About “Dispatches from the Cusp”

It’s occurred to me in advanced middle age that I am also something of an unwitting cusper.  I’ve lived my entire life in sort of a cusp – in a sort of cultural, political  and psychological point of transition – without  being fully aware until now of how this has deeply affected my views of life, faith and the passing scene.

For starters, I was born in the cusp of the 1960’s in the northwestern corner of Alabama  — culturally and politically speaking, a part of the upper South — though I have spent most of my adult life working as a news and public affairs specialist at a university in the the upper portion of the southern part of the state, which is far more associated with the culture and politics of the Deep South.  Even today among some Alabamians, this constitutes a critical distinction.

Adding an extra layer of irony to all of this, I was raised a Republican in northwest Alabama, which, until recently, was one of the most committed Democratic enclaves of Alabama.  My strong GOP family connection is not entirely surprising, considering that my family tree is a much Southern unionist as it is Confederate.

Despite this divided heritage, I have always considered myself an Alabamian and a Southerner first and foremost.  I’m that rarest of things: a Southern nationalist, albeit one with strong post-Confederate, post-racial convictions.  I do harbor hopes that someday the South will rise again, asserting its identity as assertively as Scotland and Catalonia in the present day.

I think that Observer columnist Michael Malice summed up the historical American predicament well:  “The real conundrum is why two cultures should attempt to move forward as one unit when they are increasingly diverging in their world views—and never had the same worldview to begin with.”

Yes, I may come off sounding crazy asserting such a statement, but as a rather consistent amateur historian of American and world history, I should point out that stranger things have happened.

Adding the final layer of complexity to this picture, I am a theologically liberal Protestant in a region that remains largely, if not implacably, conservative evangelical. I tend to think of myself as a Red Tory in the Disraeli conservative tradition – a progressive conservative, in other words.

In all honesty, I feel fortunate to have inherited such an eclectic temperament and background, because they have equipped me in middle age with what I consider to be a rather unique perspective, one that I feel compelled to share occasionally with readers.

Have a nice day.

Jim Langcuster


10 Responses to About “Dispatches from the Cusp”

  1. Thom Hickey says:

    Thanks. Enjoyed reading this outline of your background. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox.

  2. Sheree says:

    I think we have a lot in common, Jim (as you know…..) Some of my Franklin County ancestors were “arrested” for “draft dodging” because they were Union sympathizers and refused to join the Confederate Army or support the Confederate war effort. Affidavits filed after the war describe their experience.

    • MissionExtension says:

      It is funny you say that, Sheree, because someone sent me an affidavit from my great(2) attesting to the union sympathies of a neighbor applying for a Unionist pension. He spoke at great length about his enduring hatred for the secessionists and why he considered himself a Union man through and through. As it turns out, he was conscripted in the C.S.Army but fled and eventually made it back home. And, needless to say, he remained implacably Republican for the rest of his life – and so did his children. My father remembers getting the hell beaten out of him at school in 1940 for wearing a Wendell Wilkie campaign button – at the urging of his grandfather. LOL!

  3. Peg Boyles says:

    After a long wait, Netflix finally sent ‘Muscle Shoals’, which we watched last night. Deeply moving and extraordinary in every respect. (Even though some reviewers found it overly long & in need of serious editing, I could have watched hours more of it, not just the music, but the diverse characters, especially the old Swampers.)

    My god! This music I’ve known and loved for decades emerged from your singing river and the gifted folks who drank from its spiritual depths. Listening to the film’s playlist now on Spotify.

    I’ve ordered two copies, one for my BIL (the one scheduled for foot amputation in a couple of weeks). He taught 9th-grade US history for many years through the medium of rock ‘n roll & its complex roots. Always played in bands (country, rock, swing, gospel), and collected many 1000s of vinyl recordings for his. I don’t think he’s seen the movie yet.

    Thanks so much for recommending it.

    We don’t share a worldview, Jim. But at some deep—or maybe transcendent—level, we connect.

    • Jim Langcuster says:

      I think I have filled you in on my and my father’s connections to the Halls and the Swampers (Jimmy Johnson and Patterson Hood). It really is a fascinating story. And one really can’t appreciate the legacy of Rick Hall without understanding the significance – of, perhaps I should say, the other INsignificance – of where he came from: Pogo, AL, in the so-called westernmost sliver of the the West End of my native county of Franklin. I had an beloved uncle from there, and every time my parents and I traveled in that direction I thought that I had undertaken an exotic expeditions to the deepest climes of the Dark Continent – sort of like Dr. Livingston. I wondered a time or two if we would drive too far to the west and fall off the edge of the Earth. We were after all, venturing perilously close to the Mississippi Hill Country. Lol!

