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Eight forty.

The weather today will be much like yesterday, sunny and around 90 degrees… After seeing my friend’s total misinterpretation of a Joyce story, I feel compelled to comment on how sexless our society is nowadays. I believe it started with George Bush and his policy of abstinence being the best contraceptive. That was 15 years ago, but it seems we never recovered from his attitude. And then there was the general American obsession with dogs, as if they could be more important than human relationships. Not to mention the fact that we neuter and spay them without giving it a thought… I just gave Aesop his breakfast. It’s an odd thing to consider the sterilization of humanity over the last two decades. And it’s a wearisome uphill battle to try to remedy the situation. It makes me want to print a story like “Altar of the Dead” by Henry James a billion times over for everyone to see. People can probably look it up on Project Gutenberg anyway.

https://gutenberg.org/ebooks/642

Hopefully you can read this story without missing the irony. If you decide to go ahead with it, know that you’re in good hands. 

Thomas Mann

Two o’clock 🕑. I read ten pages of The Magic Mountain. It unfolds to be a love story, but not very interesting; I found it boring. Still, I may give it a chance. If my heart were more open, then the story could warm it. The length of the book is backbreaking, so is it worth the time investment? Certainly Mann is humane and sympathetic to his characters, and perhaps it’s this very warmth that kind of throws me. It isn’t just a novel of ideas, some intellectual tour de force, but rather it comes from a deep and affectionate place. Mann actually cares about his characters and his story, especially the protagonist, Hans Castorp. The feeling I got from the Sartre plays was quite cold and apathetic, almost like burnout, as if life and love offered nothing more to him. Thomas Mann is just the contrary to this chilly rationality. His characters are not wooden, they are not straw men to demonstrate a philosophy of life… This is my assessment after the first 232 pages. It might be worth putting some time into. It is good to read something with a view to humanization…

Meanwhile, going to church tonight would take too much of an effort. I can’t fake Christian faith again. I feel that dishonesty is wrong. Therefore I’m gonna stay home and do something else. This afternoon turned out sunny and partly cloudy. It’s very nice. Damien showed up yesterday evening and mowed my lawns. It was nice to see him, even though he wasn’t feeling good due to losing his dad. His thinking reflected his depression, which I could understand. Consciousness is like that: a feedback system between thoughts and feelings. The bias, good or bad, determines upward or downward spiral, so it is important to keep a balance of positive and negative. I hate depression; I don’t believe it is our natural state. I disagree with those who say suffering is a necessary thing to promote growth. Avoidance of pain is wiser than getting burned and learning the hard way— although I need a think about that some more… 

Life and Art

One twenty five. I played my Precision Bass and it sounded awesome to me. The low notes down around the third fret especially growled. I’m really happy with this instrument. Then I walked over to the store for a Sprite and cottage cheese. Cathy was cute even with a mask on. The gabapentin is probably doing something, but I don’t know what. I feel more easygoing than I did. The sun is out and, indeed, I feel different today from yesterday… While I was out walking on Silver Lane, the thought of my brother surfaced a few times, ridiculing and deriding me. I said screw him. He said I was worthless— totally unfairly and cruelly. But he was two faced with everybody, saying bad things about them to other people. He did this with Polly and her family too. He got caught doing it more than once, but I was the one who paid the price. My siblings played cat and mouse with me. I never mattered to them. I was their sacrifice… Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. If I had been distant from the situation, I could’ve seen more plainly what was going on. My siblings were more worldly wise than I was. The disillusionment I experienced was good novel material. But as it is, I can blog about it. When did Balzac write Lost Illusions, and what was the plot? Henry James would’ve read it. Every great writer owes his greatness to his influences. Without Balzac, there would’ve been no James. Without these two, no Freud could’ve existed. And without Freud to get it wrong, no cognitive therapy could’ve sprung up. Now the question is, was Freud really wrong with the sexual theory? I should read more of James Baldwin. Once I’m past the shock value, there will be much food for thought.

