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From Portland: a Henry Miller moment

My friend B, a professor of literature at a respectable California university, says he cannot teach Henry Miller to his MFA students, that in this #metoo moment he would probably lose his job if he did so.  

I mentioned this to Thomas Fuller, who knows the professor by name but not as well as I know him. Fuller was not happy to hear the news.

"Henry Miller wrote a book America needs now more than ever," Fuller said--The Air Conditioned Nightmare. "Ok, so he was a busybody, a card carrying misogynist, a profiteer who milked changing sexual mores..."

I thought I'd have to tranquilize Fuller, make him a morning martini or tempt him with the new vape pen I'd purchased at the cannabis factory on Burnside, the kind that plugs into an Apple MacBook Pro when the battery's diminished.

Fuller babbled on: the fluorocarbons released from Miller's book were just as important as the fluorocarbons released from Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring; that Miller's journalism was sacrosanct, goddammit; yes, the novels were flawed, having been condemmned by no less a poet than Wallace Stevens as being "prolix", but the vision in Miller's journalism was lacerating and remains so...

Fuller's little rant caused me to consider re-reading The Air Conditioned Nightmare, a book I'd first read in the early 1970's, even with the caveat I'd created from myself that I only read classics from this point forward. Portland's a good book town; I suppose I could pick the book up at Powell's or, even better at Mother Foucault's Bookshop, 523 SE Morrison St.


Why you should read Rabelais 

When's the last time you read a book and thought, where has this book been all my life?

Those for whom it's been a very long time, and for those for whom that time has never come, are urged to read Gargantua and Pantagreul as soon as they can, like right now, before the world ends or before they die, whichever may come first.

Gargantua and Pantagreul (father and son giants) is actually composed of five books, the first of which has a title page which reads,

The First Book The Most Fearsome Life of THE GREAT Gargantua  Father of Pantagruel

Composed Many Years Ago by Master Alcofribas   Abstractor of the Quintessence

A Book Full of Pantagruelism

Once opening the book, readers see immediately that it's a book they'll like, often laughing out loud at the very beginning, needing to laugh, it being so dfficult to live in a world without laughter, living in a world other people have made so difficult for other people to live in.

Written in the early 16th century by a Frenchman, it's oddly contemporary; the 'news' of the day seems to be on every page in both exaggerated and unexaggerated form.

I've just come to the place in the First Book when Gargantua has come to Paris as a young giant. After getting liquored up, he finds a place to rest atop Cathedral Notre Dame and pisses "so fiercely that he drowned two hundred and sixty thousand four hundred and eighteen persons, not counting the women and children."


Othello in Oregon

For years the literary conceit about the USA has been that it is a country comprised of good big-hearted people who would give you the shirt off their backs, take you in if you were hungry, poor and helpless, and even if not liking the man who'd marry their daughter would quickly grow in grace to accept that man as their own son even if only metaphorically.

The countervailing conceit is that the USA is made up of ill-informed, opinionated morons who do not hesitate to tell you that the weeds in front of your house can be killed overnight with hot water, tout the health benefits of taking daily 45 minute sunbath's because of the sun's ample natural supply of Vitamin D, and proclaim that the nipples of pregnant women are able to 'test' the saliva of their sucklings to ascertain exactly what nutrients they need.

The truth of these two conceits is always where the truth seems to be: somewhere in between two countervailing conceits.

Watching the three hour production of "Othello" the other night at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland (with Shakespeare's original language intact but with the players in modern dress), which culminates in a murderous fury after the series of well planned innuendos, duplicity, and outright lies 'planted' by the villain Iago, offered me no chance of determining once and for all if either of these literary conceits about the USA are correct; but I could not help but note the grayness of the audience, the sourness of the countenance of so many of the audience members, as if they were unhappy, either about the direction the USA had taken or how their own lives had turned out, or both.

After thoughtful analysis, the day after Othello had strangled Desdemona, I surmised the audience was comprised mostly of retired high school English teachers, or outright literary critics, who were taught to think that everything, EVERYTHING, exists to be criticized.


Thomas Fuller's cutting-room floor comments

Some stuff Fuller said that didn't make it into the 'interviews':

--the older you become the more you're forced to live with your flaws, the more your flaws impose themselves upon you until they become old friends.

--Remember that old thing about writers not wanting to to talk about their writing while they were writing? Like it was some form of bad luck to do so? Well it isn't. I always talk up my book before I write it to as many people as possible, putting myself in the position of having to write it.

--I often feel I'm living at the time when Eliot's just finished The Wasteland.

--I live in the big suicidal country of the USA.

