Friday, August 28, 2020

for a world beyond throwaway words


This is part 2 of the project “being an American (with conceptual issues)

In pre-recorded presentations for the Democratic National Convention, the week of August 17, historian Jon Meacham, Michelle Obama, and Barack Obama were obviously not speaking spontaneously. Likewise for Joe Biden, the final night.

Yet, the engagement with us was more than wanting to be heard heart-
fully, more than assuring the viewer that they cared deeply about our politics; and that you should care about electing Biden.

Who took to heart the words they chose? Indeed, who will long remember the themes they invoked?

Was it merely that they used some important themes for the instrumental interest in motivating your vote? Or was it—as you expect I want to stress—that it was the themes that mattered?

Do you feel a little unease at my pretense of wanting to find memorable significance in presentations that, like lives themselves, come along, go away, and are soon forgotten? Is taking “things so seriously” embarrassing?

It’s easy enough to feel high minded to contend that electing Biden is instrumental for ideas, not the converse. No surprise: Inspirational rhetoric is normal politics, instrumental, as normal politics is traditionally frivolous outside the halls of power (which are truly instrumentalist, where “principle” is likely a tool for public relations).

Traditions of normal politics provide great cases for not taking politics too seriously, because theater is theater.

So, too, for time-pressured lives: Who’s got time for taking much to heart? Who’s got the patience for persons like me (or the DNC Four, I’ll call them) who want us to make our lives thoughtful?

“Everything is theater”? marketing?

“Only naïfs avow otherwise”?

So goes the cynical normalcy of politics that political renewal is about—only to be soon forgotten in the face of the next political season’s opportunities.

A good politics cannot emerge without determination that it is to be about what matters, thereby sustaining action oriented by what matters, advancing specific values that are highly worth prevalence (not spouting a nebulous avowal of “values” as mask for reactionary opportunism).

A good politics is not about itself. A good politics is instrumental to cultivating community.

The person in contention for election is instrumental to why elections matter and how we best hold dear what matters for the sake of renewing and sustaining the shared worlds that advance being well, advance public good, and advance community.

The care that the DNC Four placed in their choices of words deserves to be taken to heart as exemplary of what political appeal at its best is.

What if their words implicitly claim to capture what a good politics is to be for Democrats—if we will let it be?

What follows, if one insists that their words were not about a mere show of care with heartful appeals merely to motivate your vote through memorable affect?

What if they’re presumed to be appealing rigorously, albeit comfortably, to what should truly matter for good, well-shared ways of life?

You know they put intensive care into their choices of words and the design of presentation. Anyone would, for a much-anticipated display. But who fastens onto the words as concepts that are The Point, not just a means?

Like choreography of amazing dance, the design of wording may dis-
appear in the appeal of performance, where intricacies of excellence are soon forgotten, except by the critics.

Excellent performance would have you entranced in every moment, losing yourself in the flow of it all.

Michelle looks you in the eye. Jon Meacham levels with you in gentle but fierce determination. Barack sees you frankly, jaded but with genuine bonding. Joe is integrity incarnate.

They’re exemplars of our humanity, and we easily recognize them as that, as kindreds—as admirable exemplars, which is what virtue is: admirable exemplarity.

The genuine voice implicitly appeals for the mattering words that only live lastingly by really orienting lives. We should want to give words virtuous lives, by the exemplarity of their employment and the admirability of their efficacy.

That virtue is a potential for conceptual orientation that virtuous words promise, thus trope.

“Word,” urban street advice used to close.

You “keep your word,” because the word is worth keeping.

So much contemporary American poetry is simply worded not because the ideas are idiomatic, nor that the message is some Splendor Of The Simple. Rather, the American idiom expresses how common terms may matter profoundly. Words we hold sacred draw lives into better mapping.

The words that matter stand for lives that matter, and keep the promise of good lives near to heart.

A keynote of what makes literary art canonical is a work’s effective mapping of landscapes—verbal topographies—that instill gravities to words worth lasting orientation of sensibility.

A politics of words that matter, kept orienting well and for good, is very much what democracy is for.


next—> enlightened being