The Fate of the Union: Kennedy and After, by Benjamin DeMott, December 26, 1963, The New York Review of Books.
Shrewd observer, keen eye, stimulating prose, that's my old professor, sterling and revered, cutting through the illusions, challenging the mind.
Within the article, a summoning of Oswald's world, the imaginary, the fantasy, and through it also the possibilities of someone like President Kennedy allowed.
In a world in which work is the only “socialization” and socialization the only salvation, he had no mastered technique, no low number slot on the plant bowling team, no lunch hour appointments with a personally interested aide in the department of human engineering, hence no on-the-job redemption.
The look at Oswald/A. Hydell brings forward a common social problem, young people, caught in fantasy, not belonging anywhere, the difficulty of finding the support for higher education, professional development.
It does cut close to the writer's world, the necessity of work, just for that social life, that acceptance as a member of society. It tweaks at the writer's propensity for the numerous fantasies of life that suggest that one is doing okay. Where did the dishonesty begin?
That insight, one might say, was itself allowed by the G.I. Bill, the great post war social program that allowed DeMott, my father as well, an entire generation, the chance of higher education, resources invested in the individual. Given the opportunity, DeMott received an education, turned it into a job as an English professor, went on for a Ph.D, was able to engage in the sort of writing from which this article comes from, a platform meeting a gift. (Is that related to my own fantasy: you work, hard enough, and one day, you get to go to school free; that you are recognized as enough of a writer and artist to receive some form of employment, as the WPA allowed.)
I should be happy enough to be employed at something, to have some modicum of skill, a bit of wine knowledge, a cultural base to participate in conversation. And one day, maybe I'll have the sense to know the elements of a fantasy when I encounter them.
So, what work can one find, so far out of school? Where does one buckle down, with some sense of satisfaction and professional development? Where to find redemption? Parsing through difficult passages of Luke 4, Jesus speaking of the heavens closed to an undeserving Israel? Or wouldn't even that be fantasy, a gospel's offer of a form of personal development…
Okay, obviously, it seems, there is a good possibility in Oswald, who spent long hours alone as a truant child, that there were grounds for the psychological ills that would lead him to do violence upon a stranger. In summoning both the world of Oswald and the social problems that we would have woken to and addressed post-Kennedy's leadership, a sketch of Kennedy as well, perhaps that freakish cold blood killer genie was kept apart from the author's main point.
But in reading a great thinker, a great writer, the reader finds, as if by sheer coincidence, an addressing of the problems he might himself be sensing, not quite present enough to begin without a teacher's eye. There it is, right in front of you all along. It just had to be revealed to you.
For a moment, reflecting on the act of writing this, I might appreciate a particular quality of the "greatest generation," the G.I. Bill guys who'd learned Latin in school, enlisted, survived, how from our lens now they might represent a feel of 19th Century, the classicism, the belief in education, humanities, learning, sciences, poetry, a belief in articles and Science journals, the spiritual intertwine that made their work in whatever they did devout as that of Amish farmers. The children of slaves and immigrants integrated with them…
So yes, what would they be able to make of an Oswald, in their sadness, but to think of a lost child, a man let down for lack of help, left completely adrift, no structure, school or church to, well, maybe yes, provide him a meaning to his struggles, a subtle support system to the ways in which he, an individual, might want to say things, a forgiveness. And with forgiveness, maybe some kind fatherly hand, perhaps things would have turned out differently.
But without credential or platform, stuck in a kind of unreality, not matching anywhere to anything, not in Russia, not in Texas, an Oswald drifts… And for us even to touch upon the subject of him so doing is eery and weird.
Benjamin DeMott, cultural critic, democrat, created a form, a place to be honest and candid, brought forth something really vital, a style, a way, fresh, creative, and for this he deserves a huge amount of credit. And right now, from somewhere, he's giving me a C plus, perhaps worse, and showing me I'm doing things the wrong way.