Tag Archives: Kazantzakis

Commentary on Fathers and Sons

Studying the movie script.

Some time back I had suggested to my son, Jordan, that he do a videotape interview with me. I had recognized that I was an old man and I wanted to leave a remembrance of myself with my son by engaging in a father/son dialogue. After all, what is life but distilled memories, a lozenge on the mind’s tongue to savor in reverie? I knew that it would be a record of a kind of our shared lineage, ancestry, background, of my parenting and rearing, of his perceptions of me as I morphed  and evolved through different stages of my own maturation as a man and father and how all that affected him. The nagging infirmity of all that is that children only grasp one image of the parent forever and often are stuck in that, a kind of template they hold securely to like pacifiers until maturity when life gives them other options and perceptions.

It would be the whole ball of wax, fathers and sons, how he saw me interact with his mother and how that might have affected his own perception of how to relate to women, and so on. It would cover “everything,” but it did not come to pass. (We may yet do that). At conscious levels of awareness I wanted to have him ask me all kinds of nitty gritty questions and I was interested in how well I could talk straight with him. I wanted to share and express to him where I had gone wrong and what I had omitted as a father in dealing with him which still nags me to this day. I was not adverse, at all, to hearing good news. Doubtless, regrets would be expressed. I wanted to dwell in nether land with him. I left it at that, expressed at least.

In the interim I had written and published two essays about him in my latest book, trying to assess him as well as myself, critically, realistically, one essay as a child of five and one as a man in his thirties. I was and I am trying to prepare as I have done all my life for my departure from this flash of existence given me, quite randomly I must say. Here live, life commanded, without a manual in the glove box to reach for. Kazantzakis writes in Report to Greco, “Our lifetime is a brief flash, but sufficient.”

And so early in the year, it need not matter when, Jordan told me he was working on a screenplay called “Non-fiction,” that he felt would be a good way to have us interact as father and son; that he would fly into Las Vegas with  his friend, Brendan Jamieson, a cinematographer and that over a period of two days we would direct the screenplay. In fact, he paid for his friend’s airfare and rented a teleprompter, at quite a financial cost.  He sent me the screenplay and I read it very carefully, highlighting sentences, commenting in the margins, initially finding it too verbose or knotted. I began to coalesce several concerns about its efficacy. I was unsure of my own ability to act this out. Jordan over the phone and in an e-mail tried to assuage my concerns, my anxieties that I would not get through it, that I need not memorize everything and here I need to cite his cover letter that arrived with the screenplay:

We, of course, will have you ad lib a lot as well and integrate it into the film in different ways, not just linearly. I’m sending you the script so that you have time to get really comfortable with it before the shoot. Don’t worry about memorizing too much. I can hook up a laptop to a monitor and “teleprompt” with teleprompting software. In that way you will be basically reading the script, but with emotion and at your own pace. Of course we will break it up into manageable chunks so it’s not overwhelming. Brendan will be shooting and tech support for the piece and he is a pro at my studio so you will be in good hands. Don’t be surprised if the shoot lasts many hours or half the day on Saturday (that would be on October 20). It always takes longer than you think, between setting up the cameras and equipment for each framing of a shot, to getting the read right to x factors like horns honking outside at the wrong time. But most important of all, I wrote this for us to have fun with it. And after what you just went through (a medical condition throughout the summer of 2012) I hope that in more than one way it may be therapeutic for you. Filming is for me.”

I was to play an “old ornery prick.”  Clearly cast perfectly for this role, I was to “feel” free to ad-lib personal insults anywhere I felt it warranted. In essence, I realized the screenplay seemed a riff on Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” which I had enjoyed reading in college decades ago. Jordan did not know of this play, but it was my association to what he had written. I read the screenplay through several times and not with pleasure. I was growing increasingly anxious about memorizing the lines but a phone call between us resolved that as he told me it would be fun, don’t worry, don’t fret, calm down, he’ll take charge of it all. (Son allays father’s anxieties.) And if it collapsed into nothingness at least we had a good time setting fire to all our efforts. At that time I had no idea of what that really meant until the day of the shoot, which was about a month off.

After several readings I sent off an email to Jordan telling him that I had an “epiphany,” I had grasped what he was after, that I had my hand on the pulse of the screenplay and now I could manage the performance. Jordan, like me, is not too much a fan of our society, of western medicine and of politics and politicians in general. He does not suffer fools. The manifest level of the play is an old curmudgeon directly speaking to a “person” behind the camera, everyman, or every conditioned dolt. He is the prick’s target.

The monologue is scornful, derisive, sarcastically snide, arrogant as the old ornery prick excoriates the subject behind the camera, debriding him like dead skin. The curmudgeon puts him down emotionally, psychologically and intellectually for he represents the common man of our time, the one whose wife wants a stainless steel kitchen, an open floor plan and granite countertops because it matches her “lifestyle.” The common man is a male version of Teresa Giudice of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” — empty, thoughtless, primal, and dumb, IQ 89, a Dr. Moreau hybridization of Trump and Palin.

The screenplay is called “Non-Fiction,” and here we move to the latent level of the play, its subtext. Jordan is attempting to contrast fiction with non-fiction in life, reality and illusion, as if he is using the play to examine the common man as a demented and twisted Don Quixote in jeans. He accomplishes this in several places and in several ways and the artifice of it all is that one or more lies are told about the Lumiere brothers, very early filmmakers. I present it as a true anecdote and much later I go about destroying the anecdote as just an urban legend, leaving the observer, our jean hero, confused, battered and dumped on. Movies are a perfect example of illusion portraying itself as reality. On the other hand, the movie is an artifact of reality. Consider the confusion.

