When Derek asked me to post for BBL&L, we had a brief exchange about content. As a former print journalist, I was used to having my pieces posted in the online versions of the papers I worked for, but blogging was never a part of my job.
I still don’t read many blogs except this one. It’s a time-management issue. There are only so many hours in the day for reading, and on a beautiful fall day I’d rather be on the porch with, say, Saul Bellow.
I just picked up a copy of The Dean’s December for a quarter at the library book store. It’s a Pocket paperback, published in 1983.
“Remarkable … Sentence by sentence, page by page, Saul Bellow is simply the best writer we have.” – The New York Times Book Review
What a to-die-for blurb! “Over 100,000 copies sold in hardcover.” Good for you, Saul Bellow, Winner of the Nobel Prize!
Inside the paperback, I found an ancient business card for Shelaine’s Just For You Hairstyling. It makes an excellent bookmark. I’m almost as interested in Shelaine as I am in Albert Corde, Bellow’s titular dean.
Did Shelaine really provide “professional service” for her customers? Was this once Shelaine’s book? If so, was Shelaine a big Saul Bellow fan? Did she like The Dean’s December, or did she prefer earlier novels like Augie March and Herzog? The infinite possibilities of Shelaine. Remarkable!
Derek told me I could write about anything I wanted to write about, as long as I didn’t gnaw the bark. I assured him (as soon as I was clear on the concept, neatly derived from Spalding Gray’s Swimming to Cambodia) I was no bark eater.
It took me about ten seconds to decide I was not going to write about politics.
I have opinions about politics, but I’m not going there. I vote and I do my best to stay informed, and that’s all you’re getting from me.
If I wrote about politics, I’m pretty sure my moral excitement would undermine my practical judgment (Bellow, p. 65). I would go too far. I would.
Politics is a vortex. I try to stay in the debris field at its edge, just far enough away to keep from getting sucked in.
Let’s see, can I be any more noncommittal than that? You have your well-reasoned political opinions, and I have mine. Everybody gets a cookie.
The world has enough political commentators, and some of them, thankfully, are excellent at their jobs. They are astronauts in the vortex, fighting impossible odds in heavy gravity. I admire them, but I don’t envy them.
Politics drives all but the hardy few insane. It takes a true stoic or flat-out berserker (the late Hunter S. Thompson immediately comes to mind) to do justice to the American political landscape.
One problem with politics, of course, is there’s no end to it. The roots of Western political thought go back to the sixth century B.C. The questions haven’t changed: How should we live? What’s really important in life? What is the good life? Can we trust the polls?
You could spend a lifetime studying history and political theory and be forgiven for coming up with the same conclusion the screenwriter William Goldman once proffered about Hollywood: Nobody knows anything.
Every so often a political thinker or actor comes along with a new idea. Some of these ideas are very good, and some of them are horrifically bad.
Another problem: The best ideas often seem to contradict one another.
Human beings aren’t comfortable with paradoxes and uncertainty. We expect the impossible from politics. We expect to find clarification of our cherished metaphysical and epistemological assumptions in the political process. For most of us, this is like looking in the mirror and expecting to see Pitt, Clooney, Berry or Jolie.
Not. Gonna. Happen.
The process does provide stern lessons in the dangers of hubris and ignorance, lessons we promptly forget. Humans may be political animals, but that doesn’t mean we’re any good at devising political solutions for our problems. The evidence circa 2010 strongly suggests the contrary.
Nope, no politics. Albert and Shelaine are waiting on me, and I can’t let them down.