Melville’s Metaphysics of Love

It is probably true that Herman Melville is an acquired taste even now, and certainly his contemporaries never acquired that taste. I think Moby Dick and the later novels (not to mention the poetry)  largely met with indifference (and why many newspaper critics betrayed annoyance never adequately explained by their reviews) for the same reason that Dr. Johnson had no truck with the so-called metaphysical poets: he employed elaborate metaphors and imagery that seemed to clash with the sentiments he was expressing (according to a a strict a priori aesthetic). It was the disproportion of the images that gave rise to their name. But Melville, even more so than the seventeenth century English writers, deserved the title of “metaphysical poet,” because he, unlike they, actually employed the imagery and metaphors to delve into a carefully constructed, and fundamentally terrifying, metaphysics of the universe. If you need convincing on that point, I suggest you re-read the following chapters from Moby Duck: “The Whiteness of the Whale” (Ch. 42, the precise point that American letters entered into World Literature), “The Sphinx” (Ch. 70), “The Jeraboam’s Story” (Ch 71), “The Fountain” (Ch. 85). I’ll stop at those examples, because if you read them, chances are you will take up the entire novel again.

If the reading public at the time was hesitant to follow Melville down the whale’s throat to the navel of the universe, they decidedly bolted from his next novel Pierre; or, The Ambiguities (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1852). I will not try to rehabilitate that novel here, except to note that Melville’s metaphysical imagery can be quite breathtaking. I set forth a passage below which is an encomium to love. The first two chapters of the book have been spent extolling the beauty and virtues of the two young lovers: Pierre Glendinning and Lucy Tartan, two well-to-do teenagers at the beginning of the summer in the Berkshires on the plains before Mount Greylock. On the morning of this passage, the two lovers take a carriage to picnic on the hillside in the forest. During this ride wafts in a lyrical passage that overwhelms all that is “actually” happening. This passage is entirely life-affirming, and thoroughly Melvillean, but needless to say, it would not be Melville if it was not soon followed up by equally majestic images at least hinting of the opposite. We will keep to the positive here. This is from section iv of the Second Book (pages 41-42  of the first edition):

 That morning was the choicest drop that Time had in his vase. Ineffable distillations of a soft delight were wafted from the fields and hills. Fatal morning that, to all lovers unbetrothed; “Come to your confessional,” it cried. “Behold our airy loves,” the birds chirped from the trees; far out at sea, no more the sailors tied their bowline-knots; their hands had lost their cunning; will they, nill they, Love tied love-knots on every spangled spar.

Oh, praised be the beauty of this earth, the beauty, and the bloom, and the mirthfulness thereof! The first worlds made were winter worlds; the second made, were vernal worlds; the third, and last, and perfectest, was this summer world of ours. In the cold and nether spheres, preachers preach of earth, as we of Paradise above. Oh, there, my friends, they say, they have a season, in their language known as summer. Then their fields spin themselves green carpets; snow and ice are not in all the land; then a million strange, bright, fragrant things powder that sward with perfumes; and high, majestic beings, dumb and grand, stand up with outstretched arms, and hold their green canopies over merry angels—men and women—who love and wed, and sleep and dream, beneath the approving glances of their visible god and goddess, glad-hearted sun, and pensive moon!

Oh, praised be the beauty of this earth; the beauty, and the bloom, and the mirthfulness thereof. We lived before, and shall live again; and as we hope for a fairer world than this to come; so we came from one less fine. From each successive world, the demon Principle is more and more dislodged; he is the accursed clog from chaos, and thither, by every new translation, we drive him further and further back again. Hosannahs to this world! so beautiful itself, and the vestibule to more. Out of some past Egypt, we have come to this new Canaan; and from this new Canaan, we press on to some Circassia. Though still the villains, Want and Woe, followed us out of Egypt, and now beg in Canaan’s streets: yet Circassia’s gates shall not admit them; they, with their sire, the demon Principle, must back to chaos, whence they came.

