You Can't Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe

30. The Anodyne

Fox read it instantly, the proud nose sniffing upwards sharply —“man fell or jumped . . . Admiral Francis Drake Hotel . . . Brooklyn.” The sea-pale eyes took it in at once, and went on to more important things.

Fox was cold, then? Hard? Selfish? Lacking in understanding? Unsympathetic? Unimaginative? By no means.

Could not have known Green, then? Was too much the patrician to know Green? Was too high, too rare, too subtle, too fine-fibred to know Green? None of these.

Fox knew everything, or almost everything. (If there’s a lack here, we will smell it out.) Fox had been born with everything, and had learned much, yet his learning had not made him mad, or ever blunted the keen blade of knowing. He saw all things as they were: had never (in his mind and heart) called man a “white man” yet, because Fox saw man was not “white man”— man was pink man tinged with sallow, man was sallow tinged with grey, man was pink-brown, red-bronze, or white-red-sallow, but not white.

So Fox (in mind and heart) would call it as it was. This was the boy’s straight eye. Yet his clarities were obscured for other men. His straightness was thought cunning by crude-cunning rogues, his warmth seemed ice to all the hearty-false, and to the false-sincere Fox was a twister. Not one of these things was true of him.

Fox knew Green all right — knew him better than we, the Concentrated Blotters of Green’s ilk. For, being of the ilk, we grow confused, struggle with Green (so with ourselves), argue, debate, deny, are tarred with the same brush, and so lose judgment.

Not so, Fox. Not of Green’s ilk, yet was he still of the whole family of earth. Fox knew at once that Green had blood in him. Fox placed him instantly: saw sky above him, Admiral Drake Hotel behind him, lamp-post, pavement, people, Brooklyn corner, cops, rouged Jewesses, the motor-cars, the subway entrance, and exploded brains — and, had he been there, would have said in a low, somewhat puzzled, and abstracted tone:

“Oh . . . I see.”

Would have seen, too, my mad masters; never doubt it. Would have seen clearly and seen whole, without our agony, without confusion, without struggling with the surface of each brick, each square inch of concrete pavement, each scale of rust upon the fire-escapes, the raw-green paint of the lamp-post, the sterile red-front brightness of the cigar store, the shapes of windows, ledges, cornices, and doorways, the way the shops were set into old houses along the street, all the heart-sick ugliness exploded into the nothingness of Brooklyn. Fox would have seen it instantly, without having to struggle to see all, know all, hold all clearly, singly, permanently, in the burning crystal of the brain.

And if Fox had lived in Brooklyn, he would have got much else as well — got it clear and straight — while we were trying to make our maddened ears spread out like funnels to absorb it — every whispered word in Flatbush, every rhythmic-creaking spring in the back bedrooms of whore’s Sand Street (by old yellow shades concealed), every barker’s cry in Coney, all the jargons of each tenement from Red Hook to Brownsville. Yes, while we wrestled with our five senses there in Jungletown, our tormented brain caught in the brutal chaos of “Gewirr! Gewirr!”— Fox would have got it all, without madness, agony, or the fevered eye, and would have murmured:

“Oh . . . I see.”

Wherever he was, Fox was one to get the little things — the little, most important things that tell you everything. He never picked a little thing because it was a little thing, to show he was a devilish cunning, subtle, rare, and most aesthetic fellow: he picked a little thing because it was the right thing — and he never missed.

Fox was a great fox, and a genius. He was no little Pixy of the Aesthetes. He did not write nine-page reviews on “How Chaplin Uses Hands in Latest Picture”— how it really was not slap-stick, but the tragedy of Lear in modern clothes; or on how Enters enters; or on how Crane’s poetry can only be defined, reviewed, and generally exposited in terms of mathematical formulae — ahem! ahem, now! — as:

                 ________
                √an + pxt   n – F₃(B¹⁸ + 11)
                --------- = ----------------
                   237           2

(Bring on the Revolution, Comrades; it is Time!)

