Americans in this therapy-mad epoch tend to take, rather mistake, an “experience” for that fateful “event.” Perusing Centuria, we may come to understand that the myriad catastrophes blazoned in newspapers and splashed over our screens — love, celebrity, athletic prowess, failure or fame, marriage, illness, crisis, smashup — do not concern the soul; nor can they illuminate whatever meaning life might propose.
We lived heretofore in the multitude of villages scattered world-wide amongst the ruins of the Tower of Babel. Civilization’s tapestry, its complicated patterns interwoven from multitudes of poets and poetries, once covered their walls and held our attention. Will there come to be in the global village but one faceless, boring bard who speaks with the reduced, infinitely reductive voice the simplified and platitudinous messages of the Media?
It is scarcely news that in a vast, pluralistic country like the United States, minorities should feel themselves threatened with absorption into the larger society, and that they should cling to some form of cultural identity. It begins poignantly when school children pledge allegiance to “ … one nation, indivisible, […]
“You clear me? I clear you? It’s not hypnotism, if that’s what scares you. You’re fully conscious. You merely learn how to scan your tapes. Then you’ll be getting full recalls in real time. Visio, sonic, tactilic, and olofactoric. Kinesthetic — which is weight and motion. Somatic — that’s pain. Thermic and organic — your insides. In Dianetics, organic is also emotive. The fact is, you don’t cry because you’re sad. You’re sad because you’re crying. Emotion is physical, not mental like that spooky Freudian stuff.”
“Ah yes,” he whispered to me, ”I spent one helluva long night wrassling all over the floor of a room there with one terrific Jew gal. You know Susan Sontag?” “Personally, no, I never met her, though I’ve read her.” “Well, that novel,” he chortled, “that opening … in the abandoned railway tunnel? That was me! That shadow man; that spook; that brute. None other than Jim Dickey! One helluva a long night that was, boy, lemmee tell you!”
The principal accused was an Auschwitz commandant, one Wilhelm Boger, whose sobriquet was “The Tiger of Auschwitz.” He was a man who had been arrested after a successful post-war career, having become a rich businessman who’d never been questioned before. At that time he was in his late 60s. Of the many witnesses for the prosecution there was a woman called Frau Braun.
By the time we come to T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway in the 1920’s, we find a hero characteristic of the period of entre les deux guerres: he is either passive and/or maimed in his masculinity; that is, fatally in his (phallic) heroism.
To sum up in a phrase the true and deepest character of Lawrence’s genius, it was given by his close friend Aldous Huxley in an introduction to the first collected letters shortly after his death: he was a mystical materialist. And thereon hangs the tale I shall unfold.
The notion of Art’s secular epiphany takes us to Vladimir Nabokov, a reader of Joyce. As I recall, it was about 1956 or so that an excerpt of his then unpublishable LOLITA appeared in an early number of Anchor Review.
The relativism that relishes diversity for diversity’s sake is one that eschews æsthetic judgment or choice. Both however are necessary.
What’s intriguing about the dreadful psychology of Muslim, particularly Shiite [read Hizbollah] fundamentalism, is that aspect of terrible fixity, that manifests itself as a kind of violent sleepwalking in its adherents.
The novel as a perpetually-remade form of high style and sophistication is, in our commerce, scarcely recognized, let alone understood.
X’s short 21 chapters of informal prose mix the personal-poignant and social-pathetic. They illuminate the pathology of a multi-billion-dollar purely-American enterprise: the community college network snaking through 50 States. Bloated with the goodwill of the ingrained national optimism, it expresses our mania for pieces of paper guaranteeing employable skills supposedly learned from hundreds of pages of sociopsychological babble, the ink-tracks of text in thick books laying out techniques of “administration” by the numbers.
I asked them why they, unannounced, wished to meet with the director and they told me that they had just discovered Noah’s ark in Turkey. As I had met a few others along the way conning people with this ark stuff I asked to see the proof. He immediately pulled out a black and white photo showing what looked like a rock cliff and asked, ‘What do you see?’ I looked at it closely and replied, ‘All I can see is that someone took a ballpoint pen and drew a photo of a ship on the rock face’. They replied, in that charming Tennessee accent, ‘Well, it’s a bit hard to see so we’all took a ball point pen and highlighted it for ‘y’all.’
The principle idea at the core of Existentialism was the denial of Descartes’ I think, therefore I am. Instead it was, I act, therefore I am. As for fishing, Thoreau never tells us what sort of fish there are, or were in his stream; nor if he ever caught anything. It was the fishing that was his active thought, and that sky full of pebbled stars was where his thought was actively cast. That is poetry, and it is untranslatable as paraphrase or a set of maxims. Whereas the sort of profundities Stephen Mitchell sets down in this book — neatly-designed and printed withal — are for this reader rebarbative.