Murdoch

Quarter after four.

I’ve been doing an all nighter for some reason. I just don’t feel like sleeping tonight. I don’t believe it’s a symptom of mania, and if it is, then it doesn’t matter much. About an hour ago I bought an edition of Iris Murdoch, totally forgetting the alcoholism in a lot of her fiction. She was an important Christian existentialist of the last century and worth reading. I liked Under the Net and The Bell very much. There’s a lot of Christian mystery about her allegory, like the scene of skinny dipping in the Thames to symbolize baptism. But there’s no overlap of the real and the transcendent in her plots, and the endings are tragicomic… I read Under the Net in October 2004, when I’d been working for an optical business for almost a year. I thought I was on my way somewhere, but after a while the job became drudgery, and all the romance went out of the prospect. I sent my brother a copy of the same book for his birthday, but he misplaced it and never read it. He had no interest in philosophy; it wasn’t his style. In fact, I couldn’t interest anybody in Iris Murdoch because of her intellectual depth. So I was alone with my reading for a long time. Under the Net is also hilarious in some places, like the kidnapping of Mars, the Dog Star.

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Wine into Water

Nine thirty five.

I’ve been to the store and back in the rain. The wind made it hard to use my umbrella, so I ended up putting up my hood and just shivering through it. Didn’t see much of anything new for the trip around the bend. A book I ordered of Paul Verlaine is delayed a couple of days, no explanation why. The deeper I go into Western literature, the farther I have to go to find my way out. I feel like pulling the plug on all of it and following nature, the world of ordinary things. The thing that puzzles me about Baudelaire is his jump to metaphysics from everyday reality, spontaneously addressing prayers to the devil and so forth, just assuming the existence of such beings. It seems naive to me not to know the difference between material and spiritual, and yet he uses the term “ideal” freely. Maybe I’m the one who’s naive? And maybe the natural world I seek doesn’t exist… The rain keeps coming down. On a good day I’d say it was a shower of fine wine from heaven. Today is rather blah; the rain is merely water, the sky a vapid gray.

Ten thirty.

The City of Eugene finally sent out a team to pick up the leaves at our curbs. This is just ordinary stuff. Lord or Lucifer had nothing to do with it.

Grappling

Wee hours.

I feel like some kind of alien; as if my head resembled an elephant’s. I’m not feeling understood by many folks, and this gives me a sense of my loneliness. Does everyone maybe feel the way I do?

I’ve finished reading the little Whitman volume. Next, it might be interesting to dip into Montaigne or Camus, if I can get onto his style of aphorism. Each of Camus’ phrases seems disjointed and apart from the others, so it’s difficult to follow his argument as a whole… My memory of past psychotic episodes has become hazy, though I know it involved ideas of hell and Satan a lot, and the experience felt very real to me. The more I verse myself in Western culture, the better I can grapple with those ideas. Probably the fear of an infernal afterlife keeps most people from doing what they might otherwise do. Years ago I saw Camus’ remarks on Tirso de Molina, so I actually read The Seducer of Seville, the drama of Don Juan and his fate of going to hell for his amatory crimes. What a strange story. It was the year following my mother’s death, and I read whatever I wanted when I wasn’t busy drinking… At this stage, I’d like to put the psychosis out of its misery for good and live without fear. Life on earth is hellish enough without expecting a hell in the hereafter. Perhaps it’s all just a dream, and all dreams are by definition unreal.

2023

Eight fifty five.

The weather is miserable this morning, so I’ll wait till Gloria comes to go to the store.

I feel very low today. Few if any people understand me. This makes me feel alone and lonely, and tired and futile. Does anyone know what induction is, or making inferences from a number of specifics? Can anyone go from particulars to generals and make a discussion of it? Because these are the rudiments of abstract thinking and intellectual discourse. Ultimately it is philosophy. Maybe nobody has a use for this anymore. Still, it seems like quite a rudderless ship to have no ideas but the Bible and arithmetic for getting around in modern life.

Quarter of eleven.

