Why an image overlays the reality

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

5:30 a.m. So, to continue –

Again, hold the thought that we are examining Lincoln’s life as an example of your lives as lived in 3D, as they affect others, rather than how they appear to you from a 3D perspective, or how they might be seen as extensions of non-3D. Taken together, eventually, they will show your lives in the round, rather than from a single point of view which would tend to flatten them out.

To do this, it is not essential that we portray Lincoln’s life in any detail. It is as example, not as case-study, that we use it.


Young Lincoln’s world kept expanding. From the isolation of his early youth, he moved to a real life in a small society. Small, but rich, and really experienced, because experienced as expansion rather than constriction. Had Lincoln been born in a city and, at age 21, been moved into tiny New Salem, he would have felt cramped and deprived, perhaps. Going the other way, he experienced it as opportunity and richness of interaction, and knew how to appreciate it.

Similarly, he progressed from day-laborer to a series of occupations to surveyor and then lawyer – both independent occupations in the sense of not being bound as a wage-earner, but both highly dependent in that he could only function by attracting and satisfying clients. And in his 30s, he married. Now he was fully engaged in social life.

The details of his career are peripheral here. Our point is that he became a very representative man of his time and place. It gave him an unshakable sense of who he was, and it taught him how to read the people around him, because he knew them as only one could who had been one of them. Others might appeal to the common man; Lincoln considered himself one of them, and was, while yet being one of a kind.

But you – we? – slid into describing Lincoln as he saw himself.

Yes and no. Granted, we’re right on the edge of it, but what Lincoln was, how he was perceived and experienced by his fellows, depends upon who experienced him. They all saw his raw-boned lack of polish, his earnest industriousness, his integrity. They, not only he, saw him as one of the people who was nonetheless one of a kind because containing hidden depths.

All this is important. To see Lincoln as his fellows saw him requires you in a later age to know things that his contemporaries knew without needing to be told. You need to see him without his later eminence. They experienced him before it, and growing into it.

So the backwoods boy grew into a citizen, a lawyer, a townsman with wife and children, an ambitious and increasingly influential politician. His gregarious nature, his rare gift of entertaining story-telling, something deeply winning in his personality, won the respect and affection of his better educated fellow lawyers; smoothed his path. His genuine kindness and disinterestedness slowly and irresistibly spread his reputation among his clients and potential clients. He became widely seen as a good man. At the same time, he became known as an effective man, a long-headed calculator of forces, one who understood his world. Having almost no formal education, he had worked hard to educate himself, and what was hard-won was priced, and showed.

Pride without ego; this is what they saw. Ambition with calculation but without that edge of rapacity that leads to lack of scruple. Perhaps more than anything, though perhaps felt more than consciously seen, was his ability to see things from various sides. He was not trapped in one point of view; yet he did not blow with the winds. He held his views as he came to them, but like any good lawyer he was able to defend them by appreciating how things looked from the other sides of a question.

But bear in mind, his fellows were still seeing him as an ordinary human being, intertwined with family and community in the many ways you are all intertwined. They didn’t experience him as a statue, or an icon, or an infallible symbol.

Yet as his career attained national importance, people tried to see him just that way. Emerson commented on what he saw as  Lincoln’s inability to act a dignified role as he traveled toward his inauguration.

And that is a good illustration of a distinction to be made. Beyond a certain point, Lincoln the man became submerged in Lincoln the party leader, Lincoln the opponent of the expansion of Negro slavery, Lincoln the linchpin holding together the forces who would maintain the Union. That is to say, soon more people experienced less Lincoln the man than Lincoln as projected.


Of course. How many people among 20 or 30 millions could know him personally? But – here’s the thing: The Lincoln image that was projected had Lincoln the man at its core, however overlaid it got with the result of policies and events.

Let me try this. I almost was unable to find words to finish that sentence, because I sensed so much complexity behind it. It will be easier for me to say it in my own words, I think.

After a point, Lincoln the man was outvoted, so to speak, by Lincoln as seen through intermediate forces such as newspapers, political parties and their mechanisms, and people’s imagination of his motives and intents as they derived them. This is why Southerners could imagine him as malicious; why Democrats would imagine him as unscrupulous; why Free Soilers could imagine him as without conscience. This is why so many public men saw him as indecisive, incapable, out of his depth.

And it is why as people came to know him, he rose in their estimation, either as ally or foe. And it is why he was able to hold the common people to the cause of Union and move them with him in the cause of abolition. He understood them, and they understood him. Therefore, he trusted them and they trusted him. They saw through the reports and into his heart.

Hence the heart-broken mourning when he was killed, even after a heart-breaking four years that had killed 600,000 young men.

And this tells you what? You know from your personal experience.

There was a strong psychic link between him and the people, somehow. It wasn’t merely that he was president: There was no such link with Buchanan or Johnson. He was somehow a part of them, and they felt it.

Yes, felt it despite the fact that his life and theirs were worlds apart, for Mr. Lincoln had traveled far in his half-century. But neither they nor he understood that link as we are trying to set it out for you, because their world was one of very different intellectual construction.

You mean, I think, their mental structure didn’t allow for ideas like shared subjectivity, and non-3D components other than in some religious sense.

Every time is the product of the world as it has been, and is the creator of the world as it will be next.

So call this “personal and impersonal”?

You could, or maybe “the man and the myth,” or, better (since that has unpleasant debunking overtones), :The man and the image.” But that still doesn’t quite do it.

“The man becomes the image”?

Let’s say, rather, “Why an image overlays the reality.” And that will lead on to the larger question of your interactions with the world around you, and how your own private concerns meld with the times you are born into.

Meaning – I suddenly get – why some people’s lives are public and others are obscure, why some attain fame, or have it thrust on them, and others don’t. It is at least partly a matter of how much one’s private concerns mesh with developments in the “outer world,” the shared subjectivity.

That’s a good starting place next time. For every person tapped to play Lincoln, there are millions tapped to play admirers of Lincoln, or supporters, or opponents, or detractors. That doesn’t make those millions of people extras in the movie. It makes them extras in that aspect of the movie. Enough for the moment.

All right, thanks as always.





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