I Learn About F. Scott Fitzgerald

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, with daughter Scottie

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I Learn About F. Scott Fitzgerald

After decades of resisting the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), thinking him and them as inconsequential and passé, I finally fell under their spell. He was a literary genius, a great romantic and perceptive and fundamentally tragic writer. His novel, The Great Gatsby, is shimmering, transcendental (beyond the powers of cinema to capture), and – from the perspective of our limited human lifetimes – eternal. A collection of his short stories compiled in 1960, Babylon Revisited, is fascinating, showing how inventive he was at devising characters and plots detailing the intertwining of the psychologies of those characters. And he would present it all with fluidly lyrical prose of amazing compactness. What has drawn me to his stories is his implicitly deep understanding of the human heart, which he conveys from behind the casual facade of both manic and faded Jazz Age settings. What I see from his own personal story is that every true artist must constantly struggle to be able to do the work that expresses their art and gives their life meaning, despite the enervating drag of the many demands heaped on one by the needs of economic survival, exhibiting sufficient conformity for social acceptance, and the emotional needs – and illusions – of close family. I think that is the great heroic epic of each artist’s personal life: somehow producing the work held deep in the heart and soul and mind, despite both the intentional and indifferent impediments placed before that artistic drive by life’s banalities. Some succeed better than others, and some are broken and fail in that they themselves are lost to life and their unknown art stillborn. With all that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, I think that we are only seeing fragments of his potential, even given that he was one of America’s supreme literary artists. I appreciate his decades of struggle to produce those gems. It can be very hard to be an ordinary, imperfect human being gifted to be an instinctive channel to a primordial artistic insight and creative drive. His gift to us is the wider awareness we may gain by reading his stories, and immersing ourselves in his enthralling lyricism. I’ve now embarked on Tender Is The Night, which he called “a confession of faith.” In the last year of his life, F. Scott Fitzgerald earned $13.13 in royalties. Since his death in 1940, more than 10 million copies of his books have been sold throughout the world.

Winter Dreams: F Scott Fitzgerald’s Life Remembered (PBS, 2001)
https://youtu.be/XnEO8yT_ApM

Sincerely, F. Scott Fitzgerald (BBC, 2013)
https://youtu.be/cCfUsaX5F10

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Climate Crisis, Elite Panic, and Mass Exclusion

John Davis’s interesting article in Counterpunch,

Are We Moderns Or Terrestrials?
7 February 2019
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/02/07/are-we-moderns-or-terrestrials/

Describes the idea of “social triage” practiced by a global wealth elite, to exclude the mass of Earth’s people from the finite natural bounty our planet can supply to humanity; this drive being accelerated by the obvious threats of the accelerating Climate Crisis. Davis writes:

In [the book] Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime, 2018, Bruno Latour, the French philosopher and sociologist, writes, “To the migrants from outside who have to cross borders and leave their countries at the price of immense tragedies, we must, from now on, add the migrants from inside who, while remaining in place, are experiencing the drama of seeing themselves left behind by their own countries”.

Davis’s article reminds me of earlier sallies on this topic.

The most prescient, to my mind, was Tony Judt’s essay The Social Question Redivivus, which appeared in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1997 (and is still behind a paywall) and was reprinted as the last selection in Judt’s book Reappraisals, Reflections On The Forgotten Twentieth Century (Penguin Books, 2008). Except for the mention of Climate Change, Judt’s 1997 article laid out a very detailed exposition of the same form of triage as Davis (and Latour) now describe 22 years later.

I wrote a short gloss on Judt’s books and this topic in particular as

Tony Just, Edward Snowden, And “The Excluded”
1 July 2013
http://swans.com/library/art19/mgarci66.html

Also, on the idea of triage being practiced by the global wealth elite to separate “the excluded” from the finite bounty of the Earth, a very similar idea formed the core of Joseph Heller’s 1994 novel Closing Time (Simon and Schuster, 1994), which is both a reminiscence of their youth by WWII generation Brooklyn NY Jews, and a scathing satire of late 20th century American political attitudes. In the novel, a nitwit President of the U.S. plays a video game called Triage, which is actually a command console connected to an underground technological complex (based on the Reagan Administration idea of an underground mobile MX missile complex) for secretly controlling the day-to-day process of manipulating both selected individuals and the population as a whole, and ultimately of mass exclusion by nuclear war.

Davis notes that the basic practice by wealth elites of working hard to exclude the mass of people from prosperity, and to enslave them, is ancient. His (and Latour’s) point is that climate change is adding pressure to that elite drive for mass immiseration.

The implication of the above is that some form of serious and vigorous populist movement that successfully addresses climate change despite elite opposition (combining geo-technical strategies of direct mitigation, individual and societal adaptation, and — obviously — economic justice, a.k.a. “socialism”) is necessary for an organized human survival with decency.

We all know the problem. Our challenge (which may be tragically beyond us) is to triumph over the Climate Crisis and the elite selfishness driving it.

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The Inner Dimensions of Socialist Revolution

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The Inner Dimensions of Socialist Revolution

The social revolution has to precede the political revolution. Personal self-realization has to precede the social revolution.

Achieving social change in America through political change – legislatively – as for example with the Civil Rights legislation of 1964 to 1968, is too slow a process today for overturning American capitalism to American socialism in time to effectively respond to climate change and global environmental degradation, by shifting American civilian energy production from fossil and nuclear fuels to solar, wind and geothermal sources, and ocean-wave-and-tidal and river hydroelectric sources, accompanied by a wide spectrum of energy conservation strategies and materials recycling and reprocessing methods, instead of indiscriminate and polluting waste disposal.

