I feel very far behind; I need to catch up: the people are way out ahead of me. I’m attracted to the most forward-thinking and forward-acting minds, and here I find myself almost totally backward. Great movements in humanity and experiments in democracy have been taking place in the NOW (not to be confused with the NEW), and I’ve been missing out... I’ve been fast asleep forever.
My problem is that I’m most attracted to utopian thinking; so my energies have been routed toward contributions that will matter most when humankind is at PEACE, when all problems (at least governmental, structural, etc.) have been solved & we’re all enjoying our cultural zenith cuz we brought paradise down to earth. I always assumed that this perfection was just around the bend; that eternity is about to make its landing, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop this from happening. Now I tend to think the opposite: it feels more likely that humankind will vanish as a species and follow the dodo, rather than resurrect a Golden Age.
Wise minds in this very generation have understood the dangers, and they’ve been acting upon their knowledge and clearsightedness; that’s why I said that I feel so behind: it’s not that I’ve been blind, but I didn’t understand how desperately the foundation of society still needs to be built. I thought that the frame was already erected. I’ve been working on parts of the upper tower, and we haven’t even got the first story finished. I was only able to levitate up there in mid air, scribbling out literature, the way it works in cartoons: if you walk off a cliff, you won’t fall, so long as you refrain from looking down. But once you recognize the fact that there’s no ground supporting you, you begin to freefall. So I feel right now like a puff of dust on the ground, becuz I’ve freefallen. I just hope that, also according to the physics of animated cartoons, I can fail in this one sequence, even expire violently, and yet appear in the next sequence whole, as if nothing ever happened: God bless the non sequitur.
So like I told you before, I’ve been reading David Graeber. His book Debt: the first 5000 years. He was also closely associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement; and right this instant there’s a movement in France, which seems to be running along the same lines, and Graeber is there, in Paris, so this feeling of MISSING OUT is eating me up. I missed Occupy Wall Street — I didn’t understand what the whole thing was about. Now I’m worried that I’m gonna watch all the good stuff in life pass me by, if I don’t smack myself and tell myself “Wake the heck up!”
Just a few minds among millions have left me enthralled. You know how it feels when you encounter, for the first time, someone who seems like a heaven-sent exemplar? Maybe you’re not as obsessive as me; but I’ve experienced, a handful of times in my life, this total hero-worship, which commandeers me like a spell. First it was Ludwig Wittgenstein. Because I thought philosophy was the answer, I sought out the best philosopher: L.W. transfixed me. Then, without my enthusiasm waning for Wittgenstein, I grew wary of philosophy: I noticed that all the philosophers were always quoting poets and novelists, and drawing their ideas from the realm of creative literature. So, after Wittgenstein, I sought out the finest mind writing on FUN-TEXT; & my only caveat was that I wanted someone who could explain not only the past but the strange new works that were luring us to the future (I call the present the future because friendly artists are always up ahead waiting for us), and that mind — I still think I’m right about this — belongs to Harold Bloom. I should mention again, cuz by now I’m sure you’ve forgotten, that I was raised as a Reformed Protestant Christian, and my family was plagued with a bent towards literalism and biblical fundamentalism; so this was always a burden to me in life: I didn’t see it as a burden back in the days when I believed in the church doctrines, but I was always wasting a lot of time trying to figure out why my family’s views never quite lined up with the World’s Truth — I mean Science and also the Plain Regular Everyday Life (most movies and TV were prohibited in our household: why oh why!?) — and Harold Bloom’s biblical & religious criticism was the only force powerful enough to break my thick-headed faith. It wasn’t Bloom alone, but his essays on the scriptures challenged me to read my own Holy Book more closely, and I ended up having to admit that my religious views were bunk. A good try, but bunk. (I could talk about this until the cows come home, but I’ll leave it there for now, so that I can get back to the topic at hand.)
I had read Nietzsche before Bloom, and I really admired Nietzsche, but Nietzsche’s anti-church talk couldn’t make it to the processor in my brain, until Bloom had cleared the channel. So, tho I knew and loved Mr. Nietzsche before I knew Bloom, after Bloom Nietzsche took me over completely. I’m still basically a Nietzsche robot, and if I bite you, you’ll become a Nietzsche-bot too. So these four horsemen — Wittgenstein; Bloom; Nietzsche; and David Lynch (did I forget to mention Lynch? Well he’s always been around, for me — he’s the artist of my age, which is to say, OUR age, cuz I just bit you) — these minds created the monster named Bryan Ray.
& now, after moving from philosophy to creative literature philology and art in general, I pop my head up out of the ground like a hermit who’s been living in an underground cave for millions of years, and I look around at the world above, and I’m dismayed: I see that everyone’s sick and poor, despite the obvious abundance of riches available. So we have a distribution problem. This maddens me, because I require a populace that is healthy, so that it can grow obsessed with my own literary masterworks, as the LORD God intends.
