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214 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1976
They sit in lace-curtained parlors and tsk-tsk on an indrawn breath, they know every unwanted pregnancy in town sooner than the girl does, they want English teachers in Augustana College fired for assigning A Farewell to Arms, they wrote the Volstead Act.
I was reminded of a remark of Willa Cather's, that you can't paint sunlight, you can only paint what it does with shadows on a wall. If you examine a life, as Socrates has been so tediously advising us to do for so many centuries, do you really examine the life, or do you examine the shadows it casts on other lives? Entity or relationships? Objective reality or the vanishing point of a multiple perspective exercise? Prism or the rainbows it refracts? And what if you're the wall? What if you never cast a shadow or rainbow of your own, but have only caught those cast by others?
That is the way the modern temper would read me. Babbitt, the man who in all his life never did one thing he really wanted to. One of those Blake was scornful of, who controlled their passions because their passions are feeble enough to be controlled. One of those Genteel Tradition characters whose whole pale ethos is subsumed in an act of renunciation.
[...] I felt an uneasy adolescent peeking from behind my old-age make-up, as if I were a sixteen-year-old playing Uncle Vanya in the high school play [...]