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Literary Notes from the Blue of Mountains

It is what you make it to be.....

"Dying each others life, living each others death..." Heraclitus

A writer writes because he has absolutely no power in the world. And the world contains vistas of power that dives down on the innocent at the least expected moment.

The writer has a relation to the power that wants to move him, kill him, change him, punish him, control him, entertain him and the rest of it.

Between the powerless writer and the object of power are words and concepts.

A writer who starts with the motive, "I will become a powerful writer like Hemingway" must change his attitude or is doomed. No, the writer who would do something must say, "I am powerless and I must develop a language or story or concept in relation to that which would kill me, control me, take me away, steal my soul, or even seduce me from my language."

And at the moment you are absolutely powerless, when you are along the flat horizon of the world without, as my aunt used to say, "a pot to piss in," then you either find the words to ward off the power or have a relation to it or you die or you simply wither away in some helpless condition.

The groves of academe

A writer is told, "stay out of academia." That was a common wisdom that came down the pike, sometimes by bitter writers who felt neglected by the literary culture. In college I took Victorian prose and poetry classes and read John Henry Newman among others. I took one Shakespeare class. I took a wonderful short-stories-of-the-world class taught by a famed Arabic scholar. I took mostly journalism classes.

The odd thing was that when I left college I was certain I knew it all. Then just a few short years later I was scrambling to learn everything over again. The crux moment is when the prophylactic of college is taken off and the raw thing is there smelling of decay. Reality cuts through even the proud mind and makes it change. This is very obvious after the fact as I watch higher education go through its thirty year change.

When I went to college there was an enormous rebellion going on. It was one that I generally supported. I saw the logic of the new. Most assumptions developed in the university at that time I took as gospel and went on my way after graduation. By the time I returned to my home town of Berkeley, though, only a few years out from leaving school I could see the incipient pc-ism and laughed a good laugh. "Ah, they have been successful and a great cul de sac awaits them." I never returned my attention to the university.

It's interesting to note that just when higher education became liberal/radical, the political culture became conservative. And I suspect that we are in the same shift, all in the opposite direction, and in five years the conservatives will swoop down and low into the universities and take them over again. And over time they will make the same mistakes as the PC crowd and will have to be moved out in thirty years.

The mistake is a classic one. A problem is sighted. In the case of the 60's and 70's it was the exclusion of minorities and women from participating in the culture, provincialism among the American people, and the need to puncture every establishment myth that had led to Vietnam, racism, and the brink of nuclear war. Now, however, the problem is a deep lack of knowledge on the part of American students in a world that will produce advanced students to compete in the global marketplace, alienation touted as a badge of honor, cynicism that stops of flow of curiosity, the need to produce dedicated, critical thinking liberal democratic citizens, among other problems.

The problems are sighted and a lot of adrenaline is created to solve the problems. But an institution that doesn't have checks and balances is going to get corrupt and savor its power and protect its ideology. This happened to universities just as it happened to the Soviet bureaucracy. Instead of innovation, new ideas, fresh streams the establishment of the university relies on old myths and will defend those old myths to the very end. Reality finally catches up to them and, poof, they are removed from history.

When the myth cracks apart anything is possible. That will happen on campus as assuredly as it happened in the old Soviet Union.

Outside the boundaries of the grove

When I was 25 I discovered that I knew less than I thought I did and wasn't prepared for anything, much less a writing life. This humiliation drove me to the books, the libraries, the bookstores where I opened my curiosity like a wonderful wound and let everything come in. The horizontal and vertical horizons expanded a good deal during those years. And I often wonder what would have happened had I not felt the need to do this. I would have either gone into the private sector or the public sector and been cut off from these horizons. I would have learned exactly what I needed to learn for my job and career and spent the rest of the time developing a wonderful life-style.

I know I would not have become a writer.

And I know now why a writer is instructed not to stay in academia.

