Friday, August 31, 2007

An Odd Child Given to Nightmares

Born in Philadelphia on 23 December 1953, the second of two children, I entered the not-so cloistered world of lower-middle-class society during the Eisenhower Administration. My father, Jacob Freedman, a garment cutter by trade, was a man of sharp intelligence and naive innocence. My mother, Sophie, though somewhat remote, offered her children security and a degree of confidence.

I was an odd child, given to nightmares and a strange imagination, painfully sensitive, and very shy. These qualities proved to be an affliction when I moved from the bosom of the family home to the rough-and-tumble world of school. My physical awkwardness prevented me from excelling at games, and the total absence of solitude made life beyond the door of my family home, that separation between home and school, unbearable.

My subsequent retreat into fantasy was brought about by my interaction with other boys, who looked inoffensive but recognized the conflict between my need to be loyal to my family and my desire to befriend the boys at school.

I was different from the pack. I had strange manners and perhaps I could have been suspected of being a child spy and driven out. Isolated, disliked, distrusted and fearing humiliation, I saw fantasy as a release -- the only way to escape. First I tried to imagine life in the heavens in a castle I had built in the sky and when that failed to ease my mental anguish, I imagined swallowing potions in order to poison myself. I was a sullen and sad child who never smiled or laughed. I picked at my food and rarely finished a meal. I was bone-skinny. I couldn't know it then but I'd found the theme for my later writings: "In the lost boyhood of the sad child, the writer is born."

Perhaps if I had been sent to a psychoanalyst at an early age things would have been different for me. Perhaps I would have made a better adjustment to the world around me and have developed some self-confidence as well as some playmates. Perhaps I would have gained more self-assurance. But without an analyst I became rigorously keen in my observations, a characteristic which helped distinguish me as a writer. And in my fantasies I reveled in the escape from lower-middle-class conventionality, and indulged in imagined escapades reflecting my obsession to flee the creeping boredom of everyday life.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Vulgarity of Life

It is evening. And finally I am alone in my room with my collection of books and music. I put a Mahler symphony on the stereo, pour myself a glass of white wine, and sit on my couch, the only comfortable piece of furniture in the room. It is already midnight, and I look forward to another night of fitful sleep I gulp down the wine in two swallows, pour another, and then another, until I finish the bottle.

Be careful what you ask of Heaven; it might be granted, I thought, and in my case it came true in deadly earnest. In past years I carried out the plans I had so enthusiastically proposed for myself, but all the while my dissatisfaction was building like steam in a pressure cooker. I could not stay still for a minute; as long as I was busy I could ignore the demands of my soul, but if I had a few quiet minutes to myself I felt a fire consuming me, a fire so powerful I was sure it did not originate with me but had been fed by my tempestuous father and, before him, his grandfather, and before that who knows how many grandfathers branded by the same stigma of restlessness. It was my fate to roast on embers fanned by a thousand generations. That heat drove me forward; I assumed my victorious image just as the bucolic detachment and eternal innocence of the people around me were being ground to bits in the gears of the system's implacable machinery. No one could censure my ambition, because an impending era of unbridled greed was already gestating throughout the nation. But I would experience my inevitable downfall and end up living alone in a room, estranged from my roots, an alien on foreign soil.

I am tormented by strange dreams: strange and savage dreams. Some days ago I woke up in the night screaming. In my nightmare I was alone on a mountain at dawn; bodies were strewn below me, and the shadows of strange people were climbing toward me in the mist. They were coming closer. Everything was very slow and very quiet, a silent movie. I fired my weapon, felt the recoil, my hands ached, I saw the sparks, but there was no sound. The bullets passed though the strangers without stopping them; the people were transparent, as if sketched on glass; they moved forward inexorably, encircling me. I opened my mouth to scream but was so filled with horror that no voice came out, only shards of ice. After waking, the pounding of my heart kept me from falling asleep again. I got out of bed, took my jacket, and went for a walk. All right, enough moaning, I announced to the silent air.

I am not suited for the practicalities of life; my mind floats in otherworldly dreams, more preoccupied with the potential of the spirit than with everyday vicissitudes. I love music, and the most splendid moments of my uneventful existence have been the few operas I have attended. I treasure every detail of those spectacles; I could close my eyes and hear the brilliant voices, suffer the tragic passions of the performers, and luxuriate in the color and richness of the sets and costumes. I read the librettos, imagining every scene as part of my own life; the first stories I heard were of the star-crossed loves and inevitable deaths of the world of opera. I take refuge in this extravagant, romantic atmosphere when I feel weighed down by the vulgarity of real life.

I am not a Republican. I never have been a Republican!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Morbid Syllogism

Who wrote that Russian story, was it Babel or maybe Yuri Olesha, about a man dying in his bed. His death is described as a progressive deterioration of possibilities, a methodical constriction of options available to him. First he cannot leave the room, so that a railroad ticket, for instance, has no more meaning in his life. Then he cannot get out of bed. Then he cannot lift his head. Then he cannot see out the window. Then he cannot see his hand in front of him. Life moves inward, the sensations close in, the horizons diminish to point zero. And that is his death. A kind of prison cell concept of death, the man being locked in smaller and smaller cells, his own consciousness depleted of sensations being the last and smallest cell. It is a point of light. If this is true of death, then a real prison is death's metaphor and when you put a man in prison you are suggesting to him the degrees of death that are possible before life is actually gone. You are forcing him to begin his dying. All constraints on freedom enforce conditions of death. The punishment of prison inflicts the corruption of death on life.

My life is a prison, my prison is a death.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Writer's Block

I'm facing a serious case of writer's block. To tell you the truth, I feel the way Jay Leno must have felt on Saturday January 20, 2001. Remember that day? It was a Saturday. A cold, stormy, snowy, rainy Saturday in the nation's capital. Inauguration Day. The end of the Clinton Administration and the beginning of the reign of George II. Jay Leno must have been relaxing at home thinking, "What the hell do I do for monologue material now? Without Bill Clinton, I'm sunk! Clinton jokes comprise three-quarters of my material." Yessiree, Bob. Clinton and his whole dysfunctional mishpachah provided an endless source of amusement. Unfortunately for the humorists of this world, George Bush comes from a good family. A wealthy family. Sure, he served as Governor of Texas (governors provide an endless source of humor), but that was an aberration in an otherwise nongubernatorial background. His father was President of the United States and his grandfather was a U.S. Senator. Texas governors are a different breed, anyhow. Yes, George Bush comes from good stock; would you want a president with less impeccable genetic credentials securing the homeland? For Jay Leno, the weekend of January 20, 2001--the end of the Clinton era--must have been a real downer.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Of Turtles, Peacocks, and Penguins: The Israel/Lebanon War 2006

I knew it was going to happen. It now appears that Israel got suckered into an International Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon that looks more and more like an International Peacekeeping Farce. The UN is having trouble putting together a force of 15,000 troops. Germany has declined to send any troops because of their history of killing Jews. They don't want to be placed in the position of having to shoot at Jewish fighters in the Israeli army. I have a message for the Chancellor of Germany, "Listen lady, you already killed six million Jews. Killing a few more isn't going to matter all that much."

