Friday, November 11, 2016

Perspective

As I mentioned in a recent post, I did my best to completely ignore the presidential election.  I also chose not to vote in it:  I do not consider it my civic duty to cast a vote for the least unappealing candidate in a given election.  So I sat this one out.

However, I have been paying attention to the reactions of those who are not happy with the result of the election.  Their reactions are remarkably similar to the reactions of those who were not happy with the Brexit vote.  I expressed my feelings on this subject in a post I made on June 29 titled "Humanity."  Please bear with me, dear readers, but I feel compelled to restate those feelings at this time by reposting some of my thoughts:

"What concerns me is how the politicization of culture and of individual consciousness encourages people to adopt stereotypical, patronizing, and dehumanizing views of those who are on the other side of a political issue. This has been glaringly apparent in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, and it has been an ongoing feature of the presidential campaign.

"Who among us is in a position to adopt such views?  Do those who hold these views realize that they are in fact dehumanizing themselves in the process?  They have become exactly what the politicians, political 'activists,' and media oversimplifiers and crisis-mongers want them to be: political animals."

"Being politicized leads to evaluating and judging the world and other human beings in terms of classes, categories, and clichés.  Never underestimate the allure of a priori conclusions.  For the politicized, everything appears to be simple and subject to explanation.  Us and them. The enlightened versus the benighted.

"All of this has nothing whatsoever to do with the individual human being or with the individual human soul."

Thus concludes the homily for the day (and my unseemly quoting of myself, for which I apologize).

   Neither Out Far Nor In Deep

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be --
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?

Robert Frost, A Further Range (Henry Holt 1936).

Make no mistake:  each of us is standing there on the sand.  "There cannot be, confusion of our sound forgot,/A single soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry."

Stanley Spencer, "Scarecrow, Cookham" (1934)

On the morning after Election Day, I stepped out into the garden.  Birds were chirping.  Squirrels were busy gathering seeds and nuts for the coming winter.  The World was still here.  My beautiful and wonderful country was still here.  Nothing had changed.

     The autumn wind is blowing;
We are alive and can see each other,
     You and I.

Masaoka Shiki (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 413.

Gilbert Spencer (1892-1979), "The Cottage Window"

35 comments:

Mudpuddle said...

"we all live in a burning house": Buddha

Stephen Pentz said...

Mudpuddle: True. But at the same time we all live in paradise as well.

Thank you for the thought, and for visiting again.

Fred said...

Stephen,

Every time I read Frost's poem, I get a different idea from it. I think it's one of his most, if not his most, enigmatic poem.

We've talked about this before, the way he conveys one idea throughout the poem and then turns it about in the last stanza or last line or two. This one is different, for I think there's turn after every stanza, yet it is still a coherent unified thought behind it---I just don't know what it is.

Is the land the present and the sea the future and the future/the sea keeps encroaching on the present/the land?

I think that if Hilary had been elected, there wouldn't have been much of a change for the next four years; now, I think the next four years might show us something new, perhaps unpleasant, but I'm no prognosticator and shall remain silent.

Perhaps it's a wake-up call.

Thanks for posting Frost's poem--it somehow, in some way, is very fitting for now.

John Ashton said...

Stephen,

On Wednesday morning, a day when I did not switch on the radio or television knowing exactly what I would be subject to if I did. I arrived at my place of work and walked down through the small area of woodland between the car park and the library and stood beside our meadow area, speckled with newly risen fungi, milky-white and tawny brown standing tall above the dew soaked grasses, and the moment was like being woken to see anew. A privilege we should never tire of or cease to be thankful for. These extraordinary, commonplace miracles re-setting our sense of perspective.

