Monday, February 21, 2005

So bye-bye, Miss American Pie...

Perhaps this is the final sign that the American Sixties are truly dead; buried, now, with a stake of cannabis through the heart.

Some informed speculation on the meaning of the death of Hunter S. Thompson is that, as he himself belatedly realized, the American people really are as venal and fascistic as the current Administration. The reasoning goes that Thompson was buoyed through 1972 and the rest of Nixon's reign by the thought that Nixon represented the dark Id of the American dream, but not its superego, or even its ego. But given the state of play today, how can we say that's true? Nixon at least knew he was fighting flesh and blood enemies. George W. Bush seems to think he's on a mission from God, and is truly leading the forces of light against the forces of darkness.

Even Jonathan Edwards and Cotton Mather were never so vainglorious and arrogant. "Generation of Swine," indeed.

So maybe this is the end, my beautiful friend, the end. Maybe this is where all the Sixties idealism finally lies down in the gutter and gives up the ghost, where the zeitgeist finally realizes it has neither zeit nor geist left, and it is merely a useless anachronism, and is best swept away soonest.

In the end, it's a question of where you put your stake. In the end, it's a question of what you believe in most fervently, and how soon that belief lets you down. Thomas Merton said the Desert Fathers fled the collapse of civilization in the desert; that they lived in a time when culture was so corrupt and chaotic that one could only cling to a piece of the flotsam and try to ride out the flood. Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 protrayed those rapidly rising floodwaters, but it portrayed them through pragmatic American Sixties idealism; it showed us that one could be a realist and an idealist and angry as hell all at once. And it made political junkies out of almost an entire generation. A generation that believed that ideals, firecely adhered to, could save the world.

But how fierce is fierce enough? And which ideals? And when does salvation come?

"The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse--who can understand it? I, the Lord, test the mind and search the heart to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruits of their doings." Jeremiah 17:9-10

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

T.S. Eliot, "Ash Wednesday"

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