22 June 2017

UPROAR

Is this the right Caesar?
Recently the alt-right (or whatever we call the ignorati these days) stormed a production of Good Will's Julius Caesar because they objected to an execution of the emperor dressed to look like DJT.  Even the real conservatives don't want a piece of his faux-populist bullshit.

In preparation of a post on this 'bridge' play, I have been re-reading it and looking at my favorite writers on the subject.  I came across this quote in H. C. Goddard's unequalled The Meaning of Shakespeare where he cites a line from Macbeth as a perfect summation of Caesar's spiritual failings as he nears his tragic end at the hand of Brutus and his cohorts,


                                            Now does he feel his title
Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe
Upon a dwarfish thief.

'Dwarfish thief...'  It's a bit low-brow to point out the initials of our fearless leader match those of the epithet, but never let it be said I didn't take the low road whenever I could score against these weasels.  Hey ho.

Patrick Stewart as Macbeth















Whatever your opinion of the previous occupant of the big chair, Obama never looked like a pretender to the throne.  He wore the mantle of power with authority and grace unlike the current president who shows no gravitas whatsoever.

Anyway, I wanted to make this quick post to highlight the Macbeth quote before it slipped away in a cloud of dementia.

20 June 2017

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES

"By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes..."

Macbeth
Second Witch
iv, 1

It's another not-critique, another impressionistic post on a book that sits in my soul with wings that make me feel as if I could fly or with a brick that makes me a bit sick.  Which is it this time?  I'm not certain - oh, wings!  no, a brick!  both - fear and exhilaration like riding the carousel with the calliope music blaring to make me deaf and the wild, frightened horses scaring the little bejeezus out of my four-year-old heart.

There is a great scene at the end of the movie version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.  The principals - and nearly everyone - are dead and the clowns who rather tormented the poor duo throughout put away the props, pull down the curtains, close up the wagon and ride off along the cliff face where the whole thing began.  (Go watch it here - just two minutes... R&G Are Dead.)  It is the reminder that we have just witnessed a play-within-a-play and that the whole thing starts over at the beginning with the next performance.  And, in our faces we are slapped with the cyclical reality of our staged lives and repetition of our much-rehearsed dialogue.

The end of SWTWC puts me in the same mood.  The tents are collapsed, the freaks have fled (except for the Skeleton (This is particularly nice, because the elderly father of our protagonist repeatedly tells us he knows things down in his own skeleton) who picks up the child body of the Illustrated Man and walks off into the fields), and the circus train is left rusting on its siding.  But the librarian has already hinted that the whole thing happens over and over and over and while they 'won' this time, the next battle is coming and coming forever. 

     "For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ's birth, there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer."

Charles Halloway is quoting from a religious pamphlet he remembers looming out of his youth, but it is Ray Bradbury's implicit message - we always fight evil, always and forever struggle to put off our bad selves and take on the uncomfortable, ill-fitting good skins that we know we should wear.  In a neat writer's trick, Bradbury turns the evil/good battle into the evolution of man.

     "If men had wanted to stay bad forever, they could have, agreed?  Agreed.... No.   Somewhere we let go of the hot gorilla's paw.  Somewhere we turned in our carnivore's teeth and started chewing blades of grass...  Since then we measure ourselves up the scale from apes, but not half so high as angels."

Halloween week, the week Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway (Charles' son) are to turn 14, the circus comes, not to town exactly, but near enough to hear.  Very late in the season for such things;  we want our carnivals and such to be around on the 4th or late August, but definitely before Labor Day when school starts and everything is dull again. 

For reasons that really aren't exactly clear, the boys become persecuted by the carnival and its two Autumn people, Mr. Dark and Mr. Cooger.  Certainly they have seen odd things, certainly they are suspicious.  It must be clear that they are the tempted because it is their time.  We are all slightly hysterical, conspiracy-minded boys at that age.  It is the moment when we grow up, grow up or fail.

     "We have common cause against the night.  You start with little common causes...  Common cause, common cause, common cause of mouth, eye, ear, tongue had, nose, flesh, heart, and soul."

When the Disney movie version of SWTWC was released in the early 80's, I recall a surge in support for seeing the movie from the evangelical right.  Constitutionally disposed to condemn Hollywood movies as a whole, this was a swerve of morality.  The idea, I think, was that this film showed the battle between good and evil.  Oh, and Good (of course!) won.  Stridently opposed to dualism, the evangelical community painfully misread the book as a Christian allegory, where Bradbury clearly had something else in mind.

     "Besides, you're inferring that's the Devil out there.  I only say it's a type of creature has learned to live off souls, not the souls themselves."


But Bradbury is a dualist - it could go either way.  Is Good pre-determined to win?  Hardly.  And he nicely disposes of any Christian idea that certain kinds of religion or mysticism are inoculations against the Bad.

     "Well, what have you there?"  Mr. Dark squinted.  "A Bible?  How very charming, how childish and refreshingly old-fashioned."
     "Have you read it, Mr. Dark?"
     "Read it!  I've had every page, paragraph, and word read at me, sir!"
     ... And before Charles Halloway could move, Mr. Dark ran lightly forward and took the Bible.  He held it in his two hands.
     "Aren't you surprised?  See, I touch, hold, even read from."
     ... Mr. Dark hurled the Bible into a wastepaper basket and did not look at it again."

The vampire lives!  Crucifix, Bible or Holy Water - no magic in this most magical book.

There is much more I would like to cover:  the GMHopkins and Dylan Thomas inflected prose, the unparalleled action sequences, the carnival horrors from deep in our imaginations, but you'll have to read it for yourself.  Ray Bradbury is perhaps America's most neglected writer.  His work is commonly written off as Science Fiction (which it almost never is) or adventure books for boys.  If he is acknowledged, it's most likely for his masterpiece Fahrenheit 451.  But most likely he's just ignored.  There are issues with Bradbury, but they don't add up to a grain of sand in the scale against his written work.  He is amazing.

Well, here we are again.  This is where I say something snarky or vulgar or both about that bastard in the WH.  So, Fuck him!  I want to go read.  I want to read Ray's great books and short stories.  I want to read Good Will.  And Herman Melville (did you know Bradbury wrote the screenplay for Houston's movie version of Moby DickRead Green Shadows, White Whale - it's another masterpiece!)  There is no morality or salvation in books.  It's true.  We don't read for ethical or social instruction.  We don't read to be taught how to act or behave.  We read to learn our own insides. 
That's why I want DJT to read the books I put in his library.  He is a narcissist - a shiny, though quickly tarnishing, exterior.  There is no there, there.  No interiority, no true self.  No fucking idea who he is.  Just a little god unto himself.  A real book would kill him, whether it were Bleak House or See Dick and Jane.  Poke into him and find an empty shell, full of spider webs and dirt clods... and a really, really bad smell.

