Friday, August 20, 2010

Armies of the Night (V)

Looking back at a distance of 43 years now, the real anger and audacity of the 60s middle class rebels appear quite remarkable. Objectively it is easy enough to pooh-pooh their stances and complaints as insignificant, but what forcefulness there was in the wills of individual people! One feels nothing like that among all but a very few people, or at least intelligent people, one encounters now in ordinary life.

I get to flavor my blog with some summer of love type quotes now. Heady times, those 60s.

"Augustus Owsley Stanley, III...His statement was that LACE (hippie group, name a takeoff on MACE, which was some kind of military acronym) makes you want to take off your clothes, kiss people and make love...They would try to kidnap LBJ and wrestle him to the ground and take his pants off." Of course it is very silly but it is clear that at this time people were still taking a kind of childlike delight in just expressing the thoughts and uttering the words, which thrill unfortunately wore off rather quickly.

"This was to be the first of many speeches to be made to them...some professional, some--girls, for instance, opening buttons on their blouses--improvisational." Yes, I am very easily titillated. I like to think that this keeps me somewhat young, however. I can't pretend, like all the cool people my age, to have long done and seen it all. Indeed, I have seen virtually nothing.

The problems of the American Middle Class--in short, that it is wimpy, spiritless and has no real power besides--are laid out at such length that one is almost relieved at the prospect that the current economic reorganization is going to do away with most of it altogether and give the offspring of those falling out of it a shot at the 'easy confident virility' and 'physical courage' that the working class is supposed to have retained and which causes the soft sons of the suburbs so much unease. Of course the social gulf between these classes has gotten so big since the late 60s that I would venture very few suburban types view anything about the working class with much admiration at all, even (in those people who still have it) physical courage. The soft middle class doesn't play the same sports, doesn't join the military, is not for the most part in competition for the same women, in effect sees themselves as living a completely life in a more or less different society.

Jerry Rubin shows up. Mailer called him a "revolutionary mystic, whose roots were in Bakunin". I didn't know who Bakunin was. He was a 19th century Russian philosopher and active revolutionary whose ruling theory was Collectivist Anarchism. I certainly believe there are people who have genuine revolutionary-oriented personalities, and I find them extremely interesting, though I don't on the whole have any desires to follow such people. I don't know whether Jerry Rubin was such a character to the core or not, but he does seem to have had something of the type in him.

There should be more effective intellectual-oriented opposition to the ruling interests in our time. Even if it is the case that all of the most talented and capable people are co-opted into the service of the entrenched powers, which I don't believe, some kind of radical opposition should emerge from at least the fringes of that world. One assumes it will, that we are currently going through a very culturally dispirited cycle the lethargy of which will have to break eventually. I admit responsibility for my own part both in being unable to formulate and mount a credible alternative or challenge to the status quo, and for not allowing this to disturb my general tranquility as much as it ought to. "...they would be a new breed of American soldiers if they did not laugh." On the Army's potential response to the irreverant signs of the protestors. One feels there is something true in the sentiment here, though the wording or perhaps the example is not precisely right. The attitudes of soldiers towards certain large swathes of civilian society was I think something new, but so too were the circumstances of a publically unpopular war and a broad critique of many of the values that the army was supposed both to be defending and to exemplify. Mailer's own World War II generation of soldiers, or at least that part of it that became writers, tended to view themselves as more wary of the military establishment and other claimants to authority than their historical reputation would suggest. My guess would be that that is not literally true, but the circumstance that a lot of people of the time were concerned with and turned their most specific attentions to this attitude shows that whatever it signified was considered meaningful.

The middle class boy burns his draft card, his stomach churning with equal parts anxiety and revolutionary fervor. "He looks for a girl to kiss in reward." Ignoring the entitlement issues our young man is betraying, there is a beautiful simplicity in these old stories where one can perform a single feat, and in many instances not an especially onerous one, and immediately expect such a sweet payoff. When I set out looking for girls to kiss, the strategy was more along the lines of a five-year plan.

"There are very few on the Left who do not live with a partial belief their own life will end in such a way..." He happens to be referring in this instance to gas chambers but I assume the sentiment is meant to apply to any brutal extermination method governments have access too. I suppose from time to time thoughts of this sort fluttered into my head. I don't have them much now. I'm much more worried about...but I don't want to jinx myself by writing it. I does not involve being put to death in an disrespectful manner by a government or military tribunal or anything of that kind.

"The spokesman was speaking in totalitarianese, which is to say, technologese, which is to say any language which succeeds in stripping itself of any moral content...There are negative rites of passage as well. Men learn in a negative rite to give up the best things they were born with, and forever." This leads to the great question posed by the end of this book, which is Would I have been a hippy or a square? I would doubtless have been a square, and I would also doubtless have believed I really wanted to be a hippy. This would have led me to go halfway on the clothes and hair which would only have further exasperated my main problems at the time.

It is a fairly common opinion, I think, that some American form of totalitarianism is inevitable. Anticipating its appearance in the very near future--often within the next 5 years--is a favorite pastime of doomsdayers. Many of these doomsdayers also agree that the American strain of fascism is likely to be among the worst yet seen in the history of the world. I'm going to take a kind of mellow conservative view of this and predict that it will not happen within the next 5 years. Too many really bad things would need to coalesce before which the overwhelming majority of the population, which I am not in the least afraid of, would be powerless to stop. I don't see it coming to that. There are a lot of people on both of the main political sides who seem to attribute some motive of evil, pure and unfathomable of origin, to their enemies. But this is generally wy exaggerated.

I forgot to comment on the various Noam Chomsky sightings during the book. Chomsky didn't have much to do with Mailer. He is presented as very serious, and would neither join in any kind of banter nor discuss the linguistics works for which he was already becoming well known when Mailer tried to engage him on those subjects.

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