". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mississippi: As It Was, So It Shall Always Be

The last few years were the Years of Henry Adams as my pathfinder into so many issues.

Here at the year's half way point, reviewing the notes and scribbles out of my researches for 2014, I can see that Mississippi is front and center this year.  It was time, of course.  But the trip in March, from New Orleans, through Natchez to Memphis, sealed the deal.

The pathfinder writers are Alexander Percy and William Faulkner.*  Thank goodness northwestern Mississippi Faulkner is a great writer, an interesting personality, with an intelligent consciousness -- because Delta aristo Percy is not.  It's been a hoot reading young Billy Falkner's reviews of Percy's poetry in the U of Mississippi's paper and magazines. **

The other night I discovered that Faulkner, one who hardly ever wrote notations or anything else inside his books, made in his introduction to Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1920 and Year Book of American Poetry*, in which the then literary arbiter, Bostonian William Stanley Braithwaite, wrote in in his introduction:
" ... Indian and negro materials ... are in our poetry still hardly better than aspects of the exotic.  No one who matters actually thinks that a national literature can be founded on such alien bases."
Faulkner's response was:
"Making one his extremely rare marginal comments, William Faulkner drew an arrow pointing to this passage.  Above it, in large letters, he wrote, "Good God." "
Unlike Braithwaite, despite his appointment to Atlanta University,  Faulkner spent his life in close interpersonal relationship with negroes, Indians and Indian-Black.

It's interesting, digging into the political battles between the Delta planter aristocrats such as Leroy Percy and the businessmen of the northwest, for instance,

Published serially in 1880, this is the most successful of William Faulkner's grandfather's books; it sold something 160,000 copies. The White Rose of Memphis is a riverboat plying the Memphis to Crescent City route.
 Twain's Life on the Mississippi was published in 1883, though the first part was published in 1876.

among whom Faulkner's grandfather, William C. Falkner, was prominent.  (Falkner became Faulkner when Billy applied to the Canadian RAF training program toward the end of WWI, and pretended to be English, thinking his chances of acceptance would be greater.  He even trained in British-speak with an English public school buddy of his older friend, at Yale. Evidently the RAF never caught on that he wasn't English.) This antagonism, of businessmen, traders and those who wanted internal improvements, with the ruling elite planters goes back long before the Civil War.  You see this in other states' history, too, those states that would become the CSA.

It's a sad commentary on the United States and her history, that some things about Mississippi in 2014 stay exactly the way they were in 1860 -- which is how they lost the Waa! under that great Mississippian, Jefferson Davis.
The president of the board of supervisors, Lee Caldwell, a fellow Republican, can riff extensively on the local infrastructure projects that Mr. Cochran, Mississippi’s powerful senior senator, has helped bring to fruition, thanks to his skill at procuring federal funds: The construction of the air-traffic control tower at the Olive Branch Airport. The new east-west stretch of Interstate, which will bisect the county when completed. And a state-of-the-art regional sewer system that solved a chronic wastewater management problem, allowing DeSoto County to attract new industry and build new neighborhoods.
Yet Mr. Cochran is currently fighting for his political life after being trounced here in DeSoto County by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1 by the Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel in the June 3 Republican primary. At issue for many Republicans is the idea that what Mr. Cochran does best is also what he does worst — spend federal dollars.
The result is a race that is raising a question at the heart of American politics, and especially the politics of the South: Do voters hate spending even when it is spending that comes home to them? On an instinctive level, for many Mississippi voters like Randy Harris, a retired auctioneer, the answer is yes.
“Everybody’s got their hand out like these damn people at the food stamp office,” Mr. Harris, 67, said between sips of coffee on Thursday at a local barbecue restaurant. “They’ve got to put an end to all of this spending.”
No public spending for the public good, even when it isn't MY tax dollars!
... like Jane Buehl Coln of Olive Branch, suspect that whatever benefits have come to Mississippi have come at a steep price.
“There’s no telling what kinds of liberal things he had to vote for to get those kinds of things for Mississippi — what kind of trading he had to do,” she said
Mississippi destroyed the United States credit rating by defaulting on Europe and Britains investment bonds for building public projects like canals, back in the 1840's.  They just refused to pay -- nor does anyone to this day know where the money went. This is what states rights looks like.

* I'm forced soon to go to Shelby Foote, another revisionist Civil War historian from Percy's circle in Greenville.

The southern writers who have fallen into well-deserved obscurity, because they were fire eaters and / or, after the waa!, revisionists, magnoliaists, confederate carpetbaggers, are becoming ever more interesting. This interest was sparked with a northern apologist for slavery, whom I read back in Chestertown, James Kirke Paulding.  This NY Knickerbocker's reward from T Jefferson was a well-paid sinecure in the U.S. Navy, from which he became Secretary of the Navy.  It truly was a sinecure appointment, allowing him much leisure time to be an author and help found the Salmagundi Club with Washington Irving, as T Jefferson dismantled the U.S. Navy.

** In this time of his early twenties, Faulkner was working very hard at writing poetry.  Mass market targeted magazines were still major markets for poetry then.  Faulkner had managed to sell one of his poems fairly early on to a major magazine but had failed ever since.  Naturally he was studying what the markets were publishing.

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