A Knight’s YAWP
[24 May 2017]
A Historical Guide to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Academic Book, Catalyst Academy, Don Quixote, Emerson and Antislavery, Estimating Emerson: An Anthology of Criticism from Carlyle to Cavell, Gary Collison, Intellectual Declaration of Independance, Jammer Talks About, Joel Myerson, Joshua Jammer Smith, Literature, Man Thinking, Miguel de Cervantes, Politics, public intellectual, Ronald A. Bosco, Scholarship, Speech, The American Scholar, Video lecture, Writers
This is actually the fourth video I’ve made for what is currently being referred to as Catalyst Academy. For now that’s a working title, but hopefully it will stick. The following lecture is about Ralph Waldo Emerson’s iconic speech The American Scholar. I absolutely adore this speech because in it Emerson lays out many of the same ideas I have concerning academics, the role of “scholars” or writers in society, and how people are to behave and act in a republic. This video is also a chance for me to show off my Don Quixote statue and my pathetic attempts at humor.
Hope you enjoy.
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Book Review, Classic Literature, Cullen Bunn, Deadpool, Deadpool Killustrated, Don Quixote, Eternal Recurrence, existentialism, Fondation of Reality, Friedrich Nietzsche, graphic novel, Hannah and Her Sisters, Literature, Marvel, Meta, Moby Dick, Murphey, No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life, Novel, Penis, Penis Jokes, Philosophical Coward, Philosophy, Reading, Reality, Robert C. Solomon, Samuel Beckett, Sherlock Holmes, The Gay Science, The Great Stress, The Portable Nietzsche, Waiting for Godot, Woody Allen
Moby Dick is a penis, that’s the joke. Deadpool is sitting in a row boat waiting for the great whale to appear, and because he’s Deadpool he has to make a joke, a joke about the size difference to be specific. I can assure the reader that this isn’t in fact a teaser trailer for the next Deadpool movie, but instead one of the most philosophically profound books I have ever read: Deadpool Killustrated.
Before I get to Deadpool however, I need to discuss Friedrich Nietzsche.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been listening my little sister’s “Great Courses” tapes No Excuses: Existentialism, a series of lectures by Robert C. Solomon that looks at the writings of such writers and philosophers as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Soren Kierkegaard, Jean Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka, Herman Hesse, Albert Camus, and of course Nietzsche. The latter man’s work has chiefly been The Ubermensch, his novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Gay Science, and most recently the idea that I’m the most familiar with, the theory of Eternal Recurrence. This last concept, apart from the Ubermensch and his misunderstood phrase “god is dead,” is one of his most popular philosophical creations albeit not for the reasons he would have preferred.
I first encountered this concept when, like just about everybody else in America I trust, I had to take an Intro to Philosophy course to satisfy a core credit. Unlike many of the people in the class who dropped after the first three weeks however, I took Philosophy because I genuinely wanted to. It was an interesting time in my life. I had just met the woman who would become my wife, I had a job on the university that I was botching regularly yet still enjoying immensely, and for the first time in about three years I found myself actually happy in life. Dr. Krebs who taught the class wore Hawaiian shirts, cowboy boots, smoked camel cigarettes, and over the course of the semester made me question every facet of my reality down to whether or not happiness, or my lovely lady wife, was in fact even real.
I eventually settled comfortably, though carefully, into Empiricism, but that didn’t stop Dr. Krebs from regularly challenging me. The man must have seen something in me because he not only regularly asked me questions during class, he also recommended I buy The Portable Nietzsche, his favorite philosopher, and to specifically read one passage. I still have the page marked with his office faculty card with the note messily scribbled on the back. The passage is labeled 341, The Great Stress, out of the larger work The Gay Science. I would find out later that the passage in question was often referred to as the Eternal Recurrence, and reading the passage this title is apt.
How, if some day or night a demon were to sneak after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you, “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 immeasurably small or great in your life must return to you-all in the same succession and sequence– even this spider and this moon- lght between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over and over, and you with it, a dust grain of dust.”
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or did you once experience & tremendous moment when you would have answered him, “You are a god, and never have I heard anything more godly.”
If this thought were to gain possession of you, it would change you, as you are, or perhaps crush you. The question in each and everything, “Do you want this once more and innumerable times more?” would weigh upon your actions as the greatest stress. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal Confirmation and seal? (101-2).
If the reader didn’t process all of that I have a second quote by Woody Allen from one of his more watchable films, Hannah and Her Sisters. The main character’s ex-husband Mickey is having a philosophical crisis following a near-cancer scare and he starts reading philosophers to try to find meaning in life again and at one point he notes about Nietzsche:
Mickey: And Nietzsche, with his theory of eternal recurrence. He said that the life we lived we’re gonna live over again the exact same way for eternity. Great. That means I’ll have to sit through the Ice Capades again. It’s Not Worth it.
