Interludes #20 (In which, we continue with the Post-Modern hackery)

“At least you got a chance,”a voice broke in, loud in my head.

It’s a horrible feeling, like having your brain sucked out through you’re belly button. Last thing I remembered I was laying beside a tree next to the river, in some farmers field, trying to stay awake. I ran for probably five, six hours, until I stopped seeing cars all together. Only thing I saw were cows and horses, things that didn’t say much.

I had to take it slower at times creeping through these back acres. You never quite knew who might be kicking about, checking on everything.

It got cold, real cold. Sky was so big, so dark. My breathe came out in smoky streams. I began to shiver, and panic. I saw what looked like an empty church sitting far off the road. There were no cars, grass was over grown. I found broken windows and a busted in door around back, so I snuck in there.

Everything was gone from the place. No pews, no crosses, just empty. I was going to go to sleep there, seemed like a safe place. I laid down and started to freak out. What in the hell was I doing? I started to berate the Muse, demanding an answer, to why she was doing all this to me. When she ignored me, I turned to the big guy, the sky daddy. Why was he allowing all this? Couldn’t he help me? Didn’t he care?

The church was so dark. The shadows seemed to hide an eternity. I felt like something was watching me, from the hallway. Super creepy sensation. Instinctively, I jump up felt like I was drunk, sick. I stumbled out and caught myself on a nail. My arm was warm and wet, so I know I was bleeding. I rushed out, falling twice in the hurry, not wanting to discover what was looking at me.

I ran for another hour, until I came upon a large oak tree and decided to sit down for a moment. I was freezing, holding my legs, making myself into a little ball. I realized I was going to freeze to death like this. Best thing I could think to do was pile a punch of leaves and stuff against me. This sort of worked, but the damp, dirty leaves added an air of desperation to the whole thing, and I suffered with the enormity of my mistake. Why had I run from the hospital like that?

My best bet was to turn around and head back, and get some professional help. Clearly, I had lost it. Of course, the fact that my face was pressed against a cold, concrete prison cell slab confirmed this in spades.

“At least you got a fucking chance,” the voice taunted again. “My timeline went nuclear on 9-11. Everyone one of them are dead over there. You understand that. I left them all that day. Not even a goddamn phone call. You remember your sister’s shitty, red Neon you were driving then? I crashed it somewhere outside St. Paul. Just looked like a big storm. All I had was a fucking pack of camels lights and a lighter, hidden under the front seat, so no one would find them. You remember doing that type of shit?”

I had no clue what the fuck was going on. I still really don’t. At first I thought it was just some figment of my own mind. As I woke up, I discerned it was coming from under the steel door, but it was still my voice, and sort of my memories. It was harder too, something sick and twisted in there, grumbly, gravely.

“Just kept walking you know? You remember when we took the trip to the boundaries water? Fourteen or fifteen. Best buddies, right? Mike and Sully, right? Boundary waters. You remember all the fun we had? Camping all night, roasting brats on the fire, going out on the fishing boat at night, smoking joints Sully smuggled in his backpack, being sort of ashamed and exhilarated that he had done that. All those stars? And how good it felt to be alone out there. Edge of the world. Well, I thought of that as I watched the nuclear winter approach from the East. I didn’t know until later, once the fucking spooks swooped me up, but the cyclical weather pattern had kept this thing at a tortoise crawl to the West, you understand?”

I was sitting up now. There was a small concrete bench there, which suggested the exact opposite of relaxation. “Survived for years out there like that. Can you imagine it? Nah you can’t. I won’t bore you.” He burst out in a hysterical laugh and screamed.

When he calmed down, he started again. “They found me on a rock, somewhere in North Dakota, who knows. It’s funny how all those titles and shit, end up meaning nothing. Everywhere was Shitsville, thats how I thought of it anyway. Found me under some rock in Shitsville. Came up on me all crazy, one stormy night. I thought they were aliens or demons at first. Giant fucking triangle floating in the sky–wasn’t the first time I had seen some crazy shit out there, but this was especially crazy cause it was totally real. The landed at the open base of the mountain. A tiny helicopter popped out of the top and flew right towards me. I was too scared to run, too scared to do anything. A man, first one I had seen in over a year, came repelling from the helicopter, as it hovered above. Without a word, man snapped this harness on me and then we were both floating through the air and up to the waiting triangle. Gave me all shorts of shots and shit. World went blank. Then I was over here. Fucked up, ain’t it? How they get you? Somewhere in Shitsville?”

Total panic overwhelmed me. I would lay there and imagine none of this was happening. The words just popped out though. “Out of bed.”

“Out of bed? Squatting somewhere? Holed up? What city? DC? Seattle? Heard that was bullshit? Know I shouldn’t have trusted that wino bitch? She said it was all gone. For real though, where were you holed up, in case they send me back to Shitsville?”

“Des Moines.” It just popped out. The miserable truth. I could feel myself walking right into this man’s anger.