      • Peg Boyles says:

        There’s no doubt that landscape imparted its magic into both its people, the musicians who flocked to the studios, and the movie they occasioned.

  4. Jim Langcuster says:

    Quite true. There really are deep cultural differences between that part of AL and this one. If have run across people down here with distinct facial expressions and voice infections that have led me to ask if they are from up. In most cases they answer, “Yes!”

    • Peg Boyles says:

      Tee hee. I grew up in the gorgeous, rolling hills of central Vermont, among rural, poor, fiercely, independent, and wildly creative folks (mostly farmers and the merchants who served them. My dad owned the feed & hardware store). Old-fashioned, frugal, community-involved conservatives.

      We had strong accents and idioms unlike those anywhere else in New England. I’m ashamed that I worked so hard to eradicate every trace of that place in my (failed) attempt to fit into the sophisticated urban setting of my undergraduate college years. I returned to rural living 5 decades ago…but you can’t really go back…

      • Jim Langcuster says:

        What you say reminds me of what has been said about the Irish (Gaelic) language: When it ceases to be a spoken language of daily transaction and instead becomes a middle-class language of national identity acquired primarily via the classroom, well, it ceases being a language, at least, in the sense that languages have historically been understood.

  5. Peg Boyles says:

    Yes. My culture hero, Ivan Illich, said it this way in his fabulous “Shadow Work” (late 70s):

    The Radical Monopoly of Taught Mother Tongue

    Vernacular spreads by practical use; it is learned from people who mean what they say and who say what they mean to the person they address in the context of everyday life. This is not so in taught language. With taught language, the one from whom I learn is not a person whom I care for or dislike, but a professional speaker. The model for taught colloquial is somebody who does not say what he means, but who recites what others have contrived. In this sense, a street vendor announcing his wares in ritual language is not a professional speaker, while the king’s herald or the clown on television are the prototypes. Taught colloquial is the language of the announcer who follows the script that an editor was told by a publicist that a board of directors had decided should be said. Taught colloquial is the dead, impersonal rhetoric of people paid to declaim with phony conviction texts composed by others, who themselves are usually paid only for designing the text. People who speak taught language imitate the announcer of news, the comedian of gag writers, the instructor following the teacher’s manual to explain the textbook, the songster of engineered rhymes, or the ghost-written president. This is language that implicitly lies when I use it to say something to your face; it is meant for the spectator who watches the scene. It is the language of farce, not of theater, the language of the hack, not of the true performer. The language of media always seeks the appropriate audience profile that the sponsor tries to hit and to hit hard. While the vernacular is engendered in me by the intercourse between complete persons locked in conversation with each other, taught language is syntonic with loud speakers whose assigned job is gab.

    The vernacular and taught mother tongue are like the two extremes on the spectrum of the colloquial. Language would be totally inhuman if it were totally taught. That is what Humboldt meant when he said that real language is speech that can only be fostered, never taught like mathematics. Speech is much more than communication, and only machines can communicate without reference to vernacular roots. Their chatter with one another in New York now takes up about three-quarters of the lines that the telephone company operates under a franchise that guarantees access by people. This is an obvious perversion of a legal privilege that results from political aggrandizement and the degradation of vernacular domains to second-class commodities. But even more embarrassing and depressing than this abuse of a forum of free speech by robots is the incidence of robot-like stock phrases that blight the remaining lines on which people presumably “speak” to each other. A growing percentage of speech has become mere formula in content and style. In this way, the colloquial moves on the spectrum of language increasingly from vernacular to capital-intensive “communication,” as if it were nothing more than the human variety of the exchange that also goes on between bees, whales, and computers. True, some vernacular elements or aspects always survive – but that is true even for most computer programs. I do not claim that the vernacular dies; only that it withers. The American, French, or German colloquials have become composites made up of two kinds of language: commodity like taught uniquack and a limping, ragged, jerky vernacular struggling to survive. Taught mother tongue has established a radical monopoly over speech, just as transportation has over mobility or, more generally, commodity over vernacular values.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s