Well I gave my French book of Mallarme a cursory flap and found much of it unreadable, like pure nonsense, the drivel of a lunatic: psychobabble in a word. This discovery is a sign that I’m recovering from the illness more and more with time. I ought to be much more coherent now than last winter, not to mention years ago as a churchgoer. I may wish there were an Ideal dimension to the universe, but unveiling it is beyond all method… It is emotional reasoning to posit the spiritual universe; saying I feel it, therefore it must be true, but after this comes the burden of proof. It’s a difficult call to make. Is it right to categorically reject everything arrived at by intuition? And here I’ve opened up the same old can of worms as last winter. If my intuition is blind, it doesn’t make everyone else blind. I remember gifting Pastor that volume of William Blake six months ago, thinking of a particular passage in the Europe prophecy. Isaac Newton blows the last trumpet of doom, after which the angels fall from heaven and crash to the earth. In other words, scientific discovery knocks religion down. It is neither a good or bad situation; it simply is. Or maybe Blake thinks the blow to religion is regrettable… By the way, Blake is another one of those unintelligible poets, like James Joyce toward the end. Word salad. Psychosis… I don’t even know by what means I’ve been thinking since the end of springtime. Things either make sense to me or they don’t. Spirituality still is very hard for me to swallow.
Quarter after nine. However, there’s an image Mallarme uses more than once in his published poetry: something like a “snowfall of perfumed stars.” It makes me want to translate the poem myself to English. And perhaps in doing so, thereby lose my identity in his, or leave the poem extant without an author. Only the words and the reader remain, in a condition of dubious being.
I’m just beginning to understand the difference between prosaic and poetic, and what poetry is supposed to do. It is something untaught in a book like Perrine’s Sound and Sense, a mere handbook of literary devices. The effect of poetry ought to be like that of intoxication either by liquor or very abstruse ideas. It should transport the reader to heaven and back again, or to the world of Platonic Ideals. Sometimes a dream does more than fulfill a wish: it unveils the reality beyond this shadowy illusion. A dream can be a poem, and a poem can be a dream.
My dog just jumped out of bed and trotted down the hallway to see what I’m up to. In a few minutes I have to take my medication to banish “false beliefs” and perceptions that aren’t true. Occasionally I think this judgment is an arbitrary call. Still, I take the pills dutifully every night to be responsible for my behavior. And it’s worth it to be able to play my music without the assault of religious delusions on the dark side.
When I was a junior in high school, I fell into quite a depression without knowing the clinical terminology for the condition. Now it seems to me that depression is a doorway to more severe mental illness, as well as to substance abuse. These things are colloquially known as “demons.” And after all, maybe certain kinds of music really are unhealthy for the soul. How can we guard against darkness and look instead for the sunshine?
Two o’clock. Some music simply strikes me as intrinsically beautiful. Right now I remember the sound of “It’s My Life” by Talk Talk, with the words, “Funny how I plowed myself an avenue…” Around the same time, I was reading an arabesque by Lovecraft full of fantastic images, such as being aboard ship on a transparent sea and peering down at the life on the ocean floor. And again, these things are not taught in a manual like Sound and Sense.
The same old Pink Floyd song keeps coming up: “Wish You Were Here.” I don’t know why. Pastor returned my phone call yesterday evening with some information about AA groups that meet at our church. And then I’ll probably go back to church service this Sunday just to be around healthy influences. The phone visit with Heidi was very nice, and it will be a regular thing on Tuesdays from now on… I didn’t sleep well. There’s this bit of unfinished business I have to take care of. Also I have to make a decision on the band: to stay or to go. Polly said that their habits were not going to change, and I agreed with her.
Six o’clock. At the first light of day I’m going to the store. I need help with the photocopier, I think. Aesop is begging me for a treat. The sun will come up in a half hour, but it’s cloudy outside.
