People Power: The history of Western art tells a story

People Power: The history of Western art tells a story

An excellent little walk through sacred art.

Many believers would question whether non-believers can truly comprehend the meaning of religiously inspired art. We can, however, turn this round and ask a different question. What is it that is “sacred” about sacred art? For religious believers, the sacred, whether in art or otherwise, is clearly that which is associated with the holy and the divine. The composer John Tavener, who died at the end of last year, was one of the great modern creators of sacred music. A profoundly religious man – he was a convert to Russian Orthodoxy – Tavener’s faith and sense of the mystic suffused much of his music. Historically, and in the minds of most people today, the sacred in art is, as it was with Tavener, inextricably linked with religious faith.

Believers and non-believers do hold this view but this is not nearly as universal as the author would like. My mind wanders over to a recent post over at Mere Inklings.

All the books were beginning to turn against me. Indeed, I must have been as blind as a bat not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader. George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course it was a pity he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it.

Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spenser and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too.

Even among ancient authors the same paradox was to be found. The most religious (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil) were clearly those on whom I could really feed.

On the other hand, those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete—Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire—all seemed a little thin; what as boys we called “tinny.” It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. They were all (especially Gibbon) entertaining; but hardly more. There seemed to be no depth in them. They were too simple. The roughness and density of life did not appear in their books. . . .

The upshot of it all could nearly be expressed in a perversion of Roland’s great line in the Chanson—Christians are wrong, but all the rest are bores. The natural step would have been to inquire a little more closely whether the Christians were, after all, wrong.

I think C. S. Lewis’ story is particularly well-told, and deserves replication in part, yet he is hardly novel or alone. There is something about art, and perhaps something particular about sacred art, that captures the mind. I do not need to be a Catholic to appreciate a cathedral of space, or Jewish to appreciate Heschel’s Jewish cathedral of time. I doubt that if I became atheistic that would change. Sincerity has a quality all its own and there seems something particularly sincere about the sacred. Why is that, dear reader, I leave up to you and your experiences.

If you have any other popular instances of conversion on account of religious art I would appreciate the links. I have a few in mind, but I’m always looking for more.

Two parting notes. First, my criticism shouldn’t deter you from visiting. The article is excellent and is perfect for someone who wants to look at interesting things. Second, I hope you can forgive me for such long quotes. I try to be more than a compilation of choice quotes but apparently I have failed today.

Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Yet More Aphorisms

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.  —C. S. Lewis

“We are all guilty” is actually a declaration of solidarity with the wrongdoers. —Hannah Arendt

Anyone can tell the truth, but only very few of us can make epigrams. —W. Somerset Maugham

History is the only laboratory we have in which to test the consequences of thought. —Etienne Gilson

Technical civilization is man’s conquest of space. It is a triumph frequently achieved by sacrificing an essential ingredient of existence, namely, time. In technical civilization, we expend time to gain space…. But time is the heart of existence.  —Abraham Heschel

Why Study Theology?

Why Study Theology?

As Oxford’s Dr. William Wood, a University Lecturer in Philosophical Theology and my former tutor, puts it: “theology is the closest thing we have at the moment to the kind of general study of all aspects of human culture that was once very common, but is now quite rare.” A good theologian, he says, “has to be a historian, a philosopher, a linguist, a skillful interpreter of texts both ancient and modern, and probably many other things besides.” In many ways, a course in theology is an ideal synthesis of all other liberal arts: no longer, perhaps, “Queen of the Sciences,” but at least, as Wood terms it, “Queen of the Humanities.”

Tolkien During the Great War

As you know, dear reader, I am something of a C. S. Lewis fan. I am not going to burden you with his biography. I’ve burdened myself with it several times already and it has not stuck. I’m not going to ask from you what I have demanded, fruitlessly, from myself. The factoid I have managed to remember is the fascinating case of the Inklings.

