Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Abortion Debate -- Continued

Roe should be overturned because it's bad law. A fundamental right or liberty should be grounded in something more substantial than a chimerical "penumbra of rights" flowing from a prior court decision (Griswold). Basically, what the court did in Roe was to say that women have a fundamental right to abortion "because we say so," that is because we said in Griswold that reproductive rights fall under a right to privacy that we "discovered." The constitution can be pulled and stretched only so far before it becomes a sham, a house of cards created by the Court. That's not constitutional law, that's "Alice in Wonderland."

Women should, however, have access to abortion. But the legal basis needs to be found in some other legal principles or be created by the legislature. Perhaps a constitutional amendment needs to be passed. But, of course, that probably will not happen. Yet, if women want a secure right to abortion they may well have to fight for a constitutional amendment, as they did early in the last century to obtain the right to vote under the 19th amendment.

There's a tangential issue relating to the abortion debate that has always intrigued me, though I have never heard any discussion of it. There is an interesting symbolic relationship between a pregnant woman and a federal republic such as the US. That is to say, a symbolic relationship between the state of pregnancy and the issue of states rights versus federal supremacy.

The pregnant woman is symbolically analogous to the federal government, which has supremacy over and a duty of protection to the individual states. The pregnant woman harbors and protects the fetus. Put another way, the mother stands in symbolic relation to the federal government, just as the fetus (or fetuses) stands in symbolic relation to the individual, subservient states.

Conservatives typically champion the power of the states against the encroachment of the federal government. While liberals typically espouse the supremacy of the federal government over the states. In parallel fashion, conservatives typically oppose abortion, promoting the unborn fetus's right to life. While liberals typically favor abortion, espousing the power of the mother over any supposed rights of the fetus.

Federal supremacy = a mother's right to choose

States rights = the unborn fetus's right to life

I wonder to what extent this symbolism is an unconscious factor in the passions and occasional irrationality that the abortion issue arouses in people.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Cautionary Tale

There is no question about it: I am a willful, moody person who refuses to fit into society. Every so often I will display the liveliness of my intellect. When highly stimulated I can be entrancing, my mordant wit sparkles and I overwhelm everyone with the audacity and richness of my sometimes somber inspirations. But basically I am incurable, for I do not want to be cured; I care nothing for coordination and a place in the scheme of things. I love nothing but my freedom, my perpetual limbo status, and I prefer spending my whole life as the unpredictable and obstinate loner, the gifted fool and nihilist, to following the path of subordination to the hierarchy of the professional world and society and thus attaining peace. I care nothing for peace, have no regard for a place in the professional world, hardly mind reproof and isolation.

Certainly I am a most inconvenient and indigestible component in a society whose ideal is harmony and orderliness. But because of this very troublesomeness and indigestibility I am, in the midst of such a limpid and prearranged little world, a constant source of vital unrest, a reproach, an admonition and warning, a spur to new bold, forbidden, intrepid ideas, an unruly, stubborn sheep in the herd. And, to my mind, this is the very reason I am to be cherished. For I am a dynamic element, a small open window that looks out upon new prospects. Though I admit that most people do not value my precious gifts, my melancholy genius, my flickering intensity and acrobatic artistry. Rather, the majority of people see only my unreliability, my tendency to fritter away my talents, my lack of any discipline or sense of community. Indeed, most people perceive that I have no goals beyond egotistic enjoyment of my own overbred faculties. They see a person who resides mentally in a dream-ridden realm populated by fantasy and vain wishes.

