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Did Socrates say "Know Thyself", or was he misunderstood, as all are. Show Thyself is all we can do. The knowing is unknowable.  

I am filled with joy.  It can't be helped.  

Became a Farmer, Builder, Musician, Tank Commander, Librarian, Lawyer and Minister. I have failed at many things. And now retired.  Filled, just filled, with Joy. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Rumination and the "unlived life" a la Philip Roth

Not boasting, but "worrying" does not come naturally to me. And the related activities, such as obsessing (chafing, concern about picking the best of the lot, and all the infatuation or addictive behaviors) are really not my strong suit. First of all I am entirely too lazy to go to such efforts -- addicts are extraordinarily committed to their habit, and I have neither habits nor commitments to concerns which orbit around a cognizable Self. There is not enough "there" there. Nothing inside me is wringing its hands. Even when I weep and pray, it is vague and general. More lamentation than grief. More anger than petition.

But back to worrying: Before I married into the Burton family, the word "Pfaffing" was not in my vocabulary. Not for lack of time, but for lack of ability, I spend little time making decisions. In fact, I suspect that a decision-making process that tries to evaluate each fact may be so hag-ridden by detail that it distorts the priorities which facts have, the hierarchical architecture. Anyway, for me, intense immersion in the myriad of facts impedes observation. I try to remove obstacles and observe the Facts as keenly as possible. And then compare alternatives, make a selection, and move on. And the last step is enhanced by a native ability to forget -- as if the "fog of war" is not merely the excuse for confusion, but is also a redemptive cover, a chance for moments of repose in what would otherwise be an unbroken continuum of consciousness.

Here is where I was led to a new "window" into Consciousness by Philip Roth. I am now embarassed to admit, I had always avoided reading his work, right up until I actually read it. In my quick exposures to the "Nathan Zuckerman" character which lies at the center of his oeuvre, I just could not connect. The character is apparently, or claiming to be, in a struggle to define the Self. This is an agonist protagonist, engaged in internal dialogue, the watermark of meaningless. There is no "care" there. Writers who accomplish nothing but writing, and then they write autobiographies, or novels that are thinly-veiled Self-servers. That type screams "So What", to an ear I do not even have.

However, Philip Roth is now past the Zuckerman trilogy {THE GHOST WRITER (1979) depicted a 23 year old writer; cf. GOODBYE COLUMBUS, PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT}- and writing into his 5th decade -- Roth continues work in or on his imagination. And that connects with me. Roth's 2006 EVERYMAN, and his latest, EXIT GHOST, are still self in a struggle to define itself, but now it is opened to the landscape of death. It is not merely the narrative of Self.

Now the dimension of RUMINATION is opened up. Although it is still related to neurotic "worrying" and ego-display, the ruminating imagination has wings which lift it above the mud-puddle of infatuation. True, the life he describes is still the UNLIVED life. But it is the life of imagination, and in many ways MORE living than life lived without consciousness of itself.

Now I say this, almost with dismay, that Philip Roth is clearly in The Pantheon. No longer merely brilliant and notorious, with spotty appearances, unfurling in clever flashes the red cape in front of our thick bull of life, he has now graced us with Aging and the immensity and intimacy of Death. Zuckerman reenters from a retreat in the Berkshires, getting stability and distance from "everything I'd determined I no longer had use for" as a 73 year old who is no longer certain of his literary powers.

At the end of life, we observe the retraction of our powers by means of the retracting organs -- the forgetting brain behind eyes dimmed. This time, the description of a man becoming sexually fixated with a young woman rises above mere unseemliness. The grizzled introspection of Roth, as he describes an impotent elder becoming fixated by the physical charms of a much younger woman, is a kind of message to us, that is clearly more than "being" about himself. He is "reporting" from the longevity Front. Giving us notice, that "life" urges, continue. We age, we forget, but the last thing to fade is our horny urge. It outlasts our anatomy -- this is an incontinent Zuckerman, a survivor of prostate cancer and surgery. Zuckerman feels that he is UNABLE to pursue a relationship, and yet, he proceeds to do so, IN HIS IMAGINATION.