Neverending Story

a reader's journey

For some time now (many years) I’ve been sharing the idea that the story you are seeking is the story that you need—that the entertainments to which you are drawn are also just what your soul needs. Interestingly, I think I’ve become less snobbish in terms of how one takes in that story. (Although I’m still snobbish enough, i.e. this story in the the Times:

"The truth is that albums worked as a medium only because everyone was a captive. When you look back at your favorite older albums now, I’m sure you see the weak spots that you’d happily have programmed out if you had the technology then."

—ok here is a quick diversion. I definitely still listen to albums start to finish, and in fact, the albums in my top ten are consumed as such. (Thus if I wasn’t listening to the whole album, yet it contained some of the best songs of the year, it didn’t make my list i.e. Sault or Caribou):

@loserboy has inspired me to compile my 2020 top 10: (Lots of @treefortfest alums this year!) @AlgiersMusic There Is No Year @CultsCultsCults Host @CarolineRoseFM Superstar @deepseadiverbnd Impossible Weight @widowspeaking Plum @BudosBand Long In The Tooth

8:59 PM · Dec 10, 2020·Twitter Web App

Replying to @Sync42

@HAIMtheband Women In Music Pt. III @JessieWare What's Your Pleasure @Khruangbin Mordechai @DUALIPA Future Nostalgia

8:59 PM · Dec 10, 2020·Twitter Web App

Yes, but snobbishness . . . My kids are getting their stories in video games and anime. A lot of other folks are finding their soul’s needs in binge TV. I still read books. (Of course I mostly switched to audio books about twenty years ago. Actually, that thought arises occasionally. It has more to do with habits. In the 90’s I read before bed anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. It was part of my day. Now right before bed is iPad TV time.—We finally are watching The Queen’s Gambit. Seems pretty divisive as far as opinions go.

My reading is an adventure. I think I note this in my first ever blog post:

Call Me DJ Ishmael.  Welcome.  This space here is a record of my path and my thoughts as they propel me ever forward.

Hmmmm . . . basically the point is that my interest usually points me at what I need . . .

. . . . . a recent example: (My life is an adventure reflected in my reading :)

I know, what does any of this have to do with Kleist? Yeah. Well. We are getting there. Slowly. (This is regrouping. I haven’t done this as such for a while. Blowing off the dust. You know.)

In all of the records of my journey, proper attribution is pretty iffy. Also, were I getting paid for these records of journeys, the way I utilize copyrighted materials would likely warrant cease and desist requests and or lawsuits ;)

Records of my journey:

This is a very roundabout way of saying that I want you to read this entire excerpt by Claire Messud that was featured in the Harper’s September 2020 issue (which is actually the introduction from her recently published book of essays: Kant’s Little Prussian Head & Other Reasons Why I Write.)

We live in an era crippled by our devotion to capitalism. We are beleaguered by hopelessness (what is the opioid epidemic if not the symptom of a people duped by false dreams?) and by rigorous utilitarianism (formed by a late-capitalist mindset, we ask always: What’s in it for me?). We inhabit a time and place in which falsehood and truth are fatally commingled; in which our ideals appear shattered and abandoned by leaders and priests and coaches who are unmasked as predators; and in which any sense of self is assaulted and abused by advertisers. In short, recent years have been a dark maelstrom, a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape, in which, under the guise of the pursuit of pleasure, individuals are tortured, dehumanized, discarded, destroyed.

We had come to see this ominous hurtling as inevitable. But in the past few months, at the mercy of a ravaging virus, we have discovered that in other ways we aren’t disempowered. Crisis and extremity are by no means desirable. But these extraordinary times have forced us to slow down, to think collectively, to seek hope, to value the truth, and to celebrate resilience and faith in our fellow human beings.