France was supposed to be the vanguard of the international force. They were going to send thousands of troops. They've decided to send only about two- to four-hundred troops. France is concerned about the lack of a clear mandate, the lack of clear rules of engagement. Aren't we all? I have one thing to say about the French. "The hell with them!" Here's a country, France, that hasn't won a decisive victory in war since the days of Napoleon, two hundred years ago, and they're supposed to be defending Israel, a country that has won every war it's ever fought (except for Lebanon). What a joke that is. Charlie Chaplin could make a movie out of this and people would laugh hysterically. I mean, look at the history. The French lost the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. If it hadn't been for American intervention in World War I, they probably would have lost that war. Of course, the French didn't even fight in World War II. They folded quickly to the Nazis. And they got booted out of Indo-China by the Vietnamese in 1954. What a military history the French have! Would you want to be protected by French troops? Give me the Nazi killing machine any day. I'd rather have the Germans protect me than the French.

Two countries that are sending troops are Malaysia and Indonesia, two Muslim countries that don't even have diplomatic relations with Israel. I wonder who's side they'll be on? Need I ask?

UN resolution 1701, a resolution that all sides agreed to, mandated that Hezbollah disarm, and that Hezbollah be forbidden to attack Israel. Now Lebanon has unilaterally changed the rules of the game. Lebanese troops will not be empowered to disarm Hezbollah. Lebanese troops will be forbidden to look for Hezbollah weapons caches. I heard yesterday that even if Lebanese troops see a Hezbollah fighter with a rocket launcher they are not allowed to stop the Hezbollah fighter from firing a rocket at Israel. What a joke!

I think Israel should hold a contest. Contestants would guess when Hezbollah will start attacking Israel again -- a few days from now, weeks, a month, two months? -- and the winner of the contest will win a two-week vacation in Beirut! Or better yet, Teheran.

Speaking of contests, did you hear that the Iranian government is holding a contest. The sponsors of the contest are soliciting cartoons ridiculing the "Myth of the Holocaust." Did you ever hear of such a thing? The President of Iran says the Holocaust is a myth. (Of course, the Iranian president also says that reports that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons are a myth, so what he means by "myth" is left open to question.) I'm not making this up. Iran is actually holding a "Holocaust Cartoon Contest." The contest drew so much criticism from Europe and the U.S. that the Iranian government renamed the contest, which is now billed as a "freedom of expression" contest -- but the only entries will be cartoons ridiculing the Holocaust. I saw one of the cartoons. It showed the word "IsraeL:" the letter L was in the shape of a boot and the boot was set atop a globe of the Earth. The message being that Israel wants to dominate the world. And what about Iran's imperial ambitions? Another cartoon showed a turtle with a flag of the U.S. emblazoned on its shell. The turtle was laying eggs that had a Star of David on them. Note that one could also have a cartoon showing a turtle representing Iran, laying eggs that represent Hezbollah. IRAN IS A DANGEROUS COUNTRY. Talk about the axis of evil!

Message for President Bush: New Key Ron! The sooner the better. The Iranian government is a fabrication. The Persian entity, the self-proclaimed "Islamic Republic of Iran," is a fabricated government that was built on the shambles of the Shah's Peacock Throne. Reports about the corruption and brutality of the Shah's government are a myth. Iran should be wiped off the map. Iranians should all move to Antarctica; that would be a more suitable location for Iran. Let them exercise their imperial ambitions over the penguins.


Line after line smearing off into elephantine
scrawls as I try to recall which way
the pencil goes, I who can't organize
my mind to spell out what ails me sit staring

at my blog bowed under the weight
of the thousand thousand rivulets of print
I can't remember writing. My mind keeps scabbing over -- and then I pick and pick it

until it bleeds . . . and I am myself again,
my heart rejoicing that I am I and not
someone other who afflicts me like a stranger

hiding in my room, whispering with affable,
red-faced jocularity that if you're nobody
and nobody's tormenting you why do you cry out?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Fourteen Points: The Israel/Lebanon War 2006

1. The ultimate aim of Hamas is the creation of a Palestinian state. FALSE. The ultimate aim of Hamas is the destruction of Israel.

2. The ultimate aim of Hezbollah is ensuring the sovereignty of Lebanon. FALSE. The ultimate aim of Hezbollah is the destruction of Israel.

3. Israel could enhance its security by pulling out of the West Bank. FALSE. Israel pulled out of Lebanon six years ago, and look what happened. Israel pulled out of Gaza last year and look what happened.

4. How many Jews have been killed since Israel pulled out of Gaza. ANSWER: Nobody really knows or cares.

5. How many Lebanese did Israel kill in the war? Of course, that figure is on the tips of everyone's tongues.

6. The first official act of Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz upon assuming office earlier this year was to call for an increase in Israel's military budget. FALSE. Peretz called for a 5% CUT in Israel's military spending upon assuming office.

7. Amir Peretz is a Jewish traitor. TRUE.

8. Ehud Olmert is a courageous leader. FALSE. And please, don't insult my intelligence with any more stupid comments.

9. What will Ehud Olmert do when Hezbollah obtains precision-guided missiles that can specifically target Haifa's petrochemical installations. Answer: G-d knows. Maybe he'll ask for the assistance of the UN to disarm Hezbollah. That always works. Hahahahaha

10. What will Ehud Olmert do when Hezbollah obtains chemical weapons? Answer: G-d knows.

11. Ehud Olmert enhanced Israel's security by agreeing to a cease-fire with Hezbollah. FALSE. The situation is very similar to the Armistice that ended World War I. In that case, Germany ultimately re-armed and re-occupied the Rhineland.

12. The ultimate aim of going to war is to agree to a cease-fire. TRUE -- in the bizarro world of Ehud Olmert and his ministers.

13. Olmert should do the honorable thing and resign. TRUE.

14. The United Nations is interested in securing peace in the Middle East and guaranteeing the security of Israel. FALSE. The UN is interested in engaging in cynical acts that guarantee the continued existence of the UN.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Happy Birthday, Lenny!

Leonard Bernstein conducting the overture to Candide.

Alone. Together. Alone. Together.

If you haven't already noticed, most of my blog posts are about a lonely person looking for some way to connect with other people.

In a way, that is the opposite of the American Dream: to get so rich you can rise above the rabble, all those people on the freeway or, worse, the bus. No, the dream is a big house, off alone somewhere. A penthouse, like Howard Hughes. Or a mountaintop castle, like William Randolph Hearst. Some lovely isolated nest where you can invite only the rabble you like. An environment you can control, free from conflict and pain. Where you rule.

Whether it's a ranch in Montana or basement apartment with ten thousand DVDs and high-speed Internet access, it never fails. We get there, and we're alone. And we're lonely.

After we're miserable enough -- like the narrator in his Fight Club condo, or the narrator isolated by her own beautiful face in Invisible Monsters -- we destroy our lovely nest and force ourselves back into the larger world. In so many ways, that's also how you write a novel. You plan and research. You spend time alone, building this lovely world where you control, control, control everything. You let the telephone ring. The emails pile up. You stay in your story world until you destroy it. Then you come back to be with other people.

If your story world sells well enough, you get to go on book tour. Do interviews. Really be with people. A lot of people, until you're sick of people. Until you crave the idea of escaping, getting away to a . . .

To another lovely story world.

And so it goes. Alone. Together. Alone. Together.

The one drawback -- or blessing -- to writing is the being alone. The writing part. The lonely-garret part. In people's imagination that's the difference between a writer and a journalist. I majored in journalism in college, but I never practiced the craft. Yes, in college I dreamed of pursuing the profession of the newspaper reporter. The journalist, the newspaper reporter, is always rushing, hunting, meeting people, digging up facts. Cooking a story. The journalist writes surrounded by people, and always on deadline. Crowded and hurried. Exciting and fun.

