Back in November of 2006 I wrote a Post on this site entitled “Homeless Partisans”. Given developments over the past half-decade I am including sizable chunks of that Post with thoughts about Our present situation and its possibilities.
Up in Boston there is a statue. (See here for views of it). Actually it’s a collection of figures, just slightly larger than life-size: five mounted horsemen, armed with swords slung on their hips and each with a lance that rises up behind him. They are riding in a loose double file, the horses at a walk. It is one of the most remarkable sculptures I have ever seen, and speaks deeply to me. And I think it is a quick diagnostic for any of us, how we react to it.
The riders themselves are thick-booted, but without helmet or headgear – the lack of the helmets suggesting that they are not ‘troops’ and yet the boots are military type, reminding us that at times they must laboriously travel the earth on missions.
The swords, thick and heavy, hang down although not on a pure vertical plumb, joining the boots in their message that the matters of this earth are thick and dense, not always on-plumb and heavy to engage. Yet the lances are perfect thin spires that rise up above them, reaching with sharp lightness for the sky, a natural medieval city of spires, an echo of the forests that gave them shelter.
The riders are recognizably human males but without individually distinctive facial features. But – no surprise for the deeply Catholic Polish tradition – each rider’s face has a beard, and of the cropped type often seen in paintings of the Crucifixion; the effect is heightened by each rider’s head bending slightly forward, with the upright ‘tree’ of his lance directly behind.
The physical contours of their upper bodies are clear, as if they had no shirts (against the cold night) or very threadbare shirts; the lead rider seems to have old medals pinned to whatever shred covers his chest; the effect is of an undemonstrative vulnerability, freely accepted and robustly, austerely borne.
They sit their mounts square and straight, but with their shoulders hunched, as if pressing forward against some strong countering force. Counter-intuitively, this imparts strength to them, as if in gathering his arms in toward his torso, each was marshalling his resolve, and the tensile seriousness of the group itself is thus multiplied.
But while the heavily-booted legs bond with the torsos of the horses, each individual’s upper trunk rises free of the close-grouped mass, each lance then further elongating its owner, extending him almost as an El Greco saint, straining upwards under the tension of his spiritual dynamism and yearning.
The horses are equally marvelous. Thin-bulked, they give the impression of not having eaten a great deal recently. Their legs are long, which serves to further extend the group on the vertical plane, downwards as if to balance or complement the lances’ reaching into the heavens. I think of a racing yacht: mast reaching high so that the sails can catch every bit of wind, yet the keel reaching deep to balance the vessel as she responds to the wind.
But the legs are not bent as if the animals were weak; rather, the legs are flexed, tensively and dynamically; they are in the very act of moving at a walk. The necks, however, especially of the lead animal, are stretched out, extending the group on the horizontal plane, pulling it forward into the uncertain future; while the tails stream out behind, wispily evoking a past that has been left behind and perhaps is no more.
One of the following animals – bringing up the left rear of the group – is caught perfectly in the midst of one of those inimitably equine gestures: the simultaneous extending of the neck to the left and shaking of the head from side to side, almost audibly accompanied here by a whinny. And its neck, extending obliquely outward further to the left, breaks that plane of the presentation, as if reaching out to the viewer.
Yet too, the animals’ legs are not only thin, but also enlongated; as if the necessarily thick burden of the men and their mission is raised up on thin, if determined legs. It speaks of the fragility of all human undertakings, and of how determination must often compensate for a lack of more abundant resources.
And further, as if those who pursue strenuous, lonely but honorable paths, even though burdened, pursue their duty on a plane above the plain dimension of quotidian earth, of daily life. As if, even while passing through the common dimension, their strenuous errand actually lifts them into a dimension above the common appearances – perhaps Above them.
The whole group arises from a single base. It is executed completely in a very darkish, pitted and pocked bronze-like metal. No child-smooth, brightly polished, proudly mawkish encomium here. Rather, the metal’s darkness and texture grittily respects the tremendous and lonely exertions of the committed adult, so often carried out in physical hardship and the darkness of uncertainty, unlit and unsmoothed by any clear promise of success or aid.
