The English Major and Ford Madox Ford: A Tale of Passion


Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and John Quinn in Paris in November 1923.









The Chemistry Major
At this late date, newly minted Medicare card tucked safely in my wallet, I suppose it’s time to admit, mostly to myself, that I have always been what Pavel calls “An English Major.” He certainly thinks so, with simultaneous admiration and contempt. Notwithstanding three years as a chemistry major with a math-physics minor, 4th prize in the Arizona State Math Contest, possession of the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics (56th ed.), and calculus class at 7:4o a.m. Monday through Friday my freshman year of college, I imagine “liberal arts” was always written clearly on my forehead; fortunately, it wasn’t written backwards, so I had the excuse of not being able to read it. Daddy certainly knew it when he called me a lazy sow who didn’t know how to do anything but lie around reading all day; I’m sure he said “lay around,” but we’ve established that I’m an English major. And though he thought college for girls was a fool’s errand, he was willing enough to send me off to the University of Arizona (on full scholarship), slide rule in one hand and Look Homeward, Angel in the other, for something as respectable as a career in chemistry. Of course, Puritan that I was and am, I, too, thought that literature majors were rather fluffy and insubstantial even though I was in awe of the insouciance with which Judy Schneider raised her hand in Dr. Robinson’s American literature class, somehow with her elbow still old the desk, and made an offhand remark about, say, Wallace Stevens or William Carlos Williams, as though she had just been to his house for a Sunday afternoon of playing backgammon, drinking Bloody Marys, and reading the New York Times. Continue reading

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Bible Belt Billboards

I am very much aware of the Great Commission. I memorized it in Sunday school when I was about eight years old, at a time when the King James version was still in vogue and children still memorized Bible verses:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:19-20).

However, I drive 120 miles round trip between work and home every day, allowing me ample time to ponder such questions as how best to share the Good News.  In the process, I have come to deplore the manner in which the Great Commission is obeyed on Interstate 95 as it traverses the Bible Belt in rural North Carolina. Continue reading

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Bearing Witness: Reading and Telling the Great War

Midway through the World War I centenary, I decided that I would use that largely unacknowledged anniversary as the theme for my freshman composition class on writing across the curriculum. The students write a literature review about shell shock for the social sciences, a popular-science paper about chemical warfare for the natural sciences, and a literary or film analysis for the humanities. In the process, they learn about trench warfare and trench foot, maconichie stew and rum rations, Kitchener’s Mob and Craiglockhart War Hospital–just a few of the endless bits of trivia about that forgotten war that I myself have learned during my preparations for the course. The smell of lice infesting one’s body and of rotting flesh underfoot. The blazing fields of poppies in Flanders, nourished by the nitrogen and lime of war technology and the blood and bones of the boys who died there. The lines that Wilfred Owen wrote as a preface to the book of poems that remained unpublished until after his death in battle exactly a week before the Armistice: “My subject is War, and the Pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.” Continue reading

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Dear Jay and Gina: An Open Letter

The five “increasingly savage paragraphs” of this obituary were published in the Redwood Falls [MN] Gazette on June 4. That same day, Stu @RandBallsStu posted it on Twitter. By the time I heard about it three days later on All Things Considered, it had been read by hundreds of thousands of people and written about in respected news media across the globe. Responses have ranged from humor to outrage, from “honor thy father and mother” to “hell YESSS!” and “love it!” Devotees of social media have dredged up the entire family tree, and Jay Dehmalo (he changed his name–ever so slightly!–to avoid association with his past) has subsequently shared more sordid family secrets. This post is my open letter to these two self-absorbed siblings who decided that the record of their mother’s youthful indiscretions and their longing for her death belonged in the tabloids–including the Daily Mail.

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Ennui; or, The Cat Who Read Mallarmé

La chair est triste, hélas! et j’ai lu tous les livres.
[The flesh is sad, alas! and I have read all the books.]

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Graduation on My Mind

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Yellow Fleas

© Jason O’Meara, “Pet Informed”

The end of Reconstruction in 1877 gave birth to the Solid South. In both Presidential and state politics, the South retained its essentially single-party identity until the passage of the Civil Right Act in 1964. During that time, Southerners would reportedly vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket.

My own voting history has followed a a similar pattern. As one of the first beneficiaries of the Twenty-sixth Amendment, at the age of 19 I donned my Republican cloth coat and voted for Richard Nixon in 1972. My self-imposed penance for that youthful indiscretion has been long and ardent. I have embraced the soul of the liberal Democratic vision of America–the belief that the government has the responsibility to take care of the marginalized, to stand for racial justice, and to protect the rights of the weak against the tyranny of the majority. However, in recent years I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the excesses of my left-leaning bedfellows and have come to understand that those who lie down with yellow dogs get up with yellow fleas.  Continue reading

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Reconsidering the American Consensus–and Rehabilitating the 1950s

The Mering thesis and the roots of consensus history
At the University of Arizona in the mid-1970s, John V. Mering inculcated his disciples with a devotion to the consensus historiography whose bedrock was The American Political Tradition: And the Men Who Made It by Richard Hofstadter (1948). As a reaction against the economic interpretation of progressives Charles and Mary Beard, the consensus school minimized class conflict as a motive force in American history and found in its place a startling lack of any sort of conflict:

The fierceness of the political struggles has often been misleading: for the range of vision embraced by the primary contestants in the major parties has always been bounded by the horizons of property and enterprise. However much at odds on specific issues, the major political traditions have shared a belief in the rights of property, the philosophy of economic individualism, the value of competition; they have accepted the economic virtues of capitalist culture as necessary qualities of man (Hofstadter op. cit., pp. xxxvi-xxxvii). 

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The Mother of Beauty: War in Words and Music

Photo courtesy of Denzil Walton, “Discovering Belgium”

For the past two years, I have immersed myself in a personal and professional commemoration of the centenary of World War I. For a freshman composition class I designed in writing across the curriculum, I have read extensively in the scholarly and popular literature about shell shock and chemical weapons. I have purchased contemporary magazines and first-edition novels and a French postcard illustrating a scene from one of those novels. I have visited museum exhibits featuring helmets and weapons and love letters. I have watched films and a play and grainy documentaries about the war to end all wars. And I have read the novels and the poetry that bloomed from that barren landscape like the poppies in Flanders Fields. Continue reading

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My Journey to Easter

Last year on Palm Sunday, the rector of our large, young, and vibrant Episcopal parish, St. Michael’s in Raleigh, announced–only half in jest–that we might want to consider attending the Easter Vigil on Saturday night rather than trying to find a parking space and a seat for any of the three Easter services. I actually followed his advice and so saw the first lighting of the paschal candle and heard the first alleluias of Easter. However, the experience wasn’t so thrilling as the festival Easter service with brass and harp and choir and hundreds of pastel-clad worshippers proclaiming in unison, “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

This year, I decided on something entirely different. I went to the “find a church” page for the diocese of North Carolina, and I clicked on parish after parish until I found one that seemed small and intimate, reminiscent of my first Episcopal family at St. Christopher’s in Garner. Combining those criteria with a manageable drive for Easter morning, I selected St. John’s in Battleboro. Continue reading

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