Friendly Universe?

Four o’clock. A universe friendly or unfriendly, asks Einstein. So did 19th Century American writers from Emerson to Melville and beyond. Moby Dick constitutes a monument to thoughts about the cosmos. When I played bass with Satin Love in the late 1990s, I tried to solve this intellectual problem myself by intensive reading. At one point I read Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Jude the Obscure back to back to ascertain the truth about the friendliness of the universe. They contradicted each other. I followed these with The Sheltering Sky and As I Lay Dying, both of which were pessimistic, and they influenced my mood while I was playing with the band. All the while I was listening to atonal music such as Schoenberg and Penderecki, and Webern and Berg. In fact, I dreamed recently about the Lulu Suite by Alban Berg. All this cacophony I learned and heard inside my head through my adventures with the disco band, accompanied by the ideas of Thomas Hardy. We took a trip to San Francisco in September 1997, and I was a wet blanket all the way. Lying in bed the last night, I heard Webern’s Five Pieces for Orchestra and wondered how I ever got to this place so far from home. I had insomnia for the whole trip. When we finally got home I went to bed and slept like a dead man. Life seemed as chaotic to me as the atonal music I constantly heard. Was the universe friendly? I don’t know, but the band I was in was definitely unfriendly…

Musing Aloud

Six thirty. My burrito was good. Aesop wants his water refreshed. I told him ten minutes. Just now I gained my 212th follower. The nightfall feels comforting to me:— Hail, venerable night! From the dawn of humankind the rhythm of the night is ever tuned to dreams and phantasmagoria. For me it’s an inward turning, a peering into the well of the self. Even though waking, in the darkness I dream. I can imagine my Great Aunt Nina doing her Rosicrucian in a dark room with a candle and a mirror. And indeed I’ve felt the presence of a ghost in my machine before. It observes everything I do and misses nothing of my surroundings. It is objective and keeps a tally of the moral merits of anything I do. It is the being that dreams. It basically is conscience, as with Edgar Poe’s William Wilson, the murder of whom constitutes the murder of the narrator himself. The doppelgänger is killed, so now the man is free to gamble and drink himself to death. Poe suggests the vital compensation provided to the ego by the unconscious. Severing this relationship spells doom to the individual… And so night comes, setting the stage for dreams to make their visit. Do dreams speak the truth, though it never be admitted by us? It’s a running moral commentary, a ceaseless newsreel of deeds and misdeeds. Although such observations were first made centuries ago, I can’t imagine the utter breakdown of human conscience. There’s always someone awake to keep people fair and honest. The morality of human nature will never perish, despite the abuses of the unjust. Compensation always comes around… Merely thinking aloud again.

A Little Ovid

S— made a very fine post last night about the sun’s visibility in winter. It was prose rather than verse for a change. Even as I write, the sun is breaking through, then vanishing to tantalize me. Now you see me, now you don’t. When the sun comes out, it illuminates the white walls of the house’s interior. This is much better than the brown paneling from before the remodel. I can actually see something. Not to mention the yellow exterior of the house, the only color like it on my street. The sun and yellowness call to mind another post I read, partly about the transformation of Clytie into a sunflower. The story comes down to us from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I possess the Mandelbaum translation and know where it is. Ovid is also our source for the tale of Narcissus, whom the gods turned into a flower when he fell in love with his own reflection in a pool. The flower bends over the water as if admiring itself… Actually, Ovid’s accounts are more complex than the watered down ones. The myth of Narcissus is involved with the nymph Echo, who was in love with him. He spurned not only her, but everyone else who loved him. It was a fellow youth who prayed that Narcissus fall in love and be likewise denied. Narcissus encountered a clear pool and grew enamored with his own image. He could not tear himself away to eat or take care of himself. Echo and the other nymphs tried to save Narcissus, but his body disappeared, replaced by a flower… Clytie the nymph was jealous of the girl Leucothoe for being loved by the sun. But neither one could have him, and in the end, Clytie was strangely transformed into a flower that always faced the sun. Leucothoe had already died at the hands of the outraged king… I hadn’t known the full version of these myths until looking up Ovid myself. Now I want to read the entire book. The sources for a lot of classical mythology are contained here.

