Now Politics: the Political Opinions of Thomas Sarebbenonnato

A Friend of the People Opposing Elites; Social and Political Commentary of Thomas Sarebbenonnato; Publishing and Contributing Editor, Jay V. Ruvolo [Copyright (c) Jay Ruvolo 2018]

Archive for November 2018

THE PERILS OF AN ANTHROPOMORPHIC EGG [a fictional essay]

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[If I were Humpty Dumpty–what would I do if I were? And why do we assume that Humpty is always an egg?]

I

I feel like Humpty Dumpty sitting on his wall, my wall, do not sit on the wall, the fence, which side are you on, boy, which side are you on? No fence-sitting allowed. Sisyphus at least has his rock, I used to say. I don’t know what this means, or what it could have meant, or what I was intending to mean by having said it, at least Sisyphus had his rock, that is, as opposed to Prometheus having only his chains . . . what? I could have said something else? I could not have said anything else. Prometheus did have his rock–has his rock, no? It is perpetual, in perpetuity, the story, every retelling is new, is now.

Sisyphus is the absurd hero, no? Sisyphus is the archetypal absurd hero. I am Sisyphus, each of us could rise and say aloud with conviction, I am . . .

The absurd universe is the only cosmogonic constant allowed in our contemporary ontology. Who says ‘ontology?’ How is it that anyone can say that word anymore, ontology? Most of us who were friends in university when I attended were utterly useless to our society. I categorically refuse utility. What the fuck does it mean to say that?

Our majors were not fruitful. We–some of us–did  not go to university to be fruitful. Comparative Literature, Philosophy, English Lit, Classics, et cetera, were degrees unmarketable, not directly applicable to making money. In fact, the fore mentioned were among the fruitless majors–liberal arts was an anachronism from antiquity. How could anybody with intelligence, never mind any practicality, persist for four years in any one of them. There had to be something wrong with me for having chosen Philosophy as a major. I was rejecting my friends, their values, themselves, my upbringing–how was this so? Betrayal–they felt that more than I thought of it. I had betrayed my class? My family? my ethnicity–now that’s a load of shit.

The absurd has always been in abundance everywhere, anywhere humans interact and attempt to instill or enforce conformity. Conform is just that, to be with form, the standard form, the replicable form.

Pushing his rock up the hill, how is that not everyone’s life metaphor? What then can we do? Even Sisyphus has his choice, no? Could he not let the rock roll over him backwards? Fuck the MBA bound set. There were too many I grew up with who had taken this direction, pearls to swine, an education for these fuckers, if that’s what you can call what they did in University, getting an education. The wolves we’ve heard so much about, and I don’t want to hear about rags to riches, or Horatio Alger for the 20th century, or anything else about how they were, he was, Jordan was . . . and how the Hebrews crossed the River Jordan and envied the shit out of the Canaanites. He fell the way he did not from grace but because he still knew nothing, learned nothing, had only his tongue stuck up his ass, and a brilliant knack for making a lot of money, yet if we remember from Citizen Kane, is not very difficult if the only thing you want is to make a lot of money.

Any respect for the serious study of philosophy or literature, as I had come to understand the literary, and what would become my life-long passion for reading, was looked on with derision and contempt by those whose desire to get a degree was only so they could become marketable. I thought them rather simian, the people I had grown to love, to respect, to emulate–the horror.

Accounting or Business Administration were the only degrees to pursue. American Psychos all; I hope you at least saw the movie with Christian Bale, if you did not read the novel by Ellis. If you went to graduate school, it had to be to get an MBA. The only reason you might study literature would be to become a teacher, but then the State does not require you to get a Master’s in literature to teach in the High Schools, but to get at least a degree in teaching literature, not the same thing. The number of credits in literature are seriously reduced for the latter. The students of education who were in the classes we were taking in graduate English were always among the bottom third, as most Education majors in college make up the bulk of the bottom 30 per cent of university students across the United States. To be politically incorrect, next to Physical Ed majors, the stupidest college students are always the men and women who are going to teach our children.

II

Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, you know the cow jumped over the moon–moo! Today, I dread to acknowledge that this being marketable is the only reason anyone goes to college; I remember one friend when I was twenty telling me that philosophy was bullshit and that you’re never going to make any money with a degree in philosophy. I spent a decade and a half trying to teach NYC undergraduates in several of CUNY’s two and four-year colleges, the sons and daughters of those like these former friends, only to find the task increasingly like the one set before Sisyphus. I had to spend most of the class time defending literacy against what many of them must have imagined was an understanding of life much deeper than mine. Just as I got that boulder to the top, it would roll back down again just as fast. Their reasoning was grease for all slippery slopes. I feared the rock would roll back over me.

