Readers have been gracious and kind in responding to the post about The Boy’s graduation. Some wrote for the first time, which is always nice. One comment in particular, though, resonated with me. A new correspondent mentioned that her politics are more conservative than mine, but she finds value in much of my stuff anyway.
That was gratifying.
I don’t see this blog as primarily political, and I certainly don’t offer electoral endorsements or anything of the kind, but if you read between the lines long enough, you can get a general sense of my perspective. That said, I’m increasingly concerned about the severity of political polarization in the U.S., and the degree to which people seem to retreat to information sources that align with their priors. With mutually exclusive narratives getting reinforced daily, it’s easy for people to talk past each other, or to assume that the “other” side is simply irredeemable and not worth engaging.
At the risk of seeming old-fashioned, I like the idea of assuming that it’s worthwhile to engage with people who aren’t starting from the same place. Nobody has a monopoly on wisdom—although my readers are both wise and worldly—and some epistemological humility is in order. It’s out of fashion right now, but all the more important for that.
That doesn’t mean defaulting to the assumption that the truth is always in the middle. It isn’t. (Is the world round or flat? Splitting the difference and calling it cylindrical isn’t helpful.) But it does mean taking the time to spell out the why behind arguments, and assuming that one’s own view of a given issue might be partial at best.
The political theorist Wendy Brown, of whom I’m a fan, has a terrific piece in The Chronicle this week encapsulating her latest book. Both the article and the book are worth reading slowly, but for present purposes, I’ll highlight her suggestion that the value of academic inquiry, as opposed to political activism, lies in developing deeper understandings of the contexts in which clusters of ideas hang together. Absent context, positions just become rhetorical battering rams or empty affirmations of belonging. Among other things, that suggests a need to protect the spaces of academic inquiry from being reduced to agents of whichever political party is in power at the time. Politics may be a team sport in certain ways, but inquiry shouldn’t be.
All of which is to say that I’m glad to hear that some readers whose politics are not mine still see value in what I’m doing. In a small way, that’s a statement about the kind of world I’d like to live in. To those who read across the lines, thank you.
I don’t mention celebrity deaths terribly often, but Tina Turner’s requires a pause.
I was too young for the Ike and Tina days, so my first awareness of her was in her ’80s renaissance. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” was cute, and I liked her performance at Live Aid, but I didn’t get what the fuss was about. Then someone tipped me off to her version of “Proud Mary,” and suddenly I got it. It’s physically impossible to sit still while hearing it.
The history of race in American music isn’t a pretty one. White artists have ripped off Black artists and culture from the beginning, often growing rich while the folks who originated the music didn’t. Knowing that, I notice when a Black artist flips the script. Turner did that brilliantly with “Proud Mary,” which was originally written by John Fogerty for Creedence Clearwater Revival. (Later, I discovered that she did a vastly improved version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” too.) Over time, it became more her song than his. To his credit, Fogerty has acknowledged that.
She wasn’t the only one to flip the script, of course. Jimi Hendrix improved Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” so thoroughly that Dylan has since performed it in Hendrix’s style. As far as I’m concerned, Cassandra Wilson’s versions of “Tupelo Honey” (Van Morrison) and “Last Train to Clarksville” (The Monkees) completely surpass the originals. Going back farther, Miles Davis’s version of “Someday My Prince Will Come” leaves the original in the dust. But Turner was particularly high profile.
Turner’s biography is impressive in itself, overcoming an abusive marriage and succeeding in an industry that didn’t have a history of treating Black women well. Watching her perform, though, what mostly came through was that she absolutely loved what she was doing. The joy was palpable, as was the energy.
A tip of the cap.
The Boy has moved out of his Charlottesville apartment and is staying with us for the week before moving into his first adult apartment in Manhattan.
For those who haven’t looked at Manhattan rents recently, don’t. Just don’t.
He stayed behind for a day after we left Charlottesville, packing a few last things and spending a last evening with friends. I’ll admit needing to pause when I got the text saying he was leaving it for the last time.
We subscribe to the theory of parenting that says the point of parenting is to get the kids to the point that they don’t need parents anymore. He’s a young man striking out on his own now.
We couldn’t be prouder.