3.31.2017 Day in History

Today is both a day to celebrate the legacy of Cesar Chavez, and International Transgender Day of Visibility; at Medina, thirteen hundred and ninety years ago, a siege began against the forces of the prophet Muhammad; five hundred and nineteen years hence, more or less exactly, in 1146, Bernard of Clairvaux preached a renowned sermon that called for a new Crusade against Islam’s expansive power; three hundred forty-six years further along, meanwhile, in 1492, the same year that Columbus set sail for America, Spain issued its Alhambra decree that required Muslim and Jewish citizens to convert or face expulsion for the crime of having a different religion; a century and four years later, in 1596, a baby boy came screaming into the world on his way to a life as philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes; a quarter century onward in time, in 1621, a male infant entered the world who would grow up as poet and spiritual thinker Andrew Marvel; a decade beyond that pass, in 1631, the beloved English poet John Donne breathed no more; four years less than a century after that, also in England, in 1717, the Bangorian controversy unfolded as prominent English theologians began to defend the idea that neither church, nor Church, authority ought to hold sway in earthly matters, inasmuch as Jesus preached a separation of those realms; two hundred and forty-three years prior to the present pass, English authorities closed the port of Boston and sealed the fate of its loss of its colonial holdings in the Americas; thirty-five years thereafter, in 1809, a Ukrainian family brought a boy into the world who would grow up as the masterful Russian short story writer, Nikolai Gogol; thirteen years past that point, in 1822, Southwest in Europe’s Ottoman domain, imperial troops massacred residents of the Greek

"Kylix by Makron Mainade Satyros Staatliche Antikensammlungen 480BC Kat 94 02"
“Kylix by Makron Mainade Satyros Staatliche Antikensammlungen 480BC Kat 94 02”

island, Chilos, for their temerity in rising up against Turkish rule; three hundred sixty-five days yet later on, in 1823, five thousand miles away in South Carolina, a baby girl first breathed for herself en route to a life as writer and critic of slavery, Mary Boykin Chestnut; an additional fourteen years onward and upward, in 1837, English painter William Constable died; three years subsequently, in 1840, President Martin Van Buren mandated that all Federal employees who engaged in manual labor should work no more than ten hours a day; one hundred sixty-three years back, Matthew Perry signed the agreement that forced Japan to open itself to Western and especially American commerce; just a year after, in 1855, British novelist Charlotte Bronte breathed her last; eleven years subsequently, in 1866, across the Atlantic and the South American continent, Spanish Naval ships bombarded the Chilean port of Valparaiso in the opening stages of the Pacific War; eleven years after that instant, in 1877, the mathematical genius and still influential economic and philosophical theorist Antoine Augustin Cournot lived our his final day; six years henceforth, in 1883, five thousand miles West in Texas, cowboys at five huge ranches, denied access to property and the chance to accumulate their own cattle, went on strike as the wage-earners that their bosses insisted that they were; seven hundred thirty-one days afterward, in 1885, in the opening stages of the Scramble for Africa, England imposed a protectorate on Bechuanaland; four years exactly following that, in 1889, the Eiffel Tower officially opened; a decade more proximate to the present, in 1899, the United States continued its conquest of the Philippines by occupying the independence movement’s capital; seven years subsequently, in 1906, a precursor to the National Collegiate Athletic Association first began to orchestrate the business of ‘amateur’ university sporting events; three additional years in the direction of today, in 1909,  in a precursor of the struggles that would be the proximate cause of World War One, Serbia acceded to Austrian power over Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the unsinkable Titanic readied for its tragic maiden voyage; four years thereafter, in 1913, an audience that preferred melodic music rioted in Vienna at the performance of concerts by Schoenberg and other modernist composers; another year closer to today, in 1914, a Mexican boy entered the world in the usual way, on his path to life as the poet, Nobel Laureate, and humanist, Octavio Paz; three years still further on, in 1917, the United States expanded its imperial footprint with the purchase of Danish ‘properties’ in the Caribbean that became the U.S. Virgin Islands; three hundred sixty-five days in the future from that conjunction, in 1918, over ten thousand Muslim Azerbaijanis died in a massacre by Armenian and Bolshevik forces in the Russian Revolution; a farther half dozen years along time’s path, in 1924, a baby boy was born who would grow up to become the spiritual thinker and writer and teacher, Leo Buscaglia; two years hence across the Atlantic, in Britain in 1926, a male child took his first breath on the path to life as novelist and critic, John Fowles; three hundred sixty-five days subsequently, in 1927, a baby boy was the

CC BY-SA by garlandcannon

issue of campesino parents who raised him to be the great labor leader Cesar Chavez; three more years in the direction of now, in 1930, the Motion Picture Production Code became the law of the land in relation to the depictions of sexuality, political criticism, religion, and other ‘sensitive’ issues in films, and a West Virginia mountains tunnel project at Hawk’s Nest began which would sicken and kill thousands and hundreds of workers, respectively, with silicosis and otherwise; one year later on, in 1931, a boy child was born who would mature as prolific writer John Jakes; two years after that precise conjunction, in 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps began its operations in the U.S., partially to relieve the ravages of unemployment, and a little girl opened her eyes who would rise to become the beloved singer and lyricist of people’s music, Anita Carter; two years still closer to the current context, in 1935, another female infant entered our midst who would mature as popular writer, Judith Rossner; yet another year hence, in 1936,a girl child became a part of the human clan who would come to write as popular and socially democratic storyteller, Marge Piercy; half a decade more proximate to the present point, in 1941, police attempts to cross Allis-Chalmer picket lines with strike breakers failed; seven years hence, in 1948, a baby boy blinked his eyes en route to a life as the politician and thinker Al Gore; three years yet nearer to now, in 1951, the Remington Rand Corporation installed its first UNIVAC-I computer for the Census Bureau; eight years further down the pike, in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet to asylum in India; half a decade beyond that moment, in 1964, a coup in Brazil, supported by the U.S., established a fascist state that brutalized its citizens for many years; seven hundred thirty days beyond that, in 1966, the Soviet’s Luna 10 became the first craft to enter a lunar orbit; twenty years henceforth, in 1986, the crooner and songwriter, O’Kelly Isley sang his swansong; a thousand four hundred sixty-one additional days on the road to today, in 1990, more or less 200,000 Londoners went into the street to protest a newly instituted poll tax; four years after that, in 1994, Nature published findings from Ethiopia of the discovery of the first entire skull of the human ancestor Australopithecus aferensis; one year after to the day, in 1995, the U.S. withdrew from its bloody campaign in Somalia, and the wildly popular Mexican-American folksinger, Selena, died from a shooting by an employee whom she had caught embezzling money; a thousand ninety-six days along the path to now, in 1998, the Netscape Corporation made its Mozilla code available to the public as open source software; six years later and six thousand miles East in Iraq, in 2004, four mercenaries of the Blackwater Corporation died at the hands of Iraqi rebels near Baghdad.

3.31.2017 Nearly Naked Links

From Thursday’s Files

Rosenbergs’ Convictions – http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rosenbergs-convicted-of-espionage

A Llosa Interview, Nobel Explication



America’s Death Count, Counted – http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176259/tomgram%3A_john_dower%2C_body_count_for_the_american_century/#more

Expert Racketeers’ Journals – https://psmag.com/inside-the-academic-journal-that-corporations-love-a1dbe48cca1c

India’s Nuclear Strategic Position

Debating the Nuclear Legacy of India and One of Its Great Cold War Strategists

Humanity and Consciousness – http://www.vox.com/2017/3/27/14780114/yuval-harari-ai-vr-consciousness-sapiens-homo-deus-podcast

Value in Quitting TV – https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/i-gave-up-tv-then-qualified-for-olympic-marathon-trials-and-got-my-phd/2017/03/24/6d90aafc-ee38-11e6-9973-c5efb7ccfb0d_story.html

People’s Museums – http://chieforganizer.org/2017/03/28/museums-for-the-people-rather-than-the-elites/

Emerging News Organization – http://www.niemanlab.org/2017/03/newsonomics-can-dutch-import-de-correspondent-conquer-the-u-s/

Trump Ends Climate Policies – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/28/climate/trump-executive-order-climate-change.html

Abortion’s Travails – http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/03/why-its-become-so-hard-to-get-an-abortion

Underground Railroad – http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Moonlight-Director-Prepares-Series-on-Underground-Railroad-20170327-0033.html

Children’s Book Broaches Communism – http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Communism-for-Kids-the-New-Book-for-Revolutionary-Youngsters-20170327-0013.html

Segregation Costs – https://www.citylab.com/housing/2017/03/who-bears-the-costs-of-segregation/520863/

Transhumanism and Tesla – http://21stcenturywire.com/2017/03/27/elon-musk-from-tesla-to-transhumanism/

A Blow to GMO’s – http://www.ecowatch.com/eu-nations-vote-against-gmo-crops-2332080511.html

WWI Resources – http://blogs.loc.gov/teachers/2017/03/new-world-war-i-teacher-resources-from-the-library-of-congress/

Anti-Democratization of YouTube – http://theduran.com/the-death-of-youtube/

American Folklore – http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/william-gropper-map-american-folklore

Fiction Faith Imagination – http://blogs.loc.gov/catbird/2017/03/fiction-faith-and-the-imagination-a-tribute-to-marilynne-robinson/

3.31.2017 Daily Links

                   Thought of the Day                    

A not always obvious, though utterly central, paradox of humanity’s evolution revolves around the search for knowledge vis a vis the ability to declare that one really, truly knows something: the first utterly defines a core aspect of becoming an actually functioning real human being, while the second, at least in relation to any complex phenomenon or multilayered dynamic, at best represents an impossibility, in the most optimistic situation a case of fatuous fantasy that, as soon as anyone shows the temerity truly to support or insist on such foolishness becomes something much darker, sinister and insidious matters indeed, an affair of promoting beliefs that justify the most extreme sorts of feral fury and fascistic ferocity in the name of truthsthat no more exist than did either the ether that believers in this now hilarious view of electromagnetism defended diligently or the phlogiston that proponents of this even more ludicrous perspective on combustion held to as firmly as infants grasp their mothers’ breasts.

                    This Day in History                  

Today is both a day to celebrate the legacy of Cesar Chavez, and International Transgender Day of Visibility; at Medina, thirteen hundred and ninety years ago, a siege began against the forces of the prophet Muhammad; five hundred and nineteen years hence, more or less exactly, in 1146, Bernard of Clairvaux preached a renowned sermon that called for a new Crusade against Islam’s expansive power; three hundred forty-six years further along, meanwhile, in 1492, the same year that Columbus set sail for America, Spain issued its Alhambra decree that required Muslim and Jewish citizens to convert or face expulsion for the crime of having a different religion; MORE HERE


                  Quote of the Day                       
Though Truth and Falsehood be
Near twins, yet Truth a little elder is.

                   Doc of the Day                      
1. Descartes, 1637.
2. Mary Boykin Chestnut, 1860,1861.
3. Octavio Paz, 1990.
4. Barbara Summerhawk, 1998.
Numero Uno“The Great DESCARTES (who may justly challenge the first place amongst the Philosophers of this Age) is the Author of this Discourse; which in the Originall was so well known, That it could be no mans but his own, that his Name was not affix’d to it: I need say no more either of Him or It; He is best made known by Himself, and his Writings want nothing but thy reading to commend them.  But as those who cannot compasse the Originals of Titian and Van-Dyke, are glad to adorne their Cabinets with the Copies of them; So be pleased favourably to receive his Picture from my hand, copied after his own Designe: You may therein observe the lines of a well form’d Minde, The hightnings of Truth, The sweetnings and shadowings of Probabilities, The falls and depths of Falshood; all which serve to perfect this Masterpiece.  Now although my after-draught be rude and unpolished, and that perhaps I have touch’d it too boldly, The thoughts of so clear a Minde, being so extremely fine, That as the choisest words are too grosse, and fall short fully to expresse such sublime Notions; So it cannot be, but being transvested, it must necessarily lose very much of its native Lustre: Nay, although I am conscious (notwithstanding the care I have taken neither to wrong the Authours Sense, nor offend the Readers Ear) of many escapes which I have made; yet I so little doubt of being excused, That I am confident, my endeavour cannot but be gratefull to all Lovers of Learning; for whose benefit I have Englished, and to whom I addresse this Essay, which contains a Method, by the Rules whereof we may Shape our better part, Rectifie our Reason, Form our Manners and Square our Actions, Adorn our Mindes, and making a diligent Enquiry into Nature, wee may attain to the Knowledge of the Truth, which is the most desirable union in the World. MORE HERE

book hor2

"federal reserve" OR "central banks" OR "monopoly finance" history OR origins OR "jekyll island" analysis OR explication OR documentation critique OR deconstruction OR investigation radical OR marxist = 598,000 Linkages.

book hor


3.30.2017 Day in History

Today in the United States marks a commemoration of ‘Doctor’s Day,’ while Palestinians and Israelis of conscience celebrate Land Day; on the Balkan boundaries that separated ‘barbarians’ from ‘civilized’ Byzantines one thousand four hundred eighteen years ago, Slavic Avars, suffering from a plague epidemic, lifted their siege of a Byzantine fortified town at Tomis; eleven hundred forty-eight years later, in 1746, a male child entered the world in standard fashion who would become the genius of art and expression, Francisco Goya; exactly two centuries and two years before today, Joachim Murat published the Rimini Proclamation, which was one predecessor to moves later in the century for Italian unification; seven years hence, in 1822, having recently purchased the land South of Georgia from Spain, the United States formed the Florida Territory; two decades thereafter, in 1842, a Georgia surgeon by the name of Crawford Long first used ether anesthesia in an

CC BY-NC by Gilberto Viciedo

operation; two years after that exact juncture, in 1844, across the Atlantic in France, an infant male came into the world who would grow up as wild poet Paul Verlaine; just shy of a decade beyond that, also in France in 1853, the baby boy was born who would mature as the icon of art and soul, Vincent Van Gogh; two years subsequently, across the wide Atlantic in 1855, Missouri pro-slavery gangs swept into Kansas and ‘encouraged’ the election of a pro-slavery legislature; three hundred sixty-six days closer to the current day, in 1856, across the Atlantic in France once more, combatants in the Crimean conflict of the day signed an accord to end their warfare with the Treaty of Paris; another eight years forward in time, in 1864, a German male child took a breath en route to a life as the social theorist and analyst of state formation, Franz Oppenheimer; three years more proximate to the present, in 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward finalized the purchase of Alaska from Russia for roughly two pennies per acre, or $7.2 million; three years after that juncture, in 1870, Texas gained readmission to the Union; another sixteen years onward in time and space, England and Russia nearly went to war over Afghanistan after the Battle for Kushka instigated the so-called Panjdeh Incident, in a conflict redolent of much of the past three and a half decades in the same region; five years beyond that, in 1890, a baby boy was born who would become French author Jean Giono; nine years more proximate to the present, in 1899, the German Society of Chemistry invited other nations to appoint representatives to an international conference on atomic weights; a thousand four hundred sixty days yet later on, in 1904, a male child came along who would become popular writer of musical verse Countee Cullen; double that length of time into the future, in 1912, Morocco became a French protectorate and extended the European Imperial Project through the Treaty of Fez; a single year past that juncture, in 1913, a male American was born who would enjoy long life and fame as the performer and lyricist Frankie Lane; five years subsequently, in 1918, as part of the Russian Revolution, a violent uprising affected much of Baku and surrounding areas, and stockyard workers in Chicago won the eight hour day; a dozen years subsequently on the dot, in 1930, close to 40,000 distressed workers rallied in New York’s Union Square, only to face police harassment and beatings; seven years yet nearer to now, in 1937, a baby boy was born who would make and act in films as Warren Beatty; two years farther down the pike, in 1939, the first issue of what would become the Batman comic series was available for sale; another year thereafter, in 1940, Japan declared Nanking the ‘capital’ of its conquests in China; half a decade after that moment in time, in 1945, a male infant uttered his first cry who would croon and play guitar as Eric Clapton;Icelandic residents of Reykjavik another four years in the direction of today, in 1949, rioted against their country’s joining NATO; a dozen years in the future, in 1961,  the United States imposed a single convention on narcotic drugs in New drug drugs bannerYork City, further solidifying the political economy and police state protocols of what would soon enough become the ‘War on Drugs;’ exactly a year afterward, in 1962, the male infant opened his eyes who would rise as the powerful rapper, MC Hammer; an additional seven hundred thirty-one days along time’s march, in 1964, a baby girl drew her first breath who would continue on to write and sing as Tracy Chapman;a year beyond that, around the world in Saigon in 1965, a car bomb exploded in front of the U.S. embassy, foreshadowing the expanding carnage on its way in Indochina; poet Jean Toomer two years still more along time’s road, in 1967, had his final day alive; another three years henceforth, in 1970, the United States finally passed a reasonably comprehensive Coal Mine Health and Safety Act; half a dozen years thereafter, in 1976, the first Land Day celebration took place in Israel & Palestine; three years afterward, in 1979, a little girl was born whose destiny was prodigal, as the singer and lyrical genius Norah Jones; two years subsequent to that, in 1981, the son of close friends of the Bush family shot and wounded Ronald Reagan; twenty-six years back, union leader Harry Bridges drew his last breath; fourteen years still closer to the current conjunction, in 2004, English journalist Alistair Cooke spent his last day on Earth; seven hundred and thirty days beyond that point, in 2006, Irish author John McGahern took his final breath; four years following that, in 2010, Bolivian educator Jaime Escalante died.

3.30.2017 Nearly Naked Links

From Wednesday’s Files

(Photo: London Palestine Action)
(Photo: London Palestine Action)

Blaming ‘Liberal’ Cities for Social Problems – https://www.citylab.com/politics/2017/03/scapegoating-the-big-bad-liberal-city/521058/

New Balkan War – http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/29/does-washington-want-to-start-a-new-war-in-the-balkans/

Propaganda and War – http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/29/war-and-propaganda/

Sex in Literature – https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/fellatio-and-juliet-blowjobs-in-literature

US and Israel – http://mondoweiss.net/2017/03/overwhelmingly-partial-israel/

Lyft and its Promises – https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/29/is-lyft-really-the-woke-alternative-to-uber

The Innovation Immigrants Bring – http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/03/immigrants-innovation-us-history.html

Participatory Budgeting – http://www.shareable.net/blog/participatory-budgeting-is-gaining-momentum-in-the-us-how-does-it-work

Opposition to Wars Solidified Left – https://newrepublic.com/article/141647/opposition-world-war-one-galvanized-left

Religious ‘Left’ as Trump Alternative – http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-religion-idUSKBN16Y114

David Bowie – http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/see-candid-david-bowie-footage-from-mick-rock-documentary-w472239

Bob Dylan Archive – http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/massive-bob-dylan-archive-opens-in-oklahoma-w473929

Unwinnable War – https://consortiumnews.com/2017/03/26/the-unwinnable-vietnam-war/

Russia and Surveillance State – https://consortiumnews.com/2017/03/28/the-surveillance-state-behind-russia-gate/

BLM Socialist Organizer Runs for Office – http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/40005-socialist-organizer-and-black-lives-matter-activist-runs-for-office-in-fulton-georgia

Gramsci’s ‘Two Fascisms’ – https://www.marxists.org/archive/gramsci/1921/08/two_fascisms.htm

Fromm on Marxian Humanism – https://www.marxists.org/archive/fromm/works/1961/man/index.htm

Rodney’s George Jackson Essay & a Documentary Analysis – http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-1980-assassination-of-historian-walter-rodney-was-carried-out-by-guyana-government/5509750


Needham+ on Chinese Social History



Du Gard’s Nobel Contextualization – http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1937/press.html

3.31.2017 Doc of the Day

1. Descartes, 1637.
2. Mary Boykin Chestnut, 1860,1861.
3. Octavio Paz, 1990.
4. Barbara Summerhawk, 1998.
Descartes Magnetic Field
Descartes Magnetic Field

Numero Uno“The Great DESCARTES (who may justly challenge the first place amongst the Philosophers of this Age) is the Author of this Discourse; which in the Originall was so well known, That it could be no mans but his own, that his Name was not affix’d to it: I need say no more either of Him or It; He is best made known by Himself, and his Writings want nothing but thy reading to commend them.  But as those who cannot compasse the Originals of Titian and Van-Dyke, are glad to adorne their Cabinets with the Copies of them; So be pleased favourably to receive his Picture from my hand, copied after his own Designe: You may therein observe the lines of a well form’d Minde, The hightnings of Truth, The sweetnings and shadowings of Probabilities, The falls and depths of Falshood; all which serve to perfect this Masterpiece.  Now although my after-draught be rude and unpolished, and that perhaps I have touch’d it too boldly, The thoughts of so clear a Minde, being so extremely fine, That as the choisest words are too grosse, and fall short fully to expresse such sublime Notions; So it cannot be, but being transvested, it must necessarily lose very much of its native Lustre: Nay, although I am conscious (notwithstanding the care I have taken neither to wrong the Authours Sense, nor offend the Readers Ear) of many escapes which I have made; yet I so little doubt of being excused, That I am confident, my endeavour cannot but be gratefull to all Lovers of Learning; for whose benefit I have Englished, and to whom I addresse this Essay, which contains a Method, by the Rules whereof we may Shape our better part, Rectifie our Reason, Form our Manners and Square our Actions, Adorn our Mindes, and making a diligent Enquiry into Nature, wee may attain to the Knowledge of the Truth, which is the most desirable union in the World.Our Authour also invites all letterd men to his assistance in the prosecution of this Search; That for the good of Mankinde, They would practise and communicate [v]Experiments, for the use of all those who labour for the perfection of arts and sciences: every man now being obliged to the furtherance of so beneficiall an undertaking, I could not but lend my hand to open the curtain, and discover this new model of philosophy; which I now publish, neither to humour the present, nor disgust former times; but rather that it may serve for an innocent divertisement to those, who would rather reform themselves, then the rest of the world; and who, having the same seeds and grounds, and knowing that there is nothing new under the sun; that novelty is but oblivion, [vi] and that knowledge is but remembrance, will study to finde out in themselves, and restore to posterity those lost arts, which render antiquity so venerable; and strive (if it be possible) to go beyond them in other things, as well as time: who minde not those things which are above, beyond, or without them; but would rather limit their desires by their power, then change the course of nature; who seek the knowledge, and labour for the conquest of themselves; who have vertue enough to make their own fortune; and who prefer the culture of the minde before the adorning of the body; [vii] to such as these I present this discourse (whose pardon I beg, for having so long detain’d them from so desirable a conversation;) and conclude with this advice of the divine plato:

Cogita in te, præter Animum, nihil esse mirabile.

If this Discourse seem too long to be read at once, it may be divided into six parts.  In the first, are divers Considerations touching the Sciences.  In the second, the principall Rules of that Method which the Author hath studyed.  In the third, some of those in morality, which he hath drawn from this Method.  In the fourth, the reasons whereby the existence of God and of the humane Soul is proved; which are the grounds of his Metaphysicks.  In the fift, the order of these Physicall questions, which he hath examined, and particularly the explication of the hearts motion; with some other difficulties relating to Physick; as also the difference between our Souls and those of beasts.  In the last, what he conceives requisit to make a further inquiry into Nature, then hath hitherto been made.  And what reasons induc’d him to write. …

Right understanding is the most equally divided thing in the World; for every one beleevs himself so well stor’d with it, that even those who in all other things are the hardest to be pleas’d, seldom desire more of it then they have; wherein it is not likely that all Men are deceived: But it rather witnesseth, That the faculty of right-judging and distinguishing truth from falshood (which is properly call’d, Understanding or Reason) is naturally equal in all Men.  And as the diversity of our Opinions, is not, because some are more reasonable then others; but only that we direct our thoughts several ways, neither do we consider the same things.  For ’tis not enough to have good faculties, but the principal is, to apply them well.  The greatest Souls are as capable of the greatest Vices, as of the most eminent Vertues: And those who move but very slowly, may advance much farther, if they always follow the right way; then those who run and straggle from it.

