

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