Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tea Party at Kolonos

It's rather too bad, but the study of history does not work; the past is invoked, never studied, because romance and anxiety have always, first, abdicated inquiry. We have historians, but we have no belief in what they do; and quite frankly, as society, men never will. But if any American is still alive, who watched Richard Nixon seduce the Amer-ican South on the promise of embracing racism and xenophobia, martial hysteria and sectarian paranoia, then the destiny of his Party's stark manipulation of these forces under Reagan, Bush, and Bush as stalking horses of the bourgeois olig-archy it always represented, quite openly, has never been in doubt.

And who was reading The Frogs through all this, but marginal ripples of marginal departments in marginal academies of marginal study, of a marginal form in a defunct tongue. What do they own, but what they know?

CHORUS: And if things don't go well, if these good men
All fail, and Athens comes to grief, why then
Discerning folk will murmur (let us hope):
She's hanged herself - but what a splendid rope.

And how the Athenian assembly panicked in 411 (BC), naming a committee of 30 oligarchs to go off and ruminate on how to mend the social fabric, who then presented their report on Kolonos Hill, a mile distant, in a narrow sanctuary Thucydides deplored for flouting the openness of democracy. We know Kolonos from Sophocles, writing a decade after the eclipse of Athenian democracy, on the blinded Oedipus, himself, before there ever was a George W. Bush. "It was," yet another history says, "to a conventional past that a traumatised people turned to find strength." 

For all the good it will do, Bettany Hughes has told the democratic story engagingly, again. But if there is an American alive who has watched his nation's dance with ignominy since Richard Nixon in 1968, he will read his Aristophanes and his Bob Dylan on facing pages, and know how uncollectible experience ever is.

The Frogs
405 BC

Bob Dylan
Desolation Row
Albert Hall performance, 1966
The Bootleg Series, Volume 4
Columbia/Sony, 1998©

Bettany Hughes
The Hemlock Cup
  Socrates, Athens and the
  Search for the Good Life
Knopf, 2011©


  1. Laurent, Nixon's crimes resulted from his lust for power instead of a passion for love.

    History is not to blame, nor is man's failure to understand history to blame for the curtailment of freedom, suppression of fundamental rights, and the vast inexplicable caloric-driven apathy, sitting uselessly in front of television sets, we call America. The sweetest Spaetlese accompanied by the strongest Appenzeller fromage can't change that.

    If blame is to be assessed, mon Cher tenderesse, it is the failure to understand that history is mostly the recording of humanity's inability to become conscious of freedom. It is the consciousness of freedom that opens those closed Kafkian doors.

    Dein Verlornergeist....immer noch.

  2. I find myself agreeing with select fragments of this not-especially-”lost” recital without sensing a response to the entry’s central point, that it is only too bad that history is not studied. Nixon’s crimes, unlike those of George W. Bush, were not the exultant core of his campaigns for public office, and were in any case never defended, once exposed (save for his crimes against humanity, of course, in SE Asia), and finally did not, unlike those of George W. Bush, enhance his hold on the Red States.

    The entry did not blame history; it did not even blame the neglect of history for the American condition. It cited the neglect of history for leaving any “doubt” as to what Americans are observing.

    The wine and cheese proposal is accepted, dalla sua pace. The remainder of the comment is sufficiently Nietzschian to ‘rouse the idlest logician from his lethargy, and is equally embraced.

    The initial image in this entry establishes that love has nothing to do with Right-wing effrontery. The perception of that self-dealing aggression is at its core, implicit in the stance of the figure set against the Doric backdrop.

    I hope it is plain to readers, that not every presentable figure is invoked here for the presentability of what he depicts; rather, the presentable are invoked for us to identify with their acts with sympathy. Admiration should be a mechanism for identification with them, and this begins the opening you imply. A principle of theatre?

  3. If Niels becomes a historian, there might be some hope...

  4. "...stalking horses of the bourgeois oligarchy..."

    So accurate, so descriptive and so sad. Manifold manipulation mothered.

    T'is better dear Laurent to look at gift horses in their mouths.

    You are a principled principal.

  5. Tassos, charisma can't hurt, that's for sure!

  6. David, I just saw your masthead from the Peter Eisenman memorial in Berlin. I believe you are the first person I've addressed, whom I've known to have made the trip. Hugs.

  7. An apt lesson in history.

  8. Mein Lieber Laurent,

    Thank you. I was at its opening. I cried for three weeks. Wrote the descent piece on the back of a napkin in the Einstein Cafe on Unter den Linden as my tears fell into the depths of my coffee.