The Courage of Oedipus

I

The Unberable Lightness of Being. I recall having read it. I recall having said something about not liking reading it but loving having read it–I didn’t know what I was trying to say. I was trying to say something witty about how I felt while, and how I felt after.Wondering is a large part of existence–what the fuck do any of us know about existence? But I do know my existence, perhaps better than I do my being?

I have forgotten what the differences between being and existence were for the Existentialists. [I think the difference here is that this a posture for me the author, although it is not for me the narrator or expositor, whichever one it is for you.]

What if I were a character in one of his novels? I am a character in my writing. Everyone is a character in his or her life–the world, the stage, they are interchangeable. Context is improvisation; each of us does play many, many parts. Who would I be, though? Who could I become? Who would be with me, who would I be with? She?

The most spoken pronoun in the mirror, which is it—I or you? He and she? What about him and her? She who is with him, she who is near him, she who stays over his apartment until morning, they are having coffee when she asks what she asks how she asks it of him. He who is–I am already many as I have said elsewhere before and elsewhere afterwards.

I am he and I am she; I could be either if I were either other; both? Simultaneity? Identity––crises in identity come from a misapprehension of Self.

Is it courage? You don’t think it would take courage. Would it have to be something else before he got to the stage of doing the deed which would require this courage? There would have to be courage of convictions, a sense of duty or responsibility that would go before this cutting out of the eyes. None of us have what Oedipus had. We can’t conceive of what he does. Can you? I know I can’t, not really, what would I do? Do I think I could do what he did? No. We talk-talk around the idea of responsibility, but so long as it is another person who needs to take it, or how we do take responsibility but in words that circle around the notion without ever penetrating to the heart of the idea—ideas have hearts and sinew and flesh and blood and we have to have blood—how many bloodless fools do we listen to–.there isn’t nor has there ever been any age, any culture, any society more full of shit than this one today here in America. We stink through future ages, for all the world to smell. I’m sick. Shit shit and more shit everywhere shit, a river of shit I am floating in without a paddle, upstream in a river of shit—would it matter if down stream? I read it when I was he another me I was an undergraduate.

He had discovered existentialism when he was a young college student, reading Sartre, De Beauvoir, Marcel, and Camus. I read the same as you might have suspected. I read them in college where and when I first contacted them, thinking to myself that I was an Existentialist, saying this I can’t imagine how many times–no one I went to school with thought of himself or herself as an Existentialist. What does it mean to say this? But I was an Existentialist–I am one now, if I were pushed to say what philosophical camp I belonged in.

[Why do I think ‘in’ is more appropriate to end a sentence with than ‘to?’ This is not the same as ending a sentence with the preposition itself functioning as a preposition and not as the name of the grammatical unit, thus a noun. I do think it is okay to end a sentence with ‘in’ and not ‘to.’]

II

He says so much, writes so much . . . he forgets so much. Who is he? You ask again. How often do I refer to me as He? But what about this courage of Oedipus thing? He used to ask the same question of himself in the mirror every morning, sometimes addressing himself as he, sometimes as you . . . who she is, he has asked too before, but no questioning now. He wonders who she is but doesn’t take the time to further his inquiry–he wonders and that’s all of it, no more, just wonder without question without answer. He no longer asks, hasn’t for a long time. He hasn’t asked why not for slightly less. He is who he is, he says. He has said this for some time. He has not cared much about explaining for almost as long.

What does it mean to say that he is who he is–what he is another reasoning? I agree. I do the same. I have done the same for longer than he has. Anyone you imagine has wondered about being and not being, to be this or to be that as opposed to not being anything at all, not to be, period, completely nothing, he used to say. What his name is, he used to insist, could not be more irrelevant, unless he had a name like Ishmael, which you could call him, he used to say, just as he would also say, no, there’s no reason to call me Ishmael, or call me Hamlet, or to call me Electra or Orestes or anyone else you might think of calling me. Yes, men can be Electra without there being any gender identification  issues.

Why can’t I also be Gertrude or Rosalind or Medea or Clytemnestra? Every woman he has known has been either Dido, or Magdalena, or Clytemnestra, or Electra, Penelope, Medea, Phaedra, Helen, Antigone, Viola, Juliet, Rosalind, Desdemona, Laura, Beatrice, Isolde, Guinevere, Gertrude, Ophelia, Eve, Lilith, Isis, Mardou Fox, La Maga. et cetera, et cetera, all together all at once and none at all ever at the same time . . . Barbara, Helen, Alice, Maureen, Patty, Lucy, Maria, Margarita, whom else, when else, where else . . . Santa Cecelia, Santa Rosalia, Santa Teresa D’Avila. He used to say, I am Hamlet; he did, he said he was Hamlet, but then he would also say he was MacBeth, or that he was Lear. He often referred to other selves he housed; he said everyone housed in his Self-other selves. Call me Lear, he said; or call me Narcissus, or call me Aeneas, or Orestes, or Theseus, or Odysseus–yes, he said he would like it if you called him Odysseus, but you could just as easily call him Tom or Mr. Jones, or Heathcliff, or Don Quixote, most assuredly Sancho, Mr. Panza to whom would it be relevant to call him Mr. Panza. Is there a line anywhere in Cervantes that calls Sancho Panza—yes, Mr. Panza? I don’t remember. Nonetheless, he has no name?

