Six thirty at night.
I got on Amazon and ordered a CBT workbook to help myself with anxiety. The biggest problem I’ve been having is with mind reading, trying to second guess situations and people. But the only way to know the thoughts of others is to ask them to their face. It’s pretty stupid to weave a web of fantasy around people you know, or to dramatize your own life, maybe glorify it to heroic proportions. I may be divided on this perspective because I like existential philosophy so much. But it comes down to what is realistic, and really, life for most humans is quite ordinary and modest, not over the top with hubris and superhuman powers. Sometimes the need to empower yourself is so strong that life feels like a tremendous dare, a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds. So we produce brainchildren as Richard Wright produced Bigger Thomas, a larger than life martyr for racial and social justice. I suppose my blog has been something like this, but for mental health. And for this fact I feel a bit penitent and apologetic.
Maybe true strength consists in vulnerability, though I’m not yet persuaded of that. Does something take over when you surrender control? I think of Gandalf saying that even Gollum had a role to fulfill in the War of the Ring. It was a purpose bigger than Gollum himself, one that included all of them… Perhaps everyone is a pawn in a sociological game the horizon of which is past our understanding.
I need some time before I hatch any ideas regarding Native Son, but already I see existential parallels to Camus and Sartre, and it was published before The Stranger and Being and Nothingness. This doesn’t mean necessarily that the French writers read Native Son. Perhaps they and Richard Wright all read the same stuff from prior to 1940. Ideas are airborne and diffuse from place to place, so that existentialism might be considered a time period more than a particular philosophy. People don’t talk much about this in 2022. It’d be hard to characterize the intellectual climate of our own time, other than as the time after the Millennium, which means a great revival of Christianity followed by cynicism and monetary greed.
Why read books like Native Son nowadays? I’m still figuring this out. It’s important for racial justice and awareness of people who are oppressed. But also it raises questions of identity and purpose in life, and how far a person is willing to go to feel happy and free, and like his life has meaning. Further, can a person actually do that in a situation where every avenue to fulfillment is blocked? Bigger wanted to be an aviator; to fly and be free, and free everyone else as well, but instead he pictures everyone in a prison cell like his own. This is the common condition he imagines, the glue for himself and humanity. Rather than freedom he comes face to face with fate, saying his crimes and punishment were inevitable.
The scene of his capture is amazing: when he climbs the water tower and clings tenaciously to the top while the mob below shoots him with water hoses in the freezing winter night of Chicago. There’s an allusion to Christ when he is carried off the tower and dragged by his feet down the stairs, barely conscious all the way to the jail. And like Jesus, Bigger is martyred in the end. The kicker is that Jesus wasn’t a murderer like Bigger Thomas: so is what he did still a form of creation, as his lawyer said to the Court?
Quarter of three at night.
For the first time since I can remember, tonight I had a dream of flying. I even flapped my arms like a bird and didn’t seem to fall from my great height. Just now I went on Google and looked up the interpretation of flying dreams: the consensus is that they mean an internal desire for freedom— which comes as no surprise to me at all. In connection with my dream, I now recall reading a passage in Native Son a few weeks ago where Bigger observes a skywriter making an advertisement for Speed Gasoline, and he says he wishes he could fly. It was a perfect figure of speech and an instance of foreshadowing. So now I have to read the remainder of the book to see how it ends for Bigger Thomas.