Sunday, March 1, 2015

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 266: Elizabeth Hardwick, Selma, Alabama: The Charms of Goodness (#266)

Elizabeth Hardwick, "Selma, Alabama: The Charms of Goodness" (1965) from Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941–1973:

As the LoA headnote puts it, "Kentucky native and New York Review of Books cofounder Elizabeth Hardwick" participated in the third march on Selma, which I love--not the march, but the description--because you can see them trying hard to capture some essence of her, her very literate style, her politics, and her POV.

And there is something interesting to all three of those areas: her writing style has a sort of baroque thousand-yard stare--
How do they see themselves, we wonder, these posse-men, Sheriff Clark’s volunteers, with their guns and sticks and helmets, nearly always squat, fair-faced, middle-aged delinquents and psychopaths?
--while her politics are exhausted--
The intellectual life in New York and the radical life of the Thirties are the worst possible preparation for Alabama at this stage of the Civil Rights movement.
--and her POV gets to mix disgust with annoyance at the downright cliche nature of it all--
Just as they use the Confederate flag, so they use themselves in the old pageantry. The tableau (it might have been thought up decades ago by one of the Hollywood Ten): the early morning fog is lifting and a little band of demonstrators stand at their post at the end of the dusty street.
All of which gives this piece an odd feeling for me: less out-and-out anger and more rage-fatigue. (Hey, I guess rage-fatigue predates the internet. Thanks for the discovery, LoA!)

Yet, though there's something kind of annoying about this writer parachuting in--for all that she is form Kentucky, whatever that means to the LoA headnote writer--there's also something sincerely angry and hopeful and pointed and beautiful here. For once, Hardwick says, the cliches seem to be working towards freedom. It's not radical people who are leading this change, but clean-cut, everyday folks--this is what revolution looks like: just good people, in glasses, and reasonable shoes. You'd need reasonable shoes for a march.

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