Fox did not go round making discoveries nine years after Boob McNutt had made them. He didn’t find out that Groucho was funny seven years too late, and then inform the public why he was. He did not write: “The opening Volte of the Ballet is the historic method amplified in history, the production of historic fullness without the literary cliché of the historic spate.” He had no part in any of the fine horse-manure with which we have allowed ourselves to be bored, maddened, whiff-sniffed, hound-and-hornered, nationed, new-republicked, dialled, spectatored, mercuried, storied, anvilled, new-massed, new-yorkered, vogued, vanity-faired, timed, broomed, transitioned, and generally shat upon by the elegant, refined, and snobified Concentrated Blotters of the Arts. He had nothing to do with any of the doltish gibberings, obscene quackeries, phoney passions, and six-months-long religions of fools, joiners, and fashion-apes a trifle brighter and quicker on the uptake than the fools, joiners, and fashion-apes they prey upon. He was none of your little frankypanky, seldesey-weldesey, cowley-wowley, tatesy-watesy, hicksy-picksy, wilsony-pilsony, jolasy-wolasy, steiny-weiny, goldy-woldly, sneer-puss fellows. Neither, in more conventional guise, was he one of your groupy-croupy, cliquey-triquey, meachy-teachy devotobloato wire-pullers and back-scratchers of the world.

No, Fox was none of these. He looked at the whole thing, whatever it was, and got it straight, said slowly: “Oh . . . I see,” then like a fox would begin to pick up things round the edges. An eye here, a nose there, a cleft of lip, a length of chin elsewhere — and suddenly, with the frame of a waiter’s face, he would see the grave, thought-lonely visage of Erasmus. Fox would turn away reflectively and drink his drink, glance casually from time to time as the man approached him, catch his coat lapels and turn, stare fixedly at the waiter’s face again, turn back to the table, turn again and stare, bend over, staring right up into the waiter’s face:

The waiter, troubled now, and smiling doubtfully: “Sir? . . . Is there anything wrong, sir?”

Fox, slowly, almost in a whisper: “Did you ever hear of — Erasmus?”

And the waiter, still smiling, but more doubtfully than ever: “No sir.”

And Fox, turning away and whispering hoarsely with astounded conviction: “Simply astonishing!

Or, again, it will be a hat-check girl at the place where he has lunch — a little tough-voiced, pert, hard-boiled girl. Fox will suddenly stop one day and look at her keenly with his sea-pale eyes, and will give her a dollar as he goes out.

“But Fox,” friends will protest, “in God’s name, why did you give that girl a dollar?”

“But isn’t she the nicest person?” Fox will say, in a low and earnest whisper.

And they will stare at him in blank amazement. That girl! That little tough, gold-digging, hard-boiled — oh, well, what’s the use? They give it up! Rather than shatter the illusions and wound the innocence of this trusting child, they’ll hold their tongues and leave him to his dream.

And she, the little hard-boiled hat-check girl, in a hoarse, confiding tone to the other hat-check girl, excitedly: “Say! Do you know that guy that comes in here every day for lunch — the queer one that always orders guinea-hen — an’ that didn’t usta wanna let us have his hat at all?”

The other, nodding: “Sure, I know! He usta try to wear it w’ile he’s eatin’! You awmost had to throw ’im down an’ take it from ’im befoeh he’d letcha have it.”

She, rapidly, nodding: “Yeah! That’s him!” Then, lowering her voice to an excited whisper: “Well, y’know, he’s been givin’ me a dollah tip every day for the last mont’!”

The other, staring, stunned: “G’wan!”

She: “Honest t’ Gawd!”

The other: “Has he made any passes atcha yet? — any wisecracks? — any funny tawk?”

She, with a puzzled look in her eye: “That’s the funny paht of it — I can’t make ’im out! He ‘tawks funny awright — but — he don’t mean what I thought he did. The first time he said somethin’ I thought he was goin’ t’ be fresh. He comes up t’ get his hat one day, an’ stands lookin’ at me with that funny look until I got the willies. So I says: ‘So what!’ ‘Married?’ he says — just like that. Just stands lookin’ at me an’ says: ‘Married?’”

The other: “Gee! That was fresh!” Eagerly: “Well, go on — w’atcha say to ’im? W’atcha tell ’im?”

