Beauty and Madness



As I walked along the beaches of the Forgotten Coast and marveled at the beauty—life! everywhere! — I picked up small pieces of plastic and water bottles, passed abandoned beach toys and furniture, crossed tire tracks in the sand, spied speeding motor boats and wave runners and thought madness —this throw-away culture. Creation eclipsed by commerce.

When I turned on the radio and caught snippets of news and conversation describing legal maneuvering by litigious parties and general political posturing around the oil catastrophe, I thought madness. All this us against them. Such childish behavior in the face of such finality.

I click over to news (less and less) and above, beside and below the oil catastrophe stories are ads for cars. Absurdity, sad irony, madness. Of course, I drove down to the Gulf of Mexico by car and filled up my tank with gasoline again and again. Are we doomed by our devilish machines? How did we ruin our beautiful life support system so quickly?

Sure, the ruin didn't start with the automobile, but I kept thinking of Joseph Cotten's monologue in Orson Welles' film adaptation of Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons.

Once, before youtube, I transcribed this monologue on the automobile. Now wondering how much of this monologue was Tarkington and how much Welles, I turned to Project Gutenberg and have excerpted below the original Tarkington text from his 1918 Pulitzer Prize novel. The film text is all Tarkington but what Welles (or the studio) left out is telling. I've bolded the excised phrases.

The set up to the monologue in the film excerpt starts at 0:34. You might want to watch and listen first and then read the original text.
"I'm not sure he's wrong about automobiles. With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization—that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men's souls. I am not sure. But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us suspect. They are here, and almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace. I think men's minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can't have the immense outward changes that they will cause without some inward ones, and it may be that George is right, and that the spiritual alteration will be bad for us. Perhaps, ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn't be able to defend the gasoline engine, but would have to agree with him that automobiles 'had no business to be invented."

—Eugene Morgan monologue from The Magnificent Andersons by Booth Tarkington.
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1 comment:

Leslie Hawes said...

Thank you for this post. Thoughtful. Succinct.
My heart aches of the madness.