Well. Towne has got a point. It is pertinent. I mean if JoenBiden had been an actress instead of a U.S. Senator, henmight have sounded exactly like that. . . .n”Surely you don’t plan to talk about literature and then(pardon the expression) literary life,” Towne argued.nI agreed. Partly because in one aspect of one thing I findnmyself more or less in agreement with him. Towne’snhydraulic law of uniform corruption — that is, that corruptionneverywhere seeks its own level and that, thus, all aspectsnof our life and world, at any given instant, are equallyncorrupt—seems to have some real truth to it. A corollary tonthe law, however, is that it doesn’t apply to the literarynworld, which is unquestionably on a completely differentnlevel of corruption. Indeed, sad experience teaches me thatnit is hard to imagine any social unit as riddled withncorruption as the American literary scene. My own personalnopinion, on the basis of anecdotal evidence, is that next tonthe American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters,nthe Court of the Emperor Caligula would look like an earlynsession of the Council of Trent.nMore serious, however, is the fact that to the mundanenpractices of misinformation and disinformation, as widelynpracticed by our press, which at least has the general goal ofnnational destabilization to justify its ways and means, thenliterary folk (whose mostly unspoken consensus is so ironboundnas to ignore all political differences and cross thenboundaries of social class) are dedicated to rhetorical gamesnplayed at the expense of the full dimensions of the truth.nFor example, although there have been some debatesnconcerning matters of form, aesthetic arguments, in thenworld of poetry, serious questioning or discussion of any ofnthe serious issues of our time have been almost completelynabsent in American poetry since the deaths of Pound andnEliot and Frost and most recently John Ciardi.nSaddest of all, nobody seems to miss this. Or them, verynmuch.nI collect whole notebooks of splendid little examples, ofnwhich here is only one, only a typical and very recent one.nHere is John Gregory Dunne in his piece “This Year innJerusalem,” in the December issue of Esquire: “Surroundednby soldiers as I waited to pass through the metal detectorsnand security check, I was struck once again by the way thenIsraeli military was woven into the country’s social fabric. Innthe United States, soldiers are those weird looking youngnmen we usually see only in airports, this one with his hairntoo short, that one with the tattoo and the mottledncomplexion and the flat hill accent, the black lance corporalnhere, the Hispanic Pfc. over there; in other words, no onenwe know. At the trial that morning the soldiers had thensentient mainstream faces so rarely seen in the contemporarynAmerican services.” Of course, all this is layered innappropriate and protective kinds of irony. A baklava of clevernobservation. He doesn’t really mean all that. Forced to anfinal wall, he can always admit that he really doesn’t meannanything. Meantime, however, in the form of an entirelyntypical piece of contemporary literary rhetoric, you have annaside, passing as an observation, a matter of opinion told as anfact as it were. And which is, in fact, a very lightly encodedncryptogram, a cheerful little message sent to other truenbelievers, slightly disguised as a commonplace, unexceptionalnstereotypical comment about our volunteer armednservices, offering a gesture of gratuitous, if relative, contemptnfor our country and its people, paid for by a little tip, anshrug and a/jourfeofre of self-contempt . . . “in other wordsnno one we know.”nI sometimes honestly think that a certain kind of liberal,nequally the literary liberal, uses the overt profession ofnpersonal guilt as justification for an almost murderousncontempt of fellow man.nAll the assumptions behind Dunne’s deft little aside arenso familiar to us as to be more or less harmless if we noticenthem at all. They stand like crumbling statues in a weedynovergrown public park or garden. Not neutral, mind you,nbut more or less harmless . . . unless and until you allownyourself to consider the possibility that the relentless andnlargely unquestioned documentation and consumption ofnsuch distortions of reality can add up sooner or later to whatnconstitutes a killing dose of poison. Meanwhile, though, itnall has a certain sly charm. Even the little instances of purenand simple ignorance are socially if not rhetorically redeeming.nI said largely unquestioned. Not completely. We are herenon this occasion to celebrate the existence and survival ofnChronicles, which asks some questions and answers othersnwhich would otherwise be ignored.nAnd that is what I really should be talking about and whatnwe should be thinking about: questions and answers in thenunceasing search for the truth.nWhenever I go to work in the morning and go throughnthe entrance of old Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia,nI pass under some words of Thomas Jefferson: “Here we arennot afraid to follow Truth wherever it may lead nor tontolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”nSome words of Jefferson ought to be my theme.nHere Towne butted in and argued.n”Don’t talk Jefferson at them,” he said. “You give themnJefferson, they’ll give you Sally Hemmings.”n”Hey, I said. “I am not speaking at a Norman Learntestimonial.”n”Lucky you,” says he. “But it’s all pretty much the samenold thing.”n”We’ll see.”n”Well,” he said. “If you have to talk about Mr. Jefferson,ngo for it. Don’t give them the sweet violins.”nI tried my best to explain to him that in my ownnEpiscopal Church even the hard sayings of Jesus Christnhave now been put on the back burner, if not actuallynbanned. How can I give them the iron fist of ThomasnJefferson?n”Here’s how,” he said. “As an example of exactly thenkind of thought or idea which ought to be part of any fullnand free discussion or debate about ourselves, but which isnnot, because we are these days so concerned about monitoringnour thoughts, even as we permit ourselves the crudestnpossible luxury and license by using the worst words ournlanguage allows.”n”Look,” I said. “Here we are living at a time whenneverything you can think of has been weighted with politicalnsymbolism and significance. Even baseball teams (it wasnracist to wish for the Minnesota Twins’ win in the Series);nmusical instruments — if you listen at all to what mightnaccurately be called Radio,Daniel Schorr, I mean NationalnnnJUNE 19881 19n