10.14.2008

Preliminary Remarks

I'm back (again). Some of you will appreciate that I almost named this blog Premature Ejaculations, but decided against it in favor of something more... measured. More literary. I take my title from a scene in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun, though Hawthorne never wrote the phrase "both wearing black masks." Anyway, I like the mysterious sound of it, and the image it conjures up: two people, facing each other, both wearing black masks.

This time, the impulse to re-enter Blogadelphia is the result of a recent intensification of an old feeling... a feeling that is difficult to describe. Once, I tried in a poem:

Ode to Isthmus

Holy, rarest land formation—
When I learned your name in grade school,
Was I aware then that I would become like you?
Would I have wanted to know your name?
Land mass connecting two larger land masses,
You and I are the stretched, the go-betweens.
If you could read, Isthmus,
You would prefer the apocryphal Jesus,
Understanding his cryptic “Be passersby.”

Between North and South, Avalon and Newfoundland,
Gibraltar and Spain, there is Isthmus, unremarkable.
I learned your name, Isthmus, your strange and holy name
With a red-headed boy named Steve.
Isthmus tell me: has Steve has been haunted
By certain geographical features:
Plateau, peninsula, or steppe?

Man learns the shape of his soul twice.

Neither North nor South,
Isthmus is without direction or place.
Isthmus is an isolato, comforted only
By the knowledge that there are other isthmuses.
Isthmus happens at dawn and dusk and during wars,
As when Alexander constructed an isthmus at Tyre.

Once I watched a miniature isthmus fall apart,
Rode the pressurized flood of water from a small inland lake
Into Lake Michigan, saved a younger cousin
From drowning. What were we then, Isthmus?—
What is that horribly mechanized canal in Panama?
What are the boats that cheat the oceans,
And what is the locked water in between?
What does it mean to be a natural target
For canal builders, for us, Isthmus?
But of course, that's embarrassing because I'm not (by "calling") a poet. Here's a different kind of example: Yesterday I attended a lecture on the current economic crisis. I went there ready to defend the free market against people who were uninformedly blaming the current crisis on a laissez-faire philosophy. But after listening for ten minutes, then twenty, then forty, without hearing a single reference to the issue of "race" in America, I realized that I would instead be defending market intervention for the evening.

The expert economists in the room were claiming that Bill Clinton's 1992 Affordable Housing initiative -- a bill that sought to extend the privilege of home-ownership to "risky borrowers" (read: black people) -- seemed to me to have been born of good intention. I remember the early 1990s. I remember Rodney King and the riots in L.A. and all of that, so it seems to me that America reached a(nother) crisis point in about 1992: should we ask the really difficult question, which is "Why are all the so-called 'risky borrowers' racial minorities?" Or should take an alternative path, hardly less difficult, to obscure and essentially try to "fix" that problem by manipulating credit?

Talk about a difficult moment in history: Publically address the question of racism in America OR pass horrible economic legislation? To be honest, I'm not sure we made the right decision, and I'm not sure we made the wrong decision. Seriously: what's worse? -- burning stuff in L.A.?... or exploding pension funds and dire times on wall street and plummeting real estate value? Deciding is beyong my pay grade.

So I'm stuck -- isthmus-like -- between people seeing what I think is half the picture on the libertarian side (understanding bad economics but not acknowledging racism) and people seeing what I think is half the picture on the social-engineering side (understanding racial injustice but not understanding economics).

And remember, this is all only an allegory, a way of trying to explain a feeling I have that makes me want to blog: I won't be addressing my motivation after this first post.

Note: I just noticed that if you just read the first word in each line of that poem above you get an almost better poem. It would look like this:

Holy
When
Was
Would
Land
You
If
You
Understanding

Between
Gibraltar
I
With
Isthmus
By
Plateau

Man

Neither
Isthmus
Isthmus
By
Isthmus
As

Once
Rode
Into
From
What
What
And
What
For

2 comments:

Wishydig said...

No this is better:

formation—
school,
you?
name?
masses,
go-betweens.
Isthmus,
Jesus,
passersby.”

Newfoundland,
unremarkable.
name
Steve.
haunted
features:
steppe?

twice.

South,
place.
only
isthmuses.
wars,
Tyre.

apart,
lake
cousin
Isthmus?—
Panama?
oceans,
between?
target
Isthmus?

Casey said...

That IS better. How about just:

?
?
?
?
?
?
?
.

?
?
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?
?
?