George said...

ristotle, who as far as I know is the source of the expression "political animal" had something less limited in mind:

"Hence every city-state exists by nature, inasmuch as the first partnerships [household and village] so exist; for the city-state is the end of the other partnerships, and nature is an end, since that which each thing is when its growth is completed we speak of as being the nature of each thing, for instance of a man, a horse, a household. Again, the object for which a thing exists, its end, is its chief good; and self-sufficiency is an end, and a chief good. From these things therefore it is clear that the city-state is a natural growth, and that man is by nature a political animal, ... for it is the special property of man in distinction from the other animals that he alone has perception of good and bad and right and wrong and the other moral qualities, and it is partnership in these things that makes a household and a city-state."

(Courtesy of the Tufts Perseus site)

I do believe that emotional investment in electoral politics without attention to its nuts and bolts leads to a sort of transient bipolar disorder: either the millenium is here or the barbarians are at the gates. The weekly email from the local farmers market led off not with a recipe, but with an odd several paragraphs of anguish about the election. Eight years ago, people hereabouts thought that Barack Obama had ridden into town on a unicorn to herald the Age of Aquarius (or should I say, given the blog's focus, a Saturnian reign?); some of the people just didn't want to hear that McCain lost primarily because of the the recession.

I like Yeat's poem ("The Man in the Golden Breastplate"?) with the lines "So stay at home and drink your beer/And let the neighbors vote." but it does not strike me as useful counsel.

hart said...

The not voting was misguided. Too many do that and we are all sorry.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: I agree with you that, among Frost's many enigmatic poems, "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep" is perhaps his most enigmatic. I doubt that I will ever reach a firm conclusion as to what it "means" -- which is no doubt Frost's intention, and which is perfectly fine with me. For two insightful considerations of the poem I recommend having a look at (1) Randall Jarrell's essay on Frost ("To the Laodiceans") (which may be found in his Poetry and the Age) and (2) Tim Kendall's discussion of the poem in his The Art of Robert Frost (Yale University Press 2012).

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I always appreciate hearing from you.

Stephen Pentz said...

John: Thank you very much for those thoughts. It is wonderful how "these extraordinary, commonplace miracles" (to borrow your words) present themselves to us every day, in the smallest of spaces, isn't it? Your description of your walk beside the meadow will now prompt me to be on a closer lookout for mushrooms, lichen, moss, and the like on my next walk. (Given the climate here, we have no shortage of them! And I confess that I often overlook them.)

As ever, thank you for stopping by.

Stephen Pentz said...

George: Thank you very much for all of those thoughts. Given my ignorance of Aristotle's writings (other than through second-hand snippets), I wasn't aware that he had used the term "political animal." I appreciate your sharing the passage about city-states. I would be in favor of returning to that mode of life and governance. In fact, I often daydream about living in a city-state when reading, say, poems from The Greek Anthology, poems by Cavafy, or Herodotus.

Your characterization of the obsession with electoral politics as a "bipolar disorder" is extremely apt. And thank you as well for the lines from Yeats, which are new to me. I should have made myself clearer about my decision not to vote in the presidential election this year: as a matter of practice, I will not cast a vote in an electoral contest in which I do not consider any of the candidates qualified to hold the office; that does not mean that I do not vote in other contests or on ballot referendum matters.

As always, it is a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you for visiting again.

Carol S said...

Stephen: Though you certainly had the right to sit it out, you, I am assuming, live a somewhat comfortable lifestyle and therefore need not overly worry how new legislation may impact your day to day life..but what about your fellow countrymen who are not so fortunate? We need to vote on their behalf as well. I have loved your posts for years, but was disappointed. I would rather of heard no reference to politics at all I suppose.

George said...

Stephen, thank you for your good words. I think that those who deal with the actual nuts and bolts, who make calls, take polls, knock on doors, etc. are more likely to assess matters correctly. I do not quite agree with you on elections; but I am tired of talking about this one.

The most recent reading I have done that related to city-states was the Apology of Socrates: more or less Socrates defying the jurors to convict him and sentence him to death, and the jurors taking up the dare. In principle, the city-state is an excellent idea, particularly in a case such as Attica, where the state included its outlying rural areas. In practice, it shared with other forms of government the disadvantages (and advantages) of being run by human beings.

