In the garden of my vanity . . . what did this say when I said it before, elsewhere before now, saying it again as I haves many of the things I say, over and over, again and once more and once more, on and on til the last syllable spoken within recorded time? There will be so much said––how much said––after it all goes to waste, this thing we still call civilization, even of Totalitarian International Bourgeois Capitalism has depleted the resources of the world, leaving us on the brink of inhabitability . . . you thought the Jacobin and the Girondist who were the driving force of such, went too far with the guillotine . . .
Mercy, mercy, Merci beaucoup
What does anything said say? How to say what can only be said by me about me to you when you doubt that anyone can say anything . . . everything in the dialogue, but it’s not dialogue, it’s exchanged monologues, never-ending monologues exchanged, collated, shuffled, what else have we in the way of expressing how full of shit we are–it always seems to come to this, how full of shit we are, and I guess people are sounder and happier when there is room to understand this full-of-shit we are, except we are living in a new fifties, you could say, and everything is–is what? What is it? When is it? Is it at all? What else have we in genres to list? I see Moloch chewing babies that mothers have brought the great beast god devouring America. Where have we come, have you gotten, have I, what? I am, but mostly I am what I say I am when I write what I do, how I do. Enough. (I do have the tendency to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on . . . .)
Where then does this writing of history begin, and it is history that anyone writes when they write about themselves or another and another and another, each line creeping along, petty word after word until the last syllable; where does it end? How do we understand history apart from historiography? How do I understand my history–my story–all history is a story . . . We might want to understand where my story begins or ends–I don’t think of it as such. Is there an E Pluribus Unum of history. Wouldn’t that amount to an uber-history, a super historum, une surhistoire?
What then do I say? I say so much, do I mean less by saying more? I keep writing and writing and writing and commenting on what has been written and comment on the comments in the commentary. I keep a journal. I have many, many notebooks, composition notebooks, hundreds of them, all of them filled with comments remarks observations experiences happenings reactions passions emotions arguments bile. What if I were to scan all those pages and collect them and publish them–what then would that say? More than ten thousand pages of journals, notebooks, sketches, poems, stories, essays, commentary and bile. Spleen. I vent my spleen in these books . . . listen my hypocrite readers, I could say, in the garden of my vanity, flowers of evil thrive . . . it’s not enough to say this, to say anything, words fail, don’t they, yet they are all we have to say what we intend to say but do not get to say because words transform in their forming.
There has been a tradition where story is story as in fictional story and history was history as in true story, but then that was or is how all people connected to mythology in a way other than how we understand the word ‘myth” understood their story. A myth was a true story and was separate from legend or folk-tale. Genesis is the true cosmogonic story of the Hebrews. If you want to make story out of it, something we understand to be fiction, then you go right ahead. The story of the Tlingit’s Great Raven as the bearer of culture and ethnicity is cosmogonic and in keeping with myth as a true story telling of their origins . . . but what about the history historians have written? What is this writing of history?
All history would then be historiography. I don’t want to say only historiography as if this writing of history were less than the history, nor do I want to be so restrictive that this historiography becomes in the mind the only thing that history could be . . . it couldn’t be. The stories we tell, the stories told, how they have been told, I remember reading the Odyssey when I was boy, how old was I, I think I was in the seventh grade . . . the times I did not spend in my room reading; the times I did spend with friends doing nothing, mostly, just being as some of us said, playing, horsing around, as it was said by some who were older than us. I was not the reader when I was young that I became later; I am not the reader I would like to be, understand to be an act that I am transformed by, no one who reads deeply and well remains the same person he was before having read . . . but the history of it, the history of me, of me as a reader, of me as a boy, of me as a boy in the Berkshires for summers in the woods, of me trying to be me, of me being me, of me being some other me, what other me, all the many me[s] there are inside me, inside the Self as I have said elsewhere and will say again as I have said before how I will say again, there is so much I say over and over snd over.
I believe in Truth, therefore, I believe in telling the Truth, the capital “T” variety of Truth makes it difficult–does Truth have variety? Can it be various?
Truth is compass heading. We have thrown away the compass.
There is at least variegation if not true categorical variation. How can it be done, this telling the truth (miniscule, intended)? I swear to the truth and the whole truth. We do swear this in our court’s of law. This is not a naivety; it points to the subjectivity of truth, the small-case ‘truth.’ I swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, nothing but the facts as I recall them, recollect them, having seen them or heard them, let’s say the limit of the questions being asked me. Testimony is just that, the whole truth, nothing selective, nothing edited, excluded, revised from what I remember. But how is that possible? What then is the Truth? What do you want to know? What will you testify to? Jehovah’s Witnesses testify . . . I have testified in open court . . .
Testimony in history about history–history is what gets recorded, what gets written. What are the methodologies of historians, what have they been at different times and in different places. What has history been, what have historians at different times and in different places considered the discipline of history, the proper subject of historical investigation, the appropriate style of writing . . . what is and has been historical writing. The study of historical writing is historiography; the analysis of texts, the history of historical writing which may not exactly coincide with what we could call the history of history. History is testimony of a kind. Historians are supposed to tell the truth and the whole truth, as much as they can, but then what is this can?
Can is able to, can is allowed to, can is know how to, and this has everything to do with what gets recorded. The history of DNA, for instance is not what was initially recorded or acknowledged by the Nobel committee, or passed down in other historiography, finding its way into textbooks and then taught as the truth and nothing but the truth. But we know witnesses lie. We know there are conspirators who lie or manipulate facts or with hold facts in trials. We know prosecutors have ignored information on purpose to get a conviction. We know innocent men and women have been found guilty in court’s of law, and we know how much this has helped undermine our faith in Truth and our faith in reaching any truth. It has gone a long way in perpetuating a culture of doubt, a culture where doubt has become the highest form of wisdom, where instead of beginning with Socrates I know nothing, we conclude with it, leaving us with the belief that knowledge is impossible.
Do I have to be somebody, as when we say somebody as if everybody else might be nobody, in order to have the right to say what I do here? More questions? I could ask one after another continuing on and on in perpetuity, and depending how long I lived, this would determine how many questions I get to ask. We miss the point about time, about history; history is not exactly time, it is not what we think it is when we assume what we do about how it exists, the thing it is in our pre-thoughts.
I am X, Y and Z, as well as A, B and C. I am everyone everywhere all the time. I am no one; I am anyone you could imagine. When I tell my story, I am testifying. Testifying. I was testifying to my life, to my Self . . . I am in every way I communicate with others, communicate with myself, in my head, in the mirror, on the page. Why choose to tell non-fiction or fiction? The blankness of the page before me with pen in hand is exciting for me. I am filled with hope and anxious expectation.
Who am I to tell my tale, this tale, one told as I choose to tell it, herein without verse, without elaborate or conventionally accepted modes of conveying fiction? I like the word mode, from the French for style, for manner. Who do I have to be to tell a tale other than a teller; all speaking a way of telling something, no? But the tale, the story, what of this? Who does anyone need to be to believe that what he has to say he should say and not only say, but tell.
To say is intransitive; to tell is only transitive. What have I told you? What have I said about me that could let you know something you think you want to know, sometimes think you need to know–who needs to know anything about anyone anywhere at any time? We all want to know more than what is good for us to know, all of us wanting to find out what we should have better sense to inquire about; but the things we should know about, know more about, we are content to remain oblivious about.
Progress is not an inference drawn from chronology alone. We can move through chronology, pass through the years from one to another without inferring anything like progress has happened. Do you think history is progressive, whatever history is? Do you believe in progress happening correlative to chronology passing? What is this thing time? Do we move in it, through it, as it passes us by? How is time, history? Is history like time at all?
History is then a tunnel, or is history like an arrow shot? History is like an ocean, I remember saying to her at the ocean. History has tides and surges and waves and storms. History has its tsunamis. History has natural force; history is a natural force. What is history? is a question we ask, although I don’t know why we do? When is history, is another question? This question might be more appropriate than the former. The appropriateness of questions sometimes concerns me–there are always considerations of this kind for anything we are going to say in company.
History is history is history whether it is written r not, told or not, right? No? What do you think? What do you say? What are you going too say, to tell. All of it the tale told by an idiot? I have more optimism than MacBeth. I would have to, wouldn’t I?
I could extend questions, string them one after the other, on and on and on until the last interrogative of recorded time. All the questions I ask followed by yet another string of other questions followed by yet still other questions–nearly perpetually, going on and keeping on . . . what is it that I am saying about the nature of questioning; taking the time to perform and act of social inquiry, of personal inquiry, of any kind of inquiry into any subject . . . what?
Each could be extended, linked one to another and another every essay essaying what to essay–oral or literary–other forms of speaking or writing perpetuating itself into itself multiplied, replicated, de-formed, re-formed, all to continue informing, to put in form by information.
To essay or not to essay, what do I essay when I do in an essay this thing about putting ideas on trial . . . I don’t now if I hate writing that is a parade of images for the sake of images, but I do know I know what Williams meant when he said it to Kazan . . .
If only to put what I think in a form suited, I would be happy. To accomplish this task of putting pen to page and saying something intelligent about something that begs to be discussed, again, to be essayed–I am fixed here on this trying out what I think, thinking not randomly passing images in the mind or playing hop-scotch with the names of ideas, the way most people do with the data of history rather than the matter of history. Yes, put on trial by the ordeal of ideas, I am as well as what I think–what then must the judgement be on the writing. Beauty, I have already concluded, as the Romans understood, cannot exist without form, except in a modified Greek understanding of absolute forms. The Romans and the Greeks did differ on the representation of beauty; go to the Met and walk among the Roman and Greek statuary and see. But Beauty manifests as this beauty or that beautiful something we do not need to name at present. I could extend any of the questions that might be asked about what I intend in the pages I write, I am always writing beyond the limits of one of essay or another or story or poem–God the variations of form that happen there, in my poetry. I write and I write and I write, ah! the walking shadows. How do shadows talk? What do they say? Saying so much over the years in notebook after notebook . . .
I have written many essays, stories, poems, critiques in a variety of styles for a variety of purposes for a variety of audiences–know your audience. I could continue any questioning far beyond where I take my inquiries in the essays I publish in the pages section of my website, fit only for those who understand what we once called literary tradition. Style shifts for need, of course. What more should I ask? I am the Review; I am everything and everyone there; every essay, every word, every title, every post, every video/film, each photograph you might see . . . could I apply this fore mentioned literary approach to subjects as diverse as from language and linguistics to epistemology and ethics? Yes. From history to law to then again historiography? For certain. Or to reading and writing in the most general application? I imagine so. From painting and sculpting to the state of theater in America? Why hesitate with a reply?
From blogging, to Orthodox Jewish landlords in my building diminishing maintenance services correlative with the rise in Muslim tenants in the compound where these Orthodox Jewish landlords are allowed, by the City that governs the housing they own, to act as they wish, or do not wish, and with impunity? Is it true that tis is what the city does? It feels like it is what the city does and does not do . . . Yes.
And I address all of these and then so much more, but how is always ever present. What is the rhetorical edge I am going to use and will it cut appropriately? Rhetoric must cut. I need to wield a scalpel’s blade. Surgery in satire is better than butchery. My pen is my scalpel, of course; memory at times is a knife that cuts . . . could I address in tones more sober that Mayor Frumpberg was a large Orwellian pig–in direct contrast to his diminutive staure and mousy nature before the media? Of course I could–but I would still need to tread gently. Did Frumpberg let landlords off thier leashes? I could say that he did, but to what effect when most of what we have in the media has conditioned us to be hyper polite to the extent that we are psychopathically polite?
Yes, of course we–that means I–could address all of these things, and I do understand that some might say that these conclusions are not matters of course; but I insist that there are self-evident necessities that must be phrased as we do, as I do–this review is not mine–it is me; I am the review. Thus, whatever it is that we will do, I will do; whatever we do, I do; whatever is done has been done by me. So, when I ask what I can do in my writing, I am of course posing the question as we like to say rhetorically. But as I have said before in other essays and herein, rhetoric is an edge that cuts. Is it though, the meat cleaver, or the surgeon’s scalpel, I will use. Surgery, I will perform; or, is it autopsy.
Writers are sometimes coroners.
But who am here: I am me, the man I am, but I cannot forget that the man I am is a plurality, not a singularity. I am we, of course, not just in the way I know that all the world is a stage, and like Jacques, I know that each of us plays many parts, not only the roles that advancing through age demand, but the roles created because I am not the same man when I speak to my neighbor as I am when I speak to my mother, nor have ever been the same man speaking to my mother as I have been speaking to my father, not the same man I am speaking to my father as I am speaking to any of my close male friends, not the same speaking to any of them as I am speaking to any woman who has been my lover, not the same speaking to one of them as to another or another or another of them, or speaking to any woman classmate in any college class I have had, not the same to any one of them as I am to any other one of them, nor as I am speaking to a woman friend who is not a lover or a lover who is not a friend, or to an elderly woman on the train, or a woman police officer, or a woman professor of my Victorian Lit class.
How could we not be many, plural; each of us is we, a multiplication of selves by the plurality of them in each Self, each person building a Self of many selves out of the experience and the givens of his or her life, no? I am not the same man I was last week, nor will I be the same man tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, sometimes being an idiot, even?
[Theme in variation, fee fie fo . . . ]
Fee, fie, fo, fum, have said many an Englishmun, or men or women or children who speak the language of Jack the Giant Killer, or, as we could say, the language of Thomas Nashe, who determined more than four centuries ago that it would be only a great pedant “who will find matter enough to dilate a whole day of the first invention of Fy, fa, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.” The antecedent folk stanza Nashe had alluded to in his pamphlet Have with You to Saffron Walden was of antient origin.
The inference was clear–no one knew where it had come from even in his day when literary connections to folklore and folk traditions were premium. Ah, the story’s the thing, what then do I bring . . . to be a story or not to be a story, that might be a question, but only one among many to ask, and then if it were a story, and a story, and a story that creeps in petty paces from scene to scene, this too would be neither foul nor fair, but fiction. All fiction is something made, from the Latin fictio, from the nominative singular third declension noun for ‘fashioning,’ ‘forming,’ often times with reference to language use, as in ‘an invented statement,’ as sometimes in the maner of false statements known to be false. If someone were to speak falsely and not know, this would not be fiction as we sometimes say. Truth value, though, is also a consideration of verisimilitude; yes, similar to what is true, how do we verify the facts of fiction? Verity, which comes to us from the Latin veritas, what isunderstood to be other than vanity, from the Latin vanitas, as in Vanitas non est Veritas.
What is like unto Truth? How are fictions not vanity, some concerned for propriety beyond the measure of appropriateness could ask? What is true and what is the Truth are twain that might never meet. Let us continue . . .
