Richard Hoffman

Nonfiction Editor’s Note

Baron Wormser’s essay in this issue, “Arendt in New York,” begins, “She has witnessed rant that silenced every reproof. She has waited for some larger affirmation to arise, the vision of decency, but none came.” And so it is with us, here in 2017 in America.

Lately I’ve been thinking that our usual metaphors for history are misguided, that history is not a progression at all, not a flowing river but a landscape. As we turn or are turned by larger forces, we see different parts of the landscape, sometimes parts we thought had disappeared. Maybe we were only able to think that they had disappeared because we are distractible fools; maybe the art of advertising joined to politics has become the art of making ever bigger fools of us; no matter, there is little that has ever existed in American history (let’s restrict ourselves to that history which we might, with effort, come to understand) which has changed. It’s no use saying, in the face of racism, fascism, hatred, socially engineered poverty and disenfranchisement, intractable misogyny, and greed, that things are not as bad as they used to be. They are merely not as bad as they used to be right now. And only for now. And only for some. And, in fact, for not a few of us, they are right now as bad as they ever were. And for still some others, they are even worse.

Or maybe our own moment is, in relation to that landscape, like a murmuration of starlings. Picture it: moving across the sky like a shadow, like a dark ghost turning on itself, an incessant chattering in which we strive to find meaning as it swerves unpredictably, doubling its darkness, passing through itself as it turns and returns.

While history’s topography abides.

In any case, if writing has a moral dimension, if it seeks to encourage “some larger affirmation to arise, the vision of decency,” it rests on the assumption that the better articulation of our experience, one that includes both light and heat, head and heart, allows us to see our ethical choices more clearly, in the midst of complexity and suasion, in the face of propaganda and competing interests.

Much of what passes for art and culture (including literature) is a collection of things offered to us for consideration by the same people who, in complicated and insidious ways, own us. Some of this art is beautiful, some is intricate and interesting, some sheds light on some aspect of our lives as creatures; little of it threatens, or even questions, the standing of those who offer it to us and celebrate it as the only authentic version of “the human spirit.”

The essayists in this issue, however (thoroughly in keeping with the mission of Solstice) are attempting to situate themselves in relation to the most abiding problems of our history as they emerge in the present: racism, misogyny, willful forgetfulness, shame, class, privilege, and a poisonous version of masculinity.

Before Harvey Weinstein, et alia lacrymabili.., before #metoo, two essays came to us turning the soil, sifting for meaning, for decency where sexuality and power intersect, both of them from men. Remy Antonio Albillar’s complex self-inquiry, which never for a moment lets him off the hook, is a deep and soulful essay that struggles to understand the standard issue American masculinity of sports and misogyny, not so he can rest easy in that understanding, but so that he can oppose it with greater authenticity, from the heart of shame and confusion. From a more philosophical angle — many angles, actually — Dewitt Henry explores what we mean by the word privilege, as concept, as state-of-affairs, as power, including a consideration of fairness and gender, eros and rectitude.

Josip Novakovich takes in a Bulgarian soccer match and comes away with some thoughts about the way that our contemporary sports culture, with its stoking of tribalism, is easily commandeered by demagogues. “Observing enraged crowds is an anthropological study of civilization and its discontents,” he writes, “mostly the latter. We can talk about progress all we want, but let’s see what men of military age feel, what they shriek, whom they hate.”

Gillian Haines explores the unfairness of life and the resilience required to bear it. In the person of a falsely convicted prisoner, Ringer, she finds an example of the patience, the fortitude, and even the forgiveness she requires.

In “Beautiful Hair,” Sandell Morse peers behind the curtain of forgetfulness, partly willful and partly unconscious, that hides the troublesome past in her beloved French village of Aubillar.

Ann-Marie Oomen brings us news from “that other country” of advanced age, visiting her mother at “Oceana County Medical Care Facility in the small town of Hart, Michigan,” where her heart, and ours, is broken by the snarled tangle of love and duty and necessity and bureaucracy that accompanies the always wrenching struggle to care for our beloved elders.

And so, we have these honest and searching writings to sustain us while we continue to wait “for some larger affirmation to arise,” an aspiration which puts me in mind of this poem by Frank Scott, first heard on Leonard Cohen’s 2004 album, Dear Heather. I will leave you with it:


From bitter searching of the heart,
Quickened with passion and with pain
We rise to play a greater part.

This is the faith from which we start:
Men shall know commonwealth again
From bitter searching of the heart.

We loved the easy and the smart,
But now, with keener hand and brain,
We rise to play a greater part.

The lesser loyalties depart,
And neither race nor creed remain
From bitter searching of the heart.

Not steering by the venal chart
That tricked the mass for private gain,
We rise to play a greater part.

Reshaping narrow law and art
Whose symbols are the millions slain,
From bitter searching of the heart
We rise to play a greater part.

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