MARILYN ON ICE

All those ages before the Rape of Art by Platonic Abstractionism, Mother Nature was considered to be the Mistress of the Arts. Concrete art representing the world, trying to imitate things as they are, was not yet felt like the betrayal of an all-pervasive Higher Reason, juggling its Concepts. Natura Artis Magistra.

 

What the Creator of Eve had in mind, I know not. But, surely, the Genes that put Lovely Marilyn on this globe – sadly enough not for too long – were brilliant. Why not call each such gene a genius!

 

Behold her perfection, more in particular the faultless hilliness of her cheeks:

 

 

Could it be that, judging from her amorous smile, the Lady was in Heat? Was this perhaps a reason for Mother Nature to be jealous, thus create by way of frosty imitation this freezing version of Marilyn’s ass?

 

 

Knowing my preference, aware of the Eye of this Beholder, a friend of mine, nowadays residing in Scotland, yet spending the holidays in his beloved High Swiss Mountains, managed to take this shot at her snowy knolls and sent it to me electrically.

 

Perhaps, after her death, Marilyn has been put into the Great Deep Freezer of the Alps, that morgue from which escape is only possible by way of melting and receding glaciers, vomiting their moraine debris of both rocks and human corpses, long since lost in a fatal avalanche.

 

Sierksma, Haarlem February 2019

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GIRLS OF THE GOLDEN WEST

Perhaps, nothing as exciting as going to new opera and having no idea what it is about. Before entering The Amsterdam Opera House, I only knew the name of the composer, one of my favourites: John Adams. The tittle Girls of the Golden West did not indicate a specific subject.

 

Once having listened to it, this title turns out to be a witty play with words, golden referring to both the American West as an Ideal, seducing Americans to go out there – California or bust! –, as well as to the Gold Rush, the period that masses moved out West, to dig for the yellow riches. Masses, including Whites, Mexicans, Blacks and Chinese.

 

That another favourite opera-man of mine, Puccini, already wrote an opera under the title La fanciulla del West – The Girl of the West – I did not know.  After all, I am a mere amateur… Now, of course, I have read its synopsis.

 

Listening to Adams’ latest, though, I did think of Butterfly, Puccini’s work of contemporary realism, describing the cool seduction of a Japanese girl by an American Navy man in Japan, who then leaves her. Adams’ Girls of the Golden West, may indeed look like a reference to Puccini’s 19th-century The Girl of the West, which is certainly also is; however, Adams’ libretto and music are all about now.

 

Whereas Puccini’s opera is a rather moralistic tale of the Californian West – with an Italian libretto by Guelfo Civinni and Carlo Zangarini, based on the play The Girl of the Golden West by the American author David Belascoo – it is also, very much like  his Butterfly, a European’s Old World criticism of the New USA. Adams’s music and especially Peter Sellars libretto, which situates the action in the same historical period as Puccini’s opera, are aiming at America’s Here and Now: The Trump Era.

 

The contrast between on the one hand the music which supports the rowdy miners’ songs, and the dark lyricism of the arias sung by the Latino ‘Ramón’ and the Black ‘Ned’ is almost painful. Those rowdies very much remind one of the ugly chants of the even uglier crowds that can ben seen at the supporters’ rallies of Donald Trump. Listening to the final chant of Ned – who has been given the superior voice of Davóne Tines – I could not help but hearing Martin Luther King’s chant I have a dream…

 

However, in The Girl of the Golden West that dream is now  stone-dead. After you have left the opera house, there is not a glimmer of hope left. It felt as if the summa summarum of the United States of America which I wrote not long ago, has been realised in Adams’ music and Sellars’ poetry. A Failed Nation is what I called the USA. Racism and narcissism rampant.

 

It took me a while to ‘read’ the set-up of the scenery on stage. In the second part of the opera we see a huge trunk of a huge tree, as well as the end of that tree on the ground, frontally. After some minutes I saw the plot:  a giant Sequoia tree cut down. What hindered the interpretation was the bad colouring of that piece of the scenery – a sort of diarrhoea brown-black. It should have been a cognac red, of course.

 

Reading the synopsis of Puccini’s The Girl of the West, I knew: bull’s eye! Act 3: In the Great Californian Forest at dawn, sometime later Johnson is again on the run from Ashby and the miners. A Red Wood Forest indeed.

 

When travelling the US, I once got lost in the forests of Oregon. Suddenly, quite near, what must be an enormous machine started growling. While our car rounded the bend of the path, an extravagant dragline was tearing out one of those magnificent trees from the soil, root and all – one of those trees that had stood here at a time when the White Man was crucifying Christ and the Indian could still live here unhindered.

 

Of course, in olden day these trees were also cut. To celebrate the White Man’s mastery of Nature – handed to him by his Lord, or so the story goes – they even let one of these trees stand, to cut an enormous hole through it, to let cars pass through.

 

The vulgarity of White Power.

 

At the end of Girls of the Golden West, Ned is singing his dark song, telling the miners that their 4th of July is not his – it is yours. Trump’s America is White – it is not Black and Yellow and Mulatto. While singing, Ned’s shadow falls on that sawed-off back-end of the Sequoia Tree.

 

Sierksma, 12.3/2019 Haarlem

BOB DYLAN – GOTTA SERVE

I hate to follow and I hate to lead.

Submission? No! To rule – no, not indeed!

Fearing oneself, one may put fear in others:

And without terror, others won’t be ruled.

I even hate to lead and rule myself.

I do love, as wild beasts do, and creatures of the sea,

To wander and, for quite some time, to lose myself,

Be sweetly let astray and muse a bit,

Then, from afar, to lure myself back home,

Seduce myself to what I am – myself.

Nietzsche, Joyous Science

 

But people need to cling to something, they have to.

You’re doing the same, even though you don’t realise it.

Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

 

(there is nothing more tempting than

to surrender yourself to someone else,

even if only in your imagination, and to make

his problems your own and to submerge yourself

in his existence, which, because it is not yours, seems

easier to bear)

            Javier Marías, The Infatuations

________________________

Hearing that song for the first time, I felt physically unwell: Gotta Serve Somebody, part of Bob Dylan’s album Slow Train Coming.

 

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed,

It may be the Devil or it may be the Lord,

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

 

One more of the musical heroes, fallen for The Faith. Think of the countless others, their fate summed up in the title of a famous album from that period: Blind Faith, by the by, with one of Clapton’s best, though unforgivably short guitar-soli ever. In, of all titles, Presence of the Lord.

 

Giving oneself up to Faith musically is not necessarily all that bad, aesthetically it has been an inspiring force. The immense history of Christian music is impressive, church music as well as civilian music, yet always with that ever-present religious twist. Listen to John Coltrane, praising the Lord in A Love Supreme, in all its versions a master piece. The arts have thrived on faith, no two ways about it. Many artists consider themselves merely a go-between, on earth to relay what the gods ‘inspire’ them to do. However, one does not need to be a believer to appreciate artworks produced by believers.

 

Nevertheless, in 1979 when Dylan’s shrill voice was screaming these words I felt thoroughly betrayed. By then, I had given up the philosopher’s principled motto to never claim yourself an atheist, always saying simply that you are an agnostic. Professionally speaking, atheism is considered a contradictio in terminis, if not an outright paradox. After all, stating that you do not believe in some godhead, claiming that no such supernatural thing exists, is as unprovable as is the religious belief in Higher entities. A philosopher considering himself an atheist is not supposed to say so; he has to remain ‘logical’, within the bounds of ‘reason’.

 

In the seventies I gave up this professional hypocrisy, in ever-returning discussions with believer-students plainly stating that I was, indeed, an atheist. I considered jazz and rock’n roll to be my allies. Sorry Coltrane… Being an anarchist at heart, though paradoxically a communist in daily political practice, I sincerely felt that I could not serve anybody, not even myself. The philosopher’s life is one of a never-ending interrogation, of the world and of oneself, always already doubting answers to one’s queries before they are even found or given.

 

Yet, I had studied the Sociology of Religion, at twenty reading the Holy Books for the first time in my life, though often more like literature than as study objects. I still find the Gospel story of Christ, telling all the unbelievers that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in a mere three days, one of the best tales ever invented. With ‘temple’ Christ meant of course his own body, predicting his crucifixion as well as the subsequent resurrection after three days. Undoubtedly, a masterpiece of storytelling.

 

Thus, in 1979, with Postmodern Times beginning to flood what had, up till then, been good old Modernity, thus destroying the Modern ‘old-fashioned’ in both customs and in the use of language. When instead of learned treatises, I started to write little literary essays, in revolt I began to use archaisms. ‘About the author’, I wrote on the cover of one of my books: Not my will, Thine. Profanely applied to what surrounds him. Obviously, atheism in its ironic disguise. After having left the Communist Party, I now also felt more practically an anarchist, paying dearly for this when, all alone, I took on the powerful bureaucracy of Delft University.

 

However, after a long time and as an index of my stupidity, only now have I come to appreciate the truth of Dylan’s song Gotta Serve Somebody, whether the Devil or God or whatever. Having already for a long time taken up a philosophical position against all kinds of solipsism, the notion that we are intrinsically on our own and lonesome; having studied Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind, with his superb dialectical analysis of the servant having power over the lord, as the lord has power over his serfs, though power of a different character; having studied that little bit of logic on the infinite regress of meta-levels, each set of two opposing contraries always presupposing one more higher level, which implies the criterion of their common bond, how, for so long, could I have missed the simple truth of Dylan’s song?

 

The answer: By practically sticking to my silly anarchism which I knew to be theoretically untenable. Nobody is self-sufficient; more so, everybody needs his heroes and examples. Of course, not to serve them in that unpleasant sense of the word of, say, Untermensch and Übermensch; yet mimetically so, taking people of special qualities as one’s example, to follow their lead, then produce something valuable of one’s own account. It is not the slave-like imitation of the Masters which produces new art, but following the example set by them.

 

Anarchism, however, had been planted in my soul by my father, a man who raised me as a free thinker, making me converse with Indians, Eskimos, Blacks, with all those ‘little peoples’ with whom the cultural-anthropologist had spent his life-time. In my youth they were omnipresent at our dinner table. When, as a young boy, I asked this father if I could join the Scouts, his face grew ashen, expressing a thorough distaste for the Baden-Powellian kind of Fascism-for-the-Young, yet leaving me free to decide the issue on my own. A disaster was in the making.

 

Having become a sea-scout – the only way a boy from a poorer background might ever come to sail a real boat – I rose fast in the ranks, becoming a ‘boats man’, having some six other boys ‘under me’ or, for that matter, ‘following’ me and, if I remember well, even admiring me. We were bloody good in everything scouty and thus won the competition inside of our troupe to become its representative at the National Jamboree which was held for three days on, of all places, our own grounds. After behaving in a thoroughly insubordinate manner, my little band of rowdies was sent off from our own fields, publicly shamed as is common practice in rigid communities, ‘my’ boys having ‘followed their leader’ who had been pulling them into the deep pit of anti-authoritarian sin.

 

All my life, anything smelling of what the French call le Complexe de Chef, something in which they are rather good, made me rear like a wild horse. Always and everywhere I have managed to find a niche in which to hide from power, whether in the university or in the Party, thus also reducing my own influence in these gremia to zero, only to be demoted, degraded or whatever.