In fact, the political path to social change may be completely plugged shut today, with the fanatical obstructionism by capital interests who collectively own America’s two major political parties, and whose various outmoded environmentally catastrophic schemes of wealth generation are fossilized in place within an overarching 19th century paradigm of CO2-producing industrialization and labor exploitation, directed by frantic casino-style banking and financial speculation.

So, the timely development of a popular, scientific and effective national response to counteract the global geophysical crisis we call “climate change” must occur outside the arcane political machinery of our money-corrupted representative democracy. Basically, “the people” would have to independently develop a sense of national solidarity, overcoming all regionalisms and bigotries, and independently get organized to shift the ways they live and the ways they earn their keep, from a reliance on “black” versus “green” energy, and from a reliance on adversarial-capitalist economics versus cooperative-socialist economics. Given such a social revolution, it would then be possible to mount a massive campaign to counter climate change.

But, is such a social revolution possible? Can a majority of the national population actually free itself from the many shackles, control methods and seductions of corporate capitalism, by willfully bonding into one massive mutually tolerant and mutually helping cooperative, independent of the existing government: into a self-directed revolutionary socialism? This would require an incredible unanimity of vision and an amazing degree of commitment and discipline among hundreds of millions of people, to independently coalesce into a self-sustaining socialized mass able to overcome the opposition of the intransigent corporate capitalist establishment.

Any clear-thinking person will see that the idea of a spontaneous eruption of popular revolutionary socialism that independently counteracts climate change is impossible, and by chained logic such a clear-thinking person will also realize that we humans will never counteract climate change but instead will be plowed under by it, like the terrain downhill from an advancing glacier, because we are so inattentively self-absorbed and fatally wedded to the preservation of our inequitable and dysfunctional capitalism.

So, is the most intelligent tack then to stop agonizing over climate change and give up wasting time and energy in doomed attempts to put off the geophysical inevitable? Should we all just become Trumps and luxuriate carefree in capitalist mud-wallows for as long as they are available? Why bother trying to change the unchangeable?, sacrificing the good times of today for a restrictive future that will never occur anyway? Why not just keep grabbing for the money and enjoy doing that like we always have?

My answer is: half a loaf is better than none. Even if climate change is an implacable civilization-ending geophysical tsunami, I think we all would have a relatively better collective life for the duration of our species if we could develop even a scattering of minor uncoordinated popular socialist initiatives – anti-capitalist and anti-militarist – that directly confront specific aspects of the multi-faceted colossus of climate change and its social disruptions. These initiatives would include the election into public office of ecological-socialist candidates, like today’s young, enthusiastic Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), even if in small numbers. Why? Because any political efforts by eco-socialist officeholders that reach the public as actionable realities will benefit some fraction of the population, since such efforts would either ameliorate, blunt or end specific sociopathologies of our pure id capitalism.

Why give in to despair, dejection and acquiescence to a capitalist climapocalypse? Why not actualize through our own individual living presences the attitudes and one-to-one human connections that inject intelligent compassion and fulfilling artistry into the society around us, and in that way we become focal points of the socialist revolution we can imagine? How do you think a politically successful socialist revolution could be formed in the first place, if not by the weaving together of masses of one-to-one personal relationships of such self-realized individuals into a vast societal network?

Ultimately, it is not about “being saved” by external agents, like “good politicians” and “good laws” and “good governments,” from victimization by looming climate change disasters; it is about transcending who we are as merely passive fearfully insular consumers, and realizing that we are each, literally, individual expressions of the cosmos, and then operating out of that realization with a self-directed living-out of our socialist visions. Such living is the best that we humans can do, both individually and as socialized clusters, regardless of whether we are eventually plowed under by climapocalypse, or completely overcome it.

As an individual biological organism, you incorporate the formation of the cosmos within you as the subatomic particles, which first erupted out of the Big Bang, that are within the atoms of your materiality. Those atoms are almost entirely empty space, their nuclei (which are clusters of protons and neutrons) occupy only between 10^-14 to 10^-12 of the volume of the atom; that is to say 1 part in a hundred trillion, to 1 part in a trillion of the otherwise empty volume of the atom. The extent of that atomic space is defined by the electrical fields that transmit the forces connecting the nucleus to the point particle electrons flickering (“orbiting”) about it. These atoms are in turn clustered in simple molecules, like water (H2O), oxygen (O2), nitrogen (N2) and glucose (C6H12O6), and in massive and complex molecules like DNA. But even so, our personal matter is made of pinpoints of atomic grit suspended in empty space and meshed together by forces communicated across electrical links called chemical bonds. When you press your palm on a tabletop and feel the firm resistance of that structure, you are actually experiencing a force of electrical repulsion between the electro-chemical integrity of the mostly empty space tabletop, and the electro-chemical integrity of the mostly empty space you! Imagine such an atomic-molecular “net of gems” – as the ancient Buddhists called “the interdependence of all things” – as a metaphor for the revolutionary socialist net-of-gems network we would like to weave ourselves into, and to have a transformative effect on our political economy.

