Gold, Swords, and Tumulus Grave Goods Forever?

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Gold, Swords, and Tumulus Grave Goods Forever?

From our Neolithic Past to our Radioactive Present — and future? — gold, swords, and tumulus grave goods of hoards of icons of materialistic wealth have been our chosen markers of human achievement; in all a genuflection to the triumph of materialism over intellect and spirit.

Socialism is the economic ideology of abundant prosperity, democracy is its political ideology, and peace is its mythology.

Prosperity is the warmth of good living generated by the consumption of natural resources into the entropy of waste products. The expansion of prosperity is fueled by the diminishment of Nature and the increase of enslavement by the expansion of imperialism vacuuming in new resources to the homeland from ever farther afield. The military, like a wildfire, is an expanding ring of consumption whose center is a widening desert of entropy: resource scarcity and waste with a smattering of capstones of wealth atop pyramids of power. War is the collision of expanding rings of militarism; conquest is the collapse of one against the pressure of another.

A diminishing access to prosperity leads to a narrowing and heightening of political power, and a popular sharpening of competition for resources with a consequent hardening of attitudes of overt racism, and an increasing fragmentation of society into a steepening hierarchy of classes based on submission to and patronage by superiors, until society ultimately degenerates into a dictatorial kingship over a realm of desperation. Fascism is the populist submission in industrialized societies to rising kingships over realms of expanding scarcity.

Sustainability within the Natural World is the conception of frugality as freedom and not poverty. Sustainability is the submergence of human identity into Nature, and seen as a release and not a collapse, instead of being an ever heightening emergence above it. Sustainability is the conceptualization of civilization as organic within the Natural World, instead of a construction caging it. Sustainability is seeing human empowerment as coming from submission to Life, instead of from defiance of it, and of seeing Life as anarchic instead of hierarchical.

God reigns if all are dead. God is dead if all are alive, if all are each infinitesimal glints from the underlying sea of godliness that is Life.

I looked up into the day, shielding my eyes against the brilliance of the sun infusing warmth into my skin, to see low wispy white clouds streaming across the top of my wooded canyon while slowly roiling within themselves, as invisible cascades of crystalline air surged with turbulent reverberations over the hilltops and down into the canyon, splashing into near-chill breezes soughing through the forest green ringing with birdsong scintillating the leaves and rippling their dappled network of reflected sunlight, to brush against me as I stood immersed in wonder once again under the soaring of a black hawk, amazed to be experiencing this immensity of Life, this great outside beyond human limitations. I am a brief instance of all this, and that realization is my share of the eternal.

[Image by Caitlyn Grabenstein]

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From: Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Portrait of Nietzsche, by Edvard Munch, 1906

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From: Thus Spoke Zarathustra

by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Great star! What would your happiness be,
if you had not those for whom you shine!

Behold! I am weary of my wisdom,
like a bee that has gathered too much honey;
I need hands outstretched to take it.

— Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900),
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, (1883-1885)

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“As the bee takes the essence of a flower and flies away without destroying its beauty and perfume, so let the sage wander in this life.”

— The Dhammapada, 49
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Zarathustra answered: ‘I love mankind.’
’Why’, said the saint, did I go into the forest and the desert? Was it not because I loved mankind all too much? Now I love God: mankind I do not love.
Man is too imperfect a thing for me.
Love of mankind would destroy me.’
Zarathustra answered: ‘What did I say of love?
I am bringing mankind a gift.’
‘Give them nothing,’ said the saint. ‘Rather take something off them and bear it with them — that will please them best;
if only it be pleasing to you!

But when Zarathustra was alone,
he spoke to his heart: ’Could it be possible!
This old saint has not yet heard in his forest that God is dead!

I teach you the Superman.
Man is something that should be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?
All creatures hitherto have created something beyond themselves;
and
do you want to be the ebb of this great tide, and
return to the animals rather than overcome man?
What is the ape to men?
A laughing-stock or a painful embarrassment. And just so shall man be to the Superman:
a laughing-stock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm.
Once you were apes, and even now
man is more of an ape than any ape.
But he who is the wisest among you,
he also is only a discord and hybrid
of plant and of ghost.
But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?
Behold, I teach you the Superman.
The Superman is the meaning of the earth.
Let your will say:
The Superman shall be the meaning
of the earth!
I entreat you, my brothers,
remain true to the earth,
and do not believe those who speak to you
of superterrestrial hopes!
They are poisoners,
whether they know it or not.
They are despisers of life,
atrophying and self-poisoned men,
of whom the earth is weary:
so let them be gone!
Once blasphemy against God
was the greatest blasphemy, but God died,
and thereupon these blasphemers died too.
To blaspheme the earth is now
the most dreadful offence,
and to esteem the bowels of the Inscrutable more highly than the meaning of the earth.
Once the soul looked contemptuously upon the body:
and then this contempt was the supreme good — the soul wanted the body lean, monstrous, famished.
So the soul thought to escape from the body and from the earth. Oh, this soul was itself lean, monstrous, and famished:
and cruelty was the delight of this soul!
But tell me, my brothers:
What does your body say about your soul?
Is your soul not poverty and dirt and
a miserable ease?
In truth, man is a polluted river.
One must be a sea, to receive a polluted river and not be defiled.
Behold, I teach you the Superman:
he is this sea, in him your great contempt
can go under.
What is the greatest thing you can experience? It is the hour of the great contempt.
The hour in which even your happiness
grows loathsome to you,
and your reason and your virtue also.
The hour when you say:
‘What good is my happiness?
It is poverty and dirt and a miserable ease.
But my happiness should justify existence itself!’
The hour when you say:
‘What good is my reason?
Does it long for knowledge as the lion for its food?
It is poverty and dirt and a miserable ease!’
The hour when you say:
‘What good is my virtue?
It has not yet driven me mad!
How tired I am of my good and my evil!
It is all poverty and dirt and a miserable ease!’
The hour when you say:
‘What good is my justice?
I do not see that I am fire and hot coals.
But the just man is fire and hot coals!’
The hour when you say:
‘What good is my pity?
Is not pity the cross
upon which he who loves man is nailed?
But my pity is no crucifixion!’
Have you ever spoken thus?
Have you ever cried thus?
Ah, that I had heard you crying thus!
It is not your sin, but your moderation
that cries to heaven,
your very meanness in sinning cries to heaven!
Where is the lightning to lick you
with its tongue?
Where is the madness,
with which you should be cleansed?
Behold, I teach you the Superman:
he is this lightning, he is this madness!

I love all those who are like heavy drops
falling singly from the dark cloud
that hangs over mankind:
they prophesy the coming of the lightning
and as prophets they perish.
Behold, I am a prophet of the lightning
and a heavy drop from the cloud:
but this lightning is called Superman.

I will not be herdsman or gravedigger.
I will not speak again to the people:
I have spoken to a dead man for the last time.

His wisdom is:
stay awake in order to sleep well.
And truly, if life had no sense and I had to choose nonsense, this would be the most desirable nonsense for me, too.

There have always been many sickly people among those who invent fables and long for God: they have a raging hate for the enlightened man and for the youngest of virtues which is called honesty.
They are always looking back to dark ages: then, indeed, illusion and faith were a different question; raving of the reason was likeness to God, and doubt was sin.

He whom the flames of jealousy surround
at last turns his poisoned sting against himself, like a scorpion.

He who writes in blood and aphorisms
does not want to be read,
he wants to be learned by heart.

Untroubled, scornful, outrageous —
that is how wisdom wants to be:
she is a woman
and never loves anyone but a warrior.

It is true we love life,
not because we are used to living
but because we are used to loving.
There is always a certain madness in love,
but also
there is always a certain method in madness. And to me, too, who love life,
it seems that butterflies and soap-bubbles,
and whatever is like them among men,
know most about happiness.

Learn that everyone finds the noble man
an obstruction.

I do not exhort you to work but to battle.
I do not exhort you to peace, but to victory.
May your work be battle,
may your peace be victory!

