In, Of and Beyond Body: The Hope of Imagination

My greatest hope is to exist wholly—until then as much as possible—in imagination. I believe one can only fully do this in death, which is why, far from fearing it, while I don’t pine for it, I do somewhat look forward to death. My imagination, which partakes of omnipotence, omniscience, the Imagination of the All, the oversoul’s imagination, is quite literally my Heart Sutra, coincident with that of Buddhism.

Love turns me into an eagle, makes me want to carry the world in my wings. Symbolically, I am America; symbolically, I am the world. They’re part of my imagination, but only part, not the entirety. My imagination is made up of all worlds, all worlds being coincident with heaven, or heavens, shot through with the shining of my imagination which is heavenly.

Why speak of hell except symbolically? Except as a place, an attitude, a nightmare, a nerve ending, an absence of love which I’ve departed—am alway departing? It doesn’t exist if I don’t want it to. And my heaven does if I do, this is what I believe. I reserve the right to be wrong; that makes no ultimate difference. I become what I think.

Heaven is no more or less than love. It turns imagination into bliss, ecstasy. Sometimes I dance ecstatically; I dance my love, and my love, my dance is worship. Worship that is gratitude, joy, ecstasy—bliss of the moment’s beauty and perfection. It’s aesthetic as well as sensual delight coincident with yearning, reaching for a world beyond form, a state beyond flesh, existence beyond time. Existence coincident with the nonexistence of my ego, my individuality, yet gloriously affirming their blissful fulfillment, the best of them. Mysteriously, an affirmation that’s equally a transcendence and immanence of who I am, proven by nothing so much as by my imagination.

The eagle flies not just on Friday but every day. The eagle carries my imagination as easily as it carries the world and symbolizes my life as strongly as it does America and mankind. I am here to heal the world, to make it a better place only insofar as I love. Nothing else will heal either me or mankind. In the long run, in the cosmic scheme nothing else matters. When my imagination is coincident with love, heaven is here and now, on earth as well as in my future, my yearning and the fulfillment of my poetic images, my mythical devotions, my winged clowns, laughing horses, blood-red dreams, pale radiant flowers . . .

Imagination as Poetic Intensity

The foremost pleasure for me of poetry, whether I read or write it, is that I live more intensely in poetry than in every day life. In fact, poetry is a pleasurable intensification of life. Whether or not there is an element of escapism in this is immaterial to me, and if there is (there probably is) it isnt primary. What’s primary is the intensity of the poetic experience—and, unlike mysticism, there is no doubt it is a full-bodied experience even if my body is inactive, supine, and really only alive so that I can have the experience, so that I can enter this unique world of poetry where the concrete dances with the abstract.

I am not looking for adventure, I’m looking for experience—but the kind of experience only poetry provides. And it is emphatically not all in my head. It’s there assuredly, but it’s also in my body, all through my body, for poetry is first and foremost of the body: body of man and body of earth, body of fact and body of fiction. It is the evidence and imaginal substance—yet substance nonetheless— as well as the distillation and intensification of our body-selves. Or of other body-selves, other concretizations of experience made substantive and intensified to that sweet point or degree where life is a meditation, one that feels eternal; where stillness and action and thought and sensation have coalesced by the power of words beyond words—to where life and death seem to be one. Because they are? And what if they are, where does that take us? Precisely where poetry takes us!? Eureka!

If poetry takes me anywhere beyond the words that are its flesh, it is, by way of emotion and intellect, to what I apparently value the highest and consider my reason for existing if I have to have one: imagination. It is on imagination and imagination alone that the intensity—a poetic intensity—with which we live swings. And so my imagination is not just my monastery (as Keats said his was), it’s also my temple, my dance hall, my bedroom, my beloved, my death, my sepulcher, my eternity.

In Praise of Night

Every night when darkness falls and I fall with it into its deathly stillness, I come upon myself as on a stranger—yet a stranger I am somehow familiar with as if met in a dream. Feeling myself awake, it is a constant surprise he exists. Nothing unusual about the fact he needs to make his dinner—banquet or slop-house meal for one, depending on what’s in the kitchen combined with his desire for cooking—no, what seems unusual is that another day has almost passed, though the best, evening, is yet to come.

Evening, time of the assassination of activity and mental restraint when in stillness, solitude, repose I enter an imaginal world that day with its hustle and stark if supernal light—especially here in the American Southwest—keeps at a distance because for me imagination has come to work best in the dark; it wants the soft opaqueness that resembles death and nothingness. Light inspires either cynicism or praise; darkness inspires, stimulates a creative madness, flights of fancy, cognitive leaps that lead to my finest images, associations and truths which encompass their opposite, all that would annihilate them, and yet for that very reason dance more vigorously, sing more resonantly.

