Monday, October 24, 2005

From "Pnin" by Vladimir Nabokov

"Our work is very interesting, she said, still shielding her eyes, "but I must tell you I dont love Eric any more. Our relations have disintegrated. Incidentally Eric dislikes his child. He says he is the land father and you, Timofey, are the water father."
She wanter Timofey to lay aside every month a little money for the boy, because she could not ask Barnard Maywood (her new interest) and the boys father, Eric, did not care what happened, and that someone should send the lad something every now and then, as if it was coming from his mother -pocket money, you know, he would be amongst rich boys. She would write Timofey with an address and some more details. Yes- she never doubted Timofey was a darling. And now where was the bathroom? And would he phone for a taxi?
All of a sudden he thought: If people are reunited in Heaven (I don't believe it, but suppose), then how shall I stop it from creeping upon me, over me, that shriveled, helpless, lame thing, her soul? But this is the earth, and I am, curiouisly enough, alive, and there is something in me and in life---
He seemed to be quite unexpectedly (for human despair seldom leads to great truths) on the verge of a simple solution of the universe but was interrupted by an urgent request. A squirel under a tree had seen Pnin on the path. In one sinuous tendril-like movement, the intelligent animalclimbed up on the brim of a drinking fountain, and, as Pnin approached, thrust its oval face toward him with a rather coarse spluttering sound, its cheeks puffed out. Pnin understood and after some fumbling he found what had to be pressed for the necessary results. Eying him with contempt, the thirsty rodent forthwith began to sample the stocky sparkling pillar of water, and went on drinking for a considerabletime. "She has fever, perhaps," thought Pnin, weeping quietly and freely, and all the time trying not to meet the unpleasant eye fixed upon him. Its thirst quenched, the squirrel departed without the least sign of gratitude.
The water father continued upon his way, came to the end of the path, then turned into a side street where there was a small bar of log-cabin design with garnet glass in its casement windows.

--- --- --- ---

I have been obsessed recently with the work of Nabokov, which I am sure those literati amongst you will immediatly agree is a fine thing to be obsessed upon. To be honest I am a bit daunted by the text, not so much the text but the mastery of my native tongue that a Russian emigre could weave into his prose. It is much like reading a fine silk or reciting a wine meant for only kings. The pages burst with the ecstasy of a muse, but weave a tale so filled with sorrow, with the good gone horribly mundane.
It is a hard thing not to relate to Pnin, at least for me. He is an aging professor of Russian at a small college in the northeast. He is a lonely academic who often seems too aloof to notice his own loneliness, making those heartwrenching moments of revelation all the harder to accept. He is a man whose life is spent and has obtained from it nothing to give a man comfort.
A far cry from the frail, pathetic Humbert Humbert in his more famous book, Lolita. That pedophile who traps himself a nymphet, Lo, Lola, Dolores on the Dotted Line, but always to his arms Lolita, whose manipulations of the innocent child can be outdone in the novel only by the manipulations of him by his small captive.
And now I notice my clock. Class begins in just a few minutes and I have to go and gather my materials together.
To that end this younger Pnin, one with hope still left, gathers his books and prepares for another day of corrupting the youth.
I leave you with these thoughts, also from Pnin:

"I dont know if it has ever been noted before that one of the main characteristics of life is discreteness. Unless a film of flesh envelops us, we die. Man exists only insofar as he is separated from his surroundings. The cranium is a space travelers helmet. Stay inside or you perish. Death is divestment, death is communion."

And other words echo in my helmet, words whose author are lost to me now....

"But inside....inside, we are infinite."

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

My Will (and other redundancies)