Love was first begot by Mirth and Peace, in Eden, when the world was young. The man oppressed with cares, he can not love; the man of gloom finds not the god. So, as youth, for the most part, has no cares, and knows no gloom, therefore, ever since time did begin, youth belongs to love. Love may end in grief and age, and pain and need, and all other modes of human mournfulness; but love begins in joy. Love’s first sigh is never breathed, till after love hath laughed. Love laughs first, and then sighs after. Love has not hands, but cymbals; Love’s mouth is chambered like a bugle, and the instinctive breathings of his life breathe jubilee notes of joy!

That morning, two bay horses drew two Laughs along the road that led to the hills from Saddle Meadows.

Rendell: If you’re ugly, you’re with her

The recent Quinnipiac poll which has Donald Trump essentially tied with Hillary Clinton in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania has Clinton supporters visibly concerned. Florida and Ohio are one thing, but without Pennsylvania the electoral math for for the Democratic Party’s triangulationist candidate becomes very tricky. This was not at all good news, particularly at a time when Clinton has been unable to put rival Bernie Sanders away so that she can “pivot” to the general election, i.e., repudiate all the liberal/left of center economic and foreign affairs positions so that she can run as a hawkish, patron of Goldman Sachs, a persona she is more comfortable with, being closer to whatever is the “real” Hillary Clinton.

I'm with herThe tension created by maintaining the progressive front seems to be causing Team Hillary to make more unforced errors than is usual with the faux pas-prone candidate. For example, forced to campaign against Sanders in West Virginia, a state she otherwise would no more care to be caught dead in than in Arkansas, Clinton was forced to re-live a moment from March where she said she intended to “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” Her “pivot” on that statement was something less than a pirouette, especially considering that her silver-tongued opponent in the general election will be someone that the New Yorker called an “economic populist.”

I'm with stupidOf course Clinton does not intend to fight for West Virginia in the general election, but Pennsylvania is a different story. And on top of a gaffe-prone candidate there is the problem of NAFTA. Blue color workers in Pennsylvania (what’s left) have not forgotten that the candidate for First Gentleman was the President who signed NAFTA. And while Bill Clinton himself exuded, among other things, charisma, the same cannot be said for his wife. In fact, her inability to relate to people outside her narrow circle is so deeply characteristic that she doesn’t even see it. So she tries to work hard at “relating,” only to highlight how out of touch she is. Take her “I’m with her” logo. Evidently the server in her basement has not been in use for some time, since Team Hillary seems to have failed to notice a disturbingly similar, pre-existing internet meme, which probably is not what she was trying to capture with her own. I just hope someone doesn’t not sign her up for a GenuineHillary twitter account. If this thing comes down to social media, they’ll be talking about how the top of the ticket dragged down down-ticket candidates all over the country. And this time the conversation won’t be about Trump.

But fortunately Team Hillary can count on a steady hand in Pennsylvania. After all, former Governor Ed Rendell has long been a Hillary Clinton supporter. Back to her unsuccessful campaign against a candidate that had not completed his first term in a national office. Rendell was interviewed for David Weigel’s Washington Post article today, which paints an even more worrying picture about Trump inroads into the supposed Clinton “firewall” in Pennsylvania, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Steady hand that Rendell is, he was called on to right the rudder:

“Will he [Trump] have some appeal to working-class Dems in Levittown or Bristol? Sure,” said Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor and Philadelphia mayor, who won landslides in the suburbs. “For every one he’ll lose 1½ , two Republican women. Trump’s comments like ‘You can’t be a 10 if you’re flat-chested,’ that’ll come back to haunt him. There are probably more ugly women in America than attractive women. People take that stuff personally.”

Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 primaries by relying on old, out-of-touch cronies. But this time, how can anything go wrong?

Here’s looking at you, Megyn

I’m sure, like me, your heart swelled with pride and affection as those two great Americans and power couple Megyn Kelly of Fox News and Donald Trump of Donald Trump last night made great television as well as history.

I was a bit disappointed, however, that some of the most inspiring lines were edited from the broadcast. Perhaps someone could explain why the following bits were not included:

TRUMP: Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win.

KELLY: Well, I was right. You are a sentimentalist.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI to TRUMP (offstage): I know a little about women, my friend. She went but she knew you were lying.

TRUMP: Anyway, thanks for helping me out.

LEWANDOWSKI: I suppose you know this isn’t going to be pleasant for either of us. Especially for you.

