To whom it may concern,
I finally replaced my old broken laptop with a new slow one that is plum colored. Now I am able to blog again.
It's been a long time since I last wrote to myself. What have I been up to? I only like to remember the pleasant stuff, not the work and trials and necessities of life, so it'll sound like all I do is watch movies. And the same titles too, because I end up re-watching my favorites rather than seeking out new works. Cuz I'm afraid of change.
So we watched Taxi Driver (1976) for the Nth time, and I was relieved to learn, from the commentary track on the disk (I checked out a disk from the library, because the copy that I own is on VHS), that the film's makers identify with (as opposed to frown upon or simply condemn) not only their main character Travis Bickle, but also the narrator of Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground. Those are two characters that I've always been ashamed to admit that I relate to.
I never relate to any character's ugly traits, though; only their lovableness.
We also watched other movies, a whole bunch of them, but I don't feel like telling their titles right now. I'd rather talk about books. Books are better than films. But good films are better than bad books. As long as you don't take those two terms moralistically. As Oscar Wilde always sez: "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all." [Preface to Dorian Gray.]
I finished Gore Vidal's novel Burr and now I'm about halfway through his next "Narrative of Empire": Lincoln. Whatever you think of Mr. Vidal, I urge you to go right along thinking the same way. I like his novels about the U.S. They help me feel less alone.
Also we watched The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) because of Scorsese and Schrader: at first it seemed shocking to consider that this film has the same director and screenwriter as Taxi Driver. But then when I thought about it, after re-watching them both, everything made sense.
Before I forget, here's a quote from Lincoln (pt. 2, ch. 3) which reminded me of yesterday and tomorrow (is time indeed cyclic?):
As a lawyer and as an office-holder, sworn to uphold the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, not to mention those inviolable protections of both persons and property so firmly spelled out in Magna Charta and in the whole subsequent accretion of the common law, Seward found that he quite enjoyed tearing up, one by one, those ancient liberties in the Union’s name. Never before had anyone ever exercised such power in the United States as he did now, with Lincoln’s tacit blessing. Although, officially, the secret service was under the military, regular reports were made to Seward, in whose name letters were opened, copies of telegrams seized, arrests made.
Coincidentally (in re The Last Temptation) my sweetheart is reading King Jesus by Robert Graves. Now THAT's a good book. That's my favorite book about Jesus, in a three-way tie with José Saramago's The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and Harold Bloom's Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine. —I'm just listing my favorite things, because I got a new laptop.
But my sweetheart, she's out in Woodbury giving a piano recital. She has enough students to put on two full shows. It's different than stand-up comedy. If I myself taught an instrument, it'd be the knob. I mean I'd teach my greenhorns how to turn knobs on appliances, to get them to make strange noises. I'm not joking. If I were joking, I'd choose the triangle, because that instrument's tiny.
I'm also reading the Emile of Jean Jacques Rousseau. I find it interesting because I was never raised. I wish my parents had put me through Finishing School. I mean the school that teaches you how to stand, walk; how to carry yourself with dignity; how to speak properly and politely to landowners. But Rousseau pisses me off, a lot of the time; even though I always harbor an ember or two of respect for him, since Shelley gave him a spot in his "Triumph of Life". But I side more with Blake, whose stance is otherwise. In a chapter on adolescence, Rousseau says: "Every child who believes in God is an idolater, or rather he thinks of God in human shape." I myself don't believe in God at all, so this statement tickles me, but I also believe wholly that humankind is God; and, as Blake sez: "Every thing that lives is holy". That's why I like Joseph Smith, too: when he would speak of God as a onetime human. And the writer of Genesis-Exodus-Numbers: she tends to show the godlike potential in humans alongside the beastlike aspects of God.
But here's another misguided bleat from Rousseau (presently and throughout, up down left & right, in William Boyd's translation):
My own fear is that this air of mystery might excite a young man's imagination overmuch and turn his head so that he would become a fanatic rather than a believer.
I like the disparagement of mystery (at least when it's put in service of religion; as opposed to pure poetic obscurantism, which I'm all for), but I rather love fanatics. Fanaticism is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Again Blake sez (in his Marriage of Heaven and Hell): "Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling." And later in the same scripture Blake speaks to Isaiah, who sez: "...in ages of imagination this firm perswasion removed mountains; but many are not capable of a firm perswasion of any thing." Now I can't resist substituting Jean Jacques' surname for Blake's word "man" in this conclusion:
For Rousseau has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.
