Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dos Passos Notes, &c.

Near Vero Beach


Uncanny the way
The way is
Cadged by whatever

Trot (a text)
Or horse (riderless)
Marks it out

(Befouls its precincts)
With snort or
Verbiage (or dung),

Whatever raw bundle
Cacophonous is made,
Bereft of prior

Arrangement. So one
Parcels out or
Divvies up a

Squander lot of
Sequences, adjudging each
With tongue sparring

With teeth, ravelling
Sound portend’d syllables
Out of plash

Ratios, sough’d hinge-
Workings, fits of
Sibilants. Noise itself

Gearing down any
Too impalpable ratiocinatory
Rev, batting away

The barrel of
The gun-shy
Reach of concomitant

Significance in order
To adopt fracas
And brouhaha, moves

Echoing and associational
In which the
Free sounding of

Each is condition
For the free
Sounding of all.

Finish’d reading Dos Passos’s 1919 and moved into The Big Money. Just to nail it down, a couple of planks pull’d off the ramshackle shed of the thing. My squib earlier about the biographical sketches mention’d Paul Bunyan. Turns out Dos Passos is using the legendary lumberjack (a wholesome pancake-eating lug) to point at a wholly different logger, one Wesley Everest, a man near-completely bury’d by history. Ex-WWI soldier, “crack shot,” and member of the Industrial Workers of the World, Everest got lynch’d in Centralia, Washington, by members of the American Legion after shooting in self-defense when the Legionnaires (lackeys of the lumber kings) attack’d the I.W.W. Union Hall. Dos Passos pulls no punches. A deft swatch of statistical brunt and catalogue juxtaposed to define the terms of the struggle:
      (Since the days of the homesteaders the western promoters and the politicians and lobbyists in Washington had been busy with the rainy giant forests of the Pacific slope with the result that:

      ten monopoly groups aggregating only one thousand eight hundred and two holders, monopolized one thousand two hundred and eight billion, eight hundred million,
[1,208, 800,000,000]
      square feet of standing timber, . . . enough standing timber . . . to yield the planks necessary [over and above the manufacturing wastage] to make a floating bridge more than two feet thick and more than five miles wide from New York to Liverpool;—

      wood for scaffolding , wood for jerrybuilding residential suburbs, billboards, wood for shacks and ships and shantytowns, pulp for tabloids, yellow journals, editorial pages, advertizing copy, mailorder catalogues, filingcards, army paperwork, handbills, flimsy.)
Against that is put a political Paul Bunyan who’s not a cartoon:
. . . the I.W.W. put the idea of industrial democracy in Paul Bunyan’s head; wobbly organizers said the forests ought to belong to the whole people, said Paul Bunyan ought to be paid in real money instead of in company scrip, ought to have a decent place to dry his clothes, wet from the sweat of a day’s work in zero weather and snow, an eight hour day, clean bunkhouses, wholesome grub; when Paul Bunyan came back from making Europe safe for the democracy of the Big Four, he joined the lumberjack’s local to help make the Pacific slope safe for the workingstiffs. The wobblies were reds. . . .
      The timber owners, the sawmill and shinglekings were patriots; they’d won the war (in the course of which the price of lumber had gone up from $16 a thousand feet to $116; there are even cases where the government paid as high as $1200 a thousand for spruce); they set out to clean the reds out of the logging camps . . .
The bloody details belong not to Paul Bunyan, but the man Wesley Everest, and are nearly unendurable:
They took him off in a limousine to the Chehalis River bridge. As Wesley Everest lay stunned in the bottom of the car a Centralia business man cut his penis and testicles off with a razor. Wesley Everest gave a great scream of pain. Somebody has remembered that after a while he whispered, “For God’s sake, men, shoot me . . . don’t let me suffer like this.” Then they hanged him from the bridge in the glare of the headlights.

      The coroner at his inquest thought it was a great joke.
      He reported that Wesley Everest had broken out of jail and run to the Chehalis River bridge and tied a rope around his neck and jumped off, finding the rope too short he’d climbed back and fastened on a longer one, had jumped off again, broke his neck and shot himself full of holes.

John Dos Passos, 1896-1970

Wesley Everest, 1890-1919