Dec 28 2016

The City Toad and the Country Toad

grass and soil

The City Toad and the Country Toad:

A Conversation Concerning Some Things I’ve Read & Reread in 2016.

Odious toadies are
All we, rolling in dust,
Licking ants red as rust.

Recently I  read the following:

I then compared the ideas gained by reading these things to other things read awhile back (listed in the footnotes) and the conversation between two toads is the below result:

Moses: It’s strange a book should poison me into believing the corruption of my prior innocence is what has lately made me more…. civil.[1]

 Mercury: Who?

 Moses: Me: Moses.

 Mercury: Who?

 Moses: Mr. Hughes. Mr. Moses Hughes, brother of Nimrod. We are the Brothers Hughes who chartered the city of Healthy Rapids out in the west Texas country, just off Quicksilver Creek. [2]

 Mercury: I’m sure the rapids of that creek were once healthy, but now that you’ve built a city along its banks, I wonder if the running waters are still so salubrious? No, I bet not, because it’s to the country where you must go for fresh air and clean water. As is written: for the lost who are weary of the maze of the city, the countryside offers sanctuary.

 Moses: Well, I don’t agree. I say the city is amazing, and it’s in the country where one gets lost in the woods. As is written: where one remains stationary, one stagnates.

Mercury: Yes, but wildflowers may grow out of doors––

Moses: ––But in a drought they stay stunted! Meanwhile, flora planted inside a greenhouse burst and blossom all winter long.[3] Yes, I’m afraid innocence is corrupted by experience––

Mercury: ––Ha! That is no secret! Hence innocence preserves itself by evading the dangers of the city, by retreating to the balmy countryside, where everything’s quite cozy and carefree.

Moses: Yes, certain pleasures attend us upon the absence of particular pains, and yes, their attendance may sometimes occur in the country, but the innocence you describe remains inert, cold and motionless as a marble obelisk. Yes, it’s easy to be carefree in a country cemetery among the obelisks. Perhaps the grass is always greener over there. Perhaps you can hear the wind whistling among its urns.

Mercury: You may mock me, Mr. Hughes, but when in the city, whether in the street or on the sidewalk, you may get run over,[4] for as it is written:  the word on the street is the language of the city. [5] The city speaks to you and about you, yet you cannot speak back. You are too lost in its maze, too busy questing for better paths between pylons and shopping carts.

Moses: In the city I walk beside my friends, and they talk to me. But I confess that, later when I’m home alone, I realize I’m only “me” to others, not to myself. I am only me to them when I’m not around them. (Furthermore, this means that since I’m always around me, I can never be me to me.) In the city I’m around my friends, but when I go to the country, they miss me. Yet it’s the being missed that makes me me,[6] just as the white spaces of the Constitution make just as much a part of the Law as the black marks on the animal hides which constitute it. One seems to hide the other, and yet they both reveal everything.

Mercury: In other words, it comes down to either our presence in the census, or our absence.

NOTES

[1] Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Ch. XI. Compare also: “Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind and poisons us,” (Ch. II).

[2] Moses Hughes (1819–1903) is buried at Pleasant View Cemetery, Troy, Bell County, Texas; his brother, Nimrod Hughes (1830–1862) at Cook Cemetery, Lampasas, Texas. See also: Elzner, Jonnie Ross. Relighting Lamplights of Lampasas County Texas. 1974. pp. 18–22; Lampasas County Texas: its History and its People. Vol I. eds. Lampasas County Historical Commission. Walsworth Publishing Company: Marceline, MO. 1991. pp. 1–2, 217–18; O’Neal, Bill. Lampasas: 1855–1895: Biography of a Frontier Texas Town. Waco, TX: Eakin Press. 2012. pp. 1–13.

[3] From The Picture of Dorian Gray:

Anybody can be good in the country. There are no temptations there. That is the reason why people who live out of town are so absolutely uncivilized. Civilization is not by any means an easy thing to attain to. There are only two ways by which man can reach it. One is by being cultured, the other by being corrupt. Country people have no opportunity of being either, so they stagnate. (Ch. XIX)

Compare also Wilde’s use of “uncivilized” above to Mark Twain’s usage of “sivilized” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), Ch. I, VI, XLIII.

[4] Gary Toth has pointed out how modern American streets constitute one-third of a city’s geography space; furthermore, streets are now exclusively for vehicles when they used to also be play areas, much more public than they are now. See: Toth’s “Place-Conscious Transportation Policy.” Why Place Matters. (eds.) Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister. NY: New Atlantis Books. 2014. p. 55.

[5] See Wittgenstein:

“Do not be troubled by the fact that languages (2) and (8) consist only of orders.  If you want to say that this shews them to be incomplete, ask yourself whether our language is complete;—whether it was so before the symbolism of chemistry and the notation of the infinitesimal calculus were incorporated in it; for these are, so to speak, suburbs of our language.  (And how many houses or streets doe sit take before a town begins to be a town?)  Our language may be seen as an ancient city:  a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions form various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.” (Philosophical Investigations, I, #18)

“Language is a labyrinth of paths.  You approach from one side and know your way about; you approach the same place from another side and no longer know your way about.” (ibid I, #203)

[6] Based on three quotations:

Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence.” (Rushdie, Salman. Midnights Children “I “The Perforated Sheet”).

