Organ Donation, Taboo Trades, and Good Country People Reply

Over the last several months, there have been several posts around the blogosphere on trades in human material. At the Faculty Lounge, Kimberly Krawiec has been discussing her seminar Taboo Trades and Forbidden Markets, here, here, and here. Paul Caron has links relating to the characteristics of donor commodification traits and the potential tax treatment on the sale of human parts.

Which have all lead me to think about what is the role of the sacred and the profane in the money markets of body parts. Flannery O’Connor also thought of these things, and in her wonderful short story Good Country People illustrates that body parts exist in a trade on the eternal — in Flannery O’Connor’s writing, “the characters… typically flail in semicomic, semitragic misery as they strive to break free from their religious pasts and remake the world in their own images, but find themselves pinned like butterflies by a God who will not leave them alone.”1.

In Good Country People, the person pinned is Joy (renamed by herself as Hulga) an atheist who sports a Ph.D., glasses, and a wooden leg. She is seduced in the story by a Bible salesman, who cripples Hulga in the top of a barn loft by removing her glasses and then removing her leg. In Good Country People the market in body parts is a dualism. For Hulga, it is not the embarrassment of the condition that moves her but the exalting of the appendage — the wooden leg is sacred, and something that must be cared for as being undefiled. So when the Bible Salesman asks her where her leg attaches, the narrator states:
“The girl uttered a sharp little cry and her face instantly drained of color. The obscenity of the suggestion was not what shocker her. As a child she had sometimes been subject to feelings of shame but education had removed the last traces of that as a good surgeon scrapes for cancer; she would no more have felt it over what he was asking than she would have believed in his Bible. But she was as sensitive about the artificial leg as a peacock about his tail. No one ever touched it but her. She took care of it as someone else would his soul, in private and almost with her own eyes turned away.”

Of course, Hulga misreads the Bible Salesman’s innocence. She allows him into the sacred chamber, the Holy of Holies if you will, and allows him to remove the leg, for which he will keep as a prize, rather than a sacred object. We learn in the story that the salesman does this quite often, having absconded with another girl’s glass eye, and also leaving Hulga visually impaired by taking her glasses.

The irony is deep — the bible selling nihilist and the educated dupe…. Ah, the sacred and the profane. How they live so comfortably together….

There is much more to Good Country People and to Flannery O’Connor, one of the great southern writers.

1 Charlotte Allen, Grace and the Grotesque, Wilson Quarterly p. 114-115 (Winter 2005).

Mark Twain on the writings of Melville Langdon, or “The Droolings of an Idiot” Reply

In case you missed the New York Times a few weekends back included a newly discovered section of Mark Twain’s writings as a critic — namely, the scribbled notes on the margins of books he wrote. The comments are funny at times and reveal the depth of Twain’s intellect. Well worth a few minutes of time browsing the interactive images.

For the article on the selections click here.

For the interactive images of works found in Twain’s library, click here


The Literary Table Welcomes Patrick O’Donnell Reply

Please join me in welcoming to the Table Patrick O’Donnell. Patrick also contributes at Ratio Juris and Religious Left Law. Amongst the things we can look forward to are Patrick’s fond descriptions of Chinese and Japanese poetry, contemporary Vietnamese poetry, haiku, and classical Sufi poetry. WOW!

Patrick, Please have a seat at the table!

The Art of the Pseudonym Reply

How do you create a good pseudonym? I’m not sure, but lets pay homage to perhaps the best collection of pseudonyms on television — Seinfeld. Props to those that can place the character with the correct pseudonym.

Martin Van Nostrand
H.E. Pennypacker
Art Vandelay
Kel Varnson
Dylan Murphy

Speaking of Van Nostrand, I found today in flipping through an old copy of Rayford Logan and Michael Winston’s The Negro in the United States Volume II an order card for D. Van Nostrand company the publisher. Was Seinfeld paying homage to a past publisher?

Pseudonyms enjoy the time of mystery. Without mystery, wouldn’t life be less than complete. Here is a poem by W.h. Auden.

If I could tell you
By W.H. Auden

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

There’s a Seat at the Table… and A Semi-Revolution Reply

Please join us at the Literary Table! The conversation is good and the requirements are none. Send me an email at warren[dot]emerson[at]gmail[dot]com. You may blog out in the open or under pseudonym. I only ask that you identify the persons sitting around your literary table in your first post. You may post critique and commentary, works of fiction, works of poetry, etc…  Have a short story that you want to post, do it here.  I am looking forward to reading your contributions.

A Semi-Revolution
By Robert Frost

I advocate a semi-revolution.
The trouble with a total revolution
(Ask any reputable Rosicrucian)
Is that it brings the same class up on top.
Executives of skillful execution
Will therefore plan to go halfway and stop.
Yes, revolutions are the only salves,
But they’re one thing that should be done by halves.

Published in The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems.

