Journal Entry #1

NORFOLK, Conn.—As Howard Austen, Vidal’s other half for more than half a century, lay dying, the great writer sat by his beside and asked him if he’d like to talk. “No,” Austen replied. “There’s too much to say.”

Maybe a lot of writers and writerly people feel this way from time to time. I certainly do. There are days in winter I want nothing more than to chop wood, or, if it’s summer, fuss with the herb pots or fix a bouillabaisse—the Zen of chores such as gardening and cooking. In the face of a humanly made disorder I’ve never seen the like of over a lot of years of living, silence can tempt. People say, “Patrick. Norfolk. It’s so far away.” I sometimes reply, “Exactly. Not far enough.”

Alas, given the world as we have made it not a salutary moment to launch such a feature as this as a brand new web site premiers, you might say. But I’d disagree if you did. Silence may tempt, but never for long. I’m more in the way of the New York cops—or does Homeland Security put up these signs?—“If you see something, say something.” So I often do and so I will in this space, as there’s always a condition beyond muting pessimism, I find, however hard one has to look. I made this point on television the other day amid a conversation about NATO and the ever-worsening mess in Ukraine: We have to identify a valid source of optimism in our time, for there is one. We mustn’t miss this overarching truth: History proceeds in the right direction—the 21st century, as noted in a recent column, is doing its work.

Never travel without your Gramsci in mind, to put the point another way. “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born,” he wrote in Prison Notebooks. “In this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Everyone knows this one. And this, also written in prison and sent in a letter (I think): “I am a pessimist of the mind [or intellect] but an optimist of the will.”

We forget these things and shouldn’t. If these occasional notes do anyone any good, part of it will be to keep this larger perspective before us. What you see from there is that American primacy is being challenged, and effectively. On the domestic side, a piece in Salon the other day by Bill Curry, a former Clinton adviser (Clinton the past president, not the aspiring), noted the groundswell of progressive objection just beneath the surface of American life. One senses this daily if one stays alert to it. (Hillary will not win, Curry asserts: Now there’s an optimistic note.) Alternative ways of thinking and seeing arise. We are obliged always to avoid the trap of assuming that what is must inevitably be. That’s for the defeated. “Let the dead bury the dead,” as the young Joyce wrote.

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I NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE a blog—a word so unattractive I can’t bring myself to use it. But people I have regard for do—Krugman, a few others I think well of. So, no blog—simply can’t do it—but I’ll now see my way to a Journal.

A couple of parameters at the outset, then. I won’t count these entries, in some official/unofficial way, published material. They’ll consist of notes, thoughts uttered aloud. Please think of yourself, reader, as on a barstool, a couple of marts before us. That’ll do. Something I learned from Conscience of a Liberal: Krugman counts his blog as a series of dry runs, thoughts in rehearsal, the best of which may go into the columns. This space, if only the better parts of it, will consist of same, although I have no graduate students to bounce ideas against, as the Princeton economists does. Cú Chulainn won’t be run-on, as the barstool thought may suggest; let’s just say lightly if neatly edited, in the way of a continuing conversation.

A few words about the figure after whom I’ve named this Journal’s and no more unless some circumstance requires it. Some readers will know of Cú Chulainn. If you’re not among them you’ll want a little help with the phonetics. Not to arouse undesired thoughts, but if you were English you would pronounce the name Koo-HULL-in.

Cú Chulainn is a mythical Celtic hero of ancient days, larger than life and handed down in very many retellings of his story, always embroidered and changed to serve the period of the embroidering and changing. Closer to our time the hot-blooded man of appetites and rigorous loyalties was much taken up by the Irish nationalists. I favor the Cú Chulainn Yeats conjured in On Baile’s Strand, one of his early tragedies, first staged in 1904. Long story, but in the end Druids delude the passionate warrior into thinking he sees horses in the sea. And so did he charge in, sword ablaze, “And fought with the invulnerable tide.”

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