Sunday, October 28, 2007
But Lutheran surrealism does believe in time.
Unlike all those movements who would like to waft us back to the timeless present of the matriarchies, Lutheran Surrealism believes in patriarchy. We believe that time is of the essence: not only must we redeem ourselves in time, but that great actions are possible only through time. In this sense we are closer to the novel than to lyric poetry; and in this sense we are closer to Homer than we are to Shelley.
It is crucial that Odysseus must struggle for TWENTY YEARS to get back home to Penelope and to his MARRIAGE.
Whereas the surrealists privileged moments outside of time, moments of magical eros, we privilege the arc of duration of marriage (marriage is a patriarchal notion, according to Bachofen).
In Breton's great novel Nadja, or in Soupault's Last Nights of Paris (translated by WCW), we see these two whoremonger surrealists out of their heads over whores. By the end of the novels the fixation they have is over, and the few erotic contacts are done. They actually celebrate this whoremongering and these ephemeral contacts when they should be ashamed of them!
Matriarchy is about hedonism, pure and simple. And hedonism leads to use and abuse of the weak.
Lutheran surrealism is about principles, and principles lead to protection of the weak with laws and contracts, such as the marriage contract. The ultimate weak are the children. (What happened to Nadja's child?) We like the idea that children have parents who are legally bound to protect them. And we like to think about lyric poetry or narrative art as one that is not so much about a chance interaction between two people who never see one another again, but rather the deep contractual space between people who are thoroughly engaged with one another for generations. This latter has not been a big topic for lyrical poetry for at least a few centuries.
We try to elucidate fulcrum moments where character is formed. Character means the choice between good and evil. Choosing something good is evidence of good character. Bad is bad character.
In a larger sense, we think that those poets who celebrate ephemeral encounters are themselves choosing evil over good. Anything of brief duration is automatically evil. We believe that photography of bums met on the street is an evil practice, just as evil as giving them money, because it implies a brief glancing acquaintance rather than sustained community.
To be in time together brings out all the sin & mischief of which a person is capable. We get to know one another in a deeper sense through time. It is only through time that character can be illuminated. The surrealist novels that celebrated the ephemeral had no plot because they also had no character, and thus they also had no sense of a revelation of character. Our novels are moving in another direction. Not toward matriarchy, and the dumbness of the lyrical moment outside of time, but toward patriarchy, and the intelligent fulcrum inside of time, while waiting for eternity.
We are interested in those institutions that rise above the brief hedonistic contract of the hippies and the surrealists. We are interested in churches, schools, hospitals, and government agencies, in longstanding businesses and railroads and highways. Anything that is meant to last more than one generation. If timelessness and love without consequences is important to matriarchies, we are interested in restraint of desire, and in the ways in which people hold back in order to think about the long-term repercussions of our actions on the patriarchal institutions that hold together life in the Christian west.
Friday, October 26, 2007
I was doing my usual ego-surfing one afternoon when I came across this:
October 10, 2007
By the skin of my teeth, I've escaped Kirby Olson's crazy clown world of Temping. What a freaky head trip, man.
Milhouse Moot has been temping for ten years. He simply cannot commit to the perceived permanency of a full-time job. He's just as fearful of personal relationships, which reek of permanence. Moot's therapist suggests sex (and possibly drugs and/or alcohol) as the answer to his problems. The shrink is simply shirking; it's easier to tell someone to get laid than it is to guide successful behavioral therapy. Quack. Then again, she might have a point. Not necessarily to partake in unwholesome activities, but to loosen up and experience both the good and bad in life--which sometimes requires embracing some semblance of stability. The fact that Moot has sought therapy at all suggests he is unsatisfied with his shallow existence. Further, he is a permanent temp, and therefore his own reasons for temping (temporary, no ties, no history) are, well, moot.
Moot's last temp job is at the Foundation for Emotionally Troubled Peacocks, where he finally goes berzerk after years of emotional suppression. I won't go into details, but after reading this book I'll never look at a peacock the same way again.
At his shrink's suggestion, Moot enters graduate school and later becomes a professor. He moves to Finland to teach students about clowning. It seems that Finland is "famous for being sad." Here, the government has initiated a dictatorial humor campaign to change Finland's public image. Meloncholia out; clowns in.