The state is the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies, too;
and this lie creeps from its mouth:
‘I, the state, am the people.’

But the state lies
in all languages of good and evil;
and whatever it says, it lies —
and whatever it has, it has stolen.

I call it the state
where everyone, good and bad,
is a poison-drinker:
the state where everyone, good and bad,
loses himself:
the state
where universal slow suicide is called — life.

A free life still remains for great souls.
Truly, he who possesses little
is so much the less possessed:
praise be a moderate poverty!

The market-place is full of solemn buffoons — and the people boast of their great men!
These are their heroes of the hour.
But the hour presses them: so they press you. And from you too they require a Yes or a No. And woe to you if you want to set your chair between For and Against.

— Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900),
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, (1883-1885)

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“The preference For or Against
is the mind’s worst disease.”

— Jianzhi Sengcan, 3rd Zen Patriarch (496?-606)
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Perhaps what he loves in you
is the undimmed eye and the glance of eternity.

My impatient love overflows in torrents down towards morning and evening. My soul streams into the valleys out of silent mountains and storms of grief.
I have desired and gazed into the distance too long.
I have belonged to solitude too long:
thus I have forgotten how to be silent.
I have become nothing but speech and the tumbling
of a brook from high rocks: I want to hurl my words down into the valleys.
And let my stream of love plunge into impassible
and pathless places! How should a stream not find
its way to the sea at last!
There is surely a lake in me, a secluded, self-sufficing lake; but my stream of love draws it down with it —
to the sea!
I go new ways, a new speech has come to me;
like all creators, I have grown weary of old tongues. My spirit no longer wants to walk on worn-out soles.

The enlightened man calles himself:
the animal with red cheeks.
How did this happen to man?
Is it not because he has had to be ashamed too often?
Oh my friends! Thus speaks the enlightened man: ‘Shame, shame, shame — that is the history of man!’

— Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900),
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, (1883-1885)

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“Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.”

Mark Twain (1835-1910)
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One has to speak with thunder and heavenly fireworks to feeble and dormant senses.
But the voice of beauty speaks softly:
it steals into only the most awakened souls.

For
that man may be freed from the bonds of revenge:
that is the bridge to my highest hope
and a rainbow after protracted storms…
Revenge rings in all their complaints,
a malevolence is in all their praise,
and to be a judge seems bliss to them.
Thus, however, I advise you, my friends:
Mistrust all in whom the urge to punish is strong!

Have you never seen a sail faring over the sea, rounded and swelling and shuddering
before the impetuosity of the wind?
Like a sail,
shuddering before the impetuosity of the spirit,
my wisdom fares over the sea —
my untamed wisdom!

Beauty is unattainable to all violent wills.

You should aspire to the virtue of a pillar:
the higher it rises,
the fairer and more graceful it grows,
but inwardly harder and able to bear more weight.

Alas, whither shall I climb now with my longing?
I look out from every mountain for fatherlands and motherlands.
But nowhere have I found a home;
I am unsettled in every city
and I depart from every gate.
The men of the present,
to whom my heart once drove me,
are strange to me and a mockery;
and I have been driven from fatherlands and motherlands.
So now I love only my children’s land,
the undiscovered land in the furthest sea:
I bid my sails seek it and seek it.
I will always make amends to my children
for being the child of my fathers:
and to all the future — for this present!

Where is innocence?
Where there is will to begetting.
And for me, he who wants to create beyond himself has the purest will.

Is wounded vanity not the mother of all tragedies?

I have found all vain people to be good actors:
They act
and desire that others shall want to watch them —
all their spirit is in this desire.

He wants to learn belief in himself from you;
he feeds upon your glances,
he eats praise out of your hands.
He believes even your lies when you lie
favourably to him:
for his heart sighs in its depths:
What am I?

Now, as Zarathustra was climbing the mountain he recalled as he went the many lonely wanderings he had made from the time of his youth, and how many mountains and ridges and summits he had already climbed.

I am a wanderer and a mountain-climber
(he said to his heart),
I do not like the plains
and it seems I cannot sit still for long.
And whatever may come to me as fate and experience —
a wandering and a mountain-climbing will be in it:
in the final analysis one only experiences oneself.

In order to see much one must learn to look away from one-self — every mountain-climber
needs this hardness.

Courage is the best destroyer:
courage also destroys pity.
Pity, however, is the deepest abyss:
as deeply as man looks into life,
so deeply does he look also into suffering.

For one love from the very heart only one’s child
and one’s work.

To desire — that now means to me:
to have lost myself.

Happiness runs after me.
That is because I do not run after women.
Happiness, however, is a woman.

We do not speak to one another,
because we know too much:
we are silent together,
we smile our knowledge to one another.

Together we learned everything; together
we learned to mount above ourselves to ourselves
and to smile uncloudedly — to smile uncloudedly down from bright eyes and from miles away
when under us
compulsion and purpose and guilt stream like rain.

A little wisdom is no doubt possible;
but I have found this happy certainty in all things:
that they prefer — to dance on the feet of chance.

Never in my life have I crawled before the powerful;
and if I ever lied, I lied from love.

For one person, solitude is the escape from an invalid;
for another, solitude is escape from the invalids.

Once they fluttered around light and freedom
like flies and young poets.
A little older, a little colder: and already they are mystifiers and mutterers and stay-at-homes.

Alas! They are always few whose heart possesses
a long-enduring courage and wantonness;
and in such, the spirit, too, is patient.
The remainder, however, are cowardly.

Loneliness is one thing, solitude another:
you have learned that — now!
And that among men you will always be
wild and strange:
wild and strange even when they love you:
for above all they want to be indulged!

Man is difficult to discover, most of all to himself;
the spirit often tells lies about the soul.

He who wants to learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and to walk and to run and to climb
and to dance — you cannot learn to fly by flying!

Meanwhile I talk to myself,
as one who has plenty of time.
No one tells me anything new,
so I tell myself to myself.

You shall love your children’s land:
let this love be your new nobility —
the undiscovered land of the furthest sea!
I bid your sails seek it and seek it!
You shall make amends to your children
for being children of your fathers:
thus you shall redeem all that is past!

Life is a fountain of delight: but all wells are poisoned for him from whom an aching stomach,
the father of affliction, speaks.

To know: that is delight to the lion-willed!

There are many excellent inventions on earth,
some useful, some pleasant:
the earth is to be loved for their sake.
And there are many things so well devised
that they are like women’s breasts:
at the same time useful and pleasant.

And let that wisdom be false to us
that brought no laughter with it!

How sweet it is, that words and sounds of music exist; are words and music not rainbows
and seeming bridges
between things eternally separated?

With music does our love dance
on many-coloured rainbows.

Everything goes, everything returns;
the wheel of existence rolls for ever.
Everything dies, everything blossoms anew;
the year of existence runs on for ever.
Everything breaks, everything is joined anew;
the same house of existence builds itself for ever. Everything departs, everything meets again;
the ring of existence is true to itself for ever.
Existence begins in every instant;
the ball There rolls around every Here.
The middle is everywhere.
The path of eternity is crooked.

For man is the cruellest animal.
More than anything on earth he enjoys tragedies, bullfights, and crucifixions;
and when he invented Hell for himself,
behold,
it was his heaven on earth.

For I count nothing more valuable and rare today
than honesty.

He who cannot lie does not know what truth is.

It is what one takes into solitude that grows there,
the beast within included.

Great love does not desire love —
it desires more.

For fear — is the exception with us.
Courage, however,
and adventure and joy in the unknown.
the unattempted — courage
seems to me the whole pre-history of man.

For the sake of this day — I am content
for the first time to have lived my whole life.

Alas! This world is deep!

Did you ever say Yes to one joy?
O my friends, then you said Yes to all woe as well.
All things are chained and entwined together,
all things are in love;
if ever you wanted one moment twice,
if ever you said:’ You please me, happiness,
instant, moment!’
then you wanted everything to return!

‘My suffering and my pity — what of them!
For do I aspire after happiness?
I aspire after my work!’