Evening, when the stranger I am becomes a confidant of the unusual, even if it is only how my author, my poet, say, the one I am reading under a dim but sufficient lamp, puts his perceptions of the ordinary gestures, not to say the pots and pans, his life’s made of. The only ordinary thing about poetry is its subject matter. A poem need not go off in search of the unusual, the miraculous. But let it make the ordinary sound miraculous—miraculous by intensification of attention—and to that extent it enriches itself as poetry and I am its slave as surely as the devout Muslim is Allah’s.

What I’m saying is the poetry I live for—and I do live for poetry, for poetic moments either read in a book or experienced first-hand—while gracing the day as much as the night, comes alive for me more at night where life seems realest because in the stillness of the evening’s dim light it waltzes with death. If that sounds morbid, let’s just say it’s a waltz of the temporary cessation of all things. That very cessation, however, is an opening to the poetic, not to say the eternal.

This was not the case when I was a young man; then I wanted to party. But these days—or nights, rather—if there’s to be a party I enjoy it best if it takes place in my imagination. This is in keeping with my hope to one day be nothing but imagination. I am willy nilly (or by design?) approaching that Rilkean existence where the invisible (and didnt he also mean the intangible?) encroaches upon the visible, threatening to take it over and give it its greatest, most cogent reality. (This was a major if recondite theme in his Duino Elegies and also the Sonnets to Orpheus.)

Here I go again sounding mystical, whether or not I can blame Rilke—or existence which I’ve no doubt is quintessentially mystical. Perhaps it’s inevitable speaking of night, of darkness. Cliché, my inner editor yells. Inescapable conclusion, my simple heart, for whom poetry is elemental, says. And what does it mean to say poetry is elemental? It means poetry is made of things transformed by their universal, eternalized aspect—I dont see how you can be a poet if you dont believe they have one—and of feelings those feel most poetically who feel deepest, feel beyond thought, yet conceive ideas and images out of what they have felt as well as out of what they have imagined.

Poetry is also elemental because it sings, and there is reason to believe man sang (at least chant-like vocalization we’d take for song) before he talked and most certainly before he wrote—or recorded images, a kind of writing. I see a naked caveman before a rock wall, a sharp stone in his hand, carving out the first, most rudimentary lineaments of what became the cuneiform alphabet. Perhaps it’s only a Precambrian stick-horse or a star which looks no different to us than it did to him. Time is astral, and so are our lives in their broadest measure. And was night for him any less of a song that it is for us, for me?

I am a caveman when I feel the night preternaturally, its comfort of boundlessness thanks to how it blinds me. And if a stranger to myself at night, I am no stranger to blindness because I’ve lived half my life with my eyes closed, as has everyone more or less. (Factor in sleep, meditation and, yes, even blinking.) The darkness soothes not just my eyes but my vision, and not just my vision but my entire being which (let’s not argue the fact) needs soothing. Night sings to me, whether I sing of it or not—and I do—night sings silently, mysteriously even when it sings in crickets and cracking, creaking branches bent by wind, gravity or some lightning-like fissure in the cosmos. I am not afraid of the night, I welcome it even though we are and always will be strangers. But only because I am a stranger to myself, yet a stranger familiar with strangeness.

Poetry is Not Mysticism

It’s a known fact that the most intense poetic sensibility capable of being experienced is impossible to render in words. It is, to all intents and purposes, mystical—like the vision-sensations that caused John of the Cross to write his poem “The Dark Night” (“La Noche Oscura”), or Teresa of Avila’s impalement by the arrows of divine love, which she could barely describe (Bernini doing a much better job in his sculpture of the same), or Rumi’s verses which follow Emily Dickinson’s wisdom centuries later and in another culture (though poetic sensibility is one culture, transcending epochs and civilizations) when she wrote, “Tell the truth but tell it slant.” Indeed, he could not do otherwise. Nor could John Keats when he was framing the intense tenderness and wisdom of his own sublimity, his vision-sensations. Nor can any poet.

I think the most telling quality of this sensibility, this vision-sensation is that at its height, which is equally its depth, it brings together those qualities, some common, some not so, that men in their heart of hearts most revere and most fear, namely divine love, intense tenderness, humility, courage (the courage to feel to one’s depths) and of course wisdom. It does so in a way that there is no morality to be discussed, no hierarchy of spiritual—or let’s just say human—qualities, no implicit value judgment; each informs the other and is equal with the other. Who can say wisdom is greater than love, or courage greater than humility? It is absurd even to consider such questions. What is worthy of consideration is that the human, when it is most human, is divine; and the divine when it is most divine is human.

