Lessons in Manliness

I haven't read Harvey Mansfleld's new book, Manliness, and I suspect that when I do, I will have many criticisms of it. But let me register here my disgust at Walter Kirn's "review" of it in today's New York Times. When I write my book on Puerility, I will make a point of quoting "critics" like these. The editors should be embarrassed.

But on to my (speculative) criticism of Mansfield's book, which by all accounts names Achilles as the Homeric hero who best exemplifies manliness. This seems wrong, not least because Mansfield's oft-quoted definition of manliness is presence of mind in the face of danger. If this is so, then the Homeric hero you want is not Achilles but Odysseus. It is Odysseus who exemplifies sophron, that hard-to-translate Greek word that does not just mean wisdom, shrewdness, gutsiness, grace, or persistence, but rather all of these - in essence, knowing how to act in any given situation.

Sophron is not achievable by following a set of rules; anyone can do that. Sophron means doing the right thing, the smart thing, without recourse to rules. It means being able to read the situation and the people involved, to discern the most compelling moral imperative, and to act - and all for a higher purpose than one's own aggrandizement.

Now for the movies. Manliness like this is hard to find in the cineplex these days. But here are two wildly different recommendations on DVD:

First the TV series 24, now in its fifth season on the Fox Network. The title comes from the gimmick of having each hour-long episode “occur in real time,” and except for a few plodding bits about the personal lives of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and his fellow agents at the Los Angeles branch of the fictional U.S. Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU), 24 is addictively suspenseful. And despite my misgivings about the show's routinization of extra-legal wiretapping and (especially) torture, I confess to being captivated by the character of Jack, whose alertness, courage, and cunning are positively Odyssean.

Second, the truly wonderful BBC adaptation of the Horatio Hornblower adventure novels by C.S. Forester. I have never read the novels (I do read books, though you might not get that impression from this posting), but I am tempted to do so after watching this series, which was produced between 1998 and 2003 and stars Welsh heartthrob Ioan Gruffud in the title role, not to mention British theater heartthrob Robert Lindsay as his mentor, Captain Sir Edward Pellew.

There is nothing dumbed down, campy, or forced about this vivid evocation of His Majesty's Navy at the turn of the 19th century; just great acting, great ships, and great production values (for TV). Patrick O'Brian fans especially will appreciate it, since in my opinion no one has yet properly adapted O'Brian. (I found Master and Commander painfully hurried and superficial, with no real texture to the characters.) As for manliness, there are plenty of examples to be found, including a duchess (Cheri Lunghi) who turns out to be a London stage actress working as a spy. Of course, instead of "manliness," one could just say sophron.

March 19, 2006 12:32 PM |



PRC Pop 

The Chinese pop music scene is like no other ...

Remembering Elvis 

The best part of him will never leave the building ...

Beyond Country 

Like all chart categories, "country" is an arbitrary heading under which one finds the ridiculous, the sublime, and everything in between. On the sublime end, a track that I have been listening to over and over for the last six months: Wynnona Judd's version of "She Is His Only Need." The way she sings it, irony is not a color or even a set of contrasting colors; it is iridescence.

Miles the Rock Star? 

Does Miles Davis belong in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame? Here's my take on his career ...

Essay Contest 

Attention, high school jazz listeners ...

more trax

Me Elsewhere

Edward Hopper 

Painter of light (and darkness) ...

Dissed in Translation 

Here's my best shot at taking Scorcese down a few pegs ...

Henri Rousseau Revisited 

"Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris" appeared at the National Gallery of Art in Washington this fall ...

Paul Klee's Art 

Paul Klee was not childish, despite frequent comparisons between his art and that of children...

Our Art Belongs to Dada 

Rent my "Dadioguide" tour of the Dada show (before it moves to MoMA) ...

more picks


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Serious Popcorn published on March 19, 2006 12:32 PM.

Casting Problem: Who Could Play Miles? was the previous entry in this blog.

Video Virgil: Last Laugh is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.