European Diary

Professions and Professors

You know what you hardly see around anymore?  Professions.  Professors—hell, yes, one sees professors around, even in backward Italy, pinched, untidy, jealous of beauty, suspicious as cuckolds in Molière, speaking with the forked tongues of p.c. texts.  But surely “professor” is a title or rank, not a profession or vocation.

At the dawn of the 20th century the Russian philosopher Konstantin Leontyev predicted that European culture would accelerate toward simplification, whereas in ages past the trend had been toward complexity.  In music, for instance, the movement from the contrapuntal writing of the Renaissance to the rich harmonies of the Baroque involved a massive complication of technique, while Bach, in his turn, might have looked on Liszt as an impossibility on a par with time travel.  Complication, incidentally, is a watchmaker’s term, and nobody would deny that the first wristwatches had been less complex than the Breguets favored by Byron and Pushkin, just as in chess, ancient gambits and openings are child’s play next to the Rubik’s Cubes of Alekhine and Capablanca.  Complicating the position on the board, as every player knows, is what chess is all about.

Leontyev believed that civilization is complication, while simplification is barbarism and, ultimately, death—because nothing is quite as simple...

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