Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Work Women Do


Women’s Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English
                 
Philip Davis, in the introduction to his recent biography of George Eliot, states that “Literature is transmitted being.” It is an expression I love and one that seems ideal for describing the poems in this fine collection, each of which, if variously, seems an attempt to do just that, to transmit one’s life as it is lived and felt in a particular moment, in a particular place, in a particular frame of heart or mind. Consisting of the work of over 250 contributors, the poems vary greatly in style and form, and cover subjects as wide-ranging as love, loss, marriage, betrayal, memory, work, childhood, politics, race, religion, language, war, history, exile, displacement, identity, nature, longing, and death.

Opening the collection at random, I read this poem first:

The Shipfitter’s Wife

I loved him most
when he came home from work,
his fingers still curled from fitting pipe,
his denim shirt ringed with sweat,
smelling of salt, the drying weeds
of the ocean. I’d go to where he sat
on the edge of the bed, his forehead
anointed with grease, his cracked  hands
jammed between his thighs, and unlace
the steel-toed boots, stroke his ankles
and calves, the pads and bones of his feet.
Then I’d open his clothes and take
the whole day inside me—the ship’s
gray sides, the miles of copper pipe,
the voice of the foreman clanging
off the hull’s silver ribs. Spark of lead
kissing metal. The clamp, the winch,
the white fire of the torch, the whistle,
and the long drive home.

                                  Dorianne Laux


Sujata Bhatt

Brazilian Fazenda

The day all the slaves were freed
their manacles, anklets
left on the window ledge to rust in the moist air

and all the coffee ripened
like beads on a bush or balls of fire
as merry as Christmas

and the cows all calved and the calves all lived
such a moo.

On the wide verandah where birds in cages
snag among the bell flowers
I in a bridal hammock
white and tasseled
whistled

and bits fell out of the sky near Nossa Senhora
who had walked all the way in bare feet from Bahia

and the chapel was lit by a child’s
fistful of marigolds on the red velvet altar
thrown like a golden ball.

Oh, let me come back on a day
when nothing extraordinary happens
so I can stare
at the sugar white pillars
and black lace grills
of this pink house.

                                P.K. Page


June Jordan

Muriel Rukeyser

Moving

Sit down among the boxes and write a poem,
he told me; obedient, I’m writing.
Moving house, he said, is such an ordinary
thing to do—a regular activity,
especially for you—no obligation
to unpack at once or be dutiful.

Find a vacant corner and there among
half-empty cartons spilling crumpled paper,
piles of sofa cushions and rolled-up carpets,
dining chairs like acrobatic couples
or swimmers, chest to chest, one pair of legs
trialing through water, the other flailing air,

and think about important things—not builders,
plumbers, electricians. I try to remember
how it began, this restlessness: a lifetime
trying to feel at home. A need and hope, he
hints, which might be programmed in my genes,
bred in the bone—nothing to do with him—

and makes me realise again those complex
ties that hold us together: everywhere,
both of us are strangers. Then: “Let’s open
a bottle of wine and drink a toast to life,”
he smiles and holds me close, “then go upstairs.”
Why not? I ponder, putting the poem aside.

                                       Ruth Fainlight

Kay Ryan

Lucille Clifton

Resonance

The universe is sad.
I heard it when Artur Rubenstein played the piano.
He was a little man with small hands.
We were bombing Germany by then.
I went to see him in a dark warehouse
Where a piano had been placed for his practice—
Or whatever he did before a recital.
He signed the book I had with me—
It was called Warsaw Ghetto.
I later heard about him—
His affairs with young women
—if only I had known—but I was
in love with you.
Artur is dead;
And you, my darling,
The imprint of your face, alert like a deer—
oh god, it is eaten away—
The earth has taken it back
But I listen to Artur—
He springs out of the grave—
His genius wired to this tape—
A sad trick of the neural pathways, resonating flesh
And my old body remembers the way you touched me.

                                                     Ruth Stone

Vona Groarke 


Anne Sexton
  
Skin

The men wore human skins
but removed them at night
and fell to the bottom of darkness
like crows without wings.

War was the perfect disguise.
Their mothers would not have known them,
and the swarming flies could not find them.

When they met a sprit in the forest
it thought they were bags of misfortune
and walked away
without taking their lives.