He could be so many. The world is a stage. Each of us does play many parts . . . also anonymous. Virginia had said that the history of Anonymous in literature was the history of Woman’s Literature. If he is anonymous, then he is the history of Women’s literature? What if what he said were from the mouth of John Doe. What if you called him John Doe. Yes, call him John Doe. John Doe is not really anonymous, is he? Men share anonymity with women; not always identical in all points, but similar enough for it to be a shared human experience. He said what he said when he said it how he said why he said it, and only he knows–could I know now what I knew then if the past is not past but what is it? All time timeless not here but where.

The name tag John Doe on the body at the morgue bestows some identity on the otherwise anonymous male corpse. It is a name. It’s just the name given to all males who have no name, or have a name except it is unknown. He is unknown in the way we mean to be known. He is mostly unknown to himself, how could he be otherwise to anyone else who is not him? What is in a name? Any name associated with anything says what about what it names.

III

Nausea comes and goes in waves, an ocean of nausea, tides come in and tides go out, storm surges raise the height of the waves sometimes, overcome as you are with this special nausea. I remember one time after having seen a production of Beckett’s Endgame, I met up with friends and drank myself until I puked bile, that brownish yellow acidic fluid that rots the enamel off your teeth in the time it takes you wake up hung over, violent regurgitation.

He doesn’t feel well, he feels sick, he listens to his stomach gurgling, he listens to the drumming in his head, the pounding in his skull, his empty skull echoing his nausea like Echo, Narcissus. Who feels well today? Could any of us? There’s more to feeling well than personal health; it’s about social well-being, the health of a society and its culture–don’t get all high and mighty his mother used to say when he would say what he would about society. No one lives in society, she used to say.

Everyone lives in his skin, on his bones, in his head, alone in his soul. Don’t even try to imagine we are well, he would say to her. Everywhere every when, day-in, day-out, nausea, nausea, nausea, just look around you everywhere at everyone every day, a sickness, yet unto and not unto death. Debilitating, it is debilitating in the way it undermines his movements, how he can’t take a step without feeling as if he were going to puke, to fall to the ground and throw up everything he has ever ingested, taken in, ideas, he wants to puke from his head, not his mouth, open his head like Zeus does when he gives birth to whom—who was it he gives birth to out of his head. Mind puke; he wants to puke from his mind. He says he has it, this kind of nausea, yes, I am about ready to puke, he said. Others would feel the same if they had awareness enough, he thinks.

He imagines Electra must have this nausea. he imagines Hamlet must have it. He imagines Othello must give this nausea to himself. He imagines Iago being this Nausea personified. He is a man not so unlike any other man, but unlike every other, no one is another, all of us other. He is sick in a special way that keeps him sitting here for the time being sipping water too afraid to take a gulp, only little sips, he thinks he needs water, perhaps he is dehydrated, he always gets dizzy and nauseous when he is dehydrated. I do not drink enough water, he says. He gets it more often now, this gastritis too, which is not exactly what he was talking about when talked about this nausea, but the fits of clenching going on in his stomach today, from the inflamed lining he was told, lend themselves to this nausea. The parallels between mind and body are clear to him. There is a mental nausea, too, you know, a nausea also of soul, sickness unto spiritual death, the death of the soul, maybe for the reasons and in the way the Good Sisters of Saint Therese’s church in Brooklyn tried to impart, depart, they were supposed to pray for the departed.

IV

You can experience a death of the soul, just as you can a little death when you fuck. That’s not exactly what the Sister’s told them. They were focused on spiritual death. It was their job to guard them against that dying you do when everything inside shuts down, all reason, all feeling, how often he has it is another question, this nausea. He’s talking about a special nausea, neither of mind, nor of body, nor exactly of soul, but perhaps of self—what are the differences between Self and soul he has not yet delineated for him, let alone enough for you, but he does not intend to leave this in the dark . . . not yet considered if his anonymity lends itself to this nausea he is trying to tell you about, what he says, what he writes.

To write or not to write is a serious philosophical question, a serious question of whether he can cure himself of this nausea or not. Do you think he can? Does he or doesn’t he? What does he do or does he not do? He does many things that do not require him to have a name, an identity may not be exactly the same thing . . . terrorists with fake passports have identities, no? He is who is he is as I have said before about others in one or another circumstance. Who he is when he is where he is how he is.

To be or not to be by becoming what? He asks, as he has before, always a before, no one is in illo tempore ab origine. He says he becomes; to come to be who he is has been he suggests he has always been, an original self trying to follow its nature? Do you imagine there is an original nature, all of it in that time out of origins, you know how all cultures used to be about eternal return, history and cosmos, the cosmogonies we live by, we must live by them–who do you imagine you are, will be when faced with the end time.

I have always answered this question with a resounding Me–I am I. Even if I had amnesia, I would still be me. What else is there to be? I am not waiting for some me to arrive or think of myself as a destin ation I have to reach before I get to be, whereby I would be perpetually wholly becoming without any being. That’s just a load of shit. I am and I become. To be and not to be is just that. I am being and I am becoming, simultaneously, mutually, reciprocally, without one displacing the existence of the other, although only one can be perceived at a time?

[I know you were looking for something else, or at least I assume you were looking for something else from this. If you were not–then all the better. If you were, what then? I do not have any intensions of apologizing. It is always a take it or leave proposition.]