Among Forsaken Graves

Yesterday afternoon I waded through part of the old Mumford burying ground.  Mumford is a hamlet on a low sandy terrace in the midst of the Brazos River floodplain, about twelve miles from here.  The terrace is a relic of an older floodplain, formed in the depths of the Pleistocene, and it now stands about five feet above the general level.  Five feet may not sound like much, but it sufficed for the terrace to protrude as an island when the undammed Brazos rose and flooded its environs. Continue reading

The Call that Calls For the Uncalled For

“Bewildered and dulled by the new life around him for which he is unfitted, the unfortunate savage becomes more than ever a creature of instinct and approaches the condition of an animal.” 

Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, Scenes and Studies of Savage Life (1868)

Sproat was describing the deadly despair that finished off the shattered Indians of Vancouver Island in the 1860s, but his words speak to anyone who has outlived his world.  Each of us lives and moves and has his being in a world of motives, meanings, and germane materials, and we disintegrate and die when that world disappears.  Darwin cited Sproat as an authority on the deadly malaise of anomie that completed the destruction of savage races in the nineteenth century.  I cite him as an augur of the deadly malaise of anomie that is destroying loyalists to the civilized races in the twenty-first. Continue reading

On Big Lies

“Big lie propaganda is comparable to judo or ju jitsu, in which the victims own momentum and exertions are used to defeat him . . .” 

Department of the Army, Defense Against Enemy Propaganda (1963)

Big lies are designed to hoodwink little liars.  Big lies work because little liars wrongly suppose that all lies are like their own picayune fibs, and because little liars lack the imagination to conceive of falsehood on a grand scale.  Big lies work equally well on most honest men and women, since the lies these honest men and women pride themselves on not telling are, in most cases, picayune little lies. Continue reading

Sinister Sentimentality

You are no doubt familiar with this pithy apothegm from Joseph de Maistre:

“In my life I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, and so on. I even know, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be Persian. But as for man, I declare I’ve never encountered him.” *

I will adapt this to the moral panic of the moment and say,

“In my life I have seen Chinamen, Indians, Afghanis, and so on. I even know, without needing to have read Montesquieu, that one can be Persian. But as for an Asian, I declare I’ve never encountered him.”

Continue reading

Gumption and Ghostwriting

“The deep South dead since 1865 and peopled with garrulous outraged baffled ghosts.”

William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom (1936)

“There never was anything to those folks but money and darkies, and now that the money and darkies are gone, those folks will be Cracker in another generation.” 

Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind (1936)

There is more than one way to become a ghost.  One is to die.  Another is to survive in a world that is not your world.  Death releases the ghost from the body.  Survival confines the ghost within the body because there is nowhere else for that ghost to go.  This is often because the world in which that ghost might have lived, and moved and had its being has “gone with the wind.” Continue reading

The H. R. Department of Middle Earth

“Hob and nob, snuffle, toast each other, elect each other by order of least resistance and seniority to this or that post of honor or profit . . . That is Academicism.”

“Academicism is now triumphant as it never was before.  To secure so much as a publication you must bow to some image or another of Minerva; to be reviewed at all you must subscribe to some Fifty Articles; to be reviewed favorably you must kiss some gentleman’s great toe.”

Ford Madox Ford, Thus to Revisit (1921)

A reader kindly forwarded the Call for Papers for the 2021 Tolkien Society Summer Seminar, which is to be conducted this year on-line.  Although Seminar participants will not have to leave their easy chairs, Seminar organizers propose to go where no man has gone before.  It is humbling to read the Seminar theme, “Tolkien and Diversity,” for it forces me to ask, why didn’t I think of that?” Continue reading

“Physician, Heal Thyself” (a Dirty Dalit Grumbles)

Recalcitrance stirs when I am invited listen to a lecture on “cultural humility” by a woman who flaunts eight academic degrees to overawe me with her authority on matters pertaining to meekness.  It quickens when she promises “a framework to mitigate personal bias,” since unmitigated personal bias obviously drove her to construct this invidious framework.  I would, however, be curious (although not, perhaps, to the point of “wonderment”) to know why she believes my biases need correction, whereas the biases of everyone else must be received with “curiosity and wonderment.” Continue reading

A Munificent Monkey Wrench (to Me)

“Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.”

Robert Frost, “Birches” (1916)

It has been a mite cold here in Texas, but I want to assure you that we are bearing this boreal blast with the fortitude one expects from stout Smiths.  A fireplace and (until the other day) well-stocked woodshed helps.  Also a domicile spared rolling blackouts because of proximity to Police Headquarters.   When you get right down to it, the suffering of these stout Smiths has been limited to the prospect of some heavy gardening come spring. Continue reading