Sunday, July 6, 2014

There's a middle phase in any renovation

Against expectations I gave myself
an i-Pad the other day, for reasons
tutor in our new technologies who's
so infamously talented in them that
our local university is paying him
to give him a couple of doctorates.
I'm slow, he's quick; he may be off
before I'm on to what they're about.
But I like people who know what I
want to learn. If I were a younger
fellow, he'd be my montagnard. I'll
never feel I belong here, but I was
propelled by facts outside my hands.

In every renovation there's a mo-
ment where one can't tell the de-
molition from the rebuilding. Not
much seduced by the momentum of
these devices, much less their pi-
ous marketing, I'm amiably bemused
by their task-skipping efficiency.
Here, I'll allow the shambles to 
hang on for the page's 4th monsoon 
to haul them away. In the interim, 
I downloaded a text of history,
a book in the mode of the new ex-
pectations - no index, footnotes
remotely sequestered, sources ill-
attributed. But it's the latest
serious attempt to tell us where
we come from, in the wars after the
one we all admire. I take it to bed,
as they say one may, but it has no 
residual scent, no tactility or depth,
no margin for returning remark, only
the drayer's dream of weightlessness,
a clinicality still unusual there, as
if the Mekong were a swimming pool for
All-Americans in freestyle.

With ample forgetful fighting of pri-
or war in our pursuit of the present
one, its promoters are quick to re-
mind us of that unco-operative per-
spective they've medicalised as the
insanity of PTSD. I wish Michel Fou-
cault were here to wave a hankie at
that jest, malgré a brilliant late
teacher of mine; but I look at the 
joyrides of the American Right as 
replete with insults to cover any 
contingency of their exposure. Our 
own élites cannot allow the fact 
of worldwide exultation for Franklin 
Roosevelt's anti-imperialist plans 
for one post-war world, to mar the 
one we made. So well we turn to Pal-
merston's, dear darlings, and to 

But I stray. This is not merely a
ruminative weekend. Unaccountably,
it is also a lovely one in Piedmont 
Virginia, with skies clear of det-
ritus of regional fossils, and tem-
peratures in the 70ºs. It could be
the New World; and one day, in an-
other time, perhaps it will be. It

Even now, that daydream inclines
me to think seriously of opening 
stylish second page, provisionally
titled, That was nicely done. I'd
enjoy the relief of show-and-tell,
of decorative delectation and of
debs of a more exclusive century.
Why, only the other day I read an
estimable celebration of a bespoke
newborn mansion, by a fellow who's
exceedingly good with such things.
It was his claque who put one off,
condescending to the aristocracy's
uninitiated - can you stand it?

I like being liked, and I like be-
ing able to like my reader. I note,
in mirth, the market has caught up
la plus belle dame sans merci, Edith
Sitwell. But I was thinking, the
credit was Dean Swift's. A bridge, 
you could say, too far. No matter.
The guy was a marvel, and yet we
are all bit-players in our tongue.

was initiated in a mansion whose 
privileges are not what built it,
and I never thought to think, they
are what make us presentable. 

Fredrik Logevall
  The Fall of an Empire
  and the Making of
  America's Vietnam
Random House, 2012©

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