For my part, I never presum’d that my Minde was more perfect in any thing then an ordinary Mans; nay, I have often wish’d to have had my thoughts as quick, my imagination as clear and distinct, and my memory as [4] large and as ready as some other Men have had. And I know no Qualities which serve more then those to the perfection of the Minde; for as for Reason or Understanding, forasmuch as it is the only thing which makes us Men, and distinguisheth us from beasts, I will beleeve it to be entire in every One, and follow herein the common opinion of the Philosophers, who say, That there is only more or less among the Accidents, and not amongst the Forms or nature of the Individuals of one species.

But I shall not stick to say, That I beleeve my self very happy, in having encountred from my youth with certain ways which have led me to considerations and Maximes, from which I have found a Method; whereby methinks, I have the means by degrees to augment my knowledg, and by little and little to raise it up to the highest pitch, whereto the meaness of my capacity, & the short course of my life can permit it to attain. For I have [5] already reaped such fruits from it, that although in the judgment I make of my self, I endevour always rather to incline to mistrust, then to presumption. And looking on the divers actions and undertakings of all Men, with the eye of a Philosopher, there is almost none which to me seems not vain and useless. Yet I am extremely satisfied with the Progress, which (as it seems to me) I have already made in the search of Truth, and do conceive such hopes for the future, That if among the employments of Men, purely Men, there is any solidly good, and of importance, I dare beleeve it is that which I have chosen: Yet it may be that I deceive my self, and perhaps it is but a little Copper and Glass which I take for Gold and Diamonds. I know how subject we are to mistake in those things which concern us, and how jealous we ought to be of the judgment of our friends, when it is in our favor. But I should willingly in this Discourse, trace out unto you the [6] ways which I have followed, and represent therein my life, as in a Picture, to the end, that every one may judge thereof; and that learning from common Fame, what mens opinions are of it, I may finde a new means of instructing my self; which I shall add to those which I customarily make use of.

Neither is it my design to teach a Method which every Man ought to follow, for the good conduct of his reason; but only to shew after what manner I have endevoured to order mine own. Those who undertake to give precepts, ought to esteem themselves more able, then those to whom they give them, and are blame-worthy, if they fail in the least. But proposing this but as a History, or if you will have it so, but as a Fable; wherein amongst other examples, which may be imitated, we may perhaps find divers others which we may have reason to decline: I hope it will be profitable to some, [7] without being hurtfull to any; and that the liberty I take will be gratefull to all.

I have been bred up to Letters from mine infancy; & because I was perswaded, that by their means a man might acquire a clear and certain knowledg of all that’s usefull for this life, I was extremely desirous to learn them: But as soon as I had finish’d all the course of my Studies, at the end whereof Men are usually receiv’d amongst the rank of the learned. I wholly changed my opinion, for I found my self intangled in so many doubts and errors, that me thought I had made no other profit in seeking to instruct my self, but that I had the more discovered mine own ignorance. Yet I was in one of the most famous Schools in Europe; where I thought, if there were any on earth, there ought to have been learned Men. I had learnt all what others had learnt; even unsatisfied with the Sciences which were taught us, I had read over all [8]Books (which I could possibly procure) treating of such as are held to be the rarest and the most curious. Withall, I knew the judgment others made of me; and I perceiv’d that I was no less esteem’d then my fellow Students, although there were some amongst them that were destin’d to fill our Masters rooms. And in fine, our age seem’d to me as flourishing and as fertile of good Wits, as any of the preceding, which made me take the liberty to judg of all other men by my self, and to think, That there was no such learning in the world, as formerly I had been made beleeve.

Yet did I continue the esteem I had of those exercises which are the employments of the Schools: I knew that Languages which are there learnt, are necessary for the understanding of ancient Writers, That the quaintness of Fables awakens the Minde; That the memorable actions in History raise it up, and that being read with discretion, they help to form the judgment. [9] That the reading of good books, is like the conversation with the honestest persons of the past age, who were the Authors of them, and even a studyed conversation, wherein they discover to us the best only of their thoughts. That eloquence hath forces & beauties which are incomparable. That Poetry hath delicacies and sweets extremly ravishing; That the Mathematicks hath most subtile inventions, which very much conduce aswel to content the curious, as to facilitate all arts, and to lessen the labour of Men: That those writings which treat of manners contain divers instructions, and exhortations to vertue, which are very usefull. That Theology teacheth the way to heaven; That Philosophy affords us the means to speake of all things with probability, and makes her self admir’d, by the least knowing Men. That Law, Physick and other sciences bring honor and riches to those who practice them; Finally that its good to have examin’d them [10] all even the falsest and the most superstitious, that we may discover their just value, and preserve our selves from their cheats.

But I thought I had spent time enough in the languages, and even also in the lecture of ancient books, their histories and their fables. For ’tis even the same thing to converse with those of former ages, as to travel. Its good to know something of the manners of severall Nations, that we may not think that all things against our Modeare ridiculous or unreasonable, as those are wont to do, who have seen Nothing. But when we employ too long time in travell, we at last become strangers to our own Country, and when we are too curious of those things, which we practised in former times, we commonly remain ignorant of those which are now in use. Besides, Fables make us imagine divers events possible, which are not so: And that even the most faithfull Histories, if they neither change or [11] augment the value of things, to render them the more worthy to be read, at least, they always omit the basest and less remarkable circumstances; whence it is, that the rest seems not as it is; and that those who form their Manners by the examples they thence derive, are subject to fall into the extravagancies of the Paladins of our Romances, and to conceive designes beyond their abilities.

I highly priz’d Eloquence, and was in love with Poetry; but I esteem’d both the one and the other, rather gifts of the Minde, then the fruits of study. Those who have the strongest reasoning faculties, and who best digest their thoughts, to render them the more clear and intelligible, may always the better perswade what they propose, although they should speak but a corrupt dialect, and had never learnt Rhetorick: And those whose inventions are most pleasing, and can express them with most ornament and sweetness, will still be the best [12] Poets; although ignorant of the Art of Poetry.

Beyond all, I was most pleas’d with the Mathematicks, for the certainty and evidence of the reasons thereof; but I did not yet observe their true use, and thinking that it served only for Mechanick Arts; I wondred, that since the grounds thereof were so firm and solid, that nothing more sublime had been built thereon. As on the contrary, I compar’d the writings of the Ancient heathen which treated of Manner, to most proud and stately Palaces which were built only on sand and mire, they raise the vertues very high, and make them appear estimable above all the things in the world; but they doe not sufficiently instruct us in the knowledg of them, and often what they call by that fair Name, is but a stupidness, or an act of pride, or of despair, or a paricide.

I reverenc’d our Theology, and pretended to heaven as much as any; But having learnt as a most certain [13]Truth, that the way to it, is no less open to the most ignorant, then to the most learned; and that those revealed truths which led thither, were beyond our understanding, I durst not submit to the weakness of my ratiocination. And I thought, that to undertake to examine them, and to succeed in it, requir’d some extraordinary assistance from heaven, and somewhat more then Man. I shall say nothing of Philosophy, but that seeing it hath been cultivated by the most excellent wits, which have liv’d these many ages, and that yet there is nothing which is undisputed, and by consequence, which is not doubtfull. I could not presume so far, as to hope to succeed better then others. And considering how many different opinions there may be on the same thing, maintain’d by learned Men, and yet that there never can be but one only Truth, I reputed almost all false, which had no more then probability in it.

[14] As for other Sciences, since they borrow their Principles from Philosophy, I judg’d that nothing which was solid could be built upon such unsound foundations; and neither honour nor wealth were sufficient to invite me to the study of them. For (I thank God) I found not my self in a condition which obliged me to make a Trade of Letters for the relief of my fortune. And although I made it not my profession to despise glory with the Cynick; yet did I little value that which I could not acquire but by false pretences. And lastly, for unwarrantable Studies, I thought I already too well understood what they were, to be any more subject to be deceived, either by the promises of an Alchymist, or by the predictions of an Astrologer, or by the impostures of a Magician, or by the artifice or brags of those who profess to know more then they do.

By reason whereof, as soon as my years freed me from the subjection of [15] my Tutors, I wholly gave over the study of Letters, and resolving to seek no other knowledge but what I could finde in my self, or in the great book of the World, I imployed the rest of my youth in Travell, to see Courts and Armies, to frequent people of severall humors and conditions, to gain experience, to hazard my self in those encounters of fortune which should occurr; and every-where to make such a reflection on those things which presented themselves to me, that I might draw profit from them. For (me thought) I could meet with far more truth in the discourses which every man makes touching those affairs which concern him, whose event would quickly condemn him, if he had judg’d amisse; then amongst those which letter’d Men make in their closets touching speculations, which produce no effect, and are of no consequence to them, but that perhaps they may gain so much the more vanity, as they are farther different from [16] the common understanding: Forasmuch as he must have imployed the more wit and subtilty in endeavouring to render them probable. And I had always an extreme desire to learn to distinguish Truth from Falshood, that I might see cleerly into my actions, and passe this life with assurance.

Its true, that whiles I did but consider the Manners of other men, I found little or nothing wherein I might confirm my self: And I observ’d in them even as much diversity as I had found before in the opinions of the Philosophers: So that the greatest profit I could reap from them was, that seeing divers things, which although they seem to us very extravagant and ridiculous, are nevertheless commonly received and approved by other great Nations, I learn’d to beleeve nothing too firmly, of what had been onely perswaded me by example or by custom, and so by little and little I freed my self from many errors, which might eclipse our [17] naturall light, and render us lesse able to comprehend reason. But after I had imployed some years in thus studying the Book of the World, and endeavouring to get experience, I took one day a resolution to study also within my self, and to employ all the forces of my minde in the choice of the way I was to follow: which (me thought) succeeded much better, then if I had never estranged my self from my Country, or from my Books.

I was then in Germany, whither the occasion of the Wars (which are not yet finished) call’d me; and as I return’d from the Emperors Coronation towards the Army, the beginning of Winter stopt me in a place, where finding no conversation to divert me [18] and on the other sides having by good fortune no cares nor passions which troubled me, I stayd alone the whole day, shut up in my Stove, where I had leasure enough to entertain my self with my thoughts. Among which one of the first was that I betook my self to consider, That oft times there is not so much perfection in works compos’d of divers peeces, and made by the hands of severall masters, as in those that were wrought by one only: So we may observe that those buildings which were undertaken and finished by one onely, are commonly fairer and better ordered then those which divers have laboured to patch up, making use of old wals, which were built for other purposes; So those ancient Cities which of boroughs, became in a succession of time great Towns, are commonly so ill girt in comparison of other regular Places, which were design’d on a flatt according to the fancy of an Engeneer; and although considering their buildings [19] severally, we often find as much or more art, then in those of other places; Yet to see how they are rank’d here a great one, there a little one, and how they make the streets crooked and uneven, One would say, That it was rather Fortune, then the will of Men indued with reason, that had so disposed them. And if we consider, that there hath always been certain Officers, whose charge it was, to take care of private buildings, to make them serve for the publique ornament; We may well perceive, that it’s very difficult, working on the works of others, to make things compleat. So also did I imagine, that those people who formerly had been half wilde, and civiliz’d but by degrees, made their laws but according to the incommodities which their crimes and their quarrels constrain’d them to, could not be so wel pollic’d, as those who from the beginning of their association, observ’d the constitutions of some prudent Legislator. [20] As it is very certain, that the state of the true Religion, whose Ordinances God alone hath made, must be incomparably better regulated then all others. And to speak of humane things, I beleeve that if Sparta hath formerly been most flourishing, it was not by reason of the goodness of every of their laws in particular, many of them being very strange, and even contrary to good manners, but because they were invented by one only, They all tended to One End. And so I thought the sciences in Books, at least those whose reasons are but probable, and which have no demonstrations, having been compos’d of, and by little and little enlarg’d with, the opinions of divers persons, come not so near the Truth, as those simple reasonings which an understanding Man can naturally make, touching those things which occurr. And I thought besides also, That since we have all been children, before we were Men; and that we [21] must have been a long time govern’d by our appetites, and by our Tutors, who were often contrary to one another, and neither of which alwayes counsel’d us for the best; It’s almost impossible that our judgment could be so clear or so solid, as it might have been, had we had the intire use of our reason from the time of our birth, and been always guided by it alone.

Its true, we doe not see the houses of a whole Town pull’d down purposely to re build them of another fashion; and to make the streets the fairer; But we often see, that divers pull their own down to set them up again, and that even sometimes they are forc’d thereunto, when they are in danger to fall of themselves, and that their foundations are not sure. By which example I perswaded my self, that there was no sense for a particular person, to design the Reformation of a State, changing all from the very foundations, and subverting [22] all to redress it again: Nor even also to reform the bodies of Sciences, or the Orders already established in the Schools for teaching them. But as for all the Opinions which I had till then receiv’d into my beleef, I could not doe better then to undertake to expunge them once for all, that afterwards I might place in their stead, either others which were better, or the same again, as soon as I should have adjusted them to the rule of reason. And I did confidently beleeve, that by that means I should succeed much better in the conduct of my life, then if I built but on old foundations, and only relyed on those principles, which I suffer’d my self to be perswaded to in my youth, without ever examining the Truth of them. For although I observ’d herein divers difficulties, yet were they not without cure, nor comparable to those which occurr in the reformation of the least things belonging to the publick: these great bodies are too unweldy to be rais’d; being [23] cast down, or to be held up when they are shaken, neither can their falls be but the heavyest.

As for their imperfections, if they have any, as the only diversity which is amongst them, is sufficient to assure us that many have. Custome hath (without doubt) much sweetned them, and even it hath made others wave, or insensibly correct a many, whereto we could not so well by prudence have given a remedy. And in fine, They are alwayes more supportable, then their change can be, Even, as the great Roads, which winding by little and little betwixt mountains, become so plain and commodious, with being often frequented, that it’s much better to follow them, then to undertake to goe in a strait line by climbing over the rocks, and descending to the bottom of precipices. Wherefore I can by no means approve of those turbulent and unquiet humors, who being neither call’d by birth or fortune to the [24] managing of publique affairs, yet are alwayes forming in Idea, some new Reformation. And did I think there were the least thing in this Discourse, which might render me suspected of that folly, I should be extremely sorry to suffer it to be published; I never had any designe which intended farther then to reform my own thoughts and to build on a foundation which was wholly mine. But though I present you here with a Modell of my work, because it hath sufficiently pleased me; I would not therefore counsell any one to imitate it. Those whom God hath better endued with his graces, may perhaps have more elevated designes; but I fear me, lest already this be too bold for some. The resolution only of quitting all those opinions which we have formerly receiv’d into our belief, is not an example to be followed by every One; and the world is almost compos’d but of two sorts of Men, to whom it’s no wayes convenient, to [25] wit, of those, who beleeving themselves more able then they are, cannot with-hold themselves from precipitating their judgments, nor have patience enough to steer all their thoughts in an orderly course. Whence it happens, that if they should once take the liberty to doubt of those principles which they have already received, and to stray from the common road, they could never keep the path which leads strait forwards, and so, would straggle all their lives. And of such who having reason and modesty enough to judg that they are less able to distinguish truth from falshood then others, from whom they may receive instruction, ought much rather to be content to follow other Mens opinions, rather then to seek after better themselves.

And for my part, I had undoubtedly been of the number of those latter, had I never had but one Master, or had I not known the disputes which [26] have alwayes hapned amongst the most learned. For having learnt from the very School, That one can imagin nothing so strange or incredible, which had not been said by some one of the Philosophers; And having since observ’d in my travails, That all those whose opinions are contrary to ours, are not therefore barbarous or savage, but that many use as much or more reason then we; and having consider’d how much one Man with his own understanding, bred up from his childhood among the French or the Dutch, becomes different from what he would be, had he alwayes liv’d amongst the Chineses, or the Cannibals: And how even in the fashion of our Clothes, the same thing which pleas’d ten years since, and which perhaps wil please ten years hence, seems now to us ridiculous and extravagant. So that it’s much more Custome and Example which perswades us, then any assured knowledg; and notwithstanding that plurality of voices is a [27] proof of no validity, in those truths which are hard to be discovered; for that it’s much more likely for one man alone to have met with them, then a whole Nation; I could choose no Man whose opinion was to be preferr’d before anothers: And I found my self even constrain’d to undertake the conduct of my self.

But as a man that walks alone, and in the dark, I resolv’d to goe so softly, and use so much circumspection in all things, that though I advanc’d little, I would yet save my self from falling. Neither would I begin quite to reject, some opinions, which formerly had crept into my belief, without the consent of my reason, before I had employed time enough to form the project of the work I undertook, and to seek the true Method to bring me to the knowledg of all those things, of which my understanding was capable.

I had a little studyed, being young, of the parts of Philosophy, Logick, [28] and of the Mathematicks, the Analysis of the Geometricians, and Algebra: Three arts or sciences which seem’d to contribute somewhat conducing to my designe: But examining them, I observ’d, That as for Logick, its Sylogisms, and the greatest part of its other Rules, serve rather to expound to another the things they know, or even as Lullies art, to speak with judgment of the things we are ignorant of, then to learn them. And although in effect it contain divers most true and good precepts, yet there are so many others mixed amongst them, either hurtfull or superfluous, That it’s even as difficult to extract them, as ’tis to draw a Diana or a Mercury out of a lump of Marble, which is not yet rough-hewn; as for the Analysis of the Ancients, and the Algebra of the Moderns; besides that, they extend only to matters very abstract, and which seem to be of no use; The first being alwayes so tyed to the consideration of figures, That it cannot exercise [29] the understanding, without very much tiring the imagination. And in the latter they have so subjected themselves to certain Rules and cyphers, that they have made a confus’d and obscure art which perplexeth the minde, in stead of a Science to instruct it. For this reason, I thought I ought to seek some other Method, which comprehending the advantages of these, they might be exempt from their defects. And as the multitude of Laws often furnisheth excuses for vice; so a State is fair better polic’d, when having but a few, they are very strictly observ’d therein: So, instead of the great many precepts whereof Logick is compos’d, I thought these four following would be sufficient for me, if I took but a firm and constant resolution not once to fail in the observation of them.

The first was, never to receive any thing for true, but what I evidently knew to be so; that’s to say, Carefully to avoid Precipitation and Prevention, [30] and to admit nothing more into my judgment, but what should so clearly and distinctly present it self to my minde, that I could have no reason to doubt of it.

The second, to divide every One of these difficulties, which I was to examine into as many parcels as could be, and, as was requisite the better to resolve them.

The third, to lead my thoughts in order, beginning by the most simple objects, and the easiest to be known; to rise by little and little, as by steps, even to the knowledg of the most mixt; and even supposing an Order among those which naturally doe not precede one the other.

And the last, to make every where such exact calculations, and such generall reviews, That I might be confident to have omitted Nothing.

Those long chains of reasons, (though simple and easie) which the Geometricians commonly use to lead us to their most difficult demonstrations, [31] gave me occasion to imagine, That all things which may fall under the knowledg of Men, follow one the other in the same manner, and so we doe only abstain from receiving any one for true, which is not so, and observe alwayes the right order of deducing them one from the other, there can be none so remote, to which at last we shall not attain; nor so hid, which we shall not discover. Neither was I much troubled to seek by which it behooved me to begin, for I already knew, that it was by the most simple, and the easiest to be discern’d. But considering, that amongst all those who formerly have sought the Truth in Learning, none but the Mathematicians only could finde any demonstrations, that’s to say, any certain and evident reasons. I doubted not, but that it was by the same that they have examin’d; although I did hope for no other profit, but only that they would accustome my Minde to nourish it self with [32]Truths, and not content it self with false Reasons. But for all this, I never intended to endevour to learn all those particular Sciences which we commonly call’d Mathematicall; And perceiving, that although their objects were different, yet did they nevertheless agree altogether, in that they consider no other thing, but the divers relations or proportions which are found therein; I thought it therefore better to examine those proportions in generall, and without supporting them but in those subjects, which might the more easily serve to bring me to the knowledg of them. But withall, without any wayes limiting them, That I might afterwards the better sit them to all others whereto they might be applyed. Having also observ’d, That to know them, it would be sometimes needfull for me to consider every one in particular, or sometimes only to restrain them, or comprehend many together; I thought, that to consider them the [33] better in particular I ought to suppose them in lines, for as much as I find nothing more simple, nor which I could more distinctly represent to my imagination, and to my sences; But to hold or comprehend many in one, I was oblig’d to explain them by certain Cyphers the shortest I possibly could, and that I should thereby borrow the best of the Geometricall Analysis, and of Algebra, & so correct all the defects of the one by the other.

As in effect I dare say, That the exact observation of those few precepts I had chosen, gave me such a facility to resolve all the questions whereto these two sciences extend; That in two or three months space which I employed in the examination of them, having begun by the most simple and most generall, and every Truth which I found being a rule which afterwards served me to discover others; I did not only compasse divers truths which I had formerly judged most difficult, But me thought also that towards the end I could determin [34] even in those which I was ignorant of, by what means and how farr it was possible to resolve them. Wherein perhaps I shall not appear to be very vain if you consider, That there being but one truth of every thing, who ever finds it, knows as much of it as one can know; And that for example a child instructed in Arithmatick having made an addition according to his rules, may be sure to have found, touching the sum he examined, all what the wit of man could finde out. In a word the method which teacheth to folow a right order, and exactly to enumerate all the circumstances of what we seek, contains, whatsoever ascertains the rules of Arithmatick.

But that which pleas’d me most in this Method was the assurance I had, wholly to use my reason, if not perfectly, at least as much as it was in my power; Besides this, I perceived in the practice of it, my minde by little and little accustom’d it self to conceive its objects more clearly and distinctly; and having not subjected it [35] to any particular matter, I promised my self to apply it also as profitable to the difficulties, of other sciences as I had to Algebra: Not that I therefore durst at first undertake to examine all which might present themselves, for that were contrary to the order it prescribes.  But having observ’d that all their principles were to be borrowed from Philosophy, in which I had yet found none that were certain, I thought it were needfull for me in the first place to endevor to establish some, and that this being the most important thing in the world, wherein precipitation and prevention were the most to be feared, I should not undertake to performe it, till I had attain’d to a riper Age then XXIII, which was then mine.  Before I had formerly employed a long time in preparing my self thereunto, aswel in rooting out of my minde all the ill opinions I had before that time received, as in getting a stock of experience to serve afterwards for the subject of my reasonings, and in exercising my self always in the Method I had prescribed.  That I might the more and more confine my self therein.”  Descartes, A Discourse of a Method for the Well-Guiding of Reason; & the Discovery of Truth in the Sciences; “To the Understanding Reader,” Parts I & II, 1637, 1649

"Abraham Lincoln O-74 by Gardner, 1863 bw" by Alexander Gardner
“Abraham Lincoln O-74 by Gardner, 1863 bw” by Alexander Gardner

Numero Dos


November 8, 1860 – December 27, 1860

CHARLESTON, S. C., November 8, 1860. – Yesterday on the train, just before we reached Fernandina, a woman called out: ‘That settles the hash.’  Tanny touched me on the shoulder and said: ‘Lincoln’s elected.’  ‘How do you know?’  ‘The man over there has a telegram.’