The “chemical bonds” of our wished-for socialist revolution are the one-to-one personal connections we “atoms” of that network fling out like spider silk to weave our self-realized selves into that net of gems. What matters is the sympathy of vision, and the moral character and personal integrity of the people we seek connection with. What does not matter are superficial attributes like their ethnicity, their physical characteristics, their birth language, their “style,” their default and unthinking microscopically sectarian political alignments (please!, forget about these uselessly trivial distractions!).

A friend of mine is a Vietnam War veteran who survived over sixty-four artillery barrages while trapped on a hilltop during the First Battle of Khe Sanh. He crystalized the essential idea here this way: “There are some people you want in your foxhole, and some you don’t.” My goal is to be “foxhole worthy” for people like him, and I judge others by the same criterion. At that high metaphysical level of socialist vision, we are synchronized; at the mundane street level of routine personal interaction, we give each other spontaneous rides when our cars unexpectedly break down on the road and we call for help, and when either of our cars are in the shop and we need to make a doctor’s appointment. We also share lunch breaks and stories. If and when it comes to serious action – foxhole time – we know we can count on each other. There are other men and women I share a similar connection with, people who are aware of the realities of our times, and have a compassionate intelligence about the direction of their lives, which goes beyond the effort to physically and economically sustain themselves, to also inject some goodness and humane connection – socialism – into the public sphere they are immersed in. It is with such people that I am associated with – “socialized” – in voting for our “progressive candidates,” and advocating – each in our own way – for an anti-capitalist and anti-militarist social transformation; and it is with such people that I can imagine being next to during any sudden eruption of a volcanic socialist revolution.

The Trumpians and their ilk are empty people. They need all that money, glittery stuff and power, to encrust their lonely hollowness with, so as to give them the illusion of actually being somebody and having actually accomplished something with their profiteering, exploitation and hoarding. But, sadly, they are human failures: they either deny or have no realization of their fundamental reality as expressions of Nature, nor of their potential for experiencing true fulfillment as individuals consciously interconnected in a humane socialist net-of-gems.

Don’t get distracted from the fundamentals by trivial details. Everything you need to know about self-realization – the atomic cores of our socialist revolution – was set down in the Upanishads, 2800 years ago. Everything you need to know about self-directed living, whether for meshing amicably with society or slicing through it for just cause – the electro-chemical bonds of integrity, and the forces of material opposition for our socialist revolution – was set down in the Bhagavad Gita, 2300 years ago. Everything you need to know about politics at the street level of pure, hard materialism – the movement-wide actions of our desired socialist revolution in opposition to dictatorial and enslaving moneyed power – was set down by Thucydides 2400 years ago. Everything written since is at best a gloss on the fundamentals already given, encrusted with elaborations on details about the cultures and times those later writings came out of; or they are at worst a complete diversion into varieties of ignorance, whether presented as texts of religious revelation, or advances of political theory. Read the originals and see for yourself.

In summary: each human being is something Nature is doing; realize and celebrate this, and from such realization free your mind from passivating confinement by corporate capitalist infotainment, herding by fear, and want-inducing indoctrination; from that personal mental liberation, direct yourself toward perfecting your character and achieving your full human potential (an endless endeavor); from such self-focused mental independence and moral drive, exercise the bravery of tolerance by seeking to make connections with other people of similar vision and moral drive; and then from your network of such personal connections try to weave yourself into a grander socialist net-of-gems that may in time capture and transform the nation, and perhaps even someday the world.

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The Ultimate Great American Novel

“The Great American Novel” is an idea difficult to define yet clear in every American mind, or at least in the minds of some of America’s readers. It is that ideal book that captures some universal quality of American life and popular aspiration, and especially of quintessential patterns of American thought and speech at a particular time and place during the nation’s history. For a truly timeless work, it would give an insight into enduring universalities of Americanness as perceived through a compelling story cast in idiomatic and ephemeral particulars.

It is impossible for any one novel to achieve this ideal for any length of time, or even at all. But, a few do ascend artistically far above the accumulated mass of published and unpublished American novels. Here are eight that I think qualify as being contenders for the unattainable title of “The Great American Novel.”

First, they are listed by publication date:

Moby-Dick
(Herman Melville, 1851)
(1820s-1840s New England whalers at sea)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
(Mark Twain, 1884)
(1830s-1840s, rafting down the Mississippi River)

The Great Gatsby
(F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925)
(1922, love longing, triangles and betrayal in wealthy suburban New York)

The Grapes of Wrath
(John Steinbeck, 1939)
(1930s homeless Oklahoma farmers on the road in California)

The Catcher In The Rye
(J. D. Salinger, 1951)
(1950, a prep school boy’s New York City)

To Kill A Mockingbird
(Harper Lee, 1960)
(1933-1935, in a rural Southern town)

Catch-22
(Joseph Heller, 1961)
(1942-1944, US Army Air Force men in Italy)

Slaughterhouse-Five
(Kurt Vonnegut, 1969)
(1944-1945, 1968, 1976, US Army survivor of the Dresden fire-bombing).

Secondly, they are listed by the time periods of their stories:

Moby-Dick
(1820s-1840s)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
(1830s-1840s)

The Great Gatsby
(1922)

The Grapes of Wrath
(1930s)

To Kill A Mockingbird
(1933-1935)

Catch-22
(1942-1944)

Slaughterhouse-Five
(1944-1945, 1968, 1976)

The Catcher In The Rye
(1950).

Thirdly, they are listed in my rank order:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Moby-Dick

The Great Gatsby

The Grapes of Wrath

The Catcher In The Rye

Catch-22

Slaughterhouse-Five

To Kill A Mockingbird.

