hoisting the flag

I mentioned on my micro.blog that I’ve been reading Stephen Harrigan’s magnificent Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas. (The title comes from the painter Georgia O’Keefe, a native of Wisconsin who remembered her first coming to west Texas: “I couldn’t believe Texas was real. When I arrived out there, there wasn’t a blade of green grass or a leaf to be seen, but I was absolutely crazy about it…. For me Texas is the same big wonderful thing that oceans and the highest mountains are.”) As I said over there, the book is full of passages like this one:

The Edwards brothers, and Martin Parmer, another outraged colonist who called himself the Ringtailed Panther, launched a rebellion, wrote yet another declaration of independence, designed yet another flag, and established yet another evanescent republic. This one was called the Republic of Fredonia, a brand-new country that in the Edwardses’ mind included not just the territory of his former colony but the greater part of Texas itself. Though it was at heart an Anglo rebellion, Haden Edwards managed to enlist a smattering of Cherokee allies, under the leadership of Richard Fields, who was a tireless advocate of the tribe despite his run-of-the-mill Anglo American name and his one-eighth measure of Cherokee blood. “The flag of liberty,” Edwards exulted, “now waves in majestic triumph on the heights of Nacogdoches and despotism stands appalled at the sight.”

The rhetorical flamboyance of Edwards’s description of what he had achieved — alas, Fredonia lasted just a few months — makes me smile. Maybe you had to have a lot of energy, in those days, to try to make a go of it in Texas, and that energy manifested itself not least in your language.

Such vibrancy could be terse — as in Davy Crockett’s famous farewell to Tennessee politics: “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas” — or elegant — as when the magnificently named second President of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, offered his hopes for the country: “Our young Republic has been formed by a Spartan spirit — let it progress and ripen into Roman firmness, and Athenian gracefulness and wisdom.” But more often it was, like Haden Edwards’s encomium to Fredonia, unashamedly flashy. Presumably such flash was regularly inspired by the aforementioned “flag of liberty.” One hopeful colonist headed for what was then the northernmost province of New Spain was encouraged by a newspaper of the time with these stirring words: “God speed ye, [and] may no difficulties or obstacles oppose you — until the flag of liberty waves triumphant over the prostituted insignia of time-serving priests and the broken truncheons of substitute kings.”

I am sad that my culture has lost this facility and lost it altogether. Look at some of the statements of the Black Lives Matter organization, for instance:

We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.

Or:

We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).

Doesn’t exactly stir one’s loins with revolutionary fervor, does it?

I started to write that this language sounds like it comes from a draft manifesto of the Theory Collective at a midwestern university — but then I reflected that it sounds more like an except from the Policies and Procedures manual that your Human Resources department posted on your institutional intranet. And then I realized that Black revolutionaries, literary theorists, and HR departments all write exactly the same way. What a nightmare. What a desiccated, lifeless, mechanical, exhausted and exhausting nightmare.

Friends, let us recover some of the linguistic flamboyance of our ancestors. Only then may the flag of liberty flutter and snap with proud delight as it is tickled by the powerful winds of Progress!

Also, please call me the Ringtailed Panther.