Allen’s comedy aside there’s a reason Nietzsche’s title was “the Great Stress” rather than the Eternal Recurrence, and if the reader is paying attention to it Allen explained it perfectly. The demon that appears to the unnamed narrator suggests that every aspect of life shall be lived again and not just the pretty moments. Taking this realistically that implies that every mistake, every boring conversation, every papercut, every hour spent in line at the DMV, every hour of traffic, every time you didn’t walk over to ask that girl in high school to dance, every Thanksgiving when your Uncles and cousins started talking about Trump and everybody had to smile and pretend nothing was happening, will be lived over again, and not just once, but for eternity. This realization is enough to make one consider the “stress” implied.
Nietzsche as a writer and philosopher is often listed with the Existentialists, and while this philosophy has fallen upon hard times in recent years, the core of the movement is actually rather positive. Looking at this passage the reader has to determine in which camp would they fall: do they gnash their teeth and mourn their fate, or do they face the demon and pronounce that they shall live?
It’s an honest question and certainly one that’s worth asking. If you found yourself saying “oh god that sounds miserable” then it’s likely Nietzsche is proving a point. Living a life without passion really isn’t living at all, and if you look upon life as misery then you’ll never be able to live with a real purpose which would bring you a kind of satisfaction. It’s the man or woman who is able to say yes to this question who is living with purpose and also one who is likelier to say honestly that they are happy.
I recognize that this may be a difficult concept and as such I decided Deadpool would be a good way of explaining Nietzsche’s idea…that, and I needed an excuse to review this graphic novel.
Deadpool Killustrated appealed to me originally out of what some may call pompousness, but what I prefer to call pompousness, because most of the references were to books I had read or read about as an English major. The front cover of the book was Deadpool about to shove a cartoon bomb into Moby Dick’s blowhole, phrasing, and the subsequent covers were all gruesome reimagining’s of “the classics.” The graphic novel was actually a sequel to a previous work Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe. The book picks up in the aftermath of the mass slaughter. Deadpool has killed every living thing in the universe because he realizes that he, like everyone else in the Marvel Universe, are living in a false reality created by other beings known only as “the writers.” The voice in Deadpool’s head comes up with the idea that killing off the origin of stories, specifically the original “classics” may cause a split in reality and thus end his existence. Using a handful of scientists he’s enslaved, Deadpool is able to enter the idea-verse and systematically kill off the characters of classic fiction such as Don Quixote, Little Women, Dracula, Moby Dick, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Jungle Book to name a few. He’s eventually “beaten” by Sherlock Holmes, who manages to subvert his efforts and begin healing the damage.
The book is, realistically, an opportunity to “watch Deadpool kill stuff,” and as a Deadpool fan, and part-time Deadpool apologist, I’ll admit freely that I absolutely love the book for it. Listening to Dr. Solomon discuss the idea of The Great Stress though I went back to the book and found an early passage:
It’s from this discussion that Deadpool’s path becomes clear. In order to overcome the cycle of constantly killing everything and then starting over again, living a life out of his control, he has to find a way to stop the cycle from starting over again.
In short he doesn’t just have to kill the story-teller, he has to kill the very idea of stories.
This is a rather difficult concept for most people to process because death itself is already a damn riddle. Religion and philosophy have already scoured our consciousness in order to establish some working idea of the difference between life and death, and in their defense they’ve done the best they could, but even then the concept of death is still something which will drive men all their lives to create in a desperate effort to conquer the unknowable inevitability. Deadpool’s struggle then is likely one that will cause some confusion for his aim is not to die, but to simply not exist.
The only other narrative that follows this line of thinking is Murphey, a novel by the Irish playwright Samuel Becket. If you don’t know anything about Beckett I should warn you going forward that it’s just going to get weirder from here.
Samuel Becket was a writer who, apart from being an acolyte of James Joyce, once popularly said that his grand masterpiece would be a blank sheet of paper. Throughout his work Beckett pushed the form of art and writing trying to explore the philosophy of nihilism and the element of silence. He’s most popularly known for his play Waiting for Godot which is about two men constantly waiting for their friend Godot who never shows up. For Beckett the notion of existence was something that was fragile and, more often than not, a kind of disease that plagued the world. The cure for this disease was either madness or death.
His novel Murphey, follows this aesthetic, for the entire novel is about a man named Murphey who wishes to attain one thing: nonexistence. It’s important to recognize the distinction between this and death. Murphey doesn’t want to die because even in death some part of him will live on, whether it be his spirit, his soul, and even the components of his physical body. Nonexistence however is a state in which consciousness and physical existence will be forever purged from reality.
Beckett offers an insight into his protagonist’s mind midway through the novel:
It is most unfortunate, but the point of this story has been reached where a justification of the expression “Murphey’s Mind” has to be attempted. Happily we need not concern ourselves with this apparatus as it really was—that would be an extravagance and an impertinence—but solely with what it felt and pictured itself to be. Murphey’s mind is after all the gravamen of these informations. A short section to itself at this stage will relieve us from the necessity of apologizing for it further.
Murphey’s mind pictured itself as a large hollow sphere, hermetically closed to the universe without. This was not an impoverishment, for it excluded nothing that it did not itself contain. Nothing ever had been, was or would be in the universe outside it but was already present as virtual, or actual, or virtual rising into actual, or actual falling into virtual, in the universe inside it. (65).
