Montauk Beach, C’est Moi

Photo by JVR

Photo by JVR

What can I say about any time I spent in Montauk, Land’s End, on the beach, on the sands, in the surf, viewing the sky, entering the waves, watching the waves, closing my eyes and listening to the waves, hearing the muted rhythmic pounding of them against the shore as if envelopped in cotton when I awaken in the middle of the night, quiet, still, the door partly opened; feeling the salt spray, I am recalling, in the wind off the ocean, my own voice swallowed before it gets to my ears. More? There is of course more. I could say more, tell you so much more than I have. I have before said something about the horizon here at Land’s End, the one-hundred and eighty degrees of horizon–more I could say–yes, there are angles greater than 180 degrees; a line is in effect an angle. The horizon of the ocean meeting the sky, a tilting line, one that wobbles with the rotation of the earth, as perhaps we do. I have tried to imagine being on the world or in the world the way a pendulum exists in the world, its in perpetuity a condition of being without the effects of gravity. But what is grave is not only a matter of gravity, not only a matter of the grave itself when the latter term is used in reference to our final fall, the tomb, as I have said, is our last tumble–no, grave matters are matters with the weight of gravity, a particular seriousness that cannot help but have great weight, density for sure if not with a corresponding great size.  The grave is a fall; of course it is a fall; I recall the lowering coffin of my Great Aunt Anna into her grave in Pittsfield. Is this fall of ours, of hers, of mine to come–is any fall heroic and therefore tragic, or is it merely as it is–or as I have assumed it is–for all of us, absurd. A new meaning for reductio ad absurdum?

But the east end beaches, the beaches of the South Fork, the extreme eastern end of Long Island–beautiful beaches, gorgeous–there is, as I had begun to say at this entry’s inception, no word, no single word that could possibly capture what I feel, what I experience when out at Land’s End. Word, no; words, perhaps, yes, this explication of an explanation of why I like it in Montauk. I have mostly avoided such expression before. There is more in revealing than in telling; show them, I remember, was a mantra taken from–where was it taken from? Nothing but the word in itself–no thing, no place, no feeling, expression, idea is ever the word in itself. I have begun to question the Imagists, but then I recognize what it was they were trying to do, and therefore, what they meant by saying what they repeated one and all, Nothing but the word in itself.

What I need to say, want to say, will say often–the three of them never meet one with the other and the other, round robin speaking, as we say when we write, ah! to write or not to write, this would have to be every writers question. What does the writer say? What does the writer tell you? There–to say or to tell; transitive and intransitive expression, actions that need an object and actions that do not. Be is not an action; be never takes an object. Be, though, is not intransitive. I read; I read poetry–some verbs are either intransitive or transitive, depending on their context, that is, syntax.

I do not like Montauk or love it or adore it–I am Montauk when I am there; yes, I am Montauk; Montuak is me–I. There is a misconception about this idea that we should say, It is I instead of It is me. The French do say C’est moi, which is not, C’est je. No one ever says, c’est je; they say, c’est moiC’est moi is It is me, It’s me, what we say when someone asks, Who is it? Moi is the substantive pronoun,as is me, the latter also an object pronoun, both the indirect and the direct. Montauk is me; it is I, if you prefer, but I do not.  This is all that I can say–should say, if we do have should for things like this . . . I to be Montuak or Montauk to be me; each one is valid, mutual and reciprocal. There is more in the spheres of human being than can be contained by the narrowness of our received ideas. The fires and the motions of my being; I am as I have been for many years, subsumed by an overriding, overarching Romantism . . . the holiness of the heart, the eternal that is the imagination, the imaginative . . . I do recall Flaubert’s outburst at the trial of Madame Bovary–yes, the great French author, novelist, said, Madame Bovary . . . c’est moi.

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Individual Divided

Individuality, it seems, has not been respected for too long.  It is more than just a few decades, no? The increase in disrespect for individuality, even coming from those who think they are expressing their individuality most pronouncedly, is part of the problem our freedom faces.

An erosion of liberty is a problem for any society wishing to uphold anything like the Four Freedoms of the First Amendment–and liberty is eroding.  The Patriot Act was/is  a heinous call to fear, a succumbing on the people’s part to the basest instincts of their homo-sapiens‘ nature.  Not much in the way of our humanity remains.

Nature is not civilization; civilization is not Nature. I have not put them in diametric opposition, nor have I categorized them as mutually exclusive or as mutually annihilating forces such as matter and anti-matter. However, they are not to be mutually handled or mixed without care and intelligence, the kind we seem incapable of at present.