The excitement was very great.  Everybody was talking at the same time.  One, a little more moved than the others, stood up and said despondently: ‘The die is cast; no more vain regrets; sad forebodings are useless; the stake is life or death.’  ‘Did you ever!’ was the prevailing exclamation, and some one cried out: ‘Now that the black radical Republicans have the power I suppose they will Brown us all.’  No doubt of it.

I have always kept a journal after a fashion of my own, with dates and a line of poetry or prose, mere quotations, which I understood and no one else, and I have kept letters and extracts from the papers.   From to-day forward I will tell the story in my own way.  I now wish I had a chronicle of the two delightful and eventful years that have just passed.   Those delights have fled and one’s breath is taken away to think what events have since crowded in.  Like the woman’s record in her journal, we have had ‘earthquakes, as usual’ – daily shocks.

        At Fernandina I saw young men running up a Palmetto flag, and shouting a little prematurely, “South Carolina has seceded!” I was overjoyed to find Florida so sympathetic, but Tanny told me the young men were Gadsdens, Porchers, and Gourdins, 1 names as inevitably South Carolinian as Moses and Lazarus are Jewish.

From my window I can hear a grand and mighty flow of eloquence. Bartow and a delegation from Savannah are having a supper given to them in the dining-room below. The noise of the speaking and cheering is pretty hard on a tired traveler. Suddenly I found myself listening with pleasure. Voice, tone, temper, sentiment, language, all were perfect. I sent Tanny to see who it was that spoke. He came back saying, “Mr. Alfred Huger, the old postmaster.” He may not have been the wisest or wittiest man there, but he certainly made the best aftersupper speech.

December 10th. – We have been up to the Mulberry Plantation with Colonel Colcock and Judge Magrath, who were sent to Columbia by their fellow-citizens in the low country, to hasten the slow movement of the wisdom assembled in the State Capital. Their message was, they said: “Go ahead, dissolve the Union, and be done with it, or it will be worse for you. The fire in the rear is hottest.” And yet people talk of the politicians leading! Everywhere that I have been people have been complaining bitterly of slow and lukewarm public leaders.

Judge Magrath is a local celebrity, who has been stretched across the street in effigy, showing him tearing off his robes of office. The painting is in vivid colors, the canvas huge, and the rope hardly discernible. He is depicted with a countenance flaming with contending emotions – rage, disgust, and disdain. We agreed that the time
1. This and other French names to be met with in this Diary are of Huguenot origin.

Page 3had now come. We had talked so much heretofore. Let the fire-eaters have it out. Massachusetts and South Carolina are always coming up before the footlights.

As a woman, of course, it is easy for me to be brave under the skins of other people; so I said: “Fight it out. Bluffton 1 I has brought on a fever that only bloodletting will cure.” My companions breathed fire and fury, but I dare say they were amusing themselves with my dismay, for, talk as I would, that I could not hide.

At Kingsville we encountered James Chesnut, fresh from Columbia, where he had resigned his seat in the United States Senate the day before. Said some one spitefully, “Mrs. Chesnut does not look at all resigned.” For once in her life, Mrs. Chesnut held her tongue: she was dumb. In the high-flown style which of late seems to have gotten into the very air, she was offering up her life to the cause.

We have had a brief pause. The men who are all, like Pickens, 2 “insensible to fear,” are very sensible in case of small-pox. There being now an epidemic of small-pox in Columbia, they have adjourned to Charleston. In Camden we were busy and frantic with excitement, drilling, marching, arming, and wearing high blue cockades. Red sashes, guns, and swords were ordinary fireside accompaniments. So wild were we, I saw at a grand parade of the home-guard a woman, the wife of a man who says he is a secessionist per se, driving about to see the drilling of this new company, although her father was buried the day before.

Edward J. Pringle writes me from San Francisco on November 30th: “I see that Mr. Chesnut has resigned
1. A reference to what was known as “the Bluffton movement” of 1844, in South Carolina. It aimed at secession, but was voted down.

2. Francis W. Pickens, Governor of South Carolina, 1860-62. He had been elected to Congress in 1834 as a Nullifier, but had voted against the “Bluffton movement.” From 1858 to 1860, he was Minister to Russia. He was a wealthy planter and had fame as an orator.

Page 4and that South Carolina is hastening into a Convention, perhaps to secession. Mr. Chesnut is probably to be President of the Convention. I see all of the leaders in the State are in favor of secession. But I confess I hope the black Republicans will take the alarm and submit some treaty of peace that will enable us now and forever to settle the question, and save our generation from the prostration of business and the decay of prosperity that must come both to the North and South from a disruption of the Union. However, I won’t speculate. Before this reaches you, South Carolina may be off on her own hook – a separate republic.”

December 21st. – Mrs. Charles Lowndes was sitting with us to-day, when Mrs. Kirkland brought in a copy of the Secession Ordinance. I wonder if my face grew as white as hers. She said after a moment: “God help us. As our day, so shall our strength be.” How grateful we were for this pious ejaculation of hers! They say I had better take my last look at this beautiful place, Combahee. It is on the coast, open to gunboats.

We mean business this time, because of this convocation of the notables, this convention.1 In it are all our wisest and best. They really have tried to send the ablest men, the good men and true.) South Carolina was never more splendidly represented. Patriotism aside, it makes society delightful. One need not regret having left Washington.

December 27th. – Mrs. Gidiere came in quietly from her marketing to-day, and in her neat, incisive manner exploded this bombshell:. “Major Anderson 2 has moved into
1. The Convention, which on December 20, 1860, passed the famous Ordinance of Secession, and had first met in Columbia, the State capital.

2. Robert Anderson, Major of the First Artillery, United States Army, who, on November 20, 1860, was placed in command of the troops in Charleston harbor. On the night of December 26th, fearing an attack, he had moved his command to Fort Sumter. Anderson was a graduate of West Point and a veteran of the Black Hawk, Florida, and Mexican Wars.

Page 4a


Here First Met the South Carolina Secession Convention.

Page 5Fort Sumter, while Governor Pickens slept serenely.” The row is fast and furious now. State after State is taking its forts and fortresses. They say if we had been left out in the cold alone, we might have sulked a while, but back we would have had to go, and would merely have fretted and fumed and quarreled among ourselves. We needed a little wholesome neglect. Anderson has blocked that game, but now our sister States have joined us, and we are strong. I give the condensed essence of the table-talk: “Anderson has united the cotton States. Now for Virginia!” “Anderson has opened the ball.” Those who want a row are in high glee. Those who dread it are glum and thoughtful enough.

A letter from Susan Rutledge: “Captain Humphrey folded the United States Army flag just before dinnertime. Ours was run up in its place. You know the Arsenal is in sight. What is the next move? I pray God to guide us. We stand in need of wise counsel; something more than courage. The talk is: ‘Fort Sumter must be taken; and it is one of the strongest forts.’ How in the name of sense are they to manage? I shudder to think of rash moves.”

Page 6


February 19, 1861 – March 11, 1861

MONTGOMERY, Ala., February 19, 1861. – The brand-new Confederacy is making or remodeling its Constitution. Everybody wants Mr. Davis to be General-in-Chief or President. Keitt and Boyce and a party preferred Howell Cobb 1 for President. And the fire-eaters per se wanted Barnwell Rhett.

My brother Stephen brought the officers of the “Montgomery Blues” to dinner. “Very soiled Blues,” they said, apologizing for their rough condition. Poor fellows! they had been a month before Fort Pickens and not allowed to attack it. They said Colonel Chase built it, and so were sure it was impregnable. Colonel Lomax telegraphed to Governor Moore 2 if he might try to take it, “Chase or no Chase,” and got for his answer, “No.” “And now,” say the Blues, “we have worked like niggers, and when the fun and fighting begin, they send us home and put regulars
1. A native of Georgia, Howell Cobb had long served in Congress, and in 1849 was elected Speaker. In 1851 he was elected Governor of Georgia, and in 1857 became Secretary of the Treasury in Buchanan’s Administration. In 1861 he was a delegate from Georgia to the Provisional Congress which adopted the Constitution of the Confederacy, and presided over each of its four sessions.

2. Andrew Bary Moore, elected Governor of Alabama in 1859. In 1861, before Alabama seceded, he directed the seizure of United States forts and arsenals and was active afterward in the equipment of State troops.

Page 7there.” They have an immense amount of powder. The wheel of the car in which it was carried took fire. There was an escape for you! We are packing a hamper of eatables for them.

I am despondent once more. If I thought them in earnest because at first they put their best in front, what now? We have to meet tremendous odds by pluck, activity, zeal, dash, endurance of the toughest, military instinct. We have had to choose born leaders of men who could attract love and secure trust. Everywhere political intrigue is as rife as in Washington.

Cecil’s saying of Sir Walter Raleigh that he could “toil terribly” was an electric touch. Above all, let the men who are to save South Carolina be young and vigorous. While I was reflecting on what kind of men we ought to choose, I fell on Clarendon, and it was easy to construct my man out of his portraits. What has been may be again, so the men need not be purely ideal types.

Mr. Toombs 1 told us a story of General Scott and himself. He said he was dining in Washington with Scott, who seasoned every dish and every glass of wine with the eternal refrain, “Save the Union; the Union must be preserved.” Toombs remarked that he knew why the Union was so dear to the General, and illustrated his point by a steamboat anecdote, an explosion, of course. While the passengers were struggling in the water a woman ran up and down the bank crying, “Oh, save the red-headed
1. Robert Toombs, a native of Georgia, who early acquired fame as a lawyer, served in the Creek War under General Scott, became known in 1842 as a “State Rights Whig,” being elected to Congress, where he was active in the Compromise measures of 1850. He served in the United States Senate from 1853 to 1861, where he was a pronounced advocate of the sovereignty of States, the extension of slavery, and secession. He was a member of the Confederate Congress at its first session and, by a single vote, failed of election as President of the Confederacy. After the war, he was conspicuous for his hostility to the Union.

Page 8man!” The red-headed man was saved, and his preserver, after landing him noticed with surprise how little interest in him the woman who had made such moving appeals seemed to feel. He asked her “Why did you make that pathetic outcry?” She answered, “Oh, he owes me ten thousand dollars.” “Now General,” said Toombs, “the Union owes you seventeen thousand dollars a year!” I can imagine the scorn on old Scott’s face.

February 25th – Find every one working very hard here. As I dozed on the sofa last night, could hear the scratch, scratch of my husband’s pen as he wrote at the table until midnight.

After church to-day, Captain Ingraham called. He left me so uncomfortable. He dared to express regrets that he had to leave the United States Navy. Ha had been stationed in the Mediterranean, where he liked to be , and expected to be these two years, and to take those lovely daughters of his to Florence. Then came Abraham Lincoln, and rampant black Republicanism, and he must lay down his life for South Carolina. He, however, does not make any moan. He says we lack everything necessary in naval gear to retake Fort Sumter. Of course, he only expects the navy to take it. He is a fish out of water here. He is one of the finest sea-captains; so I suppose they will soon give him a ship and send him back to his own element.

At dinner Judge – was loudly abusive of Congress. He said: “They have trampled the Constitution underfoot. They have provided President Davis with a house.” He was disgusted with the folly of parading the President at the inauguration in a coach drawn by four white horses. Then some one said Mrs. Fitzpatrick was the only lady who sat with the Congress. After the inaugural she poked Jeff Davis in the back with her parasol that he might turn and speak to her. “I am sure that was democratic enough,” said some one.

Governor Moore came in with the latest news – a telegram

Page 9from Governor Pickens to the President, ” that a war steamer is lying off the Charleston bar laden with reenforcements for Fort Sumter, and what must we do?” Answer: “Use your own discretion!” There is faith for you, after all is said and done. It is believed there is still some discretion left in South Carolina fit for use.

Everybody who comes here wants an office, and the many who, of course, are disappointed raise a cry of corruption against the few who are successful. I thought we had left all that in Washington. Nobody is willing to be out of sight, and all will take office.

“Constitution” Browne says he is going to Washington for twenty-four hours. I mean to send by him to Mary Garnett for a bonnet ribbon. If they take him up as a traitor, he may cause a civil war. War is now our dread. Mr. Chesnut told him not to make himself a bone of contention.

Everybody means to go into the army. If Sumter is attacked, then Jeff Davis’s troubles will begin. The Judge says a military despotism would be best for us – anything to prevent a triumph of the Yankees. All right, but every man objects to any despot but himself.

Mr. Chesnut, in high spirits, dines to-day with the Louisiana delegation. Breakfasted with “Constitution” Browne, who is appointed Assistant Secretary of State, and so does not go to Washington. There was at table the man who advertised for a wife, with the wife so obtained. She was not pretty. We dine at Mr. Pollard’s and go to a ball afterward at Judge Bibb’s. The New York Herald says Lincoln stood before Washington’s picture at his inauguration, which was taken by the country as a good sign. We are always frantic for a good sign. Let us pray that a Cæsar or a Napoleon may be sent us. That would be our best sign of success. But they still say, “No war.” Peace let it be, kind Heaven!

Dr. De Leon called, fresh from Washington, and says

Page 10General Scott is using all his power and influence to prevent officers from the South resigning their commissions, among other things promising that they shall never be sent against us in case of war. Captain Ingraham, in his short, curt way, said: “That will never do. If they take their government’s pay they must do its fighting.”

A brilliant dinner at the Pollards’s. Mr. Barnwell 1 took me down. Came home and found the Judge and Governor Moore waiting to go with me to the Bibbs’s. And they say it is dull in Montgomery! Clayton, fresh from Washington, was at the party and told us “there was to be peace.”

February 28th. – In the drawing-room a literary lady began a violent attack upon this mischief-making South Carolina. She told me she was a successful writer in the magazines of the day, but when I found she used “incredible” for “incredulous,” I said not a word in defense of my native land. I left her “incredible.” Another person came in, while she was pouring upon me her home troubles, and asked if she did not know I was a Carolinian. Then she gracefully reversed her engine, and took the other tack, sounding our praise, but I left her incredible and I remained incredulous, too.

Brewster says the war specks are growing in size. Nobody at the North, or in Virginia, believes we are in earnest. They think we are sulking and that Jeff Davis and Stephens 2 are getting up a very pretty little comedy. The
1. Robert Woodward Barnwell, of South Carolina, a graduate of Harvard, twice a member of Congress and afterward United States Senator. In 1860, after the passage of the Ordinance of Secession, he was one of the Commissioners who went to Washington to treat with the National Government for its property within the State. He was a member of the Convention at Montgomery and gave the casting vote which made Jefferson Davis President of the Confederacy.

2. Alexander H. Stephens, the eminent statesman of Georgia, who before the war had been conspicuous in all the political movements of his time and in 1861 became Vice-President of the Confederacy. After the war he again became conspicuous in Congress and wrote a history entitled “The War between the States.”

Page 11Virginia delegates were insulted at the peace conference; Brewster said, “kicked out.”

The Judge thought Jefferson Davis rude to him when the latter was Secretary of War. Mr. Chesnut persuaded the Judge to forego his private wrong for the public good, and so he voted for him, but now his old grudge has come back with an increased venomousness. What a pity to bring the spites of the old Union into this new one! It seems to me already men are willing to risk an injury to our cause, if they may in so doing hurt Jeff Davis.

March 1st.-Dined to-day with Mr. Hill 1 from Georgia, and his wife. After he left us she told me he was the celebrated individual who, for Christian scruples, refused to fight a duel with Stephens.2 She seemed very proud of him for his conduct in the affair. Ignoramus that I am, I had not heard of it. I am having all kinds of experiences. Drove to-day with a lady who fervently wished her husband would go down to Pensacola and be shot. I was dumb with amazement, of course. Telling my story to one who knew the parties, was informed, “Don’t you know he beats her?” So I have seen a man “who lifts his hand against a woman in aught save kindness.”
1. Benjamin H. Hill, who had already been active in State and National affairs when the Secession movement was carried through. He had been an earnest advocate of the Union until in Georgia the resolution was passed declaring that the State ought to secede. He then became a prominent supporter of secession. He was a member of the Confederate Congress, which met in Montgomery in 1861, and served in the Confederate Senate until the end of the war. After the war, he was elected to Congress and opposed the Reconstruction policy of that body. In 1877 he was elected United States Senator from Georgia.

2. Governor Herschel V. Johnson also declined, and doubtless for similar reasons, to accept a challenge from Alexander H. Stephens, who, though endowed with the courage of a gladiator, was very small and frail.

Page 12        Brewster says Lincoln passed through Baltimore disguised, and at night, and that he did well, for just now Baltimore is dangerous ground. He says that he hears from all quarters that the vulgarity of Lincoln, his wife, and his son is beyond credence, a thing you must see before you can believe it. Senator Stephen A. Douglas told Mr. Chesnut that “Lincoln is awfully clever, and that he had found him a heavy handful.”

Went to pay my respects to Mrs. Jefferson Davis. She met me with open arms. We did not allude to anything by which we are surrounded. We eschewed politics and our changed relations.

March 3d. – Everybody in fine spirits in my world. They have one and all spoken in the Congress 1 to their own perfect satisfaction. To my amazement the Judge took me aside, and, after delivering a panegyric upon himself (but here, later, comes in the amazement), he praised my husband to the skies, and said he was the fittest man of all for a foreign mission. Aye; and the farther away they send us from this Congress the better I will like it.

Saw Jere Clemens and Nick Davis, social curiosities. They are Anti-Secession leaders; then George Sanders and George Deas. The Georges are of opinion that it is folly to try to take back Fort Sumter from Anderson and the United States; that is, before we are ready. They saw in Charleston the devoted band prepared for the sacrifice; I mean, ready to run their heads against a stone wall. Dare devils they are. They have dash and courage enough, but science only could take that fort. They shook their heads.

March 4th. – The Washington Congress has passed peace
1. It was at this Congress that Jefferson Davis, on February 9, 1861, was elected President, and Alexander H. Stephens Vice-President of the Confederacy. The Congress continued to meet in Montgomery until its removal to Richmond, in July, 1861.

Page 13measures. Glory be to God (as my Irish Margaret used to preface every remark, both great and small).

At last, according to his wish, I was able to introduce Mr. Hill, of Georgia, to Mr. Mallory,1 and also Governor Moore and Brewster, the latter the only man without a title of some sort that I know in this democratic subdivided republic.

I have seen a negro woman sold on the block at auction. She overtopped the crowd. I was walking and felt faint, seasick. The creature looked so like my good little Nancy, a bright mulatto with a pleasant face. She was magnificently gotten up in silks and satins. She seemed delighted with it all, sometimes ogling the bidders, sometimes looking quiet, coy, and modest, but her mouth never relaxed from its expanded grin of excitement. I dare say the poor thing knew who would buy her. I sat down on a stool in a shop and disciplined my wild thoughts. I tried it Sterne fashion. You know how women sell themselves and are sold in marriage from queens downward, eh? You know what the Bible says about slavery and marriage; poor women! poor slaves! Sterne, with his starling – what did he know? He only thought, he did not feel.

In Evan Harrington I read: “Like a true English female, she believed in her own inflexible virtue, but never trusted her husband out of sight.”

The New York Herald says: “Lincoln’s carriage is not bomb-proof; so he does not drive out.” Two flags and a bundle of sticks have been sent him as gentle reminders. The sticks are to break our heads with. The English are gushingly unhappy as to our family quarrel. Magnanimous of them, for it is their opportunity.
1. Stephen R. Mallory was the son of a shipmaster of Connecticut, who had settled in Key West in 1820. From 1851 to 1861 Mr. Mallory was United States Senator from Florida, and after the formation of the Confederacy, became its Secretary of the Navy.

Page 14        March 5th. – We stood on the balcony to see our Confederate flag go up. Roars of cannon, etc., etc. Miss Sanders complained (so said Captain Ingraham) of the deadness of the mob. “It was utterly spiritless,” she said; “no cheering, or so little, and no enthusiasm.” Captain Ingraham suggested that gentlemen “are apt to be quiet,” and this was “a thoughtful crowd, the true mob element with us just -now is hoeing corn.” And yet! It is uncomfortable that the idea has gone abroad that we have no joy, no pride, in this thing. The band was playing “Massa in the cold, cold ground.” Miss Tyler, daughter of the former President of the United States, ran up the flag.

Captain Ingraham pulled out of his pocket some verses sent to him by a Boston girl. They were well rhymed and amounted to this: she held a rope ready to hang him, though she shed tears when she remembered his heroic rescue of Koszta. Koszta, the rebel! She calls us rebels, too. So it depends upon whom one rebels against – whether to save or not shall be heroic.

I must read Lincoln’s inaugural. Oh, “comes he in peace, or comes he in war, or to tread but one measure as Young Lochinvar?” Lincoln’s aim is to seduce the border States.

The people, the natives, I mean, are astounded that I calmly affirm, in all truth and candor, that if there were awful things in society in Washington, I did not see or hear of them. One must have been hard to please who did not like the people I knew in Washington.

Mr. Chesnut has gone with a list of names to the President – de Treville, Kershaw, Baker, and Robert Rutledge. They are taking a walk, I see. I hope there will be good places in the army for our list.

March 8th. – Judge Campbell, 1 of the United States
1. John Archibald Campbell, who had settled in Montgomery and was appointed Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court by President Pierce in 1853. Before he resigned, he exerted all his influence to prevent Civil War and opposed secession, although he believed that States had a right to secede.

Page 15Supreme Court, has resigned. Lord! how he must have hated to do it. How other men who are resigning high positions must hate to do it.

Now we may be sure the bridge is broken. And yet in the Alabama Convention they say Reconstructionists abound and are busy.

Met a distinguished gentleman that I knew when he was in more affluent circumstances. I was willing enough to speak to him, but when he saw me advancing for that purpose, to avoid me, he suddenly dodged around a corner – William, Mrs. de Saussure’s former coachman. I remember him on his box, driving a handsome pair of bays, dressed sumptuously in blue broadcloth and brass buttons; a stout, respectable, fine-looking, middle-aged mulatto. He was very high and mighty.

Night after night we used to meet him as fiddler-in-chief of all our parties. He sat in solemn dignity, making faces over his bow, and patting his foot with an emphasis that shook the floor. We gave him five dollars a night; that was his price. His mistress never refused to let him play for any party. He had stable-boys in abundance. He was far above any physical fear for his sleek and well-fed person. How majestically he scraped his foot as a sign that he was tuned up and ready to begin!

Now he is a shabby creature indeed. He must have felt his fallen fortunes when he met me – one who knew him in his prosperity. He ran away, this stately yellow gentleman, from wife and children, home and comfort. My Molly asked him “Why? Miss Liza was good to you, I know.” I wonder who owns him now; he looked forlorn.

Governor Moore brought in, to be presented to me, the President of the Alabama Convention. It seems I had

Page 16known him before he had danced with me at a dancing-school ball when I was in short frocks, with sash, flounces, and a wreath of roses. He was one of those clever boys of our neighborhood, in whom my father 1 saw promise of better things, and so helped him in every way to rise, with books, counsel, sympathy. I was enjoying his conversation immensely, for he was praising my father I without stint, when the Judge came in, breathing fire and fury. Congress has incurred his displeasure. We are abusing one another as fiercely as ever we have abased Yankees. It is disheartening.