Murphey is man who is clearly broken in some form or fashion. He doesn’t recognize that he has a mind or a body, but he does understand that these objects exist. Beckett continues this analysis as he writes:
Thus Murphey felt himself split in two, a body and a mind. They had intercourse apparently, otherwise he could not have known that they had anything in common. […]
He was split, one part of him never left this mental chamber that pictured itself as a sphere full of light fading into dark, because there was no way out. (66-67)
At this point the reader may be wondering what relevance this near incomprehensible novel has to do with Nietzsche or Deadpool. In fact it has everything to do with both of them. Nietzsche’s premise in the Great Stress is that the cowardly individual is one who faces the reality of the Eternal Recurrence and, rather than rising up and accepting their lot in life, rejects it and tries to overcome it. Because they don’t like themselves or their life they try to make excuses for their misery or, in the case of Murphey and Deadpool, they come up with ways of getting out. To Murphey he tries to destroy himself to achieve non-existence.
Likewise, Deadpool faces the reality of the Eternal Recurrence and is ultimately undone by it. The “voices in his head,” the source of most of his fourth wall breaking, serves as the functional demon pushing him to try and overcome existence which he sees as a disease.
Before I conclude, it’s important to be realistic.Deadpool Killustrated is in many ways just a dumb Deadpool story loaded with bad puns and references that will become outdated in a few years, but to ignore the philosophical implications Cullen Bunn manages to write in this book just because the main character is Deadpool is to miss something important. Many people will stumble across this book, and many young kids who enjoy Deadpool and who have never read Don Quixote or Moby Dick will experience the classical works of literature in a way entirely unique. This impression seals itself upon reality indefinitely and Deadpool himself explains this concept:
Life is an absurd mystery often filled with unnecessary pain and suffering and so a concept like The Great Stress is something relevant despite what your Dad who sells mufflers says about Philosophy. Yes thinking about reality repeating over and over again is not going to help you pay your car note, neither is it going to add anything to your resume so you can get that temp job and move out of your parents place, and it’s definitely not going to stop your family talking about politics during Thanksgiving. Despite the lack of utilitarian value, considering the notion of The Great Stress is important because it can make someone reevaluate the way they are living their life. Our choices are informed by our worldview and whether or not we feel that life is genuinely worth living. Facing the demon and saying “Yes” is not saying yes to some bullshit thought-experiment, it’s about affirming to yourself that you are actually living a life you want to live and not just one you’re living for someone or something else.
Deadpool is the coward and the loser of the Great Stress because he clearly doesn’t like himself or his life and so rather than lead a life that would bring him purpose he takes his frustrations out on those characters who have faced the Demon already and found something worth living for. The narratives of our lives are built upon those that came before us and left behind living stories that recur indefinitely. It’s from these stories that imagination is fed and developed into a living breathing being which provides direction, inspiration and purpose.
But I suppose watching Captain Nemo blow-up the Little Mermaid by being shot out of a torpedo tube can provide its own kind of philosophical statement. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m sure it’s profound.
I’ve included a link to a brief biography of Nietzsche if the reader is at all interested:
I’ve also included a link to my latest “Jammer Talks: About…” YouTube video where I provide a small lecture over everything we’ve covered. If you’d prefer to hear me talk rather than read, I hope you enjoy.
All passages of Nietzsche were taken from The Portable Nieztsche, Penguin Paperback. All passages from Murphey came from the Grover press Paperback. Finally all Deadpool Killustrated passages came from the Marvel paperback edition.
A Clash of Kings, A Game of Thrones, book burning, Book Covers, censorship, Don Quixote, Epic Novels, Harry Potter, Individual Will, Knights, Les Miserables, Literature, Master Nicolas, Medieval Romances, Middlesex, Miguel de Cervantes, Rocinante, The Journey, Ulysses, War and Peace, Wishbone, Written Language
Don’t ask me why I began Don Quixote with only two weeks left before I start my next to last semester of Graduate School. It’s a game my brain plays to fuck with me. I spend most of summer taking small bites out of various books, starting many and finishing only a few, well, not a few, but not nearly as many as I begin. I waver. There’s so many books in my collection, how can I choose only one to actually read. In the mountain of knowledge that is my library, there are always the books my eyes drift to. The heavy tomes. Crime and Punishment, Napoleon Bonaparte, which I also started, War and Peace, Middlesex, The Executioner’s Song, etc. The unifying quality of each of these books if their dense page count. The day of the 1000 page novel seems behind us, yet still there is that drive to prove to the self that you possess the strength to challenge such a monster. In the Summer of 2009 I tackled Ulysses, summer of 2013 was Les Miserables, and summer of 2014 was A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. It seemed appropriate, as I near the end of graduate school, that I journey with the idealist knight as my days of Sancho Panza are most likely on the wings. I’m thinking next summer will be either Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, of Fydor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
It was Wishbone that finally pushed me over the edge. I discovered the other day that the show comes on PBS Sunday mornings, and last week’s episode was the Don Quixote episode which was one of my favorite’s growing up. There’s always just been something about knights. Don Quixote has been sitting on my shelf for only a few months. The Mermaids sang their song, and two weeks be damned, I’ve begun the book.
