Gut Reaction to Cummings

Quarter after one. I read thirty pages of the Cummings poetry. Some of it is great, and I see how it influenced me when I was around thirty years old. He often muses on the something of life and love versus the nothingness of death, and how could life spring from nothing? This problem is like that of Sartre, but I don’t know who had the idea first. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Cummings. His thinking joins together Freud and Sartre but without being systematic. Still, it’s very complex, even convoluted, and always difficult to disentangle. I sometimes get the sense that love and death are identical from his poems, or at least one is inseparable from the other. He is full of paradoxes and double negatives that pull you in and force a feeling of disorientation, or maybe what Sartre calls “nausea.” Some readers may not find this very affirmative. And the equivocation does feel rather disturbing, even like Shakespeare’s Macbeth. We want the reassurance that things are what they are and not something else, not a fusion of opposites. Not a prevailing oxymoron. We want a yes, a positive and not a zero. But Cummings still makes fascinating reading. 

The Fog of Time

Seven twenty.

The fog looms denser and lower this morning than yesterday. Leaves drifted from the trees all day, one at a time. I just watched the video of my church from Friday night. The music was pretty bad, but what can you do with a hymn? Last night I dreamed about playing bass seriously in a band, and not just butt rock. I think it would be really cool to play something with European flavor around here, along the lines of Queen or Roxy Music. Why not? We’re all citizens of the world, and isolationism is silly. I still miss my friend from the UK… The trick is to stay sober while having fun in other ways. I appreciate having more money as a result of abstinence. During the wee hours I listened to The Rite of Spring again, the version by Robert Craft, Stravinsky’s protege. It sounded great to me. I thought of Modernism in general, and how Jungian psychology arose from that movement. It made me reflect on my early childhood perceptions. Stravinsky was still alive when I was born; trippy to consider. His music reached a wilder, more pagan depth than any Western composer before him. I will always prefer Modern music to the mathematical dryness of Bach or Mozart. The Rite of Spring has become just a part of my psyche.

Nine twenty five. A silver disk of the sun bleeds through the fog, which is still very thick. For a change I bought two SoBe drinks, both with strawberry flavor. Expensive but good. I didn’t take notice of much on this trip. On the road I encountered no one, not even a cat. I saw one car on Maxwell going probably twice the speed limit. An older woman, pulling out of the parking lot, made way for me to cross in front of her car, but I gestured that I was turning into the lot. And from out of the fog come ghosts of the past and maybe of the future too. 

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… 

A to B…

One twenty five. I opened up The Magic Mountain and found approximately where I had left off. It may be more intellectual than I care to bother with. Yet I might learn something from it too. By a coincidence, the chapter I flipped to was set in October, or maybe subconsciously I remembered the fact and saw a relevance to life today… Roger has his garage door open while he tinkers with a little project. He’s been retired from the police force for many years and seems to struggle for activities. What do you do when you’ve been put out to pasture? The airplane he put together from a kit he flew a number of times and then sold. We don’t talk very much… I wasn’t very well over the summertime; rather crazy from the heat and non compos mentis. The fall season is a relief and a rejuvenation. Thankfully I have some money to work with. There’s a bit of a wind in the trees. In my head I keep hearing The Firebird ballet. I feel almost like going out someplace, but I have no destination. It’s Sunday and there’s nothing to do.

Two forty. The wind has picked up, invisible unmoved mover. You see and hear the shifting leaves, yet the primum mobile is imperceptible. It has no shape, color, or size and occupies no space. It is the engine of history, intangible spirit. Ezra Pound personifies history with the goddess Aphrodite, to suggest that desire makes events go. Love (not money) causes the world to go round. I chafe against the chains of an antipsychotic drug to produce beauty. An uphill battle with a molecule that cuts away the necessary angel— imagination. Which is worse, the illness or the treatment? Scylla and Charybdis, sea monster and the rocky maelstrom. Take my chances with the plesiosaur. Behind all outward show, the fourth dimension of Forms, a-causal catalysts: cookie cutters. The landscape is but a metaphorical face. To slash the screen and behold the other side of the known: and bring a moon rock back to humankind. Treasure behind the skirts of the witch, and traveling home rich to father. Unguessed wealth buried deep in the soul…

Quarter of four. And back again. 

The Paterson Slogan

Wee hours of Wednesday. Sometimes I feel saved by Carlos Williams; by minutiae, by no ideas but in things. In a world of religious abstraction, one feels the need to be grounded in terra firma, in details, in stuff rather than fluff. There’s nothing amazing about the piece of furniture I’m sitting on, yet it supports my weight. How often do we stop to consider the red wheelbarrow beside the white chickens? To transcend is to go mad, to take leave of our senses. Still, we insist on doing this while the little things go neglected. It is an odd mode of operation. Why do people take matter so for granted? What if we didn’t have reality to sit on? I hadn’t thought about the literal things in life until yesterday afternoon. It came to me like a revelation. Stuff is the only reality we can test and know. Chances are you are sitting on it right now.

Monday Morning

Six thirty five.

Green dawn gives way to a blue day. I just ate my last Hot Pocket. Need to get wet dog food this morning. I feel like one more nap. I want to open all the floodgates of my soul and merely be.