She: “Well, I says to myse’f: ‘Oh, ho! I knew this was comin’! This dollah-a-day stuff can’t keep up for ever! Well,’ I thinks, ‘you can’t hang onto a good thing all yoeh life!’— so I decides to let ’im have it befoeh he has the chanct to staht gettin’ funny. So I lies to ’im: ‘Surer I says, an’ looks ’im right in the eye —‘I’m good an’ married! Ain’t you?’ I thought that ought to hold ’im.”

The other: “An’ w’at did he say t’ that?

She: “He just stood lookin’ at me with that funny look. Then he shook his head at me — as if I’d done somep’n — as if it was my fault — as if he was disgusted wit’ me. ‘Yes,’ he says, an’ gets his hat, an’ leaves his dollah, an’ walks out. Tie that one down! Well, I gets to thinkin’ it oveh, an’ I figure that next day he’s goin’ t’ spring itstaht givin’ me the old oil about how his wife don’t undehstand ’im, or how he’s not livin’ wit’ her an’ how lonesome he is — an’ how about it? — can’t we get togetheh some night for dinneh?”

And number two, rapt: “So w’at happens?”

And she: “When he comes to get his hat next day he just stands there lookin’ at me for a long time in that funny way of his that used to get me noivous — as if I’d done somep’n — so I says again: ‘So what?’ An’ he says in that funny voice — it’s so low sometimes you can’t handly hear it — he says: ‘Any children?’— just like that! Gee, it was funny! It wasn’t what I expected ’im t’ say at all! I didn’t know what t’ say, so fine’ly I says: ‘No.’ So, wit’ that, he just stands there lookin’ at me, an’ he shakes his head at me like he was disgusted wit’ me for not havin’ any. So then I gets sore, I forget I’m pot married — the way he shakes his head at me as if it was my fault for not havin’ any children gets me good an’ sore — an’ I says to ’im: ‘So what? What if I haven’t? Have you?

Number two, now fascinated: “So w’at happens? W’at does he tell yah?”

She: “He stands lookin’ at me an’ says: ‘Fiver — just like that. An’ then he shakes his head again —‘All women,’ he says, as if he was disgusted wit’ me — Like yourself,’ he says. An’ then he takes his hat, an’ leaves his dollah, an’ walks out!”

Number two, in an aggrieved tone: “Say-y! Who does he think he is, anyway? How does he get that way? That guy’s pretty fresh, I’d say!”

She: “Well, I get to thinkin’ about it an’ I get sore. The noive of ’im, tawkin’ about women like that! So the next day when he comes to get his hat I says: ‘Listen,’ I says, ‘what’s eatin’ on you, anyway? What are yah — a woman-hatah or somep’n? Whatcha got against women, anyway? What’d they eveh do to you?’ ‘Nothing,’ he says, ‘nothing — except act like women!’ Gee! The way he said that! An’ stood there shakin’ his head at me in that disgusted way like I’d done somep’n! He takes his hat then, leaves his dollah, an’ goes out . . . So afteh that I decide t’ kid ’im along a little, seein’ he’s not tryin’ t’ get funny wit’ me. So every day afteh that I make some wisecrack about women, tryin’ to get a rise out of ’im, but I neveh do! Say! You can’t get a rise outa that guy! I’ve tried an’ I know! He don’t even know when you’re tryin’ t’ get a rise out of ’im! . . . So then he stahts t’ ast me questions about my husband — an’ gee! — was I embarrassed? He ast me all kinds of questions about ’im-what did he do, an’ how old was he, an’ where did he come from, an’ was his mother livin’, an’ what did he think about women? Gee! It usta keep me busy from one day to anotheh wonderin’ what he was goin’ to ast me next, an’ what t’ say to ’im . . . Then he stahted astin’ me about my mother, an’ my sisters an’ brothers, an’ what did they do, an’ how old were they — an’ I could tell ’im those because I knew the answers.”

Number two: “An’ you told ’im?”

She: “Sure. W’y not?”

Number two: “Gee, Mary, y’ shouldn’t do that! You don’t know th’ guy! How do you know who he is?”

She, abstracted, in a softer tone: “Oh, I don’t know. That guy’s all right!” With a little shrug: “You know! You can always tell.”

