Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wolfe at the door. A backstory revisited. 

Previously, I posted excerpts from Thomas Wolfe's book "You Can't Go Home Again":

4 Saturday, January 26, 2008 "It was the hour of twilight..."

4 Monday, January 28, 2008 Desolation Stimulus - Midnight's Broken Toll

So here they are again (edited for repost).

Circa Spring (April) of the year


But what he noticed chiefly -- and once he observed it he began 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.

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.


Look about you and see... [what has been done]

Thomas Wolfe:

I believe that we are lost here in America, but I believe we shall be found. And this belief, which mounts now to the catharsis of knowledge and conviction, is for me -- and I think for all of us -- not only our own hope, but America's everlasting, living dream. I think the life which we have fashioned in America, and which has fashioned us -- the forms we made, the cells that grew, the honeycomb that was created -- was self-destructive in its nature, and must be destroyed. I think these forms are dying, and must die, just as I know that America and the people in it are deathless, undiscovered, and immortal, and must live.

I think the true discovery of America is before us. I think the true fulfillment of our spirit, of our people, of our mighty and immortal land, is yet to come. I think the true discovery of our own democracy is still before us. And I think that all these things are certain as the morning, as inevitable as noon. I think I speak for most men living when I say that our America is Here, is Now, and beckon on before us, and that this glorious assurance is not only our living hope, but our dream to be accomplished.

I think the enemy is here before us, too. But I think we know the forms and faces of the enemy, and in the knowledge that we know him, and shall meet him, and eventually must conquer him is also our living hope. I think the enemy is here before us with a thousand faces, but I think we know that all his faces wear one mask. I think the enemy is single selfishness and compulsive greed. I think the enemy is blind, but has the brutal power of his bling grab. I do not think the enemy was born yesterday, or that he grew to manhood forty years ago, or that he suffered sickness and collapse in 1929, or that we began without the enemy, and that our vision faltered, that we lost the way, and suddenly were in his camp. I think the enemy is old as Time, and evil as Hell, and that he has been here with us from the beginning. I think he stole our earth from us, destroyed our wealth, and ravaged and despoiled our land. I think he took our people and enslaved them, that he polluted the fountains of our life, took unto himself the rarest treasures of our own possession, took our bread and left us with a crust, and, not content, for the nature of the enemy is insatiate -- tried finally to take from us the crust.

I think the enemy comes to us with the face of innocence and says to us:
"I am your friend."

I think the enemy deceives us with false words and lying phrases saying:
"See, I am one of you -- I am one of your children, your son, your brother, and your friend. Behold how sleek and fat I have become -- and all because I am just one of you, and your friend. Behold how rich and powerful I am -- and all because I am one of you -- shaped in your way of life, of thinking, of accomplishment. What I am, I am because I am one of you, your humble brother and friend. Behold," cries Enemy, "the man I am, the man I have become, the thing I have accomplished -- and reflect! Will you destroy this thng? I assure you it is the most precious thing you have. It is yourselves, the projection of each of you, the triumph of your individual lives, the thing that is rooted in your blood, and native to your stock, and inherent in the traditions of America. It is the thing that all of you may hope to be," says Enemy, "for --" humbly-- "am I not just one of you? Am I not just your brother and your son? Am I not the living image of what each of you may hope to be, would wish to be, would desire for his own son? Would you destroy this glorious incarnation of your own heroic self? If you do, then," says enemy, "you destroy yourselves -- you kill the thing that is most gloriously American, and in so killing, kill yourselves."

He lies! And now we know his lies! He is not gloriously, or in any other way, ourselves. He is not our friend, our son, our brother. And he is not American! For, although he has a thousand familiar and convenient faces, his own true face is old as Hell.

Look about you and see what he has done.

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


Naomi Klein (Jan. 27, 2008):
The way we respond to crises is always highly political, a lesson progressives appear to have forgotten. There’s a historical irony to that: Crises have ushered in some of America’s great progressive policies. Most notably, after the dramatic market failure of 1929, the left was ready and waiting with its ideas — full employment, huge public works, mass union drives. The Social Security system that Moody’s is so eager to dismantle was a direct response to the Depression.

Every crisis is an opportunity; someone will exploit it. The question we face is this: Will the current turmoil become an excuse to transfer yet more public wealth into private hands, to wipe out the last vestiges of the welfare state, all in the name of economic growth? Or will this latest failure of unfettered markets be the catalyst that is needed to revive a spirit of public interest, to get serious about the pressing crises of our time, from gaping inequality to global warming to failing infrastructure?

The disaster capitalists have held the reins for three decades. The time has come, once again, for disaster populism.

4 Naomi Klein, Why the Right Loves a Disaster (via Common Dreams.org)

September 20, 2008:
During boom times, it's profitable to preach laissez faire, because an absentee government allows speculative bubbles to inflate. When those bubbles burst, the ideology becomes a hindrance, and it goes dormant while big government rides to the rescue. But rest assured: the ideology will come roaring back when the bailouts are done. ~ Naomi Klein


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