Good Morning Taosenos! How Are We Doing? From The Center of the Universe…

By: Bill Whaley
29 March, 2020

1. For those who still read books, I shall publish advisories, not only mine for the very few, but from Taos Friction readers for a wider audience. Basically, I read for wisdom and insight, hence classic philosophy and literature in the western tradition, which is the tradition and language into which I was born, reared, educated. Mostly I re-read in the spirt of Yeats, who advised about poetry, “There is no reading, only re-reading.” Montaigne, the progenitor of the modern essay wrote, “To Philosophize is to Learn How to Die.” I hasten to gloss that in light of Epicurean notion of the present moment, if you get the mind right, you can experience death and re-birth in a moment spiritually, in a nano-second that seems to stretch into infinity. I like to sit on the bench and stare at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, think about both those who died and those who resisted the impulse and chose to live. We all have our ways of living. Montaigne said Nature will teach us how to die.

2. For the first time in forty or fifty years I am re-reading Albert Camus’s, “The Plague” about the rats and the fever. Sordid but eloquently clear descriptions, a joy. Camus’s “Rebel,” which I dip into from time to time, is my favorite analysis of current issues in art and politics. (He sees unity as the great qualifier for the Rebel and the Artist, the truth and beauty of nature reflected in the work.) Camus’s much admired literary friend, Simone Weil, the brilliant mystic and synthesizer of Greek and Catholic traditions, wrote, “The Need for Natural Roots,” a book which rings true, especially aqui en Taos, where Indigenous Culture of Hispanic and the Native American confirm the sentiments of newcomers, who feel the resonance of people and place. Both Weil and Camus actively wrote in response to the destruction of France and turmoil of European civilization, circa WWII, a time very like our own, given the current social upheaval. Otherwise, I recently finished Hannah Arendt’s “Life of the Mind,” a kind of history of ideas, thinking, western philosophy from the Greeks through Heidegger and Husserl. Where Weil synthesizes and summarizes, Arendt explains, argues, and educates.

3. I’m happy to see the Town of Taos reject their odious devotion to excessive begging on the tourist circuit. Now they are asking visitors not to come, cancelling summer concerts, etc. I was disappointed when the TSV closed early, figuring, at first, that I could survive the plague bundled up with mask and gloves and get in a few more days. But, after eavesdropping on several wealthy Red State Ignoramuses on Friday March 13, pompous ones who traveled by private plane to their TSV House, but blamed the demos and media for the plague as if a conspiracy against Trump, I was relieved. Listening to those tourists in the close confines of a ski shop, while having my boots adjusted for (genuine) bone spurs, was excruciating. I watched their boot fitter, a young shaggy haired skier, tense up but maintain rigid professional decorum, despite this savage talk. Skiers were already wearing bandannas and masks in response to the plague.

4. Now I have shifted my live UNM classes online, a shift more in degree than in kind. Writing classes require much in the way of call and response, submission, comment and editing, return and re-submission, more editing. I will be checking in this week with their take on the plague. I’ve heard plenty about their distrust of the political system, the perils and pluses of the digital world. These students feel short circuited by lies about climate change and the association of politics with the inequality of wealth and the unforgivable student debt.

5. My students don’t have the advantages we do, in addition to the history of human experience or due to an old-fashioned education. Some of us have experienced the consequences of intimately surviving, having grown up with “Depression” and “WWII” era parents, as well as the long cold war—air raid drills, missiles, the bomb, threats of the nuclear winter (not to mention various plagues). I lived in northern Nevada where we used to go out and try to see the flash from nuclear explosions three-hundred-fifty miles to the south during the fifties. Ironically I moved to Taos in the sixties so I’m fifty miles north (more or less) and downwind of LANL’s prevailing (cancer-laden) breezes. LANL will release contamination from WWII canisters on April 17 in order to avoid inadvertent “explosions.”

6. Meanwhile, our Governor, whom I quite admire for her alacrity and decisive action re: The Plague, was, at last report, like our “liberal congressional delegation,” in favor of the LANL, expansion re: “Plutonium Pits” (bomb-making). The lab wants to take over the defunct Santa Fe college campus and build more roads and more labs. Oppenheimer said at the moment of seeing an atom bomb: “I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad-Gita. Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

7. Yeats wrote in “Easter 1916” a line which captures the sentiment of the moment: “All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.” As Maureen Dowd mentions in her latest NYT’s column, we may prefer a benign Italian Father on the order of Andrew Cuomo in leadership, one from Queens, who understands the value of operative experience and expresses a greater love for humanity than does our other reality star from Queens. Amen.