Portrait of Eugene O’Neill by Carl Van Vechten, 5 Sept. 1933. (Credit: U.S. Library of Congress)
After the success of Mourning Becomes Electra on Broadway, Eugene O’Neill labored in silence during twelve years (1934-1946) at the writing of a cycle of eleven plays (“A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed”) which told the story of an American family from before the founding of the republic to the 1930s. One of O’Neill’s sources for his ambitious project was Matthew Josephson’s The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists 1861-1901. A reading of Josephson’s book today provides illumination on the contemporary plutocracy that controls the nation today behind the façade of the Trump presidency.
Josephson’s book chronicles the ascendancy to power of that group of capitalists which built railroads (Cornelius Vanderbilt), controlled the oil and steel industries (John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie), and revolutionized the country’s banking and financial sectors (J.P. Morgan and Jay Gould) after the Civil War. (more…)
(Credit: Christopher Bruno)
Hunt the Devil is taking a June break. We will return on Wednesday, July 5, the day after Independence Day, with a post about our better angels.
We’re not letting the month pass without continuing to work on the project of mythic intervention. The pause in posts is allowing us to collect our thoughts about “After Empire,” our next book project.
The book is an exercise in mythic anagnorisis. The spirit of Old Man Coyote inspires us to think about slipping the war trap. How, we ask, might the country’s better angels help the citizenry to envision life beyond forever war? An exodus from war culture and its incantations of empire, as we see it, moves beyond lamentations of militarism into a deliberative space of democracy by dissent.
Future posts here at Hunt the Devil will continue to explore democratic resources for escaping the mindset of war.
Times Square from the roof of One Times Square, 30 December 2014. (Credit: Anthony Quintano)
As one year expires and another begins,
we pause for a month of meditation,
to reflect (on war culture) and envision (a democratic alternative),
before returning on January 17,
three days ahead of the inauguration of a new US Commander in Chief,
to reiterate a cautionary word of perspective
on the nation’s archetype of the good war and,
from that point forward,
consider the mythic passage through empire’s end times.
RLI & OG
Looking eastward over Lake Monroe southeast of Bloomington in Monroe County, Indiana, United States. The scene is on the western edge of the Hoosier National Forest; the photograph is taken from the northeastern corner of Clear Creek Township, and the distant shoreline is located in Salt Creek Township within the Paynetown State Recreation Area. (Credit: Nyttend / Wikimedia Commons)
Hunt the Devil is on holiday through the month of July.
The good life—a concept Kenneth Burke associates with the project of getting along with people—requires “adequate physical expression.” Otherwise, we become “bad poems.”
Physicality balances mentality. Aristotle’s anti-sedentary school of peripatetic philosophy, Burke held, was on the right track in this regard. Physicality helps to cultivate the sentiments and curb the overly ambitious passions, to enrich the social texture and live a more ecological life.
Burke’s idea of the good life is to channelize militaristic passions by transcending into a constructive, creative, cooperative way of being, which is the moral equivalent of war.
Kenneth Burke, Attitudes Toward History, pp. 256-260.
Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy: “The Three Wise Men.” (Credit: Nina Aldin Thune)
You’d wake up in the morning wondering if they were still there but you did not want to meet them, afraid of the magic of their passage which still infused the lighted Christmas tree that you could see in the living room down the hall from your vantage point at the doorway of your bedroom.
Xmas toys were small tokens that fulfilled the date peremptorily, almost a duty since you went to an American school in which instruction occurred in English. (Both Cuban and US holidays were celebrated and they had told you about Santa Claus coming to your house with toys on Christmas Eve.) We had no problem accepting gifts from Santa Claus, but the important toys—bicycles, Lone Ranger costumes, Tonto action figures, Zorro’s secret hideout (a miniature, plastic mountain)—were brought by the Kings on January 6. Train sets were also delivered, which you were not old enough to fix, but which delighted you by running round and around on their own power and on a single track.
Abraham Lincoln believed that there was nothing finer than Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and that Claudius’ monologue in Hamlet (“O my offence is rank!”) was superior to Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech. We are long since from the time when American presidents could render intelligent opinions about Shakespearean plays, and yet Shakespeare—much like the King James Bible written in Shakespeare’s language—still lives and breathes with us. His heroes and villains, his dramatic structures and his words, his myths and fables, are still our own.
Edwin Booth (brother to John Wilkes) was the finest Hamlet of his generation during the last half of the 19th century. In the 1930s John Barrymore (scion of two illustrious theatrical families), was the last great American Hamlet. After Barrymore’s time, the great vitality of American performative artistry—along with Shakespeare and the taste of American presidents—moved over to films and television. (more…)
José Martí. (Credit: Cuba. Secretaría de Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes / Wikimedia Commons)
It is fitting that these Cuban posts will end one day before the birthday (January 28, 1853) of José Martí. We have had occasion in the past to speak of him. But we have not told how on that day, as if following a silent and sacred call, Cuban school children would deposit notebooks, pencils, rulers and other school supplies at the foot of the monuments in honor of the Maestro. And all of them would have learned the rhymes from the Simple Verses:
When I die
without a country, but without a master over me,
I want on my gravestone a branch of flowers
and a flag.
For most of his life he was a banished wanderer. At 17 he was sentenced to political imprisonment with hard labor in the rock quarries of San Lázaro, in Havana. (more…)
View from Harney Peak, South Dakota. (Credit: Navin75 / Wikimedia Commons)
The New Democracy will be built like a medieval cathedral—step by step, brick by brick, with all and for the good of all. Foremost in the mind of the laborers will be Samuel Butler’s credo: “There is no way of making an aged art young again; it must be born anew and grow up from infancy as a new thing, working out its own salvation from effort to effort in all fear and trembling.”
As it is built, like in olden times when ships sailed to the seas buoyed by the chants of sailors, the song of Whitman will be heard among the workers:
I speak the password primeval … I give the sign of democracy;
By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counter-
part on the same terms.
And Dickinson’s hieroglyphic mysteries will illuminate the stained glass windows. (more…)
September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: View of the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. (Credit: National Park Service)
Conquest, Control, Supremacy, Rule, Domination, Power, Hegemony
Definition: an extensive, often multinational territory under the economic, cultural, and/or military rule of a central authority.
The United States is an “empire in denial,” Nial Ferguson, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (New York: Penguin Books, 2004).
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “We don’t seek empires. We’re not imperialistic. We never have been” (April 28, 2003). (more…)