 

Inside our small Haarlem cell of The Party, another one of my niches, at least for a while I organized some alternatives. Then, after I had written new Statutes for the Communist Party of the Netherlands and actually sent these to the Central Committee – the statutes practiced were of an unhealthy authoritarianism, reducing ‘democratic centralism’ to a joke – they dropped a bag of cement on ‘the opposition’ and I was out.

 

There is another curious dialectic which I only began to fully understand when, in the fourth year of the 21st century, I began to study more closely the subject which had already interested me during my years as a student of the Sociology of Religion: Sectarianism. Researching the beliefs of members of the Steiner Sect who call themselves followers of Anthroposophy, a curious cocktail of nonsense, I became fully aware of the strange psychology of its members and of members of almost all sects, a mental hyperventilation between an incredible megalomania and a disgusting kind of timid humility. From one moment to the next they seem capable of changing from extravagant hubris to an attitude of ‘I am nothing; I am a non-entity; I merely serve…’

 

This ambivalence is, of course, also the expression of that very silly anarchism of which, for such a long time, I felt so proud, always managing to not have a ‘chef’, never someone above me telling me what to do. I never went into the army, judged by the army-shrink who inspected me to suffer from serious mental instability; S 5 on a scale ranging from 1 to 5. Yet, I was furious that this silly man had diagnosed me this way after a conversation of less than ten minutes. How superior I felt; then immediately again a working-class hero, a simple man, one aspiring to be the intellectual partner of the common folks. Perhaps, I was suffering from that infamous Tolstoy-complex.

 

How I remember that evening, a long time ago: a festivity for architects. Not my kind of people. Having spent half my life in the Faculty of Architecture, I once described these professionals as a race of men with spikes on their elbows… However, the prize handed out that night would attract various other kinds of artist and my maîtresse, who was a well-known ceramist, wanted very much to attend the occasion.

 

On the same night and at the same venue, I had heard that the World Champion of draughts, the Dutchman Sijbrands, was playing simultaneously against all those willing to try him. He also held the world record playing blind draughts against some 29 top players, something not even imaginable for normal people. As long as I had been aware of his existence, I had admired this man, even though I do not play the game myself, I knew it to be a far more difficult sport than my own chess which most intellectuals misguidedly hold supreme.

 

Precisely at the moment my friend and I were leaving to go home, prizes having been handed out, friends and other artists met, there he was: Sijbrands descending from the stairs. Without a moment’s thought I walked up to him, almost grabbing his hand with mine which he very friendly took, and I said: “Sir, you do not know me, but I know you; I simply had to shake the hands of a genius.” All he did was smile, timidly so.

 

Then and there I should have become an enlightened man. You gotta serve somebody… Not unthinkingly so, like a slave, but in the full admiration of someone or something acknowledged as of a different, higher order all together. Like the true poet has his lyrical heroes whom he does not imitate, but whose example he tries to follow.

 

Like I am in awe of those problemists who, time and again, succeed in composing a chess problem which, after hard thinking, I may perhaps be able to solve, but which I could never have created myself. There are moments when, in the deep dark hours of an insomniac’s night, after having solved such a chess puzzle, I actually applaud the absent Master who not only created something of intricate genius, but at the same time of an ineffable beauty.

 

This, by the way, I also consider as some kind of proof for one of my philosophical theses: That the Aesthetic has primacy over the Epistemological, that is over what is said to be the truth; also, primacy over the Ethical, that is over what is considered to be good and bad. Which, in no way, means that I accept Nietzsche when he states that atheism is ‘good’ because it denies the ascetic ideal, then immediately criticises that same atheism for its Will to Truth [or science], which is according to Nietzsche merely the new, camouflaged version of asceticism. One may very well accept progress in the sciences and still be convinced that its evolution and its revolutions do imply a primacy of the Aesthetic, man always striving for theories that seem to ‘fit’, to be ‘well rounded’ and to form a ‘whole’.

 

One may, however, agree with Nietzsche’s criticism of asceticism as a denial of life and of stoicism as self-tyranny, yet without giving up a hermit’s version of the voluptuous and of the will to transgress limits, well knowing that ascetic discipline is indeed needed to produce one’s own works of art, of which that very same philosopher-who-did-not-want-to-be-a-philosopher-because-philosophy-is-the-spiritual-Will-to-be-causa-prima, said that without art we shall perish from too much truth. What else is real life, but hanging in the balance, always at risk; what else, but a balancing act on the tight-rope between here and nowhere, between knowing and creation?

 

It is as simple as this: Even though I am a lousy player, I could not live without chess. Chess is my Supreme Being in whose presence, indeed, I bow in awe. Like anybody else, I need something or someone to admire, to take as benchmark for the things I try to do and for what I would like to live up to. Chess! It is a sad and sober fact, that in the weaker mind, Nobel-prized or not, this vital need leads to religious adoration of Higher Entities and to a belief in the Supernatural, causing him to haste and to hurry to reach Heaven before they close its door, quite often also developing a disgraceful, self-made humility.

 

This adoration of Higher Entities may even take the political form of joining mass movements, to be instructed by so-called Leaders; or it becomes politico-religious when, for instance, a Samurai justifies his allegiance to the Master, supported by practicing Zen and committing hara-kiri when this Master falls away or fails him. Watch Jarmusch’s movie Ghost Dog, about an American black who is following the Zen-code of the Samurai, after he has chosen to serve as his Master, a silly Italo-American gangster who once, accidentally so, saved his life. This till death does them part.

Ghost Dog

At least one thing has now become clear to me. Anarchism, as the personal creed of never following anything or anybody, is but following and serving the Principle of Anarchism; thus, once again, being serf to a Prince. Anarchism is thoroughly contradictory in itself, it can never be practiced, it is both illusion and delusion. Anarchism is an ill-understood form of solipsism which takes for granted that there is no one left to serve, perhaps not even one’s very own self, thus being in danger of breeding that ghastly complex of narcissism fused with false humility.

