On the whole, I am too afraid of it, writing. Afraid that what I will find is not enough, after I have worked to make something that finally achieves.
Two years ago, I submitted the first real piece of writing I ever set myself to, one which I thought of as something I was writing as writing – a first attempt of sorts at a beginning.
The feedback was to be expected, and when reading through it again, even slightly more generous than maybe I deserved. Cam, the literary coach who reviewed it was probably in for the shock of his career – combining a very touchy subject, cancer, with an amateurish ability, I’m sure made for quite an awkward reading. Intent, clear and loud, though trying, and by those means maybe overreaching.
He was under no obligation, at least I trust, to say I had potential, that ‘after reading this, I am convinced that you have talent’ – though of course not without its many faults, and certainly far from being publishable.
It was a kind consolation, for as much as I had no delusions about my young skills, one still goes into such things looking at the night, or the back of his favorite book, where the bio of his favorite author is, thinking, ‘what if? What if I am great?’ Nonetheless, it was enough.
I could depart from my long time on land with that sign. It was just precisely the little send-off I needed to push into the water. And writing really is a sea—an ominous force, where the will is just that little thing barely afloat. It does not decide its course or share any real control over its path; it is at all times too invested in keeping the surface.
In Cam’s report, he was nice enough to include many different resources to look into for my sake, to help improve the lyric essay I submitted, and probably too for my general craft. One of which was a short video entitled The Gap. It was simple, almost quaint, like the whole of the best art scene today. It was about the long distance between artistic taste and talent.
With all the little touches of modern videography—soft voice, unthreatening sequences of paper letters and nature landscapes—it was almost laughable when I first saw it. I suppose I didn’t want to understand the conflict at the heart of the video. I never believed it would be mine. Afterall, it was my first ever submitted work, and already I was being lavished with the laurel of ‘talented.’
I need that video now, quite a bit more than I could have ever thought. I guess I’ve softened from when I used to think that the video, and whoever counted on it, were pathetic: wanting the glory, but also wanting sympathy for their struggle.
For a while I did fine without it and what I felt was its oversentimentality, making gradual strides in my writing on my own. Improvement, I know it now, is a trivial process from the bottom of a beginning, almost anywhere there is gain. The use of a new word, a stolen phrase to borrow some elevation, a counterfeit style that is not your own. There is no responsibility yet for having these things sorted out. But then, one day, after a year or so on this path, the truth barrels down from out of an unsuspecting stasis, that the movement has stopped.
Impossible! I’ve read every day for the last 370 days, scribbling notes, glossing over pages, circling words, underlining, both straight and squiggly—don’t you know I’ve read Henry James?! How can none of it show for? And then it came back, like a bolt from the past hurtling right up into the present, The Gap.
The little message contained in that video for crossing the gap between taste and talent, is hard work. It is so simple; in the way a platitude is. But for all aspiring writers, abandoned to their lack of native talent, what else is there? To traverse the gap, a bridge must be built on the piles and stacks of failed attempts.
I’ve spent many earnest eves locked in my study to that end. For this is the only real gift I can offer myself: my labour. When I’m as sure as dead, I am writing. When I’m tired from life, I am writing. When I hate myself, I am writing. In the deep of my thoughts, I draw out my plans, prints for new developments, vain schemes to my ascension, dwelling on each nut and bolt, but never absent to the matter itself, building them.
If I must have one, then this is that small gift. I am glad to trust, within a low certainty, the first part of the formula: that I am properly planted in my artistic taste. I trust I know what I want my writing to be, what it ought to look and sound like. Talent is what’s left, far off and long out of vision. Only execution can carry me onto its eventual shores, and for this I rely on my little gift—I just hope there are enough days in a lifetime.
There is a sign in my apartment above the small desk where I write, it says: ‘Remember Death.’
I usually don’t go in for such displays—be quiet in life to be loud in your writing and all that. It just happened to be the site where I could pick up the reminder if ever my eyes fell to musing.
The water closed. Soon, the firmness of the door would open: from its breadth she’ll emerge in a pall of steam.
Distraction is to court death, or so I feel in my own way. I am glad of its punishment, like a quick prick for the lazy effort; wherever interruption goes, there is death’s restorative, waiting.
‘What are you having?’ she asks for all her nakedness, calling me from the tinkling of cubes and frosted glass. Somewhere, liquid beads are dripping on the floor.
Pythagoras kept an iron chair in his study, to sit on those spikes whenever a visitor would come in to talk. It was a guard against lapse, a conquering of these acts called trivialities, that lead us on to the devastation of our waste and make the earth bear no sweetness.
‘What are you working on? Is it big and serious?’ she chuckles from out Circe’s lips.
I have no spikes on my chair—I have a pillow, that keeps me off the hardness. I know the thickly flowering of my one-day labors are surrendered to these tiniest luxuries.
She ties me up with an arm. Her body still warm from the shower, the drink perspires on my neck. With a bounce, she’s wedged between my legs.
About sitting, Hemingway assures us it is the easiest part of writing: all one needs to do is bleed. But I’ve sat in many chairs, for many long whiles, and can say with confidence that this is a stinking boast. How he shoots his mouth off, someone so tended by talent, with the world singing in his ear. What scorn for us too afraid of the open-jawed gun, who force a thousand spikes for the smallest bleeding.
With the claw of a Sphinx, she presses the poison to my lips—I cannot answer her ancient riddle. Floating ice, like crystal rocks, bathe in the blood-red abyss.