Quarter after nine. I’ve put my letter in the mailbox for the carrier to pick up. I was having paranoid dreams about getting it done. Finally I think I can relax again. It’s very foggy out this morning, and it’s supposed to clear up this afternoon and be another beautiful day. I believe I understand better what Impressionism was partly about. It’s a kind of missing link between Romanticism and the decline of the Absolute in the 20th Century. Probably many of us would like to return to the 19th Century for its beauty and optimism about spiritual things. And I suppose no one denies us the right to embrace the beautiful and true, however much technology conquers nature. My copy of Mallarme traveled all the way here from France, taking a month for delivery. The language of another country far away was brought to my door, something like a brush with the sublime, and rekindling some old knowledge that had lain dormant a long time in my brain. And some new ideas clicked for me that I hadn’t known before. Do you believe in eternity? Is there a fourth dimension behind the veil of the natural world? Maybe it’s an issue of wanting to believe it, because all the speculation in the world cannot unveil the truth. Maybe again I’d have nothing to write about without this problem of knowledge… Aesop has been fed his breakfast and the house is nice and warm. When the fog and the clouds lift, it should be a warm and sunny afternoon like yesterday.
One thirty. I took advantage of the powerful sunshine to make another run for soft drinks. Bought a Snapple and a SoBe strawberry daiquiri. But even with the ideal weather, I saw almost nobody outside. Only one other pedestrian passed me on Maxwell Road. Hank cashiered at the store, shooting the bull with his buddies who frequently visit him on the job. I was hoping to see Deb this afternoon, but no luck. I hovered in front of the cooler for sodas and light beverages a few minutes, trying to make up my mind. One drink seemed as good as another; it didn’t really matter. Then I realized that I could just as well have stayed home. I came to the market merely to prove that I could. I wondered what I was doing there. Certainly not to see Hank. I guess I’d bargained for a better adventure than the one I got. As it happened, there was nothing to see except the glorious sun in the blue sky.
Back on my own street, I paused to look up at the azure: the same heaven that Mallarme gazed on a century and a half ago, when the Absolute was still taken seriously by mainstream thinkers who employed poetic language to expose it and adore it. So maybe this was the reason I went outside.
A quiet Saturday so far. I just drained a quart of Snapple tea in ten minutes and fed the dog. I’m trying to lay my worries aside for the weekend. My thoughts are with Heidi, whose health is not good right now. Sleeping Beauty waltzes in my head, as if the subconscious couldn’t be bothered with the commonplace. The soundtrack plays on undisturbed. And maybe that is the sublime place sought after by Keats and Mallarme: a place in the human mind after all. A paradise that eludes the efforts of language, except for the mysterious one of music. I wonder if French, of all tongues, comes the closest to being music? Somewhere in my brain is a bucket for the French language. In college I wrote innumerable compositions in French, but I lost touch with that facility after my heart was broken. When I get brave I’ll venture to that place again and recover stolen treasures… The birds in the backyard seem happy to me. The cloudy sky gives an impression of lemon.
Ten o’clock. Again I think of my old friend Todd from the local music scene. Sometimes I could use his advice on technical matters regarding bass guitar. It’s a bummer how the music venues are all closed for now. And for once it would be great to have a clear and sunny day. Only in a perfect world, but maybe not too far away.
One forty. Campbell or Carnap: which way do I go in my reading? Either way, I couldn’t stay in that mode forever. I had a friend who was so literal that she couldn’t understand figurative language, especially metaphor. I indulged her for six years and finally I rebelled against her anti poetry and embraced transcendence. Liberating myself this way, I could contemplate sobriety and imponderable things like God. Now I don’t know how much sobriety hinges on the supernatural, but I think it helped me get started. Probably in May 2018 I was very optimistic for the poet’s union with the sublime, deeming that Mallarme was the best path to revelation. Was I merely deluded? I don’t feel the same today that I did three years ago. The medication eliminates metaphysics as easily as cognitive therapy or logical analysis. More so: you only have to swallow a pill to make faerie go away. It’s similar to the red pill in The Matrix. This raises the question, Do we choose the reality we want to live in? Red pill or the blue?
