Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Eternal Flame

They lined the highways and streets to usher his casket to the Kennedy Library, where tens of thousands filed past to pay their respects. Again they lined the streets and highways around Boston in the pouring rain, as Ted Kennedy made his final trip to Washington. There, they lined the streets and stood in front of the Capitol, where colleagues and former staff waited, and when the casket was about to depart, the crowd spontaneously sang "America the Beautiful," and people called out "Thank you!" and "We love you!" as the hearse moved slowly towards Arlington. There, in the swiftly falling darkness, the final ceremonies, the final loving words--this time from grandchildren--and as lightning flashed in the distance, Edward Moore Kennedy joined his brothers again.

Remembering Teddy

His brothers were JFK and RFK but he was always Teddy. The grandson of the Mayor of Boston who threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park, one of his last public acts was to throw out the first pitch there this spring. At his memorial on Friday at the Kennedy Library, he was remembered as a father (to the children of his fallen brothers as well as his own, when--as Joseph Kennedy, son of RFK said, "we really needed a father"), a friend, a colleague, a human being of great generosity and spirit, and one of the greatest Senators in U.S. history, who had a hand in most of the progressive laws passed in the last 46 years, including those that Americans take for granted, like Medicare, Title 9, voting age at 18, health care for children, the Voting Rights Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the Disabilities Act, and so many more. His funeral will begin in a few hours, with a eulogy given by President Obama. (More on the meaning of Ted Kennedy to my generation at 60s Now.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

R.I. P. Senator Ted Kennedy

Senator Ted Kennedy, here in a recent photo with his niece, Caroline Kennedy, has died of brain cancer, his family announced early Wednesday. It is doubly sad since he didn't live to lead the fight for health care legislation and see it happen, for it was one of the persistent causes of his life. He was my Senator when I lived in Massachusetts, and I heard him speak several times over the years. I worked on his presidential primary campaign in PA in 1980. Coincidentally, he's quoted extensively from one of the times I heard him, in 1975, in the new posts at Kowincidence. There will be much more said about him today, and many more memories revived. For now, the NY Times obit, and this quote taken from it: Senator Kennedy: "We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make.”

The Future's Past

The Perisphere and other elements of the 1939 World's Fair in New York, which was an elaborate model of "The World of Tomorrow." Consider it a little ad for new posts at Kowincidence, one of my first and most neglected "blogs." It was never really a blog--more of an archive for articles and essays I wanted to preserve in cyberspace, as paradoxical as that sounds. That play on my name comes from college, when somebody (Wendy Saul? Mary Jacobson? Barbie Cottral?) dubbed me Big Kowincidence, after I'd published a Joycean/John Lennonish column that gave them all such names. Anyway, when blogspot started I immediately saw the potential for using the free server space for my own purposes. Posting old published articles also gave me the opportunity to re-edit them and restore what various editors had done to them, which was an important impulse at the time.
But that was before it was easy to post photos, etc. So I'm (slowly) rebuilding it, and finally started that process by posting a "new" article, which is actually older than most of the pieces already there. It's the combination of two articles I did in 1975 and 76, on futurists and the future. It might be interesting to compare it to our situation, and feelings about the future, more than 30 years later. More on the topic another day. In the meantime, I've added Kowincidence to the "My Little Blogosphere" list to the left, so you can tell at a glance when something "new" has been posted. Maybe you'll visit.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Dedalus, you're an antisocial being, wrapped up in yourself. I'm not. I'm a democrat: and I'll work and act for social liberty and equality among all classes and sexes in the United States of Europe of the future."
A character in A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man (1916) by James Joyce


I am a great believer in serendipity as a research technique. Even before Google and Internet links made stumbling onto stuff a required feature of information gathering, I learned to measure how close I was getting to something really interesting by the frequency and quality of material pertinent to a topic I was developing in my own mind that I came upon by coincidence, or more precisely, by being alert to it, and hungry.

For instance, the books that I found on random sale tables, or even in piles of discards, often proved invaluable. Either they related to what I already knew or had begun exploring but in a new way, or they opened up new but suddenly related subjects and connections. Several times they introduced me to authors, some of whom I immediately called or visited to interview--at least when I had a magazine or newspaper assignment or book contract to back me up.

Serendipity seems to require stubbornness. Or maybe serendipity is one of the few rewards of stubbornness, a payoff for apparently wasted time. A case in point, of something--or in this case, someone-- interesting I didn't know of before, who turns out to relate to other current investigations:

I happened on the above quote ("I'm a democrat: and I'll work and act for social liberty and equality among all classes and sexes in the United States of Europe of the future") about five years ago. The author (James Joyce) and the year (1916) were given, but not the work. I have a small Joyce collection and I looked it up in Ellman's biography and the indexes to other works, with no luck. (As it turned out, the attribution to Joyce is what threw me off.) So I tried it another way: the piece where I first saw the quote was an Internet essay about Jeremy Rifkin's book, The European Dream. Maybe Joyce was quoted in that book. But when I checked the Rifkin book, Joyce wasn't in its index at all. Still, it's a pretty interesting book.