I would group the eight novels thematically as follows:

Moral defiance versus obedience to the avaricious and vengefully obsessed, before the Civil War:
– The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
– Moby-Dick

The soulful poets among the materialistic urban elite, as social failures by definition:
– The Great Gatsby
– The Catcher In The Rye

Prejudice against the wretched dispossessed in a time of economic depression:
– The Grapes of Wrath
– To Kill A Mockingbird

The sanity of being creatively insane to try surviving the random heartless cruelties of war, and of life:
– Catch-22
– Slaughterhouse-Five

So, perhaps an Ultimate Great American Novel would offer us the compelling attraction of seeing strong individual moral character successfully defy the social strictures that direct people into lives of soulless materialistic gain and obsessive and even vengeful ambition; and, by artful indirection rather than polemics, it would lead us to condemn those aspects of our society by which the most wretched and dispossessed are inflicted with the cruelest forms of exclusion, exploitation and persecution; and it would show us how to recognize those morally insightful and artistically apt observers of our unappealing and often denied social realities, despite the casting off of such poets by materialism’s powerful. Finally, such a novel would delight us with a realization of good triumphing over monolithic indifference, by showing how its good-hearted empathetic poet-observers and realists, who captivate our attention, escape monstrous injustices and random fatal cruelties by their own artful nonconformities. Seeing such escapes would give us a lightening hope: perhaps we could do it too.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910) wrote that “a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience,” and Huckleberry Finn is “a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.” Because of his innate good character and his beneficial friendship with Jim, an escaped slave, the adolescent Huckleberry Finn comes to see black slavery and its enabling racism as morally wrong despite their being treated as upright and legally essential to American society, by the white adults of his time. It is important to note that Jim, the runaway black slave, is the noblest adult in this story. This is the quintessential American novel, scintillating and funny, still fresh, still relevant, still controversial.

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

Herman Melville (1819-1891) wrote “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written” (D. H. Lawrence). It tells of Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest, aboard the whaling ship Pequod, for revenge against the white whale, Moby-Dick, for having bitten off his leg at the knee on a previous voyage. Melville gives detailed and realistic descriptions of whale hunting, the extraction of whale oil, and life aboard ship among a culturally diverse crew. Mixed into this narrative are explorations of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God.

The Great Gatsby

In 1923, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896-1940) wanted to write “something new – something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.” That effort produced his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. The story centers on the young and mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby, and his quixotic and obsessive passion for the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby’s main problem is Daisy’s oafish, wealthy husband, Tom Buchanan. Because of their inherited wealth, Tom and Daisy are spoiled and thus careless people, and that causes damage to others of humble origins who have their own great aspirations: the American Dream. The story is told by lyrical observer and incidental participant Nick Carraway. Fitzgerald’s artful, fluid prose conveys not only the interesting plot of the social drama, but a sense of the times, the nature of the characters, and – very subtly – his own judgments about each of these.

The Grapes of Wrath

While preparing this novel, John Steinbeck (1902-1968) wrote: “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects],” he also said “I’ve done my damnedest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.” The Grapes of Wrath is the story of the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, changes in the agricultural industry, and bank foreclosure. Down and out and on the road during the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California along with thousands of other “Okies” in the hopes of finding jobs, land, dignity, and a future. Steinbeck’s sympathies for people like the Joads, and his accessible realist prose style, brought him a large following among the working class worldwide, and recognition with the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1962.

The Catcher In The Rye

Jerome David Salinger (1919-2010) matched Mark Twain’s achievement in Huckleberry Finn, of presenting the story of a rebellious and kind-hearted teenager, Holden Caulfield, in the very specific idiomatic speech of the protagonist, his peers, time and place. This novel presents an unparalleled view into the angst and alienation filling a perceptive teenage boy’s mind, trying to unravel the complexities of innocence, identity, belonging, loss, and connection. James Joyce had said that he wanted his own book, Ulysses, to be so richly detailed in describing Dublin on 16 June 1904 that one could thereafter recreate the entire city of that time out of his novel. Salinger did just that, with The Catcher In The Rye, for the New York City of a prep school lad during Christmas week, 1950.

Catch-22

Joseph Heller (1923-1999) mined his experiences as a U.S. Army Air Corps B-25 bombardier, who flew 60 combat missions on the Italian Front during World War II, to write his best novel, Catch-22. This satiric novel unfolds in a non-chronological manner, and it centers on Captain John Yossarian, a B-25 (a twin engine, medium bomber) bombardier, who along with his companions attempts to maintain his sanity during his time at war, despite its continuous undercurrent of deep dread, which is punctuated by random instances of explosive terror. The great hope is to return home alive. There are many comical elements in this book, and Yossarian is a serious nonconformist, a wise ass, but all these laughs are forms of gallows humor to help these men trapped in war to momentarily release their tightly knotted tensions. This is an anti-war book. In the novel, the Catch-22 itself is a circularly constructed Air Corps rule that makes it impossible for an airman to arrive at a valid excuse – except being killed – for being relieved of combat duty. Milo Minderbinder, one of the characters in Catch-22, is the quintessential icon of a capitalist, a parody that is so exquisite because it is so realistically accurate.

