Saturday, May 15, 2004


Today I’m heading out on a lengthy Travels With Charlie episode, sans Charlie, back through time and space to revisit many of the scenes of past crimes and misdemeanors. Will get as far as Key West where I went to Fleet Sonar School in the Navy way back in 1955 and could reach as far as Nantucket, Massachusetts, but these damn gas prices are impoverishing me even as I plan on setting out. Damn them and every SUV driver in the world!

If I can, I’ll make a few entries along the way, but my fervent hope is to pretend I’m in a strange country and know nothing of the politics, travel the blue back roads and just observe and be at peace, visit a few friends along the way. I’m going to drop my calling cards as I go, in any odd place I think is fit. Maybe someone reading this will find one along the way with my blog address on it. If you do, let me know.

Meanwhile, some parting thoughts in the usual vein...


Paglia (Sexual Personae) is fascinating. Her bullshit is of the highest order. Even as I read line after line of sublime nonsense for what it is, a part of me wants to read her book to the end. Anyhow....

A long time ago, I was working on a novel set in the Thirteenth Century in the area where Switzerland would come into existence. In fact the book was about that period when Swiss mountain men fought battles against the Hapsburg Empire to establish their national identity. In the story, a young son is physically beaten by a drunken peasant farmer who has returned home after spending his own youth as a mercenary soldier, fighting for one of the Italian city states.

I describe the beating in great and loving detail, then the farmer lifts his boy and tosses him into the briar hedges which surround the hovel they live in. The boy is in extreme pain, but as he looks into the sky toward the stars, I found myself describing the scene as being quite beautiful and uplifting; the star vision takes the boy out of himself and his pain.

Later, however, I realized that passage and much of my writing was actually a reaction within myself to cover my own days in abusive situations, and I began to think about a lot of creative work I’d read over the years which had the effect of taking quite ugly things and transcending them with great writing and soaring ideas rather than confronting the real pain.

I thought about comedians who routinely surmount their personal pain with humor. I remembered a Richard Prior comedy piece in which he describes a switching his grandmother gave him. He holds one hand above his head and dances in a circle with those big, pleading eyes of his while he tries to protect his behind with the other hand, and, in the past, I roared with laughter. Then in the middle of that remembrance, I suddenly realized I’d been laughing at the sight of a child dancing in mortal terror, and the bit stopped being funny.

Looked at with my new viewpoint, a great deal of some of the finest world art, which doesn’t face pain directly, but which only beautifies the pain, is actually an exercise in denial, an escape from truth rather than a facing of it. I recall some of the exquisitely beautiful pain I’d feel when I was a young man while reading certain works of art, and just this morning, I came across a Paglia quotation from Nietzsche: “Almost everything we call ‘higher culture’ is based on the spiritualization of cruelty.” Bingo!

On another head: on page 53 of "Sexual Personae" (Vintage Books, Sept. 1991) Paglia brings in some interesting thoughts from Frazer's Golden Bough: "The most brilliant perception of 'The Golden Bough', muted by prudence, is Frazer's analogy between Jesus and the dying gods. The Christian ritual of death and redemption is a survival of pagan mystery religion. Frazer says, "The type, created by Greek artists, of the sorrowful goddess with her dying lover in her arms, resembles and may have been the model of the Pieta of Christian art.'"


I urge you to read Fareed Zakaria’s piece in this month’s Newsweek magazine May 17, 2004, p.39.

Zakaria has been a firm supporter of the Bush Iraq war, yet he writes, ‘Since 9/11, a handful of officials at the top of the Defense Department and the vice president’s office have commandeered American foreign and defense policy. In the name of fighting terror they have systematically weakened the traditional restraints that have made this country respected around the world.”

After reading Fareed, move on to the other stories in Newsweek that reveal the abusive prison situation in Iraq and elsewhere, specifically page 30: “...all [Paul Bremer among them] warned of mounting problems in the prisons.... A 24-page report delivered to the Pentagon in February tells of systemic ‘use of ill treatment’—most graphically, seven shootings of unarmed prisoners, sometimes from watchtowers. The abuses were ‘tantamount to torture,’ the report states.... The fact that at least 25 prisoners have died in U.S. custody since 9/11 was pretty strong hint that something was going wrong.”

I think Newsweek has been pretty fair in its coverage of the situation.


After thinking about the cruel abuse discussed elsewhere in this post, you should consider reading Pinker’s “Blank Slate” and the evolutionary truths contained within that book which also shed light on cruelty in the human condition. Only by recognizing the dark places within all humans can we have any chance of transcending it. It’s no good to call others "evil" (a word I don’t believe in) like Bush-league does and exempt ourselves when that animal of evolution is within all of us.


"The town was so dull that when the tide went out, it refused to come back." —Fred Allen (1894-1956)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually, from personal experience, there MAY be an "ascension past the pain" to a semi-beatific state, especially as the instrument of the pain (ie: the beating, the torture, the "pain producing incident")is withdrawn; as in, your character,after his beating, being thrown onto the briar hedge.
The release of endorphins into the system, and shock, most likely, DO cause a kind of 'elevated state' of, maybe your youthful description of the character's ascension 'out of himself' may be more true than you now think. Personally, I felt as if I was laying on a cloud above and slightly outside of my body. The agony was still there, but my brain, whether in self-defense or ?, disassociated itself from scrutinizing it directly; at least, until I passed out.