I continue to love being retired. It’s Sunday morning and I am so glad to not have to go do church today. I never really dreaded the work, but I always had other things I wanted to do. Now I can do them. I finished reading a book of poetry this morning (The Norfolk Poems of Hayden Carruth [1 June to 1 September 1961]. I read some in I Think I am a Verb: More Contributions to the Doctrine of Signs by Thomas A. Sebeok. Then had a bit of yearning to read some Thomas Mann. I recently read a short story of his for fun because of this odd longing to read some beautiful English translation of Mann. This morning I pulled out the multi-volume edition of his Joseph tetralogy. There was an introduction by him about the whole process of writing these books.
Mann wrote the Joseph sequence from 1926 to 1942. This means that he began it right after WW I and worked on it throughout WW II. In his introduction he writes that this was a period “when every day hurled the wildest demands at the heart and the brain.” This could easily describe what it’s like to be alive now.
I know that Robert Reich is partisan, but he is my own echo chamber. I hardly ever disagree with what he writes. His article, There is no doubt any more: the US Supreme Court is run by partisan Hacks, published online on Friday is short but spot on. It is just another instance of how my country is tumbling toward its own destruction. If not destruction, at least recreation as a despotic nightmare.
I think about Thomas Mann and his own witness of the slide of his country and the world toward madness. He has left behind many essays and speeches that he gave in opposition to what was happening in Germany. It is instructive to think that the world has tottered on the edge of madness before. Unfortunately, we are also looking at the extinction of much life on our planet including humans. This is different, but probably only in degree not in kind. I say this because there is so much more to the universe than humans.
Thomas Sebeok starts his second chapter, “Communication, Language, and Speech: Evolutionary Considerations,” which I read in some this morning talking about the idea that communication was “carried forward by the primordial molecular code of beads on strings, subject to qualitative and quantitative shuffling of genetic segments.” In other words, he alludes to the beginning of the evolution of life on Earth.
He published his book the same year that Lewis Thomas the biologist upon pondering the pictures of Earth taken from the moon observed that the Earth is one organism. In this context as we contemplate the extinction of so much it helps me to think of humans and some other species as not some crowning achievement of one sort or another, but as an expressions that upon ceasing to exist do not exhaust the beauty and range of life itself.
It’s a bleak consolation of course. But the perspective of history, science, and biology does help me to cope with the madness of the collapse of my country.
In the meantime, it is more consoling to spend time daily with the beauty in music and poetry and stories like Mann’s immense re-imagining of Joseph and his Brothers.
Rick Perlstein shared this link as an example of excellence in writing. He says, “I’ve been meaning to boost this masterful article for months–a marquee example of what easy marks consensus-besotted media gatekeepers can be when it comes to sentimental narratives about the decency of our rulers.” I have it bookmarked to read.
I have been following Joan Chamorro’s work with Jazz and kids on YouTube ever since stumbling on it a few years back. This is the first article I have found about in English. Again bookmarked to read.