In this way, they tricked the deer.
It had wandered into the forest at night,
thinking antlers of trees
were other deer.

If I told you the deer was a hide of light
you wouldn’t believe it, or that it was a hunting song
that walked out of a diviner’s bag
sewn from human skin.

I knew it could pass
through the bodies of men and could return.
It knew the arrow belonged to the bow,
and that men only think they are following
the deaths of animals
or other men
when they are walking into the fire.

That’s why fire is restless
and smoke has become
the escaped wings of crows,
why war is only another skin,
and hunting,
and why men are just the pulled-back curve of the bow.

                                                      Linda Hogan


Mimi Khalvati
  
Mrs Darwin
7 April 1852

Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him—
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of
      You.

                                                  Carol Ann Duffy 


Janet Frame

This remarkably engaging collection was edited by Eva Salzman and Amy Wack. Enjoy. 
*The lead photograph is of poet, Judith Wright

Peter Adam Nash 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Tell It Slant

Janlori Goldman, Bread from a Stranger's Oven


Each year, White Pine Press (hereafter WPP) sponsors a contest, selecting the best book of poetry from what I imagine must be hundreds of worthy submissions.  Don't be fooled by the fact that the mainstream book chat people don't write about poetry--there's oceans of wonderful poems being written these days.

This year's winner of the WPP Poetry prize was Janlori Graham's first book, Bread from a Stranger's Oven, a volume whose remarkably intelligent and heartfelt poems have been following me around all week. My general habit on workdays is to brew coffee and read the front page of the Times--one has to be half-asleep nowadays to digest what comes our way above the fold--and then, just as the sun rises above the mountains, I read a few poems to cheer me up. Wednesday was a particularly bad day, but Ms. Goldman made my day with this poem:

Yom Kippur

Today everything hurts, and I'm as close to god as I'll ever come
or want to be. I try to forgive myself, fist knocking at my chest,

a door that forgot how to open. The prayer book's spine
against my palms, I sing loudly to drown out the dandruff

flaked on the suit in the next row, sing as if I believe,
as if the fervor had not been rocked out of my by the cantor

whose polioed leg rubbed into me as we sang together in front
of the high holiday congregation, as if I were still his student

and he could still grip my waist--always his smell of yellow breath
and wear. That was when the old men said girls can never be

rabbis, girls can't stand before the torah. And now in the synagogue,
familiar as the couch leg that catches my pinky toe when I walk past it,

I think of the woman asleep in the window well, blonde wisping
out of a hoodie, sneakers on the sidewalk like slippers by a bed.

No, I'm not hungry, she said. I come to this sanctuary from that chill,
wonder if this is the night I'll open the door. If this is the night.


Many of Goldman's poems feature a detached observer whose recollection of a deceptively simple event reveals the ways in which meaning ripples out from past to present--to put it more simply--we see more as we move away from the present than we see within the moment. Or, as I've been feeling lately, there's a joke at the heart of life that I'm just too dense to decipher.

Mother, So Happy

Drunk. She walks into the Atlantic
             swims into that angle
                             where wave hits sky.

We three wait on the sand
             like eggs cupped in a carton
                          nestled and separate.

Long strokes into swells
         the ocean gulps her
                    as she shrinks to mist.

Head and arms in lunar beams
             even her teeth lit
                         by a mix of moon and sea.

Disappears as drowned
              only to surface in triumph
                           coming up for air.

Full of luck.

***

["like eggs cupped in a carton"--the verb makes this line memorable; also "that angle," not "the angle;" "even her teeth lit," the doubled voiceless alveolar plosive sealing the deal; and the coda--"Full of...luck!"]

***

Every day we listen to more lies--particularly from those who are supposed to serve us, from those we are enjoined to trust--from our bosses and coworkers--and at a certain point we cannot help but distrust not only those who tell the lies, but also language itself, as if all words were lies, as if the presumed connection between language and truth has ceased to exist. Words now bully and distort--a four-star general appears publicly to fabricate a story that (at once!) is presumed true because when lies are told with enough conviction, who cares if they are lies?

Post-truth: the idea gives me the creeps, but titillates many. Why? Well, we in the West have been fabricating the unassailable Self for three centuries; the only aspect of divinity we've failed to put on so far, the final piece of prosthesis, is the Logos, creating Our Own World from words.

