A specter is haunting the Republican National Convention—the specter of ideology. The novelist Ayn Rand (1905–1982) and the economist Friedrich von Hayek (1899–1992) are the house deities of many American libertarians, much of the Tea Party, and Paul Ryan in particular. The irony of today is that these two thinkers relied on some of the same underlying assumptions as the Marxism they were trying to defeat. The paradoxical result is a Republican Party ticket that embraces outdated ideology, taking some of the worst from the twentieth century and presenting it as a plan for the twenty-first.
I ride my bike past Lance Armstrong’s house here in Aspen almost every day. It is a simple semi-detached affair that is much more modest than many of the houses in this neighborhood. It would not occur to me to knock on the door. He has reported that in the decade he’s been living part time here that someone he didn’t know has knocked on his door only once. He did once pass me on his bike. He gave a friendly wave.
The idea of impending doom, whether divinely ordained or inferred by creative imaginations in the wake of absent deities, is a recurring theme not only in the work of writers such as Yeats, Eliot and Beckett. Imagining—or predicting—the end of the world has been the stuff of popular culture from the doomsday panoramas of the English artist John Martin (1789-1853) to the events of the “Rapture” described in the Left Behind series of novels by Tim F. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. In recent years, apocalyptic rhetoric has turned up in international politics among terrorists and hard-line governments such as Iran, but also their adversaries in Washington, Israel, and elsewhere including the current Republican candidate for president.
At once unsentimentally au courant and fixated on that past, Chris Marker was the Janus of world cinema. His unclassifiable documentaries treat memory as the stuff of science fiction, a notion he shared with his early associate Alain Resnais. Hardly a Luddite, Marker thrived on technological paradox. A half-hour succession of still images evoking motion pictures as time travel, La Jetée, his most generally known work, could have been made for Eadweard Muybridge’s nineteenth-century zoopraxiscope.
One of the oldest bits of practical advice in the English language advises people not “to buy a pig in a poke.” It dates from days when there were shortages of meat, and con men sold what purported to be succulent ham or bacon in the form of a piglet wriggling in a poke, or burlap bag. A bargain price was offered on the condition that the poke not be opened. When it was opened, too late for the payment to be called back, the sucker found he had bought a stray dog or large cat, not a pig. Mitt Romney tells us he has a pig—a reasonable account of his taxes—in his pouch, but he won’t show it to us. Imagine our surprise if, after his election, we get to peek inside the pouch.
Most poems are short. They give the impression it took no time to write them. Ten minutes tops. To write a six-hundred-page novel takes years. You go and work at your desk every day the way a miner goes to his mine and you feel as drained afterwards. Of course, that kind of work should be amply rewarded. A poet stands by the window watching the rain fall, or looks at the lock of hair of his old sweetheart, scribbles something down on a piece of paper and is through for the day. The most outrageous thing about poetry is that poems composed in such a lackadaisical manner end up in anthologies your kids are supposed to study in school. Not only that, but they may fall in love with them, memorize them, and try to imitate them. “Poetry is dead!,” someone shouts happily every now and then, to the relief of parents and those among the educated who never read poetry. No such luck.
Most American soldiers landing in Vietnam in the 1960s were handed a ninety-three-page booklet called A Pocket Guide to Vietnam. Produced by the Department of Defense, it described how small, well-proportioned, dignified, and restrained Vietnamese people are, how the delicately-boned local women appear in their flowing national dress, how Vietnamese love tea, and don’t like slaps on the back, how they excel at cooking fish. Soldiers reading this advice could get the mistaken idea that they were going to a tourist destination with a bit of violence on the side.
We’ve gathered this morning to remember the horror of a crime, express the sorrow of those who experienced the tragedy, and speak of the dark hours of collaboration, our history, and therefore France’s responsibility. We’re also here to pass on the memory of the Holocaust—of which the roundups were the first stage—in order to fight the battle against oblivion and testify to new generations what barbarity is capable of doing and what resources humanity may possess to defeat it.
In a summer when the shoreline temperature in the Little Arkansas River reached 98 degrees—bad news for catfish—should I really have attempted to bring a bunch of citified northerners into the heart of the heat, which peaked locally at 116? Well, yes. It’s just weather, as my popular hero Captain Woodrow Call often said if he heard a complaint. So I threw a book sale. Upward of 300,000 books went on sale in Archer City at public auction, which was conducted by the cracker-jack team of Addison and Sarova out of Macon, Georgia, where I gather the heat is wet rather than dry.
Paul Ryan is the charming ideologue driven by an ambition robust even by Washington standards. He has been the young man in a hurry, with dead aim; the indefatigable persuader; the self-created “man of ideas,” articulate and conspicuous. “Ideas” politicians can be more likeable and interesting than wise. Yet those who broke out in celebration upon learning that Mitt Romney had chosen Ryan as his running mate, certain that the Wisconsin Congressman’s radical worldview would surely sink the Romney ticket, may find him more dangerous than they currently assume.