Reimagining American Community

Nostalgia for home and  for an eventual homecoming is an appealing notion to many but Mark Signorelli’s new piece at Front Porch Republic takes the other possible position: What if your home (his was “Nowhereville, New Jersey”) was in a deeply unlovable place, amidst people incapable of creating real community for numerous reasons?

Mark notes that he has learned to appreciate notions of rootedness and localism largely by lacking those things and then reading about them, as have many others from similar bleak origins.

He argues, “The work we have before us, the work of restoring civil society, is a spiritual work, an intellectual and a cultural work.” It’s not so much Odysseus who is our model here, the author suggests, simply returning to an Ithaka where he can more or less restore the world happily. It’s rather Aeneas, the exile who must go forward to found a new place and then somehow make that home.

Complicating matters, I would add that there’s a third possible view: home as a mottled mix of colors. I now look back at my small hometown in East Texas as filled with Flannery O’Connor characters and traces of Southern grotesquerie. (My two late “Confederate” aunts, as I called them, come endearingly to mind.)

I can also hear the kind of understated humor country people often perfect in their own styles–not just a Texan accent but a dadgum patois, you might call it.

Yet a walk down our Main Street suffices to remind me how questions of race and class persist everywhere. Civil society is barely functioning in many respects. Mark’s right: the old homeplace is in bad shape. We had better start from that fact.

About the Author
A native Texan, Elias spent several good years studying classics and medieval Italian at UC Berkeley before wasting several more years in financial journalism around Chicago. He has written for Strong Towns, the American Scholar, the New Urbs blog, and the Gary Catholic Worker and is the co-author of a textbook on character education. He briefly published something called The Armchair Historian. None of his three teenage daughters display an interest in the Greek and Latin classics thus far. He and his family reside in leafy Valparaiso IN.