It's odd that Aristotle, the first literary critic, followed the lead of Plato in accusing poets of lying, thinking, perhaps, that only what could be broken into tautology could be true.  If words are obliged to mirror the world and nothing more, then we have to presume a single way of seeing, a single world open to us all.  I don't doubt that there was once such a place, such clarity--we find this mirrored world across literature from Dante and Chaucer, through Cao Xueqin and Wu Cheng'en (for example)--and even if this concocted place were magical, it was clear that magic and truth could coexist.

I've been rereading Erich Auerbach's Mimesis, and in his brilliant survey of Western literature it strikes me yet again that it was Shakespeare who invented irony, that vertiginous sliding of language toward uncertainty. But irony carries with it a form of truth, one that winks at us, as if to say: Careful, there's more here than meets the eye! Auerbach doesn't quite say so, but after Prince Hal the West began to look askance at the presumed reality of things. Which is a far cry from behaving as if there were no truth: to acknowledge complexity is a form of modesty, not duplicity. It's the meretriciously inclined who have abandoned truth, not out of conviction, but self-interest and ignorance.

Anyway, I'm thankful for the consolation of poems. Here, at least, from Tu Fu to the late Maxim Kumin, the point of the exercise is truth-telling, the central article of faith is the urgency of communicating something fundamental to human life.  Goldman belongs to this tradition.


Winter Solstice

Bring me the old season
             that winter familiar

a slow sheathing of moon in shadow
            as if sky were a gill
                          through which all things

flow in and filter out--
             bring me a home with no right angles
                          a space of curling in

not too bright or sharp
          and bring me the time before that
                       with the garden dark with broken down

coffee grounds and rows of flowing mustard greens
           the smell of ripped roots fresh
                        from the pull

and then before that--
            to my round house a friend will come
                            or maybe the friend's mother

I'll say, Stay for dinner
            she'll say, Let me sew that button.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. 






George Ovitt (11/19/2017)





 






 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Chasing Allusions




In the first forty-five pages of his novel Correction, Thomas Bernhard’s unnamed narrator makes some seventeen allusions, that is, direct or indirect references to people, places, events, or other works of art outside the text itself, a working familiarity with any of which would inevitably enrich one’s reading of the story. If literature is fundamentally about connecting us to others, and in this way connecting us more deeply to ourselves, then allusions are an instrumental part of this phenomenon, as they not only increase the breadth and depth of the particular characters within a given tale, helping to flesh them out, to make them sympathetic—real—to us, but they also have the nearly magical ability to expand the scope and implications of the novel itself (its themes, its language, its situation) by linking it (and us) to others in space and time in a rich, unstructured communitas of fellow human beings, each struggling to make sense of our fraught and otherwise remote and lonely lives. Well-chosen allusions give a story roots and dimension, binding us together in a rich narrative world of knowledge, purpose, and meaning.

On page 45 alone, the narrator refers to the baroque composers Purcell and Handel, to the thinkers Montaigne, Novalis, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Bloch, and Wittgenstein, and finally to the modernist composers Hauer, Schönberg, and Webern. It is then, to the latter composer, that the narrator alludes more specifically, recalling the fact that his recently deceased friend, a scientist and genius named Roithamer (in whose study he is now living as he pieces together the puzzle of his breakdown and death), was immensely fond of the work of Anton Webern, particularly the opening of his string quartets, Webern’s intensely expressive “Slow Movement” or Langsamer Satz


As you read this dense and demanding novel stop here in the story to listen to at least the opening bars, as played, interpreted, by the brilliant Quartetto Italiano:
Webern String Quartets. Each time I hear it I like to think that Bernhard himself is listening, too.

Peter Adam Nash

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Rectification of Names



                        The first step to wisdom, as the Chinese say, is getting things
                        by their right names.

                                                                                     Edward O. Wilson

The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry

“In the daily assault of mendacious or empty language,” writes Eliot Weinberger in his introduction to this collection, “Chinese poetry promoted the Confucian ‘rectification of names’—that words should mean what they say, that it is the poet’s task to restore meaning, that the poet, like the enlightened ruler, was a person who stood by his word.” Writes James J.Y. Liu, in his primer, The Art of Chinese Poetry, “To the question of what poetry is, most orthodox Confucians would reply: it is primarily a kind of moral instruction. And since government by moral influence is a Confucian political ideal, the function of poetry also includes a comment on social and political affairs.” Indeed both of these disciplines—statecraft and poetry—are dependent on, if not defined by, the very words they use (or misuse), that is by their particular relationship to language.