15 June 2017

LILITH

You may have noticed that a second title was shown on that cover of Phantastes I posted recently.  Lilith is often mentioned in tandem with MacDonald's beautiful fantasy of fairyland.

There is problem with that.

I complain endlessly about 'category errors.'  The gist of it is this:  if a reader, viewer, critic (blah, blah) fails to get a work in the proper category, then she cannot properly assess its successes and failures.  If you start with the idea that a novel is, in fact, a poem (or, of course, vice versa) then you've lost access to the conventions you need to accurately critique the work, or even appreciate it.  Novels are different than poems and if you don't know the difference, or can't tell the difference, then you are lost from the beginning.  To illustrate my point to a friend who couldn't tell the difference between fantasy and a parody of fantasy, I told him his beloved Volvo was a lousy microwave oven.  It has a flat place to put food;  it has a glass port to view the cooking food;  it warms the food (a little), but in the end it doesn't do what a microwave is supposed to do:  cook.  The Volvo has some characteristics of a microwave, but that isn't its purpose.

So, there's the nub of my issue with those who would place Lilith in the same category as Phantastes.  It does share some of the fantastical imagery of the other book, and it follows a callow young man who has taken over an estate upon his majority.  But where the one (Phantastes) is a full fairy story adumbrating an occult, extra-sensory realm of life than exists alongside our own, Lilith is a spiritual allegory that takes those fantastical images and uses them to illustrate a Christian principle in the real world.  At least, those are MacDonald's rough intentions.

I was originally charmed by the mystical library where the novel begins.  It includes a closet of rare manuscripts, a false set of shelves filled with the fake spines of fictional books and an old man who is interchangeably a raven and a librarian.

The setting is seductive (which may be MacDonald's point) and wondrous.  It appeals to my own hermetic tendencies and fantasies of owning a massive library/sanctuary of my own.  Shock, eh?

In one of the walls was the low, narrow door of a closet, containing some of the oldest and rarest of the books .  It was a very thick door, with a projecting frame, and it had been the fancy of some ancestor to cross it with shallow shelves, filled with bookbacks only.  The harmless trick may be excused by the fact that the titles on the sham backs were either humorously original, or those of books lost beyond hope of recovery.  I had a great liking for the masked door.

(Behind that door in my library you will find a shelf of my rarest whiskies.)

Sorry, I've gone far astray from my intent here.  But the point is that I did, or do, love the opening framework of the book as I like the framework of a library.
(No man knows it when he is making an idiot of himself.  A sentence from Lilith that I should take as my motto.)

From here MacDonald gets tedious.  Nothing is itself.  A butterfly becomes a book when touched, a pigeon is a prayer on its way (to God, presumably), a gnarled old man with a white beard is a hawthorn shrub.  A little flower is a prayer, too.

     "Could you not teach me to know a prayer-flower when I see it?"  I said.
     "I could not.  But if I could, what better would you be?  you (sic) would not know it of yourself and itself!  Why know the name of a thing when the thing itself you do not know?  Whose work is it but your own to open your eyes?  But indeed the business of the universe is to make such a fool of you that you will know yourself for one, and so begin to be wise!"

It could be fun for a while, but when it becomes everything, it gets old very fast.  Yes, yes, things have multiple natures, but it is by facets not by multiple-beingness (to make an ugly neologism).  These are clunky one-dimensional representations to get the reader in the mood of the allegory.  "Pay Attention!"  he announces.  "If I call something by one name I actually mean it is something Else!"

This anyway is just a taste of the sort of thing MacDonald really overindulges in throughout the novel.

Sleep is waking, death is life, to live is to die, everyone else is awake but you are asleep, you can't know if you are dead or alive or awake or asleep.  You only sleep/awake if Father Adam puts you to sleep or wakes you.  You think you are alive, but you are dead. These sets of symbols meant to explicate the elegantly simple Bible verse, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."  Matthew xvi, 25.  A mystical statement of existence, but one that is quick and lively and beautiful whether you believe the theology of it or you don't.  It achieves its life because apart from theological meaning, it contains truths.  MacDonald just flogs the idea until it lay gasping on the floor, emptied of oxygen and meaning.

A small point which I have failed to mention:  the name of the protagonist is Mr. Vane.  It is unsubtle but effective, I suppose.  But wasn't there a less obvious choice?

There are great moments and insights in this book and I could quote from it endlessly:

Then first I knew what an awful thing it was to be awake in the universe:  I was, and could not help it!

Don't you remember those instances of adolescent angst and terror?  I, for one, never really outgrew them.  But it makes the tediousness of the story that much more unbearable.  I found myself slogging on looking for those nuggets in the dross.

"...he and I would be talking of two persons as if they were one and the same.  Your consciousness of yourself and my knowledge of you are far apart."

It is the idea that sometimes makes me despair of truly knowing anyone, ever.  Harold Bloom once (or many times - he never said once what he could repeat ad nauseam) said he read to know more people than he could ever hope to get to know in his life.  When we read Shakespeare serving up hundreds of fully individualized characters with immense personalities of their own, we catch Bloom's sense.

Another nice moment in this book,

I saw now that a man alone is but a being that may become a man -- that he is but a need, and therefore a possibility.  To be enough for himself, a being must be an eternal, self-existent worm!

Fairly, it is the demonstration of the Christian word 'Charity,' the 'caritas' of the Greek language.  Letting someone else do for us makes us both human.  I am hardly ever gracious in acceptance.  I prefer the 'thank you very much, but I'll do it myself' response.  Hmm...

Finally MacD devolves into the endless paradoxes of sleep/wake, death/life.  He can't seem to stop worrying it.

     "... I too have slept, I am dead!"
     "I believed you dead long ago; but I see you alive!"
     "More alive than you know, or are able to understand.  I was scarce alive when first you knew me.  Now I have slept, and am awake;  I am dead, and live indeed!"

If only he knew when to quit.

Rossetti's Lady Lilith
 Like MacD, I don't know when to quit either.  This has gone on too long.  But I have a couple more things to make this maybe a little more confused and confusing.

First, to give him his due, MacD was a universalist.  That is, he believed that Christianity teaches that everyone is given salvation in the end.  So, whether you want it or not, you get an eternal Christian heaven.  That is a simplistic representation of what he believed, but it will do for the moment.  There are shades and shades.

Second, the mythology of the character Lilith in the West is complicated and complex.  She is Adam's first wife created from the same earth as Adam himself rather than from his rib as Eve was created.  Therefore she is Adam's co-equal creation with the same power and authority.  And she is a temptress:

Of Adam's first wife, Lilith, it is told
(The witch he loved before the gift of Eve,)
That, ere the snake's, her sweet tongue could deceive,
And her enchanted hair was the first gold.
And still she sits, young while the earth is old,
And, subtly of herself contemplative,
Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave,
Till heart and body and life are in its hold.


Algernon Swinburne
1868

Out of envy and pride, she left Adam to become an authority on her own terms.