 

If I have understood Nietzsche well, if he is to be understood well at all, at the end of my life, I have opted for life. A little proviso is necessary, gleaned from the gorgeous passage in John Cleese’s movie A Fish Called Wanda in which the supreme nitwit of that wild bunch is reading Nietzsche and thinks that what the philosopher wrote about the Übermensch applies directly to him. He must have missed that the Man with the Hammer was thoroughly elitist, reserving his notion of the Übermensch for the happy few who create great art and grand literature, thus imprinting on the rest of mankind their ideas of what is good, beautiful and bad. If any philosopher was unfit for Reader’s Digest, it has surely been Nietzsche.

 

My Will to Power, though, will not produce things that last long, limited as they are to my poems and my little essays, with now and then a reader, here and there. However, I shall never give in, never give up, till force majeure will make me do so.

 

Man is, and will always remain a social animal, even if the misanthropos may continue to loathe his fellow men. Thus, reproducing the never-ending paradox, I have withdrawn into my lonely little hermitage, like forest beasts and creatures of the sea, not being able to give up that spumante feeling of anarchism, yet also practicing in earnest a slavery to my flowers, my house, my chess game and my language; caring for them, not because they are my property, but since they are my possessions, ultimately they are owning me. It is also this ‘own self’ that should be seduced to continue to exist and for whom I must care, or rather for what remains of it: a body diseased, a mind crippled, not knowing whether I can still afford to say that I am half the man I used to be…

 

Sierksma, La Roche 5.10/2018

 

[The translation of Nietzsche’s Der Einsame is mine.]

TRUMAN CAPOTE – WRITING IN THE MARGINS

If you were born with the incredible middle name Streckfus, as was Truman Capote, there is no way to live but take the rambles of the outsider. Born in 1924 as Truman Streckfus Persons, the vicissitudes of life changed him subsequently into a Capote, Streckfus dropping out of his name. How mixed-up can you get. Outside is the side I take, thus Patty Smith.

 

When, later in life, you also discover yourself to be a homosexual, either the lid is on, or you must create your own universe-with-the-lid-off. The last thing is what Truman did, being an eccentric, inventing all on his own a new genre of literature which he referred to in the sub-title of his book IN COLD BLOOD – A True Account of a Multiple Murder and its Consequences, published in 1966.

 

Not to have his reader miss the vital point of this invention, the first lines of his Acknowledgements read thus: All the material in this book not derived from my own observation is either taken from the official records or is the result of interviews with the persons directly concerned…

 

The outsider becomes a keen observer of everyone and everything else residing outside the boundaries of ‘normal’ society; that is: in its margins. Capote was known to have a perfect visual and auditive memory, capable of reproducing word-perfect anything read or heard. This comes in handy, if you are going to observe and to meticulously register the observed, to become the world’s first investigative novelist. A writer like that tends to be less psychological, less a dissector of what is supposedly in other people’s minds, all the more so a close reader of the actual doings and sayings of these others.

 

What one expects, after having read that title and its sub-title, is but a journalist’s account of a brutal tragedy, the massacre of a complete, innocent family. One may be disappointed though: the book is indeed an account of such facts, yet it reads as a novel, written in a sparkling language, filled with grand apercus.

 

The word Streckfus does not exist in the German language, at least I could not find it in my dictionary. Streckfuss with double ss is indeed a family name, even one that emigrated to the States. Sounds Yiddish to me; however, it does not appear in the register of Jewish names. Somebody with a fairy-tale name like that, what else could he do but become a writer!

 

Streckfus Capote

 

So, from the moment he began writing his first short story – composed even earlier, but published from 1940 on – he identified with outsiders. The literary critic Hilton Als has typified his early writing as a careful description of difference, an apt characterisation which also seems to apply to the later work. But this is not enough. Capote seems always to have been attracted to outsiders that are also evil-doers; someone thieving, as in Parting of the Way, or as in Hilda; or an escapist from prison, as in The Moth in the Flame, or as in Swamp Terror. And, of course, in his masterpiece In Cold Blood, in which he relates his becoming enchanted with one of the two killers who murdered a whole farmer’s family in their Hopper-like, lonesome house on the plains of Western Kansas.

 

Capote’s language seems to be chained to such outsiders; without them, he would probably not have survived as a writer. Of course, there are other themes in his work, yet most of it has to do with what cultural-anthropologists have come to call Marginal Men and Women, persons with one foot in this culture, the other one rooted in another ethos. Being thus torn apart may either ruin people’s mind or even turn them into criminals; however – by contrast – such marginal men may also become shamans or creative artists, in the process of mentally escaping their marginality on a higher plain, as it were aesthetically transcending their misery.

 

Truman Capote himself was such a Man in the Margins, born in an age when homosexuality was not yet fully accepted as one of man’s possible, biologically penchants. He transcended this marginality doubly so; by performing his own eccentricity, hysterically acting out camp and staging the prototypical queer; also, and vitally so, by becoming a great writer, enlightening his public on the existence of true strangers, with whom his readers would like to identify, in most case not having a chance of being like them, petty-bourgeois as most of them are.

 

The United States of America has always been an ideal site for Marginal Man and also, perhaps, for his sublimation. One might even ask: Who isn’t marginal out there, at least a bit – or, for that matter, who wasn’t? America is that non-nation which invented the Motel, it is a country of a people always on the move… Almost all immigrants live their double lives, being Polish, Italian or German, celebrating their ethnic specialty, at the same time striving to be true Americans and all that goes with it – celebrating Thanksgiving, time and again singing the anthem with their right fist on the heart, professing an often-hysterical nationalism, et cetera. Not to forget, the utter racism on which this so-called Nation is founded: the final solution to the Indian Question, the long tradition of black slaves supporting the economy even after slavery had been abolished.