KELLY: Well, Donald, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot.

TRUMP: It seemed like a good time to start.

KELLY: I think perhaps you’re right.

TRUMP: Our expenses? Megan, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

KELLY: Donald, we will always have Cleveland.

A Concise Historical Guide to the Central Interests of the American Right since 1930

Right Wing Agenda.png

Hearts, darkness and another two river voyages

Embrace of the Serpent (2015)
(El abrazo de la serpiente)
directed by Ciro Guerra

Jan Bijvoet (as Theo_ with unidentified native actors.

Jan Bijvoet (as Theo) with unidentified native actors.

It seems apparent to me how Ciro Guerra’s latest film, Embrace of the Serpent (2015), not only ended up in the mix for a variety of prizes at the numerous film festivals that now exit (including nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars), but also actually won several. The movie combines a number of ingredients that nominating committees must have on their secret check lists: A young film-maker from outside the “developed” world (Guerra is from Colombia) makes an earnest film about the effects of European and American imperialism on native peoples. He employs a cinematographic trick (it is filmed in black and white) to portray the beauties of the unspoiled (by advanced capitalist enterprises), “natural” world. It purports to sympathetically deal with indigenous peoples (including those that were exterminated) by using untrained, native actors and even native languages. (An inscription at the end says something to the effect that it is dedicated to the songs of peoples we will never get to hear). And it attempts to show the superiority of ancient beliefs of people in close harmony with nature over the degraded, grasping and soulless life of “modern” man who is motivated by an economic system that destroys everything living in both nature and man himself.

If Guerra had only competently executed any one of his major goals this film would have been a good (if not especially original) movie. But instead, he seems content only to check off the boxes on the prize nominators’ clipboard without any originality, deep empathy or even considered thought. What we end up getting is two hours of nature photography (mostly riverscapes) intruded upon by a story that is neither edifying nor believable even given that it is purportedly based on true life events. The “truth” of true life is often in the details, but this film is all surface.

The movie tells the story of two scientists, one German and one American, who, decades apart, engage a shaman (named Karamakate), to travel upstream in the Amazon basis far away from the mouth, in search of a plant with the name of yakruna. (A quick google search suggests that this plant inhabits only Guerra’s cinematographic world). The first scientists, Theo (based on Theodor Koch-Grunberg and played by Jan Bijvoet), needs the plant because it is the only thing that can bring him back from the brink of death. To find it his sidekick Manduca (Yauenkü Migue) drags him to meet the young Karamakate (played by Nilbio Torres), the one man left who knows where to find it, since the rest of his tribe was exterminated by the white man. Karamakate, for this very good reason, hates whites and hates Manduca for collaborating with them (and his whole tribe for not fighting them). (Manduca will much later explain that Theo is not like other whites; as evidence: he paid off the debt on Manduca’s farm.) Nevertheless, despite this emnity and without further inducement, after sulking a bit, Karamakate agrees to take Theo to the yakruna, revives him by blowing up his nose white powder (called the sun’s semen, and whose effects, we are told, are only temporary, although like the ideal American pharmaceuticals, periodic dosages seem to restore him to perfect health), and then makes him agree to abide by a variety of dietary and sexual prohibitions as a condition to saving his life. And so the spiritual quest begins.

Young (though preternaturally wise) Karamakate (Nilbio Torres) at the beginning of the first quest.

Young (though preternaturally wise) Karamakate ( Nilbio Torres) at the beginning of the first quest.