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— Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900),
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, (1883-1885)

[from the R. J. Hollingdale translation]

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On Reading THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA

THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA, by FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE. I just finished reading R. J. Hollingdale’s English translation of this book; here is my immediate and short reaction: It is impossible to know the greatest joy unless you have also lived through the deepest and most tragic of sorrows: joy is inextricably entwined with sorrow. Question: What one experience in your life can you say of: “For the sake of this day — I am content for the first time to have lived my whole life.”? I can think of a very few in my life (and you don’t have to reveal yours here). Life must be lived with full intent and enthusiasm, despite all the joys and sorrows it will heap upon you, otherwise we have wasted a unique, precious and miraculous gift. THAT joyful intent for living life to your fullest is your SUPERMAN power! Do I recommend you read this book? “What does it matter!” My own experience of reading it is: “O Nietzsche! Reading your words is like gargling with gravel to sift out gold! I am sinking in my deepening dotage awash in memories of youthful debaucheries! Is this deserved punishment for my unintended cruelties and ignorant harshness, or rewarded grace for my clumsy kindnesses and stumbling harmlessness?” And there is gold in it, plenty, but one must dig, and pan and gargle through the muddy wash and sand and gravel of Nietzsche’s torrent, to extract it. At a minimum know this: whoever invokes Nietzsche to justify their own bigotries and cruelties is DEAD WRONG!

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A Visit From Phillip

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A Visit From Phillip

“I have come to reassure you.”

I looked up from my reverie, looking out into the sun-drenched forest behind my house after three days of rain, sparkling with a net-of-gems of droplets meshed through the green foliage, and steam still rising slowly from hot blotches of light on bark, timbers and brown earth.

He was tall, elegantly poised and dressed in a long, smooth grey coat, more like a gown with suggestions of an English raincoat and buttoned at the neck, and smooth brown boots or shoes, of which I could only see the lower parts below his black pant legs. He had a longish face, smooth-shaven, and straight dark hair, well-trimmed and laying back without sharp delineation.

Oddly, I was not startled by his sudden appearance, even though I had not heard his footfalls coming down the long stairs to my house, and then across the deck-work to my chair. I was much struck by this later.

“I have come to reassure you,” he said again, “my name is Phillip, and I have come to speak with you. May I sit here?” he asked motioning with with his hand to the chair next to mine.

“Yes, of course,” I said, “I’m Manuel.”

As he settled himself into the chair my mind began to fill wordlessly with questions. And then our conversation began.

Phillip: “I know that you have had many questions about the course of life in your times, and of how the future for it will unfold. This springs naturally from the concerns a father will have over the well-being of his family. It is through our concerns for our families that we are then tied to concerns for our kind, is it not? Like this forest, all the lives in it are woven together so finely that when you and I look into it we do not see its individual threads but only the smooth and deep totality of what we call ‘forest.’ And for those who let themselves wander far into such thoughts, like you, they find their concerns for the lives they know well and beyond them those they can know about and see, has expanded to a concerned sensing of all life. You have been troubled by such concern for all life, so I have come to reassure you.”

Manuel: “What you say is true, but how did you know about me? And why come see me about this? There must be millions, billions of people who feel this way. What about them? I’m confused, and beyond all that, what do you mean by reassurance? And first of all, who are you?! Where do you come from?!”

Phillip: “Yes, I understand, let me explain.”

Phillip took a moment looking out into the day to gather his thoughts, or perhaps really to construct the sequence of his subsequent words to me because on reflection I am sure his thoughts on all this had long been very well organized. Despite the surprise and oddness of this encounter, I felt a timeless tranquility as if the sun’s warmth had infused me with an expansive calmness, like the looking out onto the summer sea or a receding panorama of green hills bathed in light.

Phillip: “First, you must know that life infuses our universe. It is a potentiality everywhere, and it expresses itself where the conditions for such expression are welcoming. Over time and across space those conditions may change, and so the expressions of life can vary, change or ‘evolve’ as the great Charles Darwin put it, and such change can even mean that some of those scattered expressions of life flicker out. But life itself remains, because it also flickers on in unexpected ways, at unexpected times, in unexpected places. And that is the great reassurance.”

Manuel: “Expected by whom?”

Phillip: “That is the second thing you should know. Part of that life is a spectrum of consciousness. The most primitive particles of what might be called proto-life are viruses. They have what we might call proto-thought, which are instructions coded chemically in chained molecules of genetic fragments, for the replication of their kind by their infection of more complex organisms. They are parasites, seeking to attach themselves to more complex expressions of life, to continue their kind in their haphazard mechanical fashion. The spectrum of consciousness extends from the psychic absolute zero of viral proto-thought, through the very low frequency yet very long range meshed interconnectivity of plant life, and on through the ever more involved consciousness of animal life forms, which include us. That spectrum of consciousness is like a living ocean, or this forest, a very deep and very wide and very entwined reality of psychic dimension. We think because we are. And we are connected both physically and psychically because we are. All of us, individually, express the entire universe, and because of that we are as irrevocably bonded as are the water molecules that mesh into the oceans, and even into the rivers that flow through our bodies as sap or blood.”

Manuel: “Yes, I believe that. But, still, by whom?”

Phillip: (After a momentary smile) “Through the diffuse psychic ocean that permeates all space and time, life in its totality senses itself. It senses across the physical voids between its many expressions.”

Manuel: “You mean like psychics, seances, the afterlife?”

Phillip: “No, nothing so crude and simplistic. Because life is a potentiality of the universe, life senses itself from below through that primordial root. Think of it like quantum entanglement, where that entanglement was established with the birth — if we can use that word — of space, time and energy itself. That entanglement is the diffused unity of everything. It is through that primordial root that I have come to know your thoughts. So I have come to reassure you about that unity. It will continue.”

Manuel: “I suppose I can see all this, as allegory. But the logic of it escapes me. I mean, here you are, where do you come from? How do you know me? Do you read my mind? What are the concrete facts?”

Phillip: “That is the third thing you should know. I realize that from a concrete, logical point of view, what we have here today between us seems like science fiction, a fantasy movie like the kind so popular around the world today, and which has swept you into itself — like an abduction by aliens into a Flying Saucer!”

Phillip added this last with a laugh.

Manuel: “I mean, are you a figment of my imagination? Am I losing my mind? Are you some kind of imaginary hologram kicked out like static by some electro-chemical imbalance in my brain?”

Phillip: “No, Manuel, I am very real. As real as you are. What you have to understand is that the reality of your being, like the reality of my being, is beyond what a conscious logical mind can encompass. It is beyond understanding in that way, but it is the essence of understanding in its full unknowable dimension. It can be very stressful to try to encompass it logically, though with the right attitude it can be delightful to make the effort to do so. Such efforts can lead to deep emotional satisfaction for having fashioned a physical cosmological theory, or exquisite poetry.”

Manuel: “It sounds like self-realization.”

Phillip: “Yes, that is a reasonable term. But, really, no word is sufficient.”

Manuel: “So, the third thing I should know?”

Phillip: “The thoughts you have had, and very often and carefully considered, have deep, deep roots. Those roots connect to me and others like me, and others like you. I am better able than you are right now at tracing those roots back to other minds. Why? Because they are the more sensitive and alert pinpoints of all-mind, what we are all immersed in and express. I am just less constrained by the organic boundaries that most others are confined by.”

Manuel: “Confined by who?”

Phillip: “Themselves.”

Manuel: “Well, I can see that you’re real. That you breathe, you have mass, you sink into the chair cushion. But still, I mean, you could just be a very amiable, and I must say elegant and pleasant and obviously well-educated mental patient who is on the loose and just wandered down my stairs. If I were a simple-minded religious person I might say you are an enigmatic angel. Now that I think of it, I hope you’re not some sly demon.”

Phillip: “Ha! Hahahahaha!”

Phillip pealed with delighted and congenial laughter. I sensed he was laughing with me and not at all at me.