And to make matters worse, he is only one among many. How Mrs. Dalloway mocks us with her author’s pockets full of stones.
I thank her with my eyes, coaxing her off my lap, but the rejection is just a needle already stuck in my loins.
Then there is life, the foremost thief of all. To embrace it is to have it as a friend, always like an unambiguous, white-mouthed laughing. But I know its tricks well, its soothing and its delay. It calls into its woolly thaw, there to pass away an hour in the grips of quiet mellowing.
In the frame of the bedroom, I see her curved form toying with the dresser. She finds my demise in one loose shirt, sliding over her shoulders. The rest of her, unadorned.
Living is measured with the weight of idle pages; those days alive which repay their sunshine in the blank of unwritten words. And soon, maybe even too soon, their end is not the bouquet on the sealed casket, but the balling bud locked inside.
I doubt she understands me when I say this, but she bears it sweetly in a curious winkle. Somewhere knowing it to be the exaggerated flint of my dissapointment, she locates it in my helplessness.
She insinuates herself along the couch, with the fluorescence falling on her lonely scene—I can do nothing but relent. Plucky beliefs pop like kernels, and workful passions leave their trawling for another day; tonight, she wraps us in borrowed time, my favorite of her winding-sheets.
Here, on this downy lap, she steals me over fleshy ideals, bringing tyranny to bear livelihood in her cheeks.
Sicut Erat in Principio
Leave it to a human to be taken in by his own favorable regard when discussing the importance of words—I suspect it makes us all rather loaded down to the boots with the weight of unearned distinctions.
We do tolerably well by the pleasure of this innocent egotism, coinciding ourselves where we can to independent ideas as their primary achievement. And it is by this impersonating trait that our prominence in the world has its rise: when a rose garden, beauty in horticulture; when a God, the bodily form; in the starry constellation, mythology; so with words, do we see nontrivially our ability to be affected by them.
It is not a little unadventurous to assert words as being independent of their human authors—even if only in part—since they originate from us after all, and only encounter any literal meaning by our use of them. Still, I will not pretend to put on the knowledge of a linguist to make the case that words seem to imply meaning beyond themselves, capable as they are of communicating past their bald sign.
When we read, ‘I like being somebody’s punishment; it makes me feel needed,’ (~ I Never Promised you a Rose Garden) the words may shock and disgust us; else we might gather much sympathy in them, even relate in some troubled childhood memory, or travelling up the channels of our life find them hiding out somewhere in the present. And yet? Is this what they are best for, is that their main force? Do these words not show something other than how they would seem to strike us, or shape our lives the more – is there nothing to them except what we can translate in ourselves; a secret telling perhaps, framed by some extant and uncertain cloud?
Quite distinct from the feelings they evoke, the power of words lies in that foggy presence beneath the notice of the world, on the other side of what we can touch and feel, where is formed the infallible account of the way things are, of happenings real but unseen, that when turned into language renders up this airy semblance as such expression to approach the very truth itself.
The power of words is for the cutting into the surface of things, to dig deep and split wide the bitter crust of life, to heave thereupon that confessedly impregnable mass what has been treasured up all along. We should think ourselves rather miserable creatures if we believed words were here just for our tiny sake—though they affect us so, throwing some light on our regrettable movements over this clod of earth, and no sooner, sounding those buglike twitches into the thin air of the past.
Writing is altogether to try at the voicing of some inimitable truth. It is an approximation that culls the mismade word, patching where it can, and bit by bit, those unfinished blanks on the living canvas. This gladsome realization, when it is had, chases after representation in all its respects, for to come to something not unlike the Absolute it must grow or shrink in that proportion demanded by perfection’s technique.
It is this thrilling after truth, to wrap one’s ephemeral hands around the neck of a shadow, though he seizes it in the passages of a fiction, or in the distances of his own retelling, that is the possibility which informs the writer’s instinct, his struggle and his eventual talent.
As writers, we are never content with good enough. Complacent does not figure in our consideration, nor are we likely to be counseled caution by a yearning for the mediocre phrase or the satisfied verse: we mean total excellence and know only that monomaniac cultivation. Only those concerns of inadequacy determine us, of aspect which does not yet have the signature touch, and in our invincible stare, does not yet become the exact mimicry of what we intend. Is this otherworldly ambition—this White Whale of a chase—the same humble, almost feeble, power of wanting to affect another?
The human being is already such a ticklish organism as it is, his emotions trivial – working his feelings up into a knot is not so difficult an accomplishment. And besides, what we feel does not say so great a thing about the world or ourselves; still bearing our species’ primordial wounds, we bleed and gush at innocuities, and take our lives over a bland fact.
Such is the vanity of our sentiment, that it would read an anthology or an ancient history, an essay or elegy, and find only itself lurking there like the petty metaphor it is. There is too much assumption of spirit and emphatic arrogance in setting out to influence people: for when it is for their good, it is too noble to trust, and when it is disguised for their ill, do they agree all too happily.
Emotion is the enemy of freedom, that enslaves us against our better reason and turns us loose on the limits of our passion, opening up upon that fragile ground our unconceding prejudice. To revenge upon the truth with our feeling of it is no smaller a telling than that vulgar germ found in the burning of books and censoring of thought – it is this importance placed on guarding and compelling sentiment that counterfeits as righteous cause the stamping out of another’s right to know and speak.
No, I dare say the strength of language is not in our feeling towards it, but rather, in our ability to remove the wildness from our feeling, to direct our thinking and being away from their proto beginnings. And it is only with those words perfectly captured, versified into their flawless vicinity, which bear nowhere chinks in their armor, that their meaning becomes undeniable to us. For anyone with a careful step, and a slight tending towards the light, there is no feeling strong enough to cloister out the glancing truth from those black swags of emotion.