As an example I offered my ad-lib input which may end up on the cutting floor or not, although a cutting floor is much the misnomer nowadays. In 1924 Robert Flaherty filmed a famous documentary about an Inuit called “Nanook of the North.” It is now considered an early classic for its realism and all the adjectives associated with filming “natives” anthropologically. However, one scene is staged! Nanook comes across a phonograph and is stunned to hear the music coming from the steel record used in those times. So what is real, what is not real? Welles’ did this ingeniously in his documentary called “F is for Fake.”

Indeed, I ad-libbed about Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” because it begins with a lie, either we believe or we do not believe that Gregor Samas has morphed into a cockroach. Or, fiction is a lie well told.  (I think of the master, Poe.) But what is non-fiction and how do you determine this? The screenplay had these tones to it, but it was to be played by me, as directed by my son, as a kind of scathing frolic and so it was.

I cannot recreate the two days before the camera, he pompously says, because I believe it is beyond my ken; however, what I can do is give snippets and my associations as well as feelings about what was happening. Essentially I was given the Alfred Hitchcock pose, speaking to the camera straight on in that old series of his in the 60s. I was placed at the head of our dining room table and it was propped with books, a magnifying glass, and a small Inuit statuette of a man, giving a rough and whiskered sense of atmospheric intellect, a few books piled up next to me to substantiate my presence.

Brendan Jamieson (left), Matt Freese (center), and Jordan Freese (right)

At the other end of the dining table two cameras were set up as well as a third for angle shots. I was asked to speak to the camera directly in front of me which had a teleprompter next to it with the screenplay’s dialogue in large letters, easy for me to read, almost as if I was in an optometrist’s office calling out letters from five or six feet away. Jordan could control the pace of the scrolling which made it very easy for me to read. It came to pass, as he said, that what I needed to do was not memorize but simply perform as the words came up and I took to that easily.

I had spent decades as a teacher of English so I had a general sense of what to emphasize in a line of poetry or in prose, although I knew I was no actor but only a ham, for teachers are essentially standup comics in any case. What comforted me no end is that Jordan gave me line readings which I really took to. He would say read it this way, or try to stress this word, and then he read the line with the inflection he wanted. Parenthetically, I felt proud that as the writer he knew what he wanted as the director. In this way I felt assured and I could easily mimic what he wanted for I am much the ham and ebullient self — I love to perform. My life is a performance, so is yours if you get into it — think Zorba the Greek!

My wife, Jane, had been asked by me to photograph as much as she could behind the scenes because I wanted a record of Jordan and Brendan, staging the “set,” setting up cameras for special shots, and Jordan directing his father as a remembrance of this event, for I am much into remembering. For me memory is a kind of everpresent resurrection of the past, the only authentic thing we have after the event itself. In this way I sustain the memory of all the losses I have had in my life. And, in effect, as I will discuss later, Jordan was fully aware of the subterranean meaning of this entire event, for as an artist, and he is the artist, he was churning out a mutual lifelong relationship into some kind of art, making it more telling and compelling than just a taped interview with his father, something that we could do down the line in any case.

Jordan Freese adjusting teleprompter

The shooting began well. After one reading by me, Jordan said, “Awesome.” Well, that was very reassuring to me, for he doesn’t say “awesome” frequently. To put it another way, dad had nailed it. In short a kind of subterranean river of mutual respect was forming. I was nailing it and he was not totally surprised that I was capable of doing that. We don’t underestimate one another. Brendan shared that many people freeze up before a teleprompter, something I did not know or should know. Brendan and Jordan, I suppose, first thought that it would be a hurdle and when it proved not to be a hurdle the shoot went on with speed, to everyone’s delight. “Awesome” was said several more times during the Saturday shoot. Coming from my son, that was very sweet. “Now, Dona Lisa, move you head a little to the right side.” “Of course, Signor DaVinci.”

After a shot or sequence of lines sometimes I would not get confirmation, but Brendan, off to the side and where Jordan could not see, put both thumbs up. He was affirming his own “awesome.” I later asked him why he signaled instead of saying something and he responded that he did not want to disturb the director but he needed to tell me that I was performing up to snuff. So I looked for his Ebert thumbs up as well as to “awesome.” We all need to be stroked.

As required by the script I had to “moon” everyman, the conditioned slob, the outer-directed mental muffin this entire screed was addressed to. I did not equivocate. I had heard but I had chosen not to hear or obey that it was optional. I wanted to “moon,” which proved to be hilarious to all. I was into performing. Four times I responded to the director’s instruction because he couldn’t just get the right shot. My ass was akilter or out of the frame here and there. I recall how I waited for him to say cut so I could pull my pants up. Earlier in the shoot he had told me to wait at least three seconds after I finished a line or a bit of dialogue while looking directly at the camera. Here I thought three seconds had passed with my exposed ass completely out there. In any case by the fourth shot we were all hysterical about my compulsive need to get the ass shot just right for my son. I had no shame. They thought I would have shame. And so my son was instructed in the ways of the father. We had to stop shooting for we were all wildly laughing from what happened. It would prove to be memorable.

