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An Extended Tragedy

My dear friends and lovers—

A very merry and happy new year’s to you, if I haven’t already wished one! 2008 ought to be a good year for us all, for many reasons, not the least of which being that the stars are in complete alliance, the Year of the Rat is reigning, politics are struggling, babies are being born, books are being written, e.t.c. e.t.c.

I’ve been re-reading the Surrealist manifestos of Breton lately, both to reacquaint myself with what I thought was the most divine form of aesthetics developed, and also as a direct result of Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives, which deals with mid-70s Mexican writers with a deep respect for the 20s avant-garde. (If I haven’t already explained the beauty of this book to you yet, then I apologize, but it is, quite honestly, the greatest piece of fiction written in recent years, and the fact that for once I agree with the critics suggests that mainstream literati aren’t as ignorant as I had believed). Having just finished an entire collection of Breton texts, I’ve begun reading an essay on the correspondences between Henry Miller (author extraordinaire) and Herbert Read (poet/essayist) that deals mainly with their split in Surrealist ideals. Namely, Miller’s grip is that while the techniques of Surrealism are the towards the true discovery of creation, orthodox Surrealism is infused with Marxist politics, and politics has no place in art. One confuses the outer struggle with the inner struggle.

But this leads to a larger issue that is much more specific to our time. Totally regardless of art, our generation is accused of being the most apathetic, shiftless, lazy, unmotivated bunch of slacking youths to ever be born–a description which, I think, is not entirely undeserved, but isn’t wholly incorrect, either. The offense, though, is that there is a great misunderstanding between “apathy” and “disinterest.” It is said that because we do not participate, or even conceive, of a war that is being waged in the Middle East, we are heartless self-centered monsters. Make no mistake, friends and lovers, a war is being waged, and people are dying daily by the dozens on both sides. No one needs to be told this, but people do not seem to believe the reality. More accurately, the war in Iraq is really just one war soldiers are fighting the world over. But the war between man and man is far less significant than the war between man and himself. I came across this passage in the aforementioned essay, written by Miller as an attack on political Surrealists:

“I am fatuous enough to believe that in living my own life in my own way I am more apt to give life to others (though even that is not my chief concern) than I would if I simply followed somebody else’s idea of how to live my life and thus become a man among men. It seems to me that this struggle for liberty and justice is a confession or admission on the part of all those engaging in such a struggle that they have failed to live their own lives. Let us not deceive ourselves about ‘humanitarian impulses’ on the part of the great brotherhood. The fight is for life, to have it more abundantly*, and the fact that millions are now ready to fight [in World War II] for something they have ignominiously surrendered for the greater part of their lives does not make it more humanitarian.”

(* The expression “life more abundant” appears in many of Miller’s works, and it aided my essay in the paper I wrote about his writings; but an entire book could be written on the words!)

Miller also remarks in a letter to his friend Alfred Perlés that it made no sense for him to fight in WWII for the British, when at the same time they perpetuated the hypocrisy of enslaving the Indian continent. Why fight for the safety of Londeners and not the Hindus? The sentiment for “individuality through absence” also appeared well before, in Joyce’s Portrait. There, Stephen’s classmates are trying to force him to sign a petition on “disarmament and the promotion of world peace.” He doesn’t:

”– Will you pay me anything if I sign? asked Stephen. – I thought you were an idealist, said MacCann … – The affair doesn’t interest me in the least, said Stephen wearily. You know that well. Why do you make a scene about it? … – Dedalus, said MacCann crisply, I believe you’re a good fellow but you have yet to learn the dignity of altruism and the responsibility of the human individual.”

Apathy is the deliberate rejection of something for the sake of self-preservation (including the ego); disinterest is the deliberate rejection of something for its utter uselessness in the continuation of life. I know largely my fury at so-called compassionate members of humanity comes from living in San Francisco. I cannot walk two feet from my stoop without some trustafarian asking if I’m registered to vote, how I feel about the environment, whether I can guess how many soldiers have died as of late, e.t.c. Once, drunk, my roommate and I were swindled ten dollars each because a poor beleaguered man with a clipboard spun us a sob story at our front door about the state of potato farmers in Hawaii–something like that, anyway. This has nothing to do with Ayn Rand and her systematic bullshit about altruism hurting individualism. There is no reason not to act out of an extravagant love of helping others. But if your desire to assist comes from a political motivation rather than a personal one you are doomed to failure. My disinterest is not a symptom of living in this beautiful city, mind you, no matter how concentrated these people are here. It is a general condition of the left, right, up, and down that I am disgusted with. Everybody wants to cram answers down your throat and into your ears until your eyeballs bulge with suspicion and analysis and the discrediting of everything.

If this sounds offensively cruel I don’t mean it to be. I am merely trying to explain that the next time someone accuses us of being negligent to world affairs, that we stop their rant, look them right in the eyes, and explain to them that corporal warfare is not as interesting as spiritual warfare. I say this with a completely straight face. Vonnegut touched on it in his last book: “Don’t look at me. I just got here.” The very fact that every ten years or so another conflict begins in some part of the world suggests to me that we, as a species, are doing something horribly wrong. And attributing blame to specific countries for acts committed is a stupid, unproductive endeavor. Everyone is guilty of avarice, because there is a poverty of the soul.

But that’s a discussion for another time, friends and lovers. Don’t let the weight of the world get you down; the daily minutiae is hard enough.

Yours, with a specific love catered to your desires— Garen


I am getting better at these massive missives.