Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Foraging for food, city dump, Dubuque, Iowa. Produce houses dump apples, grapefruit, etc., which are not quite bad. 1940 April. John Vachon, photographer (Library of Congress) (Click on image to view larger)

From Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon in which Charles Mason describes going to the site of what could be the Conestoga Massacre of 1764 where 16 Conestoga men, women and children were cruelly and maliciously slaughtered at the jail in Lancaster where they had sought refuge.

The next Day, he creeps out before Dixon is awake, and goes to the Site of last Year’s Massacre by himself. He is not as a rule sensitive to the metaphysickal Remnants of Evil,– none but the grosser, that is, the Gothickal, are apt to claim his Attention,– yet here in the soil’d and strewn Courtyard where it happen’d, roofless to His Surveillance,– and to His Judgment, prays Mason,– he feels “like a Nun before a Shrine,” as he later relates it to Dixon, who has in fact slept till well past noon, as Shifts and Back-shifts of Bugs pass to and fro, inspecting his Mortal Envelope. “Almost a smell,” Mason quizzickally, his face, it seems to Dixon, unuusually white, “–not the Drains, nor the Night’s Residency,– I cannot explain,– it quite Torpedo’d me.”

“Eeh! Sounds worth a Visit …?”

“Acts have consequences, Dixon, they must. These Louts believe all’s right now, — that they are free to get on with the Lives that to them are no doubt important, — with no Glimmer at all of the Debt they have taken on. That is what I smell’d, — Lethe-Water. One of the things the newly-born forget, is how terrible its Taste, and Smell. In Time, these People are able to forget ev’rything. Be willing but to wait a little, and ye may gull them again and again, however ye wish, — even unto their own Dissolution. In America, as I apprehend, Time is the true River that runs ’round Hell.”

As Americans, we like to think that only “other,” “uncivilized” people engage today in this kind of behavior, that when “we” do it, it’s an aberration, “a few bad apples.”

When you destroy the Rule of Law, this is what you will get. It is not enough to hope that there is a god who will punish those directly responsible, because all who do not act to prevent it are responsible.

Does the political party for which you usually vote harbor and encourage people who routinely seek to violate the rights of others and the rule of law?

Think about that before you pull the lever.


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A view of Ewen Breaker of the Pennsylvania Coal Co. The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrates the utmost recesses of the boy's lungs. A kind of slave driver sometimes stands over the boys, prodding or kicking them into obedience. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania. 1911 January. Lewis Wickes Hine, photographer. (Library of Congress) (Right click on image to view larger)

Neither has slept well for a Fortnight, amid the house-rocking Ponderosities of commercial Drayage, the Barrels and Sledges rumbling at all Hours over the paving-Stones, the Town on a-hammering and brick-laying itself together about them, the street-sellers’ cries, the unforeseen coalescences of Sailors and Citizens anywhere in the neighboring night to sing Liberty and wreack Mischief, hoofbeats in large numbers passing beneath the Window, the cries of Beasts from the city Shambles, — Philadelphia in the Dark, in an all-night Din Residents may have got accustom’d to, but which seems to the Astronomers, not yet detach’d from the liquid, dutiful lurches of the Packet thro’ th’ October seas, the very Mill of Hell.

“Worse than London by far,” Mason brushing away Bugs, rolling over and over, four sides at five minutes per side, a Goose upon Insomnia’s Spit, uncontrollably humming to himself an idiotic Galop from The Rebel Weaver, which he attended in London just before Departure, instead of Mr. Arne’s Love in a Cottage, which would have been wiser. Smells of wood-smoke, horses, and human sewage blow in the windows, along with the noise. Somewhere down the Street a midnight Church congregation sings with a fervency unknown in Sapperton, or in Bisley, for that matter. He keeps waking with his heart racing, fear in his Bowels, something loud having just ocurr’d … waiting for it to repeat. And as he relaxes, never knowing the precise moment it begins, the infernal deedle ee, deedle ee, deedle-eedle-eedle-dee again.

When I read this passage in Thomas Pynchon’s novel Mason & Dixon (page 292), I shuddered, because I imagine this could well be the kind of life most people in this country will be living again in not too many decades if the “conservative,” anti-education, anti-progress, pro-corporation have their way.

They are willing to not just violate the law but set themselves above it in order to destroy once and for one of the most important founding principles of this country — “all men are created equal” — by denying the rights of working people to a living wage and a safe workplace.