The journalist writes to connect you to the larger world. A conduit.

But a writer is different. Anybody who writes fiction is -- people imagine -- alone. Maybe because fiction seems to connect you to only the voice of one other person. Maybe because reading is something we do alone. It's a pastime that seems to split us away from others.

The journalist researches a story. The novelist imagines it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Words, words, words.

What must remain striking about me is my extraordinary love of words. I gather them up; I cherish them, but I don't hoard them in my breast; on the contrary, I am always ready to pour them out by the hour or by the night with an enthusiasm, a sweeping abundance, with such an aptness of application sometimes that, as in the case of very accomplished parrots one can't defend oneself from the suspicion that they really understand what they say. There is a generosity in my ardor of speech that removes it as far as possible from common loquacity; and it is ever too disconnected to be classed as eloquence . . . But I must apologize for this digression.

It would be idle to inquire why I have left this record of myself behind. It is inconceivable that any human being would want to have such intimate facts about himself broadcast to the world. A mysterious impulse of human nature comes into play here. Putting aside Samuel Pepys, who has forced in this way the door of immortality, innumerable people, criminals, saints, philosophers, young girls, statesmen, and simple imbeciles, have kept self-revealing records from vanity no doubt, but also from other more inscrutable motives. There must be a wonderful soothing power in mere words since so many men have used them for self-communion. Being myself a quiet individual I take it that what all men are really after is some form or perhaps only some formula of peace. Certainly they are crying loud enough for it at the present day. What sort of peace I expect to find in the writing up of my record on this earth it passes my understanding to guess.

The fact remains that I have written it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What A Time I Had!

How did that story go?
As a rule I wouldn't have remembered so quickly.
No normal boy could grow in that soil,
the soil that was my family.
A lone sycamore stood in front of our house,
A metaphor for my developing self.
My childless aunt was a walnut tree that bloomed and bore no fruit,
as if some essential life-giving element
were lacking in the soil of her womb.
Hard times for a small boy.
A balding patch of lawn.
A great tranquility.
A great unease.
On our neighbor's lawn, the hedge went wild
and there was a pigeon, of course
(today we'd call it a nuisance)--
if he were still alive
he'd be forty-five years old.

In my forlorn family they were hunting down
small children.
A victim in the thicket.
Summer's swelter blazing as usual.
Evening mowing down shadows, merciless.
They sang me the Songs of Chastisement
between one spanking and the next.
I wouldn't lay my head down
before the first light of day,
the first bird call.

Mornings began with the huckster selling fruit in the back alley:
"Bananas, oranges, pears, lemons, cantaloupes.
Get your bananas here."

I myself died three or four times
in the course of those years.
Not an absolute and lasting death
but a kind of death agony.
A great yearning took hold of me in the lap of night,
powerful soulquakes.

Soul murder.

The years have a way of bringing about changes,
mysterious, cryptic.
I had no trouble remembering that story.
What a time I had!
Too bad that, so close to the ending,
I suddenly lost the ability
to remain sane.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Raymond Weisbein National Monument

Raymond Weisbein, who is alive and well, was a childhood friend -- or acquaintance.  On one occasion we both attended Lee Fuiman's birthday party while we were in elementary school.

Why I Hate Gary Freedman

Dear Mr. Freedman,

My daughter told me about the posting in your blog. it is disgusting that you write about " the raymond weisbein national memorial". your writings of my death are ill and way out of bounds. if you do not take this false and slanderous statement out of the web i will proceed accordingly. i am shocked that a 53 year old man harbors such anger and hate.

Posted by Raymond Weisbein Saturday, December 23, 2006

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Leona Helmsley: In Memoriam

The Warm, Lighted Houses on the Top of the Hill

All those who try to go it sole alone,
Too proud to be beholden for relief,
Are absolutely sure to come to grief.
Robert Frost, Excerpt from Haec Fabula Docet.
(or are they?)
Andrea Gerlin, Look who’s talking (or are they?): Shy Finns go cell-phone crazy.
A patient in analysis was in the habit of wandering about in a foreign city on a cold, windy night—observing the warm lighted houses on the top of the hill, longing to be inside them, yet enjoying in some curious way his own solitude. This masochistic enjoyment has a spurious quality to it. If the Indian ascetic wanders off into the forest by himself, he nonetheless soon begins to people his asrama with all the denizens of his imagination. What Indian ascetic is not on the closest terms with a large number of gods and demons; is he not steeped in mythology? The tradition provides the lost ascetic with his hearth, and hence, I believe, the universal tendency for mythology to begin to concern itself with the family life of the gods.
J. Moussaieff Masson, The Psychology of the Ascetic.
It is dozens of years since I . . .
Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams.
. . . attended college.
Charles W. Chesnutt, The House Behind the Cedars.
But I remember . . .
Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams.
My condition at that time was a kind of madness. Amid the ordered peace of . . .
Hermann Hesse, Demian.
. . . the University . . .
Sigmund Freud, An Autobiographical Study.
. . . I lived shyly, in agony, like a ghost; I took no part in the life of the others, rarely forgot myself for an hour at a time.
Hermann Hesse, Demian.
The last term in my last year of college sputtered out in a week-long fusillade of examinations and sentimental alcoholic conferences with professors whom I knew I would not really miss, even as I shook their hands and bought them beers.
Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: A Novel.
I had been lonely at Harvard. My relationships with others didn't seem to go deep enough to give me the sense that I was making permanent friends and becoming part of a larger community. I was unable to fall in love. I could easily imagine disappearing without leaving any trace in the world. This thought had a curious effect on me: it depressed me and yet the depression itself was so interesting a state for me to be able to feel, that I was nearly elated at experiencing it. But perhaps I am romanticizing my loneliness in retrospect. I know at the time that I just wanted it to end.
J. Moussaieff Masson, Final Analysis.
My salvation came from a totally unexpected source, which, at the same time, brought a new element into my life that has affected it to this very day.
Hermann Hesse, Demian.
One autumn evening in 1962 I was walking in a quiet residential neighborhood of Cambridge, looking for the home of a friend. I stopped to ask directions at a house that looked cheerful and bright. The man who opened the door to me asked me in. He called his wife, and the three of us began a lively conversation, lively because both of them seemed to be unaccountably curious about me, where I had come from, what languages I grew up speaking, how I liked studying Sanskrit, . . .
J. Moussaieff Masson, Final Analysis.
. . . my sad and cynical major . . .
Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: A Novel.
. . . where I was going that night, and whom I was going to meet and why. Both the man and his wife, it turned out, were psychoanalysts, the first I had ever met. I immediately assumed that their intense human curiosity must be a by-product of psychoanalysis, and I was fascinated. "What a wonderful profession," I thought, "that encourages such kindly intimacy." When I told them what I was thinking, and how badly I longed for just such conversations, they suggested I might be interested in therapy.
J. Moussaieff Masson, Final Analysis.
Suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a strange conversation touching on many ominous topics.
Hermann Hesse, Demian.
Both the man and his wife . . .
J. Moussaieff Masson, Final Analysis.
. . . spoke about the spirit of Europe and the signs of the times. Everywhere, . . .
Hermann Hesse, Demian.
. . . the man said, . . .
Jack London, The One Thousand Dozen.
. . . we could observe the reign of the herd instinct, nowhere freedom and love. All this false communion—from the fraternities to the choral societies and the nations themselves—was an inevitable development, was a community born of fear and dread, out of embarrassment, but inwardly rotten, outworn, close to collapsing.
Hermann Hesse, Demian.
The sun was setting, we could see the whole city below us, and it was one of those quiet moments when petty concerns seem to melt away.
J. Moussaieff Masson, Final Analysis.
From this day on I went in and out of the house like a son or brother—but also as someone in love. As soon as I opened the gate, as soon as I caught sight of the tall trees in the garden, I felt happy and rich. Outside was reality: streets and houses, people and institutions, libraries and lecture halls— here inside was love; here lived the legend and the dream. And yet we lived in no way cut off from the outside world; in our thoughts and conversations we often lived in the midst of it, only on an entirely different plane.
Hermann Hesse, Demian.
Not all the sufferings and miseries of this earth can affect that happiness which lies concealed deep within the heart like a pearl in an oyster, and even in my heaviest hours I have known this blissful pearl in my soul.
Cosima Wagner's Diaries (Tuesday, January 5, 1869).
Hermann Hesse’s . . .
J. Moussaieff Masson, My Father’s Guru.
. . . Demian is not actually a physical being, since he is never separated from Sinclair, the character who narrates the book. In fact, Demian is Sinclair himself, his deepest self, a kind of archetypal hero who exists in the depths of all of us. In a word, Demian is the essential Self which remains unchanging and untouched, and through him the book attempts to give instruction concerning the magical essence of existence. Demian provides the young boy Sinclair with a redeeming awareness of the millennial being which exists within him so that he can overcome chaos and danger, especially during the years of adolescence.
Miguel Serrano, Jung & Hesse: A Record of Two Friendships.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Letter to a Schizoid