She has been co-opted by radical feminist movements as a symbol of the rejection of all patriarchy.  She stands alone as an authority in and of herself.  A full and militant rejection of the masculine.  She is the First Mother.

If I understand it correctly, the Latter-Day Saints teach that Lilith was an equal wife to Adam as Eve was.

So, there is much to untangle, but I'll leave it at that.

To get this over with, we put George
MacDonald's Lilith in the Trump Presidential Library and also in its precursor the BPL.  I don't know if there is a lesson here, but all books should be in these libraries.  Not that they'll be read by their namesakes, but if I could consign them and their trolls to an eternity (not believing in Hell, and not believing it would be educational for them anyway) I would send them to an everlasting damnation of books, alone.  What would be heaven for me would be a labyrinth of horror for them.  Tra-la-la...

01 June 2017

REFLECTION

There is that gap,
That gulf
Between the tip of my finger
And its reflection in the mirror.

But what's in the gap,
In the void between me and not-me?
And, of course, now that I consider:
Which is which?

I could happily be the not-me
If only
Someone else would be the me,
But there are no volunteers -
No not-me's who would be me.

Unless, and again, of course,
If the not-me has already signed on to be me.

In which case the me I am, isn't.
And the me that isn't, is.

But there is still that damned gap and
What isn't in it.

The only thing I can be certain of
Is that
Not-me is as annoyed by it
As I am.

PHANTASTES

"Our life is no dream; but it ought to become one, and perhaps will."

                                                                                 Novalis

Modernity promised certain things.  In many ways it has filled its promise, but in doing so it has coarsened us, made us unable to see certain beauties that should be close to the heart of mankind.  We are enervated, vitiated.  When we believe in the weaknesses, the overwrought emotions of poetry and fairy tale, it is because we are no longer robust enough to experience their strengths.  We think sentiment is sentimental.  It is not.  Our emotions are now easily manipulated by the tugging of capitalism and popular culture.  Shelley told us the Sublime was our only defense against the tyranny of Pleasure. 

It is the experience of the Sublime and the challenge to apply what we have learned to everyday life that George MacDonald writes of in Phantastes.

"My mind soon grew calm; and I began the duties of my new position, somewhat instructed, I hoped, by the adventures that had befallen me in Fairy Land.  Could I translate the experience of my travels there, into common life?  This was the question.  Or must I live it all over again, and learn it all over again, in the other forms that belong to the world of men, whose experience yet runs parallel to that of Fairy Land?  These questions I cannot yet answer.  But I fear."

We should too.  Gnosis, knowledge is our only hope to battle the need to constantly relearn the
lessons taken from the Sublime.  If our only wisdom comes from the daily tides of life, we are doomed. 

But I am supposed to be writing about a book.

Phantastes (commonly agreed to be pronounced, FAN-TASTES) isn't a child's fairy story.  There are no simple moral lessons here.  Anodos' adventures are not of the happily-ever-after Disney sort.  They are bloody, filled with heart-breaking disappointment, death, and horror that should give you nightmares if you still have the ability to have them.

Anodos (Greek for 'pathless') wakes one morning shortly after his twenty-first birthday when he has taken the responsibilities of the family estate from his deceased father.  His room transforms into a forest meadow and flowing stream and he is sent off to learn his lessons, more-or-less, by his great-grandmother who seems to have something of Fairy Land in her.  These early scenes are quite lovely and stir something of regret in me.  It's almost nostalgia - though for what, I have no idea - and nostalgia is always tinged with sadness.

I'm not going to recount Anodos' episodes in Fairy Land.  They are amazingly varied in tone and feeling.  I have always liked elements of MacDonald's Curdie stories - there are moments when the sudden shock of recognition stolen from a children's story is breathtaking.  Phantastes is the adult version of that.  Only an adult (nope, this is wrong already...  Children know these things too) can grasp the constant experience of failures, mistakes and screw-ups that fill our lives.  Sometimes we despair of ourselves.  Anodos' constant errors and stupidities are the objective correlative of our own lives... or mine, at least.

The stern Presbyterian countenance of George MacDonald is appropriate to his time and his original position as the minister of a non-conformist congregation.  As often happens, his radically orthodox views of Christianity got him into trouble with the elders of his church and he left the pulpit to become a full-time author.  His contemporaries were somewhat in awe of him.  He mentored Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland) knew John Ruskin well, was befriended by Longfellow and Walt Whitman in  America.  Even that crank Twain eventually became friends with MacDonald.

In the middle of this book is the recounting of a story, as outrageous a tale as the rest of the book, about a poor student in Prague.  Cosmo Von Wehrstahl is from a noble family and, like Victor Frankenstein has begun looking to the esoteric writings of Albertus Magnus and Cornelius Agrippa for wisdom and deep learning.  We don't know if his heretical studies cause the following tragedy or are just mentioned to heighten the uncanniness of the story.  Like all good horror stories this one revolves around a mirror.  As Borges taught us, never trust a mirror.  Reflection is a travesty. 

This book isn't long and you could do much worse on a long, rainy Sunday afternoon or on a cool summer night than to pick this up and read it. 

MacDonald taught us that we all have the nature of particular animals and it is part of our job here to determine our own best daemon and that of those around us.  It is the only way we can accurately assess how we respond to this weird life lived one foot in Fairy Land and one foot in the ugliness of modernity. 

"Every one, as you ought to know, has a beast-self -- and a bird-self, and a stupid fish-self, ay, and a creeping serpent-self too -- which it takes a deal of crushing to kill!  In truth he has also a tree-self and a crystal-self, and I don't know how many selves more -- all to get into harmony.  You can tell what sort a man is by his creature that comes oftenest to the front."

                                                                                      Lilith

I know humans whose best daemon is a wise owl, and people whose first animal-self is a loyal terrier.  I also have met those who have the nature of shy lemurs and vile snakes.  It's a mixed bag in this world (oh, what is the Melville quote?  Something about a 'joint stock world')  Unfortunately, we have learned that those in power who do not have an animal daemon are soulless trolls, orcs and goblins.  Don't trust 'em!  Their only goal is to tear things down.  They live for it.  They joy in it.  It is the mark of their abominable selves.

From The Daily Kos

25 May 2017

EXPECTING THE BARBARIANS

What are we waiting for, assembled in the public square?

The barbarians are to arrive today.

Why such inaction in the Senate?
Why do the Senators sit and pass no laws?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today.
What further laws can the Senators pass?
When the barbarians come they will make the laws.

Why did our emperor wake up so early,
and sit(s) at the principal gate of the city,
on the throne, in state, wearing his crown?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today.
And the emperor waits to receive
their chief.  Indeed he has prepared
to give him a scroll.  Therein he engraved
many titles and names of honor.

