Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ageless Socialism

The 'Filibernie' - Sen. Sanders' 8.5 hour argument against Obama/GOP Tax Deal

When I think of the 69- year-old Senator Bernie Sanders standing and explaining  the flaws in the current deal between Obama and the Republicans to extend tax cuts for all and extend unemployment payments for workers, I am awed by the dedication and purpose of this great statesman. As I try to decide which film to see tonight, as I enjoy my three weeks of vacation from teaching, as I write my self-indulgent blog, and ponder the meaning of life for a queer man in his sixties, Bernie Sanders offers up a burning, shining example of what a meaningful life an aging man can have. Of course, the good Senator comes from a state where people are, for the most part, educated and aware of the benefits of democratic socialism, a state that knows the dangers of unfettered capitalism. A simple drive across this green, lovely, rolling state reveals the enlightened refusal to let business run rampant with billboards and ugly factories. 

File:Vermont fall foliage hogback mountain.JPG
 Vermont in Autumn, from Wikipedia

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Solstice Approaches


"Winter Solstice"

Another winter solstice arrives in ten days, this time with a total lunar eclipse. Outside, beyond the screen porch, the skeletons of oaks reach up to a sky pale as death. It is impossible not to think of mortality on such a day, especially after suffering more stomach cramps and flu for two days. After my Wednesday visit to Dr. Malamis, and after receiving  a flu shot, strange it was to go from health to illness in less than 24 hours. Was it because of the shot, or eating a full meal at the Colonnade, big salad, fried chicken and limas? Or is there something else amiss, going back to my Thanksgiving illness?
It is noon, Darryl is still asleep upstairs, and I have watched a Swedish film about the troubled life a a woman photographer from World War 1 through the Twenties. Art arises out of  hard life experiences. No doubt, as I look around rooms of art, the huge Connatser in front of me that hung on my mother's wall for decades, two people conversing in a cubist world of turbulence. The Picasso lithograph of two figures confronting one another with masks. The Huichol jaguar with a peyote button on its forehead. Even the sculpted Buddha protected by a cobra. Art penetrates into the heart of life.
What better time to make merry, to decorate evergreen trees, to drink eggnog, and believe in sweet baby gods. The moon will turn blood red this Solstice as the dark winter caresses the Northern Hemisphere. Thus goes the cycle of death and rebirth. The New Year follows with dancing and champagne.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Boardwalk Empire

Season 1 Finale was tonight; but there is more to come. A great look at the start of the Roaring 20s and the crime wave that began there and became a tsunami all the way to Chicago. Here's the Daily Beast's lovely review:

HBO’s Atlantic City gangster drama ends its first season tonight—Allen Barra argues that its excellence is unrivaled in TV history, and has only seldom been achieved in film.

In the first episode of Boardwalk Empire, directed by Martin Scorsese, Atlantic City political boss “Nucky” Thompson, played by Steve Buscemi, pensively gazes into a fortuneteller’s parlor. A short time later, we see the reverse shot—Nucky staring through the door’s oval window as seen from the inside. The shot replicates the double burn insert popular in newspapers in the 1910s and 1920s where a photo of a famous person was set in a smaller frame against a larger background–you’ll remember the technique from the front page of a newspaper in Citizen Kane featuring pictures of Kane and his mistress and their “love nest.”

It’s an arcane reference but a key one. Boardwalk Empire, which closes out its first season this Sunday at 9 p.m., has gone for the top rung in terms of authenticity and much more often than not reaches it. Nothing quite like this HBO series has ever been produced on television, and only seldom in the movies. A comparison to The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II wouldn’t be misleading. Boardwalk Empire is about the children and grandchildren of mostly Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants and how they came together to create organized crime as a springboard to becoming what one of the mob’s giants, Meyer Lansky, once called “real Americans.” For total evocation of period and mood—not merely the automobiles and fashions, but the sepia-toned lighting of the interiors, the ornate furnishings, and especially the music (Eddie Cantor, Bessie Smith, Caruso)—the series has no rival in television history. Atlantic City (actually Greenpoint, Brooklyn, across the East River from Manhattan) looks like a beautiful place for organized crime to be born. A crew of more than 300 constructed a 290-foot long boardwalk and, using an estimated 140 tons of steel, created hotels (including the legendary Ritz, the real Nucky’s favorite), shops, taffy parlors and photography studios at a cost in excess of $5 million. (The first episode alone cost nearly $18 million.)
It’s the closest thing television has given us to actually stepping back into another time period. The product of a collaboration between Terence Winter, a key Sopranos writer, and Scorsese, Boardwalk Empire has been slow to ingratiate itself with some viewers because it takes its own sweet time developing the characters and story line, and also because the tone from episode to episode–and thus the overall arc–has sometimes been uneven. This was probably inevitable, since Episodes 2-12 are the work of four other directors: Tim Van Patten, Jeremy Podeswa, Alan Taylor, and Allen Coulter, all veterans of the some of the best recent series on television—The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Pacific, and Mad Men. But this is a minor complaint about a show whose pleasures are so rich and varied–and when was the last time such adjectives could be used to describe a show about gangsters?
Some critics have complained that Boardwalk Empire is too much based on fact, while other say it is too much based on fiction. In the New York Times, for instance, Alessandra Stanley wrote that because “the series is based on a history book, Nelson Johnson’s Boardwalk Empire” the show’s writers “lack the confidence to improvise.” If Stanley had read Johnson’s “history book,” she would have found that it is mostly a social account of Atlantic City from its inception as a blue-collar vacation spot in the late nineteenth century to the coming of Donald Trump. In fact, much of the background for the show’s real life characters are taken from such storied texts about the early mob as The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano by Martin Gosh and Richard Hammer, Hank Messick’s Lansky, and recent books such as David Pietrusza’s superb biography of the early financier of organized crime, Rothstein.
Even many of the fictional characters are composites of real people. Criticism that much of the characters’ interior lives are invented is irrelevant; no one was there with a tape recorder when Rothstein, Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, and other luminaries met in Atlantic City in 1920 to create America’s shadow corporations.
Article - Barra Boardwalk Empire Abbot Genser / HBO
Why Atlantic City and not New York or Chicago? As Nelson Johnson writes, “When it came to illegal booze, there was probably no place in the country as wide open as Nucky’s town. It was almost as if word of the Volstead Act never reached Atlantic City.” Surrounded by water, pine forests, and swamp and accessed only a few roads easily monitored by a corrupt police department, Atlantic City was a natural magnet for crime in the Prohibition era. And, of course, there was the lure of the Atlantic Ocean. As Burt Lancaster’s graying smalltime hood says in Louis Malle’s Atlantic City, “The Atlantic Ocean was really something back then.”
Each episode becomes an exercise in how far each character is willing to go before crossing a line that can’t be crossed back.
During Prohibition, Nucky Johnson, the real person on whom Buscemi’s character is based, was, according to the Johnson book, “both a power broker in the Republican Party and a force in organized crime, he rubbed elbows with presidents and Mafia thugs. But to Atlantic City’s residents, Nucky was hardly a thug. He was their hero, epitomizing the qualities that made his town successful.” If Arnold Rothstein was the grandfather of organized crime, Nucky was its midwife. Buscemi, a great character actor, would seem hardly to be anyone’s idea to hold a series like Boardwalk Empire together, but he has grown into the part over the course of the season, shedding apprehensions and inhibitions.
Early in the series, his protégée, Jimmy Darmody, a World War I vet turned killer played by a beautifully menacing Michael Pitt, tells him, “You can’t keep being half a gangster, Nucky." It’s a delusion shared by the show’s major characters. Michael Stuhlberg’s Arnold Rothstein wants to see himself as a good Jew who dabbles in gambling as a sideline and loans money to hoods as a business enterprise. Vincent Piazza’s Lucky Luciano would go on to become the most important mobster of all, but at the start of the series he is still conning himself into believing that running errands for Rothstein is the path to becoming a gentleman.
Kara Cutruzzula: ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and TV’s Biggest DrunksIf some of the characters didn’t seem fully formed at the outset, it’s for good reason—they are gangsters in progress, creating the people who would serve as archetypes in hundreds of books, TV shows, and movies, particularly Stephen Graham’s Al Capone, who morphs from a jovial, sadistic playground bully into a full-fledged psychopath in front of our eyes. Each episode becomes an exercise in how far each character is willing to go before crossing a line that can’t be crossed back. (Graham’s Capone crosses his line about midway through the first episode.)
The great news for those who have become hooked on the show is that it has already been renewed for Season 2. It’s going to be a delicious few months anticipating the characters reaching their full splendor at the height of the Jazz Age when everyone as they become whole gangsters.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Savannah Revisited

