Diary: Endeavour Morse, Joseph Brodsky and coping with the darkness of the Open Air Museum of Ignorance, Superstition and Backwardness


Back on October 27, 2019 at NA Confidential, I undertook to explain a reference I’d previously made to New Albany as the Open Air Museum of Ignorance, Superstition and Backwardness. The British television series Endeavour factored into this little bit of pedantry. Now it’s 2023, and the final series of Endeavour is airing on public television. It began in 2012, when I still was a co-owner at NABC, and our Bank Street Brewhouse expansion was ongoing. In the years to come, I left the company and BSB perished. Now Endeavour is gone, too. But make no mistake: New Albany is as much an Open Air Museum of Ignorance, Superstition and Backwardness as it always was, even if our collective powers of denial have grown infinitely stronger. 

It took a few days for me to see it, but last night’s council meeting provided the necessary epiphany.

Why have I reacted so strongly against the scrubbed and polished fantasy land depicted in New Albany’s new Comprehensive Plan?

Because it’s delusional lipstick on an unreconstructed pig. We’re still the Open Air Museum of Ignorance, Superstition and Backwardness.

As last night’s meeting amply attested, the same perennial prejudices, assumptions, idiocies and clannishness held by the same perennial ruling caste haven’t gone anywhere at all in spite of the ballyhooed makeovers. Dan Coffey mouthed the mantra of the New Albanian dark ages, and a room filled with people who earnestly believe they’re more intelligent than Coffey said and did nothing. From somewhere deep within his bunker, Jeff Gahan beamed proudly.

DC Endeavour Morse: How do you do it? Leave it at the front door?

DI Fred Thursday: ‘Cause I have to. Case like this will tear a heart right out of a man. Find something worth defending.

DC Endeavour Morse: I thought I had! Found something.

DI Fred Thursday: Music? I suppose music is as good as anything. Go home. Put your best record on. Loud as it’ll play. And with every note, you remember: That’s something the darkness couldn’t take from you.

[Thursday walks away, Morse emotionally looks at the view of Oxford and then leaves the rooftop]

The poet Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) is a far cry from a defeated Scott Wood’s imaginary magnum opus or the Inspector Morse prequel, but the unifying theme is darkness — and dissent.

From Brodsky’s obituary in the New York Times.

However, he was something of a spiritual dissenter, even as a boy. “I began to despise Lenin, even when I was in the first grade, not so much because of his political philosophy or practice . . . but because of his omnipresent images,” he recalled.

That’s my life young Brodsky is referring to, and I accept it, though some days are harder than others. It wasn’t aimed at you, Chief. It was aimed at all of us, me included. Thanks to my friend Jon for inadvertently salvaging my morning with this poem.

I Sit By The Window

By Joseph Brodsky

I said fate plays a game without a score,
and who needs fish if you’ve got caviar?
The triumph of the Gothic style would come to pass
and turn you on–no need for coke, or grass.
I sit by the window. Outside, an aspen.
When I loved, I loved deeply. It wasn’t often.

I said the forest’s only part of a tree.
Who needs the whole girl if you’ve got her knee?
Sick of the dust raised by the modern era,
the Russian eye would rest on an Estonian spire.
I sit by the window. The dishes are done.
I was happy here. But I won’t be again.

I wrote: The bulb looks at the flower in fear,
and love, as an act, lacks a verb; the zer-
o Euclid thought the vanishing point became
wasn’t math–it was the nothingness of Time.
I sit by the window. And while I sit
my youth comes back. Sometimes I’d smile. Or spit.

I said that the leaf may destroy the bud;
what’s fertile falls in fallow soil–a dud;
that on the flat field, the unshadowed plain
nature spills the seeds of trees in vain.
I sit by the window. Hands lock my knees.
My heavy shadow’s my squat company.

My song was out of tune, my voice was cracked,
but at least no chorus can ever sing it back.
That talk like this reaps no reward bewilders
no one–no one’s legs rest on my shoulders.
I sit by the window in the dark. Like an express,
the waves behind the wavelike curtain crash.

A loyal subject of these second-rate years,
I proudly admit that my finest ideas
are second-rate, and may the future take them
as trophies of my struggle against suffocation.
I sit in the dark. And it would be hard to figure out
which is worse; the dark inside, or the darkness out.