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Five-Foot-Ten

July 5, 2012

Albert Camus

“I tried to find the source of evil and I got nowhere.”  Augustine before becoming a Christian

A celebrated French atheist addressed the Dominican Monastery of Latour-Maubourg in 1948. He arrived among these Christian monks bearing witness to his great personal faith that, historically, for all of us, the project of human happiness remains largely the same whether you do or do not love Jesus.

He is here to urge, on grounds of common humanity, a reconciliation between believers and nonbelievers in the name of everybody’s desperate hopes for the post-war future. “If Christianity is pessimistic as to man, it is optimistic to human destiny. Well, I can say that, pessimistic as to human destiny, I am optimistic as to man.”

We recognize Albert Camus’ deep flat voice, his take-it-or-leave-it way with the most ultimate words. If it can be truly said of any man that he was born to be a hero, mention, too, this five-foot-ten Algerian whom the 1957 Nobel Prize For Literature cited as the conscience of his generation.

Now, four years after the Liberation, still-battered and newly-Existential France feels itself caught between a ruthless Soviet Russia out for world domination and the super-power Coca-Colonization of the United States. Typically, Camus refused to chose between such palpably false alternatives. So here he is among the monks.

To demonstrate good faith at the outset of a dialogue with these people of faith, Camus concedes his own defeat in a recent public debate with a famous Catholic novelist. Camus then evokes post-war humanity’s continuing  suffering. This he blames on the moral collapse of both Right and Left. Neither bourgeois capitalism nor Soviet communism offers the Earth’s people a way forward of freedom and dignity — those human conditions alone under which happiness becomes possible. 

“What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could arise in the heart of the simplest man.”

God, no god? Who cares? We, you and I, are, historically, either way beyond or long before any meaningful taking up of this argument. What about RIGHT NOW? Do you not hear the screaming? Today, this instant, children are being tortured as a matter of state policy.

Fatherless son of West-African poverty, philosopher of an unblinking atheism which experienced the world as absurd but not without hope; a political activist and lyrical exponent of the sun, the sea, the happy body: an athlete — soccer, swimming, boxing — ladies’ man, young leading man in his own radical theatrical troupe, and later a true hero of the French Resistance,  editor of the underground newspaper Combat revealed, after the war, to be none other than the acclaimed author of The Stranger

“They (Christians) should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face of history has taken on today. The grouping we need is a grouping of men resolved to speak out clearly and to pay up personally…”

In short, a new Maquis, the bravest of the best, and not confined to a French underground such as Camus fought among in World War II but an organization gone global, battling against History itself to win for humanity a Third Way, a way ahead scaled to you, the living individual of flesh and bone, not a stripped and humiliated integer naked to the State’s murderous usages.

“I am waiting, for a grouping of all those who refuse to be dogs and are resolved to pay the price that must be paid so that man can be something more than a dog.”

Camus’ terse eloquence availed nothing, of course. Two generations later, we are still waiting for word from the church. Now it seems sure it will never come again. Too much has been passed over in silence for far too long to be either excused or forgiven. Thinking now like Camus, we can say Christ’s divinity has nothing to do with it; we are judging our betrayal by other men like ourselves.

Judeo-Christian culture is killing Judeo-Christian civilization, and the church murmurs “yes” while religions of submission — Islam, the globalist Left — systematically set about trying to shut down Christianity itself. And once again, a godless caste of self-selected superior beings glides forward out of the shadows, smiling and certain, the swans of their disease, firmly in control of… us.

“I am fighting you because your logic is as criminal as your heart,” Camus once wrote to a former friend.

At the turn of the millennium, the Pope published a book of theological essays. The word “soul” did not appear anywhere in the index. Very well. There is no last word, but what would Albert Camus say? What would he say RIGHT NOW?

The Zen of Fireflies

June 25, 2012

So regularly, each summer, you might set your calender by their debut,

June’s first evening will rise the fireflies over lawns still warm from day as gloaming deepens into definite nightfall across our pleasant Maryland suburbs.

