levi-neptuneTwenty years ago, in 1994, the internet was very different from today. This was long before blogging, before the idea of social media (Mark Zuckerberg was only ten years old), and two years before Sergey Brin and Larry Page started the project that would end up becoming Google. It was the year that Lycos and Yahoo! (then known as “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web”) were founded, that someone registered www.sex.com, and the White House, then occupied by Bill Clinton, moved online at www.whitehouse.gov. It was also the year that Levi Asher founded a website called Literary Kicks at http://www.charm.net/~brooklyn.1 It was one of only 2,738 websites occupying a rather uncluttered and unorganized internet, and it survives today as one of the longest running websites around.

I am home, finally, after spending a little more than two weeks at a different kind of home in Seattle, where I was born and raised. My new home is a former mining village in northeast England near where my girlfriend goes to university. The name of her postgraduate program: Culture and Difference.

When I was home in Seattle, I saw a lot of old friends, including one who writes poetry. We both do. This is somewhat coincidental, since we became friends around the time we learned to read. Even now, when I see him, we almost never talk about poetry.

The other day I attempted to write an essay about the human brain and its extraordinary knack for pattern recognition. Brains are capable of identifying complex and subtle relationships between external stimuli that would confuse even the world’s most powerful computer. Our brains are also capable of accessing ancient memories almost instantly, though not with anything like the precision of a computer and its digitally-stored data.

This.  Right here.  What I’m saying now.  Everything I will say.  People have said it.  People have asked the questions I’m asking and answered them, but here I am.  Pursuit of new answers is nothing but bargaining with old answers.

 

It became desperate, for me, when I was reading Jonathan Evison’s West of Here.  I enjoyed it immensely at first.  Then I had to stop reading.  I’d already read it before.  There was nothing wrong with the book.

I’ve read almost nothing since.

 

Crabwalk,” I said. “By Gunter Grass.  This is Crabwalk.”

“You think every book is Crabwalk,” said a friend whose own manuscript I had compared to Crabwalk.

“No, just the ones that are, but there are a lot of them.”

 

Crabwalk is about Nazis, kind of, old and new, not that it matters.

 

Scuttling backwards to move forward.

 

Crabwalk is also, in turn, other books and stories and movies and poems.

 

West of Here is Crabwalk and Crabwalk is the “Garden of Forking Paths” (this, too, involves Germans), and that reminds me of Yeats.

 

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

 

Which reminds me.

 

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.

 

All roads lead to Eliot.

 

 

Did he say make it new, too?

 

DA DA DA...

 

Nothing is anything but a reference to something else.  And that’s whether we mean or know it to be or not.  That, too, is Eliot.

I can’t have a thought.  Not one.  Not of my own.

Either can you.

 

Trying.  Even trying.  Look at what you’re up against.  LOOK AT THEM.

 

I bought Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind because the description on the back reminded me vaguely of Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler and J.L. Borges’ “The Library of Babel”.

The fucking Library of Babel.

It’s almost too terrible to talk about.

 

I couldn’t finish The Shadow of the Wind.

 

 

I have a recurring dream about sitting in a study in Buenos Aires watching J.L. Borges write.

 

In the dream he can’t see me.  He keeps daguerreotypes and tiny dishes of loose change.  It is just like the study Eliot uses in my dreams, but Borges’ study is dusty and baroque.  The curtains are brocade. I leave fingerprints on everything.

Eliot’s curtains are linen, rocking in a maritime breeze, and the furniture is immaculate–dark wood and  indifferent ivory.  Surfaces are smooth and cool to the touch.  There are no shadows, no clutter.  He licks his pen.  He watches me watch him.

 

I used to believe in an embarrassing way that I was communing with them, that in the dreams, these men were the men, but they say everyone in your dreams is you.  So I return to these places to be alone with myself, I guess.  Nothing ever changes.

 

Ideas have archetypes.

Containers within which a finite number of related human thoughts rattle and stick.  Stick together, shake apart, rattle, stick again elsewhere.  Then it’s new.  But not really new.  And eventually all partnerships are exhausted.

Like matter, archetypes of ideation can’t be created or destroyed.

This very idea comes from a box labeled “Jung, et al”.

And then again, the archetypes themselves are items in other, larger containers.  Nesting dolls of human awareness.

The largest of which is…what?

 

God?

 

Temporal provincialism is intractable.


Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

 

 

On some shelf in some hexagon, it was argued, there must exist a book that is the cipher and perfect compendium of all other books and some librarian must have examined that book; this librarian is analogous to a god.

