Monday, March 26, 2007


Have I mentioned to you folks before that I have an enemy? I can't recall now. I do, though. It's a person I despise. The worst student I've ever had, with some brains but nearly pathetic laziness, total unreliability, and an ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong time that is peerless keeps following me around. Or perhaps I follow him around (it's a male). Everywhere I go, it's the same giant already there or right on my heels. The giant isn't Nemesis (male) and doesn't seem to be persecuting me for any particular crime, except making him what he is. Obviously, I'm talking about William Wilson.

Anyway, today is springtime for William Wilson and recrimination. It's a morning full of haze, in which no one can wake with a full spring in the step, and the air feels like a humidifier stuck on full, already warm at six AM. The Tarheels lost in the round of eight last night, thanks to my wearing unlucky boxer shorts. (All yellow underwear is unlucky and should be worn only when no matter of consequence is uncertain.) Coach Williams was very upset, and so was I. It's a bad time, I suppose to go "off meds and out of therapy," as one State Department official said of a Department of Defense fellow. "Night entangled trees" give way to thick fleshed flowers making a dim mosaic through the fog of a day just getting a running start on becoming a blister.

Could the same air, the same flowers, the same dim dawn, be a florid melange of scents and delirium, if things were better? I'm not sure even Walt Whitman could have enjoyed these overbred southern mornings.

At any rate, William Wilson (the bad one) has dictated to me. It is in a fog that we meet, after all, and in the fog that shots could be fired, but, of course, they never are. Instead, there are two who go in and two who come out. I have always had a kind of out-of-sync S.A.D. Most people get bummed in winter and cheer in summer, but I get bummed in Spring and Fall. As the hazes and blooms appear and vanish, I get out of sorts, physically and emotionally, and my doppleganger nears me, pistol drawn. Poe's fog (I'm referring to a story here, you know? I have been throughout... does no one click on links?) is assumed to be the result of psychology. It's supposed to be confusion. I don't think so. I think it's a fog made of mist. Also note that it thickens by rivers and schools, which is another piece of verisimilitude, because I think William Wilson hangs out by the schoolhouse most of the time.

September is usually pleasant. April is not. September's massacre of vegetation always seems to me to be a scourging. The world sheds its display and recants its boasts. The trees drop their lies and pretenses and go back to being trunks and limbs. Bushes stop all the deception and trickery and leave the bees alone. The only unpleasant part is the lawns of the great middle class (from $18,000 to $950,000 per year in income) dying. They go brown and tan in a truly hideous scrofula of vegetation in Autumn, but the fault lies not with the season but with the lies of the people who sacrificed six months of ugliness for three months of constant care and green ground for hiding animal defecation. Autumn merely shows them the truth and strips away their braggadocio.

Spring, though, has the activity of a shout, the truth value of an orgy. Every lifeform begins to sacrifice for display. The world becomes an amorous bachelor or hopeless maiden at a singles bar, going into debt to look nice. Animal and vegetable alike put on their hairdos and hope that the rain doesn't wash them out. They go for broke with their credit cards and arrive at destitute, and all for the chance at a chance at releasing their pent up sex.

"Birds build -- but not I build" is the most bitterly rending line in all of poetry. At times, I could pray with the poet for rain, but virtually never can I understand how he can find a growth that appeases the pain of Spring. Instead, I go back into the fog and haze of an intemperate morning and conclude that the real problem with William Wilson is that he's a lousy shot.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Oh, yeah? Well, make me!

Lucinda Williams is a good singer and songwriter, and her records are interesting. Her new record, "West," is more matured than "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road." The latter had seemed almost to deliver several times what the performer intended, to need just a little more cooking before being taken out of the oven. On "West," the songs deliver what they promise. When they promise raunchiness, they deliver it.

On the song, "Come on!" she complains about a lover or a man or a something -- the object of her complaint is identified only as "You." You know how bad You is. You do most of the good and bad things in the world. Well, You "are so self-involved/ You're in some kind of fawg," according to Ms. Williams. If you think that's bad, though, she is quite clear about one point, "You didn't even make me/ Come on!" She makes that observation 38 times -- roughly once every six seconds -- and it seems to be important for that. How could you!

Ok, so let's except the usual language games -- You know -- "didn't make me" vs. "didn't make me come on" vs. "didn't make me, come on!" Let's call a spade a spade and a flower a flower and a bloom a bloom. What gets me is not the amateurishness of the reference but the verb of it.

You didn't make her? Could you perhaps have persuaded her? I know I would prefer to persuade my lover to come on or, at most, urge her to do. I could show her how it would be in her best interests. I could lead her to. I might, if lucky, have her come on unbidden. It could even be her idea once in a while. I wouldn't even mind if she didn't make me come on, too.

It isn't Lucinda Williams being smutty that makes this phrase curious, either. Rather, we have it in everyday (locker room) speech. Boys and girls, boys and boys, girls and girls, girls and boys, all speak of making someone. I believe in making love, as that suggests a collaborative building project; it is the making of creating. I do not believe in making a person experience joy, as that suggests being outside of the event. It is the making of coercion, of manipulation, of control. It's curious that we have this idiom. It seems to mean that, deep down, we see love as a thing we are within, even in sexual congress, but that the culmination of sexual pleasure is inflicted or controlled.