Day is done in my back yard. We are leaving this house soon. I am aware of witnessing for the last time my seasonal first-rising of fairy lights here. It felt nothing like taking down the Christmas tree because, in fact, we like the new place.

I just stand up on the deck, smelling my dry lawn in the still air, and watch June’s original fireflies mediating the light between present darkness and the stars yet to come.

Of course, at a distance, you cannot watch one firefly at a time because, by the time you focus on its ardent bio-green wink, it’s gone invisible again against the darkness. Another flash attracts your eye, but again you can only experience the same tantalizing failure to quite see what you’re looking for.

From this parable-like Elusiveness of Being, I deduce, smiling, that watching fireflies must indeed be a great spiritual discipline. Do you take me seriously? But ask yourself: What else can it be? And how do you succeed?

My answer is to de-focus my eyes. People usually notice only what is directly ahead, front and center. Actually, we of normal vision see much of a wrap-around panorama. So, by exploiting choiceless vision, I become aware of the whole gestalt, the “field of perception,” which tonight happens to contain the gentle mating ecstasy of luminous dots.

Blink blink. I just watch and watch, breathing according to an old chi-gung exercise somebody once showed me years ago. Blink blink. Gentle joy fills my heart. But under the same impulse my Western mind wakes up. Perhaps, I think, I am becoming a tiny bit too Asian, after all these years spent among so many powerful Korean and Chinese personalities.

Hmm. Nobody’s looking. Think I’ll take a leak off the deck and water the Zen.

# # #

Deaf, Dumb and Blind

June 21, 2012

You know a disability group formed a political action committee when…

When the tone-deaf demand public playing of music be outlawed because it is so irritatingly “just noise” — you know a disability group formed a political action committee.

When the color-blind insist school children be taught “emerging science” proves rainbows are only shades of gray– a disability group formed a political action committee.

But when the ACLU moves from town to town scouring traces of religion from the public sphere because god offends god-dumb Americans — this is larger than political action. This is cultural, too. Moreover, it’s stupid. Why are aggressive atheists squandering fortunes on this absurd quest to extirpate Christianity root and branch from within a two thousand year old Judeo-Christian culture?

What’s up with that? It’s not natural. Ah! Exactly!

Think about this for a second. Shoulder-shrugging agnosticism is the classic rationalist attitude toward the question of a supreme being because nobody can prove nothing. And, seriously now, exactly how do you hold a grudge against a Deity you don’t even believe exists? You can’t, anymore than you can hate Santa Claus personally. So what’s the beef all of a sudden?

Today’s professional atheists are anti-theists instead, so we suspect the intensely sterile politics of postmodern anti-humanist culture. But why would political activists care who believes in which god? The answer is sufficiently chilling to warrant a roundabout introduction from the last American novelist to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In his 1976 Nobel Lecture, Saul Bellow took note of novelist/theorist Alain Robbe-Grillet’s demand that, from now on, “characters” be dropped from fiction. The Frenchman saw them as literary artifacts  from a 19th century apogee of bourgeois individuality. Since those dark times, happily, “the exclusive cult of the ‘human’ has given way to a larger consciousness, one that is less anthropocentric.”

While the King of Sweden and all the assembled dignitaries sat listening closely in their glittering formal attire, Bellow, once a Chicago street kid, counter-punched Frenchie in the mouth by wondering if, instead, perhaps what really was passe were drearily orthodox thinkers like Alain Robbe-Grillet and all those who are so terribly traditional and utterly conventional in their thinking.

“Literature for nearly a century used the same stock of ideas, myths, strategies…” Bellow reminded his audience. “Essay after essay, book after book, confirms the most serious thoughts — Baudelairean, Nietzschean, Marxian, Psycho-analystic, etc., etc.”