Notes on Virginia Woolf

Six thirty. Over halfway through Jacob’s Room, the plot finally presents a conflict. His girlfriend cheats on him. He sees her walking away on the arm of another man. The motif of perishability has shown up a few times, particularly that of the written word. Woolf is pessimistic that individuals ever really get to know each other, and all this language we use just falls dead. So that our private worlds can never be communicated to one another. At this stage, Woolf suggests that this is a lamentable condition. A few years later, however, in Mrs Dalloway she rejects the idea of violating one’s privacy. It makes me want to go and reread Mrs Dalloway. In her own way, Virginia Woolf deals with problems of epistemology, of knowing what we know, but she applies it very personally and humanely. It is by means of language that we know about other people, but language itself is frail and fragile. Communication breaks down.

Two fifty. Woolf also discusses how language can be preserved, for instance in the British Museum, where Plato and Shakespeare and many others join together in a great mind. Then she talks about people being historical functionaries, mere actors in the same roles for centuries on end. Jacob didn’t seem fazed by the girl’s infidelity. The book doesn’t have much of a plot. No real conflict so far, so I can’t imagine what will be the climax.

I might as well finish my reading. What can I make of Jacob’s Room?

Seven o’clock. Again, in the book I’ve encountered the theme of durability, whether beautiful things can last or not. Woolf doesn’t have a definitive answer, but raises the question recurrently. The other theme I keep seeing is how well we can ever know other people. Language is inadequate to really get at the truth of the people we think we know. And what we do know is perishable. So by turns, she brings up durability and perishability, never settling on one or the other. In one passage, however, she states that only beauty is immortal…

The climax is Jacob’s trip to Greece, especially his experience at the Acropolis. This beauty will outlast everything on the earth.

The Invasion, continued

Part Two

Silence roused George from his stupor. His Ravel disc had reached the end, so now the only sound was the chatter of his wife’s tv. He removed the headphones and set them on his lap, then rubbed his eyes and temples. Man, what a headache! The television was babbling something about the upcoming election. It was making no sense to George. Where was that confounded remote? He spotted it over by Harriet’s chair. Finally he began to wonder why the chair was vacant. He called out her name, competing in volume with the tv. No response. Resolutely, he plumped down his recliner and got stiffly to his feet. He staggered and nearly fell, but luckily the room wasn’t spinning. George shuffled to the other chair and picked up the remote. Aiming it at the screen, he hit the power button. Poof. Good riddance, he thought. But what about Harriet?

He stumbled from the family room into the living room, again rubbing his temples. There was no sign of his wife, and no reply to his sporadic calls. Then suddenly his eyes lighted upon something odd on the floor. It was a smoldering cigarette butt, and immediately George knew something was wrong. The front door was closed but unlocked. He went through it, his drunken mind instantly sober, out onto the porch. Even more strangely, Harriet’s car was still parked in the driveway. His heart began to palpitate with a growing sense of panic. What on earth had happened to her? He ran out into the gathering dusk, calling her name, yet feeling more and more like a fool. He had no clue where she had gone, so it made no sense to go looking on foot. He considered driving around town in search of her, but it would have been futile. At last he went back inside the house. George figured that he ought to begin his search by using the telephone.

Hours and many phone calls later, his search proved to be fruitless. No one had any information about the whereabouts of Harriet. She seemed to have disappeared. George filed a missing person report, yet even the sheriff’s office gave him the runaround. After he thought he had exhausted every resource, he crumpled into his chair, utterly defeated. His eyes were glazed over, staring into emptiness before him. By chance, they fell upon a page of a newspaper lying next to him. It was open to the classified ads, one of which was bold and conspicuous. He grabbed the paper for a closer look. The advertisement ran as follows:

Oppressed???

Mr Rock n Roll Guy can help you!

Righting wrongs free of charge since 1986.

Satisfaction guaranteed.

Call Rocky

Xxx xxx xxxx

The Invasion

Once, a married couple of ghosts haunted a yellow house with white trim in a suburb of a Northwestern town. She sat in a rocking recliner and smoked endless cigarettes, her eyes riveted on the tv. He sat similarly adjacent to her, but drank bottomless beers and listened to classical music on his stereo via a pair of headphones. He was mostly oblivious to her presence, being absorbed in his Khachaturian or Debussy, and also with his mind on another woman. At one juncture, the wife crushed out her cigarette and made as if to rise to her feet. She glanced at the husband, who was sitting motionless with eyes closed. She got up, a little unsteadily, righted herself, then shuffled into the kitchen.