When I talk about verisimilitude, I am speaking of fictional truth, something we used to understand more clearly, or for which we had a more highly articulate comprehension, a greater dexterity for its use. To tell a story or not would be any man’s dilemma, his life in story, the history of his life, what to tell and how to tell it, considerations of form, of style, what words to choose, but also in what manner, for style is not a passive outcropping of one’s over-indulged subjectivity. We love to talk about a writer’s style, when in fact what we have done is identified a style of prose writing that could be categorized if one wanted to, but would in no way be necessary to do, except when one wanted to identify like prose styles or verse styles from among other storytellers.
We must only understand that a category is in effect a tool in comprehension–they have never been understood to be facts of nature exceot by those who have so misread them, misunderstood them, to be beset by them in way more of their choosing than from any imposition by any imagined academic hierarchy. A category is not a fact of nature, it is not a fact either phenomenal or noumenal except in itself as a category in our understanding, that tool that helps us build meaning, yes, we are the wrigthers of our semantics.
Fee fie fo fum, I say again, fee fie fo fum . . . I might smell the blood of an Englishmun as did Jack’s Giant when pondering on how he was going to make his bread, grinding bones to make it. What do I do to make my story? What do I use to make it, the makerly text? What should I ponder? Should I wonder how to make a text from the matters of memory? What pieces of the past should I use if I should use them at all? I do collect thus recollect; I put these pieces together, the puzzle of the text? there are puzzles to modernist texts, a degree of puzzling about all texts, something of this less intentional in historical writing as we had assumed historical writing was when we were in university.
One does not read Virginia Woolf without understanding the fictional text is a kind of puzzle; who has read Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury or his As I Lay Dying without having to piece together meaning, although this piecing together is not the only role of the reader in the engagement between reader and text. What is it that I arrange, should, must, could, in order to achieve . . . achieve what I intend or might not intend, trusting my intuitions enough to follow courses or make choices less than conscious.
Memory is the treasure chest of telling one’s story–this retelling that is one’s life story or a story from one’s life. Everything is autobiography? What kind of stories are we talking about here? My story–as alluded to above–how to tell it, when to tell it, where, to whom, for what end–there is always an end, a conclusion to a story, even if it is only as the etymology of conclusion suggests, the building of a wall to stop the flow as a dam does the flow of a river.
What is it to go back through memory–my own selva oscura, as Dante says at the opening, nel mezzo del camin . . . all thisabout memory, the labyrinth I walk through, an amazing journey to the center of me. We could ask if memory is a sea or a forrest or a labyrinth . . . we only need to choose one and understand this one to handle our making. I remember a lot, but what do I recollect and how is the recollection managed–these are questions that determine the outcome of my telling. Entering memory is a journey into the labyrinth, I have decided. Yes. Now it is a journey into the woods, I too have concluded. One for one story told; the other for another telling . . . minotaurs, witches and grails.
The soul is my labyrinth now.
I am Theseus. The soul is Hades––rescuing me my from my own underworld is always an appropriate project. Telling our stories becomes an act of salvation, one could understand. Orpheus tries this, a journey into Hades, to save Eurydice which is to save himself, no? Will I fail me as he failed Eurydice. I am Orpheus and Eurydice in every one of these journeys. My soul is also my dark wood, the selva oscura above of Dante, thus another comedy of other manners, other forms, different styles: the selves in the Self of many selves are the characters peopling my tales. I must go inside, deeper inside, further, farther which or both, distance in space and distance that is time or labor. If all the world is a stage, then the soul too is a stage for the selves of my Self to perform on.
We are always acting; it is not the acting that is false, unless it has no connection to Truth, unless it eliminates Truth as its target, as its goal, as part of the organic presentation. Everyone one of us are the players in this drama of selves in the theater of the Self . We are certainly players on the stage that is the world. We all of us wear many masks, one dramatis personae after another for us to perform on this stage, the world, one scene after another, everything about our lives is an ever changing mine-en-scene. We do build our character(s) as actors do in their theaters of boards. The real story of my life would be for me to travel deeper, more inwardly and get to the selves and the masks they wear; yes, it is not the masks I wear in the world but the ones I wear inside that I need to uncover, recovering g yet other faces I might use to face myself, the Self, what is it that I see in the mirror? I need to get behind them; I need to take them off and reveal what is behind them; an apocalypse of the Self.
Fee, fie, fictio, historum, folk tales, fiction and history, what do I smell in the form of another story to tell? I am hounded as I am haunted; I hound as I haunt. How has most of human history not been molded by the hunt. Narratives short or long; short naratives handed down orally; short narratives written, published and unpublished, read aloud or printed and read silently off the page; narratives short or long in verse; prose poems, ballads.
We have come to understand that ‘fiction’ refers to narratives that are imaginative, or so we used to like saying–imaginative writing. We still say this in our elementary schools to children because we believe that the word imaginative has magical properties for children, and that children must be exposed to things imaginative and magical because it will make them better persons, or so we must think, either consciously, or unconsciously collectively, because we say it so often, another received idea we use without thinking about what it means or where it comes from. Folk-tales that are handed down orally are not written; the teller of these oral tales where they are still conveyed orally does not worry about these imaginative considerations, at least not in the way we use the word imaginative.
Originality is not the mark of a good teller in any oral tradition, and the material handed down from generation to generation is good enough and does not need to be changed. It does not matter that the story is not original to its teller.
We are not talking about the myths of ancient people or a people in their antiquity, or a people closer to our contemporaneity who still maintain an archaic metaphysics, because for these people their myths are true stories and therefore are not fiction, although the telling may be quite similar, the form and manners used by the teller to tell the tale very much the same; each are orally conveyed, or later transcribed, as the cosmogonic myth of the ancient Hebrews was in the form of Genesis in the Jewish or Christian bibles.
Original, imaginative, traditional, handed-down, or how many other words we have for what kind of story is being told or read, either aloud or inwardly to the Self by the self (I often read aloud to myself when I do, read a story, weighing the words, walking the line, so to speak); moreover, do we bleed for our stories? There are more than more than one way to bleed. What a question to ask, though. There is always one kind of blood sacrifice after another throughout our history bearing determinations culturally, whether they be actual or theatrical, dare we say symbolic, or all three? I have understood for too long how we have dis-understood this word, ‘symbol,’ relatedly, ‘symbolic.’
Do we bleed for them, I am asking, our own stories, our auto-biographies, the way we must probe inside, we do cut ourselves opened, don’t we?
Biography a branch of historical writing, of course; autobiography a form of auto-surgery? I know I have bled for them, the way we could speak; the stories I have set myself the task of telling and not just in the flippant way we do when we just as often wish to divert the attention of others away from what we fear they will find out about us, all of this fear working its magic spells on us unconsciously. Making things up as we go along, a kind of internal improvisation, the unconscious will exerting its power over our choices. I know that others have said as much about this special kind of bleeding. I understand that some authors might bleed more than others, those that do, as they tell us . . . there is a kind of internal bleeding that allows you to live nonetheless.
We do love our stories. We do love the ones who tell them, who can tell a good one, orally or on the page. I will not list the delineation of good and bad storytelling.
To tell a story or not to tell a story, that is the question for all storytellers. Choosing to do so or not is more than the first step; it is the giant leap for all of us. Storytelling is humankind; we are the storytelling animal. What is history, though? We have the word from the French, the French from the Latin, the Latin from the ancient Greek. In French it refers to both what we in English mean by History and what we mean by story as in fictional story, or sometimes by non-fictional story. This latter idea that seemingly stands opposed to what history might be could be is does much in the way of confusing this relationship of story and history. If I tell the story of my life, how is that separate from history? It is not. This is what gives us mistaken received ideas about history, what it is.
History, in any understanding that separates personal story or anecdotes from history, becomes something apart from people, that is, people as a collection of simple, separate, individual persons. In this kind of understanding of what history is, we the people cannot make it, or participate in it. History then, in our minds, is a river we never swim in, an ocean we never sail, a land distant and remote, an undiscovered country of other events by and with other people. These other people thus remain separate from us, different from us, grander than us, perhaps?
All language is metaphor. Language is a social trope. We are creative in the simple phrases, the sun has risen, the sun rose, the sun rises. When things are good, when your life is pleasant or happy you say Things are looking up. Up is good is a metaphor. Any narrative could not help but be creative.
Narrative is a method of storytelling, in fact, it is storytelling. It is also a way of conveying both fiction and history–it orders things chronologically or a-chronologically, the latter itself indicating that there is a chronology of facts, themselves, perhaps, productions of memory or recording. There are facts in fiction, the facts of the story, the events, the places, the scenes as they are set, whether this be a short story as in fiction, a true story as in myth or journalistic reporting (the former framed by the archaic mind, which is not a psychological judgment but a fact of metaphysical mental construction), or biography, or an oral folks-tale or a verse narrative as in epic, for example, the Iliad. Any history itself becomes a story, just by the telling. I tell my story, whether I tell the truth or I lie. But even if true, the story is invented, no?
The inventiveness is the fashioning itself, and this is true for one kind of story or another, true stories or stories all made up. How is a woman leaving her home with make up on not her own fiction? We seem obsessed with facts; facts, facts and more facts, disregarding that The Earth is flat was once a fact.
The French use one word for both history and fictional story, l’histoire. I guess every fiction has its history; the novel Tom Jones, as we call it, is a history of Tom Jones, as the novelist Henry Fielding insisted when he gave it the title: The History of Tom Jones. We lose the reference to the novel as a history, or at least we had and thus we have for a time long enough to become entrenched in our referencing, a matter of custom. Every history, then, must have its fiction, this something fashioned, the story out of the material collected by the author’s inquires; in the mater of Fielding’s novel, the history is invented. History, as mentioned above, is from the Greek; Istoria meant investigation in ancient Greek. This is why Herodotus called what he had written The Histories. The novel Tom Jones is an inquiry into the life and times(?) of Tom Jones? Yes. How then is this novel that tells the story of Tom Jones different from the biogrpay I have on my shelf, Keith Richards, A Life? The latter is a first person account and the former is a third person omniscient account–but then how do first person accounts not share some of the omniscience of the third person narrative of the kind that is Tom Jones?
There will always be more in the heaven and earth of one man’s life than could be found or dreamed by any teller of his tale, including himself. Choice is essential; everything that becomes the story is in the choosing. These choices are in themselves creative acts. So, what is it then that we mean when we say story and when we say history? Any story is a kind of history, as we have noted above. Yes, many of the early novel writers in 18th century England attempted to blur these boundaries or avoided making them clearly distinct, those between history and fiction. It was not only Fielding. There is something easier to understand in French than in English when we confuse history and story–although the French really do not suffer the confusion we fear.
Having one word for what we mean by ‘history” and what we mean by ‘story,’ fictional ones, is not more confusing than having two words for two distinct concepts. The Anglo-Saxon speaking peoples of the world separate history from story, as such. Istoria in Greek was an inquiry or knowledge acquired by investigation. This does not by itself allow for categorical distinction between history and fictional story. I imagine that a story like Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” is an investigation into the life of Goodman Brown, some of the life as it is chosen in the presentation, the effect of the narrative being both historical and historicizing, at least in the way that fiction can be a made up history, what we mean by fabricated as what we have conventionally meant by the term story. In antiquity, those who wrote what we would call history today were often those who had participated in the events, their making. This made history writing very close to biography, or more accurately, memoir. The role of testimony in inquiries could be used to understand what then fictional history is–“Young Goodman Brown” is the testimony of the narrator in the inquiry of who what when, where and how Young Goodman Brown.
We do separate the two, though, keeping our history apart from our fiction, at least we still maintain the illusion that we do. The latter about illusion is not an attempt to subvert faith in the possibility of knowledge about the past or to undermine belief in the truth value of historical writing. Yes, Mr. Coleridge, we do have to suspend our disbelief for historical writing as we do about our fiction. In a more traditional sense, history is the true story of a people or a person or a place, a country, a city, an empire, whatever have we in the focus of history writing, the product of what was once thought possible, objective historical investigation. In this, we have as mutually exclusive, fictional story and true story–that is, until we confront, as fore mentioned, that all mythology, apart from our Judaeo-Chritian prejudices against any mythology that could not be corroborated by the two Testaments, are the true stories of a people in as much as their stories of origins, all cosmogonic myths, are true for the people themselves living with these exemplary models, something we have to understand in way differently than we do or have done. Of course, as fore mentioned, the fiction writers of the 18th century tried to blur the lines between the two–what was the novel then anyway? The Preface to Defoe’s Moll Flanders speaks more on this than I could here. The same author presents a shorter set of inferences in his preface to Robison Crusoe, whereby he calls himself “editor” of this “private man’s adventures in the world” and where he then says near his conclusion of the preface that he “believes . . . [Crusoe’s tale] to be a just history of fact.” History here a “story,” yes, as all history is a story, facts as we receive them by history re-enforcing what we understand about the past. The factory of culture makes its history, as Ivan in Russia hired chroniclers to write a history of Russia that favored him and the Romanov family, much for a similar reason the Emperor Augustus favored the poet Virgil. Fiction and History win separate prizes from the Pulitzer committee. But what is it that they share in form–narrative, as we have said; verisimilitude in fiction being parallel to the historical facts able to be corroborated. I imagine, though, that verisimilitude in fiction is easier to maintain than veracity for facts in history/historiography that countermand a society’s received ideas and dogmas. Ah! Facts; facts, facts and more facts, Mr Gradgrind. There is a Mister Gradgrind in all of us. Yet how many of our facts, both personal and public, both individual and collective do we accept without inquiry. How many of the facts in our media are fashioned as in factory made. Yes, our media is a factory of facts.