Number two: “Yeah, but all the same, y’ neveh can tell! You don’t know anything about th’ guy! I kid ’em along, but I neveh tell ’em anything.”

She: “Oh, sure. I know. I do the same. Only, it’s diff’rent wit’ this guy. Gee, it’s funny! I musta told ’im awmost everything — all about mama, an’ Pat, an’ Tim, an’ Helen — I guess he knows the history of the whole damn fam’ly now! I neveh tawked so much to a stranger befoeh in my whole life. But it’s funny, he neveh seems to say anything himse’f. He just stands there an’ looks at you, an’ turns his head to one side as if he’s listenin’— an’ you spill the beans. When he’s gone you realise you’ve done all the tawkin’. ‘Listen,’ I says to ’im the otheh day, ‘you know everything else now, I’ve told you the truth about everything else, so I’ll come clean on this, too — that wasn’t true about me bein’ married.’ Gee! He was about to drive me nuts astin’ a new question every day about my husband! ‘I lied to you about that,’ I says. ‘I neveh was married. I haven’t got a husband.’”

Number two, hungrily: “So w’at does he say to that?”

She: “Just looks at me an’ says: ‘So —what?’” Laughing: “Gee, it was funny to hear ’im say that! I guess I taught it to ’im. He says it all the time now. But it’s funny the way he says it — like he don’t know exactly what it means. ‘So —what?’ he says. So I says: ‘What d’you mean, so what? I’m tellin’ you that I’m not married, like I said I was.’ ‘I knew that all the time,’ he says. ‘How did you know?’ I says. ‘How could you tell?’ ‘Because,’ he says, an’ shakes his head at me in that disgusted way —‘because you’re a woman!’”

Number two: “Can you imagine that? The noive of ’im! I hope you told ’im somep’n!”

She: “Oh, sure! I always come right back at ’im! But still, you neveh can be sure he means it! I think he’s kiddin’ half the time. He may be kiddin’ when he shakes his head at you in that disgusted way. Anyway, that guy’s all right! I don’t know, but somehow you can tell.” A pause, then with a sigh: “But gee! If only he’d go an’ get himse’f a ———”

Number two: “Hat!

She: “Can yah beat it?”

Number two: “Ain’t it a scream?

They regard each other silently, shaking their heads.

Fox gets at all things round the edges in this way — sees the whole thing, whole, clear, instant, unperplexed, then all the little things as well. Will see a man in the crowd, notice the way his ear sticks out, his length of chin, his short upper lip, the way his face is formed, something about the cheek-bones — a man well dressed and well behaved, conventional in appearance, no one but the Fox would look a second time at him — and suddenly the Fox will find himself looking into the naked eyes of a wild animal. Fox will see the cruel and savage tiger prowling in that man, let loose in the great jungle of the city, sheathed in harmless and deceptive grey — a wild beast, bloody, rending, fierce, and murderous — and stalking free and unsuspected on the sheep of life! And Fox will turn away appalled and fascinated, look at the people all round him with astonishment —“Can’t they see? Don’t they know?”— then will return again and walk past the tiger with hands clutching coat lapels, will bend, crane his head, and stare fixedly into tiger’s eye until tiger’s eye, discovered and unguarded now, blazes back at Fox — and all the people, puzzled and perturbed, are staring at Fox, too. Like children, they don’t know what to make of it: “What does that guy see?” And Fox, astounded: “Can’t they see?”

Sees all life foxwise, really: has acute animal perceptions — does not let concrete, brick, stone, skyscrapers, motor-cars, or clothes obscure the thing itself. Finds the tiger looking out at life, and then sees all the people who are lions, bulls, mastiffs, terriers, bulldogs, greyhounds, wolves, owls, eagles, hawks, rabbits, reptiles, monkeys, apes, and — foxes. Fox knows the world is full of them. He sees them every day. He might have found one in C. Green, too — cat, rabbit, terrier, or snipe — could he have seen him.

