Images from the Dark Land

America is a tune.  It must be sung together.

—Gerald Stanley Lee

Yeah; about that, Mr. Lee: it only works if it is sung together.  I’m thinking more of Johannes Ockeghem, who will be quoted at the end.

It has been months since my last blogpost.  For me, this has been a killer semester; most of the writing and editing of our (Halina Goldberg’s and my) book Chopin and His World, the companion volume to the 2017 Bard Summer Festival of the same name, has had to be done in the last couple of months.  Moreover, I had a pile of guest lectures and other papers to write, and a residence at another university.  I hope to take it easier this semester, though whether or not I actually manage that is always an open question.

Anyway, that’s where I’ve been, and that is not what this blogpost is about.

Following the Electoral College vote, we now know that there will be no Deus ex Machina, and that those of us who do not practice hatred as a recreational pastime are in for a long four years (regardless of potential impeachment; look at VPEOTUS and the Congress).  Many of us are dispirited, but we imagine ourselves to build a Resistance by sending worthless crap around on the internet: Leonard Bernstein’s infuriatingly over-quoted “This will be our answer to violence” pablum, jokes about the President-Elect’s hair, wives, etc.  Remember the W-Looks-Like-A-Chimp garbage from 2000, after that election also was stolen?  That did us a lot of good.  Andy Borowitz and The Onion provide some dark levity.  Those of us of the liberal persuasion, true to our nature, have been spending some time—stupidly, pointlessly, infuriatingly—scolding and blaming ourselves.  We somehow should have reached out to low-information voters in gerrymandered districts, had more respect and empathy for people who like open carry and beating minorities and LGBT people to a pulp because they’ve—y’know—had enough, and reached out to those who hate “elites” with a bitter passion while being unable to spell or think clearly.  Yeah, sure, had the Democratic nominee not run such a “bad” campaign, had so many insiders/outsiders/Huma Abedins/X chromosomes, it would have gone differently…

I’m also seeing lots of doomsaying.  Maybe it’s excessive, maybe it’s real, but God knows it doesn’t help me at all.  I see pieties from the mass media, who gleefully, as Les Moonves unctuously admitted, gave the PEOTUS hours and hours of free coverage, to the advantage of the shareholders and no one else.  I will not dignify their hangdog fingerpointing and “sober” handwringing with attention or acknowledgment.  Finally, I see dozens of E-Mails schnorring for money from all the progressive organizations, the Democratic party, etc.

This isn’t about any of that, either.

What interests me, currently, is the idea of survival, psychological and physical.  As a tenured guy with white skin, I may be in a more privileged position than others, and so be in a better position to ride this out.  However, absolutely nothing is a given because there are no relevant precedents; I’ve always been a public Jew (this very day, the targeted Jew-hating is to be found in Whitefish, MT), and I cherish all kinds of people and would act to protect them, so I might well not enjoy much in the way of privilege.  The extent to which we will see real fascism, or more benign (?!) corporate plunderigarchy, or once-and-for-all Dr. Strangelove on 1/22/17 is all up in the air.

How do we stay alive?  I don’t mean how do we continue unchanged, I mean how do we stay alive? After, I mean, upping the regular donations to the ACLU, PP, SPLC, and the local food bank.  No, I’m not looking for your favorite worthy charities, thanks; don’t add them in the comments.  The human race, the glorious American polyglot, gets a Fail on this one, and I’m not interested in sending more money other places.

Some ideas, and your mileage may vary:

1)  We might think very, very carefully about where we travel.  Are there places in the U.S. where the open presence of military-grade weapons, hateful rhetoric, or a particular brand of religious culture would make one uncomfortable?  In many places in the U.S., the prevailing environment is now one where people gleefully jeer and threaten individuals from marginalized groups (“Trump’s in now; you’d better get lost”)—and that is happening everywhere, including my university campus in a blue state—and so I will think carefully about travel, what gigs I accept, and how I get there.  Would I drive through a state in which I feel unsafe, spending my money in that state’s economy, to get to a gig?  Maybe it’s better to fly, or just say no.  If that sounds unfriendly to my fellow American citizens, gosh—y’know, we have to draw the line somewhere, and your state gleefully f—ed the nation, so ….  Taking as an example firearm safety an control (one issue among dozens): the will of the NRA and their legislative toadies and dogsbodies is a threat to my personal safety, and I am forced to conclude that the areas most in support of the firearms industry and culture clearly do not need my help or involvement in any way.  That includes taking an interest when you become Aleppo.  Do feel free to produce an exegesis on the Second Amendment while you’re huddling in your basement wondering, increasingly hysterically, if your children will make it home safely.

2)  More locally: my current feeling is that Learning About Others Different From Me isn’t a good reason to leave a comfort zone/neighborhood anymore.  Sure, they can always load up and come find you, but I don’t think that looking for trouble, or delusionally denying it’s there and believing that “you’ll probably be all right” is all that great an idea.  The people who not only brought this on themselves, but on everyone?  I’m not the person to speak for them, and it remains to be seen if shootin’ lib’ruls or other wrong-thinkers is going to rival Fantasy Football as far as entertainment for the general populace.  Regardless: I don’t want to be, and I certainly don’t want anyone I love to be, the subject of some public official’s hypocritical post facto “thoughts and prayers.”  So, it’s bad in many places?  Few jobs, many opioids, everybody is angry and frustrated and just striking out and easily manipulated?

Actually, no, I don’t have to sympathize.  It’s clear how those people voted, those that did, and the only possible conclusion is that they do not want help, or infrastructure, or even respect, or medical care, or a safety net, or environmental protections, or safe food standards, or Medicare, from the invasive U.S. government which they find so threatening.  Well, this was a matter of choice, after all, and there is nothing I can offer a place like that.  So I won’t try.

3)  I realize on some level—a deeply suppressed level—that malediction does not make for a healthy diet.  Those of us that teach need to cling to that—it will be an increasingly rare opportunity, in these dark times, to be able to light a light every day.  We constantly encounter people who need what we have, so to be able to nourish them—with liberal doses of cynicism, idealism, and above all critical thinking—may do us, our souls, as much good as it does them.  One thing about teaching is that you never have to wonder if you’re making a difference, if what you do is of value, if you’re leaving the world a better place.  Sappy idealism?  Yeah; come at me, Bro.  We teach your children things you can’t, we ignite the curiosity, and we awaken the parts of their lives that will get them through depressions, break-ups, the deepest insecurities.  That’s what we do, every day.  God knows that in the dark hours, in the midnight of the soul, that’s a pretty good thing to know and fall back on.

4)  So how to make it through?  The only possible solution is to find something we believe in with our entire being, and do it—it may benefit others, but we have to do it for us, because to go-along-get-along, to cave to the amorality of the Culture of Lies (they call it “post-truth culture,” and I’ll none) is—we know to our very core—death.  Alcoholism, then death.  It is not available to us, nor should it be.

For the love of God, hold tight.  “Now traitors have the season,” as the text from “Les Desléaux,” a Renaissance chanson by Johannes Ockeghem, has it.  And perhaps there will yet be light, as Thomas Jefferson wrote:

A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt… And if we feel their power just sufficiently to hoop us together, it will be the happiest situation in which we can exist. If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Taylor, June 4, 1798 in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson p. 1050.

We certainly hope.  Last word from the Boss:

No retreat, baby, no surrender.—Bruce Springsteen

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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3 Responses to Images from the Dark Land

  1. Deborah Kauffman says:

    Unfortunately, the “reign of witches” Jefferson was referring to was that of the Hamiltonians. And after reading Ron Chernow’s biography, it’s clear I for one would want to be with the Hamiltonians.

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