Moot's teaching position is integral to the new political policy, but he grows tired of being a cog, or a "creep." He wants to be in charge. He wants to be an "asshole." So, he leaves the university to start and run a circus. He employs midgets and retarded people because their freakishness is real. (Clearly, Olson has no interest in political correctness.)
Chaos ensues before Moot finally settles into reality.
The story itself is absurd but makes perfect sense to wannabe or actual dropouts. University professors will especially relate. Olson's circus theme is a metaphor for the world at large. Society is a circus. People are clowns. The ugly or freakish are beautiful because they're genuine. Beauty is truth, truth beauty. The problem is that most people disguise their personal truth for the sake of an unwritten supposed code.
"We were all injured, one big family of damaged clowns, trying to act happy for the milling crowds."
It's hard to accept one's own freakishness or that in others, much less admit to its preference publicly. This is Moot's struggle. Anything contrived seems temporary to him and deserves superficial treatment. But when Moot finds lasting love in a family of his own creation, he realizes that some permanent structures are good and beautiful and worth sticking around for.
Though the above is my take, I think there are many more philosophical messages to be found in Olson's novel. Mind you, the book isn't for everyone. It's a blend of surreal and absurd philosophy, with a touch of the Lutheranism that Olson practices. That in itself could be a real turnoff. But for those who appreciate Tom Robbins, for example, Olson may become your new favorite author.
Posted by Kathy L. Greenberg at 5:45 AM
Thursday, October 18, 2007
The Usual Life
All the gray Seattle music,
lights, flickering streets
along the Arboretum,
everyone in approximately
fitting jeans & Gortex jackets,
everyone carrying umbrellas
going from movie to bookstore
to hot tubs & chocolate
in an all-night pig-trough
Threading a way
past rich punks
& sleeping bums and leftover
hippies all asking for
(You're not supposed
to feed the birds around
the reservoir, it's important
not to encourage them --
maybe they'll go away.)
$5.25 to eat
a slice of cake,
we drink Espressos
quietly, then into
our cars & back
to the suburbs,
& I wonder if
this is what
my uncle meant
when he said that
after age 25
everything is easier.
(non-paginated, Waiting for the Rapture, Persistencia Press, 2006).
First off, this poem was first published in perhaps 1993 in a Seattle journal edited by a Native American poet by the name of Phoebe Bosche. And the entire poem is an ironic attack on the smug sensibility of Seattle in which I included myself!
( I think Andy believes that I am in favor of mercilessness toward bums. I'm not, and that's not really part of the issue. But I have a complicated attitude toward bums, as I will now attempt to set out.)
Yes, it is especially the middle portion of the poem that has exercised Andy's inner crusader because it more or less waives the notion that one must contribute to panhandlers. I believe that one must not, under any circumstances, ever contribute to panhandlers. However, this isn't because I'm conservative. It's because it is injurious to the soul of the panhandler, as well as to the soul of the one giving out the change. I will explain why, but only later, because first I want to say something to put the entire problem of panhandling into a philosophical (and explicitly Kantian) context.
Lutherans believe that there is a transcendent troika of orders that connect earth to heaven. These are: marriage, government, and the church. These are called orders, and they are meant to bring order into human life so that we are not constantly trying to murder one another. If each person has one spouse and that spouse in turn provides children, this should be enough. This is why gender is roughly 50-50 in every population. God wants every person to have a spouse. And there is ONE spouse for every person. You just have to find them, and then celebrate it in church, and get on with having the children. It is the VERY basis of society. (One could argue by extension that homosexual marriage is bad because it throws off the balance, but it needn't necessarily do this if there are enough "homos" of the two different gender varieties getting married to one another. That might very well balance out, so that, in itself, is not an objection to homosexual marriage. But God explicitly demands that we bring children into the world: Go forth and multiply, and I can't understand how the homosexual contingent is contributing to that, but I haven't nevertheless totally made my mind up on this topic because I have a gay friend and I'm not sure that she is totally out to lunch in terms of contributing to the ethical demands of the polis. In many ways, I think she is probably not. So I am waiting for further information on this front. But I do understand why I am against giving money to bums, but that will have to wait until I trot out a few complex terms.)
