Essay

Medium, Never Well [a Short Story]

I have always found Sancerrity better than sincerity.

Sitting on the banquet in the corner diagonally across from the entrance under the mirror at right angle to his face and the poster of La Bete Humaine, starring Jean Gabin, he sips a glass of Sancerre, a bottle he has ordered, on the table, not on ice, coming up. He loves southern Loire whites, particularly Sancerre, either with shell fish or as an aperitif, as today. He loves this bistro on Saint Mark’s. He is waiting for her to arrive. She is coming from work. It is Friday. He is off on Fridays. The Sancerre is very good, not too cold, just right he thinks,having come up, not plunged immediately into ice water, something he remembers about white wines, too cold and they close, like roses and cunts, he recalls recently having read in a poem by Jay Ruvolo. He has come to this bistro for some time now; how long actually he will not recollect. He sits and sips leisurely every Friday, being off on a day most people are woking. He remembers his father having said something of this when he was a boy, recalling that his dad too liked being off on days when most people were working.

He also remembers a time back at university sitting in the grass under a tree across from the Humanities building on the quad, sitting in the shade of the tree near the Science building near noon, reading a copy of Antigone for a Classics course he was taking, actually himself having had three copies of Antigone; one translated by Sir George Young in an edition of collected Sophocles published in London in 1906; another translated by Elizabeth Wyckoff as it appears in Sophocles I in The Complete Greek Tragedies, Edited by David Greene and Richard Lattimore; and a third by David Greene in the Second Edition of the fore mentioned Sophocles I. Subsequent to this time, he has acquired a translation by E. F. Watling and another by Robert Fagles.

He does not know why he sees what he does in mind not necessarily having started the process of recollection, recalling this though he imagines must be in part creation, something made-up by filling the gaps that invariably appear in memory. Remembering is  mostly or diminutively partly a mater of fiction, although not void of truth, and I do not mean to suggest verisimilitude, but a psychological veracity–psychic?–something here akin to fictional truth, this latter idea, if I may repeat, having nothing directly to do with the function of verisimilitude, but more directly about how fiction carries truth and is in this way not merely of aesthetic consideration, but of epistemological consideration; thus a valid means of discerning knowledge or what is knowable, the limits thereof. Literature is a also a means of conveying knowledge, and thus in turn ethical knowledge may also be conveyed–literature is not just for or about entertainment.

With all the fore, and as he has said, and as he has written meant defended understood, the political and the literary have for always been mutual antagonists in any society . . . he would continue, as he has, since the advent of writing. Of course, it is mostly since writing that this conflict has arisen–has persisted? Of course, he would say that it is with the advent of writing, particularly alphabetic writing, that we see an extraordinary shift in the framework of mind and how it apprehends the world, how it orders that world, how it projects visions onto that world.

The political is a framework for any kind of power to manifest itself in antagonism to the people or to any of the people when expressing themselves through the literary. We should understand, he says, that the frameworks for power are older than writing. He writes in his blog that with literacy came the push for democracy and thus the antagonism that writing, that literature and literacy have had with all forms of power and elitism. The rise of democracy in Greece parallels the rise in writing, and the shift from orality to literacy, he used go on about at my kitchen table back when we were undergraduates together . . . the irony, here, though, he said, is that achievement in the literary must be maintained along a vertical axis of hierarchically arranged levels . . . this level and that level–we are always imagining levels–and this is the residue from thinking about the world hierarchically, except, how else are we to think of it? Only when we maintain hierarchically arranged levels of quality and achievement can the literary democratically challenge old and traditional power, which always aligns itself with elites or coalesces within elite groups, and that’s elites that are monied or invested with authority or power in greater than necessary amounts or dimensions. He used to say so much, spout so much, pontificate as he loved doing, writing as he was always doing, writing, writing, writing again, one time I recall having showed up at his house to get him out, having holed up in his apartment, writing a novel I think he said last week he still has a copy of in manuscript. We must also understand the dimensions and the manifestations and the operations of influence . . . political influence another form of influenza. Influence, power and authority are separate yet contingent and oftentimes mutual and even reciprocal operations in a society toward the mutual effect of control. [“Do you need a setting, actors on the stage of the story operating as full-bodied characters for you to understand the fiction happening here? However, even if it is a fiction, and if you can accept this as a fiction, do you understand the truth that it bears, and what relationship it has to the larger ‘T’ Truth that exists in spite of what so many antagonists to the idea of a transcendent Truth say,” my author says.]