You are invited to view Jak & Dar's photo album: Savannah Thanksgiving 10
Savannah Thanksgiving 10
Nov 23, 2010
by Jak & Dar
Savannah T'giving
Message from Jak & Dar:
a few of the pics from Savannah

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pilgrims in Savannah

As James Land Jones said, my visits to Savannah are like a Fellini film. 
From the drive down the Thanksgiving trip was everything from upheaval to settling down in old Savannah Victorian camp charm.
Dinner at Ben Head's was delicious. My  Dad, who seldom eats much,  enjoyed a large helping of Molasses pork loin and sweet potatoes. Kathy talked of Michner's Texas, Darryl of Menchen, John of his daughter Maggie, Ben of the history of the Davenport House, and all of us , except silent, contented Dad, of the Catholic Church and Oscar Wilde, Kathy quoting, "Marriage is the triumph of habit over hate."

We  settled  into the Bed and Breakfast Inn and were upgraded to the Jasper House. Dar, John, Lee and Steve Killian,  Joe Mydell and John's friend Connie gathered one afternoon. Ben, Dad and Kathy joined the above for a Saturday get together in the double parlor.  Here is a glimpse of our house.

Sgt. Jasper House

Our most ornate, spacious, and discerning of accommodations. 

It is a three floor row house next to the inn.

 The oversized parlor and dining room of the Jasper House will sweep you back to a bygone time, with turn of the century furnishings, artwork, and decor. The remodeled gourmet kitchen will make you feel pampered. Upstairs are 4 bedrooms and 2 baths. Two bedrooms contain a single queen bed each, and two bedrooms contain two twin beds each. Each room is decorated with a unique style, and the Jasper House can accommodate up to 8 adults. The Jasper House is sold nightly as a choice room with inn amenities or for a weekly vacation rental rate without inn amenities.

 2nd floor bedroom with two twin-sized beds

 Dining room  Parlor and sitting area

Monday, November 22, 2010


Tennessee in Autumn
photo by Darryl

As we embark upon Thanksgiving week, there is much that I am thankful for. Today is my brother's 58th birthday and I am glad we shall spend the rest of the week together. I am thankful for Darryl's going with me to Savannah and for his new job editing that allows him to go virtually anywhere there is internet access. I am thankful for my good friend Joseph Mydell's visit this past week and the week ahead, for our renewed times together, and for his wonderful success as an award winning actor.

The week ahead offers more contact with our world of friends, with Lee and Steve Killian from North Carolina. Ben Head will host John, Dad, Kathy, Darryl and me for Thanksgiving dinner. And Darryl and I will have the spacious  Live Oak Suite at the Bed and Breakfast Inn to enjoy. It is a golden autumn here in Atlanta today, yellow leaves against the gray sky. Several warm days lie ahead here and in Savannah. So, it is a good time to reflect upon blessings: health, friendship, the opportunity to visit Savannah, Asheville, and Chattanooga where Starr is thankfully becoming Tays once more.

Always in my mind, these holidays, is the Epicurean Garden, where gather our kindred spirits. May it ever become more manifest in our lives.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Good Bye Boneheads

Shooing the Blue Dogs and other mad dogs.

One more thought about the election of 2010. The win of the Republicans took place mostly in the suburbs that swung from Republican to Democrat in 2006 in disgust over Bush. Tuesday's election's big losers were mostly the so called blue dog Democrats who made everything progressives and Obama did difficult. They often shared with Republicans the ties to corporations and special interests. So I would say one major message from the election is a rejection of tepid, milquetoast caving to the hard nosed positions of Republicans. Commentators have laughed at the absurdity of thinking that independents voted Republican because Democrats were not far Left enough. That may seem like a paradox, but the fact is, the youth vote and the minority vote were seriously lacking in this election and it was their high percentages that swept Obama and Democrats to historic power in 2008. Note too that in many state-wide races the Democratic strongholds held, keeping the West Coast progressive-- in California, Oregon,  Washington and even Nevada-- as well as in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and other Eastern bastions of Liberalism.

