Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thursday, March 1st - Snow day today. The fluffy white flakes are falling outside. There's that "gray feeling" in the air. Nothing to do but write.

When you look around, isn't it amazing how many paid actors are running around these days: people paid to pretend, whose job is to strike a pose, to keep up appearances, to make us believe that the dubious substance of their celebrity fantasy is in fact a binding reality (a money-making reality)  by virtue of being a "real fantasy" just as movie showing at a real theater is real as far as that goes, if that makes any sense....I wonder if this is what the future holds for all of us, that in the future everyone will be - not so much "locked into" a career or a relationship or a family or a community or a particular location (you see this already happening for about the past 30 years, right?)  - but simply a dilettantish dabbler knowingly stepping into a temporary role or a series of roles. But surely something (vague word) remains binding! Surely, the setting itself - wherever we happen to be - the bare environment - the specific locale - the people we're surrounded by must be keeping our wishes in check. But on top of that terrestrial setting, there has been superimposed a more ethereal, virtual setting - that confirms our sense that we are beyond what earlier generations called Fate. The old customs, habits, traditions, social interactions, modes of etiquette, norms, limits, orthodoxies, expected behaviors continue to fade, continue on the wane, dated, inoperable, washing away, ever so gradually, year by year, decade by decade, century by century, never actually capitulating or disappearing (how strange that is!) only to be replaced by the "absolute infinite negativity" of irony that resists all etched-in-stone social conventions as approximations of the Absolute. We remember quite a bit of the old and wish to keep it alive; our nostalgia leads us to reenact various scenes populated by long-suffering mothers and pater-familias, large families, villagers,  towns-folk, artisans, peasants, land-owners, aristocrats, soldiers, salesmen, welders, steel-workers, bankers, country doctors, churchgoers - but never with a sense that these antiquated "roles" could  entirely rule over us or determine the basis of who we are nowadays. Thus we reserve for ourselves a strange veto power to step outside of any given circumstance as out of a play gone wrong. It remains uncanny, nevertheless, to consider that, however much certain natural, historical,  religious or economic forces have shaped these various character "types" - these possible forms -  the world has already changed to such a degree as to make it impossible to ever climb back into the sinking vessel or to reside within some fading hologram on the horizon; stranger still that this same vessel, that same fading hologram on the water refuses to sink entirely - but only enough as to make us question our status "on land."

But suppose that someone objects - takes issues - with all of this - if only to remind us of the obvious,  glaring, intractable "class divisions" that still exist within the so-called "classless society" that we appear to be building brick by brick like some ideal edifice drawing closer by slow gradations. And despite the valiant efforts of "pop culture" to bind us all together into some "common soup" of shared discourse, these group divisions - rich/middle/poor, urban/rural, right color/wrong color, skilled/unskilled, literate/illiterate,  laborers/technocrats/managers -  strangely call into question the unity of it all - unless of course there remains a "chosen class" whose basic assumptions, aims, goals, tastes - are absorbed and disseminated without question, unconsciously as somehow taking precedence. Ruling class ideology - cultural hegemony - paging Antonio Gramsci.

All very true as far as it goes, but that leaves open the confusing trend of upper classes emulating lower classes and vice versa not to mention any emerging hybrid social classes or eclectic combinations of class loyalties - rich people claiming to be born in log cabins, accountants pretending to be gang members, computer geeks eschewing traditional business fashions, etc. etc.
Wednesday, February 29th - The day before a snow day, sunny, brisk, windy.....So what if, just what if,  assuming the voice of my alter ego to be correct (see prior post), people were basically "good?" What if everyone actually had been "innocent" as infants and this same spirit of idealism had carried over into their later years, that a trace of it remained active even among the most hardened killers, swindlers and socio-paths? What if everyone deep down was actually yearning to live productive and stable lives, with sensible modicums of drama and adventure thrown in, and despite certain traumas and derailments, intended no essential harm to others, were ready to serve, were waiting for a chance to devote themselves to a cause larger than themselves, had no deep-seated feelings of enmity or hostility toward their neighbors and fellow citizens? Entirely plausible you say - EXCEPT for a series of unfortunate events  - all the usual suspects, namely: death, divorce, drugs, disease, injury, enmity, loss, abandonment, betrayal, heartache, harassment, shunning, exile, displacement, vertigo - which combined with certain other mishaps - taking place higglety-pigglety among a certain portion of the population (oh, let's say 85% just for fun), planting within each soul a stump of outrage, and starting at an early age, leading them down all the wrong paths in life, conditioning them to imitate the most severe and desperate among their peers, making them gradually, eventually (I don't say immediately) give in to gluttony, sloth, mad lust, wrath, pride, envy, and greed just in time for them to make one or two or three fatal blunders at that "crucial moment" when much is at stake, whereupon they condemn themselves to a lesser life marked by an unraveling scroll of bitter outcomes. But imagine, just imagine (the optimist hasn't given up yet!) that if some simple intervention had been made, could be made, to place these still-unformed characters on a better path - one devoted merely to helping them find a preordained niche in life, a special talent, a calling, an avocation, a singular metier, - that ONE THING they were put on the planet to DO - their art, their passion, their career path, their identity space,  - call it what you will - that if some amazing sociologist could have found that precise interval, the sacred juncture, that "perfect time" to intervene -  would not all the other essentials of happiness (health, friendship, romance, work, productivity, civility, serenity, peace of mind) gradually, eventually follow in the wake of such a miracle? Is there not something so powerful about that  "angelic interruption"- for lack of a better word - whatever it should happen to be and at whatever age: a word of kindness, a simple embrace,  a modicum of attention, a move to a better school, as could make up for boatloads of "wasted opportunities" later on? And even if this should prove to be a wild theoretical misnomer,  a day-dream, a utopian fantasy, a very very remote, improbable, unlikely occurrence - yet still the mere fact that it remains within the realm of sheer possibility - an issue that teachers, sociologists, politicians and child-advocates squawk about and never tire of wringing their hands over, like they're waiting for someone to stand up and say out of exhaustion, out of impatience: "Oh, heck, I'll do it." - something that is scheduled to be "solved" but still resists, like the traffic problems in L.A., like the water in the Hudson River (which has in fact been cleaned up already or so I hear), like the southern border of California-Arizona-New Mexico that still makes people nervous, like the poverty rate and the illiteracy rate which theoretically should be going down, like the vitamin supplements and basic nutritional subsidies that kids around the world should be receiving at long last!  - like all of those other issues on the front burner that are still kicking around, should give us pause, should make us faint, should haunt us like the most nostalgic memory we never had.