Or of support. For these men, in this group, are alone. Darkness dwells with them, even in the daylight. They are hunted as well as hunters, and cut off even from their own countrymen, who cannot or will not join them in their hazardous duty, who may well not acknowledge their exertions to be any sort of duty at all, but rather a madness that is also a crime, endangering everyone. And thus burthened they press onward with a quiet will.
But then again, who knows what energies those long-extended lances attract as they reach into the sky?
They are partisans, modeled by the sculptor Andrezj Pitynski in 1979, on those Polish fighters who fought the Nazis and then the Soviet Communists, in the awful years spanned by Hitler’s Reich and Stalin’s Iron Curtain.
But of course, they are a tribute to all partisans anywhere, whose complicated passions draw them into the tangle of human darknesses amplified through war and the dark ragings and arrangings of governments, and yet whose un-complex ideals draw them upward above the spume and dust of the human fray, reaching spire-like for a heaven that, if it exists, must out of tactical necessity assume the shape of a spear rather than a fully-formed cross.
They ride together yet each separate, always in semi-darkness, in a hard and pocked world, on a mission that is never completed, un-detained by any welcome, stretched out across more than one dimension, a vortex comprised out of the living fiber, the colliding energies, of the Vertical and the Horizontal, the Past and the Future. And of the Beyond.
And, contemplating the spirey but so thin lances, one cannot help but be reminded of the charge of the young Polish cavalry against the Panzers and the machine guns and the Stukas in that awful September of 1939. Yet the human will to be free – not equally taken up among individuals of our species – proves itself sparked by the divine when it is welcomed into the heart and reaches out to others of similar stature.
For twenty-three years, this group had ridden its Long Mission on the lawn at the western edge of the venerable Boston Common; hardly an inappropriate spot. Here stern Puritans gathered to drill for their errand into the wilderness, militia formed to join General Washington in Cambridge or man the fortifications on Dorchester Heights, and Union troops paraded en route to the colossal struggles far to the South. Only yards from their site, the new Polish Pope had said Mass in October of 1979. If this group is out of place, it is only because of their stern message. And maybe because they’re Polish.
The group was removed early in 2006. The heirs – by Deed and mortgage if not by blood or spirit – of those grittier earlier generations, the current ruling residents of Beacon Hill, to whom the City has granted the trump-right of outrage and preference, finally took an unofficial vote and decided that the piece did not fit in with the “spirit” of the Common. The sculpture was “depressing”. And perhaps a 'downer, dude'. And no doubt scared the children – or ‘the help’.
Apparently the nearby Civil War monument, several stories tall, does not depress them. Perhaps because they can’t quite place it, that particular war. Or perhaps because they can only recall that General Sherman had had tea at great-great-grand-mama’s when he attended the unveiling. Or was it General Washington?
That their defecating Lhasa Apsos and cavorting poodles do very much fit in on the Common was taken as a given; ditto their white-tent receptions and twittering parties, held on that hallowed ground by City permits vouchsafed only to the utterly proper, the impeccably appropriate, and the irresistibly-connected.
It’s “depressing”, they say. The horror! Well, anything more expensive than cheap grace always is, to a certain type. It’s a type that is not in short supply among us today, arguably it’s even in the majority. If there is a ‘grace’ to Citizenship, a genius, a set of skills (or are they gifts?) of mind, heart, and character, then what are the different Citizenship roles played by the ‘cheap grace’ folks and the ‘strenuous grace’ folks?
Is there a tipping point when the inertia or chaos wrought by ‘cheap grace’ finally overwhelms the Republic?
Or is it pretty much expected that the Republic is bound to have more ‘cheap grace’ types – perhaps many many more – than ‘strenuous grace’ types?
