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Sunday, Bloody Sunday. In the American Sense.

with 4 comments

Every once in a while, I have one of those days that seem to go wrong as a matter of principle.

Not seriously wrong, you understand. 

Days that go seriously wrong always feel to me as if they had solid rationales behind them:  the universe hates me, and it’s doing what it’s doing to me on purpose.

Days like today are just…ack. 

Let’s take, for instance, the book I was going to read:  Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.

Absolutely none of the problems I usually have with books I wanted to read applied here.

I owned a copy.  I knew where it was.  Last night, before going to bed, I put it out on the coffee table so that I’d see it first thing in the morning.

I did this even though I knew I wasn’t going to get to it first thing in the morning, because I had a book I was finishing up, and the Wharton was likely going to have to wait until after tea and work and all that kind of thing.

And, as it happens, I did get to The Age of Innocence first thing this morning, just not in the way I’d expected.

I got to it because it was lying in the middle of the living room floor, ripped to shreds and marked to within an inch of its life by one or the other of the cats, each of whom was out of the room when I made the discovery.

What I have now, instead of a Victorian novel to read, is confetti and those gorgeous Penquin Classics covers, front and back.

Apparently, my cats are even lazier than I thought they were.  Cardboard covers are too much work to shred.

It sort of went that way from off. 

I spent my third day in a row flailing around in a scene I can’t seem to get right, and which is unfortunately too important to skip.

I first tried to flail around in it in my usual manner, and then I gave up and put on my favorite Bach CD and tried flailing around in it with music.

Normally, I can’t write fiction with music on–any kind of music–but I was doing so screamingly badly at this, I figured it couldn’t hurt.

I don’t think it did hurt.

Unfortunately, it also didn’t help.

My favorite Bach CD, by the way, is called Bach: Harpsichord Concertos and was recorded by the Academy of Ancient Music for the Harmonia Mundi label.

I have no idea if it is even any longer in the CD equivalent of print, but I think it’s one of the best CDs ever made, beautifully performed and beautifully recorded.

That didn’t go wrong.  It’s a two-disc set, and the second disc is playing right behind my head at the moment.

Given the perversity of the day, though, it’s made me think of how many of the things I grew to love seem to be dying natural deaths in the larger culture.

Classical music stations are dropping like flies.  Bookstores are closing right and left.  Publishing is in the kind of panic that causes people and institutions to commit accidental suicide.  My students think the American Civil War happened in the Middle Ages.

Okay.  Only one of my students thought that.  But I’d say that given the subject matter, one is enough.

All of this is making me sound more down than I actually feel, although the thing about my having outlived the things I love hit me more and more often lately.

When I’m in a chipper mood, I tend to think that I got very, very lucky–I may have come in at the end of that marvel of civilization that brought us Bach and Michaelangelo and John Donne and Henry James, but better late and never, and my students seem to be stuck with never.

But it’s not just the Bach and the Henry James, it’s a spirit of being human that seems to have completely collapsed.

We went to the moon.  We just got up one morning and decided to go, and we went.

I suppose there were people at the time whining about how we shouldn’t “waste” our money on space travel, we should “fix the problems” here at home, but they didn’t impinge on my consciousness much.

And I’m the daughter of a man who wouldn’t have had much patience with them.

We got up one morning and decided to go, and we went.

I think the world would be a better place if we did that again.  Right now.  Mars would be good.

Part of the reason I have always supported a liberal education–liberal in the ancient sense–is that I’ve always thought that an acquaintance with people like Bach and Aristotle and the rest of them would give people of sense of something they could aspire to be that was greater that what they saw around them–

And REALLY, if anybody starts whaling at me that I’m channeling Matthew Arnold, I’ll go upside your head.

I think that knowing about Jonas Salk refusing to patent his polio vaccine because it wasn’t about the money, but making sure that he never saw another child with polio in his office; of Hector and Achilles caring not only each for their own honor but for each other’s; of John Donne looking into the face of death and declaring victory–

That knowing those things helps you see past a world where the only wisdom seems to be “he who dies with the most toys, wins.”

I really am in some kind of mood here.

I’d better go do something semi-constructive, like mutilate a chicken.

But maybe  you see what I mean.

Written by janeh

June 8th, 2014 at 9:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Sunday, Bloody Sunday. In the American Sense.'

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  1. You’re not at the end. You’re near the end of this phase. There will be others. In 50 or 100 years, we’ll be making forward progress again, and probably won’t have lost as many books as we did last time. But yes, for a little while we’ll have the 21st Century analogues of the people who thought Virgil was a Roman sorcerer and that giants built Bath.

    Your choice of student may let you down a little, too. I’ll hit three historical miniatures conventions before the end of the year, and the young people there will most certainly know when the Civil War was fought–and what city the Black Ships came to and why. Some of them can recite Homer, Macaulay and Kipling.

    Because we also remember our Herodotus, “who sets forth these things that the great deeds of the Greeks and of the Barbarians not be forgotten.”

    Nor have they been. Nor shall they be. But a little more help from our great universities would be appreciated.


    8 Jun 14 at 10:40 am

  2. The 1960s were 50 years ago. Which means the generation that demanded “relevance” and considered the study of History and Shakespeare to be the study of “dead white men” is finally retiring. Eventually their students will retire and the following generation will revolt against the ideas of their elders.

    I think that is consistent with Robert’s 50 or 100 years.


    8 Jun 14 at 6:07 pm

  3. I’m guessing, of course. But from the Bishop’s War to the Glorious revolution–about 50 years. The Tsar’s abdication to the end of the CPUSSR–about 75 years. From the Tennis Court Oath to a stable French Republic–about 80 years. I think the interval between Marius and Sulla on one side and Augustus Caesar on the other is similar. You can get rid of an old order “between the planting and the harvest” but it takes a while to reach a new stability. Then add as much time as you think we have before the actual crisis. What I don’t know is how bad things will get in between. I’d just as soon not find out, I think.


    8 Jun 14 at 7:56 pm

  4. Take a generation as 25 years and we are talking about 2 to 4 generations. That seems reasonable.


    9 Jun 14 at 3:12 am

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