“Des Moines?” He said, full of hurt and disbelief. “Fuck that. It’s gone. Long gone. Unless, fuck that. Don’t tell me that. Oh no, no, no, no. No. Fuck that.”

At this the man began to scream and cry. I could hear his heavy body as he slammed it against the floor, against the door. It was a wet sound like a drenched blanket being slapped against the concrete.

I yelled at him to stop, but he didn’t listen. With a final horrible sound of a watermelon being split in two, all went quiet, and that was it.

I laid there on the ground for a while, trying to make sense of what the man had said. And what did it mean that he talked about we? And us? As if “we” were the same person? That was impossible. Didn’t it make more sense, my paranoid mind began to push, that they had some actor in there, playing the part of myself from another dimension, which had meets its unfortunate apocalyptic fate? As a writer and a fan of Science Fiction I am well aware of the concept of other dimensions and alternative time lines, my own experiences in the La La Land have been proof enough, but still to hear yourself so clearly, and yet so differently, was a real challenge for my mind.

Honestly, I felt very tired, and sad, and helpless, so I resolved to just fall asleep there on the floor. A loud banging of a door snapped me right out of it, and caused me to scurry to a corner of the cell. The sound of a number of boots slamming down the corridor alarmed me. I heard the cell down the way from me open up, and the slimy streak of a leaking body being dragged across the floor. The was some muffled words, more stomping, until it was right outside my room.

I jumped up. Within instinct taking over, I realized it was time too fight. A slit in the door opened up. A pair of intense blue eyes stared at me, disseminating all my courage with one glare. “Mr. McMulin,” a soft masculine voice said. “I’m coming in. I want a word. Behave yourself or receive a sedative.” He raised a syringe to the viewing slot. “Understand? No more games.”

I didn’t say a word. The slot was closed and the door was slid open. The man was tall, skinny, and sinewy. His face was set in lines of intensity. His dark brown hair, was greased and plastered to his head. He wore an Orange and Yellow Hawaiian shit, with short shorts. His legs were thin and pale, wobbly perfect like al dente spaghetti noodles. “Hello Mr. McMulin. You may call me Mr Black. I will be something like you’re contact person from now on, understand what I mean by that? Contact person? Over here. In what you so childishly call La La Land. Aaru. Elysium. Caelum. Nirvana. Asgard. Those are what people of the past called it. In more beautiful and civil times. La La land has its own beauty, doesn’t? Simple. Pleasurable to say. Somehow it manages to convey the true nature of this place. Mr McMulin, I am going to give it to you straight, okay?

nodded. “I don’t need this, do I?” He asked, gesturing towards his hand holding the syringe.

“No.”

“Good, good,” he said, handing it to a guard who stepped forward. They crowded the door way and hall. There was nothing I could do but listen.

He sat down on the concrete bench. “You have children, right Mr McMulin?”

“Yes, I do, and I love them very much.”

“Of course, Mr McMulin, of course. Now these children I am sure there have been times, when you have been frustrated by their messiness? The thousandth time you scrubbed the table of breakfast syrup, or when you found that patch of crayon art on the wall, or the thousandth shitty diaper, some moment like that, you must have felt precisely how I feel right now. I feel hopeless Mr McMulin. Would you like to know why?”

“Yes.”

“You.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you Mr McMulin,” he said, pointing at me. “I am disappointed with you. You have everything over there, don’t you? A wife that still lets you hump, occasionally, three kids, three meals a day, and what do you do with it all? Piss it right down the drain! And for what? This shit? Me? Doesn’t make any sense!”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“No, you don’t, you’re right. I don’t know what sort of alliances you have made in all this, though I have my suspicions. That bitch is no good. I hope it’s not her. That would be bad for you Mr McMulin. You don’t look like an Artist though. Not enough courage. Are you an Artist?”

What sort of question is that? My mind struggled to see what answer this crazy man wanted? I always thought in a real shake down situation like this that I would have the heart not to roll on anyone, especially myself, but now I couldn’t even begin to think how to front to Mr. Black.

“Yes,” I said. “I think so. But I didn’t make an “alliance” or whatever with that woman. She just showed up one day, I don’t know. It was weird.”

He looked at me like I just pissed my pants. I have never seen anger, hate and malice roll of someone like Mr Black. That’s when I knew I had made a bad mistake. “So it is the Woman of Many Names and Faces. I suspected as much. Well, easy in, easy out, they say. This is regrettable Mr McMulin. Truly regrettable.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I really am. I don’t really understand all this. I didn’t make any pacts with her. She just showed up and started torturing me.”

“Did you play music for her?”

“Yes,”

“Dear God,”

“But not very well,”

“She judged you harshly?”

“Very,”

“Goddammit!” He broke his composure, with a blistering rogue.

“I’m sorry,” I pleaded. “I had no clue what was going on. I’m so sorry. I just want this all to end.”

