Posted under Fiction
The Once and Future Fugitives
Â By:Â J.D. Salyer
Future:Â Dystopic sci-fi film Loganâ€™s Run depicts a contented future-city where Man lives out endless amusements, orgies, festivals of mesmerizing music and anesthetizing drugs.Â All-I-Wanna-Do-Is-Have-Some
Â Â Â Â Â Â Countersong-counterspell courtesy of word-wizard Donald Davidson:Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â And times will come when answers will not wait.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Remember this: if ever defeat is black
Â Â Â Â Â Â Upon your eyelids, go to the wilderness
Â Â Â Â Â Â In the dread last of trouble, for your foe
Â Â Â Â Â Â Tangles there, more than you, and paths are strange
Â Â Â Â Â Â To him, that are your paths, in the wilderness
Â Â Â Â Â Â And were your fathersâ€™ paths, and once were mine. Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â The city, run by supercomputer, ensures the best life-style for denizens.Â The system runs logically:Â to maintain high standard-of-living, no one may live past 30.Â Each person has a life-clock installed– once the fun is done, the egg-timer goes off, and the good-citizen enters a machine for â€œrenewalâ€.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â I.e., be sure to separate recyclables into aluminum, plastics, and flesh.Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Then go.Â At once.Â Do not wait until
Â Â Â Â Â Â You see his great dust rising in the valley.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Then it will be too late.Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â But not all are good-citizens, some balk at this existence, and run, following rumors of another community, called â€œSanctuaryâ€, hidden somewhere beyond the ecologically-devastated wasteland that surrounds the lotus-eatersâ€™ dome-habitat.Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â First, what you cannot carry, burn or hide.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Leave nothing here: for him to take or eat.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Bury, perhaps, what you can surely find
Â Â Â Â Â Â If good chance ever bring you back again.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Level the crops.Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â But the perfect society cannot afford subversiveness, and so has measures in place:Â so-called â€œsandmenâ€â€”secret-agent men with numbers for surnames, men genegineered, trained, conditioned to track down and terminate the furtive â€œrunnersâ€.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â The sandmen are the Systemâ€™s enforcers. Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â You must remember this, and mark it well
Â Â Â Â Â Â As I have told itâ€”what my eyes have seen
Â Â Â Â Â Â And where my feet have walked beyond forgetting.
Â Â Â Â Â Â But tell it not often, tell it only at last
Â Â Â Â Â Â When your sons know what blood runs in their veins.
Â Â Â Â Â Â And when the danger comes, as come it will,
Â Â Â Â Â Â Go as your fathers went with woodsmanâ€™s eyes
Â Â Â Â Â Â Uncursed, unflinching, studying only the path.Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â As the tale unfolds, one sandman called Logan 5 breaks conditioning, turns from the System, and himself becomes a runner– hence the title.Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Do not look back.Â You can see your roof afire
Â Â Â Â Â Â When you reach high ground.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Yet do not look.Â Do not turn.Â Do not look back.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Go further on.Â Go high.Â Go deep.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Logan is stalked by the other sandmen, as well as by killer mechanoids programmed to break down human tissues into savory nutrients.Â (â€œWould you like fries with that?â€)Â As if that were not bad enough, the rumors and idealisms of Sanctuary turn out to be pretty liesâ€”yet even after this discovery, Logan 5 persists in running, still seeks a real Sanctuary somewhere in the raped ruins of Mother Earth.Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Men have found
Â Â Â Â Â Â Images carved in bird-shapes there and faces
Â Â Â Â Â Â Moulded, into the great kind look of gods.
Â Â Â Â Â Â These old tales are like prayers.Â I only know
Â Â Â Â Â Â This is the secret refuge of our race
Â Â Â Â Â Â Told only from a father to his son,
Â Â Â Â Â Â A trust laid on your lips, as though a vow
Â Â Â Â Â Â To generations past and yet to come.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Once:Â In the 1920â€™s, various poets, novelists, historians coalesced into a body referred to as â€œThe Fugitivesâ€â€”after the now-defunct literary magazine of the same name which they established at Vanderbilt University.Â Robert Penn Warren was the most famous of them; his name, almost-remembered.Â A few Marxist– er, I mean, American– literature professors may even have heard of The Cave:Â Penn Warrenâ€™s novel drawing upon Platonic metaphor, Homerâ€™s cyclopic myth, and the dark, abysmal desolation that once sealed the mouth of Christâ€™s tombâ€”all synthesized into the story of a boy exploring an underground passage in the hills of Kentucky, who then becomes stuck, whose inevitable claustrophobic starvation-doom becomes the focus of a voyeuristic media-circus.