Why have our two consuls and the praetors come out
today in their red, embroidered togas;
why do they wear amethyst-studded bracelets,
and rings with brilliant glittering emeralds;
why are they carrying costly canes today,
superbly carved with silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today,
and such things dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't the worthy orators come as usual
to make their speeches, to have their say?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today;
and they get bored with eloquence and orations.

Why this sudden unrest and confusion?
(How solemn their faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares clearing quickly,
and all return to their homes, so deep in thought?

Because night is here but the barbarians have not come.
Some people arrived from the frontiers,
and they said that there are no longer any barbarians.

And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

Expecting the Barbarians
C. P. Cavafy

13 April 2017

THE DOUBLE AXE

Tor House and Hawk Tower
I am starting with a picture this time for a very specific reason.  I want you to be impressed and charmed by these buildings that Robinson Jeffers put together by hand from the granite boulders he gathered and quarried at Carmel Point on the Monterey Peninsula in California before I tell you he was a poet.

Jeffers wrote in the morning in Hawk Tower, then worked on it and Tor House in the afternoon.  Certainly a muscular poet.

Poets aren't supposed to be the kind of people who quarry boulders and build towers.  They are expected to be impractical, overwrought, physically weak, effeminate, moody, mentally unbalanced and all the rest.  Tell me it isn't true.

                                            Publishers' Note

The Double Axe and Other Poems is the fourteenth book of verse by Robinson Jeffers published under the Random House imprint...  In all fairness to that constantly interdependent relationship and in complete candor, Random House feels compelled to go on record with its disagreement over some of the political views pronounce by the poet in this volume.  Acutely aware of the writer's freedom to express his convictions boldly and forthrightly and of the publisher's function to obtain for him the widest possible hearing, whether there is agreement in principle and detail or not, it is of the utmost importance that difference of views should be wide open on both sides.  Time alone is the court of last resort in the case of ideas on trial.

Slightly mealy-mouthed on the part of Random House, I still give them great credit for publishing this book.  Published in 1948 shortly after WWII, it can't have been comfortable to put out a collection of poems that were critical of war specifically, but of international intervention of all kinds.  By this time Jeffers was an isolationist.  We don't much like isolationists these days.  And his particular brand looks uncomfortably like Reaction as well.  The notes in the dust jacket are telling, "Robinson Jeffers sees a world bent on self-destruction and takes a stand for complete political isolation."  But the poetry is telling, too.

                                     WE ARE THOSE PEOPLE

I have abhorred the wars and despised the liars,
                                    laughed at the frightened
And forecast victory;   never one moment's doubt.
But now not far, over the backs of some crawling years, the next
Great war's column of dust and fire writhes
Up the sides of the sky:  it becomes clear that we too may suffer
What others have, the brutal horror of defeat -
Or if not in the next, then in the next - therefore watch Germany
And read the future.  We wish, of course, that our women
Would die like biting rats in the cellars, our men like wolves on                                                       the mountain:
It will not be so.  Our men will curse, cringe, obey;
Our women uncover themselves to the grinning victors for bits of
                                       chocolate.

Jeffers grimly tells a past that foresees a similar future.  But with the loss on our side, eventually.   His horror of the horrors of war is no less than the horror he contemplates as our fate one day again;  he knows there will be another world war and another and on and on.  Jeffers' isolationism is fatalistic - he believes we will never cease to concern ourselves in things that are 'not our problem', and the result will eventually destroy us and maybe everybody.

We still believe in the Chestertonian necessity of the war that was WWII, (we are less certain of WWI, because we are ignorant of what it was) to say otherwise today is heresy.  Closer to the day, Jeffers saw it differently.


I like the title of this book of poetry, The Double Axe.  Of course, it is an axe with two blades on each side of the ax-head, but we also see it as a reference to what we usually call a double-edged sword.  The blade may cut an enemy, but be wary of the backswing.  There is a sharp edge there as well.  What else is it?  Could it be two axes swinging at each other, without conscience, inanimate and without motivation except that of the ax men?  And Jeffers won't let you forget that they are men.  Are they executioners?  Paid for a job they have no say in?  Begging forgiveness before dropping the blade on the doomed neck?  There is much here and it should be ambivalent.  We are meant to be uneasy about the metaphor and what it means in a context of war.

                                                  THE INHUMANIST

1

                   "Winter and Summer," the old man says, "rain and                                                    drought;
Peace creeps out of war, war out of peace;  the stars rise and they set;
                             the clouds go north
And again they go south. -- Why does God hunt in circles?
                              Has he lost something?  Is it possible -- himself?
In the darkness between the stars did he lose himself and become
                               godless, and seeks -- himself?"

 Now we are asking ourselves about the circularity of human history and intervention of God into it.  And the old man's God is two-fold:  both God and god.  What does that mean?  Maybe Jeffers' God/god is something other than the omniscient, omnipotent hero of Christianity.  And, of course, then why didn't He/he intervene in the horrors of the death camps and gas chambers?  The questions don't resolve well.  If at all.

6

                            " ... It was a symbol of generation:  the two lobes and the
stiff helve:  so was the Cross before they christened it.  But
this one can clip heads too.  Grimly, grimly.  A blade for
the flesh, a blade for the spirit:  and truth from lies."


PREFACE

The first part of The Double Axe was written during the war and finished a year before the war ended, and it bears the scars; but the poem is not primarily concerned with that grim folly. Its burden, ...is to present a certain philosophical attitude, which might be called Inhumanism, a shifting of emphasis and significance from man to not-man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence.

Jeffers' preface to The Double Axe perhaps asks more questions than it answers.  (Note that the rejection of 'human solipsism' is of a piece with the previous book in the BPL, The Ecological Thought.)  In other words, we may not be all there is, or even much of what there is.

I'm not the first to notice that Trump wields power like a three-year-old with his father's .357.  It seems to go off and he has no idea why.  Not that having any kind of coherent policy would help much.  The damn thing is still going to kill people.  And it may be us.  He is pretty much indiscriminate in those he fires at.  Unintended consequences?  I don't think he cares much.  Shoot first!  Hell, shoot second, third and fourth - kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out. 

Fire!

THE ECOLOGICAL THOUGHT

"Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized."

                                              Graham Harman


"Don't tell me there's no such thing as Nature;  there is, I can see it everywhere."

                                                My wife 

Mom:  "Go play outside."
Me:  "I am outside."
Mom:  "No.  You're in the house.  Go play outside."
Me:  "But the house is IN the outside."

                                'See 
Or shut your eyes,' said Nature peevishly.

                                                 Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came
                                                  Robert Browning

                                                         ***

So, aside from picking fights with my nearest and dearest about the nature of Nature, I am still a right twit.

When architects begin thinking about Inside and Outside in terms of architecture they quickly run into a problem.  The defense mechanism which is architecture tries to build walls and roofs to protect against the 'elements' only to discover that the outside is a creation of human introspection.  What we attempt to make 'the outside' is actually always and only and already 'inside' ourselves.  The only apt dialectic is the inner/outer of the person.  "Human movement and action are exterior to everything;  man is always on the outside..." as Henri Focillon states it.  Once we set aside conventions of 'inside' and 'outside' it becomes obvious that it is we who are the determinant.  Architecture is our attempt to put us inside.  It's an understandable delusion, but a delusion never-the-less. 