The second eventful sequence occurred while Jane went off on an errand. (I hope that an outtake might be saved just for her viewing.) And here is what happened. I needed to vent a scream, a real scream, a harrowing scream, a Wolfman shriek. Brendan and Jordan mounted the camera on a tripod on the table itself up close and personal, about a foot away from my face. I imagine if I kept my mouth open for a few seconds the camera would capture my uvula moving like a tuning fork. Action was called and I let go with a scream that I again doubled up on midway so as if I completely spit out a dybbuk from my body –perhaps it was all the pent up anxiety of the day. I surprised myself, for it was a very piercing and evocative scream, much to the director’s pleasure. What else am I capable of, I thought. In my son’s safe directorial hands, I had no fear. I trusted him, and apparently he trusted me, father as actor. With that done we resumed the rest of the shoot and day one came to a close.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Jordan and Brendan were very pleased that we had so much footage in the can, so to speak, for everything was done digitally on memory cards. And so on Sunday we got up early and took a small trek out to Red Rock Canyon, a national  conservation area which is set in a canyon of magnificent strata with red striations boldly set into the hills. We took the scenic route which was about 13 miles, here and there, stations set aside for parking. Jordan had visited here with his girlfriend, Liz, a year ago, obviously it left an impact, for it was now a setting in his screenplay. The vistas within the park were breathtaking. The canyon was pristine and one sensed Native Americans had lived here in the past, too wonderful to overlook. We spotted a gravel road littered with rocks, stones, and scree. While moving slowly up the road I spotted an indentation by the side and Jordan felt here was a good place to set up the cameras and finish the rest of the script. Across the way from this area was a hill that served as the backdrop and it was dramatic in its color and size.

Red Rock was to serve as the non-fiction part of the screenplay, for here the everyman was to be confronted with what was real, tactile and was not a green screen for some kind of projection. The dialogue I had to say went after that in short bursts of acute lines. I had trouble with that for I had not memorized it well. Jordan took me under his control, he read a line and then I repeated it to his satisfaction. With that going well I heard once again “awesome,” and was emboldened for the final piece de resistance.

The final scene requires me to do a kind of dance, perhaps one not so much of joy as one of an abrasive sneer to everyman, a finger gouging his eye. I was wearing my blue blazer over a gray t shirt with white shorts and tennis shoes. I assume they were filming above my waist which they had done at the dining table on Saturday. Today it was a full shot. I had a red balloon attached to my wrist, for some symbolic note, I imagine. In any case I referenced in mind an early film of the 30s with Irene Dunne, who could do it all, in “Showboat.” In one scene which I remembered she did a shuffle to music which was evocative and sinuous and so very charming that it took up a few pixels in my memory. I emulated her. Going into the shuffle, to the left, to the right, pushing my pelvis out and then back again, opening my blazer to the left and to right as if exposing breasts, and then punching the balloon as if smacking viciously everyman’s face because he could not grasp anything we did in this script. “Awesome” pealed out and the shoot was over. Jane saw the dance in slo-mo on a laptop later on and in essence just said, “Just you wait, Enry Iggins, just you wait.”

When we came to say goodbye at the airport, I said to Jordan that he was a very good director. In his response and in his voice I knew that meant something to him. (Jane will be a guest blogger here and will give her take on what occurred between all of us and between father and son in late October 2012.) But here are a few thoughts of my own. Unfortunately in the swish of events, I recall saying something very quickly to Jordan to the effect that this was turning out to be something special between all of us and particularly between us. I seem to recall that he said something to the effect that it had been part of his plan to begin with but this does not do justice to what I felt in a bodily way what he communicated to me in that quick moment.

As for me, over two days I realized how serious a commitment I gave to this screenplay, to do well, my own sense of responsibility, something crucial to my own character. I realized almost subliminally that I did not need control here; rather it was to surrender control to the safe and secure directorial hands of my son. I had no problem here. He need not rise up and slay the father. I saw the emotional ham in myself, who as a young man wanted to be an actor but allowed my own self-impediments impede me as well as those of my society that said no; you wouldn’t be good at that. The movie can be cut dozens of ways, but the final product will only be one version of what we all shared over that weekend. It doesn’t matter, for it is in the can, something to reminisce about in the future when I have gone off with Billy Bitzer, Welles and Gregg Toland to the cinematic heaven in the sky. “Ready when you are, Mr. DeMille.”

Midway Reflections

Ducks and Drakes with Krishnaji is about half done. I have no idea how many pages it will be. I’ll know when it is about to end. While preparing for this effort I’ve been reading two books about K. One is by a fairly impartial biographer and is a recent book about K that came out in 2000, Star in the East by Roland Vernon. The other one is by Mary Lutyens, friend, colleague of K for decades and it is called The Years of Awakening. a hagiographic biography which presents little disagreement or objective sifting of evidence about the World Leader. What is appalling in her story about the Theosophists, Annie Besant and Charles Leadbetter especially, is the grotesque adherence to what is essentially occult bullshit. One reads about astral travel, clairvoyance and clairvoyant messages idiosyncratically interpreted to serve conscious and unconscious purposes, delusional thinking creating more delusions among others, the servile pampering and coddling of two Hindu boys, K and his brother Nitya, the upper crust of English society donating and giving this house, this mansion, and this castle and its estate to the new messiah, expensive cars and free apartments, staying at top-notch hotels, across Europe, Australia and India for the comfort of the all-seeing, all-knowing elite is sickening. Into this goulash K and Nitya are cast and indoctrinated thoroughly until K has a transformative experience under the famed pepper tree in Ojai, California.

At no time does Lutyens pull back and make some observations of how splendid dinners, volleyball and tennis matches, skiing, riding in limousines and all the other appurtenances of the rich are all part of the cult ethos that they alone are in “possession” of a messiah — by the by, how does one rear a messiah? At least Jesus knew carpentry; K until his late twenties beginning at 14 or so, learned how to tie a cravat, polish his own shoes and that was about it. In sevral letters he curses and damns the environment that has him tied to Theosophy’s silken strings. Annie Besant, the grand doyenne, he calls “mother,” and he is so enmeshed in her and his love for her that the word merger comes to mind, big time. He is saturated with her fats. Leadbetter, who was his tutor, is most likely a pederast who often escapes punishment by stonewalling accusations. Luytens goes so far as to say he is an “enigma” to her. Really? Imagine Miss Besant, an occult true believer, as a deranged Miss Havisham and you have only a taste. Imagine, you have a messiah to raise!