Re-reading Liberty [Flash Fiction]

Who is like unto God, the Arch-angel Michael asks as he cuts Satan in half, or so I was told the story of what his name is supposed to mean. I do not even care if it is true or not in the sense that it is part of the lore or not, and not of the lore is true or not;the latter is as irrelevant as the former.

What could I say that he could not say? Why would I assume to speak for him here in these pages, even if these pages were mine? Would it mater if what I put down on paper were verbatim? Is there an actuality of memory that displaces all the potentialities that rule or govern remembering? If I say he said thus. is it not what should be accepted? If I say that what I am about to say is what he said,God’s honest truth, the words themselves, I could say in addition. Would those added words subtract from their veracity? What then is veracity in this pedantic sense of trueness when what we are after is the Truth?

He said what he had said about civil liberty, having himself been a devoted student of liberty, as he used to like saying, reminding many that

Education, Madison once believed, was a corner stone of Civil Liberty.

Of course, he would remind us, himself being a teacher, having been one for many years by the time I et him.

Who among our High School teachers, let alone our current graduates in New York City can ever re-read Madison with any accurate understanding?

I think I can recollect him having said, ifI am not filling in as I suspect I and many, many others do—everyone, if you want what I really think.

I’ve met far too many college educated adults for whom re-reading is essential for even an appropriate first read; and I’m one who asserts that all good reading is re-reading, but then, that’s with a more attentive and less perfunctory first reading, one that today, among our literate, amounts to superficially skimming the page as if words were crumbs on the dinner cloth.

What more is there for me to say that he has not already said? What else would you want me to add, or for him to say? Is this or is this not enough for you to take away something of what he or what I would want you to take—and please do not ask me what that is because I do not want to impose on you. No prefaces or afterwords from me explaining what it is you should think, take away, imagine, conclude, interpret. Just the text; re-read the text and decide for yourself from what is in the text,. nothing outside the text, unless you cannot get away from the idea that what I am saying herein is outside the text, then you would have to . . . but let me say that all you need is here and that nothing outside of me is necessary for you to get what you need or want to get.

You Could not Take Your Eyes off of It

Horror and the Baroque
[a short story]

I couldn’t take my eyes off it at the Met, he said his friend had said. He did, he said this, my friend said this, he said. How long ago now I should be able to say, he said his friend had said, but did not say where he said it or when he did. Caravaggio’s dead Christ, he said his fiend had said, an enormous greater than life-sized Christ in his Deposizione, he said his friend had continued. The visiting Vatican Collection was in New York, at the Met, only representative pieces, the whole of it in the Vatican, impossible to let loose. 

Yes, it was tremendous, both in size and impact, he said his friend had said. The painting was of course huge. It was taller than I was, he said. It was wide enough to hide two of me or more, he said. He said he had seen it too. Have you ever seen it even in reproduction—I cannot imagine continuing to talk to anyone who had no idea what the hell I was talking about when it came to what interests me, what I know, what I like love have passion for, interests too remote for anyone I knew before . . . it does not matter to this telling when; it could not be significant for anyone reading this just what time I am talking about. Everyone who does not stagnate in living has a number of times in one’s life where the point of no return has been reached, where there is no going back, the prodigal cannot come home, not really, not if his prodigality has amounted to anything . . . I think, sometimes believe with a conviction that substitutes for knowledge.

Christ was so tremendous, as I have said herein that he said his friend had said, walking into that gallery at the Met, how big it was, is, the dimensions of him on that canvas . . . Larger than life-sized, his friend had said. And strangely vibrant although dead, I recall he said his friend had added after a sufficient pause for greater effect, or so we might assume.The vitality of Christ represented dead on that Canvas—there was no mistaking that He was dead, but also no mistake in seeing feeling knowing His vitality still.

The naturalism of the figures was astounding, and nothing like it had ever been achieved in painting before him, Caravaggio, I said. In statuary, perhaps–but then statues were three-d, I remember having added one time in a conversation with whom I forget.

The spiritualism–what could this mean to the age of the Baroque, not ours, where the term means nothing and too many things, no handle on our words, our use of language a lot like throwing dice? The mood–what could mood mean other than mode, from which it comes? There are declarative moods and moods of doubt we call subjunctive; but then these are linguistic references, overly determined. Chiaroscuro painting meant what–light and dark, opposing forces, oppositional placement? Contrapuntal arrangement, as in Vivaldi and Bach? They were later, both composers. Does chiaroscuro have anything to do with point counterpoint composition in music?

