Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The expression 'man' here refers more to certain qualities of hardness, pitilessness and such that I, who lack them, tend to think of as extreme masculine characteristics. There are certainly plenty of women who have them in one degree or another. The great delusion of so many is that the fields of genuine literature and the other arts are some kind of refuge for soft, sensitive people, a cheap and painless route to the acceptance and esteem they have always craved but never merited. Such beauty as exists in life and art largely depend on the extent to which it rewards hardness and rigor and punishes softness and laziness...
I Am Not Going to Presume to Give Financial Advice But...
I am not the first person to notice this, but it has always struck me as an especial peculiarity of American life that in certain areas the more spectacular the problems of one's own making that one has at least temporarily escaped, the more credibility one has in guiding others away from or out of the same pitballs. Thus it is considered reasonable to hire or anoint people who have had the most extreme problems with drugs themselves to counsel others on the best ways to avoid or overcome similar habits, as opposed to someone who never had such problems in the first place. Likewise there is an American mutation of Christianity in which the extent of sin in which the preacher wallowed in the days before he developed a greater intimacy with Jesus is a far greater selling point with potential congregates than the rigor of his theological training. Of late we have seen the rise of the Dave Ramsey/Suze Orman style financial guru who once had six figure credit card debt but now earn fortunes browbeating the hapless middle and lower middle classes with such brilliant insights as "don't buy the plasma TV if you can't do it in cash". One thing most of these pop money managers seem to be in agreement about is that spending any more money on education than the minimal amount necessary to get certified in some kind of practical skill leading to an immediate upgrade in pay is a cardinal sin. This assumes an attitude towards education of course that I know a lot of people have, but which is a symptom of a wider trend among a lot of middle class non-Jewish whites that I can't see not having increasingly unhappy consequences for them as a group moving on through the next fifty years or so.
It seems to me that families and groups who expend a large percentage of their resources and energy on education for their younger members--a population in which certain foreign and, in our country, foreign-born groups are disproportionately represented--are thriving comparatively well, and in institutions and fields that increasingly seem to be failing to engage or develop the talents of the native born. I do not downplay the expense involved even in obtaining decent schooling (or the ridicule that some fortunate and superbrilliant members of the creative and intellectual elite have the luxury of pouring out on formal schooling), but if it is one's primary commitment, I think it is not yet so far beyond the reach of even the moderately ambitious or talented (and certainly not of the indisputably so). The amount of student loan debt people have now, especially when combined with the dissatisfaction so many express with the results of their educations, is a concern. Still, though I can't find the figures readily, the last report on the subject I read indicated that the schools with the highest rate of loan defaults by far were places like cosmetology schools and community colleges which one assumes tended to attract more people with a pretty desultory approach to education and finances than would be regarded as normal by the well-meaning and not so well-meaning factions of the establishment. The $50,000 a year private colleges much ridiculed by the pop financial advisors had comparatively low rates of student loan default. I suspect this may be because they take more concern not to bury their students with cruel levels of debt than what frankly seem to me to be the somewhat shady operations at the fringes of the education complex. As to whether the expensive private colleges are too much of a burden on the students' parents, assuming they have the resources to pay for them, is of course something they have to decide. I confess that because I am only partially well-educated myself, I tend to believe there is some great secret or nirvana that having more through knowledge, accomplishments, talents, exclusively super-intelligent friends, co-workers and family members, etc, will bring you that must make life something spectacular on a day to day basis, and without which it is rather dull, so my instinct is to overspend on things like schools, which are the best access to the secrets that seem to be available, to see what it is there. Other people obviously do not feel this emptiness within them and don't need the psychic healing that such tokens of experience may or may not bring.
I got a little off course there. I still think it is a concern that so many mainstream white Americans are becoming turned off or disillusioned by the education system, to the point in many instances of abandoning it intellectually if not literally. Jews, Indians, Chinese, Koreans, do not seem to suffer this kind of disillusionment in anywhere near comparable numbers. Why? Some will say it is because they are inherently smarter, but even if this is so, among gentile whites the really smart people have often been among the most likely to be disillusioned/dissatisfied and to rebel in some way, which does not seem to be on the whole the case among these other groups (obviously there are exceptions to every generality).