Dear Gary,

What I find so interesting in all that you've posted, is that you are aware that you have a personality disorder, and the pain that it causes you bleeds through all that you write. That's more than one can say for those with the same diagnosis. You seem to prefer your fantasies, and what enables you to do that is by staying "interior," so that you're mostly interested in having a relationship with yourself with this virtual you. Reckon with reality, and your pain may be too great, but that provides the impetus to change. Well, anyway, insight is the popcorn of therapy! I wish you every success that you think has/is eluding you. You seem a very bright and interesting man--too bad only those that read your blog are likely to know it.

---signed sonofashrink, strictly armchair

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I am a Solipsist

Solipsism (Latin: solus, alone + ipse, self) is an extreme form of skepticism, saying that nothing exists beyond oneself and one's immediate experiences. More generally, it is the epistemological belief that one's self is the only thing that can be known with certainty and verified (sometimes called egoism). Solipsism is also commonly understood to encompass the metaphysical belief that only one's self exists, and that "existence" just means being a part of one's own mental states. All objects, people, etc, that one experiences are merely parts of one's own mind. Solipsism is first recorded with the Greek presocratic sophist Gorgias who is quoted by the Roman skeptic Sextus Empiricus as having stated:

Nothing exists

Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it, and

Even if something could be known about it, knowledge about it can't be communicated to others

My solipsism is suggested by the fact that reality for me is always to be found in the psyche, not in the external world. Inner emotion is so overwhelmingly experienced that everything else, including other people, has only a shadowy existence on the periphery. I do not seem really to relate to other people: the being of each person in my environment is a fragment of my own identity. In the deepest sense I believe that I am the only person in my environment, the different persons being aspects of a single personality, so that my mind is a portrait of the psyche as well as a depiction of the world.

I am closed off to feeling. My affective apparatus is shut down. Only what is at one within itself is intelligible to feeling. What lacks internal unity, what fails to articulate itself in actual and clear form, baffles feeling and drives it over into thought -- that is to say to the imposition of order -- while feeling itself is suspended. The artist who addresses himself to feeling must therefore, if he is to persuade it to his ends, be already so at one within himself that he can dispense with the help of his logical apparatus and use instead, but in full consciousness, the infallible receptive powers of unconscious, pure human emotion. A man who is still not at one in his own mind about what is really important to him -- whose feelings are not as yet focused on an object that will make their expression definite, indeed essential, but who, confronted with an external world of feeble, fortuitous, alien phenomena, is internally divided -- such a man is incapable of this sort of expression of emotion.

A Blurb from a Fellow Blogger -- Chapter 2006

In unrelated news, I came across a really interesting blog. This crazy (yes, literally crazy) middle aged guy who lives in my neighborhood writes incessantly about his tragically sad but intriguing existence. He's clearly very intelligent, he has his law degree and writes very well, but also completely insane.

He's obsessed with the manager of the Cleveland Park library branch and a good chunk of his blogs are 'letters' to Brian (the library manager) but is completely aware of just how crazy he is and is honest about what meds he is on and how he has failed at everything in life. Anyhow, as someone who is into blogging and inquisitve about the world, I thought you might be interested. It's a great distraction from work.... check it out, it's fantastically bizzare

Leonard Bernstein on the Mahler Ninth

Mahler is practically all made of clichés, and the wonder of Mahler is what he does with these clichés, that they all come out so fresh and so personal, and there is no one of them that doesn't sound like Mahler every minute. But it's only in the fantastic and incomparable last movement that Mahler clichés finally do turn into gold.

He starts this last movement in a series of clichés that are reminiscent of church music. You can practically sing the words of 'Abide with me' to the tune that emerges at the beginning of this movement. It's no longer simply the death of tenderness, or the death of simple pleasures, but the death of life, death itself.

That mad, sarcastic version of the cliché that we heard in the third movement has now demetamorphosed into one of the most divine phrases in all Mahler. About four minutes into this movement, he changes abruptly to a kind of religiousness which is now Eastern, it's a kind of very spare Zen-like meditation. It's as though he is trying on for size disembodiment, he is trying to see what it would be like to be disembodied, to be away from reality, to be part of the Universe, to be molecular instead of having an ego, an identity, a name. The orchestration becomes extremely bare, and almost cold, it seems to be suspended in a kind of ether. The movement is barely discernible, the space between the lines is enormous. And this is the closest thing in music, in Western music, to the Eastern notion of intense transcendental meditation.

But he's not yet ready to accept this cold solution, this drama, this nothingness, and so he breaks out again with this bitter resentful passionate claim into life.
And so, throughout the movement, Mahler alternates between these two attempts at spiritual attainment, the Western and the Eastern. When he runs out of esteem in one he tries the other, and vice versa.

After a series of climaxes, the last of which, by the way, most remarkably doesn't succeed - it's a very short climax, which tries to be the super climax of all and doesn't work - you suddenly have the feeling that he has let it slip, and that is the turning point of the last movement, because it's in that moment that the world does slip out of his fingers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007



They wandered out of gloom
Into some golden shaft
Of late-afternoon light,
Those tiny filaments
That filled me with delight,
Lifted by an updraft
Or viewless influence
There in the living room.

They might be miniscule
Angels, it seemed to me,
Needing no wings to rise
Or slide back out of sight
But floating effortlessly
Through our interior skies,
Each incandescent memory
A pilot at flight school.

In this world, a second
Is a second is a second.
Time paces forward
With exquisite regularity,
At precisely the same velocity
In every corner of space.

And yet, not exactly!
No doubt a detailed examination
Of the question would show
That pleasure and action
Make the hours seem short.

