The great formula for popularity in America as an artist, writer, thinker, whatever, is a series of yogic perambulations meant to make us all feel self-reliant, like independent entities and individuals unique in every aspect and deserving of all sorts of Horatio Alger bootstrap credit while totally innocent of anything destructive or ugly in our world. The great formula for being unpopular and dismissed, of course, is the opposite: saying that people are not in any way as unique or individualistic as they perceive themselves and are not responsible for most of the fortune in their lives while being culpable and complicit, for much of the ugliness, cowardice and terror that leads us in lockstep toward our self-inflicted doom.
We want to believe that everyone is in the same boat – living the same sort of “communally alienated experience” – again, another way to be popular – but truth is that a Capital One Bank Statement with the question, “What Does Capital One Do With Your Personal Information?” exists as a source of disconcerting nausea for some, while for others, it’s just part of life – and for others still is a kind of warm blanket in a dark room full of monsters. No matter what is said or how hard the effort is to convince, we know that there are differences between William Blake’s need for his own anti-systemic independence and the guy who thinks he’s found heaven with a job on the floor of the US stock market and a pad out in the burbs of Long Island.
The major issue faced by humanity is not that man is corrupt or evil, because it takes a lot of energy and verve to be corrupt and evil, but that man is such a passive disappointment. The great frustration of the human condition is that something should be happening when there is little of anything happening at all. The streets should be filled with protests; the institutions under the witheringly dangerous attack of dissent; the powerful living in constant fear of being thrown into the gutters of time with their pants down around their ankles; the people in a constant state of uprising against the stifling putrescence of civilization, the stifling putrescence of systematization, the stifling putrescence of themselves. But we are so far removed from even asking a good question that words like this come off as absurd.
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We are trapped in melancholy dreams, dark fairy tales and the endless anxiety. Always the anxiety. Dreadful anxiety. The terrible insipid good-naturedness of this gray and dying world. Why? Why keep going? Why wake up tomorrow? Nothing has changed, as it was when I was 20; it is now at 43. Through the window I can see the day fading and the coming of the night in a way that speaks to nothing. There is no poetry in it. And if there is, it would be beyond the reaches of my flat and lifeless mind. The story of this life, this country, this world is a history of falsity masquerading as knowledge. We are muted explosions of failed and rejected prayers. Five thousand years of culture – a hungry child screaming on the kitchen floor banging pots and pans. Bam. Bam. Bam.
There is not much original in anything that I have to say, but I don’t beat myself up too much for it. Take a stroll through the bookstore – the allegedly deep, original, new, disturbing, wild, raw, important are so predictably scrubbed out and sanitized that one can feel one’s throat getting sore from the whiff of institutional cleansers. Whereas I once passionately loathed these weak janitors of culture, I now see them as being almost blameless. Having been born into the murky clean of the old wash-away scrub-away of Western civilization, it is unfair to expect them to be able to tell shit from Shinola. The only thing that does give rise to the blood getting up is the thought of them perceiving their work as saying something important. And that’s probably nothing more than jealously, because I know that my work does not say anything important. In a culture of real progress, these words would be a subpar baseline for the heavy hitters coming off the deck to knock it out of the park and change the game forever.
That said, in one piece, published in this venue, I wrote something in a footnote that had an air of truth about it, mainly because it felt like a dead end. Since the time of writing it, I have been left with a sense of not knowing how to rectify it, address it, take it someplace else where it may be solved. Here’s the bit:
“…[W]e are living in a detour that has spun so far out of control that the main road no longer even exists. There is nothing for us there anymore. To go forward is to further a delusion into inevitable destruction and to go backwards in order to reclaim some kind of philosophical high road is an impossibility. All the GPS in the world can’t help us now – we are stuck in a place with a map that neither corresponds to reality nor allows me to dream. We have burnt ideals that no one was worshipping, so are left with ruins that no one recognizes.”
From any perch in history, one can decree that what has come before has been meaningless, all is lost, and that there is nothing to do other than to start a new religion, seek a new consciousness, make an ethical assessment on a case-by-case basis and rebuild the temple. Or blow it up. Same thing, really. The problem is that we are stuck. There is no moving forward or backward, the Jeep 4×4 just ain’t getting the job done, neither is the Ford F-150. And as far as self-powered vehicles like being and struggle, we are the creatures who, tired of themselves, invented gods for the sole purpose of asking those gods to restore us to ourselves. This is so twisted and odd that it would almost be admirable if the end result weren’t things like cowardice and hiding one’s face in a cloak of anxiety at the first glimpse or sign of any reflection.