“Indeed Mr McMulin, indeed.” He said, through clenched teeth. “That is what I am here for, to clean up all your little messes. Now I have one more question. You have joined this woman in a walk through the Holy Forest of Remissions?”

“Yes,” I said, ashamed, knowing he was talking about the Pine Dust Forgetting Forrest.
There was a skin piercing tsk from Mr. Black, as he turned for the door. “This is all very bad Mr. McMulin. And exactly what I had suspected. Termination will be my recommendation.”

“Termination will be your recommendation?” I yelled after him. “What does that mean?”

“Deletion. Ending. Abortion. Conclusion. Discontinuance. Stopping. Elimination. Termination.” He yelled over his shoulder as he walked out of the cell.

Snippets #57

Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came- Robert Browning

IX.

 For mark! no sooner was I fairly found

Pledged to the plain, after a pace or two,

Than, pausing to throw backward a last view

O’er the safe road, ’twas gone; grey plain all round:

Nothing but plain to the horizon’s bound.

I might go on; nought else remained to do.

LINK

Robert_Browning_(1865_photogravure_by_Julia_Margaret_Cameron)

Snippets #55 (50%more snippets)

Discourse on the Arts and Sciences-Rousseau

So long as government and law provide for the security and well-being of men in their common life, the arts, literature and the sciences, less despotic though perhaps more powerful, fling garlands of flowers over the chains which weigh them down. They stifle in men’s breasts that sense of original liberty, for which they seem to have been born; cause them to love their own slavery, and so make of them what is called a civilised people. (3)

-Later-

…Answer me, I say, you from whom we receive all this sublime information, whether we should have been less numerous, worse governed, less formidable, less flourishing, or more perverse, supposing you had taught us none of all these fine things.

Reconsider therefore the importance of your productions; and, since the labours of the most enlightened of our learned men and the best of our citizens are of so little utility, tell us what we ought to think of that numerous herd of obscure writer and useless litterateurs, who devour without any return the substance of the State.

Useless, do I say? Would God they were! Society would be more peaceful, and morals less corrupt. But these vain and futile declaimers go forth on all sides, armed with their fatal paradoxes, to sap the foundations of our faith, and nullify virtue. The smile contemptuously at such old names as patriotism and religion, and consecrate their talents and philosophy to the destruction and defamation of all that men hold sacred. Not that they bear any real hatred to virtue or dogma; they are the enemies of public opinion alone; to bring them to the foot of the altar, it would be enough to banish them to a land of atheists. What extravagancies will not the rage of singularity induce men to commit!(10)

And finally…

Every artist loves applause. The praise of his contemporaries is the most valuable part of his recompense. What then will he do to obtain it, if he have the misfortune to be born among a people, and at a time, when learning is in vogue, and the superficiality of youth is in a position to lead the fashion; when men have sacrificed their taste to those who tyrannise over their liberty, and one sex dare not approve anything but what is proportionate to the pusillanimity of the other; when the greatest masterpieces of dramatic poetry are condemned, and the noblest of musical productions neglected? This is what he will do. He will lower his genius to the level of the age, and will rather submit to compose mediocre works, that will be admired during his life-time, than labour at sublime achievements which will not be admired till long after he is dead. Let the famous Voltaire tell us how many nervous and masculine beauties he has sacrificed to our false delicacy, and how much that is great and noble, that spirit of gallantry, which delights in what is frivolous and petty, has cost him. (11)

Link

Snippets #54

Kingdom of Fear-Hunter S. Thompson

“Our mistake was not killing them instantly,” said a colonel from the U.S. Army. “Summary execution–shot while attempting to escape.” He laughed bitterly, sipping his beer at the Red Crab, a chic roadhouse on the outskirts of town. The mayor of Ft. Lauderdale was at the other end of the bar, whooping it up with a business man from New jersey who was gnawing on the throat of a black woman.

“You people are shameless,” I said to the colonel.

“We are warriors,” he replied, stuffing the bowl of his pipe full of Mixture 79. (210)

Synchronicity and the Dangers of Padding the Reading List (Spoiler Alert!!!)

My wife and I sat up last Thursday night. Kids had gone to bed early. I suggested we sit down enjoy each other’s company for a moment. I asked about her work day. One thing led to another and soon we were in the deep territory.

And for some reason, I started thinking about Lot’s wife. Do you know about Lot’s wife? I’m aware of the basics, and have read that section in Genesis before. The basic story is two angels appear, tell ol’ Lot Sodom’s going to be destroyed. The angels tell him and his brood better book it or else. They delay in fleeing the city, which is interesting, right? Because if it was such a shitty place, why would they not want to leave? Anyway, finally the angels are like, “Look! Get the fuck out of here, right now, and if you even look back at this shit-hole, you’re going be swept away!” You can probably guess what happens next. Lot’s wife (Aldo, aka Edith, thank you wikipedia) looks back and is literally dusted. Ultra-violence.