We may look to the past, to the vast compendium of recorded human experience, for wisdom, solace, or at least a sense of recognition. When our abiding principles seem upended, I remember an Enid Blyton story I loved as a child, about a little girl who loves lying until she gets trapped in the Land of Lies, where untruths are praised and the truth disregarded. Considering the opioid epidemic, I recall Odysseus and his men in the land of the lotus-eaters, or Tennyson’s poem of the same name: “What pleasure can we have To war with evil? Is there any peace In ever climbing up the climbing wave?” Meanwhile, our political fiascoes call to mind a line from King Lear: “A dog’s obeyed in office.” If we pause and listen to history and literature, we’ll find, as Louise Glück puts it in “October,” “you are not alone, the poem said in the dark tunnel.”

Language makes this possible. It enables us not only to ask for a glass of milk, or to say that we feel sick, but to speak of our sorrows and ecstasies, of our philosophical musings and our memories. I am constantly amazed at this extraordinary medium—created by our distant ancestors out of nothing, still evolving. The written or printed word enables the transmission of thoughts and experiences across centuries and cultures. Our passion for storytelling—not simply for sharing information, but for giving meaning and shape to events—has motivated individuals and armies. The dissemination of the written word, from the time of Gutenberg, has enabled us to tell stories of great depth and complexity, and to share our analyses of these stories. I don’t just mean literature: history, too, is the analysis of human stories; as are psychology, anthropology, law, and philosophy. The dramatic prevalence of the image over the written word in our present moment is akin to a return to the Lascaux caves: immediacy has its advantages, but nuance isn’t one of them.

Just as we are called to be active custodians of our planet, we must also be custodians of human knowledge and of our own minds. We need not be alone in our experiences, nor passive: the riches of all human thought and imagination are available to us. If we were to ensure, as a society, that people’s basic needs were met, then we might recognize that a richer life doesn’t require money, or access, or things: each of us can be nourished by the life of the mind. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery, and yet when we read his writings, we encounter a mind profoundly free, a mind able to articulate itself in language both urgent and lucid, that serves as a reminder that power over language is power tout court.

When you read fiction or encounter a work of art you are invited into an open-ended conversation. You’re engaged in an experience that is simultaneously private and universal. Your encounter with a work of fiction is yours alone. And yet in words, our encounters can be shared, our experiences thereby expanded and deepened. Reading opinions that differ from our own, we are challenged to articulate our own experiences, and through the articulation we live more deeply. The hurtling slows.

I advocate for the actual, irreducible, and irreplaceable animal record—outside the age of mechanical reproduction. The movement of the hand that holds the pen; the imprint of ink upon paper; the dignity and intimacy of the individual letter, written for a particular addressee (and hence so different from a blog or social-media post), without thought of other readers. The loss of what that represents philosophically is enormous: my grandparents, my parents, even my friends and I in youth, spent hours writing letters about what we were doing and thinking, where we were going and what we noticed, as a gesture of intimate communication. It signified that each of us mattered, that the person to whom I wrote mattered, and that our communication was important—often precisely because it wasn’t widely shared. Privacy, intimacy, dignity, and with them, depth and richness of thought—all were a readily available part of daily life, for even the most modest among us.

My paternal grandfather spent the better part of a decade in his retirement writing a 1,500-page family memoir for my sister and me. He did not expect anyone else to read it. He titled it “Everything That We Believed In.” His undertaking was a gesture of faith in himself, in us, in language and the transmissibility of experience. The result was an extraordinary and life-changing document; nobody else need think so, but for me and for my sister, it was. My father, on the other hand, of more melancholic temperament, a businessman during the day, spent a lifetime of evenings, weekends, and holidays as a scholar and thinker who, as in Bernhard’s account of Wittgenstein’s nephew, was a philosopher only in his head, committing nothing to paper. My abiding memory of him in old age is of a man in his library, sitting in his leather chair in a pool of light surrounded by darkness, wearing half-moon glasses, with a book in his lap and a Scotch on the table beside him. He had nobody to talk to, nobody with whom to share his considerable erudition; he lived in the splendid and terrible isolation of one who, while still retaining faith in the life of the mind and the power of books to speak to him, had renounced the possibility of being understood and the value of passing on his knowledge. Both figures have their Beckettian absurdity—my grandfather toiling at his desk, for what? My father, reading voraciously, for what?—but also represent hope of a kind, and inspire me to persist.