The next big thought that might to occur to us is that not only are we always outside, but we are always in space.  We can send bits of metal blasting a little way off the surface of the planet, but we are already out in space - relativity reminded us (told us) long ago that points of reference made all the difference. We can't seem to help still thinking that we are the center of the universe and that out there is everything else.  We know we aren't the center of everything, but we don't know it.  This everyday thing that we do is really just space travel - it's just that everything else in space is traveling too.  (Care to think for a minute about 'time travel'?)


Does this matter in terms of environmental thought?  These are the kinds of fundamental mistakes we make which allow us to put Nature (as if there were such a thing) out there.

"But in looking at the ghost of Nature, modern humans were looking in a mirror.  In Nature, they saw the reflected, inverted image of their own age - and the grass is always greener of the other side.  Nature was always "over yonder," alien and alienated.  Just like a reflection, we can never actually reach it and touch it and belong to it.  Nature was an ideal image, a self-contained form suspended afar, shimmering and naked behind glass like an expensive painting... Wilderness areas are giant, abstract versions of the products hanging in mall windows."


Prof. Morton helps us out:

"The ecological thought is the thinking of interconnectedness.  The ecological thought is a thought about ecology, but it's also a thinking that is ecological.  Thinking the ecological thought is part of an ecological project."

"It is a vast, sprawling mesh of interconnection without a definite center or edge."

Begin contemplating the 'bigness' of the mesh (Morton's word for the image of the ecological thought) and re-integrating the stuff that we have objectified and rigidly categorized into separate compartments (i.e. plants, animals, cities, wastewater, nuclear plants, styrofoam, mountains, CFCs, Disney, etc.) and we should begin to feel more than a bit frightened.  You realize that you can't think your way around or out of it.  And it matters dreadfully.


"We must face some puzzling questions.  What is an environment?  Is there such a thing as the environment?  Is it everything "around" us?  At what point do we stop, it at all, drawing the line between environment and non-environment..."

The Ecological Thought denies absolutely that there is any such thing as 'Nature' out there.  Everything, including the thoughts we have about the ecological thought, is environment.  (I'm starting to have difficulties with the words:  environment, ecology, nature, natural, etc. that Morton doesn't have because he clearly defines his terms as he goes along - I don't have that luxury in this format.  You'll just have to read his book to get the cleaner version of the vocabulary.)

It certainly puts us in a difficult position if we can no longer sit out the events of Lifeworld.  What we have is what we have to live with.  For example, denying Global Climate Change (don't say Global Warming - that's just another rationalization) is a result of human activity doesn't change the fact that it is happening.  So we have to alter its course because we are aware of it.  Morton's analogy is to us seeing a child in the street in imminent danger of being run over by a truck.  It just doesn't do to say, "Well, I'm not driving the truck, so I'm not responsible." You run out and grab the kid before she gets hit. 

"I don't advocate a return to premodern thinking.  The ecological thought is modern."  Morton insists.  The old harangue about returning to pre-Industrial Age lives won't cut it and in fact that kind of talk is an example of 'the problem'.  "There is no metaposition from which we can make ecological pronouncements."  Lifeworld (another Morton-ism) doesn't allow that;  what we have is part and parcel of the mesh.  Talking about putting the train in reverse and going back to some dreamtime of perfection is a fantasy.  (There are extremely serious problems with all nostalgia - there's no denying certain kinds of damaged memory fuck us over when we try to put them into play now.  But that's a discussion for another time.)  Try backing Plutonium out of the now - it's out of the bag and there is no putting it back.  Returning to handsaws and waterwheels won't work us out of the seas of plastic and other virtually eternal waste that already exist.  Arguing that there are different levels/kinds/modes/varieties of existence gets us into the mess we are in.  Nature isn't one thing and Civilization (as in 'I'm getting back to Civilization after a weekend camping') another. 


"Moreover, the form of the ecological thought is at least as important as its content.  It's not simply a matter of what you're thinking about.  It's also a matter of how you think."  And, "A questioning attitude needs to become habitual."  And, "Thinking itself is an ecological event."  That intensity of awareness and thought doesn't come naturally to Americans particularly.  It's more fun to change out our light bulbs because we've been told it will help, than it is to say (with President Obama), "...we can't solve global warming (aargh!) because I fucking changed light bulbs in my house.  It's because of something collective."  That's less fun.

So I'm tempted by the flaws of my 'Green' thinking to add a picture of the Great Plastic Ocean here.  But, as you see, that's part of the problem.  Environment isn't 'out there' and my recycling bin 'in here.'  It's the damn mesh and it isn't easy.


 It's been suggested that I have to change the name of this blog to "The Trump Presidential Library" but I won't do that, because it's all part of the same edifice.  Reagan, Bush, Trump - it's all a continuum.  It should be clear that I believe we are all complicit and responsible for the current shambles, but I also believe that those who have great power deserve to be aggressively criticized for their stupidity, willful ignorance, and evil ideologies.  Yep.  Up, down, sideways - keep kicking them until they pay attention and get it right.

And after reading Prof. Morton's book, put it on the shelves of the BPL or TPL and maybe, someday, they will read it.

Finally:

Mindfulness

I went seeking solitude with
Henry Thoreau lecturing in my head,
Telling me his secrets.
But I couldn't find the pond or
The trees or
The neighbors --
So I sat on the sidewalk with
My feet in the street and
Talked to the pigeons and
Breathed in the exhaust and
Looked at the roses planted in the median.

09 April 2017

O BRAVE NEW WORLD, THAT HAS SUCH PEOPLE IN IT!

So, I have sulked and occasionally blustered for nearly six months.  What now?

I am truly afraid of this new regime, both for us and for me (it's all about me isn't it?)

Years ago a friend, very seriously, told me:  "One day you are going to be called before HUAC!"

For those who have forgotten the secular Inquisition which was the House Un-American Activities Committee, go have a look in cyberspace at the havoc those fuckers wrought in good people's lives.  McCarthy - yeah - but the useful idiots who fanned the flames and made lives hell are the analog to the Trumpites who will pursue the same kind of 'Loyalty First!' agenda.  Just look at the abuses perpetrated by the alphabet soup that is Immigration, Airport Security, Homeland Security, etc. already.  God help us!  (My Gnostic mind reminds me that the demiurge who created this woe-begotten Cosmos absolutely loves this kind of hatred, pain and chaos.  So, no help from God.)

The challenge my friend threw down was simply this, "shut up now while you have the chance.  Someday it will be too late."  Perhaps.