Confucianism, often referred to as a ‘civil religion’, made a faith, a philosophy, of everyday life. Founded on humaneness, on the essential tension between tradition and innovation, the poetry it inspired is characterized by an often startlingly wide range of human emotions and experiences: “war and weather, loneliness and politics, drunkenness and minor aches and pains, friendship, gardening, bird-watch, failure, river journeys, religious and sexual ecstasy, ageing, poverty and riches, courtesans and generals, princes and children, street vendors and monks…”, on what Ezra Pound, devotee and innovative translator of some of the poems in this collection, called ‘radiant gists’, ideograms in verse, with which he experimented at length in his own Cantos. Indeed this anthology is nearly as much about the Western fascination with classical Chinese poetry and its ‘rectification of names’ as it is about classical Chinese poetry itself.  

What is important to understand about this essential Confucian concept and charge is that it had less to do with the reactionary policing of the language they used, with enforcing adherence to a collection of fixed, officially sanctioned words and phrases, than with simply (simply!) leading and writing by example, that is, with integrity of purpose and meaning. It meant, for these Confucians, striving daily to establish and maintain a working cultural and cognitive consensus when it came to the language they used, so that it served them both broadly and well, so that it served the greatest good. A ‘sentimental archaism’? I think not. One has only to listen for a minute to our current Commander-in-Chief, to read a few of his infamous Tweets, to know that—as George Orwell put it in his famous essay, "Politics and the English Language"—our language is in a bad way. 
 
Orwell's essay is worth considering (or reconsidering) in the light of today. While initially one might be tempted to read it as  somewhat preachy, pedantic—a schoolmaster’s scolding for adults, it is nothing of the kind. Orwell had little interest in such things, engaged instead, all his writing life, in a way that is nearly Confucian, in a fierce and protracted war against the intellectual and moral sloth that helped to give rise to the violent 20th century orthodoxies of nationalism, fascism, and communism—righteous, bombastic, expressly antidemocratic movements that resulted in the murder, destitution, and general dehumanization of tens of millions of people around the world in less than a half a century.  

One doesn’t have to look hard to see the relationship between the bastardization of our language—as we see it practiced by the current administration—and the material and moral anguish of the nation as a whole. Language matters; it always has and always will. Perhaps no one knew this better than the poets in this fine collection.



Here, by the poet Lu Chi, is the poem, “She Thinks of Her Beloved”:

It is going to rain.
The fresh
Breeze rustles the leaves of the
Cinnamon tree. It scatters
The begonias on the earth.
The falling petals cannot
Be numbered. Scarlet leaves fly
In the wind. The wind raises
Whirls of dust. All the world trembles.
It blows over the gauze screen,
Chills my flesh
And disarranges
My hair. Desolate and alone
I dream of my beloved
At the edge of Heaven, far
Across towering mountain
Ranges and roaring rivers.
I watch the birds wheel in the
Starry sky. I wish they could carry a letter. But he
Is too far away, they would
Never find the way. Rivers
Flow to the sea. Nothing can
Make the current return to
Its source. Lustrous and perfumed,
The magnolias lose their petals
All through the day and the night
I loosen the agate pegs
Of the lute and put the jade
Flute aback in its case. In the
Silence and solitude, the sound
Of my beating heart frightens me.
The moon breaks through the clouds. I try
To write a poem in the endless night.

                  (Translated by Kenneth Rexroth)


Here, by Tu Fuo, is the poem “Outside the City”

It is bitter cold, and late, and falling
Dew muffles my gaze into bottomless skies.
Smoke trails out over distant salt mines
Where snow-covered peaks cast shadows east.

Armies haunt my homeland still. And war
Drums throb in this distant place. A guest
Overnight in a river city, together with
Shrieking crows, my old friends, I return.