Even in the tragic epos, those written to punish sweetly the sensibilities and work us up into quite a sobbing article, once we’ve drank every last word and finished with the chaliced affair, is there not somewhere in us a fulsome release, a final expulsion of our doom—a tension that at last grows slack with wisdom’s relief? Do we not then by the vernacular of beauty temper the feral in our most violent and frightened feeling?
Is there a power greater than this?
Do all Dogs go to Heaven?
1) How can you stand to love that which you are also meant to fear?
2) How does it feel to be forever infantilized by a celestial parent, who bothers with how you act, and on what days; who cares what you eat, and in which way; who distrusts everything about your free expression; who on the whole does not let you get on with the business of growing up?
3) To be born sick and commanded to be well again – why would you accept such a depraved vision of yourself?
4) Do you ever desire your full freedom – to be unobserved in your mind, to know yourself without intrusion?
5) How can you face the suffering of mankind only to stand on top of the rubble and declaim it ‘God’s plan’ – how can you bear the inhumanity of that utter indifference?
From someone who these days often finds himself defending religion more often than he does not; missing it more often than he does not; and looking for the elusive light which animates that something more than just the aimless, wandering atoms of the human soul.
Beginning from the back pews of the nave and up along its belly, a sequence ebbing turn by turn: families arose at the passing of a small procession there to escort the ornaments of the altar. The six boys of this tridentine rite, dressed according to the cinched cassock, were as cloaks of marching red and beige, and only ever flashes of black, that kicked up as rubber shoes under the drapery of their steps.
This small brigade walked slowly up the throat of the altar, never breaking the fidelity of their pace, nor daring to style their features less blank than those under the direct supervision of God. Two at the advance carried guttering candles out in front, beset by another pair with empty hands, and the whole of them lead by a tawny-haired youth pressing the communion cup firmly on his boyish chest. In their middle, taller than the rest from a year or two’s advantage, a white-faced bearer held the processional cross in sway.
Precariously atop that long wooden staff, a metal crucifix with the fleshy effigy of Christ protruding in the usual drama. However, something in the bounce of that Galilean Jew stood out as odd. Far from the normal lilt overhead a walking body, the son of God was in quite a vigorous stir, teetering now in front, now behind, bobbing a little too freely for what could be said the solemnity of the occasion. And this irreverent swaggering of Christ dragged along the poor acolyte in toe, sending him forward in dizzying step, then rocking him back slowly—it was easy for anyone to tell, the poor kid was going to pass out.
Such a reckless handle on the Messiah is not long unattended in a church, and soon the priest, not in sight of the scene directly, but catching the scent of nervous onlookers, turned to inspect the disruption.
Almost as though brought on by his notice, there was a final stumble as the boy speedily dropped into the milky white of the marble floor. He tried dutifully to save the cross in his stoop, shooting a scooping arm out from his side, but hit nothing except air. The long rod jumped upright on the ground, as though possessed with balance, and with its small hopping stride broke away from the flank of altar boys rushing to grab it. It tilted and twirled in front of the congregation, until there on the floor, with a stunning crash, did the head of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Right Hand to the Father, lop clean off! The blow sent this holy extremity lobbing into the air, twinkling with a metallic shimmer in the still light of noon, and reaching high into the room in a spectacular display of gymnastic ability.
Suddenly, with the reflexes of a practiced outfielder, did that Father the lesser spring into action to save the beheaded dignity of that Father the greater. Picking up the skirts of his cassock in one hand, the priest hurried to track the projectile in the open palm of the other, trained on this figurative and literal head of Christianity with all the athleticism his cloth-laden waddle could afford.
The Mass watched frozen in time, stunned with disbelief, trapped in the theatre of the moment. Never had they seen such an honest working of God’s will, nor could they have ever asked for a more dramatic proof – ready as they were to stand firm believers. But first, they needed the biblical catch, everything depended now on the coordination of one clerical geriatric.
Father John’s long-expired days on the baseball diamond came back to him in the expert shuffle of his backstep. Overtaken by those movements so intimately linked to his childhood, and now unlocking the memories stored in them, as the crucified head fell more surely into his hand, entirely by instinct did he call out, “mine!”.
As soon as he felt his intended object between his pudgy fingers, he closed them quickly with a seldom used dexterity. He was pacing backwards still from the momentum of the catch, smiling inwardly, imagining as he once did, the blurry pews of his vision as those of Fenway Park, and the shafts of light cutting across his face, the camera flashes of paparazzi.
He was only a step or two away from regaining his balance: if baseball stardom was not to be, by Jove he would be the hero of this lowly parish! Yet as what can only be described as divine intervention, something snagged his heel, jilting his last motion for proper footing. As he swung pendulously backwards, putting a free hand behind him to break his fall, the scales fell from his eyes, and all his dreams vanished before him... “But I am still the priest of this Church!”, recovering his nerve mid flight, “and I will not let this head come to disgrace!”. With his last reserve of strength, Father John flung that holy decapitation back across the atrium, towards the only person left standing from the calamity.
The small, tawny-haired boy had been left in a disoriented daze. The remainder of the alter servers were laying a damp cloth over the wounded effigy and administering the Last Rites as instructed in such circumstances. Not knowing what to do, well with this being his first day on the job, the little priestly aspirant closed his eyes and clenched the communion cup firmly in brace for impact: rebounding off the flat of his chest, the crowned head of Christ flew straight into that chalice of chips, sending a hundred shards of Eucharist across the floor.