So, as absurd as it may seem, I do fear the knock at the door;  I fear being approached at work and asked to "come with us";  I fear the utter hell such people have already caused with the push of a button or the secret signing of a document.  The Trumpites have made it clear that they have but one standard:  Loyalty.  To what or to whom is a moving target.  In Room 101 we will be reduced to begging, "Just tell me what you want me to believe, what you want me to say..."

I shut down (I thought) this blog forever last November due to this fear.  It just wasn't worth it.  I am, if anything, more afraid now after watching the flying circus which is the 'brave new world.'  The Shakespeare quote titling this post is meant ironically - as if that wasn't obvious.  It is more Huxley than Good Will.  Appalled, not applauding.

Shepard Fairey's OBEY art




The Shepard Fairey OBEY posters were a direct reference to the 1988 John Carpenter film They Live.  I am not willing to do the full David Icke yet, but it is almost as if the Lizard people have begun to tire of their Human suits and are starting to show their true selves.  Carpenter was certainly on to something.

Well, this has become a barrage of pop culture imagery and allusion - all of which I leave to you to untangle.  The point is that I am working up my failing courage to for DJT what I did for GWB.  That is, begin the catalog for his eventual Presidential Library - will it never end?  As Bruce Cockburn put it, "The trouble with normal is it only gets worse."  I am not the first to kindle a bittersweet memory of the Nixon years - equally paranoid and fucked up as the coming Trump years, but with some good legislation.  Unfortunately it also included Hunt, Liddy, Colson, Haldeman, Mitchell, and that supreme evil Henry Kissinger.  Remember that lot when you look at Bannon, Kushner, Schiller, Priebus, Miller, Spicer, and all the others.  It's Instant Karma for American voters who have the attention span of a gypsy moth.



You think I'm kidding?

09 November 2016

27 October 2016

THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE

I have mentioned several times that there exist short volumes of literary criticism which are gems of literature in and of themselves:  Auden's The Enchafèd Flood; Bloom's Hamlet: Poem Unlimited; Tillyard's Poetry Direct and Oblique and a few others.  Well, here's another.  And another by Harold Bloom.

I am not going to say much about this book which may have unsettled academic literary criticism for decades for at least three reasons:  I am simply not qualified.  It is clearly brilliant, but immensely difficult and may adequately be discussed only by those who have read, written and trained for a lifetime in the Academic Humanities.  That isn't me, as is painfully obvious.  My second reason for reticence is akin to the first - I haven't read nearly enough to follow intelligently Prof. Bloom's arguments.  Primarily I am unequipped in Freud (as literary critic, not scientist of psychiatry) and Nietzsche and will most likely remain so for the rest of my life.  I simply don't have time to make the necessary exhaustive study of these pillars of the West.  Finally, this book is going to percolate in my mind for years.  It took me years to attack and finish it properly and will take even more time to seep through, color all my reading and bring me to conclusions.  Anything here too extensive is simply premature.

Bloom's subtitle A Theory of Poetry is a massive understatement.

"This short book offers theory of poetry by way of a description of poetic influence, or the story of intra-poetic relationships.  One aim of this theory is corrective:  to de-idealize our accepted accounts of how one poet helps to form another.  Another aim, also corrective, is to try to provide a poetics that will foster a more adequate practical criticism."

But, properly, this book is much more than simply a statement of first principles or even latter principles.  It is an autobiography of a Reader.  Bloom claims to never have tried his hand at poetry (there is one novel in his bibliography, but we will pass over it silently.)  But he also insists that Criticism is of a piece with poetry.  It is belated (to use his word) poetry which is profoundly under the influence of all poetic precursors.  It isn't quite 'cognitive music' per se, but it strives for meaning against prior poets in a way which we find unsettlingly similar to the way in which poets themselves compete.

Bloom tells the story of The Anxiety of Influence several times in other books, but I am going to quote here another of his literary autobiographies.  This one a not-too-close to the end of life, we hope, consolidation and meditation on much of what he has been writing throughout his long academic life.  This is from The Anatomy of Influence:

(Northrop) "Frye's influence on me lasted twenty years but came to an abrupt halt on my thirty-seventh birthday, July 11, 1967, when I awakened from a nightmare and then passed the entire day in composing a dithyramb, "The Covering Cherub; or, Poetic Influence."  Six years later that had evolved into The Anxiety of Influence..."

(Oh, I had to look up 'dithyramb' too:  'a passionate or inflated speech, poem, or other writing...)

Passionate it surely is.  'Inflated'?  Perhaps to his many critics.  But as difficult as the concepts are, it is clearly a central work in modern literary theory.  Anyone who says otherwise is just itchin' for a fight.

I want to take a moment here to quote the opening verse from Wallace Stevens' An Ordinary Evening in New Haven which precedes the Introduction.

                                                       ...A more severe,

More harassing master would extemporize
Subtler, more urgent proof that the theory
Of poetry is the theory of life,

As it is, in the intricate evasion of as....

Bloom then writes 150 pages on the subject of evasion.  While that seems an unlikely pairing - Influence and Evasion - Bloom makes kind of clear exactly how it works.  He employs six categories of influence and how each works on the strong poet.  Weak poets need not apply for Bloom's Anxiety - they, according to him, accept and wallow in the earlier poets who overwhelm and stifle better writers.  This theory is about the agon, the struggle for supremacy between the masters.

I think that's all I have for now.  It isn't even a rough outline of a great book.  It barely nods to the central idea, but as I said, it will be years before I am ready and even then...

In a couple weeks DJT is either going to take the White House in a surprise triumph for his millions of his idiot disciples in which case I am done for.  Or he will be buried in a landslide of electoral humiliation, after which his mindless drones will rise up and overthrow the Democracy.  Either way,  we're fucked.

24 October 2016

A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC

In the 1980's a fellow I knew told me a story of vacationing in Florida.  He and his wife were at a bar and he stepped away to use the bathroom or buy flake or something and he returned to the bar to find Shel Silverstein in his spot, hitting on my friend's wife.

Let's just say I don't think Shel Silverstein was Mr. Rogers.

Actually, Silverstein pervades modern American culture in a slightly weird way.  We know him because we bought his poetry books (A Light in the Attic, The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, etc.) for our children.  Sometimes we read the poems to our children, but most people just picked 'em up at Costco or Barnes and Noble and dumped 'em on their kids at Christmas in a lame attempt to give them something other than video games.  A few of us (yes, I am a strange, low-brow snob) read the poems to the kiddies at bedtime and, very oddly, the lines have become part of our family-speak.  But he also wrote a number of the pop songs of our lives.  I was in middle school when someone gave me a 45 (don't start!) of Silverstein dramatically reading Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout.  I wore the grooves out (again, don't start!)  I had no idea who this guy was or that this was even poetry, but it was effing hilarious.  When I came across the poem again in the book I bought for my children I just had to commit it to memory.  My now-adult daughters can still recite great swaths (that's the poetic word we use) of it at the drop of a hat.


