Saturday, March 23, 2013

with a nod to Gertrude Stein

the urgency of snails
Was there ever a way of being that did not seek out the particulars -- the sometimes bottom-of-the-barrel-scraping minutiae -- of that way? Intellect may lend a hand, but vast intellect is not so much the point. It has everything to do with love and delight and horror.

On the bayou, the alligator hunter tests and retests the vile-smelling bait that will attract his prey, fill his boat, increase his income, and put food on the family table. In Cern, scientists announce and re-announce their discovery of the Higgs boson or "God particle" ... the element that gives meaning to damned near everything else. In the kitchen, a curious soul peels back layer after layer of an onion that lends flavor to so much ... what is an onion? After so many years of creating beauty or disaster, the painter digs deep into the molecular structure of alizerin crimson. Married now for so many years, a husband or wife reflects on the meaning of "marriage." The arms-maker studies to a fare-the-well the tolerances of his materials.

It is not that such investigation can capture or nail down the topic under investigation. But without the skills arising from that investigation, the delight goes begging, becomes stale and static ... and religion gains a foothold. No one discovers an onion by peeling an onion and if you knew who or what God were, would it any longer be God?

The Hindus, bless their hides, were the ones to come up with the metaphor of the broken incense stick ... "each piece is it." Zen Buddhists stumbled along behind with mentions of "mind" or "no mind." But I don't think it is necessary to take up a 'wise' calling or a venerated philosophy in order to long for delight or seek out love or be confronted by horror. Everyone is 'deeeeeep' in their own way and in their own terms. Nuff said.

The particulars of a particular life demand some measure of skill and understanding. Hunting alligators with a B-B gun is a poor idea. Creating a religion as a means of capturing God may be a step on the road to improving a skill set, but beware the alligator that is bound to come around and bite you on the ass. An onion does not give up its secrets to the man or woman who consents to peel it.

OK ... an investigation makes some common sense, enhances pleasure and provides additional smiles. It's nothing special ... a 'nothing special' without which a skill or circumstance goes begging ... devolves into stale uncertainty, often masquerading as a proud and pompous certainty.

It is scary to investigate an onion, whatever the onion may be. Peeling the layers back, bit by bit and teary eye by teary eye, seeking out the God of onionness ... only to find that to know an onion, to know a marriage, to know alligator bait ... well, in ordinary terms, there is nothing there. This is the horror that religion bestows, that life bestows, that investigation bestows. Of course, if it were actually "nothing," then it would be something, but investigation reveals that this is ludicrous and self-serving. Answers and explanations and beliefs and meanings may do what they can to keep horror at bay, but ... well ... check it out: How well does that work? Delight and deliciousness are enhanced by investigation and yet investigation cannot tell an onion's tale ... what a gyp! What a horror! I think I'll just rest and nest in the sometimes thorny down of ignorance or religion or judgment or meaning or ... pick a poison. Fuck all this investigation shit! I think I'll just call it all "love" or "God" or "peace" or "enlightenment" ... it may not be perfect, but it beats the horror that beckons and purrs.

What then is to be said for the investigation that I would argue anyone, in any walk of life, engages in? What does it teach beyond delight and love and horror? At its furthest reaches, what the hell good is it? Where is the peace?

My guess is that it teaches a certain lightness of being. No one can know an onion and yet there are onions. It's not necessary. It's just possible. I am not necessary. I am just possible. It's not as if anyone could actually "get over yourself" and yet, when things are possible, you have gotten over yourself ... for the moment. And things are easier, lighter, less weighted and freighted and subject to staleness. Alligator bait and the "God particle" and marriage and another world war and the molecular structure of alizarin crimson and vast, blithering philosophies. Possible, possible, possible ... relax, enjoy and be at peace. Investigate? You bet. But get out of the way ... even as investigating, in point of fact, gets you out of the way.

Investigate ... it'll get you out of the way just as removing a layer of the onion will get you out of the way ... closer and closer and closer to ... it and it and it ... so delightful and possible.

As, for example,
the urgency of snails
Though there's nothing saying anyone has to be as weird or abstruse as Gertrude Stein or a scientist seeking a God particle.


