We are people of burying age.
We have lived long enough to see someone die.
We are strong enough to lift the first shovel of dirt.
We know the mystery of sex and how
It implies death. But we meet it now, suddenly
As if seeing an old classmate
While traveling in another country.
But I have long thought of this world as a river
Leading to a fierce cataract - shrouded in mist
But known through the great roar ahead -
The sound of an immense gulf and fall and flow of countless souls
Across its teeth.
In the river, in flimsy boats of bark stretched taught
Against tense frames - more switches and will than a hull,
paddle generations of my family.
My father paddles gently forward, just ahead of me.
Even though he has just seen his father
Disappear through the mist and heard his voice,
High, pinched by dementia and sickness
Join the roar of the falls.
My father paddles slowly, forward
Troubled by his father's absence
But untroubled by his own course.
He seems only to want a fishing pole
To cast about in the remaining hours.
As slavery is arguably America's original sin, the Civil War represents America's primal scene. We have, in fact, replayed it for the last hundred and fifty-eight years. While the guerilla organization founded by Nathan Bedford Forrest certainly was the most evident manifestation of resistance to the outcomes of the war and to integration, it is not the most dangerous. Today we see the emergence of a constellation of influential conservatives associated with the Neo-Confederate movement.
As with other "vast right wing conspiracies", it is impossible to prove orchestrated action on a concerted agenda. But what does emerge is a consistent attempt to enact policy and affect court decsions that, in effect, put affirmative action, integration, and the civil rights movement itself into retrograde. Trent Lott's opposition to the voting rights acts is a matter of record (a voting record for which he should have been removed, Freudian slip aside). We could imagine that Bush's fraternization with the Neo-Rebs (as distinct form Neo-Cons with whom they have some overlap) during the campaign amounted to Karl Rove covering his bases. With the President's policies and budget priorities, we see that the association has progressed beyond electoral convenience and into a marriage of retrogression. This weekend's announcement, coordinated with the King Holiday, that the President has requested additional funding for predominantly black colleges and schools. This apparent gift constitutes financial incentive for restoring "separate but equal" and jibes nicely with the other initiative launched the weekend: attempting to control the discussion of race by creating the impression that the Supreme Court will decide on "quotas."
The debate is not about quotas, but the administration's framing of it may make it so in the public's eye. More importantly, it may serve as the signal for an ironically activist Supreme Court. Given the history of the people involved in this decision, we may be enacting this struggle for many years to come.
So with four and a half billion years gone
There came and went the last perfect day.
A few seconds and the sun slipped below the ocean
On the last day better than the one before -
The last day a glacier didn't calve
From the shelves that gird the lonely outposts
Of the imagination -
The last day that the axis didn't veer more erratically
By the smallest negative
Exponent - a measurement we cannot feel,
But that staves off the disaster -
The last day that another variety of bird, insect, or toad
Didn't fall through the membrane of the thin bubble
That carries us through time.
From here on in, all will tend
Toward the water again.
And perpetual clouds will blot out the sunsets
And mute the dawns
About which we used to write
Epithets - back when you were either a Greek,
Or a barbarian.
We didn't even know that it had happed.
Even the next day wasn't so different
that you'd know exactly what happened,
But maybe when I paid attention
I could see it in the details
More of a feeling that made me question:
Did cigarettes always taste like this?
Did whiskey always tug
At my mind and remind me
So much of my birthday
So many years ago?
According to Lloyd Grove at the Post, Kramerbooks (bookseller of the Starr-crossed Vox/ Leaves of Grass) is now selling a coffee drink they call the "Trent Lotte." It consists of equal parts coffee and milk, served in separate containers.
It Takes a Lott to Laugh, it takes an Ashcroft to Cry
Way back in June, a group of cartoonists came together to create a show based based on cartoons that point out the shell game that the Bush administration is pushing: that citizens pay the cost of security in the currency of civil rights. Some of the works, collected here (link via BoingBoing), have earned the artists harassment, termination, and censorship. The cartoons themselves range from the subtle to the explicit, but all manage a disturbed chuckle.
