It ain’t just old white guys that dislike political correctness. An “overwhelming majority of Americans” do—in fact, Americans “of all ages, races, and educational levels oppose it by lopsided margins.” So how did “an elite, repressive minority,” Wesley Yang asks, “policing speech and culture through political correctness come to browbeat the American democratic majority?”

Sally Emerson writes about Philip Dosse, who started and ran several publications on books and arts for over thirty years with no governmental grants or help. When he couldn’t keep them afloat any longer, he committed suicide in 1980: “When I first worked there he was monstrous, a Nero of a boss. Everyone feared the call to the office and the sacking or admonishing. There were no unions, and nobody ever talked about what they were paid. It was a high-wire act. But eventually a union was formed and salaries stabilised, though Philip still spent nothing on himself. He even put a saucepan of water on his gas pilot light at night so in the morning it would be slightly heated for his cup of tea. As he became more detached after the death of his beloved mother in the late 1970s and began to leave the office to help in a local newsagent’s, his glorious reign of terror began to end. He was clearly hiding from rising debts. I loved Philip for his modesty, and his sadness, and his kindness to me, in particular the evening soon after I arrived to work for him and Books and Bookmen. I had done a secretarial course to make sure I could earn money while pursuing my career as a writer (I dreamt of publishing a novel). He was delighted by this, thinking he had a bargain employing this agreeable young woman, about to go up to Oxford, who could help with his letters as well as with sub-editing and writing. One evening early on he asked me to write an important letter. I sat alone in the cheerless office after the others had left and banged away at the old typewriter. But when I got to the end of the page a weariness came over me and I did not want to get out another piece of paper with carbon paper underneath. Surely it would be OK just to write the last short paragraph up the side of the sheet, rather than waste more paper? I did so and took it into Philip. He didn’t yell at me like he yelled at other people. A look of great sadness came over him, he signed it, pushed it across his desk, and never asked me to type a boring letter again. From then on I could interview Borges when he was in town, interview William Gerhardie, go and see Olivia Manning. I was only just out of school and the world was all mine. He gave it to me.”

Jeffrey Meyers revisits Oscar Wilde’s trip across America: “Wilde’s character was enigmatic, both appealing and appalling. He was Irish and English, an ass but clever, womanly and manly, aesthetic and athletic. He wore Buffalo Bill’s shoulder-length hair and, though arty, was a heavy drinker. He went down the mines with the bearded ruffians of Leadville, Colorado — ‘the roughest and most wicked town on earth’ — then supped on three courses of whiskey and was hailed as a hero, a man’s man and one of their own. Wilde’s repertoire of masks, his talent for self-fashioning and skill in re-inventing, transformed him into a media star.”

Michael Taube remembers the comic strip Skippy: “As newspaper comic strips exploded in the late nineteenth century, they began to take on today’s instantly recognizable formats and visages. Some strips focused on the lives of individuals, families, and neighborhoods and others moved into realms like anthropomorphic animals, single panel gags, and dream sequences. Still others created imaginary worlds that were primarily dominated by young, mischievous, and impressionable children. There were a number of successful child-focused comics. Some of America’s first strips, including R.F. Outcault’s The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown, Rudolph Dirks’s The Katzenjammer Kids, and Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland all sit prominently. Other notable examples include Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby, Carl Anderson’s Henry, Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts, Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace, and Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Yet, there’s one strip that truly deserves to be called the gold standard: Percy Crosby’s Skippy (1925-1945).”

C. S. Lewis and Aristotle on friendship: “To the extent that we allow political differences to seep in and toxify our relationships with friends, family, and even citizens sharing the same neighborhood, we have allowed what is instrumentally valuable (politics) to poison what is intrinsically valuable (people, relationships).”

Don’t waste your time on a new production of Kurt Vonnegut’s play Happy Birthday, Wanda June, Kyle Smith writes. “Though chiefly designed along anti–Vietnam War lines, Wanda June is broad enough to be repurposed today as a merry lampoon of gun culture and sexual aggression and all things masculine, a quality now declared toxic by, for instance, the New York Times, which loves this play. In Vonnegut’s eyes, the more masculine you are, the more sinister. And America is for him a kind of roiling font of masculine energy where misguided fathers poison their sons with hunting lessons and tales of the glory of combat. The play’s central character, a big-game hunter and soldier with many human and animal kills to his credit, represents ‘Hemingway-esque machismo and American exceptionalism,’ says a press release. As you know, those things are reprehensible.”