Now obviously trying to tackle Don Quixote in one essay would be monstrous, it cannot be done, and it should not be done. Instead I have elected to turn my attention to one chapter of the novel dealing with the destruction of Don Quixote’s library by his family, barber, and priest.
The chapter in question is the sixth in Part One of my edition, the Penguin Classics. I know this sounds superficial and violates the oldest cliché in all of bookdom, but I chose this edition for the cover. Don Quixote looks out over the fields of Spain, his lance pointed upwards to the heavens, his body wrapped in armor (which is inaccurate but forgivable), and his steed Rocinante is lazily sniffing the grass a stark contrast to his masters idealism. Just looking at the cover, which is a painting by Adrian Louis Demont and which also cuts out Sancho Panza slowly working his way up to his master’s side, there’s a wonderful sense of possibility. I feel like there’s a chance for a real journey, and not just another opportunity to read about stoned kids writing Dada and talking about Easy Rider like they’re actually seen the movie and not just the trippy parts on YouTube. The problem with the Journey narrative today is that it’s all so superficial. What is occurring on the external level is all meant as symbolic significance to the experience and wisdom of the protagonist, meanwhile any and all secondary characters are stripped of a chance to become full human characters. My problem, is that too often Journey narratives today fail because there isn’t an idea that people can honestly experience the world, they can only experience their perceptions of the world.
Before chapter six takes place Don Quixote has donned his faux-armor, mounted his horse Rocinante, and tried his luck as a knight. He is knighted by an innkeeper who is aided by two prostitutes, he has interrupted the whipping of a young field hand and rectified the situation before he leaves and the poor soul continues to suffer the lash, and he attacks a gathering of merchants who leave him flounced after Rocinante trips during his attack and they flee. He is discovered by a local who recognizes him and returns him to his house prompting his niece and housekeeper to call for the aid of the local priest.
It is after careful discussion that Don Quixote’s madness can be attributable to one factor alone: books.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra is writing satire first and foremost, that must be understood to any and all who approach this thick but wonderful book. Many people would be amiss of the tradition of the Romance, and why Cervantes’s work would have been so subversive for the time. With the rise of the printing press and mercantilism people began to have more and more time on their hands. Since this is an age that pre-dates HBO-GO, I don’t really care for Amazon they’re planning on using drones for delivery in the future and I’m sorry I still believe in fucking Mailmen and UPS fuck you Amazon. Apologies, chased a rabbit. Because human beings are driven by a need to create, to imagine, and to desire comfort, the middle class demanded entertainment and entertainment meant books. Now often the books would be works of poetry, especially complex works such as sonnets. Because these were dense and laden with aesthetic language the reader had to read and read and read in order to dig into the ideas found within. Along with books of poetry were Romances, stories of knights performing great feats against mythical beasts and falling in love…at least from afar. Many of the romances, particularly the Arthurian legends, are riddled with barbarism, rape, murder of innocents, divine intervention that would render the Old Testament God reeling in horror, and general depravity. It is this subject then, to which Cervantes is plying his ability as a writer. He is mocking the image of the knight and the institution of the romance, but the brilliance of the book is Cervantes’s ability to reinvent the knight as someone worth knowing.
My sister has confided in me recently, and I’m sure she’ll love me revealing her secret to the internet, but she admits that she never made it past chapter six.
Perhaps if you’re a book lover you may feel her pain. Don Quixote’s niece, housekeeper, Priest, and barber have amassed in his wonderful library convinced they are the source of his madness and begin to purge it. May all forgive me, but here we go:
The Priest laughed at the housekeeper’s simple-mindedness, and told the barber to hand him the books one by one so that he could see what was in them, since he might find some that didn’t deserve to be committed to the flames.
“No,” said the niece, “there’s no reason to let any of them off, they’re all to blame. Better throw the whole lot of them out of the window into the courtyard, and make a pile of them, and set fire to them, or take them to the backyard and make the bonfire there, where the smoke won’t be such a nuisance.”
The housekeeper said much the same, so anxious were both women to see those innocents massacred, but the priest wouldn’t agree without at least reading the titles. (52).
There are few moments of perfect farce in literature. With the exception of writers like Voltaire, Twain, Heller, or Wilde, few possess the real ability to present the absurdity of human ignorance in its accurate nature. The reason for this is due chiefly to the fact that wit, precise intellectual criticism, is damned difficult. If wit were easy anyone could do it.
I don’t want to just analyze Cervantes’s ability with language however, so I’ll return to my original point. The entire affair of burning of the books is established in these three small paragraphs and the reader is then shown the execution of the thesis. The books of Don Quixote’s library are studied and judged by the merit of their titles, and in some lucky cases, their reputation. Following this scene the first book is selected.
The first one that master Nicolas put into his hands was The Four Books of Amadis of Gaul, and the priest said:
“This is a strange coincidence: I’ve heard that this was the very first chivalry romance to be printed in Spain, and that all the others have their origin and beginning in it; so it seems to me that, as the prophet of such a pernicious sect, it should be condemned to the flames without delay.”
“No, no,” said the barber. “I’ve also heard that it’s the very best of all the books of this kind that have ever been written; and so, being unique in its artistry, it ought to be pardoned.”
