Tuesday, February 28, 2006
In Kant you get something of the Lutheran critique of enthusiasm. Wanting to do your duty and then doing it doesn't get you a prize. Not wanting to do your duty and doing it, does.
Basically Lutherans are against enthusiasm.
We distrust it, and feel that it is devilish already always. To go to war and enjoy it is certainly devilish. When Lutherans go to war the whole enterprise should make us morally sick from beginning to end. It is at best a lesser evil. But it is still evil.
To take it as sport, or to take it as fun, or to begin to see the bombs going off and the lamentations beginning as sexy is pure evil. to get really into it as Achilles did and then dragging Hector around Troy thrice: pure shining evil for which he got his comeuppance. Agamemnon's brutal victory over Troy -- he paid for this when he got home to Clytemnestra.
Executions of criminals, locking people up, defensive actions with tanks and guns, all evil, and it's well to always remember that these actions are evil.
Their only excuse is that they are a lesser evil.
The Lutheran notion of a government (surrealism had a government but they were way too enthusiastic about almost everything) is that it is a gift from God. The Lutheran orders:
All require a certain kind of sobriety that the surrealists would not have enjoyed, as they preferred enthusiasm. Anarchism, mistresses, the black arts: these are not the Lutheran way.
In government we are to do God's will. Carefully.
In family and church, likewise.
We don't have wild pictures on the walls of our churches. And our churches themselves are not sumptuous as Eastern Orthodox or Catholic churches can be. We like our churches to be functional. Perhaps there are a few postcards around the vestry from former members of the congregation which say things like, "It sure is warmer in Florida than in Minneapolis!" A too beautiful church would lead us into idolatry.
Perhaps a child has drawn Jesus on the blackboard with cross-eyes. That will be immediately erased, young lady!
And there are moments that approach rapture -- Sunday's sermon in which the gospel writer Mark describes Peter's private showing in which Jesus suddenly revealed himself to be Lord of the Universe. That was a wild moment. But it was followed up by sobriety, a return to order. It was a private showing, and meant to increase faith, but the three who had had this private showing nevertheless denounced the faith when the going got tough after Gethsemane.
Many movements work on whim. The surrealists seemed to court enthusiasm. Green anarchists work, too, on whim. Whim wham. Suddenly a nail is whipped out and is scraping the paint on an SUV. This sort of spontaneous combustion is almost always the work of the devil.
Lutherans could do nothing of the sort. To do our duty and not too grudgingly is more our sort of functionality. So a Lutheran surrealism puts the kabosh on enthusiasm. Any time we are having too much fun we believe it's just too much fun. The other morning we experienced FasNacht, the Lutheran version of Mardi Gras. Many members of the congregation wore strange hats, often a little ridiculous. An elderly German man wore a painter's French beret, for instance, with a bright green tassle. The whole congregation was in slightly festive regalia. And some tried to sing ridiculous songs while we dug into frankfurters afterwords in the commons.
But there was a pause at the abyss that one would never see in the New Orleans version of Mardi Gras which is full-fledged frivolity at a tilt than no true Lutheran could ever quite allow.
Because we are against enthusiasm. And for good reason.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
"Historically, Luther was often hated by Jews in early modern Europe because of his and his followers' anti-Jewish agitations, which often led to violence and expulsions of Jewish communities. There were other Prostestant leaders who were more tolerant of Jews, but Luther became pretty vehement in his hatred of Jews, and the Catholic nobility in central Europe was frequently more willing to protect Jewish rights than the Lutherans were. Jewish writing of the time puns on his name as Lo-thar (in Hebrew, "not pure"). I don't think that attitude was passed down within the Jewish community in any significant way that I'm aware of to the present. From a post-Holocaust perspective, I do find Luther's "On the Jews and their Lies" grim reading, and one that inevitably brings Nazism to mind. A German leader who wants all the Jews rounded up and killed--how can this not bring Hitler to mind? But bringing something to mind is different from asserting there's a real or significant connection, something I don't do. Of course Luther is not Hitler, and conflating the two is historically ridiculous and morally confused. I think the crude anti-Luther sentiment you may encounter has more to do with anti-German notions than anti-Luther notions. A Jew-on-the-street today reading Luther's anti-Jewish tract may think, "Look how the Germans have always acted," not "Look how the Lutherans have always acted." I've never encountered anti-Lutheran sentiment among Jews, but when I've taught Luther's "On the Jews and their Lies" in medieval Jewish history courses, I have heard from some Jewish adults (generational factor here) a "Plus ca change" response in regard to Germans. The point to teaching it though is not to show the "roots" of Nazism, but to show the realities of 16th century Europe. Again, I wouldn't say this is a common perception in the Jewish community, since most Jews, like most other Americans, simply don't know much about Luther, except for the vague high school history we all get: fellow nailed something on a church door for some reason or other."
