The Straddler takes the cultural temperature of America and reads it back at a pitch and slope that we of the era of entertainment “news” are hard pressed to find in more popular venues. It is not a straightforward look at the nation, though the topics discussed are at first glance fairly frank. This issue is a fragmented offering of subtle depth, taking on the System, the Administrator, the Economy, and looking at them sideways, questioning conventional notions of responsibility and control, beauty and aberration.
“Advancing Oligarchy: A Conversation with James Kwak” discusses the aristocracy of Wall Street and contends that American oligarchy thrives on ideology and soft power as opposed to the bribery and blackmail of, say, the Mafia. We move from here to a dialogue around Lonerganian economics and the idea of participating in the economy with common sense and a sort of bending toward authenticity in “Encountering Bernard Lonergan alongside Richard Liddy.” In this article, we are offered a more human way to participate in the systems which rule the world. Liddy says that “there is a desire for wholeness in people, for meaning. Beginning with that is very important. And then part of that is to find meaning in your own desire for meaning. In other words, a more reflective awareness of your own dignity. Your own ability to learn and be creative and so forth.” This concept—such a small, personal theology— is a subversive tool when applied to something so macro as the Economy.
The idea of humanizing our participation in a series of inhuman systems is also present in the comparison of The Administrator in “Barack Obama and the Culture of Consultancy” and “Yojimbo and Administration.” In a review of iconic American presidents, The Straddler, in collaboration with James Comerford, expresses discontent with a presidency that has turned out to be a consultancy—a Consultant in Chief, managing the expectations and demands of a group of stakeholders and economizing “Change” to fit in certain pockets. But in “Yojimbo and Administration,” by Dan Monaco, the person of the Administrator is challenged—changed indeed—from an overworked Poseidon who hasn’t the time to tour his own seas, to Akira Kurosawa’s agile, generous samurai—breathing a Lonerganian insight and authenticity into a tired middle-manager.
Even the art in this issue is a bringing together of the human and inhuman. Mark Ostow’s first attempt at urban landscape photography, “Where the Boardwalk Ends,” is an acutely sad juxtaposition of Atlantic City’s excess and privation—remnants of a community going to pieces around the giant of an abandoned casino. Poems by David Scronce, Rodney Nelson, and Nathan Gunsch sparkle urgently and distinctively, as “Frinky,” fiction by Eddie Lombardi, sings out in boisterous whimsy. Elizabeth Murphy’s “Love Letter to Rane Arroyo,” is icing—a wistful reminder to care for oneself, to write more love letters.
Though The Straddler is not an existential exercise, the nine pieces in this issue invite the reader to a renewed examination of self and system: a continual asking of the question, “what does it mean to be authentic?” Again, from Liddy, “To be authentic is to use your eyes, is to ask questions, to check on the answers you come up with, to make good decisions—this is an ongoing process that we’re involved in every day. And there are ways that we screw it up, through all these biases that get in the way of asking the next question.” This issue of The Straddler seems to challenge—“What is the next question?”