The congregation, still arrested in place, wore their silence as acknowledgment of the divinity they’d just witnessed. Some mothers fainted, while fathers closer to the central nave took off their glasses to witness with unadulterated eyes. There was a universal hush, with all the prior excitement settling into calm at once—but only for a few solemn seconds. After which, seeing the Christly confectionery there on the floor, free for the taking, did the parish fly into a panic.
The churchgoers erupted in a violent tumult to get their hands on the Eucharist: they lashed at each other, hurdled over pews, climbed on top of shoulders, all in one uniform amassing around the stulted boy. Plunging to the ground they scrambled desperately to acquire one of the holy chips, to cement themselves forever as belonging to this bizarre miracle.
When the Bureau for Investigating Miracles and Other Holy Activity came days later, to rope off the scene and take lab samples, they set to work on assessing the alleged legitimacy of the holy event. There was Father John, lying cold and unmoved from where he made the catch. He’d passed quietly in the wild commotion on to the gates of St. Peter; having achieved inner peace, there was apotheosis squarely upon his face. The young altar boy, after an intense interrogation from the Bureau, realized he was unfit for this line of work, and went home with his parents to reconsider his career. The chalice was now officially deemed a holy relic and went back to Rome as an artifact to be stuffed somewhere in the secret archives. And lasty, of the parishioners who’d managed to eat the host, no one really knows; except later that night, when they were finally alone in their washrooms, did every one of them report to have taken the holiest shit of their lives.
Life in the Cancer Ward
Existence is largely the right word for it, this human thing of ours, where we tend to do rather okay by comfortable, daylight habits. There is little disruption in the familiarity of them; each new day watered by the last, imperceptible on Time’s slowly verge, a buoyant drift into the gradual.
There is an automaticity to existing, like the unconscious throb, like the very Unknowing.
But we are human, we hope for more than mere existing – we demand life, full and everlasting. And because we are apt to look for it, do we think it everywhere around us. Certainly, we profess to find it in the happy moments that surprise, or in the sadness that cuts us wide. We believe it’s in the autumnal sun, shown through brilliant colors of turning trees. We swear it’s somewhere in the family gathering, in the roast beef perhaps, sliced on cheerful scoops of mash. There again, do we feel it in the grateful shade of a summer’s walk; else, in full moons and the firework nights.
But one day, at the bitter last, do we awake to learn that none of these were real instances of living at all, only different parts of its wider allegation, of its enduring myth.
In this sudden wakefulness, roused from our diurnal sleep, do we see that the real living starts after, when there is no going back. This is not the winding to a close of life spent; of old age that looks back, that sometimes turns away instead; nor the facts of life that everywhere spin too soon and whisper their clockwise suspicions. It is not the vague shadow on the springtide green, or the slow chill that grows on the neck of warm youth. Astral dramas that decide our days, whether to be long or short, cruel or wasted – whether the loss of love, the bittersweet of loneliness, the family member dead; but still, not yet this.
Real living wants spreading sickness, pronounceable and thick on your tongue. It wants maternity fading in young mothers, feeding newborns from irradiated breasts; or decomposing men, bald and forgotten, rolling in thinly sheets. Browless children raised behind hermetic seals, experimented on, stuck with picks and stints and ports, tubes of all kinds woven into their skin like loose threads. And needles: butterfly, hypodermic, corkscrew – into veins, into spines, into bones that splinter.
This is inside, always inside, and the world, that mysterious word, outside—friends who graduate, family birthdays, sisters who marry. Not wooded trails, but cold tile floors. Not door bells but ringing IV bags. Gentle nurses who pass in and out, “please try to rest”, “it’s time for your second round”, parents crooked on foldable chairs.
Real living is the doctor’s hand on your shoulder, and lips: ‘I’m sorry’. It is a word, it is death, and so near, dated on the calendar; the weak flush of a failing graft shot back into transplanted bones, and the shock when it does not take, when ‘options’ are those things already tried.
This is money a mountain high, which cannot buy; relations who no longer relate; medicines that do not cure and treatments that do not treat. This is the unaccounted blood at the bottom of the printed page—‘six months at best’.
In these passages do we find life, real and abounding, with a thud-thud-thud of the heart starting from its long, sleepy dream. There is little like the terminal to set our aching antennae astir, to grab as much life as they can, and to make one final study of the creature they were all along. In the halls of sickness is the answer so completely had for our human existence. And with the fear of death then so violently upon us, bristling at our backs, snapping at our heels, do we pine to be once more, to go back as we were before: existing, so full of nothing, under the weightlessness that trampled and crushed.
How do we exist? Because we are so well suited for it. Because our bedfellows did not get the chance.
On the Pleasures of Evil
‘Is it pride? Is it envy? Is it the force of contrast? Is it weakness or malice? But so it is, that there is a secret affinity, a hankering after evil in the human mind, and that it takes a perverse, but a fortunate delight in mischief, since it is a never-failing source of satisfaction. Pure good soon grows insipid, wants variety and spirit. Pain is a bittersweet, wants variety and spirit. Love turns, with a little indulgence, to indifference or disgust: hatred alone is immortal.’