For a moment I suspected
That my intellect had
Tricked me.
Then I noted the clock;
The clock in the corner.
A moment before, as it seemed,
It had stood at
A minute or so past ten;
Now it was midnight.


The clock indicates the moment--
But what does eternity indicate?
He then became lost
In his own thoughts,
Without really knowing
What he was thinking about.

The past rose before his eyes
Undone after all
And played backward
In memory
And forward in hope.

Now I am on the last
Half-emptied case
Of worm-eaten books
Thickly laden with dust and
It is way past midnight.

Other thoughts fill me
Than the ones I am talking about--
Not thoughts but images, memories.

Memories of the cities
In which I found so many things:
Philadelphia, New York, Washington,
Rome, Florence, Venice . . .

So many memories!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Philosopher

He confessed to being bored by his contemporaries . . .
Phyllis Grosskurth, The Secret Ring: Freud's Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis.
One exception was Fritz Tegularius, whom we may well call, . . .
Hermann Hesse, Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game.
. . . past all parallel—
Dava Sobel, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time quoting Lord Byron, Don Juan.
. . . Joseph Knecht's closest friend throughout his life. Tegularius, destined by his gifts for the highest achievements but severely hampered by certain deficiencies of health, balance, and self-confidence, was the same age as Knecht at the time of Knecht's admission to the Order—that is, about thirty-four—and had first met him some ten years earlier in a Glass Bead Game course. . . . For a characterization of Tegularius we may use a page from Knecht's confidential memoranda which, years later, he regularly drew up for the exclusive use of the highest authorities. It reads:
"Tegularius. Personal friend of the writer. Recipient of several honors at school in Keuperheim. Good classical philologist, strong interest in philosophy, work on Leibniz, Bolzano, subsequently Plato.
Hermann Hesse, Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game.