-- When something seems normal it's not what it seems; when everything looks normal you can rest assured that it's not.

--Big question: why isn't the media screaming for Trump's tax returns? 

--TV? I only watch sports on TV. As would the ancient Greeks. I sometimes imagine watching golf with Aristotle, basketball with Plato. The Greeks would ban the NFL though as corrupt.

--The World We've Made? Everyone should have to think about it for at least one hour a day; only then could real change be made.

--I started reading and writing poetry when poetry was a small but important faction in the CIA. Nobody in the agency noticed me but published their poems anyway in The Paris Review and other government sponsored literary journals. It wasn't that I didn't want to be published in these places, it was just that I didn't know the code to the bathroom door. 

--My greatest accomplishment? My children: seeing how they've made themselves into their own men.


Thomas Fuller and "The Classical World": the final interview

Longer and longer stretches of silence overtook Fuller on the day of our final interview. News intruded--unexpected celebrity suicides, an upcoming summit meeting between two world powers, the French Open tennis tournament. He stared out of the window of his studio over and over, seemingly preoccupied. Twice he picked up one of the many books stacked in strange piles on the studio floor, examining the book cover as if he'd never seen it before...

Q: There's a passage in The Classical World when the hero has just arrived in Palermo and is walking from the port into the center of town and encounters a large group of Japanese tourists--I become aware of how deeply embedded the idea of change is in me...I actually still believe that to find myself, to understand who I am, I have to change, and change constantly. I wonder if that observation reflects the personal belief of its author?

A: O sure, of course. I'm obsessed with change, ever since I read Rilke as a young man. Rilke tattooed me: you must change your life, a phrase which has become something of a minor religion, a great piece of language that means almost nothing. Every so often now I pick up Rilke and am surprised by something I read there, though I think he's a writer who should have been made to read his own writing. The thing I was trying to say there in Palermo has something to do with the difference between what the travel industry calls "free independent travel" and "mass tourism." I deplore mass tourism as a concept, but can see how it might suit a certain type of person, a certain temperment. There are degrees of curiousity, and to condemn any one of them is to miss the point. A good writer is a free independent traveler but that's not to say he can't write for a mass tourist.

Q: The section of the book about Iceland has a different feel to it somehow. I'd say it feels wilder than the over-civilized south of Europe, would that be correct?

A: There are places in Iceland that you feel you're quite possibly the first person to walk over a stretch of countryside. The people are incredibly bright, and have a moral quality far more developed than in southern Europe. They actually punished the government officials, bankers, and lawyers who swindled them into the country's financial meltdown in 2008, naming them as they were--criminals!--and actually prosecuting them. In Iceland, they're not afraid of the dark.

Q: The relationship between the narrator/hero and his female companion, Jane, is often vexed to say the least?

A: Well, it's the male/female story of the ages, a celebration of essential differences, with the eventual realization that the female is the superior being. Jane is both innocent and worldly; our narrator's a furtive little spy who often acts as if his prefrontal cortex is still in the process of being formed. Jane always holds the moral upper-hand, and is a guide to our narrator without his knowing she's his guide. The feminine is such a sophisticated state of being! No wonder males have fought so long and so hard against it, otherwise they'd be overwhelmed, or at least they fear they would. There will only be real equality when both see the beauty in the other...

Q: Beauty is the book's big theme, correct? I read from The Classical World: The idea of beauty was born in the sudden sight of the ocean as seen through the branches of olive trees, I'm sure of it.

A: Yes, as are the questions of love, truth, justice, the classic questions. The question of beauty, the aesthetician's drama, is a question that once one starts rolling around in it, its constituent parts and its totality, if you will, never lets one go. What is beautiful? What constitutes beauty? Is there a reciprocal relationship between the lover and the beloved? And, if there is, what is the nature of it? Asking the question itself, what is beauty, opens up dimensions of personal identity, which then richocet into political, social, cultural realms. I came to think of the question as the wild card of all the essential questions, a piece of quicksilver that once it was identified slipped out of reach.

Q: There's a lot of walking in The Classical World. Is walking a preferred form of travel?

A: The world is meant to be walked, slowly, carrying no more than a small biodegrable backpack, with your hands free to pick up whatever interests you.

 (Agrigento, Sicily, The Valley of the Temples). Everything's difficult in Agrigento, it's so hot every step takes something out of me, something I'll never get back. Shadows are impossible to find, only a few here and there left over from the glory days, made by the columns of the temples themselves; when I move toward them for shelter they've already disappeared. Lizards lick the dust off my feet, like they're testing to see if I qualify as ancient, then scurry away. From The Classical World by Thomas Fuller (IFSF, 2018)