I kept pushing and pushing, as everyone keeps pushing his rock up the hill, but what happens when you get to the top of the ladder? is it the right wall? Just be grateful you do not have to climb the ladder with his rock. A ladder is not an incline plane, right? He was right–and yes, all education, all learning, all philosophy, all historical consciousness, all wisdom is bulshit, bullshit, bullshit before the one overriding truth of our age, money, money, money is all that matters, and the more of it you make by expending less and less energy, that is, the more of it you get that you do not deserve, the better and sweeter the money is because even if yoou cannot buy more with large sums of money just because you have stollen it or swindled it or connived it or fucked unsuspecting people out of life savings or pensions, it still makes it better in your mind because there is no Truth and there are no truths, there is only the will to power and power today does not come from a barrel of a gun but from . . . am I really going to go on here about this?

The God’s of Ancient Greece were not, she said, the prototypal architects of the Concentration Camps or totalitarian slaughter. The university today is completely bourgeois–and I know how that sounds and I don’t even give  a fuck–it is no longer in the traditions of its original design, the university. It is now a business to garner students as customers. The university is a department store no different than Macy’s or Sear’s.  It’s not about freedom, nor is it about the study of the Humanities, but to increase the tuition gravy train. I had one of the highest pass rates on both student portfolios and the CUNY writing test in the English Department from among the students in remedial writing and reading courses at one community college in New York City, yet I had a problem–a run in–with the deputy chairperson because my class was, as he put it, was too teacher centered. I should have put the students in groups to divine meaning from the assigned reading without firstly being instructed on how to read a college text.

Basically, I did not support a pedagogy that insured more students would need remediation; silly me, of course. It was after all my livelihood. There are enough of us who will defer for scraps from the table; the dogs we all have become. And CUNY (which, if any examination of a QWERTY board will show, most often is mis-spelled in typo CUNT) is an organization that insures teaching in its colleges is dog eat dog; back biting the favorite pastime–too many in charge were real cunts.

The days of living for reading have waned but not completely disappeared, yet what it means it meant has meant will mean could mean for me I have spent great energy expounding on and on and on all that et cetera stuff that gets going like Macbeth’s tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeping in its petty paces until the last sylla[ble/bell] of recorded time.

I am and I am not; to be or to become is also part of Hamlet’s question. It is not simply a question of suicide, of whether or not life is worth living or going on with? No. There are the mutually exclusive yet reciprocal matters of being and becoming: When I am, I am not becoming; while I become, I am not being. Wherefore art thou Romeo? What’s in a name? How do Montague and Capulet read? How do we read? Reading is not only looking at; it is not merely seeing the words themselves in print on a page. Shakespeare is the architect of modern consciousness and I owe as much if not more to him than I do any other source for what I think and how I think. Hamlet is my brother; Hamlet is the father of modern consciousness.

To read or not to read; another seeing to be seen. All criticism is seeing although this seeing is not in itself understanding before hand but a kind of seeing eye dog of the mind whereby understanding comes as a kind of arrival in spite of an special blindness. I do not know the author’s in intention. Do they have them, these intentions?

To see or not to see as I have said about many a binary pair of infinitives; to write or not to write; to read or not; to become or not, this latter one contained implicitly in Hamlet’s To be or not to be; all not being includes becoming. What do I see with these eyes? What other eyes do I have to see? I look but do I see? What I see with these eyes I have within amounts to what? What is it that I see inside–what eyes are these that I have there–the eyes of wisdom?

Each I am inside–the many Selves self–has a pair of eyes there to see in the way we may or may not see outside, in the world. I see freedom. I see love. I see humanity. I see the humane. I see a rock in the grass by the tree that casts shade in the daylight, mid afternoon sun above the canopy of leaves. There were professors I loved and respected and professors whose heads I would personally put in the coming guillotine.

Yes, Wall Street and the Academy have their enemies of Truth of Justice of Liberty of Democracy– just hang around any Community College in any urban center in America in any English Department and listen to what the professors are saying about reading about writing about what passes for literacy . . . and you will get a glimpse of what the future of democracy will be.

III

To see or not to see; to understand or not, the latter itself to stand under, another version of walking a mile in another man’s shoes. Who are we when we look at the world? What are when we look but do not see what we should? The hills do not look like white elephants to the man in the story, do they? They do to the girl, the young woman on her way to Madrid for an abortion. I look out the window at the view as the train moves by what is fixed, only appearing to move past me at the speed of the train.

There is the evidence of things not seen, as Christians like to say after Paul. What is not seen can be evident? Of course there is more in the heaven and earth of being than can be dreamed by anyone’s metaphysics, anyone’s ideas on knowledge, what it is, when it is, where it is, how . . . I see you, I dream you, I’ve dreamed you before, alone, I smell you, forrest of rain at dawn. I hold nothing more or less of you with the empty space next to me in bed. I get up.