I was making this point to my wife, that as we develop and mature that there comes a point, like Lot’s wife, that it can be dangerous to look back into the past. Rehash those old issues.

It’s interesting, and perhaps somewhat dangerous how much Art, and books especially can influence our behaviors and ideas. I think about this sometimes, though I have travelled, geographically speaking little, I feel in all the reading I have done, I have lived a lot of lives, walked in a lot of people’s shoes, or rather the fake shoes these characters wore, that were created by other people. But yes, I love books, and this love is teetering on a compulsion lately, as I attempt to reach my reading goal of 36 books this year.

Things are off to a great start. I was right on track at the end of April, 12 books, and really enjoying reading. I had just finished the first two books of C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet series. Great books, and I always love the feeling and insight the Inklings brings. Spring is here too so I find harder to sit in the basement and write. With all the signs of spring about flowers, butterflies, fresh air and sunshine, life is great. Always though, I love to sneak down to my office and have a reading session. Now I am wondering if it isn’t a bit of problem.

To achieve my goal, I decided, and here we see the first hint of the inevitable downfall, to try to pad my total by finding a bunch of great short novels to read in May. So I turned to the internet, that Delphic oracle, and ended up at this Good Reads book list. In a very short period I scanned the list, ignoring works I had already knocked off, and picked the first four or five titles that struck me as interesting. Mostly at random, reading just a snippet of the description, and then checking my local library for a copy.

So, as I was waiting for these titles to arrive at the library. I decided to tackle A Clockwork Orange, which I knew to be a thin book. I borrowed this one from my friend a while ago, and had tried to read it, but the crazy language, called Nadast, a sort of English-Russian fusion, at that moment, just seemed impossible. Strangely here, and I sensed the force of fate, when I picked it up this time. I was in the perfect mood and mindset for it.

If I’ m in that mood I like reading like that, like a translator. It makes you pay attention. It heightens your senses and experience. I have seen Stanley Kubrick’s exceptional film based on the book, so of course I couldn’t help but have that as a visual subtext to my reading. That’s not to diminish the effect of the novel in anyway, mind you. Not at all.

It’s a very scary book. As sort of a grown man now, you know what really frightened me, was how familiar it all felt. And it wasn’t seeing the movie before, it was how close this mindset was to my adolescent mindset, and the mindset of many others that I’ve encountered in the world. Stupid, hedonistic, predatory, narcissistic, megalomanic, moralistic.

There was something else with that book, that just sort of rubbed me the wrong way. Made me very suspicious. Just looking up the book on the oracle again, and I read Burgess claims to have been inspired and wrote the book in three weeks. See, that’s exactly the sort of things I am getting at. That’s an astonishing achievement. The complexity and cohesiveness, the singular terrifying vision just deposited by the universe into Burgesses’ brain like that. Sounds a little too good, too evil, to be true.

Couple key points to note though. Ultra violence. Sexual Aggression. Shadowy Intelligence and Psychiatric organizations. Mind Control. Drugs. I would also note that Burgess himself had military experience, and was husband to a wife who suffered a real life episode of ultra-violence, which sparked the idea for the novel itself.

So, after a bit of a cry, and a shower, I finished A Clockwork Orange, and was left in a strange mood. I will be the first to acknowledge a slight conspiratorial bent to my thinking, but in so many way it just seems to be sitting there, plain as day to me. Of course, it wasn’t so obvious always, and these views are informed by a number of sources, which I won’t get into now. What I am trying to get at is when I reflect on Literature like that, it starts to look a lot less like what I thought it was was (escapist holiday in La-a-Land), and more to look like a manual of evil, or even something like a Curse.

I imagine I’ve lost the plot here with most readers, but I gotta try to say what I’m trying to say. Okay, in the book for instance there is this classic scene (how’s that for word choice) where the main character Alex, is strapped in a chair, and forced to watch reel after reel of horrific moments, thereby inducing in him a severe aversion to these acts, which forces him to be “good.”

Now, I can’t help but think how the modern person is much like Alex, more or less forced in front of a screen, shown countless horrific moments, in both Entertainment and News, for hours on end. What’s worth noting, is that unlike in the book, it doesn’t require the drugs (though there are plenty of those circulating), or the eyelids being strapped open. No, people today will freely and willingly subject themselves to these images. Just like we, the reader, have done with this book.

One more point about these shadowy groups running the show. What to make of them? A device of fiction, of course? Well, for argument and interest we will shift focus to the next book. In all that, I finally got my book stash from the library and with a clockwork paranoia slowly brewing I turned to the next book, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, by John Le Carre.

I knew very little about, this one, except for some buzz line about it being the quintessential spy novel. It started out with a preface from the author. Very interesting. He’s writing to make the point, that yes though he himself held some government position, which involved some degree of classified materials, and though yes this book had been approved by his superiors, these facts did not indicate like the public had assumed at the time, that he must have been divulging some secondary hidden life of espionage, but that in fact that his superiors approved it, showed that it was so over the top, and obviously Fictional, that they saw now harm in putting it out.