“Pennsylvania Politics? Its name is Simplicity. Religious bodies here cannot be distinguish’d from Political Factions. These are Quaker, Anglican, Presbyterian, German Pietist. Each prevails in its own area of the Province. Till about five years ago, the Presbyterians fought among themselves so fiercely, that despite their great Numbers, they remain’d without much Political Effect, — lately, since the Old and New Lights reach’d their Accommodation, all the other Parties have hasten’d to strike bargains with them as they may, — not least of these the Penns, who tho’ Quaker by ancestry are Anglican in Praxis, — some eve say, Tools of Rome. Mr. Shippen, upon whom you must wait for each penny you’ll spend, is a Presbyterian, the City Variety, quite at ease as a member of the Governor’s Council. As for the Anglicans of Philadelphia, the periodick arrival in Town of traveling ministries such as the Reverend MacClenaghan’s have now split those Folk between traditional Pennites, and Reborns a-dazzle with the New Light, who are more than ready to throw in with the Presbyterians, against the Quakers, — tho’ so far Quakers have been able to act in the Assembly as a body, and prevail, — “

This is what it was like in the 1760s, before the United States Constitution established a barrier — the Founding Fathers thought — between Church and State. Are we going back to this?

Is it already too late to save the dream that America once was?

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Theodor Horydczak Collection (Library of Congress)

When the day changed and the mad wind died down,
The powdery drifts that all day long had blown
Across the meadows and the open fields,
Or whirled like diamond dust in the bright sun,
Settled to rest, and for a tranquil hour
The lengthening bluish shadows on the snow
Stole down the orchard slope, and a rose light
Flooded the earth with beauty and with peace.
Then in the west behind the cedars black
The sinking sun stained red the winter dusk
With sullen flare upon the snowy ridge,–
As in a masterpiece by Hokusai,
Where on a background gray, with flaming breath
A scarlet dragon dies in dusky gold.

~ William Bliss Carman (1861-1929)

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Henry James, date unknown. (Library of Congress)

In 1884 the American author Henry James published A Little Tour In France.

It’s wonderful for the descriptions of everyday life in 19th century France, but also for James’ humor.

In this section James is discussing the birthplace of Honore de Balzac:

Honoré de Balzac on an 1842 daguerreotype by Louis-Auguste Bisson (Wikpedia)

Balzac, in the maturity of his vision, took in more of human life than any one, since Shakspeare, who has attempted to tell us stories about it; and the very small scene on which his consciousness dawned is one end of the immense scale that he traversed. I confess it shocked me a little to find that he was born in a house “in a row”—a house, moreover, which at the date of his birth must have been only about twenty years old. All that is contradictory. If the tenement selected for this honour could not be ancient and embrowned, it should at least have been detached.

(Cross posted at All Fiction All the Time)

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All episodes are here.

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By William S. Burroughs

For John Dillinger

In hope he is still alive

Thanks for the wild turkey and the Passenger Pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts
Thanks for a Continent to despoil and poison
Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger
Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin, leaving the carcass to rot
Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes
Thanks for the AMERICAN DREAM to vulgarize and falsify until the bare lies shine through
Thanks for the KKK, for nigger-killing lawmen feeling their notches, for decent church-going women with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces
Thanks for “Kill a Queer for Christ” stickers
Thanks for laboratory AIDS
Thanks for Prohibition and the War Against Drugs
Thanks for a country where nobody is allowed to mind his own business
Thanks for a nation of finks — yes,
Thanks for all the memories all right, lets see your arms you always were a headache and you always were a bore
Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

If you’re here on Thanksgiving, you have time to listen to an interview of William S. Burroughs from February 1984.

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Sacred Otter glimpses tipi in distance during the night in a winter landscape with mountains / Paul Goble (Library of Congress)

Sacred Otter glimpses tipi in distance during the night in a winter landscape with mountains / Paul Goble (Library of Congress)

Paul Goble, author and illustrator of dozens of children’s books, was born in Haslemere, England. As a child he spent a lot of time at a lake near his home studying the insect, animal and plant life and began to draw and paint from nature and from specimens in books and museums. A graduate of the Central School of Art in London, Goble worked as a furniture designer, industrial consultant and art instructor. In 1969 he published his first children’s book, entitled Red Hawk’s Account of Custer’s Last Battle.

I had been reading to my son and daughter, Richard and Julia, and had admired some of the books very much. When Richard was watching a series about General Custer on TV, I knew that it had nothing at all to do with the history. I looked in the library for something real about General Custer for his age, about 7, but could find nothing. As the subject of General Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn was a specialty of mine, it gave me the idea to try and make a book myself.

In 1977, he moved to the Black Hills in South Dakota and was adopted into the Yakama (Yakima) tribe by Chief Alba Shawaway and into the Sioux tribe by Chief Edgar Red Cloud. He was given the name Wakinyan Chikala, or “Little Thunder.”

To see the above illustration “full size,” right click your mouse on it and choose “view image.”

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