The human condition is cut off by an economic noose, dangling helplessly in a Third World body dump spread across millions of square miles. Spiritually, psychologically, intellectually, we are in the Era of the New Black Death, where memes, ideas and thoughts pass between us like fleas from the backs of rats to man, spreading further disease as we blindly stand by waiting to die. Cut off from the creation our own being, national neck broken from not looking in the mirror, a culture or civilization that skews from the reflection of its own reality. Taking an example – Heaven would indeed be heaven if lovers were there permitted as much enjoyment as they had experienced on Earth – Bocaccio’s Decameron; for Bocaccio, and his people, he was intending to do an entertaining Chaucerian romp through the romantic side of his age, while to us nearly a millennium later, the chief significance of The Decameron is in examining Italy at the time of the Bubonic plague. This is beyond the built-in bullshit of commercial capitalism; this is the transcendent yet destructive struggle of the human soul. If one could take an entire canon and hold it up to be delusional in the context of reality, then what does that say about humanity in the age in which that canon was produced? And what if that canon was not tied to an age, but the essence of our very civilization of which we are at the nadir: Shakespeare, Cervantes, Chaucer, Montaigne, Milton, Goethe, Wordsworth, Dickinson, Tolstoy Ibsen, Freud, Proust, Joyce, Austen, Lawrence, Woolf, Borges. … If those who make up the center of the Western canon and our consciousness are all so honest, revealing and explosive, then why is it that we are so tangled, damaged and lost?
And if one wants to argue the lostness of man by saying that we are not lost, but found in the traditional truths of time and wisdom, then why is it that we seem incapable of addressing our most simple problems? Overconsumption, global destruction, greed war, poverty, hunger, selfishness and, in some of us, despair – despair at these things that befall us, despair at the seeming futility, despair at our inability, despair in the frustration of 5,000 years of the powerful hurting the powerless, the rich exploiting the poor and the arrogant destruction of nature for profit.
We must now philosophize as though philosophy did not exist, create art as though art did not exist, write as though writing did not exist. Anything that even nods to the institutional past of cultural history must be cut out as a malignant cancer on the human soul. We cannot play games anymore with the spirit of our being. It is on life support, and the only thing that can save it is radical surgery by those with the courage in their hands to stop the hemorrhaging, carve out the tumors and leave us with something healthy and new.
We must now allow and encourage heretofore unrecognizable new organisms of thought, spirit and action to emerge. New forms that stand like reeds in the wind against the established order. Not new gods or constructs of our own being to walk in the worn and tired footsteps of the old, but an adaptable, shape-shifting nihilism born of a bourgeois-terrifying metamorphosis that sticks to us like an apple in a beetle’s back. The kind of weasel in the night that sneaks in to sabotage the workings of the drones, so that the operators of death and surveillance will be left scratching their heads at how freedom and liberty have somehow outmaneuvered oppression and control.
We must, above all, destroy our 5,000-year-old relationship with our self. (All relationships, identities and reality stem from this; this is the mother spring of our broken winter.) Our concept of being is now a carcass that we drag around with us, praying that it will come to life, absorbing its stench as we stumble through the worlding of our dying world. All that we call human is not even in the outer precincts of what it is to be. Blackbirds freezing in the snow, lost in the ever-increasing gray, come to a time where there is no more time. I cannot and wonder how, in that supreme sense of fallen sky, tell lies to future generations rosy that are thorns dull. Or, our life is a journey through winter and night, we look for our way in a sky without light. You can see the trap, envision it as you would, a chair with prison-industrial locks holding down the arms, some type of pharmaceutical injection system entering the belly, ensuring that the organism remains paralyzed, while lost in a fantasy about its own freedom.
In this fantasy, there is almost infinite time to go out “wandering in search of one’s self.” To find out who one really is, to put the flowers in the hair and become one with the universe. The great formula for popularity here is to say that the closer one gets to one’s self, then the closer one gets to truth. The way to unpopularity, of course, is to say that the foundations of our consciousness are so perverted that the farther one gets from one’s self, the closer one actually might get to gaining a vision of the outlines of his own shadow.
It is in the dead zone of the metaphysical night that we get stripped down to the point where integrity and honesty are even possible. And in this struggle to free ourselves from fantasy, we begin to find reward. The formerly hidden becomes clear: the institutional forces that control society reveal themselves in a blindingly stupid light. Civilization is a battleground that gets fractured by language, not another garage for the oiling of the machine. We are not robots, as one man said. We are the ones who may have walked away down that long, narrow street of smoke, steam and asphalt but are somehow still within earshot, still within that faded distance of memory, waiting to be called, desperate for that one word of authenticity that aligns us with the liberation of our being. We will, at the very least, lose our need to be justified, and along with that, perhaps, our need for many other things that keep us from the raw power of what is to be alive.