In my view, the way to energize those millions of progressive, young, minority voters  is to be tough, to fight for progressive reform with  more fervor than ever. You cannot compromise with evil- so said Rush Limbaugh in the most damning irony of the campaign. So, let's get on with our quest for equality in this country, with the freedom we can believe in: freedom to marry for all, freedom to serve in the armed forces, if we so choose, freedom to earn a good wage when we work, freedom to have health care when we are ill, freedom from pollution and corruption, freedom for the entire planet to be healthy, clean,  and peaceful. Finally, we should stand for the freedom of as many people as possible to find happiness-- the cornerstone of John Locke's and Thomas Jefferson's philosophy.

{ Read:  Life Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (click)}


Wednesday, November 03, 2010



Portland Cityscape, Portland Rose Garden, Mt. Hood

Is there a lesson to learn from the swing of the House of Reps from Democratic to Republican last night? Did Obama fail to "connect" to the voters? Did the Tea Party Patriots sway the voters with good, sound anti-government argument? Had Pelosi and the Dems just been too socialist and ambitious?

Of course not. For one thing, there is no tea party. It doesn't exist. There are only corporation financed capitalists who know how to get the voters stirred up over meaningless terms like socialism and big government. There are so many ignorant, uninformed, easily misled, dare I say, stupid people in the "greatest nation on Earth," that candidates who have no interest in helping the middle class, much less the poor, the old, the sick, or the needy of the country, can win political contests on appearance and advertisement alone. Our Supreme Court has made it easier than ever for corporations, including those in other countries, to finance our elections, presenting false and manipulative ads more sophisticated than any on "Madmen."

Fortunately, the statewide electorates managed to keep the Democrats in power in the Senate. There will be no outrageous, right-wing bills from Congress that Obama must veto. But there is likely to be virtually no cooperation either. The House may even go so far as to "investigate" the Obama administration with impeachment on their minds.

Which brings me back to last night's lesson: Democracy does not work. It is not the best form of government. Besides, what we have is not democracy at all, but oligarchy, with millionaire candidates, and billion dollar campaigns.  Even with that setup, where voters choose which oligarchs to elect, an uninformed electorate repeatedly vote for the person least likely to support their interests, or worse, to work for private interests that bring them harm. Given that the sort of Republic for which Plato advocated is virtually impossible, and that malevolent dictatorship may be inevitable, I fall back and urge myself and friends to the fragrance of the Garden of Epicurus- a nice garden without debris blowers and with a fine variety of blooms. Today,  I can't help recalling the splendid rose garden in Portland, Oregon, and the uplifting view of snow covered Mount Hood.



Friday, October 29, 2010

The Tea Party Patriots (Election Approaches)


Today's Tea Baggers worship the balls of the Koch Brothers. (click). The baggers  are  political finger puppets--  mean, cold, selfish, gun carrying fools of Rupert Murdoch, the Corporate CEOs who pay little or no taxes, the oil industry, and the mad hatters like G. Beck, Palin and other screaming loons who support reactionary 18th C. libertarianism. They would allow unlimited corruption, pollution, and abuse by an elite oligarchy that includes the Bushies and the Cheneys, Clarence Thomas and wife, Karl Rove, and the Republican fat cats who hate the poor, the middle class, and anyone not a member of their quail hunting, fast shooting club. How anyone who is not an indifferent, mindless multi-millionaire, living in a fantasy world where there is no global warming, where no one dies in wars, where gays are locked away, where Christmas is always white, could vote libertarian or Republican, when there is such suffering in the country and the world, is beyond me. Greed and ignorance to the point of self-mutilation are the order of the day.

Is there no way to lick the tea baggers? If only the Democrats had some balls...


Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Mr. Reich echoes what we've been saying for some time: our nation has become an oligarchy (Plutocracy)


Robert Reich begins: "It's a perfect storm. And I'm not talking about the impending dangers facing Democrats. I'm talking about the dangers facing our democracy."
Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)
Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)

The Perfect Storm

Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog
18 October 10

t's a perfect storm. And I'm not talking about the impending dangers facing Democrats. I'm talking about the dangers facing our democracy.
First, income in America is now more concentrated in fewer hands than it's been in 80 years. Almost a quarter of total income generated in the United States is going to the top 1 percent of Americans.
The top one-tenth of one percent of Americans now earn as much as the bottom 120 million of us.
Who are these people? With the exception of a few entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, they're top executives of big corporations and Wall Street, hedge-fund managers, and private equity managers. They include the Koch brothers, whose wealth increased by billions last year, and who are now funding tea party candidates across the nation.
Which gets us to the second part of the perfect storm. A relatively few Americans are buying our democracy as never before. And they're doing it completely in secret.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring into advertisements for and against candidates - without a trace of where the dollars are coming from. They're laundered through a handful of groups. Fred Maleck, whom you may remember as deputy director of Richard Nixon's notorious Committee to Reelect the President (dubbed Creep in the Watergate scandal), is running one of them. Republican operative Karl Rove runs another. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a third.
The Supreme Court's Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission made it possible. The Federal Election Commission says only 32 percent of groups paying for election ads are disclosing the names of their donors. By comparison, in the 2006 midterm, 97 percent disclosed; in 2008, almost half disclosed.
We're back to the late 19th century when the lackeys of robber barons literally deposited sacks of cash on the desks of friendly legislators. The public never knew who was bribing whom.
Just before it recessed the House passed a bill that would require that the names of all such donors be publicly disclosed. But it couldn't get through the Senate. Every Republican voted against it. (To see how far the GOP has come, nearly ten years ago campaign disclosure was supported by 48 of 54 Republican senators.)
Here's the third part of the perfect storm. Most Americans are in trouble. Their jobs, incomes, savings, and even homes are on the line. They need a government that's working for them, not for the privileged and the powerful.
Yet their state and local taxes are rising. And their services are being cut. Teachers and firefighters are being laid off. The roads and bridges they count on are crumbling, pipelines are leaking, schools are dilapidated, and public libraries are being shut.
There's no jobs bill to speak of. No WPA to hire those who can't find jobs in the private sector. Unemployment insurance doesn't reach half of the unemployed.
Washington says nothing can be done. There's no money left.
No money? The marginal income tax rate on the very rich is the lowest it's been in more than 80 years. Under President Dwight Eisenhower (who no one would have accused of being a radical) it was 91 percent. Now it's 36 percent. Congress is even fighting over whether to end the temporary Bush tax cut for the rich and return them to the Clinton top tax of 39 percent.
Much of the income of the highest earners is treated as capital gains, anyway - subject to a 15 percent tax. The typical hedge-fund and private-equity manager paid only 17 percent last year. Their earnings were not exactly modest. The top 15 hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion.
Congress won't even return to the estate tax in place during the Clinton administration – which applied only to those in the top 2 percent of incomes.
It won't limit the tax deductions of the very rich, which include interest payments on multi-million dollar mortgages. (Yet Wall Street refuses to allow homeowners who can't meet mortgage payments to include their primary residence in personal bankruptcy.)
There's plenty of money to help stranded Americans, just not the political will to raise it. And at the rate secret money is flooding our political system, even less political will in the future.
The perfect storm: An unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top; a record amount of secret money flooding our democracy; and a public becoming increasingly angry and cynical about a government that's raising its taxes, reducing its services, and unable to get it back to work.
We're losing our democracy to a different system. It's called plutocracy.