Readers of this blog may have become acquainted with a frequent visitor, Shiv Reddy, who occasionally leaves comments. It puzzles me why this gifted young man, already overburdened with work, duties, and responsibilities, spends time reading and commenting on my posts. I suspect there is a measure of pity in Shiv's relationship to me. My imperiled and usually unhappy state appeals to Shiv's chivalric feelings. In me, a peculiar person for sure, I suspect that Shiv senses the features of a type. Shiv no doubt sees me as two things in one: embodiment of the finest gifts to be found in the solitary thinker, and at the same time a portent of the demoralization and downfall of those abilities. For Shiv I am both an ideal and a warning. I present a cautionary tale of what Shiv seeks to avoid: the tragedy of squandered talents and failed ambitions.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Persistence of Memory

I do not have a computer of my own. I use the public access computers at my local public library. Sometimes I have to wait more than an hour to get the next available computer. The whole problem is: how to kill time. Sometimes I read; sometimes I listen to music on my portable CD player. And sometimes I play a memory game, a private mind game.

Once I'd learned the trick of remembering things, I have never had a moment's boredom. Sometimes I exercise my memory on my room and, starting from a corner, make the round, noting every object I see on the way. At first it was over in a minute or two. But each time I repeated the experience, it took a little longer. I made a point of visualizing every piece of furniture, and each article upon or in it, and then every detail of each article, and finally the details of the details, so to speak: a tiny dent of encrustation, or a chipped edge, and the exact grain and color of the woodwork. At the same time I forced myself to keep my inventory in mind from start to finish, in the right order and omitting no item. With the result that, after a few weeks, I could spend hours merely in listing the objects in my room. I found the more I thought the more details, half-forgotten or malobserved, floated up from my memory. There seemed to be no end to them.

So I learned that even after a single day's experience of the outside world a man could easily live a hundred years in a mental prison. He'd have laid up enough memories never to be bored. Obviously in one way, memory is a compensation for boredom.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Between a Hostile World and Me

From childhood to the present, I have been a solitary and lonely man. Repeatedly I have identified with the miserable and the forlorn, and I cling with a death grip to whatever person, place, or belief that seems the current answer to my anguished and ceaseless search for orientation and structure. According to family lore I was indulged by tender-hearted parents but still proved troublesome and self-willed. Schoolmates who knew me before I was twelve, years later particularly remembered my apartness: "He did not play like other children but read all sorts of books insatiably. . . . He liked to go by himself on many long walks. . . . Gary went off on his own for most of the time and wandered for hours." My sister recalls that as I grew older I was perfectly unconscious of having distressed my parents in that I never joined the happy family group, never met people, but always sought solitude. Struggling constantly with melancholia, I as child and man have been an observer rather than a participant.

As an adult my dream of happiness has posed an insoluble paradox. At the same time as I see the world of everyday events and people as infinitely appealing, I see it as overwhelmingly threatening; every corner in the dizzying tangle of nature reflects my own internal chaos. The best I can do to keep my tumultuous and unstructured fears at bay is to withdraw from social contacts, retreat rather than merger has consistently characterized my efforts to overcome a pervasive sense of inadequacy and disillusionment.

It has been a relatively mild winter--but for a long time--two months to be exact--I have rarely left my room; I don't know why. What I need is courage, and this often fails me. When I visit the library I am overwhelmed by a sense of alienation from the library patrons and staff to such a horrible extent that I shy away from going there. Only when I am alone in my room do I feel somewhat alive. Alone, I only count on the exaltation that comes to me at certain moments and then I let myself run to extravagances.

What I need is a palliative for the ever-present personal torment of emptiness, loneliness, and depression and a weapon against the disorganization of my inner life and reality that threaten me.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remember Veterans Day

A Most Scurvy Monster

I tried to look at the thing in a scientific spirit and soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception:"Uniting of godly and devilish elements" resounded within me. Here was something for my thoughts to cling to. This idea was familiar to me from conversations with Demian. During the last period of our friendship he had said that we had been given a god to worship who represented only one arbitrarily separated half of the world (it was the official, sanctioned, luminous world), but that we ought to be able to worship the whole world; this meant that we would either have to have a god who was also a devil or institute a cult of the devil alongside the cult of god. And now Abraxas was the god who was both god and devil.

