Sunday, September 18, 2016

Words from little America



"There are many, many Americas -- there's a televised America, one that consists of The View and Katie Couric and Jenner -- there's that America. But then there's the America I experience, the America you never see on television. It's the America of little churches and baseball and backyard gardens and such...it's much more modest, humane, and interconnected. It's produced most of the good things we have in this country -- the most interesting pieces of art, novels, literature, political eruptions..." (Bill Kauffman, interview on Poetry Night at the Ballpark

Spring in Town, Grant Wood. Used as the cover for Kauffman's Look Homeward, America!
And now, selections from yet another Kauffman survey of literature:

"American literature, in order to be great, but must be national, and in order to be national must deal with conditions peculiar to our own land and climate. Every sincere writer must write of the life he knows best and for which he cares most." (Hamlin Garland, p. 29)

"The privileged classes will profit by this war. It takes attention of the people off economic issues, and perpetuates the unjust system they have put upon us. Politicians profit by this war. It buries issues they dare not meet. What do the people get out of this war? The fighting, and the taxes. What are we going to get out of this war? Endless trouble, complications, expense. Republics cannot go into the conquering business and remain republics." (Tom Watson speaking of the Spanish-American War, p. 36)

"Liberty is what we're for, That's why we're progressive. We hate the modern increases of governmental powers and functions. We do not want government big. We want it small. That's why we're conservative. A true progressive must at this time often be a conservative."  (William Hard, The Nation, p. 59)

"But for my children, I would have them keep their
distance from the thickening center, corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the
monster's feet there are left the mountains." 
 (Robinson Jeffers, p.73)

"America -- the literary map of it, apparently, shows three cities;  New York, Chicago, and New Orleans; then a stretch inhabited by industrious Swedes who invariably (after an edifying struggle) become college professors or rich farmers; then a noble waste still populated by cowpunchers speaking the purest 1870; finally, a vast domain called Hollywood. But actually, there are portions of the United States not included in this favorite chart." (Sinclair Lewis, p. 122)


"John, it is empire you all want, and it is empire that you have got, and at such a small price when you come to think of it."
"What price is that?" Hay could tell from the glitter in Adams' eye that the reply would be highly unpleasant.
"The American republic. You've finally got rid of it. For good."
(pp. 133-134, Gore Vidal. Quoting Empire.)

"The shameful abandonment of early American political values -- liberty, decentralism, self-rule -- explains, I submit, the strident hostility to Gore Vidal. For Vidal is an authentic champion of a peculiarly American patriotism, vastly nobler than that of the typewriter hawks and blow-dried Republicans of Washington, D.C.

With the countenance of an antebellum aristocrat and a flair for the eloquent savagery once so common in America political writing, Gore Vidal is the avenging wraith of Henry Adams made flesh, merciless in dissecting the Empire-lovers and power-lusting intellectuals. He is the finest writer of our age, [...] a polemicist at least the equal -- probably the superior -- of Mencken and Paine. So let the heathen rage. Vidal's historical novels and fulgurant essays will outlast his carping contemporaries."
(Bill Kauffman, 139-140)

"The price of empire is America's soul, and that price is too high." (William Fulbright, p. 143)

"Where're your papers?"
"My what?"
"Your I.D. -- draft card, social security, driver's license."
"Don't have none. Don't need none. I already know who I am."
(Edward Abbey, p. 158. Quoting The Brave Cowboy)

"Patriotism is not the love of air conditioning or the interstate highway system or the government or the flag or power or money or munitions. It is the love country." (Wendell Berry, p.  163)


"I heard a great laugh, the greatest laugh in the world, and there came this rawhide old-timer Nebraska farmer with a bunch of other boys into the diner; you could hear his raspy crises clear across the plains, across the whole gray world of that day. Everybody else laughed with him. He didn't have a care in the world and had the hugest regard for everybody. I said to myself, 'Wham, listen to that man laugh. That's the West, here I am in the West....It was the spirit of the West sitting right next to me. I wish I knew his whole raw life and what the hell he'd been doing all these years besides laughing and yelling like that. Whooee, I told my soul."  
(Jack Kerouac, p. 170. Quoted from On the Road)

"Our ever loyal press, famously ignorant of history, panicked at the prospect of revolt by the lowing herd of revenue cows, and insisted that this queer [left-right] coalition was a freakish thing, spectacular but brief and (thank God) unstable. It had been whipped up into a frenzy by irresponsible demagogues, and once the dust cleared the kine would revert to kind. A little rebellion now and then isn't such a bad thing, after all, as long as the dissenters know that it's just a game and when the morning dawns they've got to get up and go to work and do their eight-hour stint as cogs in the great wheel of the interdependent global economy."
(Bill Kauffman, pp. 187-188, on press reaction to NAFTA resistance.)


"No construct is more holy to the priests of the establishment than the comfy seesaw of Left and Right, with its utterly predictable motions. Those sit astride the plans can be sure of a pleasant ride; they need never fear being thrown. Bullies who threaten the playground, such as Huey Long, Malcolm X, and George Wallace, are disposed of with impressive dispatch."
(Bill Kauffman, p. 218)

"Who should 'run' America? No one. Or 250 million single individuals. Every man a king, every woman a queen, as the martyr Huey Long once sang. [...] As Americans from Emerson to Mencken have known, following leaders is a fool's game. Only when we restore to Americans their birthright -- local self-government in prideful communities that respect the liberties of every dentist and Baptist and socialist and lesbian and hermit and auto parts dealer -- will we remember what it means to be an American, first."
(Bill Kauffman, p. 231)

All quotations from:



Notable books:
Caesar's Column, Ignatius Donnelly
Crumbling Idols, Hamlin Garland
The Adventures of Wesley Jackson,  William Saroyan
The Brave Cowboy, Edward Abbey

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