I glance at the mirror on the wall reflecting the windows across the room, street light locomotive through the curtains; they flip up once, twice more abruptly, then fall still curtains . . . everyone’s Humpty Dumpty in this culture, no . . . all of Wall Streets horses and all of Wall Street’s men could not put Humpty together again.

The fucking egg. The last egg in the carton was stuck in its cup in the carton. Egg whites like paste when they dry. We used to make paste out of egg whites in kindergarten class when I was in Public School 20X, afternoon session of Kindergarten, ha;f days for each. It was different when I was a boy. Most of our moms were still at home when we were in kindergarten. I thought I still had an egg so I did not stop last night to pick up a dozen. I thought one egg was enough, but getting it out of the carton, it shattered and spilled all over the counter when I tried to get it out.

Fucking egg.

IV

Who am I? I ask. I do, I ask this question here. I have asked it many times. I am waiting for an answer, it seems, much the way Didi and Gogo are waiting for Mr. Godot. I pause before the mirror. I look to the mirror. I look in the mirror. In? I thought I settled this in and on dichotomy? duality? My poetry tries to settle much I cannot settle in my head.

I see me, I assume, when I look at the mirror, toward the reflection, how am not like the celluloid heroes I watch on the screen? Why do I assume there is more veracity in the mirror than in, on, the videos I watch? To watch is also to guard if cognomens in several cousin languages are inspected.

But there’s another problem again, positional arrangements, fixed before . . . We do know that what is in the mirror is on, no?

I am standing there in front of me, a reflection of me, there is not reflection without light, no vision of any kind, without light. To say I see means let there be light has taken hold.  I am standing here in front of me, that him, that someone else who is me? Am I someone else; I am frequently someone else somewhere at some time.
Question after question, I string along so many questions.  I look into my eyes I think; eyes the world full of sorrow enough. My wife has sad eyes too; her eyes are a lot like mine. Vanity, vanity, thou art not verity. I never  appear too sad for me to watch. There is something Narcissistic in me. The mirror image. But like the Chimpanzee, I recognize myself. Narcissus does not. It’s never made clear just how long he watches himself. He does watch himself, not knowing it is himself. I watch me in the mirror too. I have often understood that I have to do more than look at me. But everything that appears in the mirror is on the mirror, the pane of glass a plane, again and again without gain. We speak of glass ceilings, but this is a glass wall, is it not. I know I recognize myself, so does the chimp–the dog barks at another dog never knowing it is himself he barks at.

Who answers me when I talk to me in the mirror, when I talk to myself, Hamlet is the father of modern consciousness. I have been over hearing myself since I was a child?  My question is the question.  I wonder more how I capture my conscience with these questions. I do sometimes wonder aloud about who I am, but not for long do I persist in this line.  Montaigne often stood in postures such as the ones I pose; to pose is to posit is to put in place a posture, the posture itself molding me. In his trials, his tests, Montaigne poses as is necessary. When French school children take a small test, perhaps a quiz, it is an essai; to essay is to test one’s ideas, one’s thinking.

I remember believing that I did not know what I thought until I wrote.  When I talk to myself,  I proudly announce that Montaigne had as well, does as well, past and present in writing are matters of tense, not time; tense is not time you must know.

I talk to this Self of many selves, one self at a time? I’ve said this before. There is a larger ‘S’ self contained of many other selves. I do know that I am the same person over all time in my life, in every context with every person, every kind of person–not every person is the same as every other.   It would be folly to believe that my selves do not contradict one another.

I am not the same person in the world in every context, with every person. My wife is not my mother, my mother not my supervisor, my supervisor not my colleague, my colleague not another co-worker, my co-worker not my neighbor, my neighbor not my doctor et cetera. How could all the selves i me be alike. I wear masks outside; I wear them inside too. This Self I talk about, is a capital ‘S’ self, a complex of many selves, a nexus; so, this who I am is not as important as when I am or who I am when. This capital ‘S’ Self is it  made up of many other selves; simple enough said. But how many? Is it again an infinite potentiality; what are the probabilities?

Humans long for actuality. Only God gets to be actual all the time; He is pure actuality; He is no part potential. In my religion, it is He, although I have asked why God cannot be He, She and It if He is Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This Self inside, a many selves Self inside, what selves inside me. Where would I find this Matroishka? The questions of who, of what, of when and where, are important, no? But then to question is to position an answer, or is that a response that puts, that places again–responses are in themselves not answers, I thought I settled this already. I lay out again each question with my responses; do answers differ so radically? Perhaps not in how we think of them today, but they should.

Answers and responses are not one and the same; brandy and cognac, you know, brandy and cognac.