I am not, I trust, mistaken in the recognition of an urgency among my fellow contestants to fasten upon a flattery of their better natures, particularly as those being quite put past evil. As such, I fear there is a strain of self-sentiment run through this challenge, about the kind determined to stamp out any trace of crudity within itself, resigned to its own favourable regard, in the most righteous judgment, blameless, and in the effervescence of every hidden motivation, purer than Bethesda; a type of estimation that forgets the human as animal, and which after the high flight of romance, sinks susceptible to the reflective charms of a certain mythological pool of water.
Gone about it a different way, there is a spectacular readiness to set on foot the image of our immaculate conception, to be believed that without any perverse intervention, here called ‘learning’, we should never have come to know evil at all. Humankind, this conception would seem to say, is an organism innocent of all desire for wrongdoing, uncommunicative to the thrills of another’s harm, truly a creature incapable of wickedness as sport, that from its recreation issues only the sake of good, and in whose person never gets published those carnal attractions to hatred. Its only flaw, if it is still possible to imagine one under this construction, is the occasional weakness to unsolicited and entirely inadvertent corruption. Evil, the unintended coincidence of pure good.
It is in the fulth of such optimism where we find a rather primal grandeur, the one armed with too large an opinion of itself, and which tries for every case to rescue the reputation of the human being from its self-directed judgments. If humans are not born with all matter of evil already set upon them, it is only by refusing to cast the mesh of Fault high enough to let its webs so promptly fall upon us.
Much talk has already been given to the basis of ‘evil’, and rightfully so, it is a troublesome word. It makes us resentful at having to play at being philosophers in order to pin it down; not least because we live in a world where it needs circulation to begin with. So, a great deal of mental effort has been placed before me, managing perhaps only informally, if not in the end ironically, to tell us with many a breath saved what still remains the extent of all the pontificating and squabbling of Philosophy, that nothing can truly be known.
Well, at least not in the absolute manner in which these things tend to be treated.
Evil is a concept immaterial, changing its form at each new vantage, without an orderly connection to quantity or metric, something that for its many occurrences, never truly keeps to specifics, nor in the general, organizes into a decided resemblance -- but just like a ghost in the attic, there’s no denying when its there, to say nothing of the fright it can produce.
The apparition of evil being so laid, it is easy then to study not what it is, but how it is. Under this reading of the terms, it does not take a scholar to see that the countenance of evil is rather anthropogenic. It looks human; it moves and acts like something produced by one; the perfect echo of what would sound if from a primate’s mortal groans. Satisfying the limits and peculiarities of more primitive wounds, in character no less that exact rendering after its own bipedal design, as though by all genetic likeness, fulfills the bizarre quirks of a psyche so easily moved to anger. Could it ever be believed that the experiment of humanity, playing out upon a barely-conscious species, so recent of language and writing, with sufficient awareness to wonder at itself, but not enough to save it from fear and trembling—in every way a crudest specimen, hardly fit to bear its loneliness, yet ever hardened to danger and threat, that in all the confusion and madness of this sentience, we should not expect the seed of evil to be grown up in it?
Over the course of a long, mostly unsuccessful history, the sweep of evil has been slowly confined to narrower bands, where it is now such an extreme word that we’ve taken to recognizing it only in the same degree. Mass enslavement, genocide, war – those subjects which seem half-fantastical when contrasted with the passages of middle-class, suburban life. And these extremes are so infrequently registered on public life where it can be forgotten at will that evil, in those tiny capacities which it thrives best, still exists within all of us as unobservable forms – forms no less capable, if given a proper fanning and the right vent, of enflaming our passion into the most supreme example of wickedness.
Let us shine a light on these wicked shadows that lurk, to offer some needed rendering of just how evil hides in the unlikeliest places. The easiest instance of everyday evil, precisely because it is so unsuspecting, and because it can be so universally found, is the human’s morbid fascination with murder.
Here is a familiar scene: the black husk of a spider, hobbling along the floor, heedless, perfectly peaceful, running to attend whichever order of business he has in some small crevice. Do we not, children and adults alike, frangible nurses or severe moralists, start up in disgust and impudence to seize upon that grotesque, six-legged abomination? Are we not compelled by that innate spring of violence in the uncountable number of dead flies, ants, worms that infect gardens, rabbits that chew at saplings? And as we grow, and the pleasures of those insecticides begin to dim, do we not then look elsewhere to satisfy these biological urges which come all-too regularly to us?
What we find as a natural replacement, is the delighting in the misery of our fellow creatures. There is no end to the joys we get from the reports of local crime and felony, or more generally, of accident that befalls our nearest citizens. How can it be, that unprompted by an expansive freedom to choose differently, we watch so closely these events with an eye for gore and taste for finality? Is there not something familiar then in what we see? We feel if only faintly, an ancestral connection to the incident of evil, if we aren’t altogether ancient relatives of the very picture. It stirs in us some close response, we keep our ears to the ground for its appearance, we want to know it further, and wish, not often by action or deliberate design, but always by some handsome curiosity, to discover it again.
Certainly, this local scale of evil revolts our most outward feeling, and as a conscious thought is so disturbing as to barely be imagined; and yet, once we’ve parted with the sober acknowledgement of it, mourning its bitter occurrence, there comes all the same a breath of private enjoyment. How else can the utter misfortune of a neighbour seem as a happy stroke of luck done onto us? It must be because the small streak in our fortunes is ever so faintly brightened by a dark border, and our happiness rises in us by the precise shade of that contrast. Here is why, despite a life-long grief, at times completely unbearable, at others just passable, does the dying of a loved one in no small way also ‘give us that sense of our own lingering’.
