The Past Revives Us, Global Province Letter
December 15, 2010

The Past Recaptured: Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, variously known to us as Remembrance of Things Past and now more commonly as In Search of Lost Time, was published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927.  Life as a grown-up was, to all appearances, a little thin and rather hypochondriacal for this rarified author.  But he achieved power in his relentless depiction of memory and of things past.  Amidst all his prose, it is a minor flashback in Proust’s work that even today reminds us of  the immortality of images etched on our memories as youngsters.  It is the taste of a madeleine that he and we so remember about his life: raising the tea-soaked cake to his mouth calls back a whole lifetime into his psyche.

There are all sorts of uses for history, biography, and memories of things past. This is especially true at the present moment when we are living in a-historical times where we so gorge on the present that we forget where we have come from and where we are going.   In this brainwashed era, memory and reconstruction have their uses for those who want to feel and think. Proust proved to us the power  the past can have to enrich our lives.  We are wise to harvest days past in order to see what they can tell us about ourselves and to divine how their fullness may propel us into our future.

A host of unpublished memoirs have descended upon us lately, each one making its author very much more fascinating to us. For instance,  an artist from Philadelphia tells us of his early worshipful life within a deeply spiritual family and a regimented religious schooling.  Philadelphia, since the Quakers turned inward centuries ago, has been inward looking and codified. This radioactive artist, at the last moment, breaks free of his orthodox path to become an artist, designer, and photographer, all the while retaining reverence for his forbears and his religion.

Another autobiography helps us understand that cosmopolitan men can also emerge from rural hayseed beginnings. Off a peanut farm in Georgia, a very gentile engineer makes good in a global corporation.  But in his sixties, he undertakes yet another career that has little to do with his chemical engineering training.  He works for the first of the outplacement  firms—Thinc—where he eases top level corporate executives into other interests and  productive second lives after retirement.  Somewhere in rural Georgia he learned a courtliness that has never deserted him, making him a symbol of a South that may never have existed.

Dust Bowl to Gotham.  Dick Danne, now in California (How did he get there?), has also pulled together all the threads of his uncanny past. One cannot read his memoir without thinking how utterly far he has come. He’s a very civilized fellow, his deportment, like that of a diplomat, standing him in terribly good stead all through his varied career.  He came off a dust bowl farm of Depression Oklahoma, made his way in a band for a short while, then turned into a graphic designer of considerable national repute in Dallas and New York. He could never have dreamed as an Okie that he would carry out commissions for NASA or for the emirs in the Middle East.  He went from an out-of –the-way place close to the Grapes of Wrath into Sputnik space and then out amongst the Arabs. 

Oklahoma in the '30s tried men’s souls:

"Drought conditions in the mid-western states had created a debacle of immense proportions. The blowing sand was hard enough to deal with, but it also made it harder to plant and grow crops--and everything needs water. That in turn meant that livestock couldn't be fed and maintained the easy way, simply grazing off the land. One of the real advantages of farm life had been that a family could grow or raise most of the food staples they needed to live. All of this was compromised by the punishing weather in the mid-thirties, in mid-America."

"My brother recalls wind so strong that it drove sand through our window frames, and sent it cascading like waterfalls off the sills. Even as a little boy, I witnessed some of these storms where the sky would turn dark brown -- creating an eerie, unnatural eclipse in the middle of the day."

Coming so Far.  This present crop of memoirs makes us realize how far the nation has traveled. They reveal men that had to climb a mountain to realize themselves and then went up on and down several more Everests.  These men have gone a million miles, dashing even further existentially that all the spaceships that have circled the earth.

To read a bit more about Mr. Danne, please go to Oklahoma Supreme on the Global Province.  We include there his adventures with the Sheiks of Araby, taken from his forthcoming memoir Dust Bowl to Gotham.


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