NIGHT WATCHMEN of OBLIVION

NIGHTWATCHMEN

When Beloved Wife was pregnant with Offsprung a shocking fifteen years ago, I was worried that my writing days might be over for a long interval, and decided to get as much writing done as I could in nine months. I did this by working in the strange hours, roughly 11pm until about 3am, while Beloved Wife was sleeping. I got a lot done that way, it became a habit, and the habit was only altered a little when the responsibilities of parenthood had me up, often, at the crack of dawn. I continued to write at night, subsisting often on 4 hours of sleep per 24-hour period. The routine I’ve settled on, 15 years later, is healthier: I try to get to bed by 11 or 12 most nights and during school weeks I’m up at 6 to make Offsprung’s breakfast. On weekends I sometimes get a solid 8 hours of sleep. but, according to the day and its duties, I oscillate between being a Night Owl and an Early Riser (some days: both). And I’ve noticed something.

If I’m writing in the morning or just skimming through an online forum while waiting for the eggs to boil, quite a few male avatars, posting on the forums from North America, must be posting, largely, between midnight and 4 in the morning. Some of the avatars are female but they tend, in my experience, to be, overwhelmingly, male. Are they divorced, alienated, or just working, late at night, as I often still do? Martin Amis, in his last (or should I more delicately put it “most recent”?) good novel, The Information, gets off a good riff about middle-aged men being sad in their sleep:

Cities at night, I feel, contain men who cry in their sleep and then say Nothing. It’s nothing. Just sad dreams. Or something like that… Swing low in your weep ship, with your tear scans and your sob probes, and you would mark them. Women—and they can be wives, lovers, gaunt muses, fat nurses, obsessions, devourers, exes, nemeses—will wake and turn to these men and ask, with female need-to-know, “What is it?” And the men say, “Nothing. No it isn’t anything really. Just sad dreams.”

Amis doesn’t specify, in this passage, that the men crying in their sleep are middle-aged but they are, obviously. His protag in that book is middle-aged and why would young men (at least the young men of Old; young men of the post-classical age we were rudely yanked out of in the 21st century) cry in their sleep? Not that this little essay is about men who cry in their sleep. It may be about a different kind of men, this essay, or it may be about these men at a different hour of the night. Skimming online forums and/or Social Media in the morning, I interact with virtual friends, some of whom I’ve “known” for years, and lots of these guys are socializing, in avatar form, at 3am-their time. And sometimes I do it, too. I’ve learned that if I hit a snag in a novel or short story I’m working on, popping over to some forum in order to express a carefully-considered opinion is just the thing to keep the gears from freezing up.

Who are these men whom I imagine in dark rooms, illuminated by flat screens, exchanging opinions or tearfully commenting on Shirley Bassey videos and/or buzzingly bingeing on Van Morrison until dawn? Are they alone? I suspect many of them are in perfectly good marriages, and many of them are not, but something is keeping us all up, in the strange hours: an inaudible tone, perhaps, or a vigilance-triggering tremor in the cooling Earth. The phrase “Night Watchmen of Oblivion” popped into my head one morning while I was shaving. I didn’t, initially, recognize the context within which the idea had bubbled up and when I did I laughed. I pictured us Night Watchmen of Oblivion as a Sci Fi kind of legion, each member dramatically (1930s-ishly) underlit like Raymond Massey in Things to Come. Floating in the dark, above the world, keeping an eye on things.

2

A rule I usually stick to, if I’m up late, working, and just about to crawl off to bed, finally, is to avoid Jeff’s delicious BLCKDGRD, not only because it’s always a hot-wired chocolate box of interesting links (plus his post-Lichtenstein/ Basquiat PoetryArt) but especially because there’s usually a pretty good chance there’s a link on the premises that I will click in order to read something that will piss me the fuck off. Jeff’s admirable mission is to link to a wide spectrum of things, presenting a balanced (often mutually-antagonistic) selection of worldviews. Just as people among Jeff’s followers are undoubtedly eye-rollingly pissed off when he links to me, I was so eye-rollingly pissed off to read a thing that Jeff had linked to, when I irresponsibly hit his site “for a quick taste” at 3am, this morning, that I wrote a goddamn comment at the LARB that I knew, in advance, was damned to linger in mod limbo for blog-eternity, just so I could angrily post a screenshot of it later. (The propaganda/censorship problem is so bad, these days, that it’s like facing a plague of locusts whenever one opens the portal to Netland: the things spew out and smack your face and you’re squinting and swatting and spitting the black things out as you type). So here are two screenshots from 3am, the main text provided below the images; the gist of the inflaming article (“WHEN LOVING LENNON BECAME DIFFICULT”) is gleanable from my comments:

LARB-2

LARB1

TEXT of comment (one phrase has been edited for clarity and marked with *):

“The song’s title — “Woman Is the [n-word] of the World” — caused a stir, mostly for the use of the contentious word by a white man. He tried to excuse it in a televised interview with Dick Cavett, where he gave credit to the expression to Ono, who had said it in an interview some years back. “

What is there to “excuse”? Was Lennon using the “n-word” to exploit or support racist presets or to call attention to the sad ironies built into the cultures of Female oppression, equivalent to Racial oppression, perpetrated by all “colors”? I’m genuinely tired of the puerile handling of what should be adult, good faith attempts to analyze that song as the powerful agitprop it was in its time (and still is). Especially striking is the lyric “we make her paint her face and dance” against the backdrop of a Now during which stripper-poles are, to some (bafflingly), symbols of empowerment. Never for a moment consider the possibility that, in deeper ways, things have rolled backwards, socially, while appearing, superficially, more enlightened. Ie: maybe Lennon knew something you still don’t? Precisely the kind of twist I’d expect in a culture that’s drifted so far to the Right, since the 1970s, that Richard Nixon is practically a Hippie by current standards.

Which must be why Lennon makes such a great perennial target (40 years of it already!) in the ritual hoisting of his dead self, and always by supposedly troubled “fans,” so he can be blasted yet again. Lennon’s not here to defend himself so do fire away at the “dead horse” of these issues. Not that you’ll manage to come up with even a molecule of fresh insight on the topic. But when was “insight” ever the goal of these cathartically self-righteous orgies of virtue-signaling magnificence? And how often is the “self-reflection” you affect to indulge actually self-critical?

Lennon was an interesting Artist who perhaps undervalued his real /Artistic and personal) strengths, for too long, because, in many ways, he was rather weak. He did some shitty things and indulged in excesses like many a young millionaire (male or female) will do. Like a lot of not-fully-formed adults, he acted out in an obsessive us-vs-the-world love- bubble* that hurt his first son, a problem that Yoko Ono clearly enabled/ encouraged (this is not the sort of Era in which the Shitty Stepmother will take much blame).

Lennon was growing, he was searching, he was both struggling to be honest and wrapped up in the phony PR campaign of the “John and Yoko” brand. He probably would have had a much better chance at a balanced life (and an old age) if he’d gotten a tenth of the dose of global fame he got hit with. But any adult who idolizes a singer as a “spiritual leader” (or whatever), in the first place, is no adult: the time to have come to these conclusions should have come and gone in college. And I daresay that any number of the Ascended Beings clucking their tongues over this Nth iteration of the “My Former Adulation of John Lennon is Problematic” template would come off just as badly, if not worse, under global scrutiny for two generations of intellectually lazy ideologues with nothing better to do. —END of COMMENT

I mean, if it’s the Xmas Season (Lennon was executed on December 8th, 1980) and you’re a mediocre essayist with a shortage of ideas and (ta da!) you have a vagina, you can most definitely write a few thousand seasonal words, or more, about the John Lennon “problem,” whether or not you were ever particularly a fan (but it’s the Pauline Conversion confessionals that have more force than if one simply identifies oneself, from the beginning, as a militaristic Conservative, like , say, untouchable spiritual leader Leonard Cohen, member of the IDF, who famously stated “I never really cared for The Beatles” and one thereafter goes to town demolishing Lennon yet again. I mean, one can do that, obviously, but one gets more FEELS flowing if one writes from the POV of a tender innocent betrayed by an imposter-Saint; how’s this for an opening sentence: “WHEN I WAS six years old, my plan was to marry John Lennon in heaven.” I am not making that up.).

Yes, Lennon was executed 40 years ago and every year since then we’ve been treated to heaps of exactly these kinds of essays but our writer under scrutiny, 31 year old Argentinian Lucía Benavides (“a writer and journalist based in Barcelona. She’s a regular contributor to NPR and PRI’s The World and has been published in LitHub, The Atlantic, and Texas Monthly, among others”) has either just now come of age or just now decided, near the 40th anniversary of Lennon’s assassination, that it’s useful to reiterate that Lennon, who never claimed to be a Saint, is NO SAINT. In fact, all of your “balancing” mediations and damningly-faint-praise of Lennon notwithstanding, he comes off like a complete monster in your essay, no?