Phillip: “Oh, Manuel! I am enjoying speaking with you. I am glad I came. Angel, devil, hologram, phantasm, brain fever, or amusing insane person! You and I are all of these for any number of people who even notice us. Just know that I am as real as this hummingbird.”

As Phillip said this last he gestured with his hand up toward the hummingbird feeder hanging overhead just to the side close by us, and at that moment a hummingbird, flashing iridescent purplish-red and green as it wheeled through the sunbeams bathing the scene swooped out of the unseen into our presence and onto the perch attached to the feeder, to draw his fill from one of its small portals.

Manuel: “Phillip: lover of horses. So, did you name yourself?”

Phillip: “Well…, why not? Horses are such graceful expressions of life. And I love life. Tell me, what did you do last night?”

Manuel: “I had been busy all day, doing this and that, the kind of everyday things that absorb all your time and wipe your mind clean as you churn along keeping the affairs of the household moving. And then I sat here to relax watching the evening light, listening to music, a soprano voice undulating through a slow, haunting flamenco song, which seemed to fit the mood of calmness I sought as evening was fading. The hummingbirds, too, seemed to relish the time, for they came to lap nectar from the feeder, overhead, before they flitted off to sleep. Then as darkness was overcoming light, and the night sky was opening up, that voice flowed into the comforting melody and rhythm of a soulful Mexican ballad. It takes me back to my childhood. After a while, I wanted to listen to more music for under the stars, so I put on one of my favorite symphonies for such times, the Brahms second. And my thoughts went out, as you’ve described.”

Phillip: “And that is when I decided to come see you.”

Manuel: “You heard?”

Phillip: “The totality of all is completely amoral, of that you can be sure. We live in perilous times because all times are perilous, and those perils are always so randomly, and thus unfairly, distributed. You and I are fortunate at this time in our lives, we have secure retreats from which we can ponder the elusiveness of meaning within the grittiness of existence, and feel grateful for not being overwhelmed by tragedy.”

Manuel: “So, can you see into the future, and know when you can be happy and when you will be sad?”

Phillip: “Of course not. All you can do is feel grateful when you are living through a time of relative peacefulness, as we are here now; and exert yourself onto the fullest perhaps even onto death when you have to channel the hot pulse of life and its piercing frigid daggers of fear when you are confronting an onrushing, implacable and heartless threat. We can never know what fate has in store for us. The best we can do is live decently and with awareness in unwitting preparation for the future. We each have to navigate ourselves through this bewildering existence, bedeviled as it is by the many artificial evils and calamities that we confused social creatures have added to it. For navigating through all that we rely on the instincts that evolution has brought to us in our many species, and the upbringing we have been variously gifted with. Call it luck. Our engagement with the future is not random, but neither is it determined nor mechanical in any way. In that sense it is rogue, a mystery, even though we have so many ways in which we can shape it while never ever being able to control it.”

Manuel: “So you came to visit me to reassure me that life will continue, despite whatever happens, because you sensed my thoughts about it.”

Phillip: “Yes, that is the simplest explanation. I am who am, neither higher nor lower; just like you, though a little more aware of it. And so I gravitated to you through the primordial to reassure you that the primordial is everything eternity can mean for us, and it has life within it. Not conscious structured personality, but life, the all-life of which you and I, this forest and all the creatures and forms we see as ‘living,’ emanate out of.”

Manuel: “I can see reassurance in that, but people want more than reassurance, they want hope.”

Phillip: “Hope is desire, and desire is fear and selfishness. And selfishness is being lost from all-life while being inescapably embedded in it. We are all connected, and it is only through willful ignorance that many blind themselves from seeing that. You may experience the joy of seeing some of the life-forms you cherish continue happily during your human lifetime, and you may also experience grief and sadness at seeing some of them suffer and die before your consciousness blinks off, and you may or may not be able to influence the courses of those fates either way by your own actions. That is life, the great self-tangling mystery and revelation and energy. The peace and certainty in the core of the heart that we all want is to be had by understanding this, viscerally, despite all experiences of happiness or sadness however deep and prolonged. That is life. That is the great reassurance. It is beyond purpose. So you are free to be fully conscious of being alive. That is life, that is freedom, that is reality, and that is you when you awaken to it.”

Manuel: “And then what?”

Phillip: “And then you live like a primordial being. Like the hummingbirds that fearlessly zip their sparkling selves through the air and into our presences; like the cats that are always attuned to the shifts of their environments to sustain themselves and to grace themselves elegantly with the satisfactions of being alive; like the native peoples, which the myopic industrialized world has labeled ‘primitive,’ but who rightly should be termed ‘primordial’ because their kind live as interwoven threads within the meshes of life known as ‘the outback’, ‘the desert’, ‘the islands’, ‘the jungles and forests’, ‘the tundras and polar seas’, and who give as much to the environments that sustain them as they receive in recompense. Species of primordial beings come as close as any life-forms can to having everlasting life. But nothing is truly eternal except the forces of change.”

Manuel: “So the possession of true equanimity must be independent of both lively existence and oblivion, happiness and sadness?”

Phillip: “Precisely.”

Manuel: “And understanding how it all comes about, how it is all structured…”

Phillip: “…Is endlessly fascinating, so mentally stimulating, and completely empty. Marvelous, isn’t it?”

Manuel: “Listening to you I feel I have understood much, but have learned nothing. It all seems so clear, and yet there is no logic that I can grab on to. I mean, is it all just to feel as good as one can despite being fundamentally helpless to control, or influence, or prevent the capriciousness of the future? Is it all meaningless but we can console ourselves by thinking we individually are meaningful, and that understanding the totality means to stop punishing ourselves by releasing the illusion that we can understand it?”

Phillip: “The fourth thing that you should know is that I have come out of you, and that all such human and life-to-life connection is how we can each experience the fullest joy of being alive. Do that and all understanding comes to you beyond any mental filtration. It is like having a sun within you that shines a warmth onto you. That is life, that is the universe, it is so entangled, it is you. To know that is to then really be alive. Beyond that it is all just simple chores; washing dishes after you eat. Nothing complicated.”

Night had descended, and we both sat looking out into it for a while; then Phillip spoke again.

Phillip: “The fifth thing that you should know is that the great freedom we have is in being able to transmit this to others.”

Manuel: “Reassurance?”

Phillip: “Yes, reassurance.”

Manuel: “It sounds like love.”

Phillip: “One could use that word…without sentimentality. One could also say ‘solidarity,’ but with a bit more affection. We just call it reassurance. Agh! all our words are such flat monochrome shadows cast by a reality with so much depth and color and dimension! All our desires and focus on forms are such blinders. Forms come and go, but the upwelling from the primordial is enduring.”

Again, we passed some time in silence before Phillip continued.

Phillip: “I was once like you, but was changed by receiving a transmission.”

Manuel: “By a visit?”

Phillip: “Yes, yes, they can take many forms. And like me, you too will transmit the great reassurance to others, in you own way.”

Manuel: “Me, how?

Phillip: “There are so many ways for a person to infuse their talents and hone their skills through the most sublime expressions of interconnected life, by immersing themselves completely in the works and experiences that give them their greatest sense of fulfillment. And it is through such all-enveloping fulfillment that most such transmissions of reassurance are made. Einstein did it with his mind-expanding equations, Harriet Tubman with her ferocious struggle to enlarge human freedom, Mozart with his timelessly captivating music, Rachel Carson with her deep compassionate scientific intellect, Dostoevsky with his prose, Santa Teresa with her poetry, Miriam with her motherhood, and on and on and on. You’ll come upon your way, appropriate to whom you are addressing, and the circumstances. Who can say? This is life.”

We each looked off into the night.

After some time wandering through the many thoughts that Phillip had stirred in my mind, I began to feel a slight chill in the air as the moon crested the hill on the opposite side of my wooded canyon, and I looked over to Phillip’s chair. He was gone, only the depression in the seat cushion remained, illuminated by the moonlight. I got up and walked around the corner of the house to look for Phillip, but only saw the stairs leading away from the house and into the night beyond.

