Thinking of Gore Vidal

In his book “Inventing a Nation” Gore Vidal noted: “from the beginning, Jefferson wanted a new constitutional convention every twenty years or so, while Franklin himself went boldly on record with the prediction that our people would drift into so deep a corruption that only despots could rule them.”

Well, we’re here, later than Franklin might have imagined, but one thinks of Jefferson in this instance as we need a new set of human rights and environmental rights enshrined in our government.

Alas a democratic constitutional convention would be ill advised perhaps, one pictures red state-blue state animus, the MAGA crowd vs. calls for racial justice, equal pay for women and environmental protections…just to name a few.

Who’d host such a convention? Who’d actually represent the interests of honest women and men?

Asking for a friend…

As it is, we’re being ruled by a despot and there’s no way around it.

Irony and Negation

Writing in 2003 of the US occupation of Baghdad Christopher Hitchens noted that “irony and negation are the everyday currencies” which puts me in mind of “blow back” for now we’re reaping what we’ve sowed or the chickens have come home to roost or shock and awe has come to your own backyard–yes language can be cheap. Yet there’s no doubt that neoliberal hubris with its adventurism, its uncivil disdain for facts, (weapons of mass destruction anyone?) disdain for human rights, environmental destruction of Mesopotamia–is there enough time for the whole litany? There can be no doubt that Trump’s dismantling of government, with its ironies and negations of facts had its birth shortly after 9-11.

It is too shallow I think to say Trump ascended owing to a personal grudge with Barack Obama–certainly it was an ingredient, but organized disdain (birtherism) the idea that sinister foreigners are out to get you, that’s the work of Paul Wolfowitz post 9-11. Add a fomented disavowal of facts and you’ve got the blueprint from Trumpism straight from the W. Bush administration. Irony and negation are the everyday currencies now, right here in the homeland.

Charon, being illiterate…

Charon took dead souls across the river of death but only for profit. As far as I know Karl Marx never wrote about that. He did however write about the body as machine but where the soul’s concerned Marx had little to say except to point out that religion is the soul of soulless conditions which is unhelpful if Charon is hanging around outside your house and waiting for his obolus.

I visited Marx’s tomb once. It’s adjacent to George Eliot’s eternal resting place. She wrote:

“O may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence; live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude…”

I love “daring rectitude” which somehow reminds me of darling reticule but never mind, Charon doesn’t have it, demanding his payment in order that your eternal soul won’t be lonely.

Which means Charon was illiterate.

The time has come the walrus said…

The time has come the walrus said, or saith, to speak of Bishop Berkeley. Get your three legged stools folks.

Berkeley didn’t like Newton and didn’t trust materialism. But like the old joke, you can’t live with it and can’t live without it. In this way he invented proleptic phenomenology and thought the mind could influence dull matter. His two greatest descendants are Carl Jung (who arrived at this via a different tradition) and Walt Whitman (who as far as I know never read a line of Berkeley.)

Why on earth am I “on” about this? My nation state has lost its mind–the ye olde United States no longer believes in “can do” pragmatism nor does it believe in the future. All the writers listed above believed in the future.

**

Blame Donald Trump if you like. Blame the evangelicals. Blame the academy. Blame diminished resources. Blame those who do not resemble you. Blame the Koch brothers and everyone with money. Blame Herman Melville and Moms Mabele. Blame Yoko Ono.

But when people can no longer imagine a good future they generally have three deficiencies:

  1. Zero curiosity about human beings and the natural world.
  2. A cocksure belief they’ve figured out the secret of life.
  3. Number two is ideologically driven and has zero to do with life’s troubling complexities.

**

In 2013 while flying to Central Asia I read George Packer’s “Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America” which attempts to diagnose how and why the US came to its already apparent collapse. I found the book unpersuasive, thin on nuance, not unscrupulous but “of or pertaining” to number two above. In other words I finished it and thought of how convinced Packer was that American liberalism had collapsed and America’s citizens were correspondingly and collectively helpless.

If you want to sell a book in the US that’s a winning formula. Early on Packer writes:

“If you were born around 1960 or afterward, you have spent your adult life in the vertigo of that unwinding. You watched structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast visible landscape—the farms of the Carolina Piedmont, the factories of the Mahoning Valley, Florida subdivisions, California schools. And other things, harder to see but no less vital in supporting the order of everyday life, changed beyond recognition—ways and means in Washington caucus rooms, taboos on New York trading desks, manners and morals everywhere. When the norms that made the old institutions useful began to unwind, and the leaders abandoned their posts, the Roosevelt Republic that had reigned for almost half a century came undone. The void was filled by the default force in American life, organized money.”

