It comes like sentiment, what to call it? Is it hope? “Put the spy glasses down boys! That’s land!”
Early yesterday I heard two cardinals singing while snow was falling. Hope is the thing with feathers. I told you: there’s general feeling about it.
In today’s academy we’d invent an interpretive grid which could be lowered over the feathered imaginary; we’d call it hope theory. We’d find a way to hold the “h” word up for suspicion–hope is a product of capitalism; it’s a religious fantasy, it’s the opiate of the masses. No one should be allowed hope without critique–it’s a gateway drug to innocence.
Of innocence one thinks many things.
In more innocent times we asked questions like “what’s the “beyond” in Bed, Bath, and Beyond? We were max-innocent. We asked because the answers would be foolish. If nothing else the Trump years have rid us of vapid fancies.
Meanwhile one thinks of Will Rogers: “An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.”
Now this is true as far as it goes. He means peeling. I’ve yet to peel a rutabaga and just crack up. The name of the rutabaga will make you smile but so what?
In more innocent times…
Well of course there never were such times. But a fool and his nostalgia are not so easily parted. But there never were such times. While people watched “What’s My Line?” on their Dumont televisions they were executing the Rosenbergs.
Will Rogers: “Things aren’t what they used to be and probably never were.”
Peter Charles Hoffer’s splendid book “Clio Among the Muses” tackles this very problem. In short we’re living in an age when as he puts it, “there’s too much history to bear.” We’re also prone to believing only the history we like and the devil take the hind most. Christopher Columbus butchered and enslaved human beings. Hey, my grandfather loved Christopher Columbus. The latter view is a call for more innocent times.
Hoffer notes that suffering is crucial to our understanding of greatness in human beings, noting that Lincoln was not the best educated candidate for the presidency but he was certainly the greatest sufferer:
“Lincoln served as president during the most horrific and perilous of all American wars. His life, until the Civil War erupted, did not seem to prepare him for greatness. But it did prepare him for suffering. Often lonely, beset by images of his dying mother, melancholy and depressed, he identified with others’ suffering. Suffering taught Lincoln to hide a portion of his thoughts and feelings, and the empathetic suffering he exhibited during the war. The poet W. H. Auden wrote, “Let us honour if we can; The vertical man; Though we value none; But the horizontal one.”
In more innocent times…
Will Rogers: “The worst thing that happens to you. May be the best thing for you if you don’t let it get the best of you!!”
More about innocence:
Don’t imagine your shoes are innocent. They know the moist, ineluctable whispers of the unconscious. And don’t imagine that just because pharmaceuticals have been pushed as the cure for depression there’s no such thing as the unconscious. Freud and Jung had it right and even your pharmacist knows it, knows it because his shoes are dark and moist. Even the dancing pump and the foam filled cross-fit shoes of leisure are filled with half starved archetypes. The murderer knows his shoes. The priest. The politician. I take no pleasure saying so, I”d prefer innocence encasing our precious feet.
In her novel “The Cold Song” Linn Ullman writes of Jenny, an aging socialite who’s preparing for a party in her honor:
“She looked at the shoes, paired up like well-behaved children on the floor by her bed. Such pretty shoes, the color of nectarines, from the sixties, she remembered the store where she had bought them.”
Ullman knows. The shoes look pretty but they’re steeped by the drains and threads of the unconscious and they’re not well behaved children at all. And we know about those stores from the sixties don’t we?
Shoe, I have not loved you with my whole heart;
Truss, I fear you’re coming…
Emergence of old age.
Dante: “we call shaggy all words that are ornamental.”
Ornaments of this aging vulgar tongue…
Pray the noblest words alone remain in the sieve…
For Dante, language was new—it was his language, the juicy vernacular. English ain’t so new anymore. “Make it new, make it new,” he cries, waving his stick. That “he” is me.
Spoon me some glottal stops, shout me some noble ballate.
Had me a literary education. Learned about recitations charmingly delivered. But at night I kicked frozen turds on the icy street. In those days I talked to anyone. Fable fable.
Gettin’ old. Just want to rest my head on the bosom of moral philosophy. Ain’t that the way of it? Start and end with moldy books and sinister shoes.
Imelda Marcos had one thousand six hundred pairs of shoes and a lot of blood on her hands. The unconscious won’t let you “buy out.” As for those shoes, Imelda’s, they were telephones to the torture chambers.
I went to the shoe store and placed my feet in the measuring pans. My feet transmitted a sudden and stark message—“we feel shy down here; we’re under examination. Please get us back inside our shoes.” I wondered about this. The tragedy of it. “When,” I wondered, “had my feet learned to be timid?” “It’s the whole damn system” I told them. “Capitalism has taught you to feel incomplete.” But when your feet are farouche the whole body jumps that way. The temporal lobe said: “I too don’t wish to be known.”
I really wanted Mozart just then. Anything other than the grey neural distress that emanated from my feet and circled outward to the farthest ring of my skull. “Jesus,” I said, “you’re just buying some shoes.” But the temporal lobe said: “There’s no such thing as just. Would you just saw off your hand?” So I was forced to conclude, encouraged to conclude, the body’s anguish is like intense moonlight.
The shoe moment helped me recognize what my autistic friends already know. There’s no “me”—there are only the eager, bristling, dancing, component parts. Now ask yourself how you get through the day?
Oh my feet, you moth eaten grand seigneurs, keep talking. It’s OK.
You can have your shoes back even if they’re not without red dreams.