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.

Spice of Life

No one in my family does much thinking. I get a strange sense that Polly is hiding something from me. She doesn’t care now about alcohol abuse. The whole family shuns me— so what made L— drive by my house one day in October?… It seems like an accident that we started talking again. Polly may regret it too. I just scheduled the ride to my Monday appointment. And I thought of how my family is too proud to accept help from government services; but not me. I don’t share their redneck pride. I don’t understand it. When people need assistance, they need it. Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness, but my family will never acknowledge it. The best thing I ever did was to disown them. The sun has come out for a moment; good to know it’s still there. Tim told me that K— isn’t close to his family either. Tim himself is divided from his family over politics. I told him that my family has no curiosity for bigger things. He said that was a shame… One thing I can say is that I enjoy interaction with people, especially when they are intelligent. The exchange of ideas stimulates my brain and motivates me. The rest of the family is apathetic about what makes life interesting. It’s like they’re not even alive, let alone joyful. How could I possibly cut myself down to their level? Life has loveliness to sell! The world is a big place, and often wonderful. How can anyone be so bovine, so boring; so disinterested in new ideas? So totally unintelligent? Life is not about chains; life is about freedom and happiness… Ranging through the boxes of my stuff, I found my copy of The World as Will and Representation, a book I needed while I was in the trailer. I think I will start reading it now, bearing Moby Dick in mind. There are many books I’d like to read all at once; digest them all and have instant enlightenment. But there’s still time to go over them one by one…

From a Love Poem

Four thirty. If Joyce is the best writer of the last century, then what about him was great? He was no garden variety Christian; that would have been dull. He was a wonderful humanist, trying to make life better for the world of people. I find it odd that I learned about literature before I ever went to a church. Most people do it in the reverse order and become lapsed churchgoers. I feel like coming around full circle to secularism. This would be like my parents… like Mom. Like my brother too. The two of them were the intelligent ones in the family. I loved them the most, yet they didn’t love each other. Mom didn’t really know Jeff at all, and he misunderstood her. What they had in common they didn’t even recognize: it was pure intellect. But Jeff still resents and begrudges Mom, long after her death. I offer no apologies for my way of seeing it… Kate was smart like my mother. She loved the Joyce that she read, particularly Portrait of the Artist… but also “Eveline” from Dubliners. I blew it with Kate. I could’ve had a complete relationship with her, and I just blew it. Nothing stopped her from doing what she wanted to do. But I sold out for the sake of safety and a longer lifespan. I did the conservative thing to stay alive, when maybe the brave thing to do was to go for Kate. The courageous and radical thing! But I would have died young, the way Lord Byron did. And Kate would’ve been a widow. Some alcoholics can drink enormous quantities and still function. I could not. It would’ve killed me. It just worked out the way it did, and I’m still alive, though loveless and rueful. Was I intelligent to save my life, or would it have been wiser to do a Sara Teasdale? “And for a breath of ecstasy / Give all you have ever been, or could be.” So this was the “bartering” I failed to do. I guess I am no Teasdale, let alone a Byron or a Joyce. Instead I am something more boring, but I suppose there’s an advantage to being alive. Dear reader, what would you have done?

Doppelgänger

I can kind of see how Edgar Poe used alcohol to alter his state and create some interesting fiction. But it killed him at the age of forty. Some kind of brain malfunction. It was almost as if Poe volunteered himself for a human experiment. How far could he push the limits of the imagination? He martyred himself for the cause of psychology before the science of psychology was born. He was either a genius or a lunatic, or maybe both. My mother praised him as great and original. Perhaps he died of sheer exhaustion.

Five twenty. I read sixty pages of the L’Engle book. I feel myself having been transformed since the time in the trailer. I’m a different person than before, and I don’t crave alcohol at all. Do I crave anything? There’s no greed or lust, and everything seems pretty simple. I’m not an alcoholic anymore. The defect has been removed, though I still remember what it used to be like. It is an act of God or of a nature beyond human knowledge. I’ve come out on the other side. And the skin I shed and left behind me was— Edgar Poe…