Gloria drove me around the bend to the market where Lisa said it was just a little bit windy out there. I thought of reading “Ligeia” again because I don’t really remember it, though it’s an important piece of Poe’s corpus and D.H. Lawrence critiqued it. Sometimes I think I’m not a serious enough writer, not another Edgar Poe or one of his disciples…

I guess it just takes doing it, and working a little harder at some kind of craft. It requires discipline and determination. Somewhere I lost the drive to be a better writer, but the only one responsible is myself. As I write this, the rain keeps pouring from dark skies while the wind gives us a respite. I think I know my resolution for 2023. 

Israel Potter

Noon.

I wish I could remember more of the Melville I’ve read. After I finished Pierre I also read Israel Potter a long time ago: very dark and depressing but so true from a certain point of view. I don’t recall how it begins, but Potter is shanghaied and forced into service aboard ship, during which he meets the original John Paul Jones who was an American buccaneer. Generally the book is a tale of woe that only gets worse until he dies homeless, penniless, and friendless somewhere in England. Melville is great if you agree with his fatalism. I relate to it because from the time I was in high school I was mostly invisible, an anonymous wallflower, suffering blow after blow to my health and later my sanity. So it’s tempting to believe that the stars rule our destinies, or that life is a game of probabilities, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. At the end of the rainbow is there a pot of gold, or a piece of cheese for the mouse in the maze? It’s always possible to end up like Israel Potter, a sober reminder from Herman Melville, while the beat of old Duran Duran music in my head goes on indifferently: the grotesque and the glamorous seem to coexist. Beauty and the beast. I’d rather go where there is substance than with shallow appearance. 

Crash

Nine thirty at night.

This afternoon I read more poems by Whitman. It strikes me that his style is like a naturalist writing free verse: a lot of sex and biology in his stuff, like a forerunner to Freud. Whitman isn’t constrained by a Christian conscience, or rather it is religion that he reacts against, driving him to posit his own personal bible, Leaves of Grass. In a way, he’s made himself an institution or a religion all his own… When I was 23 years old I first read part of the same book, and it influenced me to study biology and Indian religions at school, though I was oblivious to the fact. There’s a great deal of Hinduism in Whitman, as also in Emerson. From the start of my education to the end, my focus totally shifted from West to East. I’m not sure why this happened but it wasn’t bad. One can say that Jung’s ideas were rather Eastern and mystical. This shift for me was like a break for liberty, a desperate flight for freedom before the inevitable crash to the real world. I’ve heard the opinion that some people don’t want to grow up and be responsible. These are the ones we call the mentally ill; but there is method in madness, a kind of prophecy in the problem. We are ourselves the symptoms of a society gone too far towards the quantitative and economic. How nice if we could regress and tell each other stories to the rhythm of the night! My kingdom for one sweet dream, sleeping like a princess… 

A Debt

Nine ten AM.

The sunshine this morning is very nice, though it’s extremely cold with a frost on everything. I slept in today and woke up in a better mood. I’ve gone to the store where people were fairly pleasant and polite to each other. It feels like a diurnal time somehow rather than benighted in a melancholy mood. Credit the sunny day, I guess. Aesop has had a half can of breakfast followed by his chicken jerky from the market. I keep forgetting it’s Saturday and church is tomorrow: I have an impulse to skip it because I can’t agree with the pastor’s collectivism, or his emphasis on the rights of society over the individual. A great drama on that topic is The Crucible by Arthur Miller, which I read again 13 years ago. It’s probably time to read it yet again for fresh inspiration… The thought of it reminds me of a teacher from high school, Mrs Taylor, who passed away some time ago. I heard of it only afterwards when I walked into my old school out of curiosity or wanderlust five years in the past. The doors were open, so I let myself in and made my way to the office and spoke with the secretaries. The news made me sad because I would’ve looked up my old teacher and let her know she was appreciated. In a way, I owe her for my recovery. 

Wall Writing

Seven thirty five.

