26 July 2015
19 July 2015
Mendacities, Mendacities, Cowardly Mendacities
I am interestingly reminded of the campaign to impugn John Kerry’s reputation as a war hero during the 2004 Presidential campaign, when the swift boat controversy called into question the actions of then candidate John Kerry. The Republicans remained remarkably silent regarding the accusation, and used the charge to continue to undermine the character of John Kerry. I remember thinking at the time: perhaps Kerry was not as heroic as the reports seemed to claim, but unlike George Bush, Kerry’s opponent in the election, at least Kerry was in Vietnam and had not purchased his way out of service by high-placed privileged government connections.
The moral character of the Republican Party has veritably disappeared. Lincoln would hang his head in shame to be associated with the bunch of dissolute, dishonest bunch of stony-hearted ignoramuses. To share ranks with the Republicans today is to align oneself with hypocrisy, with stupidity, with a blatant selfishness and cruel callousness to the increasing hardships of others—a hardship exacerbated by the stubborn Republican leadership. That the Republicans are not ashamed of themselves is all the more reason to condemn their unethical stances in the world. They are a miserable bunch.
09 July 2015
At Casaubon’s death and after a suitable period of mourning during which she resided at her uncle’s home, Dorothea returned to Lowick where she intended to live a solitary life engaged in various liberal and progressive social programs in the environs of Middlemarch that will improve the lives of the more needy workers. Hers is a noble purpose. And I think that no one in Middlemarch criticizes her intent.
But Mrs. Cadwallader cautions Dorothea: “You will certainly go mad in this house alone, my dear. We have all got to exert ourselves to keep sane, and call things by the same names as other people call them by.” I find this interesting advice, given my interest in sanity and insanity. On the one hand, Mrs. Cadwallader acknowledges that staying sane requires effort, and that perhaps it is our natural inclination not to name things by the same names as do others. Mrs. Cadwallader might be suggesting that it is normal to be insane, and that sanity often represents a deprivation and distortion of our basic humanity. Thus, as D.W. Winnicott says, “We are poor indeed if we are only sane.” Adam Phillips acknowledges that we get a glimpse of the behavior our sanity suppresses if we examine the actions of children: that is, what adults feel is mad is normal for the child. Or in our attitudes towards sex: “If it is sane to abide by the rules . . . then sex becomes a form of madness.” In sex to be sane is to sacrifice desire for duty! Indeed, says, Phillips, “Sanity, as the project of keeping ourselves recognizably human, therefore has to limit the range of human experience.” Autistic and schizophrenic people pay no attention to what the world demands of them despite our insistence that they conform.
But it might be true that to live in the world with others requires that we appear sane. And sanity would mean to adapt the strategies of madness as psychological tools when they are deemed necessary. Polonius says of Hamlet’s talk, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” And Polonius admits that in his ‘madness’ Hamlet can say things that ‘reason and sanity’ could not so prosperously be delivered of.” Insanity has its freedom and benefits.
Dorothea Casaubon opts for insanity. She answers Mrs. Cadwallader, “I never called everything by the same name that all the people about me did.” In the words of an earlier bard, Dorothea has marched to the beat of a different drummer. However, her refusal to call anything by the same name as the people about her (who all had spoken against her engagement and marriage to Casaubon) led her to follow what she took as her desire into a passionless and unhappy marriage to Casaubon. And so Mrs. Cadwallader answers, “But I suppose you have found out your mistake, my dear, and that is the proof of sanity.” And Dorothea answers that no, indeed, that to call things by names different than the people about her might reflect her sanity, since, she says, “the greater part of the world has often had to come round from its opinion.” Hers is a noble sentiment, though I doubt its accuracy. But I think that Dorothea speaks to a deeper sanity than is meant by our common perspective on the state. Sometimes that deeper sanity appears to others as insane, but in their sanity they are mistaken.
Maybe safety is to be wished for but not always sought.
02 July 2015
And in this week’s New York Times I read that Chris Christie has joined the fray. I am not heartened by his entrance and continue to suspect some ulterior motive to the growing list of candidates, though what the ultimate strategy might be I cannot imagine. The article suggests that “Mr. Christie, whose rapid rise as a national Republican in his first term was matched only by his spectacular loss of stature at home in his second, enters the 2016 presidential race bearing little resemblance to the candidate he once expected to be.
And so with all of these incompetents declaring their interest in becoming President, I have to assume that there is an overall strategy that has been developed by some mastermind in the Republican Party that might explain this plethora of putridity (a phrase that reminds me of the best pronouncements of another illustrious Republican, Spiro Agnew, to whom we owe such insightful rhetorical expressions as “nattering nabobs of negativism” and “effete corps of intellectual snobs”). In his article Lehman suggests that the entrance of Donald Trump into the race “can make anyone in his general vicinity look good,” and so is justified Trump’s announced candidacy this past week, and so is reinforced my suspicion of some Republican strategist’s grand design.
And finally, that Chief Justice Roberts permits Justice Scalia to speak as disrespectfully of his colleagues as he does gives some insight into the presumption of the Republican candidates for the Presidency, and continues to terrify me that any one of them might succeed.
29 June 2015
Oh frabjous joy, Calloo Callay!
For a number of years on the last day of school my dear friend and colleague in the English Department would celebrate the completion of another year. I would head out on my Trek bicycle to Long Island from my domicile in New York City, and he would travel identically from the opposite direction. Both of us commuted via a somewhat busy Northern Boulevard. We would arrange to meet at bout 7:00am in a lovely shady park not far from school where we would sit at a picnic table and share a bottle of champagne and a moderate quantity of marijuana. Finishing the bottle and the joints, we would bicycle to school, arriving on time at approximately 8:00am, clean out our desks, have our sign-out forms appropriately signed by the designated administrator, and then by no later than noon, we would pick up our final checks, exit the school, climb up on our bicycles, and head back on Northern Boulevard to his home On Long Island for a somewhat debauched (but domestic and domesticated) weekend of merriment. On Sunday morning I would awaken, have a great breakfast, and then peddle my bicycle back to the City where I would arrive after about three or four hours cycling. This annual event marked the beginning of summer!
Eventually, I moved to a new school and then to a new state, and the summer inaugural ritual ceased to happen.
This past weekend, however, I was visiting my mother who lives in an assisted living facility, and after many years of absence, Larry and I were able to coordinate an afternoon visit. I took the Long Island Railroad out to his home; he picked me up at the train station, and we drove to a lovely restaurant where we sat on the terrace and enjoyed a superb meal and wonderful conversation. I was drinking my second glass of Pinot Grigiot when Larry calmly said, “You know, today is the last day of school!” Oh my goodness! Here we had been separated physically and even sometimes even emotionally by many years and countless events; we lived half a continent apart;and at the moment enjoyed completely different existences, but here we were on the last day of schools celebrating again and still our lives and our friendship.
No lesson here. Only the experience of transcendent joy.