**

I don’t know much about organized money but I’ve a winning record at the race track and I know how to read the betting sheets. Packer presumably means Wall Street and corporate America when he speaks of organization and while I don’t believe corporations are people in the Mitt Romney way I also don’t think they’re terribly well organized. Packer’s vision of unwinding is essentially modeled on a poorly articulated conspiracy theory. He’d be better off saying like old Berkeley he doesn’t believe in gravity. I’d like him better for it.

Anyway it’s a problem for Packer that nowhere in his book does he mention Batman. I mean it. I’m talking about early 1990’s Batman movies with their slicked up supersonic death spiral vision of America’s cities even as there’s plenty of money to go around.

Americans are being fed doomsday visions even as the streets are clean. Or they were before the pandemic.

**

This is a good moment to stop reading if you want to blame Yoko or Reagan.

As for me I think Americans are now so addled by conspiracy theories and fast food (Twinkie defense?) that they really don’t care Putin now runs the joint.

**

“The only things we perceive are our perceptions,” Berkeley said. That we cannot now interrogate them in America is the tragedy of our moment.

Berkeley again: “The same principles which at first view lead to skepticism, pursued to a certain point, bring men back to common sense.”

I Wish the Wood-Cutter Would Wake Up…

Like Diogenes the Cynic I throw excrement though it’s not real, just words, words and words. All I want is your attention, like the sad student who sat beside me in the Writer’s Workshop who pulled from his pocket a deck of “serial killer trading cards.” He ignored the poets in the room. He was fixated on Doo Doo Dahmer. That’s not me. I want you to have a better life than the one you’re forced to live so I toss words around like my drunk uncle who was a never do well plumber who’d throw hammers in the garage. “Anaphylactic”; “suborning”; “misieracordia”; “Stalinist suitcase”; “Mac & Cheese”–(you don’t pay extra for the insect parts.)

Diogenes threw real turds.

Some mornings for no reason at all…

Some mornings for no reason at all I take a shovel into the yard and dig. Am I digging my grave? Or is this simple labor? My great grandfather was a wheelwright in old Finland. He built sleighs and baby coffins, dug his share of holes. As I dig my American neighbors pass, observe and say nothing.

Alright. Everything above is untrue, save for the great grandfather.

You wouldn’t catch me doing manual labor under any circumstances. I’m lazy. I bury things in these poems.

Memory Rain Wind the shovel untouched standing in its corner.

“One was no doubt a meddlesome fool…”

“One was no doubt a meddlesome fool; one always is, to think one sees peoples’ lives for them better than they see them for themselves. I always pay for it sooner or later, my sociable, my damnable, my unnecessary interest.”

–Henry James

I hereby admit I’m meddlesome for I think I see the lives of others better than they see themselves and if this was my only offense I should be silent but the meddlesome are inclined to talk and that’s my problem. My damnable blather.

But before you give up on me let me add that I’m working on it.

**

What does “I’m working on it” mean?

Sharpening self-recognition mainly.

The meddlesome don’t like themselves.

They love gossip.

Gossip is mischief and bathed in insecurity.

**

The question I must ask is do I want optimism and idealism?

Being meddlesome doesn’t get you there.

A secondary question is how can you give advice if asked without the assumption of inherent superiority?

Henry James: “Even a loaded life might be easier when one had added a new necessity to it.”

**

Ah the new necessity, the human. Caring for others whether they’re in your family or not. Volunteerism. Listening to strangers. Rescuing animals.

James did not mean a “loaded life” to signify drunkenness.

**

When the great opera singer Enrico Caruso was very young and still unknown he summoned his courage and knocked on Giacomo Puccini’s door. He told the composer that he’d come to sing for him.

After he sang, Puccini said, “who sent you to me–God?”

Afterwards he composed operatic roles for Caruso. Puccini recognized the new necessity.

**

Caruso later joked that Puccini had eaten all the ducks in Italy. The man loved duck hunting. It’s good to tease your friends for if done with affection it’s a way of not taking yourself too seriously.

**

Thus endeth the sermon.

Don’t imagine your shoes are innocent…

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.