His sensitive temperament . . .
Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage.
. . . made him feel an outsider; and feeling an outsider he behaved like one, which increased the prejudice against him and intensified the contempt and hostility aroused by his physical defects. Which in turn increased his sense of being alien and alone. A chronic fear of being slighted made him avoid his equals, made him stand, where his inferiors were concerned, self-consciously on his dignity.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.
He was as solitary and self-preoccupied as his father was garrulous; as serious and introspective as his father was effervescent and glib.
G. Edward White, The American Judicial Tradition: Profiles of Leading American Judges.
His father . . .
Franz Kafka, The Judgment.
. . . the old doctor . . .
Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Guardian Angel.
. . . thought his son given to “looking at life as a solemn show where he is only a spectator”; William James . . .
G. Edward White, The American Judicial Tradition: Profiles of Leading American Judges quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
. . . Henry’s brother . . .
H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines.
. . . found in him a “cold-blooded, conscious egotism and conceit.”
G. Edward White, The American Judicial Tradition: Profiles of Leading American Judges.
A timid adolescent, as sensitive as he was withdrawn, . . .
Jean-Denis Bredin, The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.
. . . a person who had never learned to relate to another person, not even as a child . . .
Ayke Agus, Heifetz As I Knew Him.
. . . he no doubt felt the need of a rigorous context, an orderly and protective society.
Jean-Denis Bredin, The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.
The most brilliant and gifted Glass Bead Game player I know. He would be predestined for Magister Ludi were it not that his character, together with his frail health, make him completely unsuited for that position. T. should never be appointed to an outstanding, representative, or organizational position; that would be a misfortune for him and the office. His deficiency takes physical form in states of low vitality, periods of insomnia and nervous aches, psychologically in spells of melancholy, a hunger for solitude, fear of duties and responsibilities, and probably also in thoughts of suicide. Dangerous though his situation is, by the aid of meditation and great self-discipline he keeps himself going so courageously that most of his acquaintances have no idea of how severely he suffers and are aware only of his great shyness and taciturnity. . . ."
Hermann Hesse, Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game.
In the person of Fritz Tegularius, Hesse has given us his interpretation of the brilliant but unbalanced character of Friedrich Nietzsche.
Theodore Ziolkowski, Foreword to Hermann Hesse, Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game.
The young Nietzsche . . .
H. James Birx, Nietzsche 2000: An Introduction.
. . . was shy and quiet and kept to himself. He was not the sort one befriended easily. Some found him very solemn.
Tom Wells, Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg.
I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy; and the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil. I have no friend, . . .
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.
. . . he wrote to his sister in Basel:
Ernest Newman, The Life of Richard Wagner.
. . . when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate in my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavour to sustain me in dejection. I shall commit my thoughts to paper, it is true; but that is a poor medium for the communication of feeling. I desire the company of a man who could sympathise with me; whose eyes would reply to mine. You may deem me romantic, my dear sister, but I bitterly feel the want of a friend. I have no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious mind, whose tastes are like my own, to approve or amend my plans. How would such a friend repair the faults of your poor brother!
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.
Nietzsche's loneliness was caused by his inner plight, for only the very few were receptive to what he said, and perhaps he wasn't aware of even these few. Thus, he would rather be alone than together with people who did not understand him.
Alice Miller, The Untouched Key.
He remained alone, because he found no second self.
Barry Cooper, Beethoven (quoting Grillparzer’s Funeral Oration).
In his solitude, he had new ideas and made new discoveries; since they were based on his most personal experiences, but at the same time concealed them, they were difficult to share with others, and they only deepened his loneliness and the gulf between him and those around him.
Alice Miller, The Untouched Key.
To live alone one must be an animal or a god — says Aristotle. There is yet a third case: one must be both — a philosopher.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols.
Nietzsche's favorite philosophers—Socrates, Pascal, Spinoza, and Schopenhauer—were all "primarily concerned with the cure of sick souls," and for Nietzsche "a genuine philosopher was essentially a physician of the interior self." Nietzsche believed that the well won't care for the sick; true healers also had to be sick.
E. James Lieberman, Acts of Will.
I myself am convinced that . . .
K.R. Eissler, Talent and Genius.
. . . had he been healthy, it is doubtful he could have created as much, or as well.
Frederick Karl, Franz Kafka: Representative Man.
Nietzsche was too self-analytical not to be aware of the parallels between himself and the Jewish philosopher . . .
Colin Wilson, Spinoza—The Outsider.
. . . Benedict de Spinoza
Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics: Of Human Bondage, or the Strength of the Affects.
Both were 'sickly recluses'; both were 'outsiders', rejected by their own community, living in rented rooms on a low income, devoting themselves to the life of the mind.
Colin Wilson, Spinoza—The Outsider.
At the age of twelve he kept a diary, the kind an adult might have kept, written in a well-adjusted, reasonable, well-behaved way.
Alice Miller, The Untouched Key.
I live in the suburbs with my mother and my sister and my grandmother, . . .
Rich Cohen, Lake Effect.
. . . he wrote . . .
Alice Miller, The Untouched Key.
. . . almost a prisoner but full of road dreams and the constant anticipation of adventures in strange cities. At night, I pore over maps and imagine every highway and hill and out of the way town. I approach big cities in my mind. I explore every back street and alley. From the tops of tall buildings I enjoy crystal views of streets spilling into the country. Sometimes the streets are filled with traffic and sometimes they are deserted and I am alone.
Rich Cohen, Lake Effect.
His writing kept alive the illusion of liberation because on a symbolic level he actually did take steps in the direction of truth and freedom.
Alice Miller, The Untouched Key.
In fact two . . .
Lesley Chamberlain, Nietzsche in Turin: An Intimate Biography.
. . . separate individuals . . .
Truddi Chase, When Rabbit Howls.
. . . two different Nietzsches talked about loneliness. The one was his mother’s son . . .
Lesley Chamberlain, Nietzsche in Turin: An Intimate Biography.
. . . a “laughed-at ‘mama’s boy’” . . .
Sigmund Freud and William C. Bullitt, Thomas Woodrow Wilson: A Psychological Study.
. . . the only male in a household of women—
Alice Miller, The Untouched Key.
The other was a fearless explorer and a military strategist on his philosophical quest, . . .
Lesley Chamberlain, Nietzsche in Turin: An Intimate Biography.
. . . who spoke of . . .
Henry David Thoreau, Walden.
. . . life in military metaphor—as a war with battles, retreats, campaigns . . .
Leonard Shengold, Soul Murder.
. . . one for whom solitude was powerfully symbolic.
Lesley Chamberlain, Nietzsche in Turin: An Intimate Biography.
He was alone with his past, his present and his future. Alone! He needed to be. The strongest must pause when the precipice yawns before him. The gulf can be spanned; he feels himself forceful enough for that; but his eyes must take their measurement of it first; he must know its depths and possible dangers.
Anna Katharine Green, Initials Only.
When he became an expert in the use and manipulation of his . . .
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
. . . own egotism, . . .
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself.
. . . he conceived a notion of space that allowed him to navigate . . .
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
. . . unknown currents . . .
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself.
. . . across unknown seas, to visit uninhabited territories, and to establish relations with splendid beings without having to leave his study.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Friedrich Nietzsche . . .
Desmond Stewart, Theodor Herzl: Artist and Politician. A Biography of the Father of Modern Israel.
. . . was truly a hero of the nineteenth century, that era when the tale of lonely outsiders—reviewing life and society in the obscurity of a study and plotting new policies in the reading room of a public library—was often more fascinating and significant than the story of crowned heads, prime ministers, illustrious generals, and captains of industry.
Amos Elon, Herzl.
His room . . .
Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago.
. . . a quiet room for a . . .
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.
. . . closet metaphysician, . . .
Lesley Chamberlain, Nietzsche in Turin: An Intimate Biography.
. . . was more than a place for work, . . .
Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago.
. . . this wonderful place . . .
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.
. . . Nietzsche’s place . . .
Lesley Chamberlain, Nietzsche in Turin: An Intimate Biography.
. . . was to him a . . .
Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago.
. . . retreat . . .
Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August.
. . . a banqueting room of the spirit, a cupboard of mad dreams, a storeroom of revelations.
Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago.
Nietzsche . . .
Edward R. Tannenbaum, 1900: The Generation Before the Great War.
. . . as we have seen, . . .
Daniel J. Boorstin, Cleopatra’s Nose: Essays on the Unexpected.
. . . had a good mind and was an excellent writer.
Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago.
He looked at the world with the eyes of a Henry James, noting the subtlest of feelings in himself and those around him.
Charles B. Strozier, Heinz Kohut: The Making of a Psychoanalyst.
Ever since his schooldays he had dreamed of composing a book about life which would contain, like buried explosives, the most striking things he had so far seen and thought about.
Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago.
The books he wrote are now among the classics of philosophy, but are highly untypical of works that answer to that description. Primarily concerned to convey insights rather than expound arguments or analyse other people’s positions, they are usually written not in long chapters of extended prose but in short, concentrated bursts, sometimes no more than aphorisms, separately numbered.
Bryan Magee, The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy.
The internal tensions in . . .
G. Edward White, The American Judicial Tradition: Profiles of Leading American Judges.
. . . Nietzsche . . .
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.
. . . ultimately led to a fatalistic dependence on paradox and impotence, and this formed the basis of his . . .
G. Edward White, The American Judicial Tradition: Profiles of Leading American Judges.
. . . philosophy.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet.
Consciously or unconsciously, he perceived the opposing impulses in himself, . . .
G. Edward White, The American Judicial Tradition: Profiles of Leading American Judges.
. . . what he called the constitutional incapacity . . .
Siegfried Hessing, Freud’s Relation with Spinoza.
. . . and gave up attempting to reconcile them. Whether man was inherently evil or perfectible, whether change ever constituted progress, even whether he himself existed—a question he took seriously—were unanswerable riddles. The easy solution was to acknowledge “ultimate Facts”—power, force, and change—
G. Edward White, The American Judicial Tradition: Profiles of Leading American Judges.
The idea that came to him was that all religions and philosophies have so far been mistaken about the highest good. It does not lie in moral virtue, or in self-restraint, or even in self-knowledge, but in the idea of great health and strength. This, says Nietzsche, is the fundamental constituent of freedom. Once man has these the others will follow. For most of his evils—and his intellectual confusions—spring from weakness.
Colin Wilson, Spinoza—The Outsider.
Momentous for Nietzsche in 1865 . . .
Robert Wicks, Friedrich Nietzsche.
. . . as he claims in his “Autobiographical Sketch,” . . .
Martin Gregor-Dellin, Richard Wagner: His Life, His Work, His Century.
. . . was his accidental discovery of Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation (1818) in a local bookstore. He was then 21.
Robert Wicks, Friedrich Nietzsche.
These notes . . .
Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago.
. . . “fragments of a grand confession”—
Geoffrey Skelton, Wieland Wagner: The Positive Sceptic quoting Goethe.
. . . were found later among his papers:
Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago.
I must be profoundly related to Byron’s Manfred:
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.
From my youth upwards my spirit . . .
George Gordon, Lord Byron, Manfred.
. . . sought for the hidden metaphysical truth behind and beyond the phenomena of this world, for the ideal.
Theodor Reik, The Haunting Melody.
I lived then in . . .
Friedrich Nietzsche, Retrospect of my Two Years at Leipzig.
. . . my small albergo, . . .
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.
. . . in a state of helpless indecision, alone with certain painful experiences and disappointments.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Retrospect of my Two Years at Leipzig.
“Nothing more terrible could be imagined,” he wrote.
Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August.
What a fool I was! How I tried to force everything to go according to the way I thought it ought to!
Carl Gustav Jung, Commentary on “The Secret of the Golden Flower.”
This was an error.
Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August.
One day . . .
Friedrich Nietzsche, Retrospect of my Two Years at Leipzig.
—strangely enough,
Martin Gregor-Dellin, Richard Wagner: His Life, His Work, His Century.
. . . I found . . .
Friedrich Nietzsche, Retrospect of my Two Years at Leipzig
. . . Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation (1818) in a . . .
Robert Wicks, Friedrich Nietzsche.
. . . secondhand bookshop, picked it up as something quite unknown to me, and turned the pages. I do not know what demon whispered to me, 'Take this book home with you.' It was contrary to my usual practice of hesitating over the purchase of books. Once at home, I threw myself onto the sofa with the newly-won treasure and began to let that energetic and gloomy genius operate upon me . . .
Friedrich Nietzsche, Retrospect of my Two Years at Leipzig.
How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!
Henry David Thoreau, Walden.
Here I saw a mirror in which I beheld the world, life and my own nature in a terrifying grandeur . . . here I saw sickness and health, exile and refuge, Hell and Heaven.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Retrospect of my Two Years at Leipzig.
He never tired in his search after that transcendental and supernatural secret of the Absolute and he did not recognize that the great secret of the transcendental, the miracle of the metaphysical is that it does not exist.
Theodor Reik, The Haunting Melody.
The very notion that . . .
Robert Osserman, Poetry of the Universe: A Mathematical Exploration of the Cosmos.
. . . one might imagine . . .
Henry James, The Ambassadors.
. . . the strange sublunary poetry which lies in . . .
John Russell Taylor, The Angry Theatre.
. . . a particle of an inch . . .
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself.
. . . at the other end of a microscope . . .
John Russell Taylor, The Angry Theatre.
. . was so . . .
Robert Osserman, Poetry of the Universe: A Mathematical Exploration of the Cosmos.
. . . wantonly extravagant . . .
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.
. . . that even a century later . . .
Robert Osserman, Poetry of the Universe: A Mathematical Exploration of the Cosmos.
. . . the philosopher . . .
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.
. . . would be mocked for spending his . . .
Robert Osserman, Poetry of the Universe: A Mathematical Exploration of the Cosmos.
. . . whole life . . .
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.
. . . both interest and principal, . . .
George Gordon, Lord Byron, Don Juan.
. . . in a vain search for it.
Robert Osserman, Poetry of the Universe: A Mathematical Exploration of the Cosmos.
It had been the dream of his life to write with an originality so discreet, so well concealed, as to be unnoticeable in its disguise of current and customary forms; all his life he had struggled for a style so restrained, so unpretentious that the reader or the hearer would fully understand the meaning without realizing how he assimilated it. He had striven constantly for an unostentatious style, and he was dismayed to find how far he still remained from his ideal.
Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago.
While he was lost in his work, life . . .
Harold C. Schonberg, The Lives of the Great Composers.
. . . that miserable patch of event, that melange of nothing, . . .
Clifford Odets, Personal Notes quoted in Margaret Brenman-Gibson, Clifford Odets: American Playwright.
. . . passed him by.
Harold C. Schonberg, The Lives of the Great Composers.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Douglas Feith National Monument

