and I spend my walks in the evenings staring obsessively at Jupiter early in the east, by midnight pulling its blue kiln toward the south. Waxing moon, thin and mean, growing farther and fuller the deeper into this first week we pursue. I can't help reciting Frost to myself, "They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is." And though I'm obsessed with that beautiful sad lunatic John Clare, re-reading his descriptions of leaves, frosts, bees, thrush, autumn walks "Into the nothingness of scorn and noise / Into the living sea of waking dreams" mostly because I feel as he does
in that late asylum poem: "I am the self-consumer of my woes, / They rise and vanish in oblivious host" I am also reciting a funnier Auden version to myself and to my little bat-faced dog as the Santa Anas pour a new chill through our nights in Southern Cali, "Admirer as I think I am / Of stars that do not give a damn:
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime"
Auden makes me laugh as much as Frost makes me lonely, sleepy, agonistic, bruised.
I wish I was funnier on the page, but it's all so serious. What a reaper with this ridiculous grim! So much meandering broken moody recitation, I think it's the moon. I think it's Jupiter in my sights. I used to live in a second floor loft in Arizona, with windows open in every direction on the desert, night-ripe, thicketed with a sea-like blackness. I painted the walls an inner avocado--it had a golden quality, that antique green--and I littered it with silver bronze and Mexican painted crucifixes. All night I could mark the constellations, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter as they drew close threatening to poison themselves into the moonlight dissolve, and then retreat, flinching, pulling, struggling away on their separately entranced halcyon trajectories. The waves were furious and small. I lay awake, I lay awake, and stared to all that outer phenomena.
I've been thinking about hatred. Hatred as clarity. Hatred as insight. The criminal as heroic philosopher. Flannery O'Connor's Misfit, or the boy murderer in Simenon's Dirty Snow, two distinctly different kinds of villains, but who achieve a kind of brutal understanding of the world. I'm thinking of an episode of This American Life in which child rapists and murderers play Hamlet in prison, and the kinds of incredible insights they lend to these roles, insights that are nearly impossible to distinguish or to reconcile with the despicable violences of which they are admittedly guilty. How is it that good men are terrifically incapable of goodness. No pleasure but meanness? Perhaps it's the mirror
that is most true: men terrifically incapable of goodness are good men too. No meanness but pleasure.
We are alive between the aster and the star.
I'm thinking of my recent obsession with Thomas Bernhard, whose long monologues as novels remind me of Javier Marias' in that they proceed in a kind of real time, in which a whole novel happens in the course of a single night, and the internal monologues of a single character illustrate the many digressions of a mind at dis-ease. Except that Bernhard's characteristic tone is straightforward loathing, not faced with mystery so much as disdain, contempt for the unforgivable privileged masquerade of social mediocrity. What's amazing is that his characters, if you can stomach a whole novel filled with personal disgust, pay off in the most striking ways. The final sentences of Extinction, for example, are so stunning for the simple justice that so much hatred allows his character to mete, even at his personal expense.
More than reading Gottfried Benn or Thomas Mann, maybe only as much as reading Hamburger's translations of Celan, reading Bernhard makes me want to learn German. To speak it like a sex talk. Here's a long passage from Bernhard's Woodcutters translated by David McLintock: I've been opening the book almost daily lately, re-reading it aloud to myself, and then, almost as if in prayer, simply the one word over and over, negligence:
"And I told myself that this year alone, which was not a very long time, I had attended the funerals of five of my friends. They're all dying off one after the other, I thought, most of them by taking their own lives. They rush out of a coffeehouse in a state of sudden agitation, and are run over in the street, or else they hang themselves, or suffer a fatal stroke. When we're over fifty we're constantly going to funerals, I thought. People who were born in the country go back to the country to kill themselves, I thought. They choose to commit suicide in their parents' home, I thought. All of them, without exception, are basically sick. If they don't kill themselves they die of some illness that they've brought through their own negligence. I repeated the word negligence to myself several times; I kept on repeating the word--it was as if the word gave me pleasure as I sat in the wing-chair--until the people in the music room noticed, and when I saw them all looking in my direction I stopped repeating it. They were all friends of mine thirty years ago, I thought, and I could no longer understand why. For a time we go in the same direction as other people, then one day we wake up and turn our backs on them. I turned my back on these people--they didn't turn their backs on me, I thought. We attach ourselves to certain people, then suddenly we hate them and let them go. We run after them for years, begging for their affection, I thought, and when once we have their affection we no longer want it. We flee from them and they catch up with us and seize hold of us, and we submit to them and all their dictates, I thought, surrendering to them until we either die or break loose. We flee from them and they catch up with us and crush us to death. We run after them and implore them to accept us, and they accept us and do us to death. Or else we avoid them from the beginning and succeed avoiding them all our lives, I thought. Or we walk into their trap and suffocate. Or we escape from them and start running them down, slandering them and spreading lies about them, I thought, in order to save ourselves, slandering them whenever we can in order to save ourselves, running away from them for dear life and accusing them everywhere of having us on their consciences. Or they escape from us and slander and accuse us, spreading every possible lie about us in order to save themselves, I thought. We think our lives are finished, and then we chance to meet them and they rescue us, but we are not grateful to them for rescuing us: on the contrary we curse them and hate them for rescuing us, and we pursue them all our lives with the hatred we feel toward them for having rescued us. Or else we try to curry favor with them and they push us away, and so we avenge ourselves by slandering them, running them down wherever we can and pursuing them to their graves with our hatred. Or they help us back on our feet at the crucial moment and we hate them for it, just as they hate us when we help them back on their feet, I thought as I sat in the wing chair. We do them a favor and then think we are entitled to their eternal gratitude, I thought, sitting in the wing chair. For years we are on terms of friendship with them, then suddenly we no longer are, and we don't know why. We love them so fervently that we become positively lovesick, and they reject us and hate us for our love, I thought. We're nothing and they make something of us, and we hate them for it. We come from nowhere, as people say, and they perhaps make a genius of us, and we never forgive them for it, just as if they'd made a dangerous criminal out of us, I thought as I sat in the wing chair. We take everything they have to give us, I thought, sitting in the wing chair, and we punish them with a life sentence of contempt and hatred. We owe everything to them and never forgive them for the fact we owe everything to them, I thought. We think we have rights when we have no rights of any kind, I thought. No one has any rights, I thought. There's nothing but injustice in the world, I thought. Human beings are unjust, and injustice prevails everywhere--that's the truth, I thought. Injustice is all we have to hand, I thought."
. . . . . . . .