The Inklings were a group of people centered around Oxford and were a book discussion group. When you see people huddled around a table, peering over their caffeine, know that the grouping is trying to recreate this glittering moment in time. The group’s headliners were J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis yet they were hardly the only two. I can only imagine how fascinating the conversations were. I wouldn’t have a thing to say. I’d mumble a bit and drool geometric shapes. But that would still be a good time.

The Inklings were shaped by wartime Britain. Who couldn’t be? But Lewis, as far as I know, was not unduly influenced by his time as a soldier in World War I or the Second World War–though there are instances where the intellectual concerns of inter- and post- war Britain infiltrate his works. I find it a bit odd but not unique. Tim O’Brien, the prodigious writer of his time in Vietnam, finds it inexplicable but some soldiers do not let the war come home with them. He isn’t one of them. “Fourty-three years old and I’m still writing war stories. My daughter Kathleen tells me it’s an obsession, that I should write about a little girl who finds a million dollars and spends it all on a Shetland pony.” But some, such as Gore Vidal, summarizes that for many it is a “profound irrelevance; traumatic for some, perhaps, but for most no more than an interruption.” 

Perhaps this is a good thing. I think it is. Too many writers who cut their teeth in Vietnam and in the frumious climate surrounding their military stint, to an extent I see Tim O’Brien in this category, possessed one idea to the exclusion of any others. They became, in Isaiah Berlin’s glittering image, more hedgehog than fox. Since the idea was very often, but not exclusively, their wartime experiences I find that the writings are disturbing. Not depressing but more of a personal, pervading disappointment with the authors. What was common underneath all the pretension–and there is a level of pretention in all but the best war novels–is the belief that all human experience can be connected to the fruitless efforts of soldiers attempting to kill their opposites. It is a disturbing conclusion for anyone to come to.

Lewis, even though he was badly wounded during an attack on the German trenches on 14th April 1918, seems to have viewed the whole experience as more interruption than the genesis of subsequent obsession. He recounts the experience, “Just after I was hit, I found (or thought I found) that I was not breathing and concluded that this was death. I felt no fear and certainly no courage. It did not seem to be an occasion for either.” When Lewis regained consciousness he discovered that Sergeant Harry Ayres, who had been standing right next to him, had been killed by the same shell that had wounded him.

There are similarities when we look at his close compatriot, J.R.R. Tolkien, and his involvement in the Somme campaign. The Somme changed people and without lessening Lewis’ efforts, I knew there were many texts about the Somme by other authors. But even knowing these two things I was still surprised to learn of the battles’ vast influence on J. R. R. Tolkien’s work. In the abstract this influence is conclusive and unabstract. “A soldier in World War I and a worried father whose son was a combatant in World War II, Tolkien faced the monstrous, collective horrors–and evil–of the twentieth century” (pg 130). But, nevertheless, I think it would be a nice diversion from our lives to look at a few explicit instances where his wartime experiences coalesced in his writings.

It would behoove us to learn a little about the man. I admitted that it would be unfair to burden you with too much biographical material but I hope you’ll allow me a paragraph of conceit. For Tolkien ‘starts’ after the conclusion of his graduate studies. Tolkien joined in the British Expeditionary Army. He could have avoided the draft because he was Irish but, for whatever reason, he refused the possibility. As a result Tolkien was in the Somme offensive in 1916. Notably, since he joined after he had finished his graduate studies (as Oxford) he became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. In such a class conscious society like Victorian Britain this put him a head above his fellow infantrymen. He took part in one of the many attacks on the Schwaben Redoubt, a heavily fortified strongpoint in the German line, but was able to spend most of the war away from the front lines while being treated for Trench Fever. It was a devastating case. Without those lieutenant bars, and even with them, he might not be here with us at all. Victorian class strictures have their problems, but they may also have their benefits.

