William Styron

April 28, 2011

Reading a review of William Styron by his daughter. It seems like Styron’s obsession was his place in American literary history. His friends included most of the American literary figures of the day. What struck me was the smallness of this literary world. It has all the ear marks of an elitist class. The same thing has struck me about the ‘literary class’ in Canada. Perhaps this is true in all countries. But why writers would find a room filled with other writers of interest leaves me perplexed. Anyone who has been to a party of teachers, or lawyers, or doctors knows how dreadfully dull the conversations become. Shop talk takes over. Or some drunken fool decides to defend some outrageous point of view to stir debate. Or perhaps I just don’t like parties. Styron himself is a paradox. In some ways he appears to be someone who likes to get down to brass tacks. But in reading Lie Down In Darkness I was filled with the nausea of intellectual pretentiousness. (Not as bad as Roberston Davies’  Fifth Business, but bad enough). I recall one of my philosophy professors referring to the English Department as grade B philosophers. And that’s how Styron affects me.

I’m a thinking… this is my way of talking out loud to no one in particular… about doing a series of collages based on photographs of old fairs. (I bought 2 books about fairs in the 20s.) I’ve always been tempted to do the kind of collages that I first saw in mags at college. It was a kind of mumble jumble of images coming out of buildings (especially the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building), statues (especially the Statue of Liberty), and waters (lakes, oceans, seas, bathtubs). But of course I would get bored. I keep hoping that I will trip over something that will kick my enthusiasm into overdrive. (Great feeling) Which makes me think that the 81/2 x 11 inch page has become the iconic measure of collages. Someone should just hang up a sheet of white paper (81/2 x 11 inch) and call it a collage. Name it ‘snow’ or ‘bedsheet’.

The Hole

April 23, 2011

Detective Sam Kelly is in the last days of a long career. His final assignment is to investigate Joe Mackenzie’s complaint that neighbours are dumping garbage down his well. Kelly soon discovers that many locals have vanished over the years. In every case the disappearances lead back to the mysterious hole in Mackenzie’s backyard.

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Stick people are smart

April 23, 2011

I was reading the New York Times about a discovery of ancient writing. And this thought passed through my ears. It may not be original. Except to me. What if writing began because of human deficiency? A lack of talent. If you wanted to leave someone a message that you’d seen a bear in the area and they should beware then you might scrach a picture of a bear on a wall, on the ground, etc. But what if you couldn’t draw well. You might resort to what most people resort to when they can’t draw. Stick people. When I was looking at the examples of ancient writing I was struck by how much they looked like stick people. And is this one of the keys to intelligence. When you aren’t capable of coming up with an answer to a question (lack of skill, intelligence, talent) you come up with an alternative. We are smart because we are stupid. (Sounds like something Yogi Berra would have said.)

Just came back from my heart doctor. Young woman, tall, blonde, about 26 years old, beautiful, went in before me. She looked stressed. Came out the same way. Made an appointment for an MRI. And then rushed out the door. Into her life. All her schedules have been changed. All her assumptions have been changed. There is something about good health that makes us both arrogant and stupid. We forget. This is temporary. History is a shoreline on a sunny afternoon. Where the gentle waves roll in and wash away our sand castles.

I remember the first time I saw one of my profs at university light up a pipe. It looked intellectual. I took up the pipe myself. Although I think I spent more time cleaning the damn thing than actually smoking tobacco. It was so bloody pretentious. And there were a lot of pipe smokers at college, more than you’d find in the population at large. The French intellectuals knew better. They smoked cigarettes to look intelligent. Its because they think they are one with the workers. Or so I imagine. (I don’t really know since everyone in France seems to smoke cigarettes.) But role playing seems so much of the mask that people use who are trying to look intelligent. That’s what I see in Ayn Rand. And that’s what I think makes pseudo-intellectuals so… distasteful. They haven’t grown up. Their child like behavior is annoying. A while ago I was surprised to see photos of Carl Sandberg with Marilyn Monroe. What an odd couple. I remembered that Ms. Monroe had been married to Arthur Miller. Miller once called Marilyn “a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.” Monroe had the right idea for a legitimate intellectual. She was curious.