The second scientist, Evan (based on American Richard Evans Schultes and played by Brionne Davis) returns 30 years or so later to find a noticeably older Karamakate (played byAntonio Bolivar), and persuades the shaman that inasmuch as his life is devoted to the study of plants he has a genuinely disinterested reason for wanting to find the yakruma. Evan shows Karamakate that he knew Theo, and Karmakate asks about his fate. He is told that Theo never made it out of the jungle. Although Karamakate this time is reluctant because in his old age he has forgotten all the tradition of his people and even the details of his former quest, he is once again persuaded to embark, this time because Evan is able to show him how to prepare a dish that he has forgotten. The film alternates between the two voyages. In the course of these two river trips we see the physical traces of imperialism (although the inconspicuous pails to catch the drippings of rubber trees and the one Catholic orphanage we see are hardly comparable to the blighted Colombian Amazon now caused by vast logging enterprises mostly by Asian companies), the cultural devastation and the degraded dependency that now enslaves the native people. Contrasted with that is the store of indigenous knowledge maintained by Karamakate, the last of his own people, living alone in the forest, watching silently as canoes go by. Karamakate escaped the devastation of his own people while a child, so where he became the store of this information is not explained and indeed he does not even answer the question put to him of how he survived by himself. Nevertheless, the young Karamakate is an encyclopedia of ethnopharmacology which produces miraculous results. The results probably seemed more miraculous to Theo, who, after all, had come from a time when the Western World had not fully digested the concept of the germ theory of diseases. But even three decades later Evan sees him effect a cure that mid-century Western hospitals were unable to handle. (Kamramakate’s memory of the knowledge of is people is restored solely by undertaking this trip with the white man.) Karamakate is less successful in explaining the traditional cosmology and world view of his people, only occasionally giving name or identification to various mystical concepts such as chullachaqui, a person’s soulless doppelgänger, the anaconda coming from the Milky Way, which appears to be some aspect of the creation story, and dreams of the eye of a jaguar, which goes wholly unexplained. Guerra makes no attempt to show the “truth,” beauty or importance of this world-view, even though he expresssly tells us at the end that we should mourn their passing. The other native peoples we see are either infantilized or depicted as degraded by the white man’s religious or military imperialism.

Guerra cannot help himself from burdening Karamakate’s character, already a tough sale with his existential courage and repository of the wisdom of the ages, with some knowing winks. In his first encounter with Evan, Karamakate protests that the northerners have already taken the coca plant from the natives, now they waqnt yakruma too! Such an obvious irony seems unnecessary from a Colombian. The second instance is more troubling because it renders Karamakate’s character so trite. After the shaman persuades Evan to shed himself from the possessions that bind him, Karamakate tells him that instead of eing the store of knowledge for his people, it seems he was destined to be the receptacle of information for Evan. With one unnecessary line Guerra turns Karamakate into a stereotypical native in a Hollywood movie whose role in life is to fulfill the white man’s dreams.

One really tries to resist the urge to conclude that Guerra’s handling of the indigenous people is patronizing. After all, one can persuade oneself, the effects of Western imperialism is to reduce these people to a shell of their former glory, and Guerra is simply showing them in their debased condition. But during the two hours it becomes too much to continue the pretense. That Guerra is Colombian gives him no especial sympathy with the indigenous people of the Amazon. In fact, ethnically and culturally, he is in the same positon as an American film director telling the stories of North American natives or a British director doing the same for Africans encountering European imperialism. Instead of showing us why these cultures should be preserved, or even anything about them, we are served with the usual substitute: the noble savage, exhibited soley in the character of Karamakate. And to prove that nobility Guerra resorts to the usual clichés: self-denying efforts to help the “good” white man, stoicism in the face of danger, knowledge of herbal medicines more potent that all of Western biological science (and apparently within easy reach whenever Karamakate needs them), and, of course, wisdom of the ages.

The unsullied goodness and wisdom of Karamakate, who is the ultimate Rousseau example of man before the impure effects of government, is pushed beyond belief on at least two occasions. In one, Karamakate sees the effect of Christianity on the indigenous people, at first during the earlier voyage when he witnesses a sadistic Catholic brother instilling the love of Christ by banning all native influences (including language) and then viciously whipping an unrepentant as others watch. Although Karamakate is unable to rescue the boys (the yakruna questers don’t have enough food for them all), he is able to show them some of the old knowledge, including the sun’s semen. When he returns 30 years later with Evan, he finds the place run by a madman, who acts like Caligula and proclaims himself the Messiah, and his native adherents degraded beyond saving. He tells Evans, in a bit of dialogue that may have seemed less trite in his native language, that the disciples had combined “the worst of both worlds” (although I am quite sure that the film-maker did not mean to suggest that there was anything “bad” about the untouched aboriginal peoples). He solves the problem tout suite in a way that only a shaman could get away with in a movie by a Western film-maker. The second is a scene where Karamakate persuades Evan to ditch nearly all of his baggage (notes, scientific equipment, books, etc.) to free himself for his spiritual journey. But Even keeps one box. It turns out to be hand cranked phonograph. They stare into the night sky listening to German romantic music, and Karamakate tells Evan that this represents the dream of his ancestors, something that he must pursue. (I could not help wondering, given the solemnity of the scene, whether Karamakate would have felt the same way if Evan had brought a disk of Fletcher Henderson.)

Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) and Evan (Brionne Davis) reach the destination of their spirit quest.

Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) and Evan (Brionne Davis) reach the destination of their spirit quest.

The sermon on imperialism is, if anything, even less trenchant. There is, of course, no debate in fact that European and American imperialism has had baleful effects throughout the world. It has corrupted cultural and economic systems, it has stirred up tribal, religious, economic hostilities that did not exist before. It has stripped the lands, rivers and seas and inflicted death on countless peoples. And it may ultimately prove all of our undoing because like one riding the back of a tiger, we who have unleashed unrestrained industrial capitalism are unable to get off without serious injury or death.  Its operation and effects are pervasive but also subtle. Movies are crude tools for exploring those subjects, even if Guerra had an informed view of how it worked in this particular case and why it was bad. But he does not appear to have a clear idea of why either is so, or at least he is not interested in sharing those view with us. In his defense it might be argued that Guerra was not attempting to show how imperialism worked but only its effects. But simply showing groups of degraded and hopeless natives does not show the effects of capitalism/imperialism, any more than showing fish washed up on a beach shows the “effects” of pollution. A film, for example, that shows us nothing but homeless people living on the street or under a bridge tells us nothing useful about how they got there, no matter how pious the narration; in fact, it risks reinforcing the view that “those people” live that way owing to their own lack of moral, intellectual or other character traits. With only the shaman as the “before” to the degraded peoples’ “after,” such a conclusion is almost the logical conclusion of the film.

All of this might be passed over, or attributed to the petulant criticisms of an exceptionally critical viewer. Except that there is one final indignity. Without revealing what turns out to be a plot twist at the end (although not especially shocking, and in some respects simply another added cliché), let me just say that the movie turns out to be, in part, another spirit quest resolved by hallucinogens. Although we know that the shaman throughout is prescribing dream therapy for his white charges, we probably were entitled to expect more than simply a shaman-recommended chemical trip. Even the imperialistic countries which prescribe chemicals for every physical imbalance their citizens complain of also have talk-therapy and such things as philosophy and cosmology for other needs. In the end, one feels that the film was an unhappy amalgam of FitzcarraldoApocalypse NowLittle Big Man and like films plus Hunter Thompson, not completely considered or happily mixed.

Although ultimately disappointing, the film has attractions. The black and white cinematography of David Gallego is first rate. It is most successful for capturing the “feel” of early 20th century ethnographic expeditions. (Of course they saw in color just as we do, but our photographic representations of them are in monochrome, so that’s how we will always experience them “authentically.”) Some images, such as the canoe on the roiling Amazon are very intriguing. But when it comes to the many vistas showing the vast expanse of the Amazon forests, the scenes are diminished because they lack the suffocating omnipresence of green in all its tints and shades. There are also obligatory shots of a couple of snakes and one jaguar, which have no plot functions and their symbolic role is far from clear. The sound and editing are also competently handled. The acting, especially given that many of the roles are performed by local amateurs, is quite good, even considering the parts of the two scientists are stilted. Nilbio Torres nobly performs the ignobly conceived role of the noble savage, made especially difficult here because the motivations of his sudden contradictory decisions are never explained. (Surely Guerra does not believe that savages only act impulsively, does he?) One serious problem, however, and one that is often encountered in foreign language films, is especially problematic here: the subtitles. Since the film uses half a dozen European languages and numerous indigenous ones, it can’t be expected that many people (including probably the director) could understand it all, and therefore subtitles in this film are particularly necessary. And even though the film is in black and white, the subtitles are entirely white (without contrasting border on the lettering which would have solved the problem) so that large amounts of the text are invisible against white backgrounds. Given that the dialogue is so clichéd, it is not a fatal mistake, although one spends far too much effort in frustrated attempts to put together the fragments one can read.