He reads the news in this way, sniffing sharply, with keen relish, at the crisp, ink-pungent pages. He also reads the paper with a kind of eager hopelessness. Fox has no hope, really; he is beyond despair. (If there’s a lack, we’ll smell it out. Is this not one? Is this not a lack-American? Can Fox be wholly of us if he has no hope?) Fox really has no hope that men will change, that life will ever get much better. He knows the forms will change: perhaps new changes will bring better forms. The shifting forms of change absorb him — this is why he loves the news. Fox would give his life to keep or increase virtue — to save the savable, to grow the growable, to cure the curable, to keep the good. But for the thing unsavable, for life ungrowable, for the ill incurable, he has no care. Things lost in nature hold no interest for him.

Thus will grow grey at the temples, haggard-eyed, and thin if one of his children has an ailment. One daughter has been in a motor wreck, escapes unhurt apparently, days later has a slight convulsion. It comes a second time, returns weeks later, goes away, and comes again — not much, not long, just a little thing, but Fox grows grey with worry. He takes the girl from college, gets doctors, specialists, the best people in the world, tries everything, can find nothing wrong, yet the attacks continue; at length comes through it, finds out the trouble, pulls the girl out, and sees her married. His eyes are clear again. Yet if the girl had had a cureless ailment, Fox would not have worried much.

He goes home, sleeps soundly, seems indifferent, shows no worry, the night the daughter has a child. Next morning, when informed he is a grandfather, looks blank, puzzled, finally says: “Oh”— then, turning away with a disdainful sniffing of the nose, says scornfully:

“Another woman, I suppose?”

Informed it is a man-child, says: “Oh,” dubiously, then whispers contemptuously:

“I had supposed such a phenomenon was impossible in this family.”

And for some weeks thereafter persists in referring to his grandson as “She”, to the indignation, resentment, excited protest of the —Women!

(A cunning Fox — knows slyly how to tease.)

So, then, unhoping hopefulness, and resigned acceptance; patient fatality, and unflagging effort and unflinching will. Has no hope, really, for the end, the whole amount of things; has hope incessant for the individual things themselves. Knows we lose out all along the line, but won’t give in. Knows how and when we win, too, and never gives up trying for a victory. Considers it disgraceful to stop trying — will try everything — will lay subtle, ramified, and deep-delved plans to save people from avertible defeat; a man of talent drowning in his own despair, some strong and vital force exploding without purpose, some precious, misused thing gone wickedly to ruin. These things can be helped, they must be helped and saved, to see them lost, to see them thrown away, is not to be endured — Fox will move mountains to prevent them. But gone? Lost? Destroyed? Irretrievably thrown away? The grave face will be touched with sadness, the sea-pale eyes filled with regret, the low voice hoarse and indignant:

“It was a shame! A shame! Everything would have come out all right . . . he had it in his grasp . . . and he just let it go! He just gave in!”

Yes, for failure such as this, a deep, indignant sadness, a profound regret. But for other things foreordained and inevitable, not savable by any means, then a little sadness —“Too bad”— but in the end a tranquil fatality of calm acceptance: the thing had to be, it couldn’t be helped.

Is therefore like Ecclesiastes: has the tragic sense of life, knows that the day of birth is man’s misfortune — but, knowing this, will then “lay hold”. Has never, like the Fool, folded his hands together and consumed his flesh, but, seeing work to be done, has taken hold with all his might and done it. Knows that the end of all is vanity, but says: “Don’t whine, and don’t repine, but get work done.”

Is, therefore, not afraid to die; does not court death, but knows death is a friend. Does not hate life, is rather passionately involved with life, yet does not hug it like a lover — it would not be torn bitterly from reluctant fingers. There is no desperate hug of mortality in Fox — rather, the sense of mystery and strangeness in the hearts of men, the thrilling interest of the human adventure, the unending fascination of the whole tangled, grieved, vexed, and unfathomed pattern. As he reads the Times now, he sniffs sharply, shakes his head, smiles, scans the crowded columns of the earth, and whispers to himself:

“What a world! And what a life! Will we ever get to the bottom of it all? . . . And what a time we live in! I don’t dare go to sleep at night without the paper. I cannot wait until the next one has come out — things change so fast, the whole world’s in such a state of flux, the course of history may change from one edition to another. The whole thing’s so fascinating, I wish I could live a hundred years to see what’s going to happen! If it weren’t for that — and for the children ——”

A slow perplexity deepens in his eyes. What will become of them? Five tender lambs to be turned loose out of the fold into the howling tumults of this dangerous and changeful earth. Five fledglings to be sent forth, bewildered and defenceless, to meet the storms of fury, peril, adversity, and savage violence that beat across the whole vexed surface of the earth — unsheltered, ignorant, unprepared, and ——

“Women.” Scorn, touched now deeply with compassion; trouble, with a tender care.