We understand by representative examples over time that history and fiction were not distinct in antiquity or even the 18th century in the way we have subsequently made them–and they do remain more closely linked in cultures that still use one word for the two, as we have seen in French. They were not yet set as they seem to be today, or as they were some time not so long ago, still in my lifetime, even around the time I started college (yes, university). History as a discipline had come to represent the verity of verities, at least in my time in the university (at least in my mind, how I conceived history and its purport); this only residually so today. There was still a belief that objectivity could be maintained or at least pursued, which is the most vital ingredient in the notion of objectivity in historiography, that it can be pursued and that a vigilance in this pursuit could be fruitful in the ways a belief in its possibility make apparent. This belief is something leftover from an earlier part of the last century where history was the pursuit of truth about the past, the little ‘t’ truths and something of the larger ‘T’ transcendent Truth we must never get rid of, anymore than we would dispose of our compass in a wilderness. However, the ideal history is one that aligns itself more or most closely with facts as they were (not as they can be manu[fact]ured), truth as it can best be discerned in its lowercase variant. This was not something as open to revision in the way it seems to be now, for better or for worse. There are the times I still hope not to lose sight of what I had pursued for so many years, as a philosophy major under the tutelage of a wry-humored Platonist, when I was a philosophy student in university. Yes, I held the belief that I was pursuing the Truth; and even if that were foolhardy for many of my former friends from among the Catholic proletariat I grew up with, it was still a steadfast creed among those I counted as friends and mentors in the university. It seems just as foolhardy for too many of those who count themselves among the educated class of Americans, any one educated in the university over the last twenty-five to thirty-five years has a radically different understanding of what we call now Truth and what we understood the Truth to be. Doubt today has become the highest wisdom, and that is not a doubt that we begin with, a Socratic doubt at the onset of our epistemology, but an end in itself an ending of all epistemological inquiry. We have become very religious about our knowledge; atheistically religious in as much as we have concluded once and for all that Truth does not exist. The only thing, though, we are left with in this anti-metaphyscal metaphysics of culture is The Will to Power.
This belief of mine notwithstanding the current critiques of Truth or minor ‘t’ truths–for want of a better understanding of today’s critique of knowledge (the latter which sounds off more in tune with received ideas and new dogmas by the new intellectual hegemony than any sound basis for reforms in thinking) what is has been will be history and more importantly acceptable historiography is of paramount importance to how we understand our role in the politics and economics of today . . . fee, fie, fictio, historum. We have no giant killers. Those who do not remember history, are condemned to relive it, or so I recall in paraphrase of an inscription from George Santayana in Will Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Of course, in that book, history was still the objective discourse on the facts of the past as they were verified through a methodology that considered the quality of the sources, the validity of them, how even they were collected, complete with follow-up critiques of the conclusions, not something we are entirely without today. Objective was not as laughable as it seems today by those who imagine their critical acumen leaves them able to dispose of critical terms they misunderstand–often, dis-understand. There was a distinction drawn between the kind of history Herodotus had written and the one that Thucydides did afterward, although we did take too closely Thucydides’s assertions concerning all the supposed historiography before him as being of a lesser class of historical writing. There was something of even greater validity in the subjective (???) history Caesar had written in his Civil Wars, the latter falling under the rubric one history professor of mine called memoir, in spite of the diction chosen and rhetoric of objectivity employed. The rhetoric of objectivity not in itself the thing it purports to be. Witness to history, as we liked to say, was part of what qualified a person in antiquity to write a history of anything. Narrator as participator went a long way in validating the truth value of the inquiry, or the conclusions or the perceptions presented in the history.
The word ‘fiction,’ once again, comes from the Latin fictio, which means a thing made, fashioned, invented, as sometimes it referred to “invented statements,” once more, those that were false and known to be false. The artful liar was engaging in fiction. I often said back when I was an undergraduate, that if most people were in touch with their bullshit, how much they bullshit themselves and others, and just put it down on paper, they’d be fiction writers, and perhaps more of them good ones than bad ones. So then, in this sense of fashioning, making, inventing, everything told is fiction, even history, as asserted above. Just how much of memory is fiction, though, I am not herein going to discuss, but the gaps in memory are always filled in by the one recollecting–even a passive remembering has this filling in part of what takes place when remembering happens. how is it we fill them in, or with what we fill them in is the invention. The way a history gets told is a choice, this choosing is fashioning–all matters of style are matters of fashion in its broader sense as it also applies in its restricted sense. But then facts are themselves made in the sense that they have a context within which they function as facts; we do recall that the Earth is flat was once a fact for a great many people; the Earth is the center of the solar system was a fact for many centuries. I mean, nothing is told that is not first made. Again, the idea that history and story are linked is evident in the one word for both designations in the romance languages and the mother of them, Latin. The francophone world, though, for want of more acute focus, does not confuse what we fear is confusing, as I alluded to above. The single word demands more articulation; the divergence of the different words does not always insist on articulating their distinctions, even though everyone understands at one time or another that there are links or similarities between history and story.
Nonetheless, every story is a history of a kind, and every history is certainly a story of what was, at least what purportedly was; this latter distinction bringing us closer to what Herodotus had intended by his Histories and Herodotus brought many disciplines under the rubric of history. But then any method adapted to his inquiry he embraced. It is not the design of this essay to venture into what Herodotus’s methods of history writing were or are for us, not even in passing; but let it suffice to say that Herodotus was a masterful storyteller, and today he is more highly valued as an historian than he was in my days in college, just for bringing many stories into the mix. Historiography must be a mixture of styles, of forms, of methods, no? Thus many voices are brought to the page, which is good, but which also meets the demands of diversity’s dogmas as much as earlier histories met the dogmas of their ages.
What is history, though, is not the same question as what is historiography. Herodotus engaged in what he and the Greeks after him called Istoria. As aforementioned, Istoria was an investigation and what comes to be called history is the report on this investigation. To say “historical investigation” is thus a redundancy. In Herodotus we hear and thus see how others understood the past he speaks of, how they chose to tell their story, or how Herodotus chose to tell how others chose to tell their story, how they understood what history was. But when we discuss historiography, we are discussing the writing of history and any discussion of writing must address writing as form, writing as style writing as rhetoric, rhetoric as suited to its purpose or not, rhetoric as something the author has a handle on or not, rhetoric as either effectively presented or not. Writing, even historical writing, that is, historiography, can be judged according to aesthetic standards, as all writing can be.
We do the same as Herodotus today as well when we look for anecdotal evidence, when we look for the story of the simple separate person from among the many who lived. This of course fits our dogmas of individualism and exceptionalism, but then this is what marks American historiography from others. The history of art, the history of automotive sales in America, the history of the samurai, the history of science, the history of sailing, et cetera are nothing without the individual’s story, perception, observations, or opinions. When we speak about history in a multidisciplinary way, which to me was always what history was, even when history was supposed to be about revealing some quota of truth, or be aimed at Truth–and I do understand the inferences herein from using the word ‘quota,’ as well from referring to truth or Truth. What are we saying, though?
Is history one of the Humanities or is it a Social Science–and in my time, history was in the School of Social Sciences, and this spoke to a methodological distinction from history as a humanity in the School of Humanities. Focuses shift; of course they do. The dominant or most frequently employed methodology will also change, as will persist many examples of multi-methodological texts. This essay does not pretend to resolve these issues within the discipline of history or within or between any two of the sub-disciplinary approaches to historiography. These are endless? We could have history that is social science and history that is a branch of the humanities, no? They could not co exist in one department? I’m not sure why not. I do understand that History as a discipline in the university could benefit from a study of historiography in the way historiography gets analyzed in Literature Departments, although this is usually reserved for histories that have been assessed as possessing great literary value or appreciation. (There is such a thing in writing called the literary, and this cannot be made popular or democratized the way we imagine in our city or state colleges, the way we misunderstand in our public schools or any school or program that defers to the mandates of the state. Literary excellence is what it is: the literary in itself means excellence in letters, the kind of writing that is adjunct to a reading that is other than, more than, and beyond mere alphabetics. It is the kind of writing that demands a kind of reading that is in itself an exercise in literacy that increases literacy, makes literacy stronger, with more vitality.)
To tell or not to tell, that is the question in every culture, and in cultures that write, what is it that gets committed to paper determines what history gets remembered; we are not an oral culture, no matter how much we believe and fear that literacy is waning, or how much stock we put into the idea that ours is a culture transforming into an oral one. Every supposed oral forum is determined by literacy, by writing. But then this is the horror one gets from appraising the current state of literacy in America; we are still a literate culture, not an oral one. Very few of us even know what we are referring to let alone what we are trying to say when we speak in platitudes about our culture becoming an oral one. The differences and/or similarities between orality and literacy is non-existent in the understanding of most university educated anywhere, even in the United States.
Of course, in what we used to call a democratic forum, all ideas, thus in parallel, all stories competing for acceptance must have no censor. This of course is not exactly adhered to by the most ardently politically correct in our publishing establishment, certainly not in our universities, themselves having succumbed to the demands of the ledger book and the marketplace; the idea that we have multicultural slots to fill in our publishing is merely a way of increasing profits by subdividing the market, a basic tenet of microeconomics, learned by every undergraduate who takes Micro and Macro Economics as either a prerequisite or as an elective. However, even where all ideas competing for acceptance, there must still be competition, which means some form of discerning, which in turn means some form of discrimination, which does not mean blindly to prejudge. Historiography has succumbed to a crisis in epistemology whereby attaining knowledge has become impossible. This leaves historiography opened to a methodology that employs the narratology of the fiction writer, which, in an abrupt turn around, must never be entirely absent from even the most objective of history.
To prejudge blindly is not to be discriminating, which is what is so heinous about things like racism and sexism; there is often little to no discriminating involved. I discriminate between fresh and sour milk, very good and cheap wine, well made products and poorly made ones. If the wine is “corked,” or the wine is fine; I discriminate. But what we mean mostly about all ideas must have no censor is that we must not discriminate and thus must accept all ideas as possessing some validity. As children, we want what we think to matter to everyone we speak to independent of whether or not our thoughts are worthy of respect, and yes, respecting a man or a woman enough to listen to them is not the same thing as respecting and accepting what they say. We must have open forums of disagreement, and opinions must have quality otherwise we are in a situation where they only have quantity which leaves us open to an ethics numerically determined, which in turn only respects the rights of the current majority. This of course is similar to, but not identical with, learned consensus. And yes, there are intellectual elites, at least there used to be in our academies of higher learning. The church and the monastery have just about fallen below the horizon of history in determining the metaphysical energies and driving forces of the university system in the west; universities have become virtually fully bourgeois, and by this have fallen under the auspices of the ledger book. In publishing today, moreover, what gets published is as dogmatically colorful as it used to be white and male only; it seems we only ever flip the coin, which leads me to be cynical in face of others believing that history is progressive. But this also results in having to maintain this dogma. The fore mentioned coin-flip is, of course, a social corrective, yet aren’t laxatives also called correctives?
Social laxatives or laxities notwithstanding, narrative must be made, it is made, it is at the end of a creative process, or so we have come to say without actually knowing what we mean. A narratology of recounting the day–or should I restrict my diction to ‘retelling’ the day–would reveal the creative process, as it uncover what we mean by inventiveness. Diction is the choice and use of words in writing as well as speech. This choosing words is part of the fashioning, the making of any story. There is always present a wrighter in every writer, every teller of a tale. This wright has the same sense as used to be present in the word, playwright, one who builds a play, one who constructs, who makes . . . the thing made, again; a wheelwright makes wheels. Humans when they were called Man used to be the tool making animal; chimps chewing leaves to soak up water from knots in branches, or stripping branches and licking them to put into the holes of termite mounds exploded this and turned anthropology on its head. Humanology has struggled to recover in the last three decades since.
The past I have spoken of here was no golden age; it would be contrary to my ideas about adhering to a sense of Truth or would be indicative of an inability to be objective in weighing facts, in presenting the past, which is what history should do, present the facts as objectively as possible, restricting the sense of fact to some verifiable evidence of a true occurrence. History presents the past, I know, and in this, it is representation, which is what Shakespeare’s King Lear does, represent, each performance a multiplication of the representation. We are not here going to venture a discussion of truth on the stage, truth in acting, verisimilitude in theater. What was, becomes another form of is. Is all presentation a matter of re-presentation, thus a matter of delivering fiction? We could say yes and remain confident in our objectivity.
Implications and inferences seem beyond us in our culture of ignorance–ah! here comes the diatribe I have been sensing all along, one might say; I will not ascent to ‘could.’ Things do though have to be spelled out for us. We have succumbed to a mountain of critique of our civilization: thinking is not something we believe can be taught or should be taught or needs to be taught because somewhere we imagine that thinking is what we are capable of by nature. But thinking is not randomly passing images in the mind, or becoming thrilled by our own brilliance because we have divined meaning without verification. Verification itself is mistrusted; the ability to verify has successfully been undermined–and we wonder why we have the media we have, the power structure we have, the politicians to we get to vote for, almost believing that what is, is right; the Status Quo as it is is forever.
Nonetheless, nevertheless, moreover, however, although, but, so and yet . . . narrative is a thing made, and History is narrative, for the most part, at least traditional histories have employed this method of presentation; history is, yes, a thing made, this fashioning and making being the core of what we call fiction, and in as much as all the fore mentioned references to the Latin fictio point to this thing made, history is a kind of fiction. All stories also include some narrative, at least the kind we have in conventional fiction. But then we do say narrative fiction as opposed to non-narrative fiction; the latter being the kind of short stories that have more in common with prose-poems, or other lyric expressions, as we sometimes find in the fiction of Virginia Woolf, to provide at least one representative example of such writing and certainly not the only. Yes, there is lyric fiction. Lyric, narrative and drama are clearly distinct forms of expression, those distinctions are not going to be drawn; nor am I going to discuss exposition, expository writing, the likes we find in the essay form, a genre of literature I will only pass over in the ensuing discussion. The separate names of these forms of expression, principally writing, might imply inclusion in clearly drawn categories. These forms of expression are not mutual in their categorical forms, but may be mutually employed by the expression chosen; narrative fiction as opposed to narrative non-fiction, let us say. There is of course narrative fiction and narrative non-fiction, and the traditional notion of history resides in the latter, narrative non-fiction. Is there lyric history? This is another essay.
Narrative, however, is simply the product of narration; the act of narrating makes the narrative. This act, of course, is the subject of all narratology, whether it is the Odyssey, Moll Flanders, The Great Gatsby, Caesar’s The Civil Wars, or Gibbon’s The Rise and fall of the Roman Empire. We only have to reflect on our telling to know that narrating anything involves choices, many of them creative, others biased, still others perhaps short-sighted, others yet limited by available documents. Certainly rhetorical choices are involved, thus making the telling of any story not only a reflection of the teller’s style, the teller’s idiolectal variations on his native or non-native sociolect, his speech community’s negotiated and negotiable discourse, but is reflective of his creative ablity, his makerly relationship with his text. It also reveals his politics. All history writing is inevitably political and politicizing. I am taking my notions of politicalizing, of politicized discourse, or discourse in the act of politicizing (not the same things) from Aristotle–anything anyone does is by design or in effect political. Human beings are political animals; we are also storytelling ones.