It was late afternoon in mid April. By the kitchen window she leaned forward and gazed at the sunshine playing about her planted begonias, geraniums, and daffodils in their backyard. A hummingbird flew to the feeder and sipped the nectar. House sparrows, finches, and chickadees flitted here and there, heads twitching mechanically. The wife smiled a little ruefully at the life in the backyard, tapped her fingers on the sink basin, then edged toward the refrigerator. She knew her husband couldn’t hear her voice, so without asking she pulled out another Hamms for him. Pausing at his chair side, she tapped his shoulder and handed him the beer. He took it from her gratefully and plashed open the can. He adjusted himself in his rocker and tilted the substance to his lips, never missing a beat of the exquisite music that lullabied him. Then she returned to her seat, springs squeaking, and lit another cigarette. They then sat amusing themselves with their separate occupations.

At around four thirty, the bliss was disrupted by a loud knock on the front door. The woman heard it and started violently, losing the ash tip of her cigarette. She looked across at her spouse, who had heard nothing, and whose closed eyes had failed to see her agitation. He was absolutely oblivious to everything but his paradise. The knocking came again, and so the poor wife creaked up out of her chair and began waddling toward the front room. The tv blared away without a spectator.

One baby step at a time. She looked out the bare front window, seeking a sign of who it might be before answering. To her horror, she saw on the porch two men in khaki green with badges: deputy sheriffs. They waved and gestured for her to come out and talk. She forced herself to obey, making her way to the door, the floor snapping. She unlocked the brass knob and flung the portal open. But she didn’t go out to meet them. Instead, she waited nervously, smoking her pacifier in a blue cloud.

The more affable officer mounted the top step and peered within the doorway. He discerned a middle age woman who once may have been attractive. He observed her habit and decided she was a nervous wreck. “Good afternoon,” he began too loudly. “I’m Deputy Jones and this is my partner Deputy Smith. We got a call from a tech who was here earlier today. He was concerned for your safety and well-being.” The woman stood there taking this in. She remembered the repair tech, a young man named John. He had said something judgmental and left rather abruptly. Apparently he had reported her and her husband to the sheriff’s office. She dragged on the white cylinder and blew a cloud. There was something about the deputy she didn’t like. Perhaps it was the blunt bulge showing below his belt, directly in front.

“You are insufferable,” she pronounced suddenly, eyes on the young man’s crotch. “You only came to rape me and rob me. Jesus, what are you doing now? Dropping your trousers and uncoiling your prick? George, George,” she turned and shouted to her husband, “I’m being raped and you’re being robbed!” She heard no response from her spouse.

The officer’s face colored like a radish and he said, “I’m afraid we have to take you to the emergency room.” He nodded to his partner, who produced a pair of handcuffs from his belt and advanced to the top step. “Come along, ma’am. We’ll make it comfortable for you.”

The woman screeched, “But there’s nothing wrong with me! You can’t take me against my will!”

“Then I’m sorry, ma’am, we’ll have to take you by force.” And with that, the man pulled open the screen door and moved to seize the wife, who screamed raucously. There was still no response from the husband in the other room, his eyes still shut in bliss as he soaked in suds and the dulcet tones of Ravel.

Victor Hugo

Noon hour. I like the idea of freedom. It’s hard to do anything without this belief. And contrary to what people say, we’re always free anyway. Free to run a red light. Free to steal a loaf of bread. And free to pick up my bass guitar and rock this town… from the comfort of my own home. What is everybody doing today? An airliner is flying overhead, surprisingly.

One forty. I jammed on my white bass and the cops did not shut me down. I almost wish they would have. It would’ve been acknowledging that I’d made a sound… Still no message from Suzanne, so I hope she’s okay. If my brain weren’t so scattered, I’d pick a great novel and read it. But my attention wanders after a few chapters. I’ve never read anything by Victor Hugo, one of the giants of French Romanticism.

Three ten. I found my copy of Les Miserables, and my sense of freedom and justice bids me to start reading it. We’ll see how far I progress. It’s over 1400 pages, but there will probably be time to finish it. I’m thinking that the book will fortify my courage for the unforeseeable days ahead. Human behavior is rather experimental currently. Take it day by day and expect the unexpected.

