27 February 2007

Returning to Roanoke

Returning to Roanoke College with my daughter after having been away from it for thirty eight years was a rather interesting experience. There was this place where I had spent four years of my life, and I could not remember if they were happy or sad years, though certainly what I did there has served me well. Though, I felt comfortable in Roanoke over these days, familiar, not wary. What I had learned at Roanoke College create a central part of who I am and I how I live in the world. For the most part, I can tolerate me. And even sometimes celebrate. I recall sitting in Matthew Wise’s Shakespeare class and laughing uproariously at his reading of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. There was more, but this I remember well: I learned to love Shakespeare under his tutelage. I remember Dr. Deegan looking Mephistophelean with his tipped cigarillo clenched in his teeth as he discussed eighteenth century poetry and prose. I learned about The Spectator there, and about smoking in class. I remember the Senior Seminar in 1969 and Miss Roanoke College rubbing my leg because my kind had suddenly become popular as the zeitgeist shifted and the alternative became acceptable. I was unprepared, despite being a central and unconscious part of the shift.

These men are now gone and/or dead. The only professor still on staff whom I remember is retiring this year. Everyone I talked to today in administrative office was not there when I attended Roanoke College; some of them had not even been yet born. It was as if I existed in a time warp, a stranger in a not at all strange land—I recognized a great deal—but I was certainly in a different time.

There is a coffee house at Roanoke now which reminds me of Greenwich Village and Burlington, Vermont. I think that transformation of Salem, Virginia began in 1969, when I was there. I flatter myself to think that I was part of that transformation. Perhaps even then I was preparing the way for my daughter. I have become more and more a believer in synchronicity, of our own power to shape the universe, though minutely, to our wills. We do have power, but it might also be all illusion. No matter: there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

I am jealous that my daughter is at a time in her life when she will attend college. This green feeling makes me think that I enjoyed myself there, because I anticipate for her, her good times. Or maybe my emotions are an indication that I was not happy there, and I now look to her to enjoy the place for both of us. And our visit helped me realize that there is much there to be enjoyed, and much of which to partake. This desire is, for me, totally absurd, and I even know it. And so I am choosing to accept the first explanation, and assuming that the rumors of my misery that I have espoused over the years were self-serving misery, and now it is time to return to a symbolic couch.

16 February 2007

Grapes of Wrath: The Opera

With a friend of mine I attended last night’s performance of the operatic production of The Grapes of Wrath, with a score by Ricky Ian Gordon and a libretto by Michael Korie. I have no appreciation for opera: I don’t know what to listen for, I don’t particularly like the soprano voice, and I don’t understand recitative. The lyrics were flashed on a screen above the stage, but the indecipherability of the words detracted from my ability to focus on meaning, and what the libretto might have added to the novel itself. I had recently reread the novel in preparation for a discussion of it that I was involved in, and so I had a familiarity with Steinbeck’s text. But everything I knew about the book was all I knew about the operatic version of it.

Which led me to consider that my ignorance of opera meant that I could not appreciate whatever beauty this performance might have contained. And this was certainly a sold-our performance. We bought “Rush” tickets and there was only about a dozen of those available. I don’t know which must come first: the knowledge about opera, the operatic genre, the human singing voice, or the innate attraction to the form which leads to a desire to study the operatic form, etc., etc. But nothing about the performance last evening led to any reconsideration of the novel, nor did I gain any insight into it or even the world.

Dinner was nice, and I thought the sets were lovely. And, despite a few few fur coats, it is nice sometimes to be part of such a crowd.

13 February 2007

Ends of Things

I have finished Team of Rivals. When I was done, I felt great affection for Lincoln and great sadness at his death. I think the United States would have been quite different had Lincoln lived. That is more than cliché, however, for of course, his presence would have affected the courses of history. How could it not? Everyone affects the course of events, be those events big or small. But (at least according to Kearns’ perspective), Lincoln’s strong foundation in ethics and moral sense; his sympathy for human struggle; his facility to handle crisis and to organize those about him so as to accomplish not only their best but Lincoln’s best as well; his ability to learn and to grow, his great intellect, and his expressive voice; embody an historical figure not likely to be matched again, or ever. His plans for reconstruction, opposed as they might have been by radical Republicans, might still have carried the day owing to Lincoln’s ability to influence and coerce. The South would not have ultimately won the Civil War had Lincoln survived his second term. How different our lives might have been. How different history might have been!

Now I am reading The Kidnapping of Edgardo Montaro, by David Kertzer. The pain of this one surpasses understanding. The book concerns the kidnapping of an eight year old by the Roman Catholic Church in Bologna because an illiterate young servant in the Montaro home had had the boy baptized, and the Church assumed that from that moment the child was a Catholic and it therefore, had responsibility for the boy’s soul. Certainly he could not be left in peace in his Jewish family—after all, they were damnable and damned. They were Jews: their books were heretical and condemned to burn; their Rabbis were marched as clowns and assaulted during ‘holy week;’ their lives were always precariously lived in dangerous environments. If the kidnapping were an historical aberration, it would still be a painful subject, but that this act and the motives behind it are typical of the attitudes and behaviors of the Roman Catholic Church towards Jews and Judaism revolts me. Disgusts me. I have read Constantine’s Sword and Hitler’s Pope, so I have supporting evidence for the moral depravity and heinousness (no, the absolute evil!) of the Church. This knowledge inspires a fear which awakens me in the middle of the night as I wait for the modern day Inquisitors to come beat in my door.

I read this morning Thoreau’s "Life Without Principle." Yes, that is this world. In which such events happened and continue to occur. In which our leaders dissemble and pusillanimously creep about sacrificing our lives and virtues for the sake of fighting personal animus. In which burning villages to save the town and kidnapping young children from their families to offer them safety makes sense.

And in this world, alas, we are called to teach.