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Joseph O'Neill--the writer as exile

Late last night (October 17,2019) I got the idea of living to 100. Why not? They say it's good to have goals and I haven't had any for awhile now.

Why not live to 100? It would not only give me time to write and read all the books I want to read and write, it would give me time to change my habits, those habits which have the best chance of conspiring against my living to 100, like smoking cigars on the golf course, drinking ice cold vodka in the evening, eating tortilla chips glazed with Mrs. Renfro's hot green salsa at 2 am, watching too much MSNBC and C-SPAN tv, slumped on the couch with bad posture.

I've always been so vague about death, living either like death doesn't exist or like it could happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. I've looked death in the eye on occasion, almost always on the occasion of the death of a loved one, and found it sad, pathetic, and final. Then, after a proper period of mourning, death returns to its original conceptual vaporish hiding place in my consciousness, both invisible and all-pervading. Death, not life, is the all-time all-star literary trope.




Watching the Debate w/Gustave Flaubert

The best man never wins, or the best woman. You'd think we'd know this by now!

But we're Americans, we keep believing in miracles.

All these folks running for President of the United States of America, who want to be President, who hope to change things, who think they can change things, who have a plan or plans, the ones who won't take money from big money and the ones who will.

So many of them have money to waste, their own and others, while the rest of them seem happy to be wasting other people's.

As I watched the Democratic Presidential Debate last night with Flaubert, a Frenchman, I laid out my platform of American political history for the 1980s onward, so that he, an astute political observer, would have some context for what we were seeing. After watching for a few minutes we both agreed that what we were seeing was a kind of Dancing with the Stars, a grotesque beauty paegeant in which the men could have been wearing Speedos and the women bikinis, judged by CNN and The New York Times.

"Flaubert," I said, "here's the trajectory" and traced for him the following:

--the 1980s. Milton Friedman and the posse of trickle-down economists who were actually creating public policy for a Republican administration led by Ronald Reagan, a man lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time so that he would eventually be referred to as a Great Man--at least great enough to have an airport named after him and to be invoked ad nauseum as the Great Ronald Reagan by future Republican Party Mafia chieftains--while Mikhail Gorbachev is largely forgotten.

--the 1990s. The Birth of Rhodes Scholar Liberalism. Bill Clinton and the cocaine problem on Wall Street, in which the investment banking community seized control of NATO until a man named Newt Gingrich balanced the budget, ging birth to the notion of prudent fiscal conservatisim. Republicans, gaining strength and numbers under the auspices of the Koch Boys and a series of surreptitous think tanks, went on a witchhunt involving Clinton's penis which was proved to be no big deal. Enter Mitch McConnell, first elected in 1984 and re-elected five times since, about whom much more will be said later. 

--the early turn-of-the-century 2000s. The Bush Administration (redux) in cahoots with The Supreme Court, whose Chief Justice apppeared on the cover of Fortune Magazine the week after he was confirmed, wrest the election away from The Democrats. Chaos ensues, particularly in the Mideast where Dick Cheney and friends create a legacy, generation-after-generation hornets nest in Iraq, with an assist from Judith Miller of The New York Times. The tv show Fox and Friends is launched, finding an interested viewer at Trump Tower, 5th Ave. NYC...

--the mid-2000s Obama. Whether or not he was born in the USA Obama is a great speechmaker, and an important symbol of the progress progressives have made since Reconstruction. Those attuned to the subtle but influential semiotics of The Obama Years make note of Barack Obama's use of the term folks when talking to the general populace and when talking about them.

--the late 2000s Trump and the Republican Conquering of the American Mind. Trump, beautiful liar, glorious disrupter, to late American-Empire political life what Rimbaud was to late 19thc European poetry. A singular American leader but in the pantheon of great President's, comparable only to Warren Harding, taking incompetence and disinterestedness to dizzying new heights, and making policy of both...

Flaubert listens intently, smoking a pipe. 

"All I want is one decent human being who is capable, honest, diligent, caring, intelligent, not in thrall to money but aware enough to know the value of an honest wage. Is this too much to ask?" I say to him.

I'd hoped Flaubert says what he's said before, that the whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletariat to the level of idiocy achieved by the bourgeois, but he doesn't say it. He doesn't have to.


The president reads experimental fiction

The president feels summer being undercut by winter. There's no proof it's being undercut, it's just a feeling at this point and the president is attentive to feelings.

It's October, the time of year when summer gives way to fall and when fall is soon to give way to winter, when these feelings arise. The president is a man who feels winter more than most people feel winter, winter is that time of year when a man needs a big-burly overcoat to hunker down into, an overcoat to be worn on the walk from The White House to the South Lawn where the helicopter awaits the flight to Florida.