I have been faced, of late, with the ever burning question of my Will and its place in my life. Should I be left to my own devices? Can I be trusted with certain aspects of my own existence and that of those around me? It is true that for all my talk and spontaneous nature I am a creature of some sound ethics, but my Will has a mind of its own and can often subvert my ethics for the sake of its own trivial desires. What will happen? Will I ever know?
My life, lately, has been a continued trial of some kind or another. The details of many of these are simply superfluous, but still the trials have been noted and have begun to show in my otherwise always happy demeanor (wink). Still, I think that I should give myself a pat on the back, compliment the strength of my Will and go on with the course that I have chosen. Though it is a path of some difficulty I think that I have chosen correctly and have demonstrated a great deal of restraint in the accomplishment of my beliefs. (Damn these porecelain chains, but damn me if I should break them!)
There is a question of some subtlty that comes to mind at the moment, though I think that it will most likely be reduced to a question of semantics. Still, it questions me now. My Will to action has been made, chosen, laid out and will be accomlished. These actions, or in some cases these lack of actions, are the manifestation of my Will through the actions of my flesh. They are, however, not the only sort of will which is extant in my soul. Hiding behind the Will that I have chosen is the Will that I desire. What I have chosen to do is so much different than what I would choose to do, given care free and morally unquestionable paths. Now, I agree that my Will most certainly lies within the actions that I have chosen, those things that I have willed to be and the course that I will take. If anything they contain the vastness of my Will being that my Will is about choice, about the force of my existence. Still though, is there some aspect of my Will which is tied to my desires. That aspect of me which constructs the great what might have beens, which would take a certain second path, is surely some portion of my Will also.
And so it comes to my mind, that question that I scream to the blank heavens in every moment of my life, the question of my Will, of its existence, of its total or moral freedom. What are the obligations that I owe to another? The obligations that I owe to myself? Is my Will a thing given in service to myself and my people or is it the overflow of that which quickens my mortal flesh, to thus serve only my needs. Is my Will wholly myself? Is my Will wholly mine?
They say that the will to action defines a man, that his thoughts are an extension of his Will. Of course, the opposite is also said, that thoughts define a mans will and give meaning to his action. A tuatology of circles if you ask me, I am not concerned so much with the definitionals as I am with the source itself. From whence comes my Will and can I say that its acts are to be dedicated to me or ascribed with the rest of the clockwork to the universe itself. Fate or a free will, or perhaps it is fate to have a free will.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

From my journal

"The two greatest miracles are the most common; that any of this should exist at all and that I should be aware of it."

Ive been thinking that a lot today, thought that I would share it.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Between Solitude and Self Loathing

Lola woke me up again today. Actually I had been awake for a little while before that, but I was at that moment a king of infinite space. That brazen intrusion carrying up across the lightyears of stairs between she in the living room and I at the center of the void, still just as piercing as if she were inches from my face.
I scream down to her to stop. I yell for her to come to me. Everything that is within my capacity at the top of a mighty flight of stairs I tried, and still she barked at a neighbor watering his bushes at 5:15 in the morning (perhaps I should blame it all on him and his unnatural schedule).
She carried on and carried on and I decided to put a stop to it. Descending those stairs I decided that I was going to make certain that she quit barking and wouldn't start again.
I struck my dog.
It was hardly anything in force, she just looked at me as if I had betrayed her and curled up on the floor. I can't believe that I just spanked my dog. I would never spank anything (unless it asked). She's been ignoring me all day since then, and I can't say that I blame her. Her human hit her for gaurding the house from that evil neighbour who could have been collaberating with the bushes, for all we knew, about methods of infiltrating Lola's domain. I mean, she was just making sure, and I hit her for it. An instantaneous pas moi, brought on by sleep and my mood, but still, indicitive at least of something underneath.
And now Im sitting here in my office up at the school, thinking about how to best make it up to a creature without much of a memory or cause effect analysis, thinking about why I would act like that and what moments in my past have always brought it on, thinking about what was on my mind this morning when I really woke up.
I remember then thinking that I was a king of infinite space, a soul bound to a body struck at the center of the void. There was a tower standing upon a rock just large enough to make support and a courtyard, and beyond that in all directions was infinite space. Like some creature meant to be bound I dwelled alone in that tower with only my books and my meditations to keep me. It was dark and there were no stars.
See the house has been empty for the most part lately. John has been off at work, Isaac stays with Mindy on most evenings, and Jason has a bit of the gypsy in him so he stays wherever he finds himself, which is rarely home. For the most part the house is just me and Lola most of the time. It's not so bad really, and I can't say that I can complain much about the alone time. The last few months have seen me double my reading load, practicing cooking a few times a week, cut back by a significant amount on my drinking (a whole other post right there), and I've started going to Quaker services and will begin participating in some of the events that they host (Canglelight vigil and protest of the death penalty this Thursday at 5:30). And I have to admit that it is nice to have the big house to myself, completely have the run of the place, but its empty and its vast and it reminds me of my solitude.
I have the happiest of days lately, but it seems that every morning I wake up sad. Everything very empty and alone. Its a momentary emotion, just a few minutes, perhaps a brief melancholy as I brush my teeth and pick clothes, and then it passes and I have the lightest of moods for most of the day. You know me, all smiles and sunshine. (heheh) Well, if not all smiles and sunshine then at least all energy and interaction.
Still, even though today has been no exception, I've noticed a dark hair running through the stone that forms my day. There is a background mood, a shadow on almost everything that I do. Today is just like all the other days, only today I notice that its really bittersweet. I sit here in my office waiting for my next class to begin and I find that my mind is everywhere.
I'm lonely today. I think that I have been lonely for a while.

....Student here. Will return to later.