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death

To write Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) drew on his experiences as an American prisoner of war, captured by the Germans in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, who witnessed the destruction of the city of Dresden by an incredibly intense firestorm created by four British and American aerial bombing raids, dropping high explosive and incendiary devices, between 13-15 February 1945. At least 25,000 Germans, mainly civilians, died as a result of the indiscriminate area bombing of an ancient city with scant military installations. Slaughterhouse-Five is an overt anti-war novel published during the height of the Vietnam War. It presents the science fiction-infused story of Billy Pilgrim, an innocent Everyman-type who is a chaplain’s assistant in the U.S. Army and survives the firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner of war. This experience forms Billy into the not-so-usual individual he becomes by his maturity in present-day 1968 upstate New York, and the guru-seer he becomes thereafter, “unstuck in time” and in out-of-his-control contact with the Tralfamadorians, aliens from deep outer space. Vonnegut’s prose is almost child-like, and his science fiction episodes are whimsical, but the essence of this book and the drive behind it are very serious.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Nelle Harper Lee (1926-2016) reflected on her observations of her own father, a lawyer, to write this warm, Southern Gothic novel about the rape trial of a black man, Tom Robinson, by a white court and jury, in a small Alabama town during the Great Depression, in 1936. The rape victim-accuser is an unmarried white woman whose father is a rabid racist; Tom Robinson is a married man with children: a black family. This story unfolds as the observations of two young white children, primarily Jean Louise Finch (nicknamed Scout), and her older brother Jeremy (nicknamed Jem), who live with their widowed father Atticus Finch, a highly principled, anti-racist and quietly brave man. Atticus Finch is Tom Robinson’s defense attorney. About this novel, the critic J. Crespino wrote in 2000 that “In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism.” To Kill A Mockingbird was Harper Lee’s only published book from 1960 until 2015 (seven months before her death), when her publisher, J. B. Lippincott & Co., issued Go Set A Watchman, an inferior novel based on an earlier draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. I suspect this was an act of pure exploitation by Lee’s publisher.

Are The Movies Any Good?

Nothing equals the experience of reading these books, and having their artistry unfold intimately in your own mind and at your own pace. Do yourself a favor and read each completely before you see any movie or even movie clip of it (actually, a movie of somebody’s interpretation or even misrepresentation of it).

Also, make sure to avoid all introductions, prefaces, essays about and critiques on any of these stories before actually reading the full texts that the authors labored to gift us with. Don’t allow the blather of others to pollute the purity of your own first impressions and – just as good as any critic’s and English teacher’s – your own analysis and artistic appreciation of what the authors have given us.

The nature of American society and the American cinematic industry makes it impossible to create accurate and meritorious movies of three of these novels: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, and The Catcher In The Rye. The barriers to making good movies of these three stories are, respectively: the inability to face Mark Twain’s searing frankness about 19th century American racism; the inability to produce a movie as elegant, layered, lyrical and subtle as Fitzgerald’s novel; and similarly with Salinger’s novel, which he anticipated by stipulating that movie rights to his stories never be sold.

There are good movies of Moby-Dick (in 1956, by John Huston and Ray Bradbury), The Grapes of Wrath (in 1940, by John Ford, Nunnally Johnson and Darryl F. Zanuck), Catch-22 (in 1970, by Mike Nichols and Buck Henry), Slaughterhouse-Five (in 1972, by George Roy Hill and Stephen Geller), and To Kill A Mockingbird (in 1962, by Robert Mulligan, Horton Foote and Alan J. Pakula). But read the books first!

Other Great American Novels

Obviously, there can be as many different nominees for inclusion in lists of “great American novels” as there are enthusiastic and opinionated readers of American literature. A listing of often cited works for inclusion among the “American greats” is given by Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_American_Novel).

Remember, readers come in two sexes (and varieties of sexual orientation), of all ages, and from the wide multi-cultural spectrum of the American people, and beyond. So, the type and period of American novel that would captivate any given reader, as a “great book,” can be quite different from the novels I have listed.

I’m not arguing, just gratefully enjoying and appreciatively learning from the sincere and varied literary artistry of the dedicated authors cited here. Enjoy!

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Using the I Ching

The I Ching is an ancient Chinese book whose purpose is to aid an individual in making a decision, by estimating the best attitudes to adopt and actions to take in order to fare best given the nature of present personal circumstances, and their potential for improving if one adopted the attitudes and actions recommended.

This essay will briefly describe the Wilhelm-Baynes-Jung edition of the I Ching, which is in English, then why it can be useful to help guide personal action (without mumbo-jumbo), and finally the mechanics of actually using the book.

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I Ching: The Book of Changes

The I Ching is a Chinese book of divination, from the end of the 2nd millennium BCE (most likely), whose interpretation was expanded philosophically during the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE) to describe the dynamic balance of opposites and the inevitability of change in the phenomenal realm. Perhaps the most compelling translation of the I Ching into English appeared in print in 1950. This particular version began as a translation from the ancient Chinese into German by Richard Wilhelm guided by the Chinese scholar Lao Nai-hsüan, and was made during the years of World War I. In about 1927, Wilhelm’s friend the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung asked one of his American students, Cary F. Baynes (the former wife of Jaime de Angulo) who worked as a translator of Jung’s books into English, to translate the Wilhelm edition of the I Ching from German to English. This effort was slowed by the death of Richard Wilhelm in 1930, the death of Cary’s husband Helton Godwin Baynes in 1943, and dislocations resulting from the social turbulence of the 1930s and 1940s. The English translation was completed in 1949, and the book included an extensive forward by C. G. Jung explaining how to use the I Ching for divining the right course of action on a question of serious personal interest to the seeker.