 

That other writer, the 19th-century poet Walt Whitman, was perhaps the first in line in a literary history grappling with the race issue. His first Leaves of Grass were published in 1855. However, this great champion of America as the Shining Vanguard of All of Humanity was still ambivalent, often even outright negative about for instance Blacks. In one of his poems he wrote that I am the hounded slave […] I wince at the bite of the dogs; yet, in his prose he also depicted Blacks, or as they are now called African Americans, as having as much intellect and calibre (in the mass) as so many baboons?

 

Roth, writing a century later, is more ruthless; he is explicitly battling the racism that is rampant in the USA. His Human Stain, published in 2000, someone seemingly Caucasian turns out to have a strain of black blood, with in the States obvious and disastrous consequences once this has come out. No doubt, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, published in 1952, triggered Roth, another book highly critical, this time however this time written by a black man.  These two authors are part of a literary lineage in which writers are trying to distance themselves from their own country’s evil and from its continued denial of nasty reality.

 

Capote, in for instance his story Louise, also capitalised on these themes. I would not be surprised if not only Invisible Man, but also Capote’s story Louise have influenced Roth, who after all was himself a marginal man, growing up in the half-closed fold of Yiddish America, always somehow an outsider, both feeling one with as well as distancing himself from that background, also desiring to be a real American – one of the author’s recurrent themes. As I am sure that all three must have been a source for Peter Carey’s novel A Long Way from Home, this time set in Australia, in which a half-breed, unconscious of his own racial condition, is the protagonist.

 

However, Capote, historically in between Whitman and Roth, is still only gently critical of all this, perhaps also ambivalent. In his Louise, Ethel is attending a chic all-white girl-school; she has blackened one of her schoolmates by informing on her in the Principal’s office. A stool pigeon. Yet, part of what she has told the Principal was her fantasy turns out to be true. ‘So, Louise is, as you expected, a person of colour. Quadroon, I believe, is the technical term. Most unfortunate, the situation is intolerable, a dreadful thing’. Miss Burke thought, with a shudder, of what would have happened if Ethel had told the other students instead of her. Louise, the quadroon, is sent off packing; Ethel, subsequently feeling remorse, thinks that this is too much: What difference did it make? She did not look coloured.

 

Can it be coincidence that Whitman, in times before it received a name, was hiding his homosexuality in his poetry, a bit like Shakespeare in his sonnets? Could it be that feeling a sexual outsider, both Whitman and Capote where more sensitive to other versions of exclusion? Whitman’s handling of Blacks reverberates in his verse on the Indians. In Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Indians do indeed seem to survive their massacre. However, they do so not as a people, but as a set of glorious names spread-out all over America, only thus such surviving the Endlösung of their name-givers. The Tribes of Indians, first to be reduced to The Nations inside the colonial USA, were finally cornered, and forever so, into the margins of mere words.

 

Living for a year in the little hamlet of Piscataway, New Jersey, I sadly felt this strange ambivalence: living in a territory only Indian in name, the tribe departed, forced to leave it… Read Whitman’s Starting from Paumanok. The poet – so it seems – is satisfied with just the glorious sound of their names:

 

Wabash, Miami, Saginaw, Chippewa, Oshkosh, Walla-Walla

Leaving such to the States they melt, they depart,

Charging the water and the land with names…

 

In the 20th century, however, marginality became all too real, not only for Indians and Blacks, but also for those whose sexuality diverges from what is considered normal. Yet, Capote grew up in a time in which research had not yet proven that being homosexual is as genetically determined as, for instance, being Black or Indian. Coming out, though, had become normal, at the end of the 19th century Oscar Wilde having shown the way in a manner still inconceivable for the Whitman’s of this world.

 

Truman Capote

 

The older he grew, Capote transformed his own ‘stain’ into the art of being an eccentric. However, this remains somewhat tricky in the USA, a country which does not have anything comparable to the Institution of the Eccentric, that recognised Social Niche which the Brits did indeed create for their social curiosities and extravagants. Whereas, curiously enough, in his earlier stories the criminal outsider is a stranger in the sense of being outlandish and somewhat scary, his final work on criminal outsiders tends to normalise these. In the almost three-hundred pages of In Cold Blood, Perry and Dick, though the brutal killers they have been, become human nevertheless, perhaps a bit weird, yet not all that much weirder than many a normal American.

Edward [Dick] Smith

 

Those cold-blooded pages ooze Capote’s humane, and perhaps all too human sympathy, especially his compassion for Dick Smith who was, interestingly enough, of mixed Irish and Indian Cherokee stock, thus the perfect marginal mirror reflecting Capote’s own mixed-up identity. Dick – a half-breed in times when few Indians were left, a kind of survivor of the American holocaust. The similarity gets even stronger, when we know that both Capote and Smith came from broken families, sharing the shared background of an alcoholic father and the serious abuse of their mother and of themselves, subsequently escaping an upbringing by stepfathers in rather miserable circumstances.

 

Dick and Capote wrote one another long letters, till finally Dick was hanged and Capote could at last finish his book, the publication of which had been hanging on Dick’s death.

 

I cannot but surmise that here lies the reason why, after In Cold Blood, Capote did not complete anything of serious literary value. His writer-hands had finally covered the full territory of his very own margins. He had come all the way back to his roots, becoming Streckfuss once again, perhaps being even more of an eccentric than before.

 

However, after his success as a writer, he did not any longer have the need to act out this eccentricity, to be a performer; he could just enjoy a bit of the high life considered his due as a celebrity. Perhaps, Capote felt vindicated by that heinous crime committed by Dick Smith, who may vicariously have taken his gruesome revenge on society for him – Dick the criminal who, with a stroke of bad luck, Capote himself might have become.

