memories and surveys

When a person of note dies, there are, very generally speaking, two kinds of commentary that immediately appear. The first is the personal remembrance: So-and-So As I Knew Him, or What So-and-So Meant to Me. The second is the considered survey, the overview and summary judgment of a career. Of course, it’s possible to combine the two: Russell Arben Fox’s characteristically thoughtful reflection on Richard John Neuhaus does that, I think. But, you know, generally speaking.

In one of his several recent posts on Neuhaus — all of which combine deep criticism and sincere appreciation in varying proportions — Damon Linker mentions my own post on Neuhaus. He says that, though it’s one of those comments that “praise his many talents and accomplishments while denying any blemishes,” he “rather liked” it. I have a strange feeling that Damon thinks this is a compliment. “Among those who think that Neuhaus was immaculately conceived and at the end assumed into Heaven, you did okay” — that seems to be the message. I myself tend to think that there’s a difference between not mentioning blemishes and denying that they exist, but perhaps I am overly subtle.

It’s true that I didn't mention any of RJN’s blemishes, but that’s because I did not experience them personally; and I was writing a remembrance, not a survey of his career. What can I tell you? Father Neuhaus was uniformly kind to me and supportive of me, and I thought myself obliged to say so. People I know and respect have told me of their difficulties in dealing with Father Neuhaus — though almost always in the context of deep respect for the man — and I could have added those to my post, but as far as I’m concerned that would just have been retailing gossip. Among the remembrancers, let everyone tell his or her own story of Neuhaus, and the aggregate of them will create a lasting portrait of the man. And on the basis of that aggregate better summary judgments may also be formed.