K is a before and after act. Before his transformative experience, there is much to dislike about him, for he gathered a kind of hauteur to himself. What is to be expected? Brainwashed and I use that word carefully, indoctrinated and conditioned by the Theosophists with  the very utensils of mind control that K in his after act tore into had made him something of a dandy, whipped cream on a charlotte russe. What he accomplished as a spiritual thinker later in life as he freed himself of this occult drivel and movement overshadows the bleak early years. He was a true and committed believer in what he had been  taught.  He came to believe in it thoroughly, he used it, he maligned it as well, for he felt he was trapped in a bell jar environment which he was. K could not breathe as a young adult in this insidious environment that awarded badges, had priests clothed in silken robes, put people on probation as inititates so that they could rise to a high spirtual plane and the needy, competitive lust for that, created jealousy and envy among the acolytes, shared mystical lunacies that any outsider would see through immediately. Give Houdini ten minutes with these “Magi,” espcially their fondness and reliance on messages from this Hindu deity and that one, direct lines to the eternal powers, Ouija board par excellence.

Reading about the Theosophists is reading about the Jazz Age and Jay Gatsby, and it occurred in about the same time period, the Twenties. A kind of  soft decadence wafts from this group, a moral blindness as well, and a delusional grandiosity that is grotesque. They had a rabid devotional belief in their occult systems and doctrines so as to remind us of  Druids in secret rites at Stonehenge. I feel that to be a member of this group was to enter into a psychotic world, thus bordering on hysteria. I have no doubt that there exists a store that contains relics from K’s earlier life as a Theosophist, a vial of the World Teacher’s urine; a pin cushion made from his pillow’s tickings; a monogrammed handkerchief; one of his gold knobbed malacca canes; his car which was a donation to the great teacher; his turban, a robe perhaps, forever and forever on. In a footnote Luytens mentions that in the 70s or later on a store did open that contained paraphernalia about him. Stifling and stultying and aggravatingly pompous, the milieu of the Theosophy Society was decidedly creepy.  What we have to deal with is K’s second act which is mostly unexplainable.

Luytens cites extensively from a letter by his brother, Nitya, describing the famous experience K underwent at Ojai under the now fully grown pepper tree, much like Buddha under the Bo tree. I cannot account for what it says except to extract what I feel is the mystical scent that the observers of K put into the account, not deceitfully but expectedly from their own conditioned minds. The experience is real and I will deal with that later on; however, it meshes beautifully into what the Theosophists and his close friends expected to emerge from him, although it came sooner than expected. I associate to the discovery of Christ’s tomb as being empty. Any number of  theories other than the biblical account offer possible explanations, but in the environment of that time amid and among his disciples and followers it didn’t take much to say that he had risen. My mind says look for the yeast before you make such claims. In short a self-fulfilling prophesy did come to pass for the Theosophists, a “messiah” who renounced the group itelf, sending the entire society into a spin. K was a fully “realized” Avatar, Buddha, godhead, guru, teacher, pick your synonym. His later teachings are what mostly attract me, but his past as a Theosophist is just weirdly fascinating and outre. Like tinsel at a party, some of that you take home on your person.

K was an imperfect man with flaws like the rest of us. I am so glad to say that, to spit it out, to free myself of any idolatry within my own self. However, there is a special blindness caused by a flashbulb going off in your eyes. Recent accounts of being around K as a friend or even his chef, reveal that this bright light exposure often was self-sustaining and so K was seen through long time distortion. He could drop friends just like that if they no longer seemed attractive to him in terms of their mind or values, much as he did the same with others as a youth under the influence of the Theosophists, a peremptory manner about him. A young woman, Helen Nearing, nee Knothe, appears very early in K’s life and one could say that he was infatuated with or in love with her, perhaps his first sweetheart. The World Teacher had to be celibate so that was the fly in the ointment. Their relationship was strong, and most likely did not involve any sexuality, although intimate. It was so powerful that almost 50 years later Helen, who had married by this time, chose to visit her old friend. What she has to say in her own account is telling.

He meets with her and behaves as if he had never met her before, a kind of detachment as if a complete stranger which she most definitely was not. Helen is perturbed as if she had never existed in his life and says, “He had no more care for me or interest than he had for the fly on the wall.” She goes on to say that he had a greatness to him, no doubt, and as Vernon states, “Krishnamurti lacked ordinary human compassion and kindness; he was intolerant, even contemptous, of those who could not rise to his own high plane.” Helen goes after his belief that he was unconditioned, living a life free of attachments to things or people by remembering their past decades ago. Helen recalls “the Krishnamurti who slept in comfortable beds in costly houses, who got up in the morning, gargled, abluted, combed his hair, and dressed in fine clothes bought in elegant shops . . . He was conditioned and affected every second of his life, just as everyone else was and is.” It is this kind of reasonable slap in the face that is lacking in Luytens work, but Vernon cites this account and he should. Helen Nearing had a remarkable life herself, this was no spurned lover.

As I look over these words, the elephant in the room is K himself after he left Theosophy for all time. I am intrigued by what had occurred in this man to make him so different from what he had been and to imbue him with extraordinary insight and intuition, a remarkable perspicacity. It is more than this. He seems to have been  drastically changed intellectually and psychologically and to attain levels of human erudition which far exceeds the usual intelligence of man or the creative artist. He is much more than a spiritual savant. Lucky is the reader who first comes upon his works for that initial experience is stunning if not baffling, asking the reader to consider, to wonder about who is this man who seems to have such innate wisdom and erudition, who shaves close to the truth, who has the ability for expression of one’s own thinking in a shared and lucid translation of feelings and thoughts. One comes away with a kind of awe. It does take time, a great deal of time, to separate out personal issues of self as they rise against what K is teaching. For me, it has and continues to take years, if not decades.

