Vertical cut from a news column, August 3, 2020, 7News.au
Trump’s Effect on My Reading Habits
George Saunders published CivilWarLand in Bad Decline in 1966. My world should have shook (I was Californian, so not a reach) but I didn’t even hear whisper of it. For decades. When I read the book I went and read five or six others. Here was a voice that tolled inside me like a bell made of heart muscle.
He got how off-kilter the world of humans is. How hilarious and sad, how un-said. Let others swoon over Hilary Mantel, George Saunders became my favorite living author.
I tell you this because I’m dismayed to find that something’s changed. In a funk I pulled out a couple of George Saunders’ books. Always good to read. Foundational as they say. Underpinning.
There are trolls in my bookcase. Or maybe in my head. George Saunders isn’t funny anymore. Wry doesn’t connect to any part I recognize.
I think of the news photo of a frenzied mob outside a subway car, faces shrieking invective at the Covid-masked faces within. Blond woman leading the pack at full bay. I remember the newspaper checked with several zombie movie directors who wished they could get that shot in their films.
Some newswriter noted these were the same people who, when seat-belts were mandated broke their vocal cords demanding their right to be smashed across their windshields. I was driving by then. I lived through the same experience and don’t actually remember it. Seatbelts were weird for awhile and then life rolled like a gentle wave over sand and life erased my noticing. I don’t think about brushing my teeth either but someone must be doing it.
A man yesterday shot at police with an automatic rifle because he didn’t want to wear a Covid-mask. Obviously he wasn’t black or he’d be dead.
Ever since Donald Trump aimed his belly at the podium on January 20, 2017 hate-hearted bipeds have been oozing like water through pebbles into my county’s psyche. They really do throw their passions at astonishing targets. They’re damned if you can make them wear Covid-masks. Actually you’re damned if you do. And if their leader scoffs at cataclysmic viruses, they’re ready and armed.
Is it any wonder that George Saunders rings all too true? Hey mister, your bent world is in my government, gnawing at the floorboards.
This is a double post. The reason will become obvious.
A scholar in his study (‘Faust’), anonymous, Rembrandt van Rijn, after 1652. free via Rijksmuseum
Knowers Knowing What Can’t Be Known
I looked out the window and saw a diagonal contrail aligned perfectly as if it was emitted by the edge of my closest dormer. In many times and places there were augurs, shamans, throwers of yarrow sticks or of piping fresh entrails. Their occupation was to explain portentous occurrences to the rest of society, who were not certified in the art.
Imagine the job security. White collar: you were a doctor, lawyer, high priest — not a wide-forearmed laborer. Not a cobbler or ditch-digger. Not a farmer. Unless you were in a very small town. There were witches too, that young modern women like to call crones.
They’ll outgrow it.
I wonder about the unintelligible people today who are fighting venomously for the right to be infected with Covid-19. A photo of a line of masked gun-toting protesters standing spraddle-legged in front of the Michigan governor’s official door. Heroes in their own fantasies. Remember the menacing weaponized gang who took over a bird sanctuary at Malheur Wildlife Refuge?
If you proposed this plot to Hollywood it could only be a comedy. But with no comedians. No one with an ounce of ludicrous-perception. Haw-haw, isn’t this ridiculous? A bird sanctuary! Their horses’ hooves clopping into it. No lives were lost in the taking.
I read that ancient Egyptian priests collected and perfected parlor tricks to awe their followers. And I’ve heard it worried like a dog toy — shamans know something, they pick up on things that others can’t feel. Or they’re charlatans. Which end of the chew-toy do you prefer?
But our age is oddly swept east and west by conspiracy theories. I personally believe that if you could cure hate you could blot out the belief in malicious others. Maybe even the concept of others as anything but physically differentiated skin enclosures.
Hate is a crime of poison. It can harm others but it inevitably weakens you yourself. Then they’re after you.
A friend of mine has lived in a third-floor apartment for decades. One day her beloved cat went missing. She tried everything but her cat stayed lost. So she called a psychic. She’s someone I’d trust to know the best. The psychic told her that the cat was still nearby outside and instructed her to leave the front door to the building ajar that night and put out some home-smelling food. Next day her cat was waiting for her outside the apartment door.