Given that it has been a long time since I have posted and I don't have a lot of open hours for posting in my immediate future I am going to put this up and use the rest of the material I had for this post later on.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
This subject sort of suggested itself in the last question of the nerd survey I took a couple of posts ago. It is a natural blog post. I have also not looked at anyone else's list on the same topic, so this will be pretty much straight from my active memory. I have made a rule that I have to have actually read the book for the movie to be included, which is why some obvious choices may not appear. #10-Ulysses (1967) I've always thought this film was underrated. It appears to have been made on a budget of about $100. The characters walk around Dublin in their Joycean costumes while 1960s street markings and shopfronts and heavy auto traffic in the distance are in plain view. I like the effect this makes though. It is kind of surreal. I'm surprised something like it isn't tried more often. This surrealness in an odd way gives the impression of being in the spirit of the novel, which was, and still is, widely considered to be unfilmable, though I think this movie proves that between all the real landmarks and places, and espisodes in those places, referred to and the thread of a genuine underlying story (Molly Bloom's adultery) to follow, it is actually filmable to a decent degree.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
This is, or was until recently anyway, one of the central poems in the English tradition, read and known by every schoolchild. This is apparently one of Harold Bloom's favorite poems to claim as his own and break out in a recitation of in his public haranguings, but don't let that put you off. Harold will either be dead or too superannuated to maintain his current visibility and influence on the literary scene very soon, and the poem's greatness will long outlive his particular championing of it. I originally read and made comments on this poem on December 9, 1995. Looking over those comments I am astounded at the energy I previously had for reading. I still think it is a tremendous poem. My weary middle-aged take on it, perhaps speaking more of myself than the actual contemporary human condition, was: 'Man has become overwhelmed by his knowledge. He has overreached himself. These conceptions of human wholeness, oneness with life (i.e. in the poem) are striking. Saddening? We are moving ever away from this vision of ourselves.' I won't reproduce my entire 1995 report, though I did things like identify a symbolic meaning for nearly every image and adjective, and even note the aspects of the verbs, which sort of thing I can't be bothered with now, even assuming anybody would let me be bothered with it.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Though I was never cool, I was never able to bring myself to self-identify as a nerd, and in my youth went to great lengths to distance myself from any taint of the crowd that embraced the most egregious geek hobbies and behaviors. Fortunately this was not too difficult for me to pull off, since I generally had no desire to participate in any of these pastimes, and my presence was at least tolerated in some of the social circles and activities that held more appeal for me, though I did not thrive nor make any kind of figure in them. On at least one occasion I did spend a Friday night, when apparently either nothing was going on or I had had some kind of falling out with whatever slightly more socially adept crowd I was hanging out with at the time, at a basement nerd gathering. I found it brutally depressing, though the nerds themselves were actually much less agitated about their situation than my usual friends were in their own (and would have been in the nerds' too). They really did order pizza and sit around drinking soda and playing board games and watching boring television shows the whole night. Girls have often seemed remote to me, it is true, but they never felt so hopelessly far away as they did in that basement. There was no possibility anyone was ever going to find you there.
So for the most part I have managed to avoid much physically intimate connection with the extreme nerd lifestyle and culture. The inexorable advance of technology however, especially the internet, has been seized upon by these people as a triumph and validation of their kind. It has empowered them greatly, at least as far as intellectual confidence goes (they still aren't pulling in a steady stream of babes for the most part). They have an apparently unshakable belief in the value of their minds and their heavily mathematical and scientific-based knowledge, and are extremely dubious about the value of any mind or knowledge without a deep, primary foundation in the hard sciences. Their values are ascendant. There are still plenty of confident and brilliant literary-oriented people of course, even some who seem impervious to doubts about the value of their field or its probable future of ever-diminishing esteem and standing in the culture. These would by and large are natural winners who would be successful in whatever cultural milieu happened to prevail during their lifetime. The (male) nerdy faction of the literary world, in contrast to its technological counterparts, is shrinking, its confidence is waning, and its outlook on the future tends towards extinction and despair. Indeed, in perhaps the ultimate insult, the literary nerd is no longer even regarded as a proper nerd anymore. He isn't smart enough. He has descended to the ranks of the merely pathetic and hopeless.
