Can a person be driven mad by Modernism? My old psychiatrist said no. Introspection doesn’t cause psychosis, and my illness would have happened anyway. A few hours ago I sat and read two chapters of Connecticut Yankee. I’m past the halfway mark into the book. Consistently it debunks superstition, and also it advocates democracy and deplores injustice and oppression… I just heard Bonnie Rose leave in her truck, probably for work today. Those neighbors are very unsociable with me. Diana seems to trust only Cherie from up the street. There’s a hint of the light of dawn, purple gray. My mind is racked between Romantic primitivism and a realistic society, or between psychosis and sanity. It pulls my head apart when I try to sleep at night. But the thing to do is accept myself and forgive my weaknesses. Mostly I agree with Twain’s disapproval of magic and other nonsense, yet it’s only because of the medication I take. Without it, I might be susceptible to miraculous thinking like a lot of people. I feel cold in this room right now. I can see through the front window that it’s foggy out. Aesop rolls onto his back and stretches himself. His life is easier than mine. He never heard of the pandemic or climate change, and his belief system is marrow snacks.
Ten o five.
The wind is really whipping; it just missed me by a half hour. Aesop was very excited because I bought him some doggie chicken strips this morning. He’d been picky about his breakfast and ate it only as an afterthought. I’ve still got the drippy Herb Alpert music in my brain, but to be honest I actually like it. I believe it helps me process some difficult emotions, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right now it’s “The Sea Is My Soil,” with an acoustic guitar that’s slightly out of tune. Besides the sound of the wind it is silent in the house; an occasional car goes roaring on the highway to the north.
Another note on A Connecticut Yankee: no nature means that people are not only free but also they are equal. Jung has said that “nature is aristocratic,” and inequality begins there. But Twain said that if you remove the clothes from everyone, distinctions of social class will disappear and people are all the same. He was probably an early behaviorist, a believer in learning theory. And there’s nothing to prove that either perspective is right or wrong. If everyone started out with the same advantages, then maybe the view of Mark Twain would be correct. Unfortunately, for ethical reasons no one can run that experiment.
Aesop is going to pout now until he gets another treat of chicken strips. Pavlov’s Dog is salivating.
Wee hours Sunday.
While I was reading Twain yesterday I came across a passage where Hank Morgan claims that there is no nature, and everything that makes us human is the product of “training.” So then I put this together with Twain’s general concern with freedom, also comparing it to the blank slate theory of John Locke and the rejection of human nature by Sartre. The idea is that Jungian archetypes and instincts predispose people in particular ways, which means people are subject to fate. But when you eliminate heredity of these things and subscribe to the tabula rasa, it renders the individual totally free to create his own essence. What is exciting about this is that Twain discovered the concept fifty years before Sartre, but Locke and the Enlightenment came before even Mark Twain. I suppose freedom as an abstract exists in the air and pops up occasionally here and there or is diffused from place to place by word of mouth. Twain further says that freedom always begins in blood, as with the French Revolution, although the author and the narrator are two different people. Is freedom attainable by a peaceful means? Surely personal happiness is possible, but not without taking some risks. Like Huck Finn and Lt Henry, we take our chances on the river if we want to be free, and farewell to Jungian psychology.
I’m sitting here listening to the rhythm of the rain on the roof, reflecting vaguely on a collage of things of no consequence. Still, I keep coming back to the idea of freedom, and how this is defined, and if it’s really possible for human beings. Common sense says freedom is valid, in a Huckleberry Finn kind of way. Even now I have the option to go to bed or stay up and write this drivel. The rain has a soporific effect on my brain. I acknowledge my conscience saying that I should take my medication and get some sleep, yet I can veto what it tells me. If I do, then I’m responsible for the consequences. But the important thing is that I have free agency in my decision, as everyone always has. You can duel with your William Wilson conscience to the death, but will his death be tantamount to your own self destruction? Edgar Poe believed so, perhaps. At the end of The Flies by Sartre, Orestes exits the stage pursued by the Furies, so it’s not clear whether his freedom is punished or unpunished. He thinks he can elude remorse up to a point, but the ending gives the lie to his thoughts… Everything we do has consequences, good or bad. But this presupposes that we are free to choose what we do. Responsibility is not possible without freedom. By the way, the rain has ceased for now.