Epilogue

Il n’y a qu’un probleme philosophique vraiment serieux: c’est le suicide, says Monsieur Camus at the opening of “L’Absurde Et Le Suicide,” the first essay in his collection of essays Le mythe de Sisyphe.  His rock, my rock, everyone’s rock, all of our rocks, up one mountainside or another, to the top and then all the way back down to the bottom for us to roll all the way back to the top again and again, over and over forever, for life, until the day we die, another form of damnation–at least Sisyphus had his rock. What did Hamlet have–he had his indirection?

Everyone gets on Hamlet for his inaction, but what would we have if he were decisive. I recall having re-written Hamlet as a play centered by a less brooding and much more decisive Hamlet–but it is not really indecision that is Hamlet’s problem because he is very decisive at key points in the play, but perhaps what we mistakenly mean–what I mistakenly meant–was a rasher Hamlet . . . I wound up with a short one-act play, perhaps no more than forty minutes of playing time . . . and what is that compared with what we have from Shakespeare?

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Written by jvr

November 12, 2018 at 5:52 pm

QUESTIONS AND DEMANDS

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Demander in French is to ask; it is the origin of the English verb to demand. To ask and to demand in English are not the same. In French they share  a word, again, the fore mentioned demander. What do we do when we demand something of someone, from someone? We know there is a way of asking someone for something or to do something or to give something that this someone feels is a demand. Our response, we know at times, is incredulous. I’m only asking, any one of us might say. You demanded, is the reply. Yet . . .

There is always a demand in every French question. To demand is an imposition in English; a demand is not simply a question to be answered, but a toll to be exacted, to be taken. We are very sensitive in America. In French, I assume that to ask is to demand, but to demand is also simply to ask. Who has the thicker skin? France is  not the United States as so many American bigots, braggarts, jingoists and jinglists never fail to remind us; I have found American anti-French bigotry to be more pronounced and less articulate than across the Franco-Anglo-American lake. My tongue is in my cheek, which is far better than having it up your ass as so many of my compatriots do when it comes to food, not speaking.

To answer in French is repondre, literally, ‘to lay again,’ a kind of re-putting or re-placing, that is, laying out the answer, or in this case, the demand or the question. Repondre is the origin of the English to respond. In English, the word answer and the word respond share a degree of synonymity, but no two words are ever completely synonymous, interchangeable in all contexts of usage. This is the case for the verbs to answer and to respond in English, where a response is not in itself an answer, but to answer is to respond, in a way. At least in French, one takes the responsibility to respond, which is, once again, to lay out the demands of the question asked. Yes, responsibility is answerability, to be answerable for the demands one faces is what responsibility is; we are answerable for what we say and what we do, all of them of necessity in the logic of our lives. Even doing nothing or saying nothing in face of our lives is a choice, is a decision, with consequences, thus the answerableness . . . no words, no deeds, are themselves rhetorical positions, thus political ones.

Of course, interroger is also a way to say ‘to ask.’ It is also the origin of the English to interrogate. Every one, we know, poses questions, but not all asking is interrogating; yet, virtually  all interrogating is demanding, although there are ways to demand that are not interrogating. Again, the French sense of demander. Every interrogator must demand otherwise it is not interrogation.

How to ask or not to ask is now the question. Whether it is nobler to respond responsibly when we answer the questions demanded of us, or instead, to avoid responding because we are unable to take responsibility for whatever demands are in question.

Written by jvr

November 9, 2018 at 5:34 pm

FEE FIE FICTIO HISTORIA

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I

Fee, fie, fictio, historum. . . to be a story or not to be a story, that might be a question, but only one among many, and then if it were a story, and a story, and a story that creeps in petty paces . . . this too would be neither foul nor fair, but fiction. All fiction is something made. To tell a story or not would be any man’s dilemma, his life in story, the history of his life, the blood of an Englishmun. Fee, fie, fictio, historum, smelling blood and all that goes with storytelling . . . do we bleed for our stories? Narrative is a method of storytelling, in fact, it is storytelling. It is also a way of conveying history–it orders things chronologically or a-chronologically, the latter itself indicating that there is a chronology of facts, themselves productions of memory or recording. Any history itself becomes a story, just by the telling. The French, thus, use the one word for both history and fictional story, l’histoire. I guess every fiction has its history; the novel Tom Jones is a history of Tom Jones, as the novelist Henry Fielding insisted by titling it The History of Tom Jones.