Of course I asked permission before relating a story belonging to someone else. My friend has added that her cat was terrified of the outdoors, that it rained the entire time, and that the psychic instructed her to keep imagining the cat coming to the steps, finding the food and continuing to her home.
The scoffer in me has a hard time pooh-poohing that. Try though I will. But credulity has elastic limits — you can only stretch it so far before you notice the effort it’s taking you.
My mother and I have both had what’s called pre-cognition. A foreknowledge of something personally momentous which then occurs. Doesn’t even have to be momentous. My mother dreamt of an American Indian cadaver lying on a table. My parents were in college then. My medical-student father had a chore before they went about their earlier plans. He took her into the morgue and there was her Indian.
My mother’s aunt predicted who would win elections with eerie ease. Her psychic powers were a focus of her life. My mom and I have been rare receivers of such epiphanies but never cultivators, builders, practitioners.
But. But. But. How can I explain away the cat’s reappearance?
I recount these things because I take seriously the notion of a reality outside what we can actually grasp. Unrealism appeals to me because my sense is that the real world (real?) can’t be depicted without weirdness. Because we’re only human, well-clouded thinkers, snatchers after approximations because we think they can explain.
They can’t of course. We’re too flawed, too shallow, too muddied and muddled to aspire to Big U Understand. Our view of things is ringed with forest, we never sight horizons. Or how immense ALL is. We’re like mice in the walls of a palace.
We’re like humans of yore who saw the world as an island surrounded by waves. Flat.
Think about that. Humans (and prairie dogs) have no difficulty negotiating the 3D world. We don’t walk smack into a cactus. Yet it takes a separate leap to understand that Earth’s a sphere. OK, you’re sneaking through the Forest of Arden, flat makes perfect sense. But out on wide farmlands, out on the bounding main, you’re confronted with a constant horizon. The longer you clip-clop or sail on, the horizon unrolls before you. Even Marco Polo’s horizon never stopped unrolling unless mountains thrust up in his way.
And yet shipping developed before Earth’s sphere coalesced in our brains.
As of this blog post I’m introducing a new feature that’s been nagging at me.. As the two pieces above say, there are truths and there are Truths. Do no harm is an easy Truth. Don’t rape babies is another. But “I think it’s significant that an artist used pink in this series” is my own little truth. I find it intriguing, plausible, egosyntonic.* But one needs to keep perspective. There are often legitimate arguments for another way to think about the same topics. So often that I intend to begin with the very next post to append material that points away from my argument.
Little truths are like artworks. They’re opinions, ways of seeing, possible but not ironclad Truths.
For Truths, no pointing away.
Egosyntonic refers to the behaviors, values, and feelings that are …consistent with one’s ideal self-image.) (Wikipedia)
Detail of Kristallnacht, showing the child’s face behind broken glass. by Sloan Nota
Kristallnacht, Babi Yar, Tulsa
miso – a combining form meaning “hate,” with the object of hatred specified by the following element: misogyny.
I’ve never forgotten the fact of the Nazi Kristallnacht, an incident so horrible it does not allow you to tuck it quietly into some drawer of yourself. Or have you read Babi Yar? I actually couldn’t finish it.
Babi Yar is a ravine in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and a site of massacres carried out by German forces during their campaign against the Soviet Union in World War II. The first and best documented of the massacres took place on 29–30 September 1941, killing approximately 33,771 Jews. Wikipedia
At one time I felt I must understand the Holocaust. At Babi Yar I could stomach it no more.
Butchery. The unfathomable ability to commit cold murder of terrified others. And still live with yourself forever after. Seemingly normal beings, the whites at Tulsa, bartenders, investors, actors. Swept up in a frenzy of hate that blinds them to the simple equations of humanity. To terror in the eyes facing the ghoul in you.
Was the ancient Greek Procrustean iron bed where unwary travelers were stretched or amputated to fit — was that a true tale? Not even a frenzy but an after-dinner routine. A sociopath. Did he waste food on them for dinner before they discovered his hospitality?
