Gift of Fire

Quarter after midnight.

I’ve been writing elsewhere some notes on the Promethean gift of fire to humankind and the virtue of selfishness, according to Ayn Rand. I don’t know how efficient capitalism is as a system, so maybe I don’t agree wholly with her ideas; but I’m absolutely certain that discovery and invention can’t be bad things. I’m even more convinced that an intellect is a terrible thing to wreck with alcohol abuse, whatever the motive for drinking too much. Possibly, alcoholic people are driven to it by guilt for something, like a superior brain. A professor lectured that the “good soldier” of the novel by Ford Madox Ford was “too great for society” when I was a young student. My first response to this was incomprehension, then resentment when I did understand his thrust. Again it’s the rights of society versus individual rights. But whenever a person of genius makes a major breakthrough, it’s a great gift to his society, so he owes it to himself to pursue his mind the best he can. Perhaps a lot of people believe just the opposite: a person with new ideas ought to be suppressed and persecuted for his originality, especially if they challenge longstanding notions held sacred by culture.

My brother told me he’d had big dreams before he graduated from high school. He would invent the thingamajig and make a million dollars. Another time he said in self mockery, “You could’ve invented the reverse nuclear bomb!” Now I hate to think of what he’s like today. Yet his life as an educator wasn’t all for nothing… 



Reductio ad Diablo

Either I’m insane or I’ve come to the end of the line with literature, especially poetry. Everything political and religious is ethical and couched in poetic language, and for people in the West, the Bible is the code, esoteric or exoteric, for all of it. There’s maybe one more book I might examine: The Great Code by Northrop Frye. But whatever. I think I’ve hit the bedrock of my literary life so now it’s time to turn around and focus on reality as it is to a science mind: physical and factual only; no religious ideas at all. No metaphysics or ethics, but just things as they are.

Or as I said, I could be crazy.

“Finally, from so much reading and so little sleeping, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”  —Don Quixote

Faust in His Study

Eleven o’clock at night.

Every season, for me, has its share of memories layered in transparencies, like peering into a deep well of feelings. When I got myself a new book of King Lear, it was a commemorative impulse to mark something that happened 35 years ago. Basically, an old flame and emotional scar. The plot thickened earlier today when I felt an impression from ten years in the past, jogged by the drizzly spring weather plus the circumstance of my utility company wanting to trim my oak tree away from the power line, last done in 2012. Spring is always a romantic time of year for me, and as I get older, a time of nostalgia… Sometimes I wonder what difference it makes whether I drink or not, yet I know drunkenness is to live in a pickled dream.

A few years ago, stoicism was a fad, and everybody was jazzed about Marcus Aurelius. What is trendy today? I don’t think we’ve figured that out yet, but if someone says Jung, I’ll counter it with Freud; and if you say Alan Watts, I’ll just shake my head. A week ago I poked around my bookshelf for Andersen’s Fairy Tales and by luck I turned up the Confessions of Augustine in two little red volumes. It’s not really my cup of tea, yet I sat with one of them, scanning the contents. What interested me most was a historical figure named Faustus, versed in “natural science” of the day, probably an astrologer. It seems that the Faust legend is based on a real, historical person that Augustine actually met in the fourth or fifth century AD. Our imaginations have done the rest…

Human Dignity: a Letter

I like your statement of self exploration being a microcosm for exploring the universe. It is quite Hindu, the Atman being the personal aspect of Brahman, the supreme reality. Also during the Renaissance there was the idea of the microcosm and macrocosm. You may have seen the drawing by Robert Fludd…
If you hadn’t seen it before, then now you have. My Shakespeare book contains this image, or a similar one, and probably he subscribed to this belief. And then there’s The Inner Reaches of Outer Space by Joseph Campbell. Contemplation is so underrated in our culture today, due to the meat and potatoes obsession you mentioned last week… You also pursued the idea of the fatalism of Freudian theory. I like to believe in the perfectibility of the self, and to some extent this echoes Pico della Mirandola in his Oration on the Dignity of Man. It is an expression of human free will. Perhaps it is an exaggeration, but still we are free to play the cards we’re dealt however we want. I think the behaviorism of a psychologist like Watson might be true. He claimed to be able to turn a garbage man into a lawyer by means of therapy. Who knows? Maybe we’re all a bunch of blank slates, as John Locke thought? Personally, I have my disagreements with Freud. Sometimes I wish I lived in a bigger city with a better selection of mental health professionals. The general scene in Eugene is pretty limited, with no monopoly of genius anywhere nearby. But I can wish a lot of things. I think that capitalism is more of a curse than a blessing. It is to the almighty dollar that people have to prostitute themselves. We must survive, of course, but there ought to be a better way of setting up our existence. I won’t give up my utopian notions of heaven on Earth. Waiting around for the next Advent of Christ, IMO, won’t solve the problem. Humanity is alone with the responsibility to better itself. This is true personally and generally.

