Wednesday, April 28, 2021


Emerson Wojciechowska Fittipaldi

"You may choose your own fate," saith the Lord to him.   Further He said:

"You may be overcome by a brief rush of adrenalin as you enter Turn Six, and slide off onto the edge of a berm at 180 mph, the car flipping rather late in the crash onto its back, compressing your skull and your spine as well.

"Or much later your daughter may send you, on your birthday, and without irony, a white plastic wheel that the nurse will know to clamp to the tray of your wheelchair, and in the center a feeble little red button of a horn, one that you will delight in pressing repeatedly with your right thumb, not so much for the squeak that it makes as for its 'organic compression' every time you push it."


Flailing, Blindly, at the Feet of the Boddhisatva

In which the narrator recognizes that Buddhist philosophy is as jesuitical as is Jesuit philosophy. 

With apologies for the repetition, we have noted that the literal meaning of “compassion” is “shared suffering.” 

When compassion is exercised, then, is it to that extent spent?   That is, is there a Second Law of Thermodynamics at work, or at play, here?  Or was the Great Achievement of the Buddha to have discovered and accessed an Infinite Reservoir of Compassion?  But would such an Infinite Reservoir of Compassion not imply an infinite amount of suffering in the world?  And suffering on that scale created at Whose Hand? 

Perhaps the Buddha would say that our mistake is in concluding that the Infinite Reservoir of Compassion is the Ultimate Foundational Reality of All Things.  Rather, the Infinite Reservoir flows out of the Foundational Reality.  Which is not created.  Which is, in fact, the Creator.  Of a world without end.


Friday, April 23, 2021


The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha

Here in abbreviated form.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


Dreaming of KJU

In my dream, Kim Jong Un has invited a large group of journalists and other non-governmental observers of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea to Pyongyang to meet with him personally.  In the run-up to the event, there is widespread speculation that it might lead to a breakthrough in solving all of the various geopolitical problems with their source in the DPRK, not because of the meeting itself, but because it might reflect a change of heart about engaging with the world in a positive way, coming from the very top.

The meeting is held in a rather nondescript function room at mid-day.  The invited journalists have been asked not to act like journalists "in the moment" as it were, and they hold to this pledge, but there are other journalists, domestic and foreign, present to record it.

Kim arrives on time and looking very casual, in black pants with a black belt and a short-sleeved white shirt open at the collar to reveal a white T-shirt underneath.  He does not smoke.   He does not even sit, but rather strolls around the room as he talks to those assembled, who are also standing.  They do not talk back.  Kim's English is near fluent, much better than I expected notwithstanding the period that he spent in his youth at a Swiss boarding school.

Kim's tone, until the end, is light-hearted.  He often smiles, talking of his country's modern history and of his father and grandfather, Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.  But towards the end he begins to focus on a particular middle-aged British journalist, one perhaps more famous than any of the others, one I will call "Peter Cowper."  Kim addresses him by his first name, and he begins to speak of some of the pieces that Cowper has written about the regime, including pieces focusing on its flagrant human rights abuses.  His tone becomes more serious and his voice somewhat louder.

At the very end, still looking at Cowper, Kim mentions as if in passing the name of a young woman, a name not known to anyone else in the room but Cowper.  Then he references, rather cryptically, an abortion.  Cowper blanches.

Kim thus had at the meeting a message to give to three concentric audiences -- to Cowper himself, to the assembled visitors, and to the world at large.  The message is the same -- that the Leader has seen and taken note of everything, that he will not be mocked, and that in the end revenge without mercy will be visited on his enemies.

From that time forward, until his death, Cowper is mindful of the possible presence of assassins whenever he takes as much as a step outside his home.

Sunday, April 18, 2021


Rex Chelestes Pays a Visit

At times during the Hour of the Wolf I feel the Hand of Our Lord pressing down on me, as if I were a grilled-cheese sandwich on a very hot skillet.

Saturday, April 17, 2021


Time to Pay Attention!

Broadcast from speakers atop the Studebaker trucks that the American people gifted to their Soviet brothers during the Great Patriotic War, at the urban crossroads now, in places like Vladivostok and Ufa, but could be Minneapolis, St. Paul --

Внимание! Вниманиe! Внимание!

Friday, April 16, 2021


Way to Go

It has recently and reliably been reported that Jang Song Thaek, the uncle by marriage of Kim Jong Un, completely lost his mind in the period between his public arrest and his execution.

