Monday, March 22, 2010

La Forza della Fortuna

Since the dawn of modernity, which Jacques Barzun dates from 1500, we’ve substituted nature for fortune in an effort to deny soul to anything existent—not least to humanity. But I prefer to think of the force of nature, especially when we speak of the human sphere, in the Italian phrase—and if I wish to sound even more ominous, I use the Spanish: La Fuerza de la Fortuna. In parentheses I note that I’ve always found this denial alien, suggesting that I’ve never managed to emerge from the medieval—but never mind. The phrase was there this morning, its object the vote on the health care issue. The image in my mind, neither Italian nor Spanish, was that of Nancy Pelosi standing before a badly baked and sagging chocolate cake. Look at it. It leans dangerously to the right. Nancy holds a spatula in hand. A troubled look on her face, she takes a bit more chocolate from the bowl and smears it very carefully—lest the whole thing tumble into ruin—on the left side of the lean in an “historic” act of bakery.

Relating strange things on my mind on waking threatens to skew this blog too far into the subjective—but I promise. I’ll find some other way to introduce my future posts. This time around, I also remembered an angry phrase Brigitte spat out the other day as we were chatting over the news. “Too Big to Work,” she said—and then her grim expression changed, her face lit up, and we both laughed. Inspiration comes from above.

La forza della fortuna, at present, it seems to me—is perhaps a quite natural development. It comes about precisely because we’re so intent on sucking soul out of reality. In the process we relinquish the power to hold things together, weakening the centripetal force of community. The current bill is an attempt to make the center hold, but it’s so weak that the message, even of its passing, produces the opposite meaning. The bill, after all, enables states, at their initiative, to opt out of the provisions of the bill if passed and signed, and thirty-six states incline to do so.
Such structures of thought are in the air. The other day, at yet another of our discussions over news, Brigitte and I went into flights of futurism. What will the future look like if the center actually fails to hold? It was quite interesting. We contemplated a future America which had devolved into separate and independent political units. We contemplated the largest and most powerful state after the slow-motion breakup. It would be California, primus inter pares: it has people, good agricultural land, and access to the ocean. Water is the problem, and your prophets confidently predicted the Water Wars of 20XX. We guessed that the Great Lakes states would cohere into a federation (Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan - Mother Mimi?); their union would be to guard fresh water and, perhaps, to engage in a brisk export of protein. How? Well, the invasion of the Asian carp suggests its exploitation as an export item. We imagined Missouri as the Capital of Wheat, its port on the Missouri, the wheat flowing from Kansas and Colorado toward the east—people of the east flowing into Kansas and Colorado drawn by land grants which, in modern language, might be called the recapitalization of the poor. The running out of oil might be the occasion to draw on labor, once again, and those horses from the Land of Wheat—the best in the land. And, yes, we went on. If the company is right, this makes for an interesting subject.

Ah, Fortuna. What Brigitte and I concluded—and our discussion ranged all over time and space—was that the Romans never noticed the end of the Roman empire. The barbarian invasions (Vandals, Goths, etc.) were paced in time far enough apart so that they seemed more like ordinary wars and times of trouble, and these things also passed. When, some day, Kansas imposes export duties on its precious wheat, it will produce a flurry of news. But the army will not march to instigate regime change in Topeka. There will be an artful euphemism to cover the will of the people of Kansas. And later, when you’ll need a visa to enter California, it will seem something quite natural to those who fill in the application.


  1. Under this scheme of ours, it just occurred to me that I would not even have to fill out a visa application to return to Minnesota...where I lost my heart so long ago already. "Escape to Wisconsin", as one used to say jestingly in Minnesota, no longer applies to me here in Michigan either... But the idea of esaping sounds pretty appealing.

  2. And don't forget our most recent threat--in case Nancy's cake falls over--namely that we'll strip to the buff and swim to Canada.

  3. But perhaps WE can remain for a while since I was reading somewhere that RUSH L. was threatening (promising?) to leave the country should the insurance reform bill pass.