“You’re right said the priest, “so its life is spared for the time being. Let’s see the one next to it.”
“This, said the barber, “is The Exploits of Esplandian, Amadis of Gaul’s Legitimate son.”
“Well, to be sure,” said the priest, “the excellence of the father isn’t going to be any avail to the son. Here you are, ma’am, the first faggot on the bonfire we’re going to make.”
The housekeeper was delighted to do so, and the good Esplandian flew out into the courtyard, where he patiently awaited the flames with which he was threatened. (52-53).
The great massacre to follow is at times both repugnant for the reckless abandon and desire to burn, as it is peppered by inconsistency. That of course is a fancy-ass way of saying that the book gathering is at times hilarious and then painful to book lovers. Master Nicolas weeds through the books in a haphazard fashion reading only the titles and often damning them simply for their reputation. At one point he becomes so inured to this activity that he abandons his careful inspection. It says:
And not wanting to weary himself any more reading chivalry romances, the priest ordered the housekeeper to take all the big books and throw them out into the yard. His command didn’t fall on deaf ears, because she’d rather have been burning those books than weaving the finest and largest piece of fabric in the world, and, seizing the about eight of them, she heaved them out of the window. But becayse she took up so many of them together, one fell at the barber’s feet and, curious to know what it was, he saw: History of the Famous knight Tirante the White.
“Good Heavens!” cried the priest. “Fancy Tirante the White being here! Give it to me, my friend: I reckon I’ve found in this bbook a treasure of delight and a mine of entertainment. In it you’ll discover Don Quirieleison de Montalban a most courageous knight, and his brother Tomas de Montalban, the knight Fonesca, together with the fight that the brave Tirante had with the mastiff, and the witticisms of the maidens Placerdemivida, and the amours and the trickery of the widow Reposada, and the lady empress in love with her squire Hipoloito. Let me tell you this my friend: as far as its style is concerned this is the best book in the worked, In it knights eat and sleep and die in their beds and make wills before they die, and other such things that are usually omitted from books of this sort. But in spite of all this I do have to say that the man who wrote it deserved to e sent to the galleys for life, for not knowing what he was doing when he was writing such nonsense. Take it home and read it, and you’ll see that what I say is true.” (55-6).
Such testimony would appear beautiful, were it not for the fact the Priest was pilfering another man’s library and burning the books he doesn’t like or else doesn’t have time for. And what of the seven books that fell into the courtyard? Did not they deserve their times to be read? It becomes clear as the reader moves through chapter six that only the books that are known and appreciated by the priest deserve to remain, though of course not in the hands of Don Quixote. Before I conclude one final passage needs to be observed.
“But what’s this other one by its side?”
“Galatea, by Miguel Cervantes.”
“That fellow Cervantes has been a good friend of mine for years, and I know he’s more conversant with adversity than with verse. His book’s ingenious enough; it sets out to achieve something but doesn’t bring anything to conclusion; we’ll have to wait for the promised second part; maybe with correction it’ll gain the full pardon denied it for the time being; so while we wait and see, you keep it captive in your house my friend.” (58).
Cervantes winks so obviously to the audience it might be unforgiveable, were it not for the fact his own self-promotion here is so self-depreciating it could be a joke by Woody Allen. His book is spared the flames.
I’ve written about censorship before and the effect that it has upon the discourse because the written word possesses an incredible power. Early societies treated written documents with awe and authority because words are the bridge between immaterial thought and concrete reality. By taking that which is mundane and transforming it into written narrative, mankind achieves a kind of immortality. There’s a reason runes were treated as both a script and religious bridges by ancient peoples. Even in today’s society when the aura of books seems diminished in the face of billions of screen pages, blogs, online articles, and opinion pieces, people gravitate to communicated language. Our attentions are fixed to titles, and meaning becomes constructed before one even digs deeper into the actual meat of the writing. Master Nicolas in this small chapter seems both odious and ridiculous, but his haphazard censorship of Don Quixote’s library assumes a real humanity, for often human beings will reel from perceived threats until they actually experience something for themselves.
When Harry Potter was first published there were book burnings and public outcry for fear that the novel would turn a generation into sorcerers and godless heathens. My mother, being the wonderful person that she was, said, “Let’s buy the book, read it, and decide for ourselves whether the book is bad.” She read me every Harry Potter book after that, usually while I would play video games, but often when I would just sit and listen, thrilled and entertained. It was only by actually reading the books for ourselves that we determined whether something possessed a wickedness. None of them did. Though I am an atheist so maybe that stuff about godless heathens had some merit after all.
Chapter Six of Don Quixote may pain an avid collector of books, for the library’s collection is burned and the door bricked up, leaving Don Quixote forever separated from his books. Despite their best efforts however, Don Quixote continues his quest leading to the real conclusion, much to the pain of the censor. Human initiative cannot be squashed, and those with conviction will find a way to outlive or outsmart those that would dominate their will. In the end, all Master Nicholas does is reveal himself to be both a hypocrite and incompetent.
Cervantes’s tongue stings deep and true, and the Knight carries on his way.
