22 April 2016

Morningthoughts on April 22

(The caption is meaningless.)

How is one supposed to live life? Is it naive to ask this? I wish I were sophisticated enough to see the solution as obvious. Is the question answerable? Or is my act of asking only a way of yearning for better parents?

Adults who are expected to guide others crave guidance themselves. I wonder often about the concept of authority. Do I hate it or love it? I hate and love it: when it’s bad, I hate it; when it’s good, I love it. But the ideas of “good” and “bad” are in the eye of the beholder. So, after all, my decision on the acceptableness of authority is made with the same combination of seriousness-and-abandon as I would invest in choosing whether to add red or blue drips to an abstract painting.

I’ve heard the phrase: Pick your poison. Perhaps much of the good life consists in knowing how best to embrace your demise. La dolce vita, the good life, the sweet life… How does one correctly manage to undertake anything, though? To know—is it indeed the equivalent of remembering? By what authority might we say this? A past life? But how can one trust a memory that defies the boundary of selfhood?

I realize that I just asked a loaded question. I assumed that the existence of a past-life memory would constitute a violation of the boundary of selfhood.

If the self, however, is larger than any body that it “inhabits”…

I can’t finish that last sentence because the idea of the self being more than its present memories—its present makeup—to me is unthinkable: maybe true, but beyond my ken. And I guess that my authority is Hamlet’s famous “to be, or not to be” speech, where he refers to death as

The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns…

But is my citing of Hamlet as an authority on this subject any different than a Christian citing Jesus, or Montaigne citing Socrates?

Although the trinity of names above presumably (or “once upon a time”) corresponded to living people (as they say in Hollywood, each was “based on a true story”), nowadays we know them only through the lens of literature: they are literary characters.

Are Socrates and Jesus realer than Shakespeare’s Hamlet? We have Plato and Aristophanes (and others?) transmitting Socrates; we have Matthew, Mark, Luke, John (and others) transmitting Jesus. I can conjure at least a vague notion of the “true story” that inspired the accounts of either the Athenian or the Nazarene; yet what is the source material corresponding to Hamlet?

Documentaries are always fake. I tend to think of them as true, at least compared to “fictional” films; but that notion is only accurate to a certain degree. Although it often feels like it’s getting us closer to the truth, because it crops out the boring noise of plain life, editing is a form of falsification. So “reality television” is less trustworthy than a musical by Ernst Lubitsch.

(I chose that last specific reference because my sweetheart and I just watched a box set containing four of his works.)

But even if a strip of film is left unedited, as I have the hazy memory of Andy Warhol choosing to do at least once, the choice of framing and duration (among other things) are still “unreal,” which is to say, not true to life.

And yet, each movie itself, which I have just labeled as false, is, in another sense, its own actual event, case, fact, situation, happening, occurrence, incident, episode, phenomenon… As our great poet Wallace Stevens so fervently and pathetically asserts in “The Auroras of Autumn”:

It exists, it is visible, it is, it is.

One’s experience of any artwork, and the fact of its maker’s having planted it within our broken world, is therefore true (despite its being personal and thus tricky to articulate)—it’s only the artwork’s accuracy of representation that is imperfect, in the way that the word dog is NOT a dog but a symbol. And that’s why I hate when my biological mother says that she would rather avoid reading poetry or novels, as her preference is for books that convey people’s genuine experiences. As if the imagination does not coexist with lesser matters. We share this tedium as roommates; why not be friends? But my mom’s favorite books are the kind that detail their author’s survival of historical horrors, because such accounts make one’s own life seem less intolerable.

Myself, I prefer to dream big. Upon befriending someone who has given himself the nickname “Man of Steel,” I immediately want to seek out a superior metal for my own title: the desire to outperform everything, comrades included (as Ahab says, “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me”) is my natural vice; howbeit this sky-high ambition is handsomely marbled with laziness.

For though I am not splenative and rash,
Yet have I in me something dangerous…

So speaks Hamlet, in his play’s last act (5.1.254). Remember when he jumps into the grave and grapples with Laertes? That’s what I’m talking about: remaining unmoved and inactive with regard to the traditional notions of honor and justice; while, perhaps because it is a subsection of the realm of poetic performance, finding yourself on fire to exceed the lament of a fellow mourner at your ex-girlfriend’s funeral.

Dost come here to whine,
To outface me with leaping in her grave?
Be buried quick with her, and so will I.

Hamlet one-ups all of his would-be brother-in-law’s expressions of grief.

Nay, and thou’lt mouth,
I’ll rant as well as thou.

I delight in this type of absurdity. And I’m glad that I updated this weblog here today—the activity took my mind off the recent political election. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve become a junkie for the race (not a jockey, a valiant rider; but a junkie, addicted to watching the proceedings); and I fear that my horse will not win… although my horse stands for equestrianism in general; so, in a sense, loss is impossible. (“I” loses; “we” cannot but win—yet the thrust of whatever winning that “we” encompasses depends on its proximity to our “I”—does that make sense?) So here’s one last quote to end this quote-heavy post, from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself (§21):

Have you outstript the rest? are you the President?
It is a trifle, they will more than arrive there every one, and still pass on.

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