Animal viruses are usually content to remain aloof within the nucleus they invade, using the host cell's machinery to replicate themselves, but seldom mingling with the local DNA. Retroviruses work backward. They have no DNA. Their genetic instructions are coded in RNA. Like all viruses, they carry none of the other requirements for life—such as manufacturing, processing, or reproductive equipment—just a genetic blueprint sealed in a protective capsule. For the rest they must depend on the cell they infect. But a cell is not set up to process genetic instructions in RNA.

The first thing a retrovirus does when it gets inside a cell and takes off its protective coat is make a copy of itself in DNA.Retroviruses are so-called because they possess a unique cellular enzyme, reverse transcriptase, which uses the viral RNA as a template to make a DNA copy. The DNA copy of the virus then slices open a host chromosome, inserts itself, and in a kind of inner colonialization, becomes for all intents and purposes one of the cell's own genes. When the cell begins transcribing this viral DNA sequence into RNA—as it must to get a working copy of any gene for use in protein production—the result is more copies of the RNA virus and the orders for materials needed to make the virus capsules.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, retroviruses are such stuff as nightmares are made of. But they are also the stuff of wonder.That's most certain.Now part of the cell's chromosome, the virus—that is, all that's left of it, its genes—is in the catbird seat.To take an analogy from history: invading conquerors let us use the French colonialists in Indochina as an example, set out to govern a conquered country, not according to the judicial system which they find in force there, but according to their own.Like any good DNA, the viral genes may transcribe messenger RNA, which travels back into the cytoplasm, some of it directing the cells' ribosomes to manufacture new viral proteins, some of it becoming enveloped by the emerging viruses to form their new cores of RNA.

Or the integrated viral DNA may exert its influence upon the cellular genome and cause the cell to reproduce aberrantly, erratically, uncontrollably, thereby transforming it into a malignant cell. Or the viral genes may do nothing at all, may simply lie low—for years, perhaps—safe and undetected within the heart of the cell, until prompted once again to become active and produce more viruses, or a transformed cell, or both. What causes the activation isn't always entirely clear. There are many retroviral mysteries to be unraveled.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Mournful Solace of the Night

For me, whose heart is heavy with the grief of life's struggles, the dusk comes as a mournful solace. With night so near, I feel like someone on the brink of freedom, ready to start life all over again. No one, no one in the world has any right to weep for me. For, truly, at dusk I feel ready to start life all over again. It is as if the great rush of daytime's anguished tumult washes me clean, empties me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars--as if I am seeing the night sky for the first time, the first--I lay my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.

It is said that the day-night reversal, with its relieving sense of freedom from demand, is characteristic for people who feel detached from, or oppressed by, the world around them. It provides a kind of nonconforming rebellious and private limbo, a private world.

To feel the night so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, makes me realize that I have been happy, and that I am happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remains to hope is that on the day of my death, whenever that day might come, there should be one mourner who might remember me, who might carry my memory into the future for at least a brief time.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

One Writer's Inner Struggle

The popular literary form—as opposed to the sequestered academic one—is always straining at the inbuilt inertia of a society that always wants to deny change and the pain it necessarily involves. But it is in this effort that the musculature of important work is developed.

Hermann Hesse's literary career was closely interwoven with his personal fortunes as well as with his philosophical interests. His works before his disillusionment in World War I reflect the German literary traditions of romanticism and regionalism. In this tradition, we are dealing with a line of thought that frames clear-cut distinctions between good and evil, prudence and folly, reality and fantasy.

At any rate, in accord with his original artistic nature, and at a time when in his youth he has not yet seen any of his illusions dissipated, Hesse’s generally lower-middle-class heroes work hard, though rarely successfully, at adjusting to the technological and social change of urban industrial society. By the time the Great War ended, however, the world had undergone a complete transformation and the consequences for Hesse himself were far greater than he could ever have foreseen.

Somehow events in his life were coming to a head, but he felt that he was being lived by them, rather than living them. He became uncertain whether good and bad, right and wrong, had any absolute existence at all. Perhaps the voice of one’s own conscience was ultimately the only valid judge, and if that were so, then each man had only one genuine vocation—to find the way to himself. He might end up as poet or madman, as prophet or criminal—that was not his affair, ultimately it was of no concern.