Since all history writers are in effect makers of their texts, and all makers are poets, as is predicated by the Greek poeta, that is, maker, all historiography has its poetics. Now not every one can tell a story well, or even tell what has happened adequately, this we seem to know without having to say it. Bearing witness without prejudice; but what about the prejudices of memory, the prejudices of our culturally received ideas, its accepted dogmas? And any institution of state, or of religion, or of finance, as well as any State has its dogmas–your family has its dogmas, too; but then, the family is an institution. Now most people rarely pay attention to the difference between the expository and the narrative, let alone possess the good sense when to use either. I am not so certain that everyone needs to be able to do so; however, I am fast realizing that even among many of our educated elite (and successful completion of a graduate school program makes one a part of an educated elite, or at least it should; yet perhaps not the master’s anymore, but let us leave that alone for now), a distinction between the two forms of expression is absent. Even a rudimentary understanding of the two as categories of writing would go a long way in helping to manage one’s critique of history, historia, historum, fee, fie, fictio and all that.
Nonetheless, one still makes a text when he or she says anything about some event, some experience, some occurrence. The competence to tell a story well, of course, goes beyond mere grammatical competence, at least how we limit our understanding of the term grammatical. But there is some truth in the maxim, teaching grammar will not make a person a better writer. This of course points to a number of seemingly divergent things, but one is essential, and that is that no matter how a story is told, it is creative in the aforementioned ways someone is creative when telling any story, even a story about what happened at work or the token booth in the subway, The story-teller should know the differences between narrative and exposition, although this knowledge in itself will not a story-teller make.
Fee, fie, fictio, historum . . . all of us are storytellers, telling stories true and stories made up, stories in one form or another all of them sharing the makerliness of the text, whether that be oral or that be written, we grind the bones of memory to make our bread.
Truth is Beauty
She and I. Subject compounded, not the objective.
He and she. Myself removed as I am sometimes with a pen. The mirror is another subject; you and I, plurality and singularity, in the mirror is on the glass.
Who am I, who are you? Questions I ask in the mirror.
Similar is not the same, you understand this well enough. Who am I with you? With her? Now the objective is clear.
Names? What’s in a name? Hers or mine, yours in the mirror. My name is whatever I choose it to be when I need a name other than the one I was given–Call me who I am today; I am not my new name tomorrow.
A load of dog shit by the name rose still smells like shit.
Do you think she is beautiful? I asked.
Who? She asked.
The Mona Lisa, I said.
I guess, she added.
Do you, really? I asked.
I imagine she must be beautiful to someone, she said.
Who? I asked.
Does it matter? She asked.
Who do you imagine imagining her beautiful? I added.
I imagine that she must be to many, many people. She is to me, she said.
To you? I asked. I didn’t think you thought so.
Maybe you have to be Italian or more largely, Mediterranean. I don’t know. What di we know? I just know that she is not ugly, she is not hideous, she has something someone might find cute, might even think is pretty, but what’s the problem? She asked. Who is really interested in whether she is beautiful or not?
That’s true for everyone, he said. He–not I, said every one of the other farm animals when the little red hen asked for help . . .
Attraction has little to do with aesthetics, she said.
If aesthetics has anything to do with attraction, he said.
I’m not talking about having sex with the Mona Lisa, he said.
Actually, you are. Sex is love, sex is attraction; this attraction is then reciprocated, it is love, and this love is in turn expressed through sex, she said.
He remained silent.
I just know that you cannot only be attracted, even very attracted, to someone who fits what you think is the standard or the acceptable or the appropriate aesthetic representation of Beauty here on earth in another person, she said.
I thought aesthetics and attraction do not have anything to do with one another? He asked. They’re not contingent.
Contingent? She asked.
That does not mean there is not some standard of beauty you yourself adhere to, he said.
So then attraction and aethetics do have everything to do with one another, she wondered.
Just because a person has not formulated an aesthetic philosophy or articulated his aesthetics within a standard philosophical view we could call or recognize as aesthetics does not mean the person does not have an aesthetics, at least on the level of response to stimuli, which aesthetics must entertain because this would be true if one were looking at statuary.
I was silent.
There is a lot more in the heaven and earth of human beauty and human attraction and human sexual relations, good, healthy sexual relations than could be handled by anyone’s aesthetics, she said.
What we have in the way of an understanding of Beauty is too weak to do anything with but hide when we confront how articulate Romance cultures are in aesthetics, I said.
She said nothing.
In the Roman mind, as in the Greek, beauty was always in form, only in form could beauty exist, I said.
Yes, form is Beauty, Beauty form; if this, then Truth is also Beauty because Truth is in form. To inform would then be a way of bearing of Truth—to inform would then be about all the little ‘t’ truths in our lives. It would be to carry minor fragments of the Truth . . . by the Truth and for the Truth itself the Truth absolute.
There are transcendental realities, but then I still believe metaphysics has something to teach us, something to show us in how to approach reality, understand reality, and represent reality in how many different possible and appropriate ways.
You can’t imagine that biggest problem in dealing with Muslims comes from the fact that we no longer know how to talk metaphysically about anything, nor do we know how to talk about metaphysics, nor do we believe that metaphysics has any veracity, exactly in the same way we have abandoned a commitment to Truth and to Beauty.
To bear the Truth is to carry Beauty; to bear Beauty would be to carry Truth. They are mutual and reciprocal, contingent in ways we are unable to understand, again because we cannot talk metaphysics. Is it any wonder that we have continued to uglify the world, continue to lie our way through our lives as if there were no consequences for our conscience—except for those without any conscience, there is no consequence to their lying and their lying and their lying in every petty way creeping along through their lives until the last syllable of their final lie. We no longer believe in Truth, how could we not fumble Beauty?
To inform in our education has become entirely about indoctrination, itself having a unique form. Information would be a way to put in form, a formation of some kind has an aesthetic value, I imagine. I don’t want to know exactly what military leaders around the world consider beautiful, or how battles can be fought beautifully. Aesthetic considerations cannot be excluded from any talk of form. This, however, is not what we have in the matter of our infotainment whereby news is made to match standards of entertaining and amassing the largest audience irrespective of aesthetic or epistemological or ethical concerns.
Information is handled without respect or integrity; they are used as our caveman fore bearers used rocks. I have betrayed my preferences and my beliefs. Beauty and Truth do require belief, a faith of a kind; they are always in form just as anything in form has matters of Truth and Beauty at its core.
There is too much exchange of information today, a thing a little less than kind. There is too much permeation from institutions wanting information about us, on us—always on top of us. How can we think that media in America is not a Capitalist oligarchic flip side of the Soviet Communist Pravda. I’m not so certain today we even know what exchanging information means. Anything kin to a philosophy of beauty would be lost on us. You think we articulate Beauty, we admire Beauty, we know what is and is not Beautiful? And I’m not talking about the women or men you might be attracted to–how we conduct our lives and manage our information should be offensive to us, as offensive as what passes for informing people through most of our media outlets.
Aesthetics has long lost its influence in the academies of learning in America, somewhere now in an intellectual graveyard with philology. We have given up on ever perfecting this special acumen, I said. We have lost the feel for beauty; we may never again have it for truth–they should be Beauty and Truth, but I have succumbed to my culture’s desire to denigrate Beauty and Truth in our minds.
Now, the exchange of our personal facts is too free and too easy. The kind of information exchanged today is the kind we kept close or offered only to our kin. We will spend more time discussing the aesthetics of how the leaking of sensitive State information about us through NSA spying than the degraded sense of Truth we have through our grotesque understanding of Beauty and Form, and how this has led to an ethical relativism that is dangerous and serves only to make power more powerful, the moneyed elite more moneyed and further elite. Do you imagine Zuckerberg serves anyone other than power?
We have made this possible and have allowed this to happen, making acceptable unacceptable negotiations of information and intimacy–they are practically in our beds–no, they are in our beds if you are stupid enough to leave the camera on in your open laptop. Close the lid.
To be bourgeois is to be capitalist, even if you are a worker, and this is one of the hallmarks of American Civilization, the making of bourgeois clones from the organic material of the proletariat.
To be bourgeois capitalist is to be western, even if you are Asian in Asia. In fact, to be western is also to be American, in a way; the American transfiguration of Western Civilization has been ongoing, if not in assault, for a hundred years or more, she said. And yes, there is a Western Civilization, one that precedes 18th century Oxford Professors and British revisions in the name of their hegemony.
The material of our civilization is not a complete fabrication, a mirroring of the emperor’s new clothes, but a wonderful and true fabric of many intricately woven threads—that is so fucking cliché. But you do get the point.
The world is fast becoming one kind. Even if we have yet to raise our ethical consciousness to the level where we can see clearly the oneness of our human kinship. One world–the dream of every fascist, Nazis, Islamic terrorist and communist
The scariest thing I noted in Paris the last time I was there was how much like everywhere else even Paris is becoming. Every city in the world is an island in the American Bourgeois Capitalist Archipelago, a chain of Post-post-Modernist American Islands in a sea of everywhere else.
Do you believe in God? She asked.
In God? I responded.
Yes, God? Do you believe in Him?
Yes, her–are you deaf?
God is not Her.
No, not Her. God is He.
Yes, He and only He.
Got is not She.
Never She. God is He.
I know that God is he, but what is the Holy Ghost?
The Holy Ghost?
Yes, the Holy Ghost; the Holy Spirit. What is the Holy Spirit?
I don’t know. What is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is It, isn’t It?
Yes, It. Not He. Not She, just It.
The Holy Ghost is It?
So, God is then He and It.
At least He and It.
Yes, at least.
I don’t see how I am supposed to come to God is She because the Holy Ghost is It.
So, God can be Father Son and Holy Ghost but God cannot be He, She and It?
Father, Son and Holy Ghost is one thing; this He, She and It is another.
I’m not saying they are the same thing. It’s just, if one, why not the possibility of the other?
I don’t know. All I know is that God is he and that now you say God is it.
Why is it I say? The Holy Ghost is it whether I say so or not.
I don’t know.
You do not know?
He and She and It?
Yes, He, She and It. You have no problem with Father, Son and Holy Ghost. So, why the problem with He, She and It?
He, She and It?
Via Lactae the Romans called it, a squirt from Hera’s tit, feeding Herakles. Could it be the heavenly equivalent of the Sacred Ganges? Or is it a great cloud eating shark? But poor illegitimate (illegitimate?) Herakles suckling at Hera’s tit––such strength in his suckle awakened Hera, who in a jerk withdrew her tit, squirting a jet of milk across the heavens––Herakles was her husband Zeus’s child––not hers.
The bridal gown of Lindu, daughter of the God of the Sky and Thunder, raised to the sky in her finery and sorrow at having been stood up before her betrothal to the Northern Lights. Uko could withstand her sorrow no longer and raised her to the sky. We see her gown billowing across the heavens.
Wakim the Great Grizzly of the Shoshone in his journey to the land of the South passed over great mountains with snow great tremendous falling down, falling down . . . enormous amounts collecting on the fur of Wakim’s back, snow piled on his fur that were let loose and flown high in a great rush as he quickened his pace to get over the tops of the mountains that divided his North from his new place of dwelling, the South––snow raised high, high, very high into the sky that can still be seen blowing and scattering across the heavens tonight.
“Black and White Low Light”
I see scenes in monochrome. There are many scenes in the world that are not to be recorded in monochrome; there just isn’t the contrast for them. There are sets that should only be shot in black and white. What makes a beautiful photo in color can be the dullest and palest in contrast of all in black and white photos. After shooting with black and white film long enough, you get accustomed to seeing the world in monochrome.
All black and white photography is the world in monochrome . . .
I won’t be able to wait for the film to go away, fade out–I am not able to talk the truth of monochrome without one or another allusions or references to the film being made. There are always illusions we keep for however brief a time, a moment we have. Did you ever notice that black people are white in photographic negatives and that white people are black, and the blacker you are, the whiter, you are and vice-versa. Albino caucasians are jet black.
I was once told that neither extreme on the monochromatic scale is actually present in a film–but that can’t be, can it? This is not a point of contention for me when I shoot with black and white film; is there true white and true black in what I have shot. I have gone into the extremes of low-light photography and let me tell you I have recorded on film, black and white. I have hundreds and hundreds of photos in black and white stored in boxes in a closet in my apartment. . . a closet photographer, no? Interesting, this idea about being in a closet anything, or about being closeted . . . how it is not only about sexual orientation and sexuality, being in the closet. Every human soul experiences this closet of his own, this closet of his desires, his feelings, his ideas, whatever have you that’s locked up in you.
How long ago now–everything falling below the horizon in memory. There are many things I become surprised by–surprised how old they are in my life, how long ago they happened. I can say that the last time I was there with my dad, I bought film at B & H and burgers at the Cheyenne Diner. We did go and get burgers at the Cheyenne. How long before he died–he died in the morning with the sun breaking through the clouds after having snowed a few inches the night before. It’s four years ago that my dad died as the sun broke through the gloom. I would have liked to have taken shots of the sun that morning, both in color and in monochrome.
Everything from one end of the monochromatic scale of black to that of white, though, I am able to imagine when taking photos–I can see color arrangement easily; I can also see the many shades of gray with the eye in the mind. How many shades of gray make up a black and white film? I am genuinely asking. The black and white film I buy at B & H on 9th Avenue across from the Cheyenne Diner I have used for decades now–is it that long already, really? The last time I was there was with my Dad–no, it wasn’t the last time I was there, the time I am remembering. I was there getting some 8mm movie film processed–color–when? My last time there . . . the last time I was there with my dad we did go to the Cheyenne Diner.
I have been told that in any black and white movie there is no black and there is no white–for sure. There are how many shades of gray in our optics? What is it that I do see on the borders of the film in Fritz Lnag’s M? Everything dissolves in the black perimeter, no? Circumambient dark–yes, it is the same circumambient dark I see in De La Tour’s Penitent Magdalene at the Met, Magdalene surrounded in her room by the dark, pitch black perimeter, a mirror reflecting the black and the lone candle on her vanity table, the sole illumination as she contemplates the skull in her lap. I am reminded of Hamlet overtime I look to the penitent Mary Magdalene. Yes, Alas! Poor Yorick. I knew him Horatio. Hamlet is the King of Shadows.
I do impose my preferences on my judgements of the world. But snow would make the graying of the day less intense, less grayed. Night photos with snow around are always clearer than when there is not snow and thus no intensifying of whatever light is around. I remember having learned how long ago I cannot tell that black and white photography is an arrangement of shades of gray–yes, we will to be able to escape the movie for a while–but this monochrome scale does and does not have everything to do with the film by the title, Is there no real black and no real white? I’m asking. Waiting for a response; En Attendant Pour Une Response; yes, waiting for an answer might not be exactly what Didi and Gogo experience when waiting for Godot . . . and Godot is not God. He might as well be a weather report as much as he is God. Becket said as much–if he had wanted Godot to be God, he would have put it in the play.
