Tag Archives: Rebecca West

Marginalia, no.191

I will believe that the battle of feminism is over, and that the female has reached a position of equality with the male, when I hear that a country has allowed itself to be turned upside-down and led to the brink of war by its passion for a totally bald woman writer.

~ Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

West’s reflection on D’Annunzio’s short-lived Fiume adventure has got me thinking. How difficult would I find it to give up the standard-issue future that doting fathers everywhere imagine for their daughters? Not so difficult, I think. If fate underwrites the venture, I’ll gladly spend my retirement running guns and sack lunches into the Sierra to supply her band of guerillas. Her hastily scribbled poems and political treatises I’ll secrete to the coast and hand to the papers. Let the literati in their cafes swoon for every phrase and declaration. Let generals and oligarchs tremble at the merest mention of the shaved-headed Liberatrix. Paternal pride sometimes expresses itself in cupboards stocked with carbines and fridges full of peanut butter.

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Political Zoology: A Cautionary Tale

Man is a political animal.  But seeing what the animal is, what may politics become?  …We have the faculty of secreting political wisdom and voiding it in the form of systems exquisite in their logic and their pertinence to our needs.  But we remain illogical and impertinent, so all our systems are realized in gross imperfection, since we have to operate them.

~ Rebecca West, The Fountain Overflows

The trouble with liberal democracy is the illiberality of the dêmos.  The politics of identity and the affirmation of grievance govern all.  There is an almost universal lack of generosity.  I do not exempt myself.  In fact, I consider myself an early victim of this kind of unhealthy political enthusiasm.

During the election of 1980 (when I was seven years old) my parents were on opposite sides of the fence.  My father, a republican, supported Reagan.  My mother, a democrat, stood by Carter.  I don’t remember my parents debating the merits or demerits of either nominee, I only recall their preferences – and the ubiquitous images of the candidates passing over the television screen every evening.  I was a Carter man.  Not for any valid reasons, but simply because I liked him.  He looked friendly and I was charmed by his southern accent and the fact that he had once been a peanut farmer.  My friend Roger, however, was for Reagan, who had the endorsement of both his parents.

One day while Roger and I were talking in my backyard we somehow hit on the topic of the upcoming election.  Things grew heated when he insisted Reagan would make a better president, and I countered that Carter was, in fact, a better man for the job than any second-rate actor.  Roger took offense, slandered Carter’s intelligence and then punched me in the face.  I turned my back and sat on the ground and cried.  Roger turned his back to me, too, pretending interest in a nearby shrub.  A sudden fury tore through my little frame.  I grasped the hard object nearest at hand then leapt up behind Roger and cracked him on the head with a metal corkscrew spike, the kind used to secure backyard swing sets to the ground.  Then, while he held his head and cried, I yelled out something definitive in favor of Carter and promptly banished Roger from my backyard for the day.

Seeing what the animal is…

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Marginalia, no.6

You see, you are allowed to read the newspapers now.  I hope you will not attach too much importance to them.  They give you a picture of an ordinary world that does not exist.  You must always believe that life is as extraordinary as music says it is.

~ Rebecca West, The Fountain Overflows

Thankfully, my own children are too young to read the papers with any understanding.  Of course, the indecipherability of something never discouraged anyone from believing in its authority.  With something similar in mind, Kurt Vonnegut wrote his own epitaph: “The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.”

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