One of the staples of nerd psychology by the way is that, incredible as it sounds, most hardcore nerds are oblivious to the reality that they are nerds, or at least to what that reality really and truly implies--the literal extent to which they are repulsive to women, etc. I think I have a fair grasp on this sort of thing as it relates to myself, which I suppose tends to make me slavish towards the dominant segment of society rather than directly defiant towards it as nerds are at some level. Somehow this still doesn't make being a nerd more appealing.
1. Has anyone ever called you a nerd? Probably, although never from a source or in a way that made me really feel it, unless it were from some of my own extended family members, whom I knew to have a tendency to regard me in this unflattering light.
2. Did you skip a grade in elementary school? No. They never did this where I lived. I did have reading in the grade ahead of mine throughout elementary school. As you can imagine I never received a very warm reception from any of the people in that higher class.
3. Was your SAT math score 600 or more? This is not really a very high barrier, especially since the scoring was made easier in the 90s. I would be surprised if most people I know did not get 600 on the math SAT.
4. Can you figure out anagrams without a piece of paper? It depends how hard they are. I probably could figure them out up to 30 or 40 letters if I wanted to concentrate that much, but I doubt I would bother beyond 15, maybe twenty.
5. Did you try to figure out if the last question was an anagram? No.
6. Did you letter in high school for academics or band? They didn't give letters for this stuff at my high school. If they had, I would not have gotten them. I did get 6 letters for actual sports, mostly running sports, though I got one in basketball too.
7. Did you have your first drink on your twenty-first birthday? No.
8. Do you know at least one of these languages? perl, COBOL, C, C+, C++, FORTRAN? No. I never got interested in computers either as a tool to facilitate great enterprises or as a wondrous invention in itself until it became practically a necessity. My great problem as a person in this society is that I have no great need to change or reinvent life. I spent several decades trying to master life as I comprehended it to be in 1984, imagining this to be the secret of all happiness before I realized that everyone else had long, long moved on through many stages.
9. Was your last "intimate relationship" in a chat room? That would be living on the edge for me, my friend.
10. Do you own a fanny pack or pocket protector? No. Has anybody worn a pocket protector since 1975?
11. Do you consider chess a sport? I used to take a great interest in developments in chess. The circumstance that computers can now wipe out the top players in the world in 20 minutes has kind of ruined it for me, because I don't find the ability or brilliance of a computer compelling in the same way I would a human.
12. Have you ever told a joke about chemistry or physics? No. I went to a college where people told jokes about Immanuel Kant and made comic t-shirts featuring Dante and Antoine Lavoisier (the father of chemistry) but none of this humor originated from me.
13. Do you have endless debates on who was a better captain, Kirk or Picard? I could never get into Star Trek. I don't think I have ever seen a whole episode. Maybe it is just over my head. I was a TV junkie as a kid, especially for 60s reruns like Green Acres and the so awful I can't believe a) it was real and b) it was one of my favorite shows Petticoat Junction, but I would either leave the room or pull out a book and read when Star Trek came on.
14. Do you own more black clothing than Marilyn Manson? No. I dress like a 1984/East Gemany variation communist. Lots of brown, gray and drab.
15. Do you carry a backpack full of collectible card games? I do carry a backpack containing books, notebooks, pens, magazines, newspapers, etc, whatever I am working on, because otherwise my wife will go into a cleaning frenzy and put things where no one can find them.
16. Is your favorite day of the month new-comic day? I never got into comics either. I guess you can substitute some sports thing. I used to have subscriptions to the Sporting News and Baseball Digest back around 1982, when they were mostly just page after page of statistics.
17. Does your diet consist of soda, snack chips, and pizza? I do eat a lot of this, mainly because in the 2000s they really get upset if you swig whiskey at your desk at work, and I don't have my own office (yet). My wife is an excellent cook and she cooks something delicious and reasonably healthy for me about half the time. The rest of the time I am on my own and I don't fare so well.
18. Do your family and friends use you as tech support? No. In fact my ineptitude with computers is considered a fit object for raillery among many of these people.
19. Is deodorant as foreign a concept to you as toothpaste or mouthwash? I think of myself as having pretty good hygiene and not stinking, but what makes the nerd a nerd is his obliviousness to the reality and extent of his repulsiveness.
20. Have you ever played a video game for more than twelve hours straight? God no. I never got into video games either. A consensus seems to have formed among some people that most of the imaginative and creative geniuses of my generation--the people who would have been great novelists, musicians, etc, in a different era--used the video game as the medium for their art. If this is the case, then of course it makes sense that I would not have gotten them.