It is not enough to be able to spell your names correctly, or correctly fill in the gaps on official forms from our bureaucracy, he would say, as I agree with him. The way we manage the literary–the way we manage teaching writing, learning it, performing it–we are hopeless in our efforts against power, unable to defend our liberty, fast becoming a Public so largely semi-literate that the inability might just displace the role of The People from our performance of democracy on the stage of Freedom. We do, if you examine what he says carefully–yes, we do have to distinguish between what we call literacy and what has been named alphabetics–the two do not meet anywhere in operations or functions, personally, socially, politically. If we allow the baser alphabetism to supplant ant of our traditional notions of literacy, any defense of democracy by The People will be lost to us . . . you cannot say that this idea is one you cannot abide or understand or integrate even in many of your contemporary notions of freedom and democracy.

He pours another half glass of Sancerre . . .  the political and the literary are equally exclusive theories of knowledge competing for acceptance, he has said. That is, at least metaphysically they are exclusive. But in our lives this competition is real enough, true enough, actually felt as a force in the freedom of every individual in our society; how it affects what we think, how we think, why we think what we think when we do. He establishes as self-evident, the existence of metaphysical energies, although I have not found where he embarks on a definition of metaphysics or how metaphysics is a force or an amalgamation of energies found in the unseen paradigmatic shape of thoughts, ideas, theories, institutions, strategies, hypotheses, laws, norms, behaviors . . . the political, the literary, the rhetorical, et cetera; that isin any of his writing that I have read, or from any of our conversations as of late.

Metaphysical energies parallel those in the physical world, they often correspond to those physically manifest along parallel lines, if you will. The metaphysical is likewise tangible with the psychical—tangibility is not tactility, so do not confuse the two. Metaphysics has an effect on the forces of the physical universe . . . again, for every force, let’s say, of the physical universe, there is an equally powerful metaphysical force. The metaphysical is not just an articulation of the real, or the actual, but is reality itself. Reality is never complete without all of its metaphysical components; the senses alone are poor judges of the real or the actual. I need not point to the fact that we walk on flat ground, topography not withstanding, yet we know the surface of the earth is curved; we note the rising and the setting of the sun in the sky, yet we know that the sun neither rises nor sets; we order and arrange time into past present and future, yet we know that all time is one and that past present and future are illusions we persist in maintaining out of vanity and hope. Clocks and calendars are time in experientia for most of us, yet how we experience time in the mind is other than how it passes on a clock, and how it passes on the clock is no less a fiction than the play you just saw on stage—there is though a fictional truth to time, and there are advantages to suspending our disbelief in the reality of clock time. I cannot experience the oneness of time as Einstein had expressed . . . or can I?  Whether I can or cannot, time, space and the indissoluble unity of the two not withstanding, I return to the driving force of my current argument, the metaphysics of politics will for always stay in opposition to the metaphysical character of literature, and that’s in any theater of being, anywhere, any when. The usual and the unusual; how may we appraise our actions? How is it that we can expect anyone to be his own council, be his own judge, be his own jury?

How do you not see this, about the metaphysics of politics versus the metaphysics of the literary? What keeps you from assenting to his opinions here . . . not knowing me, not knowing who I am or where I am from, or whether or not I am a man or a woman or another–certainly in our current verisimilitude we can accept an other to that which we call man and woman, no? Do you need to know other things about him, like where he eats lunch usually, or with whom, or what he eats regularly for lunch. Do you need to know if I have brown eyes or blue eyes or green eyes or gray; or if I am tall or short or medium or something else–what else is there? Do you need to know these things about him–it is him, so there. What could I be–do you need to know my name, his name? What’s in a name that could help you? As I have said elsewhere, a load of shit in the toilet bowl by the name lavender still stinks badly–most of the time out of my asshole, anyway. I am sure you have your own confusions about this, with the shit out of your asshole for certain smelling like roses or hyacinth or some other floral smell we smell when in bloom in the spring.