Okay, I say as the reader, wouldn’t have thought anything of it, had it not been mentioned, and for full revelation I must say the details of Mr. Burgress and his work still had me on alert, but I still took the preface at face value, and moved on. Brief synopsis, main character Alec Leamas (note that strange synchronicity of the names), is Station Head in the West Berlin office of The Circus (intelligence spooks), circa 1950-60.

One of his main operatives is killed, and Leamas is euphemistically “brought in from the cold,” decommissioned. Control, the Circus chief, and him hatch a plan to get him into proximity of the East Berlin operative, Mundt, who they know is behind the murdering of Leamas operatives.

Things are all screwy and quite complicated. A few major things to note. First off Leamas breaks the spy code and falls in love with a lady. This lady is in cahoots with the enemy, the Communists. All sorts of shadowy spook groups abound. Ultra-violence. Torture. Mind control techniques. And most importantly, like the previous Alex, this Alec, has the experience of being played by both/all sides, and coming to the conclusion that both sides are more alike than they are different, and more over that there must be another party, above these two warring parties, who must be getting off on all this.

I don’t want to digress here, but I feel it’s necessary. So the main bad guy of the novel is this character Mundt, who you learn was a spy for the British, who was educated in the West as well and escaped capture by fleeing into East Germany. That sets up a sort of alert to me. Because I’m aware, though articles like this, that a number of prominent terrorists and other nefarious world actors, are highly educated, and often are living and learning in the West, and then return to their own countries to rule/terrorize their own oppressed people. This should strike us as strange, terrible and significant.

Why is a place (the University or the West) supposedly concerned with Liberty and Freedom, birthing these type of characters? Or even deeper, what is it about our value systems and our cultures that is producing all this? The motivations for these questions is obvious, I hope. I want it to stop.

There is something so broken in these first two characters, that it would be easy, selfishly of course, to write them off as exaggerations for the drama of the novel. The first is a psychopath, the second is a sort of an action hero, let it go at that. Just like the author told us in that preface, mere-fiction.

Here’s the force of the synchronicity though. I think if I would have just stopped there. It would have been interesting, but not so existentially critical as the reading journey became when I moved on to The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. As I start reading this I just couldn’t believe the similarities with the previous two books. One main character, Frank Caudhame. A male, in Scotland, British Isles, a sort of autistic Rambo, redneck, living on a tiny island. Strained relationship with his parents. Fratricide. Again there’s an interesting subtext in this one about sexuality, and gender identity.

All three characters have dehumanizing concepts of females in their heads. Alex’s violent sexual assaults on females, demonstrates the objectification which has taken place in his mind. Not only to women, but to people in general. The same is true in Alec as well, he uses a woman to add a layer to his persona, but yet loves her and puts her in mortal danger.

Frank  makes his hate for women explicit. His hate stems from his Mother walking out on the family multiple times, and abandoning other children on his Father’s island. We will recall in Alex’s case there is the strange occurrence of once he arrives home, after the mind control Ludovico technique, he finds a surrogate brother staying there. It’s obvious too that his parents find their polite, more sensible son, much easier to handle. Alex resents him, and has a fit of mind control sickness, when his anger crests towards the man. This is very much paralleled in Frank’s story, as he calmly declares at one point:

Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more less on a whim.

That’s my score to date. Three. I haven’t killed anybody for years, and don’t intend to ever again.

It was just a stage I was going through. (42)

That last sentence. It was just a stage I was going through. That’s the real ringer. The casualness, the off handedness, just a phase. Everyone’s on their own journey. These are the words which condemn us now. In all these stories so far, murder and every other heinous act has become common place. When we study the background, the history, it’s of course not out of place. The world is barbaric and heinous. But where did the urge to make a game of it, to play at barbarism, not just be real barbarians, come from? It seems a very Western urge to want to feel morally justified in our evil, to make it a Romantic concept.

My reading got frantic at this point. Think I read The Wasp Factory over a three day period, just four or five sittings. I started getting that feeling that I was doing it too much, reading that is. That if I kept playing with it, I might just break my reading muscle. End up curled in the corner of some library, papers cuts on my hands, naked, a literary journal covering my loins.

But I couldn’t stop. I realized I was on to something. My subconscious had been at work here. I had to continue on to see what else was in this stash. Two titles remained. The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes and The Postman Always Rings Twice by James. M. Cain. Deep sigh. It’s hard to get my point across here. It’s too deep, too personal. So again I will try my best, but forgive the wandering, it hides the truth.

Here’s a brief sketch of The Sense of an Ending. Again we have a story told from the perspective of a single individual, Tony, British, more over there is definite contrast drawn between himself who ends up at Bristol University, and another important character Adrian Finn who ended up at Cambridge University, exemplifying British classism. So now, those middle class, upper middle class intellectuals we heard mentioned in “A Spy…” we get to see up close and personal. What do we find again, nihilism, sexual perversity and predation, conflicting and broken identity issues, the problem of seeing everything as a game, or as Finn put is, “he hates the way the English have about being serious about not being serious.”