Since last Sunday I’ve thought about “good” and “evil,” due to having gone to church followed by a trip with a friend to the little market on Maxwell Road. Each represents each, respectively. Even weirder to have one foot in virtue and the other in sin, like Prince Henry hanging out with Falstaff in the Shakespeare plays. I don’t know if one devotion is truer than the other. Right now I’ve got Jimi Hendrix doing “All Along the Watchtower” in my brain. I was just at the store, where Lisa’s mouth is getting fouler every day and the customers grow ever rougher and ruder in the mornings during her shift. If I feel like a Jekyll and Hyde duality, I still lean towards Dr Jekyll, and I think maybe I should avoid that place before long. There’s something wrong with that situation, which seems to be getting volatile, and perhaps somebody won’t be working there very much longer. 

Eleven o’clock at night.

I said about Henry IV, Parts One and Two because of the contrast of the courtly world with the tavern life where you find Falstaff. In the end, the Prince has to forsake his old friends to take on his new responsibility. But the other allusion I would make is to “Young Goodman Brown,” a description of a witches’ sabbath held in a wood outside a New England village. Every citizen shows up for it, even Brown’s wife Faith with the innocent pink ribbons in her hair. This is the duality I brought up before, and by which devotion is stronger, I mean the choice between good and evil— if we take the distinction seriously. Up and down Maxwell Road you will see three churches and one convenience store that caters to little sins like alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and gambling. It’s the difference of the sacred and the profane, though it may sound a bit silly and exaggerated, especially in our time when the distinction is blurred and not so clear. Maybe we need to re-examine these things for the sake of clarity; or then again maybe not. 

Dreiser

Ten o’clock.

I was thinking about the phenomenon of higher education and what it does to people. Is it fair to say that the meaning of any school depends on how you use it? My guess is that my sister blames education for my brother’s demise. It’s a lot like the book by Theodore Dreiser about Clyde Griffiths, his humble origins and ambition to be wealthy. His family is poor and religious but honest and ethical, but he is lured by greed and the lust for pleasure into a very complex society that eventually spells his undoing… I got as far as my undergraduate degree in college, kind of dabbling in various fields like a liberal arts major. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I believe it worked out okay for me. I came away from school with a good breadth of knowledge and I didn’t let the campus corrupt me. Maybe my sister has it all wrong about universities, yet I can understand her opinion on it; and there is some truth to her perception. It’s the way the big engine of society runs, again like An American Tragedy. D.H. Lawrence said don’t trust the poet, trust the tale, and the book by Dreiser stands apart from himself like a sort of testament to the truth. I’d like to take another look at Great Expectations as well. Literature is always moral. Interesting how the story gets away from the author and constitutes a modern myth. It’s almost as if my sister had written the tale herself. 

Keats

Nine PM.

The news from my sister was not good. Funny how the sun can shine on a crap day, or a day of mixed tidings. I retired for a nap not at all confident that things were peachy for my family, then had dreams about my late parents. Before that, I thought maybe I ought to visit church again this Sunday, because this will be the only family left to me when my siblings are gone.

I’m not sure why I picked Keats to read this afternoon, and I saw that scholars disagree on whether he took transcendence seriously: Stillinger says he does, while Bromwich takes the contrary view that this world is good enough for Keats. What a strange disagreement. I don’t know who has the stronger case, but I tend to favor Jack Stillinger’s opinion only because I learned it in school long ago. I put aside the introduction and began reading Endymion again to let the poetry speak for itself. I got as far as his sister leading him away to a bower to fall asleep in after the worship ritual to the forest god Pan. I remember that Diana appears to him and they make love: so how can this not be transcendence? It’s the same issue as happens in “Nightingale.” Already with thee! tender is the night… Does poetry have the power to unify us with the Ideal? If Keats didn’t believe so, then Baudelaire and Mallarme wouldn’t have taken up the concern. Then what is Romanticism really about? Maybe it’s an American foible to take everything literally, even matters of spirituality. It’s hard to tell from an armchair.