If you are lucky, if you are mentally brave, you will not be cowed or at best shade your eyes with your hand as you approach his testimonies. I do believe that his practice of kundulini yoga played a significant role in his transformation. I do believe he was “realized” man to a degree not seen for centuries. He was not special, and he was not different – he was sui generis. I do not believe him to be divine and all that rot. I do believe he suffered from physical pain, the “process,” as he called it, all his life. If you read his Notebook (1961), you will absorb the daily phenomenon he had in which in some way he communed with nature and his own consciousness in ways that are not bizarre, but relentless, completely penetrating his mind, offering in ways we can only imagine bursts of acute awareness, as he functioned during the day. The “process” was unique to him. He felt it to be a “benediction.” Since I am unrealized man, I see it as the cost for being so enlightened, which is a good word for how I understand his experience. I think we always have to go to his body of work and extract from that what we can use to further our own spiritual adventure. And in a very real sense, forget about Krishnamurti, which I think he would revel in. If we adore the man beyond a reasonable respect for what he owns and what he can offer, we become servile, fawning, sycophantic and consequently disciples. However his life story is a grand attraction much like Kazantzaks’ life, both knowing suffering, both , in a fashion, transcending.

Yelp

I am perplexed why I keep on writing.

I associate to Krishnamurti who was asked by a disciple, if you will, why he continued his teaching after so many decades, given that most people had heard his message and did not change. He answered that a rose has to give off its essence. I like that. I write because I write, no more, no less.

It may be that there is nothing else for me, or for me to do as I look about the world.  I am not materiallyrewarded. I have no fans or fame to speak of. I see something of my intent in the great final words by Carton in A Tale of Two Cities. “It is  a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known, ” an eloquent mixture of ennui, resignation and self-evaluation. And then off with his head!

I wonder as I look at my fellow creatures what it is that they do to sustain themselves in this world of the fascist Taliban, the BP spill, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, the psychotic Michele Bachmann, the Jew hatred of the world at large – the same old eternal shit giving; the inability to depict cartoons of Mohammed, the stupidity of the Kaaba and the Vatican, priests ejaculating all over the place, a denying Pope, a President who dost think too much; Fox News (you should pardon the expression), a school that expels a child for wearing a cap with toy pistols on it, the morons of Scientology and Mormonism, and the true believers who follow, the damage being done to the environment, the Japanese who, kamikazi-like, still slaughter whales; the corporations that rule this world, the digitalization of almost everything — genomes, books, the workplace and the slavish esteem  which we give gadgets rather than individuals, for all this is endless in a rather corruptive environment. I had someone say to me that hope and faith will get us through;  besides restraining myself from throwing up,  I felt like saying that ghouls, vampires, ghosts, miracles, Catholic relics, probably in some demented way make more sense than the idiocies of conditioned religious thinking. We are a doomed species — please hurry up with extinction.

We are all handicapped — pick your disability. From the barbecueing American dad with his bumper stickered SUV and his need for a “man cave,” to the aimless and drab lives of American housewives, to the ideologues — Anne Coulter, Laura Ingraham — she with the inch high and wide gold cross on her conditioned neck, to the inane and fat cat sensibility of a Jay Leno and the snide David Letterman; Wolf Blitzer boring us out of our minds as he drones out the news and Chris Wallace, he with the incised smirk in his face, to geriatric gym rats who try to stay alive longer but have nothing between their ears to make it meaningful, to Joan Rivers, slathered in plastic surgery, a living marionette, to the sycophantic writers who kiss ass to get published, to the writers who write fluff and attend dozens of critique courses in order to get their vanity published, to the fat little kids who don’t know what play is as they are absorbed into the digitalization of their world, to the parents who have no idea how to parent for they are bereft of an inner life and their own children simply extension cords of ignorance plugged into their collective assholes.

I am still curious how we defend not only against death from day one — “Mommy, are you going to die?” but how we manage our daily lives in order to give it meaning of some kind — football, soccer, the sport stations which are terminally boring,the players who are essentially moronic; the celebrities of stage and screen; the sleaze of the Madonnas and Lady GaGa and their ilk; the Roman games we abide in on a daily basis. The media who thrives on the decomposing bodies of the body politic, scavengers all. The reptilian politicians are a minor travesty given that we as a country are fast going down the tubes. So here I am scribbling stories to defend against the lunacies of my time, the culture I am immersed in.

Curious, is it not? that on one level the Tea Partyers represent a kind of psychological resistance to the state of affairs in our country and are oblivious to that except for the political aspect of it.  Unfortunately,  historically true,  a good rebellion is usually twisted and perverted — I give you Robespierre, Lenin and Trotsky. The discrepancy between what is and what could be is vast and often our rebellion about it comes out skewed.  I associate to The Great Awakening in the 19th Century in which religious leaders tapped into the ferment bubbling beneath the surface, but it  got screwed up, essentially because it is religious in nature; belief systems savagely destroy anything alive and fresh.

The one telling piece of advice to give an attentive child moving into young adulthood is to encourage him or her to be in constant insurrection (!) against society and everything that may serve to conform and condition  in that culture, including his or her parents. In fact, the task of parenthood, for me, is to help the child be free of his parents in a loving way if at all possible. Ultimately it may lead to isolation of a kind but I weigh that against the capacity to be free or to quote Kazantzakis’s, “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” Life is an existential crisis and the sooner we understand that the sooner we may determine whatever meaning we can make of it, although I do not vest too much in meaning. There is no external meaning, for we make it, and we place it out there. I’ll take the crisp and cold solitude on the mountaintop, knowing I am indeterminate rather than the plush pomp of certainty in the lowlands of every culture and the Huxleyan Soma we imbibe each day.