And let’s not forget just how much we thrill to humiliate people, participating in their scorn is as though the veritable lifeblood of conversation. The impetus of jealousy and public gossip reminds us rather quickly of our inward treatment of others, and that while we commend ourselves on positive displays given to those who rise in the world, we far prefer to see them fall. A beautiful face or favourable regard, a smarter choice and better outcome, any tiny success that is not one’s own, these are like the wellsprings of our peevish ridicule which rush open at the slightest tapping. Our contempt for the human race is always fresh upon us, impatient as we are of the differences between men, of their stupidity or attainment, to be made to live with them is like a bitter draft swallowed to our own injustice. Does it then according to our wont, fill us with an unconscious comfort to witness these people come to ruin, humiliated and exposed for all to see, like pissants pilloried in the hot sun of the public square.
What is most owing to a discussion on evil, however, is the endless pleasure of our favorite kind: hatred. How wantonly do we erect false images of vague enemies that seek to oppose us, but for whom we wish to harm the more. We adore these stuffed effigies that we populate throughout the world, as aspirations for our violent retribution they inspire us more than virtue ever could. On them can we lust after revenge and bring the loveliest visions of a most imaginative cruelty. In fact, we are oddly never short on these fictions, wherein we continuously invent new punishments for our rivals and are free to carry out our depraved sense of justice; better than a stiff tonic to calm the nerve, or an aphrodisiac to incite the tumescent bulge.
‘The rich and famous’, ‘capitalists’, ‘serial killers’, ‘rapists’, think about how unwittingly we limn our versions of ill-will into their fates, believing as we do, like an inborn second nature, that they deserve whatever brand of suffering we can conjure up for them, that indeed we are glad when it arrives after them – and failing that, we pray ardently like the pious bead-counters we are, for their rather warm reception in hell. It is only by the heavy hand of custom that we do not revive the vestiges of once commonplace evils; but there is no mistake that found in every scream and slander, in the cries for punishment and the riots which break our shop windows and parliament doors, there lives in each of these the same germ that assembled men into crowds around the scaffold.
I would now like to give some due consideration to the second half of this challenge, which yet has slipped more or less undetected past the careful nets of my fellow contestants. Much fuss has already been made over the idea of ‘evil’, which is all well and right, but what about that second, more obscure word, ‘learning’?
As well as I can make it out, no effort has been made into elucidating the term, whose dedicated arguments seem so eagerly to have been hung upon, and rather taken at granted as that known to children of what transpires in a classroom. I fear then, the tambourine is very much in the wrong hands.
When expanding the frame on what we mean by learning, here too do we find an irresolute image: we know it must have some type of stimulus, we agree that something already known cannot be learned, and that generally it brings about the transfer of knowledge; but in the particulars it is still a vagary of definition.
One thing that can be confidently done to better place the word, to cast it in more friendly terms, is to put upon it the necessity of a teacher. It is proper to think that in order to learn anything, something or someone must be there to teach it to us.
So, the human subject, in the main grammar of the arguments already laid out, has Society for its object as that which teaches it. And in no explicit terms has this phantom figure of ‘Society’ been exorcised into the reasoning as that Gerasene pig to cast away all the demons of evil that otherwise demand explanation.
Catch-all phrases and indefinite language are like empty vessels to stuff into whatever unexplainable phenomenon is most convenient, usually those lacking excuse and failing all manner of easy answer. I suspect that ‘Society’ may be some such vessel, to hide out of site what we fear most, to cache away the mammalian genealogy of evil. What then is Society? Is it not that mass collection of men and women who inhabit it? Society is not some autologous force, it has no will of its own, and does not exist apart from the human beings which comprise it. What then does it teach us that we have not yet imposed on it? In society, in human society, demonstrations of evil or good originate from us, emanate throughout by institutions we have built, and instruct or unlearn our beliefs according to the facility of our own minds. There is no ghost of society that like the Leviathan sovereign, controls our thinking, that leads us unawares by the carrot or the stick, who absolves us our scrutiny over congenital flaws. What more must we ask of our hardest thinking to tell us which is most likely, that we who make up society are shaped after its supposed independent faculty, or that the very cut of society is actually fashioned after the collective wills of us who stir it?
The condition for evil is readied in the Homo Sapien of a commodious tendency for survival, like the pleasures of laziness or sex, it recurs in our disposition without any real need for instruction. This is an intuition that cannot be taught, to be affected so deeply with the froth of resentment that it overtakes us in moments often scarcely accountable to us. We are twinned to evil, as we are to good, and taking here some right and there some wrong together in the hidden compositions of our behavior, are we unable to look close enough into that realm of motivation. If pure good is the perfection of the human into ideals which he is equally born with, then evil is the aching within his chest of mortality so pitifully forced upon it.
The crepuscular rays broke on the marble floor, in three shafts of light glittering with the white from stale, unanswered prayers. It always caused something of a minor ecstasy among the laity, as though God himself was sticking in his thumby fingers through those cherry-rose windows. I never lost my astonishment at how deeply any silly occurrence could affect these people when seen under the tortured figure of crucifixion, whose loincloth and bloodied ribs cut across each pronounceable effect.
These, the same people who once finished their mass, and Eucharist swallowed, would storm out the doors to commit every unchristian atrocity in the name of their prosperity or their politics, ready and renewed for that violent competition of things.