Can the perpetrators of Babi Yar, Kristallnacht, Tulsa be described as anything but sociopaths? And yet they faded back into their barrooms, their counting houses, their troupes as if they’d merely burped once in polite society.
Perhaps later they became more fervent in their religion.
The Tulsa attack was ‘carried out on the ground and from private aircraft.’ White people got into their airplanes with bombs. Premeditated bombs. That they felt the right to drop. Their consciences in cold storage. But not dead, oh no, not dead.
It was the third of June, another sleepy dusty Delta day. The Ode to Billie Joe as written and sung by Bobbie Gentry won her armloads of fame in the pop universe. Not only for its pop sensibility. Partly I’d guess for the song’s formal structure, the lazy way the story sets its trap, the snapping-turtle snap when it concludes. We don’t talk much about murdering unwanted babies. Our culture muffles our mouths with wads of bedding. Badding? Taboos.
Here are pictures of another third of June. 1945. The Battle of Berlin has just put an end to the Nazi infamy. German wives, faced with the intricate and unfathomable facts of their next years, find a water source and begin washing clothes. How supernally practical. Not sitting dazed on their couches. Though some are. Not mourning the end of German glory. But taking up the living of life.
The stuff that must also go on while others are dropping bombs.
German women washing clothes at a water hydrant in a Berlin street. A knocked-out German scout car stands beside them, 3 July 1945. Public domain, Wikimedia
You can see in the following photo how incomprehensible the streets of Berlin became. War correspondents in following years have shown us similar heaps of debris clogging civic blocks, Syria, Sudan, Kashmir.
Shangra-la before some men decide they can’t be happy unless they drop some bombs.
A devastated street in the city centre just off the Unter den Linden, 3 July 1945. Public domain, Wikimedia
War, so easy, so paltry to start, always ends with the destruction of more than an innocent babe. But we’re so used to war, the photos of war, the excuses, that flinging whole peoples off the bridge hardly raises an eyebrow. We can talk about this.
You can whack off a part of every paragraph and still make enough sense of these to understand how unreliable the explanations are.
A linguist might well ask (probably study) the minimum proportion of message that you must reveal in order to assess the value of it. Of course paragraphs of Shakespeare will return different values than a treatise on sore throats.
The lesson I draw here is that plenty of twaddle is freely fed, with a satisfying sense of authority (or mischief), into the internet. Look something up at your own peril.
I am again profoundly admiring, jealous, changed by the incisive writing of Rebecca Solnit. From the one essay (above) I quote only a few of her everting-of-the-mind observations.
…white Protestant men, some of whom are apparently dismayed to find out that there is going to be, as your mom might have put it, sharing.
In New York City, the immigrant population alone exceeds the total population of Kansas (or Nebraska or Idaho or West Virginia, where all those coal miners are).
The Onion nailed it years ago: “College Basketball Star Heroically Overcomes Tragic Rape He Committed.”
And then when the bomber who had been terrorizing Austin, TX, last month was finally caught, journalists at the newspaper interviewed his family and friends and let their positive descriptions stand as though they were more valid than the fact he was an extremist and a terrorist who set out to kill and terrorize black people in a particularly vicious and cowardly way.
We are as a culture moving on to a future with more people and more voices and more possibilities. Some people are being left behind, not because the future is intolerant of them but because they are intolerant of this future.
…the follow-up story to the #MeToo upheaval has too often been: how do the consequences of men hideously mistreating women affect men’s comfort?
Rebecca Solnit is a hawk-eyed master living in our time.
Do you ever notice how few intellectuals visit gun mayhem on churches? Funny isn’t it? Even though their members score unusually high for atheism. Or how few scholars train assault rifles on strangers who have done them no bit of harm? Shooters — in their confused little dinosaur brains they may even believe themselves religious. As if you could pour a vial of ink on yourself to certify your rectitude. Red ink, Hey I’m holy! Gotta go kill someone!
What are these men attempting to prove to themselves? First, think up the very baddest act I could do. Then buy the gun and ammunition. I’m the baddest male in this whole damned world. So I’ll kill me after I’ve killed enough of not-me. Which proves — what?
