Friday, May 27, 2016

Scatological Politics, 2016: Know Your Enema

"...the American writer in the middle of the twentieth century has his hands full in trying to understand, describe, and then make credible much of American reality. It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one's meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up figures almost daily who would be the envy of any novelist." -- Philip Roth, "Writing American Fiction," 1961 (collected in Roth's Reading Myself and Others)

The current American political situation is best expressed in scatological terms. The Republican Party attempted to use Ted Cruz as a laxative to hasten the evacuation of Donald J. Trump from its distended bowel. Unfortunately, that Texas-size rectal suppository quickly liquefied and dribbled sticky buttjuice out of the Greedy Old Party's inflamed anus.  So the future of our country and the world now depends on American voters using Hillary Clinton as an enema to flush Donald Trump from our political system. Even Jesus wouldn't counsel us to love our enema, but we must plan to use it on election day. For as Norman Mailer told us decades ago in one of his most ridiculous sex scenes,

"...there was canny, hard-packed evil in that butt, that I knew." (Mailer, An American Dream)

Old Norman's ass-evil has a name, and it rhymes with Ronald Slump.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

From Theodore Roethke: A Poem for These Times

Theodore Roethke, good American poet with a name that tries to anagram itself before stuttering to a stop halfway through, published more than 50 years ago in his best book (The Far Field, 1964) a near perfect poem for our and every dark, depressive time.

In a Dark Time
In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;   
I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,   
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!   
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.   
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,   
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,   
And in broad day the midnight come again!   
A man goes far to find out what he is—
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,   
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.   
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,   
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.   
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,   
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Personally, I can say that Roethke has me until he gets all Goddy in the last lines. Big Ted's 'God,' however, might be best understood as the godhead of Emerson, that old transcendentalist Oversoul, rather than the hateful superego of wizened Pat Robertson's sad, psychopathic projections. (I contend that Robertson hates Bill Clinton for one overpowering and supersecret reason: Bubba Bill is Dorian Gray and Pat is the portrait.) Roethke, in those rare moments when he was out of his cups, might have agreed with Wallace Stevens and Ludwig Feuerbach that "God and the imagination are one"--or One, if we must be Platonic about it. (The god stuff never bothered me in John Donne or George Herbert, but in a modern metaphysical poem, it grates, striking a historically dissonant, archaic note--like a Gregorian chant suddenly swelling into the midst of Berg's Wozzeck.)

What I've Been Hearing

It's darker than dark in America as we stare down the brain-stained barrels of our first fascist presidency. One election, just one, now stands between Donald Trump and the Oval Office. (After typing that sentence, I pause, shake my head, and laugh mirthlessly; it's time again to remember Philip Roth's great insight, written many decades ago, about the reality of America outrunning the imaginations of its novelists. Of our major writers, only Nathanael West might have written the tale of Trump--and called it An Ice-Cold Billion.) And judging from recent polls, the weather in Ohio one day in the first week of November may decide whether our next president is a competent centrist technocrat too comfortable in her corporatism or an unhinged cynical asshole pretending to be a right-wing nutjob. If Stephen Dedalus were here and not perpetually trapped in the glowing amber of Joyce's prose, he might remark laconically that the American present is a nightmare from which we all deserve to awake.

Awash in these foul waters, I'm remembering Roethke: "In a dark time, the eye begins to see..." And the ear, Big Ted, let's not forget the ear beginning to hear. Lately I've been listening to Bessie Smith, Amalia Rodriguez, Carminho, Cecil Taylor, Milton Babbitt, and Elliot Carter. That's the queen of American blues, two Portuguese fado singers,a great jagged mad jazzer, and a pair of American Modernists. They all come to remind me that there's a better America and a better world out there. Grab it before it goes.