21. Is your mom the only woman to ever see the inside of your bedroom? Cold-blooded, man! I'm glad I'm not having to fill out this quiz on my 20th birthday anyway.
22. When your parents are worried, do they call the local comic or computer store? My parents wouldn't have called anybody until I was missing for a week probably, but no, they would not have looked to those places first. My wife would start calling the bars most likely.
23. Do you buy two of the same action figure, one for display and one for "the collection"? If you substitute books for action figure, the answer is still no, though as I like to collect old sets of classics and so on, I end up having 4 copies of Pride and Prejudice and that type of thing.
24. Do you own a PC, a PDA, a PS2, a DVD, and an MP3 player but not a C-A-R? Between age 18 and about 27 I did not, apart from brief periods, have a car (I wouldn't have had any of this other stuff either had it existed at the time).
25. Have you dressed as a movie or comic character, and it wasn't Halloween? No. I never wear costumes.
26. Do you have a shrine to Stan Lee, Gene Roddenberry, or Isaac Asimov somewhere in your home? No. These guys are sci-fi writers, I believe. I tried to read an Asimov book in 8th or 9th grade because a teacher, no doubt mistaking me for a pure nerd, thought I would like it, but it did nothing for me (doubtless the ideas in it were beyond my feeble powers of comprehension. I believe Asimov was supposed to have had an IQ of 180 or something like that). There is a growing, rumbling undercurrent of sentiment on the internet, coming from the empowered nerd community, that this class of authors has not received its proper due from the feminized, homosexual-dominated, mathematically ignorant (and increasingly irrelevant) official literary establishment. I may try to give them another look one of these days just to be sure there isn't something to this, but I suspect the literary establishment doesn't think much of them because the stories aren't interesting to most people whose lives actually in large part revolve around reading and studying literature.
27. Do you have the comic-book store on speed-dial? I do like to hang out in used book stores, when I can find them. As a side note, I have found that Salvation Armies frequently have more than serviceable used book sections, as long as you aren't looking for anything obscure. They're also good if you have any aversion to the poseur crowd, because they generally won't be there.
28. Have you written an angry letter to George Lucas pointing out all the flaws in the new trilogy? I've noted elsewhere on this site that I have never seen any of the Star Wars movies all the way through. My oldest sons want to watch them because their little schoolmates talk about them, but my wife has not given the OK for this yet because there is apparently violence resulting in death in them, and we don't keep it that real for six and seven year olds. As far as space movies go I do like 2001 of course, and I will confess to being taken in in the moment by Close Encounters (the Spielberg movie).
29. Do you know more URLs than girls' phone numbers? Oh, come on man. You know when I was growing up my parents always insisted on having an unlisted phone number, which caused me a lot of anguish because I was always thinking, if some random girl at school is wanting to call me anytime to have casual sex or something, she won't be able to do it, and she'll end up calling a guy whose parents have a listed number instead. And I swore that if I ever had sons, I would always keep the number listed for the sake of this very situation. Of course that doesn't matter at all among teenagers nowadays.
30. Have you waited months to see the latest comic-book movie adaptation just so you can tell everyone how "it sucks compares to the comic"? I'll change the wording here to "literary adaptations". The answer is, I actually don't have much interest in them, with the exception of books from England, and to a lesser extent the rest of Europe, set in the 1914-1965 or so era. I like the drinking, the style of talking, the decor, the clothes, the sex, the intellectual preoccupations, etc of this era enough to be interested in seeing what people do with them. When the miniseries of A Dance to the Music of Time Came Out, I did actually make of point of seeing it (it was good not great). There was apparently an adaption of Point Counter Point made in the 70s that is currently unavailable, but which I would be curious to see. I am sort of interested in seeing the 13 hour Brideshead Revisited, though 13 hours is about 3 months worth of movie watching for me at present. I don't know what else would excite me. An adaptation of Down and Out in Paris and London perhaps.
You get an extra on your nerd score for completing the test by the way. Looking over this post there are a lot of errors in it which I am too tired to go back and correct right now. I apologize for the sloppiness.