And well he might.   We do not know for certain the means of his execution, but in high-profile cases such as his, it is common for the condemned man to be tied to a stake at a military drill field, with hundreds of his peers and often his family members filling up the bleachers some hundred yards away.  When the order is given, anti-aircraft guns -- cannons designed to take down low-flying American fighter jets -- open fire on the man.  We know that the human body is about 60% water.  In seconds, the man is reduced to a puddle and fragmentary other remains.

But the remains cannot "remain."  They are an insult to the Dignity of the Dear Leader.  And so, before the crowd has left, two young enlisted men cross the parade ground with flame throwers and evaporate the blood, incinerate the rest so that it is unrecognizable as anything but ash.

Nowadays the witnesses wear masks as a precaution against COVID.  They are glad for the masks when the cooking smells make their way to the viewing stands.

Thursday, April 15, 2021


The Human Stain

It's a towering work, really, of Philip Roth, written late in his career, and published at a particular American political and cultural moment -- after the impeachment of Bill Clinton but before the atrocity of Sept 11, at the very turn of the millennium.

There must have been a towering arrogance in its conception.  Roth must have asked himself "How can I top all of this?" and set himself an intriguing conception that seemed almost impossible to execute well, and therefore was all the more alluring.

Spoiler alert.  It's about a man, a senior academic at a small but apparently prestigious college in the Berkshires, who is ruined by one word choice that he makes in class, and not even the choice of a word that was "wrong," in context.  He is not allowed to take context into account.

Irony is a word that is often misused.  The irony is that, drummed out of the academy for using a smidgeon of racist lingo, Coleman Silk is in reality a black man who has been masquerading as a Jew ever since he enlisted in the Navy, before college.  In fact he comes near to having his cover blown for the first time when he is kicked out of a whore house in Norfolk for his skin color.  At that moment in the book that word, the word that is as taboo among us as "Yahweh" was to the most observant of the Jews, is used against him.

Coleman's life comes apart because of his academic transgression.  His wife has a stroke and dies; his own children, the ones not already distant, fall away from him.  In a fury he writes a book about his ordeal, but as soon as it is done he realizes that it is junk and abandons it.

A saving grace at the near end of his life is Faunia, a 34-year-old with whom he has a passionate affair when he is 71.  She is an inappropriate choice in the eyes of the world not just because of her age; she works as a janitor on campus and a milk maid at the organic dairy and apparently she has never learned to read, never really overcome a childhood inability to distinguish certain consonants one from the other.  Having lost her two children in a house fire for which she has been blamed, for negligence, and having been seriously and serially abused by various men, she is damaged goods in every way except that her mind is acute and her body is beautiful, in the eyes of Coleman at least.  She calls him back, body and soul, to the yet more beautiful Icelandic Steena, whom he meant to marry in his youth, who indeed loved him back but could not marry a black man.

If the plot line is audacious, Roth's constantly shape-shifting stylistic approach and his crafting of particular pictures are more audacious still.

  • Faunia dancing naked before Coleman's bed, exhorting him to stay in the moment, reminding him what a disaster will befall if he makes the young man's mistake of falling in love with her.
  • A flashback in which Coleman remembers when he interviewed the young French academic Delphine Roux for a junior faculty position at the school.  He hired her against his better judgment, alarm bells going off in part because of the transparent way that she used her great legs and a coquettish skirt to grease the deal.  The flap in the plaid miniskirt parts during the interview.  She closes it, but not immediately.  You get the picture.  And Delphine takes it for granted that she is slumming by taking the position on Coleman's faculty once offered, she having gone to the finest of French schools, not so much by dint of ability but because she followed the highly-scripted path that is owned and occupied by the French elite.  And Delphine has wormed her way into a chairmanship, and so she is the one who wielded all institutional power over Coleman in his late moment of crisis.
  • Coleman never tells Steena that he is black; rather, he decides to invite her to dinner with his quite obviously black mother and sister in East Orange, New Jersey.  She will realize that he is black only when she walks through the front door of the home in which he grew up.  In the event, all navigate the dinner splendidly.  Things threaten to go south only when the subject comes up of how tall Steena is, particularly in relation to Coleman.  This said very casually, but are there other differences between them that might be more fraught than this?  Steena rests her head on Coleman's shoulder on the commuter rail and subway ride back to Greenwich Village after dinner but, once above ground, she literally runs away.
  • Faunia in her role as milk maid.  The carnality of it.  Her femaleness and that of the cows.
  • Faunia identifies not with the cows but with crows.  She goes on a monumental riff, an extended internal monologue, about the crows, as she sits on the lawn of the big quad after her lunch with the janitor boys.  The crows.  They are aware of the beautiful songs of the other birds, but they think that they are stupid.  Our great, loud, ugly, supremely utilitarian caw will do just fine, and it's not an affectation like the songs of the robin and the wren.  The crows relieve us of the sight of all of those dead and rotting animals by eating them.  They are not squeamish about it.  And they are so smart that they learn to time their little flights above the two-lane blacktop, undertaken to avoid being squashed themselves, to the green/yellow/red of the signal lights in the distance.
  • The despair into which Coleman coldly plunges his mother by disowning her, solely for the sake of keeping his masquerade intact, even in front of his own wife and children.
But I want to talk about how ill-timed was Roth's choice of his subject.  The book of course is about cancel culture, among other things, as it existed at the turn of the millennium.  But I don't think that Roth foresaw that in a mere 20 years time a tsunami of similar thinking would take apart his entire artistic reputation, nor that a growing hostility to his project in narrow critical circles on campus would bust out into the culture at large, as it lately has.