For some of us, he would ask, who among us do aspire to higher literary expression? Do we strive to outdo what we seem incapable of fostering in our state-sponsored education systems? Is that what happens when any of us set ourselves the task of reading and not skimming the page which is flat and filled with letters in words in lines?  Linearity here being the deception, the deceiving act we perform with the page, on the page . . . ; or is it that for the few of us who do respect the literary enough to love her too much, it should be no surprise that writers and governments have always had a tenuous relationship at best, certainly precarious and mortal in the worst of times–so then, here is this we I say or use for the purpose of reaching some universality in my arguments, but is that what happens when I say we when I could say I? He asks as I have. Writers for all time become enemies of the state where they are not tolerated as antagonists in a political theater that serves the performance of the State as it presumably does here in America and abroad in Western or western style democracies. What is it about democracies that we think we understand just by hearing the word ‘democracy?’

The illusion of freedom is the best we can offer ourselves and our countrymen in America. This is true for us no less than those people in the Matrix who were served by their illusions. I do not ascent to having used hyperbole here. I am an enemy of the State, he has said countless times,  that is the mortal enemy of the People always. It does not matter the State. The Nazis State, The Soviet State, the Mainland Chinese State, the American State, the French, the British, the Turkish, the Lebanese, the Israeli, the Indian, the Guatemalan, the whatever state it is for you somewhere somewhen somehow.

You have to know that it is a matter of historically verifiable fact that writers have often found themselves hanging by a precipice, if not by a rope, whenever they have been too closely scrutinized by political leaders, or those agents of government who maintain loyalty to their state in counterbalance to any fidelity to art, or to the people. Book burning and banning is not something reserved for Nazis alone. Censorship does not need a Politburo or Comitern to succeed. We can burn literacy without actual flames; denying books that require greater literacy is equal to burning books. How is the manner in which we educate in our State sponsored education not like the burning of the library at Alexandria; how is the recent assault on the Canon not equal to that, he would have said, might have said in other words I am unaware of at present. I read Villon with this in mind a long time ago as an undergraduate, about how writers have always found themselves pitted against power, or hanging by a precipice . . . of course, have you ever read Villon I remembered a French professor asking me one day in the elevator going down to the cafeteria, I recall him having said to me.

Bureaucrats everywhere are usually those whose only link with intelligence is a base and state serving pragmatism, a kind of cleverness found in abundance in both businessmen and criminals. Their aesthetic is the sense of beauty one has for mass production, bureaucrats like clean neatly written applications and forms—yet, there is something to the intelligence of someone who when filling out an application cannot stay within the lines. But why has this become the limit of state sponsored literacy is beyond my comprehension, except as a program for control, a way for moneyed and power elites to better control the people, creating out of them, Pavlovian conditioned salivating dogs, the bell is rung … ask not for whom this bell rings because it rings for every one of us, dogs to be fed. An antagonism to higher literacy must be maintained by all those committed to enhancing the power of the power elite or the profits of the monied elite, the great influential capitalist class that has wound its way around us like a great boa constrictor. How is it that anyone sees otherwise he wonders. He has said more than once that he is thinking of buying a rifle with his stimulus money. You know that the horrors of our existence is that the Jacobin were right, he has said. The guillotine was one of the great democratizers in history, he believes, has said before, here and there, with this one or that one, friends or acquaintances.

He wants to re-read Antigone, has set himself the task of reading all the translation copies he has of the play, wanting to do this as he currently finds himself in the text of George Steiner’s Antigones, or, How the Antigone Legend has Endured in Western Literature, Art and Thought, a book he bought used maybe now more than two decades ago, and only now first picking it up to read. Her has far too many books on his shelves, and sometimes finds himself momentarily paralyzed by the choices. He has poured another glass of the wine; it is only his second; he never fills a wine glass full. Only barbarians, he had learned, ever fill wine glasses full. He might not be completely past a third of the bottle–that poses no problem, really. he intends on having he venison filet mignon, and intends on having the Margaux with the venison.

She arrives. He stands. he always stands when she enters a room or comes to his table where he might have been sitting. He blames his parents who were very peculiar, very progressive and very old-fashioned, in and out of different times, occupying more than one time simultaneously he used to say, thinking that he was saying something incisive about how his parents acted, responded, lived; what they said, expressed, explained; how and what they taught him to do, to say, to think, believe. Nothing more to be done here in the matter and the manner of the narrative. I do repeat myself often and have mentioned this notion of manner and matter with respect to other ideas, other feelings or passions and circumstances or situations. He has decided that he will have the venison filet mignon; she is going to have the magret du canard. They usually like white burgundy with duck, a Puligny Montrachet or a Meursault with duck. However, with the venison, he should have a Haut Margaux, which would also not be bad with her duck breast, medium, never well.

 

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