Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Armies of the Night 3

"...his New York fever, that ferocious inflammation which New York always seemed to encourage: envy, greed, claustrophobia, excitement, bourbon, broads, action, ego, jousts, cruelty and too-rich food in expensive hateful restaurants." When I was on the 8th grade basketball team, I never got into games except at garbage time--even at that I may have gotten into 4 of the 10 games we played. Our team was involved in one very intense game, on the road, against a school from a relatively poor town which famously hated all the other schools in the league and took sports very seriously. The crowd was raucous and hostile, and there were several near fights due to rough play on the court. In spite of all this our team pulled away in the last few minutes and won the game by 10 or 12 points because we were considerably better than they were. The next day several of my more important teammates and various other people, including cheerleaders, were discussing the details of the game with one of our more jockish male teachers, and being always on the alert for a social in I placed myself near the edge of this discussion and, though I had not played a minute in the game, hoped that this fact would somehow be overlooked by the company and I would somehow appear as one of the actors in this drama that was being so eagerly rehashed. As this did not happen I said something, doubtless inane, at which of all people the teacher cut right to the chase and said, rather harshly, though with what I believe was intended as jesting laughter, "(Surrender), you didn't want to be anywhere near that court." This was not true. Now it is true that I would likely have failed miserably and looked ridiculous had I been inserted into the game, but to say that I did not want to be in the game was denying me any kind of ambition or interest in life at all. Yet people say such things all the time to show you that they think you are nothing. What then do I want, if not life? If not to be just like you?

The leaders among the radical protestors of the 60s were somewhat different from the way one thinks of that type of person today. many of the men were brash, cool, confident with chicks, etc. They did talk about the government as if were a faceless, soulless, practically all-powerful entity to be fearful of, but this attitude had not been internalized the way it is today, where people seem to be much more resigned to their own futility and afraid of the consequences of really angering the ruling powers than they were in the 60s. The motifs of things like mass-produced white bread being the embodiment of evil, the "infiltrated enemy who had a grip on them everywhere" were already present, though Mailer seemed to find amusement and possibility in this attitude.

"Lowell made a face. He had an expression which only a fellow writer could comprehend..." It goes without saying that one wonders at what point a person becomes considered a fellow writers. "One could not communicate the horror to anyone who did not write well." Newspaper writers would seem not to qualify, as they are being castigated here for building an ever larger wall of distortion between real writers and the uneducated public, and cultivating terrible habits in the latter. Something of the same effect seems to take place in courts of law, where the unitiated public is strongly dissuaded from trying to actively participate in the refined proceedings, and is not infrequently punished for such breaches of etiquette as not hiring a proper attorney even for minor cases such as traffic court. It is the inattention to the proper subtleties that always reveals the untrained mental type, and to the expert practitioner, this is where all the substance is.

"The thousand days of John Kennedy had done much to change the style of America; nowhere perhaps more than to the sartorial sense of the liberal and Left Wing intellectuals now gathering for breakfast--some drabness had quit them since the fifties...a hint of elegance." I think it is agreed that this era, if it ever in fact existed (though I do think it did, from about 1961-'67, right when this book was written), was extremely short lived. "The whores were out: not a common sight in Washington. The Capitol was usually about as lively at 1 a.m. as the center of Cincinnati late at night..." I have memories of the Washington area just a few years after this time (the mid to late 70s), and it was just starting at that time to become less sleepy and resemble the metropolis it has since become in terms of energy, youth, wealth, and so on. At that time even coming from Philadelphia it seemed a very sedate and minor legaue place--much of the 'talent' that came to work for (or against) the government, which was far fewer people at that time than at present, remained in the area only for a few years and then when the administration changed or whatever would return to where they came from. Every time I go down there nowadays I am astounded at how much huger, richer, more crowded, more attractive to cosmopolites it has become (as well as how huge the government is). Philadelphia by comparision, or at least the parts of it I am most familiar with, though it has of course changed some and had a decent influx both of hipsters and immigrants, the latter mainly Korean and Indian (the Hispanic population in Philadelphia remains very small), is not in the same degree unrecognizable from what it was 30 years ago. Another incredible thing when one regards the state of things today is that in northern Virginia many of the schools (and presumably other public institutions) only desegregated in 1968, one of the last places in the country where this happened, and after the events of this book took place. I know this was the case in Manassas, because one of my uncles lived there for a time and married a woman from there, and also in Alexandria (Remember the Titans!), which my impression is that it is now one of the tonier and more progressive suburbs of the capitol.