If this conclusion sounds beguilingly Christian, so be it. But it is not a doctrine (much less a dogma), but a sensibility, and whatever there is of truth to it is on that order. And so it is really neither Christian nor non-Christian, nor any other religion you wish to mention, though religion may avail itself of whatever truth there is to it. It is, like the sensibility that makes it poetry and the intensity that makes it ineffable, essentially beyond and outside faith. Faith only enters the picture as a corollary or an assistant, or—and this is no small thing—a fruit, a major fruit of mystical experience. Faith, I maintain, is in no way its matrix or source.

But that isnt the only conclusion you can draw from the experience. The vision-sensation at its core, in being ultimately ineffable, is beyond the dichotomy of human and divine, mundane and sublime, not to say that of poetry (I mean poetry as a metaphor, whether it’s verse or prose, or unwritten, unspoken) and . . . what’s the opposite of poetry? I dont think poetry has an opposite; what isnt potentially poetry? And what is not both human and divine, mundane and sublime—and beyond them, beyond as much as in them? In fact, beyond all opposites, all dualities.

This is the sound of mysticism, which to try to deconstruct soon becomes grating to the ear and annoying to the intellect. Here is where humility has its moment, and to give it its moment is wisdom. Like a sailing ship changing its direction because the wind was too much against it, the poetic voice here tacks a different course and sails into the imagery, the madness even of its imagination, of metaphors and rhythms and all the initially silent words and phrases that fill the mouth as much as they do the brain. (Attesting, by the way, to poetry’s historical beginnings as an oral art—perhaps it isnt such a curious thing that the poet often tastes his words as he writes them.) I mentioned madness, but that too is a metaphor because changing course like this—subjecting his poetry to imagination rather than stubbornly attempting to delineate the ineffable, or, worse, locking himself up within it—probably saves him from madness.

In the end, for all the intensity and ineffability of his experience and for all that he may enjoy using words in original ways, I think the poet wants clarity rather than obfuscation (pace T.S. Eliot, whose critical dictum about complex poetry for a complex age we can perhaps put out to pasture). However vague the poet’s utterance may be, or however many interpretations it may admit of, and however general though intimate is his sensitivity, his emotional intensity that marries a talent for words with experience and imagination and prompts him to write poetry in the first place, he is conscious (or let’s hope he is) that nothing humbles and exalts him, or at least delights him aesthetically, noetically, spiritually—and nothing requires courage of him—more than words and his use of them. Poetry being a dangerous occupation, trade, craft or what have you, not for the weak of heart or mind.

(Please note: This essay, like all the others lumped together here under the general heading of “lyric essays” comes from my journal, and hence is primarily advice or clarification to myself. They are presented merely as food for thought, not well-cooked meals, and are meant to be taken as fragments, not as polished dissertations. I am aware—though not always at first—of the contradictions and half-baked assertions they contain. In the case of this one, the glaring contradiction between saying mysticism isnt poetry and then saying poetry is potentially everything. So does that include the ineffable? Well, not written poetry obviously, but then, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on your definition of poetry. Anyway, I let the contradictions stand, maybe to give transparency to my imperfect thought processes, my not intended to be neatly tied up with a bow conclusions. Perhaps their greatest meaning, if any, is in the momentary movement of thought: a phrase, a sentence, a random sand castle of words on the wide, impersonal beach that one can stuff one’s mind into like a prince or a princess for a few moments before the waves flatten it, showing how fragile are all our thoughts and conclusions.)

Art Over Life

Why do we seem to love irony and contradiction in art but not so much in life? Is it because art allows us to be exactly what we are, complex as we are individually, and life does not? So which is truer, art or life? For all art’s illusions and deceptions, it’s easy to see which is truer, which is more to be depended upon, especially when death is in the picture, perhaps even being closely scrutinized—or breathing down our necks.

There’s art in honesty just as there is honesty in the best art—as well as much mischief like deviance and all delicious manner of unrespectability, which is individuality. Art not just allows but asks the artist, the writer to be real, however absurd or surreal he may be. Art becomes his reality, more real than life. The conventional wisdom is reversed: life pretends, art makes real—and reality.

Plato was so wrong to denigrate art. Art—culture—is not just our salvation, it’s our entrance to the garden of imagination, which is what makes us eternal. A garden encompassing all varieties of tree and flower, from the tree of knowledge to the lovely blossom that says nothing, whose form and color—or whose fragrance—is its eloquence. And there are times when eloquence is all. Or enchantment, ecstasy, magic, call it what you will.