 

Oh God.

 

 

Other echoes

Inhabit the garden; shall we follow?

 

…respondebat illa: αποθανειν θελω.

 

 

 

 

Looking around for some paper to start writing down a schedule for project development and releases over the next six months, I found an old marble journal that I kept a long time ago. Flipping through it, I saw an entry that made me realize something. While in some ways we change so much from day to day, week to week, and year to year, in another kind of mysterious way, we also don’t change all that much. (Though I’ve since revised my position on metaphysics, apparently. But that’s another thing.)

This was written in 1998.

I was driving home the other day with a friend when the car jolted to a halt. Sitting in the middle of the road was a blackbird. Or maybe a raven. I don’t really know birds. It was black.

“What did that mean?” he wondered, once the bird hopped out of the way.

“What do you mean what did that mean?” I asked reluctantly, when the car didn’t move. They symbolize death, right? But why? Apparently this was an important question.

And then it hit me:

All of our everyday experience is metaphorical of a deeper, unknown substance; it points at what we really are. The dark – that is, invisible – side of our persona.

A white car passed us on the road.

What does that mean?

I decided to categorize my all my responses and observations. To make a library of metaphors. I thought about the white car, and about the emotional undertone – subtle but present – that was connected to that moment. I thought about my naive presupposition that there is an object made of synthetically re-configured materials that is a white car. White is the color that it is not, everything that the object rejects as repugnant.

We live in a world of imagined constructs, never thinking about how this perceived world affects, reflects them; never seeing the intangible level the object points at; as symbols (like the word “car” points at what hides behind “car,” it points towards it but neither contains nor describes it.)

There is no higher validity in this metaphor and metaphysical perspective (which an artist calls upon to inform their work.) There is no Jewish father figure hiding behind the world of appearance, ready to chastise his unruly children. There is only You.

If you dig deep enough into the interaction of events in your life, realizing them to be transparent, metaphysical symbols rather than opaque material reality, you will begin to find what you are. Footsteps leading backwards and forwards towards your center. (Death. Incomprehensible non-existence.)  And you will also find that you are not what you think you are.

What a cheery “young adult” I was, huh?

Tell me if this is a normal conversation to have while standing with the other groomsmen at a wedding.

The End of an Era / It was good while it lasted / Crying won't help

“Never before has there been a generation of Americans so disillusioned by the American Dream.”

“Maybe in the 20s? It’s hard to compare.”

I’ve been big on confessions lately. There’s much we can learn from one another by being honest, even if we give ourselves a certain poetic license with the form that honesty takes. So bear with me a moment.

DISCLAIMER: If one is to set out on a Einsteinian quest for a unified theory of the first-person singular, one must be mindful that the good professor failed in his attempt to develop a unified theory of the nature of the physical (read: physics). That an effort to theoretically unify the first-person singular should somehow escape a similar fate is an unlikely and remote possibility. (Some might say, a folly.) Let the pilgrim be forewarned.

I was a haughty and insufferable young man, intent, ironically, upon a direction of which I was unsure. I am less intent these days and I have worked to lose the haughtiness, though I am still unsure as to where I am headed. A true north, presented as a reasonable and intelligent sensibility remains unknown, a shrouded mystery. Schopenhauer said that walking is arrested falling down. I am walking, and conscious that every step is taken in self-defense, taken to keep from collapsing. I have concluded that for me life holds only surprises and reveals little. I am in a poker game and am blind. I did not spring from the womb playing Mozart. I cannot do math. I have not experienced a particular urge to save the world or develop a vaccine or build an empire. I have no natural capacity for anything, as best I can tell. The writer in me struggles to spin my web, but that is the nature of the discipline. I work from my gut. In short, I exist, like, as best I can tell, many of us exist, without a clarifying direction or calling. Most of the time, sadly, I am not even cognizant that I even exist. When I am aware of the fact, I keep my eyes open and take notes as I am able. The best I’ve been able to do thus far is string them together and search for patterns.


DH: Iris Murdoch, the mid-20th century British novelist, was the true inheritor of the great Victorian tradition of moral psychologists. Her complex stories turn on questions of what’s the right thing. Only in contrast to today’s dogmatic moralists, who are so convinced that they know exactly what you should be doing, IM wrote stories where good and evil are real but meant to be puzzled over.

In The Sacred and Profane Love Machine an extra-marital affair rivals in legitimacy the marriage it is undermining. In A Fairly Honorable Defeat, a gay relationship and a straight marriage are both under threat. One will go down. Which deserves to survive and why?

