Anything composed of parts is continually reverting to its component pieces. I read that somewhere very recently, but I can’t remember where. It does make me think of the automobile: that is more or less what automobiles do, and the mechanic is a place for taking apart and putting together, because the thing is composed of parts. When self-driving cars have become the norm, it is unlikely to be an institution, it seems to me, upheld by private ownership. Then I shall no longer concern myself with the fact that cars are constantly reverting to component pieces.
Not that we broke down. We went along, taking the turn pike of which, for no reason I can see, Pennsylvania feels it can be proud. Here’s what the chaps collecting can be proud of: the pass. Now that we have a pass, it is easy to pay the toll, and you don’t even look at the price. No stopping—unless some person unfamiliar with the procedure and unable to deal with the symbolism of the signs fast enough is reduced to a standstill—a little slowing, but no obvious transaction takes place. You whiz through without touching a wallet or money or anything. I remember when we hurled coins into a basket, and when you did that you would not have thought a pass necessary. Now that tolls regularly exact five to ten dollars or more, the pass helps.
I’m surprised how solid, massive and ornate Harrisburg is. The state capitol is on the grandest scale I’ve seen a state capitol yet. The chambers are huge, the decorations elaborate, the symbolism overwhelming. The commonwealth of Pennsylvania boasts itself of a long tradition and many events, and all these are caught up in the theme of its government’s main building. Incalculable gold leaf, clocks that take one person a day and a half to wind every week, cut crystal in two and eight ton chandeliers, a rotunda modelled on St. Peter’s, a grand stairway modelled on the Paris Opera’s, millions of Moravian tiles, murals and echoing passageways.
We actually went to see a bookstore called Midtown Scholar. It is a fine place. A bar is the first thing, where they serve coffee and such, and throughout are scattered tables and chairs. There’s a bakery in the children’s section. The main room has a series of nooks and shelves with famous authors in alphabetical order. The most annoying thing about the place is that they usually do alphabetical by title. So philosophy, for example, starts with the alphabetical famous philosophers, but then there’s a section on philosophy as long or longer with everything else, alphabetical by title. Religion, alphabetical by title, Christianity the same. English history, the same and American. The sections are compendious, stupendous, there are at least three stories, from what I can tell. But alphabetical by title is really an annoying way to have to deal with a store. Still, a place to haunt if one’s a Harrisburger.
It is a right good town to walk briskly about on a sunny, windy day, whether with or without politicians I cannot say. It has decent buildings and many narrow ways. A bit like Philadelphia on a smaller scale. You can even take the train, though it will take three hours to do so. Still, it could be a fine thing: arrive at noon, prowl around the town, have a late lunch, prowl some more, fortify with some coffee and perhaps a glance at some of the books, return watching the evening falling on the land and at the end the lights of Philadelphia.
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I’m reading Barchester Towers with much enjoyment. I didn’t realize Trollope was a kind of spiritual forebear of P.G. Woodehouse. Most congenial. I picked up a Koneman (I like those little blue volumes, so neat and compact) of Boswell’s Journal and the Everyman Mabinogion. There’s (that’s how we say it now, isn’t it?) slender volumes one can port portably.
I listened, while in that compact collection of parts that so admirably stays together, to Drout on literature. Sensible, sensible chap in most everything, by which I mean I highly agree with him. Very sensible on language and on interpretation, though he could profit by reading Paul Fussel on poetry. One thing I did not like the intimations of, and it is something that keeps rising up in conversations and such to poke me in the eye. I think younger chaps nowadays believe it very much–by which I do not mean Drout is a younger chap, though he does seem to believe it too. I gather that many people now believe a human being is principally a physical organism with an uninteresting and for most purposes unintelligible non-material part. There is an essential materialism to this that baffles me. I think quite otherwise. A human being is principally a self, an immaterial, non-material being that happens to have an organism attached which cannot be set aside but is by no means the most important thing about his being, but rather the least.
But Drout, let me close with something highly positive of this great chap, thinks that of all human achievements altogether, literature is the greatest, dealing as it does with the human interior.