I favor discontent, intellectual unruliness, disgruntlement rather than the KY gel we live in. The soporific platitudes we derive from religion and politics, from the general daily interactions we have with other human beings make me stand back and evaluate. It is essential, for me, not to become part of this society although I am stuck up to my ears in terms of its daily demands. I know I have chosen to write or to become a writer for it is in that task that I define who I am and make clear to myself what the matrix is. The artist,  poet and  writer must be in rebellion for his or her own sanity is at stake. History is an avalanche of human nonsense presenting itself as “progress,” whatever.

One never becomes completely free but sometimes it is excitingly emancipating to wipe one’s feet free of human shit.

Civilization and its Discontents

There are times in reading Freud’s grimly pessimistic assessment that I come up against a personal stonewall.  His grasp of his own metaphysics and mastery of psychoanalysis can be stupefying especially when he applies his learnings about the individual analysand to the community at large, culture, civilzation, society, whatever term you decide to use.  Freud needs to be parsed sentence by sentence for the meat within the nut. I’ve had to read a few pages at a time, stopping thereafter because of the perplexity and depth of what I have read. Here and there I gather a mere morsel of sanity or truth and am grateful for it. This particular book was finished, I believe, shortly after the Nazis were duly democratically elected to office. It reflects Freud’s pessimism about the species which I largely share.

Imagine if he had lived on and had experienced the Holocaust — what tomes would he have written about that?

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny is a scientific thought I’ve come across in college and ever after; essentially, the idea is that the individual evolutionarily develops along the course of the  group’s evolutionary development. It reminds me of those drawings of the early fetus developing gills and then losing them as it progresses to the final human shape; that the species must undergo the same genetic shape shifting that  evolution has given it. So Freud takes his experiences over the years dealing with a wide variety of patients and discovers the causes of their maladies and reaches conclusions about neuroses of all kinds and by the end of his long life he feels he can then apply that clinical wisdom to  society at large. Apparently he feels and argues that society  repeats or recapitulates the individual neuroses which is an amazing hypothesis with much truth to it, I believe. In The Future of an Illusion and especially in Totem and Taboo Freud applies his analytic strengths to hypothesizing about how society reflects these same truths as a whole.

If I read him halfway right, society represents psychological issues that equate to inhibition, repression, restraints against aggressiveness and eros that the individual faces by himself; not only do we work on ourselves to be free of illusions (religion) and conditioning as well as indoctrination but also face the immensely powerful and crushing wheels of culture that require and demand a plethora of things from us — a psychological toll. I associate to a title of a great science fiction story by Harlan Ellison called “I Have No Mouth and Must Scream.” Squelched, shut off, shut in, skewered and screwed by society, we are lucky to get off this planet dead. Man is discontented.

I wonder aloud about the task of any artist, how he or she must wage war against the culture at large which really prefers to grind slowly as a universal millstone about, around and over his neck. My son calls this the “Grind.” Many of us will go to our graves having lived incomplete lives; however, what is a complete life? In his book Freud devotes time to what it is to be happy, and what gets in our way; he goes after some of Christianity’s concepts about loving thy neighbor and literally shreds them apart in terms of logic, reason and its incoherent folly about the nature of man. Madison had a good handle on our species when he said “Men are not angels.” Our entire Constitution is the Enlightenment’s bulwark against what Hobbes called man’s life, “short, nasty and brutish.” If we divide and separate powers, perhaps we can defend against man’s inherent ugliness.

I feel exhausted when reading Freud, sometimes frustrated, often frustrated by my inability to grasp his metaphysics and his jargon — something akin to the head bone connected to the thigh bone kind of writing. Yet I glean, like Ruth and Naomi, what I can after he has felled the wheat. And what I glean is his unremitting stand on human beings; that they are destructive and aggressiveness creatures; that it is best not to have many if any expectations of our fellow man; that no behavior is beyond man — that the Father in Christianity has its phylogenetic roots in the primal father and the primal horde; that the communion smacks and is closely related to savage or primal ritual sacrifices; that religion itself is an immense illusion based on the premise of the Father and that once this is discarded, Freud believed, man can first be free. Think of Kazantzakis’ Cretan Glance which served as his epitaph: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”

Alas, for many of us, by the time we wake up we are  much too close to our end. I feel and I imagine that my work on the Holocaust has given me the opportunity to press in close or to shave close as Thoreau wrote, the very issues of societal power and destructiveness, of the innate brutality of man, the exquisite insanity of the species when it is on a tear (war) for it allows me to define how to act as best I can if I were to confront this which I do in milder adaptations on a daily basis. Every time a child stands up in a school room, as an example, and pledges to an inanimate object, the flag, he is a slave. Perhaps neurotics at large envy the artist and his artist ways because they are, indeed, failed artists. To a degree, the artist is a free man. Ironically, the stylite who perched on a stone pillar centuries ago, the hermit, who denied and “escaped” from society did not realize how closely he had his nose right up society’s ass…chew on that as I did the first time I heard it.

Adieu.

Reflections on Rummaging

I came to the garage in order to live deliberately. I brought out two boxes that contained manila folders filled with the efforts of years of writing, teaching, being a parent and father, as well as a husband. Here were data and sheeted papers that recorded several decades — birthday cards from Rochelle, a letter to my deceased daughter, Caryn, which makes me cringe because of its immaturities, emotional trinkets and trivia. I threw out tax returns more than 5 or 6 years old, sometimes hesitating about that as I am conditioned by Big Brother, but I fought that off. Amazingly, what control is inserted into us like squirting jelly into donuts at a bakery. Appalling to contemplate. I came across rejection slips with an occasional note by an editor which was encouraging so I kept that morsel, needy as I was as a young writer — The Paris Review, The New Yorker, to wit. I shiver at the lack of skill I had at that time and yet the bigger the magazine the kinder they were. I did not toss the rejections. Folders were dated, often with the time I had completed a story or essay as if I was preparing years ahead for my sashay into the garage to look over the passing years. If I came across six copies of a published story or article, I threw away three overriding the younger feeling that I need keep at least six copies. “Simplify! Simplify! Thoreau argued.