Tuesday, February 28th - On this penultimate day of February, in the year 2012, I, like many others on the planet, begin my blog out of a sense of need: obsessed with literature, writers and writing, mesmerized by outstanding prose stylists of the immortal pantheon, and by great books of ages past (modern novels in particular); inspired by the Zeitgeist of the ineluctable "now" and wanting to achieve my fair allotment of fame, applause, attention or  "mere contact" with any other truth-seekers likewise preoccupied with thoughts of literature, history, current events, not to mention  the "ultimate questions" of life, philosophy or theology - you denizens of the virtual stratosphere - perplexed, haunted, tied-in-knots as you are by questions of "culture" both high and low, including the problem of "middlebrow" which haunts me. To be or not to be "middlebrow" - that has become the question for us all to answer; whether it be nobler in the mind to give in to the common, instantaneous and already-formed "majority opinions" and "middlebrow tastes" of the mediocre mindset - based on our present ordinary circumstances which most of us know and love as being most familiar, inescapable and problematic (suburbia, lawns, cars, gadgets, cubicles, mobile phones, video screens, mass marketing, processed food) - feeding our thoughts and making them all so tiresome and banal, dragging them down to the realm of "genus generica" despite our desire to pretend otherwise; I refer of course, at least in part, to that predictable Middle-America (as opposed to Middle Earth) fly-over state consensus, forming anew at sunrise in reaction to the snootier if equally shallow and "middlebrowsian" conclusions of the "East Coast elites" - who ride taller elevators and have better views of Central Park - as the price we pay ("Which side are you on boy?") for inhabiting the jumbled world of "pop culture" where high becomes low and low becomes high and the most execrable the most celebrated, where the "most noticed" is most sacred (for a time) while the overlooked is justly forgotten and vilified by corollary, where all people - as "trade commodities!" or "paid actors" - are equal or at least equally transparent, depending on circumstance, and - as contributors to the general porridge - famous for a day - therefore transient, therefore anonymous.  I guess what I'm really talking about here is recognition of the individual on the basis of merit. And whose merit you say? According to which point of view? And which stature as decided by whom and when and in which order and sequence?  Exactly. Exactly. Now you're getting it. Now you understand.

But there's more....The bone-chilling winds continue to howl outside the expansive windows of the teacher lounge, even now, as brisk sunlight disperses the retreating clouds, which are by no means defeated, and which shall return soon enough to dump a foot of snow upon us. As omen? As punishment? As encouragement?  It is February of course, my least favorite month, weather-wise and otherwise; it is cabin-fever time, season of restlessness and spicy-savory meals, season of headaches, long-underwear,  aspirin and lack of exercise, a short, petulant month, dragging its heels, demanding one more day to leave its icy, inconvenient mark upon the parking lot and the expansive blueberry field which sits there barren and forgotten. Amid such atmospherics, I continue to think of Kafka's Castle and Musil's The Man Without Qualities - books so very European and yet so relevant....

Anxious as I continue to be over the state of my country (what else is new during an election year?) not to mention my ongoing dizziness regarding the speed with which technocrats seek to replace their most prized inventions (at our expense - literally); and don't get me started on the vile headaches caused by inane traffic patterns or my irrational worries concerning dense, dilapidated housing units, or those ongoing chills induced by menacing youths who rule over urban enclaves for the poor, or the gastric irregularities triggered by mere thoughts of dubious carcinogenic additives to food, or perhaps even the eye strain resulting from staring too long at video screens for no particular reason,  cue the "gloom and doom" music Igor, even so, there exists, somewhere, a counter-opinion; but to return without delay to my previous topic: this ongoing painful confusion  I feel, we feel, you may feel (partially, somewhat), over the meaning of "high" and "low." I speak of thought itself, yes, of culture, of what it means to have art, literature, music, fashion, manners, morals, nowadays, and I worry, because I'm confused, because so much is accepted, feted, celebrated, stamped, indexed, numbered - with no concern over lasting merit. But thankfully, at long last, in this very post, there occurs a reversal of sorts. My alter ego - or perhaps yours as well: call him "Opp" for "Optimist" begs to disagree. He claims that it's not so bad, that many people are getting on just fine, that culture is chugging right along: great painters painting, musicians playing, singers singing, new novels of merit finding readers, colossal buildings rising up in major cities, photographers finding new angles by which to teach us how to see, small towns acquiring museums, shopping centers, paved roads, biking paths, parks for children to gather in. Little League still co-existing alongside ballet lessons. You get the idea. So anyway....this Opp fellow - the left side of my right-brained psyche (I'm left-handed, vous est compris?) says it's gonna be alright. Take everything I say with a grain of salt or sand, and don't despair.