He wrote the Johnny Cash hit A Boy Named Sue and the Rovers hit The Unicorn (which you would readily recognize if you heard it.) and won two Grammys.  He wrote that stupid Dr. Hook tune, The Cover of 'Rolling Stone' which I loved when I was in junior high.  And he wrote the song Meryl Streep sings brilliantly at the end of the unfairly ignored movie Postcards From the Edge (an autobiographical film by Carrie Fisher - yep, Princess Leia):  "I'm Checkin' Out". He co-wrote a screenplay with David Mamet and his songs were included in the movies Almost Famous, Thelma and Louise, and Coalminer's Daughter.

He was a Korean War veteran, drew cartoons for Pacific Stars and Stripes while he was in the military and later drew cartoons for Playboy in the 1950's and 60's.  So, what have you done?  Sorry.  I include myself in that.

But when you read the children's poetry he wrote you find a mind working to humorously Subvert the Dominant Paradigm.  It's one true way to kick the shins out from under the cultural morass that we have saddled ourselves with.  I hope it gave my children a healthy skepticism regarding normative behavior and thought.  They certainly look askance at pretty much everything and I think Silverstein contributed to that healthy turn of mind.

The poems are sometimes clunky and occasionally fail, but the truth is that they mostly operate on a slightly different level than even regular 'direct' verse (see below on 'Oblique and Direct Verse'.)  But they are incredibly charming and easy to remember and recite.  Along with the mnemonic cartoons which are also subversive in a slightly bland, but suggestive way the verse becomes what we shall call 'booger' humor (following columnist Dave Barry's suggestion) and fun.

 This is the modern beginning of a entire genre of Children's literature that doesn't blink or look away at the daily realities of a child's life.  A great deal of children's publishing is built on Shel's foundation.  We eat, we see garbage, we poop, our parents fight, we have weird bodies with things that stick out or in, we don't always like our siblings or parents or teachers or even our friends.  The light is shone on all of this and we get to acknowledge what was once considered too rude to mention.  It may have all gone a bit too far since (some authors seem to think that offensiveness for its own sake is the point - it isn't) but it started here and we should be grateful to Silverstein for making it available to the Common Consciousness.

The subversive nature of ill-behaved children has a long honorable history in children's lit.  Going back, at least, to Mother Goose and The Brothers Grimm and popping into awareness in the fundamental character at the heart of Lewis Carroll's great books, Alice: the child who acts out in defiance of poorly thought out, insanely enforced, just fucking stupid adult rules is central to the way we teach children.  Yep, children should behave, but not always and not ever in the proscribed social ways we think they should follow.  Every one of us knows this, but it is somehow bad form to admit it.  That's why we have literature of this sort.  It is a way of objectifying certain ideas or reifying others so they may be comprehended by undeveloped minds and put into practice daily.  It is critical to a functioning world to have children who fight against idiot adults.  But children have to learn the proper ways to subvert (there's that word again) the dominant.  It requires imagination and critical thinking;  it requires subtlety and a razor wit;  and it requires great strength and energy.  If a child puts her fist in your face, literally or metaphorically, don't look at the fist!  Look at the face and find the TRUTH they are in communication with that makes them tell you to "Go Fuck Yourself!"  It's there, or may be and it is your responsibility to find it, nurture it and help it discover a way cut the legs out from under whatever stupid rule you've presented her with.  Sometimes they are wrong, but more often they are right and you are a fool.  Never fail to see how absurd you look to her - imagine living in a world of giants, built for giants, with weird giant rules and then imagine how hard it would be to just go along with it all the time.
(Well, it's obverse of the image I was attempting, but it rather makes the point.)

Sometimes Silverstein was brilliant and sometimes he was sentimental (that's not a compliment) and sometimes he just gave us a laugh.


If this ditty doesn't stick in your head on a single reading, then you've been big far too long.  So just get the books out and read them aloud, whether you have children there or not.  It won't be wasted time.  You may remember how and why to be skeptical of a world that makes up stupid, fucking rules that no one - least of all a brilliant child - should follow.

That's my beef with the world.  Too many adults or people who think they are acting as adults should.  It's like the so-called Christian Church.  There never has been anything more un-Christlike in the the history of the world as the Christian Church.  It's the nature of institutions, I suppose - as if that's an excuse.  They usually suck.  And just to keep in the spirit of the thing, I can't think of anyone less child-like, less Jesus-like, less human or humane than DJT.  Even Dick Cheney must be gasping at the unfathomable fuckwittedness of The Donald.  He has surpassed all the hopes and dreams of a party (now that's a misnomer!) that has worked so hard to achieve a nastiness not to be believed since Vlad the Impaler.  Yeah, yeah - I'm happily indulging in excessive hyperbole, but I don't feel much like firing the trebuchets when I have therms and a red button to push.


Good children, smart children know that sometimes you just have to make a bully pay.  To hell with the fallout...

04 October 2016

DOWN THE STYX

Lawrence Durrell was considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature along with Karen Blixen and Robert Graves when it was awarded to John Steinbeck in 1962.  No one, including Steinbeck, thought the committee had made the correct choice.  The fact Durrell and the others were passed over, however, is no shame.  They are in very good company and the failures of Nobel in this field may simply be due to the vagaries of the tastes of particular eras.  As Harold Bloom writes, "Cultural prophecy is always a mug's game," or as he puts it elsewhere, "Contingency governs literature as it does every cognitive enterprise..." and I am safe (sharing the opinion with Bloom) in suspecting that many current literary heroes and winners of  prizes will be eventually ignored.  Such is the thrust of literary criticism and the great canonical question, "more than, less than, equal to..."          


But, back to Durrell.

This voyage "Down the Styx" is as British a travelogue as one could wish.  As central in the genre as any travel book by Bill Bryson, though perhaps with fewer laugh-out-loud moments, but not without great humor.

"Dear Auntie Prudence" he begins as pleasant an epistolary start as any maiden aunt could hope.  Though expectations unravel quickly,

I am writing to reassure you about the journey.  There is no cause for alarm.  It is very simply done and many facilities are available.  If you were one of the quick while living everything will be all right...  They will bring you down to the water's edge with the obol sewed into your mouth for safety and leave you alone to wait for Charon.

Uh,  this is disturbing.  The only Charon I know ferries the dead into Hades.  And who looks forward to coins sewn into their mouths?  Well, travel is travel wherever one is going.

There will be no sign of the black barge as yet, but do not get impatient... Spend the time in re-arranging your emotional luggage and drawing on your long white gloves.

The funeral is over and we are on our way.  Or at least Auntie Prudence is with directions from her dear nephew Lawrence.

This book is short.  Just twenty-three pages continuing in the same mode, the text overlaid on tinted Doré engravings of Hades.  Apparently there are just 800 of the softcover copies printed for the Capricorn Press.  But the text itself in other forms shouldn't be hard to come by.