There are two books about the war’s impact on Tolkien’s fiction: John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War: the Threshold of Middle Earth and Janet Brennan Croft’s War and the Works of J. R. R. Tolkien. Among the passages in Tolkien’s work that seem to echo his WW1 experience is the Journey through the Dead Marshes in Lord of the Rings. Additionally, Lisa Jardine sees a reference to tanks (first used in WW1) in connection with Morgoth‘s iron dragons, which appeared in a story that Tolkien wrote during a leave of absence in 1916 or early 1917. The iron dragons were ‘iron monsters in the likeness of dragons, which might cross difficult terrain and harbour legions of orcs to transport them safely across the open plain.’ The similarities do not end there. In the comments for Jardine’s piece, Rev. John WaddingtonFeather recounts a story told by Michael Tolkien, according to which the Dark Riders were based on WW1 German Uhlans. According to M. Tolkien (via Waddington-Feather), J. R. R. Tolkien was caught behind enemy lines while riding a cavalry horse and had to flee three pursuing Uhlans. Looking back, Tolkien could see the Uhlans’ ‘skull and crossbone helmet badges’. This gave rise to a recurring nightmare from which arose the Nazgul.

It could be an apocryphal tale. But I am a romantic at heart. The mental image of our Tolkien running in front of a few shouting, virtual Nazguls, sends all the expected shivers up my mildly nerdy spine. One of the criticism that was aired was, strictly speaking, Uhlans didn’t wear skull and crossbone badges. Then again, British soldiers didn’t speak so strictly. They referred to all German cavalry as uhlans. There were at least three German cavalry units in WW1 that adorned their headgear with the macabre decoration. There were the ‘Black Brunswickers‘, who formed the 17th Hussars Regiment, and two regiments of Life Hussars (more here and here). While there weren’t large hussar units on the western front in 1916, several such units were dispersed in smaller groups among the infantry battalions all along the front. Moreover, while the steel helmet had already been introduced by 1916, some cavalry men retained their old skull-and-crossbones hats.

As to the question of why Tolkien, who was a signaler, was riding a horse the answer seems reasonably obvious. Regardless of his rank inside the military he had come from an educated background and was, thus, considered superior. Perhaps it went against regulation, but a few winks were possible. Moreover there was the connection that if signalers had to lay and repair the wire along which their signals ran, then if they had a horse he could do it faster. It is also well within the bounds of possibility that one who had been tasked with such chores would borrow a horse. After all, if a chaplain such as Canon Scott could use a horse to get around, why couldn’t signalers use horses, too?

Aaron Isaac Jackson also published a good article about the War’s influence on Tolkien’s work. His focus is The Hobbit. Jackson says,

In The Hobbit Tolkien is explicit about what they [the goblins] represent, linking them expressly to the mechanized warfare that characterized the First World War: ‘It is not unlikely’ [quoting Tolkien] ‘that they … invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them’. (Aaron Isaac Jackson, ‘Authoring the Century: J. R. R. Tolkien, the Great War and Modernism’, English, 59 [2010], pp. 44–69, at p. 61)

Jackson notes that as Bilbo and his company approach Smaug’s lair, ‘‘Neither bush nor tree, and only broken and blackened stumps to speak of ones long vanished’ greet their approach, echoing the destruction by war of the green farmlands of France.’ (Ibid., pp. 61-2)

I could go on and on. Enough has been written about him on this blog, for now. At Smaug’s lair I’ll leave you, dear reader, until tomorrow.

What Hath God Wrought?

“WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?” Samuel Morse telegraphed to his business partner Alfred Vail. It was 24 May 1844 and Washington hosted Morse while Baltimore played the part for Vail. There were earlier messages, of course. ‘The first’ telegraph message was likely a long, solid tone. But this message, chosen from the Old Testament by the daughter of a friend of Morse, have become ‘the first telegram.’ It simply rings better than a meaningless buzz.