The philosophy of the I Ching is of the organic unity and intrinsic appropriateness of the unforced unresisted phenomenal realm, or Nature, called the Tao; and the dynamic balance of opposites of every type, the ying and yang, whose ceaseless interplay give an illusion of duality, yet which dance is really just an alternation of images of the underlying eternal monism, the Tao.

The purpose of the I Ching is to guide the seeker toward a proper psychological balance for the circumstances of the moment. Such balance is essential when making the significant decisions of a lifetime. The propriety of that balance is defined by a moral code that can be characterized as Confucian combined with Taoist flexibility. The I Ching was already ancient by the time of Confucius (K’ung Fu-tzu, 551-479 BCE) and the coalescing of formalized Taoism (traditionally 6th century BCE, more likely 5th-4th century BCE), which movement identified its founding text as the Tao Te Ching, a masterful collection of poetic logically ambiguous yet conceptually clear aphorisms ascribed to legendary author Lao Tzu. Modern scholarship is uncertain about the historical authenticity of Lao Tzu, and some scholars believe the Tao Te Ching is a collective work by now unknown authors. Regardless, the Tao Te Ching is one of the finest gems of world literature, philosophy and psychology. The Confucian school of thought is one of building up systems of social organization from simple elements and rules. Taoists see society as immersed in the organic whole of a phenomenal existence of infinite fractal complexity, hence impossible to systematize by reductionism. So, the interpretative commentaries that became attached to the I Ching during the Warring States Period were primarily written by Confucians, which infused the I Ching that has come down to us, with sensible and honorable Confucian morality.

For the man or woman of today’s modern Westernized culture, more interested in utility that in airy metaphysical prattle, the I Ching can be used for practical divination by means of intuitive fuzzy logic: a way to reshuffle the imagination to see present circumstances from a fresh perspective, and then to visualize how these circumstances could change into a specifically different situation as a result of adopting a particular attitude or performing a recommended action. The answer is in the question, and both — an illusory duality — come out of you.

The section above was excerpted from a large article on Asian philosophy, see
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/03/28/asian-philosophies-oppenheimer-the-new-age/

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How To Use The I Ching

The I Ching characterizes an individual’s present circumstances — specific to the question burning in the seeker’s mind — with an image made of six stacked horizontal lines: the hexagram. The lines can be of two types: “strong” (solid) or “weak” (broken), a line with a break (blank space) in the middle. Given these two types of line, it is possible to form 64 different hexagrams.

The hexagram is an image that appears “naturally” and “spontaneously” out of the the same present reality that is expressing you along with the particular quandary that is occupying your mind. Hence, by analyzing that hexagram as a generalized abstraction of your present, you might find a helpful change of perspective that could lead you to adopt new attitudes and take new actions, which would resolve the concern in your mind.

So, that is the essential value of the I Ching: it can surprise you with a shift of perspective that comes out of your own mind as it ponders the dynamics of your own living. No mumbo-jumbo is required, the modern person can use the I Ching without skepticism, as a technique of “spinning the arrow” and “throwing the dice” in your own mind to get a fresh view of your own reality.

How do you determine your hexagram of the moment? In ancient times, hexagrams might be seen to appear accidentally, such as by a bundle of straw falling at your feet and six or more pieces of straw forming a haphazard hexagram; or the cracking of a tortoise shell, from being roasted over a fire, forming the illuminated image of a hexagram. The appearance of these accidental hexagrams would occur while you were deep in thought about some personal question. Later, methods based on randomness for the intentional determination of the moment’s hexagram were developed. I will describe the three-coin method.

Select three coins; I prefer three different types of coin (e.g., US quarter, dime and nickel). Hold them in a closed hand while you think clearly about a specific personal question or decision you want guidance about. Be serious, the exercise is a pointless waste of time otherwise. In ancient times they would have said, poetically, that the “energy” (chi) and “vibrations” (tao) expressing you while you hold this clearly focused question in mind would infuse themselves into the coins warming in you fist, so they would naturally express “you” when forming the hexagram.

Now, shake the coins in your hand, and toss them in front of you (gently so they land close by and don’t fly away). For each coin that lands “heads” assign a value of 3. For each coin that lands “tails” assign a value of 2. Add these three values to determine the numerical value (or strength) of the first line. For example: three heads has the value 9, three tails has the value 6, two heads and one tail yields the value 8, one head and two tails yields 7.

Begin drawing your hexagram, this first line is at the bottom. The line is solid if it has an odd numerical value (7 or 9). The line is broken if it has a even numerical value (6 or 8). It is useful to mark the numerical value next to the line. Repeat this coin-toss process to form the second line, which is drawn above the previous line. Continue until you have a stack of six lines (the sixth line being the top line found with the sixth three-coin toss).

Now you have your hexagram. Consult the book’s interpretation of that hexagram (and the interpretations of each line in the hexagram), and think about how the images presented could be analogies of aspects of your personal situation: THINK!

From the above, you have gained an interpretation of “you now.” What about “the future”? In the conceptions systematized as the I Ching, any solid line with numerical value 9, and any broken line with numerical value 6 were considered so charged that they could spontaneously change into their opposites: solid to broken, and broken to solid. Form a second hexagram from the first, by changing solid lines of value 9 into broken lines, and changing broken lines of value 6 into solid lines, and leaving lines of values 7 or 8 as they were.