Robert Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written twelve books, including "The Work of Nations," "Locked in the Cabinet," "Supercapitalism" and his latest book, "AFTERSHOCK: The Next Economy and America's Future." His 'Marketplace' commentaries can be found on publicradio.com 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tea Bag v. Nickel Bag

Allen Ginsberg on Bourbon Street
photo copyright
Jack Miller

Sunday's New York Times Book Review ended with an absurd comparison of today's Tea Bag movement with that of the Beats. You can read it at:


 Besides claiming they both wanted individual freedom and opposed big government, the article just rambled on about the dissimilar, discordant traits of each.

Even to mention TV clown Glenn Beck in the same breath as Allen Ginsberg is to conjure up, as one of my friends put it,

How are they unalike? Let me count the ways:

Beats vs. Baggers

The Beats were a group of writers and artists who loved and explored alternate religions to Christianity. They pursued Buddhism and Zen.
Baggers are not writers, but the haters of books and intellectuals who mostly believe in a literal reading of the Bible.

The Beats explored and practiced expanded consciousness, including sexual experimentation with homosexuality, bisexuality, and group sex.
Baggers demonstrate reduced consciousness, conformity, and the denial of sexuality for anything but procreation. They condemn gays, want to outlaw the woman's choice of whether to have a baby, and even want to stop masturbation.  They have suggested that single, sexually active women should not be allowed to teach.

Beats reject materialism and brainwashing.
Baggers are funded by right wing billionaires who favor less taxes for the very rich. 

Beats are pro-ecology and love nature and the environment.
Baggers oppose any regulation of corporations, industry, or big oil. The environment is to be used up and wildlife is for the sport of hunters.

The Beats enjoyed being high on marijuana, for the most part.
Baggers don't even like tea and have no idea what the Boston Tea Party was about.

The Beats opposed war and the policies of Dick Nixon. They were diverse and fought for the rights of minorities.
The Baggers are mostly angry  white men and women who support spending more for the military , resent other ethnic groups, despise diversity, and are often bigots against blacks, gays, and women. Even the women in the movement oppose women's rights. 

The Beats were individuals, not a movement or party at all. The Hippie movement derived from the Beats, but was not a political movement either.
The Baggers are a political movement funded by the rich to help restore power to Republican corporate puppets.

The list of differences goes on...and on...


("I knew Allen Ginsberg. Allen Ginsberg was a friend of mine. Glenn Beck, you are no Allen Ginsberg." {Jack throws up} )


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Irony and Facebook

File:Marcel Duchamp Mona Lisa LHOOQ.jpg


This past week poet Alfred Corn asked the question on his Facebook page, "Irony--can it be defined in non-ironic fashion?"  Today, I saw the film Social Network and the ironies in the film spurred even more thought on the subject.

To begin, I'd have to answer Alfred's question by saying no. As soon as I even try to define irony, irony influences my thoughts, making me want to be ironic in my response. That is not to say we cannot talk about irony in a straight-forward manner, but that even when we do, there is an inclination to add a touch of irony. Irony is needed to explain irony.

Irony has unquestionably played a key role in my life. Accepting the label of gay in my 20s was blatantly ironic, I thought. Gay. The least gay thing about me was that I was gay. The very term is fraught with irony, going back to Oscar Wilde, no doubt one of the models used in creating the term for homosexuality. Yes, Wilde was gay, even in the horrors of his life in prison. What could be more linguistically ironic than the oxymoron, gay suicide, filling our newspapers today?

Irony is subtle; defining it ought to be not only difficult, but ongoing. Pin it down and it becomes sarcasm, cynicism, a joke, a witticism, a play on words, a pun, perhaps. Wikipedia breaks the term down into it's many exemplary uses, Socratic, tragic, literary, linguistic, artistic, and the like. Yet, those who use irony might well disagree on what is or isn't irony-- Duchamp's putting a mustache on Mona in L.H.O.O.Q., above, for instance.

The film, Social Network, presents us with a creator of Facebook, a network with half a billion friends, unable to be or keep a friend himself. Irony. And there are many other ironies in the film. If the story  has any truth to it, Facebook as it has evolved today is far more than the original idea as Mark Z. conceived it. If Facebook has become a substitute for making real friends, then that too is ironic. Yet, as I see it, Facebook has provided far more than a place to meet ones potential sex partners; it has become a place to communicate in a genuine way. What started out as a convenient way to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances has become a means of sharing ideas with those who share our interests, as well as a way to renew and maintain ties that we should not have lost. The implications for education using Facebook are just arising.

There is much more to both irony and to Facebook that I'd like to explore this gorgeous October day. But I have dinner plans, so those thoughts must wait.

BTW, there is a brilliant review of the film and its irony in the New Yorker:

Influencing People

David Fincher and “The Social Network.”

by David Denby


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Ship of State



 Our ship of state goes in circles. We are rounding the loop of 1980 when voters rejected the truth Jimmy Carter told us about conservation and using less oil. We are rounding the election of '94 when voters took out a contract on the Clintons for daring to promote health care for the poor and sick. By January, if all goes 'round as expected, Republicans will again shut down the government in order to guarantee the corporations unlimited power to do as they please. Why? The reason too repeats: misguided selfishness of the worst kind. It is not only that we will not recycle, not pay taxes to make the world a better place, it is that we want our phantom edge over the others, the immigrants, the blacks, the gays, the Muslims. We will not learn Spanish, damn it. Nor will our undereducated offspring.  Thank You Jesus (even if you really were for the poor and outcast, you Socialist). Vote Tea Bag.



Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Send in the Bodhisattvas


Sixteen years ago Newt Gingrich lead the charge of the Right Wing to overtake the Congress, to defeat health care for the needy, and to bring the government to a halt. The happy days of prosperity that the Clintons were ushering in ceased as Republicans ground the gears of government to a nasty stop. Then they orchestrated an outrageous impeachment of the president for his sexual misconduct, despite the ever growing sexual scandals Republicans themselves were engaging in. Republicans threw tantrums, ranted against socialism, and did everything in their power eventually to capture the White House, even if it meant fudging the vote in Florida and using the Supreme Court to put Florida in the Bush column in spite of the voters of Florida, in spite of Gore winning the popular vote by half a million votes nationwide. The Republicans spent two decades in power bringing this country to its knees with unfounded wars, enormous deficits, corrupt tax breaks for corporations and billionaires, and irresponsible pollution of the environment. They have done this in great part by pretending to be Christians, instead of selfish, greedy, godless plutocrats.

Since selfish, greedy, powerful plutocrats own the media, Democrats are lost in the rush to replay every word and gesture of the tea party scoundrels-- Palin, Beck, Brewer, Bachmann, the list goes on. Gaffs become laughs, and the anti-intellectual fervor knows no bounds. Intellectuals must be Muslim Marxists (never mind the oxymoron). In the eyes of the media, the revolt against the devastation of Republican rule that took place in 2008 was a misguided fluke.


Are we headed back (back back back) to 1994? Will we face another Republican congress ready to shut down the country, rather than compromise. Will the Supreme Court step in again to rescue a losing Republican for President in 2012? Will congress impeach Obama for being un-American, declaring him unborn in the U.S.A.?

None of this seems far-fetched to me. When the majority of a democracy refuse to vote, much less be informed about their candidates, disaster is always possible, perhaps likely. Ours is a country where ignorance and naivete are rampant. Our Oligarchy is really controlled by those powerful CEOs making billions and laughing at the rest of us. It will take their enlightenment, their seeing pollution seeping into their favorite vacation spots, the world disintegrating into war and filth, before we truly achieve genuine reform. How can we get the fat cats on the path to enlightenment?

Send in the Bodhisattvas...

Jetsun Taranatha



Saturday, September 04, 2010

Morning in Druid Hills

As the first fall like breezes blow over Druid Hills, it is pure delight to sit on the porch, watch the tame sunlight move over the lawn and oaks, and read Gail Collins in the New York Times. It is with nostalgia and bewilderment that I think about the state of the world. Perhaps I am no different from the yapping dog, high pitched complaint in the sweet morning air. Why not just be quiet and content, sip my delicious coffee, take deep breaths and meditate. A blessed three day weekend lies before me.

Still, it is worthwhile to see clearly what is happening in our country this autumn. Ms. Collins writes about Arizona governor Brewer and her poor performance at a debate. Why does her incompetence not register with the Arizona electorate? It would be understandable if, as Plato wrote thousands of years ago, the Republicans were swaying people with brilliant, if untrue, speeches and posturing. But they are not even giving popular, clever presentations. Voters really believe that Democrats are socialists? They really oppose health care for the poor? They want the rich to pay less taxes? They don't want devastating pollution and bank corruption regulated and controlled? 

The only explanation I find is that it must be religion. The American people will believe anything if it is veiled in religious nonsense. The Republicans have figured out how to portray their opponents as evil, to tag Democrats as evil because they are not sticking to the religion of the Founding Fathers. Never mind that the real founding fathers were deists and lived lives of sexual exuberance, that they are far more like Bill Clinton than George W. The Tea Baggers and the corporate Republicans have got Jesus, and voters love their Jesus. Flag and cross are just too powerful to resist.

This week Stephen Hawking explained to us that God did not create the universe. The idea of an omnipotent, all knowing god has been an absurd and contradictory notion for far too long. Science and philosophy have shown the emptiness of the god concept. Nietzsche explained how Christianity has poisoned all sense of what is noble in life. Sartre revealed how logically ridiculous the idea of god is. Hawking knows that science can explain the world beautifully without god. Epicurus knew the same thing long before the birth of Jesus.

And so, this crisp morning, it is clear to me why voters are going to overthrow the Democrats in November. They prefer the ignorance of faith in what oppresses them to belief in science, philosophy, and the truth. Obama is the anti-Christ, the Muslim, the Socialist, the man who dares to oppose the rich and powerful gods of the media, big oil, the corporations, the banks, Wall Street. Better to stick with Beck, with Jesus, with the patriots like Brewer and Palin. Keep out the evil aliens, the Latinos, the Muslims, the infidels. Let the unemployed, the homeless, the sick and weak starve and die. But don't reward laziness. Worship the rich and famous, drool over their dress and their mansions. Work hard for minimum wage, go to church, count your blessings. That's the American way. 

My gay husband remains in New Orleans for Southern Decadence this weekend. He inhabits the kind of world many Americans fear, a hedonistic world of pleasure. Buddha may be right that there is suffering in the world, that it is unavoidable, a part of life itself. Yet I can't help wondering why it is that so much of our suffering is self-inflicted. If there is anything I've learned from philosophy, it is that we should embrace every moment of joy with all our heart-- because tomorrow the materialistic, greedy capitalists may snatch what little we have away.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Half a Billion Rotten Eggs


Friday, August 20, 2010

Angry Monk

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The Angry Monk
Shozan Jack Haubner

Zen practice stirs up energy and emotion, and it can be downright ugly

A LOT OF PISSED-OFF PEOPLE WIND UP AT OUR MONASTERY. Th is place has a tractor beam like the Death Star in Star Wars that pulls in everyone within a thousand-mile radius with four-letter words on the tips of their tongues. Her marriage tanked, he’s got an itch in his brain he just can’t scratch, she’s 45 and smells of cabbage and lives in a small studio apartment and nobody ever calls her back. Th ey all wind up here, sold on the promise that Buddhism can alleviate suff ering.

I said “they” all wind up here, but I guess I mean “we.” I recently had one of those moments when, upon the muchanticipated departure of an enemy who, as a Buddhist, I could never quite admit was an enemy, I found myself peering around the zendo and thinking, “Wow, there are no assholes living here anymore.” Whereupon came a sinking feeling: “Wait a minute, there’s always at least one. So if I’m looking around the zendo and I can’t fi nd him—guess who the asshole is!”