Speaking of meaningless buzz, thank you for reading my blog today. It’s an example, if not a good one, of how technology has continued to produce better and better communication between farther and farther distances. Well, not always better. When people mutter ‘What hath God wrought?’ as they’re reading my blog it is done with a less resonant air. But it does allow me to send this sentence’s dual construction from the comfort of my own living room to the comfort of your lap. It has led some to interesting questions, statements and rounded out the careers of several (thousand) academics. The rapid expansion of communication can be measured in graduate students’ tears, sweat and blood. Saul Bellow, even though he is everything but a graduate student, summarized “We live among ideas much more than we live in nature.” To some this is not much of a surprise. For those who blog obsessively, and perhaps it is fair to put me in that category, is there even a question about its veracity? There are the words, the ideas that are roughly communicated from these fingertips to you and then they are interpreted. Sometimes accurately, sometimes inaccurately but the actual truth of the objects are concealed by the words. Their ‘nature’ could be anything. When I write aardvark I could be, in fact, intending to write zebra. Who knows, truly, whether I have a knack for interesting creations. Perhaps everything I’ve ever said on this blog is a lie. That’d be interesting. Point being the ideas, no matter their accuracy or quality of transmission, dominate the landscape.

Albert Hirschman, who died late last year, was, according to the New York Review of Books obituary, “one of the most interesting and unusual thinkers of the last century. An anti-utopian reformer with a keen eye for detail, Hirschman insisted on the complexity of social life and human nature. He opposed intransigence in all its forms.” His bibliography is extensive. That he has, in death, proved Vidal’s prediction that American public intellectuals will be seen off with a “that’s that” is mildly frustrating. It is for him that I now write this blogpost and hope that you, dear reader, take some time to purchase a few of his books. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970) is largely considered, in the circles that his work appears organically, as the most important. It explores two ways to respond to relationships. Unsurprisingly, these two ways were either by leaving for the territories or by making a racket (“Exit” and “Voice” respectively). Then he threw in the next dimension: loyalty. Presumably, if you are loyal you will not exit but fascinating instances occur when people leave on account of their loyalty. So then peoples’ actions are classified according to whether they’ve exited, loyally or not, or voiced their opinions, loyally or not. Of his essays the Hiding Hand is often cited as being influential, but to me seems to reiterate concepts I find obvious but, no doubt, that is more of a testament to his insight rather than mine. His contested opinion has become ‘common sense’ within a generation. If only I could be half as lucky.

Edit: I found an interesting blogpost about how revolutionary Hirschman was. He published in the midst of an era when theory was ‘king.’ He replied, essentially, that theory was rubbish.

The point of these two thinkers is that as we’re driven farther and farther away from the events that are written about–the more and more our experiences are ‘mediated’ by other organizations, images and ideas–then we should be skeptical of the ‘big’ ideas. Hirschman is the precept in action. In his analysis of the remarkable switch that took place between the ‘right’ and ‘left,’ Rival Views of Market Society, he confronts the rather odd reality that the Edmund Burke’s of today would never agree with the Edmund Burke. The former believe markets are an effective bulwark against disruptive social change. There are less revolutions when everyone is eating well and making money. Take Atlanta, for instance, during the 60s the civil rights leaders said it was the one city that was ‘too busy to hate.’ The latter, the Irish fellow, was deeply skeptical of markets. He saw them as destroyers of the older, aristocratic order. In that sense he was absolutely right. Likewise the revolutionaries of France would, in all likelihood, behead the people who have become their supposed progeny. To them the market was going to the aristocracy’s coffers and emptying them out. He takes a perverse delight in showing how pliable these so-called ‘principles’ are and how replaceable they are to the wider political traditions.

For that reason I find him deeply but not dully conservative. Though, of course, others have identified him as another duly but not dully elected member of the European–moderate left–intelligentsia. I think he simply enjoyed being an example of his philosophy in practice. He confounds easy labels except perhaps ‘contrarian.’

