Sunday, August 17, 2014

To the light, kicking and screaming



In college, at least part of it, I lived in a very low rent district, about 10 or 15 miles away from my my daily destination, Westwood. I always felt safe; people within at least a three mile radius knew me. I had a largish dog who required walking twice a day, which is a good way to meet your neighbors. And those who didn't know me, well, I had a largish dog. Bru was jovial, fearless, intelligent, and an excellent judge of character. I made friends with anyone who got his stamp of approval. And if they didn't, well...

For instance, there was this man I rather liked, and Bru didn't cotton to him. The man came over one night, and Bru lifted up, put both paws on his shoulders, and the guy kneed Bru in the chest. Bru and I just looked each other and said, ok, he's fucking out of here.

Bru never steered me wrong, and I'll never have a dog like him again.

But back to this place I lived, while at UCLA. A place I've meant to write about, and will sometime, but that's not the point right now.

In the dumpster, fed by about 15 other apartments and cottages, one day I found Great Works of the 20th Century, a twenty volume set. I couldn't believe my luck. The books were so beautiful -- leather bound, about eight by six inches tall and wide, and three inches thick. With hand-tinted illos protected by gauzy silk.

Of course, these volumes were not in perfect condition, hence the dumping. A certain amount of water-damage, mold had occurred since their publication in 1902. But I reckoned a little magic with my blow-dryer might salvage the set. Still, over a couple of months, the sweet smell of decay increased. The only thing I could do was read what the 20th Century had to offer in the way of great works, as quickly as possible, before pitching the lot.

That's how I found Novalis. Never heard about him in any of my classes -- from philosophy to poetry to literature. I took a shine to him for many reasons, but most of all, because he shared, was the first guy who ever seemed to share, my contrarian way of seeing things, of survival, even. To whit: Disbelieve everything you're told, at first. Argue, always, every side, to exhaustion. Until either you believe what you're saying or have run out of arguments.

Here's how Novlis puts it: To become properly acquainted with a truth, we must first have disbelieved it, and disputed against it.

When it comes to Ukraine, the Middle East, and Missouri, so far, I don't believe anybody, anybody at all.

29 comments:

  1. I wish I could do that. I have hair-trigger opinions and, believe it or not, I'm not always right. The best thing for me is to keep my mouth shut until all the information is in. If I could just remember to do that.

    Lovely photo, K.

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  2. I know that I am sometimes deeply prejudiced, even against things I deeply believe are right. And I often find myself privately espousing ideas I detest. But how else can I know myself? This must be why temptation isn't considered a sin, you have to stumble and fall in order to learn to stand on your own two feet. And being right is never, ever as sweet as knowing the truth of something.

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  3. I think my mind--no, my being--works the same way, and I'm glad. My first leanings usually end up winning my internal debates, but not always. And some first inklings are so downright stupid and full of hot air that I sound like people I'd never want to sound like.

    Bru for Brutus? Great pic! You probably didn't date much, did you. Nah.

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  4. P.S. Your mental process sounds more like thoughtfulness and wisdom than contrarianism. Then again, your posts here sometimes get spicy-zippy-salty for a moment or two. Oh, you figure it out. I'm sleepy.

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  5. What a beautiful photo of you and Bru! I remember you comment about Bru when Flora passed away...

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  6. I've never given much concentrated thought, but I think I tend toward this way of thinking. I usually like to hear all sides of a story before weighing in with an opinion.

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  7. We might be the only two people in the world who have read Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg. Or make that three, because he has a wiki page.

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  8. I form opinions pretty much instantly, and then set about either validating or discrediting them. Of course, in my own house, in matters domestic, "There are two opinions: mine and the wrong one." It makes the kids crazy. That's a great picture of you and Bru.

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  9. Marjie made me laugh. I'll try that 2 opinions line out on my husband soon. She's right about your stunning photo - I can see that Bru must have had his job cut out keeping men away from you. Did some cotton on and bribe him with bison heart?

