Willy Loman, Jay Gatsby & The American Dream

Journalists writing about politics too often seem to share the same glossary of offensive unthinking epithets. When one wishes to learn what a politician is doing that might improve public life writers simply revert to their derogatory journalese of racist and sexist. They rarely try to inform readers or television listeners precisely what a politician has done and how his racist or sexist acts will affect public policy. They seem mainly concerned about how the races or genders affected by hearing of a candidate’s racism or sexism might vote. People who self consciously see themselves as not being part of a dominant culture may see a candidate branded by media as racist as someone who will use public policy to exclude them whether they see themselves as light or dark members of a minority culture of immigrants or native born. I remember while television and other news media were charging Toronto’s  Mayor Ford with racism that the person who in my presence spoke most highly of his accomplishments was a member of a visible minority, the other.

Online these character diminishing labels are often repeated in file headers by news organizations from one end of the English language world to the other with never a thought to attempting an informing analysis of these charges of racism or sexism. These kind of media characterizations of Mr. Trump as he’s been attempting to win the Republican nomination to run for president of America in the 2016 illustrate the dearth of the kind of political information people need to make informed decisions about who to vote for. Voters rarely see candidates speaking for themselves and if they do their perceptions are filtered by video or made concrete by the whims of journalists who too often seem to follow one another in their name calling charges of racism or sexism. Accurate and thoughtful analysis of facts is what voters need. When Mr. Trump began his campaign, instead of saying that he was not a serious candidate, journalists should have been informed enough to know that he was seriously trying to be president. They should have known that Mr. Trump must have been aware of the many citizens who had been suffering from increasing impoverishment and that those sufferers were desperately looking for a way out, the people media have branded as unsuccessful white men as though women and people of varying skin tone were all better off. But from my vantage point way up in Canada I’ve learned that everyone regardless of skin tone, race, or gender is suffering from an economic malaise that began before racism or sexism had become popular political epithets permitting that malaise and its devastating effects to persist.

What people should have been told from the start of his candidacy is that Donald Trump the billionaire business man came to be in the economic and legal morass he wishes to untangle. They should have informed everyone that his manner is that of a deal making salesman, a person who likes everybody and wants to be loved by everybody, like Willy Loman or Jay Gatsby. And they should have pointed out that like Willy and Gatsby he’s been trying to bring back the past, trying to get the horse back into the barn.

Rhetoric

The word rhetoric once denoted ways of communicating one’s thoughts by devices called “rhetorical devices” “Appeal to authority” (used in terms like “expert/scientists say”) is a rhetorical device often used by journalists to convince readers of the validity of their opinions.

But today maybe 2500 years since the devices of rhetoric originated, the noun rhetoric  acquired a secondary meaning as an adjective: rhetoric has come to mean rhetorical, an epithet for criticising a speech or a piece of writing full of words that say little or nothing to illuminate a subject. In this age of disintegrating dialogue writers often use most of their words to apologetically justify their right to speak on a subject as they prepare their audience for an explanation that is rarely given.

Dante, Shakespeare & T.S. Elliot

T.S. Elliot, expatriate American poet living in Britain between the great wars of the 20’th century, states that Dante Alighieri, Italian poet of the 1300’s, and William Shakespeare of Elizabethan England during the 1500’s, dominate Europe’s modern literary traditions; as such their writings appear as examples to be imitated by poets in the centuries that followed. His discussion of their works, however, warns of the difficulty of trying to emulate Shakespeare’s style. Elliot ‘s own poems contain specific allusions to Dante’s Divine Comedy conveyed in a kind of other worldly tone so unlike the more everyday manner of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.

The most vivid stylistic difference between these writers is seen in their comparisons. Shakespeare ‘s metaphoric paralleling creates a compact balancing of thoughts expressing emotions and insights. Dante’s extended similes describe meetings in ethereal visions of hell and purgatory by comparisons with individuals he’s known and experiences his readers might have had in the real world. Despite the immediacy of his subjects, Shakespeare’s metaphoric style requires intricate perception of terms and their sometimes unforeseen dual meanings that seem to jump from thought to thought. Dante’s images though other worldly are explained as sights one might find in a travelogue.

Shakespeare writes about everyday life and the conflict between time and beauty, justice and injustice. In the Divine Comedy, Dante writes about a visionary religious realm understandable only through earthly recollections

Java, Genesis, Insurance

I’ve been reading Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism. This morning a television  news item announced the death of a 146 year old man,our planets oldest person, in a Java village: I couldn’t help but think of the hundreds of years long life spans of most of the major figures in the book of “Genesis”.Doubtless – Frye’s analysis of myth would likely include Noah’s 950 years as characterization in a  ‘… stylized narrative not fully adapted to plausibility or “realism”‘.

Time & Timelessness

Thoughts central to Shakespeare’s sonnets are beauty, procreation, nature and time. Personal beauty overcomes the ravages of time by procreation, “Die single and thy image dies with thee.”(sonnet 3) “For never-resting time leads summer on/To hideous winter and confounds him there;”(Sonnet 5)

In the twentieth century T.S. Elliot sees time as a static mental construct, less associated with change or nature, as though beauty; place and experience are potentially ever-present and less likely to be subject to time than in the 16’th century sonnets of Shakespeare.

Culture Clash?

Culture Clash?

Inspired by reading that Confucius’ “Book of Songs” contained poems that offered China’s ancient ruler a way to govern better by presenting the sentiments of China’s populace expressed by a variety of poets, I began imagining American movies and American literature as means of revealing elements of American society. Last week I saw a movie that keeps popping up on television,” Something’s Gotta Give”, showing highly successful middle class people in rather sumptuous middle class surroundings displaying rather liberal middle class values. The person who provides these sumptuous surroundings is a presently single mother, a successfully famous playwright, so famous that even the youthful doctor treating her daughter’s aging boy friend has seen all her plays. An imagined kind of success perhaps that an elderly tenant in the movie “Duplex” trivializes when she characterizes her new landlord’s literary vocation by alluding to the famed Irish writer, James Joyce, who she says died in poverty: so writing’s meant as a hobby not a serious profession.

Concerning the literary aspect of American culture a book entitled “On the Road” documents a world peopled by characters living all over America, hobo-like, scarcely resembling the many successful literary figures portrayed in many recent American movies where most work at some sort of publishing enterprise and wear the middle class trappings of writers, successful lawyers or politicians. It is difficult comprehending that “On the Road”  was being peopled with the desperately poor in its 1940’s-early 50’s setting in words from personal experience just as the many glamorous images of American living from a screen writers fancy were being filmed; precisely when everyone was presumed to have been enjoying a new prosperity after the war, after the depression. Indeed “On the Road” makes it seem that the depression had never ended. Even the author of this work performing in his own book as narrator, is a real writer living off a military pension, and a trickle of royalties in a world where everyone seems homeless, often hungry and destitute. Neither he nor his characters are middle class; none have jobs. Their only joy is viewing America’s diverse geography and people. Were people ever like that in America after the war, after the depression, or have they in fact been really successful middle class writers, lawyers, politicians and business leaders whose goal, whose joy is money ?