Stephen Pentz said...

hart: Thank you for your comment. I'm afraid we will have to agree to disagree on the subject of whether "not voting was misguided." As I noted in my response to George's comment, it is not a case of me not voting at all, but rather of not voting in a particular contest in which I do not consider any of the candidates to be qualified to hold the position. Such was the case with the presidential election this year (and this includes all of the candidates, not just the two major party candidates).

Thank you for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Carol S: Thank you for sharing your thoughts. As for not voting, please see my responses above to the comments by George and hart. As I noted in those responses, perhaps I should have been clearer when I said "sit it out": if, in my opinion, none of the candidates running for a particular office are qualified to fill that office, I do not cast a vote in that contest. This is my practice in any electoral contest, federal, state, or local.

Also, I fear that you are reading some sort of political statement or allegiance into my position: i.e., your reference to "[my] fellow countrymen who are not so fortunate." Let me reiterate: none of the presidential candidates were acceptable to me. With all due respect, I fail to see how my voting for someone who is, in my opinion, unqualified to hold an office will in any way benefit "[my] fellow countrymen." If I am presented with an acceptable candidate, I will cast a vote (whether they are left, right, center, or Martian). That was not the case this year.

As I have stated many times in the past, this is not a political blog. In fact, this post, and several other posts that I have made in the past, are directed at criticizing the poisonous politicization of society, a critique which has nothing whatsoever to do with left, right, or center political positions. Partisan political opinions are of no interest to me. What is of interest (and of concern) to me is how the infiltration of politics into all aspects of our daily lives adversely affects how we interact with one another, and how we treat one another. To me, the patronizing, intolerant, arrogant, and supercilious reactions of those who are unhappy with the results of the Brexit vote and of this week's presidential election are perfect examples of what is wrong with our over-politicized culture.

I'm sorry that you are disappointed. Thank you very much for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.

George said...

I find, by the way, that the title of Yeats's poem is "The Old Stone Cross"; the refrain is "Said the man in the golden breastplate/Under the old stone cross."

Stephen Pentz said...

George: Thank you for the follow up comments. Again, I appreciate the reference to the Yeats poem, which is new to me.

My remarks about city-states are purely in the nature of romantic reveries and daydreams. I realize there are no utopias available to us. However, a city-state on the shores of the Aegean Sea governed by an enlightened despot does at times seem attractive . . .

Thanks again.

Tim Guirl said...

I'm of the same mind as you about the politicization of culture, Mr.Pentz. And the older I get, the more apolitical I become. As a young man, I was upset that I was too young to vote until I returned from combat duty in the Vietnam War. As always, thanks for your blog, which I very much enjoy.

Carol S said...

Stephen thanks for reading and responding. It has been an especially difficult time, overshadowing our lives. Time to clear the brain and make room for other things...Carol

Martin Caseley said...

Stephen:

Thank you for the Frost poem and one of my favourite Spencer paintings together in one post! Frost was mischievous about 'imposed' meanings at times - I recall his comment about his poems being akin to hearing a conversation behind a door. Sometimes, reading him, you wish the door was open a tiny bit more. I have taught this poem to students, and still remain puzzled by it - but in a good way. One thing I have learnt through years of teaching is that final, ultimate 'meanings' are sometimes beside the point!

Politics is certainly grim at times: you are right to skim around it. Some of your defensive comments recall the 1960s slogan about the personal being political (and vice versa)....
Best wishes, Martin Caseley

sunt_lacrimae_rerum said...

Thank you, as always, for the apt poetry and the beautiful pictures in your blog. As for your "sitting it out," I think you are a more evolved person than I am, which I mean in the best of all possible ways. Voting was like choosing between death by firing squad and death by toxic gas. I am listening to Albinoni and reading poetry. I sincerely believe that you do the most good in life by attempting to preserve and perpetuate poetry and the arts. For that, thank you very much. I have come to your blog and not always commented but have always been delighted to reread a poem or find a new one and look at the wonderful juxtaposition of art work with your words.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Guirl: Thank you very much for your service to the country. I can only imagine your feelings at being old enough to serve overseas, but being too young to vote.

