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Nemontemi

December 29, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

In ancient Mesoamerican cultures, which generally ordered themselves on calendars with eighteen months of twenty days each, the last five or so days of the year were mathematical remainders, leftovers, outside of order, and considered without identity, even unlucky. In modern North America, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day fills the role of these days, called nemontemi in general Mesoamerican parlance, and if the days don’t hold the negative characterization they once did, they at least are a time of diminished stability and identity, in-betweenness, and of (inescapably progressive) transition.

A small daughter of his, one day, chattering to him, said a thing that made him cold with anger. She used the word “city” as an adjective, and as an adjective so inclusively commendatory that he knew she implied that whatever was the opposite of “city” was inclusively culpable. He knew that she reflected a judgment that was becoming dangerously general, and he wondered how long he himself could evade it. For days after that he went about fortifying himself by his knowledge of history and ancient fable, telling himself that man had immemorially drawn his best strength from the earth that mothered him, that the farmer, indeed until quite recently, in the South, had been the acknowledged lord; the man most often a tradesman. “But what have history and ancient fable,” the fiend whispered, “to do with the present?” Cousin Lucius admitted that they apparently had little to do with it, but he believed they must have something to do with it if it were not to go amuck past all remedy.

Some of Cousin Lucius’s friends thought that the solution of their troubles was to adopt frankly the Northern way of life; and others thought that the solution was to band themselves with the discontented farmer sections elsewhere in the country, and by fierce force to wrest the national organization to a pattern that would favor farmers for a while at the expense of industrialists. On the whole, philosophically, he hoped that farming would continue paramount in his Georgia. He knew little of the philosophy of industrialism, but he knew some people who had grown up to assume that it was the normal order of the world, and he knew that those people left him without comfort. Yet he doubted the wisdom of fierce force, anywhere, and he disliked the renunciation of individualism necessary to attain fierce force. And he observed that in the camp of his contemporaries who relied on that expedient there were many who favored socialistic measures he could not condone, and more whose ignorance and selfishness he could not stomach. The only camp left for him, in his political thinking, was the totally unorganized– and perhaps unorganizable– camp of those who could not bring themselves to assert the South either by means of abandoning much that was peculiarly Southern or by means of affiliating themselves with many who had neither dignity nor wisdom nor honesty.

John Donald Wade, “The Life and Death of Cousin Lucius,” I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition 282-83 (Louisiana State University Press 1983) (1930).

Best wishes for safe passage into 2011.

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