Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Intellectual Autobiography-Prt. 2
I remember borrowing the Mentor Books publication of Dante's Inferno from my collegiate cousin and being mesmerized by it's strange expressionist cover. How could this be a representation of hell? This latitude in indexicality would leave me more numinously bewildered that any Inferno by Rauschenberg or Dore’.
My mother would get her hair done on Saturdays at my aunt’s beauty salon in a second floor walk-up above the central business district of my hometown- I can still smell the peroxide and the autoclave. Below was the Towne Theater, where a manager would open a side door to let me in while my mother basked under the acrid heat of the throne-like hairdryers . I was 7 maybe 8 years old and would see whatever was playing and would see everything- the Disney matinees, the light comedies , the sparse 70’s outings into sci-fi. One rainy Saturday I saw a film called 2001: A Space Odyssey. I remember this funereally-paced widescreen journey from a pleistocene savannah to this interminably lengthy voyage through some extraterrestrial conduit. I remember walking out and thinking , “I don’t know what I just saw…” but I just knew it was something significant.
“ I never learned anything at all in school and
didn’t read a book for pleasure until I was 19 years old.”
My teenage years were spent reconciling the oftentimes perceived rote drudgery of formal academia with the expansive kaleidoscope of films and books that I would devour. The Golden Age of “hard science” fiction literature informed by scientists qua pulp-writers would keep me grounded in a pole of disciplined imagination. Writers like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlen, and Phillip Jose Farmer would generate vast panoramas of scientifically-plausible worlds engaged by rational scientists as adventurers. This body of literature, in conjunction with the works of writers such as Carl Sagan, Stephen Gould and Desmond Morris would initially ignite an aspiration to become a physicist, But another pole beckoned to me -that found it’s fulcrum upon the phantasmagoric and social-consciousness works of writers that had been grouped under the rubric of the “new wave” of the genre . Works by Harlan Ellison, Thomas Disch, Vonnegut, Doris Lessing and Phillip Dick would inform and challenge my conceptions of social justice and even reality itself. They, in turn, led me along the path that they had been informed by- the Beat Writers and French Surrealists, the meta-fiction of Pynchon, Barth, Borges, existentialists and modernists, Becket, Sartre, Camus, the avatars of the anti-war, civil rights and psychedelic consciousness movements that, to my mind, were all of a piece. I remember a thin black volume of Kerouac’s Subterraneans inscribed in black Pilot Razor Point with my friend Mark’s name and phone number in the inner sleeve, that muted hope that it would be returned if missplaced. That baroque technicolor prose enervated by the eastern mysticism of the Zen writers, Suzuki, Watts, Lao-Tze would conflate with dense formalist experiments like Ulysses , Gravity’s Rainbow , the great gravitas of the Russians along mountains and minarets of ice, the agonies of Christian doubt and the rusted iron bars of the Gulag. I would drag myself up the shimmering and torturous plateaus of the German Idealist tradition, Kant, Hegel and their phenomenological respondents: Husserl , Heiddeger, dasein and lebenswelt. The dark vacuity of Sartre’s being-for-itself with it attendant nausea stood as a witness to the filmic work of the French New Wave and the international auteurs whose characters struggled with children and lovers as they struggled with their perceived groundlessness. The New German Cinema of Herzog and Wenders stood imbricated and opposed to the legacies of Murnau, Lang and the shadow of a monumental grief that was to come in Weimar’s wake . All of this was presented to me at a time when the Reagan/Thatcher neo-liberal regime began it’s first seductive overtures to a middle class that was taught that a garrote was a warm motherly, womb watched over by a cheery, singing cowboy.