Angst Galore

I was in my twenties when I read the Studs Lonigan trilogy, written by James T. Farrell. For me it was a turbulent read, one that left me not-the-same when I had finished.

Along the way I found that I had identified with the main character way more than I realized. He was an ordinary guy with good intentions, and that was how I saw myself. So when his life came to a too-young and unhappy end, I clearly saw that it was one of the directions that my own life might take. In fact, might be taking right then and there.

Studs could be me. I could be Studs.

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A result was that I was truly shaken by the death of a fictional character for the first time in my life. The author had made him more real to me than most of the actual people that I knew. To this day I greatly admire the writing skills that could do that, without really knowing exactly how it was done. A sorcery.

So it is with some misgivings that I’ve decided to go back through the trilogy. At the time of the first read, life was a universe of unknowns in front of me, a time both scary and exciting. Reading the books now will not be the same … but wait … life is still scary and exciting. There is still a broad universe of unknowns ahead. I’m really little more than an older version of that boy still trying to figure things out.

So I guess I’ll just read ’em and let ‘er rip.

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With all of the new books being published every day … why read some of the old stuff again? I can’t remember exactly when I realized that no matter what I did, I could never read all the books or listen to all the music that I wanted to. It wasn’t just the fact that I was starting to run short on time, it was that it always had been an impossible task.

After that epiphany I found that whatever I read or listened to no longer had that desperateness attached to it. I could fully enjoy each book, listen carefully to each tune, without the oppressive thought “I better get cracking, there is so much more to see and do.”

Now when I see something at a bookseller with a title like “500 Books to Read Before You Die” I am not moved to open it. I don’t need somebody else’s list, I’m pleased to be working on my very own, thank you very much. And the list consists of the book in front of me and open to the page.

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From The New Yorker

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In our daily lives today we are witnessing a kind of resistance to truth, to facts, to science, that are puzzling to some of us. How can they think that? is a phrase often heard and one that rattles around this cranium of mine like seeds in a castanet.

We see pictures of men with guns standing guard outside a bar in Texas so that the owner can open his business without regard for the public health. They’re standing up for the constitution, they say. How can they think that?

I read letters to the editor in our local paper which are nothing but rehashes of lies and gibberish extracted from Fox News, without evidence of any original thought on the part of the writer. How can they think that?

I look with shame and horror at our present government’s actions and policies, but my neighbor three doors down looks at the same steaming pile of horseapples and calls it beautiful. How can he think that?

So when I ran across these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer they rang instantly true to me, and provide an explanation for what we see. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and an anti-Nazi dissident at a time in Germany when both were very dangerous things to be. He was talking about Nazis in 1940s Germany, but they apply awfully well to our President and his followers today.

Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in April of 1943 and hanged in April of 1945. He was a prolific writer, and his Letters And Papers From Prison may be his best known work. The following is from that book.

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease.

Against stupidity we are defenseless; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed, and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

It seems obvious that stupidity is less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions.

The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he speaks on behalf of an empowered group. In conversation with him, one feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans and catchwords that have taken possession of him.

The stupid man is under a spell…[And] having become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters And Papers From Prison.

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From The New Yorker

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