When Rochelle died on 3 July 1999 I kept the gruesome autopsy records by the coroner. I recall reading it then and it was horrific but I felt, I needed, to read it. I recall the coroner’s description of Rochelle’s “pendulous breasts,” and I remembered them as well; his description of a minor bruise on her chin which I observed through the window of a viewing room when she was covered by a sheet except for her lovely face. I tore the document up. I had no longer a need for that. This coming July will make eleven years since she died at the wheel on a perfect July day. She had fallen asleep. I thought about 1940 and I thought of 1951, for in those eleven years I had grown as a child, conditioned by culture and ethnicity, “reared” with benign neglect, untouched physically by both parents, never read to!! and within that time all the tracks I would follow for the rest of my life were laid down. And now it is eleven years since Rochelle has died and I realize how many lifetimes are in eleven years: learning to ride a two-wheeler, hearing my parents have sex. And yet her memory flourishes — when I am very stressed, when a critical medical examination is about to happen, I pray to the only god I register — Rochelle. I need no Pope nor rabbi. The documents are thrown away now because the fear that lest I forget was a false fear, for I will never forget. Perhaps authentic resurrection is the one in which we “die” in this mortal life and yet resume our living.

Observations of me as a teacher by administrators were kept, although I threw one away by my Italian principal who thought he was Don Corleone, as if I must kiss his signet ring. You don’t ask this Jew to do that. Jews do not bow. I kept the others as a testament to how very good I was at a job that I detested, although teaching an idea was always comfortable for me. I kept a small notebook in which students from the alternative high school I ran gave me their parting comments about their experience with the school and with me. I find it hard now to connect their faces with their names, for that was 31 years ago. Many of them are now in their fifties. I read personal notes and letters to me. One stands out by a student who went on to Harvard and who I had upbraided because he was a pompous ass, just out of junior high school, basted by his “teachers” about his writing skills, overly-praised. He couldn’t write shit and I told him so, in finer words — “Unacceptable” I had slashed across the top of his paper. And when he pestered me about changing a grade on this essay which got my goat, I tore off a piece of paper and wrote the title, Think on These Things by Krishnamurti, telling him to read it and then come back to me. He never did. Well, he kept that slip of paper and he began to read this book and other works that were existential and so on. One day he sent me a copy of the letter he wrote to the Admissions office at  Harvard. It recalled his negative experience with me at first and then went on to say how I cut down his hubris and moved him to really learn. The last line was a corker — he still carried that note I gave him in his wallet.

Time has settled upon the rummaging so what moved me years ago does not move me so much, although I can see all of it, or most of it, with equanimty and sometimes with pleasure for what I had accomplished. I see decades before me which contained so much struggle, some of my essays reeking with personal neuroticisms and surface rage without the control of the writer in charge of his material. Writing from the very beginning was a major conduit for my despair and depression. There were years of rage and now my writing is more of indignation — I associate to Kazantzakis: “Overdraw me, Lord, and who cares if I break!” The exclamation point says it all. Running my mind through all this memorabilia like running my hand through my hair, is all in the passing gesture, now silken for me, for time has eased some of my concerns. I realize I was always the recorder in my family. I was always the memorizer. I was always the observer. And it took therapy and working on myself — alone, to reach the point in which I act upon this world, I trust my self, I dread the paranoia of groups and collective responses; I revel in my own personal ornariness; I leave books and writings for my family and for those others who may find me of interest, or note. I excel at doing for myself what no other human being can or ever will or ever can imagine to do so. I chisel out those lucky moments of awareness by myself, alone, for I need only myself to reveal myself.

I pose special questions to myself: what would give you pleasure or satisfaction? what would make your life so much more meaningful for you? What can you say about that? Can you address that critical issue? Rummaging has brought this to me. I believe that material things, although fun and pleasurable, could not give me anything for they are ephemera. All that is temporary fun. I feel that if I had a moment of real awareness, an epiphany of a kind, this would give me the greatest satisfaction of all. How to go about that is a philosopher’s intention. There is nothing on this planet, Cabo, The Louvre, Vegas, a Rolls, a great love affair, a great adventure, getting into a size 34 pants once again, a child’s marriage, being a grandparent, nothing of that can give me what I need, which is to enter into a moment — I am not greedy — in which I feel and experience congruity with myself. The world can go to hell. I am the world, I fully am aware of that. I am the unverse to every goddam cell and vein in my overly complex body. I will never see my liver, gratefully, and my liver will never bring me fruit and bounty in obeisance. I have come and I will go. I am at the point in which I wilt. The glory of each day is in its being and for that I am joyous. All this is in rummaging. I advocate you do that after 40 years. I will stop here, perhaps to continue with this later on.

Babbling Books And Motion Pictures

I thought it might be of interest to myself, perhaps to you, to give the classic bibliographic list of books and films that are very much current in my mind, and for that matter, in my literary and cinematic genetic database. Here, first, is a list of books, stories or authors that have impacted upon my thinking and feeling. When I was a history major I used to enjoy reading the bibliographic essays at the end of a book in which the author let his hair down and made comments about what he had read; I enjoyed the good-natured criticism or pleasure that the author had in excavating his pearls from the select oysters he chose. So it will be here.

