Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Meeting Helprin

Just a couple weeks ago, I did a brief blog entry about Mark Helprin, on the occasion of his birthday. A couple years ago, I led off my list of 10 Important Books with
1. A Soldier of the Great War, Mark Helprin: The main character in this novel happens to be a veteran of World War I, but the great war is, in my opinion, the struggle for the human soul to see the beauty and feel the pulse of love. The prose in this book is rich and luscious, and my copy is dog-eared from where I marked passages I wanted to return and savor.
Even before that, I had posted the entirety of a graduation speech he had written - I encourage you to take a few moments to enjoy the lyricism and inspiration he delivers.

I finally get to meet my favorite living author.

On August 3, Mark Helprin will be reading from his latest book and answering audience questions at Rainy Day Books (itself a Kansas City jewel, and worthy of a separate blog post). Only 40 people will be there, so I will get an opportunity to meet him, and perhaps even ask a question. I have to admit, I'm more than a little awed by the man. At his website, you can get a taste of the depth of the man, as it ranges from illustrated books for children to thoughtful rightwing commentary.

This is the man who wrote Bob Dole's acceptance speech at the Republican Convention - remember that highlight of modern American oratory? No, you probably don't, so allow me to refresh your recollection with a snippet that will bring a lump to the throat of those who admire what our language can accomplish:
And do not think I have forgotten whose moment this is above all. It is for the people of America that I stand here tonight, and by their generous leave. And as my voice echoes across darkness and desert, as it is heard over car radios on coastal roads, and as it travels above farmland and suburb, deep into the heart of cities that, from space, look tonight like strings of sparkling diamonds, I can tell you that I know whose moment this is: It is yours. It is yours entirely.

And who am I that stands before you tonight?

I was born in Russell, Kansas, a small town in the middle of the prairie surrounded by wheat and oil wells. As my neighbors and friends from Russell, who tonight sit in front of this hall, know well, Russell, though not the West, looks out upon the West.

And like most small towns on the plains, it is a place where no one grows up without an intimate knowledge of distance.

And the first thing you learn on the prairie is the relative size of a man compared to the lay of the land. And under the immense sky where I was born and raised, a man is very small, and if he thinks otherwise, he is wrong.

I come from good people, very good people, and I'm proud of it. My father's name was Doran and my mother's name was Bina. I loved them and there's no moment when my memory of them and my love for them does not overshadow anything I do -- even this, even here -- and there is no height to which I have risen that is high enough to allow me to forget them -- to allow me to forget where I came from, and where I stand and how I stand -- with my feet on the ground, just a man at the mercy of God.

And this perspective has been strengthened and solidified by a certain wisdom that I owe not to any achievement of my own, but to the gracious compensations of age.

Now I know that in some quarters I may be expected to run from this, the truth of this, but I was born in 1923, and facts are better than dreams and good presidents and good candidates don't run from the truth.

I do not need the presidency to make or refresh my soul. That false hope I will gladly leave to others. For greatness lies not in what office you hold, but on how honest you are in how you face adversity and in your willingness to stand fast in hard places.

Age has its advantages.

Let me be the bridge to an America that only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith and confidence in action.

And to those who say it was never so, that America's not been better, I say you're wrong. And I know because I was there. And I have seen it. And I remember.

And our nation, though wounded and scathed, has outlasted revolutions, civil war, world war, racial oppression and economic catastrophe. We have fought and prevailed on almost every continent. And in almost every sea.

We have even lost. But we have lasted, and we have always come through.
(Text via 2blowhards.com.) If given the opportunity to ask him a question, what should I ask?


Blogger Lee said...

Ask him how any politician or any party can translate this kind of soaring rhetoric into meaningful action. It seems to me that over the last 6 years with we've had very skillful rhetoric from the GOP that has little or no relation to their policies.

7/18/2006 11:12 AM  
Blogger emawkc said...

Agreed Lee. But I would say the skillful-but-empty, rhetoric goes back at least 13 years on both ends of the political spectrum.

7/18/2006 2:07 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

Yep, 13 years at least. You could trace the rhetoric-policy split all the way back to the founding if you wanted to. Every adminstration since Washington has been composed of people, after all, political people (and mostly men to boot).

7/18/2006 2:48 PM  
Anonymous Brooksider said...

Did Helprin write Dole's, "Where is the outrage?" blather? Where is Dole's outrage now? Is Helprin outraged?

7/18/2006 5:07 PM  
Blogger emawkc said...

True dat, Lee. There has always been partisanship. It could just be me being nostalgic, but it seems the rhetoric wasn't always hollow. That there was a time when people meant what they said and said what they meant.

7/19/2006 9:06 AM  
Blogger Thomas said...

Helprin also wrote Dole's speech announcing his resignation from the senate, didn't he? That too was a fine speech, as I recall.

7/26/2006 11:37 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

You are correct, Thomas - I couldn't find a copy of it online, though. I remember it as similarly brilliant, and the contrast between Helprin's soaring eloquence and Dole's flat delivery was wonderful.

7/27/2006 6:32 AM  

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