Meta is Death to Memory

“Once we assign monumental form to memory, we have to some degree divested ourselves of the obligation to remember,” James Young writes. I believe him. I believe that we live in a crisis of criticism because we have built up these great ideas, theories and conceptions about the world without truly reconciling ourselves to our past. In fact, many of these grand ideas are an effort to forget the past for very temporary, but contemporary, purposes. As a result, even though the past is the soil from where these ideas and frameworks have come from the soil is drifting away. To jump unapologetically and, arguably, incongruously to another metaphor these ideas are citadels of the mind. Like citadels today they are simply elaborate memorials of an age that, we assume incorrectly, has no meaning to us now. We have let remembrance become a thing of the past rather than a legitimate reminder of it.

I look at what some call political correctness. Tony Judt has a great experience in the matter.

“In Nice today, for example, the main shopping street has been relabeled with a plaque reading “Avengueda Jouan Medecin. Consou de Nissa 1928-1965.” This is a politically correct attempt, in the French context, to remind passerby that the local inhabitants once spoke an Italianate Provencal patois and to invoke on behalf of the city’s distinctive identity the memory of that language. But Jean Medecin, the mayor of Nice between 1928 and 1965, had no particular interest in local dialects or customs, did not use the old Nicois form of his name or title, and was as French, and French-speaking, as they come–as were most of his constituents in his day. This one instance can stand for many where a false past had been substituted for the real one for very present-minded reasons; here, at least, the historian can help set memory back on its feet.”

I look into my own life and I experience instances that are casual, unremarkable and–with those two adjectives in mind–horrifyingly banal. I live, for a few months longer at any rate, near a reservation for Native Americans. In an interesting pique of disagreeableness they have begun an elaborate process of identifying ‘burial grounds’ near and around their reservation. Knowledgeable opinion is fragmented on the why. Some believe it is to abrogate or somehow encourage the ending of leases the tribe undertook many years ago. Others believe it is an attempt to somehow limit the ability of the local and state government to nix potential building plans. If it is decided that the burrowing owl or fringe-toed lizard can be displaced on account of a proper homage to the dead then the principle behind preventing development of the land is moot. It’s a much shorter jump from cemetery to, say, a parking garage than from an endangered species’ habitat.

The point being, the idea behind any ‘burial ground’ for these particular Native Americans is nonsense. They were nomads, historically, and like most Californian Indians they had no real permanent locations (or even seasonal ones). In a very real sense, specially if we have an eye on our government’s treatment of these tribes, all of California is an ‘Indian burial ground.’ Time will tell what happens and, to use Kurt Vonnegut’s laconic phrase, so it goes. Political correctness in the American context bits a little bit further into the core of American ‘authenticity.’

But what I pull from it is not, perhaps, morality being subsumed to economic efficacy. The issue I have is how so many have let their monumental conceptions about the world erase so many details about this particular event so it can continue to fit their preconceptions. The burial grounds are there, it is argued, because to believe otherwise would be an insult to Native American culture. Tangible evidence and the details of the situation ride shotgun to ‘more important’ concerns. To consider anything else would be a form, another instance in a long lineage of tragedies, of cultural imperialism just like, well, pick your example. It is an autofill statement.

I find myself doing the same thing. I have a rule, a (capital-B) Belief. It was made, at one point, out of the past. Past decisions, experiences and thoughts provided this Belief. Those past accidents, for that’s what they were, are now forgotten because by making my rule, my monument, I have “divested” myself from “the obligation to remember.” I have my reasons. They may not be good ones, or they may be good ones. I have no idea. Too often, and I’m not alone in this, the details of ‘the now’ have ceased to matter because they rely on a past that I no longer remember or feel a compulsion to learn about. The best sort of facts, the inconvinient ones, are rubbed out of existence.