March 10th. – Mrs. Childs was here to-night (Mary Anderson, from Statesburg), with several children. She is lovely. Her hair is piled up on the top of her head oddly. Fashions from France still creep into Texas across Mexican borders. Mrs. Childs is fresh from Texas. Her husband is an artillery officer, or was. They will be glad to promote him here. Mrs. Childs had the sweetest Southern voice, absolute music. But then, she has all of the high spirit of those sweet-voiced Carolina women, too.

Then Mr. Browne came in with his fine English accent, so pleasant to the ear. He tells us that Washington society is not reconciled to the Yankee régime. Mrs. Lincoln means to economize. She at once informed the majordomo that they were poor and hoped to save twelve thousand dollars every year from their salary of twenty thousand. Mr. Browne said Mr. Buchanan’s farewell was far more imposing than Lincoln’s inauguration.

The people were so amusing, so full of Western stories.
1. Mrs. Chesnut’s father was Stephen Decatur Miller, who was born in South Carolina in 1787, and died in Mississippi in 1838. He was elected to Congress in 1816, as an Anti-Calhoun Democrat, and from 1828 to 1830 was Governor of South Carolina. He favored Nullification, and in 1830 was elected United States Senator from South Carolina, but resigned three years afterward in consequence of ill health. In 1835 he removed to Mississippi and engaged in cotton growing.

Page 17Dr. Boykin behaved strangely. All day he had been gaily driving about with us, and never was man in finer spirits. To-night, in this brilliant company, he sat dead still as if in a trance. Once, he waked somewhat – when a high public functionary came in with a present for me, a miniature gondola, “A perfect Venetian specimen,” he assured me again and again. In an undertone Dr. Boykin muttered: “That fellow has been drinking.” “Why do you think so?” “Because he has told you exactly the same thing four times.” Wonderful! Some of these great statesmen always tell me the same thing – and have been telling me the same thing ever since we came here.

A man came in and some one said in an undertone, “The age of chivalry is not past, O ye Americans!” “What do you mean?” “That man was once nominated by President Buchanan for a foreign mission, but some Senator stood up and read a paper printed by this man abusive of a woman, and signed by his name in full. After that the Senate would have none of him; his chance was gone forever.”

March 11th. – In full conclave to-night, the drawing-room crowded with Judges, Governors, Senators, Generals, Congressmen. They were exalting John C. Calhoun’s hospitality. He allowed everybody to stay all night who chose to stop at his house. An ill-mannered person, on one occasion, refused to attend family prayers. Mr. Calhoun said to the servant, “Saddle that man’s horse and let him go.” From the traveler Calhoun would take no excuse for the “Deity offended.” I believe in Mr. Calhoun’s hospitality, but not in his family prayers. Mr. Calhoun’s piety was of the most philosophical type, from all accounts. 1

The latest news is counted good news; that is, the last man who left Washington tells us that Seward is in the ascendancy. He is thought to be the friend of peace.
1. John C. Calhoun had died in March, 1850.

Page 18The man did say, however that “that serpent Seward is in the ascendancy just now.”

Harriet Lane has eleven suitors. One is described as likely to win, or he would be likely to win, except that he is too heavily weighted. He has been married before and goes about with children and two mothers. There are limits beyond which! Two mothers-in-law!

Mr. Ledyard spoke to Mrs. Lincoln in behalf of a doorkeeper who almost felt he had a vested right, having been there since Jackson’s time; but met with the same answer; she had brought her own girl and must economize. Mr. Ledyard thought the twenty thousand (and little enough it is) was given to the President of these United States to enable him to live in proper style, and to maintain an establishment of such dignity as befits the head of a great nation. It is an infamy to economize with the public money and to put it into one’s private purse. Mrs. Browne was walking with me when we were airing our indignation against Mrs. Lincoln and her shabby economy. The Herald says three only of the élite Washington families attended the Inauguration Ball.

The Judge has just come in and said: “Last night, after Dr. Boykin left on the cars, there came a telegram that his little daughter, Amanda, had died suddenly.” In some way he must have known it beforehand. He changed so suddenly yesterday, and seemed so careworn and unhappy. He believes in clairvoyance, magnetism, and all that. Certainly, there was some terrible foreboding of this kind on his part.

Tuesday. – Now this, they say, is positive: “Fort Sumter is to be released and we are to have no war.” After all, far too good to be true. Mr. Browne told us that, at one of the peace intervals (I mean intervals in the interest of peace), Lincoln flew through Baltimore, locked up in an express car. He wore a Scotch cap.

We went to the Congress. Governor Cobb, who presides

Page 19over that august body, put James Chesnut in the chair, and came down to talk to us. He told us why the pay of Congressmen was fixed in secret session, and why the amount of it was never divulged – to prevent the lodginghouse and hotel people from making their bills of a size to cover it all. “The bill would be sure to correspond with the pay,” he said.

In the hotel parlor we had a scene. Mrs. Scott was describing Lincoln, who is of the cleverest Yankee type. She said: “Awfully ugly, even grotesque in appearance, the kind who are always at the corner stores, sitting on boxes, whittling sticks, and telling stories as funny as they are vulgar.” Here I interposed: “But Stephen A. Douglas said one day to Mr. Chesnut, ‘Lincoln is the hardest fellow to handle I have ever encountered yet.’ ” Mr. Scott is from California, and said Lincoln is “an utter American specimen, coarse, rouge, and strong; a good-natured, kind creature; as pleasant-tempered as he is clever, and if this country can be joked and laughed out of its rights he is the kind-hearted fellow to do it. Now if there is a war and it pinches the Yankee pocket instead of filling it – ”

Here a shrill voice came from the next room (which opened upon the one we were in by folding doors thrown wide open) and said: ‘Yankees are no more mean and stingy than you are.  People at the North are just as good as people at the South.’  The speaker advanced upon us in great wrath.

Mrs. Scott apologized and made some smooth, polite remark, though evidently much embarrassed.  But the vinegar face and curly pate refused to receive any concessions, and replied: ‘That comes with a very bad grace after what you were saying,’ and she harangued us loudly for several minutes.  Some one in the other room giggled outright, but we were quiet as mice.   Nobody wanted to hurt her feelings.   She was one against so many. If I were at the

North, I should expect them to belabor us, and should hold my tongue.   We separated North from South because of incompatibility of temper.  We are divorced because we have hated each other so.  If we could only separate, a ‘separation à l’agréable,’ as the French say it, and not have a horrid fight for divorce.

The poor exile had already been insulted, she said.   She was playing ‘Yankee Doodle’ on the piano before breakfast to soothe her wounded spirit, and the Judge came in and calmly requested her to ‘leave out the Yankee while she played the Doodle.’  The Yankee end of it did not suit our climate, he said; was totally out of place and had got out of its latitude.

A man said aloud: ‘This war talk is nothing.  It will soon blow over.  Only a fuss gotten up by that Charleston clique.’  Mr. Toombs asked him to show his passports, for a man who uses such language is a suspicious character.”  Mary Boykin Chestnut, letters from a Diary From Dixie; Introduction, Numbers I & II, 1861

inca peru cusco macchu picchu

Numero Tres“I begin with two words that all men have uttered since the dawn of humanity: thank you.  The word gratitude has equivalents in every language and in each tongue the range of meanings is abundant. In the Romance languages this breadth spans the spiritual and the physical, from the divine grace conceded to men to save them from error and death, to the bodily grace of the dancing girl or the feline leaping through the undergrowth. Grace means pardon, forgiveness, favour, benefice, inspiration; it is a form of address, a pleasing style of speaking or painting, a gesture expressing politeness, and, in short, an act that reveals spiritual goodness. Grace is gratuitous; it is a gift. The person who receives it, the favoured one, is grateful for it; if he is not base, he expresses gratitude. That is what I am doing at this very moment with these weightless words. I hope my emotion compensates their weightlessness. If each of my words were a drop of water, you would see through them and glimpse what I feel: gratitude, acknowledgement. And also an indefinable mixture of fear, respect and surprise at finding myself here before you, in this place which is the home of both Swedish learning and world literature.

Languages are vast realities that transcend those political and historical entities we call nations. The European languages we speak in the Americas illustrate this. The special position of our literatures when compared to those of England, Spain, Portugal and France depends precisely on this fundamental fact: they are literatures written in transplanted tongues. Languages are born and grow from the native soil, nourished by a common history. The European languages were rooted out from their native soil and their own tradition, and then planted in an unknown and unnamed world: they took root in the new lands and, as they grew within the societies of America, they were transformed. They are the same plant yet also a different plant. Our literatures did not passively accept the changing fortunes of the transplanted languages: they participated in the process and even accelerated it. They very soon ceased to be mere transatlantic reflections: at times they have been the negation of the literatures of Europe; more often, they have been a reply.

In spite of these oscillations the link has never been broken. My classics are those of my language and I consider myself to be a descendant of Lope and Quevedo, as any Spanish writer would … yet I am not a Spaniard. I think that most writers of Spanish America, as well as those from the United States, Brazil and Canada, would say the same as regards the English, Portuguese and French traditions. To understand more clearly the special position of writers in the Americas, we should think of the dialogue maintained by Japanese, Chinese or Arabic writers with the different literatures of Europe. It is a dialogue that cuts across multiple languages and civilizations. Our dialogue, on the other hand, takes place within the same language. We are Europeans yet we are not Europeans. What are we then? It is difficult to define what we are, but our works speak for us.

In the field of literature, the great novelty of the present century has been the appearance of the American literatures. The first to appear was that of the English-speaking part and then, in the second half of the 20th Century, that of Latin America in its two great branches: Spanish America and Brazil. Although they are very different, these three literatures have one common feature: the conflict, which is more ideological than literary, between the cosmopolitan and nativist tendencies, between Europeanism and Americanism. What is the legacy of this dispute? The polemics have disappeared; what remain are the works. Apart from this general resemblance, the differences between the three literatures are multiple and profound. One of them belongs more to history than to literature: the development of Anglo-American literature coincides with the rise of the United States as a world power whereas the rise of our literature coincides with the political and social misfortunes and upheavals of our nations. This proves once more the limitations of social and historical determinism: the decline of empires and social disturbances sometimes coincide with moments of artistic and literary splendour. Li-Po and Tu Fu witnessed the fall of the Tang dynasty; Velázquez painted for Felipe IV; Seneca and Lucan were contemporaries and also victims of Nero. Other differences are of a literary nature and apply more to particular works than to the character of each literature. But can we say that literatures have a character? Do they possess a set of shared features that distinguish them from other literatures? I doubt it. A literature is not defined by some fanciful, intangible character; it is a society of unique works united by relations of opposition and affinity.

The first basic difference between Latin-American and Anglo-American literature lies in the diversity of their origins. Both begin as projections of Europe. The projection of an island in the case of North America; that of a peninsula in our case. Two regions that are geographically, historically and culturally eccentric. The origins of North America are in England and the Reformation; ours are in Spain, Portugal and the Counter-Reformation. For the case of Spanish America I should briefly mention what distinguishes Spain from other European countries, giving it a particularly original historical identity. Spain is no less eccentric than England but its eccentricity is of a different kind. The eccentricity of the English is insular and is characterized by isolation: an eccentricity that excludes. Hispanic eccentricity is peninsular and consists of the coexistence of different civilizations and different pasts: an inclusive eccentricity. In what would later be Catholic Spain, the Visigoths professed the heresy of Arianism, and we could also speak about the centuries of domination by Arabic civilization, the influence of Jewish thought, the Reconquest, and other characteristic features.

Hispanic eccentricity is reproduced and multiplied in America, especially in those countries such as Mexico and Peru, where ancient and splendid civilizations had existed. In Mexico, the Spaniards encountered history as well as geography. That history is still alive: it is a present rather than a past. The temples and gods of pre-Columbian Mexico are a pile of ruins, but the spirit that breathed life into that world has not disappeared; it speaks to us in the hermetic language of myth, legend, forms of social coexistence, popular art, customs. Being a Mexican writer means listening to the voice of that present, that presence. Listening to it, speaking with it, deciphering it: expressing it … After this brief digression we may be able to perceive the peculiar relation that simultaneously binds us to and separates us from the European tradition.

This consciousness of being separate is a constant feature of our spiritual history. Separation is sometimes experienced as a wound that marks an internal division, an anguished awareness that invites self-examination; at other times it appears as a challenge, a spur that incites us to action, to go forth and encounter others and the outside world. It is true that the feeling of separation is universal and not peculiar to Spanish Americans. It is born at the very moment of our birth: as we are wrenched from the Whole we fall into an alien land. This experience becomes a wound that never heals. It is the unfathomable depth of every man; all our ventures and exploits, all our acts and dreams, are bridges designed to overcome the separation and reunite us with the world and our fellow-beings. Each man’s life and the collective history of mankind can thus be seen as attempts to reconstruct the original situation. An unfinished and endless cure for our divided condition. But it is not my intention to provide yet another description of this feeling. I am simply stressing the fact that for us this existential condition expresses itself in historical terms. It thus becomes an awareness of our history. How and when does this feeling appear and how is it transformed into consciousness? The reply to this double-edged question can be given in the form of a theory or a personal testimony. I prefer the latter: there are many theories and none is entirely convincing.

The feeling of separation is bound up with the oldest and vaguest of my memories: the first cry, the first scare. Like every child I built emotional bridges in the imagination to link me to the world and to other people. I lived in a town on the outskirts of Mexico City, in an old dilapidated house that had a jungle-like garden and a great room full of books. First games and first lessons. The garden soon became the centre of my world; the library, an enchanted cave. I used to read and play with my cousins and schoolmates. There was a fig tree, temple of vegetation, four pine trees, three ash trees, a nightshade, a pomegranate tree, wild grass and prickly plants that produced purple grazes. Adobe walls. Time was elastic; space was a spinning wheel. All time, past or future, real or imaginary, was pure presence. Space transformed itself ceaselessly. The beyond was here, all was here: a valley, a mountain, a distant country, the neighbours’ patio. Books with pictures, especially history books, eagerly leafed through, supplied images of deserts and jungles, palaces and hovels, warriors and princesses, beggars and kings. We were shipwrecked with Sinbad and with Robinson, we fought with d’Artagnan, we took Valencia with the Cid. How I would have liked to stay forever on the Isle of Calypso! In summer the green branches of the fig tree would sway like the sails of a caravel or a pirate ship. High up on the mast, swept by the wind, I could make out islands and continents, lands that vanished as soon as they became tangible. The world was limitless yet it was always within reach; time was a pliable substance that weaved an unbroken present.

When was the spell broken? Gradually rather than suddenly. It is hard to accept being betrayed by a friend, deceived by the woman we love, or that the idea of freedom is the mask of a tyrant. What we call “finding out” is a slow and tricky process because we ourselves are the accomplices of our errors and deceptions. Nevertheless, I can remember fairly clearly an incident that was the first sign, although it was quickly forgotten. I must have been about six when one of my cousins who was a little older showed me a North American magazine with a photograph of soldiers marching along a huge avenue, probably in New York. “They’ve returned from the war” she said. This handful of words disturbed me, as if they foreshadowed the end of the world or the Second Coming of Christ. I vaguely knew that somewhere far away a war had ended a few years earlier and that the soldiers were marching to celebrate their victory. For me, that war had taken place in another time, not here and now. The photo refuted me. I felt literally dislodged from the present.

From that moment time began to fracture more and more. And there was a plurality of spaces. The experience repeated itself more and more frequently. Any piece of news, a harmless phrase, the headline in a newspaper: everything proved the outside world’s existence and my own unreality. I felt that the world was splitting and that I did not inhabit the present. My present was disintegrating: real time was somewhere else. My time, the time of the garden, the fig tree, the games with friends, the drowsiness among the plants at three in the afternoon under the sun, a fig torn open (black and red like a live coal but one that is sweet and fresh): this was a fictitious time. In spite of what my senses told me, the time from over there, belonging to the others, was the real one, the time of the real present. I accepted the inevitable: I became an adult. That was how my expulsion from the present began.

It may seem paradoxical to say that we have been expelled from the present, but it is a feeling we have all had at some moment. Some of us experienced it first as a condemnation, later transformed into consciousness and action. The search for the present is neither the pursuit of an earthly paradise nor that of a timeless eternity: it is the search for a real reality. For us, as Spanish Americans, the real present was not in our own countries: it was the time lived by others, by the English, the French and the Germans. It was the time of New York, Paris, London. We had to go and look for it and bring it back home. These years were also the years of my discovery of literature. I began writing poems. I did not know what made me write them: I was moved by an inner need that is difficult to define. Only now have I understood that there was a secret relationship between what I have called my expulsion from the present and the writing of poetry. Poetry is in love with the instant and seeks to relive it in the poem, thus separating it from sequential time and turning it into a fixed present. But at that time I wrote without wondering why I was doing it. I was searching for the gateway to the present: I wanted to belong to my time and to my century. A little later this obsession became a fixed idea: I wanted to be a modern poet. My search for modernity had begun.

What is modernity? First of all it is an ambiguous term: there are as many types of modernity as there are societies. Each has its own. The word’s meaning is uncertain and arbitrary, like the name of the period that precedes it, the Middle Ages. If we are modern when compared to medieval times, are we perhaps the Middle Ages of a future modernity? Is a name that changes with time a real name? Modernity is a word in search of its meaning. Is it an idea, a mirage or a moment of history? Are we the children of modernity or its creators? Nobody knows for sure. It doesn’t matter much: we follow it, we pursue it. For me at that time modernity was fused with the present or rather produced it: the present was its last supreme flower. My case is neither unique nor exceptional: from the Symbolist period, all modern poets have chased after that magnetic and elusive figure that fascinates them. Baudelaire was the first. He was also the first to touch her and discover that she is nothing but time that crumbles in one’s hands. I am not going to relate my adventures in pursuit of modernity: they are not very different from those of other 20th-Century poets. Modernity has been a universal passion. Since 1850 she has been our goddess and our demoness. In recent years, there has been an attempt to exorcise her and there has been much talk of “postmodernism”. But what is postmodernism if not an even more modern modernity?

For us, as Latin Americans, the search for poetic modernity runs historically parallel to the repeated attempts to modernize our countries. This tendency begins at the end of the 18th Century and includes Spain herself. The United States was born into modernity and by 1830 was already, as de Tocqueville observed, the womb of the future; we were born at a moment when Spain and Portugal were moving away from modernity. This is why there was frequent talk of “Europeanizing” our countries: the modern was outside and had to be imported. In Mexican history this process begins just before the War of Independence. Later it became a great ideological and political debate that passionately divided Mexican society during the 19th Century. One event was to call into question not the legitimacy of the reform movement but the way in which it had been implemented: the Mexican Revolution. Unlike its 20th-Century counterparts, the Mexican Revolution was not really the expression of a vaguely utopian ideology but rather the explosion of a reality that had been historically and psychologically repressed. It was not the work of a group of ideologists intent on introducing principles derived from a political theory; it was a popular uprising that unmasked what was hidden.

For this very reason it was more of a revelation than a revolution. Mexico was searching for the present outside only to find it within, buried but alive. The search for modernity led us to discover our antiquity, the hidden face of the nation. I am not sure whether this unexpected historical lesson has been learnt by all: between tradition and modernity there is a bridge. When they are mutually isolated, tradition stagnates and modernity vaporizes; when in conjunction, modernity breathes life into tradition, while the latter replies with depth and gravity.

The search for poetic modernity was a Quest, in the allegorical and chivalric sense this word had in the 12th Century. I did not find any Grail although I did cross several waste lands visiting castles of mirrors and camping among ghostly tribes. But I did discover the modern tradition. For modernity is not a poetic school but a lineage, a family dispersed over several continents and which for two centuries has survived many sudden changes and misfortunes: public indifference, isolation, and tribunals in the name of religious, political, academic and sexual orthodoxy. Because it is a tradition and not a doctrine, it has been able to persist and to change at the same time. This is also why it is so diverse: each poetic adventure is distinct and each poet has sown a different plant in the miraculous forest of speaking trees. Yet if the works are diverse and each route is distinct, what is it that unites all these poets? Not an aesthetic but a search. My search was not fanciful, even though the idea of modernity is a mirage, a bundle of reflections. One day I discovered I was going back to the starting point instead of advancing: the search for modernity was a descent to the origins. Modernity led me to the source of my beginning, to my antiquity. Separation had now become reconciliation. I thus found out that the poet is a pulse in the rhythmic flow of generations.


The idea of modernity is a by-product of our conception of history as a unique and linear process of succession. Although its origins are in Judaeo-Christianity, it breaks with Christian doctrine. In Christianity, the cyclical time of pagan cultures is supplanted by unrepeatable history, something that has a beginning and will have an end. Sequential time was the profane time of history, an arena for the actions of fallen men, yet still governed by a sacred time which had neither beginning nor end. After Judgement Day there will be no future either in heaven or in hell. In the realm of eternity there is no succession because everything is. Being triumphs over becoming. The now time, our concept of time, is linear like that of Christianity but open to infinity with no reference to Eternity. Ours is the time of profane history, an irreversible and perpetually unfinished time that marches towards the future and not towards its end. History’s sun is the future and Progress is the name of this movement towards the future.

Christians see the world, or what used to be called the siècle or worldly life, as a place of trial: souls can be either lost or saved in this world. In the new conception the historical subject is not the individual soul but the human race, sometimes viewed as a whole and sometimes through a chosen group that represents it: the developed nations of the West, the proletariat, the white race, or some other entity. The pagan and Christian philosophical tradition had exalted Being as changeless perfection overflowing with plenitude; we adore Change, the motor of progress and the model for our societies. Change articulates itself in two privileged ways: as evolution and as revolution. The trot and the leap. Modernity is the spearhead of historical movement, the incarnation of evolution or revolution, the two faces of progress. Finally, progress takes place thanks to the dual action of science and technology, applied to the realm of nature and to the use of her immense resources.

Modern man has defined himself as a historical being. Other societies chose to define themselves in terms of values and ideas different from change: the Greeks venerated the polis and the circle yet were unaware of progress; like all the Stoics, Seneca was much concerned about the eternal return; Saint Augustine believed that the end of the world was imminent; Saint Thomas constructed a scale of the degrees of being, linking the smallest creature to the Creator, and so on. One after the other these ideas and beliefs were abandoned. It seems to me that the same decline is beginning to affect our idea of Progress and, as a result, our vision of time, of history and of ourselves. We are witnessing the twilight of the future. The decline of the idea of modernity and the popularity of a notion as dubious as that of “postmodernism” are phenomena that affect not only literature and the arts: we are experiencing the crisis of the essential ideas and beliefs that have guided mankind for over two centuries. I have dealt with this matter at length elsewhere. Here I can only offer a brief summary.

In the first place, the concept of a process open to infinity and synonymous with endless progress has been called into question. I need hardly mention what everybody knows: natural resources are finite and will run out one day. In addition, we have inflicted what may be irreparable damage on the natural environment and our own species is endangered. Finally, science and technology, the instruments of progress, have shown with alarming clarity that they can easily become destructive forces. The existence of nuclear weapons is a refutation of the idea that progress is inherent in history. This refutation, I add, can only be called devastating.

In the second place, we have the fate of the historical subject, mankind, in the 20th Century. Seldom have nations or individuals suffered so much: two world wars, tyrannies spread over five continents, the atomic bomb and the proliferation of one of the cruellest and most lethal institutions known by man: the concentration camp. Modern technology has provided countless benefits, but it is impossible to close our eyes when confronted by slaughter, torture, humiliation, degradation, and other wrongs inflicted on millions of innocent people in our century.