One of the most frustrating aspects of human behavior to deal with is apathy concerning politics. I understand that politics often creates heated tensions, and it’s the most perfect way to ruin thanksgiving right after grandma has finished saying grace and Dad has starting diving out slices of turkey, but it is essential to a healthy democracy that people try to give a damn. I’ve been watching the show West Wing for the last year and there was a small speech delivered by President Bartlet:
Bartlet: Here’s another one. Two politicians are having an argument. One of them stands up and says, “You’re lying!” The other one answers, “Yes, I am, but hear me out.” [audience laughs]
Moderator: Mr. President, do you have time for one more question?
Bartlet: I don’t think I answered the last one. Suzanne’s got me telling jokes. Here’s an answer to your question that I don’t think you’re going to like: the current crop of 18-25 year olds is the most politically apathetic generation in American history. In 1972, half of that age group voted. In the last election, 32%. Your generation is considerably less likely than any previous one to write or call public officials, attend rallies, or work on political campaigns. A man once said this, “decisions are made by those who show up.” So are we failing you, or are you failing us? It’s a little of both.
(What Kind of Day It has Been)
Emerson’s essay Politics reminded me why I love this man as a writer. The most recent essays I’ve been reading have been fine, but they haven’t touched upon this idea of America and its Republic to keep me as interested as this essay did. In particular I focused on one passage:
But property passes through donation or inheritance to those who do not create it. Gift, in one case, makes it as really the new owner’s, as labor made it the first owner’s: in the other case, of patrimony, the law makes an ownership, which will be valid in each man’s view according to the estimate which he sets on the public tranquility. (561).
The question that struck me immediately, and I had to write it down in the margins before I forgot it was this: Do we inherit republic from our parents? And if we do what does that say of us. Both Emerson and Frederick Douglass have attested to the fact that inheritance creates only apathy and laziness which is corruption to the possibility of genius. Emerson notes that when men merely inherit it reduces their ambition, their drive to succeed and make from their land and potential a model of virtue. Now obviously I’m not suggesting that every generation we scrap our democracy and reconstruct a new one, that would only lead to chaos. Instead what I am asking is, are we truly generating citizens that will participate in their democracy, if are we merely allowing the laws and government to be inherited. When I mention politics people tend to glaze over and say they’re not interested in politics. Their concerns lie elsewhere either in television, the internet, sports, and while these are not inherently poisonous to our society’s growth, when people care and spend more of their resources and time to them than they would their government because they can contribute more than they would in political conversation I think that’s a problem.
The history of the State sketches in coarse outline the progress of thought, and follows at a distance the delicacy of culture and aspiration. (560).
What saddens me about my generation’s apathy towards politics is that often the people with good ideas, whether I agree with them or not, decide not to express them because they feel that engaging with politics is boring, or else that it will accomplish nothing. Emerson further states this when he says,
Therefore, all public ends look vague and quixotic beside private ones. (567).
I know that discussions of politics are always going to be somewhat uncomfortable, but I cannot, as a patriot and as a believer in republic, simply abandon my principle because I feel defeated. Politics is important because we do inherit democracy, but the nature of the system is such that we can make it out own. Emerson is right in the idea that when human beings merely inherit their property there is little incentive to work with it and make it better. When we’re comfortable, apathy is easy. But the United States government, structured as it is, a piece of land that every year opens up new possibility for growth. We can actively change our government without the need of bloodshed, and this makes us unique and fortunate. Politics reminds the American citizen not to, to quote one of my esteemed professors, dawdle or make light of what we have, but instead to contribute and remake it to fit our own ideas of what governance should be. We can make a difference, but only when we accept that our desires are not quixotic, but full of merit.
I’ll give you one more quote because it’s fitting with Emerson’s idea of conviction:
Man: Governor Bartlet, when you were a member of Congress, you voted against the New England Dairy Farming Compact. That vote hurt me sir. I’m a businessman. That vote hurt me to the tune of maybe, 10 cents a gallon. I voted for you three times for Congress. I voted for you twice for Governor. And I’m here sir, and I’d like to ask you for an explanation.
Bartlet: [pause] Yeah, I screwed you on that one.
Man: I’m sorry?
Bartlet: I screwed you. You got hosed.
Man: Sir, I…
Bartlet: And not just you. A lot of my constituents. I put the hammer to farms in Concord, Salem, Laconia, and Pelham. You guys got rogered but good. Today, for the first time in history, one in five Americans living in poverty are children. One in five children live in the most abject, dangerous, hopeless, backbreaking, gut wrenching poverty, one in five, and they’re children. If fidelity to freedom and democracy is the code of our civic religion then surely, the code of our humanity is faithful service to that unwritten commandment that says ‘We shall give our children better than we ourselves received.’ I voted against the bill ’cause I didn’t want it to be hard for people to buy milk. I stopped some xmoney from flowing into your pocket. If that angers you, if you resent me, I completely respect that. But if you expect anything different from the President of the United States, I suggest you vote for somebody else. Thanks very much. Hope you enjoyed the chicken.
Our ideas of governance should not and cannot be inherited, they must be self made. Politics has reminded me why I love Emerson, and why I love the United States. The American Dream may not always come true, but there is still the promise of self made men and women.