His task was to discover his own destiny—not an arbitrary one—and live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness.

What more need I say?

Beginning with Demian (1919)--if we may be permitted to anticipate our story-- his heroes no longer try to conform but force themselves almost against their own wills to insist, at the price of isolation, on finding an original way of participating in a new age of human involvement and commitment.

Monday, November 05, 2007



1. Solitary: "1. Existing, living, or going without others; alone ... 3. Remote from civilization; secluded; lonely. 4. Having no companions; lonesome; lonely."

Synonyms: "alone, lonely, lonesome, lone, forlorn, lorn, desolate"
"Alone, solitary, lonely, lonesome, lone, lorn, forlorn, desolate may all refer to situations of being apart from others or emotions experienced while apart. Alone stresses the fact of physical isolation and also may connote feelings of isolation from others ... Solitary may indicate a state of being apart that is desired and sought for ... It often connotes sadness at the loss or lack of usual or close connections or consciousness of isolation or remoteness ... Lonely may simply indicate the fact of being alone but more often suggests isolation accompanied by a longing for company ... Lonesome, often more poignant, suggests sadness after a separation or bereavement ... Lone especially in poetical use may replace either lonely or lonesome ... Lorn suggests recent separation or bereavement ... Forlorn indicates dejection , woe, and listlessness at separation from someone dear ... Desolate is most extreme in suggesting inconsolable grief at loss or bereavement ...
"Solitary, lonely, lonesome, desolate are applied to places and locations more than the other words discriminated above. Solitary may be applied to something that is either apart from things similar or that is uninhabited or unvisited by human beings ... Lonely may be applied to what is either far apart from things similar and seldom visited or to what is inhabited by only one person or group and conducive to loneliness ... Lonesome has much the same suggestion ... Desolate indicates either that a place is abandoned by people or that it is as barren and wild as never to have attracted them ... "

Analogous: "isolated, secluded, retired, withdrawn: forsaken, deserted, abandoned"



2. Solitary: "Single; sole."

Synonyms: "single, sole, unique, lone, separate, particular"
""Single, sole, unique, lone, solitary, separate, particular can all mean one as distinguished from two or more or all others. Something single is not accompanied or supported by, or combined or united with, another ... Something sole is the only one that exists, that acts, that has power or relevance, or that is to be or should be considered ... Something unique ... may be the only one of its kind in existence ... or it may stand alone because of its unusual character ... Something lone ... is not only single but also separated or isolated from others of its kind; the word often replaces single in technical or poetic context ... Something solitary ... stands by itself, either as the sole instance or as a unique thing ... Something separate is not only single, but disconnected from or unconnected with any of the others in question ... Something particular ... is the single or numerically distinct instance, member, or example or the whole or the class considered or under consideration ... "

Analogous: "alone, only"

Sunday, November 04, 2007

An Old Master, His Young Disciple, and the Deep Blue Lake

The old master sat alone, in a wing-back chair, in the cozy comfort of his study. It was a snowy January evening. The old master mused.

"I can't remember. It may come back to me. At the moment I just can't remember, really I can't. It's no good chasing it. It must have been Riga, in winter." He paused and corrected himself. "No, no!"

For a moment the close observer's mind refused to engage. Then he remembered a night at . . . ("Where?") "But of course!" "Ye-e-es," he muttered. There, there, in Leipzig Richard Wagner first met the young Friedrich Nietzsche, who was enchanted by the older man’s wit, awed by his greatness and overjoyed to hear him discuss his debt to Schopenhauer. The brilliant boy, less than a year older than Ludwig of Bavaria—Nietzsche's dead father and Wagner had been born in the same year—in turn made an extraordinary impression on the composer, who encouraged him to visit Triebschen —Tribschen, a villa standing just outside Lucerne on a wooded tongue of land projecting into the Vierwaldstaetter Lake—to continue their discussion of music and philosophy.