Was Phillip real?, was he a phantom of my mind, a hallucination?, a mental projection of the many intense times I have spent pondering existential questions that are so clearly beyond my powers of analysis or articulate expression? I realize I will never know, and that ultimately it doesn’t matter. Phillip is real in that his words are lodged indelibly and gemlike in my consciousness, and that is real to me. All that is left for me now is to continue, finding fulfillment as I am able, being a link in the transmission of reassurance — at the very least potentially.

And so I came inside and fell asleep, I think for the first time that day.

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The Artistry of Gifting

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The Artistry of Gifting

In the book The Gift, Lewis Hyde described (among other things) how Bob Dylan benefitted enormously by having copyright-free access to traditional folksongs with which to hone his craft (and gain young artist income for performing them). The production of new art needs the free nourishment of old art in order to continue the cycle of cultural rebirth. http://www.lewishyde.com/publications/the-gift

Bob Dylan just sold his entire catalog of songs (to Universal Music Group) for probably upwards of $300,000,000. Stevie Nicks (of the band Jefferson Airplane, etc.) had previously sold her entire catalog for $100,000,000. Yea Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread, the Summer of Love has withered into the Winter Of Our Discontent: COVID spiking, mass loss of income, mass foreclosures, mass you’re on your own healthcare (mass health don’t care), mass social contamination, exclusive celebrity indemnification.

Tom Lehrer (now 92), the wickedly funny satirist and songwriter, has put his entire music catalog — lyrics and sheet music — in the public domain. He grants everyone permission to do anything they want with his entire artistic/musical output, without cost and in perpetuity. You have till 31 December 2024 to download any or all of Tom’s songs, before he closes his website. https://tomlehrersongs.com/

Who knew in 1959 that “Poisoning Pigeons In The Park” would morph into official U.S. government public health policy (for us homo sapiens pigeons) in 2020? https://youtu.be/yhuMLpdnOjY

Jonas Edward Salk (1918-1995) was a medical researcher who developed the first vaccine against the polio virus. Before the Salk injected vaccine was introduced in 1955, polio was considered one of the most serious public health problems in the world. The 1952 U.S. epidemic, in which 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with some form of paralysis, was the worst polio outbreak in the nation’s history, and most of its victims were children. According to a 2009 PBS documentary, “Apart from the atomic bomb, America’s greatest fear was polio.” During 1953 and 1954, the average number of polio cases in the U.S. was more than 45,000; by 1962 that number had dropped to 910. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonas_Salk

“Salk never patented the vaccine or earned any money from his discovery, preferring it be distributed as widely as possible.” https://www.salk.edu/about/history-of-salk/jonas-salk/

Between 1954 and 1961, Albert Sabin (born Abram Saperstein, 1906-1993), a medical researcher, went through a tremendous effort to develop and test an oral vaccine against all three strains of the polio virus. To develop and prove the safety of Sabin’s oral vaccine, upwards of 100 million people — in the USSR, Eastern Europe, Singapore, Mexico and the Netherlands — were tested with it.

The success of that campaign by 1960 opened the door to testing in the United States, on 180,000 school children in Cincinnati. The mass immunization techniques that Sabin pioneered with his associates effectively eradicated polio in Cincinnati, and that technique along with the oral vaccine itself broke the chain of transmission of the virus, and has led over the last four decades to nearly eradicating the disease worldwide.

“Sabin refused to patent his vaccine, waiving every commercial exploitation by pharmaceutical industries, so that the low price would guarantee a more extensive spread of the treatment. From the development of his vaccine Sabin did not gain a penny, and continued to live on his salary as a professor.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Sabin

On 12 April 1922, Frederick Grant Banting (1891-1941), Charles Herbert Best (1899-1978), James Bertram Collip (1892-1965), John James Rickard Macleod (1876-1935), and John Gerald “Gerry” FitzGerald (1882-1940) — the key participants in the project (in Canada) to develop therapeutic insulin, a project initiated by Banting in 1920 — wrote jointly to the president of the University of Toronto to propose assigning the patent for the artificial production of insulin to the Board of Governors of the University in such a way that:

“The patent would not be used for any other purpose than to prevent the taking out of a patent by other persons. When the details of the method of preparation are published anyone would be free to prepare the extract, but no one could secure a profitable monopoly.”

The assignment to the University of Toronto Board of Governors was completed on 15 January 1923, for the token payment of $1.00. Following further concern regarding (drug company) Eli Lilly’s attempts to separately patent parts of the manufacturing process, Robert Defries (Assistant Director and Head of the Insulin Division at Connaught Laboratories, which administered the insulin patent) established a patent pooling policy which would require producers to freely share any improvements to the manufacturing process without compromising affordability. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulin#Discovery

“Tell me someone who’s not a parasite, and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him.” — Bob Dylan

Some people are successful in life and lucky, but some are successful at life and are radiant.

Seisetsu, a Zen master in ancient Kamakura, required larger quarters to alleviate the overcrowding of his many students. Umezu Seibei, a well-to-do merchant, decided to donate 500 piecers of gold (called ryo) for that purpose. “All right, I’ll take it,” said Seisetsu. But Umezu was dissatisfied with Seisetsu’s response because a person could live a whole year on 3 ryo, and Umezu had expected an effusive thanks. So he reminded Seisetsu that 500 ryo was a lot of money that he had been donated. “Do you want me to thank you?” asked Seisetsu. “You ought to,” replied Umezu. “Why should I?” asked Seisetsu, “the giver should be thankful.” [see #53 in the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, by Paul Reps (1895-1990)].

And that’s it, isn’t it?: you donate because you are grateful that you are able to do so. Gratitude is enlightenment, and that is the artistry of gifting.

The Gift is an excellent book, if you are an artist, or at least appreciate art, read it (try your public library). http://www.lewishyde.com/publications/the-gift

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ED: Election Day

52 State Flag (proposed); if add Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

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ED: Election Day

I voted for the guy
who would destroy America
at a slower pace.
I’m sentimental, I have kids.

I’m all for Socialism,
I’d just hate having to do it
with Americans.

The Democrats are all for voting
so long as only they
and Republicans
get to do it.

The Republicans are against voting
for everyone
except themselves.

The U.S.A. is a capitalist democracy
which means
elections are bought.
“Bribery” is called
“campaign contributions.”

Why not have Election Week?
A paid time off
National Holiday
during which all votes
are easily counted.
(I know, I know:
there’s no profit in it,
and too damn much fairness.)

Why not have
Parliamentary Democracy?
(I know, I know:
there’s no profit in it,
and too damn much fairness.)

Vote for Blue no matter who?
or
Better Dead than Red?
Ave Imperator
E pluribus unum
Morituri te salutant.

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Moon Gliding Over a Time of Stillness

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Moon Gliding Over a Time of Stillness

The Moon rose large over the forested far slope of the canyon, shining its cool reflected effulgence from a pastel blue evening sky down through faint high wisps of nebulous mist and into the otherwise invisible water vapor filling the air to glow with a plush soft burnished halo around that majestically floating orb of crisp ghostly luminosity bringing to sharp silhouettes the forms of branches and leaves interposed between us, as an expansive polyphony of sparkling birdsong gradually diminished toward silence as pools of darkness swelled to merge into a night stillness cored by a tunnel of clarity between that Moon’s silvery pockmarked hemispherical surface in vivid sharp relief, and and my enchanted eyes.

The myriad meshed wheels of the unimaginably vast machinery of the Heavens and of the Earth, from the astronomical to the subatomic, continue their many cycles indifferent to the stoppage of humanity’s wheels of thoughtless contention, what we call civilization, now brought up short by the collision of all our ambitions into the stark terror of an erupting plague, a pandemic of an uncontrolled, evasive and pervasive deadly virus. Many of us hide from each other hoping to avoid chance and fatal infection, and waiting fearfully hoping for the conjuring of a magical medical salvation soon, it can never be too soon. Others hide from reality burrowed into their shaky fantasies of imperviousness and longings for illusions of self-importance, angrily protesting their mandated self-incarceration from a now shattered and scattered society, an anger that is really the roiling surface of the deeply suppressed realization of being inconsequential and superfluous. And then there are those who walk through the undefined extent of the valley of death each day: to battle the virus, attend to the sick, bury the dead; or forced by the needs of their own survival to labor blindly through the pervading pestilence; or moved by a higher calling sacrificing themselves to be of service to others.