There will always be more in the heaven and earth of one man’s life than could be found or dreamed by any teller of his tale. So, what is it then that we mean when we say story and when we say history? Any story is a kind of history, as we have noted above. Yes, many of the early novel writers in 18th century England attempted to blur these boundaries or avoided making them clearly distinct, those between history and fiction. There is something easier to understand in French than in English when we confuse history and story–although the French really do not suffer the confusion we fear.  Having one word for what we mean by ‘history” and what we mean by ‘story,’ fictional ones, is not more confusing than having two words for two distinct concepts. The Anglo-Saxon speaking peoples of the world separate history from story, as such. Istoriain Greek was an inquiry or knowledge acquired by investigation. This does not by itself allow for categorical distinction between history and fictional story. I imagine that a story like Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” is an investigation into the life of Goodman Brown, some of the life as it is chosen in the presentation, the effect of the narrative being both historical and historicizing, at least in the way that fiction can be a made up history, what we mean by fabricated as what we have  conventionally meant by the term history.

We do separate the two, though, keeping our history apart from our fiction. In a more traditional sense, history is the true story of a people or a person or a place, a country, a city, an empire, whatever have we in the focus of history writing, the product of what was once thought possible, objective historical investigation. In this, we have as mutually exclusive, fictional story and true story–that is, until we confront  that all mythology, apart from our Judaeo-Chritian prejudices, are the true stories of a people in as much as their stories of origins, all cosmogonic myths, are true for the people. Of course, as fore mentioned, the fiction writers of the 18th century tried to blur the lines between the two–what was the novel then anyway? The Preface to Defoe’s Moll Flanders speaks more on this than I could here. The same author presents a shorter set of inferences in his preface to Robison Crusoe, whereby he calls himself “editor” of this “private man’s adventures in the world” and where he then says near his conclusion of the preface that he “believes . . . [Crusoe’s tale] to be a just history of fact.” History here a “story,” yes, as all history is a story, facts as we receive them by history re-enforcing what we understand about the past. The factory of culture makes its history, as Ivan in Russia hired chroniclers to write a history of Russia that favored him and the Romanov family, much for a similar reason the Emperor Augustus favored the poet Virgil. Fiction and History win separate prizes from the Pulitzer committee. But what is it that they share in form–narrative, as we have said; verisimilitude in fiction being parallel to the historical facts able to be corroborated. I imagine, though, that verisimilitude in fiction  is easier to maintain than veracity for facts in history/historiography that countermand a society’s received ideas and dogmas.

Yes, we understand by representative examples over time that history and fiction were not distinct in antiquity or even the 18th century in the way we have subsequently made them–and they do remain more closely linked in cultures that  still use one word for the two, as we have seen in French. They were not yet set as they seem to be today, or as they were some time not so long ago, still in my lifetime, even around the time I started college (yes, university). History as a discipline had come to represent the verity of verities, at least in my time in the university; only residually so today. There was still a belief that objectivity could be maintained or at least pursued, which is the most vital ingredient in the notion of objectivity in historiography, that it can be pursued and that a vigilance in this pursuit could be fruitful in the ways a belief in its possibility make apparent.  This belief is something leftover from an earlier part of the last century where history was the pursuit of truth about the past, the little ‘t’ truths and something of the larger ‘T’ transcendent Truth we must never get rid of, anymore than we would dispose of our compass in a wilderness.  However, the ideal history is one that aligns itself more or most closely with facts as they were, truth as it can best be discerned in its lowercase variant; but it was not something as open to revision in the way it seems to be now, for better or for worse.  There are the times I still hope not to lose sight of what I had pursued for so many years, as a philosophy major under the tutelage of a wry-humored Platonist, when I was a philosophy student in university. Yes, I held the belief that I was pursuing the Truth; and even if that were foolhardy for many of my former friends from among the Catholic proletariat I grew up with, it was still a steadfast creed among those I counted as friends and mentors in the university. It seems just as foolhardy for too many of those who count themselves among the educated class of Americans, any one educated in the university over the last twenty-five to thirty-five years.

This belief of mine notwithstanding the current critiques of Truth or minor ‘t’ truths–for want of a better understanding of today’s critique of knowledge  (the latter which sounds off more in tune with received ideas and new dogmas by the new intellectual hegemony than any sound basis for reforms in thinking) what is has been will be history and more importantly  acceptable historiography is of paramount importance to how we understand our role in the politics and economics of today, fee, fie, fictio, historum.  Those who do not remember history, are condemned to relive it, or so I recall in paraphrase an inscription from George Santayana in Will Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Of course here, history was the objective discourse on the facts of the past as they were verified through a methodology that considered the quality of the sources, the validity of them. Objective was not as laughable as it seems today by those who imagine their critical acumen leaves them able to dispose of critical terms they misunderstand–often, dis-understand. There was a distinction drawn between the kind of history Herodotus had written and the one that Thucydides did afterward. There was something of even greater validity in the subjective (???) history Caesar had written in something like his Civil Wars, the latter falling under the rubric one history professor of mine called memoir, in spite of the diction chosen and rhetoric of objectivity employed. The rhetoric of objectivity not in itself the thing it purports to be.