Kick him again, Lucía! There’s still some residue left… !**

3.

Half a year ago (maybe it was longer) I addressed, once or twice, the queasy feeling I had that parapolitical activist Dr. Denis Rancourt, a man whose stamina and knowledge I admire, was, perhaps, making a tactical blunder by being unwisely inclusive as an attempt to grow the numbers of his Dissident Following by pandering (the only word that fits, I’m afraid) to the Alt Right.

Mr. Rancourt is not the first initially-left-leaning Activist I’ve detected doing this. Rancourt does not rely on monetized sites but many Radicals (or “radicals”) do and the bottom line is that the Alt Right cadres (of largely young or youn-ish men) are more focused in their preferences than Lefties and Fence-Sitters, and to alienate the Alt Right is to bleed numbers and lose revenue. Lots of formerly Lefty-Radical sites are now so flush with extremely territorial Alt Right traffic that I don’t bother commenting thereabouts anymore.

I made a passing remark, last year, about “White Privilege” (yes, my White chums, the privilege is far from what it once was but it’s all on a sliding scale, no? And even the basic privilege of not being Black, in a Black-phobic country or world, is nothing to sneeze at; it doesn’t mean that I don’t think your shit is fucked up) in a formerly Left-leaning site and I ended up fending off the vicious slingshots of half-a-dozen Trump-adjacent Incels. No biggie (on one level it was as nostalgic an experience as picking up and trying on an old catcher’s mitt in the garage) but it was a bit of a surprise. And then I noticed it was happening everywhere. There is now no formerly-Left-leaning site I once frequented where a considerable chunk of posters aren’t laboring under the grotesque misapprehension that Donald Trump is their (poor peoples’ !) champion!

Nuts.

So I was disappointed to see the great Denis Rancourt riding this wave. It’s a mistake. The Alt Right have big numbers and their Own Agenda (essentially: to be recognized by, and share power with, the Same Old Right, in the age-old process of generational succession): there may be common gripes between Alt Right and the Vanishingly Genuine Left but there is no common cause. Proximity to the Alt Right will only pull the Vanishingly Genuine Left (VGL) right-ward; there will be no mutual-hybridization. I don’t think Denis Rancourt wants to facilitate the continued assimilation of the VGL by the Right, does he?

A visit to his Facebook page yesterday showed that Denis Rancourt has now been sucked into the clever (and cleverly absurd) distraction of screaming about Trump’s stolen second term (what’s the difference, folks? The Machine is the same, whatever the hood ornament). This is a deliberately-engineered dead-end. I hope Denis can make it back out of the maze and shake-off his Alt Right (and bigfoot/ lizard people/ flat earth) fans.

The good news and point of this essay: by staying true to her self and her social (deeply Humane and gregarious) values, and keeping the info-flow dense and well-persuasive with substantiated Facts, Figures, Names & Dates, the amazingly-adept researcher and communicator, Alison Hawver McDowell, is growing a following the best way. If the Penultimate Goal is to convert as many of The Fooled (I use the term gently) and Fence-Sitters, as possible, Alison McDowell is the Gold Standard. She doesn’t ping as Trumpish or Right-ish or Air-Headed at all. She isn’t selling anything. She’s just doing the hard work of mining available sources for the not-even-heavily-veiled Truth and presenting it with clarity and warmth in an undiluted form.

Dave McGowan was a great one who came before Alison but A) public speaking wasn’t Dave’s specialty and B) he’s dead. The valiant Scott Creighton is rich in insights and indignation but pings too “Alt Right” or “Angry Loser” to the Normie eye. Abby Martin is slightly suspect. Dr. Michael Parenti is a great one who came before Alison but Doc Parenti is now pretty old. Going to War against Psychopathic Hegemony can’t possibly be the wonderful Dr. Parenti’s Best Life right now.

As far as I can tell, Alison McDowell is alone in her rarefied class of Radical Communicator and it hits me now that she had to be a middle-aged, sweet-faced (but firm), super-articulate, borderline-data-nerd Woman to be as perfect as she is. The men at this game (especially the Big Ones, the ones I often suspect of being Controlled Opposition) ping as being a little too drunk on their own charisma, and resort too often to fact-lite (often fanciful) Narrativizing to keep the content coming. Dr. Denis Rancourt suffers from none of those flaws but, again: that damned tactical blunder. He’s hanging out with the Alt Right and wasting time running down Alt Right rabbit holes to please half his followers.

Alison McDowell is (not to borrow too heavily from a dodgy trope) The One.