Zen practice is good for angry people. Th e form is tight. It squeezes that deep red heart-pulp, pushing up emotions from way down inside you. A lot of stuff comes up when you do this practice. Zen gets your juices fl owing. And with these juices come seeds—the seeds of your behavior, your character, your anger, all fl ushed out into the open for you to see.

In Zen we learn that human consciousness is an eminently natural operation. You plant a seed, it grows. Similarly, when something happens to you on the outside, in “the world,” the seeds of this experience take root within you, becoming sensations, thoughts, memories—your inner life. Conversely, when something arises within you, some inner experience, a notion, emotion, or dream, then the seeds of this inner event are disseminated on the outside, in the world, through your words and actions. Buddhists call this codependent origination: all things arise together in a mutually interconnected and interpenetrating web of being. “To see the world in a grain of sand,” William Blake wrote. Or as that great metaphysician Tom “Jerry Maguire” Cruise put it: “You complete me.”

Sounds romantic. But what if the seeds at the root of your behavior are the seeds of hate and anger?

A year ago I was walking down a bustling city street with my mentor, whom I love. We got into a fi ght about something, and I smacked him. It came out of nowhere and was meant to be light. Only it clearly did not come out of nowhere, and it was not light. I can still hear the thwack of my open palm against his belly. Th ere was a long stretch of silence, wherein I should have begged for his forgiveness. But I couldn’t admit to the violence that had just erupted from within me. I couldn’t tell whether I meant it, whether it was real, where it came from, and how it got there.

I have violence in me, unfortunately. Th e seeds were planted long ago by my father, the poor man. How about all the times he didn’t whack me? Th e time he sighed and let it go when I stole one of his antique fi rearms and ran around the house, or when I sat on a sibling and released a cloud of fl atulence? No, I remember only the three or four moments when his anger broke through.

All it takes is one seed. I’ve apologized, and even sent a cute card. But my blow planted a hate seed in my mentor, and something irreconcilable has grown between us. I can’t seem to reclaim the friendship. I feel like I’m losing him.

Zen practice can be a tricky thing, because if it is done right, sooner or later all the issues and energies you’ve been repressing your whole life will ooze, trickle, and burst to the surface through your tight little smile. And I’m afraid that the practice itself doesn’t necessarily equip you to deal skillfully with these issues and energies.

Th is is one of the big misconceptions about spiritual work: that, applied correctly, it will make us “better people” (whatever that means). Zen is not a psychiatric or therapeutic discipline; it’s a spiritual one. It’s supposed to get energy moving on a deep, fundamental, life-changing level. Its purpose is to orient you Toward the truth/reality, whatever this takes. It’s not supposed to boss you around with behavioral or self-help dictates, or to shoehorn you into the slipper of well-adjusted citizenhood.

In other words, spiritual work isn’t always “instructive”—it’s transformative, and this kind of transformation can get messy.Th e Sanskrit term for this is clusterfuck.

Some people, for example, seem to be born angry. Not me.I was born a coward. So when the energy gets moving through Zen practice and I suddenly become angry rather than a quivering eunuch, this can feel like an improvement—or at least a new way to be screwed up rather than the same old patterns of screwed-upness. A sharp word suddenly tastes good in my mouth. Anger takes on the illusion of upward spiritual mobility in comparison with my habitual cravenness. In reality, however, it’s a lateral move—to an adjacent room in the same hell.

None of this happens in a vacuum. Zen is a group practice, but the thing about groups is that they’re made up of people, and we all know what people are like. So not only does Zen practice fl ush your issues out into the open, it does so within a certain context; it fl ushes them into the “container” of your relationships with fellow monks and nuns. Energies and issues that had no discernable dimension within you are externalized and embodied with the “help” of your peers, one of whom, say, unwittingly takes the form of your stepmother who once bullied and humiliated you.

Meanwhile, to this peer you represent the weakness and stupidity within himself that for more than 30 years he has felt the compulsive need to stamp out, as his father once tried to stamp it out of him. (In beating ourselves up, we usually pick up where our parents left off .) Only neither of you realizes (at least initially) that the other represents something within yourself that needs to be dealt with, for it is only in the dramatic playing out of your interactions that these powerful patterns and deep psychological dysfunctions are brought to light.

I defer to Carl Jung, who spent a lot of time in either a nuthouse or a monastery. “Th e psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate,” Jung said. “Th at is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the confl ict and be torn in two opposing halves.”

It’s amazing to watch sometimes. Th ese monastery battles royal can be downright epic. Forget about what happens when an immovable object meets an irresistible force. What happens when a weenie who’s sworn off his cowardice meets a monster who can’t help himself from bullying?

“First law of thermodynamics: Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. It simply changes forms!” So went the mantra of an erstwhile Zen peer, one of those quasi-scientifi c mystic types forever trying to link quantum physics with whacked-out spiritual mumbo-jumbo. It you ever disagreed with him, he trembled, his jowls purpling: “Th at’s . . . Just . . . Your . . . Ego!”

A regular fury farmer, this sower of hate seeds was one of those unfortunate American Zen sangha fi xtures whose respect and admiration for the teacher is in inverse proportion to his resentment and suspicion of his peers. Once, a fed-up nun, ornery and pugnacious in her own right, shot back: “Listen, you! In a universe that wastes nothing, where does the butthead energy go when you lose your temper? What form does it change into?”

In about a week she got her answer. One morning, this troubled monk we’ll call “Tirade-san”—towering over six feet, girthy, garbed in his turquoise stretch pants and a T-shirt with a picture of the cosmos and an arrow indicating You Are Here— exploded at the densu (monastery greeter) when she forgot to fetch a student from the airport. She in turn barfed a curdled remark upon the tenzo (cook) aft er he misplaced her laminated chant sheets. Th e tenzo then went Vesuvius on the shoji (zendo mother) when she innocently swung through the kitchen door to brew some green tea.“

Knock before entering!” the normally mild-mannered Pisces roared.

“Have a fucking cow!” the grandmother of three and parttime caregiver blasted back.

As shika (head monk), I felt like Bill Paxton in Twister, chasing the tornado of devastating emotion as it touched down from one end of camp to the next.