The Founders probably had a very specific and narrow range of folks in mind when they declaimed “We, the People”; might it not be crazy to expect that a wider democracy would be able to platform sufficient Peopling skills? Or did they hope and pray mightily that enough folks might competently take up the task of being a Citizen and so sustain the Founders’ great gamble of a Republic?
When Lincoln rhapsodized sparely about “The People”, was he describing what he really believed existed or was he only limning an ideal that he hoped enough folks would adopt as their own? Will we recover enough of the skills, in any case, to be able to People this much-expanded Republic? Or will we simply slide into a paralyzed political senility lubricated by near-hysteric distractibility bordering on dementia?
It was not long after the sculpture was removed up in Boston that Ray McGovern was shushed by a white-tent-full of oh-so-proppah pretend-gentry from the Great State of Jawjah. He is the former CIA intelligence agent spearheading others of his peers in an effort to lay open to the light the treachery and perfidy by which the Bush Administration initiated (and hardly by accident) the stampede that sent the country into Our current debacles on the Eastern Front.
He had arisen at a Q&A presided over by His Imperial Efficiency, the Rumster, somewhere down there along the line of Sherman’s March, and amidst the bosky tinkling and tittering and self-important twittering, had asked the then-almost-former Secretary of Defense about fudged intelligence. And in so doing thus ruined the rhythm of antiphon-and-response, the tone of democratic rapport established between the good (and gated) burghers and their war-master. The horror!
McGovern’s brazen temerity was considered an egregious breach of form branding him the worst sort of hussy, and the heroic patriots shushed him as if with one common lung in order to defend the graces. They have their priorities. At this rate His Rumship might never feel quite comfortable coming back for a second fawning banquet – how awful is that?
A pox on the faux-proprieties that dictate polite applause as war-masters bask confidently and the Republic is drawn closer to that tipping-point experienced by Rome herself when, through her people the mistress of her own house, yet she was betrayed by those same people to Caesar.
The propriety and right-thinking that enables these McMansioned gentry to gate their drives and keep the sinecures that pay their mortgages has not served us well. If there is little good done for the Republic by beer-swilling Fox-fed chest-thumpers waving plastic flags, there is equally little good done by wine-swilling fake aristocrats demonstrating their good manners to the whipmasters of war.
As we saw in Germany decades ago, the only difference was whether you wound up in the huge mob, cheering yourself hoarse while sweating profusely, or you got gussied up for the invitation-only post-speech reception, where you could applaud tastefully with your gloved hands and shuffle alertly down the receiving line. Ja, surely there is a great difference between those who cheer deliriously and importunately at the Leader and those who gently gush their names to him with a respectful grace. And to think that your invitation marked you as one who had not only some standing and some cachet but a security-clearance! Very heaven! Ach!
But that is no difference at all, in the Larger Sense of which Lincoln spoke. A soup rabbit is a soup rabbit, whether it is temporarily parked in an iron cage or a velvet one. And if we are to be a People, if we are to be The People, we need very much not to place our trust in the manners, mindsets, and habits of soup rabbits.
Knowing that in the eidesis of the sculpture they are Polish partisans, we are brought up short by their weapons: horses, swords, and lances against Wehrmacht Blitzkrieg and the Red Army’s T-34. And perhaps, given their beards and profound self-possession, these few are survivors of those doomed cavalry charges, their uniforms now tattered, their no-longer-young but awesomely robust souls bronzed in the crucible of war and lit from deep within by a starkly embraced dedication to ‘strenuous liberty’.
How pathetically quaint. How hopeless. How unshrewd. How useless. What can they be thinking, these partisans?
Is it equally depressing to realize how quaint Character, Virtue, Will, Commitment, Self-Mastery, and the Beyond have become among us? How flat our un-Vertical world has become? How smooth our un-adult world has become? How dangerous our world has become in its government-engorging selective crusade for societal and individual purity? How disenchanted our world has become without a Beyond?