We find distorted versions of masculinity and femininity, a detachment in the face of heinous violence. I felt though, and this made this work more challenging then the rest, that it presented the more realistic sense of what this post-modern, horror show really looks like. No one is understood, no one really cares for anyone else, everything is a facade, the truth is only revealed in tragedy. You also have this dynamic of parents, and generations, and the mutual definition that takes place in those relationships

I read The Sense of an Ending very fast, two days, and two sittings. When I got to the end, after these four books, I was seriously wasted. The thing that gets me about all this is the sense that it is all so goddamn stupid. This hate and injury that we cause to one another trying to figure out our own lives. And how sick and tired I am of dumb-smart people, who know so much, but behave so stupidly, how easy it is to take it all for granted, and then to wake up one day and realize its all gone, your Mum has replaced you with a vagrant.

Ahem. Anyway, yes suicide plays a big role in both A Clockwork Orange and The Sense of An Ending. There’s a scene early on that’s very constructive of the point I’m making. Tony and Adrian’s class are having a debate about the causes of WWI:

Hunt gave a brief nod to Colin’s attempt to undermine everything, as if morbid disbelief was a natural by-product of adolescence, something to be grown out of, Masters, and parents used to remind us irritatingly that they too had once been young, and so could speak with authority. It’s just a phase, they would insist. You’ll grow out of it; life will teach you reality and realism. But back then we declined to acknowledge that they had ever been anything like us, and we knew that we grasped life–and truth, and morality, and art–far more clearly than our compromised elders.

“Finn, you’ve been quiet. You started this ball rolling. You are, as it were, our Serbian gunman.” Hunt paused to let the allusion take effect. “Would you care to give us the benefit of you thoughts?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“What don’t you know?”

“Well, in one sense I can’t know what it is that I don’t know. That’s philosophically self-evident.” He left one of those slight pauses in which we again wondered if he was engaged in subtle mockery or a high seriousness beyond the rest of us. “Indeed, isn’t the whole business of ascribing responsibility a kind of cop-out? We want to blame an individual so that everyone else is exculpated. Or we blame a historical process as a way of exonerating individuals. Or it’s all anarchic chaos, with the same consequence. It seems to me that there is–was–a chain of individual responsibilities, all of which were necessary, but not so long a chain that everybody can simply blame everyone else. But of course, my desire to ascribe responsibility might be more a reflection of my own cast of mind than a fair analysis of what happened. That’s one of the central problems of history, isn’t it, sir? The question of subjective versus objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us.”

There was a silence. And no, he wasn’t taking the piss, not in the slightest. (13)

The same is true of our personal histories, and ultimately life is a game of being your own historian, whether you want to be or not. I start to wonder in all this reading why do it to myself? I gave up horror movies in a similar way. Why subject yourself to that shit?

I feel this battle too, personally, in my own history. When I start thinking of it that way, subjective vs. objective becomes good vs. evil, or evil vs. good, it’s hard to make sense of it, that’s what’s at issue, I guess. Subjectivity leads to moral relativism, moral relativism leads to the types we have been discussing here. Go with objectivism, we get to moral absolutism, and sooner or later you end with the Salem Witch trials, or the guillotine, or atomic weapons. One solution would be to view the world in a yin-yang, pillars and mounds, mutual definition,sort of way, but what does this do to us individually? How does it help me understand my own decisions and my history. Am I a good guy or a bad guy? Does it even matter?

Synchronicity bubbles the more you’re aware of it. It seems to spawn spontaneously, like mushrooms, so the key is to keep your eye out for it. So one way or another, I came to this documentary on Appalachian folk music. This was right as I started reading The Sense of an Ending. In that documentary, this song is mentioned Gold Watch Blues, and I looked it up online for a guitar tutorial, to my joy found one, and it seemed simple enough so I learned it. I had been practicing it for a day when I came to this scene in the book.

So we’re back at our protagonist’s place. For the first time, he’s brought his first serious girlfriend Veronica there:

…She looked through my record collection with an occasional flickering smile and a more frequent frown. The fact that I’d hidden both the 1812 Overture and the soundtrack to Un Homme et Une Femme didn’t spare me. There was enough dubious material even before she reached my extensive pop section: Elvis, the Beatles, the Stone (not that anyone could object to them, surely), but also the Hollies, the Animals, the Moody Blues and a two-disc boxed set of Donovan called (in lower case) a gift from a flower to a garden.

“You like this stuff?” she asked neutrally.

“Good to dance to,” I replied, a little defensively.

“Do you dance to it? Here? In your room? By yourself?”

