Monday, October 19, 2020

Looney Tunes

Remember the logo at the end of Looney Tunes cartoons? Concentric orange-red rings with Porky Pig at the center stuttering “tha tha tha that’s all folks!” That was on the cover of the French philosophy magazine I get each month. In the place of Porky Pig, the Statue of Liberty. Below the closing statement “That’s all folks!” is the statement De La Fin De La Démocratie En Amerique  (The End of Democracy in America). Wow. A lot of us have been aware of the death of democracy – or at least some hollow, phantasmal semblance of it pushed and propagandized by the media and history textbooks – for at least the last 20 years – but to find this acknowledgement from an overseas European country is stunning. Downtown Seattle looks like a war zone. Tent cities, graffitied buildings, boarded up windows. I’m a crusty, cynical, misanthropic septuagenarian and I’m still shocked by the rapidity of our decline. Not to mention the deep sadness and tragedy of it all. The magnitude of suffering. Nancy Pelosi getting all huffy-puffy and red-faced and indignant because Wolf Blitzer, of all people, persisted in asking her why she was holding up the stimulus bill that had been offered when so many people are suffering. That segment had volumes to say about classicism in America. It wasn’t so long ago she sat in front of her $24,000 refrigerator bragging about all the ice cream she has. Good God. Meanwhile, Trump has wasted no time going around spreading coronavirus to his loyal fans. If you were to ask me for an image that best illustrates our predicament, I’d say The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault.

 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Stephane Mallarmé Leading A Prison Escape


The mind tosses words like grenades, a bouquet of gold & beryllium. The murmur of an old squid in the middle of an audition. Stephane Mallarmé leading a prison escape. The splash of color on wrapping paper comes to our rescue, providing vivacity & spit. We gaze at one another like pilgrims, falcons on our shoulders, crabs walking toward us with kisses & resumés. There are seven shadows in a shark, one of them is an occipital lobe, & another has locations & meanings. The main thrust is a cup of tea teeming with Buddhism, bubbles winking in sunlight. Existence tastes stronger if it’s boiled in reflection. Sing the desert nomads in their kingly robes. 
        My position is separate from your frond. I have longitude but I’m clean out of socialism. Can you lend me a can of isometrics & an incessant straddle that I can use to mute the song of the shoulder blade? My right arm is indicative of the moon in whose light I plead for the spasms of the tenderloin. And you call this poetry? I’m not calling it anything, least of all a guitar. I know a hallucination when I see one. The majority of my noises are nocturnal. The rest is silence. Perfect as the feather of a chicken. Noble as the periphery of a stanza parked in the eye of a urethra. My transmissions are mere protons, but the midnight trilogy is the wink of a wildcat. 
        I sometimes wonder if I know what it is I’m saying. When am I saying something & when is language saying something? Everybody listen to me & return my ship. I’m your captain, though I’m feeling feasible these days, & quite palpable. It’s a vulnerable position, especially at my age. Am I a magician? I have a box of magic next to me. It’s a book called Take This Accordion & Squeeze It Hard. Can I sell you anything? Would you like a library? A study? An aviary? A glockenspiel? An odor? Can I sell you a perfume? This is a fragrance called Consider Me Holy And Buy Me A Home In Hollywood. It shoots out of the bottle in a spray of minivans. 
        The prattle turns stagnant unless someone comes along with the right equipment & gets eccentric with the string. For example, the very presence of poles makes the nosegay plausible. The purring is unnatural, but nubile. The hummingbirds hover by me like the protons of a slippery piece of thought. No, I can’t forget this evening, or the look in your face as you were leaving. But I did forget the sorrow. I let it go. It grew wings & took to the sky, like all good compulsions longing for the vapor of nothingness. Years later, it all gets scattered in social media. It’s a technocratic world, but the underpinnings are noble, & live like worms in the jaws of the earth. 
        And sometimes I just sits. If it fits me. If it suits the time & place. If there’s a good chair to sit in. Or a floor. Preferably a carpeted floor. Although hardwood is de rigueur, there are other options. Hypotenuse steppes with right angle choices & lightning on the menu. The ball is fictitious. Let me roll it to you. It is my duty to inform you that eczema is not a condition it’s a teleology involving skates & Hollywood Bowl. The rupees are russet this time of year & the incentives are vicious. This pass will be good until the spurs come. If you stop acting like a horse people will stop treating you like an IOU. This isn’t flypaper. But the doughnuts are free for registered holes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Sound Of Rain