Friday, November 13, 2009
That East Coast Melancholy
It would be good to go down even for a day or two and wander about a little. I'm running out of autumns, at least when I won't be rather old and past any kind of commisserate-meaningfully-with-the-magic-of-New-York date. I know it grinds people to dust and all of that if they fail to achieve their desires, but just because you can't possess whatever it is that makes the whole area so special, you still sense that it is there. I knew it was there when I was there as a teenager for 4 days with $17 to my name, sleeping half the night in Central Park and Madison Square, spending the other half wandering all over the deserted streets. Obviously I was mostly unhappy at the time, and exhausted, and cold--it was in October--and I was cutting a pitiful figure, but in spite of all that I still found it exhilarating to be there numerous times in the course of a day, especially when I was able to pass as a semi-normal person--sitting in the main library, or taking the Staten Island ferry, which I think was a quarter at that time, or observing people my age taking a real part in life, with things to do, and romantic interests and so on, which was inspiring to me. Wretched as I was, I didn't want to leave, and I had consumed enough media to believe if I hung around long enough something might happen to me--indeed, to be honest, if I had had an appetite for gay sex, it is quite possible a number of things might have happened to me, but I didn't want New York quite bad enough to embrace it on those terms.
One item which serves to show you much things like parenting have changed in the last 20 years, when I finally gave up and called home to explain that I was in New York and didn't have any money (I had hitchhiked there, or actually to Newark and then taken a commuter train into town), hoping somebody might wire me some cash, or, I suppose, offer to drive up and get me, they didn't do either of those things, so I tried to hitchhike by one of the tunnels, I forget exactly which one, but the police told me I couldn't do that, that in fact I couldn't hitchhike anywhere in Manhattan, so I had to get off the island somehow, and I ended up walking all night the length of the island up to the George Washington Bridge--it was only about ten miles, but by that point I hadn't had a proper sleep in days and my feet were also all calloused and were very painful, so I was pretty much spent. This entailed going through Harlem of course, which at that time was supposed to be much more dangerous crimewise than it is now, but I didn't have any incidents on this occasion. Certainly I did not present an image of any person who was carrying a lot of money. So I walked across the George Washington Bridge around 7 or 8 in the morning and set out with my thumb on I-95--again, you allowed to do this kind of stuff anymore, not that I would want to, but at the time I was just desperate to go places and I had a terrible work ethic and sense of future orientation and I couldn't think of what else to do. Eventually I got back home that afternoon and I slept for about two days and it was the best sleep I've ever had in my life I'll tell you, but when I woke up everybody was really mad at me or thought I was on drugs, which was the popular explanation at the time for any kind of inexplicable behavior. Apparently not one person understood that I just wanted to go to freaking New York for a couple of days; (and apparently no one does still).
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The reader has had a stroke of luck today. I was going to put up more of my old vacation pictures here in commemoration of my recent item about Shelley, but my wife seems to have appropriated the scanner for her work.
Louis MacNeice was right in the thick of that generation of elite educated English writers born between about 1903 and 1907 that I frequently extol here, which puts him right in my wheelhouse, not of what I understand, of course, but of what I like. Do I like them too much? No, I don't think so. Do I envy their lives, their attitudes? Certain aspects of the life of the era appeal to me when I contrast it with my own, but on the whole, not really . If I do envy them anything it is their easy and elegant mastery of the language. This group is more comfortable, more precise, sparer and simpler, and wields a lighter touch, almost in the manner of the more exquisite French authors, than any other set of modern writers in English, in my opinion. Indeed, I liked what I read of MacNeice in the Norton Anthology so much that I went out and picked up an old copy of his early collected poems (which volume itself presents an arresting front in the socialist-realist style of the time). That is not to say that these are for the most part great poems, but I will say that they are the kind of thing along the lines of which, in tone, in style, in subject matter, in their frequent slightness and unaffected conversational air, I would like to do if I were to ever try my hand at writing poems, or even do more of in short stories. These poems tend to form themselves about fleeting moments or thoughts, and often feel like fragments of larger poems that are either inccessible or lost. Some sample titles: "Poussin"; "A Classical Education"; "Birmingham"; "Museums"; "To a Communist"; "The Brandy Glass"; "Chess"; even "Evening in Connecticut" ("Life on a china cup", the poet says of this). The best of them are not so much impressionistic as small and fine slices of thought. They have a freedom and air of freshness about them--this is wherein their charm resides--that something straining to be an all-encompassing expression of the author's soul or the nature of existence itself would probably be lacking.