The orders are what Kant calls "transcendental ideas" or what he also calls "regulative ideas." These are ideas that are considered "a priori" and that lend to experience a coherence that makes life possible for humanity. Time, space, morality, beauty, God and cosmos, are six such transcendental ideas. They are granted as gifts by God to give order and loveliness to human life.
If the world is to be ordered, it must exist in a regular fashion. Therefore, to promote regularity, Kant walked up and down his street 8 times every day. This allowed his diaphragm to function so that he could remain regular.
In the same way, normal humans marry and attend the church, they practice the ten commandments, and they worship God.
Science tells us that the orders and God Himself cannot be discovered, and that they therefore must not exist. But the empiricists cannot find the orders because they are built-in, like hardware, into the human system. They are the very categories through which we perceive, and are therefore NOT perceptible. We are made by God and we are morally accountable to Him. Judgments of duty (do unto others) is one of the laws that comes into play.
Why should we then not feed the birds around the reservoir? It's because if we do, then they will remain, and their feces will get into our drinking water. St. Francis (that anarchist!) might object, and say, but birds are our neighbors! In fact, they are not our neighbors. Only humans are accountable to the moral laws, and so birds are just birds. Birds are for the birds, in other words, and only humans can be neighbors.
Similarly, there are laws that are on the books against panhandling in Seattle (as there are in most cities). Although these laws are rarely enforced, they ought to be, because they lead to a breakdown in the law. First, if you give money to a bum, you feel proud. You cannot help this. You have something they don't have, and so you feel above and beyond the bum. It is difficult to remember that everything that you have was given to you first by God. And so, hubris sets in, and the giver is almost instantaneously transformed into a sinner and is doomed to spend eternity in hell.
But secondly, you have also harmed the soul of the one to whom you have given money. This person is in the state that they are in because they are morally insane. That is, they cannot understand how or why they should contribute to the economy by doing something for others, and so instead they have decided to panhandle, and simply set up a one-sided economy of mercy which in effect mocks all of those who do work for a living. Work means, you do something for others, and you are in return repaid with something for exchange. This is the basis of capitalism: a work ethic. Without it, our entire system might collapse into socialism. Socialism is itself a symptom of collapse in that it posits a group of people who were formed by God simply to be on the take (blasphemy!), rather than to offer their talents to the polity in exchange for the agape of coinage. Thus, by giving money to a bum, you are contributing not only to the demise of your own soul, and to the soul of that person to whom you are giving money, but also to the destruction of your entire society, by positing that God is a know-nothing or non-existent being and that you must fill in for His absence. In essence, when you give money to a bum, you are spitting directly into God's face. If you really believed in God, rather than in yourself as a deity, then you would stop and talk to the bum, and ask them why they are not functioning in a normal manner. Why don't they apply their talents, instead of lying about in a half-crazed stupor, drunk on some disgusting substance, which drowns their sorrow in terms of no longer having God to believe in. Anyone who actually believes in God will get up and work, contributing to the polity. We should talk to the bum, and try to understand why they are not functional, and if possible, attempt to help them get on their feet. But this is impossible. We don't know them and so we believe that it is possible to turn their lives around. When we have a family member who becomes non-functional (as most of us have) it's not just a question of giving them money to get going. It's a matter of praying for them until they find God in their hearts once more. Then they can function, but not before. This is a matter of urgent, burning prayers in many cases for years before the prayer is answered.
God may or may not exist on some scientist's chart, but according to Kant it is a regulative idea, and it is the motor of the whole of capitalism.
Bums do not believe in God, or else they would not be bums.
So the task with the bum is not to give them money, it is to give them faith. It is not important to kneel before the bum and to pray for them because this might subject them to ridicule, or might cause them to give you a bump on the head, neither of which is needed. But walking past them, one must pray for their lousy souls, and get them to perform their duty thereby by returning to the fold of humanity and to stop being bums. At any rate, I cannot understand this loss of work ethic in any other manner except that they have stopped respecting their duty in terms of the moral law, and the stars above, and have collapsed internally. Now they beg us for mercy. But if you give them money, it only reinforces the notion that there is no God, and instantiates pride in yourself: a double smack in the face of God.