I love the sound of rain in summer and early fall when there’s still enough leaves on the trees to make the rain audible. There’s something really rich about that sound, fertile and quiescent. It’s soothing. Thuds and crashes from the kitchen above our bedroom put an end to the reign of the rain. I don earphones and watch the French news on my laptop, stories about Prince and the subterranean vault containing tons of his music in his palace in Minneapolis and the woman who has been curating it, the melting of the tundra in the Arctic, a man rising out of a deep crevasse where the earth has sunk due to the melting of the permafrost carrying the huge bone of a prehistoric rhinoceros, the exhaustion of nurses due to the coronavirus picking up speed again, a woman deeply moved when she meets the gendarme that saved her during the floods last week in the Alpes-Maritime department. Next day, 7:40 p.m. October 12th, I conclude a bout of proofreading by watching Stevie Ray Vaughn perform “Texas Flood” live at the El Macombo, July 20th, 1983. The El Macombo, turns out, is in Toronto, Ontario. This is the same place where the Stones put on a surprise show in 1977, the one where Margaret Trudeau (mother to current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) was observed partying with the stones, somewhat to the embarrassment of then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. She’s been a busy woman since then. In 2010 she authored Changing My Mind, a book about her personal experience with bipolar disorder, and in 2014 she visited Mali as an ambassador of WaterAid Canada. The French humanitarian Sophie Petronin arrived in Bomako, Mali, in a white flowing traditional dress after her release from Islamic extremists (strange word, ‘extremist’) last Friday, October 8th, 2020. She’d been helping orphans and other children suffering from malnutrition in the northern city of Gao when she’d been abducted on Christmas Eve, 2016. I watch Gabor Maté give a talk for the Bioneers on YouTube. He talks about the importance of treating disease holistically, taking in all the factors impending on a life, nurturing a life, poisoning a life, inducing a life, indoctrinating a life, soothing a life, including a life, abusing a life, excluding a life, grooming a life, dooming a life, bejeweling diffusing ballooning approving a life. The water we drink, the food we eat, certainly, but also vibes, emotions, including the emotions of our mothers when we were in the womb, it goes that deep, that broad, that far. And how alienated we’ve become. Alienated from nature, alienated from ourselves, perverted by false values, the stresses of a materialistic, competitive culture. Instabilities and uncertainties pumping our systems and internal organs with stress hormones, cortisol and adrenalin. This is followed by Kurt Cobain’s heartrending, shattering version of Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” on MTV’s unplugged series in 1993. “My girl, my girl, don't lie to me / Tell me where did you sleep last night / In the pines, in the pines / Where the sun don't ever shine / I would shiver the whole night through.”