 

Sierksma, Haarlem December 2018

LETTER TO NIETZSCHE

The more consciousness is struggling away from its animal being, becoming for itself something solid and in its forms something lasting, the more it hardens itself against everything that would make its own perpetuity suspect.

Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics

_____________________________

Haarlem 27.10/2017

Dear Nietzsche, that is if you are indeed out there…

As I share your belief that there is no grounding whatsoever – that the only ground is the earth we stand upon, the terra firma in which our remains will be buried and thus disappear, or for that matter the soil which will receive our ashes – these words may well have been written on water as were written, according to Chief Grey Owl, all White Man’s promises to the Indians. Being a Dutchman, even using the notion of terra firma is already rather gutsy, as my country consists mostly of blubbering clay and resides for at least one third of its territory under sea level.

Why not dedicate this Morning Glory to you! This very day, it evolved from its cream-coloured cocoon to greet the early light as well as myself. The older I get, the more defective also, the more I need such aesthetic support to commence living again.

Now and then, while writing this letter, I shall cast an eye on its magnificent shape and colour, all the time thinking it is you. After all, there is that law of yours, of the eternal return of everything. This flower may well be you. However, as you will probably know, it will have faded and then withered by early afternoon.

It took me quite a while to solve the little riddle of how to begin this epistle to you. Doktor Nietzsche,... Herr Doktor,… Herr Professor Nietzsche,… Dear Friedrich,…; these forms of address won’t do. Leastwise, I can honor you with the motto written above these words, taken from the work of one of your best readers, our colleague Theodor Adorno.

Having demolished the whole of modern philosophy or perhaps more accurately, having annihilated all the West’s post-Platonian thinking, you would probably despise an officious form of address. Having overthrown the tradition of philosophical writing, almost like a philosophical anarchist, you would not like me to approach you like that. You revolutionized philosophy in content, not aiming any longer at a full system comprising separate books on aesthetics, ethics, epistemology, anthropology and logic. However, in your manner of writing you also uprooted philosophy’s form, abandoning the treatise, opting for paragraphs, aphorisms and poetry in a for your time unique mélange, never witnessed before.

Being the self-disciplined yet crazy man you were, you wrote ecstatically, time and again contradicting your own writings, never however allowing a synthesis, a dialectical transcendence into yet another system. You were an essayist by nature, quite often even an aphorist. You also were a fine poet, one of the great masters of language of all time. This cannot be said of most of our colleagues.

Your poem The Loner I read so many times:

 

I hate to follow and I hate to lead.

Submission? No! To rule – no, not indeed!

Fearing oneself, one may put fear in others:

And without terror, others won’t be ruled.

I even hate to lead and rule myself.

I do love, as wild beasts do and creatures of the sea,

To wander and, for quite some time, to lose myself,

Be sweetly let astray and muse a bit,

Then, from afar, to lure myself back home,

Seduce myself to what I am – myself.

[*original]

Dear Friedrich would undoubtedly have been a faux pas; all wrong, like nowadays the postmodern hug men seem to need in order to express their uncouth affection for, and familiarity with other men. My kisses I also reserve for lovers, and I shake hands even with my bosom friend.  You are one of my Masters. Dear Nietzsche would be what I might have called you, had I known you in your life-time and, of course, if you would you have allowed me so. Thus, I presume.

Lou Salomé, whipping her asses,

the husband as well as Nietzsche

 

You must have been a naughty man, somewhere on your road to madness and death having picked up syphilis. I do not think it was Lou Salomé who gave you the disease; assuredly, she looks too much of a prude for a thing like the pox, always in search not so much of men, as of God-Men, whatever that may be. However, you most certainly went after her. Sadly enough that picture of you, being whipped by Lou, does not clear up my question, whether she considered you a donkey or a horse in front of that cart. It might have explained the following story.

 

Once, you encountered that famous ass in Genoa and enthusiastically embraced the poor animal, shouting “Ah, Wagner, what a pleasure to finally meet you again!”; it is difficult to know whether you were already raving mad or merely a magnificent jester. We know that by then you preferred the exciting march music of Carmen to the boring sounds of that Bavarian’s tedious operas. Was this accolade a sign, then, of utter sanity or already a token of your past sins in the flesh? Or, should we simply step out of this epistemic split and wander into that Jenseits of Sanity and Madness, which you probably prefer…

Then again, you would not have liked Lou’s own answer to that. After all, she became the Platonian lover of Master Freud who turned her into a psychoanalyst on her own account. She wrote to one of her other lovers, the poet Rilke, about the “erotic sadness of dolls”, advising him to solve his troubles by also going into analysis, to which he reacted like a cat in great furry.  You, Dear Nietzsche, Lou might very well have considered a donkey to be tamed. After all, you’ve had quite a story-line with donkeys trailing you.

A bit like Pirandello’s Enrico IV, in Bellocchio’s movie version of his play acted by master Mastroianni: Being mad, yet knowing it; perhaps being mad now and then, and only now and then knowing it. Jeez man! How you could let ink flow from your pen like waves whipped by mental hurricanes, transforming philosophy into the exciting foam of poetry, yet fabricating razor-sharp arguments, always acerbic in a very convincing manner.

 

Nietzsche, shortly before he died

 

The strange thing is addressing you over the abyss of time with more than a century separating the two of us. By now pretty much afflicted myself, I am yet alive; you on the other hand died in 1900, on the very threshold of the new century in which I was born, the century of the New Man you announced in your philosophy. You were a philosophical anachronism.

However, though of the essence in this letter, time seems to have been irrelevant in the universe we both occupy, that is the realm of contemplation. One may be well aware, one should be well aware of the historical conditions of all writing, if only to avoid anachronisms; however, while reading our colleagues’ essays and books I always feel their fellow citizen in synchrony, residing outside time.