 That dreadful picture above is on the limited edition softcover.  It is a watercolor by Durrell himself unfortunately.  I might have encouraged him to forgo the credit and find another illustrator, but it has some Primitive charm, I guess.


This is a reproduction of one of the Doré prints from the book.  Don't be misled though.  The print is strangely tinted and overlaid by a blank box containing Durrell's text.

You will enter.  You, the ghost of Prudence will enter, clean and shining like a knife-blade;  you will enter like a sacred wafer between the lips of Christ...  There will be nothing to say.  Simply sit down...for a short rest, and absently begin to count the spokes of your umbrella.  The worst is over.  Trust in your inner ghost and be upright.  Let me kiss you on the forehead and wish you Bon Voyage in the black barge, my dear.  It is all I can do.

                                                                  Your affectionate nephew, Lawrence

It is a sweet and homely sendoff to the afterlife and dear Auntie Prudence must have been deeply comforted.  I particularly like the image of the dowager idly counting the spokes of her umbrella and waiting patiently to forget.  It is the pagan or perhaps Gnostic farewell so typical of Durrell.

I have no consoling sendoff of my own for the blackened souls of the BushTrumps.  They deserved no  comforting words.  Forgetfulness is too good for them - let them remember for eternity... Now there's a Hell for you.  Or them, I mean.

29 September 2016

CONCRETE ISLAND

As I read J. G. Ballard's queer novel I kept thinking, "there are no places like this - they don't really exist."  But driving around even my small home city I realized that they weren't just there, they were really there... Here.  Like nightmare areas in my brain that I refused to acknowledge, once I started seeing them, I couldn't stop:  Concrete Islands.


Architect Rem Koolhaas calls them 'Junkspace.'

"If space-junk is the human debris that litters the universe, junk-space is the residue mankind leaves on the planet.  The built... product of modernization is not modern architecture but Junkspace.  Junkspace is what remains after modernization has run its course or, more precisely, what coagulates while modernization is in progress, its fallout.  Modernization had a rational program:  to share the blessings of science, universally.  Junkspace is its apotheosis, or meltdown... Although its individual parts are the outcome of brilliant inventions, lucidly planned by human intelligence, boosted by infinite computation, their sum spells the end of Enlightenment, its resurrection as farce, a low-grade purgatory..." 

In an Hegelian moment, I prefer to think of Junkspace and Concrete Islands as the ultimate expression of Enlightenment. Not as unplanned detritus, but as ineluctable outcome - real apotheosis.

Concrete Islands in the Ballard sense are those isolated greenspaces built into highway design.  They are those areas that urban explorers or, as they often call themselves, Infiltrators, love.  They seem unreachable, even impregnable, but are inevitably populated by the homeless.  Look at any area on your morning commute, usually blocked by concrete walls and cyclone fencing along the highway.  In a mockery of the medieval walled garden they are landscaped, planted with roses and groundcover, unconvincingly camouflaged by
shrubs and hedges - tarted up - and virtually invisible to us. They are spaces wasted by the extravagance of the modern commuter, inner-city highway.  As Koolhaas notes, they are conspicuous consumption of space through capitalist overspending;  something like the slag pits associated with strip mining.  They are vanishing reminders that we have so much in the way of resources, we can readily afford to waste some.  Again, like clear-cutting forests where we can take only the old growth, largest trees and simply burn the smaller, less profitable growth.

Robert Maitland, thirty-five-year-old, very successful, London architect (lovely obvious touch of Ballard's) drives his Jaguar far too fast and crashes off the ramp of an elevated roadway on his way home one night.  No one observes his accident and he finds himself first physically injured, then mentally incapacitated by the experience.  The island is an isolationist's nightmare, filled with more broken vehicles and even the walls of a small neighborhood wrecked by the construction of the highway.  The destroyed village in the island is a touching monument to both the ravages of civilization and to the domestic life Maitland has wasted and broken.

Maitland, severely injured, simply assumes his safety is inevitable and rescue is imminent.  But as days slip by and his aborted efforts at escape pile up, he begins to recognize that he is truly stranded and that the island is an exterior representation of his own mind.  Robinson Crusoe-like he cannibalizes his car and the relics in it to effect some level of comfort and jury-rig some way of getting free of his trap.  Having split his time, openly, between a home with his wife and son and an apartment with his mistress, he has no hope of being missed soon enough - it will simply be assumed by each that he is with the other. 

   "He realized, above all, that the assumption he had made repeatedly since his arrival on the island - that sooner or later his crashed car would be noticed by a passing driver or policeman, and that rescue would come as inevitably as if he had crashed into the central reservation of a suburban dual carriageway - was completely false, part of that whole system of comfortable expectations he had carried with him."

Ballard eventually gives Maitland two grotesques as company and possible means of escape:  a severely brain-damaged former circus performer (Proctor - I can't help admiring Ballard's character names) and an equally mentally ill prostitute (named, in another nice Ballardian way, Jane Sheppard).  Not exactly Fridays to his Crusoe they play a weird psychological game with him involving dependence and control and deluded hope for all three of them.  It is a dreadful, grim parody of the three-way life he carries on with his wife and lover.

My local library lists the book in the genre of Science Fiction which seems absurd to me;  as absurd as calling Robinson Crusoe Science Fiction.  It seems to me that there is only one fantastic element to the story and that is the creeping suspicion that the island is becoming larger and larger and will eventually encompass an entire world.  It is the mental breakdown of paranoia.  The little thing becomes everything and I, for one, don't like it much.

Eventually it becomes difficult to discern if Maitland is hallucinating, lucid or even perhaps, in a way, dying and reflecting on his lost life.  I can't say.

   "In a few hours it would be dusk.  Maitland thought of (his wife) Catherine and his son.  He would be seeing them soon.  When he had eaten it would be time to rest, and to plan his escape from the island." 

This is our dilemma.  Shipwrecked and victimized by our own complacency - our own comfortable expectations - we are now faced with a kind of mortality.  Are we so injured that we can't effect our own escape or do we even want to any more?  The former would be horrible, but the latter seems even more hellishly likely.  Escaping Trump's Nativism is absolutely mandatory, otherwise we become, not Crusoe-like, but Kurtz-like from Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  We will have gone too far into the dark heart to return alive.  Finally, the rest of the civilized world will proclaim our sole epitaph, "He dead...."

Librarian's note:  If you vaguely recognize the author's name, it may be due to two major films made of his work by Hollywood.  Oscar-nominated "Crash" and the autobiographical "Empire of the Sun" were both made from Ballard novels.  As a side note, one of the few films I have been impressed by in the past few years was The Machinist starring Christian Bale.  I was interested to discover that Bale and his director for The Machinist had optioned (stupid, ugly word that really means nothing tangible to me, but seems to be a thing in Hollywood) this Ballard book to make into a movie.  Alas, that was apparently abandoned years ago and it seems unlikely now.  Sigh....