However, this gives people the wrong idea about schizophrenia…
It’s raining a constant patter this morning. I was just out in it to go buy Aesop’s food and something for me. Rain is the stimulus to reflection and odd thoughts and abstractions. Philosophy was born in a rainstorm. I remember traveling from class to class up on campus with an umbrella. You couldn’t survive without one here. The university was a big and diverse place where I felt at home— until the illness showed up and some of the professors derided me. I should write a letter to the president of the university about my bad experience with the English department eleven years ago. They’re always asking alumni for money, but I feel disinclined to give them anything after what I went through. I would feel empowered if I did this… My Snapple tea is already gone and Aesop ate an hour ago. The rain has slackened. Yesterday I ended up buying that book of Mallarme. I’m not quite clear on what his poetry is about, but I think it’s an endeavor at transcendence of the mundane through using symbols. In this way he is a neo Platonist similar to Dickinson. Also like Keats in “Ode to a Nightingale.”
Ten twenty. There’s a lot of ambiguity in my mind today that may never be reduced. During the wee hours I thought of Henry James and his use of subtexts in everyday speech. We often don’t know what we’re communicating to each other unconsciously. What is not said can be louder than what is manifestly spoken, if you subscribe to his vision of reality. But I believe that certain truths of psychology are permanent, or maybe I was brainwashed in college. It’s been a long time since I read any Henry James. No one else seems to be interested in Modern fiction anymore. All things being equal, I might as well brush up on my Modern literature.
Quarter of nine.
Outside it’s gray and gloomy. Aesop needs canned food, so at nine o’clock I’ll go get some. I had a few awful nightmares, paranoid and alcoholic, and Mom was in them. I have to shake the dreams somehow.
Nine thirty five. I thought of freedom on my way to the store, and this lifted my mood. A sanitation truck was parked in front of the blue house on Fremont. Later I saw it outside of the espresso shack. The market was not very busy. I found slim pickings for dog food, so it’s probably time for another run to Grocery Outlet. Vicki’s headache still persists, going on two years. Maybe she doesn’t ask the right questions of her doctor… The songs in my head are a jumble I won’t describe. I’m of half a mind to finish reading The Prelude— finally. I don’t know if I agree with Wordsworth that reality is what we create by the activity of our minds. Naive realists say that this is just backwards; perception is passive, not active. But if Wordsworth is right, then are we able to build Jerusalem on our green and pleasant land? How strong are the imagination and the words we use?
Ten forty. I feel somewhat under the weather. I feel an impulse to transcend the mundane and touch heaven. This would be thinking with my heart, not my head. So that the garbage truck that just went by is really a blue and gray behemoth…
At the crack of dawn I will probably go to the store for a soda and things to eat. And yet the ritual has gone so smooth. The groove has become a rut. What could break the monotony? Just about anything. I could go to Grocery Outlet and buy some banana peppers and some artichoke hearts. But this is for people whose taste buds are all in their mouth. My mother used to say that. I see the first light of day out my front window. The only hope now resides with instrumental music, music with no words. The sounds of music are feeling. Feeling describes; it cannot prescribe. It can’t moralize— and really, it is the moral that we need to get rid of, with everything we face today. The only poetry we need, a most blasphemous thing, is that of Edgar Allan Poe. To recite “The Bells” again over our gravesite is to be sublime. Poe made poetry for the music of it, for the sound, not the sense. His verse slips under the net of language and meaning. Music is the one art form to which the other art forms aspire to be. Walter Pater said this. Poe anticipated the Aesthetic Movement by a few decades, inspiring especially the French… People need something to make them feel good. To my mind, the greatest help to us right now is instrumental music. And the best that words can do is to strive to be music.
Two o’clock. I just started reading A Cold Spring. So far, much better than North & South. Bishop’s use of details is really great. I like her idea that the world is her teacher, her source of knowledge. And she substantiates this with her love of travel. Her sketches are so realistic, with surprises here and there. Lots of colors. She interprets landscapes and scenes on their own merits, gives them their own expression, as little biased as possible. In A Cold Spring, she advances from being simply personal to being a chronicler, transmuting these places with her poetic voice into a revelation. It’s like the art of Van Gogh in this sense, except more realistic and not so impressionist. And the difference between a poem and a photograph is exactly this kind of Platonic revelation that a poet can give. A poem reaches in and pulls out the sublime essence of an image. Emily Dickinson was a genius at doing this.
I miss the soda I didn’t buy this morning. I might make a run for my cranberry ginger ale even now. It doesn’t feel too warm this afternoon, so why not?