EN GARDE, REARGUARD

rearguard

As much of a devotee of the forward-lookingly groovy as I may be, I draw the line, without apology, at atavisms like cannibalism, necrophilia, coprophilia, child-involved-incest, pederasty and country/western music (and I am less than happy to think of the traffic these key-words will attract to his post).

There is a big difference between believing that consenting adults should have every right to indulge in two (guess which) of the above… and actually thinking that any of the above is cool, or pretending to like, or attempting to “understand,” it. Go far enough back in the hominid story and many, if not all, of those nasty things will pop up as commonplaces, with a frequency that’s a direct function of the distance traveled toward the beginning of Time. The immemorial mists of Time are pretty foul: no reasonable codes of conduct, no indoor plumbing, no dignity, no hope. Who started the cultural reflex of lionizing Ancient Times? Ancient Times were hideous and we live with too many of their stinking traces, still. It’s the opposite direction, away from all that and toward a Dream of a Gentle Future (3000 AD?), which holds the only possible promise of any sane adult’s notion of a workable Utopia, a Utopia based on the eradication of the political legacy-gene responsible for psychopaths. Utopia will have to be, first of all, clean and safe and fair and comfortable.*

In other words, I like Civilization, such as it is, and I treasure it all the more for the tenuous grasp we have on it.

The blood-curdling Primeval keeps breaking out, here and there, on the globe of the Modern, like a high-pressure steam from hastily-improvised networks of pipes:  Northern Europe’s witch-hunting craze prior to the Enlightenment, Belgium in the Congo in the 19th century, Germany in the ’30s, America in ‘Nam in the ’60s, Rwanda in the ’80s,  America in Central America in the ’70s and America in the Middle East from the 1990s ’til now and so on. Suddenly the lights go out, the air grows foul, and certain people grow claws and fangs: the return of the blood-curdling Primeval.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde , the Internet tells us,  “could be an allegory about original sin and the fall of man in biblical terms,” or,  more specifically, The Guardian says that “The double life of Jekyll and Hyde can be seen as parallel to “the necessarily double life of the Victorian homosexual”… but despite the fact that Stevenson’s story was published in 1885 (the year Leopold took possession of the Congo), and The Casement Report (detailing the horrors of Leopold’s rule) came out in 1904, I prefer to think that the story is an allegory of European civilization itself. Or of European civilization as it is embodied at the level of the individual. Despite the miraculous development of indoor plumbing and antibiotics, the stinking abattoir of the blood curdling Primeval comes back and it comes back clad in special irony when it’s triggered (or invited) by Technology itself, metaphorized, in Stevenson’s story, by the potion the highly civilized Jekyll drinks to become the barbarian Hyde.

One of the identifiers of Civilization is a characteristic attitude toward (our) Shit: Civilization doesn’t like it; Civilization works to hurry it off the stage and banish it from our awareness, relegating (our) Shit to our brief and unpleasantly unavoidable encounters  with it, dealt with with such professionalism, and efficient engineering, that we are free to pretend, most of the rest of the time, that Shit doesn’t exist at all. Which marks the technological (indoor plumbing-supported) advent of Modern Romance, that most beautiful Illusion that two conspirers, working selflessly selfishly, in a kind of delirium,  can actually make Real for hours, weeks, months or even years at a time… if the water, tooth paste, deodorant, bath soaps, douches and shampoos are kept flowing. Hippies who believed in the Sexual Romance of the Rustic Commune were indulging in a conceptual oxymoron that they (and their children) paid for with lice, tapeworms and the brutal sexuality of the Gulag.

It was in vogue, during the ’70s, to consider Civilization’s horror towards Shit as a kind of neurosis on par with our general Denial regarding Death, although, with a little thought, one discovers that the most harm such a Death “neurosis” could possibly inflict on the Death-denying “sufferer” would be limited to her/his experience of the posthumous (ie, Nil). Why should we each become clear-eyed advocates of the fact of our own Mortality? There is no such thing as a maladjusted corpse. And I’ve long suspected that clinical depression, leading to suicide, is the failure of the crucial virtual organ in charge of maintaining the sweet delusion that keeps us all going. To whose advantage is it to snatch away the soft curtains covering Brutal (and Irreparable) Mortal Truth?

In fact, it’s the “neurosis-free” psychenauts of the ’70s who suffered the most from their ongoing,  illusion-free confrontations with both Death and Shit, sinking into their double-morasses of Bad Fucking Hygiene and Nihilism. Some Delusion-Illusions are more than okay; they are more, even, than merely Healthy. Some Illusions are absolutely necessary not only for the maintenance (and, hopefully, eventually, the progress) of Civilization, as a grand concept, but for the individual’s living of a Good Life.

If we’ve learned anything from the 1970s, it’s how corrosive both “Letting It All Hang Out” and “Do Your Own Thing” are.  Neither of those philosophical imperatives can operate, without grave repercussions,  outside the walls of a Liberal Arts College dormitory and, even within those walls, for longer than a weekend at a time. Some of us have learned this and some of us haven’t… and some of us haven’t noticed that you can tell the difference between the two groups (favoring the former) without being Bourgeois, a Philistine or a Prig.

There were many good things, and certain cultural advancements, during the 1960s/1970s, and there were failed experiments and missteps and deliberate efforts, by TFIC**, to foster many of these missteps, but if We are to have any hope of preserving enough wisps of Civilization to get us through the Neo Feudal Tunnel we’re being dragged into, we’re going to have to do some thinking.

How can we “save” Civilization if we don’t know what it is/ isn’t? How can we “progress” if we have no sense of what we “progress” away from or toward; how do we distinguish Evolution from Devolution? Is every year forward, by default definition, a year more advanced/ progressive/ developed/ evolved than years before it? How do we guard against slipping backwards down the slope…?

I read two articles, recently, that inspired me to write this essay. Here’s an excerpt from the second, which references the text of another poetry review at the head of its own:

Two of the deepest tropes here are romance and, at times, audacious sexual candor—think of a heart-racing first date at a 5 star restaurant the back door of which opens into a steamy alley, loaded with Allen Ginsberg’s “saintly motorcyclists” and Kirby’s “bevy of bears,” and this is the astonishing new poetry collection, There Is Where I Get Off—double meaning intended and perfectly executed throughout. Other thrilling collisions occur throughout the book: fear and loneliness are assailed by cat-creamy satisfaction and hot thrills; the language itself is raw and cooked; love is prevailed upon like justice, to be not strained but mad about, aroused by the body when it is both bold and shy, as is best explicated in “A Cute Little Ditty on Romance”:

Romance is never tiring of watching the way his cock moves.

Romance is when you cease to apologize for farting and begin to welcome it while rimming

It would be quite a mistake to grant only the Right Wingers the prerogative of declaring this badly-written shit disgusting.

 

 

 

 

*If that sounds like a Bourgeois projection, it’s only because the Upper Classes have brainwashed us into believing that all the Good Stuff just naturally belongs to Them, just as Blacks have been brainwashed (along with everyone else) into thinking of Literacy,  Articulacy, Fastidiousness, Social Mobility and Impeccable Manners as intrinsically White (middle class) and therefore pathetically inauthentic attributes to find in a Black person. An amazingly effective, and destructive,  trick.

 

**TFIC = The Fuckers in Charge

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR [letters are vetted for cogency and style]

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s