Friday, August 28, 2009

On the Passing of Sen. Kennedy

The Wall Street Journal's op-ed section had an interesting take on the career of Edward Kennedy (though it sounded a bit overly critical for an obituary); the Journal noted that Kennedy was a senator of conviction rather than what Hilary Clinton once termed a politician of 'the possible'. Edward Kennedy always was motivated by ideals, even though he was willing to take the long way around to get there (whether it was admitting higher test-score standards in the case of No Child Left Behind or authoring comprehensive immigration reform bills with Sen. John McCain.)

Whether his ideals (which evolved occasoinally and were not always consistent) were correct or not is an entirely different matter. The most important part of his legacy was his ability to fight for them. By this standard, his legacy may prove the most enduring of all of the Kennedy brothers (though he will probably always be the least glamorous). John F. Kennedy was an effective president, but his talents derived more from his willingness to move with the tide as his ability to impose his will upon it. Robert Kennedy--had he lived and been elected to the presidency--probably would have tried to bring more idealism than prudence to the White House, but that was a reality that never materialized.

Edward Kennedy's legacy, if nothing else, should probably be in demonstrating that it is not the politician who governs from the center that moves history, but rather the politician with the charisma to define where the center is. Kennedy may have moved that center in the wrong direction, but, in the broad narrative of history, it probably won't matter. What else can one say but requiscat in pacem.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Note on "Lolita"

The Jungle Cat has recently finished reading "Lolita" for the first time. I hear say--and it is, more or less, stated in Nabokov's afterward--that the novel is actually about an immigrant trying to fit in in another culture and casting aside his natural language--embodied by Annabel--for a misbegotten relationship with the language of his adopted culture--Lolita. An odd way to think of it, but, in some ways, it does actually make sense.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Happiness, Satisfaction, Activity and Dissatisfaction

Happiness is a constant; satisfaction is relative. Happiness is a state of being; satisfaction a state of doing. Happiness derives from realization of a criterion of correctness in the relationship between oneself, God and the universe; satisfaction emanates from the exercise of one's total potential or will.

This is a conclusion which I came to today, while trying to find ways to occupy my time in between the moments of bureaucratic business. During the in between time, I cook, read Nabokov, read Scruton, read the Old Testament (and the New Testament, when I come to that) and walk about the campus. (The city of Rochester is really nothing worth walking around from what I have seen of it.)

Anyway, the main point I'm getting at is that, while certain people can never be truly happy (this is not something that they have to work for, in the straightest sense of the word) everyone has to run swiftly to keep apace of dissatisfaction.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Church-Going in Rochester

I worshiped at the single Anglican church in Rochester yesterday. It's located downtown, on Chestnut Street, not far from the bus center; but that doesn't mean it isn't out-of-the-way. It is. I found the edifice in which it was located without too much trouble; the street-view option of Google-maps had helped me the day before. However, the first church I entered in the building--in which a worship service was just beginning--turned out to be an Evangelical Lutheran church. (According to one man with whom I spoke, it is the last one in all of western New York which still offers services in German, though most of the congregants at these services are students who are studying the language.)

I finally found the congregation that I was looking for; it was a small group of about ten people; I was the only young man present. The sermon was on understanding the will of God (mostly preaching out of the book of Thessalonians); it was worth it, though the service itself was a bit high-churchy for my taste. Will I attend the same church next week? Probably. But I don't know if I will keep going to the church after that; I was actually thinking of visiting the Lutheran church that meets up above (even though I have no intention of becoming a Lutheran.)

On a similar front, the monks at the Abbey at Genessee asked me if I had any inclination to become a Trappist myself. I told them that even if I were a Catholic (which I am not) I could never take on the vows of celibacy. Genessee makes a pleasant retreat, though, and, if one did want to spend his entire life attached to a single location, there are worse locations to attach oneself to.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Thoughts on Things That Have Come and Gone

Lord willing and the creeks don't rise, I am moving to New York (upstate, that it is) in less than a week. I have been places before: I spent a few weeks in Paris, I've traveled on both coasts of Canada, I've been to conferences in southern California and the Rustbelt, and there was a brief gig as a farmhand and cowboy in rural Virginia. But Moscow, Idaho has been "home" for twenty-two years. Statistically, the chances are that there will not be another locale which I will call "home" for a longer period of time. Most people would call this turning the page on another chapter of their lives, but for me, it is more like turning the page on Book I of my life.

I'm not old. (I'm still in my early twenties.) But that doesn't mean I'm younger than the world that we live in now; I'm actually quite a bit older than it (or at least I have lived long enough to remember when it was not.) This brave new world that I am referring to is the world of the computer, of mass communication, of globalization. I remember a time when I had trouble believing that the Soviet Union could be breaking apart; that America could want any president other than George H. W. Bush; that history was the last victim of itself, consigned to the archives where only those who made a living by reinterpreting it bothered to follow. I remember I time when I could not remember where I was when the World Trade Centers came down.

This world is a new world; or else I am like a man who turned around in Socrates's hypothetical cave and saw what had been all along, though he was unaware of it. (It is not that this is an impossibility; I avoided getting an email address for as long as I could; I was twenty-one when I finally obtained a cellular phone.) In this new world, it has become easier to keep track of people, which is why no one bothers to do it anymore. We have advanced to a point where it has become polite to lie by saying "I'll keep in touch" but perhaps impolite to annul that lie by actually keeping in touch.

But, for all of that, the frontier still beckons. The world can still be remade, but not until it remakes us first. And, if the primary facet of this current world has been trivialization, what will the next era bring I wonder?