The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
7.2 (Spring 2007)
The previous issue of Praesidium (Winter 2007) may be viewed by clicking here.
John R. Harris, Ph.D.
Thomas F. Bertonneau, Ph.D.
Helen R. Andretta, Ph.D.
Michael H. Lythgoe
Lt. Col. USAF (Retd.)
© All contents of this journal (including poems, articles, fictional works, and short pieces by staff) are copyrighted by The Center for Literate Values of Tyler, Texas (2007), and may not be cited at length or reproduced without The Center’s express permission.
John R. Harris
This second half of a two-part essay emphasizes the impact of “romantic adventure” upon such turbulent contemporary social phenomena as reversed gender roles, acquisitive lifestyles, secular orders of worship, and even mass killings.
Civilization stands hesitantly in a crossroads, with radically different options all around. Its next few steps will be impossible to take back.
This review of the film A Scanner Darkly sees much maneuvering to recover the magic of yesteryear’s counter-culturalist, Phil Dick.
The question-and-answer volleys of Socratic method can unlock some of the latent confusion or absurdity in those thinkers frequently featured by freshman-composition anthologies.
J. S. Moseby
This “magic realist” short story leads to a quiet city center whose lofty buildings turn out to be bookcases.
The recently deceased Italian journalist was a hero to many friends of Western culture, yet she was tormented by certain demons which that culture could not exorcise.
A Few Words from the Editor
In my role as editor, I constantly marvel at how often certain themes or harmonies of sentiment emerge during an issue’s preparation without any sort of encouragement from me. Perhaps contributors are influenced by irresistible current events which leave them in roughly the same mood. Yet so much happens in the world today, and the matter which I paste together usually comes trickling in over such a broad expanse of months, that I incline to view the convergence of interests more spiritually. Since those who read and sometimes write for Praesidium tend to have a certain orientation toward life, death, beauty, human nature, and human culture, the correspondences within any issue are bound to be, at the very least, numerous and latent. Occasionally they grow a little less latent.
When Peter Singleton passed along to me something like a prose poem (in his own words) about the moral struggles of the late Oriana Fallaci, I realized that I had a metaphysical meditation which jibed well with J. S. Moseby’s “magic realist” short story, “Continental Shelf”. My own piece—the second half of a lengthy essay about the effects of romantic adventure upon our cultural outlook—is certainly not incompatible with these more creative works. I should say, in fact, that we are all in agreement about how things happen in life. The most advertised and celebrated occurrences, full of sensual thrills and electrifying surprises, really represent not much of a “happening” at all. After a nerve-tingling surprise, the mind eventually settles back into its previous repose. Permanent change does not arrive in a burst of flame from without: it seeps into our veins, rather, like the night’s coolness or a hard day’s weariness. Paradoxically, people who crave the spectacular event—the shock without any coherent connection to all that has preceded it—do not change much as people. They become little more than seismometers—gauges with needles that drop back to zero as soon as the tremors pass.
Virtually everything between these covers had already been composed when the most traumatic event of our nation’s spring—the cold-blooded gun-down of 34 people at Virginia Tech—lit up the news media. And yet, an Iranian friend of mine reminds me that such butchery is typical on some of Iraq ’s more dangerous streets. The truth is that, not only does the plight of the average Iraqi civilian make no impression on us whatever, but the deaths in Blacksburg have already passed from our conscious mind. Our needles have slipped back to zero, where they await something even more exciting. We do not necessarily imagine that we shall get off scot-free from the next general calamity. Yet the loss of an eye or an arm or a friend or a parent would be the more tolerable in that it would allow us not to change on the inside. I am not now waxing rhetorical. Of the 70 or so college freshmen whose paths crossed mine this spring, about a quarter disappeared from class without any explanation at all. Of the remainder willing to provide reasons for frequent absences, two were arrested and sent to jail, half a dozen were involved in high-speed car collisions, one ended in the hospital after a fist-fight, and approximately 10 absented themselves when family members or close friends were maimed or killed in similar incidents. In other words, about half of our young people starting out in college have sufficient leisure from criminal involvement and life-threatening experience to ponder their world thoughtfully through reading and writing.
The other half, I maintain, are in no very great danger of changing profoundly as human beings. They haven’t enough time on their hands to absorb what has happened to them, though fully convinced that their life is richly supplied in happenings. Mark Wegierski’s two short contributions imply how very perilous to our future is such muddling of basic definitions. Ideas have consequences—but events do not bear rational fruit when they fail to generate responsible ideas. We teeter upon the brink of an age where all our messy acquisition of accidents, arrests, brawls, and massacres will be mere fodder for some intellectual elite. We will be “handled” in one way or another—deprived of guns, issued guns, deprived of fossil fuel, issued passes for anthill transit systems, rehabilitated for politically incorrect speech, sterilized for an irresponsible fertility—the ideologues have a species-wide cure for every complaint; and because the cures are ideological, all of them will produce less unpredictability, flux, and movement. They will change us so as to minimize change. No doubt, the Leftist’s paradise of a high-tech-but-green Eden where sexual activity is creative, frequent, and healthy while racial/ethnic slurs have slipped from the collective memory is a far cry from the Rightest’s rip-roaring metropolis of financial opportunity where scenes from Norman Rockwell impossibly cling to suburban steeples. Yet both of these Neverlands—and all stops along the way to their mad precincts—could only be inhabited cooperatively by sleepwalkers, robots, or lobotomy-survivors. They will seem a wonder only to the traveler—who will preserve his power of wondering only if he takes care not to stay too long.
We must think more about our dead—about how they lived and why they died. To do this, we must do less of what is vulgarly called “living”, and which often results in senseless dying. If to live is to change, and if real change must be thoughtful change, then we must re-discover that the unexamined life is not worth living. J. H.