Essays

In the last days of the Republic

I first knowingly encountered the Administrative State in 1972 when I went to City Hall in Boston to get a peddler’s license so that I might sell books and magazines on the street. I was under the delusion (illusion is too kind) that the First Amendment to the Constitution afforded me the right to sell almost any printed matter except pornography, and this being 1972, even that indecency would be overlooked. But the first week out on the street with my yellow pushcart (wittily named De Cart) got me a warning from the constabulary (i.e., the cops) who were charged with enforcement of the laws of the Administrative State, and I was told to get a proper license or I’d get a fifty-dollar fine. read more…

Neither frangible nor fungible

That some would have you believe your liberties are fragile and must be protected by government, or that you must trade your liberty in one thing to have it in another, is in the very nature of tyrants, despots, and town clerks. Your freedom is your domain, alone. There is no other ruler than yourself. If you choose to trade off some portion of your liberties to another purpose, for instance working in an office for pay, understand that it still exists, however hidden, and is only misplaced. You can no more rid yourself of the responsibility for your freedom than you can willfully stop your breath. Thus, when others assume your rights and act in your name, you must protest, if you can. And if for convenience you remain silent, you betray yourself. You may obey the town clerk to achieve some other purpose, but the freedom you have sacrificed is not extinct—it is simply held in jail by another who holds a gun and that you must obey for the moment in order to survive. read more…

A guest at the feast of memory

What we all must learn, I suppose, or else loose ourselves completely, is that very little in the world is really about us. My experience fifty years ago at Mark Hopkins College in Brattleboro Vermont was peripheral to that time and place—not secondary or marginal or incidental—but a tangent. It changed my life and the lives of others who went there, but each in our own way.

A week ago, as I drove home in the September twilight from the first and only class reunion, I was alone at a feast of memories. It was a rich two hour meal. But very little of that could have been shared, even if the other two fellows who had gathered with me that day had been in the car as well. Yes, only the three of us. read more…

That’s great! Against banality in it’s prime

I should be ashamed of myself, but I will probably use the word carelessly again this very day. But still, I am ashamed of myself for it. There is not an easier word to use for both what is in fact the best and what is simply terrific, or momentarily special, or even unexpectedly good. And this unfortunate lexi-con comes to mind again whenever I have been called to account for the best in literature.

What is ‘Great Literature,’ which is to say, ‘What makes literature great?’ Such written stuff is often alluded to, without excuse, or explanation. Austen, Homer, Bronte, Hemingway, Eliot, Frost, Cather, Joyce, Melville, Byron, Shelly, et al. But the question ought to be asked, if for no other reason than to define the premises and allow you to recognize other works for what they are. That is unless you like being told what to read—in which case there is no point going further here. read more…

At the postmodern multi-perplex

More screens but still nothing worth knowing

(from the novel in progress A Republic of Books, more of which can be found elsewhere on this ethereal site)

 

What is to be done? It is the question that comes shortly after you have asked, ‘what part do I play?”

And well that you should ask.

What are the chthonic joys of living underground, beneath the heel of the walking dead? The term ‘underground’ is metaphor today, much used and abused, mostly by those who would like to see themselves as some sort of ‘resistance,’ but don’t know what to resist without being told and haven’t the guts for their convictions, without being paid, much less the intelligence to understand the consequences of their resentments. Just about the same as it was in the 1960’s. Many of the slogans are even the same, but with history no longer taught, the latest generation of youth wouldn’t know. read more…

Notes in ink on the age of television

The book of my lifetime had only a vague but passing resemblance to those made by the Dutch emigrant to England, Wynken de Worde—like a cousin whose mother might have had extracurricular interests. The paper, the ink, the typography, the binding, and the covers of the year 1500 were all unlike anything I knew. Nevertheless, those handmade and crafted volumes were true relatives to the pale and near bloodless objects I read—devoured, really—bought and sold, wrote and published myself. And, this now ancient trade of bookmaking might have been my legacy, at least in some alternate universe that I might even write about someday, but in this corporeal and existential world we occupy, my grandchildren will not know the book.

The importance of this is incalculable. Even to the smallest detail. They will not know the pause of the page, the texture even, of manufactured paper, the smell of ink and glue in the gutters, or the feel and weight of a volume in hand. They will not understand the importance of typography in giving comfort to the eye, pleasing the mind, and aiding comprehension, perception and interpretation. That much, and more, to be had before the first word is read! read more…