                 (Translated by David Hinton)


Finally  here, perhaps one of the best known of all in the west, is this poem by Li Po:
The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter

While my hair was still cut straight across my
         forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling
           eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.
You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different
           mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with
          August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me,
I grow older,
If you are coming down through the narrows of the
           river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
                                As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

                                   (Translated by Ezra Pound)

Peter Adam Nash

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Reading Life

 Eyesight and the Reading Life


About a year ago, during a routine eye exam, I learned that I have cataracts--my doctor showed the specks to me in full color; they looked like slender boats moored erratically in some foreign port--and explained why my world was suddenly out of focus. It was evident that something was up with my vision. I had shifted to reading the Times on-line and, try as I might, I could no longer make out the print in my beloved Penguin classics even with reading glasses. How odd the feeling is of losing our body to age, the gradual slipping of the senses a prelude to what will doubtless be more serious losses. While I can still remember specific lines in novels I read decades ago, and still recite sonnets of Milton that I was made to memorize in high school ("How soon hath time the subtle thief of youth"), I have a harder time with my students' names and find myself saying "excuse me?" more often than I'd like to admit. On the other hand, the pleasure I take in reading and in music has only increased with the years, so that now I yearn to revisit the books I loved when I first became a reader. Many people are readers; some are serious readers--many people don't read at all. But other people, perhaps out of shyness or a propensity toward introspection, perhaps out of vanity and neurosis, create a reading life separate from their "real" and public life.  It's a world full of characters who become more vivid and interesting than the people one meets in ordinary life. The universe of words. And each day, as I read of the latest outrages in the Times--the President tossing rolls of paper towels to the desperate citizens of Puerto Rico--the quiet, inner world becomes more attractive, the one where Maxim Rysanov plays Schubert's A minor sonata (D. 821) while Richard Ford describes his parents in Between Them. I suppose it must always come to this: as we age we yearn to recover what we've lost. Perhaps a political space in which decency still had a chance, or those hours of quiet introspection where, with the help of books, we plotted out the course of the life that we increasingly begin to think of in the past tense.

So....with my eyesight getting worse and my yearning for books increasing, I purchased a Kindle. Never did I imagine myself reading books on a small screen, giving up the heft and pleasure of the paperback book, the tactile thrill of heavy bond paper and the aroma of printers ink. How sterile is the electronic book, how homogeneous the volumes that, in paper form, would be distinctive in weight and measure! I felt like a classic pianist might feel having given up his Steinway for an electronic keyboard. I felt like a traitor. But I could see the fonts, make them as large as I wished, back light the pages (letting my wife sleep in peace).

Best of all, I was able, in a few frantic days of shopping, to load up my Paperwhite with sixty books, including dozens of those I had committed myself to rereading: The Education of Henry Adams (certainly among the finest of American books of any kind), all of Shakespeare's plays (free!), the mawkish novels of D.H. Lawrence (far worse than I remembered, but reading Geoffrey Dyer's odd bio of Lawrence made me curious enough to try Women in Love again), Thomas Hardy and Conrad (Nostromo), late Joyce and early Woolf. Proust for a pittance. St. Augustine's Confessions in the Sarah Ruden translation. And new books as well: Anthony Marra's extraordinary A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Pankaj Mishra's essential From the Ruins of Empire, Charles Rosen's Piano Notes, Jan Swafford's biography of Beethoven, a couple of books on the election of 2016, and much more. No matter where I am, there is a book for the occasion, so long as I remember to plug the thing in each night. It's supposed to hold two thousand books. I won't find out, but the notion of fitting all the books I'll read for the rest of my life on one hand-held device has a certain elegiac appeal.

***

I wanted, in a handful of reports, to recommend a few books, fiction and nonfiction, that have occupied my time of late.  I hope you too, dear reader, can find something of interest in these volumes. I also hope to write short essays on some of my rereading as autumn slips into winter and there's a bit more time to look backwards.