Sometimes this dynamic  can prove Arendt’s quip that “the horrible can be not only ludicrous but outright funny.” To evaluate the statement’s true value take a look at the ultimate holders of all the answers: midcentury progressives, especially those who had taken ahold of communism as a legitimate explanation of the world’s functions. As Sartre aptly summarized, Marxism was “an instrument that made it possible to master all of history and economics without actually having to study either.” Or, perhaps more simply, the ironically titled book by former communist Leszek Kolakowski ‘My Correct Views on Everything.’ It is an autobiographical composite of his life and intellectual views with an added emphasis on the unfalseability of anything he said, wrote or believed as long as it was properly imbued with the absoluteness of Marxist orthodoxy. What strikes me and other readers is how dramatically reality adapted to fit the opinion.

Since we’re on the subject, I’d recommend the Commissar Vanishes by David King. It is the logical conclusion of this sort of ‘meta’ or theoretical thinking taken to the extreme.

With only the slightest rearranging can’t you see, dear reader, these criticisms redirected to our own modern times? It’s fascinating but also instructive. Their tone was not disciplinarian but it would be helpful if they adopted such a tone. Events cannot be shoehorned to fit our conceptions about class, gender or politics. People certainly cannot. Too often they are, just take a peak at Jezebel. It’s tragic but it is avoidable. If there is anything that I hope, personally, that I can do it is to hold myself to this simple standard: approach every situation exactly like it should be, approach it uniquely.

Some More Aphorisms

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal. —T. S. Eliot

The isms go; the ist dies; art remains. —Vladimir Nabokov

Man’s world is infested by Sphinxes, demonic beings of mixed and monstrous nature which ask him riddles and eat him if he cannot answer them, compelling him to play a game of wits where the stake is his life and his only weapon is his tongue. — R. G. Collingwood

History speak truth to every age, in every time, every time. —Hannah Arendt

I tremble when I think God is just. —Thomas Jefferson


Tony Judt Quote

Tony Judt is one of the names that, I’m terribly afraid, will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. But if his memoria are terrible representations of the man he only has himself to blame. Ill Fares the Land is everything he isn’t. It’s loud, emotional, unsourced and speaks from a place of desperation, perhaps even regret. I can’t help but wonder if his LS had anything to do with the unseemly (forced?) exuberance.

Orwell once explained the implosion of Kipling’s vitality as a result of history. It simply hadn’t turned out the way Kipling was certain it would. I cannot find the exact quote here, but is there a better example of this dynamic than Ill Fares the Land?

We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: Is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them.

Have we learned this trick? I’d argue no, but I let you dear reader come to your own conclusion. Will we, ever again? I’m less certain but I believe that Judt was not entirely oblivious to this eventuality especially considering how likely it was. Our generation has left politics behind even though, I’m sure, it will still continue to pay some of the Baby Boomers’ salary. The cathedrals the last generations have built to politics will be frequented–and has been frequented–less and less by this generation. They’re preaching to an increasingly gentrified and isolated parish. Thank goodness, goodbye to good rubbish. Perhaps that makes me an apolitical leftist? I’m not sure. I do not care about labels.

But this is supposed to be a short post.

My main concern is that if Judt is reduced, in the popular imagination at least, to Ill Fares the Land then the left will lose a great man.

I look at, for example, this shining passage in Thinking the Twentieth Century.

Once again, other people’s ordeals are being justified as History’s way of delivering a new world, and thereby assigning meaning to events that would be otherwise unforgivable and inexplicable.

He calls it the ‘sin’ of the 20th Century and while he doesn’t use it in a real descriptive sense it is refreshing to read the word without bookends of a exculpatory nature. Honestly, who doesn’t get a slight shiver of excitement from the dual usage of un- and in-? Unforgivable and inexplicable. How tempting is it to overuse that phrase! What a mind.

I’d recommend all of his work, from start to finish, with the sole removal of Ill Fares the Land. No matter where one is intellectually or where their knowledge base is, he’ll entertain. He will educate. He should be remembered for his climb and not his descent.