JUST TALKING Ray and I met at McSorley’s for a couple beers. Ray’s a poet and an editor and a bookstore junky who loves Henry James, Joseph Conrad and those ice cream swirlies you can get at McDonald’s. He’s one of my favorite people in New York: An animated conversationalist with a good voice who would make a fantastic late night radio talk show host.
We stood at the bar, leaning heavily against it, waiting for another round of stouts.
“Look, I’m just talking, and I’m an ass, but this country was founded by convicts in Georgia and religious nuts in New England,” Ray was saying, “Some wanting religious freedom; other people wanting to practice their own religion. This country was basically founded by madmen, adventurers and what-not.”
“The country is lucky that some of the so-called founders were actually really intelligent people who had ideas. But even back then, the other side – which should be called the slave holding side – was chafing at the bit. Chomping away at it as much as it could.”
“But, don’t you think…”
“I think America is a story of a Republic becoming an Empire. And in the same time, freedom is declining. Individual freedom is declining commensurately with the rise of the Empire. It’s just a thought.”
“Well, in Europe, there’s…”
“In Europe, you’ve got homogeneous populations with cultures that stretch way back. You have a context. You have a context within which to work and live that makes sense. In the United States, there’s no context.
“There’s also no memory. What happened yesterday is even forgotten. It’s only what happened today. There’s hardly any sense of history. Radical history for one thing; literary history for another thing.
“Look, it’s just a thought. And I’m just talking.”