Updated: May 15, 2018
This story was originally published at IthacaLit, which can be found here.
Honestly, I could care less about Robert Musil, one of my favorite writers. There are very few of them I unquestionably appreciate, due to decades of my subconscious living inside the literature and the natural arrogance of my aurora borealis intellect, densely conceited after being enlaced in a pure syntagmatic environment for such an endless stretch. Anything that doesn’t waste
years of your life or doesn’t kill you by a thousand paper cuts hardly is worth writing. It’s one of those Wyoming dawns high on a horse when you realize how far your subtleties stretch, yet you cannot make any use of them as they expire worthless and evaporate toward the backdrop of the mighty Tetons, who – unlike you – are here to stay. One of those briefs when you walk out
in the Cormac McCarthy gray light and for a quiver inhale the absolute substance of your world. Before that crack too expires worthless and evaporates into literary annals.
On the other hand, I look forward to those days of conscious living inside my dream vocation – when a subconscious sleeping beauty wakes up to smell mediocrity and gets pissed – to that miraculous shift when I stop selling cars for a minimum wage and support my wife and myself by writing for a minimum wage. Every bloody sucker is entitled to at least one unrestricted figment. And I mean every. A man going quietly about his business all day long expends far
more muscular energy than an athlete who lifts a huge weight once a day. This has been proved physiologically, and so the social sum total of everybody’s little everyday efforts, especially when added together, doubtless releases far more energy into the world than do rare heroic feats I’m incapable of. This total even makes the single heroic feat look positively minuscule, like a black grain of sand on a mountaintop with a megalomaniacal sense of its own importance.
And Why should I care after all: Musil had Musil (his life), his Martha (his wife), enduring temptations (his strife), and his masterpiece (his fife). What else can one hope for is beyond my enlaced imagination. The fifth ‘f’ might be a nasty one; if you are Musil and you’re still asking for more, you are one greedy bastard and someone – why not me, I live in Desert Hot Springs and have nothing to lose – has to draw a line in the freakin’ sand.
I mean, seriously, do you care for Musil? Sounds like an aperitif. A little fish, perhaps? A banana splash hot off a monkey’s ass as long as the circus is still in town? Oh, well, I close the menu, touch its padded plastic back, black, and wave for garcon or serveuse. My wave is short and fast, like a semi-hook; I don’t waste time in public places. And I don’t think the mainstream circus will leave town any time soon – it is here to stay.
On the opposing end, I am not sure if Musil is here to stay. Let me tell you why: I do have a mirror at home, rented like everything in life, and if a guy of my age cares about Musil’s writings, that’s the final clue that no one else does. Culture, or the lack thereof, became generational; most of the essential writings already dropped from the word ‘literature,’ which now proudly assumes every writing asshole in the room – to quote from the Volbeat and its classic Still Counting – every Masters in Creative Writing a double contradictio in adjecto obvious to any spirit who ever heard of L for Latin ( I almost wrote ‘any of us’ but quickly changed my mind, not willing to identify myself with one single generation since I bamboozle myself into a worldly mind capable of following the latest events from one pub to another); every teen who ever wrote more than the word rose having no idea about Il nome della rosa, or
fuck off! by not grasping the concept of Rebel Without a Cause; every academic who ever raised his wooden hand with a feather firmly attached to it at the convenient morning hour after coffee was served by a maid pushing ninety – by physiological deduction you can still dig into her past allure, and above all, a mannered bearing she used to carry it with. Do I drool nostalgia all over my everlasting summer clothes.
Talking to my buddy Matt Opoien, an exquisite painter residing in the aging Palm Springs – where gilded glamour flakes of past celebrities patina, long gone and mostly faded, could be spotted in the air on a good, longing day – and my VW customer, ‘Matt, it does seem that the naked fundamental experience itself, that primal seizure of mystic insight, has undergone an immense expansion and now forms the soul of that complex irrationalism that haunts our era like a night bird lost in the drunken dawn.’ The good man stares at me as if he had spotted Picasso in his underwear strolling down the farmers market held every Thursday in the Downtown, so I go for translation, ‘By leaving things out, we bring beauty and excitement into the world. We evidently handle our reality by effecting some sort of compromise with it, an in-between state where the emotions prevent each other from reaching their fullest intensity, graying the colors somewhat.’ He gets the meaning of compromise and halts there. ‘Fuck it, Matt, they don’t pay your rent yet, just paint and you’ll be fine. By the time they start paying it, you’ll already be a shade of slimy, green manalishi. Only fanatics and mental cases can stand living at the highest pitch of soul; a sane person must be content with declaring that life would not be worth living without a spark of that mysterious fire – and stop right there. On the other hand, if we go bananas rent becomes free, although our freedom might be somewhat limited by the asylum walls. Only the pure artists wouldn’t notice these walls, Matt – and that’s not you and that’s not me.’
Those like Musil, Opoien, and I never get a bona fide chance to peddle themselves at the flea market where reality is sold and bought by currency of diminishing dreams – which might seem as a benediction until we realize it’s an anathema. It would be quite infantile for a mainstream baby universe to allow any sleeper agent slash passionate artist to infiltrate as a giaour into the holy city of Mecca and start mocking the illiterate with mastery. Since this community is coursed through by hype energies, every road has to lead into an exact and worthwhile goal, provided one doesn’t hesitate when reading or think too much. Targets are short-term, but since life is short too, results are maximized by action; it is all that people need to be happy: the soul is formed by what you read, whereas what you desire without achieving it merely warps the spirit.
I think if you were Satan and you were setting around trying to think up something that would just bring the human race to its knees, what you would probably come up with is the entertainment. With or without a sarcastic hue, it is an ideal weapon of watering down all the senses. The very first thing I happily noticed when they took me into the emergency room the other day, was a high definition widescreen featuring top mass market bestsellers by Publishers Weekly, crowned by Steel’s Friends Forever. Just the title itself reminisces the Forest Lawn Cemetery at its shiniest pearl. Touched, I chose to die in comfort rather than fight for survival through the unbearable pain: the agony of the devoured animal is always far greater than the pleasure of the devourer. I was dead on arrival, a corpse with strong vital signs. Yet, sacrificing all your human traits comes with occasional perks: the modern medicine did the fighting for me. For only then, after the last trait is immobilized and forgotten, will amusement enter your
thought system as an integral part and living member, become perfectly and firmly consistent with it and in accord with all its other consequences and conclusions; it will bear the hue, color and stamp of your whole manner of thinking. Thus it will stay firmly and forever lodged in your mind.
"Martha ," I told my wife, once they cut me loose from the Eisenhower Emergency Center in Rancho Mirage, "I mean, Eileen, I think I saw God. It had a lot of pages, and kept talking to me as if recorded earlier, ‘The admissions process to get into Paradise is now closed. Please, come back at some later date.’" This truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.