Romantic Truths



Harper’s Magazine/April 2013

Once more, mag week rears its journalistic head:

One thing that keeps the better magazines in business is digging into a given subject hard enough and long enough to separate spin from what’s intended, i.e., image from the deeper roots of truth. This issue of Harper’s is an example of just that spirit of patience and persistence.

Take for instance Michael Ames’ article, “The Awakening – Ron Paul’s Generational Movement.” Paul (not his faux curly-haired son) is something of a political grandpa, a person who regales his younger generations regarding the merits of his passions – in Paul’s case a quaint version of Libertarianism. Paul’s passions are more complicated than a return to America’s romantic frontier ethos of individualism and self-sufficiency. You say it’s odd that his version of isolationism appeals to today’s soldiers? That his admonishment to return to the gold standard appeals to out-of-work twenty-somethings? Espousing antiquated answers to modern problems simply demonstrates that the ideological divides that have been with us since Jefferson and Adams are still with us – this time in blue jeans and tee shirts.

Ditto T.M. Luhrmann’s essay, “Blinded by the Right – How Hippie Christians begat evangelical conservatives.” Here, the urge is again well-meant, but incurably romantic.

John le Carre’s advance read from A Delicate Truth, his new novel, couldn’t be more cynical and hardboiled. In this instance, he goes to great lengths to scrape the varnish from our continuing insistence on psy ops and spy vs. spy realities, for which there remains no real reason for those such dramatics.

My favorite piece is Paul Wachter’s “The Super Bowl! (of fishing).” Why? It centers on my hometown of Shreveport, in which the need of early twentieth century farmers to fish in order to supplement slim dinner table pickings has gone spectacle in true postmodern fashion. No longer is this a mode of subsistence; instead, it’s a sport as much removed from its origins as the modern Olympics are from their marital origins.

And finally, “Life During Wartime – Remembering the Siege of Sarajevo,” is Janine di Giovanni’s oh, so self-conscious remembrance of writers and journalists flocking to these killing fields – the drinking, the crummy food, the spartan accommodations. Is this memoir tongue-in-cheek? Not by the author’s view, I think. But I suspect it was placed in this issue with editorial tongue poking cheek-ward.

Journalism in the post-modern age can still poke fun at itself while lifting newsworthy rocks, and this issue is a case in point.


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