Most readers today remember Iris Murdoch as the brilliant writer whose mind was darkened by Alzheimer’s. But I prefer to remember the writer who has influenced Zadie Smith. And I think we should remember those we love in their best times, in their salad days, since there is no need to memorialize sadness.

Open Road Media has recently made ten works of Iris Murdoch widely available for download. The one that caught my eye was The Philosopher’s Pupil, which was the first Murdoch novel that I read. It’s my recommendation in our new series: Three Guys One Download. Next month, another of the Guys will recommend a download.

Embers

By Arielle Bernstein

Essay

When Adile and I see each other for the first time in five years, our embrace is awkward. “I forgot how tiny you were,” she says to me. There is nothing specific I can point out about Adile, immediately, that has changed. My memory of her is distant and charged with sentimentality, an echo of her voice emblazoned on my brain, a silhouette impression in the back of my eyes. Big black curls cascade down her shoulders. She isn’t wearing glasses like she did in high school so her eyes stand out even more than usual. Her black eyeliner is thick like an Egyptian goddess. “I didn’t remember you were so blonde,” she says to me, touching my hair as if I am a little doll.

An Adequate Idea

By Doug Bruns

Essay

I was recently engaged in a conversation that ended with the phrase, “The difference between us, Doug, is that I am a man of faith and you have no faith.” It was delivered with shrugged shoulders, a slightly tilted head and the nervous hint of a smile. It was not mean-spirited, just a declaration, yet it seemed to carry the impress of righteousness. I found it a curious thing, this conversation-stopping declaration. But I am getting ahead of myself.

In the maiden voyage of this column, Poetry for the Nervous, Vol 1, I led with the principle that what you love, what strikes you, what moves you in poetry is what matters.  Critics do not matter.  The judgments of others do not matter.  Poetry is yours to dispose as your heart dictates.  If your teachers or friends impose upon you some poem or poet they champion, and you just don’t get it, there is no need to think yourself stupid or inadequate, nor to give up on poetry as a whole.  You will find what you love eventually, because poetry in its essence is as deep within us as our desire to communicate.

From an appeal towards what you love, I’ll work into something a bit less romantic.  I think the best poetry is also useful.  That’s a dangerous word in the world of art, wrapped up as it is in the most ancient debates about aesthetics and utility, but I’m always ready to argue that gallery art is great, but does it really beat, say, a well crafted chair that is beautiful to behold, and is also very comfortable for sitting?  Do any human efforts match the art of nature, for whom, especially if you are a cosmologist, utility is the most fundamental quantity?

The biggest problem I’ve always had with Western philosophy, especially in the wake of the neo-Platonic Humanism that fueled the Renaissance, is contempt for crowds. Pericles’ famous comment about “hoi polloi,” hailing the masses as the fount of Athenian greatness, has somehow been transmogrified into a symbol of contempt for crowds and crowd behavior by Western intellects. I’ll none of that¹. Crowds, like individuals, are capable of intelligence, and of stupidity.  Yet bigotry against crowds seems a common affliction of modern intellectuals, especially progressive ones.

JR: I probably fell in love with Mr. Peanut around page 3, much earlier than I thought I would, when I noticed Adam Ross wasn’t there anymore, and it didn’t seem like writing to me. David Pepin wanted to kill his wife, I wanted him to kill his wife, and then I met his wife, and I really wanted to kill her, but I was only on page 3. At this point I noticed the seamless language and how brilliant it was to read. If you don’t believe me, read the first three pages. Then I didn’t realize how much I’d like David Pepin until he wasn’t around, and Ross introduced me to Ward Hastroll who is investigating David Pepin, because David’s wife Alice has taken a dirt nap. But Ward Hastroll’s wife won’t leave her bed. It was this section where I felt like the book launched itself into to another world, Ross delivers the details of a miserable marriage in ways that remind me of Carver, Cheever and the brilliant Revolutionary Road. And then, Dr. Sam Sheppard, the older investigator who works with Ward Hastroll, is imagined by Mr. Ross, imagined is the wrong word, Ross writes it like he’s standing right next to both Hastroll and Sheppard, and peering into both of their lives, for real. I’d be a fool to tell you how this turns out, or how Ward Hastroll relates to Raymond Burr, I’ll let you work that out for yourself, but lets just say, we never really know what’s happening in a marriage, even if we can see in through the bedroom window. One more thing, it really is that Dr. Sam Sheppard Ross writes about in Mr. Peanut, and it will send shivers up your spine when you figure it out. I’m just giving you broad strokes here, I can’t tell you more, well, okay, there is this trip to Hawaii that Alice and David take together, read it, you’ll see. Mr. Peanut will be a New York Times Top 10 of 2010, take it to the bank. Here is his contribution to the WWFIL series.