Saturday, November 07, 2009
I saw this swell movie the other day and thought I would put in a word for it on the internet. It's a fairly early (1933) work of the director William Wyler, who is evidently one of my favorite directors as I have several of his films on my favorites list, though I was not aware of this until I was looking into the matter just the other day. This guy directed an unbelievable number of blockbusters and movies that are beloved of middlingly sophisticated cinephiles such as myself--the Laurence Olivier Wuthering Heights, Jezebel, Mrs Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives, Roman Holiday, Ben-Hur, just for an initial sampling--while the critical elite tends to be considerably less enthusiastic. Even among these however this film, I suspect because it is comparatively uncelebrated, has lesser known stars, is modest in scale and pretension and so on, tends to be favorably regarded, and deservedly so.
The screenplay was written by Elmer Rice, a major playwright of the time whose work I am not otherwise familiar with, and adapted from his own play. It has that quality I often praise in old movies of using energetic dialogue almost without breaks to propel the story forward. This movie with its office setting also uses it quite impressively as a means of establishing an atmosphere of bustle and heady activity. The woman who plays the switchboard operator for example is not central to the main action of the plot, but her manner of chirping and rapid-fire patter in the center of the office while the other characters come and go on their ways around her is an excellent effect. The liveliness of the law office depicted in this movie, with its dramatic situations, colorful characters continually passing through the office, grovelling underlings and clients and attractive and worshipful secretaries actually had me thinking it wasn't too late to go to law school after all for a hour or two afterwards, though after I had sobered up I considered that this was probably not what being a lawyer on a day-in day-out basis was really like, and that even if it was, I wouldn't have the energy of the lead character/star attorney in the film to make it happen myself.
This movie had a great cast, though I had never seen any of the principals before: John Barrymore, who is kind of famous, and Bebe Daniels were the two main stars, but there were a lot of minor roles that I thought were outstandingly played, the receptionist being one, the brilliantly credentialed but socially inept young lawyer Weintraub (I think that was the name) who keeps unsuccessfully asking out the Bebe Daniels character, the other young guy who is some kind of intern and has to fill in for the women when they eat lunch and so forth. The accounts of the filming of this movie ironically depict Barrymore as frequent drunk and unable to remember his lines and Wyler as unpleasant and borderline abusive to the minor cast members, which is not anything like the feeling one gets from the finished product. But such is the case, it seems, with a lot of quality art.
There was a very good dialogue that I wish were available on Youtube between the great lawyer and an unrepentant young communist agitator whom the lawyer has agreed to help for the sake of the man's mother. The communist goes on a rampage against the rich and privileged, to which the lawyer responds forcefully that he came to this country in steerage himself and scraped and clawed his way to the top and that anyone else had the opportunity to do the same, at which the communist was not cowed but went on to denounce him as a class traitor, all through which, and this is what I found most interesting, the lawyer made no attempt to cut him off or throw him out of the office or personally denigrate his accuser, but let him have his say, without, however, backing down from his own point of view. There was no attempt to resolve the question one way or another. Similarly the lawyer himself was presented as being rather morally ambiguous in his myriad business, but sympathetic and attractive nonetheless because of his great appetite for work, his personal attitudes towards people in accordance with each's authentic merits, and so on. Seeing this movie, in concordance with watching the World Series and reading the New York Times coverage of it and other events, reiterated one of the fundamental tenets of American life which was not properly conveyed to me as a young man, which is that if you haven't made something of yourself in New York (or maybe California), you really don't matter, at least as far as any kind of publicity or literary assessment of you is concerned. Do not get me wrong. I love New York. I am resentful every day toward my immigrant ancestors who were evidently intimidated by all the cool and ambitious people getting on the New York boats and shambled off to the safer and less threatening Philadelphia boat instead, dooming their descendant to grown up in a realm where apparently nothing rising to the level of culture significance ever transpires, or ever can transpire. It was idiotic of me, as it would be of any young person of my particular interests, not to have done anything to try to live there and make a go of something when I was young. That said, the self-congratulation of the current crop of New Yorkers and New York writers and other public figures mainly for being New Yorkers and New York writers irrespective of the ultimate quality of their work or being in any other way especially interesting is getting to be a little tough to take. I know this happens because NY people are, in their daily relations with other NY people who outrank them, envious, insecure and perhaps often unhappy, so they make themselves feel better by imagining that, say, Philadelphia is populated more or less exclusively by knuckle-dragging cretins, and that if said commentator were to move there himself he would stand out almost grotesquely as by far the smartest, most sophisticated and socially dominant person in the whole city (a prospect of personal greatness which is surprisingly quite terrifying to most people), and I have to remind myself of this.