 

It is the irrationalities of our art, our writing, our thinking that create a paradise on Earth and beyond for those of us who accept any rendering of paradise at all. So long as we’re human, we appreciate it as a place of complexity encompassing such gadflies to social status quo as irony and contradiction. A body of work thus created is reality to those who seek beauty as if beauty were all—or emotion, or any sensation that sums up one’s soul, both momentary and eternal. And, if one is a thinker, any thought whose meaning begins with its having been thought. In short, any brain, any heart, any man or woman who makes a poem out of existence; it will be a song, a vision, an image that vies with all images that refute it . . . as if its meaning lay in its obstreperousness. As if its contrapuntal embracing of opposites, contraries were—and it is—necessary to make it the best, the truest, or at least the most magical it can be. That will be our art’s—and life’s, redeemed by art—real beauty, both its logic and madness, its reddest blush on the adventurous, the daring cheek.

The Artist as Chaos

1

Tell a story as if it were an accident to do so, as if its plot fell out of the sky. Tell it as if it were a poem, though it is written in prose. It’s beginning might as well be its denouement. And its resolution, otherwise known as its ending, is not necessarily a resolution, may in fact be a further complication of the plot . . . the plot which does not matter. Or rather, the plot itself is a series of complications and resolutions, each interchangeable, each potentially the other.

Thus, as I see it, the only valid, viable novel today (is “novel” merely a provisional term?) has its characters, even its protagonist, but they move and have their being on a stage with no foundation, in a context of choas. Chaos, not order being the fundamental law of bodies, emotions, and the interplay of flesh with flesh, or flesh with organic or inorganic matter.

What happens happens only because it happens; do not overanalyze it. Not that it wont bear scrutiny, but its charm or terror, its beauty or revulsion lie in its quality of accidentalism: an event that only happened because the author said it did; and he tells it like a free spirit dancing like Isadora Duncan, or a drunk moving on the currents of his drunkenness.

2

Personally, I dont like order. I accept it, at times I even impose it, but I dont really like it. If truth means anything, I find more truth in chaos than in order. I think the artist who presumes to create order out of chaos is playing a fool’s game. Chaos is the order of the universe—and the order of the day, any day. Maybe that’s why society seems like a sham to me, because it pretends to find order where in fact there is none.

Of course, society does a good job of creating the illusion of order out of chaos, primordial or momentary, but it is a game, a trick of perception. Metaphysically, there is no order, there’s only chaos, though sometimes it resembles order. But it’s only a mirage, not an essence or substance.

Even physics with its measured quantities, its algebraic kaleidoscope of equations only apes some longed-for ideal of order. It is fundamentally chaotic, with its numbers, its logic like rudderless boats in a storm-tossed sea desperately seeking the serenity, the harmony, the order (Pythagorean or Kafkaesque) of a destination it wont ever reach. Its longing for that shore is so ardent that it pretends it has reached it, but it has not, it has only reached the hysteria of its desire, which wears the mask of a trumped-up order deluding itself that the role it plays is reality.

My reality is chaos—even when I try to make order out of it. It always defeats my efforts, throws me back on chaos, which is the mother, the matrix of all . . . and on nothingness which is the cousin of chaos. My efforts laugh at me and tell me to seek no ultimate meaning of existence other than to be gently inebriated with the music of chaos. And out of that chaos I create my life, which, since it is created out of it, resembles it. I am not fundamentally a being of logic or order but of chaos, and I seek serenity within chaos, not within order.

3

So besides having apparently chosen Satan over God (to sound mythical about it) since the one represents chaos and the other order, what does all this mean? It means death and hysteria touch me to the quick as much as life and serenity do. It means I respect insanity as much as sanity—and, as an artist, do not seek one over the other because I know they are equally valid to the creative act, if not to life itself.

Death is an abstraction only to the dilettante, and life lacks hysteria only for the philistine. The artist, the creative person matters most, even if his or her artistry is evidenced only in their behavior and produces no material result, no product. If one isnt creating—at some level—one is destroying, even if one is only stagnating for stagnation is a kind of destruction.

Not that all destruction is bad; some leads to creation. It’s not really a matter of which is good and which is bad but of making our lives real, even though they are a dream. And of dreaming new realities—new forms, new ways, new relationships, be they of literature or the plastic arts or love. The final test is not how drunk or how sober one is but how he manages to make something artistic, creative, tangible, animate, literate of his hysteria and serenity, his sanity and insanity, his light and his dark—something that may reflect yet is beyond, is other than himself, and will be more meaningful because it has accepted the chaos he embodies.

Iconoclasm of the Wolf — Part Two: In Praise of Being High

Let’s suppose the best way to get through life is drunk. Inebriated, high, jolly—whatever word you want to use and however you define it. The next best way is to dream. The best way after that is to see everything as a metaphor for something. Come to think, maybe the third is the best way; I’d be willing to bet there are artists who say it is. (Dreaming will still be in the middle—as it should be since dreams, arbiters of sanity, lie midway between taking life too seriously and not seriously enough.)

