Friday, August 26, 2022

Reading 28

Mark Twain, "Corn-pone Opinions," a 1901 essay

Twain says most people's opinions are corn-pone opinions, that is, opinions they keep for the purpose of self-approval with the people are societies they choose to socialize and sympathize with. "We know," he writes, "why Catholics are Catholics; why Presbyterians are Presbyterians; why Baptists are Baptists; why Republicans are Republicans; why Democrats are Democrats. We know it is a matter of association and sympathy, not reasoning and examination. Hardly a man in the world has an opinion upon morals, politics, or religion which he got otherwise than through his associations and sympathies." This is part of what he calls "our nature to conform, a force which not many can resist successfully." We conform because we want self-approval and "as a rule our self-approval has its source in the approval of other people." Twain is bummed about this but in a good-natured way. "We all do not end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking," he writes. "And out of it we get an aggregation which we consider a boon. Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it the Voice of God."

Benjamin Rosenblatt, "Zelig," a 1915 short story

An old Russian-Jewish laborer named Zelig moves to the New World to assist his son with his new grandson. Zelig is a grumpy, timid man who misses Russia and is a bit miserly, not wanting to spend money on his family. He even doesn't want to spend money on his son for his son's TB. His son eventually dies from TB and Zelig and his wife are left to rear the child. One day, the grandson is old enough to go to college. Zelig wants to send him to Russia for an education and wants the family to move back. The grandson wants to stay in America. Zelig gets angry and almost strikes his grandson, but then his wife stops him. That night, Zelig tosses and turns and decides he will spend the money on his grandson's American education.

Robert Bly, "Driving to Town Late to Mail a Letter," a poem

I like this poem. It's short enough to quote in full, so I will:
It is a cold and snowy night. The main street is deserted.
The only things moving are swirls of snow.
As I lift the mailbox door, I feel its cold iron.
There is a privacy I love in this snowy night.
Driving around, I will waste more time.

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