Monday, May 12, 2014

Cold Rain Warm Lather

I go online and discover British poet Tom Raworth has posted at his blog a picture of Gregory Corso’s marble burial slab at its location in the English Cemetery of Rome, Italy. A friend sent it to him via smartphone. It’s rather amazing pictures can be sent that quickly, or taken that easily.  

Corso is buried near Shelley and Keats, the way he wanted it. The inscription on the stone reads:  

is Life
It flows thru
the death of me
like a river
of becoming
the sea  

‘Spirt’ is, of course, meant to be ‘Spirit.’ But I like the typo, and I think Gregory would have liked it, too. His spirit was all spurt, all huge ejaculatory élan vital. He even made brooding look cool. He didn’t brood quite like Hamlet, the master of brooders. Gregory’s irritabilities had dash and impishness in them. He was a wise old fool like King Lear’s companion, speaking truth to power in jokes and sparkling wit. Corso was a fool in the tradition of the Sacred Clown, the Native American Contrary, but did not suffer fools  -  the truly foolish, the stubborn, the obtuse, the pretentious  -  gladly. He could be exhilaratingly honest. He was full of mischief. But he was also tuned in to the sublime, the divine. He was like Shelley’s twentieth century incarnation, wild hair and trenchant vision, cutting through the bullshit of the age, the stuffy academicism and snickering, postmodern irony of the intellectual elite.  He fully, unflinchingly recognized the pain and frustration and tragedies of life, but just as fully counterbalanced it with waggish, spirited philosophy and jingly bells of an ineluctable goofiness, a wonderful sense of the absurd, a carnivalesque ribaldry à la Rimbaud’s “Parade” with its collection of ragtag carnies that ends with the line “J’ai seul la clef de cette parade sauvage.” His work possessed a marvelous comedic energy, yet as bizarre and giddy as his lines could be he could just as easily slide into great cosmic epiphanies, or the imponderable treasures of reverie and dream. I learned life were no dream, he wrote. 

I learned truth deceived
Man is not God
Life is a century
Death an instant 

Impulse and perception are the stuff of life. There is a kind of fever we tap into when we’re exposed  -  and sensitive to  -  the possibilities of art. Art is synonymous with possibility; it dilates consciousness the way amphetamines and hallucinogens dilate consciousness. It is all the stronger when we discover the underlying fusion of art and life, that perception isn’t passive at all but creative in and of itself. The underlying absurdity and sadness of existence in daily realities, soap bubbles, warmth of a cat on our lap, wrinkles, suitcase snafus, hope, rubber bands, giddy inspirations, honey luminous and amber in a glass jar, orange peels on a gray sidewalk, gropings in the dark for a light switch or clothes, veins of rain down a sad Sunday window, brandy twinklings, star breath on lunatic glimmers of wilderness lakes, are what flavor the dishes of this spectacular movable feast, this endless highway, that ever alluring horizon in the sweet trickle of twilight.    

I go for a run in the afternoon. It’s mid-May and raining heavily. It’s cold. If there weren’t so much foliage in the trees I would think the date to be closer to Thanksgiving or Christmas than Memorial Day. I curl my hands into a fist. They feel cold and sting a little. The sensation is simultaneously pleasurable and painful. My pants are soaked. How can a sensation be painful and pleasurable at the same time? It’s the intensity of it. Anything intense has qualities of both pain and pleasure. And sometimes a pain is pleasurable and a pleasure is painful. Though I think it’s mostly the former. Sometimes a pain if it isn’t too lasting and intense can feel strangely good, perhaps because it’s a feeling, plain and simple, and nothing makes you feel more alive than a mildly painful sensation that mingles itself in the nerves with electro-chemical impulses little stabs of lightning with no clearly identifiable quality good or bad and it all flows into the brain where it gets processed and sublimated into thoughts about it, rumination and speculation and wondering how and why and what is all this business about and why is it so cold and rainy this far into May? The robins sing. The sidewalks are littered with seriously green samsara.

I get home. I take a shower. The shower feels terrific. They always do. The body blossoms. The body opens its pores to little tongues and trickles of hot water. I grab a towel and dry myself and take the new can of shaving lather and press it a little too long and vigorously because I’m still used to the old can of shaving lather which I had to press long and hard to get the last little squirts and splurts of lather out of it, lather that turned wet and drooly, like cream. I now have a large mound of lather which I smear around my face and rinse the rest of it off. Who invented lather anyway how did lather work its way into human civilization? I’ve used soap before when I ran out of lather and the soak worked out ok so what’s up with lather? Is lather rather unnecessary? I’d rather lather than soap and soap is hope and rope and dope and ropey dopey soap. Soap is great in its own way neat and cubed bars of olive oil and canola, slippery ingots of liberated glycerol, pellets combined with fragrances Amazon lily baby rose chamomile bergamot black amber and lavender.

I read Kitaro Nishida on Will, then “Angoisse” by Rimbaud, which fascinates me. The two seem related. There is a connection. Will often takes action as its goal and accompanies it, but will is a mental phenomenon which is distinct from external action, and action is not a necessary condition for will, writes Nishida. Rimbaud’s “Angoisse” presents a highly complex figuration. He makes reference to ambition, which is an expression of will, as “continually crushed” (continuellement écrasées), i.e. unfulfilled, and in a spectacular manner. The poet begs his anguish, personified as the She of the poem, for pardon, for an affluent end that will compensate for the ages of indigence, that a day of success will lull he and his anguish-inducing ambitions to sleep on the shame (as if shame were a mattress), of “our” fatal incompetence. It’s a strange attitude, simultaneously disparaging, suppliant and conciliatory. There is a sharp sense of personal failure and deep frustration running beneath, but one that seems alloyed with a kind of sanguinary expectancy, of compensation for the heroics of being a poet in a world where only material, quantifiable attainment is the measure of success. I’m not sure that I fully understand this emotion, but I know that there have been numerous times in my life when I’ve felt acutely disappointed in fulfilling certain ambitions, wallowed in foolish obsessions, tirades, and bitter self-recriminations, and fallen back on the knowledge that higher awards are obtainable to the imagination. We have a tendency to think of will as some special power, Nishida writes, but in fact it’s nothing more than the experience of shifting from one mental image to another. To will something is to direct attention to it. One minute it’s soaked pants, stinging hands and the dribble of cold rain down the shin, the next it’s a mound of happy lather and a room full of steam. Warm water and open pores. A razor across the skin. 

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