Aldon Hynes's blog

Literature, Legal Decisions, and the Plastic Palimpsest

As part of the Walt Whitman course I’m taking online, I watched a fascinating interview between Supreme Court Justice Elena Kegan and Harvard professor Elisa New. I’ve often blog about court decisions, but I’ve rarely thought about them as a literary form and the interplay of court decisions and other literature.

At one point, Justice Kagan, speaking about a poem said,

So reading this made me think a little bit harder about what I was seeing every day, in a way, that I guess, great poetry can do-- is to make you notice things that you don't notice in the world.

It struck me that we need Judges and Justices that read poetry; that notice things that normally aren’t noticed.

In another section she talks about quoting other judges

All the time, I use what other judges have said. And if I'm a judge and I have this amazing quote from Louis Brandeis-- man, I make sure to use that quote, right? Because it's an amazing quote, and because Louis Brandeis said it gives me a kind of credibility.

It was a wonderful discussion.

Today, I have been cleaning up some of the dangling fragments of ideas for blog posts on my computer. There are so many ideas bouncing around in my head that I would like to explore. I decided I would write a blog post exposing and exploring some of these ideas.

I was going to title the post something like, palimpsest. It is a wonderful word, dating back to Cicero, talking about writing over something, such as on a parchment that has been scraped off and is being reused.

Yet the idea of palimpsest that I always go to is from Judge John Woolsey in his decision about James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Joyce has attempted — it seems to me, with astonishing success — to show how the screen of consciousness with its ever-shifting kaleidoscopic impressions carries, as it were on a plastic palimpsest, not only what is in the focus of each man’s observation of the actual things about him, but also in a penumbral zone residua of past impressions, some recent and some drawn up by association from the domain of the subconscious.

It is such a wonderful quote, and I often think about this blog, with its ever-shifting kaleidoscopic impressions and the penumbral zone residua of my own past impressions, sometimes written about, sometimes, just in fragments, sometimes not even yet in fully formed thoughts.

But now, I’ve written my blog post of the day, exploring literature, legal decisions, and the plastic palimpsest underlying my own blog, so I’ll have to explore the incomplete fragments in a later post.

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The Storm

The forecast has been published. The state of emergency declared. The travel ban goes into effect in an hour. Friends are posting on Facebook about their plans. Others are texting about the weather in their areas. Where I am, the weather remains calm. I wait for the storm to start, for the last tasks to be completed so I can head off to bed. I reflect back to other storms. I’ve weathered them okay and hope this storm won’t be bad.

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A Post Structural Whitman

How curious it is to be writing a blog post about an online course on Walt Whitman taught by a Harvard professor, shortly before the blizzard hits; so much further than Whitman’s mediations could ever have led him.

I, too, was once a student of modest means. I, too, once lived in Brooklyn. I, too, once walked the streets of Manhattan, visited the theatres and sailed the waters of the East River.

How different things might have been, if I had read Whitman, perhaps mixed with a little Foucault before heading off to college, before those long nights walking with an artist friend the back streets of industrial Ohio.

The railroad tracks, the blast furnace, the tree full of bats shrieking off into the night, and the fried onion rings at the all night truck stop might have made more sense against a palimpsest of Foucault and Whitman.

We were the flaneurs of twentieth century industrial America, and should have claimed our heritage of Whitman’s wandering around Manhattan or Baudelaire’s Paris.

But I was not so full of myself. I could not sing a song of myself, as much as I loved Giovanni’s Ego Tripping, I disliked self-referential pop music, and restricted my poetry to quaint imagism.

Years later, I took to the technology of my generation. Writing computer software became my poetry and my gateway to the penny presses of the twenty first century, the blog.

Like Franklin and Whitman, I went from working the presses to writing the content, fueled by a love of democracy. As a blogger, I hung out with the politicians, became a politician, and sought for words to make a difference.

But now, I must post my thoughts about Whitman, about the poems we’ve been reading before the blizzard hits, for like another poet that impacted me early, I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.

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The snow falling softly outside was just too exciting for our dog and his morning barking was at least as energetic as when deer cross our property, so some other more furtive wildlife. I got out of bed early so he could go outside, and unlike when there are deer, he made no apparent attempts to bound beyond the bounds of our property. Instead, he rolled in the snow, played, and frequently came to the door to see why no one else seemed interested in coming out and enjoying the snow.

It has been a long week, so I was pretty tired when I dragged myself out of bed. When the rest of the family final emerged from their slumbers, I retreated back to bed to get a little more sleep.

Upon arising again, I engaged in the chores needing to be done. I helped straighten up the living room. I cleaned off one of the cars and shoveled the walk, and then I loaded up the car for a dump run. We’ve been traveling over the past couple of weekends so there were several weeks’ worth of trash to be hauled.

Back home, I put away some of the Christmas decorations, dealt with the dishes and bottled another batch of hard cider. I took Fiona to a sleepover birthday party. I also managed to get a little time to read more Whitman for the online class I’m taking.

If I had more time and energy, I would write a long blog post reflecting on the Whitman class. I would watch a movie with my wife. Instead, I’m just satisfied that I caught up a little bit with the chores and with my sleep, and look forward to catching up more soon.

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Recently, a friend on Facebook posted,

A guy who has worked in progressive grassroots political organizing for many years is jolted awake in a cold sweat from a dream in which he looked into a mirror and saw Don Quixote staring out at him.

I found this interesting for a couple of reasons. One is thinking about Don Quixote. The first part of my reply was

My association to this … is the beginning of Don Quixote:

"You must know, then, that the above-named gentleman whenever he was at leisure (which was mostly all the year round) gave himself up to reading ..."

When I studied the text back in college we talked about the social context, how it was inspired response to the growth of novel reading brought about by the printing press.

How does this relate to today's Don Quixotes giving themselves up to reading social media brought about by the internet, and posting responses, thinking that this accounts to meaningful political activism?

The other part of my response referenced my long time interest in social dreaming. I participated in some online social dreaming matrixes years ago and remain interested in the subject.

A starting point for this is The Third Reich of Dreams: The Nightmares of a Nation, 1933-39 by Charlotte Beradt. What can our dreams tell us about what is going on, that we might not be able to see otherwise? As I think about it, I wonder, to what extent, we can apply ideas from social dreaming matrixes to social media.

There are fragments of two dreams from last night that have stayed with me today. In one, I was at a restaurant with a bunch of people I knew. I learned that one of them had died and two of them had disappeared, but I don’t remember much else about it.

In the second dream, I was traveling around, plugging in my electric car to recharge. There was some sort of time travel involved so I could see how the distribution of charging stations had changed over time, and could select whichever time period I wanted.

I don’t have much for associations with either of these dreams.x

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