This second hexagram represents a future set of personal circumstances that is expected to evolve out of your present, particularly if you follow the recommendations described by the I Ching in its interpretations of each line in the hexagrams as well as the I Ching’s interpretation of the hexagrams as a whole. Again, the personal specifics come out of YOUR THINKING about how the poetic imagery by the I Ching would be analogous to your situation. If you do draw a hexagram that can transform into a second one, then this “change” is the kind of future-casting that the I Ching can provide.

If you treat the I Ching as a technique (something serious) rather than a game (something trivial), you will find it helpful in many instances when you want to clear your mind of confusion, and arrive at useful conclusions. The fundamental point about use of the I Ching is not “how accurate is it?” as if the I Ching were a mysterious external agency or “black box” telling your fortune, but that the I Ching is a random-process moralistic-poetic thought-triggering technique for you to apply to yourself to aid in your own self-analytical thinking.

Try it. If it helps and you like it, then you’ve gained a new tool. If you don’t find it useful, no blame, forget about it and move on.

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Anti-War and Socialist Psychology Books and Movies

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Anti-War and Socialist Psychology Books and Movies

On 24 November 2017, Amanda Almanac McIllmurry posted a request for: “Any suggestions for ‘socialist’ psychology books that are easily digestible [for a young student interested in becoming a psychology major]? Also, any suggestions for books with a leftist analysis of the military, which a teenage boy that’s super into the idea of joining the Army could read” [and reconsider such a choice.]?

Here, I have pasted together my various answers (from 27 November 2017 and 22 January 2018) to Amanda’s query (which I think is very important).

ANTI-WAR:

“Dispatches” (1977) by Michael Herr. This book was called the best “to have been written about the Vietnam War” by The New York Times Book Review; novelist John le Carré called it “the best book I have ever read on men and war in our time.” Michael Herr co-wrote the screenplay to the movie “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) by Stanley Kubrick. (See the wikipedia article on “Michael Herr”). I would also recommend the movie “Sir, No Sir!” (2005) about the anti-war movement (resistance!) within the armed forces during Vietnam War. You can find it on-line. The ultimate anti-war movie of my lifetime is “Hearts and Minds,” (1974), which is a masterpiece by Peter Davis (and won an Academy Award in 1975!). You could ramble through my huge web-page called “Haunted by the Vietnam War,” which is on my blog (manuelgarciajr.com), and which lists many links to books and videos (and probably gives links to the movies mentioned here).

“All Quiet On The Western Front,” a classic of 20th century world literature, and also made into a great movie, starring Lew Ayres (a pacifist). Another world-treasure movie to put you off war is Jean Renoir’s “Grand Illusion.” Both these movies are from the 1930s, when the bitter memories of WWI were still very fresh. Since both are masterpieces, they have been restored in recent times, and look and sound good (and on DVD). Modern movies that could put you off war are MASH (1970), but it has so much humor that some might miss the anti-war basis of the film (I sure didn’t in 1970!); and “Full Metal Jacket” by Stanley Kubrick (about the Vietnam War), but the violence in it might be a bit too much for the young. For Americans today, I think the all-time best anti-war film is the documentary “Hearts and Minds.” It is THE BEST film about the Vietnam War, and was released in 1974, while the war was still in progress. I just saw it again a few weeks ago; incredible. What is so compelling about it is that almost all of it is the telling of first hand experiences of soldiers who survived (not always intact). It just so happens I took a Vietnam Vet friend of mine to the V.A. hospital today, for a pre-op medical visit. There were numerous patched-up survivors of military “service” (use) in the hallways. For a combination of humanizing psychology and overt anti-war basis, see the movie “Captain Newman, M.D.,” (1962) which stars Gregory Peck, Angie Dickinson, Eddie Albert, Tony Curtis, and Bobby Darin (in an amazing performance). Capt. Newman tries to heal soldiers from PTSD, and he hears about what gave them PTSD. Once “cured,” they’re shipped back out into action. This is a great film, a total anti-Rambo.

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SOCIALIST-PSYCHOLOGY (E-Z):

This is harder for me to find. Reading numerous titles by Chomsky, Balzac, Alan Watts, Hannah Arendt and C. G. Jung would be a bit much for a teenager or young college student. I would suggest “Man’s Search For Meaning” (1946) by Viktor E. Frankl, one of the supremely inspiring books of the 20th century – easy to read, yet causes much thinking; written by a psychiatrist based on his personal experiences in survival. I wrote an essay on this idea of “socialist psychology” and survival, called “Epiphany On The Glacier,” which is also posted on my blog. I give references to a number of books (including Frankl’s) that helped me present the main concept. My essay is presented as an adventure story of survival in the snowy wild.

The psychology book I enjoyed most is more of a philosophy-autobiography book, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” by Carl Gustav Jung. It’s not hard to read, nor too long, nor preachy nor text-booky, and it has the virtue of being quite different than the usual orthodox psychology books. But I can’t say it’s overtly leftist, though it is intended to be very humanizing. I, personally, found it fascinating and have read it several times. With Jung, it helps a lot if you also have a very strong interest in Taoism and Buddhism (and Asian philosophies, generally).

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The photo is of John F. Kennedy’s grave in 1964. I took this photo while on a class (school) trip.

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ADDENDUM (17 June 2018):

ANTI-WAR FILMS:

What are your favorite anti-war films? Such movies are focused on showing the harm, damage (physical and psychological) and stupidity of war, and are intent to deglorify war, and turn the audience against blind patriotism and war-making as “solutions” to political and international conflicts.