“No, not really.” Though of course I did. (23)

Strange. Powerful. There it was the little synchronistic blip which seemed to show that it all had some meaning, purpose, destiny. And it is odd, right? Had I not learned that song, I would have still enjoyed the scene. It was excellently written, humorous, intelligent, telling, but that little juicy nugget of self reference just sealed it for me. I had never heard of Donovan, and a day earlier I had learned a song from him, and seen a reference about him in a randomly selected book. There was something more at play here.

And doesn’t the scene show much of the problem of subjectivity and objectivity. We like what we like regards of what others think, until of course life events draw multiple subjectivities together and then we are forced to show our hand, to reveal our true likes and dislikes. Musical taste is a perfect platform for these considerations. At first it can seem trivial, but as Barnes takes us through the stories these details become something like the characters grounding points, and their relations to these details help us draw broader conclusions about them. In the same way our likes and dislikes are reflected in our outwards appearances and choices. Modernity seems obsessed with these different tastes and fashions, so much so that all life and death (and sex) can hinge on wether or not one likes the Rolling Stones.

And frankly, if we are all being honest. Isn’t that about what life is like? We pick our partner on often trivial grounds. The obvious sexual or physical attraction, quickly gives way to general considerations of compatibility. Will they put up with my shit? This question is deeper then it seems though. It races towards the grounds of objective moralism. Am I the type of person whose shit ought to be tolerated? What are my faults? What are their faults? What is best? What is right and wrong? Will someone please touch me?

The next day after that charming allusion to Lot’s wife we began with, I read this passage from James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. The context, Frank Chambers is a vagrant who stumbles into a roadside dinner/gas station. He accepts a job offer from the proprietor, because he lusts after the man’s wife Cora. Their love affair begins and they decide to try to murder her husband. They fail, but are not discovered for the scoundrels that they really are. The scene is the day before the husband is due back home from the hospital. They are attempting to flee:

We started out. It was two miles to the bus stop, and we had to hike it. Every time a car went by, we would stand there with our hand stuck out, like a cigar store Indian, but none of them stopped. A man alone can get a ride, and a woman alone, if she’s fool enough to take it, but a man and a woman together don’t have much luck. After about twenty had gone by, she stopped. We had gone about a quarter of a mile.

“Frank, I can’t.”

“What’s the matter?”

“This is it.”

“This is what?”

“The road.”

“You’re crazy. You’re tired, that’s all. Look. You wait here, and I’l get somebody down the road to drive us in to the city. That’s what we ought to done anyhow. Then we’ll be all right.”

“No, it’s not that. I’m not tired. I can’t, that’s all. At all.”

“Don’t you want to be with me, Cora?”

“You know I do.”

“We can’t go back, you know. We can’t start up again, like it was before. You know that. You’ve got to come.”

“I told you I wasn’t really a bum, Frank. I don’t feel like no gypsy. I don’t feel like nothing, only ashamed, that I’m out here asking for a ride.”

“I told you. We’re getting a car in to the city.”

“And then what?”

“Then we’re there. Then we get going.”

“No we don’t. We spend one night in a hotel, and then we start looking for a job. And living in a dump.”

“Isn’t that a dump? What you just left?”

“It’s different.”

“Cora, you going to let it get your goat?”

“It’s got it, Frank. I can’t go on. Goodbye.”

“Will you listen to me a minute?”

“Goodbye, Frank. I’m going back.”

She kept tugging at the hatbox. I tried to hold on to it, anyway to carry it back for her, but she got it. She started back with it. She had looked nice when she started out, with a little blue suit and blue hat, but now she looked all battered, and her shoes were dusty, and she couldn’t even walk right, from crying. All of a sudden, I found out I was crying too. (25-26)

Besides the striking resemblance to Lot’s wife, behold that twisted moral structure. Murder, do it for love, but for love, hitchhike? Not a chance. Risk spending life in prison for murder, wont take guaranteed life of struggle with freedom. Love another person so much, you would risk cushy situation, but then abandon same person for the place. Moreover, they love each other for their respective wickedness, because it reflects a person they recognize. And you do feel there is love there, no doubt, but you also feel how low and weak, and malformed it is. Is malformed love still love? Is there anything but malformed love?

There something about Frank too, really bugs me. It’s like the spirit that started at A Clockwork Orange, has been pulled through each text, taking on different forms manifesting a different angle. When it all boils down, he’s just a huckster, a Tom Sawyer on LSD, a demon. I don’t get it, but I believe it.

There’s weird synchronicity with Iowa too, my home-state. Cora, the Greeks wife runs to California from Des Moines. A beautiful young woman, the old cliche is suggested, she finds herself a beauty among many, note shadowy parties are mentioned, and then the reader is informed she sort of settled on the Greek. And Iowa isn’t necessarily important, but to me its like this little sign of the universe saying hello, thanks for paying attention.