  1. Oh I dont know Adam.
    'Pigeons on the grass alas
    pigeons on the grass alas
    pigeons on the grass alas Alice;'

    Seems pretty direct to me.

  2. Peter ... not quite sure if Gertrude got Alice into her murmurs about pigeons:

    Pigeons on the grass alas.
    Pigeons on the grass alas.
    Short longer grass short longer longer shorter yellow grass. Pigeons
    large pigeons on the shorter longer yellow grass alas pigeons on the
    If they were not pigeons what were they.
    If they were not pigeons on the grass alas what were they. He had
    heard of a third and he asked about if it was a magpie in the sky.
    If a magpie in the sky on the sky can not cry if the pigeon on the
    grass alas can alas and to pass the pigeon on the grass alas and the
    magpie in the sky on the sky and to try and to try alas on the
    grass alas the pigeon on the grass the pigeon on the grass and alas.
    They might be very well they might be very well very well they might
    Let Lucy Lily Lily Lucy Lucy let Lucy Lucy Lily Lily Lily Lily
    Lily let Lily Lucy Lucy let Lily. Let Lucy Lily.

    A short bio reads:
    "Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, USA. She spent her infancy in Vienna and Paris and her girlhood in Oakland, California. Stein studied psychology at Radcliffe College with the philosopher William James. After further study at Johns Hopkins medical school she went to Paris, where she was able to live by private means. From 1903 to 1912 she lived with her brother Leo, who became an accomplished art critic; thereafter she lived with her lifelong companion Alice B. Toklas (1877-1967)."

    William James caught my eye.

  3. Mine was the shorter condensed version she wrote on a napkin for Hemingway..but I now can't find reference to it and am beginning to wonder if I dreamt it. I dont think so however...
    Talking of which have you seen Woody Allen's wonderful " Midnight in Paris " with witty portrayals of Hemingway, Stein, Cole Porter, Picasso, Dali, TS Elliott et al ?
    Its charming.

    1. Peter Pan is a vindictive little sh*t

  4. Peter -- OK... let's just assume the napkin existed and you are not losing your marbles. :)

    As to Woody Allen, it is one of my shame-faced secrets that as much as I have loved his wit and humor and intelligence, I cannot abide what something within sees as his endless, self-referential quetch. I wouldn't for a minute suggest that my view is anything like a 'true' view ... it's just my own gut-level, get-the-fuck-away-from-me view. Juvenile, perhaps, but there it is... the same sort of irritation I used to feel when reading Christopher Isherwood even though other homosexual writers never brushed my hair in the wrong direction in a similar way.

    Oh well, taste is taste.

  5. If it helps Adam, Allen is not in it.
    The protagonist is played by Owen Wilson..
    Who each night escapes his ghastly fiancee and her folks, who are on a trip to Paris, and catches a cab that travels back in time to the Twenties.
    Where he meets the decidedly unghastly Marion Cotillard....who introduces him to the Paris artistic ex-pats.

    As to the matter of my marbles your assumption is I fear, too kind..

  6. Peter -- It was never a matter of Allen's actually being in a movie that made the difference to me. It was just some niggling, nagging bias humming its tune in my background... a sense of some subrosa "oh ain't it awful?!" whining message.

    Nevertheless, your description makes me willing to have a look, as time and Netflix allow.

  7. Its actually that apparently oxymoronic thing a sunny and life -affirming Woody Allen movie !

    And... the soundtrack features Sidney Bechet.
    What, as they say, is not to love ..

  8. OK... I tried "Midnight in Paris" and wrote the following to a friend:

    Well, I can't say that you didn't warn me: I tried "Midnight in Paris" ... skimmed over it after a while ... and came away feeling as if I had finished a romantic Classic Comic Book. Strangely thin ... a lush, whimsical conceit I was fully willing to enter into ... until it became apparent (in my mind) that the author was unwilling or unable to love the characters within his own conceit. Sort of like James Joyce who could depict within clouds of sometimes wonderful smoke, but whose distances become too off-putting.

    Oh well ... there's always TV.