I must have just forgotten about this quote after that, but I did file it and source in a computer "folder" that I opened the other day, looking for something else. That I didn't know the source of the quote bothered me again, and this is where stubbornness comes in. However, that quality is more usefully applied these days--for even five years ago, Google and Wikipedia etc. either didn't exist or weren't as capacious as now. So a search got me some leads, and I saw what my first problem had been: though the quote is attributed to Joyce, it is from a fiction--either his book of short stories (Dubliners) or his first novel (A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man), both with the publication date of 1916. The reason that wasn't obvious to me is that it was quoted as a statement by Joyce, not by one of his characters.

A couple of references--notes in books online, but only excerpts--were tantalizing but imprecise. So I got down my annotated versions of both books, and began to compare with what was online. First I narrowed it down to Portrait. But my particular annotated didn't have a reference to the quote, so I had to trace another online (and partial) set of annotations and compare references it made with references made in my copy, to narrow down where the quote might be. I had the character's name, and finally, I found the quote, on page 177. The words belong to a subsidiary character, and so can't be really thought of as the statement of the author's views. But it was something striking to say in 1916.

The annotation mentions that the character who said it was based on a student Joyce knew when he was a student in Ireland, and who was murdered by a British soldier in 1916. The Easter uprising of that year isn't mentioned. But it's also the same year the book was published.

The annotation also mentions that the phrase "United States of Europe" was the title of a popular book published in 1899 by a well-known journalist of the time, William Thomas Stead. As editor of the Pall Mall Gazette (according to the wikipedia bio) he pioneered the news interview and what we now call investigative journalism. He traveled the world, met with leaders and wrote about the geopolitical moment. Politically he was progressive and a pacifist.

Stead also was deeply interested in spiritualism, and reportedly had premonitions of death at sea. So of course, that's where he died--and of course, in the most spectacular way: as a passenger on the Titanic. He was on his way to New York to attend an international peace conference. He had written about the danger of ocean liners without an adequate number of lifeboats.

The wikipedia bio only scratches the surface (though it's a pretty fascinating surface) but another site has links to much more information, including PDF versions of many of his books, such as the aforementioned United States of Europe. I dipped into it and it looks tempting, partly because--and this is another element of serendipity currently at work--he is a figure I knew nothing of who lived in a period that I've returned to again and again, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, first through H.G. Wells and C.G. Jung separately, then through the two of them together.

I'd had several years of that, and then some quiet. But now a sudden recent storm of 19th century connections: a quote from Shelley (leading to the essay itself, which I found in a college literature anthology used by my uncle in 1951--the uncle who I saw earlier this summer, when we had our first one-to-one meal together in 30 years) and a look at Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, followed a few days later by a revealing review (by Freeman Dyson in the New York Review of Books) of a new book about the links between science and poetry in the 19th century Romantic period (Age of Wonder), which mentions both Shelleys, as well as both Darwins (Erasmus, who proposed evolution, and his grandson Charles, who formulated it.) It also covers a bit of the same ground as another new book I was looking at for possible review, The Atmosphere of Heaven, and a play I did review last week, the execrable musical version of Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde--another 19th century fable of the impact of science, which like Frankenstein has come down to us through movies that are based on popular stage plays rather than the original novels.

This last burst was also coincident with another thread: the impulse to pull Eric Bentley's book on George Bernard Shaw down from the shelf when it caught my eye (and yes, I was looking for something else--the little pump I keep on that shelf to pump up my basketball), and then I became its captive. Shaw's views on Darwin (which I also then sampled in his preface to his theatre epic, Back to Methuselah) pertain to Wells, whose science fiction is largely directed by his interpretation of Darwin. Wells and Shaw knew each other for much of their long lives (they met as newspaper drama critics) and so from reading about them separately, I read their correspondence with each other.

All of this bears on a writing project that's absorbed many hours over many years, with the end always just beyond the horizon. And it's spun off other projects that actually got done--a number of published essays, and a play about Wells and Jung. But there seems always to be more.

A better understanding of Shaw and his relationship to Wells and the issues they both dealt with, bears upon the role of Wells in this project--although there's a neat little play to be found in those two. Another possible avenue of inquiry is this William Thomas Stead, who was a slightly earlier editor of a publication the young Wells wrote for--it was in fact the Pall Mall Gazette that employed Wells as its theatre critic when he met Shaw. As the editor of another magazine, Stead approved publication of a version of Wells' tales about a time traveller. Stead's globetrotting journalism and global vision are also what Wells was doing at about the same time--yet Stead's name does not appear in Wells' autobiography. I wonder why...

So the moral of the story seems to be this: serendipity can lead to new insights and new works, though it can also simply be a forking path on an absorbing journey, through a landscape that is partly familiar and always partly frontier.