NB: The part about Lothar made me wonder about Lex Lothar, Superman's nemesis. Connection?
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
I don't think people should wear fur, but I don't think people should spray red paint on those who do.
I don't think people should drive SUVs, but I don't think we have the right to run a nail through the paint of those who do.
I am against the use of nuclear power, but I don't like men with long hair who feel groovy about being against it.
I am for the use of ethanol.
I am for solar panels.
I am for the ethical treatment of animals, but I don't think we have the right to destroy the livelihood of fox farmers.
I am for green anarchism. I am against green anarchism.
I think almost all green anarchist statistics are faked and exaggerated. I think there is a serious global ecological crisis.
I want clean air and water. So does Charles Manson.
I am for clean air and water. I am against Charles Manson.
I believe that whales are Lutheran Surrealists before the letter. I think they sing lovely hymns that rival those of Bach and Beethoven and even Luther himself. I don't think we have the right to block whaling vessels from pursuing their legitimate business even when it includes the murder of our brother and sister whales.
I am for law and order. I am green. But I am turning a little blue in the face over green anarchist tactics. I am green, but I am turning red in the face over green anarchist tactics. I believe in the law -- not only the law of man, but the law of heaven above.
I think that Jesus, Luther, and most of the saints such as Assisi were green. But they also followed the law. I think we pay too much attention to Civil Disobedience when we think we can abrogate the letter of the law as was suggested by Thoreau. We must be willing to go to prison and stand up for our conscience as was Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. If you must abrogate the law, then don't do it sneakily. Do it out in the open, and go to prison for it. This is what Socrates did. This is all I'm asking. If you want to destroy a fox farm or an SUV then go to prison for it. I am curious green, but I am not a scofflaw. The law is all we have to protect us from the wolves.
I feel somewhat sheepish in saying that I'm against wolves, but I'm using them now in an allegorical and symbolic sense, but also in a literal sense. I'm against the proliferation of wolves and wolfishness.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
I suppose that if I were born in a Muslim country I too would protest cartoons about the deity, and boast about the fact that my brethren can fly on rugs.
But I'm American to the bone, and inside of that I'm Lutheran. Green jello, hymns, Easter egg hunting contests, chili bakeoffs in the church basement, the idea that older people speak with a German accent and are kind, the kitsch of kitchen poetry when I visit relatives, the notion that art is separate from the state, and also separate from theology; these are the things of which I sing.
Sometimes I think about an elderly aboriginal gentleman in the film Where the Green Ants Dream. He's in an elevator in Sydney and to block out the muzak he puts his hands over his ears and sings a tribal song. He's trying to protect his own culture. If a song is what keeps our world our own and if those songs are passed down from parents to child, with graybeard reaching over to greybeard as in a Blake illustration over the tops of trees as generations pass and Father Time relays Bach and Beethoven to those within the crib, then my songs, the songs that really matter to me, can all be found in the great Lutheran hymnal.
Oddly, surrealism has no music, no hymns. It is an entirely visual and literary culture. One more reason it needs to ally itself with Lutheranism.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Somewhere in the middle of the conversation someone told a fascinating joke.
Two cannibals were eating a clown. "Tastes funny," one of them said.
That's the whole joke.
A woman who used to edit a large women's daily said that my novel was a "Lutheran Portnoy."
That was marvelous.
I sold four copies of my novel.
Tonight, I read again before an audience of about 100 here at SUNY-Delhi's campus Backstage. I'm hoping to sell a few more copies. Perhaps 3?
Humor is a lightning bolt of sudden illumination. It lasts no longer than that. What is it? What I principally hope for in these public meetings is lightning to strike more than once. It has to do with an electrical build-up between the author and the public. Let's see if it happens again tonight. Last night was special -- many nyuck, nyuck, nyucks. I will have to keep my eyes crossed and my heart open.
Now I notice my kids doing this at the dinner table.