The very title of the book is a grave offense.  Is it really a "stain" to be a black man?  Roth's defenders would say that it is after all a human, a universal stain, an original sin, that he is talking about.  But why must he remind us that dark things (red wine and blood) are more likely to stain than white things (white wine and milk)?  He must have had a sinister motive in this.

And the gravity of the cultural appropriation.  How can an aging Jew be so presumptuous as to try to portray, from the inside out as it were, a black man pretending to be a Jew?

And what kind of man, in this day and age, watches the lover of his friend milking Bessie and giving her her feed, and sees lover and cow as physically "of a piece?"

No, this man had his brief moment in the sun, but the zeitgeist shifted in an unfortunate direction for him, and with breathtaking speed.  He has nothing to teach us.  He should be mentioned, if at all, only in juxtaposition to the lived experience of his victims.  Irony there is in that.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021


Some Dale Carnegie type, thinking himself clever, used to admonish us -- "You boys have two choices and two choices alone: to aspire or to expire!

I would mutter to myself -- "More Cheese Whiz; I aspire to more Cheese Whiz."

Monday, April 12, 2021


It Felt Very Lonely

To stare at the implacable and unscalable wall that was French literature, in the fall of 1969 at Cornell University.  It was as if I were trying to figure out the wall by feeling it with my fingertips, while blindfolded.

My mistake was to overachieve in high school on what was called the French "Achievement Test."  I approached the test like a Rubik's Cube, alert and primed for combat.  My score was not spectacular, but it was good enough to create the impression that I had some basic fluency in French, which I did not.

And so I was allowed to skip the introductory courses and to satisfy my language requirement in two semesters only, in second-year literature classes that I took as a freshman.  I recall that my first teacher had a standard-issue Beatle haircut and looked and sounded much like the then-young actor Jean-Pierre Leaud.

I remember to this day most of the books and the names of their authors.  Some were beautiful themselves.  Chretien de Troyes out of the medieval mists.  "La Princesse de Cleves."  "Les Contemplations de Victor Hugo."  "Les Fleurs du Mal" -- The "flowers of evil" of Baudelaire, who resonated strongly for me with Edgar Allan Poe.  "Les Jeux Sont Faits," which is what the croupier said, and still says, when all betting must stop.  "The Chips Are Down!"  And so they were, according to Sartre.  The "nouveau roman" "La Jalousie," by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Most intimidating, perhaps, with respect to its bulk at least, was "Combray," the introduction to "A La Recherche du Temps Perdu," which has been variously translated as "Remembrance of Things Past" and, more accurately but also more woodenly, as "Researching Lost Time" or "Searching for Lost Time"  (which is, of course, precisely what I am doing now).  In "Combray" lies the scent of the famous madeleine, the biscuit that for Proust and his protagonist triggers lost memory.

French literature related to me in the end like the beautiful and imperious Maria Callas, who herself was raised a stranger to French but seemed in the end to master it, like every discipline that she put her mind to, so that the most difficult of things looked effortless -- "Si tu m'aimes, prends garde a toi ... Si je t'aime, prends garde a toi!" - "If you love me, beware ... If I love you, be twice wary!"