The dead Christ, as I have said he said his friend had said, was enormous; the light, the use of shadows, a dark circumambient perimeter, black, all fades to black as in German Expressionist cinema, he recalled his friend having said one time or another, in these or words similar to these, as he would have repeated himself may times about this. As in Gothic horror novels, I recall him having said he is friend had said–yes, he said his friend had said that there was a lot of blacking out in Gothic horror from the 18th century.

Caravaggio uses black in his paintings in a way reminiscent of the dark, or the areas of black, used by De La Tour in his “Penitent Magdalenes”–there are more than one–and later by Fritz Lang, particularly in his film M, I say, have said I cannot tell you how many times about Lang and Toland . . .

Is there something Gothic about the crucifixion? I have asked. Of course there can be, I imagine I remember thinking I have said.

Something Gothic (as we understand the word from the fiction of the late 18th century, the style, the form, the genre-determined delineations that we find in works such as The Castle of Otranto, Vathek, Manfred, The Cenci, Frankenstein, even large swaths of Wuthering Heights) is present in German Expressionist films of the silent 20s, recurring in American films of the 30s, particularly horror films such as The Mummy or Dracula, itself from the Late Victorian Gothic revival which was a manipulation of the aesthetics of the High Middle Ages, in architecture, particularly. This, of course, was in another and earlier animation, present in the cult of sensibility of the 18th century, a kind of medievalism present in what was later called Gothic fiction. Of course, this medievalism was a contrived sense of what it might be to be medieval or use medieval motifs, a number of them remaining and persisting throughout what we call Romanticism. Do you need to know that this is me thinking in exposition others might find unnecessary or intrusive, as divergent from any narrative thread you could find, if you used a microscope.

But Dracula finds itself firmly in fin-de-siecle Victorian English/Irish literature as it also does in a continuum of Gothic fiction, perhaps even as a precursor to all horror stories as we understand the genre of horror today, or over the last century? Moreover, the overlap we see among these artistic currents? movements? negotiated agreements among artists of particular times and places, worldview and spirits of the time, whatever have we in words to express that Gothic Horror of the 18th century and the Baroque in painting and German Expressionist films all share certain features that are alike, motifs, metaphors, signs and symbols  . . . I say with conviction.

I insist on we when I want you to consider opinions I conceive in a posed omniscience; of course, I do not want you to side step my intellectual manias; I want you and I together in the more comfortable, and perhaps the more usefully rhetorically editorial we–yes, you and I see these overlaps among the movements (?) I have herein listed.

We understand they have points of contact, even if you have never before considered them or even imagined them, I say and say as I do myself from myself actually to myself in one or another journals entries like these everywhere, collect my journals and find my aesthetic philosophy, you could say, as my friend has said, but has not said that his friend, not mine, had said.

Caravaggio and me . . .

Across the Wilderness [Flash Fiction]

What else is there to say about the wilderness, the desert, the emptiness we face every day in a culture void of Truth, committed to re-enforcing the ideas that there is no Truth, that there are no little truths, that there is no transcendence, nor absolution, nor objectivity. We are no longer beings of spirit, but first and last beings of material, beings of use, each a means to an end, each alone and fragmented, each only capable of any power en masse. Each of us is no longer macrocosm in our guiding metaphysics. We are merely numerical. Our ethics or morality or sociology and our politics are all branches of Arithmetic and Book-Keeping.

History, Truth and the New American Way

What do we mean by the  history of history? Is it closer to the history of historiography? The history of history writing is an important history to be told, yet the focus on historiography has often been asserted, in recent decades anyway, to imply (for no inference is clear) that history is only the writing of it (the telling) and that there is no possible objective truth of history, and there remains a perpetual ambiguity about the past, one that leaves opened for all examiners of the past to chant the more comforting mantra, anyone can say anything? I do understand the idea that all ideas competing for acceptance must have no censor, but is this what we have when everyone everywhere must say something about anything that arises as a trend? It is not only the fact that everyone must form some sound bite bit, in a new social grotesque, for our ears to chew, yes; but that we must entertain whatever inanities exit the mouths of many who do have nothing to say, if we were to be honest about the quality of people’s thoughts and not be bound by a new and psychopathic sense of politeness that forces us to consider things said by others far longer than is necessary.