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Old Bysshe. Old Bysshe sounds like he was probably an extrememly annoying guy to hang out with, but I like his poems. I like all the Romantic poets. As I have written before, they are very much the soul of English poetry as far we moderns are concerned. The Elizabethans and the 17th century poets are rather remote from most of us spiritually and emotionally, I think, in a way that Shelley and his literary brethren still are not. In contrast with what is supposed to be the usual pattern, I find myself liking Shelley the poet more as I get older. I held the position of not liking him at all as an adolescent, not that I was a great consumer of poetry at that time, but because I took him to be an effete snot. In my twenties and early thirties I thought his poems fun and enjoyable, and his biography to give English literary history some welcome color and interesting character, but that he did not have the depth and intellectual brilliance of a world class superpoet, that he didn't break much ground, and that the poems wanted something in the way of strength or urgency. These concerns interest me much less at the present time than they did formerly, in part because I either lost the sense of missing or gave up looking for the secret meanings of poems and other works of genius that were only accessible to the most advanced people. This has had the effect of making Shelley more enjoyable to me. "Ode to the West Wind" has 70 lines, so I am not going to break it down line by line. I am greatly impressed by the composition of this poem in that the language comes off so naturally, without ever feeling strained or artificial, such as to cause one to wonder why English is not more commonly thus expressed. The call of antique, or more accurately eternal, nature, sensitively noted and interpreted, never fails to appeal--indeed, in such translations of Japanese and other Eastern poetry as I have looked into it would seem to be the primary appeal--and there is a good deal of that quality in this, larded with the characteristic Shelleyan qualities of emotionality, hostility to anything smacking of conventional life or thought, and the need to infuse the tangible objects and beings populating his poems, not least of all himself, with a kind of strident immortality. The temporal, fleeting nature of all things, human things especially and passion perhaps the foremost of these, is a pretty continuous theme throughout Shelley's oeuvre, including this poem. Here as elsewhere this existential law is dealt with more with resignation than acceptance, though not with a great amount of either.
Monday, November 02, 2009
As I was under some sort of hallucination that my writing and thinking had been clearer than usual during in recent days, I feel the urge to try to restate, only more concisely, my thoughts on various matters people in the great world like to argue about nowadays. However once I had finished these were all as convoluted, qualified, and wishy-washy as before. So I am going to try some super-brief micro stances to get to the bottom of where I stand.
Gay Marriage. I am not vehemently against it, but I hate it as an issue because it causes too many people to get very puffed up and righteous about whatever side of the argument they take, and the spectacle of this on both sides I find unappealing. I'm not morally advanced enough to get the argument that not having it equates to a gross injustice or the deprivation of a fundamental human right, which I don't remember ever seeing presented before about five years ago. I enjoy the idea of moving in bohemian circles where non-traditional menages are nothing to get excited about (though of course I don't do it) but I also don't see where the state has any moral obligation or even pragmatic interest in sanctioning such affairs as marriages if the citizenry is opposed to it.
Government Health Care. I lust for it, even though in our country there is every reason to believe it will be a disaster (see Schools, Public). While I am generally physically healthy, ideologically I am an extremely sick man. Every suggestion that socialism is about to be imposed on the American populace, that the wealth of the innovative and successful is about to be confiscated and given to the worthless and unproductive, causes my heart to flutter with delight. Why is this so? Do I imagine that I, who have repeatedly proven unable to compete at a meaningful level for honors and prizes in this society as it is currently constituted, will feel myself to be a winner of some kind if this comes to pass? I will be diligent in resisting the onset of any such feelings. I have been pretty well schooled by the capitalist/Republican dogma which has held sway in my lifetime to an extent that earlier generations of the comparatively downtrodden would have found ludicrous; I feel chumpish taxing the super rich--it is an admission that one cannot keep up with one's fellows in the defining arenas of male life, and needs to handicap one's competition to avoid the total pulverization and reduction to penury or slavery one probably deserves--but it is the most effective weapon at the common man's disposal, there is most definitely an economic class war going on, and one ought to make some token stand at fighting back before any pretense one has to public dignity and human status before the almighty beings of the overclass have eroded entirely. By the way, I am still about 99.6% certain that full government health care will become inevitable within a few years. Women and the elderly in particular I find seem to consider themselves entitled to it regardless of costs or who will have to pay for it, and their numbers are not declining anytime soon, despite the crises in the health system. Rugged individualists who assume responsibility for their own incurred costs or forego treatment on principle I am pretty sure are going to be overwhelmed by entitled freeloaders within a few years, if they are not already.
