Sunday, January 1, 2012

Notes of a gentleman traveler iii: Show us what we don't know

ro'strum. (1) The beak of a bird.
          (2) The beak of a ship.
          (3) The scaffold whence orators harangued.

rote.     (1) A harp; a lyre. Obsolete .. Chaucer.
          (2) Words uttered by mere memory without meaning;
              memory of words without comprehension of the sense.

Taking architecture as an expression of energy, we can some day compare Mont-Saint-Michel with Beauvais and draw from the comparison whatever moral suits our frame of mind; but you should first note that here [at M-S-M], in the eleventh century, the Church, however simple-minded or unschooled, was not cheap. Its self-respect is worth notic-ing, because it was short-lived in its art .. The only word which describes the Norman style is the French word naïf. Littré says that naïf comes from natif, as vulgar comes from vulgus, as though native traits must be simple, and commonness must be vulgar. Both these derivative meanings were strange [then]. Naïveté was simply natural and vulgarity was merely coarse.

The Innuit do have a tendency to say what they think others wish to hear, but even allowing for that, there was no doubt that they gave not only the company but also Beevee and me a great deal of credit .. Angmalik told me that my Eskimo name had changed. Instead of "Boy," it was now to be "Issumatak," which meant, one who thinks. This was the name they would send down to Frobisher Bay with me.

I appreciate the logic of a strenuous education, including a vigorous engagement in contests and a firm restraint of indulgence. But one of the central elements of that ancient formula is not good enough: the one which conceives of all of this as preparation for the endurance of an unjust world. 

Nobody ever puts it that starkly, but that is the meaning of insisting on playing fair, while anticipating that others will not. That is the meaning of a mountain of popular "coming of age" fiction, on the destiny of bonds to fail. What if 2012 were to give an education to contest injustice, to query the toleration of harm?

I don't doubt, we would be able to hold to such a position, without any characteristic ebb and flow of adhesion, without that soothing equation of maturity with the expectation of outrage, the eroding impression that an elegant cynicism is wisdom. There has only to be a limitation, and this is embedded in the vigor and the dignity of the naïf.

Now we are being hectored incessantly, by a lockstep political-industrial movement which resembles nothing so much as a household in mid-life crisis. Old World readers are referred to Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. Readers from the United States know the paradigm intimately and ubiquitously. An entire culture is to be shaped by climacteric addiction, resentment, and dementia. Very well; the buttresses these degenerates exalt, failed them for lack of restraint, and now they cultivate insanity as their faith. But they have issue, too, who are too young to be disgusted, and know only fear, sadness, betrayal.

We already know their message for 2012, whoever their candidate is. Their logic spills it all over the place. They are even proud 
of it: Abandon caring, we forbid it. They don't seduce us with grandeur as they used to; they flog us to bend to it. What if a people refused to be used to this rhetoric? It is knowingly malign to those who are not inured to wisdom.

And why should they be? Because of traditions which insist? If we were to celebrate such people, we might then be accused of many things. 

It's just another way 

of accusing them. What 

if we could all be ac-

cused of what they are?

Samuel Johnson
A Dictionary of
  the English Language
op. cit.

Henry Adams
Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres
1913, op. post.
op. cit.

Edward Beauclerk Maurice
The Last Gentleman Adventurer
  Coming of Age in the Arctic
2004, op. post.
Houghton Mifflin, 2005©

v   Paul Strand


  1. Divine.

    No other words necessary.

    You had us at mont-saint-michel.



  2. O jai and happy new year - thank you for coming !