I understand that films are incapable of employing the same literary techniques as prose (such as critical analysis, extended argumentation, nuanced narrative voice, etc.), and I certainly appreciate that movies have other strengths, notably visual and aural devices. Furthermore, even historical films are not required to be historically “accurate” in minute degree. But it seems ot me that films that advertise that they are based on “true events” ought ot take some care in verisimilitude beyond mere visual. And if one wants to tackle “big issues” like imperial oppression of people, one owes his audience more than warmed over approaches. Or at least the alternatives should be considered and discarded for good reason. Otherwise all that the project accomplishes is a visually attractive work which leaves the audience smug in its conclusion that it had the answers all the time.

Rupert Murdoch’s Legacy

I just caught up on my Ted Cruz reading (which I fell behind on since the pre-ticket of Cruz-Fiorina suspended their one-week campaign, the thing that Carly Fiorina called “an amazing run”), and what I found amazing was the one and a half truthful things said by the junior senator from Texas. See for yourself:

“There is a broader dynamic at work, which is network executives have made a decision to get behind Donald Trump. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes at Fox News have turned Fox News into the Donald Trump network,” Cruz told reporters at a press conference in Indiana.

That’s one. Here’s the one-half from the same source:

“Rupert Murdoch is used to picking world leaders in Australia and the United Kingdom running tabloids, and we’re seeing it here at home with the consequences for this nation,” Cruz said of the News Corp. and 21st Century Fox chairman.

I score the second sentence as ½ true, mainly because I think Murdoch never had any intention of picking world leaders; his only concern was to debase journalism, and politics was just a means to that end. From the beginning his politics were confused. He started out supporting the moderately right wing Country Party only to abruptly switch to the Labor Party, a party that would clearly be defined as too socialist for our narrow political spectrum in the U.S., supporting as it did universal health care and nationalization of the extractive industries. Then he went silent on Australian politics, like a submarine. His overt politics in the U.S. have mainly tracked whatever business interest he was pursuing at the time. He even flirted with Hillary Clinton for a while, probably attracted by her own characteristic opportunism.  Probably deep in his soul (if that metaphor even makes sense when applied to Murdoch), he instinctively is a right winger because that is most consistent with his devotion to his own self-interest.

If Murdoch had any personal, developed political philosophy, however, it is not apparent from the output of his newspapers. In fact, his guiding hand has caused most of the papers he acquired to reduce or eliminate news coverage and increase the big three: celebrity, sports and titillation. Politics must be discussed in terms of one of those three to make it into one of his papers. That tendency is so prominent that if he had died before this year, his legacy would have been: “He debased journalism, possibly beyond repair.” But happily for him, he did not die before this year, and we now see clearly what his more important legacy is: “He debased the U.S. Republican Party, possibly beyond repair.” And for that he didn’t need an international newspaper empire, simply one cable network: Fox News.

Just like his strategy for “saving” the New York Post, a once respected newspaper founded by an acolyte of Alexander Hamilton in 1801, Rupert Murdoch embraced the U.S. GOP with his desiccated tentacles and “revived” it by driving out everything decent about it and reducing it to a carnival freak show. This would have rendered the network, like his other properties, a reasonably profitable, if irresponsible, endeavor but what made Fox New a prominent player in our national political discourse was the addition on one man: Roger Ailes. Ailes cut his teeth in the media work for the Nixon-Agnew crew, and there he learned the key to Nixon, and Agnew’s, particular genius: self-pitying resentment. And when Ailes took over Fox News and added this to the mix, the network developed a devoted audience of people who think their lot in life is not what they deserve and who know, because Fox News tells them, who is to blame: libruls, the blacks, illegal aliens, Mooslims, those fighting a war against Christmas (Jews?), scientists, and other media. The technique was quite simple. Say the same thing over and over and over despite the evidence and you win. So to enforce message discipline, the producers of the various shows meet n the morning and are given marching orders: what issues to push, what facts to deny and even what phrases to use. It’s been documented in books, and you’ve seen the on air proof on the Daily Show. Because it opened its portals to the Republican Party, and only the Republican Party, that party became addicted to the sugar pushed by Fox News. It got to the point that the GOP came to believe that the only “fair” treatment it got was on Fox.

