It has occurred to me that we are wasting our time. Culture, economics, government, any and all of our organizing institutions, are against the individual "becoming" fully a thinking and feeling being...something more than an animal, but also something more than an animal with a modicum of mind. That is, it seems to me that most of us have done little more growing into the vast spaces of our becoming than simply thinking we are "selves" and that we are "special" because of it. Apes and some chimps apparently recognize themselves as distinct beings and so we have not moved far off of that.
All the time spent here there everywhere endlessly jawing over this or that program policy belief unbelief public private and so on, is time in which we don't become something deeper within our own knowing. We are translated beings of the skittish and skittering moment.
All that I write in opposition to privatization can as readily be read in opposition to our ignorant obedience to public institutions as well. My greatest blooming, at least as I feel it to be so, comes in the seeding of literature, not news, in my soul.
To that end, a seed...and a bit of water. Can you pull back the curtains?
Emerson is known to have derided Poe as "the jingle-man."
Emerson contains all of us...that is, his work makes space for all comers. This is its strength as literature, but its great weakness as "instruction." You read your preconceptions into Emerson very easily. Of course, like that other very slippery book of instruction, the Bible, one detached quotation will do very well to countermand any other.
I've come to believe that Emerson is not our "founder" as so many claim but rather an extremely useful tool for the makers--the "self-reliance" of the Henry Fords among us.
Poe, rather, seems something more like our truest nature.
We all have a bit of the religious Puritan slinking about in our noggins and occasionally rising up with fists...but it is the machinist of the soul, Edgar Poe who is our always-wrong-seeker. He knows he's messed up, knows his love is messed up, knows he will maim, bury, eat what he loves...knows it is very very wrong...but maybe next time...no, really, maybe if I just look here and tweak this and put pepper on it...
The chapter on Poe in Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature brings this to crystallization. There are many kinds of folks, and many of us are not "like Poe," but it seems to me that more of us are, and that further, the very social and economic and governing engines of America offer us something like the vampire-raven who exposes our tell-tale heart, only to eat it and regurgitate it and call it some other name.
Read Poe to know your CEO, your President, your CIA Chief, your Senator, your Minister. And probably, to know yourself.
"Nevermore!" Well, maybe just one more, right?
Lawrence takes this a bit farther in the "Dana" chapter ending it this way:
We know enough. We know too much. We know nothing.
Let us smash something. Ourselves included. But the machine above all.
Dana's small book is a very great book: contains a great extreme of knowledge, knowledge of the great element.
And after all, we have to know all before we can know that knowing is nothing.
Imaginatively, we have to know all: even the elemental waters. And know and know on, until knowledge suddenly shrivels and we know that forever we don't know.
The Greatness of Lawrence's "weird little book" (as I've seen it described), besides that it is possibly the most insightful book on America as much as on its literature (and on Lawrence as man and artist) is its interconnectedness from chapter to chapter. Here is a point in illustration.
The Poe chapter stresses the mechanistic and material search for "KNOWING" as a final truth. The Dana chapter offered this:
And after all, we have to know all before we can know that knowing is nothing. Imaginatively, we have to know all: even the elemental waters. And know and know on, until knowledge suddenly shrivels and we know that forever we don't know.I have put in bold the KEY point made in the book. The men among us who are in charge of us, who rule us, who order us, who demand our fealty to commerce and an unjust application of laws (yes, I said "men"), do all this PRACTICALLY and PHYSICALLY. The artists in Lawrence's estimation are GREAT...The MEN are decidedly not.
So, to the "advance" in the man who is Melville. As an artist, the author of perhaps our greatest and deepest book. As a man, like all men, much, much smaller. BUT not a slithering liar, NOT a reformer, not an American such as Franklin. No programs for improvement...except for imagination...
In the "Typee, Omoo" chapter in Studies, Lawrence declares the Melvillean Difference :
And once he has escaped, immediately he begins to sigh and pine for the 'Paradise' - Home and Mother being at the other end even of a whaling voyage.
When he really was Home with Mother, he found it Purgatory. But Typee must have been even worse than Purgatory, a soft hell, judging from the murderous frenzy which possessed him to escape.
But once aboard the whaler that carried him off from Nukuheva, he looked back and sighed for the Paradise he had just escaped from in such a fever.
Poor Melville! He was determined Paradise existed. So he was always in Purgatory.
He was born for Purgatory. Some souls are purgatorial by destiny.
The very freedom of his Typee was a torture to him. Its ease was slowly horrible to him. This time be was the fly in the odorous tropical ointment.
He needed to fight. It was no good to him, the relaxation of the non-moral tropics. He didn't really want Eden. He wanted to fight. Like every American. To fight. But with weapons of the spirit, not the flesh.This has always been my position. The drive to make, to destroy, to dissect, to see further both out and in, to KNOW, via the one sense, sight, and the one mind, intellect, is going to destroy humanity.
We can't seem to help ourselves.
Take a break, take a beat, stop listening to the programmatic managers--that is everyone "in charge" of your life and livelihood--and read a book. Preferably one printed on paper, preferably from a library, preferably at least 100 years old, preferably Moby Dick. But nearly anything out of the 19th Century holds far more depth and wisdom than anything written since. It was the century wherein the metaphorical iceberg was struck and we have done nothing but take on water in the aftermath.
A book can be a buoy.
The ship? Well, you know the answer to that.