If you ask me, the worst way to get through life is by taking everything literally. How boring is that! The fourth best way (if it isnt the first) is by laughing at everything. The second worst way (and then I’ll stop) is also by laughing at everything, taking not a thing seriously because one cant distinguish between what one ought and ought not to take seriously.

Which, of course, will be different for everyone. One person’s best way to get through life might be another’s worst way and vice versa. Best and worst ways aside, drinking, dreaming, metaphor-making, literality, seriousness and laughter aside, the way we get through life is determined by our attitude toward life, which is a function of our philosophy of the damn thing. Everyone has a philosophy of life, whether they know (or admit) it or not.

The very words “get through life” imply that it’s often an ordeal . . . drudgery, needless challenge, pain in the ass. In fact it is, even for that jolly artist who touts adventure over predicament and whom I consider something of a mentor. James Broughton, I’m speaking of, seemingly one of the most joyful pixies who ever lived, perhaps second only to Henry Miller, another of my mentors. I say seemingly because even Broughton had his dark side, and in his early years it wasnt always fun.

Life is both predicament and adventure. Predicament because the very fact of existing poses the question of how I’m going to live, what my attitude—and hence my philosophy—toward life is going to be. And if one believed that one must always be drunken, as Baudelaire advised but did not practice, nor could any man worth taking seriously, worth taking in any way since, as darkness is meaningless without light, so drunkenness is negligible without a modicum of sobriety; even were it possible to always be drunken, which I doubt, I am sure the results would be either incomprehensible or inconsequential. And yet who could with assurance tell such a man that he is wrong?

The same goes for dreaming, living in a dream world, a world of pure poetry in which everything is not just seen but related to as metaphor. Not possible, never mind practical twenty-four seven. Anyway, the dream itself is a metaphor and the metaphor a dream. Not that by any means the noble or reasonable road is that of literality. It’s the admixture, the skillful playing of one way against (or with) another that counts, that makes for a life worth living, worth thinking about, worth commenting upon, worth laughing at and worth taking seriously—which means worth poetry.

And though we can laugh at everything it doesnt mean we should. Though a good case can be made for life’s meaninglessness, it doesnt mean that the healthiest, most fulfilled life ascribes to that philosophy. For instance, suicide ends everything—everything that we can talk about or consider. Does that mean that if in fact life is meaningless suicide is the answer? (Dostoevsky’s query, if I recall correctly.) Why should it? Does life need a meaning? Maybe the best we can say is it’s more fun if it has one.

Culture is about meaning, ergo, culture is about fun: the fun of inventing meaning. But we take our meanings seriously. Why, I dont know, we just do. Perhaps we have no reason to, but that seems to be the nature of the beast. Just as Dostoevsky (whom I greatly respect as a writer, though not always as a thinker) incomprehensibly said that without God anything is allowable for man, meaning there would be no basis for morality, so it would be just as absurd and false to say that without meaning life would not be worth living.

The truth is life is never without meaning, not even if meaninglessness is its meaning. (I know such reasoning smacks of word play, but the logic is irrefutable.) It is impossible for there not to be meaning, just as it’s impossible for existence not to exist. Still, I can easily imagine a man being more inspired by the meaninglessness and absurdity of existence than one who believes ardently yet without a shred of inspiration, much less irony, in this or that dogma that supposedly invests life with meaning.

I can imagine such a man because I am him. As a youth in high school the first thing that gave me a sense that art and culture could be exciting was the theatre of the absurd, which I subsequently took to like a duck to its feathers. Thanks to the inanities of childhood circumstances, the dogmatic beliefs wafting about in the air I breathed, the repressiveness of an insanely religious home life, the regimentation of society, I grew up absurd. (Remember Paul Goodman’s book Growing Up Absurd. He wasnt kidding, he had our number, many of us.) Sometimes a drunkard, always a dreamer, a seeker and spinner of metaphors (poetry would come, written and/or lived), and even at times, believe it or not, a realist, which is to say more or less a literalist.

Yes, a boy then a man of tears and laughter at things others would never cry or laugh about. And in time inspired by the existential duet of meaning and meaninglessness, the dance of ontological opposites, the truth that resides in all falsehoods and the falsehood that lies in all truth. The craziness of existence and poignancy of any single human life from birth to death, including but not limited to my own. Isnt that enough to drive one to drink, or at least to seek the heights attained by being high?

One wants teachers, good teachers in one’s youth. Teachers like James Broughton and Paul Goodman. Just as one’s life is all about oneself, one comes to learn it’s also all about others, even when you’re high. Maybe not all others, let’s just say others and leave it at that. But in what way is it about others? Those who’ve been there know that being high can teach you that just as it can teach how it’s all about yourself. I suppose in the end only the individual in his or her aloneness and the nuances of consciousness (especially when high) decides what the answer to that might be.