And this year Fox News proved its muscle. It gave over all its most popular shows to Donald Trump. It probably wasn’t a political decision to do so. No, Trump, as a practiced media manipulator and incipient demagogue, was good for Fox’s business. The Fox formula of subordinating truth to profit fit perfectly with Trump’s own logic and theirs was a symbiosis much like between the clownfish who lives among the tentacles of the sea anemones. They both disregarded truth, looked only to self-promotion and were utterly devoid of scruples. But what made their symbiosis complete was how they thrived on resentment as a political-commercial tool.

All of this is so undeniably obvious that even Ted Cruz saw it and said it.

There has been much debate whether the “party decides” perspective needs revision or should be chucked all together. The fact is that Fox News had become a significant part of the party. So significant, in fact, that the party deferred to Fox for its publicity, perspective, “facts” and outlook. Fox News probably never saw itself as part of the Republican Party, at least not a member that had any responsibilities. And when self-interest diverged from party interests (let’s not even consider patriotic interests) Fox News felt free to go its way. And that way was to incubate the Trump phenomenon.

While Rupert Murdoch’s legacy is probably now set in stone, a stone that hangs around the neck of the Republican Party this year, something like Trump was bound to happen eventually. Maybe it would even have been Ted Cruz. It is, in fact, quintessentially Repulican to its core. The party that believes that self-interest is the only genuine motivator has now discovered what unbridled self-interest eventually results in. Let’s just call it Trump or perhaps Murdoch’s legacy, because they are both the same thing.

 

 

 

 

Whitman’s Joy

Perhaps because we in the upper reaches of the northern hemisphere are finally seeing sunshine for a substantial part of the day, I can’t help recalling Whitman, the last great poet who whole-heartedly affirmed life, in all its aspects, without irony, cynicism or restraint. Spring is no time for Eliot (who thought April the cruelest month, because he was always too old to even remember joy), so best to read aloud a poet who believed in the joy of spring (and who even in his greatest depths of despair could always remember lilacs blooming in the doorway). So here’s a few excerpts from his ode to joy:

From A Song of Joys
by Walt Whitman
(1881-82 ed.)

Know’st thou the excellent joys of youth?
Joys of the dear companions, and of the merry word, and laughing face?
Joys of the glad, light-beaming day, joy of the wide-breath’d games?
Joy of sweet music, joy of the lighted ball-room, and the dancers?
Joy of the friendly, plenteous dinner, strong carouse, and drinking?

 * * *

Yet, O my soul supreme!
Know’st thou the joys of pensive thought?
Joys of the free and lonesome heart, the tender, gloomy heart?
Joy of the solitary walk, the spirit bow’d yet proud, the suffering
and the struggle?
The agonistic throes, the ecstasies, joys of the solemn musings,
day or night?
Joys of the thought of Death, the great spheres Time and Space?
Prophetic joys of better, loftier love’s ideals, the divine wife,
the sweet, eternal, perfect comrade?
Joys all thine own, undying one, joys worthy thee, O soul.

* * *

O while I live to be the ruler of life, not a slave,
To meet life as a powerful conqueror,
No fumes, no ennui, no more complaints or scornful criticisms,
To these proud laws of the air, the water and the ground, proving
my interior soul impregnable,
And nothing exterior shall ever take command of me.

* * *

O to struggle against great odds, to meet enemies undaunted!
To be entirely alone with them, to find how much one can stand!
To look strife, torture, prison, popular odium, face to face!
To mount the scaffold, to advance to the muzzles of guns with
perfect nonchalance!
To be indeed a God!

* * *

O to sail to sea in a ship!
To leave this steady, unendurable land!
To leave the tiresome sameness of the streets, the sidewalks
and the houses;
To leave you O you solid motionless land, and entering a ship,
To sail, and sail, and sail!

* * *

O to have my life henceforth a poem of new joys!
To dance, clap hands, exult, shout, skip, leap, roll on, float on,
To be a sailor of the world, bound for all ports,
A ship itself, (see indeed these sails I spread to the sun and air,)
A swift and swelling ship full of rich words, full of joys.

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