The site also highlights one positive aspect of the current climate: the number and regional diversity of the artists. When this many people from around the country distrust an initiative, it gives me slight hope for reigning in the worst abuses. But of course, this was before Total Information Awareness. Truly dark humor at its finest.
What's With the all the chit-chat? Posts and additions come slighty more frequently as I hit the archives to test out another blogging option: Radio Userland. Check out my forray into the hard drive resident blogging software here.
The first drink of the day should gently pull forth a memory and dab our temples with it ? leave the face dry and perhaps a little flush, and anticipating something yet to come. It is a chemical reaction ? an acute perception about the head, while inside the head something nepenthetic is released from its cage of consciousness, and allowed to curl around the agitated centers of racing thought, and to cease their endless whine with comfort, ease, perspective, and frequently, a chuckle.
Or so I believe, or would hope. Often my first drink of the day is not sophisticated (never is it mixed). I eschew the greatly lauded sherry or pernod for something cold and intense ? a vodka, just pulled from the freezer, or (better) from a snow drift, and served neat and preferably in a narrow shot glass with ice forming from condensation clinging to the sides of that beautiful cloudy cylinder. Obviously, I’m not discussing aperitifs here. Vodka anticipates no meal, though with the right varinicki, a dumpling wrapped around potatoes and covered in subtle mushroom gravy, it can abide one.
No, this is the last resort of a mind tired of clouds and seeking the clarity of an extreme position. For lack of the disciplined denial of perspective that fundamentalism requires, I have turned to this antisocial habit ? the illicit antemeridian encounter with hard liquor.
It clarifies the thoughts and relaxes the body. The mind becomes the body’s arc in space and action. Imagine a glass of ouzo clouding from the ice you’ve dropped in ? now play that film backwards ? the milky white nebula contracting, clinging closer to the ice and then disappearing entirely. That is the mental journey I make under the lash of the drink.
But why must you do this in the indelicate morning. All the joys of liquor, the inequities of this vice grow exponentially as you recede from Noon towards dawn. Remember the murder perpetrated by that habitual absinthe imbiber _____ who would begin with a bracing local marc, compounded by brandy, all before sunup. This man killed his wife, children, and botched his own suicide under the derangement of the demon rum. Is not the habit I endorse a step towards this life and this end?
Let’s get something straight ? I’m not endorsing anything. I’ve already told you I lack the disciplined inflexibility of interpretation for fundamentalism (I’m also a poor allegorist), and so I won’t tell you how to live your life. These lines speak only for me. If you share these proclivities then wonderful, you may read on out of familiarity. If not, you were probably offended or bored long ago.
So why not crawl indo the bower of the green fairy and dwell there in perpetuity? This may come as a surprise to you, but there is a notion of trial at work here. I have always mentioned a single drink ? the ones that have followed that initial drink are your creation only. Because I silence certain demons with a very earthly holy water does not make me an alcoholic. You have lined up the drinks at the bar - I have had one - in the bright hard morning, barefoot and clear eyed standing in the kitchen under white sunlight.
Joan Didion writes essays that are knives made of diamonds - clear, hard, and with a frighteningly precise geometry, one devoid of sentiment. She quietly and almost demurley pulls the meat of rhetoric, emotion, and politics away from the bone of the issue itself - blanching the white surface in the sun. Hers is the subtle wit.
This craft takes time, however - glacial months have passed while the volcanic pamphleteer Christopher Hitchens has engaged in non-stop eruption. In fact, her last book, Political Fictions, took a relatively long view on modern American politics - reviewing the span of 1998 to 2000. I have been waiting for a Didion essay dealing with the aftermath of the New York/Washington attacks. She once again produces an artifact of great precision, and one that cleanly dissects the corpse of political opposition and our muddled response of stalling acquiescence in the aftermath of America's response to terrorism.
What happens when your labor department issues reports that directly contradict your insistence that economic recovery is imminent if not already occurring? You quietly pull the plug on the program that produces the most contradictory reports.
Is the movement towards an executive branch unfettered by public awareness and oversight consequent or coincidental to the move towards empire? SF gate Link courtesy of Boing Boing.