As to plays, Sartre’s The Flies, was for me the best introduction I ever had to Existentialism and a goddam delight to read. Miller’s Death of a Salesman moved me but Miller pulled his punch; it was a play about a Jewish salesman, for I feel Miller sanitized it for the public as he also kept the fact he had a retarded child away from the public as if some slur on his self (my personal crankiness about him). If you get a good translation, Moliere’s The Misanthrope is a soaring and scathing commentary on what each of us has to do to defeat the grind. It is also called the French Hamlet, although it is often performed as high comedy. I may return to this but I am trying only to list those artistic works that bring a sweet or sharp taste to my mind after all these years.

As to short stories, I am always charmed and swept into the arms of Conrad, remembering his “The Lagoon.” Crane’s The Open Boat is a seamless story in which not one word is out of place, pure as a crystal marble. The Martian Chronicles for its remarkable creation of a world; I Have No Mouth and I Want to Scream, absolutely brilliant science fiction psalm, title story in the collection; I am only, again, citing books that have moved me in one way or another and sometimes I remember only snippets or the tone and sometimes forgetting who wrote the story. What I consider perhaps as the geatest collection I’ve read for sheer humanity is Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. If you want epiphanies and glorious and practical insights about human beings, read and study him, in fact, Hemingway did just that and never gave Anderson his due.

I move on. As to novels, Mary Renault’s volumes, The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea are magnificent recreations of ancient Crete in all its glory. I remember reading her description of a gem -encrusted saddle and I could almost touch the facets of the jewels; you want to learn how to write description — seek out that one paragraph (epic). The Nigger of the Narcissus by Conrad is profoundly psychological and it is like reading one of Freud’s works but it had magic for me and I was thrown off by its depth and brilliance, insights dripping off it like a steak. The great novels I’ve read must include very high on the list The Last Temptation of Christ by Kazantzakis, a genius. He had the audacity to write a sequel — in verse — to the Odyssey (in two volumes) and by all literary accounts equaled Homer before he began writing novels in his seventies. Wrenching, powerful, all powerful, mystical, earthy, when Kazantzakis wrote about a bowl of grapes in a bowl you not only could see them, you could taste them. I loved his willingness to be ornate if need be, to be a Gaudi — in his time he was a diplomat, a Communist, broke out in stigmata, a mystic and god knows what else he was. Krishnamurti was a friend — one can only imagine what they spoke of over a cup of Turkish coffee. Kazantzakis was a Cretan, not Greek — a significant difference to my mind. Report to Greco, his confessional, is ranked up there with St. Augustine, but Kazantzakis is so very much more real as a human being. His St.Francis gave one the suffering in the man without Bambi and flitting birds; intensely  and agonizingly is the prose so that you feel what this man felt for life. I remember asking people to read him and offering to girlfriends, etc a copy of the book just to have someone talk to me about that.

I enjoyed reading John Hersey’s The Wall, a terrific recreation by a non-Jew about the Warsaw Ghetto; his identification with the Jewish mentality was spectacular, his ability to identify really remarkable. Gulliver’s Travels is far from a children’s book but a very dark and scathing depiction of human beings, its misanthropy is a delight and right on target. At the end Gulliver is so sickened by human nature that he at first refuses to be rescued at sea — now that is darkness to be relished.

Let us casually move on to other tomes. Elias Canetti’s, Crowds and Power, is probably one of the best books of the 20th Century dealing with the psychological and sociological and emotional  analyses of human beings in groups — he was a novelist and it reads beautifully. His chapter on the Xhosas, a tribe, will make your shudder in its retelling of an actual event; his prose is impeccable. Freud’s Moses and Monotheism and DaVinci are examples of a master at play whose data later on proved unsound but whose prose is wonderful. St. Exupery’s small series of essays, Wind, Sand and Stars, is a mystical reflection on flight and simply sweet existential wonderings. In one essay he is forced to land on a sand dune in the desert. It takes off from there (no pun intended). Loren Eiseley’s The Immense Journey combines the thinking of a scientist who writes like the poet he was; the prose is entrancing. Again, all of the above left reminiscences within my mind, traces of having read something that touched me and that returns not necessarily to haunt or nag at me, but to wash across my soul in pleasure and fond remembrance.

As to the movies of my mind before they became art works to be studied. I was deeply affected by movies. In the late 40s and all of the 50s my childhood was not glued (I actually played in the streets) to the TV set but to the actual seeing movies on the screen where they had much more impact. For its emotional impact, The Thief of Bagdad grabbed my heart. Starring June Duprez, John Justin, Conrad Veidt, and Sabu, the adolescent mischief maker, the film is now seen as one of the great epic fantasies ever put up on the screen — I can still hum a few notes of the magical score, revel in the glorious technicolor and find Veidt’s performance as the evil vizier and magician lithographed in fear and acid — a remarkable performance. I first saw Welles’ Citizen Kane at the Lakeland, an old movie house affectionately called the “dumps,” in the 40s and I knew on some level I was watching something very special. How special? The burning of Rosebud burned in me for decades until I finally put it to partial rest by writing a few articles about it as well as other articles about early movies that moved me deeply. In fact the publisher of an old movie magazine that published some of my essays in the 80s just retired and published a book about his film magazine. Sure enough I’m listed in the table of contents. Goddam! The circle is complete. Got to buy that book! One other movie, The Search, starring Monty Clift, about a soldier tying up with a waif in postwar Germany who is searching for his mother, eviscerated my gut. The loss of a parent is mind-boggling and Zinneman caught that in his direction. Remember when you are 8 or 9 you are in many cases just an empty vessel for what is put into you. It takes centuries of psychic time to turn all of that into feelings, observations and sympathies. I end here; perhaps more some other time.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...