[If I were Humpty Dumpty–what would I do if I were? And why do we assume that Humpty is always an egg?]
I feel like Humpty Dumpty sitting on his wall, my wall, do not sit on the wall, the fence, which side are you on, boy, which side are you on? No fence-sitting allowed. Sisyphus at least has his rock, I used to say. I don’t know what this means, or what it could have meant, or what I was intending to mean by having said it, at least Sisyphus had his rock, that is, as opposed to Prometheus having only his chains . . . what? I could have said something else? I could not have said anything else. Prometheus did have his rock–has his rock, no? It is perpetual, in perpetuity, the story, every retelling is new, is now.
Sisyphus is the absurd hero, no? Sisyphus is the archetypal absurd hero. I am Sisyphus, each of us could rise and say aloud with conviction, I am . . .
The absurd universe is the only cosmogonic constant allowed in our contemporary ontology. Who says ‘ontology?’ How is it that anyone can say that word anymore, ontology? Most of us who were friends in university when I attended were utterly useless to our society. I categorically refuse utility. What the fuck does it mean to say that?
Our majors were not fruitful. We–some of us–did not go to university to be fruitful. Comparative Literature, Philosophy, English Lit, Classics, et cetera, were degrees unmarketable, not directly applicable to making money. In fact, the fore mentioned were among the fruitless majors–liberal arts was an anachronism from antiquity. How could anybody with intelligence, never mind any practicality, persist for four years in any one of them. There had to be something wrong with me for having chosen Philosophy as a major. I was rejecting my friends, their values, themselves, my upbringing–how was this so? Betrayal–they felt that more than I thought of it. I had betrayed my class? My family? my ethnicity–now that’s a load of shit.
The absurd has always been in abundance everywhere, anywhere humans interact and attempt to instill or enforce conformity. Conform is just that, to be with form, the standard form, the replicable form.
Pushing his rock up the hill, how is that not everyone’s life metaphor? What then can we do? Even Sisyphus has his choice, no? Could he not let the rock roll over him backwards? Fuck the MBA bound set. There were too many I grew up with who had taken this direction, pearls to swine, an education for these fuckers, if that’s what you can call what they did in University, getting an education. The wolves we’ve heard so much about, and I don’t want to hear about rags to riches, or Horatio Alger for the 20th century, or anything else about how they were, he was, Jordan was . . . and how the Hebrews crossed the River Jordan and envied the shit out of the Canaanites. He fell the way he did not from grace but because he still knew nothing, learned nothing, had only his tongue stuck up his ass, and a brilliant knack for making a lot of money, yet if we remember from Citizen Kane, is not very difficult if the only thing you want is to make a lot of money.
Any respect for the serious study of philosophy or literature, as I had come to understand the literary, and what would become my life-long passion for reading, was looked on with derision and contempt by those whose desire to get a degree was only so they could become marketable. I thought them rather simian, the people I had grown to love, to respect, to emulate–the horror.
Accounting or Business Administration were the only degrees to pursue. American Psychos all; I hope you at least saw the movie with Christian Bale, if you did not read the novel by Ellis. If you went to graduate school, it had to be to get an MBA. The only reason you might study literature would be to become a teacher, but then the State does not require you to get a Master’s in literature to teach in the High Schools, but to get at least a degree in teaching literature, not the same thing. The number of credits in literature are seriously reduced for the latter. The students of education who were in the classes we were taking in graduate English were always among the bottom third, as most Education majors in college make up the bulk of the bottom 30 per cent of university students across the United States. To be politically incorrect, next to Physical Ed majors, the stupidest college students are always the men and women who are going to teach our children.
Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, you know the cow jumped over the moon–moo! Today, I dread to acknowledge that this being marketable is the only reason anyone goes to college; I remember one friend when I was twenty telling me that philosophy was bullshit and that you’re never going to make any money with a degree in philosophy. I spent a decade and a half trying to teach NYC undergraduates in several of CUNY’s two and four-year colleges, the sons and daughters of those like these former friends, only to find the task increasingly like the one set before Sisyphus. I had to spend most of the class time defending literacy against what many of them must have imagined was an understanding of life much deeper than mine. Just as I got that boulder to the top, it would roll back down again just as fast. Their reasoning was grease for all slippery slopes. I feared the rock would roll back over me.
I kept pushing and pushing, as everyone keeps pushing his rock up the hill, but what happens when you get to the top of the ladder? is it the right wall? Just be grateful you do not have to climb the ladder with his rock. A ladder is not an incline plane, right? He was right–and yes, all education, all learning, all philosophy, all historical consciousness, all wisdom is bulshit, bullshit, bullshit before the one overriding truth of our age, money, money, money is all that matters, and the more of it you make by expending less and less energy, that is, the more of it you get that you do not deserve, the better and sweeter the money is because even if yoou cannot buy more with large sums of money just because you have stollen it or swindled it or connived it or fucked unsuspecting people out of life savings or pensions, it still makes it better in your mind because there is no Truth and there are no truths, there is only the will to power and power today does not come from a barrel of a gun but from . . . am I really going to go on here about this?