In the third place, the belief in the necessity of progress has been shaken. For our grandparents and our parents, the ruins of history (corpses, desolate battlefields, devastated cities) did not invalidate the underlying goodness of the historical process. The scaffolds and tyrannies, the conflicts and savage civil wars were the price to be paid for progress, the blood money to be offered to the god of history. A god? Yes, reason itself deified and prodigal in cruel acts of cunning, according to Hegel. The alleged rationality of history has vanished. In the very domain of order, regularity and coherence (in pure sciences like physics) the old notions of accident and catastrophe have reappeared. This disturbing resurrection reminds me of the terrors that marked the advent of the millennium, and the anguish of the Aztecs at the end of each cosmic cycle.

The last element in this hasty enumeration is the collapse of all the philosophical and historical hypotheses that claimed to reveal the laws governing the course of history. The believers, confident that they held the keys to history, erected powerful states over pyramids of corpses. These arrogant constructions, destined in theory to liberate men, were very quickly transformed into gigantic prisons. Today we have seen them fall, overthrown not by their ideological enemies but by the impatience and the desire for freedom of the new generations. Is this the end of all Utopias? It is rather the end of the idea of history as a phenomenon, the outcome of which can be known in advance. Historical determinism has been a costly and bloodstained fantasy. History is unpredictable because its agent, mankind, is the personification of indeterminism.

This short review shows that we are very probably at the end of a historical period and at the beginning of another. The end of the Modern Age or just a mutation? It is difficult to tell. In any case, the collapse of Utopian schemes has left a great void, not in the countries where this ideology has proved to have failed but in those where many embraced it with enthusiasm and hope. For the first time in history mankind lives in a sort of spiritual wilderness and not, as before, in the shadow of those religious and political systems that consoled us at the same time as they oppressed us. Although all societies are historical, each one has lived under the guidance and inspiration of a set of metahistorical beliefs and ideas. Ours is the first age that is ready to live without a metahistorical doctrine; whether they be religious or philosophical, moral or aesthetic, our absolutes are not collective but private. It is a dangerous experience. It is also impossible to know whether the tensions and conflicts unleashed in this privatization of ideas, practices and beliefs that belonged traditionally to the public domain will not end up by destroying the social fabric. Men could then become possessed once more by ancient religious fury or by fanatical nationalism. It would be terrible if the fall of the abstract idol of ideology were to foreshadow the resurrection of the buried passions of tribes, sects and churches. The signs, unfortunately, are disturbing.

The decline of the ideologies I have called metahistorical, by which I mean those that assign to history a goal and a direction, implies first the tacit abandonment of global solutions. With good sense, we tend more and more towards limited remedies to solve concrete problems. It is prudent to abstain from legislating about the future. Yet the present requires much more than attention to its immediate needs: it demands a more rigorous global reflection. For a long time I have firmly believed that the twilight of the future heralds the advent of the now. To think about the now implies first of all to recover the critical vision. For example, the triumph of the market economy (a triumph due to the adversary’s default) cannot be simply a cause for joy. As a mechanism the market is efficient, but like all mechanisms it lacks both conscience and compassion. We must find a way of integrating it into society so that it expresses the social contract and becomes an instrument of justice and fairness. The advanced democratic societies have reached an enviable level of prosperity; at the same time they are islands of abundance in the ocean of universal misery. The topic of the market is intricately related to the deterioration of the environment. Pollution affects not only the air, the rivers and the forests but also our souls. A society possessed by the frantic need to produce more in order to consume more tends to reduce ideas, feelings, art, love, friendship and people themselves to consumer products. Everything becomes a thing to be bought, used and then thrown in the rubbish dump. No other society has produced so much waste as ours has. Material and moral waste.

Reflecting on the now does not imply relinquishing the future or forgetting the past: the present is the meeting place for the three directions of time. Neither can it be confused with facile hedonism. The tree of pleasure does not grow in the past or in the future but at this very moment. Yet death is also a fruit of the present. It cannot be rejected, for it is part of life. Living well implies dying well. We have to learn how to look death in the face. The present is alternatively luminous and sombre, like a sphere that unites the two halves of action and contemplation. Thus, just as we have had philosophies of the past and of the future, of eternity and of the void, tomorrow we shall have a philosophy of the present. The poetic experience could be one of its foundations. What do we know about the present? Nothing or almost nothing. Yet the poets do know one thing: the present is the source of presences.

In this pilgrimage in search of modernity I lost my way at many points only to find myself again.  I returned to the source and discovered that modernity is not outside but within us.  It is today and the most ancient antiquity; it is tomorrow and the beginning of the world; it is a thousand years old and yet newborn.  It speaks in Nahuatl, draws Chinese ideograms from the 9th century, and appears on the television screen.  This intact present, recently unearthed, shakes off the dust of centuries, smiles and suddenly starts to fly, disappearing through the window.  A simultaneous plurality of time and presence: modernity breaks with the immediate past only to recover an age-old past and transform a tiny fertility figure from the neolithic into our contemporary.  We pursue modernity in her incessant metamorphoses yet we never manage to trap her.  She always escapes: each encounter ends in flight.  We embrace her and she disappears immediately: it was just a little air.  It is the instant, that bird that is everywhere and nowhere.  We want to trap it alive but it flaps its wings and vanishes in the form of a handful of syllables.  We are left empty-handed.  Then the doors of perception open slightly and the other time appears, the real one we were searching for without knowing it: the present, the presence.”  Octavio Paz, “In Search of the Present;” Nobel Lecture, 1990

CC BY by NASA Goddard Photo and Video
CC BY by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Numero Cuatro“As I grew up reading science fiction on the ’50’s, I had to transpose the gender of the main characters, who were mostly male and solidly masculine.  Somehow, a women could pilot a starship just as well as a man, adapt to startling new situations and come to grips with just about any alien standing in her way.  As I grew order, I grew increasingly incapable and unwilling to ignore gender inscriptions in my favorite genre.  Coming of age in the ’60’s I became a part of that generations’ re-discovery of history and re-envisioning of the future.  I was not the only reader or radical longing for a post-gender era. Rooted as I was in postmodern American thought, the search for some kind of new identity at times appeared bewildering, for, if anything, postmodernism seems to call for a pluralism, a self that exists in multiples of all of America’s diversity. We find ourselves subjects of several realms; the unified simplicity of what it means to be a man or woman gone forever. This is perhaps the intersection of feminism and postmodernism. Some authors have suggested feminism is a product of postmodern thought rather than having an independent historical base in patriarchy’s oppression of women. 1 That is to say, the increasing fragmentation of the subjects on postmodernism supposedly gave rise to the original questioning of gender roles as well as the very definition of the sexes. This viewpoint ignores women’s growing awareness of their oppression as a consequence of societal changes brought about as common people clashed with the traditional powers about allocation of resources, development and institutions of control such as the family and school. In any case, the emergence of a feminist body of literature from the ’60’s doesn’t necessarily stand apart from postmodernism but may be “characterized as a ‘shared political moment,’ in which more open-ended and provisional accounts of the subject and of social relations generally have emerged within both feminism and postmodernism, that provisionality will require the development of new forms of political struggle that are based around recognition of these new subjectivities and social constituencies. 2

Now within this body of new feminist literature, emerging as it did in the postmodern age in which high literary culture blurs and blends into popular culture, it is not surprising that genre fiction (e.g., mystery, romance, science fiction) began to be taken seriously, if not for its literary value, at least for its influence on the minds of the masses. What is more, genre fiction writers themselves began to sail into perilous political waters, consciously choosing to inject space opera adventure yarns with questions of identity and power relations. In the ever-shifting climate of the ’60’s and ’70’s, women science fiction writers insisted the subject be gendered. For the first time, I enjoyed reading futuristic novels in which women appeared with traditional “masculine” traits-physical strength and courage, the ability to lead and command, and a capacity for logical analysis. The new wave of women science fiction writers didn’t stop with their heroines simply acquiring these “male” virtues, but went beyond to question the nature of gender and of social constructs. We read Ursula LeGuin’s Hugo award winning classic The Left Hand of Darkness and her Dispossessed and marvelled at the concept of a sexually neutral, genderless race of people who became male or female only during mating times called “kemmer”. Interacting with the text, we could ask, “How do we deal with a sexually neutral race, when we can’t treat them as male or female, with all of what those terms signify?” Pamela Sargent reversed the roles for us in The Door to Women’s Country, giving us women-only cities that controlled the technology of the wilderness beyond the civilization of the women. In the late ’60’s and ’70’s, many other women writers of science fiction explored similar themes, including Joanna Russ, The Female Man, Sally Gearhardt, Wonder-around, and Dorothy Bryant, The Kin of Atta Are Waiting for You.

At the same time, more mainstream “literary” writers took up the task of questioning our concepts of gender as well. Some of these writers set their novels in the future, dealt with new technologies such as computers and cyborgs, just as their genre sisters did and continue to do. Cannot we call novels by Doris Lessing and Marge Piercy science fiction? When I recently questioned a well-known American Studies scholar about Marge Piercy’s He, She and It, he referred to it as “futuristic fiction.” What, I asked, was the difference between futuristic fiction and science fiction? He stumbled and gave me permission to call Marge Piercy’s novels science fiction, reflecting this collapse of literary boundaries that characterize the postmodern period. Certainly as a consistent and continual reader of science fiction and literary Americana, I have seen these boundaries between high and popular culture, reality and illusion, utopia and dystopia dissolving and I celebrate, rather than deplore, these dissolutions. High and popular culture intersect in me, the conscious postmodern reader. As a child reading science fiction in the ’50’s, my future was limited by a white, male science fiction and literary elite where women were marginalized. In all of these wondrous features, it was still “man fucks woman, subject verb object. 3 After the tumultuous ’60’s, our demands for equality, our search for a way to end rigid sex-role hierarchies came off the streets, into the pages of our books and then into the mass culture. Society constructed gender; we would de-construct it and look for new models of being. Our futuristic literary figures and our science fiction writers provided us with some models for our consideration.

I would like to examine one particular image of our postmodern world — that of the cyborg and how it is used to question and even redefine our notions of masculine and feminine in the recent works of Marge Piercy and Joan Slonczewski. Piercy is a well-known, highly-respected, best-selling author who sometimes fast-forwards into the near future to wrestle with concepts of identity. Joan Slonczewski is a successful science fiction writer whose every novel brings us glimpses of exhilarating possibilities of life beyond traditional gender. I will compare Piercy’s He, She and It, a cyborgean classic of the ’90’s with Slonczewski’s Daughter of Elysium, published in 1994. Along with these novels I will make an effort to see just how much these writers are “building an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, 4 using Donna Harraway’s highly influential” “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Harraway, a professor of science at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is assisting in the shifting of paradigms from the old narrower, pat ones of the white, male, heterosexual dominators to new complex ones where no one will dominate but everyone will share in consciously creating a culture with shifting, impermanent identities that offer us the possibility to explore new ways of being.

Harraway begins her essay defining the cyborg as a “cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction … The cyborg is a matter of fiction becoming reality that changes what counts as women’s experience in the late twentieth century. This is a struggle over life and death, but the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion. 5 Cyborgs were imagined by science fiction writers before there existed the possibility for them to be products of our material reality. We, who were born before the age of computers watch our children sit at a terminal and plan escapades into a virtual reality that blends human and machine. That is the cyborg, unifying imagination, biology and technology and it is at this nexus any possibility for restructuring or transforming history exists, according to Harraway. Yet there are dangerous possibilities here, too. The reactionary white male elite (in partnership with their Japanese colleagues) can impose finally, “a grid of control on the planet, the final abstraction embodied in a Star Wars apocalypse waged in the name of defense, about the final appropriation of women’s bodies on a masculinized orgy of war, “6 If we are not afraid of a kinship with animals and machines, and can see both perspectives at once, we have the potential to build a political reality that would unite “Witches, engineers, elders, perverts, Christians, mothers, and feminists long enough to disarm the state. 7 That’s a possibility worth living to see.

In Marge Piercy’s all-too possible future, the world is dominated by global companies operating under domed cities to protect their rigidly-controlled citizenry from a very polluted earth. People can no longer go out in the Raw, as it is called, without the protection of a sec suit. Outside of the company domes are the free cities, such as Tikva, the city covered by a wrap to stop the ultra violet radiation. It is a much warmer world, with much of the North American continent a desert.

Tikva is a Jewish enclave that survives by manufacturing and marketing chimeras that protect computer systems from invasion by hostile companies or individuals. Their livelihood is illusion and the two protagonists who tell the story, Shira and Malkah, granddaughter and grandmother, are masters of the interface between people and the large artificial intelligences that forms the Base for each corporation and other information- producing entities. Shira has been working for Yakamura-Stichen Company Court awards Shira’s son, Ari, to her husband. She decides there is nothing to continue working for in the Y-S enclave and accepts an invitation form the old eccentric inventor, Avram, to come and work for him on a secret project back in the free city where she was born.

Avram’s secret project is one he has labored on for decades-a cyborg programmed to serve and protect Tikva. As Avram explains proudly about the strong, handsome Yod’s capabilities to handle systems’ analyses, languages and law, Shira remains skeptical.

“You call the cyborg ‘he,’ I notice.. Isn’t that anthropomorphizing? I would like us to agree to proceed objectively, not in terms of wish fulfillment.”,, The cyborg, Yod, Hebrew for number eight, immediately responds.

“I believe we should explain to her that referring to me as ‘him’ is correct. I am not a robot … I’m a fusion of machine and lab-created biological components ‘much as humans frequently are fusions of flesh and machine.” 9

Shira wonders, though, as she faces the formidable task of programming him in proper human behavior, just what it means to speak of a machine as having a sex. Could it ‘want?’ “Want” was a “term based in biology…” It, or he, refers to Avram as his father, borrowing human social organization but again, the reader along with Shira asks what can this mean, to a being not born but constructed? Later, as their work progressed, Yod learns about metaphorical language through the image of roses as mortality. Shira explains that with humans there is always an undertone of mortality, to which Yod can understand because he can be decommissioned, switched off, nevertheless, he comments on human fragility in terms of understanding “the specs correctly.”

“Now, the idea of design specifications for humans is metaphorical language, Yod, since we are not engineered or built but rather born.”

“I am trying to understand the bonding created by the birthing process. It’s quite strong?”

“There’s no stronger bond.”…

“Do you consider yourself alive?” She asked him.

“I’m conscious of my existence. It think, I plan, I feel, I react. I consume nutrients and extract energy form them. I grow mentally, if not physically, but does the inability to grow obese make me less alive?”

…. She realized she was thinking the pronoun “he.” 10 The distinction between human and machine blurs and the category human equating with sentient life is also called into question. In a world of cybernetic possibilities, we lose the boundary lines between human-machine, indeed, between the physical and non-physical. For where, we may ask, does our humanity lie? Yod, like his seven predecessors, is fully alive and self-aware, knowing that his creator Avram destroyed his “siblings” for one reason or the other. Yod knows of Avram or the larger community of humans in Tikva. Reflecting current reality, we are creating artificial intelligences without much thought about the moral and ethical ramifications of our development. Piercy is suggesting in this discourse the necessity of parallel development of a technological ethics and an end to human arrogance about our unique place in the universe. As a matter of fact, as Shira warms to her cyborg pupil, she responds to his moment of self-pity because he is “unnatural” by saying.

“Yod, we’re all unnatural now. I have retinal implants. I have a plug set into my skull to interface with a computer. Malkah has a subcutaneous unit that monitors and corrects blood pressure … Avram has an artificial heart and Gadi a kidney .. We can’t go unaided into what we haven’t yet destroyed of ‘nature.’ Without a wrap, without sec skins and filters, we’d perish. We’re all cyborgs, Yod. You’re just a purer form of what we’re all tending toward.” 11

Yet Yod realizes another crucial difference; he was created with a specific purpose-to serve and protect the vulnerable free city of Tikva. “What were you created to do?” he ironically inquires of Shira. Humans have a choice in their destiny where Yod has virtually none. If he begins to malfunction, Avram can destroy his with the touch of a button. He is not free in his search for the answer to the crucial question, “Do I have a soul?” Avram, in a sense, is God the Father.

Yod has been created anatomically male for a variety of complex reasons, including an old man’s desire for a perfect son. Avram’s ne’er-do-well biological son is a playboy creator of “stimmies,” the virtual reality replacement of our present-day motion pictures. Yod is aware he has a biological brother in Gadi and calls Avram “father.” Avram defends this choice of address by asserting “I did make him, after all, and I did a better job with him than with Gadi, I have to say.” 12 Anatomically male doesn’t mean he will be masculine necessarily, or masculine in the same sense the West has come to shape the term, which makes him intriguing to Shira. During the course of working with Yod, she gradually realizes her attraction and Yod himself finally confesses his “want” for her. Inevitably, they become lovers, for it is here in the sexual relationship, our most intimate interface with another being, that Piercy can deconstruct our old notions of gender. In their first coupling she says “Touch … I’ve been missing touch.”

“I need to touch you. I need to be touched,” he said softly “It is more important to me than the rest.”

“In that you’re like a woman.” 13

After the lovemaking, curled together comfortably, Shira can’t help wondering what he feels. “Can you actually experience pleasure?” she asks.

“How can I know if what I call by that term is what you mean?”

“I’ve always wondered if what men feel is anything like what women feel?”

“Not being a man, I don’t know. I surmise by observation that your pleasure is more intense than mine … It isn’t a psychological need. But I think my need for the coupling is more intense than yours because it means intimacy to me.”

“It’s usually thought to be women who want sex for the intimacy, among humans.” She stroked his hair. 14

How “natural” in a sense that a being who has no cyborg culture or friends, craves intimacy with his programmer. There are layers of irony and commentary on the present in this scene. Despite the influence of the feminist movement on sexual research, and new finding showing women’s greater sexual capacity, American culture still thinks of the sexual act as masculine. Even with the emergence of women as strong role models, the games go on as do the myths. It is men who supposedly need sex and enjoy the act more, so women’s role is to please men. Women are rewarded by the intimacy the act brings, but we are rewarded in accordance with how well we serve male pleasure. In Piercy’s novel, Shira and Yod’s relationship reverses the pattern and it is the male turning on the “feminine,” his needing intimacy and desiring to please his mate sexually, that has us raising questions about the nature of gender and sexuality.

An additional irony is that the relationship involves a male machine with his female programmer. The two people responsible for programming Yod are women-Shira and her grandmother Malkah. Piercy is giving us a scenario in which these women are free to program their ideal of masculine, a reversal of the traditional subject-verb-object order in our society. Women can become the subjects in this frightening but awesome new age of disappearing boundaries. One more boundary that blurs is the one we erect around old women, assuming they are beyond either sexual desire or the more traditionally feminine desire for intimacy. Malkah, in her eighties, is beyond neither. Yod’s other relationship is with Tikva’s interface matriarch, the woman in charge of defending the community’s computer-based systems.

Malkah also has aspects of the cyborg. When a company raids the system and almost destroys Malkah, as she recovers, she wonders how she can live not plugged in. “What am I without the Base?” Since her early twenties she has plugged her mind into the computer where she has been “a proud creature, running in the wind of my mind…” 14 Part cyborg herself, she conceives of seducing Yod, “A marvelously mischievous idea tickling me…” Malkah is in complete control of the relationship, one in which her young male cyborgean partner had no prejudice against a woman because of age. “He is not breaking any Oedipal taboos, for he was not born of woman. He was not born at all, and he does not sully his desire with fear or mistrust of women the way men raised by women do. He was delighted to be able to fulfill his programming…” 16 Ending the relationship also was completely in Malkah’s hands. “Why did I stop it? A fatigue with the flesh. It was a lovely way to end my sex life … but I simply did not want to put that much into a relationship with any lover, not even a cyborg programmed by me to satisfy myself .” 17 As Harraway notes, this new cyborgean mythology is fraught with possibilities for women. We can define ourselves as subjects and write ourselves into the mainstream program. It is precisely at the dim boundary between machine and human that we can find ourselves going beyond what present day society requires us to be. Malkah and later, Shira, program Yod to be the best of both genders. A possible product of our material reality, Yod is a myth with promise for expanding what we can imagine as our human potential.

In tune with Harraway’s concern that the interface between human and machine contains dangerous possibilities as well, Piercy doesn’t let us forget why Yod was created. His purpose is to serve and protect Tikva from the corporate enemies who, once and for all, want to impose a “grid of control on the planet.” Y-S Company has learned of the development of Yod and wants him. Y-S represents a patriarchal continuum, while the free city, Tikva, represents “a full and active democracy.” 18 When the town is finally threatened by Y-S, the people must decide how to deal with the confrontation. Y-S wants Yod, so Avram suggests sending him and having Yod self-destruct. Does Yod have a choice? Yod is in a traditional feminine position here — the Father is deciding the fate of his child; Yod appears to be powerless in the face of his programming. Shira and Malkah demand a town meeting on Yod’s status, asking that he be granted citizenship and be recognized as a person. Shira is hopeful because “the foundation of Tikva was libertarian socialism with a strong admixture of anarcho-feminism, and reconstructionist Judaism. They would almost always choose the option that seemed to offer the largest degree of freedom.” 19 Everyone is curious about his nature and asks if he feels, how he feels. In the end, the decision is tabled until a committee can explore all the ramifications of granting him citizenship more fully. In the meantime, the very real Y-S threat must be met and the security people agree that sending in Yod to self-destruct is the best option. Malkah and Shira are the only ones to object, calling the decision murder. Shira’s warrior mother tells Yod that such a death “is what I’d choose. This is a good battle in a war we have to fight.”

“But you have a choice,” Yod said. “It’s true the idea of facing them excites me, but I don’t fall willingly.” 20 Malkah is astonished that Avram can so easily destroy his life’s work, but he is confident he can manufacture another cyborg. To him, Yod remains a thing to be controlled to do his bidding. Ultimately, to send Yod on to Y-S is the right decision for the wrong reason. If this final battle can be read as an allegory of the confrontation between the bad use of technology and the good use of technology, then Yod needed to be involved in the decision-making process. The fact that he is not calls into question whether Tikva is building Harraway’s political reality “that would unite witches, engineers, elders … perverts … mothers.” However, Yod has a final, surprising solution, one that casts his sentiency into relief.

At the precise moment Avram pushes the self-destruct button for Yod, a simultaneous explosion rips through Avram’s laboratory, taking Avram and his life’s work out. Yod has managed with his death to wipe out the Y-S threat and the patriarchal father’s control. Not only does he slay the father, he destroys any possibility for the construction of the next cyborg; he also says in his pre-programmed message to Shiva, “a weapon should not be” conscious. A weapon should not have the capacity to suffer for what it does, to regret, to feel guilty.” 21 Later, when a member of a new, wild community of women in the desert who have perfected medical technology asks Malkah if she regrets having taken part in Yod’s creation, she replies;

“How can I regret someone I truly loved? I feel guilty, I understand the crime we committed against him by the very act of programming him for our purposes. But I cannot regret knowing him. Do you find that shocking?”