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  10. No dogs on my furniture, ever, either. But mastiffs sit on sofas with their butts on the furniture, and front feet on the floor. And they look so sorrowful that it's hard to tell them "Down!" I'm glad that Shannon's Natasha is trained to only lie on the floor. I'd hate to be mean to yet another generation of dog.

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  11. Wilma still isn't used to being alone. We put her in her crate for long times out of the house. She's learning bit by bit to be on her own. She can now be alone in the house about 45 minutes before she feels compelled to get up on something with a cushion.

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  12. Dog as good judge of character: I once had a sort-of Australian sheperd, black and grey. A friend's uncle, African-American, came to the door to pick something up, looked at Mark and said "Is that a White Dog?" I knew what he meant. Chilling. "No, he's a good judge of character not color." with which Mark wagged his tail, stepped forward and leaned gently on the guy, a sweet and very friendly gesture. He sighed in relief and came in to get the stuff he came for. I'll never forget that, or stop wondering what terrible stories that man had to tell.

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  13. Oh, oh, oh, there's a really good movie by Samuel Fuller starring Paul Winfield called "White Dog" about that very subject. Ennio Morricone wrote the score -- talk about chilling. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBdPeHn046g

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  14. Further note: White Dogs were not invented by the movie [1982], but were real well back in history at least to slavery. My story goes to the early 70's but I had heard of such dogs even earlier in the 50's so that was how I knew. Obviously, despite the dog's color in the film, it wasn't necessary for such a dog to be white, hence my visitor's question.

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  15. So, you haven't seen the movie. You should, and then you can dislike it, or not. Loosely based on a true story (the dog was both a White Dog and a white dog), it was shot for $7 mil, and looks like it. Still, the film succeeds because of Fuller, and the four main actors (Burl Ives, most definitely included, but it is Winfield who breaks the heart). And yes, it is a metaphor, but an in-your-face metaphor -- in the Hawthorne tradition. When a mind learns to hate at an early age, can such damage ever be reversed.

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  16. Not having seen it, of course I don't know if I would like it, or perhaps even be able to bear it, but I do know its premise and the questions it raises, to which it wisely gives no answer. The end is heartbreaking, inevitable, and leaves us to ask as you have about the nature of hate, rage, and whether they can be unlearned. The author Romain Gary wrote the novel in 1970 I think, and he wrestled with man's inhumanity to nature and humankind in heartbreaking writing. My battered copy of Roots of Heaven is still with me, and the elephants are still being slaughtered.

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  17. Boz was the gentlest dog you could ever want to meet. He wasn't a racist. However, he did have a preference for burly Hispanic men who smoked cigarettes. Someone who fit that description had once loved him and treated him well. I don't know if it was skin color. Might have been the scent.

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  18. When it comes to Ukraine, the Middle East, and Missouri I don't believe anybody either. Each party only sees their point of view and isn't open to any other possibility. That's no way to find the truth or solve the problem.

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  19. Oh? yes! Somebody said that 'the only sane position is that of the skeptic.' I'm skeptical about that.
    Zen Master Seung Sahn: 'Only don't know!!!' Violence and suffering arise only in the mind that thinks it knows'.....Really?

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  20. I've never read anything written by Novalis, but I sure have been called "contray" on many occasions.

    Like Benjamin Franklin said, “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.”

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  21. "When a thing is new, people say: 'It is not true.' Later, when its truth becomes obvious, they say: 'It is not important.' Finally, when its importance cannot be denied, they say: 'Anyway, it is not new.'"
    - William James

    This has nothing much to do with the post, I just like William James.

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  22. Exactly. Which is why people are often stunned by jury decisions, then claim it was rigged. We really have no idea of what really happened in Ferguson, for one. All the witnesses tell slightly different stories. Too bad Bru is not around to sniff out the truth.

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  23. And what a lovely photo of you and Bru!

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  24. Hooray for Bru. And good looking to boot. My daughter Mary excels at arguing every side of every argument. It was wonderful and yet, also, for me, a wee bit exhausting. M

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