If there is anything ‘proper’ and ‘appropriate’ for us, it is the willingness to do the work of Peopling. Is it depressing to recall what stern exertions Liberty demands? Then we need to re-educate ourselves as to just what the hell we have inherited here in this Republic. Our economic and cultural elites are depressed by statues that speak of the vigorous darknesses of life; our young troops are depressed (with far more reason) by the stern realities of war – and a failing war to boot. And against this ‘depression’ we are exhorted to ‘go shopping’ while our troops are prescribed sleeping-pills in a war-zone. And at all times to applaud politely as our whipmasters urge us on. Are we lemmings? Are we soup rabbits? Are we – in the gay argot – bottoms? Whatever we are becoming, if this keeps up we will most certainly be slaves.
The sculpture was, after some time in a storage shed, given a new billet, by the Transportation Authority, outside one of its ultramodern stations: on a concrete overpass, above the newly re-developed cement and asphalt plains of the city’s old fish pier and warehouse district. You have to know where it is. Once you get there, you have to imagine them riding the actual earth (although, rightly, the group has been ‘planted’ in an earth-filled wooden stand).
But they are there. And they are Here. Homeless because their cause requires them to have no home; betrayed by a smarmy propriety as treasonable to the human spirit as any hidden treachery … they pursue their mission. To such spirit, the whole earth is home. And yet no place on it can be Home. In their stern, faithful, resolute struggling for Justice and Liberty partisans make themselves unacceptable to the comfortably appropriate. And as it is for Justice and for Liberty, so also for partisans and the spirit of Resistance: only willing human hearts can create a place for them. But no permanent place. If we wish their company, we will have to join their stern and strenuous mission.
The soil of Boston Common was gracious to The Partisans. The twittery hearts of its current presiders were not. How can a Republic bloom if it is not rooted in the soil of the heart of The People? Not everyone who treads Boston Common is a patriot; not every one whose forebears entertained Washington is truly his heir.
The cheap-grace of Easy Abundance is over now. For just about everybody (except the wealthy). And if David M. Potter was right in 1954 that it was this continent’s Abundance that enabled its Democracy rather than the other way around, then what happens to Democracy when Scarcity returns?
(Among his numerous acutely useful pieces, see Chris Hedges here as a handy checklist of how far south things have gone in these parts now.)
The cheap-grace of Easy Wealth is over now. Gone are the “affluent masses”, like the herds of buffalo that once roamed the plains. It’s official: American advertising honchos and honchettes have now declared it and are altering their attentions accordingly. Most Americans are not worth the time and the advertising dollar any longer.
The cheap-grace of maturity is over now. Only a very few will be able to maintain the glitz and gleam that used to pass for adult ‘achievement’ and ‘success’; everybody else can reconcile themselves to being also-ran’s, plow-horses, or get an early start on the plod to the glue factory.
What happens to generations that were raised with that cheap-grace delusion that having lotsa shiny, beepy things makes for the choice-filled, totally autonomous, utterly liberated self? What happens to a self held together by the exo-skeleton of shiny, beepy stuff while the interior is a gooey mush of unripe desires, passions, and shallow sensations passing for thought and Character? What happens to a Maturity that was actually propped up by Abundance, when the Abundance goes and the time of Scarcity returns?
(And in regard to that point, let me point out one of my abiding thoughts: What has wrecked the Left of the past 40 years: while corporatism, consumerism, and the increasingly lethal depredations of the developing National Security State and the National Grab State and its ‘humanitarian interventions’ and ‘kinetic military actions’ have done their share to create the actions, it was the Left’s embrace of whackulent anti-reality theories and the undermining of genuine Values and Character and any sense of an actual national commonweal embracing all Americans that provided the simulacrum of philosophical justification for the whole thing AND ALSO spun it all as ‘liberation’. The nasty and deceptive rubric under which this nation now goes out to ‘liberate’ others has been ruthlessly played in Our domestic political arena for 4 decades now.) What happens to a great nation that has squandered its heritage on sooo many levels, and now – in the absence of any larger Hegemon upon whose coat-tails it can decently pretend to be its old razzle-dazzle self – faces the awful choice: either fade away to has-been status or man-up, gas up the gunboats, and head out to grab other peoples’ stuff?