So many stories remain untold; so much that we have to learn, and to experience, is still hidden from the world. To attend to these stories is to slow our current hurtling, to calm the chaos, to return to what makes us human. It is to find the past and the present restored, as well as the possibility of the future. We can’t go on, we must go on: in this period of trial and transition, those of us for whom the power of the word is paramount must keep the flame alive. Nothing matters more.

Like everyone who is recently drawn to Kleist, we likely arrived via Hari Kunzru.

Read this?

Actually, I bumped into Kleist in this as well . . .

(I shared 42 Minutes 355 with David Auerbach back in early Nov. of 2019)

—Perhaps one day I’ll return to discuss Red Pill, but suffice it to say, it is worth your time. (Kunzru just recently became the “Easy Chair” columnist speaking about our “New Dark Age” parsing both narrative and information. As an aside, this is the second time in the near past that I’ve run into a criticism of “Ockham’s Razor” and the notion that simplicity is best and describes everything. ps. the previous “Easy Chair” columnist was also interested in “Q”—he was guest of 42 Minutes twice.)

So, why am I drawn to Kleist? And, “how is this the story I need”?

I don’t know.

Kleist in a nutshell. hmmm. In Red Pill it is a stacking of coincidences that causes the narrator to be taken with Kleist. (Here is a review of the book and a look at Kleist.)

Wannsee [the setting of the Red Pill, near Berlin, Germany] is a place full of ghosts: Across the lake, the narrator can see the villa where the Nazis planned the Final Solution, and in his walks he passes the grave of the Romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist, who killed himself after deciding that "no happiness was possible here on earth." 

Wow. I guess I don’t recall that being Kleist in a nutshell from the novel, but that’s part of Kunzru’s ad copy so I guess so. Kunzru definitely is exploring the idea of meaning and myth post 2012 as a response to leftist ideologies & liberal societies. It’s the mystic kernel of “The North” (whiteness?) that the narrator is chasing. Somehow—or naturally—Kleist is mixed up in all that. What makes the Alt Right tick? Or where did consciousness go during the Trump era?

(The Alt Right rise is explored in Gary Lachman’s Dark Star Rising 42 Minutes 313 and the Hindsight 2020 video series.)

The interesting reconciliation I’m trying to come to now is that of my own search from my first blog post which I shared above, and the similar search that Kleist took concluding that "no happiness was possible here on earth." I suppose the conclusion of my search from the last twelve years would be one of wonder. Not answers, and the struggle is real, but definitely not a crushing, dejecting defeat like Kleist arrived at. I feel like I land somewhere closer to what Grossinger was articulating in 42 Minutes 359 that our world was created by enlightened beings to enable enlightenment, thus the suffering has meaning. Not justifying or sanctioning suffering, especially with misguided notions of enlightenment hierarchies, but prompting participation. The soul’s work is to love the badness out of the beast. (You’re the Beast!)

Well maybe that’s why I’ve been reading Kleist. Do I continue? It can be pretty bleak.

I guess we’ll see. Soon enough I’ll have to dive into The 42 Minutes Seasonal Book Club Winter choice.

A postmodern masterpiece about fraud and forgery by one of the most distinctive, accomplished novelists of the last century.

The Recognitions is a sweeping depiction of a world in which everything that anyone recognizes as beautiful or true or good emerges as anything but: our world. The book is a masquerade, moving from New England to New York to Madrid, from the art world to the underworld, but it centers on the story of Wyatt Gwyon, the son of a New England minister, who forsakes religion to devote himself to painting, only to despair of his inspiration. In expiation, he will paint nothing but flawless copies of his revered old masters—copies, however, that find their way into the hands of a sinister financial wizard by the name of Recktall Brown, who of course sells them as the real thing.

Dismissed uncomprehendingly by reviewers on publication in 1955 and ignored by the literary world for decades after, The Recognitions is now established as one of the great American novels, immensely ambitious and entirely unique, a book of wild, Boschian inspiration and outrageous comedy that is also profoundly serious and sad.