For some it is a time of being terribly tested and of exhibiting great nobility, for others of being cravenly malicious parasites taking advantage of a prostrate humanity. It is a time when the contours of authentic merit and of the foulest degradation within the usually amorphous mass of humanity are brought into the sharpest contrast by the glaring light of pandemic circumstances. It is a time when the best hold solidarity with all and affirm life, without denying and being disheartened by the indeterminate inevitability of death. It is a time to savor the great and mysterious gift of life, of consciousness along a stream of time; but in truth it was always that time, now only sparked into many minds by the viral invasion of our human meshwork of flesh, blood and behavior.

How should I conduct the uncertain continuation of my survival? In what form will humanity emerge from this winnowing, and when if ever? I suspect this pandemic is but a skirmish in a much larger and longer war against the unrelenting forces of overstimulated entropy, evolution and extinction. Human consciousness is an evanescent field of scintillating glints flashing off the rippling surface of the deep black night of nonexistence towards which our human world of tragic innocence, of blithe self-absorption and of damning hubris, inexorably drifts.

Millennialist dreamers, both romantically religious and technologically ideological, envision humanity’s future to be a unanimous transformation of attitudes and behaviors that coalesce as a new self-perpetuating good life of affluent coexistence, a hoped-for transformation of our civilization prompted by the finally awakened realization of its self-caused catastrophe of increasing inhospitability to our form of life, as well as to that of many other organisms, by this Planet Earth.

I would wholeheartedly welcome such a transformation, but I suspect such a desirable outburst of human behavioral evolution as the endpoint of our old paradigm inflecting into the gateway to an imaginary new utopia, will never occur. I expect the actual finish of our human world will be, metaphorically, as the ending of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick: The brute force of Nature stoves in our obsessive, exploitative, narcissistic, predatory collective boat and it plunges to oblivion, with Tashtego — the “native” worker whose life was a struggle for survival against extinction, by being carried along as an underling in the Great White Conquest of the Living, to Gain Wealth — climbing the sinking mainmast in a vain attempt to evade engulfment, and finally — as the last gesture possible from the Earth-connected people of his kind — nailing the American Sea Eagle bannering master-race illusions to the mast-top, so it too would vanish with those it had entranced, and those enslaved to that entrancement, to their self-imposed and necessarily collective doom.

But why give oneself over to such thoughts, even if ultimately true? One’s life will have its extent, and between its dawn and dusk spans a spectrum of opportunities to apply one’s energy and talents to the creation of beauty, dignity, truth, healing, and noble connection, all independent of fate’s hazards and happenstances. It is from each individual’s weaving of all these efforts that whatever fulfillment is possible for them will be found. And the commitment to this attitude forms the center of gravity, the stillpoint of a calmed awakened mind, of a life of balanced openness and worthy purpose though immersed in the endless uncertainties, luckless cruelties, and constant flux of unfolding existence.

The Moon has arced far across my night thoughts, dispelling my illusions of judgement and knowledge while infusing me with a wordless sense of acceptance, of trust, in just being. In this I may have finally achieved after seven decades the intrinsic wisdom of my self-assured night-ranging cats, of my feisty day-flitting hummingbirds, and of all the lovely Sun-soaked non-human life I will see and hear all along my wooded canyon when day comes. Life continues by being, not wanting. It is only our wanting that is extinguishing itself in the flood of its own excesses, and there is no necessity that we extinguish ourselves by only being our self-absorbed wanting.

A White-throated Swift twitters at the first blush of eastern light, rippling the once glassy surface of the evening silence as the cool ghostliness of moonglow fades into the dusky shadowless twilight before dawn, and a Chestnut-backed Chickadee then lilts its pulsating greeting to the day seeping up from the horizon into the sky. Goodnight Moon.

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The Poetry of Disillusionment in “Gatsby” is Beyond the Movies

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The Poetry of Disillusionment in “Gatsby” is Beyond the Movies

The Great Gatsby is a marvelous novel. F. Scott Fitzgerald was at heart a poet of the 19th Century English Romantic type, for that was the literature that clearly inspired him, as he himself said about his only academic focus during his college education (he being Princeton University’s most accomplished and famous non-graduate).

I was not too impressed with the latest (2013) glitzy movie of the novel, by Baz Luhrmann. Gatsby is so much about the poetic and lyrical use of language to convey emotionally, rather than logically (like my good science reports), the psychological states of the characters of the Gatsby tale.

A plot is always necessary of course, but in literary art it can be a mere skeleton on which to hang the real pulsing flesh of the story. Movies present plot first and foremost. The most artistically refined ones can give a sense of the poetry of experience, but this is not typical. The Baz Luhrmann movie was total Hollywood: big, flashy, loud, bombastic, hyper-realistically unreal, and impatient to blast you with a sensation.

Fitzgerald is just the opposite. Sure, there are big flashy loud extravagant background scenes in the Gatsby story, but they are really like painted backdrop curtains to the stage of the imagination on which the compelling psychologically vibrant interplays and soliloquies that fill the foreground of the tale are spun out by Fitzgerald’s prose. So I think a Hollywood movie, especially one intentionally a “blockbuster,” of the Gatsby story is just far from any art of Fitzgerald’s league, even if it has mass appeal as safe-decadent entertainment.

I suppose it could be possible for someone of the caliber of Jean Renoir to make a Gatsby movie that is much closer to the spirit of what Fitzgerald was striving for with prose, but I don’t think such a film masterpiece would have much appeal to general audiences. So, it would never be made because who in the movie business would put up the money to make a supremely artistic, psychologically subtle, and lyrical sure-fire flop?

Every movie of a novel is always a set of excerpts strung together as the filmmaker’s interpretation, or rip-off, of the novel. Can’t be helped. Douglas Sirk (the German director who made iconic 1950s American melodrama pictures with Rock Hudson) said that it was easier to make a good movie from a defective or second-rate novel, because the moviemakers (director and screen writers) could patch and fill the given story as they thought best to arrive at an integrated product that worked well as a mass-market movie. Really good novels had everything about the characters’s make-up and plot factors all tightly wrapped up “perfectly,” so there was no room to adjust the story to make for a popular movie without also degrading the quality of that story. It’s the old “the movie is not like the book.”

Some novels are too good to make equally good movies of. Catcher In The Rye is one, and its author, J. D. Salinger, refused to sell the film rights to any of his novels because he could only see movie versions degrading what he had produced for readers. The ideal prose-to-movie process (for both good prose and a good movie) would be having a superb writer craft tales specifically intended for being made into movies, where that writer was also a superb moviemaker, and who would make the film.

Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame was such a writer-moviemaker. Serling had many beautiful turns of phrase flowing out of his commentary on his Twilight Zone episodes on TV, and mixed into the dialog of the characters in his stories. But Serling’s stories only spun on for 25 minutes (half hour shows) or 50 minutes (hour shows).

Fitzgerald’s novels have much longer and interwoven thematic arcs, and were meant to be absorbed by a reader over many, many hours, probably over the course of days, weeks. Fitzgerald really wrote for pre-TV even pre-movie 19th century hopeful young American minds (like his), but who had lived through the consciousness-shattering experiences and devastating losses of WWI, and were now making their way through the chaotically fragmenting 1920s, maybe sometimes crazy happy times but with many disappointments for most, since most were not rich and would never get to be.

So, I just don’t see how any movie can capture The Great Gatsby or Fitzgerald’s incredible, incredible second masterpiece Tender Is The Night. In my daydream of being a great screenwriter and movie director, I would do the impossible and make a lush compelling epic of Tender Is The Night, something with the cinematic scope of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, and the psychological clarity and depth of Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion.

Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm for Baz Luhrmann’s movie (which I did watch attentively) is the reaction of a reader (instead of a non-reading movie fan) who was enchanted by the spell of Fitzgerald’s poetic and yet amazingly economical outpouring of prose that transmits the deep feeling of the Gatsby tale. I see little subtlety and glaring falsities in, and feel much bombast from the movie. You just fall so deeply into the story as told by Fitzgerald, especially with Nick Carraway as your guide into the lower psychological depths, but you are pushed back so hard and pocked with shrapnel by Luhrmann’s movie. It’s obvious that the brassy blare is what makes the movie “successful,” but that success is the exact opposite of what Fitzgerald gave us. (Yes, the movie would have to have been made by the Jean Renoir of La Grande Illusion and La Règle de Jeu.)

The Gatsby story is about the losses of optimistic illusions about American life and about romantic ideals, and then about attempted nobility failing at life while rich crass ignorance and bigotry triumph in the way parasites triumph by degrading the totality of the lives hosting them. Tom Buchanan is Trump, and Daisy Buchanan then as now is an airhead (not a shrewd careerist Melania), a simple pretty nonentity that has no intellectual depth but is pleasant to look and talk with, and on whom the love, longings and life ambitions of a driven man can be projected as movie myth is projected onto a silver screen and appear to shimmer with magical promise. That may be the most cinematic aspect of the novel, Daisy as a metaphor of the movies, magic by optical illusion and without any substance at all, which if believed in without reservation draws naïve optimistic romanticism to its actual doom.

Well, so much for my babble about Gatsby and movie attempts at Gatsby. As Peter Byrne has told me: “Never judge a book by its movie.”

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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Lyrical Aviator

Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry, simply known as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (29 June 1900 – 31 July 1944), was a French writer, poet, aristocrat, journalist and pioneering aviator. He became a laureate of several of France’s highest literary awards and also won the United States National Book Award. He is best remembered for his novella The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) and for his lyrical aviation writings, including Wind, Sand and Stars and Night Flight.

Saint-Exupéry was a successful commercial pilot before World War II, working airmail routes in Europe, Africa and South America. At the outbreak of war, he joined the French Air Force (Armée de l’Air), flying reconnaissance missions until France’s armistice with Germany in 1940. After being demobilised from the French Air Force, he travelled to the United States to help persuade its government to enter the war against Nazi Germany. Following a 27-month hiatus in North America, during which he wrote three of his most important works, he joined the Free French Air Force in North Africa, although he was far past the maximum age for such pilots and in declining health. He disappeared and is believed to have died while on a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean on 31 July 1944.

Prior to the war, Saint-Exupéry had achieved fame in France as an aviator. His literary works – among them The Little Prince, translated into 300 languages and dialects – posthumously boosted his stature to national hero status in France. He earned further widespread recognition with international translations of his other works. His 1939 philosophical memoir Terre des hommes (titled Wind, Sand and Stars in English) became the name of an international humanitarian group; it was also used to create the central theme of the most successful world’s fair of the 20th century, Expo 67 in Montreal, Quebec. Saint-Exupéry’s birthplace, Lyon, has also named its main airport after him.

The above three paragraphs (out of many more) are from:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoine_de_Saint-Exup%C3%A9ry

The Little Prince, published in 1943, is estimated to be the 3rd best-selling book ever, with 140 million copies sold.

List of best-selling books
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books

Today’s blog post was motivated by my reading of Wind, Sand and Stars, a book described as follows:

Wind, Sand and Stars (French title: Terre des hommes, literally “Land of Men”) is a memoir by the French aristocrat aviator-writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and a winner of several literary awards. It deals with themes such as friendship, death, heroism, and solidarity among colleagues, and illustrates the author’s opinions of what makes life worth living. It was first published in France in February 1939, and was then translated by Lewis Galantière and published in English by Reynal and Hitchcock in the United States later the same year.

in the wikipedia article about it:

Wind, Sand and Stars
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind,_Sand_and_Stars

It is an excellent book. My copy is a 222 page book published by Time-Life Books in 1965, with a preface by “The Editors of Time,” an introduction by Pierre Clostermann (a leading Free French fighter-plane pilot of World War II, who was also a member of the French National Assembly), and the 10 chapters of Saint-Exupéry’s English language version of his book Terres des hommes. Those chapters are titled: The Craft, The Men, The Tool, The Elements, The Plane and the Planet, Oasis, Men of the Desert, Prisoner of the Sand, Barcelona and Madrid (1936), Conclusion.

Chapter 2, The Men, is about the pioneering long-distance air-mail flights (over the Sahara Desert, the Atlantic Ocean and Andes Mountains), exploits, crashes and survival epics of two French aviators active in the 1920s and 1930s, Mermoz, and Guillaumet. Besides being entirely captivated by the romance and adventure of early mechanized flight, they were also entirely committed to expanding the reach of aviation to advance the development of human civilization.

Chapters 6, 7 and 8, Oasis, Men of the Desert, Prisoner of the Sand, involve numerous recollections of Saint-Exupéry’s three years flying over the Sahara, of being stationed at remote desert outposts, and in Prisoner of the Sand (the central story of the book) of crashing in the Libyan Desert and nearly dying of thirst during a four day ordeal of hallucinatory trekking, along with his mechanic Prévot.

Chapter 9, Barcelona and Madrid (1936), is a fascinating eye-witness account of Saint-Exupéry’s time in Republican Spain during the first year of its Civil War, getting close to the fighting, and trying to understand the willingness of simple people to voluntarily risk (and sacrifice) their lives in very sketchy, under-equipped and under-manned operations for the defense of the Republic.

An excellent photo-essay about the Prisoner of the Sand airplane crash, and struggle of human survival, is given at:

29 December 1935: Wind, Sand and Stars
[Saint-Exupéry’s desert crash in the Simoun airplane]
https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/30-december-1935-wind-sand-stars/

The author of the above blog, This Day In Aviation (which is excellent for its topic), Bryan Swopes, has also posted a nice summary (with numerous photos) of Saint-Exupéry’s life;

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (29 June 1900–31 July 1944)
[nice summary, with photos]
https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/29-june-1900/

Saint-Exupéry’s 1935 Prisoner of the Sand experience was the inspiration for his story 8 years later, The Little Prince. Saint-Exupéry’s writing has more of a lyrical-philosophical nature than of a thriller adventure story of the kind adolescent boys (including me) and B-movie producers love. But those more thoughtful musings on the human condition, and on the interactions of strangers from vastly different cultures in the much wider and less-connected world of the 1930s, arose out of Saint-Exupéry’s immersion in the professional life of a remote-country and endurance-flight aviator, and have been the compelling draw to his many aviator-readers worldwide for over 80 years. And one needn’t be an aviator to also fall under the spell of their elegance.

Despite his age and less than ideal health during World War II, Saint-Exupéry managed to gain an assignment with the Free French Air Force as a pilot, flying a F-5B-1-LO unarmed photo-reconnaissance variant of the Lockheed P-38J Lightning twin-engine fighter. On 31 July 1944 he took off from his base on the island of Corsica for a mission in the Rhône Valley. He was never seen again. “In 1998 a fisherman found his silver identity bracelet on the sea floor south of Marseilles. Parts of the aircraft were recovered in 2003.” Bryan Swopes summarizes that day in his brief photo-essay:

31 July 1944
[Saint-Exupéry’s loss in his P-38]
https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/31-july-1944/

As a mechanical device, the P-38 Lightning was a beautiful thing from the perspective of form-following-function, that function being aerial performance. But, sadly, the purpose for that function was to be a tool of war, a killing machine; and from today’s greater appreciation of green energy and the understanding of global warming, the P-38 and all its war-plane kin, past and present, are terribly wasteful carbon polluters relative to the few people they carry and the destructive uses they are put to. Aside from these regrettable realities, I think the P-38 has beautiful lines from every perspective, and I can imagine the exhilarating experience of flying one.