More to Learn

Ten o’clock. After Damien was here to mow and remove the dead blackberries, the wind picked up and it grew cloudy. Aesop and I turned in for a nap near seven o’clock, and I had some funny dreams about church and my parents. A third dream was about being assigned a long division problem, 3 figures into 6 figures, and the quotient began with 222. I asked my school valedictorian to solve it, and he wrote it on an overhead projector and used a calculator. All three dreams dealt with reading and arithmetic, of the Bible and writing checks respectively. Overall I was dreaming about what we call the “real world,” the kind of stuff I learned in junior high school. I wasn’t particularly smart throughout the series, but people liked me… What was the point of this dream sequence? No idea.

When I first opened the sociology textbook and saw the terms “culture” and “society,” I recognized a concern that runs through a lot of my own writing. And yet this science is so broad and so vague that it seems meaningless. Contained within it are things like history and political science, anthropology and psychology, etc etc; why do we even need such a bloated discipline? Just another perspective on the same world, I guess. More macroscopic than other fields. Too extroverted for me, in the end. Now that I think on it, however: wouldn’t it be strange if groups, societies of people behaved according to independent scientific laws? As if the group were an entity in itself and not merely composed of individuals. This would be a novel concept for me, and maybe worth pursuing, simply because it is so foreign to my mind. My curiosity is getting bigger than my ego, reminding me to never stop learning.

An Urban Yawp

Five thirty. We’re going to jam on the 2nd, a Sunday. Mike is giving me a ride to the rehearsal rental. I’m supposed to pitch in ten bucks, so I’ll have to use an atm. It was an enlightening afternoon. I really liked Ron, and he says that Mike is a good guy as well. My walk to and from Black Rock was a time of feeling expanded. Eugene all of a sudden got gigantic in one day. I feel a little uprooted even though this is my hometown. I barely recognize the place, though most of the buildings and other structures are the same. The difference is in the quality of the people I see today. Eugene has become urban, after an eternity of being run by redneck people. I must say I love the way it is changed. I don’t want to turn back the clock like the conservatives I know. The influx of people from all over the country is mind boggling, and it’s also occurring in Bend. I just never noticed it before… The people are indeed more intelligent than the native hicks I grew up with here. And while I’m loving the change, my sister must be hating it. I couldn’t stand my next door neighbors John and Rhonda. They finally moved away in June 2015. The day I decided to quit drinking, I realized that everything was different now, with those neighbors displaced. Is it possible that I will finally be free from the redneck attitudes I was forced to grow up with? It seems like an act of divine providence. The State of Oregon nearly killed me with its rustic people. Sheryl the therapist told me that Oregon sucks, and I agreed with her. And perhaps she was right about my sexuality. As Eugene grows bigger and better, it may be ok to be a homosexual.

Wednesday evening was interesting as the night was falling. There I was standing on the corner of the cul de sac at Laurel Hill, waiting for my taxi. I felt abandoned and helpless, yet I knew I would be all right. I was thinking about how I might be gay, and it scared me. Across the street from me stood the Even Hotel, where the windows were lighted and where strange people were staying. I felt alone in a hostile world, but part of that strangeness was internal. The alien, the foreigner to me was my very self. I felt like Walt Whitman preparing to sound his barbaric yawp into the night. And then I was driven home by a former meth addict. She said she was just as night blind as I was. Nothing else of great pitch and moment happened, but Aesop barked at me when I got home.

With New Eyes

The very first college class I attended, in the last week of September 1985, was Ethics with William Davie. We began with Plato’s “Ring of Gyges” and ended with Murdoch’s Fairly Honourable Defeat. I remember grabbing lunch from the Giant Grinder a few times and eating by myself. I was lost up on Campus, not knowing anybody there. It was sad, and my literature professor was a dried up old emeritus whose lectures were little more than plot summaries. I was discouraged within my major, and I loathed my history class which was strictly names and dates. The term was saved by my philosophy and French classes. These were taught by people who could still think in abstractions and use their imaginations. They were alert and not yet burned out. For French I had Evelyn Gould. She really cared about getting students off on the right foot. I didn’t get the same impression from the English department. We freshmen were mostly left to fend for ourselves. I didn’t even know who my academic advisor was until I was a senior. The English department was aloof and supercilious every time I walked into the office. In retrospect, those people were incredible snobs who couldn’t care less about their students. Later on, I was far more impressed with the biology department. College was a strange experience in that everyone was apathetic and downright unkind. Occasionally I met professors who cared about more than themselves. How odd to reflect on it now. Maybe the university wasn’t such a great time after all. The attitudes I ran into really sucked, especially from the English department. Looking back, it’s even more of a wonder that I ever graduated.