Friday, March 27, 2015
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
All the time, however, I’m divided into the person who already knows how to play the game the way they want him to, and another person who is immersed in his own thoughts. About human society as a marvel. And about Polish themes, thanks to that issue of Literary Notebooks.
I continued my assiduous reading of Milosz (in translation, of course). Precisely because I had to read in translation I have considered that his prose has necessarily meant more to me than his verse, despite my absolute love of many of his poems. (I contrasted this with my reading of Auden, to me a very comparable figure in terms of intelligence, philosophical depth, and religious commitment: because Auden wrote in my language his prose and verse held a rough balance for me). In January of 1989 I read The Land of Ulro and had the singular experience of finishing a book which I then immediately began to re-read. It is my favorite of his prose works, and I have read it perhaps a dozen times. That autumn and winter of 1989 the Soviet imperium collapsed and no figure came to mind more than Milosz as incarnating the decades leading up to those events.
I knew exactly this historical contact (at one
remove: the remove between life and death) when visiting the grave of Walker Percy at St. Joseph’s Abbey just about six months
after he died. It was a beautiful autumn
day in St. Tammany parish, such as he might have described in one of his
novels. As my wife and I walked away, a
man who looked incredibly like Shelby Foote
was walking toward the grave. Was he
visiting the grave of his old friend? It
wasn’t until we were practically on top of him, when we saw it wasn’t. Later, I thought, how many times must this
gentleman have been stopped by people saying how much they enjoyed him on Ken
Burns’ documentaries (embarrassing all parties involved)?
Several years ago, when I was avoiding work by commenting heavily on Amy Welborn’s old Open Book blog, the subject came up of meeting “famous people.” It caused me to reflect. I had grown up in Oregon, the son of a Teamster business agent, and from an early age was used to seeing prominent political people around the place, including a certain United State Senator who was certainly a family friend and at our house any number of times. Since then, I’ve met any number of people “in the news.” Why, to put the matter crudely, is coming into contact with writers of a different order than with people in “public life”? I think I see the answer, very dimly, but damned if I could articulate it…
I read of Milosz’s death in the Washington Post on a Sunday morning in August 2004. My family was away, and I was nursing a headache from the previous night (yes, I know) as the sunlight poured on the dining room and I was flooded with memories of my two encounters with the man, of having read almost everything of his translated into English, and of what I knew of his life now come to an end. As if in confirmation of that life’s struggles, over the next few days certain nationalists in Poland crawled out from under the rocks, casting aspersions on Milosz as insufficiently Polish and hence not Catholic “enough” (echoes of Native Realm) and the Pope, dying in Rome, had to telegraph that this was not so.
Monday, December 8, 2014
Thursday, December 4, 2014
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Cynthia Haven was nice enough to ask me to expand on some remarks I made Saturday in the com-box of her great blog, The Book Haven, re the inflated reputation of Dwight D. Eisenhower and the related subject of the 1950s more generally. This was posted yesterday, but will be found under the date of November 21. My remarks may be read here.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
More than occasionally, in conversation or in the blogosphere, someone with an agenda will display "surprise" or "dismay" or "confusion" at something that is an enduring fact of our political life: the overwhelming Democratic registration of black voters. Why, weren't "the Democrats" the party of slavery, and then Jim Crow, and aren't "the Republicans" the Party of Lincoln? Etc., etc. This demonstrates either mendacity or a history of never having given the matter a moment's serious thought, or a weird combination thereof. So, let's remember some things:
1. Both JFK and LBJ were Democrats.
2. The majority of Democrats in Congress, and the vast majority of Democrats in Congress from outside of the former rebellious states, voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The support (then) for these pieces of legislation by most Republicans in Congress wouldn’t have mattered if the party controlling both houses hadn’t had most of its members in favor.
3. The Republican nominee for the Presidency in 1964 was a United States Senator, Barry Goldwater, who voted against the Civil Rights Act. The bulk of such electoral votes as he received (47 out of 52) came from among the former rebellious states. This was at a time - the last time - when that particular electorate would still be overwhelmingly white and Democratic.
4. For a generation or more prior to all this, blacks in “the North” had changed their basic political allegiance from Republican to Democratic.
5. At least some of the above illustrates something American have a hard time wrapping their minds around, which is that we really don’t have national political parties in the way so many European nations do, because we are so big, because we are a federal republic rather than a unitary state, and most importantly because we have presidential/congressional government rather than a parliamentary system.
6. So, given all this, it is absolutely no mystery at all that millions of newly enfranchised (or finally enfranchised) Black Americans would register almost unanimously Democratic, while at the very same time the resurgent Republicans in “the South” would be lily-white, and fomer Democrats like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms would be just that, former Democrats.
There are a lot more things that could be said, but in the interests of peaceable-ness, they won’t be.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Reflections after Bush