Some of Sunday’s best were still shuffling into the foyer, to chat up their neighbours on weekly successes, the advance of a relative in the world, the crisis of upward wages among their domestics, and all such matters of Christian gossip; interposed, when it was optimally shown, with visible displays of kneeling and crossing. If the Impenitent Thief was nailed left of center, according to that scene on Calvary, could he with the vantage of a peaking eye better trace the vicar swanning through the crowd. Masses folded open to him, with seams of bodies directed inward, standing shoulder to shoulder, guiding his circuit throughout the room. And he, the demigod of everyone’s soon attendance, vaunting the robes of God, his usual air of faith upon him, made those tacit maneuvers to his believers’ pocketbooks, as blessings onto their ‘salvation and fruitful ascendancy into heaven’.
I watched upon the window of the narthex with the whisper there would be more honesty in this pious simpering if instead the entire parish entered the vomitorium at Rome, to spectate lions at the throats of persecuted children.
“Commixtio salis et aquae pariter fiat in nomine Patris, et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.”
Mass was begun.
On the politicization of thought and rousing of violence as the sum total of conscience life.
It has never been easier than in the current moment of uncritical talk to have for all imitation and false knowing the sound of an opinion. Like so many words today, has that one been made into what it does not mean by hateful misuses and a popular revolt against language. An opinion now is a spiritless vapor, an insipid, washable generality, which keeps none of its prior rotundness; a thing once of mass, now emanates like a foul moisture off the imposter’s tongue, as an infant babbling parental notes, who chews on whatever toyish object he happens to crawl over and stick inside his gummy mouth.
We no longer have opinions; not, at least, in that sense whereby some original and creative force of thought is its source. What we have instead are phrases and sentences; those which makes us into the same voluntary recruits of a fundamental mimicry, happy badge-wearers and conscripts of redundancy, who believe their own promotion and speak in favour of their own subjugation.
What we have is political imitation, everywhere and all at once, imposed upon civilian life for the reason to yield and yoke it, to uptake it in its spread, ever watching and ever threatening; a most wicked germ fertilized by those who accept unquestioningly, and who bend fearfully.
It is an accepted fact in America today, that the selfsame state is the world’s preeminent apparatus of terror. Its ‘neo-paternalism’ appropriates entire nations and la dependencia enslaves them; its ‘military-industrial complex’ wages war for profit, while its real-politic is ‘just pretext’ for oil and expansion; and a misreading of its history ensures every possible misery on the earth can be attributed back to its declaration.
In a time when appearance is the ultimate aim of our race, and the disciplined learning of the mind has no place as private employment, nor especially as recreation, do these smart sounding, off-the-shelf notions increase in value for sore souls desperate to cover their essential ignorance under a seeming surface of strong opinion.
It is not that these sentence-arguments are wrong and I should now drive to correct them—my fuller understanding of them is always left—but that among those who know nothing of which they speak, can they be readily recited almost anywhere and counted on to produce little or no opposition. What makes them so appealing and so ripe on the tongue of the Homo Boobien is that they are in the fashion of things an assumed truth, already professed by enough people to no longer bear any risk when spoken, that he or she need not in their accounts know why any of them are so before they can be enjoyed – particularly as acid in the face of the skeptic, but better, as poison for the thoughts of the innocent.
More than this, to hear them, usually in that manner of outrage best suited for their full persuasive effect, and to then ask for an elucidation of their proper case, is to betray oneself at once as a modern idiot, and for which nothing could be worse, an enemy of progressivism. But none who hold these beliefs do as a matter of consistency possess the size and complexity of that knowledge which permits them to do so in the first. It is why they do not discuss, why they never bother assessing themselves of their own convictions in that long interval of self-directed inquiry.
To talk of ‘cultural appropriation’, as an example, is largely an assertion from faith, taken on trust as that cliché already well produced in the mouths of the vast majority. Its application is endless, as all ideas poorly defined, requiring no great talent from its user, like a gun can be fired more or less without instruction, can its wielder be sure to borrow the authority of that phrase in their mere pronouncing it. No one cares for what it is exactly, or how it’s made, they just want a chance to shoot it.
As far as individuality of thought goes, intellectual life has unsurprisingly become absorbed by one long summation of identical sayings; because we have lost the education wanting of our better nature, and we’ve closed ourselves to those faculties against the pleasure of hatred.
All that remains in this age of outcry and manhunt, are our politicized sentences which carry the implicit threat, those which supervise the ‘freeness’ of a conversation, which at all times test allegiance with violence and take mobbing as their final measure; we have set them loose upon civility to hang their punishment above the whole of us.
The human being is now a singularity, of voice and action, politicized of the mind, and roused to violence as that somnambulant figure whose likeness is as a slave. There are phrases, not opinions, as there are sentences instead of arguments, and everything resembling a unique thought has ceased existing by the once-upon-a-time articles of criticism, public discourse, and free speech…Here we go banging on those pillars which hold the entablature of democracy, the pillars that broken cannot be remade.
‘How to Poetry: share your tips for writing poetry’ -- Late Submission
This is an overdue submission to Finder s challenge ‘How to Poetry: share you tips on writing poetry.’
I am paraphrasing, though I’m sure she’ll be gracious enough to forgive me the error of both misquoting her and entering her challenge rather late.
If I had a little more self-respect, I’d follow the well-appointed advice to ‘kill your darlings’; but I am too weak a writer to not let whatever little work I output outside to run around and see the sun a while.
The only advice I might offer to someone struggling for their poetic accent, who may not be so advantaged with the laurel staff, cheated of the sweet dew upon their tongue, yet desperate to sing against the very injustice, against the Muses who provision only the lucky few, is to not write poetry.
Let’s shore up an understanding.