What I ask about snow and rain I ask rhetorically, secure in the notion that snow must be universally preferable to rain any time in the winter. I know it is for me any December. I prefer 28 degrees Fahrenheit with snow to 38 degrees Fahrenheit with rain. Yes, I would prefer 30F with snow to 34F with rain. Who would not? Everyone would, no? Preferences for weather are often determined by mood, mood determined sometimes by weather; there are times when these are not mutual, nor reciprocal. There are times when it is exactly this, a mood determined by weather and the preference for weather in my mood. Weather reflects my mood, my mood reflects the weather–why the need to repeat? I used to be sure and oftentimes said, my mood, the weather. Yet, it is another thing entirely to say that I am the storm that blows, or the sun that shines, or the rain that falls, or the night that comes–night is n to a condition of weather, I know. All of the former references to weather could be continued into tother references so on and so on. Yes, there is very, very little in life and the world that is not and so on; but what this has to do with the world in monochrome . . . it does not, does it? Rain and snow have a lot to do with shades of gray, which does not suggest that rain or snow hold the day and the sunshine in bondage–they may be holding a nice day hostage. Are they the same, this holding in bondage and this holding hostage. I am certain that shooting the human body naked or nude in color is more pornographic than if it were done in black and white, in monochrome.
I could go on and on about Romanticism, about there being a fire and a motion in the soul that cannot be contained by the narrow sphere of being, but I will stop here. No, I won’t. I am a reflection of the force and violence of nature . . . yet we must remember that nature is not red in tooth and claw for the Romantics the way it became for the Victorians, but then the Romantics did not have the prisms of Lyell and Darwin, did they? Moreover, who wouldn’t prefer snow to rain? I mean–you just do not get as wet, and I’m not referring to the occasional desire to stand in a thunder storm–of course, not in an opened field, but perhaps near or next to one’s home–in the summer, as we used to do in the Berkshires, sometimes putting on our bathing suits to take a shower in a thunder storm.
Would I prefer snow to the drizzle that seems terminally expressed by the color of the weather these last several days, a mood evoked by the grayness of today and yesterday and the day before that? I recall our last visit to Paris and how terminally gray it seemed, every day gray, gray and more gray until the last day when she puked a half block from our hotel before we got ready to leave and take a cab to De Gaulle–who goes to Paris in February? What questions do I have at the ready to ask about weather and myself, who I am in face of what weather we face? My soul is romantic, I imagine, but then that is romantic in the sense of the word when it is applied to Byron, Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, or Coleridge–there are others, but let these suffice to tell and infer a showing through familiarity. But I am expecting too much from my readers, am I not? Do I assume most have read what I have read, as much as I have read, for as long and as often as I have . . . and frequently re-reading as I do? I will reiterate one of my older undergraduate mantras: all good reading is re-reading.
Light, Camera, Shadow, Gaze
I gaze at shadows. I look at shadows. I watch the shadows of the winter bare tree outside shake on the wall opposite the window, the street light blaring a lot like a charging Rhino if Rhinoceroses were swaths of light. I look for the line between light and dark, what I see, what I imagine I do, where one begins and the other ends, chiaroscuro. I recall the photos I have taken over the years, my preference for low light photography, hand-held at 1/15th of a second, aperture sometimes opened at f 1.4, a fifty millimeter fixed lens, sometimes veiling the lens with anklet-stockings of different degrees of opacity, one shot I remember of the Jefferson Market Library from the second floor window looking out on 8th Street and 6th Avenue through a thunderstorm, an 8 x 10 blow-up framed and hung on the wall in my living room, opacity. I have taken so many photographs in black and white, preferring monochrome to color, the shades of gray, shadows again on the wall moving in time with the breeze that blows. I like low light photography. I push exposure, hand held, the camera steady at one-fifteenth of second, sometimes the shutter opened less than f/1.4, an old AE-1; what is repetition for a writer but motif. The rain was filter enough.
The Jefferson Market Library Tower in shades of gray through a thunderstorm through a window . . . it is a gorgeous shot almost a charcoal sketch, something of Fritz Lang and Greg Toland’s use of black in the margins of the frames of the shots they used in some of the former’s more significant films. I watched a lot of Dreyer and Murnau when I was walking around with three SLRs and three different speed films for New York, Manhattan, sometimes as gray as Paris in the winter, one February, terminally gray, the sky, the buildings, the Seine, a statue of Joan of Arc . . . I watched a lot of John Ford and Toland’s work here in the states, and the work of Orson Welles when in Black and White, what films did he do in color I cannot recall. Expressionism in film, particularly the German variety, if there was any other kind, is so much in debt to the baroque . . . baroque light, baroque space . . .
I have hundreds of photos with no more than two votive candles for light or other such low lumen sources. I have a shot of my wife’s hand by votive light just having picked a piece of crust from the bread in the basket on the table in the corner at the banquet. Most of my film photography has been in shades of gray, black and white, again, low light most preferable within my greatest preference in photography, monochrome . . . I remember the use of the candlelight effect in certain northern baroque paintings. I recall Georges de la Tour used this effect to great purpose. I remember his “Penitent Magdalene” at the Met, the candle flame before her mirror, my mirror tonight, the mirrors at Jule’s, I’ve used the votives and the mirrors to great effect in my photography, her hand, the delicacy of her hand above the bread, a glaring burst from the candle to the side . . . very few shades of gray, as close to true black and white as is possible while still holding interest, there are areas of the most intense black, the white softened by the diffusion of light, wavering flames shedding light more diffusely than penetrating incandescent light.
“What’s the Point?” I cannot imagine the point. I have forgotten the point. The use of chiaroscuro or veiling the lens to gain what Da Vinci called sfumato, not identically but in a way associated, or so I think I can say, thus should say. The sharper contrasts of light and dark . . . I see the world in monochrome. I recall ignoring suggestions for photos from friends or family because what they were looking at they were seeing in color, and what I had in my camera was black and white film, and sometimes, even if the monochromatic scale was good for black and white, the speed of the film I had might have been all wrong for the scene, perhaps the exposure as impossible for me to hold without a tripod, which is why I had a couple of portable tripods–not that my big and tall tripod was not portable, just not as portable as the smaller ones I bought.
Oh, light and shadow, the shadow world I thought I could reveal, what shadows do veil, what they do reveal; yet there is also how light blinds and creates another kind of darkness, what is eclipsed, as the aureole of light around an eclipse of the sun can block out portions of the shadow of the moon passing in front of the sun. Penetrating the shades in the shadow, sitting in the shade of a tree or a building or under an umbrella in the heat of the afternoon in the summer, at the beach, much, much cooler.
The Milky Way
I stand at the shore in Montauk looking up at the swath of white in the night sky, looking dead center into the galactic plane, a squirt from Hera’s tit, my father had told me when I was a boy. In all of the North eastern United States, Montauk Point is one of the darkest at night, great star-gazing; surrounded by water and state parks. My to be or to become arises like a particle in the vacuum of space-time . . . all is created there as most of the heavier elements are created in super novae explosions, hydrogen fusing into helium, helium into carbon, carbon into argon and so on and so on . . . the fusion/fission dynamism of stars is like the being and becoming dynamism of humans . . . a question crosses my mind from time to time, has crossed my mind, has crossed everyone’s mind . . . when I look to the stars as I had when I was a boy . . . as every time I look in the mirror with this question, a question of my being and my becoming, which, when how . . . I get many different answers. The I I am depends on coordinates of time and space drawn by another hand. Eternity lurks in me, I have assumed, like a trace of the background radiation on spectral analysis of the cosmos. To be or to become is present in my choice now, and we always choose to be or to become, we cannot avoid choosing. Choice is always for the taking; each choice a chance we encounter; every chance results in our fortune or misfortune . . . this present trip is another fortune sought.
Who I am trips me up. I’m not especially clumsy, but all this wondering about who I am what I have been when I will be what and where, or how or why . . . I never watch my feet as I walk down a flight of stairs. You know why the lisper lisps. I determine who I am, or what I become, I assume; I am as much Everyman as I am unique in the entire history of the cosmos. I am not unique in this way. Everyone is Everyman. Yet, no one who has ever lived, who lives now, or will ever live is me. No one in any of these times or places–no one–occupies the coordinates of space and time as I do in this spot at this moment. All is ephemeral, though. Who I am, when I am, where I am, with whom I am, how I am before I become what I am–yes, I am and I am not simultaneously. I will be, but I will not be as well.This question of identity; you know Identity spells ID Entity. The it within; monsters again arising from inside of me. I have said this before . . . I will say it again. I repeat myself often.
Round and round I go, the Italians say, gira, gira . . . each pose I take posits somewhere outside of me something imposed inside of me. Imposing, posing, positing, depositing, a repository of a kind, this Self of selves within. Some of us imagine other selves as we do suppositories. What do I gain by the poses I take? Each intake, each out-take, put as it might be. Again, who am I? is the question who are we? I am once again . . . wondering who I am within who we are, this who we are by who I am all about when I am or where I am, and when and where I am going; to come and go. I become when I be-go. I am a cosmogony that does not get repeated; yet I am also all of humanity at any moment. The fact that I am cosmogonic allows me to stand in for all human beings, a posture I take, and I do take postures as well as pose them, put them on as I put on everyone else–all the world’s a stage . . . I do become anyone I need to be. I am many; thus I am we. But what I need to be is often a mystery to me. To philosophize is to learn how to die we know from Montaigne, but imagination is necessary to philosophize I learned from Doc Braun as I called him, Doc. Imagination most people do not associate with philosophy, nor do they with eternity, as Blake reminds us time and again that imagination is the doorway to the eternal. Imagination was a faculty of mind most highly prized by the Romantics, suspicious of rationality as they were, or how the rational was used as a tool against humanity, the great human humane when human is only human when humane, as the French distinguish duality between the two in one word, humaine, and we Anglo saxon speakers create dichotomy with our tongue. But then I suspect this is why in a country so seemingly committed to democracy and freedom we can speak out of the mouths of our leaders with forked tongues. The Nazis and the Bolsheviks were both hyper-rational, not imaginative, unless it was in the expenditures on torture, oppression, and murder. I am who I am that I am when I am how I am where I am even why I am, I say, I think, therefore I believe; belief displaces dialectic in me.What then do I say about all the interrogatives that can be extended from each relative pronominal relationship to my I. We live by suppositions.
Everyone thinks that who what when where and why are important, very important, but then I am who I am, as I am what am I, where I am, and so on. I have not answered these questions in any way that proves overarching to my becoming; to my being is another thing, another essay, perhaps. You probably haven’t asked yet these questions ontologically. What are our theories of being? Do we have them, or do we only have theories of becoming, perpetual, endless becoming. You have decided you do not need to ask yourself the once pressing questions of being, whether existence precedes essence or vice-versa, and all the essences, the prefab essentials of our being precede the existence I have, and determine who I am, certainly what I am. You probably haven’t realized that you decided this, or why you might have, if that is in fact what has been done. The only determinism of your being, though, is the fact that you believe your life has been horribly determined, which coincides with a culture that gorges itself on victimhood and philosophies of victimization. These determinisms you believe you uncover, are in fact created by a system of belief you have firmly placed yourself inside of, and this self enclosure masquerades in your diction as inescapable determinism.Do you need an answer to each of these questions now that I am herein mentioning them as not having the relevance you insist they have. Now that it has come to the fore that I have not before answered or even attempted to answer any of these questions you think are useful–unless what I have thus far said could be said to have some say in the matter of my who and my what, at least in the ways you prefer to frame discussions of being, because you do discuss being even when you argue that being is impossible, or improbable, and the only thing we have is perpetual becoming into becoming into becoming yet again, all of it without gain. The where and the when are here and now as all writing has immediacy, an unavoidable presentness about it, and what I say here is in words on a page, printed for easy reading because my handwriting is shit. I am who I am even when I am not being the me I have been before, a me, an I, others I know might not recognize. I am me with every stranger I meet even if with that stranger I lie through my teeth and tell no truth in the factual sense of truth we sometimes hold too pedantically dear, close without feeling.Who am I? I do not ask this question because as I have said above, I am that I am when I am who and what I am wherever I am however it is that I am me. I am subject and object and subject complement and every other way of stating my being in words, which means language, which means in grammar, which exists independent of politics, if you will, before it, although rhetoric is not. I am. This is simple enough because all lists of attributes are modes of subtraction, really. I am unable to be sum-totaled; I am macrocosm to all microcosms, the microcosm of history, the one of state, of government, of gender, of sexual orientation, of religion, of politics, of political affiliation, of job, of class, et cetera.
What can I say about any time of mine in Montauk, the times we’d spend at Land’s End, on the beach, on and in the sands, 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 enveloped in cotton when at night I awaken in the middle of the dark, quiet, still . . . the door partly opened; or when I feel the salt spray, against my face, a taste working its way between my lips, with the wind, off the ocean . . . what more, this of course, what there is, all more––I could say more,I could tell you so much more than I have––what else can I say?
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. I love standing on the sands on the beach, sometimes with my feet in the surf, sucked down into the soft and quick wet sands of the surf, my feet moving as I stand looking out to the horizon south or east, sometimes west . . . 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? I have asked this before, answered this before, responded one way or another with words on the page, herein this review and elsewhere, in story or poem or essay. 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 it 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 moi. C’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.
[ditch plains dog]
Waiting for the Sun
Sun rise from the beach in Montauk. Getting up before dawn to wait for the sun. Waiting for the Sun was an album by the Doors–my favorite group when I was . . . how old was I then the first time I listened to the Doors, still played by the crew at WNEW when I was . . . how old was I listening to Alison Steele, the Night Bird–I’d stay up to listen to her . . . They are now, the Doors, from then, what remains–the most enduring group from my youth? What does that mean? What could it mean? What does it mean–not just the truth of it, if it is in fact true–but to say it, to think that I need to say it, or that it might say something of me to say it?
Morrison died before I was fourteen or ever a fan of their music. Fan from fanatic–was I a Doors fan the way I am and was a New York Rangers’s fan? Probably not–maybe, though, I was. What means this–could mean anything remotely akin to having a favorite band, or how a band could express something about my being, my personality–yes, to say I liked the Doors did say something about me. We wore our fandom as badges of personality. We allowed their cult of personality to transfer onto us at a time in our lives when we could’t have been less sure who we were, what we were, when we were what, whom, the where was everywhere; the when was actually twofold. It was all the time and it was whenever . . .
The list of conditions we underwent to undergo personality selection is too long. I had no idea and yet I was sure I was the only one who could ever know what I was or what I was going to come to be . . . the sun up over the line of horizon, the squid ink sea growing lighter and lighter with each inching of the sun over the horizon. How many poems has this figured in? I could go back and count, having all my MSS at hand, along with many of the earlier drafts of the poetry manuscripts with their previous titles when different?
