I have these moments where I think incredible things might happen in my day, that I might realize something completely true about who I am. It is utterly vivid, so much that I believe it entirely. And then I try to pin it down to something tangible and it drifts away.
Anyway, this is what I have accomplished in the last few pandemic weeks:
Overcame a mild pain killer addiction
Read a Nietzsche biography
Interviewed for a job
Started to drink again (see 1)
Began to finally lose interest in Fishdom (at Level 1375)
Went out for dinner (first time in five months)
Focused my search for my first ever published work – a letter to Marvel Team Up Comic.
Having just finished Sue Prideaux’s impressive biography on Nietzsche, I am Dynamite, I planned to blog on aspects in the book. However the ‘z’ on my computer did not work, posing a problem of an existential order.
I was forced to text the word “Nietzsche” to my computer and copy it, which could be considered an existential solution, in that I used one other to supplant another other to enable my opinion on the same.
The truth is that my ‘z’ has been out of order for weeks now and that I just worked around that, given that the ‘z’ is generally a useless letter except in “oos” (the place they keep animals), being “lay” (inclined to doing nothing), famous directors (emeckis, Herog, etc.) and of course Nietzsche’s arathustra.
And so I feel compelled to focus on Nietsche’s final years of insanity when he just gibbered away. “Do I have a mouth for it? Shout I eat that? my mouth I say, I want to eat. What is that here? an ear. What is that here? a nose. What is that here? hands I do not love.” The key to all of this? No ”’s. Or as they say in Canada eds.
Self-reflection is impossible. No one can self-reflect. No one. Not you. Not me. You might think that you can self-reflect. I am sure that you do. You’re told to do it every day by someone – your brother, your sparing partner, a billboard or newscaster – and you think that you really do. I used to think that it was possible for some people to self-reflect. But it isn’t Not for anyone!
Honestly, consider yourself right now, reading this, thinking, “Well, I self-reflect. I’m doing it right now. I am self-reflecting on my self-reflecting! Obviously I am. It’s stupid to say that I don’t because I do. I’m doing it right now! It’s as clear as anything ever was!”
Yeah, but, no, you’re not. You only think you are because you’re trapped in that head of yours. It isn’t self-reflection at all. It is just you tricking yourself that you’re self-reflecting. As much as you might think you are self-reflecting, especially if you use words like mindful and empathetic, you’re not. You’re the opposite. You’re only doing that because you think it’s good and right. It’s like smoking. You stopped doing that because you were told it is bad and wrong, when it isn’t. That’s because you’re all ego and super ego. You’re all you. That’s all there is to you. Nothing else. Certainly not someone who can self-reflect.
I am the same as you. All I can do is reflect on how I don’t self-reflect. I mean, I can also reflect on you reading this. But that’s not me. That’s you. And I can even reflect on how insightful I am for realizing that no one can self-reflect. It is all so very clear. Or it’s not. But it is. I came to realize that the more I self-reflect. Which goes back to the main point. You can’t self-reflect.
To paraphrase Nietzsche, one can only self-reflect if you,1) become yourself, 2) avoid self-hatred and 3) overcome yourself. Seriously, you have to be on a lot of Oxy if you think you can really do any of that. And if you do – think that you can do that, that is – then you can’t – self-reflect that is – because you can’t.
In others words, like Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22, the more you think you can self-reflect, the more you can’t. It’s as simple as that.
I can’t read fiction when I’m writing. I can’t read novels or short stories. I can barely watch a film. I can’t buy into any of it because it isn’t real. I know that someone made all of this stuff up, and so it isn’t interesting. More to the point, the fact that I know it is made up makes it irrelevant because it is untrue. My suspension of disbelief has been annihilated. Instead of the world being offered, I can only picture the writer plodding along, trying desperately to con me with turns of phrase and magic imagery but ultimately failing. I only see the artifice.
Even if I were to accept the falsity of the fiction, I obsess over the writer’s style. I focus solely on the literary devices and consider how I might employ the same tools myself. Whatever the reasoning, reading fiction is too distracting when I’m writing. And so I don’t do it. Read fiction that is.
Non-fiction is the only option, literally the only thing I can enjoy when I’m writing. The non-fiction author still has to be able to write, but this is more a craft than an art. Its primarily about the material, which is always interesting because it is real. This stuff actually happened. These people and places existed, simple as that. The content can be almost anything for me, anything from Krakatoa’s infamous 1883 eruption or the tragic history of the caviar industry to the life of Bobby Orr or the making of The Wizard of Oz. Whatever the story, they are filled with gems.
