Monday, October 7, 2013


This year we are supposed to come to terms with a variety of emotions, celebrations, mourning, remembrance.  We have Verdi and Wagner dueling it out; the words of Dr. King continue to resonate and to save God from total oblivion; November will mark the assassination of President Kennedy, at the fatal hour which stays engraved in the minds of all people who felt for the first time maybe that a single bullet, miles away, could lead to cardiac arrest worldwide. Commemorations can be treacherous and misleading. The pathos runs over the emotion, the pageantry stands in the way of the meaning. The gestures look premeditated, the tears opportunistic.  Verdi and Wagner will be appropriately celebrated. The "I had a dream" exhortation of Dr. King remains, unfortunately, as pertinent today as it was then.  Has so little fundamentally changed?

President Kennedy belongs to a totally different narrative. His stature grows contrary to his country which appears too often as running out of steam.  His personal shortcomings have become almost trivial in a contemporary world which has fallen victim to a cerebral vascular standstill.
Memory is selective. The more we find ourselves under the spell, the more we avoid mentioning the less attractive. True, the gossip also tends to lose its impact when the highlights shine so much brighter today in a country which finds itself in a depressed mood.  Kennedy went for the moon, while lately presidents shot in their foot. Cuba, Berlin, the Peace Corps, the Alliance for Progress, Civil rights (enacted by Johnson) still feed pride and creative interpretation. The Bay of Pigs fiasco or the disastrous Vienna Summit are seldom mentioned.

Nevertheless, this glamorous-looking Kennedy couple remain in many ways a cypher. There is a "Macbeth" angle there which remains unspoken.  They flirted with snobism and came close to being aliens in the American man-in-the-street psyche.  The Kennedy aura was not unlike a Shakespeare performance. The theatergoer does not get the sum of the spoken word but goes away with an expression, a monologue, an enchantment.  President Kennedy is, likewise, less remembered for his sophisticated political speeches than for his wit and flirtatiousness. Together with the First Lady he followed the contrary path of Henry James, who had to go "overseas" to find himself. The Kennedy's brought the "overseas" to the United States, upgrading the American "fabric" they found upon entering the White House.  Kennedy's aristocratic contacts with the UK (unlike his despised appeaser diplomat father), and his wife's Chatsworth-envy created a Camelot which is hard to emulate but starts to look depasse as time goes by.   Still, we miss a man who could even make seduction look easy.

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