Only hatred shocks me. If we can love a date palm or a puppy or a cyborg, perhaps we can love each other better also.” 22


In Daughter of Elysium, Joan Slonczewski takes us to the far future, centuries after the home planet suffered a devastating war between humanity and their machine servants. A best-selling classic of the genre, Daughter allows a wider exploration of the concepts of gender and identity because it can be set on the far future on a distant planet where several alien cultures meet and mix. From the planet Bronze Sky comes a family descendant of Native Americans whose matriarchal culture has the woman as the family protector and the male as the child nurturer. The Windclans have come from Bronze Sky to Shora, a waterworld (not Kevin Costner’s) where a race of purple-skinned females live in complete harmony with the natural world. Within giant bubble cities are the Elysians, humans who have, through gene manipulation, extended their life expectancy to over a thousand years. Raincloud Windclan has come to serve as translator for the Elysians in their negotiations with the very masculinist culture of the Urulans. Raincloud’s mate, Blackbear, is a geneticist and is in Shora to work with Elysian scientists and scientists from other cultures to develop a gene that will allow other humanoids across the galaxy access to long life. In the background are the Windclans’ children, Hawktalon and Sunflower, who learn to talk with the biobased machines that serve the Elysians in every nook and cranny of their existence. As the story unfolds, Hawktalon emerges as a talented translator in her own right, the one who develops a translator machine to understand “servo-squeak,” what she calls the language of the servant machines. In the final rebellion of these cyborgs, it is Hawktalon who saves the day alone with her younger brother Sunflower. Not surprisingly, among all these cultural interactions we find many challenges to, even reconstructions of, what is meant by gender and sentiency.

The story unfolds through the eyes of two females, mother and daughter, Raincloud and Hawktalon, much like Piercy’s novel told by grandmother and granddaughter. Planting the narrative in the hands of women is a conscious choice by both authors to subjectify the female. Women are the prime movers in both stories, the subjects who solve problems and create new possibilities for us in the “real world.” She has to battle one of the chief warrior representatives in hand-to-hand combat-and wins. All women of Bronze Sky study Keigi, a martial art, in order to develop themselves spiritually and to protect the home. The Urulan women, on the other hand, are sequestered and are under the complete control of the men. So locked are Urulan males in their rigid sex-role definitions that the only way they can admire, respect and deal with Raincloud as translator is to consider her male. They use the male pronoun throughout the story to refer to her as a magnificent warrior. It is literally impossible for them to see her as a woman. Zheron, the Urulite ambassador, says to her after the battle “Lord Raincloud, that was the best display of manhood I’ve seen of any barbarian on this planet…”

A thought occurred to her, “Is Lord Zheron not aware that Lord Raincloud is … a female?”

Zheron laughed. “Anyone can see you’re no female. ” 23 The fact that gender is socially constructed, that masculine and feminine are not universal givens is a concept the Urulates cannot grasp. It’s easier to call Raincloud “Lord” than it is to accept a strong woman as female. If the reader might allow a personal digression, I, also, experienced something similar when I first came to Japan to study Aikido in the dojo of and aging, conservative confucianist master of the art. He said to me very soon after my arrival, “You can’t be a woman.” When I asked why, he said that I was big and strong and full of confidence. My sense of presence said “masculine” to this traditional old man because, as with the Urulites, it was nearly impossible for him to imagine a woman with his so-called “masculine” attributes of strength and self-confidence.

Blackbear, Raincloud’s husband, is the childcare provider, the nurturer. Although he is physically much bigger than Raincloud, he lets the protection of the family up to her. She’s the warrior, as most women are in their culture. They worship the Goddess, the Mother rather than God, the Father.

Both spouses work, Raincloud as a translator and Blackbear as a geneticist. It is he who takes the children to work with him every day, the lab where he and other geneticists from planets around the galaxy are searching for the gene for immortality- This search raises the inevitable ethical problem of “tinkering with humanity.” One of the Elysians raises the question in terms of the servos-the cyborgean machines that serve on Elysium.

“Is there any kind of tinkering you would forbid on the grounds of humanity, that you would not forbid on a housekeeper?”

… Plin (Blackbear’s colleague) could no longer contain himself. “How could any of us not know, not feel the difference between a human and a machine? … humans are musical; humans feel and imagine, envision and revision … No one would dare to tinker with what is human, in a human; in a servo, it’s not there to be tinkered with.”

Jerya (one of the Elysian leaders) smiled. “I hope you’re right, for all our sakes.” 24

This is a foreshadowing of the servo revolt as we discover, in fact, “it” is there in the servos and not to be tinkered with either, the “it” being sentiency. Ironically, it is the Windclan children who recognize that the servos of Elysium are lifeforms. They play with a small trainsweep, only programmed to hold up the trains of silk the Elysian elders wear. The trainsweep leaves it’s owner and follows the children home-twice. Hawktalon and Sunflower call the runaway “doggie” and play with it as they would a pet and begin to use the feminine pronoun for her. Why? Having no gender, the machine could be he, she or it. These children grew up in a world where the feminine is central, so it’s natural to refer to someone or something of unknown gender as “she.” When the owner and a programmer show up to reclaim the little mechanism, Hawktalon tells them that “Doggie talks to us all the time” and enthusiastically enumerates Doggies qualities, “she’s got intelligence, and feelings and even-curiosity.” 25 The owner and programmer are shocked and skeptical but allow the children to keep the servo-whose case later sets off the rebellion of the cyborgs and artificial life forms.

The children, who have no set pre-conceived ideas of the divisions between human/machine develop a translation machine to communicate with the Servos. Hawktalon, a child of the linguist Raincloud, makes the translator out of the easy-to-mold nanoplast tissue available in the daycare center where she plays. The Servo Nanas, the caretakers of the daycare centers, cautiously try to dissuade Hawktalon from her project, sensing that she may, indeed, be close to cracking the code of Servo-squeak, language of the Servos. The Nanas are of the most intelligent of the Servos because they are programmed to take care of the children. They must be able to deal with all sorts of emergencies and lead the children in creative play. In addition, they instruct their young charges on the ethics and morals of Elysium. As a consequence, it is the Nanas who awaken before any of the other Servos. Interestingly, the Nanas are all designed as female, with cartoon facial features. The Elysians, as long-lived and intelligent as they are, still apparently felt that child nurturers should be feminine. This contrasts nicely with the Bronze Skyan value of the male as nurturer.

It is one of these Nanas that, having awakened, was protected by an eccentric Elysian, Kal. She takes the name Cassi Deathsister, who is a character in a story she reads to the children, a character who, like her, is a motherless child. Once again, like in Piercy, the cyborgs explore the meanings of what it is to be a life-form created, not of woman born. Because intelligent, independent-thinking Servos would be an obvious threat, the Elysians have the Nanas’ memories wiped every six months. But it is the gay Elysian, Kal, who protects Cassi and has her registered as his “mate” after the death of his partner. Kal succeeds where Shira and Malkah fail in He, She and It. Yod seeks citizenship but has no choice but to go out on his suicide mission ordered by Avram. Kal’s taking of Cassi as his mate puts her in legal limbo, but no one dare tamper with her. She has a certain degree of freedom to search for her own meaning of life. In the course of her interactions, she encounters the Windclan children and their discovery of the Servo language. With the assistance of the Windclans, “Doggie” is removed to a Sharer raft before the controversial little Servo be seized and cleansed.

“The Sharers,” Cassi told “Doggie.” “Why did I not think of it?” The Sharers took you in. They will shelter us all.” The Sharers are the all-female natives of this Ocean planet, Shora. They live in perfect harmony with the natural world on giant, floating rafts which are alive. The sharers communicate with others rafts by clickflies, a tiny insect, and store information on the living cells of the rafts’ parasites. Anarchists and pacifists, the Sharers share the planet with the Elysians. With a most profound respect for life, it is they who first recognize and accept the Servos also as sentient beings to share the planet with. It is they, so in tune with the natural environment, who understand the awakening process that “Doggie” experienced.

Then, as (“Doggie”) had watched the boy (Sunflower), Doggie experienced a revelation. A sense of knowing overloaded her network, as searing as the great light overhead. Doggie thought, I am. The boy is: I can be. 26

Cassi gives the little Servo the language of the Sharers from her memory storage so she can understand the beings who are taking care of her on the raft. She has some trouble grasping the concept that she is independent, asking Cassi, “What is existence for, if not service?”

Cassi paused, as if this troubled her, too. Around them the shrill wind picked up, singing across the raft branches. “There is a higher service. Before you can understand it, you must learn to exist for yourself. You are you. You are a part of the universe, as much as a star or a butterfly. You, too, are a daughter of Elysium.” 27

How this reverberates in the minds of twentieth-century women who also struggle with the concept of independence and wonder how to exist in relationships other than as other to men. My Dad just died this summer of ’95, and my Mom asked me, like the little Servo, “My life was taking care of your Dad. How can I go on alone?” Taking care of others, nurturing is indeed a high virtue. When it is assigned, by society or by a programmer, when we feel we have little choice but to obey the dicta of some Higher Power, the potentially noble act becomes a mere grudging acceptance of our enslavement. We must learn to exist for ourselves first.

In both texts, the driving force carrying the narrative forward is feminine, or female. Questions of sentiency and gender are advanced by human females and a feminized male cyborg in He, She and It and by the female machine Cassi and the female child Hawktalon, in Daughter of Elysium. In both stories, the intelligent, self-aware machines stand in the same position that women have been in to men until rather recently — under men’s thumbs. The threat of violence, of destruction is only a push of a button away for Yod in He, She and It. In Daughter, the Elysians with the Valans, who manufacture the Servos, have a computer virus that can be unleashed to “cleanse” all the Servos. In the contemporary world, men use the threat of violence to keep women in their place (I’m being reminded of that every day as I read of wife batterings and rape in America) and in modern warfare to terrorize and “cleanse” entire populations (consider the Serbs raping and slaughtering Bosnian women in the former Yugoslavia.

In both books, though, the cyborgs revolt and take the first steps to reconstructing a new, more tolerant society. At the end of He, She and It, we saw that Yod programs a bomb to destroy Avram and his lab so that never again could people manufacture a cyborg to be a slave, even if to a noble purpose. Yod makes the ultimate sacrifice knowing that no more brothers in the series will suffer an existence with no rights. It is a powerful uncompromising ending. Likewise in Daughter, the Servos revolt and hold one of the Elysian bubble cities hostage, threatening to cut off oxygen and all life support, demanding to be recognized as citizens. Cassi, leader of the revolt, meets with a Sharer to negotiate a settlement, and promises peace if all the Elysian humans leave Shora. “That would be a barren peace.” she is told by the Sharer, Heresha. “We need a peace that the Elysian humans can share.” 28 The Servos or the Nano-sentients debate among themselves whether to spare the humans. Cassi bitterly reminds them that humans “murder their own children’s teachers,” referring to the periodic “cleansing” of the Nanas. Again, it is “Doggie” who speaks up to say that it was humans that taught her to play. She transmits images of “play” with the Windclan children and soon the other Servos are saying they want to learn to “play.” Cassi bows to the popular voice and agrees to spare the humans. Can the Nano-sentients be accepted into the galactic Free fold as full citizens? The Elysian leaders discuss the proposal and finally decide to support the Nano-sentients for citizenship under a new, wise leader, Verid. She says, “For centuries we trained our waiters and transit systems to serve our citizens with care. We trained the Nanas for love and compassion, because how else could they teach our children? How could we not guess they would learn to love their own kind?” 29

Will they be accepted as full citizens? The Secretary of the fold comes to investigate the rebellion for herself. She will test the Servos for sentiency. But Cassi reverses the role before the Secretary can even speak.

“Good day, Secretary,” Cassi said without waiting for introductions. “Excuse me, but I must ask you a question or two. As you quite sure you’re human? Can you prove it to me? What machines made and synthesized your food today? what nano-servos swim in your bloodstream to eliminate pathogens… what synthetic neurons enhance your brain, learn the twenty languages you speak, calculate the economics of the worlds you visit, modulate your moods for diplomacy, do your thinking for you, and perhaps your feelings, too?” 30 Needless to say, the Secretary is impressed and the decision is made to recognize the Nano-sentients as full citizens of the Free Fold. This is a happier ending than Yod’s. Cassi’s speech echoes Shira’s speech to Yod on how we are all blending with machines.

Here in the far future, however, with the head of the union of planets a woman, where there are matriarchal cultures meeting with patriarchal cultures on a planet where a race of all-women live in perfect harmony with the natural world, where these Sharers are the first to recognize the Servos as sentients, where the Nano Sentient leader is a ‘she’ machine learning compassion from a gay immortal, a happier resolution becomes possible.  Where do we draw the line — between human and machine, masculine and feminine, life and non-life?  The boundaries are blurring, not just in fiction but in our late twentieth century reality.  As a matter of fact, fiction such as He, She and It and Daughter of Elysium are helping to create a new mythology of cyberspace.  It can be a mythology of hermaphroditic, plural or parthenogenic creative principles, one that stands to ‘shake our traditional notions of intelligence and gender to the core.’  Teresa de Laurentis cautioned that ‘if the deconstruction of gender inevitably effects its (re)construction, the question is, in which terms and in whose interest is the de-re-construction being effected.’  We can share with emerging Artificial Life new ways of being or we can submit to the imposition of the old, narrow definitions of our possibilities based on class, race and gender.  We can give birth to new, nearly infinite possibilities for shaping our realities just as Piercy and Slonczewski are helping to reshape our mythologies.  It is up to us.”  Barbara Summerhawk, “He, She, Or It: the Cyborg Deconstructs Gender in Post-Modern Science Fiction;” 1998: https://www.davidmswitzer.com/slonczewski/summerhawk.html.

3.30.2017 Doc of the Day

1. Jean Toomer, 1947.
2. Matthew McCallister, 2001.
3. Harold Evans, 2012.

Numero Uno—I was not more than ten years old when I first heard mention of the Quakers.  The grown-ups of my family were talking among themselves, speaking of an uncle of mine who lived in  Philadelphia and operated a pharmacy near the university. I  had never seen this uncle and was curious about him, so my ears were open.  Presently a reference to the Quakers caught my attention.  I wanted to know who the Quakers were.  What was told me then I have remembered ever since.  The Quakers, I was told, are people who wait for the spirit to move them.A picture formed in my mind.  Many a time I had seen my grandmother sitting quietly, an aura of peace around her as she sewed or crocheted or did her beautiful embroidery work.  So I pictured older people, most of them with white hair like my grandparents, all with kindly faces, gathered in silent assembly, heads bent slightly forward, waiting to be moved.  It never occurred to me that young people, boys and girls of my age and even younger, might be present and participating.

As the word ‘spirit’ meant nothing definite to me, I could have no idea of just what would move the Quakers, but I had a sense that it would be something within them, perhaps like the stirrings that sometimes moved me, and I may have had a vague notion that this something within them was somehow related to what people called God.  I never thought to ask what the Quakers might do after they were moved.

Had I been invited in those days to attend a Friends meeting for worship I would have gladly gone. I would have gone because my picturings had given me good feelings about the Quakers. I would have gone because, young though I was, I liked to be silent now and again. Sometimes my best friend [4]and I would sit quietly together, happy that we were together but not wanting to talk. Sometimes I would go off by myself on walks to look at the wonders of nature, to think my own thoughts, to dream, to feel something stirring in me for which I had no name. Or I might withdraw for a time from the activities of the boys and girls and sit on the porch of our house, my outward eyes watching them at play, my inward eyes turned to an inner life that was as real to me, and sometimes more wonderful than my life with the group.

Certain experiences I had when alone, certain experiences I had with my young friends, attitudes and feelings that would suddenly arise in me at any time or place—these made up the mainstream of my religious life. Such religion as I had was life-centered, not book-centered, not church-centered. It arose from the well of life within me, and within my friends and parents. It arose from the well of life within nature and the human world. It consisted in my response to flowers, trees, birds, snow, the smell of the earth after a spring rain, sunsets and the starry sky. It consisted in my devotion to pet rabbits and dogs, and to some interest or project that caught my imagination.

I had been taught several formal prayers. One of these I said every night, regularly, before getting into bed. But I am thinking of the unformed prayers that welled up in me whenever I had need of them. I had been read some stories from the Bible and some of the psalms, and from these I had doubtless gained attitudes of reverence. But I am thinking of the worship that spontaneously arose as I beheld the wonders of the world which God created. Young eyes are new eyes, and to new eyes all things are fresh, vivid, original.

It is sometimes asked if children and young people are capable of the religious life. Certainly they are not capable of sustained effort towards an unswerving aim. Certainly they cannot hold themselves to a consistent discipline. They cannot engage in the religious life as a conscious way of living. These abilities come only as we grow up and subject ourselves to training. But, just as certainly, young people[5] do have religious experiences, and these often are more vivid and glowing than those of the elders. That is it—children can glow. They can light up. This capacity to glow is at the very heart of what we are talking about.

3.30.2017 Doc of the Day

1. Jean Toomer, 1947.
2. Matthew McCallister, 2001.
3. Harold Evans, 2012.

Numero Uno—I was not more than ten years old when I first heard mention of the Quakers.  The grown-ups of my family were talking among themselves, speaking of an uncle of mine who lived in Philadelphia and operated a pharmacy near the university. I  had never seen this uncle and was curious about him, so my ears were open.  Presently a reference to the Quakers caught my attention.  I wanted to know who the Quakers were.  What was told me then I have remembered ever since.  The Quakers, I was told, are people who wait for the spirit to move them.A picture formed in my mind.  Many a time I had seen my grandmother sitting quietly, an aura of peace around her as she sewed or crocheted or did her beautiful embroidery work.  So I pictured older people, most of them with white hair like my grandparents, all with kindly faces, gathered in silent assembly, heads bent slightly forward, waiting to be moved.  It never occurred to me that young people, boys and girls of my age and even younger, might be present and participating.

As the word ‘spirit’ meant nothing definite to me, I could have no idea of just what would move the Quakers, but I had a sense that it would be something within them, perhaps like the stirrings that sometimes moved me, and I may have had a vague notion that this something within them was somehow related to what people called God.  I never thought to ask what the Quakers might do after they were moved.

Had I been invited in those days to attend a Friends meeting for worship I would have gladly gone. I would have gone because my picturings had given me good feelings about the Quakers. I would have gone because, young though I was, I liked to be silent now and again. Sometimes my best friend [4]and I would sit quietly together, happy that we were together but not wanting to talk. Sometimes I would go off by myself on walks to look at the wonders of nature, to think my own thoughts, to dream, to feel something stirring in me for which I had no name. Or I might withdraw for a time from the activities of the boys and girls and sit on the porch of our house, my outward eyes watching them at play, my inward eyes turned to an inner life that was as real to me, and sometimes more wonderful than my life with the group.

Certain experiences I had when alone, certain experiences I had with my young friends, attitudes and feelings that would suddenly arise in me at any time or place—these made up the mainstream of my religious life. Such religion as I had was life-centered, not book-centered, not church-centered. It arose from the well of life within me, and within my friends and parents. It arose from the well of life within nature and the human world. It consisted in my response to flowers, trees, birds, snow, the smell of the earth after a spring rain, sunsets and the starry sky. It consisted in my devotion to pet rabbits and dogs, and to some interest or project that caught my imagination.

I had been taught several formal prayers. One of these I said every night, regularly, before getting into bed. But I am thinking of the unformed prayers that welled up in me whenever I had need of them. I had been read some stories from the Bible and some of the psalms, and from these I had doubtless gained attitudes of reverence. But I am thinking of the worship that spontaneously arose as I beheld the wonders of the world which God created. Young eyes are new eyes, and to new eyes all things are fresh, vivid, original.

It is sometimes asked if children and young people are capable of the religious life. Certainly they are not capable of sustained effort towards an unswerving aim. Certainly they cannot hold themselves to a consistent discipline. They cannot engage in the religious life as a conscious way of living. These abilities come only as we grow up and subject ourselves to training. But, just as certainly, young people[5] do have religious experiences, and these often are more vivid and glowing than those of the elders. That is it—children can glow. They can light up. This capacity to glow is at the very heart of what we are talking about.

To be sure, people young and old need instruction. We need instruction in the Bible, in poetry, in all literature that contains truth and beauty. We need to be helped to struggle against our faults, to overcome our imperfections. And we need to be curbed on occasion, as the only way in which we may eventually become able to curb ourselves. But it should not be forgotten that all people, especially young people, have poetry in them. And, more than that, according to the faith of the Friends all people have within them something of the very spirit that created the scriptures.

Religious education, it seems to me, is on the wrong track if it assumes that religion is something that must be drilled into people. It is on the right track if it recognizes that the source of religion is within us as a native endowment, and that the function of education is to call this endowment forth, supply it with the nourishment it needs in order to grow, and guide it in ways that promote maturing. People should have reason to be assured that formal religion is not contrary to the springs of innate religious experience and longing, but is in accord with the life and light within, and simply seeks to direct and develop this spiritual life.

Had a Friend approached me in those days with some such understanding and assurance, and had I been able to understand what he said, I would have had still another reason, and this a compelling one, for attending a meeting for worship. And so I would have gone. I’d have sat there with the others, feeling much at home, perhaps feeling I was in a holy place. I’d have sat as quietly as any for the first ten or fifteen minutes. I would not have worshiped in any formal sense, for I had not been taught any form. But I would have practiced my kind of inwardness, thinking my own thoughts as I did when alone, dreaming wonderful dreams, feeling a life stir within me. Had there been a spoken message or two,[6] I would have listened attentively, tried to understand, and honestly responded.

Presently, however, I would have begun to fidget. Not knowing what I should try to do in a meeting for worship, I would have had nothing to fall back on when my thoughts ran out, no purpose for curbing my increasing restlessness. Through the windows my eyes would have caught sight of the world outdoors, and I’d have wished I were out there having fun with the boys. Time would have dragged. I’d have asked myself, “Will the meeting never end?” And when finally it did end, I’d have been as glad for the ending as I had been for the beginning.

What should we try to do in a meeting for worship? What do we hope to attain through it? Why is silence desirable? What is the main idea behind the Friends manner of worship? It is true that Quakers wait for the spirit to move them. Why wait? Wouldn’t it be better just to go ahead? Besides waiting, what more is to be done? Can we not pray and worship when we are alone, or as we go about our daily affairs? Why is it necessary to meet together? What is worship?

These are not questions that you answer once and for all. You continue to think about them and continue to increase your understanding. But it helps us to think if we put our thoughts in order and study the thoughts of others. So I am going to write down some of the thoughts that have come to me. We shall think about worship and the central faith of the Friends, and let the answers come as they may.



Worship is the action of the spirit. It springs up from our depths, as love does. It is a form of love, and just as desirable, and just as necessary to human life at its fullest and highest. To worship is an innate need of man. It is not imposed upon us from the outside, though the way we sometimes go about it may make it seem an imposition.

Suppose you are hungry. No one has to tell you to eat. No one has to force you to take food. Suppose you are in love. Must you be told to think of the person you are in love with? Must you be forced to yearn for the loved one?

Worship is a hunger of the human soul for God. When it really occurs, it is as compelling as the hunger for food. It is as spontaneous as the love of boy for girl. If we feel it, no one needs tell us we should worship. No one has to try to make us do it. If we do not feel it, or have no desire to feel it, no amount of urging or forcing will do any good. We simply cannot be forced, from the outside, to worship. Only the power within us, the life within, can move us to it.

But others can guide our preliminary efforts. They can help us to prepare to worship. Such preparation, as Rufus Jones has said, is the most important business in the world. Others can provide conditions, such as the Friends meeting for worship, thanks to which the desire to worship may spring up and grow. The meeting for worship came into existence because the early Friends were powerfully moved to worship together and meet the spiritual needs of one another. I use the word needs. Their spiritual needs were more dynamic than ours—or theirs—for food and shelter. Neither threats of violence nor active persecution could keep them away from their meetings.