A Reader Recommends: Marly Youmans recommends Frederick Buechner's Godric: “Inspired by the long life (and the intriguing gaps in the account of that life) of the medieval Godric of Finchale, Frederick Buechner's Godric clashes together the profane and the holy, the earthy and the ethereal to make a lively music. Truth-telling, ruth-telling Godric refuses to leave out any of his story, leaping back and forth in time to confess his wild escapes and escapades as peddler and pirate, his passionate loves and friendships with man and beast, his sins as red as cochineal—and lets slip along the way his visions and songs and fervent renunciations. A rare and precious thing, this novel trembles with energy and life.”

Essay of the Day:

Chris R. Morgan visits Salem, Massachusetts—the site of the 1692 and 1693 witch trials—and discovers the town has become a tourist trap. If you’re looking for kitschy witch memorabilia, this is the place for you:

“It is just before seven o’clock on a warm September evening, and I am waiting in front of a black house at the corner of Essex Street and Hawthorne Boulevard in Salem, Massachusetts. It is situated between a pub and a store with Harry Potter paraphernalia in its front windows. The black house is just one of many witchcraft shops in Salem, but this one, called Crow Haven Corner, has the distinction of being the oldest. I’m here to go on one of the ‘witch walks’ they offer several times a day for $16 a head.

“It’s a Monday so my tour group is a small one. Very small, in fact; there are only two other people, a couple from Utah whose daughter attends Harvard. The tiny turnout does not discourage our guide, Tom, in the least. If anything, the intimate group better allows his particular talents to shine.

“Tom is a young, wiry-framed man with shoulder-length brown hair. He greets us with a sprightly voice that slips into a singsongy cadence each time he signals us to move to a new destination. Now in his mid-thirties, Tom has been a resident of Salem since he was in his teens and he is a veteran guide, having worked on several tours of the area. Initially called to the city by his love of Halloween, Tom later became a practicing witch, which is, at least for me, the tour’s main draw. Coming to Salem with many questions about the discrepancy between the city’s past and present relationship to witchcraft, I hope Tom’s two crafts—sorcery and ‘explaining things’—will help me get some answers.

“The tour starts in the ‘enchanted alleyway’ next to the Harry Potter store. A narrow pathway leads to a tiny courtyard, almost a patio, containing a winged gargoyle and a person-sized, colorful plastic dragon; a rotating green light casts a spotted pattern. In the center of the courtyard is a table set with candles, crystals, a pile of leaflets discussing the victims of the 1692 witch trials, statuettes of various mythical figures, a stuffed bird perched on top of a skull, and a knife. Off to the side, planted in the ground, is a sword, but Tom doesn’t like the sword so he goes back into the store to get one he prefers.

“Once he returns, Tom commences with the grounding spell, a simple ritual to demonstrate the basic practices of Wicca, the most popular contemporary form of witchcraft in the United States. He starts with breathing exercises, not unlike those done during yoga, he says. He then tells us to concentrate on the weight of our feet planting us to the ground—an easy task as I’d spent much of the day walking around. He is about to prepare a ‘sacred space’ for the spell, which he describes first as ‘a kind of force field’ and, more interestingly, as ‘an invisible witch church.’ He points the sword upward and spins it over our heads to create the parameters of the sacred space. ‘I’m going to do a lot of spinning,’ he says. Then he takes up the ritual knife—called an athame, I later learn—which he will use to call on the four elements of life: earth, air, fire, and water. We hold up our left hands as he points the athame north, west, south, and east for each element. After each rendition we are instructed to say ‘so mote it be’—an archaism for ‘so it must be.’

“Next is the visualization spell. Tom explains that witches are pantheists rather than atheists and that all the gods of pre-Christian times never entirely faded into oblivion. Tonight’s spell is performed in honor of Hermes, a favorite of Tom’s, the god of travel—the god of tour guides. He lights an orange candle and has us close our eyes as he describes in lush terms the flame rising above us and dissipating into the sky. Tom then undoes the sacred space by turning the athame to the right. He waves his hand in front of the dragon, which, equipped with a motion sensor, now moves its head and roars. Tom then points to a pile of crystals that have been blessed in the process of the spell and offers them to us if we want to carry the magic with us. ‘Everybody gets one.’”

Read the rest.

Poem: Sarah Burke, “Trying”

Photo: Light Pillars over Whitefish Bay

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