Tips and tricks are no less a thing than ‘rules for writing good verse’, and rules are only relied on by those who cannot already write well. A bitter truth, that with enough talent one is more inclined towards their native voice in breaking rules than following them.
All the same, rules exist for a reason, despite the current moment of insta-imposters and artless readers who would deny it as they would anything to a certainty—because to their dismay, after all their pretending and half-literate equivocation is finished, there will always be better and worse in art.
No matter that it cannot be exactly measured, there is lack and impoverishment in some art, not to mention the rest of that sweeping vastness which fails to even attain the name. And so, the tragedy of poetry is not that there is perfection, but that too many of us will be unfit to ever see it.
… Rules are also damned in that proportion which poetry seems to utterly escape them.
By what I say, do I mean for us dwellers of the lower landscape to never write poetry, to accept our dejection and altogether suffer that stoop of bitter earth? In everyway, no. Afterall, we are the martyrs of style, and we will not be finished without a glorious ruin.
To better explain myself, I will lean on a friendly example in the forms of his life and his work of he who I regard as the greatest French novelist, Gustave Flaubert.
I’ll be good to remember we are discussing poetry if you’ll be better to forgive my insistence on a prose analogy. For a little less reluctance, I would take Gogol as a worthy replacement, except that I cannot figure my audience would credit his claims of having spun prose into poetry.
Now, Flaubert is truly a man of our class, a man like him we expect to brush shoulders with in the general parade of our species’ lowly stir. He is the quintessential hero of the workaday man, once beginning like so many of us, passed over in the way of grace, without gift for letter or rhyme, a bastard child of fate, and the subject of Irony’s favorite snickering: to be born desperate of genius, yet given absolutely no means for achieving it.
By all accounts to be believed, including that of his own, Flaubert had no nature for writing. The poor man would hack away at a page for frighteningly long whiles, in a process so painstaking of editing and revision it could justly be called writing by combat. The deciding persuasion ever to be wanting of a presumption like mine, however, is Flaubert’s modest output, to be counted across a lifetime in a handful of books and some unsuccessful attempts at the stage. To point the moral even more, could his trace of ordinariness ever be hidden from that diminishment, that sudden drop of charm and awe, from Madame Bovary to A Sentimental Education?
Writing for Flaubert, and this is the point, was not art; the page and pen no further a thing than the hammer and billet, was it a craft.
Our clan is very capable of craft, we were practically born in the smelters, our fingers still stained with soot, our words clogged with carbon—and it is there again we must look for an advantage. There is nothing within us that issues, no outpour of sweet inspiration or cheerful lyric, a native artistry unconscious and alive—that sense for style which simply does without knowing how. Instead, for us there is the cavernous forge, where we will meet with a thousand failed blows and a tossing of a million irons before we strike the perfect shape, our coming drawn out like the steel rod along the hard back of the anvil; our tools forever against us, our raw stock coarse and brittle, and all promise of progress vanished behind swags of black in that cold, roaring burrow.
Most typically accept this with little incident, perfectly willing as they are in exercise to spend their efforts beating back their inability—but thinking that all pounding is the same, and only for sheer quantity should they strive, do they beat not so much at their intended object, as the idle, unfeeling air.
All sentences are not equal on to that amount behind which lies genius. Writing a thousand poems for the sake of volume, as a means of practice and improvement, sincere as they may be, is a fraction its number in actual worth to the poet. An artist must never forget that to him, his chosen art, despite its otherwise difficulty, will always be a greedy indulgence.
When we write freely, with little care to exact a method from ourselves, we stay as prisoners to our present selves, and nothing could be so fine for the poet who does not make demands on his perfection.
I am not in the business of telling people how they should write, or how they ought to shirk off natal shackles, yet for all the diversity in the craft, and the various imaginings for writing a great poem, I cannot commend any better advice on towards that phantom of better than a healthy humor for hesitancy.
‘I’ve been working hard on Ulysses all day…I’ve written two sentences.’
It is true that doubt, if given too loose a reign, can become a end unto itself. Terror so, and courage naught, it is also an essential condition for gaining ground. For the poet concerned with his betterment, no less that impulse than the one under review here—the one which seeks out tips and tricks ahead of its advance—should first learn to preside askance over his creations, better still with a tinge of disgust.
Satisfaction is the child of stasis, and every hurried poem or draft which that scamp accumulates is like a larder for his own sloth.
Let instead Reluctance stay your hand ever so worriedly, ever so deliberately; let it first find le mot juste in among your endless readings. Free it upon yourself like a ravenous beast, to lash at you with its claws, to persuade you against your lesser instinct. Before the next word, have you assessed the arrogance of the task, can you face the fretting, ‘why that word?’, or the gnawing, ‘how dare you?’. Have you steeped yourself in a hundred stanzas before the ventured line? Where is the wisdom of your betters, do you have in hand their immortal lessons? When you write, can you arm yourself against that monster? Do you have at long last the arma christi to front its terrible, gapping maw?
Poetry, above all art, reveals an author’s fraudulence on the face. Like a fickle girl made into awkward dress, will she wear more severely her peevishness and discomfiture for the crime. There is little standing room for the poet when the bareness of every line speaks out against him. A poor poem cannot help but betray its own insufficiency, as a creature ashamed of its oddity, weeping disgraced at its own disfigurement.
A poem after all is a small affair, exchanging that little length to its author for the chance at a long devotion. So my tip on ‘how to poetry’, is to place down every word reservedly, always slow to the start, bearing in your application that aspect of reverence and fear owed to this most sublime of art forms.