Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I was out of town over the weekend, with some undergraduates

I spent some time with an American undergraduate of West Indian descent, who'd never heard of Derek Walcott, and also of English descent, who didn't know of Gandhi's genius for exemplary civil disobedience. The squalor of public education in the United States exceeds everything known to me in its capacity to amaze. Because of this nation's enormous vestigial power I regard the steadily deteriorating sense of history among its elites as an international emergency, and I have not been reluctant to name names of gangsters who depend upon it, for their corruption of our judgment and their exploitation of our people's good will. 

Naturally, I did not direct my scholarly acquaintance to this page's references to Gandhi and Walcott; one's isolation in Virginia is acute enough. Rather, I asked him what he would like to see fixed, that seems to him a disorder in his world. 

He said, the failure of his university to achieve his high school's harmonisation (integration, an indispensable consensus in America for three generations, until flouted by the Roberts Court) in the student population. I asked him, how he saw himself - English? West Indian? 

"I'm black," he answered impatiently; and when I responded that there are any number of ways of being that, he smiled and said, "Yes, but we'll never get that far."

This page has its reasons for rejecting that isolating assumption, which go directly to the capacity of this nation to govern itself rationally and to protect its people equitably. For my three undergraduate summers, when we were pursuing our versions of the Grand Tour, I was compiling my own motorcycle diaries at college, teaching high school boys literature and their history. They were from Trenton, Newark, Hightstown, New Brunswick. But we never got that far. They were all black.

Where is the shore of the heart of darkness? What is the beach, where it can be penetrated? We could give learning any number of place names, but here are two resources which propose a single method, instead; and it is plainly not a bad beginning. I refer readers of Joseph Conrad, and viewers of Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah to Elizabeth Avedon's globally vital blog, for an indispensable recent report from Ghana. And I refer readers of Peter Matthiessen to Ivan Terestchenko's several recent postings on East Africa. Let the camera connect the dots. 


  1. On a slightly different line, I referenced Grace Kelly one day to a friend in the fashion industry. She looked at me unknowingly. The next month Miss Kelly was on the cover of Vanity Fair.

    Histories, stories, and times change. Does lamenting the passing do any good?

  2. I am very glad to hear from you because, frankly, I have been presenting some stuff of probable interest to you lately and did not know if you were still around. Sorry if I have exaggerated its interest.

    The first thing to be said about your comment is to address its second part; I know it to be a cliché, tantamount to a dismissal, that people older than twinkhood are always kvetching about a cognitive distance and benign disappearance of fashion. I've never pretended to be unpathetic in this way.

    The second thing to be said about your comment is that Runnymede doesn't change, and the emergence of Abu Ghraib represents a change not of times but of fundamental definition enabled by ignorance. I see no parallel between the writings of the greatest living poet on the problem of forgetting a West Indian heritage - cf., The Prodigal - a holder of the Nobel Prize and a teacher in New England for decades, and her late Serene Highness the Princess Grace. No claim for Mohandas K. Gandhi, either, could assign him her importance in the history of self-government.

    It's dispiriting to think that her image might have faded among our electorate: I couldn't point to a finer argument for proportion and discretion in public life. But it's unconscionable to be governed by men who can depend on our ignorance of Magna Carta.

  3. i liked conrad's 'secret sharer'..found it very homo erotic...cine.....i leave in a week!!!!!!!!!!

  4. In your case, ciné, I'd rather see this as diversifying, not departing.

  5. haha, i knew it was something like that. i even googled..'you don't leave'...looking for something posted early!!!!!