Monday, June 21, 2010

Poem On the Oil Spill

I was going for something in the style of Betjeman or MacNeice, but it wasn't coming out...

It started out "Old money may be better than new money/But oil money is the worst," then went to "Nothing is sacred in the face of it/man himself not least". I was looking then to hone in on various aspects of this money's especial irresistibility, aggressiveness, crassness and mocking characteristics, taking for example the oil wells that stand, or used to stand, on the lawn of the Oklahoma state capitol, or the immediate appearance of state of the art transportation and communications infrastructure, as well as steakhouses for the oil company employees, in formerly long neglected backwaters when oil is discovered in them. I was then going to suggest that 'resistance' to this power 'justifies any measure'--or something of the kind. Then I realized I didn't have the time or the words ready enough at hand to make the go of it I wanted.

These were all rather languid and abstract impressions anyway. I am in pretty complete agreement that one ought to be angry about the oil spill--even unfocused and impotent rage, if heartfelt, is a more honorable response than passive resignation, though of course one would like to believe that the entire segment of life with which he has any contact is capable of more than merely this. And I don't actually believe that the current dominant forces of our society are beyond all restraint or law or effective opposition, though they have certainly done a thorough job of making me feel that way much of the time. I think they will suffer some kind of significant diminishment within the next 10-15 years however, the basis which will immediately appear obvious and be a cause of great embarrassment to those of us who spent the prime years of our lives baffled about how to break the death grip these entities and the people attached to them held over our minds. I once came across a book in a second hand store a few years ago that had been published in 1987 by a very self-assured writer with impressive sounding foreign policy credentials about the likelihood of Soviet infiltration of all Central America, Mexico included, within 10 years and the eventuality of the American homeland being suffocated and overwhelmed by this pressure one way or the other. This current arrangement of society will pass, and most people even in positions of authority and expertise have a limited capacity to predict human affairs.

I find nonetheless--or perhaps thus--that I am not able to work myself up into real anger over the oil spill. I have seemingly no emotional connection with the affected areas or creatures and therefore the images and reports arouse little synaptic response in me. My job and the circumstances of my life and the limited understanding I have of science, particularly brain science, seem to have made me a total vegetable. I already have largely given up talking and real personal interaction with anyone outside my children, and I might my ability to write or even think becoming more and more confined and crippled by the day. I am on the verge of having to shut down and go silent completely at age 40. This is not unusual; I wonder if this is the sort of thing that afflicted J.D. Salinger and Glenn Gould and Howard Hughes, who similarly retreated into silence at about the same age, though obviously in their cases after having achieved significant accomplishments. Everyone assumes that these famous men still had plenty to say and do but chose not to, and perhaps they did, but if they felt different, as if they had in fact nothing to say, perceived nothing to come into their minds worth saying, which is what has been happening with me, it would not surprise me. I am starting to wonder also if the President does not feel something in this vein, which would be a serious problem. I do not believe him to be deficient of intelligence, but I am starting to think he lacks the kind of mental vigor which is especially necessary in politics.

For my non-literary reading I have been working on a psychology book which is heavy on pharmacology, brain chemistry and so on. I am trying to incorporate more science-related material into my reading, since that seems to be where all the most serious mental activity and advancement of knowledge in our time seems to be taking place, but the actual hard science for the most part just does not excite me as much as the introduction of the case histories and the author's anecdotes of his brilliant classmates and mentors in medical school. I tried to rationalize and deny the truth to myself for years, but I am ready to confess that I am not as smart as people who love and think deeply about, or at least are comfortable in the thought processes of pure theoretical science, stripped away from the trappings of narratives, university positions, scenic research locals, etc. I would like to think there is still a place for me in an intellectual world where this type of intelligence is ascendant more stimulating than to be a kind of silent drudge, but I am starting to think perhaps not. In the psychology book, one of the author's patients is the provost of a Jesuit college and well-known scholar of the medieval Church who suffered a breakdown as a result of a struggle with the other Jesuits over whether to open up the college to secular faculty and curricula. Although he attempts to be respectful towards the patient it is obvious that the doctor considers the seriousness of all this drama to be a little silly, and that a religious scholar is not a mental figure on anywhere near an equivalent plane with a researcher in neuropsychiatry. Perhaps this is right, too, in terms of absolute brainpower, and the modest learning of even the typical accomplished humanist is comparatively nothing much worth aspiring to, and could be mastered by any sharp scientist fairly easily and quickly if the latter felt it worth his time, as is frequently suggested. My problem is twofold. It is not that I do not want to learn and master science, but that I largely feel no pleasure or excitement in doing so; and I cannot master the areas that do excite me and give me pleasure, and therefore can never achieve any sense of any fullness or well-being as a person. I appear to be of a dysthymic temperament (from the Greek "impaired spirit"). Dysthymia "has much in common with the shy and pessimistic profile--the introvert for whom life is a constant struggle, and who habitually withdraws from the world as a difficult, frightening place." The doctor seems to believe this can be treated and contained with drugs. I have a fantasy that if I underwent real psychoanalysis they would find something interesting in my past and the patterns of my life that would explain what the hell is really wrong with me, but probably that would not happen. The drug solution is very unsatisfying to me. I want a full and fascinated investigation into the peculiarities of my specific case, with reference to the unique form of my intellect, etc. But I have been over all this before...

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