December 9, 2006

A writer asks at different stages of his development: "What is the imperative of the art and craft I do?" In other eras it was to draw portraits of people and societies. Or to dramatize the central values of a particular culture. Today, however, in a liberal democracy it is to express the fullness of the writers experience and knowledge, demonstrate the growth and development of the self, and finally top it all off with some wisdom as the mind looks back at the grand adventure. An adventure no more or less than anyone else's adventure in life. What the writer tries to do is keep his medium open-ended and pushing the envelope of his experience and knowledge back and back to see what can be revealed.

This can be expressed as an absurdity or as a positive thing I suppose. The absurdity has won out but has probably laughed itself to death. The imperative no longer is to laugh at the present but to build the future. This is what it means to go from one epoch to another. The terrorists and George Bush have both amply demonstrated the powers of destruction and absurdity. As I said in one column I wrote, "more than just the towers fell that day...."

The writer should always be way ahead of the critic. The critics are still bowed down and suffering in the stink pot of pessimism and de-construction and a variety of Marxist or fundamentalist theories on writing, art, and literature. But the writer can see that a culture that knows the surgical ways to destroy anything whether political opponents, rival family members, rival poetic schools, old books, etc. is a culture that, like the addict, hits rock-bottom before it understands it's in a deeper hole than it suspected.

October 30, 2006

Take two men, each confronted with very complex decisions to make about their own lives. Implicit in their personal decisions is a larger, more profound decision of meaning related between the unconscious and conscious minds.

One of the men decides he will accept and adapt the assumptions of the time he lives in; what is most successfully embodied either in private or professional life. He will adapt this as his working creed. This, as he looks outside himself, is what he takes into himself to lay the foundation out of which eternal conflicts will be resolved by decisions he makes.

He too, in time, will come to embody the successes which have preceded him. They will inform all his activity. If he works in a lab he will assiduously cultivate his own success ab novo. In the end he smiles wistfully and obeys the myth of his successes. "Well," he'll say to himself, "after all..."

Later he will discover his whole life has been commanded by relationships based on hearsay. He loved the womb-like equilibrium that shuffled his life upward and onward.

Lesson: Equilibrium, even, slowly decays and ends in the same pot everyone else has pissed in.

The other man takes a leap in the dark where there is no relationship. There's only some intimation of light here, the circumference of evil there and he floating naked with only the knowledge that it was, after all, himself that leapt and who made the choice to leap.

He relates to what he can not see; only trust. Perhaps he stumbles and fails miserably but he will be the one to break open the dark rooms of his mind and heart.

Even if he were to fail for eternity, the writer would trust this man over the other man.

At a certain point they need each other and this "center point," creates "society."

* * * * * * * *

A terrible habit in some writers: The habit of eulogizing the self; always seeing his future in the past tense.

* * * * * * * *

The personality reflects the battles of the generation one is born into. The spirit reflects the battles of eternity.

* * * * * * * *

In America one has to distinguish between abundance and glut.

September 30, 2006

A writer learns much when he is alone in a city. In the abundance of nature it is a divine thing to be alone.But in a city, no, it is not a good thing.

The writer eventually discovers the art of walking through all the avenues of the city. It is the hinge of community through the sincere, quiet architecture or unselfconscious playing of kids, even the bad things as when a stranger is followed with the suspicious eyes of neighbors or ungodly looks as one passes fellow human beings.

The city has a kind of pure intelligence. It is different than what one gets in nature but it a quality of intelligence.

The man keeps walking while telling himself, "I have lived rationally no matter what anyone says." He thinks to himself that you don't want to sever the root too quickly but, then, you don't want the root to double up and choke the growth that is potentially there. Sometimes the whole of youth is spent in finding the tension between them.

And then we drive along the fluid sickness, among the perversity of machine life. One second of thinking could cost a man his life. What was once conceived of as freedom and perhaps was a freedom, degenerates into its opposite.

That is a nice literary law.

The angry faces. The repressed violence. The glee for destruction. There's always a grotesque force that reminds one that something has gone a kilter. He gets used to it at the expense of good sense.

Does this necessity truly pull a man from the inside out, to a goal he believes in?