And now its several hours later and I am at a different campus waiting for my last class to start in a different office. There is less solitude here, surrounded by a few other adjuncts in an office meant to be shared by adjuncts from across the array of departments.
See, the problem is that I really dislike the gay "community". For the most part its filled with insipid queens who dislike me as much as I have a distaste for them. Still though it is a difficult thing to be separated from ones own kind, most especially when ones own kind are already somewhat separated from the main. It seems that either the people I meet are without much in their head, as filled with passionate fire as stone, or are utterly interesting and committed to others. No middle ground in the gay world. There is either perfection or dust.
Its my own Scylla and Charybdas. To the one side is cavern filled with the dark, an ancient nymph transformed from beauty to cold teeth and solitude. And to the other, well to the other is a breaking of my porcelain chains, a certain sacrifice of my soul. A choice between solitude and self loathing. The choice between them is ridiculous and the middle way calls for patience and for sacrifice.
Class is coming soon and I have to get upstairs to prepare for it. Sorry about the ambling post today, more meant as a record than as a thought. I should remember not to write posts on campus, its hard to tie them together.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

"The Enigma of Edward Fitzgerald"

Omar Khayyam was a mathematician of some merit in the early Islamic era. Somewhere in the time of the 5th Hegira he contributed some footnotes to algebra and geometry involoving solutions to equations up to the third and fourth degree. Though his name is not so widely known for his contributions to mathematics it should not be forgotten that while we were busy teaching the truth of Christ's mercy through torture and the beginning of a long dark age those in the realms of Mohammed were flourishing in another of mankinds many a' renaissance.
Khayyam was a student of a certain mystic, along with two of his dear friends, so teaches history. And the three of them made to each other a common vow, that should bounty favour one of them then friendship would supply comfort to the others.
I wonder how many are the times that vow has been made before the blank face of heaven, that should I fare well then I would keep thee. More though I have to wonder, and it speaks to the nature of man, how often is it made with the heart of a promise to be kept or instead made with the expectation of a promise in the keeping. Still though, for all my musings one of Khayyams friends did go on to a certain kind of greatness, servant to the Sultan and Vizeir of the court. The memory of his vow extant he summoned his friends to fulfill their wishes.
The first, whose name is already enough a part of history, wished for a place in the government. Through intrigue and, as Borges points out, a certain too quick ambition to power he is banished from the court and becomes a member of a society, the Hashashin, from which the modern English tongue derives the word assassin.
Khayyam, contrary to the nature of his infamously forgotten friend, wishes only for a place, in some shadowed and fertile corner of the Sultans power, to pray for the Sultans peace and to pursue his devotion to the order of the world.
The Vezeir is true to his word and provides Khayyam a home and farm sufficient for his needs as well as an anual pension from the royal treasury to provide him with comfort enough to pray.
Khayyam spends his hours in composition of both solutions to his equations as well as brief quatrains which are interspersed and provided with no significant order. Though he is a name to be known he is never amongst the proud and mighty, amongst the thinkers of his time or even of ours. That is until...
Edmund Fitzgerald was an academic. He was the friend of great men, so much as any man can lay claim to such a thing, and often dined with Dickens and Thackery. He made minor contributions in his own right but for the most part was little known outside of his peirs. I'm sure that a great many remarkable men have not benefited from the fame of their friends, and this is one of those rare cases when a certain lack of fame still manages to wiggle into history.
Fitzgerald stumbled upon a rare copy of the cycle of poems written by the ancient mathematician and discerns a pattern to his symbols. Borges, in a story of the same name as this post, captures so much better the ecstasy of Khayyams translation than I could hope, and he brings forth a great question.
Neither of the men alone made so brazen a mark upon history as their collaberation, six centries separated. Borges proposes that the most holy aspect of each of us fits in a grander whole, that Khayyams work, insufficient to his own skills, found fruition in his soul reborn as a quiet academic never known for greatness except but to echo a mans thoughts and give pattern to a mathematicians ironically unordered quatrains.
It is reminiscent of another poet amongst the Hegira's of Mohammud. Rumi, who founded the Suphi movement and introduced mysticism to the mystic peoples of the Allah of Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus. He was possessed of a friend, as my brother in spirit Isaac tells me, who inspired the greater part of his own great work. Friendship and mortality being what they are Rumi's friend eventually died and Rumi fell into great grief. He claimed that their "great conversation had ended."
Borges points out that perhaps in this particular reflection of the story six centuries passed in order to let a new great conversation begin.
In the end of his days Rumi found his friend again, another who Rumi claimed to be unquestionably his friend reborn. Perhaps we should take from the story of Fitzgerald and Khayyam that all of mankinds history is the story of these conversations, the eternal completion of our own truth.
And maybe Richard Bach put it best, "Oh Sully, for shame, but what have we been trying to learn here. If you overcome space then all you have is here, if you don't fear time then all you have is now, and don't you think that friends such as us would run into each other every now and again." (JLS fans forgive the paraphrasing).