Baudelaire: the de-luxe French poet of languorous sensual corruption. Nietzsche: the intoxicating theorist of supermen who are above merely mortal law. The suggestion Bellow slips in here like a knife between the ribs (“for nearly a century”) is that, in fact, Robbe-G’s brand of trumped-up pseudo-profundity is historically derived from this same age of grand families and big characters which the Frenchman dismisses.

Bellow then switches, rhetorically, to a sawed-off shotgun: “What Robbe-Grillet says about character can be said also about these ideas, maintaining all the usual things about  mass society, dehumanization, and the rest. How poorly they represent us. The pictures they offer no more resemble us than we resemble the reconstructed reptiles and other monsters in a museum of paleontology. We… all feel… an immense painful longing for a broader, more flexible, fuller, more coherent, more comprehensive account of what we human beings are.

I agree. So many nonconformists are sick to death of the smelly little orthodoxies of postmodernism. Like Tony Stark in Iron Man, we are bored with the conformists’ certainties. And as for the sterile threatening politics of anti-humanism in all its guises, we increasingly feel an urge to self-defense against the uprising among us of  angry urban activists who despise themselves and their race, loveless people who strike out at the public because they cannot connect in private.

Let me show you my fear in a handful of words. If you were educated to believe that neither a god nor human nature exists, and, therefore, morality is relative and situational, then History becomes only the timely application of brute force. And History gives a name to people like you who believe this. You are called fascists.

Do you understand? It does not matter how many confident people around you keep saying it’s good. Any movement which starts by telling you you have no god, ends up by setting up extermination camps. This should be obvious to even the very young.

You do not forbid people their god in order to be extra nice to them.

 

Silence

June 8, 2012

Today is Blogger Silence Day.

Attacks against on-line free speech are drifting toward the murderous, recently. Why? Because people on Capital Hill refuse to protect a Constitutional Right they swore a solemn oath to defend. Senators and Congress people, I’d like a little representation, if you don’t mind.

Hamlet: “The rest is silence…”

Sportif Hemingway

May 24, 2012

“And it is always so quiet when the goldfish die…”  Ernest Hemingway

This quote from his Letters always makes me smile a slow happy smile. Here is my hero off-duty, mocking his own underplayed handling of dire themes. Is it not nice to meet a magician with a sense of humor about the spell he casts?

Is Hemingway only a reputation to you? If you were to Kindle up Part One and Part Two of “Big Two-Hearted River,” half-an-hour’s reading would vouchsafe you one of the five best short stories written in the last hundred years. And that’s not just me saying so, either.

Hemingway wanted what every single serious writer wants without exception: to tell true stories so simply — and simple stories so truthfully — they never age on the page, either in their sentiments, or because of bad writing. What’s more, I always admired Hemingway for living out the adventurous life he wrote about so indelibly well — big-game hunting and fishing, boxing and soldiering.

Of course, for envious people, all his physical gifts and glittering virility seemed excessive in a man already acknowledged to be a literary genius. There are always, in any English Department, women of both sexes who will assure you that being a man’s man only goes to prove he was secretly all the more feminine. So those same critics who grant the immortality of his best work also endlessly repeat to students the traditional Freudian slur: “Hemingway was always trying to prove his masculinity.”

Nope. I can lay that canard to rest right here and now. All it takes is actually having paid some small attention to what this most truthful of authors had to say about his own metier.

Think about this sensibly. A job is a job, even for a genius. Writing was how he always made his living. He worked as an international journalist straight out of high school, then became a pupil of some of the century’s other greatest writers (Paris in the Twenties!). He wrote in a bone-clean style whose best effects use our commonest words in ways so fresh and vivid it is, to paraphrase Ford Madox Ford, as if each word were like pebbles fetched new-washed from a  brook and placed side by side.

Achieving this startling freshness was his day job. Hemingway wrote in the morning and stopped when he knew the next sentence because it made starting up easier tomorrow. But the imperative thing, he said, was to then turn away from writing — from any serious use of language — completely put it out of his mind until next morning. Managing his talent demanded treating his muse, in his famous metaphor, like a well which fills up overnight if you leave it alone.

