Sunday, September 16, 2007

Amid the stately frontispiece of poor

An email exchange, some context setting here. I added a few links and emended a few phrases mostly for clarity.
How do we reconcile elite traditions with democracy? - Phil asked, sending along this link and a quick reference to A.B. Giamatti and his sense of what is noble.
To Phil:

Bart Giamatti would have a lot to teach us about the possible relations of elite traditions and democracy. He might start by parsing the terms -- are all traditions elite? There are cultures and folkways that maintain a kind of eternal now of wisdom and practice among the poorest on the earth. Are all elites traditional? Are all elites rooted in the same source of eliteness? etc.

I don't know, the two things, "democracy" and "elite tradition," seem like two optimizations, each of which requires some sacrifice of the other in order to fulfill its own realized whatness. It's why, even as the poor and random waifs of democracy might have their noses to the windowpanes of private entitlement, the poor saps attending "ivory snow" decorumed events occurring in cultural and human vacuums more than likely pine for the "jazz clubs" or other rawness, the demotic ferment of open inspiration.

I spent a little time on that IPI site you linked to; its buttoned up reek of pillow mint struck me as essentially a different flavor of this, this, and this sort of thing -- the same worldwide migration of sharks circling around the hint of blood, just a different rhetorical costume.

I keep thinking there is vast opportunity for hilarity in these programmed elite masques. A Fred Wiseman docu-satire, a staging of yes-men intervention, a peeling away of the napkin from the rawer appetite beneath.

I guess I'm wondering if an aim of reconciling these things makes sense. I mean, the goal is - really it is - noble. But a synthesis that somehow avoids destroying what is so valuable in each is difficult to imagine.

The country house is a genre, a vast system of ideas, values, about man and his world, society, justice, art, law, order. The book of the people begins in Genesis with a bunch of miserable goat herders getting chosen. One of them, running from his brother's wrath, sleeps on a stone, dreams a dream, and realizes he's in the house of God. This is an entirely different system, only the image of the house is in common between them. If one is, like Peter Karoff, informed by both worlds, a certain restlessness is understandable, even necessary, if one happens to be alive at all.

I certainly can't envision a synthesis. But it seems entirely worthwhile to ask with you, what can each of these worlds learn from the other? From what you've written, Tracy Gary sounds like one who can speak to that. Confronted with democratic openness, certain Institutes might provoke a shattering laughter. Still, the man in the street approaches the works of aristocratic aspiration with a certain degree of respect or risks idiocy.

Noble Cubeta, you are writing - and we are learning from you about all this - from your perch where these worlds sit in unstable adjacency. Aristocrats walk among the million in disguise in order to feel alive, free. But when they mix among their own, walking around with their ivory snow labels, protected by buffers of time and distance and access and police, they are free to be "themselves."

low Things clownishly ascend. -

How to make any headway in your question, this quest. We might not yet know whether any reconciliation is in the cards. Consider the motives and appetites of the players. Currently among the quite extraordinarily wealthy (at least in the US) there is the appetite for private experience and pedigreed paideia. Affluent communities are being built with faculties for ongoing education. Ivy League schools offer tours to fabulous locales for those who can afford them.

I guess I'm saying, there is need, in both realms. Different needs, where one might be in a position to help the other. The possibility of exchange has to start, I'll wager, in the willingness of those in each to be open to the idea that they and their worlds do not know everything, or have everything. Can they learn from those they constitutively exclude?

The Ben Jonson vision of measure invokes music, harmony, over spectacle, in part because it derives from a calm unblinking awareness of mortality. The Big Legacy can't cheat death. Perhaps this is where the marshaled forces of USian wealth and poverty can find common ground, this absence of ground who respects no rank, no distinction, no privilege.

I know none of this helps. What can we do -- that's not a rhetorical question. You are asking important non rhetorical questions. What can I do that might be of use?

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home