And so I turned my back on this powerful and vengeful mistress.

(226) Maria Callas Live: Bizet's Carmen Habanera, Hamburg 1962 - YouTube

Saturday, April 10, 2021


My Uncle Tom

The sea captain that is, in his young adulthood told everyone that he expected to die at age 33, just like the Christ of Nazareth.

Tom was not otherwise a megalomaniac.  He did not take himself with undue seriousness.

In fact he lived into his late eighties.  Dementia ultimately took him, he having forgotten years earlier the names of the fjords where he hid his Liberty ship from the untersee boats of the Kriegsmarine.


Rules for the Post-Pandemic, Cont'd

The priest, in a 2000-year-old ritual, lays the host on your tongue.

Not very sanitary.  Who knows what bugs lurk under the nails of the priest?  And we know roughly how many bugs romp and play on the surface of your tongue.

So no more.  "Go, the Mass is ended!" it might be said.

Friday, April 9, 2021


What Will Remain?

Of our culture, the culture of my generation, roughly the Boomers, after we have, virtually all, left the scene, which is to say in about 15 years?

I am ill-equipped to answer the question, being as I am embedded in it, but perhaps we can find instruction in what remains of the culture of our mothers and fathers, of roughly the Greatest Generation.  And I don't mean just the figures of art and culture and politics who were great (which is not the same as to say moral exemplars of course) in their own right and thus deserve to pass into the world-historical, like Dwight Eisenhower, MLK and JFK, Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman and Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I mean as well the bit players who helped to define the cultural landscape, largely through television.  Those would include people like Ed Sullivan, Lawrence Welk, Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, Walter Cronkite, William F. Buckley and Arnold Stang (peas in a pod those last two).  The "Merrie Melodies."  The June Taylor Dancers.  The Little Rascals.  The Pasadena Horses of the Rose Parade.

Much of this has died already with the passing of the "GG."   But there will be a second death, and a more categorical one, when our own generation withers away, for we are the ones who remember it, the culture of our mothers and fathers, from our childhood and from the recollections passed on by them.

And likewise, our culture will truly die, leaving only the world-historical, when our children have in turn departed this world.

Who among us truly believes that our grandchildren, then, will know or care about any of this?  The more nerdy among them may know that a man first set foot on the moon in 1969, or that there once was a world without instant communication devices at our fingertips.  That is all.

And even the world-historical?  That gets defined in large part in the academy, and the academy is populated now, and no doubt will be populated then, by the anti-historical, standing around the pit with shovels in their hands, shivering at the thrill, at the raw prospect, of covering it all with dirt.

Carl Jung would say, no doubt, that vestiges will be left in the Collective Unconscious.  The vestiges will be made manifest in "synchronicities." A man will see a beetle resting in the sun on his window sill, and at the very same moment his Ever-Present Music Source will dredge up, for comic effect perhaps, the tune and the words, in meta-synchronicity -- "This happened once before; I came to your door; no reply..."

But, axiomatically, the Collective Unconscious contains everything, so false comfort to be taken in this.  If they do not evaporate, the bodily fluids of the dead seep eventually into the lower strata of the groundwater, and with effort traces of the DNA can be retrieved and identified.  But likewise of the DNA of that same beetle on the shelf.  We all know it in our bones then, that a great leveling is effected by Time, to "put us in our place."

Thursday, April 8, 2021


Auden Speaks About Totalitarianism

About a subjugated plain,

Among the desperate and slain,

The Ogre stalks with hands on hips,

While drivel gushes from his lips.

The Ogre does what ogres can,

Deeds quite impossible for Man,

But one prize is beyond his reach:

The Ogre cannot master speech.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Philip Roth is Said to Have Said

That "the meaning of life is that it ends." 

This is not, I think, as cynical an assessment as first appears.  It simply reflects the bias of the novelist for narrative.  No one would read a story about a ride on a merry-go-round without end, because it would carry no meaning (except insofar as pointlessness itself can be made into meaning, as in the legend of Sisyphus).

Unfortunately, we can't experience the true meaning of our own narrative, because it isn't established until all contingencies are resolved at the instant of our death.

Friday, April 2, 2021


("Will Loose" Not "Has Loosed")

He will loose the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword.  Maybe not in my lifetime, but I sense it coming.