Nietzsche later recounted: "I knew that the idea of somebody saying 'Tell me everything' and meaning it was an unbearably exciting, heady thing for me. That somebody would first allow me to say everything that was in my mind, and then would understand it, promised a kind of intellectual and emotional utopia. It was the connection with another human soul that I was after."

No clouds shaded those early bewitching and refreshing days at the lake, where Nietzsche, submissively lost in adoration, passed golden hours stolen from his professorial duties at Basel.

For the rest of his life he would remember one summer morning on the lake. They were seated in the boat, facing each other like two mirrors, Nietzsche in the stern, Wagner rowing. The sun was coming up over the hills. A bass jumped, making a circle in the water. Nietzsche trailed his hand in the water. It felt warm in the sharp chill of the morning. In the early morning on the lake, sitting in the stern of the boat with his mentor rowing, he felt quite sure that he would never die. Years after his break with Wagner, he observed, "I pass over my other relationships lightly; but at no price would I have my life bereft of those days at Triebschen, days of confidence, of serenity, of sublime flashes, of profound moments." Nietzsche had no idea at the time how large this house would loom in his subsequent life.

Wagner liked him enormously. But completely disinterested friendship was a luxury he permitted himself infrequently. He sensed Nietzsche's abilities as a writer and wished to yoke them to his cause. Certainly he was impressed by the professor’s eminently articulate style. The relationship between the two men grew increasingly close, and during the war year of 1870—the high tide of their intimacy—each labored at a work reflecting this happiest time of their friendship, a brief period Richard Strauss considered one of the century's most significant moments.

"For me they were steps," Nietzsche wrote, "I have climbed up upon them—therefore I had to pass over them. But they thought I wanted to settle down on them."

Humanly speaking, they were worlds apart. On the one hand, an ebullient artist and man of the theatrical world who would gladly—health and wealth permitting—have been an epicurian, a go-getter whose life flowed past like a dream, a sensualist involved in the everlasting drama of existence, laughing and weeping as his emotions dictated. On the other, a brilliant but austere pedant who procured experiences and exaggerated what life had not granted him—a capacity for fun and enjoyment.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Stark and Harshly-Demanding Winter

My entire existence, in some sense, can be viewed as the lived aftermath of an accident, or series of accidents -- a fall from grace. I used to think if you fell from grace it was more likely than not the result of one stupendous error or else an unfortunate accident. I hadn't learned that it can happen so gradually you don't lose your stomach or hurt yourself in the landing. You don't necessarily sense the motion.

I've found it takes at last two and generally three things to alter the course of a life: You slip around the truth once, and then again, and one more time, and there you are, feeling, for a moment, that it was sudden, your arrival at the bottom of a snowdrift.That's the way I feel now. I feel as if I'm at the bottom of the heap, struggling to ascend from the snowdrifts that ensnare me in a winter wasteland.

At this moment, the problem is compounded by a writer's block. I feel I'm straining for something to say, something to express. I feel immobile, locked in the grip of a creative and emotional deep freeze.There is a stillness without and a confused tumult within. I gaze out my window. I seem a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that is warm and sentient in me fast bound below the surface; but there is nothing unfriendly in the silence.

The silence is a balm for my inner disquiet. I simply feel that I live in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access, and I have the sense that my loneliness is not merely the result of my personal plight, tragic as it is, but has in it, as I've hinted many times before, the profound accumulated cold of many stark and harshly-demanding winters.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

My Inner World, My Burrow

My inner mental life IS my life. A thing that has reached terrifying proportions in my life is the fact that I seem to make little if any contact with living people. I know what has happened. From most of them there is so little to be learned, so little to be seen or discovered in them that is original and revelatory, that I have gotten into the habit of ignoring them. It was always that way with me: the inside teeming and quick rhythm was more important. It is even more so now, but how dangerous it is, how easily it will let one fall into the habit of peopling the world with one's own desires and images! I feel it happening all the time, but seem to do nothing to prevent this loss. I have paid a truly great price for the years of my young loneliness: I am forever locked in myself, deeply imbedded in the flesh and bones of myself is a hungry peering person, astigmatic, tired, alone.

