Passages records the books I'm reading, the live music I'm hearing, and the movies I'm seeing. Every now and then I'll throw in a passage from a book I read a while back or a trailer from a old favorite movie. Occasionally, there is something that simply caught my eye. But most of it is what I'm reading and hearing and watching in real time.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Place In Time

Several slaves, five or six of them, both men and women, were cutting and shocking corn by moonlight out on Bird's Branch Road, not far from the church. In her vision she saw them plainly, working steadily along to the rhythm that their corn knives hacked into the rustling of the dry corn. They were singing. They were singing, "Freedom! Oh, freedom!" That was all the song, but they sang it back and forth among themselves. Sometimes they would fall silent, and then the song continued unsung to the beat of the knives. And then a solitary voice would lift into the moonlight, "Oh, freedom!" and then they would all sing "Freedom! Oh, freedom!" a cry that was old and creaturely and human. Later she would imagine that there had rarely been a time, and in Port William after slavery perhaps never again a time, when the word "freedom" had been so understandingly sounded. As the singers sang, they worked. As they worked, the rows of standing corn slowly became fewer and the rows of shocks increased. Over the striking of the knives and the steady rustling of the corn and the singing, the moonlight fell as if a greater silence were thus made visible.

Wendell Berry, A Place In Time (2012)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ecstatic Nation

But now, as it had been during the nullification crisis of 1832, the underlying issue was the North's increasing power. And that power endangered slavery. Secessionists worried that if slavery did not expand into the territories, the black population would stay where it was, bottled up and likely to explode. Fear motivated them. That is to say, racial anxiety was as pervasive as economic anxiety when it came to secession, though it was hard to separate the two, for they were threaded together with the rope that bound secessionists and many Southerners to their land, their way of life, their mint juleps, and their pride of race.

Lincoln's election was thus not so much the cause of secession as its excuse: institutional restraints (read: the federal government) had insulted Southerners, imperiled their way of life, and held them in thrall to Northern financiers who had forced planters to buy goods in a protected market. "It's a revolution!" Judah Benjamin cried -- a "prairie fire," unstoppable, unquenchable.

As if in reply, a disconsolate Alexander Stephens observed, "Revolutions are much easier started than controlled."

Brenda Wineapple, Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 (2013)