Nine twenty five. Slept in. The sunshine is fresh and gorgeous like a big navel orange. I don’t feel haunted by any particular past— nor future. Attitude of equanimity towards music on the horizon. The Fates are deaf but not mute. Apollo’s lyre refuses to sing, or its seven strings may be out of tune. Speech is silvern, golden is silence. Quarter of ten is rather late for me. I still have to get Aesop’s food. Melodies unheard are sweeter. A soundless symphony waits outside my door…

Ten twenty. Just back from the store. Stopped for a second to chat with Derek. Three year old Natalie said hi to me. Now, Aesop is getting amped for his breakfast of turkey and pea canned stew… Done. His breakfast is the one ritual we keep the same every day. The swallows still haven’t left my chimney. They whoosh and chitter now and then. Apex just picked up my garbage. I watched as the mechanical arm on the blue and green truck reached out and grasped my roll can, lifted and tilted it over the bed, shaking it a little. Music: “I Can’t Dance” by Genesis. Another day living the dream. And the cranberry ginger ale is ace.

Nature in Our Hearts

Quarter of midnight. I am halfway through the Salinger book. Something about Holden being an ancient, gray haired teenager is symbolic. Also his question of where the ducks go when the lake in Central Park freezes in the winter… It seems impossible to me that I was at Bi Mart 12 hours ago. The trip wasn’t really necessary but I wanted to go for some reason. I went in search of lost time, sort of reeling in the years. The only discovery I made was the natural flora that grows in the community and has always been here. Yellow headed dandelions, for instance. The nature around me reminded me of D.H. Lawrence and took me away from the age of technology and information. And industrialism was exactly what Lawrence kicked about a hundred years ago. He saw it as something that sterilizes human life, makes it dispassionate and inorganic. It’s hard not to agree with him.

Quarter after three. The scene in Sons and Lovers where Mrs Morel takes refuge in the flower garden after a fight with her husband is particularly to the point. Now I wonder what happened to the times of great writers like Lawrence and Joyce. Who will be the next big groundbreaker in letters? Who can do a revival of Modernism and be the new Modern Shakespeare? …Queen’s “Millionaire Waltz” sneaks into my awareness with joy… The revival really depends upon a reconnection with Mother Nature. If we can find her in our hearts and pull the dream out from within, the New Renaissance is accomplished.

Afternoon Thoughts

Quarter of one. My patience has worn thin with the COVID lockdown, the waiting game we all have to play. Meanwhile it’s raining outside, constantly and with some force. Aesop gave me a pained expression when I tried to play my bass guitar. The best thing to do is to put him out in the backyard when I want to practice. But he doesn’t want to be separated from me… I’m getting drowsy. At the store this morning, the radio was playing Steve Miller from 1977. Vicki sang the first couple of lines. Classic rock is a lot of fun, but it makes you feel like a statistic of demographics… It would be fun to play a few songs by The Pretenders… Time for a nap. I can’t keep my eyes open.

Quarter of three. I just slogged through a few pages of the “Proteus” episode of Ulysses. I think maybe Jung was right to diagnose the narrative as psychotic. Stephen is thinking in “word salad,” a common symptom among people who have schizophrenia. Ezra Pound likewise rattles off random words that make little sense. And they called this Modern literature. I further inquire if maybe reading such stuff contributed to my initial episode of psychosis. I suppose stranger things have happened… It’s raining constantly and with moderate strength. Next time weather permits I will go to Bi Mart to buy some clothes, perhaps two pairs of jeans. Now I don’t blame people for avoiding Ulysses. Dubliners was great, but possibly Joyce’s mind began to gather wool after Portrait of the Artist. Where art ends and madness begins is a tough call… Modern music can be rather hard to listen to as well. Pierrot Lunaire by Schoenberg is like torture to sit and audit. I used to do this, but why I can’t imagine now. It began as curiosity, yet I never learned anything from the experience, except to observe how the collective consciousness during the two world wars broke down. Perhaps as a sociological phenomenon the madness of Modernism is interesting. But of course not all art from this period is disordered. Dunno. I need to think about it for a while…

“Commerce between Us”

It must be time for me to read a book again, since I am devoid of ideas today. Victor Hugo always gives me food for thought, although the thoughts tend to clutter up my own attitudes. Probably Virginia Woolf was more to my taste. How can you go wrong with classical beauty? It was interesting how she meditated on the durability and perishability of beauty, and was unable to decide which was true. Is beauty immortal or not? Jacob’s Room is a very fine short novel, exemplary of some of the concerns of Modernism. For fun I might take Hilda Doolittle off the shelf and sample a few poems. She was the childhood sweetheart of Ezra Pound. Funny how the one who paved the way for Modernism was Henry James. He did this by opening communication with the old country across the Atlantic. The stuffy isolationism of the nineteenth century caused American art to stagnate. There was a sore need to reunite with our roots, or so James and many other creative people felt. It was sort of like the British Invasion in popular music. What would American music be like if The Beatles had never happened on the scene? We’d still be stuck with Elvis Presley. So, the same with Modern American literature. And Henry James made it all possible, blazing the trail for Pound, Eliot, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and other American writers to cross the ocean and soak up the culture. Finally there was commerce between the Old World and the New, resulting in very fruitful times for the art of the Western world… Another such reopening is necessary for America and Europe. It might take place depending on how the election goes this fall. The MAGA policy is going nowhere. When the pandemic dust settles, it will be interesting to see what happens all the way around.