Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It was what it was, too! (A postscript to "Leaving the Star")

Near the start more than seven months ago of JayHarveyUpstage on, I dodged a full explanation of my "Leaving the Star," as I titled the post that has since attracted far more readers than any of the other 146 posts on this site.

I sounded hopeful notes that frankly hid a little bit behind what I described as a "budding cliche": "It is what it is." I made a little fun of what I took to be a vogue expression — one that seems to imply guru-on-the-mountaintop wisdom, acceptance, "deal-with-it" practicality, and more than a little "whatever" shoulder-shrugging.

Walter Lippmann, who had reason to say "It is what it is."
Well, the other day I encountered anew one of the benefits of keeping fit in the word game by reading  the best prose from the recent to the distant past: a deeper acquaintance with how good writers have said things, how writing styles can reflect a personality and the age that birthed and shaped it.

It came as I was finishing an excellent anthology of the writings of Walter Lippmann, perhaps the most learned American journalist-pundit of the 20th century ("The Essential Lippmann: A Political Philosophy for Liberal Democracy," Clinton Rossiter and James Lare, editors; Random House, 1963).

At the end of an excerpt from Lippmann's "A Preface to Morals" (1929), a lofty  passage sketching in the likely perspective on modern life of "the mature man" (for which we can read "mature person" today, and adjust the pronouns accordingly) concludes this way: "And so whether he saw the thing as comedy, or high tragedy, or plain farce, he would affirm that it is what it is, and that the wise man can enjoy it."

So I have to grant the platitude a better stature than I thought it deserved last May, both because of the source and because of what seem to be at least eight-and-a-half decades of currency. I'm still dodging a full explanation of why I left the Indianapolis Star, however. Thus I'm even more comfortable relying on "It is what it is," and if it contained wisdom for Lippmann, it should for me as well.

Incidentally, a few pages earlier in the anthology, a 1931 essay includes this insight, which confirmed my strong impression of Lippmann's sagacity and warmed the cockles of my critical heart: "...while the performer's own account of his art is entitled to respect and consideration,  it has no  intrinsic authority and it is open to heavy discount in the light of our human propensity to justify our own actions in the past and our hopes in the future."

Word, Walter!

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