So, after falling from my top floor in Utopia, I pull myself up by my bootstraps and begin to look into politics. The first thing that happened after I finished writing my collected self-amusements was the 2016 U.S. primary elections. It’s hard to float from philosophy all the way up to Art Heaven and then back down to stupid politics. But the world runs on stupid politics; and we don’t have a choice but to grasp it by its tail (and hope its tail does not fall off): the question, which I think I’m stealing from Joseph Campbell (another hero) is always “Can I eat that, or will that eat me?” Well politics will eat you up if you don’t learn to lasso it. Cage it or kill it; box it and ship it.
What I’m trying to get to is that David Graeber is the next big mind in my life: he seems to fit that “best top cat” position in my personal ratings-system; and that’s why I’m interested in the uprisings happening in France now.
But first let me add one more word about my political development, because you NEED to know every last goddamn detail about me:
As I said, the 2016 primary offered us the choices of Bernie Hillary or Trump. Well I liked Bernie, and he called himself a Democratic Socialist, so I began looking into what those words mean. Socialist seems to mean that we let social needs determine where resources go (as opposed to letting money itself make the decision); and if you ask: “But if the money market doesn’t dictate all decisions, then exactly WHO DOES get to decide which ‘social needs’ get the population’s resources?” — that’s where the word “Democratic” comes in: WE THE PEOPLE make the decisions (as opposed to some private corporation or so-called representative who is chosen by a wealthy minority). Then after Social Democracy I began to look into Communism, because that was always a scary word here in the U.S., for they teach us that Communists are our enemies who deserve to be killed. People boast about fighting Communism; regular people that you meet at church will brag to you and tell you that they themselves killed many Communists in this or that foreign war: and they did this for your protection; because if Communists are not killed outright, they will come and invade your country and make every single person miserable.
As it is, nobody’s miserable here in the U.S. And the reason for our all-pervasive bliss is that on principle we hunt down and annihilate all Communists. (Sorry — I’m getting carried away by sarcasm: this is a hard subject to write about straightforwardly, due to the climate of our culture.)
It seems that a fair amount of people define Communism as a system following the simple formula: “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” Now this is obviously dangerous: it is the system adhered to by every infant-nursing mother; and also most families and friendships follow this formula unthinkingly: it is practically instinctive. Stomp it out. (Sorry: sarcasm again.)
Even my explanation of these terms above is heavily influenced by what I’ve recently read of Graeber; and Graeber himself, when asked to give himself a neat political label, says “I am anti-capitalist and an anarchist.” This sounded very scary to me, at first: even scarier than Socialist or Communist. The word anarchist, I assumed, meant “one who believes in spreading confusion everywhere” — but I was wrong about this (why would anyone value confusion outside of art?); I realized that this term is another one that has been the victim of a successful, multi-generational P.R. campaign. (Public relations = propaganda.) The word “archon” was familiar to me from the gnostic scriptures; I understood it to mean something like “ruler”; so I deduced that “anarchist” must mean “being against rulers”, or “anti-authority”. This is just what I thought when I reasoned it out in my head. Now the idea of being against authority appeals to me sincerely. Not that authority should always be eradicated; only that it should not be ENFORCED rigidly, coercively: there should be no hierarchy, no artificially established echelon of beings who are inherently, permanently higher than the rest of us simpletons; rather, authority should always come from personal persuasion: Bloom is not the best because the rules say so, but because his writings and ideas convince me of his high worth. If Bloom seems not the best to you, so be it: you can go find a best of your own; and maybe you’ll persuade me to change my top-cat spot-holder; but neither you nor I should FORCE another to hold any person as other than our equal.
I’m getting lost in the weeds, here. Graeber himself explains anarchism better — I’ll paraphrase by memory what I heard him say in an interview. He said that, as opposed to protesting the government to do this or that for you (which is like asking your parents for help: it presupposes an existing authority) (plus parents just don’t understand), anarchism is simply acting as if you are already free. So if anyone needs anything done, you just do it; you don’t stop to ask for permission to improve someone’s life. Like Gandhi, with the whole salt fiasco. The rightness of your action will be manifest to others, naturally; as well as the wrongness of your oppressors’ violent re-action.
Graeber also says this other thing I find catchy: He says, regarding the strange aversion to anarchism among the (modern) U.S. populace, “It’s strange, because everyone in the U.S. says they love democracy” (we love it enough even to kill others so as to help spread this best-of-all-ideas to other countries) “and everyone’s always criticising the government: it’s dysfunctional enough to be hateworthy. — Well, if you love democracy & hate government, then you are an anarchist; because anarchy is basically democracy minus the government.”
So right now Graeber is in France, and the things that are happening there are both scary and heartening.