In your case this is even more poignant. Your Death of God has become the axiom of any right-thinking man and woman ever since. Like each great thinker, you were standing on the shoulders of predecessors, in your case Darwin, whose theory of evolution surely triggered your thought. However, it was you who drew the final consequences from that biological grandee’s ideas, even though you accused that celebrated British biologist of pleading man’s domestication.

You wrote against him, claiming that “mankind is not progressing. There appear higher types, however they do not last. The level of the species is not being raised.”  However, evolution can do without the gods, which is after all Darwin’s most important insight and one which you most certainly borrowed.

Did you know, Dear Nietzsche, that Oliver Sacks, one of your admirers, himself an admirable writer on the vicissitudes of the mind, considered Darwin’s theory, not yours, to be the Great Divide in the history of thinking? What nerve! One might say that for Sacks, a great believer in the Death of God, Darwin was God…

That, methinks, sums up the problem: How to live in your new universe, in which nothing is grounded and nothing final, in which nothing disappears forever and an after-life being is out of the question? A universe with the lid off, as colleague John Dewy so aptly put it, a universe which has always been there, one way or another, and which will always be there, one way or another. A timeless constellation of explosions of various intensity, all effects needing time to stretch out.

Living by paradox, why not, it seems to sum it up. Is that what you meant, when you wrote “that we need art in order not to perish by truth”? Brother Wittgenstein agreed with this: If you cannot talk sensibly and reasonable about something, you better shut up; to shut up, of course, may take the form of a poem, a painting or a piece of music. Being silent, yet singing.

Yours was an amor intellectualis diaboli, an ironic intellectual pleasure in the conquest of a bourgeois civilization – with its own weapons. However, this game has gone awry. In Sympathy for the Devil the rocker Mick Jagger could still make us guess His name; Lucifer, Mephistopheles. When, by way of metaphor, he asked a motor gang called Hell’s Angels to provide security at the Altamont Free Concert his Stones band gave, the bastards actually killed someone in the audience. So, perhaps in 1969 the mirage of art and irony as our saviors from truth had evaporated and in that year your Age of Zarathustra had already ended.

Your intellectual aestheticism had been usurped, becoming an aesthetics of authoritarian and violent states. Was Pessoa giving it a twist, when he wrote that “art is good because it cannot disappoint you”? The problem here, though, is that making aesthetics the final realm of reality, or rather: considering beauty and ugliness as the ultimate criteria for judging, one may all too easily come to consider war as a way of art, as a Way of Seeing or, for that matter, cruelty as that little spot of glaze left by chance by the Japanese ceramist on his otherwise perfect vase.

The terrifying recreation of a world as Gesamtkunstwerk, it may suddenly turn out to be Kim Yong un’s frightful etching of North Korea or, for that matter, the horrid and surrealist collage of shootings, race clashes, poverty and vulgarity called the ‘USA’, also known as ‘the Melting Pot…’, however a failed nation.

To turn art into the savior of our existence is to run the very risk of decadence which is already lurking in the hyper-reflection which is the upshot of your Philosophy of the End of all Grounding. As the cosmos is never-ending and never-beginning, so now of a sudden is our thinking: whatever may be considered true or good here and now, may be seen as false and bad; you only have to turn the next corner of our perspective.

Your Law of Eternal Return has nothing to do with reincarnation. After all, as there is no soul what would there be left to incarnate? It is more about the return of I/Me/Ego, each time again in its new coat of varnish. Or perhaps its emptying out into a sea of nothingness, then to be compensated by overdoses of narcissism and megalomania.

The history of mankind, as I have understood your writings, is one long misunderstanding of Being and thus of man himself. It is the illusion of will and self-determination, whereas what is, is merely matter in mysterious motion. That illusion of self-determination, though, produces misapprehensions. Life is all too easily considered a stage on which we act out our tragedies and comedies, as if we were its conscious actors. Instead, each of us is but minuscule part of that matter in mysterious motion, appearing and then disappearing.

However, this extravagant misunderstanding of man’s own existence – his being outside himself, thus a ‘subject’ – has the slight, though illusionary advantage that we may feel love, hate, pity and despair. It also provides some of us with the capacity for laughter, even though quite a few of us seem to miss this vital button. The cosmos, on the other hand, does not laugh; it is cold and indifferent. However, lately our own laughing is no laughing matter any longer, more and more it has become a wry smile, observing what has become of us.

Great optimists – and perhaps, Dear Nietzsche, you were an optimist yourself – have drawn the conclusion from your thought that from now on, as no values are given and grounded as such, we should take life in our own hands and create our own values, values far more intricate and delicate than the mere prescriptions of the gods or of people in power.

I beg to disagree. I think that it is another illusion to think that, once the gods have drowned in your great philosophical bonfire, some kind of elite of mankind, or perhaps even each man all by himself will now ‘engage’ in ‘projects’, as the existentialists concluded from your writings.

There will be no Global Village. Man is simply incapable of shattering that illusion of his own supremacy. Thus, confronted with the meaningless of matter in mysterious motion, he will cling even more to certainties, creeds and totems. The twilight of the gods ends in never-ending fireworks of war between religions and their various ‘truths’. On the other hand, we are witnessing the growth of discipline and authority, if not outright forms of militarism which fill the vacuum that, Dear Nietzsche, you and Darwin left behind.

Postmodernity, the name for this New Earth, will be filled with emptied Ego’s living in smaller social cocoons, dearly in need of surveillance by others who are considered relevant. More and more this becomes a shame culture; guilt, after all, presupposes your God and his prescriptions. However, nothing is more shameless than a shame culture! In a civilized manner one will behave towards others only if they are considered as relevant; all other others are regarded as mere things, to be either manipulated or destroyed, as one’s own self tends to be a reified thing with a career, an object to be disciplined.

