Gerontion (T.S. Eliot, 1920)

Despair is always in fashion. Turning 90 keeps it at bay.

Thou hast nor youth nor age
But as it were an after dinner sleep
Dreaming of both.

TSE, the old Jew-hater

Here I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.
I was neither at the hot gates
Nor fought in the warm rain
Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass,
Bitten by flies, fought.
My house is a decayed house,
And the jew squats on the window sill, the owner,
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London.
The goat coughs at night in the field overhead;
Rocks, moss, stonecrop, iron, merds.
The woman keeps the kitchen, makes tea,
Sneezes at evening, poking the peevish gutter.

I an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.

Signs are taken for wonders. “We would see a sign”:
The word within a word, unable to speak a word,
Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger

In depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering Judas,
To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk
Among whispers; by Mr. Silvero
With caressing hands, at Limoges
Who walked all night in the next room;
By Hakagawa, bowing among the Titians;
By Madame de Tornquist, in the dark room
Shifting the candles; Fraulein von Kulp
Who turned in the hall, one hand on the door. Vacant shuttles
Weave the wind. I have no ghosts,
An old man in a draughty house
Under a windy knob.

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or if still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours. Think at last
We have not reached conclusion, when I
Stiffen in a rented house. Think at last
I have not made this show purposelessly
And it is not by any concitation
Of the backward devils.
I would meet you upon this honestly.
I that was near your heart was removed therefrom
To lose beauty in terror, terror in inquisition.
I have lost my passion: why should I need to keep it
Since what is kept must be adulterated?
I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:
How should I use it for your closer contact?

These with a thousand small deliberations
Protract the profit of their chilled delirium,
Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled,
With pungent sauces, multiply variety
In a wilderness of mirrors. What will the spider do,
Suspend its operations, will the weevil
Delay? De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, whirled
Beyond the circuit of the shuddering Bear
In fractured atoms. Gull against the wind, in the windy straits
Of Belle Isle, or running on the Horn,
White feathers in the snow, the Gulf claims,
And an old man driven by the Trades
To a sleepy corner.

Tenants of the house,
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”

Ed Murrow, the great newsman and commentator, said this. So did Bertrand de Jouvenal, a French philosopher. Everybody knows it’s true, even the sheep.I used this cartoon in an earlier post on Trump, because sheep are smarter than you think. In Rhode Island some years ago we lived near  a wealthy guy who kept a small flock of sheep and I got to like them. They are friendly, dumb and loyal.

They resemble the bikers who keep on rallying in Sturgis, South Dakota, despite the grave Covid risks they cause to themselves and others.

I want this blog henceforth to focus more on such people, whom we liberals clearly fail to understand. We are just too smug about them.

I also will be taking a more personal tone in some of these posts. I looked over logs from posts past and found the ones that clearly got the most interest were indeed the most personal. Also, my political punditry is something you can likely find elsewhere; there are limits to my brilliance and my approach. We all read too much of that stuff anyway. I’m also trying to find different ways to indulge my bent for politics. It’s not easy.

Climate is where we started with this blog. I’ll try to come back to it,  but again the subject is best dealt with by others who aren’t so  intimidated by its deep complications and overwhelming importance. We all have our limits.

 

 

 

 

Random Thoughts

  • People who write horoscopes are as nitwitty as those who believe in QAnon or the Big Lie. They construct vague statements that are plausible because they are made to please a reader’s ego. Here’s my horoscope for today, provided by Madame Clairevoyant, New York Mag’s resident soothsayer. Those who know me may get a laugh out of this.

Gemini Weekly Horoscope
The idea of being all things to all people is an alluring one to you. There’s a certain kind of appeal in the dream that by observing others carefully enough—their speech and their movements, the shape of their desires—and by reflecting this back to them, you could heal anybody’s sorrows, bring sunshine to even their darkest inner world. But this week, it’s necessary not to forget your own needs, your own interior life. You don’t have to give and give until you’re hollowed out. Your duty isn’t to reshape your whole being to match someone else’s wants, but to strive to become ever more yourself.

  • Mary Trump has a new book out and was interviewed by one of my favorite sources, The Daily Beast. She takes the Democrats to task for their appeasement. Judge them by their reactions to Biden’s refractory speech on Afghanistan.

By playing politics, by being polite, by pretending the bipartisanship still exists, by pretending that there’s a rulebook anymore—they are doing a huge disservice to the American people. . . . I think that we’re literally on the brink of the end of American democracy to the extent that it’s ever existed, but [the Democrats] are the only people who can do anything about it. So if they keep pulling punches by pretending that the filibuster is a good thing, or that the Republicans are interested in governance of any kind, then it’s over.

Camus Updated

Albert Camus, The Plague

 Gordon A. Craig, Politics of a Plague

 David Wallace-Wells, The Coronavirus Is a Preview of Our Climate-Change Future

I’m rereading the great Albert Camus novel The Plague (La Peste), and there’s no fiction more timely than this. It’s Camus’s best work, the story of how plague comes to a small French-Algerian city in the 1940s with consequences more frightening than today because so much about the blight was then unknown.

Among other things, it is the story of how ordinary people do extraordinary things when under pressure. Of course we think of our health care workers of today: the priceless virtues and commitments of all those who care for the sick under dreadful conditions.

The plague in Camus is a metaphor for the Nazi holocaust. But it also represents the “abstraction” in all our lives, those rules, habits, and forces that control us, keep us in line and, even, give satisfaction as the townsfolk march to work every day, go to the movies, drink in cafés and live out their pedestrian lives.

The town of Oran is a grim, featureless place, and Camus stresses the climate’s effect on its inhabitants. “It must be the weather,” they say: the blue sky, the piercing sun, the heat that keeps people indoors, “socially distant.” Reading from our perspective, it could be a metaphor for climate change. The plague transforms the city into a charnel house. And “the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good.” It hides in furniture, clothes, bedrooms, cellars, always to reemerge without warning.

Like cholera and COVID-19, plague is a disease of society, as if a God were taking vengeance. In Camus’s novel, the plague exposes all our shortcomings—political, social, moral, economic—and so it is with COVID-19. Our very isolation forces us to contemplate the vacuous defects of our institutions and the precariousness of our lives.

We have been living in a bubble of denial about pandemics and certainly about climate change. We discover that we cannot insulate ourselves from the natural world, though that seems to be the goal of our culture. As David Wallace-Wells put it: “Nature is mighty, and scary, and we have not defeated it but live within it, subject to its temperamental power, no matter where it is that you live or how protected you may normally feel.”

My isolation is pretty comfortable. Boring, but comfortable. Yet it forces me to think of what others are enduring. I think of the trenches being dug to bury the nameless, unrecovered dead. I think of those who expire in a ventilator isolated from all.

Being in Mexico, I think of these words of Camus:

Thus the first thing that the plague brought to our town was exile. . . . It was undoubtedly the feeling of exile—that sensation of a void within which never left us, that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else to speed up the march of time, and those keen shafts of memory that stung like fire.

In our present isolation, we are thrown back on that “sensation of a void within” for much of the day, trying to make sense of the abstraction of a pandemic that is all too real. It’s an effort to wrap our minds around the inscrutable nature of something so distant and basically unknowable.