Potatoes were originally from the Andes. Perhaps we are unconsciously paying homage to the mountainous origin of the potato when we unconsciously make it resemble the place from hence it sprang.
Today there are over 5000 varieties of potato but only about eight are commonly sold in American supermarkets.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Sunday, February 12, 2006
a. political activist
h. enhancer of ethnic tensions
k. Lutheran surrealist!
o. nuclear terrorist wannabe
p. fashion critic
r. dental hygienist
w. hotel keeper
x. professional dreamer
y. Zen monk
z. all of the above
Friday, February 10, 2006
A review by Paul Keyes appeared in the January-February 2006 edition of the American Book Review.
"'Andrei Codrescu and the Myth of America' is a dense, detailed commentary on the several phases of Codrescu's career: neo-surrealist poet, novelist, travelogist, essayist, public radio star. Olson devotes considerable space to the theoretical context of the work, which Codrescu himself describes as an 'affective-theoretically-evolving way of thinking based on rabbi-questioning and the Romanian exaltation of imagination plus native humor.' (One of this book's virtues is the considerable contribution of Codrescu himself, both in emails and in several appended interviews.) There are hints of a theoretical preoccupation even in the radio commentaries, where Codrescu is apt to toss off a shibboleth like 'deterritorialized' or 'rhizomatic,' nodding and winking to humanities grad students all over America."
Ok, so he says, too, that I "lionize" Codrescu, and that I am a little too laughably politically correct in some of my assessments, and that my ethical sense is somewhat different from Codrescu's.
And there's a weird image at the end about me as a mole(!) versus Codrescu as an eagle(!).
I was flummoxed by the image but am told by Stephen Baraban that the image derives from William Blake's poem Thel's Motto. And the mole is about embodied experience, while the eagle is about theoretical experience. I've got a request for more information on this image cluster out to several Blake experts.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Few poems change the world and that is how it should be perhaps or we would have as many changes as there are poets.
However, Costache Ioanid wrote a poem that brought down the house of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and changed the world for the better in the country of Romania. I have looked for a long time for a translation of the poem but have been unable to find it. Recently I asked several of my Romanian friends and Roxana Crisan a graduate student at the University of Sibiu found the poem and translated it for me. As five thousand men, women and children were slaughtered in Timisoara on Christmas Eve of 1989 this poem was somehow passed out to the growing crowds and they began to light candles and sing. This poem was the song of a revolution that brought to an end the Cyclopsean tyrant and ushered in a new reign of freedom.
Roxana Crisan's brilliant brother found the poem for her. Crisan has a chapter in my book on Codrescu in which she discusses him from a Romanian perspective.
Here is Ioanid's epochal poem:
By Costache Ioanid
Oh, no! We are not a dream, an accident,
Nor a self-modeled clay.
But a Creative Force,
A Boundless Wisdom
Truly, God exists!
Oh, no! We are not grim wild beasts,
Led by a ruthless whip.
We have a soul,
A heart that beats for skies up high.
Truly, God exists!
Not ever would the plowed land
A chaste lily’s smile have noticed,
Hadn’t the Almighty his hand out reached
With feelings our inner well to fill.
Truly, God exists!
We bear the Scriptures as a proof,
And never-ending miracles and signs.
And he, who God to see desires,
Should stand in front of Him,
Truly, God exists!
Not always shiny is our journey,
Nor is our life a fairy-tale.
But we do live for it’s worth living
When high, above the narrowed world,
Oh, no! We are not void!
The Ultimate Truth is revealed.
Jesus lives inside of us,
Light and love,
And death is flight into eternity.
Truly, God exists!
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
The most peculiar question I've looked into is whether or not Chinese-Americans fought in the Civil War. Chinese immigration did not really begin until about 1850. And to my surprise there are estimates of between 5 and 50 Chinese soldiers having fought in the war. In the lower estimate of 5 there were three who fought for the south and two for the north.
I've wondered if those soldiers would have met on the battlefield at Gettysburg?
And did any of those soldiers write poetry? And did any of them have Lyme's Disease?
I've been thinking of putting together an anthology entitled, Chinese-American Avant-Garde Poets with Lyme's Disease Speak of the Civil War's Greatest Battle. I'm certain there will be a large audience.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
I was in a huge cathedral-mansion in France with incredibly detailed drawings on the walls as if I was on the inside of an old-fashioned globe.