Â Â Â Â Â Â The Fugitivesâ€™ worksâ€”artistic, cultural, politicalâ€”focused on effects of consumerism, mass-media, and the nomadic Automobile Age upon Manâ€™s spirit.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Their reference frame was the American Southland, which partly explains their obscurity.Â Aside from the occasional pleasant novelty of dabbling in Faulkner or Oâ€™Connor, righteous America demands a binary view of Southerners.Â Either he is a toothless illiterate redneck-racist– or if educated, he is ashamed of his ancestors, he falls all over himself to disavow his peopleâ€™s symbols, culture, identity.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â The Fugitives were neither Morlocks nor bootlicks– thus, per the mental midgets who define modern discourse, they could not possibly have existed. The Fugitives fixated not on a romanticized, blemish-free Gone-With-The-Wind illusion, yet neither did they succumb to the seductions of Yankee know-how and capitalism that turned their homeland into a lattice of profitably-quaint tourist-towns, shopping malls, and office-parks.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Instead they used principles of rootedness, love of Nature, and heritage as sounding-boards by which to critique the modern march.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â In the intro to their essay collection Iâ€™ll Take My Stand, they observed the efficiency-expertâ€™s assumption â€œthat labor is an evil, that only the end of labor– the material product– is good.Â On this assumption labor becomes mercenary and servile, and it is no wonder if many forms of modern labor are accepted without resentment though they are evidently brutalizing.â€Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â This observationâ€”minus the â€œwithout resentmentâ€, perhaps– is as relevant to the white-collar cubicle-ites trapped in Office-Spaces– living only for the weekend or for annual 2 weeksâ€™ paid vacation– as it is to migrant workers.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Poet John Crowe Ransom criticized progressive crusading of his day, criticism equally applicable to neoconservativism:Â â€œOur vast industrial machine, with its laboratory centers of experimentation, and its far-flung organs of mass production, is like a Prussianized state which is organized strictly for war and can never consent to peaceâ€¦ our progressivists are the latest version of those pioneers who conquered the wilderness, except that they are pioneering on principle, and from force of habit, and without any recollection of what pioneering was for.â€Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â What are freedom and democracy for?
Â Â Â Â Â Â Another Fugitive, Donald Davidson, observed American psyche:Â â€œThe furious pace of our working hours are carried over into our leisure hours, which are feverish and energetic.Â We live by the clock.Â Our days are a muddle of â€˜activitiesâ€™, strenuously pursuedâ€¦ the arts take on the character of mere entertainmentâ€¦ or it is another kind of labor, taken up out of a sense of duty, pursued as a kind of fashionable enterprise for which oneâ€™s courage must be continually whipped up by reminders of oneâ€™s obligation to culture.â€Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â He also commented on the notion of menâ€™s minds being enlightened via gentle ministrations of the media-entertainment complex and argued that progressive elites who hope to civilize â€œfrom the top downâ€ in the egalitarian-consumption society contradict themselves:Â â€œfor our whole powerful economic system rests on mass motivesâ€”the motives of societyâ€™s lowest common denominator.â€Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Yet another commented on education:Â â€œFormerly we followed Goetheâ€™s maxim, to the effect that everything that frees manâ€™s soul, but does not give him command over himself, is evil.Â Today, we are out to withdraw the command of men over themselves, and to free, to no purpose, their souls.â€
Â Â Â Â Â Â Wise words, but the Vanderbilt Fugitives are dead, forgotten.Â Robert Penn Warrenâ€™s fictional journalist, Jack Burden– wrestling with justification, redemption, love, and the gap between words and deeds, modern man crippled by the encumbrance of heavy Selfâ€”has been usurped by his heir.Â Burden has been usurped by the detached Outsider of Camus, who has embraced the dark, abysmal desolation sealed behind community-facades, who is not modern but post-modern, comatose rather than crippled, whose self is no burden because it is as insubstantial as it is undefined, who lives by whims rather than choices.
Â Â Â Â Â Â The Fugitives called attention to the â€œcatchâ€, the fine-print warning at the bottom of Mephistophelean contract of post-modern liberation.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Possibly there are other discontents, with eyes unhypnotized by sparkling-colored lights, with whom I may share the word â€œweâ€, from whose hearts Davidsonâ€™s poem– â€œSanctuaryâ€– echoes.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Davidson may speak of the War Between the States, or of Appalachiaâ€™s forgotten â€œBlack Patch Warsâ€ when metropolitan agri-monopolies sent hordes of mercenary gunmen to crush independent tobacco farmers.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â But perhaps he somehow prophesied the gentler strangulation-war corporate agribusiness uses in its hegemony today.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Or perhaps he speaks to Logan 5â€™s rebellion against the machine, or perhaps he speaks to the â€œCulture Warâ€.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Or perhaps he sings of the only war that has ever mattered — the invisible war raging in the heart of Man.Â And perhaps he sings of the search for peace, for lost innocence.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Look back to all you left, and trace
Â Â Â Â Â Â His dust and flame, and plan your harrying
Â Â Â Â Â Â If you would gnaw his ravaging flank, or smite
Â Â Â Â Â Â Him in his glut among the smouldering ricks.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Or else, forgetting ruin, you may lie
Â Â Â Â Â Â On sweet grass by a mountain stream, to watch
Â Â Â Â Â Â The last wild eagle soar or the last raven
Â Â Â Â Â Â Cherish his brood within their rocky nest,
Â Â Â Â Â Â Or see, when mountain shadows first grow long,
Â Â Â Â Â Â The last enchanted white deer come to drink.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â If the â€œWeâ€ fits, bear it:Â Our society is no homeland; the global network of information and travel that â€œconnectsâ€ us actually works to dissolve place and time, and thus all those human elements that rely upon the localized intimacy of place and the epigenetic unfolding of time– to produce a shallow, whirling, ever-shifting limbo fit for No-Man.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Rootedness is hard in postmodernity because Leviathan intends it to be hard, as hard as possible, preferably impossible.Â For Leviathanâ€™s tentacles seek to weave Man into No-Man â€“ into a creature efficient because he has no loyalties to religion, kin, culture; into a creature carefree because it is free from caring.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Yet Manâ€™s nature keeps kicking, like a foetus struggling to live.Â Manâ€™s nature keeps striving for bonds uniquely particular rather than atomistically-interchangeable, for bonds that stretch beyond the gratification of the fleeting Now.
Â Â Â Â Â Â At one point or another, we have all been sandmen– all of us.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â But underneath everything– whether then or now or tomorrow– we are all fugitives, in search of sanctuary.Â