It cheers me to read that Milton can still incite controversy after 350 years. It amuses me that no one can parody the academy the way that it does itself. The New York Observer has another story to tell about what really furrows brows at the MLA: not the validity of evaluating historical attitudes or actions through modern criteria (while ignoring the historical moment itself), but the availability of jobs in a market place whose primary indicator of worth, publication, becomes more and more elusive. With academic publishing shrinking, and with adventurous small and medium presses disappearing, the publish or perish ethic becomes even more intense.
The good news is that Stephen Greenblatt now presides over the MLA. At the same time, I think he's past the publish/ perish point of his career.
I spent the final hours of 2002 enjoying drinks and the company of friends in Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood. This neighborhood makes the aesthetics of John Waters movies explicable. All things that you hear used to describe Baltimore - odd customs and products associated exclusively with Charm City - become manifest in this neighborhood. Its blue collar residents actually say "Hon" (and I cannot properly recreate the pronunciation ) as a means of direct address, drink Natty-Boh (National Bohemian) Beer, and go to Maime's Cafe for $7 lobsters on Wednesday night.
But during this time of year, the epicenter for the camp aesthetic lies on the 700 west block of 34th street. We refer to it as, not surprisingly, Miracle on 34th Street. Imagine the artistic agenda of the counter-reformation as deployed using only electric Christmas lights and statuary found in thrift stores. It truly dazzles the observer.
While the display begins after Thanksgiving, it builds during the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve. It comes to its electro-luxe crescendo at the stoke of Midnight on New Year's Day - the hinge between years. It was at just about this time that my friends and I, in masquerade dress, walked into the semi-daylight of Hampden to watch the Baltimorean masque unfold. At the stroke of midnight (the organizers synchronized the drop with Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve which I could hear on blaring out of a television inside the house in front of which we all stood) someone at the end of a clothesline pulley lowers a ball created by winding multiple cords of Christmas lights together in a Gordian knot. The ball descends into a black box with the numeral 2003 cut in relief. Moments afterward, a middle aged man wearing a thick mustache and an adult sized diaper rushes forth from the house - he is our baby new year.
I will confess great difficulty in relating this without some eye-rolling. Of course the air crackles with an electric current of kitsch (or at the very least, arcs several times an hour). But when the ball does drop, and the diaper clad fool does run into cheering crowd, we feel only excitement unalloyed with the irony, cynicism, or the ambivalence of the previous year. The champagne corks fly into the air and we kiss with joyous mouths under the spray of bubbles. Bottles pass round with no care for the troubles of 2002, or awareness of the cultivated aesthetic of nudge-winking. We are truly happy to symbolically begin again. Despite the garishness of the display, we experience real emotion.
Perhaps that is an emotional fault - that we can be tricked even by a shoddy post-modern carnival show. But I feel wonder because it seems to be, for me at least, the first unadulterated joy of the season. I think many people have had some difficulty finding the right emotional pitch for this holiday season. This year the enforced gaiety of commerce shows the strain more than usual. The holidays seemed to have taken us by surprise. We force smiles when we have more reasons to cry, but choose not to think of them. Let us then take this opportunity so perfectly fit to our mood, to the feel something together again.
Enjoy the passing of the old year, with its beautiful and sad complexity (which truly has its joys). But the purpose of this evening is to feel that burden lifted for a short while - just long enough to consider what we want to be and how it differs from what we are now.
In the last weeks, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about many things: the poetry of defeat, John Milton, how to turn catastrophe into art, what to do with " this one wild life," how to enact an ethos, and many other matters that tend to flit about my mind. I am not one to make public resolutions, or to make to-do lists that contain metaphysical action-items. I do reserve the right, however, to make pronouncements and decisions and to do so in this space. Therefore I have decided that I need to cultivate in myself graciousness, mercy, intelligence, and advocacy for these virtues. We have but eighty years or so - and frequently, sadly less - in this world. And we know of no other. The beauty we see may be all the beauty that exists and while it's a great and noble project to imagine a place more beautiful yet, let us not neglect beauty and authenticity in this world. As Louis Mac Neice wrote:
Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.
Thus resolved, I wish everyone a happy and peaceful new year.