Was Qua-daffy a 3rd rate monster? The Beltway found it could live with him for the past 40-plus years. Suddenly it can’t. Perhaps because he is sitting on oil reserves fully one-third the size of Iraq’s huge cache (you recall Iraq, don’t you?) and his independent Libyan central bank is sitting on top of almost 150 tons of pure gold.
That’d be a handy place to have in your pocket. If imperial Spain found her (temporary) salvation in the gold and riches of the New World, then here’s a place with lots of gold, a great location in the planet’s central resource-rich belt, a whole lotta oil, and – as if God willed it – an independent-minded tyrant who’s easily classifiable as ripe for ‘humanitarian replacement’ and a dose of (American-controlled) democracy. If Iraq didn’t work out so well, maybe this smaller place will work out now that the Beltway has worked out the kinks in its gameplan.*
If the Beltway has gone so far down the road of ‘deconstructing’ this country’s productive capacity and the nasty, sweaty, masculine culture that actually made quantities of stuff that could be sold competitively, then … if you can’t Produce, then ‘real men’ Go Out and Grab.
We should have guessed it when Archie and Edith were replaced by the well-coiffed, Audi-driving simulacra in “Ordinary People”. Sooner or later those smooth and shiny types were going to need to have only Correct people around them, and that need would radiate out across the planet in ever-expanding radial waves, like a tsunami of Correctness. And anyway, after they’d blown their wad buying up all sorts of foreign goodies, they’d need more Golden Eggs.
And having ‘deconstructed’ their own Golden Goose, they’d have to multitask and raid other peoples’ hen-houses while imposing the choice-filled total-autonomy of Correctness. Democracy at the hands of armed missionaries … even Napoleon was leery of that as a sustainable national gameplan. But what did he know?
And this country is no longer simply going in to preach Democracy – there’s a shopping list to be filled and a whole lotta shopping bags humped along for the purpose; America charges for its services now, and the Beltway doesn’t come cheap. (I read somewhere this past week that during the summer a Congressman was asked to leave Iraq when he suggested rather bluntly that Iraq should have the good manners to pay the US for expenses related to its liberation.)
Meanwhile the Partisans continue their long ride, in season and out of season, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, deriving their energy from an interior strength and dedication to a genuinely worthy Cause, doing their bit as best they can.
‘Depressing’? Have you looked around recently?
*I think a genuine moral issue for American Citizens in the Age of Scarcity is this: as Our own Abundance fades, are We going to allow Our government to continually initiate military action (“kinetic military action” as the current Administration likes to put it to distinguish it – semantically at least – from plain old ‘war’) in order to Grab Stuff and compensate for the shortfall in American Abundance by going out and taking it? THIS, I would say, is the genuine and urgent moral challenge of the day for all of Us.
The sheeps-clothing of ‘humanitarian intervention’ and the even more pretextual assertion that a culture’s not-being in compliance with official American feminism’s assessment about ‘the status of women’ in that culture justifies military action, are not the primary challenge here. (Nor for that matter, do many cultures around the planet really not-notice that the liberation of an imposed ‘regime change’ also includes an imposed ‘culture change’ on a profound level.)
Whereas in the late 19th century this country was flexing its new muscle as it went out and ‘liberated’ the Philippines and toyed around in Latin, Central, and South America using gunboats and Marines (Marine general Smedley Butler later said he functioned as nothing more than an armed goon for United Fruit), now in the early 21st century this country has blown its wad and needs to find Stuff – and lots of it – quickly. And other large (not to say great) nations on the planet – though in a rising rather than falling phase – are also playing that same old Game, which they have been playing for a very long time.
Do We accept some level of reduced wealth and a return of some level of Scarcity, or do We allow Our government to go out and Grab Stuff for Us?
Labels: American character, American's present situation, the American Economy, The Partisans