Is there a way out, then? Yes, if only he can live to see each of them married to — to — to a good husband (the sense of trouble deepens in the sea-pale eyes — the world in printed columns there before him seethes with torment — no easy business) . . . But to find good husbands, foxes all of them — to see his fleecelings safely folded, shielded from the storms — each — each with fleecelings of her own — yeslthat’s the thing! Fox clears his throat and rattles the pages with decision. That’s the thing for ——

— Women!

— To be folded, sheltered, guarded, kept from all the danger, violence, and savagery, the grimed pollution of this earth’s coarse thumb, each to ply her needle, learn to keep her house, do a woman’s work, be wifely, and — and —“lead the sort of life a woman ought to lead,” Fox whispers to himself —“the kind of life she was intended for.”

Which is to say, produce more fleecelings for the fold, Fox? Who will, in turn, find “good” husbands, and a fold, learn sewing, housewifery, and “lead the sort of life a woman ought to lead,” produce still other fleecelings, and so on, ad infinitum, to world’s end for ever, or until ——

— The day of wrath, the huge storm howling through the earth again — again the Terror and Jemappes I— again November and Moscow! — the whole flood broke through, the mighty river rearisen, the dark tide flowing in the hearts of men, and a great wind howling through the earth, good Fox, that tears off roof-tops like a sheet of paper, bends the strongest oak-trees to the ground, knocks down the walls, and levels the warmest, strongest, and most solid folds that ever sheltered fleecelings in security — leaving fleecelings where?

O Fox, is there no answer?

Leaving fleecelings there to knit a pattern of fine needlework on the hurricane? Leaving fleecelings there to ply housewifery on the flood? Leaving fleecelings to temper the bleak storms of misery to the perfumed tenderness of fleeceling hides? To find “good” husbands in the maelstrom’s whirl? To produce more fleecelings in order to be secure, protected, in doing a woman’s work, in leading “the kind of life she was intended for”——

Oh, where, Fox, where?

— To draw compassion from the cobble-stones? Security from iron skies? Solicitude from the subduer’s bloody hand? Arthurian gallantries from the brutal surge of the on-marching mass? Still no answer, subtle Fox?

What, then? Will not hoarse voices fogged with blood and triumph soften to humility when they behold the fleeceling loveliness? And while the blind mob fills the desolated streets, will not a single cloak be thrown down for dainty fleeceling feet to tread upon? Will the shattered masonries of all those (as we thought) impregnable securities, with which the Foxes of the world have sheltered fleecelings, no longer give the warmth and safety which once were so assured and certain? And must those fountains so unfailing in the flow of milk and honey, on which fleecelings feed, be withered at their source? Must they be fountains, rather, dyed with blood — blood of the lamb, then? Fleeceling blood?

O Fox, we cannot think of it!

Fox reads on, intent, with the keen hunger of a fascinated interest, the shade of a deep trouble in his eye. The sober, close-set columns of the Times give up their tortured facts, revealing a world in chaos, man bewildered, life in chains. These substantial rages, so redolent of morning and sobriety — of breakfast in America, the pungency of ham and eggs, the homes of prosperous people — yield a bitter harvest of madness, hatred, dissolution, misery, cruelty, oppression, injustice, despair, and the bankruptcy of human faith. What have we here, mad masters? — for surely if ye be masters of such hell-on-earth as sober Times portrays, then ye be mad!