So it became nothing less than Hemingway’s professional obligation to be sportif, as the French say: to find enjoyable, healthy things to do for the rest of the day that did not involve words. 

I call on you academics. By now you reveal uncomfortably more about yourselves than you do the author when you mouth this “proving his masculinity” crap. Hemingway didn’t need to prove anything to anybody, least of all that he was a man. He was simply in liege to an iron-clad professional necessity to… go fishing.

Comedy Tonight

May 17, 2012

“I’ve had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing.” — Buddy Hackett

It was said of Buddy Hackett that he had a face like an unmade bed. The comedian and actor also held the record as “most-booked guest” on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show. He made people laugh. Not me, usually, but there is this one story I think you will enjoy…

Buddy grew up in the Thirties doing standup at the Catskills Borscht Belt resorts where, traditionally, middle-class Jewish families used to summer. He fought as a gunner in World War II, then came home to go into show business.

Buddy became America’s latest incarnation of that uniquely poignant type of clown, the kind who are too ugly to be funny. Like Jimmy Durante, the Marx Brothers, and all Three Stooges, a homely star’s manic shtick often inspires, not humor, exactly, but a protective fondness which makes audiences laugh because they know he wants them to.

Personally, I never saw much in Buddy’s jokes. Unlike most rubber-faced vaudevillians, he underplayed, which made his oddness more expressive but not necessarily funnier. However, I’ve worked in show business, met plenty of entertainers, and I flatter myself I understood his appeal to the profession at large.

We heard him introduced as a show-biz insider, a “comedian’s comedian.” I felt sure he’d been cast in the majority of his movie roles mostly because Buddy was an asset on a set. His special value — quite enough to sustain a modest career even if you aren’t a major talent — lay in this rare happy ability to lighten-up Nervous Time on a shoot or backstage.

How?, you might wonder. How did he entertain all those jaded pros? Ah-hah! My favorite Buddy Hackett gag is not a joke he told but a legendary true story about him out golfing, one day, with some Hollywood cronies.

In the foursome, Hackett was paired off with his agent, an impatient scratch golfer who liked Buddy, personally, but dreaded hitting the links with him because his client was a duffer who could blow shot after shot and take all afternoon doing it.

Today’s play is no damn different, torture sets in, and three  holes along, the agent is already seething. As they walk up to tee off on the fourth hole, the agent, face pale with anger, turns to Buddy and says through gritted teeth, “If you screw up this hole, I will kill you with my bare hands.”

Buddy limbers up his best swing, and his drive hooks into some nearby woods. Dead silence on the tee behind him, Buddy vanishes into the thicket, looking for his lost ball.

Time passes. Nothing. No sign of Buddy. More waiting, waiting, and then, at the very instant when his agent literally begins to shake with fury, Buddy Hackett bursts out from the woods, stark naked, and runs off across the golf course screaming, “LOCUSTS! LOCUSTS!”

Timing is everything.

Deceased Deity Smackdown: Part Two

May 16, 2012

Quien es mas macho? Dostoyevsky or Nietzsche?

YESTERDAY’S SHOCKING REVELATIONS

Yesterday a like-new 1880 model Dostoyevsky pulled into Herb’s Semantic Garage for a quick check-up. “If God is dead, then everything is permitted.” Gotta admire those antique but still lethal-looking lines! So, full of enthusiasm, we popped the hood on this racy vehicle for atheists on the go.

Built by the Karamazov family of Russia, their classic old-world craftsmanship is thought to have the high horsepower of a terrible but honest truth. Instead, our inspection plainly indicated the rhetorical engine driving the English translation is fueled by play-acting, by a crass theatrical effect, and the so-called “honest truth” is mostly grimacing grease-paint over-dramatizing a ho-hum truism.

