On Jena Osman's "A Real Life Drama": the language of the forefathers (with references to Williams's Paterson)

Date: Mon, 13 Dec 1999 10:07:58 -0500 (EST)



Good fences make good interpreters of the language of democracy's
forefathers?  Not.

What the wheezing, panting Alberto offers this AM is excellent. Here are 3
particularly helpful paragraphs:

| The language of the Supreme Court seems exceedingly powerful and
| determinative.  Is language blindfolding the Justices?
| A simplified Frost gets appropriated.  Scalia says that to keep the peace
| between neighbors, high fences have to be built.  Clarity is needed.  I
| think that was probably Scalia's depth of interpretation of Frost.  However,
| Jena's highlighting of the poem brings in the other levels of meaning.
| Scalia further on states that what he wants is the "judicially defensible"
| laws that the high walls would allow.  The tall, well-defined,
| indestructible wall Scalia wants will ease the process of justice.  Is that
| self-serving?  Walls are needed to make his job easier?
| So....an anonymous drama of language, set in the Supreme Court, the highest
| dispenser of justice, which is nearly blindfolded by overpowering language,
| dispensing justice to the anonymous country, hobbled by the same ancient
| language constraints of all courts, of all society ... (wait...flying off
| the handle now...I'm getting a bag to breath into...) ... a language so
| incarcerating that it causes them to lose touch with even the simplest
| notions -- O'Connor: "Does a reasonable person know how to read?"

They have lost touch. Lost touch with the language, the language. They
think pre-modern thoughts about clarity and high walls, and they do so in
language (Jena's careful selection helps to show) that is amazingly
interesting for its unclarity and figurativeness even as it talks *about*
the need for reason, for distinctions, for clarity. It's personal
trope-groping language *about* neutral judicial logic.

"A language so incarcerating..." We need to be in touch with the language,
with the language, with the national (the nation's) rule of law by

It all puts me in mind of Williams's first "book" of his five-"book" epic
poem of American life and language, _Paterson_. 

			The language, the language
				fails them
			They do not know the words . . . .

But here Williams was talking about the common folk of north Jersey,
people much like those who brought us Elsie. Williams believes that it's
the failure to understand the American language, the "real" American
language, that leads to the driverless car, to directionlessness.

Jena Osman may be somewhere else completely in putting together this very
different poem about a very different cast of American characters, and
yet, to me, what's at stake about America is similar: the language, the
language, they've lost touch with even the simplest notions about
language. Good fences don't make good neighbors when they erected for
unclear reasons.

No one to drive the car.... Not even Scalia. Not even Sandra Day O'Connor.
Not even a black man, grandchild of a slave, who has "risen" to sit on the
bench of the greatest law-giving body in any democracy anywhere. He sits
in silence, the strict constructionist the language of the Forefathers.


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