Bustling through the hallways running late I felt like the white rabbit and then saw a bustling elephant coming in a determined and business-like way in the other direction. There was a satisfaction on the face of the elephant because he was on time and for him everything was normal although rushed. I was hysterical because I was so late but I continued to rush on and I thought that if I kept moving everything would be ok. The elephant wasn't even aware of me.
It was only upon waking that a business-like elephant on its own like with a brief case and suit seemed odd or should I say surreal?
The surrealists put a lot of stock in dreams.
The Lutherans I believe do not put a lot of stock in dreams.
All I can say is that I have a very active dream-life but I don't know what it has to do with my ordinary life except that I am always happy to wake up from my dreams and get back into ordinary life. Right now ordinary life is a heck of a lot easier than dream-life.
Friday, February 03, 2006
In the forties Breton looked to nature and to prostitutes (of all places!) to find a positive view of culture in Arcane 17.
Throughout he looked to Sigmund Freud's "unconscious" and even to the likes of the Marquis de Sade for a positive role in culture. We here at Lutheran Surrealism believe that Breton was looking for love in all the wrong places.
But not entirely! He also read Lutheran authors such as Hegel (just as Sartre was to read Kierkegaard) but both of these French authors tried to denude the German and Danish philosophers of their central underpinning which was a Lutheran orientation toward Christ Jesus.
In the Lutheran orders there are three major frameworks for human life that stretch between man and God. The most crucial is marriage and the family the only order that pre-existed the Fall and which is the only institution in society that provides for intimacy and love and without which quite frankly men and women (to say nothing of children) are miserable.
The other two orders are the church and government. Of course the church matters! Surrealism attempted to substitute weekly meetings for church. But they denounced music, so how could those meetings have had any true fellowship? And of course government matters! The surrealists (after the thorough corruption of the Dreyfus Affair and World War I we can hardly blame them) denounced government and turned increasingly toward anarchism.
But the point is not to look away from the corrupted orders or to insist that they collapse but to reform them. We believe that marriage is possible as the church is possible as government is possible, just as possible as we are possible: married, church-going, and musical citizens, who believe in God, and who is, in essence, the Marvelous.
Breton found his way back to at least two of the orders later in life. Having denounced marriage and family, he honored his third wife through monogamy, and he did love his daughter, Aube. Having denounced government the surrealists in the 1950s nevertheless held meetings at which popular votes decided the issues of the day.
The surrealist movement never accepted the church. Without this acceptance they floundered after other institutions for some time but ultimately collapsed like alcoholics who refuse to accept that there is something greater than ourselves called God. The disaster of the 20th century is thankfully over. We who have survived it must attend to the difficult task of rebuilding the three great orders that stretch between ourselves and heaven: the family, the government, and the church. If we want to complete Breton's search for a positive role for culture rather than to accept the nihilism of contemporary culture, we must pray that the love of God will re-enter the souls of our artists, and our musicians, and our writers, as well as all citizens, and to realize that the truest representative of avant-garde culture was born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago in a manger around which even the animals were temporarily given an ability for speech. It is the innocence of that world which is at the heart of Lutheran Surrealism, and at the heart of the New Jerusalem to come.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Now I'm reading Carmen Firan's book of short stories entitled The Second Life. It's a scream. Really, truly, a scream. Somehow she manages to write stories that are so sad they are funny. Two men become friends and pretend to fly together. When one of them dies after a long illness they say goodbye by pretending to fly together. It's hard to capture the essence of this story because it's fairly long -- 20 book pages -- and some of that length goes into describing their weird long and rather crazy triangular relationship with one of the men's wives who keeps selling rings to keep the trio afloat.
In the story I just read a boa constrictor gets loose in the Romanian embassy in NYC where Firan worked or works as a cultural attache. No one can find the snake but they do find its shed skin. The skin is sent home and made into a pair of shoes for the wife of the Romanian prime minister.
I don't think I've ever read anything like these stories. Outside of Romanian literature they almost don't make any sense. Inside of Romanian literature they seem to be the woman's answer to Andrei Codrescu, Isidore Isou, and Tristan Tzara -- an answer we've been waiting for for almost one hundred years. It's absurd, completely absurd, but also emotionally fulfilling and stunning in a way that neither Tzara, nor Isou, nor even Codrescu, have ever been. So it's part wild intellectual invention and humor, and partially about the innermost hearts of human being and how easily they feel and are crushed. I don't think that anybody has ever written stories like this before.