When We Fell in Love

From the youngest age my reading and writing were inextricably bound, and I don’t remember a desire to write so much as the act of regularly telling stories, the telling of these intertwined with everything I read, so really this is an exercise in tessellation, recursion, and echolalia. (A favorite book from my childhood is Remy Charlip’s Arm in Arm, a series of circular narratives: It was a dark and stormy night, we were standing on the deck, the ship was sinking, the captain said to me, “Tell me a story, my son,” and so I began. It was a dark and stormy night…the ragged copy of which I read with great pleasure to my daughters now.) The tales I wrote stole all the color, event, and gadgetry from Tom Swift, the intrigue from the Hardy Boys, and the teamwork and faux-science from the Doc Savage series, the narratives that grew out of these in turn amalgamations of movies, age-inappropriate films of action and adventure likeThe Guns of Navarone and The Magnificent Seven, sexy stuff like A Clockwork Orange and Logan’s Run, plus anything I could watch on Channel 11’s The 4 O’clock Movie before mom made it home (Planet of the ApesThe Omega Man, andDamnation Alley, to name a few). I stole the plots of horror films deemed too scary by my parents to watch but reported to me by my father, his re-telling of the ending of Don’t Look Now, with that horrific dwarf in the red raincoat driving a butcher knife into Donald Sutherland, trumped the film when I finally saw it. I confess a deep-seated love for Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, and from those ancient superheroes, I graduated to comic books: Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Champions and Uncanny X-MenWalt Simonson’s Thor, with its inspired re-telling of the Ragnarok myth—no primary source material for me—and Bill Sienkiewicz’s The New Mutants. Under the anxiety of those influences, I developed my own universe of superheroes and villains, material liberally hybridized with characters from the Marvel universe, cross-pollinated with Frank Herbert’s Dune series, and melded with Piers Anthony’s Magic of Xanth books. In middle and high school, I passed on nearly everything Trinity’s English curriculum had to offer, falling too far behind in To Kill a Mockingbird,Animal FarmBrave New World, and The Catcher in the Rye ever to catch up, not even interested enough to purchase the Cliffs Notes—why read about reading that bored me in the first place?—though I dug Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, wept at the injustice of The Old Man and the Sea, and immersed myself in The Bible (my school’s reverend was beloved mentor), so that on the rare occasion our teachers let us write “creative” pieces, I did spinoffs of Old Testament stories, being partial, not surprisingly, to the Yahweh-anointed superheroes of Judges. In college, I didn’t fall in love again until I encountered the Romantics junioryear, Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell comic books of a kind, Coleridge’s Xanadu in “Kubla Khan” like something out of Xanth, though I did get a kick out ofGulliver’s Travels, the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, and the short stories of Raymond Carver. I was more of a philosophy nut, jazzed on the existentialists and their forefathers: Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Sartre, Levinas, and Foucault. It wasn’t until I was graduated and out in the world that, having decided to become a writer, I changed my reading habits entirely, not only to figure out just what being one required but also to bring a degree of order to all this chaos. I began to read authors in their entirety. Walker Percy was, memorably, the first; I read The Moviegoer and, after reading the last paragraph, started at the beginning again, ultimately making my way through all his work in chronological order. From there I moved on to Italo Calvino, Vladimir Nabokov, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Isaac Babel, Don Dellilo, Donald Barthelme, Joseph Conrad, and Richard Ford, which led to a more systematic approach to writing, to routine—three hours at least in the morning, no matter how early it required me to get up, with rewriting done only at night. Flash forward two decades and, with my first novel, Mr. Peanut, publishing in June, I’m adding additional stories to my collection, Ladies and Gentlemen, while making my way through all of Alice Munro—though sometimes when it’s raining and I take my kids to the bookstore to play, I grab the bound edition of either Frank Miller’s Ronin or The Dark Knight graphic novel and read it front to back. All of which is to say, there’s no when to my love. The beginning is for me the end. Or, as the little boy on that boat recalls: It was a dark and stormy night, we were standing on the deck, the ship was sinking, the captain said to me, “Tell me a story, my son,” and so I began…

–Adam Ross