Iconoclasm of the Wolf — Part One: No Authority But One’s Own

There is nothing, absolutely nothing that triggers stupidity and mendacity—and, consequently, the repugnance of the free spirit—like politics and religion. On the other hand, there is nothing like art (including literature) that causes intelligence and integrity to flower.

Dogma and ideology aside, politics and religion are about authority and control. Art is about freedom. I have never respected, nor think I ever will respect authority, any authority. As a child I was cowed by authority, starting with my strict, religious father whom I eventually feared more than loved. At best I have learned to avoid authority, to avoid all that represents the patriarch, that intransigent, bull-faced facsimile of fascism, from the parental dictatorship of belief that any intelligent child can only suffer from, to the tyranny of society, its prejudiced opinions and unjust (nonegalitarian) laws and the hierarchy of baboons and Babbitts meant to legislate and enforce them.

Of course, when it is counterproductive and against common sense not to do so I will obey authority, or at least wont irk it, but I wont respect it. I respect men for being men, women for being women, children for being children—human beings. Authority is nugatory as a human value because authorities are robots. Authority has no soul, no humanity. The man exercising it may have, but in his role or guise as an authority (ie. one who has power and control over others) he does not. He’s a robot, an artificial so-called intelligence—which is to say a stupid, futile, degenerate creature for all the respectability society accords him. His only possible use is that of a semaphore.

Unfortunately, semaphores, when they are flesh and blood, become icons without which society apparently cant function. And so society itself becomes stupid, mendacious, lacking in integrity. Its heroes, those it respects most, those it lifts up to tell it either what to do or what it means—its icons in other words—are really nothing more than toadies. Bellwethers perhaps, but they are still patsies to an imbecilic system of beliefs and bureaucratic machinations.

The adjective “noble” sounds stuffy, old-fashioned, but I’ll use it anyway. There is nothing noble about man but his freedom. And no one, absolutely no one can dictate, or at least has any right to dictate to another what his freedom is or ought to be. I realize by this logic men are free to be stupid, to be unfree. Let them be if they wish it, but dont call them noble. And if good then that word has lost its meaning. In the long run, I prefer the word nature to “good” or “noble” because the latter have too much unsavory baggage tied to them.

And what is a natural man? A man who is free of politics, religion, and society itself. His freedom is his intelligence and integrity. He is his own man and no one else’s (not even if he has given himself away in the passion of love). He swims against the tide if need be. He pays no attention to the rationalizations of authority. He salutes no man but the man he loves—only for being a man.

He puts society in its place and either scoffs at society’s icons or ignores them. However, he is no Confucian; he does not love what the people love. He loves what he loves in his freedom to love as he will, to respect what and as he will, and to live the inward life—life of spirit and soul—that’s his alone to live and his alone to determine. He’s all about making his inward life correspond with his outward life.

Finally, I have more self-respect than to worship a hypocritical society’s God, or call that fanciful being my refuge. My refuge, if I need one, is my own truth, not anyone’s dogmas born of a myth or myths whose values arent mine, whose doctrines I have no use for. What I do have use for is the poetry and philosophy—the literature, art, culture—of my own myth, even if it’s a product, which of course it is, of cultural lore and my own fancies, my own intelligence, my own imagination, my authenticity which comes from being my own authority.

 

The Wild Boy’s Address to Society

You’ll forgive me perhaps when I tell you I was raised by wolves so dont know much less understand the rules of polite society. Even asking forgiveness is for me just a figure of speech since I dont see in that absurd concept the beauty that I see, for example, in a bead of water dripping from my finger in my bath.

The priests were as baffled by me as I was by them. After one hour spent with those trying to teach me your ways (or at least the ways of some of you—most of you, I suppose) I felt stifled, as if I was going to choke to death. I began to feel the burden of puritanism that American society suffers under. And which I will never fully comprehend since I am an outsider with no hope of, or even wish for, redemption.

You call spiritual a religion that divides people and breeds animosity. And those who seek to replenish their spirit by honoring nature and calling all men brothers you call unpatriotic and irreligious. Or activist (meaning trouble-maker), even revolutionary. Yet some of you say this is what your hero Jesus was aiming for. You invoke his name when it suits your righteousness, but forget it when it contradicts your selfishness.

This is the kind of absurdity that does not amuse me because it appears born not of creativity but of stupidity . . .

The wolves taught me how to love, how to be a brother, better than men ever have. Maybe that’s why men seem to have a vendetta against wolves; they are jealous. They know wolves have a code of honor their instincts can never betray. Whereas man finds it easy to betray his honor since it is primarily lip service, if buttressed by sincere sentiment.

Even soldiers, for whom honor is binding as brotherhood, do not extend it to their entire species. Your civilization, of which you’ve gone to great pains to make me a member, is more fragmented by its prejudices than united by its diversity.