Monday, October 12, 2020

Freedom From Freedom


I remember floating at the bottom of a swimming pool in the courtyard of an apartment building in San José, California, in the summer of 1965. I’ve always been able to hold my breath for long periods of time and it felt peaceful at the bottom of the pool. What I didn’t count on was how it might look to someone. When I surfaced, I encountered a man on his way to work who had been startled by seeing me on the bottom. He said he thought I might be drowning and almost jumped in to save me. The memory, like so many of my memories, remains brightly lucid and detailed, still charged with the emotion of the moment, and all the might have beens and should have beens and could have beens. All the alternatives that would’ve resulted in a very different present. The past is always pulling me back, engaging my attention, while simultaneously projecting scenarios in the future. This continual dissociation of the self can be experienced in the mode of lightness (I is another) or of responsibility (its engagement by the past and future). 
        “Sartre has a definition of consciousness as a perpetual decompression of the self: it is no longer what it was, it is not yet what it will be, therefore it has no substance, it is always in the rupture, the separation, the tearing away from the past and projecting it towards the future. The truth of consciousness is necessarily a becoming that advances by way of division, rewinding, spiraling, just like History. Such a truth poses the problem of solidarity with oneself: how can I still be myself while perpetually betraying myself? If I never stop projecting myself towards something other than myself, I only exist in relation to my projections. If I just say, ‘I am what I’ve done,’ it means that I’m already dead, a mummy to myself.” – François Noudelman, “Sartre pense à partir de ses contradictions” [my translation] 
        It’s easy to obsess about other actions one might’ve taken in the past; the alternatives are dizzying. And what would’ve been the right action – the unequivocally, unambiguously correct thing to do, to say – is unreachable. It no longer exists except as an ongoing narrative in one’s memory. The more you alter the narrative the more tortured you become. You can’t change it. You might be able to reinterpret it, but you can’t change it. It is both real and unreal. The emotional charge it carries is real. And unreal. It is both mutable and static. All you can do is look for amnesty. But the amnesty has to come from within. The chronicler must frame the chronicle differently, but the picture doesn’t change. There are no clouds in the museum. Only exhibits behind glass. Dioramas and straw. Cognitive maps in the hippocampus.
        “On the responsible side, you have to be accountable and supportive of your actions: you have done something or not, and you cannot say that this me was someone else. To try to solve this problem, Sartre finds a Hegelian solution, a movement of totalization - detotalization and re-totalization - where meanings are constantly reabsorbed, diverted and redirected by others and by History. The result is a sense which both depends on me and does not depend on me. It is the movement of History, of ideology, of otherness that I live, which means that I am not totally in control of the meaning of my actions.” – Ibid. 
        Are we mistranslating our own lives? What responsibilities embolden us and what responsibilities drag us down? Does art make us selfish? Do perforations token weakness or convenience? Wouldn’t it be nice to crawl into a parenthesis in the middle of our narrative and hibernate for an entire winter? Or go back in time? Drop out of the narrative and surrender to the inevitability of it all? Then return with a sack of drugs and a smile. 
        Everyone wants freedom. Freedom from worry, freedom from doubt, freedom from chores, freedom from tedium, freedom from ourselves, freedom from others, freedom from routine, freedom from guilt and remorse, freedom from commitment, freedom from pigment, freedom from bewitchment, freedom from infringement, impingement and the beaten path. What would it be like to enjoy a minute of freedom? Real, absolute, total freedom. Would that newly opened space leave us with more decisions to make? More possibility? Overwhelm us with possibility? I’ve heard some people talk about how exhilarating it is to be in the military because there nearly all your decisions are made for you by other people. And that is a sensation of total freedom. Is this why people are drawn to totalitarian regimes? To dictators? You don’t have to be yourself in a uniform. You don’t have to take responsibility for yourself. You give that responsibility to others. 
        "Therefore, freedom, Sartre's favorite word, is woven with responsibility and otherness. The truth of free conscience follows the tortuous paths of bad faith and inauthenticity. There are no moral values that would guarantee any of it a sincere uprightness. Value is only an external virtue. How, then, to escape the pretense, the lie to oneself? On the theoretical level, the rewinding of consciousness is a metamorphosis which conveys past commitments and reincarnates them in new projects, new bodies, new situations. Consistency is saved. On the other hand, on the existential level, it is a divided subject, fractured, which compartmentalizes and seeks solutions of continuity, as evidenced by the life and commitments of Sartre. And the connection between these two dimensions, moral and existential, arises from an endless debate with oneself and with others. As the closing line from No Exit says, ‘Well, let's continue.’” – Ibid.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Confessions Of A Rogue Cliché