I recognize that politics are a necessary part of a civil society, but the incivility of political interaction today makes me turn away. I agree with you that growing older may have something to do with becoming more apolitical: perhaps it is a cliché, but at some point I realized that true change only occurs in each of as individuals, by trying to live our lives in an honorable manner and by treating others with respect and kindness. This is a daily challenge, of course, and I don't claim to be successful. Politics seem like a diversion from this real work.

Thank you for the kind words about the blog. And thank you very much for visiting again. It is always a pleasure to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

I did vote on Tuesday, although with the last days leading up to the election I felt more & more reluctance. Perhaps,somewhat like Carol S., in my case I was thinking most of the immigrants who keep New York City running with their hard work. Not many women comment on this blog anymore, which I think is too bad, & maybe Carol S. & I are voicing a woman's point of view.
Since the election, though, I haven't been sad. The afternoons in Riverside Park, with the westering sun shining through the leaves, at peak color here -- all this is just too lovely to waste in feeling gloomy. And it's so mild that it's possible to just wander along, musing & enjoying.
No disappointment -- I always love your blog & am glad you express what you feel, as I'm also trying to do here.
Susan

Stephen Pentz said...

Carol S: Thank you very much for your follow-up comments. I concur that it is time to "make room for other things," as you say. Thanks again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Martin: It is good to hear from you again. I agree with your thoughts on Frost, especially your wish that sometimes "the door was open a tiny bit more." He is sometimes too enamored with what he perceives to be his archness and his cleverness. I certainly concur with your thought that "final, ultimate 'meanings' are sometimes beside the point." As someone who has been visiting here for a while, you have heard me repeat my mantra on more than one occasion: "Explanation and explication are the death of poetry." I am quite content with the beautiful ambiguity of "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep."

That's a nice coincidence that Spencer's scarecrow is one of your favorites -- it is one of my favorites of his as well. For some reason it popped into my mind as I was writing the post. I don't know why. But I always follow my instincts when choosing the paintings, so there it is.

As for politics: I'm just relieved to have the whole unpleasant business over with. For me, all presidential elections have become intolerable, but this one was particularly dispiriting.

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, and for stopping by again.

Stephen Pentz said...

sunt_lacrimae_rerum: Thank you very much for those kind words, which I greatly appreciate.

I like your description of the choice presented in the election: "like choosing between death by firing squad and death by toxic gas." Exactly.

Your suggestion of how to "do the most good in life" is wonderful. Thank you for that. It fits well with what I wrote in response to Mr. Guirl's comment: the best way to effect change is by attempting to live an honorable life as an individual. I'm sure you can recall me quoting Philip Larkin's "The Mower" on a few occasions: "we should be careful//Of each other, we should be kind/While there is still time." That is really what matters most.

As always, thank you very much for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.

Fred said...

Stephen,

Thanks for the references. I shall search them out.

Stephen Pentz said...

Susan: Thank you very much for expressing your thoughts and feelings, which I always value. Perhaps I should have made clear that I am certainly not being critical of anyone who chose to vote, regardless of who they chose to vote for. And I completely understand your choice, and the choice of others, to do so (again, regardless of who you or others chose to vote for). I simply didn't feel comfortable casting a vote for any of the candidates. But I am in no way criticizing anyone who chose to vote.

More importantly, as you point out, and as I tried to point out in the post, the World is still here -- it has not, as some would like us to believe, come to end.

It is always a pleasure to hear from you. I hope you will continue to enjoy your autumn back there. Thank you for visiting again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: You're welcome. I think you'll find them interesting. But the poem will remain ever-enigmatic, as you know. Thanks for the follow-up.

Fred said...