Was Saint-Exupéry shot down on 31 July 1944, or did he experience a fatal mechanical failure? Hard to say, conclusive evidence either way is lacking. Records of Luftwaffe (the air force branch of the German Wehrmacht military forces) operations for southern France at that time are lacking due to their wartime destruction, and the debris patch of Saint-Exupéry’s P-38 is long and wide, and the pieces mostly all quite small, implying a high speed impact on the water. The highly fragmented nature of the debris, along with its corroded state after over 60 years on the sea floor, has made it impossible to detect any bullet holes that one would suppose to exist if a Luffewaffe fighter-plane had shot down Saint-Exupéry’s P-38.

Saint-Exupéry expressed his ethos this way, on pages 126-127, in Prisoner of the Sand, in my edition of Wind, Sand and Stars:

My world was the world of flight. Already I could feel the oncoming night within which I should be enclosed as in the precincts of a temple — enclosed in the temple of night for the accomplishment of secret rites and absorption in inviolable contemplation.

Already this profane world was beginning to fade out: soon it would vanish altogether. This landscape was still laved in golden sunlight, but already something was evaporating out of it. I know nothing, nothing in the world, equal to the wonder of nightfall in the air.

Those who have been enthralled by the witchery of flying will know what I mean — and I do not speak of men who, among other sports, enjoy taking a turn in a plane. I speak of those who fly professionally and have sacrificed much to their craft. Mermoz said once, “It’s worth it, it’s worth the final smash-up.”

An artist’s impression of Saint-Exupéry’s last flight.

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Happy 200th, Herman!

Herman Melville, 1870

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Happy 200th, Herman!

The first of August 2019 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick or, the Whale (1851), as well as numerous other novels, short stories and much poetry.

Because of the depth of his thought as well as the range of his invention, Herman Melville (1 August 1819 – 28 September 1891) remains America’s greatest writer of literary fiction, and also one of its superior poets. I consider Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910) the quintessential American novelist because his masterwork, the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), is such an exquisite encapsulation of anti-slavery and anti-bigotry moral principle within a widely popular coming-of-age boy’s adventure story. But Melville is America’s deepest literary artist, his novels are metaphors for long-running threads of reality entwined as the American experience.

While Mark Twain’s facile humor and droll prose made him very popular with his 19th century audiences — both through publications and with live appearances — Herman Melville remained largely neglected during the last forty years of his life, by a reading public that was alienated by the complexity of his art. That complexity resulted from the combination of his literary sophistication, strongly influenced by the poetic language and moral insights of both William Shakespeare and the King James Bible; his personal philosophical thought as the fundamental source for his writing; his morally enlightened (non-racist) attitude about the world’s people; and the wit of his continuing critique, embedded in his fiction, of Americans’ myopic for-profit utilitarianism and obsessive hucksterism and con-artistry, which continues to this very day.

Herman Melville, 1860

I am no amateur scholar of Herman Melville and his literature, nor do I pretend to be. I am just one of millions of readers who since 1851 have been entranced by Melville’s masterpiece, Moby-Dick. I have read this book at least three times since 1961. With each reading I was older, more experienced, and was able to gain more insight about and appreciation for the literary use of the American language, and 19th America, out of the richness of Melville’s prose. I used the image of Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal and fatal obsession to hunt down and kill the white whale Moby Dick, in a recent article of my own, as a metaphor for humanity’s current obsession to continue racing with its self-destructive fossil-fueled capitalism, which is the profligate source of greenhouse gas emissions causing anthropogenic global warming climate change.

Many readers today would find Melville prolix, abstruse, convoluted, and with a confounding multifarious vocabulary. This obviates Melville’s work from achieving instant contemporary mass pop-appeal. However, that prolixity, abstruseness, convolution and wide-spectrum vocabulary we grumble about now could reflect the devolution of Americans’ thought processes and language from a measured 19th century pacing of consideration to a hurried jittery 21st century attention-deficit superficiality: the shorn American language of today, our no-brainer “New Speak.”

Herman Melville, 1861

Herman Melville gained popular success as an author with his initial novel Typee (1846), a romantic account of his experiences of Polynesian life, gathered during his time as a whaler and seaman in the South Pacific between early 1841 and late 1844. Typee was followed by a sequel, Omoo (1847), which was also successful and paid him enough to marry and start a family. His first novel not based on his own experiences, Mardi (1849), was not well received. His next fictional work, Redburn (1849), and his non-fiction White-Jacket (1850) were given better reviews but did not provide financial security. (1)

Moby-Dick (1851), although now considered one of the great American novels, was not well received among contemporary critics. His psychological novel, Pierre: or, The Ambiguities (1852) was also scorned by reviewers. From 1853 to 1856, Melville published short fiction in magazines which were collected in 1856 as The Piazza Tales. In 1857, he traveled to England and then toured the Near East. The Confidence-Man (1857) was the last prose work that he published. He moved to New York to take a position as Customs Inspector and turned to poetry. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866) was his poetic reflection on the moral questions of the American Civil War. (1)

In 1867, his oldest child Malcolm died at home from a self-inflicted gunshot. Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land was published in 1876, a metaphysical epic. In 1886, his son Stanwix died of apparent tuberculosis, and Melville retired. During his last years, he privately published two volumes of poetry, left one volume unpublished, and returned to prose of the sea. The novella Billy Budd was left unfinished at his death but was published posthumously in 1924. Melville died from cardiovascular disease in 1891. The 1919 centennial of his birth became the starting point of the “Melville Revival” with critics rediscovering his work and his major novels starting to become recognized as world classics of prominent importance to contemporary world literature. (1)

Most of Melville’s works can now be found on-line. (2)

Herman Melville, 1868

A most interesting and knowledgable commentator on Herman Melville’s works is Louis Proyect, both because of his familiarity with Melville’s texts, and because of his discussions of how Melville’s themes are critically reflected in the social contexts of both the 19th century and today, and of how Melville’s anti-racist attitudes contrasted favorably with the “utilitarian” consensus of his times, and even ours. (3), (4), (5).

To end this commemoration of Herman Melville and his literature, on the occasion of his 200th birthday, I borrow the following paragraphs from Louis Proyect (3). Mark well what ye read here, for we need slake our forgetfulness and remember this conviction today.

Melville’s Redburn is one of his lesser-known books, but it comes as close to a conscious expression of the world we are trying to build as will be found in all of his works. He writes:

There is something in the contemplation of the mode in which America has been settled that, in a noble breast, would forever extinguish the prejudices of national dislikes. Settled by the people of all nations, all nations may claim her for their own. You cannot spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world. . .Our blood is as the flood of the Amazon, made of a thousand noble currents all pouring into one. We are not a nation, so much as a world. . .Our ancestry is lost in the universal pageantry; and Caesar and Alfred, St. Paul and Luther, and Homer and Shakespeare are as much ours as Washington, who is as much the world’s as our own. We are the heirs of all time, and with all nations we divide our inheritance. On this Western Hemisphere all tribes and peoples are forming into one federated whole; and there is a future which shall see the estranged children of Adam restored as to the old hearthstone in Eden.

Herman Melville, 1885

Notes

(1) Herman Melville
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Melville

All images of Herman Melville here are from Wikipedia.

(2) The Life and Works of Herman Melville
http://www.melville.org/

(3) Deconstructing cannibalism
5 January 2016
https://louisproyect.org/2016/01/05/deconstructing-cannibalism/

includes Louis Proyect’s articles:

Shakespeare’s Tempest and the American Indian
6 December 1998

Herman Melville’s Typee: a Peep at Polynesian Life
18 October 2004

(4) The Confidence Man
23 December 2013
https://louisproyect.org/2013/12/23/the-confidence-man/

(5) Herman Melville and indigenous peoples
16 February 2008
https://louisproyect.org/2008/02/16/herman-melville-and-indigenous-peoples/

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