I have learned to be wary of your idea of honor, especially as it relates to patriotism, faith, compassion—and success. My wolf mother taught me the best definition of success: to be a wolf. Wouldnt it hold that the best definition of success for a man-child is eventually to be a man? Why then are men apparently taught to be, at least to act like wolves? (When they dont act like spoiled children.) Or else to be their conception of what a wolf is, which in most cases is not at all accurate since it arises from fairy tales that base their dramatic effect on fear, an emotion it seems men idolize.

Any child whose imagination is shaped by such fairy tales will naturally see and be motivated by that fear when he grows up. That fear is ingrained in his vision of a happy and decent life. We wolf people will be a threat to him as great as wolves themselves. And yet he may well be respected by his community as a good conservative, a god-fearing man. I laugh at him because I know he fears me—and wolves—more than he fears his god . . .

I’ve had some dealings with such men, so I’m not just imagining all this. For my wolf family trying to survive in the American wilderness and we wolf people trying to survive society, the worst of them are ranchers, sport hunters, staunch NRA supporters who begrudge the taxes they pay to a government that both protects and tries to regulate their rights. They want the protection but not the regulation.

These people and their ilk have lots of money, being good friends of bankers, if not bankers themselves. They are good friends of large corporations, if not corporations themselves. They are patriarchs, believers in a god that punishes those who dont believe as they do. A god that countenances their greed, bigotry and dismissal of those less fortunate they they. A god that wants them to be masters and laughs at the afflictions of those whom they, the masters, have bettered and oppressed.

Puritanism is theirs, if not America’s, cultural womb and her nemesis. What is Puritanism? Hear it from the old nag’s mouth: “What’s mine is mine, by the grace of God, and what’s yours is or soon will be mine, by the grace of God. I will have more than you, by the grace of God, and you will be economically reduced, by the grace of God. A grace that conduces more to me than to you (which is the patrimony of my father, Calvinism). If you complain, then you are traducing God’s grace. In order to uphold and defend that grace I must do all I can, even if it harms you, to redress it and see to it that I, by the grace of God, remain your economic superior.”

These words, of course, are puerile nonsense. And yet they, more than any, more even than the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution itself, are the words that define your twisted version of democracy. And if the selfish vision of society of these trigger-happy inheritors of Calvinism and Puritanism was not written into their scriptures or constitution they believe it ought to have been. In any case they will act as if it was.

Happily, they arent the ones responsible for me being here tonight. If they were you’d likely be looking at a corpse. I have my dear friend Dr. John Bollinghouse to thank for no doubt adding years to my life. Incidentally, Dr. B. does not own a gun. He doesnt hunt, not for sport at least.

True, he hunted me down and caught me in his net of kindness and allowed, like Huckleberry Finn’s Aunt Polly, that he would civilize me. Or rather, I allowed it. I was getting tired of the wilderness, much as it is my first and final home. No, what really persuaded me to accept my capture was the realization that as a man-child human conveniences, especially if they were being offered, suited me better than the privations and difficulties of the wild.

For one thing, I dont have fur. And my jaws are not all that powerful—though they can make a statement if I need to! Also, though I’m quite agile and better than most on the track, I’m simply not the runner my wolf brothers and sisters are. Nor was I born with a sense of smell acute as theirs, much as I cultivated it in the wild.

Most of all, though, I saw a chance to help my wolf family by removing myself from the predicament they were in—and sadly remain in to this day. That is, reviled and, worse, hunted to death. I thought if I were to take my place amongst my own biological species I could better help my spiritual kin to survive.

Though biologically I am a man, spiritually I feel closer to wild nature. Meaning all that exists apart from man, or at least man’s ideas and values, his so-called civilization—all that thrives in its primordial state. I refer not just to sentient nature but to vegetable nature, which in its own way is sentient, though it does not breathe as animal beings do. Yet all of nature is alive, breathes in its own way. All nature moves, even if rooted, in the dance of creation and evolution that is one dance.

It seems that civilization has given me an invaluable opportunity to advocate for all my relations, animal, vegetable, and mineral. But ignorance due to the ills of religion and politics have often made me wonder what I have traded for my newfound convenience. And whether or not what I have paid for the privilege of speaking for my kind, for nature, was a good deal.

Despite your lovely city parks, tree-lined streets, flower and vegetable gardens, you seem to have a vendetta against nature. This is like having a vendetta against yourselves. Why do you think and act as if nature doesnt count? Nature of which you are a vital part. Today I think you’re learning the price one pays for his ignorance in the face of nature—including, by the way, his own nature.