Fiction comes from the Latin fictio, which means a thing made; so then, in this sense, everything told is fiction, even history. But then facts are themselves made in the sense that they have a context within which they function as facts; we do recall that the Earth is flat was once a fact for a great many people; the Earth was the center of the solar system was a fact for many centuries. I mean, nothing is told that isn’t first made.  Again, the idea that history and story are linked is evident in the one word for both designations in the romance languages and the mother of them, Latin. The francophone world, though, for want of more acute focus, does not confuse what we fear is confusing, so they in turn keep one word for both distinctions, we do not.  Nonetheless, every story is a history of a kind, and every history is certainly a story of what was, at least what purportedly was; this latter distinction bringing us closer to what Herodotus had intended by his Histories and Herodotus brought many disciplines under the rubric of history.  It is not the design of this essay to venture into what they are, not even in passing; but let it suffice to say that Herodotus was a storyteller, and today is more highly valued as an historian than he was in my days in college, just for bringing many stories, thus many voices to the page. What is history, though, is not the same question as what is historiography. Herodotus engaged in what he and the Greeks after him called Istoria. In Herodotus we hear and thus see how others understood the past he speaks of, how they chose to tell the story, how they understood what history was.

We do the same as Herodotus today as well when we say look for anecdotal evidence, when we look for the story of the simple separate person from among the many who lived. This of course fits our dogmas of individualism and exceptionalism, but then this is what marks American historiography from others. The history of art, the history of automotive sales in America, the history of the samurai, the history of science, the history of sailing, et cetera are nothing without the individual’s story, perception, observations, or opinions. When we speak about history in a multidisciplinary way, which to me was always what history was, even when history was supposed to be about revealing some quota of truth, and I do understand the inferences herein from using the word ‘quota,’ as well from referring to truth or Truth, what are we saying? Is history, though, one of the Humanities or is it a Social Science–and in my time, history was in the School of Social Sciences, and this spoke to a methodological distinction from history as a humanity in the School of Humanities. Focuses shift; of course they do. The dominant or most frequently employed methodology will also change, as will persist examples of multi-methodological texts. This essay does not pretend to resolve these issues within the discipline of history or within or between any two of the sub-disciplinary approaches to historiography.

To tell or not to tell, that is the question in every culture, and in cultures that write, what is it that gets committed to paper determines what history gets remembered; we are not an oral culture, no matter how much we believe and fear that literacy is waning, or how much stock we put into the idea that ours is a culture transforming into an oral one.  Every supposed oral forum is determined by literacy, by writing.  But then this is the horror one gets from appraising the current state of literacy in America; we are still a literate culture, not an oral one; very few of us even know what we are referring to let alone what we are trying to say when we speak in platitudes about our culture becoming an oral one.  The differences and/or similarities between orality and literacy is non-existent in the understanding of most university educated anywhere, even in the United States.

Of course, in what we used to call a democratic forum, all ideas, thus in parallel, all stories competing for acceptance must have no censor.  This of course is not exactly adhered to by the most ardently politically correct in our publishing establishment, certainly not in our universities, themselves having succumbed to the demands of the ledger book and the marketplace; the idea that we have multicultural slots to fill in our publishing is merely a way of increasing profits by subdividing the market, a basic tenet of microeconomics, learned by every undergraduate who takes Micro and Macro Economics as either a prerequisite or as an elective. However, even where all ideas competing for acceptance, there must still be competition, which means some form of discerning, which in turn means some form of discrimination, which does not mean blindly to prejudge. Historiography has succumbed to a crisis in epistemology whereby attaining knowledge has become impossible. This leaves historiography opened to a methodology that employs the narratology of the fiction writer, which, in an abrupt turn around, must never be entirely absent from even the most objective of historical inquiries.

 

II

To prejudge blindly is not to be discriminating, which is what is so heinous about things like racism and sexism; there is often little to no discriminating involved. I discriminate between fresh and sour milk, very good and cheap wine, well made products and poorly made ones. If the wine is “corked,” or the wine is fine; I discriminate. But what we mean mostly about all ideas must have no censor is that we must not discriminate and thus must accept all ideas as possessing some validity. As children, we want what we think to matter to everyone we speak to independent of whether or not our thoughts are worthy of respect, and yes, respecting a man or a woman enough to listen to them is not the same thing as respecting and the accepting what they say. We must have open forums of disagreement, and opinions must have quality otherwise we are in a situation where they only have quantity which leaves us open to an ethics numerically determined, which in turn only respects the rights of the current majority. This of course is similar to, but not identical with, learned consensus. And yes, there are intellectual elites, at least there used to be in our academies of higher learning. The church and the monastery have just about fallen below the horizon of history in determining the metaphysical energies and driving forces of the university system in the west; universities have become virtually fully bourgeois, and by this have fallen under the auspices of the ledger book. In publishing today, moreover, what gets published is as dogmatically colorful as it used to be white and male only; it seems we only ever flip the coin, which leads me to be cynical in face of others believing that history is progressive. But this also results in having to maintain this dogma. The fore mentioned coin-flip is, of course, a social corrective, yet aren’t laxatives also called correctives?

