Thursday, October 06, 2005

The "I Wish I'd Said That" Department

"I say we had best look our times and lands searchingly in the face, like a physician diagnosing some deep disease. Never was there, perhaps, more hollowness at heart than at present, and here in the United States. Genuine belief seems to have left us. The underlying principles of the States are not honestly believed in, (for all this hectic glow, and these melodramatic screamings,) nor is humanity itself believed in. What penetrating eye does not everywhere see through the mask? The spectacle is appalling. We live in an atmosphere of hypocrisy throughout. The men believe not in the women, nor the women in the men. A scornful superciliousness rules literature. The aim of all the litterateurs is to find something to make fun of. A lot of churches, sects, etc., the most dismal phantasms I know, usurp the name of religion. Conversation is a mass of badinage. From deceit in the spirit, the mother of all false deeds, the offspring is already incalculable.... The depravity of the business classes of our country is not less than has been supposed, but infinitely greater. The official services of America, national, state, and municipal, in all their branches and departments, except the judiciary, are saturated in corruption, bribery, falsehood, mal-administration; and the judiciary is tainted. The great cities reek with respectable as much as non-respectable robbery and scoundrelism. In fashionable life, flippancy, tepid amours, weak infidelism, small aims, or no aims at all, only to kill time. In business, (this all-devouring modern word, business,) the one sole object is, by any means, pecuniary gain. The magician's serpent in the fable at up all the other serpents; and money-making is our magician's serpent, remaining today sole master of the field. The best class we show, is but a mob of fashionably dressed speculators and vulgarians.... I say that our New World democracy, however great a success in uplifting the masses out of their sloughs, in materialistic development, and in a certain highly-deceptive superficial popular intellectuality, is, so far, an almost complete failure in its social aspects, and in really grand religious, moral, literary, and esthetic results."

Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas (1870)

[One hundred and thirty-five years ago. Has anything changed? By the way, Whitman's solution was to call on artists, the divine literatus, through their "archetypal poems" to restore a sense of morality, of justice, of right. "Few are aware," he wrote, "how the great literature penetrates all, gives hue to all, shapes aggregates and individuals, and, after subtle ways, with irresistable power, constructs, sustains, demolishes at will." We have great power. Perhaps we should look at our own work, and decide whether we are living up to our role. Are we creating "archetypal poems," or mere baubles? Are we calling on our peoples' higher angels, or appealing to their lowest impulses? Does out work provide hope, courage, and vision, or simply reinforce depair, weakness, and dishonesty? What is our purpose as artists right here, right now?]

1 comment:

Joshua said...


I wrote a follow up post to my previous one, and also mentioned what you wrote so well about and linked to you - thanks for your thoughts