***



Arlie Russell Hochschild's award-winning Strangers in Their Own Land recounts Hochschild's travels among the Louisiana Tea Party, a book that kept reminding me of Gulliver's Travels, especially Book IV of that unforgettable misanthropic classic. It would be uncharitable to tar the nice, down-home folks Arlie sips coffee with as Yahoos, but, my goodness, what is any reasonably intelligent person to make of his fellow Americans when they sit on top of life-threatening benzene leaks, sinkholes caused by fracking, and inhale toxic air laced with arsenic and then blame not the polluters for the ruination of their sportsman's paradise but the EPA and Barack Obama? Hochschild has been praised for her open-mindedness, but I grew impatient with the author's tolerance of the hateful views of liberals, African-Americans, journalists, government workers, and the poor that tumbled from the mouths of ministers, housewives, oil workers, politicians, and businessmen. The willful refusal to acknowledge any social connection outside a narrow circle of racial, ethnic, and religious identity (and these right-wingers have the nerve to bellyache about liberals' fixation on "identity politics"!) negates any possibility of civil life, of true identity as a nation, or of human empathy. One character reported to Hochschild her anger at being "manipulated" into feeling sorry for starving African children by a reporter on public television--which, the woman explained, was why she watches Fox News and listens to Rush Limbaugh--those cesspits of rancor. I get the whole it's-an-objective-science-thing about sociology, but how Hochschild restrained herself from going insane is beyond me. She must be a wonderful woman, a model of self-restraint--not a liberal among conservatives but a vegetarian among cannibals. I'm pretty sure I was supposed to come away either having understood my fellow Americans who admire the likes of Bobby Jindal and Donald Trump or at least with a heightened tolerance of a point of view that is different from my own. Unfortunately this isn't what happened. We hear a lot about "understanding" the far-right these days, but any such efforts would make about as much sense as abolitionists trying to understand slave owners in the 1850's.




***

Upon the news of her death, I reread (most of) Kate Millet's Sexual Politics. A few sections of the book seemed dated, but the core of it--the second chapter in particular--felt timely. Millet, writing late in the 1960's, managed to bring a wide range of historical, biological, social, and economic ideas to bear on the question of patriarchy. I remember how Camille Paglia trashed Millet (and Susan Sontag) in her Sexual Personae; I think Paglia, an intellectual exhibitionist at heart, might have used the word "whiny" to describe the founders of the Second Wave. But this slur was unfair when Paglia wrote in 1990 and even more unfair now. We no more live in a post-patriarchal age then in a post-racial age, and Millet has much to teach us still. Immediately after Millet I read Rebecca Solnit's broadside--Men Explain Things to Me. In view of Harvey Weinstein, Bill O'Reilly, and our absurd President, Solnit was just the thing. The ugliest of our impulses merely disguise themselves as something else--overt racism became the "birther" movement; overt misogyny has become....well, overt misogyny.

***

Robert Gordon's The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War is dry but essential reading for anyone who would make sense of what has happened to American worker's wages and life chances in the past fifty years. Gordon is a meticulous scholar, and once you get past the statistics, the details of the story of how American material life changed over the past century and a half are fascinating. What did Americans eat in 1870? What were the comparative advantages of rural life in 1900? What was the progress of electrification and sanitation in urban America in the 1910's? How many pairs of pants did a farmer own? How often did he bathe (not often)? Gordon handles the minutiae of ordinary life with the verve of Jacques Le Goff, my favorite of the annalists school of historians. Gordon's is a big book, and you come away feeling as if you've doubled your knowledge of almost every subject related to American life--marriage, working conditions, diet, furniture, waste disposal--you name it and Gordon explains it. And, most importantly, he demonstrates not only that American workers are worse off now than they were thirty years ago, but why.

***

Jonathan Allen's and Amie Parnes's Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign shows how completely out of touch with ordinary Americans the Washington politcal establishment has become. As the title suggests, the Clinton campaign, despite the polling of Nate Cohen and the apologetics posted on the editorial pages of the Times and Post, never had a chance (the absurd Electoral College helped of course).  For example, despite employing twenty or so speechwriters, PR people, aides, and loyalists to draft her Democratic convention acceptance speech, the words themselves failed to deliver a convincing rationale for Mrs. Clinton's candidacy--infighting, arrogance, and myopia made it impossible for Clintonworld (as the authors call Clinton's hermetically- sealed bubble) to figure out what American voters wanted (and not merely what they wanted to hear). It's a sad book, not quite Euripides, but a tragic tale nonetheless. It has all the elements of tragedy: hubris of course, also fate, villainy, hamartiae, guilelessness, but also, like all tragedies, an outcome that sets the world out of joint. Tragedy, if it were merely personal, would  be akin to melodrama. Instead, the hero's fall is a sign of a social diminishing, of our own fall.



***
[to be continue]


George Ovitt (10/15/17)