Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The New Renaissance

The New Renaissance, Number 37, Fall 2006

I shouldn’t do it of course. I shouldn’t read a magazine like a novel but I do; I find hidden meaning, hidden connections between disparate works of art or literature that were never intended to be read together much less strung together in a readers mind like chapters in a mystery novel. Perhaps it’s the editor in me that tries to make a theme from anthology. Most magazines are constrained by time not theme so it is unfair of me to judge a magazine by a theme that was never intended but I will anyway. It’s my prerogative, its any reader’s prerogative.

I don’t go out of my way to be politically correct or incorrect but I do try to remain sensitive to people’s private and public hurts. Smoking is bad; I know I used to be a smoker. Racism is bad, I once knew a woman of my parent’s generation, long gone, who would not eat food touch by skin darker than her own. I also know that since 9-11 most of America sees not black and white but us and them. Political correctness has not caught up to the man on the street. The bad guys of the near east want a religious war and there is just enough folk memory left in the west to remember the Nazi holocausts and be frightened. Black and White becomes a defense against the infidels, a defense of Vienna, a rally around the flag boys; they are coming over the hill to murder your wife and sister.  If Bin Laden had come a generation later … who knows we might have forgotten.

Literature speaks for the time it lives in. Shakespeare’s incomprehensible “forsouths” and whatnot spoke loudly to a generation 500 years ago but only softly today. It took a reading of Stephen Greenblatt’s “Will in the World” for me to realize how much of The Bards work has been lost through the passing of history. In his day Shakespeare was as topical as any sitcom or high drama on television today. We loose that in reading him today. On the other hand the word “literature” somehow implies a timelessness that may or may not be real. Shakespeare was timely yet has become timeless. That speaks volumes for Shakespeare and says nothing about magazines that publish “Literature” as opposed to, say, Soap Opera Digest.

When, in the opening act of an opera, the first voice to be heard is shrill it is hard to withhold judgment on the rest of the performance. One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and people on first impressions but we do. So when I read the “Editor’s Comments” in the latest edition of “the new renaissance” I had to stop myself from thinking “liberal pabulum” while I got mildly nauseous.

I am a liberal so don’t get me started but I can’t stand blind adherence to the current dogma of political correctness. Who decides these things anyway? The current liberal, “politically correct” dogma has cost the Democratic Party all three branches of Government in the United States. The “Editor’s Comments” consisted of a shrill (but probably correct) call to save the tropical rain forests. Along the way there was the obligatory warning about global warming.

That’s where I get off the train. Years ago, long before I ever heard of “global warming,” I met a PhD in Climatology, a very long-term weatherman.  His specialty was the last 15,000 years, give or take a millennium. At the time the climatological buzz was all about how we were due for another Ice Age. Statistically they happen with frightening frequency but my friend assured me that we were in a temperature upswing as predicted by some arcane things like water levels in the Great Salt Lake.

Most of what I learned I have subsequently forgotten but I do remember that there was something called the “climatic optimum” about 8,000 years ago where the earth was several degrees warmer than today. Then, the desert belt had moved north into Europe and the deserts of North Africa and Arabia were a tropical green. There was a little ice age following the collapse or, perhaps, causing the collapse of the Roman Empire. Among other things this sent the men of the north, the Vikings, in search of a warmer place to live. The Viking age ended abruptly when an exceptionally warm period melted the ice around Iceland and Greenland and colonists headed north once more.

In 1000 A.D. the Labrador straits and Eric’s Fiord in Greenland were free of ice in the summer and the land produced enough during the near 24 hours of sunlight for foraging animals to be sustained year round. Whatever global warming has taken place it has not yet cleared the Labrador straits and Eric’s Fiord of summer ice. Of course by 1300 we were in the middle of “the little Ice Age” that lasted well into the middle of the 19th century. So are we going into a warming period? Probably. Is it hotter than it’s ever been? No, it was hotter in the time of Eric the Red. Did man cause “global warming?” I don’t know but hubris dictates an affirmative answer.

Should the tropical rain forests be saved? Of course, managed perhaps, but until there is an economic incentive to do so we have to recognize that it’ll never happen. There is archeological evidence that most of the Amazon basin was once cultivated and that most of the rain forest as we know it today was gone. It could be that deforestation of the Amazon 1500 years ago gave rise to the global warming that lead to the discovery of North America by Leif Erickson? That’s a stretch but the truth is that we/I just don’t know. It’s good that we are asking the questions but how much do we really know or is it that we think we know more than we do. Time will tell and it won’t be for me to decide. In the mean time I’ve been enjoying the warmer winters.

There is something about modern American literature that is very dark. The call to preserve the rain forests was succeeded by two poems by Daniel Tobin. The first is called “Effifi Tumuli,” which begins, “Wasted mesa. Earth stripped to bleeding mounds.” Oie! Is there no light in the world? The next is “The Scream (after Edward Munch).” Is there a pattern here?

I will confess that there are lighter poems and short stories in this edition of TNR such as M. E. McMullen’s touching story titled “Louise Berchine,” a story of unrequainted love. Another bright spot in this anthology of darkness is Thomas Robert Barnes’ poem “Dogwoods.”

Still darkness prevails. Lynn Veach Sadler’s poem “Purple Irises,” about the shelling of Dubrovnik by the bad guys of the last Balkan war left a palpable pain in my heart. My mother was a world traveler whose two favorite places in the world were Dubrovnik and the island of Gozo in Malta. The world changes but it’s not supposed to be for the worse. Does literature merely chronicle life or does literature lead life. Does art merely imitate life?

We have another theme creeping into this story. After the unrequainted love of adolescence we make mistakes in our love life. We all think about the one that got away, the one that might have been if only …. Keneth Rapoza performs just such a dance with his story, “Greetings from Portugal,” the love of ones life given up for a passing flirtation. Even when we know we are making a mistake we cannot help ourselves. Bruce Douglas Reeves gives us a different view of romantic lament in his wartime story titled OBSESSION. One has to wonder if anyone who writes for the New Renaissance has ever been happy or lucky in love. Is it really true that happiness makes for lousy writing? I hope not. The Gods, they must be laughing at us.

There is quite a bit more in the fall 2006 issue of TNR, most of it pretty good even if a bit on the dark side. The one exception I must make are the gray on gray reproductions of what must be vibrantly colored works of art. Rendering large ink drawings or etchings as halftoned images does neither the magazine nor the artist justice. The devastation of the third world jungles are served all to well in black and white so I would have preferred to see the small color well that was devoted to color pictures of burning jungle and farmers markets devoted to reproducing art instead … but that’s just me. This volume is worth reading.

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