Weekend Poet Reply

Prairie Harvest
by Robert Penn Warren

Look westward over forever miles of wheat stubble
The road of the red machines is gone, they are gone.
Their roar has left the heartbeat of silence. The bubble,
Enormous, red, molten, of sun, above the horizon.

Apparently motionless, hangs. Meanwhile, blue mist
For uncountable miles of the shaven earth’s rondure arises,
And in last high light, the bullbats gyre and twist,
Though in the world’s emptiness the sound of their cries is

Nothing. Your heart is the only sound. The sun,
It is gone. Can it be that you, for an instant, forget
And blink your eyes as it goes? Another day done,
And the star the Kiowa once stared at will requite

Man’s effort by lust, and lust by the lead-weighted eyes.
So you stand in the infinite circle, star after star,
And standing alone in starlight, can you devise
An adequate definition of self, whatever you are?

Published in the Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren (Ed. John Burt).

The City 2

Robert park wrote in the 1920’s:
the city and the urban environment represent man’s most consistent and, on the whole, his most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in more to his heart’s desire. But if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly, and without any clear sense of the nature of his task, in making the city man has remade himself. The City as Social Laboratory.

Cities force humanity into conversation with one another. Forced conversation. Unintentional conversation. Rubbing elbows on the subway conversation, brushing shoulders walking down the stairway conversation. Which is why cities define humanity’s greatest attempt to remake itself as a non-intentional social creature.

It seems that early twentieth century authors understood this. Paul West, writing a short pamphlet on Robert Penn Warren noted that Warren’s “overview is of the incalculable, unpredictable repercussions our least endeavors provoke. Identity, in particular, is not a fixity, but a studiously maintained transaction with other people. The means of self-establishment is also the prime agency of confusion, especially for those who want perfection and utter consistency.” Pamphlet printed by University of Minnesota Press.

Its the story of Jay Gatz and Tom Buchanan and George Wilson. Thrusted unintentionally, almost haplessly into a narrative of ambition, jealousy and manipulation. Fitzgerald ends his great work on Jay Gatsby (or Gatz if you prefer his true identity) with these words: “[Gatsby] has come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning….”

Perhaps man’s city is doomed by the lack of intentioned interaction, a collection of vacant defunct houses, like the prostitute in Whitman’s The City Dead-House.

By the city dead-house by the gate,
As idly sauntering wending my way from the clangor,
I curious pause, for lo, an outcast form, a poor dead prostitute brought,
Her corpse they deposit unclaim’d, it lies on the damp brick pavement,
The divine woman, her body, I see the body, I look on it alone,
That house once full of passion and beauty, all else I notice not,
Nor stillness so cold, nor running water from faucet, nor odors morbific impress me,
But the house alone – that wondrous house – that delicate fair house – that ruin!
That immortal house more than all the rows of dwellings ever built!
Or white-domed capital with majestic figure surmounted or all the old high-spired cathedrals,
That little house alone more than them all – poor, desperate house!
Fair, fearful wreck – tenement of a soul – itself a soul,
Unclaim’d, avoided house – take one breath from my tremulous lips,
Take one tear dropt aside as I go for thought of you,
Dead house of love — house of madness and sin, crumbled and crush’d,
House of life, erewhile talking and laughing – but ah, poor house, dead even then,
Months, years, an echoing, garnish’d house – but dead,dead, dead.

Perhaps. But perhaps, the city is just the place where man exemplifies his greatest humanity. Where mankind constantly remakes himself in the image of god — intentionally caring for the poor, intentionally nursing the sick, and intentionally fighting for the oppressed.

The City Dead-house, published in Leaves of Grass (the Death Bed Edition).

Rest, Sweet, Rest 4

A Clear Midnight
by: Walt Whitman

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death, and the stars.

Published in Leaves of Grass Death-bed Edition

Courtesy and New Law Students Reply

The classical model of liberal education has been eroded, I must conclude, so that students before they arrive in law school have lost any sense of propriety and courtesy in their interactions. Martha Nussbaum in Volume 70 of the Chicago Law Review writes that the traditional view of liberal education included the capacity to “develop each person’s capacity to be fully human, by which he means self-aware, self-governing, and capable of recognizing and respecting the humanity of all our fellow human beings, no matter where they are born, no matter what social class they inhabit, no matter what their gender or ethnic origin.” She concludes this statement with Seneca’s charge “Soon we will breathe our last. Meanwhile, while we live, while we are among human beings, let us cultivate our humanity.”

In laying out the case for the developing of human beings in law school, Nussbaum advocates for several critical components:

  1. Socratic Self-examination — to be critical of one’s self and one’s traditions
  2. Cultivation of a world citizenship — moving outside of the narrow confines of personal, economic, or social interests
  3. The development of narrative imagination

Learning these things is critical. They will not make students successful of themselves. But certainly lacking them will hold them back from achieving a truly good life. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “life is not so short, but that there is always time for courtesy.”

Martha’s article Cultivating Humanity in Legal Education, 70 Chicago L. Rev. 265 can be accessed here.