The God’s of Ancient Greece were not, she said, the prototypal architects of the Concentration Camps or totalitarian slaughter. The university today is completely bourgeois–and I know how that sounds and I don’t even give a fuck–it is no longer in the traditions of its original design, the university. It is now a business to garner students as customers. The university is a department store no different than Macy’s or Sear’s. It’s not about freedom, nor is it about the study of the Humanities, but to increase the tuition gravy train. I had one of the highest pass rates on both student portfolios and the CUNY writing test in the English Department from among the students in remedial writing and reading courses at one community college in New York City, yet I had a problem–a run in–with the deputy chairperson because my class was, as he put it, was too teacher centered. I should have put the students in groups to divine meaning from the assigned reading without firstly being instructed on how to read a college text.
Basically, I did not support a pedagogy that insured more students would need remediation; silly me, of course. It was after all my livelihood. There are enough of us who will defer for scraps from the table; the dogs we all have become. And CUNY (which, if any examination of a QWERTY board will show, most often is mis-spelled in typo CUNT) is an organization that insures teaching in its colleges is dog eat dog; back biting the favorite pastime–too many in charge were real cunts, which had nothing to do with some of them in charge being women.
The days of living for reading have waned but not completely disappeared, yet what it means it meant has meant will mean could mean for me I have spent great energy expounding on and on and on all that et cetera stuff that gets going like Macbeth’s tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeping in its petty paces until the last sylla[ble/bell] of recorded time.
I am and I am not; to be or to become is also part of Hamlet’s question. It is not simply a question of suicide, of whether or not life is worth living or going on with? No. There are the mutually exclusive yet reciprocal matters of being and becoming: When I am, I am not becoming; while I become, I am not being. Wherefore art thou Romeo? What’s in a name? How do Montague and Capulet read? How do we read? Reading is not only looking at; it is not merely seeing the words themselves in print on a page. Shakespeare is the architect of modern consciousness and I owe as much if not more to him than I do any other source for what I think and how I think. Hamlet is my brother; Hamlet is the father of modern consciousness.
To read or not to read; another seeing to be seen. All criticism is seeing although this seeing is not in itself understanding before hand but a kind of seeing eye dog of the mind whereby understanding comes as a kind of arrival in spite of any special blindness. I do not know the author’s intention. Do they have them, these intentions?
To see or not to see as I have said about many a binary pair of infinitives; to write or not to write; to read or not; to become or not, this latter one contained implicitly in Hamlet’s To be or not to be; all not being includes becoming. What do I see with these eyes? What other eyes do I have to see? I look but do I see? What I see with these eyes I have within amounts to what? What is it that I see inside–what eyes are these that I have there–the eyes of wisdom?
Each I-am inside–the many Selves self–has a pair of eyes there to see in the way we may or may not see outside, in the world. I see freedom. I see love. I see humanity. I see the humane. I see a rock in the grass by the tree that casts shade in the daylight, mid afternoon sun above the canopy of leaves. There were professors I loved and respected and professors whose heads I would personally put in the coming guillotine. They cut the tree down the stupid fucking owners of my building. There was nothing wrong with that tree.
Yes, Wall Street and the Academy have their enemies of Truth of Justice of Liberty of Democracy– just hang around any Community College in any urban center in America in any English Department and listen to what the professors are saying about reading about writing about what passes for literacy . . . and you will get a glimpse of what the future of democracy will be.
To see or not to see; to understand or not, the latter itself to stand under, another version of walking a mile in another man’s shoes. Who are we when we look at the world? What are when we look but do not see what we should? The hills do not look like white elephants to the man in the story, do they? They do to the girl, the young woman on her way to Madrid for an abortion. I look out the window at the view as the train moves by what is fixed, only appearing to move past me at the speed of the train.
There is the evidence of things not seen, as Christians like to say after Paul. What is not seen can be evident? Of course there is more in the heaven and earth of being than can be dreamed by anyone’s metaphysics, anyone’s ideas on knowledge, what it is, when it is, where it is, how . . . I see you, I dream you, I’ve dreamed you before, alone, I smell you, forrest of rain at dawn. I hold nothing more or less of you with the empty space next to me in bed. I get up.
I glance at the mirror on the wall reflecting the windows across the room, street light locomotive through the curtains; they flip up once, twice more abruptly, then fall still curtains . . . everyone’s Humpty Dumpty in this culture, no . . . all of Wall Streets horses and all of Wall Street’s men could not put Humpty together again.
The fucking egg. The last egg in the carton was stuck in its cup in the carton. Egg whites like paste when they dry. We used to make paste out of egg whites in kindergarten class when I was in Public School 20X, afternoon session of Kindergarten, ha;f days for each. It was different when I was a boy. Most of our moms were still at home when we were in kindergarten. I thought I still had an egg so I did not stop last night to pick up a dozen. I thought one egg was enough, but getting it out of the carton, it shattered and spilled all over the counter when I tried to get it out.
