Reichenbach Falls

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hated Sherlock Holmes. The intense fandom surrounding his literary creation repulsed him, and he felt that the character was a diversion from his real talent. Of this love-hate relationship with his most famous character, he wrote to his mother in November 1891: "I think of slaying Holmes ... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things." Two years later he did just that, sending Holmes to his death with arch-nemesis Moriarty - the two plunged to their deaths at Reichenbach Falls in a story unambigously titled "The Final Problem." And with that, Doyle thought himself free.

He was wrong. Public outcry forced him to resurrect Holmes, who now instead of dying with Moriarty, managed to climb the cliff face. The gap between stories was explained as a period of seclusion and recovery before returning to his active career as a crime-sleuth. Years later, Doyle finally suceeded in retiring Holmes, in a fashion that suggests (IMHO, having read the complete works myself) that he had to come to terms with being eclipsed by his creation.

There's a parable here for any writer who writes for the love of the craft, and in pursuit of a higher ideal, but whose writings themselves become popular and a success beyond the author's original expectation or design. It is with no small measure of sadness that I see Steven den Beste has sailed USS Clueless down Reichenbach Falls.

I've praised Steven's writings even as I disagreed with his opinions many times before. What is more praiseworthy is the rationale behind his writing - a desire to express himself, to excercise the right of free speech, and to submit his opinion to the debate in the hope of perhaps influencing it. And influence the debate I think he has, even though I think that Steve's vision of how the War on Terror should be conducted was not remotely akin to the actual execution of same by the present Administration. Had it been, IMHO things would be different indeed. I don't think anyone can claim that Steven's ideas about the war on terror have been refuted, since they were never truly tested. They were only given lip service by the most cynically self-absorbed Administration in history.

It's not relevant whether Steven continues to defend the Administration or whether he undergoes an Andrew Sulllivan-esque conversion on the road to Tehran. What is relevant is that the forces that drove Steven den Beste to write at such epic length remain. And if John Kerry wins in November, I anticipate that USS Clueless may yet return, climbing up the rock at Reichenbach, and biding its time in seclusion. Because we need visionary critiques and idealists such as Steven to keep the debate moving forwards.


David said...

I too enjoy reading and disagreeing with his thought provoking posts as well, but after rereading his last, I wish him a restful and contented hiatus, even if it's permanent.

Thomas Nephew said...

A nice testimony, Aziz -- and even written in Steve's discursive style! The "where the heck is this going" lede, the unveiling of the true topic, the denouement. Everything was there but about 3000 more words. :) (And I'm one to talk.)

I guess I found his tone a little too sure of himself from time to time, and at the aforementioned length that wasn't attractive. I also disliked his recent views on Kerry, which I thought tremendously (and uncharacteristically) unfair.

But by and large he brought some rigor and seriousness to discussions, and that was and remains an exception to the blogging rule.

Aziz Poonawalla said...

agreed completely about SDBs attitude towards Kerry - but i think i can explain it. The cognitive dissonance between SDB's rational analysis and the irrational execution of polcy by Bush is just too great. Politization of everything - no one is immune.

I was proud of my Holmes analogy :) what better way to onor Steven than via style?