by Bodwyn Wook
I have been reading Paul Revere’s Ride, by David Hackett Fischer (1994). The great thing for me is to perceive the feeling in common to the American colonials of 1775 and at the heart of the matter, also, for to-day’s Tea Party movement:
By the time of the battles at Lexington and Concord, those Americans — although they still thought of themselves as English — had been on the ground for going on one hundred-and-fifty years.
Now that is as long as many of us hereabouts have had family infesting this old Indian-draped Mankato, MN, area, since the 1862 uprising and before. Only by a heated and intense stretch of the re-enactor imagination can we even see ourselves as being the same people as those of the 1850s and the American Civil War; this sensation of divorcement, and of dwelling in a kind of eternal televisionized “present”, may be quite unlike the feeling the Americans colonials of the second half of the eighteenth century had for their 1620s forebears: the historical problem is that perhaps we simply can not know about this earlier question of a felt unity or disunity of identity, with forebears. All we have to go on is our Tee Vee situation, and we are not a High Modern nor even late-modern people.
Of course as to sneakiness and doubletalk, greed, fear and violence — the whole assemblage of motives in History — we are at one with all who have gone before us; and yet — as to purposes — how different are our imaginations and fantasies and, therefore, intentions. Caught between the push of the past and pull of the future, the generations arrive at endless “solutions” to the problem of human being.
And yet this is the very point that Fischer’s book brings out for me, namely that as to their motives (and not “ours”, not any longer, not really), the Minutemen (and women!) of 1775 read the Bible, and not Locke and Leviathan, they were still essentially Puritans and not libertarian — and, most of all, they were fighting to defend their five-generations’ old way of life. In that respect perhaps we — but only some of us, a reduced, partial “we” — feel the most in common with them, beleaguered as we are led to feel ourselves to be, by a rising brown tide from the South.
This much, the defense of a desirable and preferably “forever” here-and-now, the Tea Party as a feeling matter — and by feeling I am not only talking about rolling around in “affects” like a dog in shit — does have in common with its long-ago emotional and moral predecessors.
But when one looks at the picture I have attached here, from the 1920s, only half as long ago for us now as the fight in April of 1775 at Lexington and Concord was for the riders in the cars, of the two passenger trains racing East from out of Chicago, the Pennsylvania Railroad “Broadway Limited” and the New York Central “Twentieth Century Limited,” we may see — painfully, perhaps — how little at all we have in common even with our own parents and grandparents, that so-called “Greatest Generation” that is the so-singular artistic and narrative creation of Mr Tom Brokaw and Mr Ken Burns. (That generation’s tragedy was to be exhausted when so very, very young by Depression and War and then, in their “mid-life” crisis of the then-new Playboy “philosophy” and Viet Nam, to have hatched only us.)
The disjunction is very great altogether. For one thing, the gigantic American loss of industrial nerve since those steam locomotives raced headlong in to the darkness of their future oblivion is astounding. The question therefore is what future-potential is there in the Tea Party patriotic movement of to-day?
Is it the new thing, come upon belatedly by a generation now broke and waning?
The very last act the American Baby Boom of 1946-64 did even remotely “together” was not the mass copulation of the 1970s, it was to go through polio twenty years before — the adolescent frenzies of rock-and-roll and The Beatles weren’t a patch on it, not really — and that time of sickness in our early childhood only conditioned the first half of the generation, to say 1955. After that, “plays well with the peer-group” was a fading conception of our elementary-school teachers, themselves our parents’ sisters and brothers. By the mid-1960s in high school we all were “styling” to beat Hell, cutting profiles and all holding ourselves apart from one another in a frenzy and an agony of fear for all that precious individuality. “Unity” — or anyway that feeling — is a great thing for such a fractional people and it is the stark, sheer Mahometan vision of Mecca and Paradise, but the cost is very great — and it is better paid in kind when the currency, in gold or character, is first of all sound.
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[11 November 2010]