The Faux Holies are out in droves nowadays. Not only Christians — Buddhists killing people?But in America it’s the Christians who are the fauxiest.They defend pedophilia like that was their God-given right. A god who condones child abuse ain’t worth spitting on. One Faux Holy got so worked up he declared his pedophile was truer than Christ.
They will have ways of justifying that for you.
Hence their name, Faux.
Their Fairy Queen is Kim Davis of marriage license fame. She’s kind of like Queen Mab but she wears her hair strictly skinned back. (She suspects it of pubic tendencies.) And she likesthe wimple effect, purity of intent. She rides around on a lighted Sparkler like a broom, because it calls attention to the ever-shining face of her holiness.
And the Sparkler is perpetually lighted — she is a fairy after all.
She’s a scourge on homosexuals. Even took her fight to Romania. Yes, Romania. She loves to get mad like bubbly sugar stuff, How dare they? Bubbly sugar stuff is dangerous — it can leap out and scald you.
Queen Kim likes to scatter candy kisses wherever she goes. They look like chocolate but taste like vinegar and toothpaste.
If God was a hater He’d hate Queen Kim. She gets fired up like a backwoods preacher, damning folks left and right.She has Righteousness!God grants her the right to damn in His name. Just ask her followers.
A child is sure monsters are under her bed. Or in the closet. She’s young, the frights of the adult world are disconcerting. Makes perfect sense, monsters. How many ears they have is up to you. How many tentacles. Green?
To counteract, to serve as amulet may be a cat, a blankie, a fuzzy toy. Something to dispel the spells hiding in her room. God works for some people, a special saint. And you must understand the fear is real. The threat, the entity. Facing these dreads may be part of your childhood.
Will it work when you’re adult?
Grown men parading with tiki-torches through the public night. You’d think they’d see the comedy. But no, they know they are conveying menace, self-consciously mimicking the KKK’s burning crosses, solely to make other peoples fear. They exude buckets of man-smell in the hot night, which emboldens them. Righteous men demanding their rights from their oppressors — women, Jews, blacks, people of all colors not milk white.
How different is the child in Bambi-themed pajamas from these grownups who’ve convinced themselves they are oppressed by women, races, Democrats? The child is still innocent but the grownups know right from wrong, sense from nonsense. These men, the torch lights, the fervor building in their throats. They know but also they do not.
When will fMRIs [functional MRIs for exact neural pathways] show us what this behavior looks like in the brain? The eyes take in one-of-them and there’s a direct (I think) shunt to emotions such as hate. Trained into them because they’re never born this way. It’s a shunt to powerful emotions that you are agreeing to be taken over by.
Think of it as a car-jacking. You look at flowers, chairs, breakfast, you’re you. But when your eyes light on a Someone you have no more control than a schizophrenic hearing voices. You can’t stop the perception being highjacked by hideous emotions that you don’t normally feel. You become horrible.
America is poised between just another sunny day and living forever with radioactive fallout. Blame it on the Confederacy that hadn’t the decency to admit defeat — tho their generals did. Their heroes. If we’d squashed out racism long ago it would be hard to stir up hate today. Without hate, no Trump. Well, with Putin’s help. And the gormless Electoral Collage. So America is in a pickle steeped in its own piss and vinegar. Out-maneuvered by our most poisonous enemy. And in possession of our most scandalous President, whom no-one can be sure is sane.
Someone likened him to Nero. Destructively mad, remembered through all of history. Maybe that is who Trump fancies himself tilting at like Quixote. That memory, that spectacularly mad.
One needn’t be genius caliber to know Trump has been in the White House X amount of days and done away with Y amount of science to know Kim Jong Un needn’t fear Trump’s saber-rattling. Our Nero is a self-deluded fool who imagines he can rattle swords he hasn’t yet made. He’s a doofus.A comic pet who assumes poses to make the humans pay attention for a while.
Why bluff a madman? Why bluff an enraged bull? Don’t you have any sense?
Dear Trolls of the Trumpforce, don’t you know radiation blows? You think our Nero will stand with upraised fist to save your children, to turn nuclear radiation back from our shores?
Are you that nuts? That sure that you must hang on to your hate, even now? You’d rather someone got blown to smithereens? Even you?
Than you would let a black man walk down the street without fear?