Two Notes from My Desk

Obama and Robinson
In a conversation with Maryilynne Robinson (New York Review of Books, 11/5/15) President Obama surprised me when he said, “When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels.”

He also noted that the media places a premium on the sensational and the most outrageous or a conflict somewhere. That’s what gets all the attention. He believes this creates a pessimism about the country because "all those quiet, sturdy voices that we were talking about are not heard.”

He then went on to say: “It’s not interesting to hear a story about some good people in some quiet place that did something sensible and figured out how to get along.”

Wouldn’t it be remarkable if instead of the nightly news reports of murders, scandals, and gossip, we might instead be offered the Nightly Cultural News? Surely poems are written every day, music is composed, novels and non-fiction works are published and films are made.

Why don’t we ever hear about them? Surely there are enough people who want to know about these things to support such a half hour of television programming. Surely there are organizations, charities, corporations, and men and women of wealth would be willing to add their support. Then we might then learn about: a forthcoming film, a poetry reading, musical performance, a new book, an old book, a theater production, an author interview, etc.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis came to town, that is to New York, Washington and Philadelphia in September of 2015. He was driven about in a black Fiat 500L, a small four-door gem. That said it all. No black Ford SUVs, trailing about one after the other.

He spoke of preserving the planet, living simply, avoiding excessive consumption, corporate profit-seeking, economic inequality, and the poor.

It was a display of wisdom not seen in this country in ages. And it was a joy to see the degree of coverage the media gave to him. Of course, all that ended the moment he left.

Nothing will or has changed as a result of his visit. People will continue to consume recklessly, corporations will continue to maximize their profits at the expense of consumers, the poor will continue to struggle and the great divide will increase further.


Linda said...

I completely agree with Obama. His comment, "the most important stuff I've learned I've learned from novels" certainly applies to me and probably to most people who love literature. He refers to that "important stuff" as "a set of understandings." I never thought about it that way, but it's true. I worry about what is happening to us, our "understandings" formed by Facebook posts and 140 character tweets. Did you happen to read Bret Stephens' June 23 column "How Twitter Pornified Politics?"

Obama and Pope Francis - hope and wisdom. I despair.

Linda said...

P.S. - Your notation/reminder system appears to be out of control :)

Richard Katzev said...

I find it impossible to know what I've learned from novels. All I know is that I've read a great many. How can I ever measure what I've learned from all of them?

And I do use Facebook and I don't tweet. I'm aware of Stephens' column, but I haven't read it. I will find it.

Richard Katzev said...

And that's not my desk, as I'm sure you know.