So this was yesterday’s big breakthrough… For a century-and-a-half the West has thought it was hearing the implacable voice of Science, only to find out now it was, like, Sarah Bernhardt all along. Gross disillusionment! Is nothing sacred, not even the Scriptures of atheism? Must the breed who always proudly announce having seen through God “when I was fifteen” begin again in middle-age by doubting doubt itself? 

Luckily, fast-fast relief exists for college-educated despair. There is still lose one mastermind of atheism even more dazzlingly epigrammatic than Dostoyevsky. Nietzsche! Another certifiable genius! Never fear! Good conformists can continue to cling to their pious and respectable middle-class godlessness, even when sorely tempted by assertions, blasphemous to Science, that, actually, hope might be the human portion after all.

Notice the difference in conclusions drawn from the exact same premise…

“If God is dead, then everything is permitted.” — Dostoyevsky

“If God is dead, everything is weightless.” — Nietzsche

Notice how the Russian speaks for only himself, his ilk, while the German speaks for us all by foreseeing our tragedy?

“Everything is permitted” to whom? The ordinary man in his everyday rounds confronts, not this dramatic everything, but rather humanity’s shabby heirloom crimes of ordinary theft, assault, infidelity, whatever. To now suddenly believe there will be no divine judgement for, say, stealing from your business partner does not tip the balance for a basically honest man to turn robber. Impending bankruptcy might.

So the question remains. Who among us, in 1880, will be most likely, in the years to come, to invent new and more outrageous violations of what used to be God’s unbreakable Laws? Not the powerless average folks. What about society’s powerful people, tho? Especially, those whose power is largely hypothetical — journalists, politicians, artists, editorialists and activist. Remember, at this  instant in the novel, Dostoyevsky’s character is in the front parlor, debating with just such people as these.

On the other hand, Nietzsche addresses everyday global life for all of us in the 21st century. Weightless, stranded on Instantaneous Island, hedged in by flatscreens, staring at the one in my palm and wondering why I love nobody…

Today many feel they are being forcibly exiled to Nietzsche’s floating, weightless future, not because it needs to happen, but because of the calculated crimes of the Dostoyevsky’s elites to whom everything is permitted because God is, you know, dead.

Correctly Wrong

May 15, 2012

“The” Red State men’s novel… gutsy, smart, funny, prophetic

 What world famous quote flutters on the tattered flag of 20th century International Modernism?

The character speaking is aghast: Dostoyevsky’s thunder-struck line from The Brothers Karamazov is usually translated as “If God is dead, everything is permitted.”

This is a clumsy English translation from the already sloppy Russian of a novelist of genius who wrote too damn fast. To me, it’s like a stick in the eye. Doesn’t the translator’s choice of “permitted” smuggle a moral dimension back into an absolute statement of the vanishing of all moral dimensions?

That sentence is a loop, a tautology, a snag. It’s the logic of our language. Because, if authority is gone, permission, which in English must always be “given,” obviously no longer applies. If God is dead, then who does the statement suppose lingers on, passing out all these licenses?

It cannot be Satan, of course. God and the devil always oppose each other within the same infinity. If God vanishes, their duplex continuum goes with Him, and so does the devil.

Ah, the 20th century! Words this conspicuously famous always effect real people; or what’s an advertising slogan for? Over the years “…permitted,” with its cosy connotation of negative license, surely has done its prosy little bit  to help corrode many a searching young Modernist.

I ask myself why the translator forced this choice of words on the reader.  Fidelity to text is, for language workers, what hand-washing is to surgeons.  And a translator, of all people, must be especially sensitive to shades of meaning in languages. So…?

Actually, the reason explains itself.

Some editions do indeed print “…everything is possible.” Eying this version of the sentence, I understand, being a screenwriter, why the translator, also professionally sensitive to the needs of an audience, ended up by picking so false a word. The new version turns out to be a thudding dud, a banal truism, and it absolutely doesn’t work dramatically. And in drama, the single greatest rule is that what doesn’t show must go.