A page in caption. Every page I write is a caption for an image of me I have hold keep . . . words and pictures, every picture worth a thousand words, we used to say. I do not understand that. I think it is more accurate to say every right word is a thousand pictures, no. To write or not to write for me has ben my to be or not. There is no getting around that, escaping the import of this fact–facts are not knowledge, though. What knowledge is in this will determine what or how much wisdom can be extracted? Wisdom does not come by extraction, though. Wisdom is revealed; it is an epiphany moment. It is sudden as in Satori, no? What could I know of this, you might ask–I know some of you do, so maybe ye, maybe no, how much of my life has been lived in perhaps . . . what is it about a life we were supposed to be looking for as signs of what? What were the signs might be a question if we really knew for what they were to be the signs of, no?
I recall a satori in Montauk–how could you not have one after another in Montauk I used to think . . . there is a deafness at the beach enveloped in the sound of the surf as I am, yes, enveloped as I am by sight and sound and spray from the wind off the waves. What was the satori? I’m not sure I recall which–how could I differentiate fro among them, yes, the many . . . I love to write out there . , , I re-read Kerouac’s Big Sur on the beach in Montauk–it was between this an Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, for obvious reasons . . . and for not so obvious reasons I picked to Kerouac, I won’t go into the whys, but not because I like Jack better than Virginia, no . . . I know he would have liked that I brought the book with me, and carried on in my journal as I had about the reading and the waves and the surf and the gulls and the clouds and salt spray and the wind and the Hoo Doos and the cliffs of Shadmoor State Park and the echo off the Hoo Doos as the surf raged below them . . . and I’m sure that he would have loved that I was reading it on the beach, and I have no problem saying as much to others, some others–no, most others not nearly as close to me as I am to those kin I have in spirit as we used to say about our favorite authors, the authors we carried with us as badges, ID badges, like I did with Kerouac and Faulkner . . . I stand on the beach in the surf and I look to the horizon, I look to the waves, at them, looking in a way that watches closely what is happening, how the water breaks off from the surf, what shaols are there under the water that I cannot see, what formations of the shore I cannot see that cause the water coming in to break in white water waves . . . I look back to the horizon and imagine that I see it wobble.
The Soul of Genius
. . . and so you want to know something about me . . .
Love is the Soul of Genius
Love is the soul of genius, Mozart said. How could it not be, I have added. Yes, love–love, an immortal essence? Of genius? But what is genius? Who is a genius? Genius has been co-opted by advertising, hasn’t it? It has been used in any one of Hollywood’s or publishing’s many marketing strategies. Genius, apart from our understanding of the word today, used to be a person of exceptional intellectual abilities, exceptional creative talent. I guess it means the same thing today–I do not really have to guess. It is, though, this evaluation of what constitutes exceptional abilities that I question, our ability to judge this when so many of us in a position to judge have been corrupted by a pedagogy more concerned for marketing strategies than educating. Yes, everyone was special in my son’s middle school, even the imbeciles. Am I supposed to apologize for calling a cloudy day cloudy and not sunny–are all days sunny? Some children are fundamentally stupid. You do not have to make them feel badly because of this; you do not have to torture them by making them persist in tests of achievement they will not be able to complete. We do not have to lie to ourselves and not be honest with ourselves about them, academically, intellectually. We must always have compassion. We do not have to lower standards to make him fell better; there are many ways for him to adjust to the fact that he is not academically special.
We like to say for all endeavors we imagine are creative that genius is the guiding spirit of the person creating. In the case of Mozart’s claim, a guiding spirit itself coalescing with love becomes the principal force in the creative process. It is the essence of this spiritual force that ‘makes,’ as we say when we use the Greek poeta, or poet, for a man or a woman of creative power. Dare I say the word power? Love then is also at the heart of many things we want to do well, need to do well, whether we choose to or not; it is the guiding creative force behind our accomplishments. The kind of genius Mozart was talking about I insist was the kind of genius that compels the creator to create. If poetry does not come as leaves to the tree than it better not come at all, said Keats. Of course, we reserve this understanding for endeavors outside the mundane, and we do not consider this notion of doing with love when we consider sweeping the floor, cleaning the windows, making coffee, although some do–nor do we reserve this analysis for doing the laundry, although we could, and perhaps we should. Without love, it is not possible to do anything well enough, and everyone needs to do better what it is they do, brushing the teeth, cleaning the house, making dinner, putting up the Christmas tree, buying a birthday gift, et cetera; there must be love at the heart of action, if action is to be completed appropriately.
What we desire to do, to accomplish, we should do with love, of course. Repetition is a rhetorical device and rhetorical devices should also be employed with love in our writing. Persuasion must come from love and thus from Truth otherwise it is all about buying and selling, pimping and prostitution. Without love there is no genius of any kind–we do get this in Mozart’s assertion, no? Thus, whatever we do, we do without the necessary genius if we do it without love–and love is not the passion that is greed. We have no genius for sweeping–do we? Or for washing the dishes, or for frying an egg. Yet, the woman or the man who bakes with love understands that love is the soul of genius in baking.
But what is love, we have to ask? Of course we do. We have, though, fallen out of the habit of defining our terms when we speak or write. Defining our terms was and remains always necessary for anyone who reads what we write to see where we stand in relation to what we are saying. Defining our terms is necessary to show where our ideas come from and where they are going. In any examination of the process of accretion in our thinking–and yes, I liken thinking to the processes in stellar evolution–in any articulation of the process of our thinking, we expose not only where we stand, that is, what our thesis is, but how we have arrived at our conclusions. Defining terms is always a good place to begin. So, what is love? The question is the query; inquiry is the pursuit.
I love my mother. I love good dark chocolate. I love van Gogh. I love reading Woolf. I love the shore at Montauk. I love being in Montauk, love how being there makes me feel. I love seeing the full moon in the sky, love recalling happy moments in my life. I love listening to Vivaldi, love how Vivaldi makes me cry–and I do cry when I listen to Vivaldi as I do cry sometimes when I listen to Louis Armstrong. I love visiting the Met, the Opera and the Museum. I love the Balanchine and Stravinsky pieces at the New York City Ballet, especially the black and whites, as I like to call them. What I love is wide and variegated. I also love the idea of being in love, as does Romeo. The kinds of love are varied. I love to fuck, of course–for me this is self-evident. Yes, I love sex, I love wine, I love women, I do, I really love women, the fact of women, the presence of women, the motion of women, the skin of women, the tits of women, the legs of women, the hands of women, hands still, hands moving, holding, caressing, manipulating, hands holding my hand, hands holding a fork, hands turning a spoon in a cup of coffee . . . I love coffee, dark roasts, the smell, the taste, the feel in the mouth . . . I love women’s mouths, their lips, their tongues, I love their eyes, their ears, collar bones, necks, throats, all of this becoming pornographic.
Put the pieces together into a whole,. not her hole, part for whole, not hole––a woman’s hole not the whole of her . . .
I do not love pornography. Pornography is extreme focus, is it not. I do love close-ups; Extreme focus is a detail as we say in art criticism. Yes, the woman’s body in details, sharp focus of the parts, pornography. Woman metonymically–there is a great deal of difference between loving a woman sexual and engaging in what amounts to one or another forms of pornographic behavior. A woman’s cunt standing for her, part for whole, metonymy, or in this sense, the hole for the whole. I do not love this.
I imagine that the power elite love power. I imagine torturers love torturing. I imagine that there is a genius for torturing, no? There are god and bad torturers. I am speaking about aesthetics. The grotesque, as you should know is a category of beauty. I love beauty–as I have said before. If I had pursued my degree in philosophy, I would have pursued a concentration in aesthetics. It is safe to say that anyone who succeeds in the games of power played in the world must be a lover of power. I imagine that the monied elites love money, that they love to make money, accumulating money then would be an act of love? Is this love or is this a fetish? If a man seeks, finds and reaches sexual gratification from a woman’s shoe, this is fetish, not love, right? I do not make distinctions between love and lust, however. The desire to fuck in itself, as I have made clear elsewhere in the course of my essays, is love. This desire for consummation at the site of or the proximity to one’s sexual interest is the beginning of love, a kind of love after which choices have to be made, are then made, that determine the fate of the love that has been initiated? Are we confusing love and lust? I do not want to be a prude and say that what we understand to be lust and lustfulness has nothing to do with love. That would be false. I am of the mind that the desire to fuck is love.
There is a line from Citizen Kane that resonates in relation to the aforementioned love of money; the lust for money? Greed cant be love? Greed can only be lust–lust without love is a degradation of the love within which the desire arose? Anyway, one of the characters responds to the reporter investigating Mr. Kane’s last word, “Rosebud” by saying that “it’s not hard to make a lot of money if the only thing you want to do is to make a lot of money.” So, where are we then? Kane had a genius for making money? He had another for spending it? Does the Devil have a genius for disruption, for distraction, for confusion? Of course he does. The love of acquisition leads to acquisition. But is this love of acquisition actually love in itself love, the way we mean when we say love for one’s paramour; or love for one’s brother, whether that be one’s native brother or one’s brother in the sense Jesus means in the Gospels. Some say yes, others say no. I have my doubts, but raise the questions again. What I say I must first find out., and I only find out by writing. I ask what is love? Hence, I write about love. There are too many answers to provide, let alone all the aimless responses I could indulge on what I might imagine passes for thinking on the spot in a moment most likely abruptly in response to something said.
Love is obsession, I’m sure many must think; love cannot be obsession others say. Love is grace; there is no grace without love. God offers grace; then as I had been taught, God is the God of Love before he is the God of Justice, Retribution, Vengeance and Submission. Grace is an affectation of the debilitated religio-centric mind, or so we could believe. To be obsessed with somebody some say is love; others insist obsession cannot be love. Jesus loves and by His love saves, Christians say. Love is kindness; love is compassion; love is sacrifice; love is altruism; love is giving and not taking; love is . . . what? Love is, in the Aquinian sense that Deus est and only Deus est. God is. This is the only valid thing to say about God. It is the only rhetoric to be used. To give attribute to God, to say that God is this or God is that would be to subtract from God, rhetorically, that is. So perhaps this is what we should say about love, Love is. The Buddha speaks of love as the only antidote for hate. I recall the Dhammapada and Lord Buddha’s pronouncement that only love can dispel hate. Do the lovers of money dispel the haters of money, the haters of materialism? Perhaps they do.
Many think of love as a spiritual principle pervading the world. But how can it pervade the world when the globe turns on an axis of contempt, violence, corruption, greed and death? Yet, as I have said above, what if you loved power, what if you loved money? Certainly greed is an obsession, lust is an obsession . . . all the deadly sins are obsessions, we have said in our traditional conception of these losses of light. And they are losses of light–except we can then say that those who do not love the accumulation of wealth are those who have not seen the light. but then doesn’t Satan shine his own peculiar light on things in the world, of the world. Jesus does say be in the world , not of it. But then a Christian is supposed to believe in a God of light, a God of Truth. A Christian is supposed to believe in a body of spirit and flesh. The human being is not solely a being of material/of body without spirit. Sin is darkness; love is light. This is old. Love and obsession cannot be the same? Love is forgiveness; obsession becomes jealousy; jealousy is not love? Love is redemption and transcendence; obsession is descent and the kitchen knife in your lover’s chest? But then that’s it. Love can become jealousy; it just doesn’t have to become a bullet in the heart.
Is love of money, though, the same as greed? Is there a way to love money without being greedy; isn’t being greedy loving accumulation too much. There is then a way to exceed? From the above sense of what love could be, I would have to say, no. Love of what you do can make you a lot of money, but the driving force of greed corrupts the love of what you do. Even when a lot of money is not the result; you can love what you do and you can corrupt that love of what you do.
The soul of genius, that is love . . . loving too much what you love in order to love it enough? Can the very, very rich be rich through the agency of love and not greed, or is the love of money in itself what we mean by avarice. Do Satan’s followers love him? Is what we call love applicable to Satan and anything satanic. Isn’t Satan and all things satanic a corruption of good, sin again being the absence of good, all things sinful devoid of any goodness, or some goodness, entering the darkness, sinful? How have we arrived at sin, at darkness . . . this gives me an idea, love is light. Light is good. Light is the opposite of darkness, herein we are speaking of spiritual principles, things of spirit, love is a thing of spirit. Like soul, it is a non-locatable essence.
Love is essential; love also exists, at least we see manifestations from the existence of love. We do not see it or feel it as we do a stone, we do not taste it as we do wine, although we can become drunk on love–and I insist that this is not a corruption of love. To be intoxicated by love as Mozart was by the muses, his legendary enthusiasm for playing and composing was itself the ancient enthousiasmos, or divine infection by or from the Muses, the patronesses and protectors of music, of poetry. Love, the soul of genius; the soul of Mozart’s genius for composing and playing music was his love of music, his love for humanity, we could say. Was love the 10th muse we could ask? This inquiry had been engaged by the British Romantics now nearly two hundred years ago. To what end I cannot say herein. We can understand, though, the attending spirit over Mozart, invigorated by love, what we hear we are supposed to know, to feel, is something exceptional in a way other than, greater than we usually mean when we use the word ‘genius.’
To Two or not to Two
Humanity is an entrance. Humanity is a portal that opens on two sides. On each side of the portal there is a human being. Now ‘to enter’ in French is ‘entrer.’ ‘Entre,’ in French, is a preposition related to the verb. This French preposition translates in English, ‘between.’ Yes, every way we enter is an entrance, every entrance thus a “between”; herein a noun, a thing, a state of being: the between. The act of entering is one of betweening; to be between is to be in an entrance of a kind visible or invisible, again, something that lies between one here and another there. Here and there perpetually pivot on one between or another. There is always a between, a very thin between that borders both here and there when they are right next to one another, the concentric circles of here and there, not the diametrically opposed positions where here is here close and ready and near and the other, the there is there, far and away there.
The between that exists for you and for me is this thing humanity; humanity only exists between you and me, only between two people is there any hope of humanity, of acting humanely. This is where our humanity resides, lives, inhabits–the habitat of humanity. Humanity is the between of being humane; you and me are the limits of this being between. To be tween, twain, two, one side the other side, sided by each, alongside one and the other, next to two times.
I once said in another essay that to enter is to between; yes, simple enough said. Whenever I go through an entrance I have betweened the space. Herein, to between is a verb: I between, you between, everyone betweens. Rimbaud said in a letter to a friend, Je me deux, or, I two myself, another kind of tearing asunder, of splitting the self and thus creating an internal between-ness inside. Rimbaud’s poetics were in this two-ness. Everybody does do this to himself; everyone’s in the between; I am between here and there, now and then; my humanity journeys from me to you. What then do we say about the journey that is life, this living. To two oneself or not to two oneself; oneself in two? I am many; I am we; the Self is many, we know.
