Friday, October 23, 2020

Today -100: October 23, 1920: It is dullness made God


The NYT expects bitterness in the last week of the presidential campaign, “owing to the use that is being made [in Ohio] by the Democrats of the ‘negro social equality’ issue and scurrilous attacks from anonymous sources on Harding, in which the Democrats say they have had no part.” The Times is still not willing to explain the “Harding is an octoroon” rumors. The R’s have 6 black candidates running for the Ohio Legislature, and the D’s won’t shut up about it (fun fact, for certain definitions of fun: the Ohio Constitution officially limited the vote to white males from 1802 to 1923, although superceded by the 15th federal Amendment; a referendum to remove the word “white” failed in 1912) (other fun fact: the 1851 Ohio constitution allowed slavery as punishment for crime – and it still does).

Yugoslavia is now officially a hereditary monarchy.

One of King Alexander of Greece’s doctors, Georges Vidal of Paris, says the monkey bite which afflicted his majesty was from a monkey which had been injected with rabies, so this was obviously an assassination attempt.

Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street is published. Here are some of the bits I underlined whenever I read it:
In shame she knew that they glanced appraisingly at her snowy overshoes, speculating about her legs. Theirs were not young eyes—there was no youth in all the town, she agonized. They were born old, grim and old and spying and censorious. 
she ordered porridge for breakfast, which was his symbol of morality.  
It is an unimaginatively standardized background, a sluggishness of speech and manners, a rigid ruling of the spirit by the desire to appear respectable. It is contentment . . . the contentment of the quiet dead, who are scornful of the living for their restless walking. It is negation canonized as the one positive virtue. It is the prohibition of happiness. It is slavery self-sought and self-defended. It is dullness made God. 
A savorless people, gulping tasteless food, and sitting afterward, coatless and thoughtless, in rocking-chairs prickly with inane decorations, listening to mechanical music, saying mechanical things about the excellence of Ford automobiles, and viewing themselves as the greatest race in the world. 
But a village in a country which is taking pains to become altogether standardized and pure, which aspires to succeed Victorian England as the chief mediocrity of the world, is no longer merely provincial, no longer downy and restful in its leaf-shadowed ignorance. It is a force seeking to dominate the earth, to drain the hills and sea of color, to set Dante at boosting Gopher Prairie, and to dress the high gods in Klassy Kollege Klothes. Sure of itself, it bullies other civilizations, as a traveling salesman in a brown derby conquers the wisdom of China and tacks advertisements of cigarettes over arches for centuries dedicate to the sayings of Confucius. 
Such a society functions admirably in the large production of cheap automobiles, dollar watches, and safety razors. But it is not satisfied until the entire world also admits that the end and joyous purpose of living is to ride in flivvers, to make advertising-pictures of dollar watches, and in the twilight to sit talking not of love and courage but of the convenience of safety razors.


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