Teri Garr, in "Tootsie," does a parody of the "liberated woman" by saying that she is in charge of her own orgasms. Well, that's cute. However, the humor that we can derive from laughing at that parody depends entirely upon either being mean spirited or understanding that she is pretending that orgasms are her possession, or at least her voluntary actions, like lies. The people who laughed at that line (if they weren't just laughing because there was a cue to laugh and the idea of an empowered woman made them want to laugh) were aware that it was silly to think of orgasms in such a silly way. Are these people laughing because someone has to "make" you?

I would recommend, here and now, a campaign against the controlling "make" ever being used in connection with arousal or fulfillment. You do not make me whole. You do not make me love you. You do not make me get into a state of exaggerated arousal. We make love. We make pleasure, as two people constructing a thing, not as master and slave, victim and controller.

Well, at least that's how I feel. I hope I haven't made you mad.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dealing with Doubts

"Once granted the first step, I can see that everything else follows -- Tower of Babel, Babylonian captivity, Incarnation, Church, bishops, incense, everything -- but what I couldn't see, and what I can't see now, is why did it all begin?" -- Mr. Pendergrast, in Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall

Of course the answers to "why" are everywhere and anywhere. Mr. Pendergrast is a fool, as most characters in Waugh's novels are, with only the novelist not one. Waugh is reassuring in that way. Unlike other satirists, he gives us a nice us and them, and I say this not to belittle him in any way. It's a good thing to occasionally find some satire where the bad guys are stupid and the author isn't one of them and where the reader gets a chance to share the joke with the author, rather than being the butt of it. It's the sort of satire that has necessarily gone out of vogue.
(Pretty picture, isn't it? I took it. It's the sky in the year 2000.)

I'm reminded of... Oh, heck, that would be cheating.

No, I've changed my mind. I'm reminded of Job's answer from God: put on your big boots, when you ask questions like that. I'm reminded of a lot of other answers, too. The world exists to explain itself. 42. It exists to ask itself why. I like God's answer to Job better. God tells Job that he is part of the creation, that he is a character, not the narrator. Like Mr. Pendergrast, he is a fool, and only the creator of the world gets to be free of the taint of ignorance. Man might bite the apple from the Knowledge of Good from Evil, but that's not the same thing as the apple of planting the garden.

Knowing good from evil is a deadly knowledge, for it means participation in good and evil. Before such knowledge, there is no evil. After such knowledge, evil is within you. Once there is evil, there is decay and death. What, then, is the stem of knowing why? What is it to know why a world is created, except participation in creation and therefore in negation. In other words, if Job could know why he was born, he could know fully how he could be not made.

I don't want to be gnomic, or a hippie, but to know something is to enclose it, to have it both in its positive and negative. To know a hamburger is to know the state before eating it, during eating it, and after eating it. (I say this because a hamburger is not an object, but a food, and a food is only eaten.) To know good and evil means knowing both the good and the evil, having them both within one's mind, having the action of obedience to God and disobedience to God. (Thus, picking the apple and eating the apple made the swallowing of the apple irrelevant. Once they had done the first bit, they knew good and evil. Note that they knew it without the expulsion from Eden. Evil has nothing to do with punishment or even suffering.)

So, Mr. Pendergrast wants to know why the universe was created. He doesn't want to know why it is the way it is -- figures that all makes sense once it gets created -- but what could make the creator go to the trouble. Other people have puzzled that one, too. Plato figures that God would be far too contented to move. The Stoics need randomness. Even pure empiricists need a something of unknown quality to trigger a boom. Well, don't look to me to answer the question, because I have only the vaguest guesses.

What does occur to me, though, is that the character can never know her own non-iteration. A piece of the machine can never see the machine it is in. It cannot hold within its mind the lack of a system. I cannot see beyond my horizon, for my horizon always moves with me.

I just saw Stranger than Fiction, and I rather enjoyed it. It was a bauble, but it was a very pleasant and well constructed one in all respects, and I even tolerated that dreadful comic in the starring role. However, the person inside the grid never knows who drew the lines.

You can't know your narrator. You can't know your genre. You can't know why the world was created. You can't trust any answer you get about these things. I would argue that you cannot even be sure if you were to get knowledge through revelation. The process of understanding what you were told would transmute the message into something comprehensible, and comprehensible means cut to measure to fit the world you inhabit.

The moral of this story? Well, it could be awfully nihilistic or irresponsible, but I don't think it should be. One thing clear is that we are creative creatures, narrators, tellers of all sorts. Furthermore, we are molested day and night by responsibility for the stories we tell and over the creatures we make. Do they fit well with the stories of others? Do they mesh with the stories that made us? Do they fit with what we can tell of the grand story? Nothing can allay that worry, and nothing should.

We have no knowledge of telling and not telling. To suggest that that gives us an excuse to just live our lives without regard for the shape of the story is logically inconsistent. We could only "go about our business" if we knew that such was part of the story, and the fact is that we don't. We don't know either way, and therefore we cannot take comfort in our ignorance. It wouldn't even be a question, except that we keep telling stories ourselves. We are compulsive. This is not a good or bad thing, but simply the function of us as characters. We are compulsive in fretting, and this, too, is neither good nor bad. We do go about our business when we anxiously look to the skies and wonder whether or not we're starring in the play because by doing that we reflexively tell a story.