Kay Ryan, "Chop"

I've watched too many videos from those who follow waddling ducks.

Kay Ryan, "Chop"

Re: Jonathan Katz, "Toward a theory of Tucker Carlson"

There are so many things worth sharing that I believe publishing regular "best of the web" posts would be in all our interests. The republic is collapsing, but yes, the news analysis we receive is first-rate. In any case, I wanted to bring to your attention Jonathan Katz's "Toward a theory of Tucker Carlson," which discusses the history of a Nazi-influencing white supremacist so prominent in American public life that he received the endorsement of the President:

Decades before Tucker Carlson was born, T. Lothrop Stoddard was the most influential proponent of “replacement theory” in America. Armed with a Harvard Ph.D. and a national media platform, he spent the 1920s promoting eugenics and warning of the perils of racial mixing and nonwhite immigration to the Nordic “master race,” all to great acclaim.

In his best-selling book, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, Stoddard obsessed over white birth rates and declared, “the negro … has contributed virtually nothing” to society....

President Warren G. Harding praised Stoddard during a speech defending segregation in Alabama in 1921, urging his audience to “take the time to read and ponder” his book.

Now here's what's interesting: virtually none of us know about Stoddard or Madison Grant, his mentor. Katz's essay provides plenty of details for rightfully feeling depressed. These people helped cause the Holocaust, and our forgetting about them is partly a form of preserving racial innocence. But Katz also says that the American public stopped listening to Stoddard before US entry into WWII:

...it wasn’t epic owns that consigned Stoddard to the dustbin of intellectual history. It was the fact that, by the late 1930s, Americans could not help but notice that Stoddard’s racial theories and writing were almost identical to the rhetoric coming out of Nazi Germany — rhetoric that was, in real time, resulting in marked oppression and horrific violence.

I don't want to sound hopeful in the least. The America that rejected Stoddard interned Japanese-Americans with no proof of anything so that they could steal their property. There were separate blood banks for black soldiers and white soldiers. When a nation buys into eugenics, there's a lot of ugliness that takes time to extirpate.

But it does no good to believe that racists are invincible. That there aren't opportunities to stop their rhetoric or make it ineffective. Tucker Carlson's act is wearing thin. He increasingly sounds like a Klansman, and that only appeals to a certain set of people:

It's hard not to feel a deep revulsion when he's making fun of people's names simply because they have names. Does this sort of meltdown provide an opportunity? I believe it does, because the real key to mass media—what really makes social media so dangerous—is the incessant, consistent repetition. You can build a brand that rejects white supremacy, a brand that repeats what people need to hear. One more engaging than a drumbeat of hate because it has more to offer as well as more genuine confidence. Just a thought.

I hope you'll read Katz's essay. Below, I've written on Kay Ryan's beautiful poem "Chop," and I think you'll appreciate the mystery of how much a bird at the beach might matter. Please do subscribe if you haven't already–free subscriptions help too!—and spread the word about this newsletter. I'm excited to talk about things of import, and I learn a lot from all that you share with me.

Kay Ryan, "Chop"

I've watched too many videos from those who follow waddling ducks. That's what floods my mind when Kay Ryan presents a bird walking down water's edge at the beach. Make no mistake, the bird is majestic. At "the glazed edge / the last wave reached," we glimpse where light meets water, creating translucence. Each step of the bird "makes / a perfect stamp," as if it were a small, flighty creature as well as the most meticulous artist. Ryan eventually calls the bird an "emperor," striding down a "wide / mirrored promenade."

I still think of waddling ducks, partly because the internet has melted my brain.

Chop (from Poetry)
Kay Ryan

The bird
walks down
the beach along
the glazed edge
the last wave
reached. His
each step makes
a perfect stamp —
smallish, but as
sharp as an
emperor’s chop.
Stride, stride,
goes the emperor
down his wide
mirrored promenade
the sea bows
to repolish.

No disrespect to ducks, but this little bird possesses an ability which makes me infinitely jealous. "His / each step makes / a perfect stamp — / smallish, but as / sharp as an / emperor's chop." Some explanation is required. We might picture Napoleon in lavish gear, looking over a written decree before stamping it with his chop. The chop itself an exquisite object, a work of art producing a calligraphic symbol, one which can declare others traitors or order executions. This is not what I envy, where a word serves an image and power, however resplendent they may be. But I cannot say what I envy is entirely divorced from spectacle.

Each step upon the beach is "a perfect stamp" for the bird. I think of how I've tried to jam too many thoughts into a sentence. How I'll read it over and instead of revising, convince myself that it will do. No "perfect stamp" comes from this, as I have not appreciated the weights of different things. I create uneven impressions in the sand. One might say all artists strive to reconcile perfect form and their grappling with the world. This is, perhaps, the problem of a signature. Our signatures do change as we age, not only because of physical decline. In a similar way, processing various gravities and trying to give your response is like taking a step so as to see where you stand. This the bird does flawlessly.

The "perfect stamp" is strange. It isn't quite a word. More a mark of identity, almost pre-verbal. A design, a rune, a mystery. I'm struggling to get my words right, but the footprint just is. It already has mystical power; it declares its source. I can't help but feel two different things happen with what appears to be the same end. The end: Wouldn't it be amazing to express myself as a bird on the beach does? I would create designs which are unimpeachable, inexhaustible, and fully mine. They would impact the world.

But that's entirely my reading of the bird on the beach. His perspective is something else. Still, he presents himself as an "emperor" striding down a "wide / mirrored promenade," continually repolished by an obedient sea. What we see is a splendor we can't have but the bird deserves. He doesn't question, not once, where he is in the natural order. This lends him a confidence and significance we're trying to achieve with our claims of who we are.