The American Mind

I first printed this on Idiocy Today as a contemporary issue, news today, so to speak, but it occurred to me that is is much more, at least in it’s implications.

During the last decade of the Sixteenth Century in England, about 100,000 people could read and write. That is, they were considered literate. During that time, writers included Spenser, Sidney, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Bacon, Ben Jonson, Thomas Kyd, and many others. A listing of their works world be large indeed.

Now, in twenty-first Century America, more than 200 million are literate. We can see the results and that is why I bother you with this again:



The story of Nathaniel Hawthorne always intrigued me.

I enjoyed his writing immensely, but somehow found the strangest fascination with his use of the semi-colon. I know it sounds strange, but at the time I was really trying to find some use of it that conformed to style sheets and he was the only writer that did use it profusely, and never incorrectly.

Of course, the novels and stories were brilliant and are classics — this just added something to them, that’s all.

But even more fascinating about him were stories of his not only living with his mother, but sometimes never leaving the house for weeks at a time. I kept trying to do this, but never got past even a single day, even when the absolute temperature was more that fifteen degrees below zero. I still had to get out. I considered his accomplishment superhuman, in fact.

Well, recently, I was snow bound, actually, ice-bound as well. Even if I did navigate out of our driveway, I knew that I’d never be able to get the car back up. No salt available. I was not going to be out in this frigid cold with a shovel and a hammer trying to move snow and break up ice. So, stuck for over a week. Indoors. Eventually, escape was possible.

It was amazing how vivid everything seemed. I realized what a friend, a poet, told me years ago: a poet needed experience, but not too much. We do not pay attention to our daily lives if we can not look at them with fresh eyes; and when we are bombarded with our lives every day, we tend to get numb to it.

That being said, I escaped to a Supermarket nearby. Hardly a place where interesting things happen. I went there is search of only one particular item, and I could not locate it. I tried to get one of those people who wear the store uniform to point it out to me, but they seemed to see me coming and moved to escape. I wanted to shout “It’s a simple question! No math involved!”

Finally, he was cornered as I lay in wait for him. “Are you an idiot?” I asked.

He looked at me with a puzzled expression on his face. I realized that he did not know what an idiot was! I gave up on him.

As I was walking around, still looking, I passed the area labeled “BOOKS.” What a marvelous idea, books in a grocery store! Who says people don’t read books anymore. Surely there are copies of works by Sartre, Adorno, Camus, and I did not expect them to take a chance with Nietzsche. I took a snapshot of the books. For awhile, I should tell you, I was irritated by the term “Selfie” until a thoughtful person on Twitter came up with the notion of a “Shelfie,” and posted a photo of her book shelves with aobut 19 to 21 volumes of Adorno’s complete works and various other works of that level. I decided to do a “Shelfie” of the books the American public is reading. Here it is:

This is modern Lieterature
This is modern Lieterature

Well, a bit disappointing, I admit. Who is this Glenn Beck character? Up From the Grave? What is this stuff?

And we worry that Newsprint is declining? No, you just have to look to see where the mind of American is:

Our "Current Event" publications of general interest.
Our “Current Event” publications of general interest.

See? No wonder.

Well, I found what I came for, and much more. I also decided to get out every day in order to re-establish a state of numbness.


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