Sheer Alienation

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The Mount Rushmore Monument as seen from the viewing platform, 4 June 2003. (Credit: Dean Franklin)

Was your Fourth of July a happy celebration? Perhaps you were sheltering from Covid-19, perhaps not. Maybe you enjoyed a robust display of fireworks, maybe not. Possibly you attended the president’s political rally, probably not; but you heard about it. There was nothing to celebrate in that event, at least not for most of us.

Trump’s July 3rd rally speech in South Dakota (the state in which the Wounded Knee Massacre of several hundred Lakota people occurred in 1890) was another self-serving exercise in sheer alienation. He opened a hole in the nation’s soul through which spewed raw fear and ugly hate. (more…)

This is War

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Computer render of SARS-CoV-2 virus. (Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library)

If you follow stories about COVID-19 (and who doesn’t?), you have heard the pandemic rendered in terms of war.  China declared a grassroots people’s war on COVID-19 in mid-February, mandating the use of high-tech surveillance measures to track the movements of the public. On March 3, South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared war on the novel coronavirus. He called for a general emergency response, including emergency quarantine measures. It is a war on an unseen enemy—an epic battle that like other wars is hellacious. It sickens and kills but also infects people with fear, hatred, and prejudice. This “China” virus, as the American President insists on calling it, conjures up the mid-19th century specter of an unclean, uncivilized “yellow peril.” (more…)

Trump His Fall, Part 2

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“The Fall of Troy” by Jan Cox at Herrmann Debroux metro station in Auderghem, Belgium, 7 December 2017. (Credit: Trougnouf / Wikimedia Commons)

(This post is a continuation of “Trump His Fall, Part 1.” We list evidence to support the contention that the American Empire has fallen.)

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Trump His Fall, Part 1

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“Destruction” from “The Course of Empire” series by Thomas Cole, 1836. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

(KJV, Isaiah 14:12)

Forgive me the sacrilege of borrowing the title of Ben Jonson’s tragedy to signal the downfall of Donald Trump. Jonson’s Sejanus His Fall stands in correspondence to the Trump presidency as the Alhambra of Granada stands to Trump Tower, or as Tecumseh Sherman’s monument in New York City (at Central Park, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens) stands to Humpty Dumpty of nursery rhyme lore. Trump will soon shatter in one thousand pieces. All the King’s horses and all his own men will have pushed him ignominiously from his gaudy seat on his wall. (more…)

Indwellers and Immigrants

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Cover of “The Heroes of Battle Rock” narrated by J.M. Kirkpatrick and edited by Orvil Dodge, 1904. (Credit: Robert L. Ivie)

In the middle of September, Bill-the-mail-carrier delivered a package containing an old pamphlet and an accompanying note from my brother saying he thought I might find it “a fun fast read.”  The pamphlet likely belonged to our deceased mother.  She could have picked it up on a visit to the Oregon coast with her historically-minded brother and sister-in-law.  The whole family, including my brother and me, is Oregon born.

There is something atavistic about this pamphlet.  It manifests a recurring ancestral outlook, the cultural DNA of white settlers, the origin myth gone ironically nativistic in today’s battle of white indwellers against immigrants of color.

“The Heroes of Battle Rock” is what Kenneth Burke calls a representative anecdote “in a bad sense.”[1]  Its implications for human relations are anything but positive.  It is reductive in its “motivational calculus” and thus simplistic, polarizing, and combative in the attitude it conveys toward non-whites, which would not be a matter of so much concern if it were atypical and strictly historical. (more…)

Hello, Satan, Part 4 – Epilogue

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“The Raising of Lazarus” by Caravaggio, oil on canvas, circa 1609. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

They want you to get up and walk right away after the surgery. In the recuperation floor, the nurses’ station stood at the center of the ward, surrounded by patients’ rooms. The exercise routine (at least three times a day) consisted of walking for a spell around the nurses’ station. At first, you went out with a walker—“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, … how art thou cut down to the ground…!” (Isaiah 14:12)—trailing IVs and monitors on wheels, with at least one nurse and perhaps an attending visitor. One circle around the ward was all you could manage at first without collapsing in exhaustion. Gradually the distance increased at the urging of the medical personnel.

These outings eventually became my favorite part of the day. As time went by the IVs and monitors disappeared, and you noticed the rooms of other patients, for whom you instinctively developed a sense of camaraderie, even though we were all too ill for socialization.  (more…)

The Black-Cat Analogy

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“The Black Cat” by Aubrey Beardsley, 1894-1895. Illustrations of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A distinction between figurative and literal analogies is sometimes made by teachers of rhetoric, but we are better served to think of analogy as an intersection of the figurative and literal from which a healing insight might emerge.  The telling of a fanciful story can help to refigure a perilous reality to which we have become inured.  Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” is just such a story when it is read as a figurative analogy to a troubled actuality. (more…)

A Tale of Conscience

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Byam Shaw’s illustration for Poe’s William Wilson in “Selected Tales of Mystery” (London : Sidgwick & Jackson, 1909) on the frontispiece with caption “A masquerade in the palazzo of the Neapolitan Duke Di Broglio.” (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Edgar Allan Poe’s haunting story of “William Wilson” (published in 1839 in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine) is a semi-autobiographical tale of conscience worth invoking in the midst of our present political struggles. It is a ghostly story of conquering one’s alter ego, of the demoralizing consequence of slaying the second, better self. It is told as a cautionary tale, the redemptive purport of which comes from reflecting on the consequences of one’s own avarice rather than projecting blame outward.

The bane of unacknowledged greed, lust, and ambition, which is at the heart of Poe’s tale, can be extended beyond the individual to implicate a nation. Indeed, William Wilson’s struggle with his doppelgänger might serve well as a parable for collective contemplation. Understanding his moral demise should prompt us to reclaim the spirit of the nation. (more…)

Hello, Satan, Part 3

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Scan “Extract Historia de las Indias” by Diego Duran, circa 1500s. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

1

Imagine that you wake up, under water.

You rise slowly from the depths of the ocean and break through the plane of the surface of the sea and take your first breath. You find yourself breathing through a plastic tube that goes down your throat and seems to reach to the toes of your feet. Lying face down on the slab of the operating room (later the nurses will object to you calling it “the slab”), your first thought is that you’re going to get waterboarded. (more…)

The Low-Bar Trope

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Democratic Primary Debate Participants, 27 June 2019: Michael Bennet, Joseph Biden, Peter Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John Hickenlooper, Bernard Sanders, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang. (Credit: DonkeyHotey / Wikimedia Commons)

You have heard it said before. I’ve said it myself. As a colleague recently grumbled: “The bar is low. All I want is a return to the rule of law.”

Indeed, the bar is set low for the 2020 presidential election if it means Democrats should nominate the person most likely to defeat Trump, that candidates competing for the nomination should do no harm to one another in the primaries, and that they and their supporters should rally behind the Party’s eventual nominee on the assumption that winning the election will return the nation to the status quo ante.

Is a reset enough? Is restoring the state of affairs as it existed before Trump’s presidency the right goal and the likeliest way to win the election? (more…)