I remember when some people everywhere would say, Who’s to say? Yes, who’s to say? was frequently said, most often by many who should not have been saying anything. We do love rhetorical questions in this culture, and this who’s to say? was set in opposition to just about anything said that required inquiry, examination, research, thought, the tranquility of sober reflection, any of these independently, or all of them collectively, too much for any of us to think about. We did not want to devote our time to such matters or manners. The rhetoric was positioned to reinforce the notion that the fore mentioned devotion was unnecessary. Of course it was unnecessary, our culture had been burdened, many in the academy had begun to assert, by a sinister conspiracy of white males, by white males and for white males, and only this. We had better, yes, more important things to do. Our time was precious, especially when devoted to spinning our wheels.

Who’s to say? was a question posed by those who did not know and had no determination to find out, and so pretended that no one could say anything about what they had no patience to learn. The horror of our existence–one of them, anyway–was that this crept into not just the public schools in matter of teachers teaching–necessitating that the teachers become more bureaucratically correct rather than educated at the university level, actually learning a discipline and knowing something was no longer required. Having a master’s degree in English Literature and Language became less than having a master’s in teaching English language skills from an Education Department. We had to lower standards  in the matters of teacher achievement to include more people who could become teachers. They did not have to know as much in the matters of knowledge, actually qualitatively expressed, and instead only needed to  jump over a few more low standing hurdles in a counting exercise for bureaucrats. Anyone who wanted to be a teacher could have these bureaucratically conceived requirements totaled on a check-list. As the check-list was filled with checks, the final analysis left a person a teacher. A license was offered and the person made bureaucratically correct, verified by addition. This of course was closer to what the Wizard does for the Scarecrow at the end of The Wizard of Oz (itself an anti-intellectual critique). We needed a pedagogy that could align itself with the just add water, just add milk lives we were living. Instant something became instant anything in turn becoming the need for instant everything. Bureaucracy managing everything including our epistemology–the horror.

There were significant and detrimental side effects of our culture persisting in this need for instant gratification, a necessity to undermine values of achievement while insisting on revising standards to include more people in matters considered intellectual and academic, believing all the time that we were spreading democracy more broadly by deflating previously established and unnecessarily elitist standards of intellectual achievement and academic investigation–another form of America’s love affair with anti-intellectualism. The idea that there are no experts spread as people clamored for the attention once denied to them because they in fact did have nothing to say on so much of what they now had an opinion about; and the reason there were no experts was because expertise was lie (itself the greatest lie in our contemporary epistemology), therefore mostly unnecessary to pursue. We could reduce standards of achievement to make lesser minds more comfortable, and anyone was then able to say anything because opinions had only quantity, not quality, something both the Bolsheviks and the Nazis taught the world.

Repeat any lie enough times and it gains validity, momentum, yes, believability, of course. Something can be valid and not believed. Our media manages to get most people on board with programmatic behavior and thinking in a way the Nazis would have loved to have achieved; that is, the way the media manages both its advertising and its propaganda–and America is rife with propaganda. If anyone gets enough people repeating a lie, it will gain believability faster than if you alone continued to repeat the lie, which of course also gives some validity to the lie, at least from the point of view of how advertising or propaganda works successfully. Revisionism ad nauseum is what we have in the academy, lies and more lies repeated not only about facts from the past which would always need reexamination–and in fact were reexamined throughout successive stages of historiography–but the idea that there is no Truth at all, or that there are no absolute values, or even minor ‘t’ truths.

Of course, what we now have is a new brand of the will to power, and those who go along are carried by the force of the new Truth as power, or by arithmetic, the addition of dollars or of people as popularity. This is the magic additive power that makes mediocrity a success, and transforms ethics into accounting, The rich getting richer is the first and last in our social ethics, espoused by President Obama as he convinced us we had to save the rich to save ourselves. Something like this happened on the Titanic when steerage was told there were no lifeboats for them, and that they should wait patiently to drown in the icy Atlantic waters, comfortable in knowing that society’s betters were going to be saved. (Long live the British, and of course this is a prime example of white privilege at work–wait! No. It was a power elite managing the lives and deaths of white Irish in steerage. A Titanic today in the American scheme of things would drown white and black poor and save the white and black rich.)

Social media help reinforce this idea of additive truths and Truth as a matter of addition, another side effect of the bottom line of everything being the bottom line. America’s Book of Life is the ledger book.