For a sense of theme, the big picture, as it were, I am reading Sue Prideaux’s description of Friedrich Nietzsche’s writing of Also Sprach Zarathustra in her book, I Am Dynamite: A Life of Friedrich Nietzsche: At some moment in prehistory, Nietzsche conjectures, there arose some specific practice that was bad for the community. It led to the imposition of punishment. This was the moment of the construction of morality. Burdened with bad conscience, we turned against ourselves in misery and self-loathing. Man ‘is like an animal who batters himself raw on the bars of his cage.’ The antidote to this slave morality is the Ubermensch, the free, affirmative, independent spirit. The moral quality of this higher man is driven by his life force, his will to power. (273-4)
For a sense of place, I found a clear portrait in Margaret Horsfield’s Cougar Annie’s Garden: The chill of winter can be piercing here, for cold air flows down from the mountains at night, settles damp and low in the garden, trapped by the forest all around. Even on clear winter evenings, a bank of mist flowing over the mountains is a common sight, cold air streaming down to hover low in the garden where ground frost can be sharp and boardwalks icy. (80-1)
Characters are everywhere – at work, on the subway in the pharmacy – but it is always interesting to see them rendered in non-fiction, what details are developed, what action highlighted. In Natalie McLennan’s auto-biography, The Price: My Rise and Fall of Natalia as New York’s #1 Escort, the details she offers are all the better because they are matter-of-fact: As the weeks went on, days and nights got more and more frenetic. I’d fly to Florida for a four-day appointment, come back and immediately do a ten-hour appointment, followed by another two-hour job. I’d then sleep five hours and start all over again. I spent about $100 per day on cabs. There’s nothing sexy about arriving to an appointment smelling like the Canal Street Subway station. Oh, and those fuck-me shows are definitely not made for walking. My body was all lean muscle from copious sex and lack of food. (60-1)
For my latest work, Mina, set on a distant undiscovered planet, I am looking out for tales from the edge, where creatures beyond our imagination roam. Nathaniel Philbrick offers his well-researched version of the white whale attacking the ship in In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex.The whale began snapping its jaws and thrashing the water with its tail, as if distracted with rage and fury. With its huge scarred head halfway out of the water and its tail beating the ocean into a white-water wake more than forty feet across, the whale struck the ship just beneath the port bow. No longer going backward, the Essex was now going down. (82-3)
Not sure what to do with yourself as you look out that window hour upon hour upon hour? There’s nothing better than a little existential thought to crack that nut. Let’s start with the nihilistic captain himself, Friedrich Nietzsche:
“Whither is God” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now?”
“Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder?“
My current project is the second part of a screenplay trilogy focusing on a college student, Davis who, in this deleted scene argues, badly with his university radio station colleagues:
Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die plays in the background over the lounge speakers in the radio station.
LAURA: Ellen’s show is called Synesthesia. You know what that is? (To ELLEN) Kandinsky painted music, right? Different senses coming together. You should open your show with something like that.
ELLEN nods earnestly.
DAVIS: I wrote this play in second year.
ELLEN: A play?
DAVIS: Well, it was more like a philosophy paper. ELLEN: About Kandinsky?
DAVIS: Nietzsche’s Ubbermesh.
ARTHUR: It’s Uber-mench. Uber. Use the ‘U’. And mench, like bench.
DAVIS (Trying to ignore ARTHUR): There was this painting in it, Garicault’s Raft of the Medusa.
ARTHUR: Christ, Davis, do you know any words? (Gesticulating to LAURA like a frustrated clown) It’s Gericault. The ‘g’ is soft. Repeat after me: Gericault. LAURA: I have a question for you, Davis.
DAVIS: I can hardly wait.
LAURA: What are you going to do about the dead air?
DAVIS: What dead…?
DAVIS looks up and wheels around, suddenly realizing that Live and Let Die, the song on his radio show, is about to end. He sprints around the corner, slides into a filing cabinet and bangs into the door, only realizing now that it is locked. The song ends.
Existentialists tend to discourse on our sorry lot as humans in this life, caged between birth and death, trapped in this existence, the terror and nausea of realizing how lousy it all really is. Friedrich Nietzsche referred to this terror as the greatest weight: What if this life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence — even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself.
The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, a speck of dust!
Jean-Paul Sartre expounded on the horror in his play No Exit: You have stolen my face from me: you know it and I no longer do. Luckily, thanks to our evolved sensibilities and their application to technology, we can see the kernel of this philosophical gobbledygook captured in profound and eternal loops.
The GIF – or Graphic Interchange Format – is, as Albert Camus wrote, basically, at the very bottom of life, which seduces us all. There is only absurdity and more absurdity. And maybe that’s what gives us our joy for living, because the only thing that can defeat absurdity is lucidity.
Philosophers, like sports radio hosts, can really go on about nothing for a long time. Ipso facto…5. Voltaire, a good listener and solid thinker: “The ancient Romans built their greatest masterpieces of architecture for wild beasts to fight in.”
4. Galileo Galilei, not one to steer clear of controversy: “The sun,with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.”
3. Hannah Arendt, clear and direct, puts men in their place: “Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality.”
2. Marshall McLuhan, understands the way of the world, especially in its coldest of forms: “I’ve always been careful never to predict anything that had not already happened.”
1. Socrates, the grand-master of the dialectic: “Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change. Free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death. But change is law and no amount of pretending will alter that reality.”
*For the record, the Bottom Five read likes this: Arthur Schopenhauer (gloomy!), Ayn Rand (repeats herself), Niccolo Machiavelli (one-trick pony), Rene Descartes (drones on and on) and Friedrich Nietzsche (way too intense).