Stephen,

The local library has a copy of Kendall's The Art Of Robert Frost, so I guess I'll take a look at that one first.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: That's great. I think you'll like the way Professor Kendall has organized the book: he has selected about 60 of Frost's poems (which are printed in the book), and each poem is accompanied by a commentary. I find the book invaluable. (By the way, Professor Kendall has posted comments here in the past. He has written a number of fine books on English and American poetry. For example: Modern English War Poetry (Oxford University Press 2006). Recently, he edited Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology in the Oxford World Classics series.)

Thanks for the follow-up.

Anonymous said...

I must add a brief PS. I often revisit (or visit for the first time) earlier posts of yours. Tonight I came upon your post of October 31, 2011. The poem "Reciprocity", by John Drinkwater, which I found there, expresses exactly how I have been feeling this beautiful autumn week. I have written it down in a "Commonplace Book" I keep. Finds like this provide solace in hard times, & are the reason we love & need First Known so much.
Susan

Stephen Pentz said...

Susan: That's extremely thoughtful of you to say. Thank you so much.

And thank you as well for reminding me of the poem, which I have not visited for too long a time. It is beautiful, isn't it? I can still feel the joy I experienced when I first came across it. I heartily agree with you that it is a poem that provides solace in difficult times, public or private.

Reciprocity

I do not think that skies and meadows are
Moral, or that the fixture of a star
Comes of a quiet spirit, or that trees
Have wisdom in their windless silences.
Yet these are things invested in my mood
With constancy, and peace, and fortitude,
That in my troubled season I can cry
Upon the wide composure of the sky,
And envy fields, and wish that I might be
As little daunted as a star or tree.

Thank you very much for bringing it back into my life. And thank you again for your kind words.

R. T. (Tim) Davis said...

I appreciate your thoughtful posting.
Here is something that I've noticed: since the election, just as Ecclesiastes suggests, the world has continued to turn on its axis, and the sun has risen each morning and set each evening; yes, we and our secular (political) concerns are insignificant in the larger, more sublime and ineffable scheme of things. And so it goes.
Again, thank you for your posting.

Stephen Pentz said...

R. T.: Thank you very much for your kind words about the post. I agree with you completely: we need to take a larger view of things -- including, but not limited to, presidential elections, which always seem to bring out the worst in our republic. (And they have become much more noisome in the internet age, with 24/7 media and partisan hysteria (left and right) stirring the pot.)

Coincidentally, I read the following two-line poem this evening, which perhaps complements your thoughts:

Leaves of the trees fall;
Walking on and on.

Santōka (1882-1940) (translated by R. H. Blyth). Life is as simple as that.

As ever, thank you for visiting.

Wurmbrand said...

Some people by temperament are prone to being busybodies. The political culture tends to nudge even more of us towards being busybodies, except for those who are supposed to let others make their decisions for them. Too much is at stake in our national elections; it's really rough on people to have the present cycle of anxiety cranked up again and again at such short intervals. Perhaps if we were more attuned to the "subsidiarity" that seems to have prevailed earlier in the country's history we would be happier for the most part. But I don't suppose there's much support for subsidiarity among the movers and shaker in either party. For this Christian it helps to remember that "here we have no abiding city," etc.

Stephen Pentz said...

Wurmbrand: Thank you very much for those thoughts. "Subsidiarity" is a new concept to me, but, having looked into it briefly since receiving your comment, I find it appealing. I agree that it is akin to how the country worked in its early years. But, alas, we have left it far behind. It seems to be a difficult goal to achieve given the scale on which we now operate.

"Busybodies" and "movers and shakers" are indeed the bane of our culture (political and otherwise). I think our wise founders (a generation that never ceases to amaze me) wanted us to have just enough government to provide us with civil order, and with space enough to exercise our freedoms. It seems we inhabit a different world now.

Yes, "no abiding city" (or, in the King James Version, "no continuing city" -- a phrase that poets seem to like) is something to bear in mind. Our presidential elections have always been horrendous affairs, but modern technology has made them (for me at least) intolerable. At about this time next year (or sooner) the media will already be speculating about the 2020 election.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I greatly appreciate your stopping by again.