Just in case you don’t know what Quixotic means, it refers to the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes which tells the story of a man who reads many romances, or stories about knights. Don Quixote is an old man, probably insane, and decides to become a knight. He goes on a series of adventures to bring honor and chivalry back to Spain, one of which includes attacking a windmill because he believes is a giant. Since the publication of this book the word Quixotic is applied to those individuals that assume an errand that many believe is unrealistic or hopeless.
The passages from Emerson were derived from the Library of America Edition.
Alison Bechdel, Ave Maria, Batman Arkham Asylum A serious House on Serious Earth, big black dicks, Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West, Christopher Hitchens, corgi, Crime and Punishment, Don Quixote, encomium, Essay, Freedom, Fun Home, If you're reading this pat yourself on the back because you can read and that's awesome, Johann Sebastian Bach, Les Miserables, Literature, Loony Tunes, Moby Dick, Nine Stories, progymnasmata, Sexual cannibalism, spider sex, The Marriage Plot, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Ulysses, William L. Shirer, Writing, Years of Upheaval, Yo-Yo Ma
The last year saw me write at least forty essays, each designed to highlight some aspect of literature, yet I can’t shake off the feeling that I really haven’t accomplished that much. No seriously, hear me out. What exactly does it mean to be a blogger?
Stop. Before I continue, let me give you this link so you can listen to this while you read, if you’re even still here and haven’t stumbled onto my blog because you were looking for fish sex or big black dicks. It’s a compilation of Bach on YouTube. I’ve always preferred Bach over the other classical composers. Even Mozart. Especially Mozart. I ain’t haitin, it’s just, Bach has complexity and presence that isn’t trying to prove its genius. Anyway here it is:
Now like I asked before, what exactly does it really mean to be a blogger? I call myself a writer, because along with the book reviews I write here, I also write short stories, poetry, and novels. Especially novels. Novels speak to me, yet I find lately I have a devil of a time reading one by itself. I’ve developed this system where I read ten pages in a book and then put it down. It’s a way of getting reading in and still being able to get things done. It works too; I’ve read Moby Dick, Ulysses, and Les Miserables through this system. Don Quixote is next as soon as summer school, fall semester, spring semester, and life is over with and I can find three goddamn minutes to myself. But what is a blogger? Can a blogger really call themselves a writer? I’ve seen blogs that are nothing but photographs, often a half naked women, but also of rusty cars in black and white, of little girls wearing white dresses, close ups of naked girls covering their nipples with one hands while green paint has been smeared across one cheek. These are blogs I have seen. Can you call these people writers?
I had this thought earlier and I believe it to be a good thought, I would like to start a blog about cheese. Spend the rest of my days trying various samples of cheese and write a review about them. Not just about how they taste, but the history of that brand of cheese, where it’s typically made, how it got its name. I think that’s a good idea, but I could I still call myself a writer? And what would the title of the Blog be?
A writer is what I am, it’s all that I can be because, at this point in my life, I’ve passed the point where I’m really fit to do anything else. It’s starting with my back. I’ve woken up three times this week with a pain in my back. That’s how I know I’m a writer because I can’t imagine doing anything else, and it’s too far to go back, but the problem arises: the only manuscripts I have ever published were on this blog, and there again, can you really call what we write on blogs writing?
What I spoke before about Bach is true. I prefer him over the other composers. I don’t know anything about the man. I know he’s German but that’s about it, and it could be wrong. Classical music for many people is just noise, like Heavy metal. Both varieties of music are similar in its auditory components that people ignore them thinking there’s no variety when any musicologist or dude wearing a Slayer t-shirt will be happy to show otherwise. I think I like Bach for two reasons. The first is because of a scene in the movie Hannah and her Sisters where Michael Kane’s sister-in-law plays a record. Bach F minor concerto. It’s a beautiful song, and one of my favorite scenes in a movie. The other is because Yo-Yo ma performs Cello Suite No.1-Prelude and I’ve actually seen Yo-Yo Ma perform in person. The man is a machine; he was poured into a cellist. You can’t watch the man play without being moved. I’ve included a link here as well.
Now why all this questioning and randomness. I’m a year old today. White Tower Musings began a year ago as part of a romantic ambition. What I wanted to do is convince people who hate literature and believe that it has no point or purpose to shut up and see that it has all the purpose and meaning in the world. Books can change people’s lives, when given to them at the right time, in the right way. Selling a book is hard, and feels often like prostitution . The downside is you don’t get paid like a prostitute does however, so it’s a thankless job with no fucking.
While I’m thinking of it here’s a cool random GIF (is it gif or jif, peanut butter?) of Godzilla.
While I’m thinking of it, I want to make sure you don’t feel like this was a waste of your time, so here’s a list of books I think you should read before you die because people love lists, if only so that they can disagree with them, because after all, what would the internet be if not a place for people to share their bullshit opinions with one another:
It’s been a year and over 4000 people have visited this blog, though to be fair, that number is probably closer to 3000 since I know most people only found me because they were looking for porn. And what does that say about career as a writer if people are only finding me because they’re looking for sex? But this fact isn’t as concerning to me as the title I’ve given myself, because certainly nobody in the public did. After a year of writing book reviews, movie reviews, and hopefully in the near future, art reviews, what have I actually accomplished?