August 31, 2006

Out in the public, stripped of all identity and subject to the common judgment one finally comes to the conclusion that there are universes which, despite the fact he understands many aspects of them, are impenetrable to everything but curiosity. He begins to realize that he needs to cultivate his own universe of interest and protect himself against the penetration of the others, especially by that huge dragon of an official universe known as politics and economy. He understands them. He admires them from a distance.

A young poet goes through the grinder and comes out with these observations:

  • The sort of self-consciousness exhibited in the past twenty years is fairly but not completely absurd.
  • A poem transmits experience + knowledge + imagination through the peculiar rhythm of the word, spoken or read.
  • Meaningful inventions.
  • Why say in poetry what you can say in prose?
  • There is no perfection, only awareness of its absence.
  • There is an eternal gratitude extended to the past. The more refined and intelligent the better.
  • Everything, bar none, but the poem itself is raw material
  • What conditions the human being should condition the poetry.
  • Pathos, no. Emotion, yes.
  • Don't try and recapture the lost gods.

In the universe of poetry, things are open. The ability to create a fine poem is a privilege both free and won out of the most bitter experience possible.

Through the inexorable laws the world marches to today, the writer must say to him or herself, "nothing exists until I have sanctified it with a complete thought."

One needs immeasurable courage; otherwise he becomes a prey.

Good things to toss out of the train on your way to the glittering city:

  • The sloth of generality
  • The cultivation of stupid beliefs out of a stubborn hatred for humanity
  • Fearing authority
  • Fearing machines

The last item is important when one realizes that a machine can be a new capability used to break down the resistance of a person and making him gullible, malleable, and ripe for manipulation. That machine can thunder overhead or be a box.

A poet will often test himself with this thought, "I would rather grub for roots along a highway in Nevada than live in a city."

July 29, 2006

A writer lives in a constantly moving, anonymous life where he rarely, if ever, runs into the same person twice. Yet he runs into many people.

Ah city, repository, dreadnought that announces to the anonymous souls, "you are here to be forgotten...I will pull you into my wonderful sac and use your energies."

Oh well, that's life. After all, the city is simply a series of expressions. An expression at the street level, modes of transportation, daily transaction of business, the wheeling and dealing of the parasites and scrofula, the stadium and its mobs of people, even, paradoxically the diverse modes of communication.

For the crazed and repressed there are the talk shows. For the clever and sentimental there are the newspapers or the drug of television. Nothing sums things up better than that phrase, "the drug of television." The hip have their hipness and little else. It has a half-life of two years and is gone, the hip descending down to the basic characters they've tried to avoid.

Well, some of the interesting, dark matter the writer must work his way through.

He or she who comes out with a smile, wins.

Yes, even a writer experiences a dark night of the soul when he is convinced of this: "World has outstripped language and your works are impossible to do." The writer, plundered of everything he thought valuable, sits quietly in the hazy avenues and watches television provide evidence of the transmigration of souls through a series of atomic explosions in the most densely populated areas of the world while awful men and women smile and dance to words no one understands.

A writer is in the pathway of people running the other direction, straight ahead with an admirable lack of reflection, captive of fears, superstitions, vulgarity; even a few being chased by their own out-of-control intelligence's.

The writer is a witness to one of the unholy problems of the day: The separation between the personalities definition of things and the souls definition of the same things. The writer witnesses the odd phenomena of a person who loves language at the depths of his spirit and yet flaunts it, abuses it, scorns it in the persona he shows to the world. Another man loves faith at the core of himself and yet dismisses it as a joke to the world around him. And still a third loves a woman at the depths and yet abuses that woman in every way imaginable from the very core of his personality.

In Pursuit of Objects

Some writers begin in imagination others in language. In the former group a writer must develop a sense of language over time and make peace with the raging imagination. Language becomes flood control. It shunts the wild energy until it slows and reveals itself. Those who begin in language are finally shamed of their arrogance and learn to tell simple stories.