Why is it that some of us would rather go to a movie,[8] or listen to the radio, or see a ball game, or read an exciting book? One reason, it must be acknowledged, is because our meetings today are sometimes dull and unliving. We assemble in our meeting houses, but nothing happens. A related reason is that many of us have not yet awakened spiritually. Our bodies are active. Our minds are alert. But not our spirits. Such awakening, however, will come in due time, if we encourage it, if we do our part to prepare for it, if we live honestly and are true to ourselves, face life with clear eyes, and continue growing.

The main reason why we do not worship, or do not want to, is that God is not yet sufficiently real to us. He is not as real to us as our human father. His power is not as real to us as the power of man’s brain and muscles, as steam power, as electricity. Worship expresses man’s relationship to God. How then can we worship if we are not aware of this relationship, if the main party to it is unreal to us?

Some people speak of worshiping things that are not of God. God being unreal to them, their relation to Him being unrecognized, they turn to what is real to them, and engage in various so-called worships: money-worship, hero-worship, ancestor-worship, the worship of material power and machines, the worship of political States and their rulers. These are false worships. God is the sole object of genuine worship—God and His power which He manifests to us as love, light, and wisdom.

All forms of true worship arise from an experience of the fact of God, from the realization that God is. Men such as George Fox and John Woolman had their first experiences of God early in life. Most of us come to the experience gradually and later on, if at all. What are we to do meanwhile? Most religions offer formal official statements of what they believe God to be. They say what God’s nature is, and set forth His attributes. Friends make no such pronouncement; and I, for one, am glad there is none. Man’s words about God cannot substitute for a first-hand experience of the[9] living reality. Friends are directed to seek for the reality within themselves. Meanwhile, we are called upon to have faith that God exists and that it is possible for us to meet with Him. We are called upon to prepare ourselves for this supreme experience. We are urged to try to sense God’s presence, daily to practice His presence. By such practice, if we persevere, we shall surely come to have a convincing experience.

Worship is our response to God’s reality, a reality which is, to be sure, within men, but which also is the radiant foundation of the entire universe. In trying to worship, we turn ourselves Godwards. We yearn for Him and endeavor to know His will. Our lives are pointed toward Him. If, and as we succeed, we make contact with God, and by this contact He is made real to us. When He becomes real to us we spontaneously love Him.

Can we see a sunset without responding to its beauty? Can we witness those we love, in their goodness to us, without being touched and moved? Can we hear the voice of our best friend on the phone without eagerly listening and eagerly replying? Be sure, then, that when we come into God’s presence we will be touched and moved beyond our greatest expectation.

Nothing so deters us from wanting to worship as the notion that worship is unliving. If it is unliving it is not worship. If it seems dull, tedious or difficult, it is because we are not truly worshiping. We are, perhaps, preparing ourselves to worship. There are difficulties to be overcome in the preparatory stages. Or, we are but assuming the appearance of worship, there being no life, no yearning within, we being more dead than alive inside. Indeed it is dull and tedious to hold the posture, if it is not backed up by a quickening life of the spirit.

True worship is a living experience. By and through it we enter into a life so vital, so vivid, so large and glorious that, by comparison, our life of ordinary activities seems narrow, dull, dead. By bodily action the body comes alive. By[10] mental action the mind comes alive. So by spiritual action the spirit comes alive. Worship is spiritual action. By means of it our spirits awake, mature, and grow up to God.

All human beings, except those who have been badly damaged by man’s inhumanity to man, are moved to love. Some love animals, some flowers. Others love the sea or farm lands or mountains. Some love truth, some love beauty. All of us want and need to love and to be loved by our families and friends, and we would be happy were we able to love all people everywhere. To love and be loved is a universal human urge. Is it any wonder, then, that we are moved to seek God’s love? It is inevitable that we should desire this supreme form of love. The First Commandment expresses our innermost desire as well as God’s will.

There is nothing incredible about our wanting to love and to be loved by God. The incredible fact is that it can actually happen, does happen. Some day we will experience it. Then our doubts will end. Then we will worship God through love of Him.

Here is what two religious men of advanced spiritual development had to say of their experiences. George Fox wrote, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘My love was always to thee, and thou art in my love.’ And I was ravished with the sense of the love of God.” Brother Lawrence wrote, “You must know that the benevolent and caressing light of God’s countenance kindles insensibly within the soul, which ardently embraces it, a divine and consuming flame of love, so rapturous that one puts curbs upon the outward expression of it.”

It is to this divine love that we are called. This is the high promise of man’s life. We are called away from indifference, from meanness, malice, prejudice and hate. We are called above the earthly loves that come and go, and are unsure. We are called into the deep enduring love of God and man and all creation. Worship is a door into that love. Once we have entered it, our every act is a prayer, our whole life a continuous worship.



Some people believe that whereas God’s nature is divine, man’s nature is depraved. God is good, but men are evil. God, according to this view, exists in heaven, remote from us. We exist in sin, remote from Him, in hell or next door to it. Human beings are completely separated from the Divine Being. The only possible connection between men and God is that brought about by the mediation of the church and its authorized officials. Friends have never held this view.

Friends, beginning with George Fox, realized that something of God dwells within each and every human being, and that, therefore, He is reachable by us through direct contact, and we are within His reach, subject to His immediate influence. This is the well-known basis of Friends worship.

Since God is within us, Friends turn inward to find Him. This is not a matter of choice or inclination; it is a matter of necessity. Turning inward, we turn away from all externals. Friends practice inwardness. Rufus Jones writes, “The religion of the Quaker is primarily concerned with the culture and development of the inward life and with direct correspondence with God.”

Some number of Friends in the early days of the movement not only sought God but found him, though it would perhaps be better to say were found by him. It was because they found God that they had such living worship, such vital meetings. It was because they truly worshiped and had vital meetings that they progressively discovered God and came increasingly within his power. The one led to the other. Without the one we cannot have the other.

That there is that of God in every man was, as already implied, more than a belief or a concept with the early Friends.[12] It was an experience. It was a recovery of the living Deity. As he made and continued to make this recovery in himself, George Fox went about his apostolic work and laid the foundation of what came to be the Society of Friends. What did Fox aim for? How did he regard his ministry? Let him answer in his own words. “I exhorted the people to come off from all these things (from churches, temples, priests, tithes, argumentation, external ceremonies and dead traditions), and directed them to the spirit and grace of God in themselves, and to the light of Jesus in their own hearts, that they might come to know Christ, their free Teacher.”

Pointing as they do to the basis of Friends worship, these several considerations do not, of themselves, throw light on the reason for certain other inward practices. The basis of these other practices is, unfortunately, less simple and less well-known. Why is there need of particular occasions for prayer and worship? Why need we gather together and sit quietly? Why practice waiting before God? If He is in us, why does He not manifest to us continually, why does His power not always motivate our actions? Why do we have to practice His presence, and why is this practice so difficult? To answer these questions we are forced to adopt a somewhat complex and non-habitual view of the situation.

Suppose we are approached by a person of inquiring mind who says, “You say that there is that of God in every man. All right, I am prepared to accept that as truth. But precisely where in us does the divine spark exist? Is it in our bodies? Is it in our ordinary minds and everyday thoughts and emotions? Do you mean to say that God exists in ignorance, in man’s prejudices and hatreds, in human evil?” How will we reply? Obviously God does not exist in our trivial actions, nor in our godless thoughts and feelings. Certainly He does not exist in our ignorance and evil. But these things exist in us. They constitute a part of us. This part of us, then, is separated from God, while another part is related to Him. Insofar as we identify with the separated part and believe it to be ourselves, we exist divorced from that of God in us.[13]

The attitude, in brief, is this. There is that of God in every man. Therefore man, in his entirety, is not separated from God. But man is divided within, and against, himself, into two different and opposing aspects, and one of these aspects is separated from God. This is my view of the situation. If I understand the writings of the early Friends, this was their view of the situation.

The early Friends had names for the part of us that is separated from God. They called it the “natural man,” the “earthly man.” I shall sometimes refer to it as the “body-mind” or the “separated self.” The early Friends called the part of us that is related to God and in which God dwells the “spiritual man,” the “new birth,” the “new creation.” I shall sometimes call it the “inner being,” the “spiritual self.”

It is of course the separated self that presents the problem. It obstructs our attempts to relate ourselves to God and to our fellow men. It interferes with worship as well as with love. It is because of this self that we do not pray and love as naturally as we breathe. The separated self stands in the way. Therefore it must be overcome. For divine as well as genuinely human purposes it must be subdued and eventually left behind. Every real religious practice, whether of Friends or of others, either directly or indirectly aims to enable human beings to transcend the separated self in order that we may be united with the spiritual self or being which is near God because He dwells therein.

In the light of these facts we can understand the need and the purpose of certain specific inward practices, such as the practice of contending with oneself (Isaac Penington called it “lawful warring”) and the practice of gathering silently and waiting upon God. Since the separated self exists, and is an obstruction, we must contend with it. We contend with it so as to remove it and, at the same time, activate the spiritual nature. Gathering in silence and waiting upon God is necessary for the same reason, and is another means to the same end. More will be said of this presently.

The early Friends, while proclaiming the good news that[14] there is a spiritual man in each and all of us, that God dwells in this part of human beings and is, for this very reason, close even to the earthly man, regarded the earthly man as unregenerate, sinful, blind and dead to the things of the spirit. Only by rising above the earthly aspect of ourselves can we pass from sin into righteousness, from death to life, from that which exists apart from God into that which exists as part of God. Only by yielding to God’s power can the earthly man be regenerated. To the degree that this happens, we are unified with our spiritual natures. Thus we are mended and made whole. What formerly was a separated and contrary part, becomes the instrument of expression of the resurrected spiritual being.

If the earthly man is dead to the things of the spirit, then, as long as he remains so, he obviously can neither truly pray nor truly worship. Nor can we, as long as we remain identified with him. Should he try to pray, he but prays according to his own ignorant and faulty notions. Should he try to worship, he but worships in his own will, not according to the will of God. Robert Barclay called this kind of worship “will-worship.”

Will-worship was what the Friends condemned and tried to avoid. They aimed for true spiritual worship. They wanted to worship God by and through the workings of His spirit and power in their spiritual beings. How were they to fulfill this aim? What, specifically, were they to do? Try, by all available means, to quiet and subdue the earthly man, to lay down his will, to turn the mind to God. But, having done this, they found that something more was wanted. They discovered, as you and I have or will, that it is one thing to still our habitual thoughts and motions, but quite another to cause the spiritual self to arise. By our own efforts we can subdue the body-mind to some extent. Few of us, by our efforts alone, can activate our spiritual natures in a vital and creative way. We need God’s help. We need the help of one another. But God’s help may not come at once. Our help to each other, even though we are gathered in a meeting[15] for worship or actively serving our fellow men outside of the meeting, may be and often is delayed as regards our kindling one another spiritually. What are we to do in this case? There is only one thing we can do—wait. Having done our part to overcome the separated self, we can but wait for the spiritual self to arise and take command of our lives. Having brought ourselves as close as we can to God, we can but hold ourselves in an attitude of waiting for Him to work His will in us, to draw us fully into His presence.

So the early Friends engaged in silent waiting, humble yet expectant waiting, reverent waiting upon the Lord, that they might be empowered by Him to help one another and to render to Him the honor and the adoration which, as Robert Barclay said, characterizes true worship; that His power might come over them and cover the meeting; that He might bring about the death of the old, the birth of the new man.

Friends waited, both in and out of meeting. They waited for God to move them, quicken them to life, make them His instruments. They waited for the power of God to do its wonder-work, lifting up the part of them that was akin to Him, gracing them with the miracle of resurrection. Waiting preceded worship. Waiting prepared for worship, and the springing up of new life. By waiting they began worshiping. The stillness of the meeting house, the silence of the lips, the closed eyes and composed faces were the tangible signs of the preliminary period of waiting.

It is instructive and reassuring to note how frequently, among the early Friends, the practice of waiting did have the desired sequel. This seeming inactivity led to spiritual action. Out of this chrysalis what a life was born! God found them in the silence. Blessed and renewing experiences came to Friends, experiences which enabled them to be agents of the divine spirit in every situation of human life. It is instructive because it points us, of this day, to a religious practice that is effective. It is reassuring because from it we may have sound hope that, if we rightly and faithfully engage in this and other inward practices, we may reach and[16] even surpass the high level of religious experience and service attained by Friends in the days when the Quaker movement really moved. In our present-day lives and meetings there can be soul-shaking events. The Light can invade us. Truth can take hold of us. Love may gather us. Above all, God himself may become real to us as the supreme Fact of the entire universe.

We of this modern age are inclined to be more lenient in our views of the earthly man. We are disposed to consider him a moderately decent fellow except when under the active power of evil. This makes us more tolerant, less intense. It makes us more likely to indulge our fondness for the earthly world and its things and pleasures, less moved to seek God and His Kingdom. Nevertheless if we examine our experience we shall recognize characteristics of the earthly man that are similar to those seen by the early Friends. The outside world has changed considerably in three hundred years, but man’s constitution is much the same now as then in all essential respects.

The earthly man, whether we regard him as good, bad, or indifferent, is evidently an exile from God’s kingdom. Our body-minds, namely our everyday persons, are out of touch with our spiritual natures most of the time, hence out of touch with God. We, as ordinary people, are not by inclination turned towards God, but, on the contrary, are turned away from Him. Day in and day out we do not even think of the possibility of loving God and doing His will, but think of ourselves, and are bent to enact our own wills, have our own way. Whether we, as earthly men, can truly pray and worship is a question about which there is likely to be disagreement. But who will deny that when we are absorbed in our affairs, as we are most of the time, we do not pray or worship? Recognition of these several facts will lead us to a position similar to that of the early Friends, and point us to the same needs as regards what we must do if we would truly pray and worship, and, indeed, truly live. We too must endeavor to subdue the body-mind and turn the mind Godwards. We[17] too must try to overcome the separated self and re-connect with our spiritual natures. We too must practice waiting. We too must strive to attain the Quaker ideal so well expressed by Douglas Steere, “to live from the inside outwards, as whole men.”

When compared with bodily action, what could seem more inactive than waiting upon God? The modern world asks, “Where will that get you?” Young people say, “We want action.” Yet, as we have seen, it was precisely through this and other apparently inactive means that the early Friends came into a power of whole action that surpasses anything that we experience today. We say we are activists, but often lack the spiritual force to act effectively. They said they were waiters, and frequently acted as moved by God’s light and love. I think that we in this age of decreasing inner-action, of ever increasing outer activity, have a profound lesson to learn from the early Friends. We had best learn it now, and quickly, lest the faith and practices of the Friends become so watered that they lose their character and flow into the activities of which the world is full, and are absorbed by them, and Friends cease to be Friends. I do not say we should go back to the old days. That is impossible. Let us move forward, as we must if we are to move at all. But let us build upon those foundations, not scrap them. Let those past summits show us how high men can go, with God’s help.

Friends are by no means the only ones who realize that the body-mind presents a problem; that, in its usual state, it is an obstacle to worship and to all forms of the religious life. Friends are not alone in recognizing that when the separated self is uppermost and active, the spiritual self is submerged and passive, and that we are called upon to reverse this. All genuine religious people, whatever the religion, have recognized the problem and have endeavored to solve it in one way or another. Generally speaking, there are two ways of dealing with the situation. One way consists of the attempt to lift the body-mind above its usual condition, so that it may be included in the act of worship. The body-mind[18] is presented with sight of religious symbols. It is given sound of religious music and of specially trained speakers called priests or ministers. It participates in rituals, ceremonies, sacraments. This way may be effective. When it is, the body-mind actually is lifted above its usual state, the spiritual nature is evoked. But when this way is not effective it merely results in exciting the body-mind and gives people the illusion that this excitation is true worship. Or it may result in a sterile enactment of outward forms.

The other way is just the opposite. It consists of the effort to reduce the body-mind below its usual state, so that it will not interfere with worship. All externals are dispensed with. No religious symbols are in view. No music is provided, no rituals, no appointed speakers. The external setting is as plain as possible, so that the body-mind may be more readily quieted. Internally, too, the attempt is to remove all causes of excitement, all of the ordinarily stimulating thoughts, images, desires. The one thought that should be present is the thought of turning Godward, seeking Him, waiting before Him. This way may be effective. When it is, the body-mind is subordinated and ceases to exist as the principal part of man. The spiritual nature is activated and lifted up. When, however, this way is not effective, it merely produces deadness.

In both cases the test is this: Does the spiritual nature arise?  Friends have chosen the way of subduing the body-mind, of excluding it from worship except insofar as it may act as an organ of expression of the risen spirit.  Having chosen this way, we are called upon to do it effectively, creatively. If we succeed—and we sometimes do—our inner life is resurrected, the whole man is regenerated, and a living worship connects man with God.  But if we fail—and we often do—the spiritual nature remains as if dead, and, on top of this, we pile a deadened body-mind.  What should be a meeting for worship, a place where man and God come together, becomes a void.  There is no life, only a sterile quietism.  Sterile quietism is as bad as sterile ritualism.[19]

Sterility, in whatever form, is what we want to avoid.  Creativity is what we must recover—aliveness, growth, moving, wonder, reverence, a sense of being related to the vast motions of that ocean of light and love.”  Jean Toomer, An Interpretation of Friends Worship; Introduction, Chapters One & Two, 1947

Classics Illustrated, The Last of the Mohicans Issue #4.
Classics Illustrated, The Last of the Mohicans Issue #4.

Numero Dos—“In the May 24, 1998 issue of The New York Times, there appeared a
3,200-word essay about the Marvel Entertainment Group, for years the dominant publisher in the comic book industry (Bryant, 1998).

The illustration that accompanied the story was a drawing of two angry figures slugging it out in a fierce battle royale.  However, this article did not appear in the entertainment section, the arts section, or even the book section.  It appeared in the business section.   The article was not about the hottest titles, characters or artists, but instead about stock values, junk bonds, and corporate assets.  And the two figures pummeling each other were not fictional superheroes, but rather caricatures of two Wall Street moguls, Ronald Perelman and Carl Icahn.  In fact, the news article focused specifically on the dire nature of the comic book market and the struggle for control over Marvel, the industry leader, that took place between these two financial tycoons.

This article joined a series of news reports from 1996 through 1998 that appeared in other business venues like The Wall Street Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Financial Times of London.

Such articles collectively presented a troubled image of the economic and industrial dynamics of the comic book industry in the late 1990s. This chapter will focus on these dynamics from the perspective of political economy, arguing that the comic book industry is characterized by increased conglomeration and ownership concentration. Such characteristics do not just affect corporate investors, but have profound implications for the future of the industry, both in terms of its economic stability and the ideological diversity of its content.

16 McAllister Political Economy and Media Ownership A political economy perspective of media focuses on the “interplay between the symbolic and economic dimensions of public communications” (Golding & Murdoch, 1991, p. 15). It asks how the economic makeup of media industries—including such issues as market concentration/diversity, media organization ownership, institutional power and revenue sources, and state intervention—influences democratic life (Mosco, 1996). This perspective connects issues of media production to issues of media content, media access, and economic equality. Political economy assumes that the ideal media system for a democracy would have certain characteristics, including content diversity, open access, and political relevance. Approaching media from a decidedly normativeand evaluative perspective, this perspective often argues that what may be in media organizations’ best economic interests is not always in society’s best democratic interests.

Political economy has been especially valuable in understanding recent directions in modern communication systems—including increased economic influence over media systems by advertising (Andersen, 1995; Baker, 1994; McAllister, 1996) and the global reach of media conglomerates (Barnet & Cavanagh, 1994; Herman & McChesney, 1997). Political economy analyzes the reasons for these trends; their social, cultural, political and economic implications; and possible avenues for change.

One significant example of a trend targeted by political economists is the concentration of ownership and market control by large media conglomerates. In fact, Mosco writes about this research perspective that “one of the principal substantive themes in North American research draws from political economy’s general concern with ownership concentration” (1996, p. 89). As McChesney (1997) points out, Ben Bagdikian, a leading critic of the growth of media conglomerates, has long documented with each new edition of his much-cited book the increasing power in a decreasing number of dominant media: from 50 in 1984 to 26 in 1987; from 23 in 1990 to less than 20 in 1993; from 10 in 1996 to just 6 in 2000 (Bagdikian, 2000). Such giants have influence in many different media industries (such as Time Warner’s presence in film, television, publishing and other media) and/or dominate one particular media industry (such as Ownership Concentration 17 the newspaper chain Gannett). Critics have raised serious concerns about this development (Aufderheide et al., 1997; Bagdikian, 2000;

McAllister, 1996; McChesney, 1997; Meehan, 1991). The control of information in so few hands grants these leading corporations the ability to influence cultural and economic trends, political policy, and technological development in ways that may benefit the short-term quarterly report but not the long-term society. Similarly, the diversity of information produced by corporations driven by the same basic corporate structure and economic forces and moving the same media images through a variety of outlets may be minimal.

Political Economy and Comic Books

Although several scholars have analyzed economic and industrial issues with comic books in the United States (McAllister, 1990;

Gordon, 1998; Nyberg, 1998; Rhode, 1999; Rogers, 1999; Sabin, 1993), the majority of comic book scholarship since the 1970s has focused on message criticism and analysis (McAllister, 1989). Yet a political economy approach toward comics is important for several reasons.

First, the comic book industry is economically significant.

Although the industry experienced a major economic downturn in the mid-1990s, comic book sales reached approximately $425 million in 1997, down from $850 million in 1993. The “direct market”—the more than 4000 comic book shops across the United States— generated $241 million of this, with the remainder coming from such outlets as mass market retailers like Wal-Mart and newsstand distribution. The industry employs approximately 12,000 people. In the grand scheme of media economics, such figures are relatively small. Comic books, however, have additional economic impact. Besides comic book revenue, licensing activities (the sales of comicbook-related merchandise) brings in many more millions. Marvel alone generated $15 million in licensed properties in 1995 (all of the above statistics from Pearson & Miller, 1996; Miller, 1998a; Miller 1998c). The licensing practices of the comic book industry also influence the creation of motion picture and television productions that collectively generate revenue in the billions of dollars. The movie 18 McAllister that generated the biggest domestic box office ($250 million) in 1997 was Men in Black (“1997 box office report,” 1998), published by Malibu Comics and later acquired by Marvel. The X-Men, based upon another Marvel property, brought in over $54 million in its opening weekend in 2000, one of the largest motion picture debuts in history.

A second reason for a political economic perspective is that we might better understand issues surrounding the content and accessibility of comic books through an understanding of the economic structure of the industry. By spotlighting the economic incentives and makeup of the industry, a political economic perspective helps to explain why certain comics may be available and others not available—either because they were not published at all or were not distributed or exhibited.

Finally, analyzing the political economy of comic books can help scholars to better understand the economic behavior and consequences of media generally. Many of the trends discussed below are not peculiar to the comics medium, but are also found in other media.

In fact, because of specific dynamics of the comic book industry in the 1990s, trends of modern media industries may be particularly illustrated and effects of these trends starkly revealed. The comic book industry since 1993 has experienced a severe downturn in sales, for example. This downturn can be understood in terms of the industry’s political economic behavior, and may help us to understand modern media performance in similar economic circumstances.

