Archive for September, 2008

On A Rainy Afternoon, You Might See Forever

endgame_v2_thumb3It’s a rainy afternoon and my mind keeps going back to a couple of books I browsed yesterday in Barnes and Noble. In the store’s History section, I  came across works by a guy I’d never heard of named Derrick Jensen. A bit apocalyptic, but reflecting a lot of my own conclusions about the reality of our existence in this time and this place. I scanned his two heavyweight  volumes, “Endgame” and “Resistance,” both dated 2006. I found little to argue with in Jensen’s premises or analysis. But his prescriptions, as with so much of his anarcho-environmentalism, seem to slide off into the New Age improbabilities and a romanticized idea of what a simpler life might actually be like. He seems enamored of the ways of Indigenous peoples, but from what I’ve read those cultures have more often than been awash in warfare and the enslavement of their perceived enemies. We are where we are, and there is no Garden to return to. I will probably succumb and buy his first volume, “Endgame,” just to see how close he comes to what I feel could be the unspoken truths of our times. 

I am old enough to remember the disasters of the past century when seemingly clear-cut, utopian, ideals were embraced. Since the cathartic events of 1989, the best arguments being made to fill the void left by the collapse of a messianic Left and to counter a resurgent Right, are that only the slow, messy and difficult palliative routines of liberal democracy offer anything like a way of getting along. And yet … the allure of some all-embracing, non-transcendent course always arises like a lost dream. In a Gary Larson cartoon a sheep raises its head above the flock and shouts, “Wait! We don’t have to be sheep. We can be more than sheep!” 

 As an invited guest for an overnighter this past week in a wealthy summer resort town, I looked out upon the hundreds if not thousands of (vacant in September) million-dollar and multi-million dollar second homes. Reconciling that reality against all of the poverty in the world, I was forced to conclude once again that nothing, nothing will ever change. One the premises Derrick Jensen lists to support his overall thesis of the unsustainability of a civilization based on industrial capitalism is that “rich people’s property is more valuable than poor people’s lives.” Try disagreeing with that one.  

Derrick Jensen could be just another nut in the much the same way that Jesus, William Blake, John Brown and Karl Marx were nuts. Having spent most of my seventy-plus years nurturing what I would like to believe is a disciplined, intellectual rigor, I always find myself, reluctantly forced on to the side of the rationalist, non-ideological conservative writers like Fritz Stern, Clive James and Tony Judt, who correctly, I am forced to admit, point to the massive bloodlettings of the twentieth-century as evidence of what happens when idealism is applied to the objective realities of the human condition. I wish I could believe otherwise, but I simply cannot. 

I Know already that I will purchase and read Derrick Jensen’s “Endgame.” But what’s probably more important to my own life than any new radically sweeping philosophy; political, economic or social, however convincing, is that the the Phillies clinched a National League playoff spot yesterday afternoon. 


On Any Given Sunday…

 

Once again, I find my mind confused and unsettled. It’s a condition that seems to occur almost every Sunday morning. A couple of cups of strong coffee and the Sunday New York Times Book Review Section leave my head, even more than normally, disturbed and aswim with undigested ideas. 

A Daniel Gates review of Philip Roth’s latest novel, “Indignation,” tempered my instinctive lack of empathy for Roth’s obsession with sex and of late with his consciousness of his own ever more imminent demise. As a Roth contemporary I feel like saying, “for Christ’s sake, Phil, get a grip,” an entirely inappropriate response. I remember being much taken in 1959 with his early short story, “Defender Of the Faith,” and over the intervening years I’ve chided myself for not paying more attention to someone who can write that well.  After an abortive attempt at “Portnoy’s Complaint,” I began shying away from Roth. I know enough to chalk that up to my own biases and not to any lack of talent, or more likely, genius on his part. I will pick up a copy of “Indignation.” Old Phil deserves another chance. 

In the same issue of the Book Review, A. O. Scott executed a masterful essay/review of Marilynne Robinson’s new novel “Home,” a companion to her “Gilead,” a book that left its mark on me. I had gone almost immediately from Gilead to her prior “Housekeeping,” an equally haunted and haunting work. No surprise that I went on into the whole W. G.  Sebald catalog. I’ve come to realize that while I do get it, whatever the “it” is, as explained to me by the reviewers and the critics, it’s been the experience of the reading itself that has stayed with me, rather than any conscious memory of the specific content in either Robinson’s or Sebald’s works. What I recall most is the pure pleasure, actually more the sad enchantment, of being guided through elusively complex interior realities, a subjectivity bounded by and infused into the objective history of the stories’ settings. Both writers, in very different ways, seem to deliver a rewarding sense of an understanding on some inexplicable and inexpressible level. No clarifications, no sort of instructive simplifications are revealed. What emerges is akin to Barbara Tuchman’s “Distant Mirror, a heightened sense of the infinitely unknowable complexity and continuity of human existence. 

And finally in today’s edition, the engaging and always entertaining Christopher Hitchens returned gingerly to the latest Left-wing fratricides, this time in a review of Bernard-Henri Levy’s “Left In Dark Times.” Having grown up on Orwell, Koestler and Malraux and having just finished Tony Judt’s terrific essay collection, “Reappraisals,” I figure my ticket’s been punched and I can take a pass on this one. 

Time to unplug the fevered, overwrought and inadequate machinery inside my head and go out into this beautiful day and do something productive, like blowing leaves.

 

September 29, 2008

A correction: In regard to above posting – I just finished reading Philip Roth’s “Indignation.” It is wonderful. In terms of his ability to write, Roth is the real thing, an American Master. He’s written twenty-eight books. The acclaim, I felt suspect, is in no way unwarranted. Were I to write one such book, I would consider my creative existence vindicated. Now in good conscience, I am obligated, and looking forward, to going back and reading as much of his stuff as I can lay hands on.

 

 

 

Another Dozen Late Night Wonders

Pass The Hatchet…                            Yo la Tengo

Bookshop Casanova                           The Clientele

Tin Pan Valley                                    Robert Plant

2.22.1                                                Mazarin

Here’s Where The Story Ends             The Sundays

Pet The Cone                                     5ive Style

Brothers On A Hotel Bed                    Death Cab  For Cutie

The Predatory Wasp…                        Sufjian Stevens

West Coast Keith                                HiSoft

Black Eye                                            Uncle Tupelo

Maureen                                             Vetiver

Over The Pond                                    The Album Leaf