Edgar Allan Poe

Noon hour.

The Coke was a winner, now finished. Soon I will have a burrito for lunch. I just read “Some Words with a Mummy,” a playful little tale by Poe. Not a major work by him. The copy I read from I purchased at Borders over twenty years ago. Library of America. I did have a vehicle back then, a green Nissan pickup truck. One night, when the happy hour and dinner were done, I drove to the bookstore and picked this volume for its authoritative texts. The cashier looked at the book skeptically, as if wondering how it differed from the bargain volumes of Poe that abounded. I suppose I thought I deserved better. Likely I was a snob, but this was two decades ago. Still, the book is worthy to keep and venerate as a sort of monument. I went and fetched it from a box of my things, and my place in it was still marked after many years. I had read some 800 pages of it. Even Henry James condescended to like The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, while T S Eliot despised everything from the Romantic period. Many critics denounce Poe, but he still became famous overnight with the publication of “The Raven.” I had a guitarist friend who told me he was going to write an opera about Poe. I wonder if he ever did? Another friend, from Baltimore, sneaked into the cemetery where Poe was buried and slept on his grave. I figure that’s devotion for you. Still another band mate admired the prosody of Poe’s poetry, with every line meticulously put together. Then of course there was my mother, who proclaimed Edgar Allan Poe as a genius for his originality. One could do much worse than Poe for a champion.

Quentin Compson

Seven forty. I finished the second section of The Sound and the Fury. It was really good, but sad because it’s a suicide. I’m a little thrown because I studied at the university before I ever went to church. It should be the reverse order. But then, I’ve always been unconventional. So now I view Faulkner through a lens of church experience and it’s totally different. Suicide is never cool to a Christian mind. Religious people keep a mentality of optimism no matter what, while Faulkner expresses despair and futility in this novel. If I had been that hopeless over two years ago, I would’ve chosen to die; but I didn’t. I chose to live, regardless of what beliefs I would have to espouse. Staying alive was more important than the ideas in my head. I was game for anything, and it saved my life to try something new. It wouldn’t have benefited me to fall back on my college education when my life was at stake. Or anyway, authors like Joyce, Woolf, or Faulkner didn’t have the answer. What saved me was a vague hope that everything could be different now. And realizing that, as Sandburg wrote, the past is a bucket of ashes. I didn’t care what it cost me mentally or socially, I was determined to live. Thus my gut reaction to Quentin’s suicide is to try to rewrite the book.

Jung as Sophist

Quarter of one. I slept for about four hours. It was like having another person’s dreams; they were quite irrelevant to my life. One dream abruptly hit the ground, leaving blackness… so I opened my eyes: I wasn’t blind or dead. I wasn’t in hell. And then I went on dreaming impersonal technical dreams. What kind of problem is my unconscious working on? Or does it even care about me? Perhaps the ego of consciousness doesn’t matter? But I feel ignored by my own soul. Not much that was human occurred in my dreams. It was strange. But life has been disregarding me as well, so I don’t know what gives. It’s just as well to be alone… The Portable Jung was first printed in paperback in 1971, the same year my parents bought our house. This may or may not be significant. I read a few random pages from the essay about dream symbolism in relation to alchemy. Hull’s translation rolls along smoothly. Jung is mainly concerned with the self and the process of individuation, or self realization— within reasonable limits. He says that the unconscious itself is illimitable and hints at immortality. The odd thing is that Jung offers no evidence to support his arbitrary claims, but trusts that the reader will accept his intuitions. He seems to confuse opinions with facts. I observe the same thing with prose writers like Emerson and Thoreau. They blurt generalizations for indisputable truth without giving examples or any kind of logical proofs. For that reason, they don’t qualify as philosophers in the strict sense of Western philosophy. They state their case but don’t substantiate their assertions with even a quotation or instance in point. The teacher who taught me how to write in high school would be unimpressed by Jung or anyone who wrote without proofs. But then I suppose Jung didn’t value logic for his method, which could be a mistake. His intuitionism could misguide a lot of people, like lemmings over the cliff. You either write fiction or facts, and if neither, you write in the boonies of empty rhetoric.