And tomorrow, if man does not learn to respect nature enough to discontinue his destruction of her, he will find himself in a world where money means nothing because survival will be all that matters. Money cant be eaten or breathed or keep us warm. It cant be prayed to, either. Man’s arrogance and greed and stupidity, which he self-righteously takes for wisdom, will finally show him what an idiot he is, a sorry imbecile defeated by his own machinations.

Excuse me if my tone is accusatory. I come to you as one of you . . . though not quite one of you. Yet even more, I come to you as the voice of nature. That in some significant instances makes me decidedly not one of you. But since we share this world we have no choice but to search for common ground.

Man and nature are not just one; man is nature. Nature is one and it encompasses man and wolf. Enmity on one side breeds enmity on both sides. Man’s superior ability to destroy the wolf—or any aspect of nature—ought to humble him to the point of fellow feeling for all of nature.

But civilization (buttressed by religion) has caused man to take a contrary route and pride himself on his destruction of nature, or at least his capability for it. Little does he realize he prides himself on destroying himself. For that is what you are doing by destroying nature or any part of it. If this is not a definition of stupidity, then I have not been well taught in the language of men.

Dr. B., to whom I owe more than I can repay, has taught me well. What he taught me more than anything is how to think for myself. He did not teach me what to think. Nor did he teach me how to see—that skill I learned from my wolf family—but he taught me what to look at. He also taught me to be honest. So I’m being honest when I say that when I look at your civilization I dont like what I see. I see stupidity, greed and righteousness so ornery it makes me ashamed to be human. It makes me wish I was all wolf, born wolf. Then again perhaps not for I know I can reject your values, which a wolf cant.

Why shouldnt I reject what not only makes no sense to me but threatens who I am—and my wolf family? Your religion is based on fear and false premises—false by nature’s standards, which are mine—and your politics, your government, your police are measures geared for spoiled and misfit children pretending to be adults. (Or, as I say, human wolves—your idea of them.) Your authority structures, repressive as they are, are necessary because you are too stupid, too childish to understand much less embrace and practice freedom.

Freedom isnt free, you blithely declare, thinking yourselves philosophers. So you vote yourselves legislators who make sure that dumb statement becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a truism for ignorant, jingoistic slaves who think they’re the epitome of democratic society. You’re about as democratic, never mind free, as the trees in a forest fire: they’ll all burn more or less equally.

I know you didnt invite me here to insult you, which I guess I’ve done a pretty good job of. But I did brief the good Dr. Bollinghouse on the tenor of my remarks and he didnt try to hold me back. In fact, I think I’m his mouthpiece here. He doesnt expect any more than I do ever to be invited back to this august body of hypocrites.

Anyway, we’re eloping. We’re going to live in the jungle in Central America and pursue our studies there, apart from the mainstream of science and social bullshit which my beloved doctor is no longer interested in. In fact, he told me your society has always bored him. He’s a fish out of water among you—your cronies, constituents, supporters and lobbyists.

In closing, thanks for the meal. I’m glad we ate before I gave my little talk—or harangue, rather. I know it would have spoiled dinner. I will say one thing for you people, you serve excellent wine. And you have great servants: the cooks and all who prepared this feast. You ought to try and get to know them . . .

Now let’s get the hell out of here, Doctor John, before we’re lynched!

Tradition

 

Tradition and ultimate modernity are not an either/or issue. The new should be able to cohabit with the old or it’s a fraud. Every day is new and every year grows old; we are what we are because of our ancestry (both genealogical and spiritual) and our kinless imagination. Imagination, the kernel of consciousness, is really all that’s eternal about us, and it has no allegiance, no blood ties. But it’s a lot; in fact, in the long run it’s everything.

Imagination is outside time, though of course it manifests in time. So what does it matter whether it make its temporary home in tradition or post-everything—or, better, in some combination of the two?

Time works both ways in me, inspiring me to praise the old, the traditional, as well as requiring of me—and I happily submit—that I revere the new in the sincerity, the integrity of its newness (be it a building, an art object, or a mode of communication). I would be less for honoring less either modality, either way of being in this world.

 

Exhibit A:

Here’s a poem I wrote when I was nine or ten. I only present it because it shows that even at that age I was grappling w/ this issue, and not because I think it’s a worthy poem, except maybe insofar as it is a child’s poem.

 

The Big Orange Celery 

I walked down the street and passed an art gallery
where in the window I noticed a huge piece of celery.
It caught my interest, so in I walked
over to the guard, and together we talked.
“Do you call that art?” I asked enthusiastically.
“Sure, it’s part,” he said quite practically.
“Now take this giant orange piece of celery,
it adds beauty to our art gallery.
Of course the ancient art adds to it, too,
but I like variety, don’t you?”
I nodded my head and let him have his say,
so he continued by summing up this way:
“You see, my boy, it’s like a balance,
you have old art and and you have new talents.”