Editor’s Letter: December, 2016

Richard Friswell
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bartolomeo_veneto_woman_playing_a_lute

“To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.”

~E. B. White

Right: Bartelomeo Veneto, Lady Playing a Lute (c. 1520). Pinacoteca di Brera (Milan, Italy)

 

Rebirth and Resilience

Dear Reader- In May of this year, the ebb and flow of ARTES articles and opinion—so much a part of my life and that of our writers and online visitors since launching in 2009—came crashing down. The diagnosis: the accumulated content of 27 Gb of words and images, supported by WordPress code that in some cases dated to our inception, caused it to collapse under its own virtual weight. As explained, it was an aging sand castle foundation, eroded by a relentless tide of new material being heaped on top. Our repeated and best efforts to keep the site ‘live’ were to no avail. In thecaspar_david_friedrich_-_wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog-1818 weeks that followed, shock, sadness and a genuine sense of loss permeated my emotions.

Right: Casper David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818).

My dismay was only reinforced by conversations with tech experts who offered little hope for an easy fix; or a complex rehabilitation effort at great expense, with no guarantees at the other end. Weeks turned to months as I contemplated life without ARTES as a daily project. I taught more classes, began writing a long-planned book, and roamed the many book stores and libraries in my area looking for solace. It was an emotional summer for me as various strategies for restoring ARTES churned in the back of my mind. Events were further complicated by added responsibilities related to my aging mother at one end of life’s spectrum, and the imminent arrival of a grandchild at the other.

Finally, a detailed and lengthy series of conversations with my internet hosting company generated a cost-effective strategy, one utilizing new technology and—best of all—a money back guarantee. In the fall, they got to work and over the course of several weeks, and with dozens of work order numbers accumulating on my desk like mutating cells, ARTES rose from the ashes of despair. The challenge would then be to survey this fragile Phoenix for at least thirty days, insuring that the “center could hold.” As I write this, we are at that point. There is cautious success to report, and a decision to move forward with the kind of informed context and cogent analysis of the arts that thousands of readers around the world welcomed.

With the New Year just around the corner, we will rededicate ourselves to the editorial tasks that have helped to make ARTES a unique voice in the Web universe. My concerns over recent months have been ameliorated by technology and thoughtful strategizing, only to be replaced by a much larger, overriding concern regarding the state of our nation and its tenuous place in the world. Like so getmany others, I was shocked and surprised by the election outcome; and by the ongoing absence of a ‘pivot’ on the part of Mr. Trump, as evidenced by his emerging rogue’s gallery of appointees soon to comprise his inner circle.

During my library retreats, I reacquainted myself with two favorite authors—W.H. Auden and E.B. White—whose prescient writings in the mid-twentieth century speak volumes. Both men have a knack for finding the words and verbal images that capture a sense of our current plight. Scroll down to read Auden’s September 1, 1939, written on the eve of WW II. At the time of his writing, the threat against the future of democracy and a world laced despotism was just across the English Channel. More alarmingly for Americans today, that same shared trepidation about the future has come home to roost on our very shores.charlottes-edit-web-3

As for E. B. White, the wisdom of his writings border on the philosophical. No single excerpt can possibly do justice to his take on our lives, the world around us, or this American political climate in which we are now embroiled. You owe it to yourselves or a loved one to make a gift of White’s “Essays” (Perennial Classics, 2006). Many beautiful essays can be found there, as well as the ones seemingly targeted to current events. A sample quote or two would be a teaser…

Given TV-star Trump’s effective use of that medium…

I believe television is going to be the test of the modern world, and that in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our vision we shall discover either a new and unbearable disturbance of the general peace or a saving radiance in the sky. We shall stand or fall by television — of that I am quite sure. Television will enormously enlarge the eye’s range, and, like radio, will advertise the Elsewhere. Together with the tabs, the mags, and the movies, it will insist that we forget the primary and the near in favor of the secondary and the remote.                                                          ~One Man’s Meat, “Removal” (1942)

And on the topic of movements like ethno-nationalism and the alt-right gaining influence…

Both (parties) tend to speak of national security as though it were still capable of being dissociated from universal well-being; in fact, sometimes in these political addresses it sounds as though this nation, or any nation, through force of character or force of arms, could damn well rise above planetary north-korea-paradeconsiderations, as though we were greater than our environment, as though the national verve somehow transcended the natural world. Before you can be an internationalist you have first to be a naturalist and feel the ground under you making a whole circle. It is easier for a man to be loyal to his club than to his planet; the bylaws are shorter, and he is personally acquainted with the other members. A club, moreover, or a nation, has a most attractive offer to make: it offers the right to be exclusive. There are not many of us who are physically constituted to resist this strange delight, this nourishing privilege. It is at the bottom of all fraternities, societies, orders. It is at the bottom of most trouble. The planet holds out no such inducement. The planet is everybody’s. All it offers is the grass, the sky, the water, the ineluctable dream of peace and fruition.

~”Intimations” (December 1941)

And, of course…

A despot doesn’t fear eloquent writers preaching freedom — he fears a drunken poet who may crack a joke that will take hold.

~”Salt Water Farm” (1941)

A toast to Happy Holidays and our uncertain future. In the words of that old curse: We should all live in interesting times!

Best, Richard

Publisher & Managing Editor

SEPTEMBER 1, 1939

by W.H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;

The unmentionable odour of death

Offends the September night.

 

Accurate scholarship can

Unearth the whole offence

From Luther until now

That has driven a culture mad,

Find what occurred at Linz,

What huge imago made

A psychopathic god:

I and the public know

What all schoolchildren learn,

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.

 

Exiled Thucydides knew

All that a speech can say

About Democracy,

And what dictators do,

The elderly rubbish they talk

To an apathetic grave;

Analysed all in his book,

The enlightenment driven away,

The habit-forming pain,

Mismanagement and grief:

We must suffer them all again.

 

Into this neutral air

Where blind skyscrapers use

Their full height to proclaim

The strength of Collective Man,

Each language pours its vain

Competitive excuse:

But who can live for long

In an euphoric dream;

Out of the mirror they stare,

Imperialism’s face

And the international wrong.

 

Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

All the conventions conspire

To make this fort assume

The furniture of home;

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.

 

The windiest militant trash

Important Persons shout

Is not so crude as our wish:

What mad Nijinsky wrote

About Diaghilev

Is true of the normal heart;

For the error bred in the bone

Of each woman and each man

Craves what it cannot have,

Not universal love

But to be loved alone.

 

From the conservative dark

Into the ethical life

The dense commuters come,

Repeating their morning vow;

‘I will be true to the wife,

I’ll concentrate more on my work,’

And helpless governors wake

To resume their compulsory game:

Who can release them now,

Who can reach the dead,

Who can speak for the dumb?

 

All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie,

The romantic lie in the brain

Of the sensual man-in-the-street

And the lie of Authority

Whose buildings grope the sky:

There is no such thing as the State

And no one exists alone;

Hunger allows no choice

To the citizen or the police;

We must love one another or die.

 

Defenseless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the Just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.

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