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Location: TUCSON, Arizona, United States

Sunday, November 28, 2010


David Bromwich, writing in the 25 November issue of New York Review of Books, speculates that the U.S. is suffering the “southernization of American politics.” It’s been going on “since Richard Nixon in 1968” but has now become the substance (as it were) of daily and media life, represented by the reported “anger” of the far right. What are they angry about? The “loss” of “the America we grew up in.” Bromwich points out that one has to be over sixty to have grown up in an America noticeably “less chaotic” than the present, but that hasn’t prevented “the myth of the 50’s” remaining popular “ever since the 70’s”. So “southernization” is--in one convenient phrase--a compound of racism, “white fear,” fake nostalgia, and reaction against “the 60’s”. I think this is an insight.

I grew up in the America evidently fantasized by so many. (I graduated high school in 1953). It was already a “chaos” of McCarthyism, rabid anti-Communism, blacklisting, lynching, and even more open racism. And this is only a partial list. So the “50’s”--the idealization of the “man’s world” and “women’s place” and so on--was a fantasy even during the 50’s. The "ideals" were merely masks for exploitation. Maybe racism and a pervasive "victim" mentality were more pronounced in the South; Washington DC is a “southern” city, after all. In any case this masquerade has become our "government." None of this assuages my grief over the present, but it’s nice to have a theory.

I'm consoled by Theodore Roethke's lines, used as an epigraph by Aaron Copland:

I see in evening air

How slowly dark comes down on all we do...

Monday, November 01, 2010

This sculpture by Beth Stichter (2009), in the Chazen Modern Art Museum on the University of Wisconsin campus, is called "Blood Rushes to the Head". Rather good pun, as well as an amusing take on all the talk about 'greater tolerance for diversity.' In the context of the widespread reaction that distorts American politics, I'm glad to see artists confronting the ambiguities of sexuality and the pious hypocrisy that so much of our media allow to dominate conversation. Eventually, all reaction fails, if only because all those people die off who pretend to be "conserving" the past. "Traditions" are largely pernicious, because they're invoked so often to perpetuate prejudices, biases, and unexamined assumptions. For instance, the coming demise of the position in American life that "white" people have occupied is fueling the reactionary politics of the "right" this mid-term election. Almost a century ago appeals to "purity" pushed an angry politician into power. His name was Adolf Hitler. I lived through what happened next. I hope I don't have to live through it again...