There’s this big vague general take on the 18th-century revolution that abolished the French monarchy — it’s thought of as something that began with promise but ended disastrously; its aftermath was unfortunately ugly or nonsensically reckless… Well I have my own skewed romantic view from poets like Wordsworth, who impresses his own reaction to this Revolution in his famous Prelude; and of course the prophecies of William Blake come to my mind (Europe and others); and it’s hard not to tingle with optimism and think to myself “Maybe this thing that’s happening in France will magnetize all the caring souls of the world,” and I also wonder “What if it becomes the new French Revolution, and they actually do it right this time?” Why not think big? Why not expect the best?
But anyway, like I said, I’m only an infant in world-politics: I barely understand this chimera that now dominates my vision; and Graeber is way out ahead, over the horizon, sending missives from the front line, the avant garde. (Actually it’s the people whose names I don’t yet know, who’re most truly on the cutting edge — even Graeber had to fly out there to meet them: so they were up yonder waiting for him — but it is only from my own perspective that can I speak of the blurry forms in my crystal ball.) Now, in reading up on the current French events, I’ve learned about something called “Nuit debout”. Can Wikipedia be trusted to inform us? Her entry says:
Nuit debout is a French social movement that began on 31 March 2016, arising out of protests against proposed labor reforms. It has been compared to the Occupy movement in the United States and to Spain’s anti-austerity 15-M or Indignados movement.
Now here’s what I really love: the imaginative capabilities of the phrase itself:
The name “Nuit debout” has been translated into English as “Up All Night”, “Standing Night”, and “Rise up at night”, among other variants. Commentators have noted that the word debout has “significant resonance” in French political culture as it is the first word in the socialist anthem “The Internationale” (“Arise…!”).
Night come alive, like Christ rising to eternal life. Also my favorite box set of movies that I own is called “Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.” Plus I’m reminded of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s short poem “The Two Spirits”, where the first spirit voices the refrain “Night is coming!”; and it has these lines:
Some say when nights are dry and clear,
And the death-dews sleep on the morass,
Sweet whispers are heard by the traveller,
Which make night day…
Also the quote from Theolonious Monk that Thomas Pynchon used as the epigraph for his tome Against the Day: “It’s always night, or we wouldn’t need light.” And although I don’t care for the film itself (I’m not a horror buff), I can’t stop thinking about this outburst printed in all-caps at the top of a Night of the Living Dead (1968) poster-ad: “THEY WON’T STAY DEAD!” — That must be how the Financial Powers feel about their pesky French population.
Wikipedia quotes Graeber in its section on the 2016 events — I find all this thrilling; just hearing about it inflames my fancy and leaves me eager to see the upshot of all these acts.
Over the first week the protests spread to over 30 cities across France. By early May the movement had had at least some presence in nearly 300 cities worldwide. The academic David Graeber, a leading figure in the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011, said that the protests had spread much faster than those of 2011. Explaining the spread of the protests, Graeber was quoted as saying, “There seems to be this sense of betrayal. [It’s] the fact that it is an ostensibly left-wing government that did the state of emergency, that did the labor law, that’s done a whole series of different things. These [the protestors] are the people that voted for them… [They] assumed that such a government would somehow speak for their concerns. They’re just really pissed off.”
And when anyone makes such a large display, it’s natural to ask “What is it that these people want, specifically?” So here’s another quote from the same online source:
The Nuit debout movement coalesced from the beginning around a broad set of themes, among which are: calls for a universal basic income; opposition to labor arrangements which place workers in competition with one another (as enshrined in trade treaties such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership); amnesty for undocumented migrants and solidarity with refugees; and feminist issues including the gender pay gap and the safety of sex workers.
I can’t imagine this stance not appealing to absolutely everyone. But our perfect world has surprised me in the past.
Only now am I realizing that I have no point to make about any of this — I’m just excited, and I wanted to tell you about it. I’m like a puppy that just ran forward to meet you and now I’m standing before you panting and wagging my tail, not knowing what else to do. YOU need to do something; after all, you’re my owner. Can’t you see I’m starved for adventure? Let’s have fun! Let’s go run around somewhere, or play fetch with a tennis ball. I don’t know where you keep the awesome supplies — I’m only a dog. So I’ll close with this quote from Graeber’s own article which just got published, about the “Yellow Vests” movement that is happening as we speak:
One way you know that a moment of global revolution has indeed taken place is that ideas considered madness a very short time before have suddenly become the ground assumptions of political life. The leaderless, horizontal, directly democratic structure of Occupy, for instance, was almost universally caricatured as idiotic, starry-eyed and impractical, and as soon as the movement was suppressed, pronounced the reason for its “failure.” Certainly it seemed exotic, drawing heavily not only on the anarchist tradition, but on radical feminism, and even, certain forms of indigenous spirituality. But it has now become clear that it has become the default mode for democratic organizing everywhere […] the fact that a movement originally of rural and small-town workers and the self-employed has spontaneously adopted a variation on this model shows just how much we are dealing with a new common sense about the very nature of democracy.
Amen, and I say: Long live all idiotic, starry-eyed and impractical pursuits. Also I quote my good friend Jesus, when he gasped “Those blessèd pataphysicians are liable to reclaim Possibility!!!”