I didn't mean to obsess over this one topic – I prefer to fly to other things, and to buzz from thing to thing like a bee between flowers – but I want to quote just one more passage from Emile, because I have the answer.
Let us be bold enough to state the problem. A child has to be brought up in his father's religion, and always gets ample proof that this religion, whatever it is, is the only true one, and all the others are absurd and ridiculous. In matters of religion, more than in any other, opinion triumphs. What then are we, who profess to cast off the yoke of opinion and seek to be independent of authority, to do about this? We do not wish to teach our Emile anything which he could not learn for himself in any country. In what religion are we to bring him up?
Rousseau goes on to give his own solution, which is reason-based and therefore debased. My own answer is better: I would raise a child by reading to him or her as many poetic tales as we can manage. We would read all scriptures and think about them and talk about them. We would read them again; we would choose favorite passages and stories, and we would rank them according to our fancy. The great thing about my child Sarai, compared to Rousseau's stupid Emile, is that my Sarai will hold on equal footing both Jesus and Hamlet, and Huckleberry Finn and the Ancient of Days: they will all be regarded as characters from books – that is: they will be taken as larger-than-life and worthy of worship, IF they are able to win over the mind of their reader to that attitude (that's a big "if"); or else they will be scoffed at or ignored or simply humored, or the characters will receive whatever other reaction they are able to inspire. The Jumblies (of the poem by Edward Lear) will be held as equally important as the Apostles of Christ. In fact, any person, including the Messiah himself, if he is honest, will admit that the Jumblies outrank even the angels. Not because religion is bad or wrong, but because religion occupies the same essential realm as the inventions of the poets. Again, I turn to Blake:
. . . thus began Priesthood.
Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
I've copied this and the other above passages here before, I know; but apparently Rousseau was not listening. Plus one must continue repeating the main points of one's message, if one wants the general public to catch on and vote for one in any upcoming election.
A couple words about our wall. We have a large wall in our house: it's the biggest wall that we have: it's the only one that is two stories tall: it spans both floors. (We live in a split-level.) This wall is the one that the previous owners chose to leave wallpaper on. But the wallpaper isn't decorative; or, if it is, we cannot tell, because it's been painted over: now it's plain off-white. And it has scuff marks on it, from people kicking shoes at it. And it bubbles up when the temperature gets to room temperature. So we chose to remove it.
Here is my judgment, now that I have suffered through the ordeal: Removing old wallpaper is difficult. You have to sponge hot water over the surface of the paper until the glue that binds it to the wall begins to liquify. Once the glue liquifies, it releases its grip on the paper; then you can remove it. But you'll find that it (the wallpaper) comes off only slowly: it's like a bandage that's sealed to its wound; or like a stubborn donkey that doesn't want to bring you into Jerusalem; or it's like prying a price tag off the album cover of a CD. (Compact disks were once the latest fad in delivering music to consumers. The first disk that I myself ever purchased was Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. That's where I first fell in love with The Bomb Squad's production.)
You know how sometimes you'll return home and find on your front step a rolled-up newspaper in a blue-tinted sleeve? That's not junk-mail: it's your free local paper! The average citizen disposes of this item immediately: after removing the news from its plastic, they throw the sleeve in the trash, and toss the paper in the recycling bin. But I am not your average citizen: I always read our local paper. This week, there was a profile of a local author, which made me jealous because I myself am a local author but I've never been given a profile. So I'll steal the questions that they asked her, and ask them of myself.
At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
The paper's interviewee answered: "I knew it in second grade... (etc.)" Therefore I answer: I never wanted to be a writer. As Amos always sez to Amaziah: I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit. [7:14] I only write because: The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy? [3:8]
Describe your writing room.
The interviewee talks about the beach. My answer is a burgundy sopha in my apartment's one room.
How did you come to write The Permanent Modes? What do you hope readers take away from the book?
Alright... Enough of this stupid idea of answering some other author's interview. You're getting on my nerves. —I'll give you just one more question and then we're done.
Which of your books holds the most emotional resonance for you?
Mediocre Mountain, because it was written by money, for money.
What are you working on now? Any book projects in the works?
No. Just this blog.
Which writers have inspired you?
Emily Dickinson and the author of the Book of Job.
What are you reading right now?
I already told you that above, were you asleep? But in addition to those books, every day I read aloud to my sweetheart brief passages from a stack of four or five titles: Tristram Shandy first, then a few from The Selected Poems of Thomas Hardy, then Alcoran, Emile, and Emily Dickinson.
What was the last truly great book you read?
Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Blyth
What advice do you have for young writers?
You advise me.