* * * * * * * *

Nearly everything produced for consumption in this year 2006 is an affront to desire; yet people insist they get pleasure from the products that fulfill their desire. It's an act of unimagination. When do they finally understand that desire does not bring one thing but all things?

True desire comes when the mind accepts its own productions. Damn conscience! And its terrible netting. "Let down this terrible net so that my words may come into you like panthers freshly let out from their cages. Spring panthers, on those things, those bastard brothers that have stolen your audience!"

Beauty: A man who witnesses a tense situation, uncomfortable and fascinated at the same time. He feels strain and then a great release when he knows something "will happen."

May 29, 2006

A large sadness can only be redeemed by the beauty of the soul in action.

* * * * * * * *

They ask, "where do you get characters?" I don't know but everywhere I've lived since I was a young man has brought me to the doorstep of some roughish character; someone on the fringe, someone in pain suffering a multitude of problems. They are drinkers and big talkers. They usually have no interest in what I'm doing but see me as an ear for their problems. They talk and act like possessed men, underground men with little sense of humor and mostly in desperate states of mind. They are crack-brained and yet have a great deal of poetry in them.

They are do-nothings and often I wonder if I shouldn't spend more time with intelligent, literate types for companionship. It would have produced a style by now. Yes, I am around do-nothings who have big plans without the ability to live them out. They operate by reducing everything down to the lowest common denominator and then surrendering to it hoping beyond hope that others will follow. I always leave them thinking, "they have black holes for souls."

Most are possessed by demons. Demons give off a certain odor. But they also offer acts of kindness. They are conscious of being in hell or hell-worlds and are in complete despair because they think those who they meet can't see the hell they, themselves, are in. These terrible friends have vast, illusory plans of escape. And I always say to myself when I leave them, "the willfulness of those in hell!"

I always blame this on the idealism I suffered in college that told me we are all the same underneath it. That in a society such as this there should be a rich mixture without judgement. That the writer was safer on the margins than in the putrid corners of criticism by the effete who are boiled out of the Earth like prehistoric bugs. Ironically, it is those in hell who criticize the society for not realizing its ideals. They are the ones who carry the burden and look sad-eyed for no apparent reason or have a knife tucked into their belt.

Observations of Culture the Past 20 Years or So:

  • Decline in education but not in the amount of knowledge created.
  • The development of a free personality outside the bounds of responsibility.
  • Severe doubts about the future.
  • Difficulty in transmitting the virtue of the society.
  • Rebellion rather than creativity.
  • Degradation of language as all things are reduced to power.
  • Hostility between all the tribes.
  • Increased division between the rich and the poor.
  • Adjustments to American power as well as adjustments of American power.
  • Discontent with "civilization."
  • Culture is on a track it will not get off of.

Therefore, something to put behind one as soon as possible.

April 29, 2006

A true tale is very rare. The goal of any tale is to tell the story of a life; of a time. It isn't done by explanation after explanation of why the person or the time is the way it is. Science and prose have that purpose. The true tale is an interplay of significant attributes playing at the highest level possible.

There are some conditions to be met. For one thing, the tale has to keep on the fast track and not be geared down to the lowest attribute available simply to satisfy a group of people.

* * * * * * * *

The tale moves through characters. The character is the authors evidence that he has thought on the human condition; on persons living and dead.

The joy of a writer is this: To differentiate what the mind wants to explain from what the mind wants to express.

When the tale jumps on the writer like a young lover there is nothing but the tale and the writer. She doesn't need to explain the world. It repeats itself until the writer finds her true calling. Ah, a world born anew!

The teller of a tale never has regrets at the beginning of his great adventures.

* * * * * * * *

Tale-tellers rise to meet me once again. Old friends who have been steadfast, waiting out patiently for the passage of my fascinations with the world-as-it-is. "It always thinks it is something it is not."

They come when the writer respects them. "Ah ha! The humorous people with profound hearts only pained by the world."

The writer, conceiving a universe, only writes about the speck floating helplessly a few light years away from Earth. And through that speck is the universe that can not be written about.

March 16, 2006

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