It was still dark outside when I walked to the store this morning. The partly clear sky permitted a view of the stars overhead. Out of range of the streetlight I could hardly see the ground in front of me. As I ambled along, I remembered a night nine years ago when I drunkenly made a trip to the same place, with my mind playing music by Khachaturian. At once, it was a romantic night and a miserable one, but sometimes we like to dream little dreams. Sometimes a dream can engulf us while real time leaves us behind… Michelle and the dairy guy were doing inventory when I came in the door. She was in a good mood because it’s Friday today and she gets weekends off. Just now the dawn arrives with rosy fingers, or rather a stripe of peach between banks of clouds that are breaking up. I read some Mark Twain yesterday noon. It made me think of what freedom means to different people. How is it defined? He might say with democracy and with honest labor. It seems to me that freedom in one respect entails a sacrifice somewhere else. Nobody has everything they want, so just appreciate what you have.
Quarter of eight. I spent a rough afternoon yesterday. My nervous system felt hypersensitive, as if I might go into a seizure or something like that. I was overwrought with anxiety and stress. When I wrote in my journal I reasserted my belief in Freudian analysis, and then I could relax a bit. One of the greatest lines I’ve read is by James Baldwin: “Funerals are for the living…”
Ten forty at night.
I took a nap this evening and dreamed something about Edgar Allan Poe that went a bit contrary to my high school English teacher who advocated Mark Twain. But really the conflict is internal. In dream I also remembered that Poe was an orphan raised by John Allan. I guess I was thinking of what an incredible poem “The Raven” is, with the whole idea of Nature revealing itself to the narrator through the bird’s voice box. It’s like consulting the oracle for answers regarding his lost Lenore, though the raven comes to him unbidden. How different is this bird from the nightingale of John Keats? Both of them are sublime, but while the latter is delightful, the former is terrible. One sings, the other croaks a prophecy of doom. Both romantic birds indicate a Nature that is mysterious and unknown, unlike the scientific certainty that would characterize Twain later on. Perhaps the Romantics are right to say that we’ll never know everything about the natural world, or maybe Twain’s cocksureness is better? It’s up to me whether I choose progress or regression, and up to humanity as well. Right now it seems that society is quite primitive. It could probably use a dose of the Enlightenment. But if we blow up Merlin’s tower, will we feel remorse for lost magic?
Everyone has to make their own mistakes and learn from them, and I doubt if there’s a perfect way through life. All of the warnings from others in the world are wasted breath. And I think that to a great extent individuals live out their genetic blueprint, and this is the basis for the force we know as Fate. Wow, when I consider the tragedies of the Ancient Greeks, so religious with the Chorus and the characters interacting on the stage, having a primitive yet civilized understanding of natural forces completely out of their control: it’s an awesome thing. I guess all traditions in the world have the same natural conditions to reckon with, plus the peculiarities of their region. Like if you lived in Hawaii with an active volcano, a power of nature beyond human comprehension, this thing becomes your god by its very mystery to a primitive intellect. So it makes me appreciate the state of modern science and the wonderful achievements of human reason over the centuries, and what a pitiful sacrifice if we ever lost all that knowledge and wisdom. Perhaps the existence of religion really depends on humble ignorance of how nature works, as you can even read in Job, where God hurls down challenges to the state of Job’s knowledge. But what if Job had possessed that knowledge of nature? What would’ve happened to God?
I think that religion depends on mysteries, the information that people simply don’t know. We invent gods to explain the phenomena we don’t understand, just as the Greeks did before they dispensed with their pantheon and philosophy replaced religion.
Is there anything really so heretical about knowledge and wisdom? I tend to think that God is a boogeyman for the things we can’t explain rationally. Edith Hamilton wrote that mythology is a primitive kind of science: people make up stories to explain what they don’t understand.
This is the kind of stuff I learned in high school, before I started drinking alcohol and going astray. Now I’m thinking that there’s no substitute for knowledge, especially scientific knowledge. And even Mark Twain was a real optimist about technology and progress. Merlin and his magical tower are no match for modern sophistication in A Connecticut Yankee… I should go back and read that book again. The attitudes are very cocky and irreverent and yet very hilarious.