Love of Learning

Quarter after ten.

There’s some work being done in my neck of the woods. I saw that Dell is reroofing his house, and across the street from him, the new neighbor is having his house painted dark blue on the outside. I noticed that they’re doing it the hard way, with brushes and rollers rather than a power spray as they did to my house a few years ago… Then on N Park, the Wright tree service was parked at Randy’s car lot, with three guys sitting in the cab waiting to do something. Also, the cleaning lady was working at Karen’s salon because it’s Monday and that’s her schedule. But business was pretty slow at the store after nine o’clock. When I went inside, I had a vague impression of the old days at Community Market, with Vicki and JR and often Belinda in the morning. There’s a lot that I miss about those old times, yet too much of a good thing can be fatal, and if it seems too good to be true… My house sparrows are going nuts just outside my door. I see a bunch of adult males, likely competing for a female, though it seems like an odd time to mate. But it’s also odd for people to reroof and repaint in the middle of winter. Confusion reigns supreme.

Next day.

I am visited by Beatles music again in my head. If Christianity is the great code for Western literature, then The Beatles are the Rosetta Stone for rock and roll from their time onwards. Except for Walt Whitman, I’m finding literature to be quite onerous nowadays due to my involvement with the church for five years. I see religion everywhere I look. And even if contemporary poetry in the mainstream has moved on, in the public sphere it’s still the same old stuff. I notice that the church mostly ignores literature done after WW2, adhering to the 19th Century. It’s almost as though the last century never happened for them. Never heard of Oppenheimer or the Holocaust. We skipped from one Victorian Age to the next… The church has stunted my growth lately. It’s time for me to do something new. Take a class or something— anything to get me out of this rut. Learning doesn’t have to stop at a certain point, and history didn’t end with the 20th Century. 

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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.

Paul Bowles

Why does Bowles play cat and mouse with his characters so much? It’s a strange use of authorship. A way of being a godlike creator I guess. So then you pity his characters as not having a chance. I don’t know now if Bowles is such a good writer. It finally occurs to me that the “delicate prey” are indeed his brainchildren, he being their predatory and omnipotent author. It’s his right as a writer of fiction— but this calls attention to his artifice, demystifying the whole thing. No doubt it’s what Bowles wanted.

Did it take me a year to make these observations? I must’ve been very sleepy last winter. But I was never a fiction writer myself— not seriously. I’ve been a naïve realist reading Bowles; everything is what it is in the narrative, or was to me. But to him it is ever a creative activity, having the almighty pencil and eraser with his stories. The ink and the snow opaque. And I was just his fool and victim. Another prey. 

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. 

A Little Grotesque

I haven’t been thinking much about Christmas today. I’ve read the first two acts of The Tempest. Pretty good. The slaves of Prospero both want their freedom. These are Ariel and Caliban. The latter is a deformed anthropoid brute, smelling of fish, who was taught language by Miranda and whose mother was Sycorax, a witch. There’s something interesting about a monster learning to speak and express feelings that are barely human. It’s much like the monster in Frankenstein, who is not human, and represents the sublime. Or how about teaching sign language to gorillas and chimpanzees? Or the voice of the raven croaking Nevermore from the bust of Athena over the door? Another thing: Caliban says that learning English was only convenient for him to curse with. He really doesn’t like his master, kind of like Frankenstein’s monster systematically popping off his family… Anyway, I’m about halfway through the play.

I still haven’t heard the news from Gloria, and she didn’t come to work today, as I wouldn’t have expected. Aesop and I spent a quiet day alone together while the wind howled and once some sleet came down mixed with rain. The only excursion was to the store this morning, which was nothing unusual for me, though Lisa reported having a bad day so far. When I thought about that later, it seemed like the fragmentation in Mrs Dalloway, with everyone locked in their private worlds. It’s impossible for people to truly share their perceptions, even through the seeming agreement of language.

This is just the mood I’m in today. Tomorrow I have to go to church like I agreed to do. Hope for the best.

I got the H.G. Wells book yesterday. Found it on my doorstep when I went out for the mail. It’s very nice, with a format very similar to the Verne volume.

I probably hang out too much with my dog here at home, but it’s quite fascinating to observe how his mind functions. His intelligence is nearly human, unless I project much of myself onto him. Strange to consider such a relationship between animal and man, as if we could really communicate together. Some dogs are a little too smart, I suppose. What we have here tends to blur the boundaries of one nature and the other. I guess that’s why I feel a little confused on what defines a human being versus the definition of animals. Now I’ve finally put my finger on it.

Aesop is not a person!

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. 

“Everything Is Allowed”

Six thirty PM.