Vegetarianism. I am needlessly obsessed with this--why? Why can't I just tell animal rights activists and intellectuals to get a life like almost any accomplished high-testosterone man would do easily and without a whiff of internal conflict? (I am thinking especially of my man Fred Smerlas, a former nose tackle for the Buffalo Bills and now a Neanderthal sports commentator on Boston radio, who affects to be confused by the whole concept of abstaining from eating animals). Because I am at bottom a pussy, first and foremost, and secondly because I am not able in my diminshed mental state to construct a proof to the effect that it is not immoral nor a detriment for men to eat the flesh of animals. My other problem is that I am tired of feeling that I am being demanded to give things up and receiving no reward in return. I will not be turned to vegetarianism without at the very least a tempting prospect of respect, intellectual comraderie, the frequent society of smart and attractive women, all of which will be socially accessible to me more or less permanently. I would be giving up a lot, and I would require a lot in return, more probably than anyone would be willing to give me.
On most of the great humanistic issues of the last 50 years: feminism, civil rights, homosexual rights, immigration/multiculturalsim, globalization--my instinct is not/would not have been, I don't think, that of the total reactionary barbarian, barricading doorways and that type of thing, but neither would I have been an agitator, nor probably would I have gone out of my way to support/demand anything in these movements. I would have sensed, probably, that people were being treated unfairly, and would have supported a certain degree of concessions and so on to the complaining parties, but not so much that they became a threat to my own precarious comfort and/or status. Animal slaughter seems now like a far-fetched succssor to these other issues but it seems to be something a lot of bohemian/intelligentsia type people--the exact class of people I feel most deeply thwarted by, excluded by, and estranged from in my desire to get on in the world--feel strongly about, as appears to be the case, it could impose its own demands on the consciences of the quasi-educated/journal-reading classes who live at a distance from all this mental energy and activity and wonder why it has been their fate to do so ("Is it really all just because I like steak? Is it because I couldn't smile when the pretty girls always wanted to talk to gays rather than me at parties time after time after time?")
Compensation. I should probably develop a whole other post around this subject of star performers in traditionally humble professions such as the clergy or academia needing to get paid these days, and do some research on it. But I was reading about some of the negotiations for big name professors and administrators at the top universities, whose salaries now go into the six figures, and for certain superstars like Cornel West or Stephen Pinker there is also the opportunity to make a lot of coin on the speaking circuit, as in $10,000-$15,000 an appearance, and I couldn't help but think of what Princeton had to shell out to hire Albert Einstein back in the 40s. As we all know, this isn't even just a run of the mill Nobel Prize winner we are talking about, but Einstein, the incarnation of twentieth century human genius and scientific advancement itself. What would he be worth as a free agent in today's market? I have no doubt he could command millions of dollars. Back in the day I knew he had lived in a pretty modest home, so I was guessing his salary was not exorbitant, and the great narrative of Einstein at Princeton never centered around money, but around his freedom to be allowed to do pretty much whatever he wanted--that was big of them, wasn't it?. According to the internet when asked for his salary Einstein asked for $3,000 a year. The university had to plead with him to take $10,000, Einstein apparently having some embarassment at receiving such largess. This kind of attitude among leaders and prominent people is so foreign to our modern conception of the world that it doesn't even seem credible. All education and scholarship, even science, nay, especially science, is only valuable insofar as it relates to the economy and one's personal income potential. If people aren't willing to pay you well for what you know, then why should anyone believe what you isn't worthless. Now I know Einstein got money for winning prizes and probably had enough to live a decent middle class life on in his day, so obviously his knowledge was not worthless, but I guess the point is under today's system he could have claimed his worth to be much greater financially than it seemed to ever occur to him to do in his own time.