Ayn Rand

April 18, 2011

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I remember watching the film The Fountainhead when I was a teenager. I was interested in ideas and this was one movie that was about ideas. And Patricia O’Neal. But all it seemed to be was about the glories of selfishness. I was good with that as long as it was in my interests. I was afterall, a teenager. The problem was that the world did not seem to want to cooperate. Many years later I met a woman at a party. All she talked about was Ayn Rand. She loved Ayn Rand. The woman was attractive and so I feigned interest. Great men must be respected. I said that I had never met a great man. No one, she cried. Have you? I asked. She mentioned some obscure political science professor. I guess I wasn’t much good at feigning or my feigning was boring because she moved off into the crowd.  Years later I worked for the Ministry of Correctional Services. It wasn’t much of a job. File clerk. I had about 2 hours of work. And 5 hours to kill. So I read the files of inmates. One inmate was very interesting. He considered himself a great artist. The psychiatrist asked if he could see some of  his work. The inmate pointed to his head. ‘Its all in there’ the inmate responded. Ah, I thought. A follower of Ayn Rand.

There’s a new movie coming out based on Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’. Her other novel. (Apparently Rand followers consider these two books the greatest novels ever written. I prefer Twain’s The Adventures of Huck Finn.) Rand always seems popular when times are tough. Maybe its because people are desperate for answers. Any answers. I watched her in the Mike Wallace interviews and she is fascinating. She has very little to say but she says it in a way that makes you think that more is to come. She speaks. You wait. She speaks. And then you come to the conclusion. Life is just too short.

Stephen Harper grew up in Etobicoke. 5 minutes away by bicycle from my own home. I lived farther south. And about ten years earlier. Most of the people who lived in our area worked in factories. They were basically working class families. Mr. Harper’s area was populated by a wealthier group of people – lawyers, contractors, dentists, and accountants. Middle and upper middle class families. I’ve met young men like Stephen in high school and college. They were serious rather humorless but generally well meaning intelligent young men. Many of my friends would have seemed like political radicals to these young men. They believed in the system. We believed (I’m afraid of admitting) in getting drunk and arguing. They joined. We laughed. And I never trusted them. In those heady days of Vietnam demonstrations and campus politics I believed that if it came down to it, they would have had us lined up against a wall and shot if they felt it was the right thing to do. Removed from those times and older, it all seems rather silly now. No one would have had anyone shot. But listening to and watching Mr. Harper, I can’t understand who he is. And why he suspects us. Of something.

Death, the wake-up call.

April 14, 2011

My mother called to say that she has gotten her funeral settled. She says that we won’t have to pay the funeral home until the funeral is over. (As if she would get up from the grave to write out a check.) Strange how this topic would have repulsed me when I was younger. As if thinking about it would make it come true. As if not thinking about it would make us all immortal. One thing I don’t want to hear about when I pass over – ‘let us celebrate David’s life’. Screw that. What I want is whaling. And gnashing of teeth. And everyone going home miserable and getting drunk. And then having a hangover the next day. And allowing me to slowly fade from their lives. Death is filled with too many cliches. No one knows what they’re talking about. And anyone who does, isn’t talking. For reasons that are obvious.

Romancing Hitler

April 9, 2011

Some figures in history become romanticized. Even if that romantic picture is of evil. Attila the Hun has become an icon for evil. As has Genghis Khan. Hitler is just the most recent example of this. But why romanticize evil? By demonizing evil men, we make evil – live. We give it sustenance. We make it look like an attractive alternative to good. As if evil and good were in some kind of balance. As if they existed in themselves, separated from good actions or evil actions. We have imprisoned ourselves by imagining that ethics means choosing absolute good or absolute evil as if each appears occasionally in some human soul.

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