Social laxatives or laxities notwithstanding, narrative must be made, it is made, it is at the end of a creative process, or so we have come to say without actually knowing what we mean.  There is always present a wrighter in every writer, the same as used to be present in the word, playwright, one who builds a play, one who constructs, who makes . . . the thing made, again.  Humans when they were called Man used to be the tool making animal; chimps chewing leaves to soak up water from knots in branches, or stripping branches and licking them to put into the holes of termite mounds exploded this and turned anthropology on its head . . . humanology has struggled to recover in the last three decades since. The past I have spoken of here was no golden age; it would be contrary to my ideas about adhering to a sense of Truth or the ability to be objective in weighing facts, in presenting the past, which is what history does. It presents the past, what was becomes another form of is. Is all presentation a matter of re-presentation, thus a matter of delivering fiction?

Implications and inferences seem beyond us in our culture of ignorance; things have to be spelled out for us. Thinking is not something we believe can be taught or should be taught or needs to be taught because somewhere we imagine that thinking is what we are capable of by nature. But thinking is not randomly passing images in the mind, or becoming thrilled by our own brilliance because we have divined meaning without verification. Verification itself mistrusted.

Nonetheless, narrative is a thing made, and History is narrative, for the most part, at least traditional histories have employed this method of presentation; and all stories also include some narrative, at least the kind we call fiction. But then we do say narrative fiction as opposed to non-narrative fiction; the kind of short stories that have more in common with prose-poems, or lyric expressions; and there is lyric fiction, a distinction must herein be drawn among lyric, narrative and drama.  They are not mutual. There is of course narrative fiction and narrative non-fiction, and this is where the traditional notion of history resides: narrative non-fiction. Is there lyric history?

Narrative, however, is simply the product of narration; narrating. This act, of course, is the subject of all narratology, whether it is the Odyssey, Moll Flanders, The Great Gatsby, Caesar’s The Civil Wars, or Gibbon’s The Rise and fall of the Roman Empire.  We only have to reflect on our telling to know that narrating anything involves choices, many of them creative, others biased, still others perhaps short-sighted, others yet limited by available documents. Certainly rhetorical choices are involved, thus making the telling of any story not only a reflection of the teller’s style, the teller’s idiolectal variations on his native or non-native sociolect, his speech community’s negotiated and negotiable discourse, but is reflective of his creative ablity, his makerly relationship with his text. It also reveals his politics. All history writing is inevitably political and politicizing. Since all history writers are in effect makers of their texts, and all makers are poets, as is predicated by the Greek poeta, all historiography has its poetics.

Not every one can tell a story well, or even tell what has happened adequately, this we seem to know without having to say it.  Bearing witness without prejudice; but what about the prejudices of memory, the prejudices of our cultures received ideas, its accepted dogmas.  And nations as well as any institution of state,of religion, of finance–your family has its dogmas. Now most people rarely pay attention to the difference between the expository and the narrative, let alone possess the good sense when to use either.  I’m not so certain that everyone needs to be able to do so; however, I am fast realizing that even among many of educated, a distinction between them is absent.  Even a rudimentary understanding of the two as categories of writing would go a long way in helping to manage one’s critique of history, historia, historum, fee, fie, fictio and all that.

Nonetheless, one still makes a text when he or she says anything about some event, some experience, some occurrence.  The competence to tell a story well, of course goes beyond mere grammatical competence, at least how we limit our understanding of the term grammatical.  But there is some truth in the maxim, teaching grammar will not make a person a better writer.  This of course points to a number of seemingly divergent things, but one is essential, and that is that no matter how a story is told, it is creative in the aforementioned ways someone is creative when telling a story, and the story-teller should know the differences between narrative and exposition, although this knowledge in itself will not a story-teller make her, him, them, us . . . fee, fie, fictio, historum.

