Mark Abley treats us to engagements with the ghost of Duncan Campbell Scott, poet and bureaucrat, in a series of encounters related in Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott. Close to the end of the last session, our narrator lets loose.
“I concede nothing,” I said, for once overriding his interruption. “It so happens that my father was an organist. I was raised on J.S. Bach, and I’ll always be glad of it. But if I’d been raised on Sufi chants or African-American gospel music or the ragas of India, I wouldn’t be any less civilized. I think Aboriginal dances can hold just as much meaning and beauty as Giselle. And besides, we’ve reached a point in history where that word ‘civilized’ sends up loud alarm bells. Were the Nazis uncivilized? They revered the music of Wagner. I’m sure many of them loved Bach and Mozart too. Ads went up recently in the New York subway system saying ‘In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.’ That’s not just a slogan I reject, Mr. Scott — it’s a war I refuse to fight.”
In order to comprehend more specifically the narrator’s refusal let us excavate some links to some of the news coverage of the NYC and also of the San Francisco transit ads:
NYC Subway Ads Call for Defeat of Jihad ‘Savages’ Sept. 20, 2012
The ads have also appeared on San Francisco’s public transport system. In response, the transit authority ran anti-bigotry ads next to the [Freedom Defense Initiative] FDI’s.
Though Muni may have to run the ads, it has taken the unusual step of posting its own ads denouncing Geller’s campaign […] [Transcription from picture of sign with arrow to offending sign: SFMTA policy prohibits discrimination based on national origin, religion, and other characteristics and condemns statements that describe any group as “savages.” ] Muni is also donating the money Geller paid for the ads to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.
What does Abley, the author, accomplish when Abley, the narrator, doesn’t provide a reference, doesn’t tell the reader which group is aimed at by the term ‘savage’? Evidently, he elevates the sentiment of refusal to a universal status. Less evidently but equally important, he offers the reader an opportunity to stomach more and explore the coverage and the comments on the coverage. And in the dynamics of the conversations and their aftermath, the refusal serves to clearly state the stakes. The refusal adds an echo within an echo for the narration ends with this observation: “Then his voice was no longer floating around me, though its echo seemed to fill a space the size of Canada.” By this point, thanks to the outburst of refusal, we as readers know there are other voices capable of filling space.
And so for day 1316