Tuesday, June 2, 2009

On Raiding the Inarticulate

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.  And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.  And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious.  But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying.  The rest is not our business.
T.S. Eliot
The Four Quartets—East Coker
1943–1944


The beginning of June marks the start of GOVERNINGWorks’s third month. The retirement of Associate Justice David Souter and the nomination of Federal Circuit Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as Justice Souter’s replacement are among the noteworthy events to have occurred since GOVERNINGWorks began publication.

In addition to having to endure the divided and divisive political maneuvering it would seem we now must expect with a Supreme Court nomination, the politics of biography attends Judge Sotomayor. Her personal story is impressive. Her intermittent comments on the role elements of her biography play in her decision-making have added fuel to questions already arising about President Barack H. Obama’s use of “empathy” as a factor in his choice and the relationship of a nominee’s biography, jurisprudence and suitability to serve on the Supreme Court.

Biography is important. It is not destiny.