Sin is easy. It is hard to remember the moral law and to care tenderly for it. You must not give money to the "rich punks," who are slumming with the bums. The "rich punks" in the poem also do not believe in God, and they are therefore laughing at the whole notion of the work ethic. Hippies were also like that. They thought that life should be a laughing matter lived outside of a marriage, with no government, and without going to a church. They rarely did their duty. And yet, were we not granted this world at the charge of fulfilling our ethical imperatives of duty to others?
It is probably a sense of inclination that allows so many to wallow in the pig-troughs of Broadway (a very wealthy street of about ten blocks' length filled with stores catering to the selfish liberal of the kind who likes to go out for dessert, especially eating chocolate and thinking about the opera which is often turned on in a muted fashion in the speaker system). It is probably also a sense of inclination that allows still others to wallow by the wayside, begging for coinage. But if we follow Kant, and "Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become a universal law of nature," then how can one possibly excuse being a bum? Likewise, how can one excuse eating chocolate -- which as we know is largely harvested by child-slaves on the African Ivory Coast -- who don't even have the rights that we grant to dogs and cats to be free of physical harm -- and who are regularly murdered by their owners when they don't come up with enough chocolate for their owners who treat them solely as means to an end? We violate the principle of dignity either when we give bums change, or when we eat that which has been provided for us by slaves.
The rest of the poem -- looking for things to buy along a commercial street, probably also does not strike the reader as necessarily sinful. "Going from movie to bookstore," probably doesn't sound necessarily outrageous, but it is almost certainly a denial of communal life, an attempt to turn away from the gregariousness that is the hallmark of spiritual life. We are lazy, and after 25, we settle into routines that the communists call the "spectacle," which prevents us from having to be with one another in any real way. We use the images of the cinema to keep us from having to deal with one another. I rarely give money to bums except when I feel terribly sinful, but I do visit the cinema and bookstores. They equally represent a turning away from life (esp. if used to excess, and as an alternative to social life). To sum up, therefore, I'm guilty of being an "ass [that] rides a frozen corpse," but not for the reasons that Andy alleges.
In my own way, I too turn from God. I turn from the face of others, and bury myself in a book. It is easier. In spite of knowing better, I occasionally scarf down chocolate that hasn't been screened by an ethics committee for malfeasance. But I continue to seek for the moral laws that hold society together, and to pray for guidance in this matter. I can do no other. God help me.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Venn diagrams are meant to show groups and where they overlap.
Lutheran, and surrealist, seemingly overlap in exactly one individual: moi.
Otherwise surely by now others would have stepped forth.
Am I really the only person on earth who is a Lutheran and a surrealist?
We make a final desperate call worldwide: if you exist, will you please come forth and make yourself known?
Friday, October 12, 2007
Thursday, October 11, 2007
In a nice area of town this morning walking down High St. as it turns on to Court St. (from where one can see the 2nd Presbyterian Church, as well as the Queen Anne style Courthouse with the autumn foliage of Federal Hill #3 as backdrop), someone had spraypainted in blue stencil the letters, "F-U-C-K." It was on one of the surviving sections of shale sidewalk (most of the sidewalks have changed into poured concrete).
Julian said, "F-U-C-K. What does that spell, Dad?"
"That spells, we're late, Julesy," I said, and I hurried him on past, and tried to get him excited about the Health Food store named Good Cheap Food where he gets a stick of red licorice. It worked, although he did cast one lingering glance back at the word in blue. It is supposedly the property owner's responsibility to keep their sidewalks free of filth, but that stretch of sidewalk is in front of a frat.
In a nice area of town walking down High St. as it turns on to Court St. (from where one can see the 2nd Presbyterian Church, as well as the Queen Anne style Courthouse with the autumn foliage of Federal Hill #3 as backdrop), someone had spraypainted in blue stencil the letters, "F-U-C-K."
Julian said, "F-U-C-K. What does that spell, Dad?"
"That spells, we're late, Julesy," I said, and I hurried him on past, and tried to get him excited about the Health Food store named Good Cheap Food where he gets a stick of red licorice.
Monday, October 08, 2007
The mall was mobbed, but we got in quickly and someone pulled out, and we got a parking spot right up close to the Rockport Store in front of Nautica for Kids.
I bought a pair of 50 dollar black Rockports to replace the pair that now have holes in the soles.
Going out of the place was a nightmare. We waited an hour and didn't move! The parking lots fed into a two lane line that became one lane, and the one lane just didn't move.
