Monday, September 24, 2012

"Fog" all my life!

In re: "American Experience"
Edward Steichen:  Photo montage of Carl Sandburg.  1936
It is quite clear that the cultural powers that be intend to bully and bludgeon me, once again, to make being "American" something that I am not.  In the persons of schoolteachers, above all, they kept me from reading Hamlin Garland and made me come late to Pete Seeger and Studs Terkel.  When last night I approached the end of Part I of Edwin Abbot's Flatland, and he used Fog as a device to assist flatlanders' perception; when I taught History of Photography and had to defend Edward Steichen from the goop in The Family of Man (though one would have thought that in the history of photography we were focusing on the art of the photographer—but that was partly Susan Sontag's fault, since she, too, thought a photograph is what it is of); and had to defend myself from presumptions of elitism, simply because fourth-generation Californians don't speak mid-western, it was all because of the cult of Carl Sandburg.
"Style is the Man Himself".  I may enjoy reading and listening to persons ever so far to the right or to the left, and actually enjoy a variety of dialects, including the yets of New Orleans, but when a man gets a microphone and enunciates "bra...ai...n" and "blo...oo..d" (two of his favorite words) and in the same sentence deplores the "cerebral" poets (as if they were something new), his being about 80 years old is no excuse.  His brother in law Edward Steichen would never talk that way.  Neither would Studs Terkel.  Have I already overemphasized that it is not Sandburg's socialism that annoys me?  Anyone my age has coped already with -isms, I hope.
What is it, then, that makes me detest Sandburg so much?  It must be more than having been compelled to stand up and recite "Fog" so many times.  One can get over that.
Is it that he seems never to have seen himself as others, assorted others, saw him?  He seems never to have exhibited real humor.  He seems never to have understood that Floridians and Californians and Hawaiians and Louisianans (unless of course they were jazz musicians or folk singers) were just as American as he was, that lots of other lands of origin were just as good as Sweden?  Oh, well, I like Denmark best, anyhow.
And, helped along by looking more like the famous Bog Man the older he got, and by Steichen's loving to photograph him, I don't think we ever had a public figure so in love with his own image as Carl Sandburg.
I do admit liking all mixed up social and political opinions better than systematic ones.  Just today I was relishing thinking of politicians as flatlanders, just as Edwin Abbot Abbot intended (and, by the way, the EB 11th edition of 1910, s.v., Abbot, Edwin, reports that his article on The Gospels in the 9th edition of 1985 caused quite a stir, and, when I checked I found that he contributed nothing to the 11th!  Just because writing was discrete a century ago doesn't mean that you can't tell what they thought).  I was not surprised to learn that no one in his lifetime thought him to be a very perfect Circle or Sphere!