Wednesday, April 21, 2010

You Already Have Brine

You already have brine
Reason swept all away
Disciples are fishermen
Go to them for direction
Gospel of law Gospel of shadow
in the vale of behavior
who is the transgressor
Far thought for thought
nearer one to the other
I know and do not know
Non attachment dwell on nothing
Peace be in this house
Only his name and truth

from Silence Wager Stories
Susan Howe

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"This god, this one word: 'I'" Writing the Right


A friend sent a link to an article by Gore Vidal in a 1961 Esquire. (h/t Eileen)

In it he offers up these tidbits of lunatic wisdom from Rand's book "The Philosophy of Ayn Rand"--it appears she had pulled these things out of her own writing to gather them in this tome:

• “It was the morality of altruism that undercut American and is now destroying her.”

• “Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. Today, the conflict has reached its ultimate climax; the choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequence of freedom…or the primordial morality of altruism with its consequences of slavery, etc.”

• Then from one of her arias for heldentenor: “I am done with the monster of ‘we,’ the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I.’”

• “The first right on earth is the right of the ego. Man’s first duty is to himself.”

• “To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men.”

• “The creed of sacrifice is a morality for the immoral….”

This is really unbelievable stuff. I don't need to say anything more than Vidal does to dismantle its wrongheadedness.

And recall, this is 1952, and as Vidal notes, it was already INFLUENTIAL in the world of "real politic".

Ayn Rand is the popular "thinker" of the Right--this is the internal voice of their inner demons.

What can you say to this level of sheer self-interest? This is a group that wants government only to protect the institutions that allow them to protect their business interests. This is the group that hates a government that tries to protect the people (each and everyone) from the "inequality" of wealth.

This is the creed of the "educated" among them--the leaders among them--our giants of commerce; it has been so thoroughly propagated as the idea that is the MOST American of American IDEAS--the drive to wealth for the self (ie, "rugged individualism"), that the common and downtrodden among us BELIEVE this idea--they too can MAKE IT (if only there weren't Affirmative Action and Bleeding Hearts), can be mega-wealthy; that they don't realize the mega-wealthy are PROPPED UP by the very Government they disavow as protecting the "welfare state".

The game is rigged, of course, the house always wins; Ayn Rand has, for them, given this idea the veneer of the claim to a Moral Right.

As Vidal points out, however, it is deeply immoral at its core.

Not surprisingly, there is another common ideology which makes this world so sublimely Orwellian--the use of the Bible as text for financial salvation...greed can be moral apparently.

Utopian/Dystopian literature has given us two visions that are more "true" than the Randian one-sided story--Huxley's and Orwell's: one gives us our hedonism--we are made politically docile by our drive (while being driven) to pleasure; the other shows us the way we are convinced via image and rhetoric (and terror) that the immoral is moral, the unethical ethical, that what is wrong is oh so Right.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dance of Citations

Listened to, on a walk to school with the boys, a discussion with Nicholson Baker on his book Human Smoke. He is asked by an audience "why call it Human Smoke"? He then said that it was a phrase uttered by one of Hitler's Generals Fritz Halder made in an interview captured in some kind of Nuremberg Journal or diary. So I looked that up and found not a direct link to that quote or primary source but rather a review of Baker's book here wherein I found immediately a quote of Aurelius found by the author of the review in an early book of Nicholson Baker's called the Mezzanine.

Observe, in short, how transient and trivial is all mortal life; yesterday a drop of semen, tomorrow a handful of spice and ashes.

Circuitous to say the least...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


To build on the last post--this piece in the NYRB Blog.

We live in an age of erasure and even the mammoth nature of our erections will not stand as the pyramids have. We will not create monuments; we are not the authors of great myths. We are digital and prone to instability and data loss.

The library at Alexandria WAS the human mind...the ability to know and recall erased by our tools. We no longer transmit mind--our minds are transmitted and we merely passive instruments funneling data.

Monday, February 1, 2010

House of the Lifting of the Head

Again, from Olson:

"...MASONRY is especially associated with MYTH in man. The tale of the Great Tower is as ultimate a legend as the Flood, Eden, Adam."

"...this need of man to persist in monument as well as in myth."

"If it had been possible to build the tower of Babel without ascending it, the work would have been permitted."

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Olson on Melville on Democracy

Moby Dick as America--as production line, as industry; the common man in service to the madness of the leader--yes, this is our democracy.

"A whaleship reminded Melville of two things: (1) democracy had not rid itself of overlords; (2) the common man, however free, leans on a leader, the leader, however dedicated, leans on a straw."--Olson, Call Me Ishmael (in Ch. "Shakespeare, concluded")

From MD:
"Through these forms that certain sultanism of Ahab's brain became incarnate in an irresistible dictatorship.

"For be a man's intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves, more or less paltry and base." (ibid)

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Revelation

by William Bronk

My life has no shape; I live in an old house.
The deed says it's mine now. Well enough.
Even so, I had supposed--or not,
I find I don't know but I thought I supposed--

some shape would happen to impose itself
on the days, the nights, even on this house,
revealing it. I find I don't care
this didn't happen, and yet am surprised.

I haven't read enough Bronk to really know how to read this...this is a poet who had written poetry for 50 years and written prose that will stand alongside this. He ran his family's business.

The man's life had shape--some kind of shape. Did the poet's?--again it appears so.

Or is this a question of a shaping presence outside the self--expected, but in the end illusory. I thought, at the end of my life, that I would impose a shape on it by defining it a certain way "at this moment of thinking about it".

It is called, pointedly one supposes, The Revelation, it would be hard to not consider the fact that this is the final book of the New Testament. And so this in itself brings the religious to bear on the poem--I thought that God would come to me. That this life, these memories, would be given shape in reflection--a godly, goodly shape. A meaning. That this shape would be imposed and revealed. But no.

Odd to expect it? No, I think we're hard-wired to imagine this or at least culturally conditioned to think it plausible even if we are anti-theist.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Truce Is Possible--bits of/on Wm Bronk

From a Kay Ryan appreciation in Poetry:
Bronk is thinking and thinking, as purely as possible, about how we want—want not to be alone, want things to matter, want to feel that we are connected to reality. His poems are all about wanting and how there is no end to it. And about how whatever reality is, it is something we only know in the negative—by being constantly wrong about it.

From Metonymy as an Approach to a Real World:

Whether what we sense of this world
is the what of this world only, or the what
of which of several possible worlds
--which what?--something of what we sense
may be true, may be the world, what it is, what we sense.
For the rest, a truce is possible, the tolerance
of travelers, eating foreign foods, trying words
that twist the tongue, to feel that time and place,
not thinking that this is the real world.