November 6, 2016 by John Bruce Leonard
A Note on the Subtitle to this Journal
MUSINGS from above the fray—so I have christened this journal. It is a name given with some deliberation, and I will leave the unraveling of the better part of it to whomever would try his hand. Yet as regards the last term in particular, I would like to spend a few words.
The fray—that is what I name this day in which we live, this complex, hectic, frenetic, bustling today in which a thousand things are done, and nary a single one accomplished; in which everyone scurries hither and thither like mice in the fields, without even so much clear intent. Fray—that is chaos, and business, and much wild activity. That is the intersection of a thousand ephemeral spurts of contradictory energies, almost all of which are doomed to disperse at the first glint of tomorrow’s sun like fog. Fray—that is a madness in which it is all too easy to lose oneself, becoming one of these modern personages, dwelling easy in the flux, confronting with hunger and delight each merest alteration or altercation, and hurling oneself into each moment with all the wantoness of life itself, body and soul, corpo e cuore, to turn on like a light each time the least bit of static crackles in the air.
And just what is the trouble with all of this, it might well be asked? For, to look no farther than the form of this journal—is the fray not essential to modern writing? Every stray blogger in all the world, after all, seems to live nowhere if not precisely within the fray, as near to its elusive and ubiquitous heart as he may. These “writers” want nothing more than to seize the “topic of the day” by its sleek fish-scale throat—to catch the dancing eyes of this or that search engine, or the restless mercurial attention of the public. And all honor to them! For they comprehend this time in which we live with all the intimacy of a citizen of the realm. I come instead as a stranger and foreigner, one marked out as separate by his taste and temperament, his custom and culture. These remarkably busy, shockingly alert commentators on the day have a thousand lessons to teach this foreigner—he will be the last to deny it! But let it not be forgotten either that atimes it is precisely from a foreigner that we might learn to look with fresh eyes upon our idioms and idiosyncracies—
Well, and so I hope to find a thing or two to say to my contemporaries, whom I regard with wonder and even with a touch of envy. Wonder, that they should not lose their heads in all this confusion; envy, that they have learned to run at such a pace. For I do not live within the fray. I leave it in the hands of worthier journalists to describe the chaos from inside of it. I have every intent, as my subtitle not so subtly indicates, of taking an altogether different view.
I state this without attempting to boast. Quite simply, the conditions of our day, the requirements it heaps on its exemplars, would fast crush me, or at best leave me fatigued, bewildered, and embittered. I have chosen, from an inner imperative native to me, to live far from the city, by a rhythm diverse. I have even been tempted, more than once, to cut my ties with the modern world altogether, and to go the way of the Mennonites. Yet I am here: so far from severing all bonds and burning all bridges, I have determined at last to embrace the full ambiguity of my position as one who may live here and will not live there, as a mid-dweller and middleman in every sense of these terms. Above the fray—that does not mean, beyond it…
I leave off with a final word regarding my work here. I have stated that I come here as a foreigner. And yet, I allow for this difference between my situation, and that of the common traveler: that I will not, as a polite and guestly stranger, refrain from speaking my criticism of the nation that hosts me, nor mellow my harsher words. I will not, for the sake of mere etiquette, rob from either myself nor from my reader the most hopeful possibility that might issue from our confrontation: namely, that we depart each other, knowing ourselves a little the better. Thus my promise: I will not spare myself, good reader, because I will not spare you.
And thus—do I not too, in my way, enter—the fray?