Monday, June 18, 2012

Library, Pasadena, early 1950s

It was a rather wonderful weekend in the Piedmont, and surely it would not be chauvinism which called my mind back in place and time to my young uncle's residence in the year or two I knew him. It was, likelier, because my current read-ing has been a gainful blur touching upon Ameri-can culture in the '50s; but it was likelier, still, for my having chanced upon an old snap-shot, distilling that way of life of his that I do feel I understand.

At the same time, writing in the present issue of The New Yorker, that superlative chronicler of our war crimes, Jane Mayer, has taken up the disagreeable task of profiling another monstrous religious phony, with a peculiar penchant for injuring gay and lesbian Americans, including poor Mitt's one-day choice as his national security advisor. He evidently won that infamous little campaign by declaring that a gay male will have something like 500 partners - some McCarthyite number, such as that - in his genital career. Doing the math, somewhat roughly for a span of around 45 years or so, one's only response turns out to be along the lines of, "So?"

Domiciling a way of life then criminalised by the People of California, my young uncle's dwelling displayed that improvisa-tory air of the graduate student of happy family -- everything in more or less estimable taste, but nothing conspicuously permanent except for the accrued weight of literature. At the same time, there may be a fellow found "crashing" on the couch, a temporary expediency of mutual agreeableness.

Thinking merely selfishly about all this, I'd have been just as glad to have exchanged the inheritance of this library, at the time, for yet more years of his banditry, although a safer solution to it all would simply have been for the People of California to have allowed my uncle the life my parents indulged, of being somewhat less informed but more durably prop-ertied, along with such other vestigial joys as there may have been, to being publically known for their conjugal commitments. Yet even in my life, I cannot deny, the reading has been fine.

One likes to think, and one does tend to argue, that one reads with a responsibility toward the People of California's way of life, so to speak - to be competent, to exert those gestures of citizenship which even a bear republic calls upon one to contribute, with some-thing like humane cognition. Who could believe, that literature might have been abandoned to the disenfranchised, with a casual indigenous genius for what counts? We read our mentors and we hear them ask, Where does this concession come from?

  .. They'll
  never fence the silver range.
  Stars are out and there is sea
  enough beneath the glistening earth
  to beat me toward the future
  which is not so dark. I see.

Frank O'Hara
The Collected Poems
  of Frank O'Hara
  Digression on 'Number 1', 1948
Donald Allen, editor
op. cit.

Patrick, Lord Devlin
The Enforcement of Morals
Oxford University Press, 1965©

Charles de Secondat [Montesquieu]
The Persian Letters
J. Robert Loy, translation
Meridian, 1961©

Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Annotated Emerson
David Mikics, editor
The American Scholar
  An address before the
  Phi Beta Kappa Society
August 31, 1837
op. cit.

Albert O. Hirschman
The Passions and the Interests
  Political Arguments for Capitalism
  before its Triumph
Princeton University Press, 1977©

Bob Dylan
Chronicles, Volume One
Simon & Schuster, 2004©


  1. and the beautiful square little black and white photo?

  2. Not, alas, a relic of the setting being described; just the inspiration for the entry. I know your observant eye will have picked up the twill-like surface in the sailcloth/heavy cotton slipcover, but more importantly, the shelf of short histories in paperback on the floorstanding bookshelf behind -- both features of a guy's way of life on Telegraph Hill, as much as in Pasadena. :) I was happy to see the torso doing justice to these elements. An important narrative of the page, nicely fused in this photographic "find." Thank you for asking.