Monday, 24 November 2014

Catching Up with Walt Whitman

It all began when I was driving a group of Beaver College (Glenside, PA., suburb of Philadelphia) students back from a night on the town (Cape May, New Jersey on the Atlantic Ocean) to celebrate Alice Mazurie turning 21. As we approached the Walt Whitman Bridge (which connects Camden, New Jersey, 60,000, with Philadelphia, 2,000,000), Alice asked, "Doctor Hazard, have you ever visited Walt Whitman's grave?" 

Shamefully, I had to admit I hadn't! Ever. And as an articulate fan of WW. So I swerved off the access road to the WW bridge--and suddenly we were aghast at the sight of a mausoleum falling apart! The 1891 concrete was crumbling. Shame on all of us alleged fans of WW! Now by what we AM Lit folks call "a remarkable providence", the National Council of Teachers of English was holding its annual convention in Philly over Thanksgiving. So I phoned the brass in Illinois and ask if I could collect money for repair by circulating at the convention with shoulder boards exclaiming (front) "SAVE WALT'S VAULT" and (rear) "A BUCK FOR THE BARD'S BONES".

The stuffy brass replied: "You may collect money if you reject that shameful rhetoric!" When I find a phrase that pleases me, I'm very reluctant to abandon it. So I didn't. Still I managed to wring $838  from the tight-fisted English teachers. We started repairing it immediately. But a more important result was a Whitman revival. 

We started the tradition of a cemetery fest on his birthday-May 31- with local poets reading their "newies" and seniors like me repeating the Golden Oldies. The opening fest was a gangbuster. For an entire hour, National Public Radio broadcast to the entire USA over its daily feature "All Things Considered" our shenanigans. WW worship was no longer an empty promise! Every year now it's an expected ritual. We've repossessed our hero.

Germany does quite well in some ways, I've noted, with its writers. But I despise Goethe (though I love "Faust I and II, and mock the country not to have balls enough to stage Faust III. (I had ro sneak around just to find it when I arrived in Germany. And there's something pathetic about a man who was a virgin until he was 38, and fucked a beautiful woman for eight years before marrying her! (The French soldiers stormed G's door, whereupon he pissed his pants and turned over the door to his unmarried "wife". She told them to get the fuck out of theatre--which they promptly did!° Goethe married the next day! (As an 87-year-old observer, I find it pathetic that the Big G was chasing a teenager abroad at 83!) "Different Chokes for Different Blokes;" which was never a black American aphorism.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A Failing Country

I had to tell my college students, that I thought their country was about to fail. A hard way to start a class. But necessary.

It all began when sixteenth century Puritan preachers falsely alleged that God had saved The New Country for European Christians to possess. That lie led to our smugness. The first thing we did in the sixteenth century was to kill as many Indians as we could, and put many of those left, on reservations, aka known as outdoor prisons.

Then we imported five million black Africans to do the heavy lifting, raising cotton so Old and New Englanders could become rich fast. Soon we begin to brag that we were becoming the world's greatest country.

More recently, we schemed both to jail more poor blacks and Hispanics for longer terms. Why? So we could develop the new business of building more prisons. More quick bucks. But fewer and fewer Americans share in this sudden wealth. The poor have the worst education. So they fall more and more behind a healthy America.

The truly educated are more interested in making more money than in educating the most poorly educated. That's a formula for disaster. And I see no way out. We tried and flopped. The main cause of this failure is our ignoring our greatest Americans--Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts and the Clintons.

The founders of our unions, our educational pioneers, our idealists like Andrew Carnegie. We majored in fun and games. Sad, but true. It's clear now how a great culture could grow and prosper. But Fun and Games is running the show and ruining our ideals. Not so nice to see. Heh, Rome wasn't destroyed in a day. But ours is on its way. Not too late.

But it's hard to imagine such a renewal. I taught American Literature and Media. I loved Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. Thrilled at the new TV that featured original plays by Horton Foote and Paddy Chayefsky. But 99 percent of our fellow Americans couldn't care less. They live for the day. The future is too obscure for them.

Heh, Countries come and go throughout the world every decade! It's vaguely described as Fate! It's more intelligently described as the triumph of the Dumb over the Smart. Sorry! We threw the dice and lost!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Hateful Irregularities

A brilliant Swiss professor who lives on the floor below me in Weimar, on the faculty of Bauhaus Uni, when I asked him to comment on an “International New York Times” essay on surprisingly slavish lives in his mainly free home country, he disappointed me with a “sad, but what can you do?” Plenty, I’m thinking.

In Ireland hundreds of out of wedlock babies grow up into slavish jobs. The nuns then give them ill paid jobs and pocket most of the cash that should be used to liberate their “slaves.” Nuns are crooks when they cheat like that. They should be jailed for robbery! Those victims are beginning to have the nuns arrested for “stealing” from their slaves. No two ethics. One for all the battle cry.

More and more very young black Americans are getting jailed earlier and earlier—for longer and longer terms. Capitalists have just learned that proliferating such jails is a great new business for the builders. They are really cheating, no matter what the judges think. No just society can thrive on two conflicting ethical systems. One for all and all for one. Now I have noticed that even the prosperous countries can backslide.

Take Nigeria. When I visited it in the sixties, it was blooming. As an American Lit professor, I basked in the glow of new writers like Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe. I featured them in international conferences like the first African Art exhibition in Dakar, Senegal in 1962. Or the First Literature Conference in Lagos, Nigeria in 1964. Sadly those gifted Nigerians landed in Civil War jails, as they try to make a new country of their district.

These conflicts emerge everywhere. Be prepared, as the Box Scouts reminded us. Eternal vigilance is the price of authority. Now Islamic thus roam Northeastern Nigeria, killing students who have the gall to go to school! Or girls that don’t want to be raped!