Please read Her/ listen to Her and a MERRY NEW-THANX-O-WEENMAS to you, Sisters, Brothers, Others!

THEN

ADDENDUM:

**For comparison to how Lennon has been handled by “Feminists” since his death, note the Guardian’s comparatively more apologetic (alibi-offering) handling of the much-nastier (Feminist Icon) Patricia Highsmith; they damn near come close to lauding, or just winking at, Highsmith’s life-long misogyny and racism:

“She’s incredibly modern because she speaks to irrationality; she was a lesbian who hated women, totally politically incorrect in lots of ways, and certainly not a poster girl for the feminist movement,” said Wilson, who warned that hundreds of pages of Highsmith’s views, undiluted by explanation from friends and colleagues, could be wearing.

“She could be a monstrous, violent and quite unpleasant woman. She hated black people, she hated Jews, and she hated women, but there are also reasons why she was like that,” he says, citing her mother’s rejection and a clumsy attempt by her father to seduce her when she was a teenager. But, according to one friend she was sexually abused by a couple of men, possibly travelling salesmen, when she was four or five.

Highsmith herself was aware of the unpalatable nature of her views, and it is likely that they caused her distress. “No writer would ever betray his secret life,” she wrote to a friend in 1940. “It would be like standing naked in public.”

The diaries, which are held in the Swiss Literary Archives, were discovered by her editor, Anna von Planta, and Daniel Keel, the literary executor of her estate. Von Planta said she had no interest in censoring or downplaying the unpleasantness of Highsmith’s views, in large part because Highsmith appears to have anticipated their publication.

“The idea was to show how Patricia Highsmith became Patricia Highsmith,” Von Planta told the New York Times. “And to have her tell about her life, her thoughts, her concerns, the making of her work, in her own words.”

The diaries’ publication could help to again reveal that, contrary to popular imagination, creativity is not necessarily rooted in our best instincts.

“She said she was born under a sickly star, and she knew from her earliest consciousness she was difficult, and that she had a problem with an existential idea of being,” Wilson said. “The diaries question this over and over again. Fascinating, but a strong brew. You won’t be able to read them in one go.”

****

Or there’s the standard handling of Doris Lessing, who famously abandoned two of her children in order to become a writer (the headlines alone indicate how Lessing is recuperated in the pantheon of Feminist Icons):

Doris Lessing: A mother much misunderstood – The Telegraph

The Reluctant African: The Life and Irascibility of Doris Lessing (National Geographic)

Doris Lessing, Author Who Swept Aside Convention, Is Dead (NYT) 

The parent trap: can you be a good writer and a good parent? (Guardian)

Motherhood in Doris Lessing: A Feminist Study (Research Gate)

Lessons from Lessing – Autobiography – TLS

How Doris Lessing’s politics began in the veld – New Statesman

If a couple dozen brave Feminists have written things along the lines of called “WHEN LOVING LESSING BECAME DIFFICULT” I’d be pleased to see the material.

But here’s the cherry on the snowflakey shitmuffin:

*******

The most prescient science fiction author you aren’t reading

Feminist dystopian fiction owes just as much to this woman — who wrote as a man — as Margaret Atwood.

Dystopias are having a moment. A popular and critically acclaimed adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale is on TV. George Orwell’s 1984 recently became a best-seller again, more than 60 years after it was published. A slew of newer releases, such as Idra Novey’s Those Who Knew, have explored the “messy, continuing aftermath of the MeToo movement,” as Alexandra Alter wrote for the New York Times.

But one writer whose work feels especially relevant isn’t even in the mix: Alice Sheldon.

Sheldon primarily wrote under a male pseudonym — James Tiptree Jr. — in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Today, that work has an eerily contemporary feel. Her short stories depict worlds defined by familiar gender dynamics, shot through with dark themes and, often, wry humor.

In these worlds, misogyny might mutate from a psychological phenomenon into an actual virus. Women might rather take their chances with alien invaders than with the men of Earth. Men who time travel might discover a future in which their sex has been wiped out and women are getting along just fine without them.” (end of citation)

*******

It’s quite a bit further into the article that we learn that Alice Sheldon murdered her husband then killed herself, but look upon how they spin this gruesome fact:

Sheldon’s life ended tragically. When her husband became ill in the winter of 1986, she began talking about killing herself when he eventually died. His illness blinded him, and he expressed fears that Sheldon might carry through with a plan they’d once discussed to take their lives together. Then, in May 1987, Sheldon shot her husband, and then killed herself.

What a role model.

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