"A generation of the American young had come along different from five previous generations of the middle class. The new generation believed in technology more than any before it, but the generation also believed in LSD, in witches, in tribal knowledge, in orgy, and revolution." The scary thing is, most of these people are still very much alive and many are continuing to wreak endless havoc as we tap.

"...the walking American lobotomy: the corporation office worker and his high school son." I think they're talking about me again...

I like his Cuban revolutionary theory, which is that you create the revolution first and then worry about what it is actually about, i.e. "...the revolution existed in the nerves and cells of the people who created it and lived with it, rather than in the sanctity of the original idea." This is actually common sense. Real revolutions take on lives of their own pretty quickly, and most of them, especially during the last 100 years, have reputations for turning out very badly, but this latter is not inevitable, while from time to time revolutions of a kind probably are, which is why it is always wise to try to cultivate a certain degree of civilization and humanity in the populace so as to limit the catastrophe when these convulsions occur.

Several film references were made with regard to the hippies' clothes. Have Gun, Will Travel? (This apparently was a TV show). Claude Rains in Invisible Man? Mailer was, again, quite taken by the stridency of the young people, and compared them to Crusaders, which quality they did seem to have something of, and which perhaps in the absence of material and sensual diversions and pursuits might have manifested itself even more completely.

"Mediocrities flock to any movement which will indulge their self-pity and their self-righteousness, for without a Movement the mediocrity is on the slide into terminal melancholia." There is some truth in this. I have actually been looking for such a movement for some time but unfortunately (and predictably) all the movements which might fit this description for me tend to be full of losers and lack attractive leadership. This means on the other hand that there may be good opportunities for a person or persons of real ability to do what the America intelligentsia and power elite have often expressed fears of, rouse up the demoralized and humiliated masses into a powerful following that will stifle and possibly tear apart the culture and the nation.

On his having gone for a stroll and missed Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech in 1963: " Mailer--trusting no one else in these matters, certainly not the columnists and the commentators--would never know whether the Reverend King had given a great speech that day, or revealed an inch of his hambone." I guess I thought the hambone bit was too funny in the moment.

Dr Spock was another celebrity protestor at the march. Mailer however "had an animus against" him, for "three of Mailer's...wives had used Spock's book on infant and baby care as their bible."

Mailer's admission of modeling his attitude at various moments after Marlon Brando in The Wild One is almost too obvious (this movie, which I have never seen, looks tremendous by the way).

I wonder if the famous episode of Ed Sanders, poet, vocalist of the Fugs and publisher of the unfortunately now-defunct Fuck You magazine, exorcising the Pentagon, remains celebrated because of this book. I had never heard of this guy. Maybe he stinks but he's a real make it happen New York kind of guy and he produces a lot of art, including, recently, 2,000 pages worth of verse constituting a history of the United States during the 20th century (I wonder if a lot of people have read that). These are exactly the kind of people I needed to know about as a young man, and for whatever reason did not. I listened to some his groups' songs; it isn't really my kind of stuff, but apparently it impressed some people worth impressing.

All the mystical gods/spirits/paganism 60s stuff, especially the various elements of it which involved naked young girls dancing and otherwise enjoying nature, does, I have to admit, seem like it was probably great fun at the time. It's no wonder that a lot of intelligent and now completely boring people have fond memories of it.

p.126--a reference to Matthew Brady's Civil War photos, which were apparently very popular at this time. I can definitely remember my father being into these, having several books on the subject, and often referring to them in his casual conversations about history or whatever with his friends as if he assumed they would be something familiar to everyone. Then suddenly Matthew Brady just totally dropped out of the public consciousness. I don't think I had heard or thought of his name in the last 25 years or so.

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