Though negative dialectics is the last and only manner to think about what is, never reducing Being to Thought, nor ending in the identity of Subject and Object – to think in that manner is not given to most men and women, if anyone at all. People would rather force identity and stamp their order on others. Or, failing to do so, destroy them.

 

Hurricanes have whipped the face of our earth. Not merely gods were uprooted or splintered to smithereens. Sic transit, sic transit…

Superman won’t come. You expected that only the belief in God kept him from the stage. According to you, after you killed God Superman had to arrive; your Übermensch would be well aware that he does not belong “in the marketplace ruled by the rabble.” We belated ones, however, we have found out that in our 20th century capital and its markets have come to rule all and everything. No Masters, no Herd – just so many non-entities going through the sieve…

So, Dear Nietzsche, as you may have gathered from this letter, I am not your Zarathustra, not your visionary optimist. Having learned from you to consider this world sine ira et studio, I cannot but feel misery in my soul and an ache in the heart.

Yours truly, Sierksma

 

*Der Einsame – original version; the translation is mine:

Verhasst ist mir das Folgen und das Führen.

Gehorchen? Nein! Und aber nein — Regieren!

Wer sich nicht schrecklich ist, macht Niemand Schrecken:

Und nur wer Schrecken macht, kann Andre führen.

Verhasst ist mir’s schon, selber mich zu führen!

Ich liebe es, gleich Wald- und Meerestieren,

Mich für ein gutes Weilchen zu verlieren,

In holder Irrnis grüblerisch zu hocken,

Von ferne her mich endlich heimzulocken,

Mich selber zu mir selber — zu verführen.

 

AUSCHWITZ – VICIOUS CIRCLES

In her short memoir But You Did Not Come Back, dedicated to her father, Marceline Loridan-Ivens tells us how, all her life, he remained with her. The two of them were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau; she came back, he didn’t.

 

When the two of them were already in the camp, she relates how her dad managed to get a little note to her. A miracle allowed them this speechless contact; women and men were separated, kept in different sections of the Vernichtungslager as they were called. I use this German word for the concentration camps or KZ; it is an onomatopoeia, its pronunciation sounding precisely like what was done there.

 

She will lose that note. For the rest of her life this loss seems identical with the loss of her father who went up in smoke, while she – again a miracle – managed to survive. That little piece of paper had not been signed Papa, but with his Yiddish name Shloïme. She had never called him by this name.

 

In her book constantly addressing her dead dad, Marceline then makes this remark: You surely needed to affirm your identity, your Jewishness, in this universe where we were nothing more than Stücke: things. In the Vernichtungslager, reduced to nothingness, identity became a sign of resistance, if only on the last of all barricades. In an age of so-called Identity Politics, an age of the miserable, postmodern abuse of the notion of identity, an age in which people invent often silly problems and then identify with them, these are wise words to be remembered.

 

Pride in identity is always the poor man’s glory, the silly man’s feeling of superiority over and against the foreigner, the stranger, the other – those who are considered to be simply less. By contrast, the Jewish identity to which Marceline Loridan-Ivens refers, has become a weapon of that Other, the Stranger, the Jew, outcast as they are, reduced to a non-entity.

 

Marceline considered the great moment of her own resistance in the KZ when, already starving, for the first time in my life, I fasted on Yom Kippur, to feel more Jewish, to remain dignified in the face of the SS. Just like her father used the Yiddish version of his name, once again. To resist what was done to them.

 

 

Then after the war, after all these years – now old, then young, in the meantime having been married twice, the second time to the Dutch cineaste Joris Ivens – this immensely beautiful woman can still write this gruesome sentence which, from now on, I shall never get out of my system: I don’t like my body. It’s as if it still bears the mark of the first man who ever looked at me, a Nazi. From such vicious circles, even after having escaped the KZ, there is no escape.

ThingsStückeThat dirty Jewish raceStinking animals… The crazy thing with such labels is that, when backed up by gruesome force and vile violence, the threat of the ovens turned people exactly into what they had been named and called. There comes a moment when there is no way out, the moment when the soul dies, the death of humanity announcing the death of the body. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes – in Auschwitz a brutal quadrature of that vicious circle.

 

Here, people were caught up in a closed universe with the lid slammed on, a terrifying cosmos in which everybody – except the torturers, the jailers, the guards – has been reduced to nothingness, to mere bodies, to bodily things having lost all desire, all appetite, except the need for morsels of food which were only fed to those who could still be productive in the death-machine, the small quantity of fuel just enough to keep the thing going. Till its last bit of labour force was also spent.

 

So, here all identity is indeed lost, stolen; what else to do, but go back to the basics, return to that identity which had been the Nazis’ reason to round them up and transport them like cattle to Auschwitz. Whenever a human being is reduced to a commodity, wares with only a slight use value at that, Identity has the right to speak up.

 

In France, after he had fled blasted Poland where he was born, escaping its threatening growth of an already awesome anti-Semitism, her father had become Solomon. Back in Poland’s Auschwitz, once again he became Shloïme. A return ticket home, at the Germans’ expense, not counting the money brought in from stolen gold, jewellery, cut-off hair and the rest. All those emigrants seeing the trains depart for the country they fled – forced to be re-migrants.

 

After the journey home, that return to the use of Shloïme was his second vicious circle. Forced to be the one who, perhaps, he would rather not be. One is reminded of Theodor Adorno, the son of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father whose parents had assimilated already in the middle of the 19th century. The German philosopher described how, after World War One, it came to him as a complete shock when, suddenly, he was forced by the Nazis to look in the rear-view mirror to discover that he had become… a Jew, forced to adopt an identity with which one had not identified before.

 

Sierksma, Haarlem February 2019