The self has one as well, a between. We double ourselves in every meeting; every face we face another mirror. All journeys are between; your life as it is lived is between. To between or not to between, that could become the question. But to two oneself; what then is this and how to get into the between, to get between on self and the other, between the Self split at least in two, between any two selves of the Self, how then to accomplish this? Between me and you, between me and another; therein lies our humanity? How could it not be there between you and me? Where else would it be, could it stay, could it be found?
Demands and Other Questions
To ask or not to ask–we have learned to ask questions as a means of not receiving an answer; we have learned to respond at times as a means to avoid answering. What us it we do when we ask? Is it the question to question? Asking and questioning are not one and the same. To inquire might have separate connotations; what remains connotatively different must not occlude the likeness and similarities between or among the synonyms. The lack of absoluteness in any synonymy must also never preclude us from understanding where and when they are interchangeable, these words that share a limited synonymy.
I can say that I like asking questions, have always liked asking questions, had never had much fear about asking questions, different kinds of questions of course could be asked depending on the situation or circumstance. I also had what I would call a sensitive understanding of the inappropriateness of some questions; there are always questions that come to mind that are inappropriate. There are questions the media should be asking power that are uncomfortable, but not inappropriate. Although today, these are too few and very far between. Now, what I should avoid asking, I understand clearly. What to avoid when and where and with whom, to whom–these are clearly drawn in my mind. Again, there are always questions you do not ask people; you have to remember the questions you never asked your grandmother, questions you never asked your father, never asked your best friends beautiful girlfriend, questions you would never have asked any teacher, even your favorite teacher, but might have thought about how you should not ask these questions, or how you could imagine asking these questions although you knew you were never going to ask them.
There are a thousand what ifs that are appropriate for pondering that must never cross our lips to another’s ears. All of this sensitivity is at least what I had assumed was a sensitive understanding, what I imagined was carefully employed nearly always. I had impeccable timing for my questions as I did for my humor–at least I thought so, and I do say that I have been a fair judge of my talents and skills. I am not given to delusion about them, not in the way American cultural norms almost demand. I could go on here about how I loved to question ideas, question assumptions, question the meaning or the significance of events, or just the simple questions asked when questioning authority, something I did not do in the reflexive ways my generation had assumed either necessary for purposeful social corrective or simply as a birthright that needed exercise otherwise it would wither and die and thus so would democracy.
Going on about this might be interesting, would fit the opening, but no, I will not go on about the questions I could ask, would ask, might have asked but did not and why. Questions always beget more questions; questions leading to questions after answers especially. I have always suspected that the reason most of us do not answer the questions we are asked and only respond to them is that if we answered, a new question would be asked and the force with which it would be asked would put greater stress on the next answer being delivered. Only responding actually stlalls the process by getting stuck on a question that needs to be asked again because responses in themselves are not answers.
Demander in French is to ask; it is the origin of the English verb to demand. To ask and to demand in English are not the same. In French they share a word, again, the fore mentioned demander. What do we do when we demand something of someone, from someone? We know there is a way of asking someone for something or to do something or to give something that this someone feels is a demand. Our response, we know at times, is incredulous. I’m only asking, any one of us might say. You demanded, is the reply. Yet . . .
There is always a demand in every French question. To demand is an imposition in English; a demand is not simply a question to be answered, but a toll to be exacted, to be taken. We are very sensitive in America. In French, I assume that to ask is to demand, but to demand is also simply to ask. Who has the thicker skin? France is not the United States as so many American bigots, braggarts, jingoists and jinglists never fail to remind us; I have found American anti-French bigotry to be more pronounced and less articulate than across the Franco-Anglo-American lake. My tongue is in my cheek, which is far better than having it up your ass as so many of my compatriots do when it comes to food, not speaking.
To answer in French is repondre, literally, ‘to lay again,’ a kind of re-putting or re-placing, that is, laying out the answer, or in this case, the demand or the question. Repondre is the origin of the English to respond. In English, the word answer and the word respond share a degree of synonymity, but no two words are ever completely synonymous, interchangeable in all contexts of usage. This is the case for the verbs to answer and to respond in English, where a response is not in itself an answer, but to answer is to respond, in a way. At least in French, one takes the responsibility to respond, which is, once again, to lay out the demands of the question asked. Yes, responsibility is answerability, to be answerable for the demands one faces is what responsibility is; we are answerable for what we say and what we do, all of them of necessity in the logic of our lives. Even doing nothing or saying nothing in face of our lives is a choice, is a decision, with consequences, thus the answerableness . . . no words, no deeds, are themselves rhetorical positions, thus political ones.
Of course, interroger is also a way to say ‘to ask.’ It is also the origin of the English to interrogate. Every one, we know, poses questions, but not all asking is interrogating; yet, virtually all interrogating is demanding, although there are ways to demand that are not interrogating. Again, the French sense of demander. Every interrogator must demand otherwise it is not interrogation.
How to ask or not to ask is now the question. Whether it is nobler to respond responsibly when we answer the questions demanded of us, or instead, to avoid responding because we are unable to take responsibility for whatever demands are in question.
Fire and Embrace
(a seeing seen again)
Having written “Joan of Lorraine,” I found it easy to have borrowed this entry here from there . . . it goes a long way too have authority over texts so one can use them as one wishes, in ways originally intended or not, everything I see in the world I see again until I see something for the first time, yet in as much as a revision is a visioning again, I am seeing what I have seen before anew, therefore, for another first time . . .]
Abrazar in Spanish means to embrace, as I have said befiore and will likely remind others again; abrasar means to set on fire, of course it does, it must, how could it be otherwise: I set the house on fire, I set my lover on fire with my embraces . . . every embrace must set the one in your arms on fire, as Dido was set on fire by the embraces of Aeneas, as she had to set herself on fire, literally, in order to put an end to her desire for consummation at the absence of Aeneas. Love is always a form of consumption by the flames, always another kind of immolation. There are fires and motions in the soul that cannot be constrained by our being, but these are under constant assault by our culture . . . we must understand this, or is it that we have come to a place where we are unable . . . inability has everything to do with a lack of love.
Joan of Lorraine no longer feared the flames of her persecutors, having already been set ablaze by God and his Holy messengers, as Teresa D’Avila knew the burning devotion of God, as all lovers, true, understand and bear this as every woman bears her child, internally, interconnectedly, with a complete sublimation of all thought. Donne understood this devotion, or how all devotion of one kind or another is always holy. Keats is correct in asserting that there is a holiness to the hearts affections; could any of us live as intensely in his senses and his sensibilities, his mind/soul and body as did Keats; do any of us feel or do we only just emote. Again, recall that it is called The Passion of the Christ, not The Emotion of the Christ. There is a mutually exclusive categorical distinction between the two, emotion and passion; it is compassion, not com-emotion. Commotion is another thing altogether, yet related. Donne understood this when he asks his Three-personed God to ravage him . . . is he asking God to rape him spiritually, an invitation removes the stigma of rape, no pun intended, but perhaps could be used . . . take me, however roughly . . . play acting with God is dangerous, is it not? But we have to see where Donne is going with this and from where he is coming . . . Dido had left Tyre with her following of Phoenicians and settled and built what was to become Carthage on the Tunisian shores of North Africa on the Mediterranean. Carthage would rival Rome in the Western Mediterranean and in points east for nearly two hundred years, and it was not until the death of Carthage, the annihilation of everything Carthaginian at the end of the Third Punic War could you say that Rome had its advent. The descendants of Aeneas had to wage war repeatedly against Carthage, had to seek the annihilation of everything Carthaginian because the memory of Dido was too much to bear. Her choice to perish in the flames is not in effect different from Joan’s choice. Everything she left in her wake had to be possessed or destroyed. We want to say that Joan could not have chosen to live, that she could not have chosen to free herself of burgundian persecution, even if they were not laying traps for her in a trial that had been fixed prior to its commencement. Joan, though, still chose her fate; her actions, her honesty in testimony established this course inevitably, we could say. Yet, she still chooses what Dido had chosen, to choose or not to choose, this is not a question, it is impossible to avoid choosing, every refusal to choose is in itself a choice . . . choice is essential as I like to say . . . you do know what this has to do with, this idea of choosing, having the right or the responsibility or the burden of choosing? This notion that everything left must be possessed or destroyed is as invariably true for us today, as it has been humanly true for always, at least potentially for us today because we do fear this truer feeling more than we even give lip service to respecting it, admiring it, believing in it. The Serpent in the Garden speaks to Eve with forked tongue, no? How to assemble the pieces that fall from the framed jig-saw puzzle hanging in the hall . . . the missing pieces in the puzzle are easily replaced, but what if all the jig-saw puzzle pieces were to fall at once like rain falls in a torrential storm?
Desire becomes act, an act that is being in itself, another actuality pure. Dido chooses her death appropriately; would you or I do the same? Could we love as intensely?
The Ontological Self
Transcendental me . . . where and when are here and now. All writing has immediacy, an unavoidable presentness about it, and what I say here in words on a page, printed for easy reading because my handwriting is shit, is in the moment. I am who I am even when I am not being the me I have been before, a me correlative only to a contingent I, an I that others I know might not recognize. I am me with every stranger I meet even if with that stranger I lie through my teeth and tell no truth in the factual sense of truth we sometimes hold too pedantically dear, close without feeling.
I am. This is simple enough because all lists of attributes are modes of subtraction, really. I am unable to be sum-totaled; I am macrocosmic to all microcosms, the microcosm of history, the one of state, of government, of gender, of sexual orientation, of religion, of politics, of political affiliation, of job, of class, et cetera.Who am I? I do not ask this question because as I have said above, I am that I am when I am who and what I am wherever I am however it is that I am me. I am subject and object and subject complement and every other way of stating my being in words, which means language, which means in grammar, which exists independent of politics, if you will, before it, although rhetoric is not.
Do you need an answer to each of these questions now that I am herein mentioning them as not having the relevance you insist they have. Now that it has come to the fore that I have not before answered or even attempted to answer any of these questions you think are useful–unless what I have thus far said could be said to have some say in the matter of my who and my what, at least in the ways you prefer to frame discussions of being, because you do discuss being even when you argue that being is impossible, or improbable, and the only thing we have is perpetual becoming into becoming into becoming yet again, all of it without gain.
You have decided you do not need to ask yourself the once pressing questions of being, whether existence precedes essence or vice-versa, and all the essences, the prefab essentials of our being precede the existence I have, and determine who I am, certainly what I am. You probably haven’t realized that you decided this, or why you might have, if that is in fact what has been done. The only determinism of your being, though, is the fact that you believe your life has been horribly determined, which coincides with a culture that gorges itself on victimhood and philosophies of victimization. These determinisms you believe you uncover, are in fact created by a system of belief you have firmly placed yourself inside of, and this self enclosure masquerades in your diction as inescapable determinism.
I am who I am that I am when I am how I am where I am even why I am, I say, I think, therefore I believe; belief displaces dialectic in me. What then do I say about all the interrogatives that can be extended from eacc relative pronominal relationship to my I. Everyone thinks that who what when where and why are important, very important, but then I am who I am, as I am what am I, where I am, and so on. I have not answered these questions in any way that proves overarching to my becoming; to my being is another thing, another essay, perhaps. You probably haven’t asked yet these questions ontologically. What are our theories of being? Do we have them, or do we only have theories of becoming, perpetual, endless becoming.
To philosophize is to learn how to die we know from Montaigne, but imagination is necessary to philosophize I learned from Doc Green as I called him, Doc. Imagination most people do not associate with philosophy, nor do they with eternity, as Blake reminds us time and again that imagination is the doorway to the eternal. Imagination was a faculty of mind most highly prized by the Romantics, suspicious of rationality as they were, or how the rational was used s a tool against humanity, the great human humane when human is only human when humane, as the French distinguish duality between the two in one word, humaine, and we Anglo saxon speakers create dichotomy with our tongue. But then I suspect this is why in a country so seemingly committed to democracy and freedom we can speak out of the mouths of our leaders with forked tongues. The Nazis and the Bolsheviks were both hyper-rational, not imaginative, unless it was in the expenditures on torture, oppression, and murder.
Yet, who I am, when I am, where I am, with whom I am, how I am before I become what I am–yes, I am and I am not simultaneously. All is lost to other loses. I will be, but I will not be as well. This question of identity; you know Identity spells id entity. The it within; monsters again arising inside of me. Round and round I go, the Italians say, gira, gira . . . each pose I take posits somewhere outside of me something imposed inside of me. Imposing, posing, positing, depositing, a repository of a kind, this Self of selves within. What do I gain by the poses I take? Each intake, each out-take, put as it might be. Again, who am I? is the question who are we? I am once again . . . wondering who I am within who we are, this who we are by who I am all about when I am or where I am, and when and where I am going; to come and go. I become when I be-go. I am a cosmogony that does not get repeated; yet I am also all of humanity. The fact that I am cosmogonic allows me to stand in for all human beings, a posture I take, and I do take postures as well as pose them, put them on as I put on everyone else–all the world’s a stage . . . I do become anyone I need to be. I am many; thus I am we. But what I need to be is often a mystery to me.
Every time I look in the mirror with the question, who am I, I get a different answer. The I I am depends on coordinates of time and space drawn by another hand. Eternity lurks in me, I have assumed, like a trace of the background radiation on spectral analysis of the cosmos. To be or to become is present in my choice now, and we always choose to be or to become, we cannot avoid choosing. Choice is always for the taking; each choice a chance we encounter; every chance results in our fortune or misfortune. Who I am trips me up. I’m not especially clumsy, but all this wondering about who I am what I have been when I will be what and where, how or why . . . I never watch my feet as I walk down a flight of stairs. You know why the lisper lisps.
I determine who I am, or what I become, I assume; I am as much Everyman as I am unique in the entire history of the cosmos. I am unique in this way. No one who has ever lived, who lives now, or will ever live is me. No one in any of these times or places–no one–occupies the coordinates of space and time as I do in this spot at this moment. All is ephemeral, though.
I stand at the shore in Montauk looking up at the swath of white in the night sky, looking dead center into the galactic plane, a squirt from Hera’s tit, my father had told me when I was a boy. In all of the North eastern United States, Montauk Point is one of the darkest spots at night–great star-gazing. My to be or to become arises like a particle in the vacuum of space-time. The question crosses my mind from time to time, has crossed my mind, has crossed everyone’s mind. I look to the stars as I had when I was a boy and I feel a strange peace and yet a familiar one, first one then the other then the other again and then a mixture of both, awash in the vastness of the night sky, its depth, something that tears away the consciousness of flesh, at first thought, a liberation, at next, transcendence.