Anti-war movies are NOT movies that use war situations JUST TO:

(1) present stories of adventure and heroic personal actions (almost exclusively of violence) by attractive, sympathetic and “patriotic” characters;

(2) show dramatic and exciting stories of admirable personal endurance, survival and self-sacrifice by individuals trapped in situations of overwhelming danger (though this particular variety of war movie can approach being fully and openly anti-war);

(3) be patriotic morale-boosters for “your side” during a war (or before an anticipated war);

(4) entirely be comedies that use war situations as the settings and backdrop.

Anti-war movies CAN have elements of: adventure, heroism, “exciting’ violence, stories of personal endurance and self-sacrifice, and comedy, but they cannot be conventionally patriotic, and the center-of-gravity of these films must be fully and overtly the anti-war intent. All war films use war in an effort to make commercially successful mass entertainment, but true anti-war films are intentionally using film-making art to motivate a mass audience to be deeply anti-war, anti-violence, pro-peace, pro-diplomacy, and to divorce patriotism from unthinking jingoism, belligerence, violence and obedience to militarism.

The following is a list of movies I see as anti-war (18+, listed chronologically). They vary, some being very grim while others are very comedic, yet all are full-fledged anti-war films (to my way of thinking). I recommend them all and would be interested in your comments about them, and also about other films you would nominate as committed anti-war movies.

All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)

La Grande Illusion (1937)

Lost Horizon (1937)

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Paths Of Glory (1957)

The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)

On The Beach (1959)

Captain Newman, M.D. (1962)

The Americanization of Emily (1964)

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966)

Catch-22 (1970)

MASH (1970)

Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)

Hearts And Minds (1974)

Apocalypse Now (1979)
Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)
[“Redux” is an expanded version, and I prefer it.]

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Sir, No Sir! (2005)

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“On The Beach” is a post-apocalyptic (nuclear war), end-of-the-world novel written by British-Australian author Nevil Shute after he emigrated to Australia. It was published in 1957. The novel was adapted for the screenplay of this 1959 film featuring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins, and Fred Astaire.

The “answer” for the best way to face certain doom is the same answer for how to gain a fulfilling life and create a good society: helping and comforting one another, and having compassion for all. Because this movie shows this clearly, it has not aged even by 1 second – we could learn from it now. SEE IT!!

https: // www. youtube. com / watch? v= EMzEWpKKOZs
[close the spaces to spell out the functional web-link]

 

 

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Perennial Stoicism

Stoicism is a wonderful topic, which Kathryn Morse (a friend of mine) brought up today by pointing me to a video, linked here:

The philosophy of Stoicism – Massimo Pigliucci
19 June 2017
https://youtu.be/R9OCA6UFE-0

Here are some ideas and books I thought of, as a result.

There is the idea of a “perennial philosophy,” which phrase Aldous Huxley used as the title of his 1945 book on comparative religion/philosophy, and which wikipedia defines as: “Perennial philosophy, also referred to as Perennialism and perennial wisdom, is a perspective in modern spirituality that views each of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, metaphysical truth or origin from which all esoteric and exoteric knowledge and doctrine has grown.”

I see the Western version of the perennial philosophy of “stoicism” and self-command as being the combination of four elements:

1, the magisterial cosmic consciousness of Herakleitos (Heraclitus);
2, the truth-bound pragmatic Cynic (Dog) philosophy of Diogenes;
3, the philosophy of Epicurus (the actual philosophy of being appreciative as the route to being happy, not the later and still existing complete misrepresentation as ‘lazy pleasure seeking’); and
4, the stoicism of Zeno (as described in the video).

I see the Eastern version of this same philosophical nexus as being Zen Buddhism in particular, and Buddhism in general.

Here are four books I like on the Western tradition:

1. Herakleitos And Diogenes, translated from the Greek by Guy Davenport (during 1976-1979), Grey Fox Press (San Francisco), 1994 (4th printing).

2. The Epicurus Reader, by Brad Inwood & D. S. Hutchinson, Hackett Publishing Company (Indianapolis), 1994.

3. Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, Dover Publications (Mineola, NY), 1997, a reprint of an 1862 version by George Long published by Bell of London. (Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is perhaps the most popular volume of stoic literature.)

4. Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl; original publication in German in 1946, earliest copyright in English in 1959, last preface by Frankl in 1992, most recent edition published by Beacon Press (Boston) 2006.

Four of my favorite books on the Eastern tradition of this ‘stoical nexus’ are (original texts from oldest to newest):

1. The Dhammapada, translated from the Pali by Juan Mascaró (by 1971), Penguin Books (Great Britain), 1973.

2. One Robe, One Bowl, The Zen Poetry of Ryōkan (‘Ryokan,’ without the bar over the “o”), translated by John Stevens, Weatherhill (NY & Tokyo), 1977.

3. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, compiled by Paul Reps (transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki) in the 1930s and published by Charles E. Tuttle (Rutland, VT, & Tokyo), republished by Anchor Books (Garden City, NY), ~1960s (my guess as it’s not stated).

4. The Way of Zen, by Alan W. Watts, Vintage Books (NY), 1957.

I discuss a great deal more about the topic (the Eastern wing), and some of these books, at the following website:

Asian Philosophies, Oppenheimer, & the New Age
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/03/28/asian-philosophies-oppenheimer-the-new-age/

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