Saturday, May 31, 2008

Book Burnings

Dear Reich Minister, Joseph Goebbels,

It has been 75 years hasn't it? Did you really think that you would stop the spread of ideas by burning books? Some people will always continue to think, you see. Some people will be undaunted and brave. You will run up against the Dietrich Bonhoeffers and Elisabeth von Thaddens of the world and be undone in the end. (Not to mention the Churchills and Roosevelts.)

But, perhaps you did succeed in slowing things down. Shame. What was it you were trying to do? Remove that which is "un-German" and immoral?

Your words at the bonfire at Opernplatz in Berlin are interesting ones, actually.
My fellow students . . . The triumph of the German revolution has cleared a path for the German way; and the future German man will not just be a man of books, but also a man of character and it is to this end we want to educate you. To have at an early age the courage to peer directly into the pitiless eyes of life. To repudiate the fear of death in order to gain again the respect for death. That is the mission of the young and therefore you do well at this late hour to entrust to the flames the intellectual garbage of the past. It is a strong, great and symbolic undertaking, an undertaking, which shall prove to all the world that the intellectual basis of the November Republic is here overturned; but that from its ruins will arise victorious the lord of a new spirit.
Some of your words could be attached to almost any heroic human endeavor of note, except for the part about entrusting "to the flames the intellectual garbage of the past." I was reading Hemingway the other day, The Old Man and the Sea. I haven't read it since high school. But it is an old person's book. I love the way the old man repudiates the fear of death in order to gain again the respect for death. But he gains again the respect for life too. Did you forget that? But then you didn't read Hemingway. You had your "little list", didn't you? (I wonder why you didn't ban Gilbert and Sullivan?) Banned Authors do have a way of biting you in the end, with the teeth of time and truth.

I got thinking about this subject after I got an email from a book seller, not Amazon, but AbeBooks. Their little newsletter spoke of your infamous event, now 75 years out and falling from memory. They provide online lists too. But from their lists, we buy books and they do create flames, yes, indeed, but they inflame our minds and set us afire with ideas. From John Dos Passos to Hemingway and Sigrid Undset, from Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, from Lion Feuchtwanger to Marc Chagall and Paul Klee, from Thomas Mann to and Helen Keller we kindle and burn and are grateful.

You once said, perhaps shortly before you killed your family and committed suicide, "If the day should ever come when the nazis must go, if some day we are compelled to leave the scene of history, we will slam the door so hard that the universe will shake and mankind will stand back in stupification." But you have not shaken the universe. You, in fact, left the door ajar, for us to look back and see the error of your ways and your inability to look at life at all, only death, and with that knowledge and that which we gain in the study of great books, move forward enlightened.

Seventy-five years later, we look at you and pity.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Nett's Country Store and Deli Revisited

Dear Willie Nelson,

I was at Nett's the other day and saw a poster advertising your upcoming concert in Leiper's Fork.
Annette told me, and I should have listened, that 4,000 of the 5,000 seats (in the grass) had already been sold in just a couple of days. If I wanted to go to the concert, I should have turned over my $35 that night. Fie. According to the media that has swarmed around this event, I am now too late, for each sod-seat up at Aubrey Preston's farm is claimed.

But, hey, I don't go to Nett's for ticket information. That night, I had gone for their grilled chicken-topped salad, as had my daughter and a burger for her husband. It was Tuesday and the menu was tame, but we did catch up on the news. As Mrs. Rachel Lynde would say, "There is so much going on in Avonlea." That is how it is at the crossroads of Santa Fe, just a little north of Columbia, TN. The door post of Nett's was plastered with the pictures of the community's high school seniors. Debonair boys and beautiful girls are hanging about the porch in proxy while in reality they are off to the prom and finishing their finals.

But I'm sure they will be at Nett's for Thursday's Karaoke night. Handwritten signs on the wall next to the cooler and beside the cash register assure us that even if we can't carry a tune in a bucket, we are welcome to come and just have a good time.

So Willie, while you are in the region, just 22.39 miles up the road, via Natchez Trace Parkway, at Leiper's Creek Farm, you really need to plan a stop at Nett's Country Store and Deli. And make sure you meet Annette. She won't be offputting, but may give you some tips on how to make that concert of yours just a wee bit better.

Don't miss the chicken salad.


P.S. Rooster Fries and Frogs Legs on Friday and Saturday nights.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Robert Rauschenberg: A Farewell

Dear Robert Rauschenberg,

I first saw your work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and though I guess it wasn't the most comfortable of work, it was, for me, impressive and it expanded my thinking about art and such.

I saw this piece, "Bed," on the New York Times site today. It is just right.

On the Times site it was described this way. “For his high school graduation present, Mr. Rauschenberg wanted a ready-made shirt, his first. A decade or so later he made history with his own assemblages of scraps and ready-mades: sculptures and music boxes made of packing crates, rocks and rope; and paintings like 'Yoicks' sewn from fabric strips.”

My daughter, who is a quilter would understand this all very well.

We will miss your art and interpretation.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

To Love or To Be Loved: Musings on The Great Gatsby

Dear Gatsby,

I finally read your book. And I was surprised, for though I had read a number of reviews, articles, etc., I was not prepared for your emotion, your love. I suppose that F. Scott Fitzgerald would lead us to believe that your love was more obsession than love. Poor Gatsby, yes, there was obsession, but obsession is also the dark way of unrequited love.

And your love led me to thinking about a question. "Is it better to love or to be loved?" Of course, one always hopes to have the beautiful combo, to both love and be loved in return, in equal measure. But that is a distant dream, and one that does not always come to pass. And often, even in great loves and wonderful relationships, the scales of love tip one way, and sometimes back and forth, but rarely do they balance steadily over time.

To be loved is like receiving a beautiful gift. It is like an equity, an account that can be drawn upon. How terrific is that? To be truly loved is to know that at any moment you have someone to lean on emotionally, financially, spiritually, socially, in sickness and in health. That is amazing capital. To be loved is, in some ways, to be free of loneliness. It is to have some center where you know your heart will always be welcome, like a home. To be loved is to have available the resources of some other heart, to have access to some other set of perspectives, to have someone whose eyes will never turn away, as yours, Gatsby, never strayed from the green light on the dock across the water. To be loved is to have in this world, two cubic cubits of space (Exodus 30) upon which there is a continual incense burning, raising you to God, seeking your good. (Now, two cubic cubits is not everything, but it is something.) And to continue this analogy, to be loved, is to have someone who would, if need be, once a year, provide the blood for your atonement, or as Jesus put it, would "lay down his life" for you. (John 15) That is what it is like to be loved.

And there is only one thing that is better. That is to love. For to love is to live on the very edge of the precipice of life. Loving another is very risky business. It is betting the entire wad on one horse. To love is to give full rein to another being, come what may. To love is not to gain access, but to give access. It is an extremely involved state of being. Loving is making provision, giving, praying, enjoying, grieving, and accepting. Loving is remaining open in the face of both the open and the closed of another. Loving is patience and kindness and seeing no evil. Loving precludes selfishness and anger and making the other person see your point of view. Loving sometimes has to be pretty invisible to actually be, truly, love. And loving remains even when being loved is gone, hoping and believing. In a way, loving carries a vital eternality that exists no where else, even in being loved.

Why, you may ask, Gatsby, is this better than being loved? I'm not sure why, but it is. It is. Perhaps your love might have been a more successful venture, if you had not demanded the return. If you had accepted the lot of the loving, without the lot of loved. Still, I did appreciate the love that you nurtured, and it was, perhaps, your only true thing.