It occurs to me a lot lately that I’ve become a cliché: an old man disoriented by a new world in which nothing makes sense. Customer services run by robot. References nobody gets. I met a young man once out walking & in a casual conversation referenced Jimmy Page. He didn’t know who Jimmy Page was. I said he played with Led Zeppelin. He hadn’t heard of Led Zeppelin. And so that world is gone. And we’re in a new one. I wouldn’t call it a brave new world. I’d call it a crisis. A catastrophe. A dystopia. But these are the words of an old man. They go nowhere. They get rendered in pixels in social media. For other old people. Who are likewise dazed & confused. 
        There’s an advantage to listening to music fifty or more years old. Many of the musicians are gone. They looked beautiful at the time, engorged with their own sense of beauty, polished & sent into the world in songs like “Walk Away Renee” & “Unchained Melody.” It’s a good lesson. I guess. The lesson being nothing lasts, grab it while you can, whatever ‘it’ happens to be. It’s a not a hard lesson to figure out, any child could do it, but it’s a hard lesson to achieve in a really meaningful way. It’s hard to swallow the fact of one’s non-existence when big emotions are coursing through your body, & most of the people from a particular time are gone. But the angst & urgency to live makes damn good music. “I am a passenger / And I ride, and I ride / I ride through the city's backsides / I see the stars come out of the sky / Yeah, they're bright in a hollow sky / You know it looks so good tonight” 
        Gotta hand it to Iggy Pop, going out on the stage at the Sydney Opera House at age 72 with a bare torso revealing a modest paunch & a rugged Viking face of hardship & joy & smiling crags. He’s still on the lithe side, & muscular. My molecules are having fun today. And yes, I wanna be your dog. Pain increases the savor of life, gives it piquancy & range. So does sniffing butts. The main thrust is metamorphosis. One minute human, next minute poodle. Or a churlish chihuahua. Or a metaphor wandering around looking for something to do. “And now I'm ready to close my mind / And now I'm ready to feel your hand.” Roll over. Show my belly. Let my tongue hang out.
        Is the world saturated with music? Yes, & it’s also a persistent aspiration. Someone singing off key underground. Breath is a franchise for the propagation of sound. An old woman milking a cow. It’s all a music of slop & pail, mushrooms growing at the side of the road. Jupiter. Paganini. Prague. Music is organized sound. It floats the idea of metal, as if a walrus flopped forward deepening the sense of address that a forklift loaded with eggs might have of the future, which is feverishly unreal. So the mind ties knots of sound to hold the air together, which become feelings written in chalk on a blackboard, equations to make the unseen seen, & articulate steel. 
        Meanings shift with focus. Reality is never any one thing, it’s a multitude of overflowing telephones, pullulations & gnarly engagements. If you pluck a string a genie appears with a cryptic smile & a cigar. There are cherubs to remind us that the use of levers can liberate the elephants from their labor, if the elephants can be considered as living creatures & not just stewards of wisdom. Consider, if you will, the gallantry of Spain, or the nature of quarks & gluons, which are words, which are used to solve the problems of the intangible, & cell phone signals, which are everywhere, & justify the weight of a pawn with the tweezers of a king.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Day Of The Nail

  