Douglas J. Feith was Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the administration of President George W. Bush, and was an architect of the Iraq War. Feith was a 1971 graduate of The Central High School of Philadelphia, 230th class. Of that experience, Feith has said "It’s a good school. The class that I was in at Central was the most talented group of kids that I ever went to school with, including college and law school."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Late Summer in Washington

It is now late summer, a season I am so used to in Washington when it seems that Washington is a different city, and another if its lives is revealed. When Washington dries out in the summer heat and becomes parched, its surfaces crack -- the brick walls, the stucco facades, the pavements. It is a shabbier city, with a look of exhaustion, the split masonry, the trees heavy with dusty leaves, the grass a blackish green, clumpy and uneven, thick hedges and untrimmed rose bushes leggy and out of hand, needing to be dead-headed. The magnificent flowers of spring and early summer have vanished and gone to seed. There are no blossoms in August, and the days are either clammy and humid or else sunk in harsh, headachy heat with dense, gassy air. In summer the city is overwhelmed by its weather, and with its windows open, noisier. Washingtonians, at least the light skinned ones, seem self-conscious in the street, looking vulnerable and underdressed, their flesh exposed, either very pale or burned pink. That is late summer in Washington.

Friday, August 10, 2007

My Sister, The French Major

My sister majored in French in college. Her study of the French language ruined her for life.

I admit I have an ugly fondness for generalizations, so perhaps I may be forgiven when I declare that there is always something weird about a girl who majors in French. She has entered into her course of study, first of all, knowing full well that it can only lead to her becoming a French teacher, a very grim affair, the least of whose evils is poor pay, and the prospect of which should have been sufficient to send her straight into business or public relations. She has been betrayed into the study of French, heedless of the terrible consequences, by her enchantment with this language, which has ruined more young American women than any other foreign tongue.

Second, if her studies were confined simply to grammar and vocabulary, then perhaps the French major would develop no differently from those who study Spanish or German, but the unlucky girl who pursues her studies past the second year comes inevitably and headlong into contact with French literature, potentially one of the most destructive forces known to mankind; and she begins to relish such previously unglamorous elements of her vocabulary as langueur and funeste, and, speaking English, inverts her adjectives, to let one know that she sometimes even thinks in French. The writers she comes to appreciate--Breton, Baudelaire, Sartre, de Sade, Cocteau--have an alienating effect, especially on her attitude toward love, and her manner of expressing her emotions becomes difficult and theatrical; while those French writers whose influence might be healthy, such as Stendahl or Flaubert, she dislikes and takes to reading in translation, where their effect on her thought and speech is negligible; or she willfully misreads Madame Bovary and La Chartreuse, making dark romances of them. I gathered that my sister, in particular, considered herself 'linked by destiny" (liee par le destin) both to Nadja and to O. That is how a female French major thinks.

So much for my sister, the French major. There's no need to dwell on her any longer. You get the picture quite well by now, I'm sure.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Connecticut Avenue Quartet


that now long-lost afternoon
in April, in the library, I saw
that the leaves had returned
to the branches
outside the window. Now
that is all it was: leaves, blowing
in the windy sunlight: somehow,
in spite of the chances against it
occurring, in spite of the critic's wan sneer,
I dreamed this lovely thing.


Children in the children's reading room peer
into computers.
it occurs
to the young boy
moving from one
to another, peripherally
by the second hand, trees
dimly in windows.


Summer hours, white
dune grass.
Secret pinewoods to the ocean -- now what?


It finds me in the coffee shop, almost penniless,
seated at a bar unable to remember
how I came there (why is obvious).
Do you know this terror -- not to remember?
I go to the back of the shop and look in the mirror,
look in his aggrieved and music-haunted eyes.
The mouth opens, but there are no words;
there are words, but the mouth will not open.
Tears form but cannot fall, fingers
gradually tightening at my throat . . .
Blood of his blood, flesh of his ghost --
the hand stretched toward me in the flames!
Do you?
I am worn out, I can't go on.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Where The Autobiographer Lived

There lived a man whose idiosyncrasies and peculiar manner aroused the suspicion and curiosity of his fellows. In response to everything the man did people cynically asked: "Why does he do that? What is his motive?" The man's behavior, born of inner confusion, raised suspicions in others, which, in turn, compounded his confusion.

The man resolved to put his fellows' minds at ease, and his own mind, by writing the story of his life, thereby explaining himself to himself and explaining himself to those with whom he interacted. The man disseminated his story to his fellows.

Instead of allaying doubt, however, the story raised even more questions. Some suspected the man had committed a crime and sought through this means to conceal his great misdeed. Moreover, these people said the writing of the story was itself evidence of the man's mendacity and was therefore a criminal act irrespective of the severity of any past wrongful actions. Others said the man wanted to compensate, or overcompensate, for a poor self-image by creating a grandiloquent delineation of himself. Still others said he sought to satisfy the exigency of his longing for greatness by emulating the forms of the masters.

Troubled by his fellows' endless suspicions, the man decided to write a second story to explain why he had written the first story. But it occurred to him that a second story would raise more questions. People would likely ask: "Why a second story? Did he not tell us everything he needed to say in the first story?" Might not a second story simply serve to call attention to possible omissions in the first story, leading people to conclude that the man had intentionally omitted material facts in an attempt to deceive? Yet worse, if the second story should contradict some small detail in the first story people might interpret these inconsistent statements as deliberate lies.