Who am I? I ask. I do, I ask this question here. I have asked it many times. I am waiting for an answer, it seems, much the way Didi and Gogo are waiting for Mr. Godot. I pause before the mirror. I look to the mirror. I look in the mirror. In? I thought I settled this in and on dichotomy? duality? My poetry tries to settle much I cannot settle in my head.
I see me, I assume, when I look at the mirror, toward the reflection, how am not like the celluloid heroes I watch on the screen? Why do I assume there is more veracity in the mirror than in, on, the videos I watch? To watch is also to guard if cognomens in several cousin languages are inspected.
But there’s another problem again, positional arrangements, fixed before . . . We do know that what is in the mirror is on, no?
I am standing there in front of me, a reflection of me, there is not reflection without light, no vision of any kind, without light. To say I see means let there be light has taken hold. I am standing here in front of me, that him, that someone else who is me? Am I someone else; I am frequently someone else somewhere at some time.
Question after question, I string along so many questions. I look into my eyes I think; eyes the world full of sorrow enough. My wife has sad eyes too; her eyes are a lot like mine. Vanity, vanity, thou art not verity. I never appear too sad for me to watch. There is something Narcissistic in me. The mirror image. But like the Chimpanzee, I recognize myself. Narcissus does not. It’s never made clear just how long he watches himself. He does watch himself, not knowing it is himself. I watch me in the mirror too. I have often understood that I have to do more than look at me. But everything that appears in the mirror is on the mirror, the pane of glass a plane, again and again without gain. We speak of glass ceilings, but this is a glass wall, is it not. I know I recognize myself, so does the chimp–the dog barks at another dog never knowing it is himself he barks at.
Who answers me when I talk to me in the mirror, when I talk to myself, Hamlet is the father of modern consciousness. I have been over hearing myself since I was a child? My question is the question. I wonder more how I capture my conscience with these questions. I do sometimes wonder aloud about who I am, but not for long do I persist in this line. Montaigne often stood in postures such as the ones I pose; to pose is to posit is to put in place a posture, the posture itself molding me. In his trials, his tests, Montaigne poses as is necessary. When French school children take a small test, perhaps a quiz, it is an essai; to essay is to test one’s ideas, one’s thinking.
I remember believing that I did not know what I thought until I wrote. When I talk to myself, I proudly announce that Montaigne had as well, does as well, past and present in writing are matters of tense, not time; tense is not time you must know.
I talk to this Self of many selves, one self at a time? I’ve said this before. There is a larger ‘S’ self contained of many other selves. I do know that I am the same person over all time in my life, in every context with every person, every kind of person–not every person is the same as every other. It would be folly to believe that my selves do not contradict one another.
I am not the same person in the world in every context, with every person. My wife is not my mother, my mother not my supervisor, my supervisor not my colleague, my colleague not another co-worker, my co-worker not my neighbor, my neighbor not my doctor et cetera. How could all the selves i me be alike. I wear masks outside; I wear them inside too. This Self I talk about, is a capital ‘S’ self, a complex of many selves, a nexus; so, this who I am is not as important as when I am or who I am when. This capital ‘S’ Self is it made up of many other selves; simple enough said. But how many? Is it again an infinite potentiality; what are the probabilities?
Humans long for actuality. Only God gets to be actual all the time; He is pure actuality; He is no part potential. In my religion, it is He, although I have asked why God cannot be He, She and It if He is Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This Self inside, a many selves Self inside, what selves inside me. Where would I find this Matroishka? The questions of who, of what, of when and where, are important, no? But then to question is to position an answer, or is that a response that puts, that places again–responses are in themselves not answers, I thought I settled this already. I lay out again each question with my responses; do answers differ so radically? Perhaps not in how we think of them today, but they should.
Answers and responses are not one and the same; brandy and cognac, you know, brandy and cognac.
Il n’y a qu’un probleme philosophique vraiment serieux: c’est le suicide, says Monsieur Camus at the opening of “L’Absurde Et Le Suicide,” the first essay in his collection of essays Le mythe de Sisyphe. His rock, my rock, everyone’s rock, all of our rocks, up one mountainside or another, to the top and then all the way back down to the bottom for us to roll all the way back to the top again and again, over and over forever, for life, until the day we die, another form of damnation–at least Sisyphus had his rock. What did Hamlet have–he had his indirection?
Everyone gets on Hamlet for his inaction, but what would we have if he were decisive. I recall having re-written Hamlet as a play centered by a less brooding and much more decisive Hamlet–but it is not really indecision that is Hamlet’s problem because he is very decisive at key points in the play, but perhaps what we mistakenly mean–what I mistakenly meant–was a rasher Hamlet . . . I wound up with a short one-act play, perhaps no more than forty minutes of playing time . . . and what is that compared with what we have from Shakespeare? I know I am not supposed to ask this question as if it said what I want it to say, as if it could say what I think it says, as if it were enough to say what I am implying here it says, or is it that I infer it says what it says I know it says.