Well, here’s a little item:

It is announced, my masters, that on Saturday next, in the Land of the Enchanted Forest, land of legends and the magic of the elves, land of the Venusberg and the haunting beauties of the Gothic towns, land of the truth-lover and the truth-seeker, land of the plain, good, common, vulgar, and all-daring Sense of Man, land where the great monk nailed his blunt defiance to the doors at Wittenberg, and broke the combined powers, splendours, pomps, and menaces of churchly Europe with the sledge-hammer genius of his coarse and brutal speech — land from that time onwards of man’s common noble dignity, and of the strong truth of sense and courage, shaking its thick fist into the face of folly — yes! land of Martin Luther, land of Goethe, land of Faust, land of Mozart and Beethoven — land where immortal music was created, glorious poetry written, and philosophy cultivated — land of magic, mystery, matchless loveliness, and unending treasure-hordes of noble art — land where the Man of Weimar, for the last time in the modern world, dared to make the whole domain of art, culture, and learning the province of his gigantic genius — land, too, of noble, consecrated youth, where young men sang and wrote, loved truth, went through apprenticeships devoted to the aspiration of a high and passionate ideal — well, mad masters, it is announced that this same enchanted land will consecrate the devotion of another band of youth this Saturday — when the young men of the nation will burn books before the Town Halls, in all the public squares of Germany!

Well, then, Fox?

And elsewhere on this old tormented globe, goes it much better? Fire, famine, flood, and pestilence — these trials we have always had. And hatred — most firelike, faminelike, floodlike, and most pestilential of all evils — yes, we have always had that, too. And yet, Great God! When has our old unhappy earth been stricken with such universal visitation? When has she ached in every joint as she aches now? When has she had such a universal itch, been so spavined, gouty, poxy, so broken out in sores all over?

The Chinese hate the Japanese, the Japanese the Russians, the Russians also hate the Japanese, and the hordes of India the English. The Germans hate the French, the French hate the Germans, and then look wildly round to find other nations to help them hate the Germans; but find they hate almost everyone as much as they hate Germans; they can’t find enough to hate outside of France, and so divide themselves into thirty-seven different cliques and hate each other bitterly from Calais to Menton — the Leftists hate Rightists, the Centrists hate Leftists, the Royalists hate Socialists, the Socialists hate Communists, the Communists hate Capitalists, and all unite in hatred of one another. In Russia, the Stalinites hate Trotskyites, the Trotskyites hate Stalinites, and both hate Republicans and Democrats. Everywhere the Communists (so they say) hate their cousin Fascists, and the Fascists hate the Jews.

In this year of Our Gentle Lord 1934, “expert” observers say, Japan is preparing to go to war again with China within two years, Russia will join in with China, Japan will ally herself with Germany, Germany will make a deal with Italy, and then make war on France and England, America will try to stick her head into the sand, and so keep out of it, but will find it cannot be done and will be drawn in. And in the end, after everybody has fought everybody else up and down the globe, the whole Capitalistic world will join up finally against Russia in an effort to crush Communism — which eventually must win — will lose — is bound to triumph — will be wiped out — will supplant Capitalism, which is on its last legs — which is only suffering a temporary relapse — which grows more dropsical, greedy, avaricious, bloated, and monopolistic all the time — which is mending its ways and growing better all the time — which must be preserved at all costs if the “American System” is to endure — which must be destroyed at all costs if America is to endure — which is just beginning — which is ending — which is gone already — which will never go ——

And so it goes — round, round, round the tortured circumference of this aching globe — round, round, and back again, and up and down, with stitch and counterstitch until this whole earth and all the people in it are caught up in one gigantic web of hatred,’ greed, tyranny, injustice, war, theft, murder, lying, treachery, hunger, suffering, and devilish error!

And we, old Fox? How goes it in our own fair land — our great America?

Fox winces quickly, cranes his neck into his collar, and mutters hoarsely a passionate regret:

“Too bad! Too bad! We should have had it! We were just beginning — we should have had it fifty years ago, as Rome had it, and as England had it! But all this turmoil came too soon — we didn’t have it long enough! Too bad! Too bad!

Yes, Fox, it is too bad. Too bad, indeed, that in our pride, our self-respect, and our taut horror the Medusa-visage of the whole tormented earth may be an anodyne for us, lest we have to look too closely at the honour of our own America.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wolfe/thomas/you-cant-go-home-again/chapter30.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30