R left this morning to get some unsalted peanuts and a new scooper for our litter box at PetCo, then a flu shot and some groceries at Safeway. I returned to watching the Jimmy Dore Show on YouTube. She returned minutes later. Our left rear tire was flat. Again. This tire has been patched not quite a year ago. We called AAA and a truck arrived within a half hour. AAA is an amazing service. They always arrive in a timely fashion, even when they’re busy and the city is teeming with automotive mishaps, and get you back on the road in an embarrassingly short amount of time. AAA roadside assistance drivers are automotive wizards. The AAA driver changed the tire and discovered a big fat nail stuck in it. We speculated on where we might’ve driven over a nail in the road. The most likely culprit is a home remodeling project up the street, at the steep part of Bigelow where the road crests. It’s a bit dangerous there, the western sun in your eyes, people driving fast over the hill on the downside, people rocketing up. It’s amazing there aren’t more collisions there. This is where various workers, electricians, plumbers, glaziers and carpenters have been parking their trucks, half on the sidewalk, half off, creating yet more hazard. It’s also messy, bits of wood and glass and plaster strewn about. The nail might’ve fallen off of a truck. There are lots of remodeling projects and building construction in our neighborhood. Home expansion and remodeling has been going at fever pitch for the last few years. The intensity seems to increase with every catastrophe, the latest being Trump’s testing positive for Covid. We drove out to Carter Subaru on Aurora to get the tire patched. They’ve got a nice waiting room there. We found a desk with several stools and I got out my French edition of Les Chants de Maldoror, a New Directions English translation and a French dictionary. R brought Revenge of the Lawn, a collection of short stories by Richard Brautigan. It’s a nice waiting room, spacious, everyone wearing a mask. It was quiet as a library. Two women with a big white poodle sat together, the poodle ‘s forelegs on one of the women’s lap as she caressed and petted him and he returned the affection with a big wet tongue. A middle-aged rather rugged looking man with a beard did paperwork at a small table. Another bearded man sat in an armchair reading a book. There was a TV on, but it was close captioned with the sound off. I wish they did this at the airport, where the TVs are ubiquitous. I wonder if we’ll go to the airport again. The pandemic feels endless. It keeps getting worse. And yet they’ve opened the fitness gyms. That’s insane. We prefer to exercise outside, where we’ve been able to work out a new running trail with fewer people to dodge. It was disappointing not to go for our usual run and feed the crows and scrub jays. It was a beautiful sunny day, uncharacteristically warm for early October. A warranty covered the tire repair, which helped take some of the sting out. We stopped at PetCo on the way back, got three big bags of unsalted peanuts and some canned cat food, and returned home. Hot dogs and three-bean salad for dinner, we watched people in the mountain villages of the Alpes-Maritime department in the south of France dig themselves out of the mud left when the rivers were engorged by three months of rain in ten hours, swelling over the banks and collapsing houses and tossing cars like dice. A man used a bow to shoot a rope across a river to use as a line to deliver food and other items to the villagers still trapped on the other shore.

 