Up ahead of us they kept letting busses into the line, and the line didn't move for an hour even though we only had to get about a hundred yards until we were back on public streets. Private limos were also let into the line. No one else was allowed to sneak ahead, but busses and limos, and there were plenty of them! Finally the state police showed up and took over from the incredibly lame local security people and everything began to move right away. It was like a third-world country for about an hour. Simply nothing had been thought out, and the security detail looked like they didn't care. I was incensed, but made a resolution: never again visit Woodbury Commons.
The kids were going nuts, but I spent the hour reading up on Basic Math and Pre-Algebra from a Cliffs Notes book I had picked up at Wal-Mart. Reciprocal numbers are numbers such as 6 and 1/6, which when multiplied together make up 1. And to figure out whether a large number is divisible by 9, you add up all the individual numbers, and if that number is divisible by nine, then the larger number is, too.
For instance, 2,853 -- when you add together the individual numbers (2+8+5+3), they add up to 18. 18 is divisible by 9, so that the larger number 2,853 is also divisible by nine. Whoever discovered this must have felt like Christopher Columbus! Most of the first nine numbers have some rule that someone has figured out, but no one has yet figured out a simple rule for 7.
Which is perhaps the reason it's the lucky number? 7 & 17 are primes...
The wait wasn't that bad, but it was an awful place for the kids. They were screaming, "It's taking forever!" "Just smash into the car ahead!" "Dad honk your horn!" "Do something!"
I just kept adding up the figures in my head. A prime number is any number that can only be divided by itself and 1. Is 19 a prime number?
Saturday, October 06, 2007
On p. 1 of the introduction it tells an anecdote in which Euclid was asked by Ptolemy the king of Egypt for a brief course that would allow him to understand geometry more quickly than the hoi polloi. Euclid replied that there is no "royal road to geometry."
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Going through my shelves I realize I could live without most of my books. But here are some books I would never want to sell:
Edward Lear's Complete Nonsense
Luther's Small Catechism with Explanations
A half-dozen books on geometry,
Plus a few books by theologian Paul Tillich, such as On the Boundary.
Most of the books that I own I hold on to because I MIGHT need them at some point. That amounts to about 2000 books that constitute a library of things I might need, but if I were suddenly marooned and never had to confront another person again, I would be able to dump almost my entire library, or use it in the fireplace without misgivings. I hold on to books sometimes because there is a single quote in them that is like an arrow in a quiver.
All my books on Marx or about Marx for instance (some fifty) I keep only in order to ward off the evil eye of Marxists by firing psychotic quotations at them straight out of the lips of Marx into their Cyclopsean foreheads. I find that I can paralyze Marxists by quoting a chunk of Marx to them that they didn't realize exists. Most Marxists are operating on only one or two sentences from Marx (the last line of the Feuerbach piece seems to be the central quote -- i.e., it's not necessary to actually understand anything at all, it's just necessary to do something stupid like kill the bourgeoisie). Almost all of my books on economics and on political philosophy from James Madison to John Locke to Hernando de Soto is really just a personal armory, and I honestly don't enjoy fighting. It's just that you have to fight in such a militant milieu as literary study.
Similarly, I have read tons of philosophy but mostly in order to ward off philosophy types and as weaponry that can temporarily paralyze literary opponents.
Even the realistic poets such as Charles Olson and Robert Creeley don't honestly mean anything to me. I've only read them because I am constantly in danger of being attacked by Black Mountain acolytes, and I need to be able to hold them off. Aside from O'Hara's Lunch Poems, I could easily toss aside the plays, and the art criticism, and letters, and the Complete Poems. I only keep them in order to fight off my fellow pedants.
My real interest is in the twilight realm of surrealist humor. It's where I relax and feel at home, and is the true core of my library.
Some would therefore say, dump all that stuff that you keep only as weaponry. But this would be like saying to the skunk -- get rid of your bad smells, or like saying to the porcupine, hey, get rid of those spiky spines in your quills! Or like saying to the grizzly bear, hey, won't you declaw and lie down with the sheep? How much of almost every animal is devoted to survival? You tell me. Even the giraffe has its camouflage, and even the beautiful bee that lives on honey is not without its sting.