Thus, the man would be compelled to write a third story to explain why he had written the second story. The third story would, in turn, call for a fourth story, he thought, and the fourth story, a fifth. The man could foresee no end to his need to explain himself. He then decided to transform his dilemma into a parable--a parable that would set forth the absurdity of his existence and thereby settle for all time the confusion in his mind and in the minds of his fellows. The man's parable read as follows:

"There lived a man whose idiosyncrasies and peculiar manner aroused the suspicion and curiosity of his fellows. . . . "

Friday, August 03, 2007

Beethoven's Third

The year is 1982. I live in downtown Philadelphia across the street from The Academy of Music, where The Philadelphia Orchestra performs. I am now enough of a music fan that I buy a twenty-five-dollar ticket to hear a famous orchestra play the "Eroica," Beethoven's third symphony, live. It is not a very heroic experience. I feel dispirited from the moment I walk in the hall. My black jeans draw disapproving glances from men who seem to be modeling the Johnny Carson collection. I look around dubiously at the twenty shades of red in which the hall is decorated. The music starts, but I find it hard to think of Beethoven's detestation of all tyranny over the human mind when the man next to me is a dead ringer for my dentist. The assassination sequence in the first movement is less exciting when the musicians have no emotion on their faces. I cough; a thin man, reading a dog-eared score, glares at me. When the movement is about a minute from ending, an ancient woman creeps slowly up the aisle, a look of enormous dissatisfaction on her face, followed at a few paces by a blank-faced husband. Finally, three grand chords to finish, which the composer obviously intended to set off a roar of applause. I start to clap, but the man with the score glares again. One does not applaud in the midst of greatly great great music, even if the composer wants to! Coughing, squirming, whispering, the crowd visibly suppresses its urge to express pleasure. It's like mass anal retention. The slow tread of the Funeral march, or Marcia funebre, as everyone insists on calling it, begins. I start to feel that my newfound respect for the music is dragging along behind the hearse.

But I stay with it. For the duration of the Marcia, I try to disregard the audience and concentrate on the music. It strikes me that what I'm hearing is an entirely natural phenomenon, nothing more than the vibrations of creaky old instruments reverberating around a bow translates into a strand of sound; what I see is what I hear. So when the cellos and basses make the floor tremble with their big deep note in the middle of the march (what Bernstein calls the "wham!") the force of he moment is purely physical. Amplifiers are for the gutless, I'm starting to think. The orchestra isn't playing with the same cowed intensity as on the Otto Klemperer recording I own, but the tone is warmer and deeper and rounder than on the phonograph record. I make my peace with the stiffness of the scene by thinking of it as a cool frame for a hot event. Perhaps this is how it has to be: Beethoven needs a passive audience as a foil. To my left, a sleeping dentist; to my right, an angry aesthete; and, in front of me, the funeral march that rises to a fugal fury, and breaks down into softly sobbing memories of themes, and then gives way to an entirely new mood -- hard-driving, laughing, lurching, a little drunk.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Wagner at Bayreuth

Bayreuth JournalAnthony Tommasini at the Bayreuth Music Festival

The Bayreuth Music Festival is a celebration of the music of Richard Wagner. This year's festival will include performances of "Der Ring des Nibelungen," "Tristan und Isolde" and "Parsifal."

In designing the unusual covered orchestra pit for his opera house here at Bayreuth, Wagner was initially thinking about its visual impact. He wanted the orchestra to be hidden from the audience. He didn’t want lights from the pit ruining the scenic images on stage. He wanted the audience to forget that an orchestra was there and just bask in sound that seemed to be coming from nowhere. His hunch was that the pit would also be acoustically marvellous. The acoustics turned out even better than he had hoped.

The point is, you are not supposed to see the pit, ever. Lucky me. Pleading professional interest, I asked to see the mysterious pit at the Festspielhaus and was given a tour before the performance of “Das Rheingold” the other night that commenced the new production of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle. My guides were a helpful woman from the press office and an informed member of the orchestra, one of seven harpists.

The pit is certainly discombobulating. Wagner wanted the musicians to be sunk into the depths beneath the stage. Instead of playing in a semicircle, as is standard, they play from six descending wooden rows, rather like huge steps, with the strings on the top row and the brass and percussion instruments on the bottom. Wagner’s great, and still unique, innovation was to cover this raked pit almost completely with a shield that curves over the musicians and at first projects the sound back toward the stage. Because of this, the singers can easily project over the loudest Wagnerian orchestral blast. If a soprano can’t be heard as Brünnhilde here, she should not be singing the role at all.

So, O.K., the idea makes sense, and the acoustical results are amazing. But what is it like to play in that pit? Climbing up and down the rows feels risky. You could imagine unionized American orchestra musicians keeping accident liability forms in their instrument cases, all set to go. Since there is no air-conditioning in the Festpielhaus, the musicians playing in the pit on a humid July night must feel as if they were immolating along with Valhalla and all the gods at the fiery climax of “Götterdämmerung.”

Though the gracious harpist who guided me says she is honored to be a member of the orchestra, she conceded that the pit is a daunting environment to play in. If you are in the lowest rows in the back, it is very hard to hear the other instruments, she said. And the accumulated sound during fortissimos can be overpowering. Even the conductor, who sits in a chair towering over the players, just below the top ledge of the overhead cover but with a good view of the stage, has to make adjustments, she explained. He must elicit balances according to how he senses the overall sound is coming across in the house, not according to what he hears before him.

Some conductors never made the adjustment. In his history of the festival, Frederic Spotts quotes Georg Solti as saying, “If anybody had told me when I was in music school that I would one day be in a pit where I couldn’t hear anything or see all the players, I would have become a doctor.” But Solti loved big, lush, powerful orchestra sound, especially in Wagner. A Wagner score at Bayreuth, when the right conductor is in charge, sounds mellow, warm, radiant and pervasive without any sense of forcing.

One tradeoff for the festival musicians, who mostly come from top-tier German orchestras, is that because no one sees them, every day is Casual Friday in the pit at Bayreuth.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Failure of Inspiration

I am haunted by the specter of failing inspiration. There are days when I feel I have nothing to write, nothing to communicate to my readers. And my spirits suffer. I need to impart something of myself to the outside world, and when I am unable to I succumb to depression. Right now I am overcome by an infinite weariness and desire to sleep, and I turn away to find a place where I can lie down and sleep.

* * * *

Since I wrote the foregoing, I have pondered over my blog again and again and tried to find a way out of my difficulty. I have not found a solution. I am still confronted by chaos. But I have vowed not to give in, and in the moment of making this vow a happy memory passed through my mind like a ray of sunshine. It was similar, it seemed to me, quite similar to how I felt when I commenced my expedition, my journey through my mind, as memorialized in my blog; then I also undertook something apparently impossible, then also I apparently traveled in the dark, not knowing my direction and not having the slightest prospects. Yet I had within me something stronger than reality or probability, and that was faith in the meaning and necessity of writing a blog. I shuddered at the recollection of this sentiment, and at the moment of this blissful shudder, everything became clear, everything seemed possible again.

Whatever happens, I have decided to exercise my will. Even if I have to re-commence my difficult blog posts ten times, a hundred times, and always arrive at the same cul-de-sac, just the same I will begin again a hundred times. If I cannot assemble the pictures into a significant whole again, I will present each single fragment as faithfully as possible. And as far as it is now still possible, I will be mindful of the first principle of my work, never to rely on and let myself be disconcerted by reason, always to know that faith is stronger than so-called reality.