I don’t know what doesn’t change—within me….” (Valéry, Paul. Cahiers = Notebooks. Vol. I. (1932. Untitled, XV, 827.) [p. 354]).

I am I, and wish I wasn’t.” (Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World 1931. NY: Harper Collins – First Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition. 2006.) Ch. IV, p. 64.


Mar 14 2011

Retaining a romantic morality

Years ago a man around 35, in his second marriage with a son by the second spouse, advised me that whether it be marriage, living together or simply dating, a man should always be emotionally and financially prepared for that relationship to end within his next two weeks. Most people I know don’t calculate their romantic endeavors with quite that much icy practicality, but I understood where he was coming from.
 
Much work has been done on the recent morphing of American marriage––work relevant to Christians of all creeds and even readable to a curious yahoo like yours truly.[1]That work shows how modern marriage operates, along with offering solutions which seek to improve the lives of couples and children––surely no one doubts this discussion would be complete without acknowledging the essential centrality of children to traditional marriage––but I am sorry to say these studies and solutions, at best, apply only sporadically to the day-to-day lives of today’s chronically single, straight adult males.
 
The species of men I’m talking about are commonly known—Kay Hymowitz sketched an icon of him several years ago in her infamous “Child-man” article for City Journal: porn, parties, pot, Peter Pan—whatever the details, he is essentially a man not good enough for the modern American woman. But by what methods can such men cure themselves? This is not a question Hymowitz nor others, particularly Jen Doll’s recent piece in the Village Voice, seem interested in asking. They seem more interested in asking why women still sexually succumb to such low-grade men—a perfectly legitimate question––but as a single man approaching thirty, I am more interested in how to become attainable to these modern American women while retaining some sense of romantic morality.
 
I think it all boils down to a single issue: the idea of permanence has been separated from all concepts of marriage (as well as courtship, dating). We’ve all read or heard about how marriage used to be, and we know all the ways in which it is not like that now. Whatever the cause(s), no sober observer can deny that permanence has been severed from marriage in the most default sense of day-to-day living for American single men, whether Christian or heathen, whether divorced or never married. We can eulogize for what has passed while hoping for its return, but for the moment the status quo must be faced.
 
When we turn toward the current state of matrimony, how does a less-than-optimal male notembrace political indifference toward either strengthening or eradicating traditional concepts of marriage? When durability is no longer an expected feature of dating, cohabitating, marrying, remarrying, what incentive can evoke him to revive and preserve the traditions he has lost? Is it wrong to recognize today’s hordes of single men with less-than-stellar incomes need additional motives to consent to marriage beyond biological desire?

Advocates often tout the economic benefits of marriage as the best incentive for eligible singles to alter their status. While I lack the competence to question the statistics of experts, I can’t help but believe this particular sale’s pitch is like saying anyone who enjoys looking up at the sky ought to prefer airplanes to seagulls simply because all aircraft fly faster than marine fowl. While seagulls will never evolve into airplanes, the idea of assuming allunmarried non-alpha males will mature and become marriageable, and thereby be financially stable for their spouses, permits a range of fallacies to creep in unnoticed. Yes, marriage genuinely allows a couple to soar high in the atmosphere of economics, but when measured by the decade, any observer can tell you that today’s airplanes, seagulls, and marriages seldom stay airborne for prolonged periods.
 
Outliers such as beta-men are rightly footnoted and thereby rapidly forgotten in the reports of sociologists, though necessary questions remain to be asked. I’m sure we’ve all known a few single men who wanted to play Jack Nicholson but were stuck––indeed typecast––in the role of Jack Lemon. But by what methods are they or their potential partners to resist bowing before the idol of hypergamy (i.e., the idea of “marrying up”) pitched by our media? Do some men remain unmarriageable because they are beta-males or do they stay beta because they are unmarriageable? And what of those who suffer from involuntary abstinence? As a specimen, and not a sociologist, I can only suspect these answers involve something more than an admixture of snakes, snails and puppy-dogs’ tails.
 
Where does the confused, Christian turn? Emerson once wrote, “If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument,” and in the past my Protestant background turned me toward Scripture. Yes, wisdom resides in Joseph’s flight from Potiphar’s wife. Yes, a foreboding negation of spiritual inheritance lurks beneath the story of Onan. Yes, as Abraham found out with Hagar––and in a more grotesque sense did Lot discover with his daughters––so too do we find demonstrated how the practical, pragmatic path may not be the right way to Yahweh. Yes, we remember marriage and permanence were once inseparable notions via Hosea: he’s stuck with that hussy Gomer whether he likes it or not––and though the imagery of a thorn in one’s side still stirs my spirit, more than a few of today’s single men remain stuck in the dire straits of Job and Ecclesiastes, stumbling to discover how to turn the page and confront the divine satisfaction waiting within the Song of Solomon.
 
I am more than familiar with the phrases: “man up”, “quit whining”, that “while marriage might be a merger, it certainly ain’t no acquisition”, and how the great counselor Clint Eastwood once barked to “adapt, overcome, improvise.” Surely overcoming the status quo of American marriage, as well as the state of its courtship, is not an impossible task––even for a beta-male––but for many, that task lacks teachers.

 [1]Notable advocates, writers, scholars whose work is accessible to Christian laymen and women include: Maggie Gallagher, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Andrew Cherlin, Gary Cross, Jennifer Roback Morse, W. Bryan Wilcox, Kay Hymowitz and Mark Regnerus.