Daily Archives: May 1, 2004

Have the best minds of my generation been destroyed by madness?

From Ann Charters’ introduction to The Portable Beat Reader:

Earlier in the history of American literature, the novelist Henry James acknowledged in his biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne that “the best things come, as a general thing, from the talents that are members of a group; every man works better when he has companions working in the same line, and yielding the stimulus of suggestion, comparison, emulation.” As a facet of our country’s cultural history, clusters have been an outstanding feature of our literature. They can be a group of writers joined by a common geographical location who share philosophical sympathies, such as the cluster of transcendentalist writers in Concord, Massachusetts, in the mid-nineteenth century — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott. More often, given the sheer physical size of the United States, the writers share a temporal rather than a spatial proximity along with their lieratary aesthetic, for example the local-color realists Sarah Orne Jewett, Lafcadio Hearn, and Kate Chopin, all born between 1849 and 1851, or the experimental modernist poets born in the decade between 1879 and 1888 — William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Hilda Dolittle, Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens.

I have often found myself in groups like those described above, usually geographical rather than temporal. Which leads me to wonder: of those writers that are of my generation — the lost years between Baby Boom and Generation X, those who arrived in this incarnation between, say, 1962 and 1968 (with myself smack in the middle at 1965), of those who potentially would have gone to high school together, what are the commonalities? the aesthetics? the influences and, since it is almost forty years since that time, the descendants, if any? In looking across the Internet, which some could say serves as an artificial sense of connectivity, since the barrier of geography has been eliminated, and the notion of “age” is muddled and clouded, particularly given the large degree of anonymity and lack of personal information about those who come in contact with each other, but to me serves as both a surrogate “coffeehouse” and pipeline for correspondence, the writers of my generation who have achieved any sense of notoriety (as determined by whether I am familiar with their work, at best an extremely subjective criterion) seem to be:

Quentin Tarantino (1963), JK Rowling (1965), Poppy Z. Brite (1967)

Whereas the writers who DIED within that time seem to be of a much greater number (and societal impact, I think):

William Faulker, e.e. cummings, Herman Hesse (1962), Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams, Theodore Roethke, Jean Cocteau, C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley (1963), Flannery O’Connor, TH White, Ian Fleming (1964), W. Somerset Maugham, T.S. Eliot (1965), Andre Breton (1966), Langston Hughes, Carl Sanburg (1967), John Steinbeck, Neal Cassady (1968)

Of course, I’m sure there are countless others … Henry Rollins (although maybe born 1961, I can’t remember), for one. Chuck Palahniuk (1961, too, and perhaps in many ways the reincarnation of Hemingway, who died that year), for another. But unless I’m missing something, it looks like American literature died while we were being born, and not too many of us picked up the torch. Of course, that could be due to the fact that less than 10% of the current population of the United States reads books on a daily basis. But I think it’s something more — like the progression of population magazines mirrors our evolution from the fifties – Look (1950s) to Life (1960s) to People (1970s) to Us (1980s) to Self (1990s), I feel that there is a sense of disenfranchisement from ourselves, from our own. So many of my peers, agewise, seem to be caught up either in decades we barely experienced (the 60s), struggled through as children (the 70s), barely survived (the 80s), and would like to forget (the 90s). And where does that leave us now? We are not Boomers, so the likelihood of our relating to the power-struggles there is small. And we are not Xers – so there is something missing there for us, too. Our angst is primarily self-directed, self-aggrandizing, and self-generated. We are the ones who can remember Nixon lied to America, and the ones who are still young enough to do something about it.

So my question is this: where are my peers, where is the “cluster” to which I belong? I know I have been searching for it my whole life, and for the most part, have been sadly disappointed.

If you’re out there — speak to me. We surely have something to say to each other.

What If and the Temptations

WHAT IF:
Money actually grew on trees?
You actually had more than one once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?
Your face actually stayed in the guise of some hideous scowl you made when you were six?
Things were easier done than said?
What was up never came down?
The birds and bees got together and planned the assassinations of Drs. Ruth Westheimer, Sigmund Freud and Benjamin Spock?
The lamb beat the shit out of a couple of lions?
Evolution is really de-volution?
You died, got younger, and then were born?
Apples and oranges are really the same thing?
Square pegs fit into round holes?

WHAT THEN?

Homespun and Gravity look at each other, the two sailors, the sun setting swiftly in the southern sky.

“Well,” Homespun begins, “now what?”

“War Stories!” the sailors shout, lifting non-existent mugs to their dry, cracked lips in anticipation (although they were not actually in Anticipation, Pennsylvania, but in the suburbs of America, nowhere near the non-friendly skies of Philadelphia, and were not actually in Anticipation, burning in Effigy, waiting in Limbo, or doing anything else that might be construed to be happening in any other place, bated breath notwithstanding).
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Zen and the Art of Arc Welding

Split ends of clock’s tick and flee
from the circle of power where union is meet
in a cooper’s wheel, hard and hot like fire
from welding’s arc and concentrated blue flame.

It’s not so much the trip, he says, 
but the fact that you are traveling together, 
down dark and musty paths that lead
to places only memory maps can ponder.

The time, she says, the time is passing by
like blades of grass — we see the green in toto,
but each separate tine we step upon 
like grains of sand on a beach.

He speaks of love and power and control. 

It’s like this: isn’t it defined as someone who is freaked out
by the fact that they might be
under the control of another?

And isn’t it so: that when you ask someone
to admit they are controlling you 
that you’re looking for a reason not to have control?

Love, she said, is not about control – 

it’s not a question, at least, of how much
you control and mold and shape another, 
but how much control you have over Self. 

I cannot, she said, taken responsibility
for the fact that your life is unfulfilling,
that you are unhappy.

That is not my business,
and by asking me why I must control, 
asking if I do want control, 
you are making it my problem 
without giving the responsibility to change it. 

Furthermore, I cannot change it, 
even if you or I wanted me to. 
Because, she added, it is not in my power
to change anything except myself.

So, he asked, is it like that? 

Then who is it that must suffer, 
if you do not allow me to pick the lice from your head, 
and yet do nothing yourself about them, 
and so if I am to be close to you I must then be infected?

You choose, she replied, to suffer, 
rather than to ask me, to command — 
the lice or me — 
or accept infestation as the price you pay
for what you want. 

For that, that is your choice, 
the only thing you can control. 

If you ask me to make the choice
between cleanliness and you, 
or dirtiness and solitude, 
you are hoping to influence my decision
by controlling me, which IS control. 

Hope, she said, is control, 
if it is by hope that you want to change me. 

Your desire for change in anyone but yourself is control,
for you have externalized upon me
your need to control yourself,
your desire to have the world conform
to a pattern you perceive yourself by,
rather than changing your perception
to admit yourself into the world as it exists.

You and I, then, he answered, cannot strike a compromise?

The only compromise you make, 
that you have the power to make, 
break or negotiate,
is with yourself,
between what you truly want and desire 
(which, when considered and balanced
 with the desires of the flow of the universe, is Truth) 
and what you are afraid to face
in yourself and for yourself,
that is,
alone and tired,
destitute and cold,
you FOR and BY YOURSELF
are willing to accept
as your reality.

We need each other, you see,
not as pillars or beams to support us in our weakness,
but rather as parts of the same soul and being that share,
because of their own fullness,
the journey we all make together.

01 SEP 1995