Written by jvr

November 5, 2018 at 5:36 pm

BETTING WINDOWS AND VOTING BOOTHS

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Look at who we cast our votes for at the polls. Look again at who we get as choices in our elections. Look at our governor here in New York, or in any State where you live; look our present and past mayors in New York City. Look our current President, or any President prior to the man who was going to bring change. Change in politics is like chicken on a take-out Chinese menu. There are many, many non-choices, or variations so slight that they are virtually the same dish in micro-variegation. Why are we, though, surprised by the politicians we get, we elect . . . continually surprised as we are by business as usual in the business of politics–why? There is no simple answer? There is no one answer? There are too many valid responses? Questions always beget more questions. Are there really accidents in how our elections unfold, culminate? We act as if voting the way we customarily do in America were the only solution for the problems in our political process. Our political process is problematic enough, especially if we expect the process to function democratically in ways other than the demos, that is, the people, coming out in droves to cast ballots. If we expect the people to be the guardians of their liberty, the defenders of freedom and the maintainers of our democracy, then there is something seriously amiss in our political processes. If democracy has come to  mean the people coming out en masseto cast ballots, then voting in totalitarian societies has also been democratic. We act as if choosing a candidate while casting a vote were the only way to vote; as if it were the only way to be counted; as if it were an obligation to pick one of the candidates, choosing as one does at the Kentucky Derby. Let’s pick the winner.

You are not obliged to choose one or the other candidate in the process of casting a vote. Primarily and ultimately a vote in favor of one or another candidate is a vote in favor of the Status Quo; things as they are are good enoughis what casting a vote in the conventional way says.  The Status Quo is represented by any candidate on the ballot; no candidate in the system of voting we have now can oppose the Status Quo. Before choosing a candidate becomes an act of serving democracy, it is a voice in assent for the state of democracy at present; how it is the way it should be in the minds of those who vote. I guess democracy in America has come to where the people are free to go to hell in a hand cart.

We continue to vote as we do, going to the polls and casting a ballot for the lesser of two evils, time and time again, as if going to the polls to be counted but picking neither candidate were not an option. But it is an option, this going to the polls and not choosing a candidate while simultaneously being counted as someone who wanted to choose. Not-choosing a candidate at the polls is an option, and it is a viable one, if what is intended by voting is actual political change–and that is not change as presented in Obama’s first campaign, a packaging of change that came in the product of him being the first African-American man (albeit, half African-American man) to become President. What anyone owed him after that was exactly zero, at least in the dynamics of power politics. The act represented by the word ‘change’ became subjected to the energy of the word contained in the slogan.

If millions of registered non-votes were to be counted, this would, not could,  shake up the party system, a system that functions not on possible voters, but probable voters, voters who are up for grabs, and no one who has chosen to stay home is a voter up for grabs–they are potential voters, but not undecided voters, not once they stay home. The only truly undecided voter–the only actual voter who scares politicians into having to change to garner that vote is the voter who goes to the pols but does not pick a candidate; that is, in so much as the number of them becomes significant. The higher the number of these, the lesser the mandate of any candidate.

Votes counted but not designated for any political party are the only votes up for grabs. Politicians only care about votes that are up for grabs. Democrats don’t care about dyed in the wool Republicans and vice-versa. Neither cares about the guy or gal who stays home, the dyed in the wool non-participant. Staying home is a choice and one of apathy. The apathetic are a step removed from the circle that encloses voters socially.  Someone who stays home is  not someone who wants to vote; not even Obama increased the voters who came to the polls significantly. The one who stays home is not someone who  wants to vote; the one who non-votes is. He can be counted on more reliably than the guy who stays home. The one who does come to the polls supports the status quo; the one who votes for one or another candidate endorses the Status Quo.

Now go to the polls and non-vote, this says things are not as they should be, the candidates are unacceptable; party politics as it gets played in America is unacceptable.  Let tens of millions of Americans do the same and watch the Democrats and Republicans squirm for these votes. There will always be a percentage  of the vote either major party candidate cannot claim. The percentage of the vote when tallied among the candidates will be significantly less than 100 percent. We know that less than fifty per cent of those who could vote, do vote, but that’s just the point. There is still a 100 per cent of the forty-eight per cent who came to the polls. Now lets increase the number of people who come to the polls and decrease each party’s allotment of those increased votes and we will shake up the parties as they are now aligned. Neither one could think of claiming a mandate. We would see some changes as both parties scrambled for the attention of the votes up for grabs.

Again,  a vote for any candidate, even alternative ones, is a vote for the status quo. The way politics are managed is okay. Staying home only says: you go one and continue to do things the way you do but I will not participate because I do  not like it and would prefer to stay home and do nothing; you can go on as you have; I will not bother you with my votes any longer. Non votes are scary votes  because they can be anyone’s votes because they say I want to participate but only the right candidate will get them. Democrats and Republicans faced with millions of non-votes would have to change. When the non-voters become a party of voters and not politicians, the politicians will need to ask what they have to do to get the votes up for grabs.

Written by jvr

November 2, 2018 at 11:25 am

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