I do not believe someone should call themselves a writer unless they can point to a finished product and say, “I wrote that.” I have that here, in this blog, but there again does this count as self publishing, in which case is this a vanity press?
Before I continue let me tell you a fun fact. My wife is a biologist and came to me one night telling me about a paper she had to give a presentation on. She chose it for the title. Sexual cannibalism. The article was an experiment done by scientists observing the mating behaviors of black widows and several insects. I’ll stick to the black widows though because that’s what I remember best. The researchers found that males that were aggressive in their mating dances and displays tended not to be eaten following coitus. Anyone who doesn’t know anything about spider sex is about to learn something cool. Black widows get their names because after they mate with the males they typically eat them. Sex, especially for female arthropods, is exhausting and they need nourishment for the incubation of eggs and the creation of eggs sacks. The man’s right there, so…fuck it, why not. Free eats. Well, as it turns out the males that acted like horny frat boys saying “HEEYYY BABAY!!!” were less likely to be eaten after sex.
Lesson of the day boys: Confidence is key.
Second lesson of the day: Fuck fraternities.
Third Lesson of the day: Never wear ladies underwear in public…unless you can pull it off.
My first article for this blog was actually a paper written for a class. The teacher arranged the course following something called the Progymnasmata. It was the classical (in the sense of ancient Greece) model of teaching young men how to be orators and writers. The Progymnasmata was a series of exercises and one of them was the Encomium. What the encomium does is ask the students to praise a person, object, institution, etc. focusing on the positive effects it has upon society. Christopher Hitchens being the writer I most wanted to kill and wear his skin for the rest of my life (too much?) I decided to write what the man had done for me. I got an A, and that was that. But a few months later I was battling with the idea of starting a blog. My thought was, I’m always talking to people that aren’t around, thinking of arguments against people I hear randomly talking about “this book is stupid” or “this book is weird” or the classic “What does this have to do with what I want to do for a living?” After a while not being published, and having to listen to the voices in my head for so long, I thought a blog might help.
The internet seems like a place where we’re allowed to explode and unmask our true selves. I worry though about the people who choose to live their entire lives in it when bikinis and corgis exist in the real world.
One essay leads to another. That’s another thing. Hold on. My favorite Loony Tune is Bugs Bunny. I envy his confidence.
I call my posts essays because I’ll give myself that. Most of the blogs I randomly scan through have 300-800 word posts describing the writers emotions, their feelings, explaining why they photographed seven hundred bunny rabbits humping in the DNC convention, but nobody ever calls what they write essays. I can’t think of anything else to call them. I put too much time and energy and sweat into them to call them anything else. It can’t be posts. Posts are something you do on facebook, if anybody still uses facebook.
Here’s another video if you’re tired of Bach. It’s Ave Maria by Shubert in the original Latin. I’m an atheist but this song always stops me.
I think the problem with most writers is we all feel like we’ve got nothing to really contribute. We’re told nobody reads books anymore, and we’re all plagued either by the image of the penniless writer drinking himself to death, or else of the hipster wannabe at Starbucks composing poetry but really just looking at pictures of Bob Dylan on Google images while wondering why nobody takes him seriously. The writer is plagued by a poor self image in the Post-Hemingway, Post-Cobain, Post-Dylan, you know what I changed my mind it’s definitely Daffy Duck that’s my favorite. Bugs is cool, but Daffy has character.
I guess what’s bothering me, what my mind is wrapping around, is the typical human question: did anything I do matter? I admit, a year is not a great judge in the great scheme of things, and my ambition is too often checked by the limitations given by reality, but I do want this blog to matter. And to be fair, in the course of a year I have managed to write reviews for at least thirty to thirty-five books and films that I felt were worth people’s time. And even if people find me only looking for all male Mandingo parties, I at least taught them where the word Mandingo comes from before they decided to say fuck-it and go back to tumblr.
This essay was really written for me. I thought I would be quirky and funny and try to get in a few good points, but I’ve found at the end of this writing to be dissatisfied. I began this blog because I wanted to show people that books and creative writing can change people’s lives. A book can be the difference in a person’s life.
That’s the only question that really matters to me after a year of doing this. I write, and I publish my work, and people (seem) to read what I write. That’s where I hang my hat after a year of working and promotion of this site. A year in, and I have 50 followers and 4000 views. There’s a bottle of Jameson that sits on my bookshelf between The Vagina Monologues and The Male Nude. I think I’ll take it down, enjoy the deep burn of great whiskey. After all, that’s what writers do.
Thank you all for a year, thank you for bothering to show up. Thanks.
As a parting gift here’s a picture of me wearing a dress.
Since you were patient enough to listen to all my boring classical music here’s a fun video of Goofy trying to ski. Enjoy.
Definitely, definitely Taz. Taz was my man. Do you know he was only in five actual shorts? It’s crazy but Taz was actually just a minor character in the canon of Loony Tunes. Fun facts here. That’s all folks.