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robertogreco : edwardmendelson   2

Transcendental Rites - The Baffler
"JS: […] Many younger persons today who haven’t traveled far enough into the professional middle class to be saddled with its go-along/get-along mode of resignation are aroused with half-articulate and semi-organized fervor over the crimes of their government. They’re struggling to connect the up-close realities of police misconduct with the world-historical bullshit peddled by the secret intelligence agencies. What can the next generation learn about the moral imagination from the writers discussed in your book?

EM: I hope you’re right about younger persons, and, if so, they seem to me to be facing structural problems in world society that are almost as intractable as the ones that people faced in the Cold War. It’s not exactly easy to deal with a world where governments and corporations seem to share the idea that if something is technically possible (information gathering via spying or torture, for example), then they ought to go ahead and do it. Governments used to think that way about bombs, and now they think that way about “enhanced interrogation techniques” and data-gathering. Maybe the only thing I would feel comfortable saying about the relation between moral imagination and political reality is something like this: When you think mostly in terms of partisan politics—our side versus their side—then you inevitably start worrying about whether an action or attitude helps your side or the other side, and you lose sight of what your real goal is, which (I hope anyway) has something to do with a social world that might be fit for free and responsible persons to live in. But if you think about politics as a way of putting your moral intelligence into effect, then you make it harder for other people to obfuscate the issue in order to serve their own immoral purposes.

It seems to me that in recent years the people who have done the most to make some worthwhile change possible have been the truth-tellers, those who said things that did themselves no good—they’re going to be on the run from the authorities more or less forever—but that they couldn’t stop themselves from saying because of a moral, rather than a partisan, motive. There’s a pretty clear contrast between such truth-tellers and the Nobel Prize–winning president who campaigned on a platform of moral action and then decided it was safest to forget about it. Parables about this kind of thing run through the book, and some of them complicate the whole issue. Norman Mailer, for example, was always committed, in what seems to me a thoroughly admirable way, to the democratic left, very much like Dwight Macdonald, but Mailer got himself tangled up in the idea that his own personal mythology and vision mattered more than what happened to other people. Macdonald never made that mistake, but Macdonald paid a price for seeing things as clearly as he did: he spent many years in something like passivity and despair, which didn’t do him any good, and certainly didn’t do any good for the kind of society he wanted.

Auden once said something to a friend that I think may get to the heart of both the difficulty and hopefulness of all this. He said (I’m paraphrasing from memory), “Americans get very angry when you tell them there are no answers, but in a crisis, they look forward, unlike Europeans, who look backward.”"

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johnsummers  edwardmendelson  2015  academia  citizenship  history  humanities  alfredkazin  normanmailer  lioneltrilling  dwightmacdonald  optimism  pessimism  us  europe  future  past  society  truth  morality  patisanships  barackobama  mythology  personalmythology  truthtelling 
may 2015 by robertogreco
The Secret Auden by Edward Mendelson | The New York Review of Books
"W.H. Auden had a secret life that his closest friends knew little or nothing about. Everything about it was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it."

At literary gatherings he made a practice of slipping away from “the gaunt and great, the famed for conversation” (as he called them in a poem) to find the least important person in the room. A letter-writer in the Times of London last year recalled one such incident:
Sixty years ago my English teacher brought me to London from my provincial grammar school for a literary conference. Understandably, she abandoned me for her friends when we arrived, and I was left to flounder. I was gauche and inept and had no idea what to do with myself. Auden must have sensed this because he approached me and said, “Everyone here is just as nervous as you are, but they are bluffing, and you must learn to bluff too.”

Late in life Auden wrote self- revealing poems and essays that portrayed him as insular and nostalgic, still living imaginatively in the Edwardian world of his childhood. His “Doggerel by a Senior Citizen” began, “Our earth in 1969/Is not the planet I call mine,” and continued with disgruntled complaints against the modern age: “I cannot settle which is worse,/The Anti-Novel or Free Verse.” A year after he wrote this, I chanced on a first book by a young poet, N.J. Loftis, Exiles and Voyages. Some of the book was in free verse; much of it alluded to Harlem and Africa; the author’s ethnic loyalties were signaled by the name of the publisher, the Black Market Press. The book was dedicated “To my first friend, W.H. Auden.”

"When he felt obliged to stand on principle on some literary or moral issue, he did so without calling attention to himself, and he was impatient with writers like Robert Lowell whose political protests seemed to him more egocentric than effective. When he won the National Medal for Literature in 1967, he was unwilling either to accept it in Lyndon Johnson’s White House during the Vietnam War or “to make a Cal Lowell gesture by a public refusal,” so he arranged for the ceremony to be held at the Smithsonian, where he gave an acceptance speech about the corruption of language by politics and propaganda."
charity  humility  modesty  whauden  2014  edwardmendelson  audiencesofone  theleastofourbrothers  attention  listening 
february 2014 by robertogreco

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