Saturday, January 26, 2008

"It was the hour of twilight..." 

Circa Spring (April) of the year


But what he noticed chiefly -- and once he observed it he beagn watching for it, and it was always there -- was the look on the people's faces. It puzzled him, and frightened him, and when he tried to find a word to describe it, the only thing he could think of was -- madness. The nervous, excited glitter in the eyes seemed to belong to nothing else but madness. The faces of natives and strangers alike appeared to be animated by some secret and uholy glee. And their bodies, as they darted, dodged, and thrust their way along, seemed to have a kind of leaping energy as if some powerful drug was driving them on. They gave him the impression of an entire population that was drunk -- drunk with an intoxication which never made them weary, dead, or sodden, and which never wore off, but which incited them constantly to new efforts of leaping and thrusting exuberance.


On all sides he heard talk, talk, talk -- terrific and incessant. And the tumult of voices was united in variations of a single chorus -- speculation and real estate. People were gathered in earnestly chattering groups before the drug stores, before the post office, before the Court House and the City Hall. They hurried along the pavements talking together with passionate absorption, bestowing half-abstracted nods of greeting from time to time on passing acquaintances.

The real estate men were everywhere. Their motors and busses roared through the streets of the town and out into the country, carrying crowds of prospective clients. One could see them on the porches of houses unfolding blueprints and prospectuses as they shouted enticements and promises of sudden wealth into the ears of deaf old women. Everyone was fair game for them -- the lame, the halt, and the blind, Civil War veterans or their decrepit pensioned widows, as well as high schools boys and girls, Negro truck drivers, soda jerkers, elevator boys, and bootblacks.

Everyone bought real estate; and everyone was "a real estate man" either in name or practice. The barbers, the lawyers, the grocers, the butchers, the builders, the clothiers -- all were engaged now in this single interest and obsession. And there seemed to be only one rule, universal and infallible -- to buy, always to buy, to pay whatever price was asked, and to sell again within two days at any price one chose to fix. It was fantastic. Along all streets in town the ownership of the land was constantly changing; and when the supply of streets was exhausted, new streets were feverishly created in the surrounding wilderness; and even before these streets were paved or a house had been built upon them, the land was being sold, and then resold, by the acre, by the lot, by the foot, for hundreds of thoudands of dollars.

And a spirit of drunken waste and wild destructiveness was everwhere apparent.

... a new mania began to take hold on the foundation of our long-standing American faith that the wide expansion of home ownership can produce social harmony and national economic well-being. Spurred by the actions of the Federal Reserve, financed by exotic credit derivatives and debt securitization, an already massive real estate sales-and-marketing program expanded to include the desperate issuance of mortgages to the poor and feckless, compounding their troubles and ours. ~ Eric Janszen, "The Next Bubble"; Harpers Magazine, February, 2008.


The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." ~ Ron Suskind quoting aide to George W. Bush; "New York Times Magazine", October 17, 2004.

Circa Autumn (October) of the year


For these men were all the victims of an occupational disease -- a kind of mass hypnosis that denied to them the evidence of their senses. It was a monstrous and ironic fact that the very men who had created this world in which every value was false and theatrical saw themselves, not as creatures tranced by fatal illusions, but rather as the most knowing, practical, and hard-headed men alive. They did not think of themselves as gamblers, obsessed by their own fictions of speculation, but as brilliant executives of great affairs who at every moment of the day "had their fingers on the pulse of the nation." So when they looked about them and saw everywhere nothing but the myriad shapes of privilege, dishonesty, and self-interest, they were convinced that this was inevitably "the way things are."

It was generally assumed that every man had his price, just as every woman had hers. And if, in any discussion of conduct, it was suggested to one of these hard-headed, practical men that So-and-So had acted as he did for motives other than those of total self-interest and calculating desire, that he had done thus and so because he would rather endure pain himself than cause it to others whom he loved, or was loyal because of loyalty, or could not be bought or sold for no other reason than the integrity of his own character -- the answer of the knowing one would be to smile politely but cynically, shrug it off, and say: "All right, But I thought you were going to be intelligent. Let's talk of something else that we both understand."

Such men could not realize that their own vision of human nature was distorted. They prided themselves on their "hardness" and fortitude and intelligence, which had enabled them to accept so black a picture of the earth with such easy tolerance. it was not until a little later that the real substance of their "hardness" and intelligence was demonstrated to them in terms which they could grasp. When the bubble of their unreal world suddenly exploded before their eyes, many of them were so little capable of facing harsh reality and truth that they blew their brains out or threw themselves from the high windows of their offices into the streets below. And of those who faced it and saw it through, many a one who had been plump, immaculate, and assured now shrank and withered into premature and palsied senility.

All that, however, was still in the future. It was very imminent, but they did not know it, for they had trained themselves to deny the evidence of their senses. In that mid-October of 1929 nothing could exceed their satisfaction and assurance. They looked about them and, like an actor, saw with their eyes that all was false, but since they had schooled themselves to accept falseness as normal and natural, the discovery only enhanced their pleasure in life.

Excerpts (Book I and II above): Thomas Wolfe You Can't Go Home Again, original copyright, 1934; published 1940.

[to be continued]


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