There’s something about the sea too. I think that’s what everybody was running for. And Hollywood…I spent a disastrous week in San Diego a decade or so ago. I won’t address that here. But one morning we drove up to Los Angeles. I refused to go on the celebrity house bus tour thingy and instead walked up and down Hollywood Blvd. It was a matter of principal. A revolt, I just couldn’t get why we would pay to get on to a bus, and drive around looking at the hedges and mansions of other people. It was more of course, deeper values at play. Like I’ve said before, I refrain from airing too much dirty laundry here, but it came down to the old culprits, Mommy/Daddy issues, civilization issues. The point is I have felt briefly the existential tug of southern California, and this is a background for Cain’s story.

California became something like the end of the world, it seems. It’s interesting when faced with that final limit it became am imagination epicenter, detached from the material, detached from the world. There’s a moral detachment in all these characters, beyond good and evil, however briefly they can delude themselves. You feel the devil in them, and they make you feel the devil in yourself. Just like all great art and archetypes can. Heroes can become dull, “white knights”. We like characters that have a healthy batch of both, good and evil, clearly defined and obvious.

Artists have to have a little hustler in them don’t they? A little huckster? There’s something ornery in seizing the creative power and making a bunch of stuff. To demand that universal attention. It’s bold. In A Clockwork Orange, Alex loves classical music. But it becomes associated with gross, sadistic urges, and ultimately used by the shadowy groups as a form of control in itself. What are we to make of that? The strange similarities in all these texts helped to suspend, suspended disbelief, and in my own detachment I saw how they all reflected the sort of moral journey modern people struggles with/under. Not to say we’re all a bunch of rapists and murderers or anything, we can pray, but there still is something seriously wrong here.

And like it or not, but there is a strange stratification taking place in society, where all degrees of civilization and technology are evolving, and it certainly isn’t moral or equal or anything, and we all just swim in this giant culture, trying to survive. How’s that for a word view?

James Cain is an exceptional author. Great stories. I would suggest going to read him at once. Along with all the rest of these titles. Maybe not in a row…That’s the fucked up part, isn’t it? Maybe you shouldn’t read these titles at all? What could you read then? Whatever you do, cue spooky ghost voice, don’t try to pad the reading list!

Update Post

Hello readers, past, present, future. So this is the obligatory, where have I been post? Here, always here, waiting, curating. First things first, “Interludes” the book I have been blogging on here. A draft is done, curing in the depths of my inner and ever expanding slush pile, but honestly, shall I put it bluntly and tragically, the response has been lukewarm (read nonexistent). No fault of yours dear reader, surely a result of the deluge of quality entertainment which exists in the world. The question remains, what to do?

Forming questions like that, dooms the whole endeavor. Don’t worry about what you are doing, just do it and figure it out later. I think that’s the key. I like blogging though for two reasons, which seem like good enough reason to keep it going i think, first I enjoy reading other people’s blog, and secondly, as this site was always intended this is documenting my evolution as a writer, so though I may fail, hopefully I may clear some way for the next courageous traveller.

Spring as I have mentioned before is not the best time for the reading/writing either. There’s something real bastardly in shutting yourself up with a computer while the sun is shining and life is waiting there to be lived. I will admit though the last week or so of rain, I have relished.

My reading goal for the year is 36 books, three a month. I’m sitting at thirteen books so far. Today I finished John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, really enjoyed it. Craft wise I noted the pacing of the chapters, the focusing on sequencing, and big events. I read or heard somewhere, oh god how’s that for citation, that someone, somewhere, thought of a book as like 48ish discrete scenes. Not that the exact number really matters. Just the point that every chapter and scene should have a purpose that moves the reader from one moment to the next. Things should happen.

I’m trying to pad my numbers in the month of May, so if you know any great short Fiction let me know. I currently got The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks and The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes on standby. Excited about those, though upon review it is looking a little dark…

So yes, to combat the torture to my subconscious induced by all this great literature, I will be spending my time gardening, childrearing, and hopefully just general adventuring (read washing dishes, mowing the lawn, and trying to figure out how to make home-made pot-stickers).

My garden is all planted up for summer. Some of the highlights are my asparagus bed in year two, lush with a crop (which I cannot enjoy for some devilish reason I can’t enjoy for another year), new strawberry plants that are doing great, got like a dozen different peppers and tomatoes, all going good as seedlings, and a half of dozen Purple Bumble Bees from Baker’s Creek already in the ground, spuds are in ground too. Lemon-balm and Blue Hyssop came back great. Oh and last, but not least, I got sweet peas about eighteen inches high, and a rabbit hasn’t gotten a one.

I am writing too, got to keep that slush pile real rank and moldy. New draft is called Nowhere. Dystopian Western, smashed into a Dune world (Just can’t stop jacking Stephen King). As of today, I wrote a little over 1.3k words, to have it sitting right at 23k words. I liked that, stopping right there on that number. Don’t know why…

So that’s about it, not really, but I gotta keep these dispatches short, in hopes that some poor bastard gets stuck in my loop. Anyway, hope your own artistic endeavors are fruitful. Let me know about that Short Fiction, if you get a chance. Good luck.