 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Wilderness Of Pain


Where do you go looking for American mythology? It was easy to find in the 50s: John Wayne, tough individualism, taciturn straightforwardness, distrust of language, useless book-learnin’. Early 60s the Kennedys, Martin Luther King. Social unrest jiggled the mythology jar, up bubbled a weird utopian fervor for outer space, technology. The rationality of science. This was before corporate money began influencing what came out of the lab. Science was noble. Superstition was ugly & dangerous. But things got weird again. Weirder in a good way. The Beatles. Humor, eccentricity, imagination defeated the darker energies of misanthropy & militarism. The jocks in high school took a back seat. Jim Morrison appears, writhing, contorting on stage: lost in a Roman wilderness of pain / And all the children are insane. 
        In the U.S., success is gauged according to how much money one has. How big your home, how sleek and powerful your car, how attractive your wife, how handsome and alpha your husband. It’s a grotesque mythology, a psychology void of weightless transcendence. Everything is pragmatic. It’s a mythology of consumption. People taking selfies at Maccha Picchu. 
        Meaning isn’t easily packaged. Odysseys are involved. One doesn’t live one’s life so much as engineer it. Components are arranged to promote self-esteem. The idyllic place of consumption is a cruise ship. Everyone is untethered from the bleak anonymity of the landscape. Life is centered around alcohol, food and entertainment. Time is endless, like the ocean. But there are no white whales in these oceans. Just ice skating and surfing simulation. Classes in personal development. “The Story Of You,” a story-telling festival “where guests share their experiences and a video booth where stories can be uploaded to social media.” 
        What if any average day was like meeting Jack Kerouac on a bus? Would you be gregarious or coy? Would you feel the friction of commerce? Are these questions necessary? 
        The percentage of people who enjoy reading compared to the percentage of people who prefer playing video games is disturbing. But there’s no harm done if everything is protoplasm. We dwell in kettledrums. We wear ornaments in our ears & tattoos on our arms. Old men doing jigs in jukebox joints. And nobody has a secure job and nobody fully trusts anyone else. And every day is like meeting William S. Burroughs on a bus. A blue bus. Headed west. 
        Have you noticed how people look lately? Everyone looks lost. Answers are hard to come by. So is the truth. And reality. And other things that aren’t things but hyperrealities whose topographies are easier to navigate when they’re properly seen for what they are: simulations. Jokes. Substitutes. Illusions. Real things are incalculable and therefore codified. Domesticated into easily consumed pixels. Honor. Virtue. Quality. These are the things that seem to disappear first when an empire collapses. 
        “Despite ample warning, the U.S. squandered every possible opportunity to control the coronavirus,” writes Ed Yong for the Atlantic Monthly, “and despite its considerable advantages—immense resources, biomedical might, scientific expertise—it floundered.”
        Hot August afternoon we go walking by an eggplant purple Scion sedan, the front panel just behind the front tire on the driver’s side riddled with bullet holes. He must’ve gone through a bad section of town, says R. We lead such freakish lives these days. When did human life begin to live so detached from nature? Nature isn’t external. Nature is everywhere. It’s another word for life. Where there’s life, there’s nature. And where nature is under assault, life is under assault. 
        “As Michel Foucault explains in his lecture of February 7, 1979, there is a latent conflict between society and capitalism. This conflict stems from the ‘irrational rationality’ of capitalism. Capitalist reason reveals its irrationality, among other things, in the field of public health: in a model where only the search for profit counts, health is seen as a cost that must be reduced. But this isn’t rational, because the poor health of its workers cannot guarantee a strong economy. Knowing that capitalist logic can destroy society if it attacks education, health, care for the elderly or undermines the environment, the role of the state is to ensure a balance of power.” – Teresa Pullano, “Bienvenue dans l’Europe d’après”
        Late stage capitalism is a juggernaut crushing everything in its path of any genuine value while exalting wealth and property and exulting in its ceaseless propaganda. High-end jeans with fake mud on them. Sterling silver Tiffany and Co ping pong paddles. Moschino dry-cleaning bag dress. Think rich to get rich. Bullshit packaged in luxurious smiles. Rags to riches. Rugged individualism. Fake it till you make it. “Everything is worshiped and nothing has value,” to quote Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) from La La Land. 
        “The artist must employ the symbols in use in his day and nation, to convey his enlarged sense to his fellow-men,” observed Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Thus the new in art is always formed out of the old. The Genius of the Hour sets his ineffaceable seal on the work, and gives it an inexpressible charm for the imagination. As far as the spiritual character of the period overpowers the artist, and finds expression in his work, so far it will retain a certain grandeur, and will represent to future beholders the Unknown, the Inevitable, the Divine.” 
        That day in Paris some few years ago (and yet what now feels like an epoch ago, due to the pandemic) while walking down the rue Bonaparte I spotted a window display of letters by luminaries such as Charles Baudelaire, Marcel Proust & Francis Poulenc. There’s an elegance in the written word that has disappeared from the digital age, which has decimated print media & resulted in a society of zombies. The pens are graceful, the dark ink alluring. The paper must be high quality: it’s still white. It’s such a pleasure to be reminded of a time when language & writing were synonymous with thought, visions transferred from absinthe to ink, ink to infinity. 
       Writing has taken a backseat to the podcast, tweet and YouTube bullhorn. Everyone is big on oral communication networks now. What writing does is allow talking a space to find its revolt. Writing isn’t talking. Writing is redemption. It’s where we redeem our confusion for the wisdom of silence.