Later, when I pushed through the sutra hall’s great double doors for the monks’ nightly meeting, I could feel T-san’s glare frying the hairs on the back of my neck. Turns out, I had forgotten to give the densu the fl ight details in the fi rst place, the oversight that set off the whole Great Hissy Fit chain reaction that day. T-san bent his body language my way, trying to get my eye, like a boxer intimidating an opponent before the opening bell.Unable to meet his gaze, I studied my toenails—which, to top off the shameful matter, were badly in need of a trimming.

Per meeting protocol, we circled up, bowed, and took turns voicing the various petty and passive-aggressive concerns that arise when a group of people with anger issues decide to engage in a practice that deprives them of sleep, comfort, personal Space, protein, and even their hair. I nodded with great interest and jotted these concerns in my head monk notebook, where they languish unaddressed to this day.

Meanwhile, Evil Monk would soon have the fl oor, and I imagined him with a little toothbrush mustache, howling in German. I would get a chance to rebut him because the head monk speaks last, and believe me, I had every word—every last syllable—planned. You can only take so much shit for so long!I trembled inside, my sphincter clenched about as tight as the hydraulics in those machines that make artifi cial diamonds.

Finally, it was the man-ape’s turn to speak. I turned and bowed to him, and for the fi rst time that day I looked him dead in the eyes—half expecting to see two hollow black holes, brimming with the souls of dead children. And wouldn’t you know it, he was smiling. He laughed lightly and bowed that mammoth wrecking ball atop his shoulders, indicating that he had nothing to say.

In that moment the hate seed fell out of me, dead like a stone—petrifi ed in its own uselessness like an insect fossilized in amber. He put his great meaty hand on my back on the way out of the room. Th at’s all it took for me to break down sobbing in my cabin 20 minutes later, alone but warmhearted.Desperate, gushing, cleansing sobs. It was the kind of moment that buys you another fi ve years of patience with, and passion for, monastic life. It’s one of those breakthroughs of the heart.

People ask what is the hardest thing about living at a monastery.Is it no sex, cardboardy food, zero sleep, 80 bucks a month pay? Is it the isolation from society, the heinous robes, those bone-crushing 19-hour days spent in the zendo or in the blistering sun or piercing cold?

Th e hardest thing about living in a monastery, I tell them, is working with people with whom you have nothing in common save spiritual desperation. We monks shave our heads, I continue, because if we didn’t we would surely tear out all our hair in despair from having to live and work with one another. Anyone who’s ever been married or had kids, or coworkers, for that matter (work and family—those other group practices), probably knows what I’m talking about. It gets real when the illusions drop away, doesn’t it?

Yet nine times out of ten the reason we get so irritated with the people who are closest to us is that they show us that we do not in fact correspond with the ideas we have of ourselves. We are meaner, weaker, dumber, and less interesting, tolerant, and sexy. In short, we are human, which typically comes as extremely disappointing news. You just cannot keep telling yourself how spiritually with it you are when every time you sit down to read that Eckhart Tolle book the monastery cat jumps on your shoulders and claws your bald head and you fl ing it halfway across the room and scream, “Goddammit, I’m trying to read about patience and equanimity here. Can you at least wait till I’ve gotten past the ‘Pain-Body’ chapter?!” Not that I, of course, have ever done that.

I used to imagine that spiritual work was undertaken alone in a cave somewhere with prayer beads and a leather-bound religious tome. Nowadays, that sounds to me more like a vacation from spiritual work. Group monastic living has taught me that the people in your life don’t get in the way of your spiritual practice; these people are your spiritual practice.

Th rough each other we discover that if we have the heart— the willingness, the strength, the courage—we have the capacity to plant the seeds of kindness, compassion, forgiveness; seeds of a laid-back humor, a sense of letting go. But your heart must be quicker than your mind. Trust me, that organ between your ears is always spoiling for a fi ght. Its job is to divide and conquer. But the real fi ght is taking place inside you, within the “dharma organ,” the heart, where the challenge is to unify and understand; where the seeds of love and compassion are struggling to lay roots.

Lend this struggle an ear. Just pause for three seconds. One banana . . . Two banana . . . Three banana . . . . Pause and listen.Pause and breathe. Pause and gather your scattered, wild energies, your shattered soul . . . Before you fl ing that seed of hate into the wind.

Mark my words, times are tough and the ground is fertile.
Th at seed will grow.

Shozan Jack Haubner has been a Zen Buddhist monk for several years. He writes under a pseudonym in hopes of remaining a monk at his monastery. Reprinted from Buddhadharma (Summer 2010), which presents stories and teachings from many diff erent Buddhist traditions.


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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Baldwin and Shakespeare

Excerpt: 'The Cross Of Redemption'

The Cross Of Redemption
The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings
By James Baldwin
Hardcover, 336 pages
List price: $26.95

Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare

Every writer in the English language, I should imagine, has at some point hated Shakespeare, has turned away from that monstrous achievement with a kind of sick envy. In my most anti-English days I condemned him as a chauvinist ("this England" indeed!) and because I felt it so bitterly anomalous that a black man should be forced to deal with the English language at all — should be forced to assault the English language in order to be able to speak — I condemned him as one of the authors and architects of my oppression.
Again, in the way that some Jews bitterly and mistakenly resent Shylock, I was dubious about Othello (what did he see in Desdemona?) and bitter about Caliban. His great vast gallery of people, whose reality was as contradictory as it was unanswerable, unspeakably oppressed me. I was resenting, of course, the assault on my simplicity; and, in another way, I was a victim of that loveless education which causes so many schoolboys to detest Shakespeare. But I feared him, too, feared him because, in his hands, the English language became the mightiest of instruments. No one would ever write that way again. No one would ever be able to match, much less surpass, him.
Well, I was young and missed the point entirely, was unable to go behind the words and, as it were, the diction, to what the poet was saying. I still remember my shock when I finally heard these lines from the murder scene in Julius Caesar. The assassins are washing their hands in Caesar's blood. Cassius says:
Stoop then, and wash. — How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over,
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!
What I suddenly heard, for the first time, was manifold. It was the voice of lonely, dedicated, deluded Cassius, whose life had never been real for me before — I suddenly seemed to know what this moment meant to him. But beneath and beyond that voice I also heard a note yet more rigorous and impersonal — and contemporary: that "lofty scene," in all its blood and necessary folly, its blind and necessary pain, was thrown into a perspective which has never left my mind. Just so, indeed, is the heedless State over¬thrown by men, who, in order to overthrow it, have had to achieve a desperate single- mindedness. And this single- mindedness, which we think of (why?) as ennobling, also operates, and much more surely, to distort and diminish a man — to distort and diminish us all, even, or perhaps especially, those whose needs and whose energy made the overthrow of the State inevitable, necessary, and just.
And the terrible thing about this play, for me — it is not necessarily my favorite play, whatever that means, but it is the play which I first, so to speak, discovered — is the tension it relentlessly sustains between individual ambition, self- conscious, deluded, idealistic, or corrupt, and the blind, mindless passion which drives the individual no less than it drives the mob. "I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet...I am not Cinna the conspirator" — that cry rings in my ears. And the mob's response: "Tear him for his bad verses!" And yet — though one howled with Cinna and felt his terrible rise, at the hands of his countrymen, to death, it was impossible to hate the mob. Or, worse than impossible, useless; for here we were, at once howl¬ing and being torn to pieces, the only receptacles of evil and the only receptacles of nobility to be found in all the universe. But the play does not even suggest that we have the perception to know evil from good or that such a distinction can ever be clear: "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones . . ."
Once one has begun to suspect this much about the world — once one has begun to suspect, that is, that one is not, and never will be, innocent, for the reason that no one is — some of the self- protective veils between oneself and reality begin to fall away. It is probably of some significance, though we cannot pursue it here, that my first real apprehension of Shakespeare came when I was living in France, and thinking and speaking in French. The necessity of mastering a foreign language forced me into a new relationship to my own. (It was also in France, therefore, that I began to read the Bible again.)
My quarrel with the English language has been that the language reflected none of my experience. But now I began to see the matter in quite another way. If the language was not my own, it might be the fault of the language; but it might also be my fault. Perhaps the language was not my own because I had never attempted to use it, had only learned to imitate it. If this were so, then it might be made to bear the burden of my experience if I could find the stamina to challenge it, and me, to such a test.
In support of this possibility, I had two mighty witnesses: my black ancestors, who evolved the sorrow songs, the blues, and jazz, and created an entirely new idiom in an overwhelmingly hostile place; and Shakespeare, who was the last bawdy writer in the English language. What I began to see — especially since, as I say, I was living and speaking in French — is that it is experience which shapes a language; and it is language which controls an experience. The structure of the French language told me something of the French experience, and also something of the French expectations — which were certainly not the American expectations, since the French daily and hourly said things which the Americans could not say at all. (Not even in French.) Similarly, the language with which I had grown up had certainly not been the King's English. An immense experience had forged this language; it had been (and remains) one of the tools of a people's survival, and it revealed expectations which no white American could easily entertain. The authority of this language was in its candor, its irony, its density, and its beat: this was the authority of the language which produced me, and it was also the authority of Shakespeare.
Again, I was listening very hard to jazz and hoping, one day, to translate it into language, and Shakespeare's bawdiness became very important to me, since bawdiness was one of the elements of jazz and revealed a tremendous, loving, and realistic respect for the body, and that ineffable force which the body contains, which Americans have mostly lost, which I had experienced only among Negroes, and of which I had then been taught to be ashamed.
My relationship, then, to the language of Shakespeare revealed itself as nothing less than my relationship to myself and my past. Under this light, this revelation, both myself and my past began slowly to open, perhaps the way a flower opens at morning, but more probably the way an atrophied muscle begins to function, or frozen fingers to thaw.
The greatest poet in the English language found his poetry where poetry is found: in the lives of the people. He could have done this only through love — by knowing, which is not the same thing as understanding, that whatever was happening to anyone was happening to him. It is said that his time was easier than ours, but I doubt it — no time can be easy if one is living through it. I think it is simply that he walked his streets and saw them, and tried not to lie about what he saw: his public streets and his private streets, which are always so mysteriously and inexorably connected; but he trusted that connection. And, though I, and many of us, have bitterly bewailed (and will again) the lot of an American writer — to be part of a people who have ears to hear and hear not, who have eyes to see and see not — I am sure that Shakespeare did the same. Only, he saw, as I think we must, that the people who produce the poet are not responsible to him: he is responsible to them.
That is why he is called a poet. And his responsibility, which is also his joy and his strength and his life, is to defeat all labels and complicate all battles by insisting on the human riddle, to bear witness, as long as breath is in him, to that mighty, unnameable, transfiguring force which lives in the soul of man, and to aspire to do his work so well that when the breath has left him, the people — all people! — who search in the rubble for a sign or a witness will be able to find him there.
Excerpted from The Cross of Redemption by James Baldwin Copyright 2010 by The Estate of James Baldwin. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Camus v. the Bourgeoisie

Portrait from New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, 1957

The Anti-Bourgeois
by Rosette C. Lamont

In his Preface to the 1958 edition of L'Envers et l'endroit, a group of essays written by Camus at the age of twenty-two, the author asserts his life-long need for the state of availability, "disponibility" as
the French say, a total freedom in regard to ideas, sensations, experiences
quite incompatible with the patterns of bourgeois living. Now,
in 1960, as we look back upon the work of Camus, we see it bear witness
to the writer's struggle against "les idees reques." In the tradition
of Cartesianism Camus questions our values and our institutions, and
his hero, be he victim or rebel, wields the weapon of his clear consciousness
against a society ruled by convention.
Camus despises comfort and well-being, qualities inherent to a culture
of "'Thomme sensuel moyen." The emphasis on cuisine, the greed
over inherited pieces of furniture, silver and linen, regulated sexual
behavior (outside the bonds of marriage as much as within), ritual family
relationships too often turning ties of blood into "viper knots" of
avarice and suspicion-these are some of the features of French life
which according to Camus serve to shield the individual from the
realities of the human condition. Camus' anti-bourgeois feelings do not
stem from the scorn of one born into this class like Flaubert or Baudelaire,
nor does he seek as they did to amaze the bourgeois. A workingman's
son, marked in body and soul by early poverty, yet possessed
by an unquenchable thirst for life, he denounces a way of thinking
which blunts consciousness, robbing one of terror but of lucidity as
well, a way of feeling which substitutes sentimentality for sentiment,
and small pleasures for joy.
Camus is not a pessimist. Simply for him there is no love of life without
the knowledge of despair, no fullness without "ce gouit du nuant"
(L'Envers et l'endroit, p. 99). However, he welcomes the adventure of
flesh in its encounters with nature (the sun, the sea), and with the flesh
of another. In his respect for desire he is not only a Mediterranean
but an Ancient Greek...
(the essay is 14 pp.)