Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Back in Philosophy class,
with John McLaughlin, the
philosophy teacher  -  real
name, not the Mahavishnu
Orchestra guitarist  -  years
after all this NY stuff I'm
writing about, I mentioned
once to him that I was
working on (the discussion,
and his question, was for
whoever was proceeding
with some current, germane
work to speak up), I said
that I was hard at work
on something that I hoped,
upon completion, would
stop the world dead in its
tracks, blow it up or otherwise
destroy it, or, at the least,
alter the life of the reader
so that all things would be
totally different and there'd
be nowhere to go but up.
The class was astounded.
And why not; a bunch of
semi-privileged kids from
all over the east, looking
for solid advancement
and a world to get ahead
in. There I was demeaning
it. McLaughlin said, acting
fairly non-plussed, 'I bet a
lot of writers feel that way
about their work.' I never
knew if that was a real
reaction or just some
pooh-pooh fakery to get
past the moment. Funny,
how it is, that things
stay in your mind. And
anyway, as far as
philosophy went, his
big highlight, and our
big study, was John
Rawls', 'A Theory
of Justice.'
For me it was always
about words, magical
words, the kind that
transform and transport.
Way back even, in the
seminary, I'd parse ideas
based on the words used.
Trinity? What was that,
exactly, and what was
meant? You know what,
no one had an answer.
Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost (and what, then, was
that? Ghost?) as three Gods
in one, or at least a varied
manifestation of that concept.
Who dreams this shit up?
What madman would
purport to design these
devilish ideas? I was told,
essentially, that there was,
in actuality, no 'Reality' to
this; it was instead an
amorphous concept
symbolizing the
omni-presence and
all-effectiveness of
the greatness of God,
which is approachable
and activates in any
of these three selective
and symbolic aspects.
Excuse me? Symbolism?
Father Maggilicutty O'Malley
Pedanto, you've hung your entire
false edifice on the very thin
nail of 'Symbolism'? You and
which Pope was that? And now
you extend to me the rich thought
that it really doesn't matter since 
it's all comfortably 'symbolic' and,
oh by the way, the Gospels aren't
real, as Jesus was only speaking
in parables for the peasantry.
At the same time, the USA
code-named the first testing
of the atomic bomb, July 16,
1845, 'Trinity'  -  in Almogordo
New Mexico, or somewhere
like that. Sacred Indian lands.
No matter. All that sort of
stuff really bothered me. I
realized everything became
nothing and the totality of
truth was lies.
Then I got mixed up with
Wittgenstein : a real character
there. 'Logical Form'. 'Language
Theory'. Egads, I was gone. It
was my great beginning, I guess
of a hatred of the great curse
of Logic. My pursuits were
all headed in the direction,
instead, of a grand and an
expansive personal anarchy,
and I had no grasp of what
this guy was going on about.
When I had gotten to New
York, I was convinced that
Life was an unfixed dynamic.
That my Mexican friend, Jose,
who'd thrown his wife out
of a moving car, to kill her,
was full of shit, for instance.
But I granted him the right to
concoct those sorts of stories
because we were, all together, at
a ground-zero there of our own
make-up. It was just symbolic, 
see, just words. We each, right
 there, had some weird chance 
to construct the character we
wanted to be. We reflected
back to the world, by the
story-line we gave, our own
beings and presences. So
I told him I was descended
from Giuseppe Garibaldi, the
guy who 'united' the feuding
'Italian' nation states, and
whose fine statue was in
Washington Square Park.
I even told him that's where
my name had come from.
It's just words.
It was all words. Wittgenstein
had it that the mysteries of life
and reality were things of a
realm we could never have a
conceptual understanding of,
and why bother. There was
just nothing to be said. To
him life was only this world of
phenomena, our world of
experience, which we could
indeed talk about (words)
and attempt to understand.
Intelligible philosophy had
to confine itself to the world
we could talk about  - on
pain of becoming meaningless
nonsense if we stepped
across the line. Only the 
world is describable in
language, and the relationship
between language and reality
is crucial and most important.
(This is where I parted) : his 
'Picture Theory' of life, 
something about how life is 
like a small canvas, totally
different from an expanse of
countryside, but which a painter 
can recreate by painting the
landscape with complete
recognizability by placing the
certain patches of color and
blend in the same relationship
as they are within the landscape.
He called it 'logical form' and by
using words instead of paint we
each assemble the world we think
we see before us. Shared and 
common grounds, recognizable,
through words, to each other.
Representing reality accurately.
Big whoop, huh. Sure alienated
me some more. Fixed meanings.
The correct proportions, and the
rest, all just to make the right and
mannered representation of the 
world around us as we see it. 
Yikes! To me that was called just
more of the unending small-talk
drivel of train stations and sitting 
rooms. A real  home-party of the 
dull. He said 'words derive their 
meanings ultimately from whole
forms of life.' Yes, and reality
then is a popsicle.
Can anyone see why I ran off? I
got to New York with the Vesuvius 
of my own expectations bubbling
and gurgling over. There was
going to be no stopping this plant
of manner and fury. Right there
where Bleecker and MacDougal
streets met, I could feel it. Up and
down those two atrocious streets,
and Sullivan as well, there were
rows and rows of crazy people.
Selling crazy things : there were
zithers and sandals, water pipes 
and hats, boots and serapes, cups
and mugs, whips and masks, the
countless carcasses and cuts of 
meat and poultry, new coffees in
a hundred different canvas sacks,
cafes and bars, far-reaching as from
McSorleys to the White Horse. 
Little weird signs about who used
to live here and who died there.
The cops on horseback just smiled.
Postcard stores, not the vacation
kind, but serious art postcards,
arrayed and categorized by artist
names, beautiful Pissarro and
Modigiliani paintings, Cezanne 
and Dali, whomever one liked, 
it was there. I was fascinated 
and spent hours picking through 
7-cent cards worth a million 
bucks each to me. You could 
identify, you could study, 
you could learn from, real
art postcards! It was fucking 
all amazing to me  -  I was in
another world where real 
things really mattered and 
where the most sensible and 
wise aspects of life were 
revered and celebrated, not
shrugged at, in disgust or 
disapproval and disavowal.
The rest of the world instantly
became a whole freaking
nowhere to me. And, oh,
Mr. Wittgenstein, the world
had not yet invented a word
for any of this. 'Elation' does 
not quite do it. And neither
does 'Celebration.'

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