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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Poor Tom Speaks to the President-Elect

-- By Tom Phillips  

(After fasting through the Winter Solstice, Poor Tom puts on his clothes and comes in from the cold.)

Poor Tom in "King Lear"
OK friends, I apologize.  As some of you realized, Poor Tom was just a naked disguise, and his impenetrable essays on Irony no more than a post-election distraction for an old man -- an old man fearing for his grandchildren, trying to step back and love the world from an ironic distance, a literary perspective.

Still, it was a timely topic.

The primary definition of irony -- saying one thing and meaning another -- is Trumpspeak, the new lingua franca of our land.  A University means a scam.  I grabbed her by the private parts means I didn't do anything. "Make America Great Again" means make the rich richer.  "Lock her up" means drop the case.  A Wall means a fence, and then nothing.  NATO means NADA.

Everything he says means nothing -- he speaks in the moment only, and the meaning disappears like a post on Snapchat.   This is the ultimate in irony -- not the distance between one meaning and another, but the distance between meaning and non-meaning, being and nothingness.

However!

(With little hope but firm resolve, Poor Tom dons a scholar's robe, shakes his sleeves and begins to speak into the air)

Listen up, Mr. President-elect:

Friday, December 9, 2016

Friend of the Poor


-- By Tom Phillips

Bob Dylan is a serial disappointer, and that is part of what's kept him thriving as an artist for six decades.  A Swedish friend tells me his nation is deeply hurt that Dylan declined to come to Stockholm to accept his Nobel Prize for Literature.  But this is just one of a long series of disappointments and shocks to his fans -- going back to the Newport Folk Festival of 1965, when the left's favorite folk-singer came out with a snarl and an electric guitar.  

In 1967, after a year's hiatus attributed to a mysterious accident, he again came out with a new style that distressed his followers.  Suddenly Dylan's words and music seemed thin and spare -- compared to the hard rock and smoldering satire that began in Newport and culminated with "Blonde on Blonde."

Sunday, December 4, 2016

History Without Hate?

-- By Tom Phillips
"this election showed... the emergence of white people as a minority-style political bloc."  NY Times, 12/4/2016

“Let the grassroots turn on the hate"   Stephen Bannon, Trump adviser 
 
When one of my daughters was in middle school--  a public school, in New York City -- she came home one day with the following reflection:  "I hate English people."

 I asked why, and she answered with a litany of all the horrors visited by English colonialists on native peoples in the course of their imperial rule.  That was all she knew about "English people."  She didn't even know she was one of them.

When I informed her of her own heritage -- Anglo-Saxon and Celtic -- she was puzzled.  She was old enough to realize the implication -- that she ought to hate herself.  

The next day I went in to talk to the teacher.  When she heard what this 12-year-old had got out of her class, she too was puzzled.  The last thing she wanted was for students to hate themselves.  The school was also busy teaching self-esteem and self-love.  Unfortunately, they were pitching that message to a diverse student body by giving them someone to hate -- an undefined class of imperialists loosely interpreted as "English people."

This is one of the ways that white people in America came to think of ourselves as an oppressed minority.  We're not, of course.  We're still a privileged plurality, assured of special treatment by the cops, the courts, and financial institutions.  But as long as as we teach history in a way that casts Anglo-Europeans mainly or exclusively as oppressors, we reject and alienate them just as we have rejected minorities in the past.  This is one source of the resentment felt by less fortunate whites against an intellectual regime they have characterized as "politically correct."  The hate they are now acting out is payback for their long years not just in the economic doldrums, but also the doghouse of history.