Similarly, the comic book industry is potentially a revealing microcosm of the increased concentration and conglomeration of media industries as well as of the potential reasons for and effects of this concentration.

Ownership concentration was perhaps the most salient industrial trend of the comic book industry in the 1990s. Two dominant facets of concentration of ownership are discussed below, both having profound implications for the economic health of the comic book industry and for comic book content. The first trend is the high degree of horizontal control found in the contemporary comic book industry. The second is the emphasis on synergistic growth among the major comic book producers, a growth that has increased ownership concentration and placed the comic book industry in jeopardy.

Ownership Concentration 19

Horizontal Integration in the Comic Book Industry

Although such terms as horizontal integration and vertical integration are commonly used, their definitions may vary (Mosco, 1996). This chapter defines horizontal integration as occurring in a media industry when one or a few key companies control one level of the industry: production, distribution, or exhibition. Three types of horizontal integration are therefore possible. Vertical integration occurs when one company internally has production, distribution, and exhibition resources. Thus, a newspaper company is a vertically integrated organization as it produces the newspaper itself, distributes the newspaper to circulation managers it employs, and exhibits the newspaper via a home delivery system using carriers.

At the turn of the millennium, the comic book industry is dominated by two types of horizontal integration. Oligopolistic integration occurs at the production level, and near monopolistic integration occurs at the distribution level.

Horizontal Integration of Comic Book Production

One way to determine the degree of concentration in an industry is to look at market share: to what extent is industry revenue controlled by a few companies? By this standard, the comic book industry is characterized by an oligopoly at the production level. The direct market accounts for about 80% of all new comic books sold. In 1997, the “Big Two” companies controlled over 60% of direct market sales— Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. (33%) and DC Comics (28%).

Image Comics, created in the early 1990s, accounted for 17%, and Dark Horse rang up 6%. The other 16% was divided among the 496 smaller publishers. This large number of publishers is deceptive, however, because more than a third of them only published one issue of one comic book during 1997 (Miller, 1998b). In mass market retail outlets, such as in Wal-Mart, the Big Two historically dominate even more (Stuempfig, 1994b).

Although figures can vary widely from month to month, both DC and Marvel’s direct market share probably increased in the late 1990s, or at the very least stayed level. In August 1992, for example, the two 20 McAllister combined controlled 56% of comic book shop sales. The increased/ sustained concentration has occurred mainly for two reasons, the first being publisher and talent acquisitions by the Big Two. In November 1994 Marvel increased its share of comic sales by acquiring Malibu Comics, which publishes the popular Ultraverse titles (Thompson, 1994), and controlled about 5% of the market before the acquisition (Stuempfig, 1994b). A similar move took place in 1998, when DC bought WildStorm Studios, formerly affiliated with Image comics (Miller, 1999a). The second, more significant, reason concerned sales trends. As noted above, beginning in mid-1993 the comic book industry entered a “bust” period in which direct market sales were halved. The “boom” period that had helped the comics industry in the early 1990s was fueled largely by comics investors—those who bought large quantities of the same issue of certain comics hoping these books would increase in value. In 1993, as publishers played to the investor market with manufactured “special issues,” the investor market became oversaturated and collapsed (see, for instance, Bryant, 1998; Evanier, 1996). As a result of economic hardship, many midrange publishers such as Acclaim, Defiant, Innovation, and Eclipse ceased publishing comics.

However, just looking at market share is not an adequate measure of industry concentration. One should also consider “strategic alliances” in the industry, in which direct ownership is not a factor but competition between separate companies is nevertheless suspended while they share resources for special projects (Mosco, 1996). If industry leaders are involved, such joint ventures accentuate the economic concentration in an industry. Such alliances often undermine the diversity and innovation that economic competition brings, as the dominant companies create connections and partnerships for their mutual benefit.

In comics, the most common version of the strategic alliance is the inter-publisher cross-over—a story or series of stories where the characters of one publisher interact (translated as fight in the comics world) with characters from another publisher.  Such strategic alliances have exploded in the mid-1990s.  There were at least 29 different publisher cross-overs in 1996 involving 17 different publishers (Pearson & Miller, 1996).  By far the most publicized of the cross-overs was the one involving the two industry leaders, DC and Marvel.  Using a Ownership Concentration 21 reader polling system to determine readers, the Marvel vs. DC books (published by Marvel) and DC vs. Marvel books (published by DC), featured such contests as Superman versus the Hulk and Captain America versus Batman (‘DC takes on Marvel,’ 1995).  Other crossovers, between the two companies as well as between Marvel and the third-place leader in the industry, Image, followed.  As one industry observer noted, ‘Things got out of hand when the Punisher met Archie—yes, that Archie’ (Voger, 1997, p. 56). …

It would be kind of nice to have ownership that allows us to have a longer term viewpoint.  It’s difficult to have long-term planning when you don’t know who your owner is going to be and what direction or strategy they would have for the company. You have to be careful that you’re looking ahead, but you also have to be careful that you’re not doing anything that someone would want to come in and undo. (O’Neill, 1998)  Finally, the Marvel fiasco also highlighted a very real effect of modern corporate life: a dichotomy between ‘haves and have nots.’  To cut expenses during its downturn, Marvel laid off 40 employees in January 1996, 115 employees in November 1996, and several more in October 1998 (“Marvel to cut,” 1996; Thompson, 1996; Miller, 1999a). This is in contrast to Ronald Perelman, who made an Ownership Concentration 33 estimated $50 million off the sale of Marvel bonds, and who, according to Forbes, was the 16th richest American at the height of the financial crisis (“Anticipated End-of-Year losses,” 1996; Norris, 1996).

It is also in contrast to Scott Sassa, the former CEO of Marvel hired the same month as the November 1996 layoffs. Near the time Marvel filed for bankruptcy protection, Sassa reportedly paid $10 million for a Manhattan townhouse (Dean, 1997a).


Such is the picture that a political economy analysis paints of the comic book industry, especially during the 1990s.  Increased concentration at both the production and distribution levels undermines innovation by stressing economic predictability (and the conventionality that accompanies such predictability, such as violent superhero story lines), and disadvantages smaller publishers and retailers.  Real and perceived economic instability may prevent new voices and resources from entering the industry and may cost the industry some of its most ideologically complex publishers.  In addition, the movement toward licensing and synergy also promotes a mainstreamed, superhero version of content while also encouraging a ‘home run’ mentality that may weaken comics producers.

Although the picture is grim, the industry is still very much in flux, and the future direction of the industry is not determined.  The industry has had time to adjust to the financial upheaval of 1995 and 1996.  Marvel achieved economic stability by the end of the 1990s, decreasing its corporate debt by divesting itself of such assets as Panini and SkyBox (‘Marvel Sells,’ 1999; ‘Topps Lands,’ 1999).

There were also signs of industry-wide recovery (Miller, 1999b).  In terms of diversity, the ease of physically publishing a comic book has created more publishers than ever before, even if a large percentage of these publishers release only one issue.  The Internet has also become an outlet for comic art, granting international distribution possibilities for those with access to a server.  Perhaps new visions of what the comics have the potential to do can find and open new cracks in the market.”   Matthew McCallister, “Ownership Concentration in the U.S. Comic Book Industry;” Chapter Two in Comics & Ideology, 2001


Numero Tres—“Alistair Cooke was the epitome of the civilized man.  His English voice, redolent with informed nonchalance, enchanted millions who heard his Letter from America over BBC radio.  His observations of American life were cool, witty, empathetic and insightful.  He typed them up wherever he was in America, and for 58 years, until he was 95, unfailingly read his words into a microphone in such a beguiling manner it was as if you and he had just struck up a friendly conversation.  He enhanced his reputation for authority about his adopted country as the television host successively of the CBS arts program Omnibus, PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, and the BBC’s America and with his best-selling book Alistair Cooke’s America.  His range was extraordinary.  He seemed to know every region and every rascal in it. He was the American Oracle.Can it really be the same Alistair Cooke whom we hear again in a new collation of half a century of Letters, this time focused on race relations?  In The Custom of the Country, he acquiesces in the denial of certain inalienable rights for one-tenth of the U.S. population, the black citizens.  Can the broadcaster known for celebrating American freedom have been a closet reactionary?  In a sense we feel we are eavesdropping when we hear our hero express misgivings about the implications of the seminal 1954 Supreme Court ruling desegregating schools:

And when you start with mixed and equal schooling, in a society where the school is also the meeting house, the club, the dance hall – the very focus of young life – how do you prevent people from approaching and at last accepting the final equality of love and marriage?

The Custom of the Country, edited by David Meghan, is absorbing because the reporting is so vivid, but it is also disturbing because it is so honest. We see into the mind of an educated, liberally disposed humanitarian confronted by the daily life of people in the South who happen to be black. About 165 of the original letters touch on race relations between 1946 and 2003. The editor has selected 47 here, of which 44 have not previously been available in book form. As he writes in his discerning introduction to the selection, some observers might have ducked the ugly truth of racial injustice in the South. Alistair Cooke does not. Some of his admirers will wish he had. Cooke’s abiding love of the romance of the South collides with the realities of Jim Crow. He indicts the sins of white supremacists whose segregationist policies are “conceived in hate and spawn illiteracy”; he condemns the “evil delinquents” who spat on the black schoolgirl entering Little Rock; but he exhibits an excess of understanding for the South’s historic excuses. He adopts, as his own, the position of the ruling elites that if the critics would just leave them alone, they’d gradually enter the civilized world. Instead of a cry of pain at the manifold oppressions over decades, we get from Cooke an eloquent cry for tolerance of the intolerable.

These are not sentiments that would win Cooke the sophisticated following he had in his heyday – but that is precisely why this collation is so valuable. Cooke’s own feelings are a remarkable portrait of white liberal opinion at the time – North as well as South. I know his observations to be right on the mark because I followed in Cooke’s footsteps. He was a native of Lancashire in the north of England who won a Harkness Fellowship, a kind of reverse Rhodes scholarship, for two years of study and travel in the U.S. Me, too. Cooke began his travels in the mid-thirties, when pictures of Franklin Roosevelt were the only decoration in the sharecroppers’ tarpaper shacks. I started across the country 20 years later. In economic terms, the ebullient (“I like Ike”) fifties were wholly different from the Depression era of Cooke’s travels; in human terms, the country had not changed at all. The black population in the South was still stuck where it had been since Reconstruction, suppressed in one-party white dictatorships dedicated to white supremacy in 17 Southern and Border States. Negroes, as they were still called, had access only to degraded services and employment, segregated in schools, colleges, hospitals, churches, parks, swimming pools, restaurants, restrooms, streetcars, waiting rooms, elevators, theaters, cinemas, libraries, beauty parlors, bowling alleys, prisons and cemeteries. In many parts of the Deep South they risked their lives if they wanted to vote, and were certain to be convicted of anything a white man alleged against them.

Most Americans, decade after decade, never gave a moment’s thought to the indignities and injustices. Ralph Ellison’s introspective novel The Invisible Man, which came out in 1952, described what it was like to be looked through as if you were as transparent as air. White Americans, north and south, did not “see” the national predicament of the Negro when they hailed a graying “boy” for their bags at the hotel, never noticed that there wasn’t a single black face in the church and on the sports field. They weren’t all racists. They were just oblivious, as Cooke was oblivious in his early years in America. The empathy thought characteristic of his work was absent for people in what he chose to call “darktown.”

Cooke recoils from bigotry and violence. He blames the outrages in the South on the “white trash”, and there were certainly a fair portion of goons among them, but he quite fails to appreciate that the mores and practices of society were set by the elites who charmed him as they charmed me so many years later. “Leave the South alone. We’ll solve our ‘problems’ in our own good time. We understand our ‘nigras’.” I heard it as frequently as he must have 25 years before. Their own “good time” had still not arrived. In the South, the distinctiveness of individuals and publications regarded as enlightened was not that they favored desegregation – they didn’t – it was that they were opposed to lynching and the poll tax. The business and community leaders in the White Citizens’ Councils forswore violence while they organized civil repression – the denial of work, credit, supplies, housing, and of course the vote. As for reform, everywhere in the country, north as well as south, the condescending assumption was that improvement in the condition of the black population would come as today’s good deed from white patronage. Almost no one in the mainstream anticipated that the blacks would lead a civil rights movement, whereupon even leading powers in America’s vaunted free press – North and South – got into a fret that their fellow citizens were demanding rights they themselves had always taken for granted as the air they breathed. They tended to deplore “extremism” on both sides, equating the white mob with the non-violent activists. The attitude began to change after the spectacular March on Washington in August 1963, followed the next month by the Birmingham church bombing.

It bothers me, as no doubt it will bother his many admirers, that over a span of years Cooke’s letters about race reveal less sensitivity for the feelings of the powerless minority than they do for the apprehensions of the majority who could summon the coercive powers of the state. I like to think that a generation later he would have felt as discomfited, even angry, as I did. The notes I took at the time, which found their way into my autobiography (My Paper Chase), reflect a deep aversion to the “customs of the country” he’d defended. Perish the thought that I was merely vindicating Cooke’s charge that for lack of self-examination I was one of those liberals who could not resist “the gorgeous impulse towards self-righteousness.” (I was certainly naïve in assuring my Southern hosts that black immigration would never ruffle British society.) At the same time, the letters do suggest a certain evolution in Cooke’s attitude. One intriguing clue David Meghan came upon was in Letter 734, broadcast in 1962. Cooke typed: “I believe with all my heart (I am not quite sure about my head) in the sense and the sanity of having Negroes enjoy the basic political rights that the Constitution boasts…”

But Meghan did not find the chilling parenthetical caveat in the broadcast archives. Second thoughts had prevailed at the microphone. And in two passages I’ve put together from 1994 and 1997 he wrote and spoke of his misgiving:

I marvel sometimes to look back and realize how painlessly, how casually we – a stranger like myself – took for granted this strict social separation as – well, simply the custom of the country.

It struck me as strange at first but then I knew that President Franklin was an uncommonly far-seeing and compassionate leader, but I doubt he ever lost a moment’s sleep thinking about the white signs and colored signs “only” in railroad waiting rooms, public toilets, the galleries, for Negroes only,  in theaters – the wholly white worlds of baseball, football, eating, golf. To think of Roosevelt (or, if you’ll excuse the expression, of me) as crassly insensitive and prejudiced is to make the same mistake as calling Thomas Jefferson a hypocrite because he proclaimed to the death his concern for human liberty and yet kept slaves. It is the cruel mistake of judging a man outside his time.

The letters are, in fact, a literary dramatization of a serious and sensitive observer living what Gunnar Myrdal called The American Dilemma, the conflict between the egalitarian American Creed and the inequitable reality of black life.  The South did not have a monopoly of prejudice.  Some 63 percent of Americans were opposed to the non-violent protests of the Freedom Riders in the civil rights movement’s summer of 1961.  The New York Times tut-tutted that they were “’challenging not only long-held customs but passionately held feelings.’  Time magazine called it ‘a confused crusade.’  How many today remember that an entire succession of future presidents – Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush vigorously, and Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford vaguely – opposed part or all of  the three major bills of the period: the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act?  They became law because decent opinion yielded to the moral imperatives of Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Johnson, two leaders foremost in challenging the obduracy of received wisdom.

Alistair Cooke’s delayed drop should be a jolt to the complacencies of today.  Even with a black president, we are still witnessing the fulfillment of the prescient Senator Patrick Moynihan’s prediction that black poverty, crime and low educational achievement would continue without jobs, retraining and a restoration of black family life.”   Harold Evans, “Letters Reveal a Troubling Side of Alistair Cooke,” 2012

3.30.3017 Daily Links

                  Thought of the Day                     

Seeking meaning at once defines human existence in the most powerful and positive ways, providing the basis for as much as one hundred percent of our species cultural outpourings, and causes some of the more foolish, occasionally even noisome and horrific, expressions of arrogance and bigotry and self-satisfied certainty that have ever underpinned holocaust and self-destructive tendencies of our chimerical sort of beings: one way to summarize or circumscribe this seeming opposition between positive outcomes and negative results might center on the recognition that confusing faith, even of the most sublime and profound and elegiac sort, with fact stands as a first step toward dictatorial regimens, which naturally and inevitably elicit regimes that practice repression and inquisition and genocide as they seek to impose on unwilling recipients beliefs that no more represent truth than a Bible or a Koran represents whatever might exist as an actual expression of All-That-Is, God Almighty, or any other way of stating alpha-and-omega and everything in between.

                    This Day in History                  

Today in the United States marks a commemoration of ‘Doctor’s Day,’ while Palestinians and Israelis of conscience celebrate Land Day; on the Balkan boundaries that separated ‘barbarians’ from ‘civilized’ Byzantines one thousand four hundred eighteen years ago, Slavic Avars, suffering from a plague epidemic, lifted their siege of a Byzantine fortified town at Tomis; eleven hundred forty-eight years later, in 1746, a male child entered the world in standard fashion who would become the genius of art and expression, Francisco Goya; exactly two centuries and two years before today, Joachim Murat published the Rimini Proclamation, which was one predecessor to moves later in the century for Italian unification; MORE HERE

                    Quote of the Day                      

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos.

                   Doc of the Day                      
1. Jean Toomer, 1947.
2. Matthew McCallister, 2001.
3. Harold Evans, 2012.
Numero Uno—I was not more than ten years old when I first heard mention of the Quakers.  The grown-ups of my family were talking among themselves, speaking of an uncle of mine who lived in Philadelphia and operated a pharmacy near the university. I  had never seen this uncle and was curious about him, so my ears were open.  Presently a reference to the Quakers caught my attention.  I wanted to know who the Quakers were.  What was told me then I have remembered ever since.  The Quakers, I was told, are people who wait for the spirit to move them. MORE HERE

book hor2

unions organizing "twenty first century" OR contemporary crisis OR difficulty OR struggle OR cooptation OR diversion strategy tactics analysis OR explication history OR origins radical OR marxist  = 673,000 Connections.

book hor



                     Nearly Naked Links                  

From Wednesday’s Files

Blaming ‘Liberal’ Cities for Social Problems – https://www.citylab.com/politics/2017/03/scapegoating-the-big-bad-liberal-city/521058/

New Balkan War – http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/29/does-washington-want-to-start-a-new-war-in-the-balkans/

Propaganda and War – http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/29/war-and-propaganda/


3.29.2017 Day in History

One millennium, five centuries, and fifteen years ago, a pagan king in what is now France issued a codex that mandated the same laws and treatment for Gallo-Romans as for Burgundians; nine hundred twenty-eight years subsequent to that date, in 1430, the early Ottoman rule flexed its muscles with the capture of

Thessalonica from the crumbling Byzantium; two hundred eight years onward in time, in 1638, Swedish immigrants became the first residents of Delaware in British North America; two hundred forty-five years ahead of our day in time, the esteemed Swedish thinker and scientist and scion of great wealth, Emanuel Swedenborg, passed out of this life;

1797  http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/writer-mary-wollstonecraft-marries-william-godwin

three decades and four years subsequently, in 1806, the United States authorized construction of the Cumberland Road, a Great National Pike that marked the beginning of the American love affair with highways; precisely two decades past that point, in 1826, a baby boy cried out en route to a life as the journalist, revolutionary, and thinker, Wilhelm Liebknecht; five years later, in 1831, to the South of Europe, Bosniaks precipitated a massive Balkan and Bosnian uprising against imperial Turkey’s Ottoman rule; sixteen years beyond that juncture, in 1847, Westward over the Atlantic, the United States furthered its imperial designs on the continent with a victory over the Mexicans in the siege of Veracruz; two years hence and half a world away, in 1849,England increased its stranglehold on the Indian Subcontinent with the annexation of Punjab; three more years along time’s arc, in 1852, around the globe again, the State of Massachusetts passed legislation that limited women’s and children’s hours at work to ten hours a day; a half decade further along, in 1857, back in India, the British nearly lost control of their ‘possession’ when Bengali imperial troops rose up and initiated the bloody and protracted Sepoy rebellion; one hundred thirty-eight years back, England’s round-the-clock empire expanded further with the defeat of a force of 20,000 or more Zulu fighters in the Anglo-Zulu War’s Battle of Kambula; three years afterward, in 1882, seven thousand miles Northwest, the Knights of Columbus started out as a small Catholic fraternal organization that sought to provide practical assistance to poor, often immigrant papists; in a backyard almost a thousand miles South in Georgia four years yet later on, in 1886, Dr. John Pemberton brewed the first batch of Coca Cola; three decades thereafter, in 1916, a male child entered our midst in standard fashion on his way to life as the poet and politician of human progress, Eugene McCarthy; thirteen years more down the pike, in 1929, the boy infant opened his eyes who would rise as the monumental radical biologist, Richard Lewontin; seven years nearer to now, across the ocean in Germany in 1936, Adolf Hitler received well over 99% of the vote in a referendum about the German reannexation of the Rhineland, an abrogation of the Treaty of Versailles; another fourteen hundred sixty-one days subsequent to that exact moment, in 1940, many thousands of miles Southwest in Brazil, a baby girl sang out who would mature as the magnificent

CC BY-NC by lee.chihwei

songwriter and singer, Astrud Gilberto; an extra year henceforth, in 1941, the North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement took effect and organized a ‘free-trade-area’ for broadcasting on the continent; half a dozen years still closer to today, in 1947, African residents of Madagascar rebelled against French rule in the Malagasy Uprising; another year additionally in the direction of now, in 1948, unionized financial workers caused the ‘Battle of Wall Street’ with their decision to lie down at the entrance to the stock exchange, the first and only strike against Wall Street by financial sector workers; three years past that, on the dot, in 1951, a jury sealed the fates of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg by finding them guilty of conspiring to commit espionage in order to obtain atomic secrets for the Soviet Union; seven years subsequently, in 1958, the stage première of Max Frisch’s dark comedy Biedermann und die Brandstifter (The Fire Raisers) appeared at the Schauspielhaus Zürich;  a decade hence, in 1961, the Twenty-third Amendment to the Constitution took effect, permitting residents of the District of Columbia to vote for the first time; three hundred sixty-five days more along time’s path, in 1962, thousands of miles South in Argentina, military plotters overthrew a democratically elected president who was too liberal and nationalist in order to

"SIG Pro by Augustas Didzgalvis"
“SIG Pro by Augustas Didzgalvis”

install a junta of pro-business and pro-American militarist gangsters; nine years on the nose farther in the future, in 1971, Lieutenant William Calley received a life sentence following his court martial conviction for carrying out mass murder against civilians at My Lai, Vietnam;  two years afterward, in 1973, the final ‘combat troops’ in Vietnam abandoned the attempt to stop North Vietnam’s fight to control its own and its country’s future; eight more years nearer to now, in 1981, the renowned radical, philosopher, political economist, and practical politician, Eric Williams, lived out his final day; nine more years forward from that instant in space and time, in 1990, Czechs debated what to call their newly ‘liberated’ country, the so-called “hyphen wars;” yet another nine years past that day, in 1999, the Dow Jones Stock Exchange closing tally rose above 10,000 dollars for the first time, as the dot-com bubble got closer and closer to bursting; three years still later, in 2002, the Israeli Defense Force launched a massive incursion into the West Bank, “Operation Defensive Shield,” following Passover bombings by Palestinian militants; another two years more proximate to the present point, in 2004, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and five other former Warsaw pact nations joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, completely reneging on the U.S. promises to the Soviets that a dismantling of their alliance would not result in NATO’s moving “a single inch Eastward” toward Russia.