The poor translator is up to her neck (American publishing’s two most important Russian translators of the early 20th century were women), struggling with one of the most brilliant and intense scenes in world literature. The English verbage must serve the Russian occasion. Her job is to get across to readers the novel’s human impact. And when voiced by the father, “…permitted” is poignant because we hear not only this truth but also people’s inability to quite even grasp what we are saying when we say God is dead.

Yet the oddment  is how, professionally, the translator was right to go wrong.

“Invisible Man” Shows Up

April 30, 2012

“The” Red State men’s novel… gutsy, smart, funny, prophetic

I award myself the 2012 Pulitzer.

Thank you, thank you.

Further proof American literature is bitched: No Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded this year. Not everybody cares, of course, but it bruises my heart.

It also explodes the academic pretense that creative writing can be taught. Professors, you have so utterly failed to “teach” how to write. You teach what to write. That castrates students’ originality. Of course, a vigorous, candidly-masculine literary avant-guard is the worst publishing disaster university conformists can imagine.

Author, all their carefully implanted “political correctness” in your brain is the suicide of spontaneity. It is you saying, not what you honestly first think, but what, on second thought, you better settle for. It is the death of the original. And novels are called novels because they are supposed to be novel. I don’t care if you are Right or Left or Middling — this is about your art, not your politics.

Art is smothered by gun-point conformity, and nothing can revive it, apparently — look to Russia and weep! — after a couple generations of fear of the New.

Maybe PIECE OF RESISTANCE is 2012’s best American novel. I think it deals entertainingly with troubles our nation is about to end up neck-deep in, just like Europe. So, even putting aside family pride, I guarantee POR is bolder, better-achieved, ambitious in execution, more relevant to How We Live Now, funnier, and, yes, damn it!, a nobler effort than any of these other losers.

No, I freely admit I haven’t read all of the nominees. I don’t need to. I wrote POR because nobody needs to read one more New York Times best-seller. Period.

Will you listen to the author of the best-regarded novel of the second half of the 20th century?

…And is there not a connection between the non-intellectual aspects of (American fiction) and its creators’ rejection of broad social responsibility, its failure to project characters who grasp the broad sweep of American life? …Is it not a partial explanation of why (American fiction) has created no characters possessing broad insight into their situation or the emotional, psychological and intellectual complexity which would allow them to posses and articulate a truly democratic world view?”

–Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man

Man, Read This Book!

April 13, 2012

“The” Red State men’s novel… gutsy, smart, funny, prophetic

http://www.scribbcrib.com/products-page/books/drama/piece-of-resistance/

Hello, you…

It’s not news the E-Book Revolution is nationalizing American publishing just as surely as file-sharing crashed our music business. What this means to me is that, for the first time since mid-20th century, when Grove Press defied censorship laws and sold “dangerous” avant-garde authors to average middle-class readers, now once again — however briefly — the walls are falling down, the unspeakable becomes eloquent, and the coming new truths of the age can dare the light of day.

I write fiction for other men, other American men, especially. My martial arts journalism takes the same tone. Natural masculine address sounds unusual in a culture where women dominate publishing. The intimate act of writing has itself become safely socialized, and the fantasies of women shape popular fiction.

Once American literature was by, for and about men — roughly until the feminist cultural putsch of the 1960s. Be fair. Cultural exhaustion had set in. Men, in truth, especially the novelists, were mostly written-out. Men were heartily sick of men. A century of wall-to-wall wars will do that to a man.

Today, you young male writers grow up understanding what you will need to do — the professional wound — you must inflict on yourselves — auto-castration of your talent — but a woman it is who presses the knife into your hand and whispers: “If you ever hope to make a living writing…”

What I’m saying is the time has come when English Literature must put aside women of both sexes and speak once again in a deeper, rougher, more natural voice. And unfortunately, we must shock the ladies. Literature must shock to grow, ladies, because Culture’s central scandal remains eternally humanly unchangeable: the Well of Madness is the only know source for the Waters of New Truth.

Thanks for reading. Your scanning eyes make me who I am.

Your,

Herb