The president is going on vacation. He needs something to read.

He liked reading Samuel Beckett once upon a time, but he's grown tired of Beckett. The poets now bore him, especially the language poets, such frauds. Memoir? Don't even think about it, everyone's writing memoir. Creative non-fiction holds some interest, the president likes the sound of it, creative non-fiction. He says the words over and over--creative non-fiction, creative non-fiction, creative non-fiction. Why hadn't someone on staff thought of that?

Reagan read Zane Grey, maybe I'll try Zane Grey, the president thinks. Zane Grey, a post-modern writer of fiction, particularly those books written in the experimental phase of his career from 1932 to 1940, concluding with Twin Sombreros. Grey wrote most of his fiction posthumously--more than 20 new Zane Grey books were issued after his death in 1939--which the president finds remarkable.



Such fun to finally find exactly why I admire a writer I've long admired without knowing exactly why!

George Orwell.

Clarity is the first pleasure.

Orwell's clarity is completely original.

Preternaturally aware of the propaganda/promotion machine that now systematizes almost all human activity Orwell looks right through it, exposing the all-consuming monster.

The second pleasure is as pleasurable as the first.

Orwell's modesty.

Orwell is a writer who never gives any hint that he might feel undervalued or overvalued, as so many writers do. Writers know what I mean by this: that the marketplace is god whether it pays you a dollar a line, a $100,000 advance, or in review copies you send to your Aunt Lois to prove you are a writer.

The USA, floundering domestically & internationally, with oligarchic leadership posing as patriotic. Europe re-visiting old Nazi, fascist haunts. The mid-East, simultaneously in thrall to both Israel and Saudi Arabia. Central America, reaping the dubious rewards of American de-stablization that was also visited upon Latin America. Latin America now reaping the same rewards, with the fringe benefits of totalitarian dictatorships dressed up as Marxist liberators or free-market capitalists. China larger and more powerful now than even the National Basketball Association.

We need Orwell.

In honor of George Orwell, the writer of this Orwell appreciation adopts an Orwellian pose. From the archives, February, 2015.


The duck blind leading the duck blind

In a nation whose pledge of allegiance contains the words, "under God" and whose national identity as 'America' presumes itself Christian, it is difficult if not impossible to understand how 'socialism' has become such a dirty word, especially to those who profess to actually be Christian.

Place this among the things I don't understand, things which now far outnumber the things I do understand.

I've retreated to George Orwell and his Homage to Catalonia (1936), to a time when a confounding political situation could be explained clearly by a writer who wrote by hand and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes. 

Homage to Catalonia is one of the great 'war' books of all-time. Orwell on the front lines, attached to an army--The Workers' Party of Marxist Unity fighting against the Fascists--composed of men with no ranks, no titles, and often no weapons. Rifles jam, hand grenades and small bombs fizzle, sandbags leak, illiterate 15-year old Spainards fight alongside English & German gentlemen of rank. The cold, the filth, the bean stew eaten and the dirty water drunk, all in the cause of common decency. Trench warfare in extremis, the worst kind according to those who know, including EHemingway whose book of The Spanish Civil War, For Whom The Bell Tolls, I was required to read as a senior in high school. (I can still see my Lit teacher Mr. Hare holding up Hemingway's book and talking about "man's inhumanity to man", or was he holding up Billy Budd, another novel we were required to read and saying the same thing of it?)

Homage to Catalonia is the kind of book I wonder why I'm reading while I'm reading it, the best kind of book. It's man's inhumanity to man made human, personal and politicial. Funny to the outer limits of humor, grim as truth in wartime--the time we're in now--it's as much a tribute to the men he fought with as it is memoir. It's not political theory, instead it's pure experience. "It is difficult to be certain about anything except what you have seen with your own eyes," Orwell writes.

There's no writer now to lead us know through this time, at least none that I can find, no leader as Orwell was a leader, willing to go the the front line and fight, for there is no front line. Rather there are many front lines, too many to man, so that the only place a writer can now go is inward, down into the duck blind to flush out a thought or two to see if any one of them can fly, and then disappear again to await the waddling fowl, all looking and sounding pretty much alike.

'Under God'...what does that mean? Or 'freedom', or 'rule of law'? Or any of those other words we've learned to live by? 'Pursuit of happiness'? 'Liberty and justice for all'? 

Orwell: reportorial staff of one, collecting information on a trip through the USA, marching to Washington D.C. for the true meaning of the being words used to control the people. Is there any writer out there who wil join him, a writer not afraid to approach real life?