Soul is what we say someone has when that person touches us in a previously unimagined way, in a manner that moves us, whatever that means; when another person touches us in a way that transforms us, we think we understand; that sends us to regions of experience otherwise unattainable with persons who are soulless or whose depth of soul is far shallower than the person for whom we have bestowed the title, soulful. Ah! To have soul then is something other than being a person for whom the precondition is having a soul. To have soul in this sense is to have done something with one’s preexisting soul that enlarges it, enhances it, increases its capacity for what soul’s can do? Or is it to use what the soul provides the mind, herein soul and mind must be separate even if we have not decided whether they are a dichotomy or a duality.
A soulful person is a singular one, exceptional, of course, in the art of being soulful. To be mindful would be something else entirely. A man or a woman is apart from any grouping other than that of human, more specifically, that of humane, whenever we speak of him or her as a soulful person. I’m not sure exactly what we mean when we say somone is mindful–we would have to say mindful of what, unless we were talking about his ir her ability to have presence of mind, do we mean focus? We like to use this idea of being soulful as an example of what it means to be humane, no? The soulful person is a model of what it means to be a human-being, a real human-being, we like to say. We do say things like He is a real person. But words cannot express these ideas adequately; words are though all we have to say anything about anything, although saying just anything often does not make it in our minds. We must try to say what has always been said just better than ever before. Even what we know we cannot ever say can only be said in words, by words, so it is our obligation to make these words a form never before formed.
Words are in themselves only words, only the symbols of things other than words. We would certainly have fewer misunderstandings, as Locke had advised us more than three centuries ago, if we did not take them for things in themselves but as only the symbols of the ideas that they are. Each person to his or her own integral mind, and is mind, soul? Each person to his or her own idiolect, his own variety of saying what has always been said or never been said. Language is the glowing example of our humanity, what really separates us from all other creatures. Language is the shining star of all cultures; the greatest product of any culture is its language. In this way, all cultures are advanced. How then does this expose soulfulness as humanness?
All cultures have had the notion of soul. Soul is another of those polygenetic ideas humans have clung to in order to explain much of the inexplicable in human experience. How it has been drawn and articulated by mythology, by theology, metaphysics, ontology, and other branches of knowledge are found in myriads of expression. Soul is non-locatable in a term that succumbs to physiology and biology. Again, in defense, psychologists, neurologists, neurosurgeons and biologists have not located the mind, and they are no closer than theologians are at locating the soul, although, if we are looking for a physical place for the soul, why would we ask a theologian?
Faith seems the only reasonable course for understanding soul, in fact for understanding mind. Belief goes a long way in helping to understand what we have a sense is present although absent from all attempts to pin-point its location. Where is the soul is a question similar to where is the mind? The lack of evidence for their location is not proof of their non-existence. That is what I rest all discussions of soul on; I have faith that soul exists.
The Pressures of Simultaneity
How to say what I have tried to say while getting sidetracked into saying so much else other than what I had initially intended to say, so much so that the title of this piece had to be revised to include or point to what had become the bulk of what I eventually did say had to say–what did I have to say, having said what I have said herein, and so, the only thing now to say is what I am saying around and around on this merry-go-round with writing my writing where it ends up I end up not always where I had intended to end up when I first headed out on the page both flat and multidimensional . . . I go, I come, I end up.
Foreword, Afterword, Word
There was a time when every preface I would write, for whatever I thought should have a preface, was written after the fact of having written what I thought should be prefaced. You cannot introduce people you do not know, people you have never met, people who are not present tom introduce. Likewise, you can only introduce something you have already written. You can only write an introduction to something that has been written. In this way, when a preface functions as an introduction, it can only be written after the fact, but then this makes what has been written as a preface an afterword, that is, the words written after, or placed after the text they are functioning as the afterword for, the placement prior or after having as much to do with the nomination as anything else.
I Am, therefore I Think
To kill or not to kill, that might be a question, if not the question.
Is it nobler to imagine a world where killing would be unnecessary?
How many slings and arrows of fortune should I have to endure?
Is it be better to end them by ending their source,
Or continue to sleepwalk my way through life
As if I were not living that sleep of death each step of the way.
How many times do I ask myself who I am? I live a life and only occasionally wonder about what should be the surest thing in that life, my being. What do I know better than my to be or not? What could I know as well? Why being at all seems never a question I raise, yet should be the first question I ask. I am, therefore I think. A new first philosophy? Being is what is, is all there is if anything is at all. My being is in itself, apart from necessity, without cause.
Hamlet’s dilemma is a decisive moment in the history of consciousness. His to be or not to be is the question, and not just in its relationship to suicide, which, if it happens or not, if it is fulfilled either way, is less important than the question is in its most overarching and far-reaching implications. Shakespeare was far too intelligent to restrict such a question as Hamlet’s to suicide and suicide alone. Everything I do has being wrapped up in it; the move toward being or non-being is essential in everyone’s life.
The question of whether to be or not to be is also asked by the contrastive pair of whether to be or to become for becoming is also not being. This does not mean that being and becoming are mutually exclusive–they are not, mutually exclusive. But they are nevertheless separate, self-contained. To become is to be, for certain, but coming is never arriving. To arrive is to have reached a destination. Being is either a destination or a persistent immutable state, I can ask. Now if life is a journey, no one could be said to be in anything other than that journey; as you travel to your destination, you are not at the destination, on your plane to Paris you are only on your plane to Paris, you are going as you are coming, but you have yet to arrive. Being can not be a destination.
One is as one becomes; they are mutual as they are coexistent, co-spatial, co-temporal. They are contained in the I am and the I am not, both of which coexist simultaneously for everyone. God, the Absolute, the One and Transcendent, is in no part becoming. He, She or It is pure being, pure actuality, in no part potential. The further we swing from the God-like in the formation of our humanity, the more we are bound by animal potential.
The crux in the to be or not to be, though, is that no one can assess his being fully until he is dead, just at the time when he ceases both to become and to be. It is only at Death that one brings a halt to the stage of becoming that always interrupts one’s being.What then do we? How then? A contemporary American Hamlet would ask himself, to do or not to do? For Americans, utility is the thing.
How has doing supplanted being and becoming in our world, and America is a world as dense as the earth herself, and Earth is she, not it; but then I also insist that God is He, She and It, all three, mutually and simultaneously. If He can be Father, Son and Holy Ghost all of them all at once entirely each together as one, then God can also be He, She and It the same way. But then we would have to understand pronominal references differently; we would have to think of our being differently than we do, than we have for more than a hundred years.
American dilemmas aside and not displacing of the weightier human dilemmas facing everyone; the paradox of being and becoming reveals itself perpetually, day-to-day . . . the petty pace, you know, how it comes by tomorrow after tomorrow . . . and everyone’s petty paces are as significant as Macbeth’s. Macbeth and Hamlet, my brothers, as are you, my hypocrite readers, all my sisters as well. However . . .
I can spell cannot be the call out of our literacy. No it cannot. A, B, C, D and so on, yes, Alpha, Beta . . . what next? I do not mis-spell my name and so I say, I am proud of my literacy? Reciting the alphabet is not in itself spelling, and there is something magical about arranging letters to make words, to represent soeech, which is ephemeral the moment spoken. Yes, that’s magical, but it is not literacy. Something akin to counting is not going to make it as literacy, no, never in my estimation. I know repeat myself; but let us allow this to become motif.
Being literate is not merely being alphabetic, the later what the French call being able to spell and fill out bureaucratic forms and read the tabloid press never meant to elevate only inform in the most rudimentary way. This alphabetisme, as the French say in French is sometimes referred to by me as having dexterity with the alphabet. I can count correctly; I can add, subtract, multiply and divide; this does not make me a mathematician. There is a syntax to equations; their is an equational form to sentences; what then do I call literacy if what can be caled alphabetics is not literacy. What do we mean when we say literacy; I wonder that for the department where I work called Literacy.
To spell or not to spell is every wizards call; no mater how much spelling has been associated with magic or magic with forms of writing, we are not performing the rituals of literacy by merely spelling. I remember learning that the Phoenicians, who were great merchants, used their writing system, alphabetic as it was, for the purposes of keeping catalogues of their wares. Their use of the alphabet was what some of us in America call literacy, but since it was mostly and virtually only used for the purposes of their mercantilism, keeping accounts, writing and keeping receipts in their trade, literacy is not what I would call that use. The business of business has always been business; listing one’s wares stored in a warehouse does not a literature make.
Although, the study of literature is sometimes called the study of Letters, spelling one’s name correctly is not what I mean by being literate–I know I have said this already; the chorus speaks in a chanted speech which employs carefully plotted repetition. Keeping accurate and sometimes detailed accounts of storage, though, is never going to be my idea of what the literary is or what literature can be.
My shopping list is also not what I would call literature, although the aesthetics of this shopping list or shopping lists could be employed in the service of the literary. No? Of course it could. Poetic forms themselves are more in number than can be counted or named offhand by most who are themselves what I would call literate, educated in the study of literature–no? A poem written in the style and manner of a shopping list is an interesting idea, and I just might try my hand at it after I finish this . . . it is necessary to make the steps toward higher election in matters of the literary sturdy enough for us to climb. We ave not; we do not, certainly not in our schools that have succumbed to a pedagogy of systematized under achievement and under education.
Most of us recoil from what we need to do because it is easier to defer to the mandates of a State administered bureaucracy that will always sponsor less than enough as good enough to insure that the people are always less than free, always less than able to mange their affairs democratically, always manipulated by the media, parroting one or another of the received ideas constructed by power and money through the agency of the media.
Sometimes I need the help of a dictionary or spell check to spell a word. This has never made me question my level of literacy, no more than anyone’s near perfect ability to spell any word has never lead me to conclude that who I am talking to is a highly literate man or woman because of this spectacle of spelling. Who we are is a lot more determined by how literate we are than we would like to admit; and I am talking not of the simple separate person who does not need literacy to be good, but the overall overarching us who are the society. What kind of society we are or will be is determined by how literate we are–that is self-evident for me. Civilization is determined by and projected by ad formed by and managed by literacy. It really can be no other way. We have devalued literacy in lieu of mistaken ideas about orality. This has left us opened to forms of social decadence and degeneration that have left us prey to vices we once thought we had managed for the better. Let this last statement stand as X, where X is a variable in the social equation that stands for any one or another of the many vices in our society.
If what is humane is the question, then one of the first responses would have to be directed at the notion of love. Herein stated as a priori true, love is the principal attribute in acting humanely, in elevating our humanity to where we can live beyond surviving, which if we recognize the French in our English, to survive is always beyond or other than living, sur/vivir in French means just that, beyond to live. Love effectively changes surviving into living; living without love is in effect merely surviving. Love is the soul of humanity.
I connect to humanity by choice, thus by an act of freewill, which I accept as self-evident. Humans have free-will. This choosing to have is exactly what distinguishes humanity from other things we are able to have without choosing. We do not choose to have blue eyes, we do not choose to breathe, we do not choose to be the homo-sapiens we are, presented with the heredity we have—we do not choose our biology as it is given to us at birth.
No one chooses if he has to piss; the will to piss and the bodily function of pissing are exclusive. If holding one’s piss and shit has its limits. We do choose to be the kind of human we are, though. Thus we choose our humanity; but, of course, we do not choose it as we do other things; if we do, so much the worse for our humanity.
For certain, humanity is not a thing in the sense of an object, whether that be a rock, a chair, a tree or a piece of paper, or a part of the body separate in consideration from the entirety of one’s body in symbiosis with mind. It is also not a thing in the sense of idea or of energy, such as freedom or love. But it is a thing in the notion of thing present in the idea of entity. Yes, humanity is an entity we choose; it is an entity that possesses us, becomes one with us, transforms us, and transfigures us even in the eyes of others who can see, seeing here a part of our knowing our understanding our ability to learn, something even the blind can perform, this kind of seeing.
An entity has being; it exists as one. Humanity is therefore a thing as a state of being is a thing, and herein henceforth, human being is the thing we must most highly prize because to be human in this sense is to have what we have herein so far come to understand as humanity, which is to be human in the way we mean when you cannot be human unless humane. Humanity is thus an a transfiguring entity, it exists for this purpose; it is to be had, it is to be allowed, it is to be held, and what is to be held is to be done so with care, with caress, with tenderness. It cannot be extinguished, exterminated, and not even by the most monstrous inhumanity. It is the most fragile and yet the strongest thing in the universe.
Having humanity then is to be human in a way that can only be thoughtful, selfless in the sense that egocentrism (as we mean in the most pessimistic connotation we have given this term) is not the primary way in which we choose to interact with others. Love is the axis of the humane; love is the essential ingredient in kindness, tenderness, forgiveness, and compassion. Without these virtues, there can be no humane treatment of another human being. They are, though, the first qualities to disappear in any society suffering from a protracted dehumanization, the kinds we have seen throughout the history of totalitarianism, whether Bolshevik, fascist, Nazis, Stalinist or Maoist; or the kind performed in one dictatorship after another, whether Franco’s, Pinochet’s, or Hussein’s; whether Romanian, Serbian, Cuban, or Haitian.
Dehumanization seems to have become one of the leading pastimes around the world; the forms of which have been at the disposal of, for instance, one African war-lord or another; one ethnic group against others, in Iraq, the former republics of the Soviet Union, during the disintegration of the former Yogoslavia, or in Israel/Palestine; in Rwanda.
Tribal politics are always in the service of oppression or genocide. All the fore mentioned isms have aided in the transformation of the nation-state into tribe.Tribal life is the beginning of the humane, not the further cultivation of being humane. The tribe forms as a step in civilization. Herein I mean civilization as we have tried to mean it, a civilizing force, thus an advancement of the humane, thus an agent working against inhumanity.
Inhumanity has been all too human throughout history, where we mean any human-being, or member of the species Hiomo-sapiens, or the genus Homo, by the lexical reference, ‘human.’. How often we repeat this or the ways we do only ensure we will forget the message. In our media culture, where the medium is the message, the content gets lost in the conduit. The way we are taught to read now only further makes certain we will dis-understand the information conveyed.
America is not immune to inhumanity; the fact we are human leaves us susceptible, the fact we are undereducated only insures we will mismanage our legacy and responsibility to ourselves and our posterity. I know I am a beast. I know I am capable of killing as I know I am incapable of suicide. I just know. Knowledge is not faith. Yes, I can kill–but I am not certain of murder, but then, I do not know all the circumstances within which I could kill someone as murder.