It was a blah kind of day for me. I felt tired from the restless night, and nothing seems to be going on around here; people are busy doing other things. So I scribbled stuff in my little diary today. It was better for my health to put poetry reading aside and shift my focus to analytic philosophy, whatever others feel about that. I want to be done with Christianity, just let it go and be left alone. It was especially harmful when Pastor preached about the devil and so many things that are not verifiable by observation. Just stupid stuff to scare us and control us. “A host of holy horrors to direct our aimless dance.” At some point my poor brain went tilt and I had a minor nervous collapse; but since the start of the month I’ve done better with my mind. I can remember when I still read Dostoevsky to harmonize with what the church was saying, though now I’ve given up on that completely. A dead horse can’t run anymore. I retraced the history of philosophy to the place where existentialism and the analytic tradition separated from each other. The first is basically reactions for or against religion: saying, where do we go from here? The second allied itself with science and used logic for its epistemic tool and touchstone. One is very concerned with ethics and the other not so much: it wants to know the truth mostly in an ontological way. It deals with common sense realism and totally dispenses with metaphysics. But any Christian will immediately point out that ethics depends upon a metaphysical plane of existence and an absolute like a god to be the lawgiver for humankind.

I don’t have an answer to that objection yet. Is everything truly allowed if God doesn’t exist? Was it atheism that made Smerdyakov murder the old father in The Brothers Karamazov? These questions reopen the whole can of worms; so I agree that we can’t dispose of ethics, hence maybe metaphysics either. 

Observations

Quarter after nine.

I’ve bought a small package of cream cheese so I can hide Aesop’s pill inside a piece of it. I slept in today; guess I was tired since the long trek to Silver Lane yesterday afternoon. The air outside is a bit less polluted than lately but we still could use a good rain. At five I got up and read “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” It’s essentially about the commerce of the poet with posterity through his language, time not being a factor. I think Byron also wrote a poem or two on the same theme. Joyce likely read both the Whitman and Byron and used the idea in Portrait of the Artist. Maybe it’s not a matter of who had the idea first, but who could write it the best. It seems like forever ago that I studied Joyce. I wonder if he and Virginia Woolf might’ve made a good match? He claimed that he didn’t care for intellectual women… In a few months the centenary for Ulysses will be over with. Did anybody read it again or for the first time? The professor I knew said he considered it his public service to lead students through Ulysses. Probably the book will always be celebrated but unread due to its difficulty and reputation for the same.

Ten thirty. The pill in the cream cheese went down like a charm. I’ll remember that for next time… At the market, Thomas told me he’s studying computer programming at the community college, just a two year degree. As he spoke I was distracted by a white object in his ear that looked like a coiled cigarette butt. I have no idea what it really was or the purpose of it. I also saw a dubious character, tall and slouching with long black hair, carrying two fishing rods and a tackle box, enter the store. I imagined that he had gone fishing in Kelly Pond, but you wouldn’t score anything very good to eat out of that hole. Times are strange, but even stranger when you hang out by the convenience store. I don’t know if I see an average cross section of people or if it’s a hive for weirdos. In the latter case, I’m one more of them.

Pen Is Mightier

Quarter of ten.

Gloria is here vacuuming the house.

We shared a Snapple for her break. My dog isn’t very happy about being shut up in the bedroom. While the weather is sunny, the smoke is pretty bad outside. But overall it’s a pleasant kind of morning.

Noon.

Early this morning I noticed that Lenore’s sprinkler system was malfunctioning. One sprinkler head merely gushed water and made a gurgling mess. Lenore is away from home for indefinite, so I took a piece of lined paper and a black Sharpie and wrote her a note. Then I walked over and put it under her doormat. Hopefully she’ll see it and take care of the problem, all good.

I’ve got nothing literary to say except for the power of the written word in something as trivial as a note to a neighbor left on the doorstep. Sometimes writing lives longer than the generations of people or a mighty kingdom, like the poem “Ozymandias.” Or, Lenore might wad up my note and throw it away…

“Under My Thumb”

Seven thirty.

The streets are dark with wet but I didn’t get rained on for my little pilgrimage to buy groceries. When I was reading from Walt Whitman I began to think of my baptism five years ago on a rainy October Sunday. Specifically I wondered why I converted to religion; and probably I considered the benefit to me and not to others. Or more likely I didn’t think anything at all and my feet got in front of my head. Now I ask myself, If I could undo the baptism, would I do it? As it is, I’m just a lapsed Lutheran caught in a tug of war between the church and my independence. An old song by the Stones has been playing in my mind: “Under My Thumb,” the one with the little marimba melody. Whitman suggests that books (and traditions) are not men. I believe he’s saying that nature is logically prior to the fictions people create, including religion. But it’s easy to get this backwards and subordinate nature to the Bible.

I can’t tell if it’s raining right now. Aesop is patient about getting his breakfast. I feel better today than yesterday: maybe I should kick the gabapentin habit to avoid the crashes in my mood. Through it all runs the music in my brain.