I am lost to the world with which I used to waste so much time; it has heard nothing from me for so long that it may very well believe that I am dead (or at least petrified)! It is of no consequence to me whether it thinks me dead; I cannot deny it, for I really am dead to the world. I am dead to the world's tumult, and I rest in a quiet realm! I live alone in my one-room apartment, in my imaginary friendships and in my letters! That is, when I'm not otherwise occupied with my daily workout regimen in the exercise room of my apartment building.I live out my days tunneling, tunneling through my thoughts to ever greater depths -- like Kafka's mole-rat digging into the earth below, creating a labyrinthine burrow of seemingly infinite complexity that is safe from the encroachment of others.

"And with that I lose myself in a maze of technical speculations, I begin once more to dream my dream of a completely perfect burrow, and that somewhat calms me; with closed eyes I behold with delight perfect or almost perfect structural devices for enabling me to slip out and in unobserved. While I lie there thinking such things I admire these devices very greatly, but only as technical achievements, or as real advantages, for this freedom to slip out and in at will, what does it amount to? It is the mark of a restless nature, of inner uncertainty, disreputable desires, evil propensities that seem still worse when one thinks of the burrow, which is there at one's hand and can flood one with peace if one only remains quite open and receptive to it. For the present, however, I am outside it seeking some possibility of returning, and for that the necessary technical devices would be very desirable. But perhaps not very desirable after all. Is it not a very grave injustice to the burrow to regard it in moments of nervous panic as a mere hole among which one can creep and be safe?" Ah, yes! The freedom to slip "out and in" at will, as Kafka calls it.

Yes, in my burrow, in my solitary thoughts, I dream my dreams. But they are the dreams of "the undeveloped heart." I dwell in my burrow with a gallery of images, the images of a plethora of people: the monstrous and the good -- some unbelievably good. They remain phantoms, however. I lack the ability to care enough about another person; I suffer from a deficiency of the capacity for love, joy, and empathy to occupy myself with real people. The passageways of my burrow are redolent of indifference: the benign but vaguely repellent odor of emotional emptiness.

I live in fear by day and night; fear as deep as the marrow of the bone; doubt that I am worthy of life; since everyone around me denies it as I deny it to myself; which makes all love, all trust, all joy impossible.From the tunnels of my imagination come a host of memories. All sorts of ghosts haunt these long, lonely corridors; foulness and miasma are everywhere, with here and there a vent-hole through which the phantom of one of my old acquaintances from within converses with another one of my old acquaintances from without.

My burrow is the resting place of all failure and all effort. To my life's pain it is a detritus, and to unfulfilled wishes a residue. It is the conscience of my life's experiences where all things converge and clash. There is darkness here, but no secrets. Everything has its true or at least its definitive form. There is this to be said for the muck-heap of my memories and imaginings, that it does not lie. Innocence dwells in it. Every foulness of my existence, fallen into disuse, sinks into that ditch of truth wherein ends the huge hoard of meaninglessness, to be swallowed, but to spread in endless rumination. It is a vast confusion. No false appearance, no whitewashing, is possible; filth strips off its shirt in utter starkness, all illusions and mirages scattered, nothing left except what is, showing the ugly face of what ends. Reality and disappearance: here, a bottleneck proclaims drunkenness, a basket-handle tells of home-life; and there the apple-core that had literary opinions again becomes an apple-core. Here my memories enjoy more than fraternity, they share a close intimacy. That which was painted is besmeared. The last veil is stripped away. The repository of memories that constitutes my mind is a cynic. It says everything. Endlessly. My burrow comprises the entrails of a monster. Mine is the life of a miserable sod. Ah, yes, Les Miserables!

I am in a dark place. I would live in utter darkness in my burrow but for The Word that emanates from higher realms. As the psalmist said: "Since God's word is a light for my path I will be sure not to stumble as long as it is with me. If God's word is in my heart then I can be sure that it will be there whenever I am in a dark place." Psalm 119: 105-106.