Aug. 27, 2013

Quite Frankly

by Mark Halliday

They got old, they got old and died. But first—
okay but first they composed plangent depictions
of how much they lost and how much cared about losing.
Meantime their hair got thin and more thin
as their shoulders went slumpy. Okay but

not before the photo albums got arranged by them,
arranged with a niftiness, not just two or three
but eighteen photo albums, yes eighteen eventually,
eighteen albums proving the beauty of them (and not someone else),
them and their relations and friends, incontrovertible

playing croquet in that Bloomington yard,
floating on those comic inflatables at Dow Lake,
giggling at the Dairy Queen, waltzing at the wedding,
building a Lego palace on the porch,
holding the baby beside the rental truck,
leaning on the Hemingway statue at Pamplona,
discussing the eternity of art in that Sardinian restaurant.

Yes! And so, quite frankly—at the end of the day—
they got old and died okay sure but quite frankly
how much does that matter in view of
the eighteen photo albums, big ones
thirteen inches by twelve inches each
full of such undeniable beauty?

"Quite Frankly" by Mark Halliday, from Thresherphobe. © The University of Chicago Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Theodore Dreiser (books by this author), born in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1871. Dreiser was a novelist known for writing realistic books like Sister Carrie (1900) and An American Tragedy (1925). Dreiser got the idea for his novel An American Tragedy when he read a newspaper article about a man who had murdered his pregnant girlfriend to keep their relationship a secret. He followed the story of the trial and clipped articles from the paper when they were published. He didn't start to work on the novel until years after the real murderer had been executed in the electric chair.

An American Tragedy came out in 1925, the same year as Hemingway's In Our Time and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. It was much longer than either of those books, and it was a difficult read, and yet it sold 13,000 copies in two weeks and went on to become by far the best seller that year. Though he lived another 20 years, Dreiser never published another novel in his lifetime.

And it's the birthday of travel writer William Least Heat-Moon (books by this author), born William Trogdon in Kansas City, Missouri (1939). He was a university professor in the late 1970s when, within a few months, his life seemed to have fallen apart: He lost his teaching job because of declining student enrollment at his school, and his wife of 11 years separated from him. He decided to take to the open road and "live the real jeopardy of circumstance." Over the course of several months, he traveled 13,000 miles around the United States. The book in which he chronicled his adventures, Blue Highways: A Journey into America, was published in 1982 and garnered widespread acclaim. It spent 42 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

He said: "When you're traveling, you are what you are, right there and then. People don't have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road."

It's the birthday of the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (books by this author), born in Stuttgart, Germany (1770). He started out as a philosopher of Christianity, and he was particularly interested in how Christianity is a religion based on opposites: sin and salvation, earth and heaven, church and state, finite and infinite. He believed that Jesus had emphasized love as the chief virtue because love can bring about the marriage of opposites.

Hegel eventually went beyond religion and began to argue that the subject of philosophy was reality as a whole. He wanted to create a philosophy that described how and why human beings created communities and governments, made war, destroyed each other's societies, and built themselves up to do it all over again.

What Hegel came up with was his concept of dialectic, which is the idea that all human progress is driven by the conflict between opposites.

At the time of his death, Hegel was the most prominent philosopher in Europe, and his school of thought gave rise to a group of revolutionaries, including Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, who argued that the most important dialectic of history was between worker and master, rich and poor, and their ideas lead to the birth of Communism.

Hegel said, "Reason is the substance of the universe ... the design of the world is absolutely rational."

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