Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Two stories. One is about some stretch of whitewater that people really like to float for the risky adventure, relief from their ordinary dull well-cushioned jobs. It seems this year the water is low and so attention has focused on one big old boulder that because of its shape and placement has caused boatloads to capsize and people to drown. There is a move afoot to take out the boulder so the whitewater will be safer.

The other one comes via Davidson Loehr and is really about two incidents involving ravens. In the first one a small woman was being stalked by a cougar until a raven’s call overhead signaled her and she saw the big cat. Her husband came in time to run it off. The other was a hunter who had killed a deer: a raven alerted him just in time to save him from a bear that was sneaking up. The two people each felt that the raven was a marvelous guardian bird that had saved them. But then a naturalist gave them the reverse take: in fact, he said, the raven is on the side of the carnivore and was calling out the location of the prey!

David used these stories as a warning about the coming election. Since I’m already thinking about horror, madness (“maudit”), gothic images and so on, this drops right into my keyboard. The real horror of human life is our awareness of suffering and death. The other animals just do it, but we must confront, anticipate, regret. Or we ought to. In our times we’ve accepted such denial and sentimentality that we can’t recognize anything but our own convenience. When something actually breaks through to us, our reaction is often bizarre. Here comes Halloween and we send the kids out into the streets to accept food from strangers while at the same time handing out safety advice. Then when the news comes on about Haiti where the children are dying in mud or about our predator drones in Afghanistan that sweep down from nowhere to kill whole families, we turn it off. “Too depressing.”

The “poets maudits,” the mad poets, could be accused of narcissism, obsession and grandiosity. But somehow even de Sade had a sense of justice, a protest against oppression, even as he watched from his prison window while the heads were cut off the aristocrats, the thinkers, the politicians, the resented. We are evidently resigned to headless bodies in Juarez -- little people. We didn’t know them. Technicians cut the heads off lab mice with scissors. Poor little mousies.

I began watching the films of Pasolini at the deep end, “Salo,” or “Sodom,” which is really pre-Christian, an anti-pornography film re-enacting the ancient Minotaur story in which the best of the young people are sacrificed to a monster at the center of a labyrinth. A few days after finishing the film, Pasolini was beaten to death, possibly because he had translated it into Nazi Italy at the very end of WWII. (They can’t stand criticism.) Earlier he had made three films celebrating the jot, innocence and redemption of young pleasure, only to see them copied and diminished into trivial money-making porn. Commodification, he concluded, was the great evil that threatens us now. I agree. We aren’t interested in the minotaur myth. We’ve turned to “Beauty and the Beast,” and vampires, the idea being that guys are all beasts but they can be redeemed by pretty girls. Besides, bulls don’t have credit cards, but pretty girls have them and are not afraid to use them.

The newspaper yesterday morning carried a story about a Canadian airline pilot, very respected, straight-arrow family man, so trustworthy that he had even flown Elizabeth II on her visit. He has just been revealed as a serial-killer, a kidnapper, a panty-sniffer. Oh, he likes pretty girls, all right. He looks nothing like a beast. You can’t protect yourself by buying some equipment (stake, garlic) and a costume from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I read the comments responding to Tim’s vids about boys dying of AIDS and all the things that afflict someone who has no immune system, and the reactions of people are unreal. A lot of them are so offensive that they are immediately blocked, but most of them are meaningless, inappropriate, effusive and fawning even when Tim is talking about digging graves in Kenya. It’s as though by admiring him they have excused themselves from having to do anything or even to care.

Commodification. Sometimes I think everything comes down to economics in the end. Of course, it does because it is an aspect of ecology. I’m reading Peter Gay’s “Education of the Senses” and thinking a lot about the middle class, specifically the middle class that is supposed to be the motor and anchor of our good life. We are so cushioned (some of us) and so convinced we’re protected that we may have sold our souls to the devil. We treat suffering and death -- deep and ultimate mysteries -- like medical disorders. We try to pass laws to “manage” nature, regulations that will implant consciences in criminals, and now DNA modification to eliminate carnivores. All for a price.

Where does the money go, people are asking? Why can’t we find funding to maintain the national infrastructure? Or cure AIDS? Our deficits are bigger than ever and yet there isn’t enough to save our schools. In the Sixties we feared a bang that would blast us as we hunkered on the floor along the hall lockers. (Now the lockers sometimes contain bombs.)

Today we know that the catastrophic event is likely to be whimpered in financial spreadsheets and may already have arrived irreversibly. We don’t belong to ourselves anymore. When I was young and traveling shotgun with Bob Scriver, we used to sit around the woodstoves with cynical old guys and talk about arming for the revolution. But those John Birchers weren’t even close. They could never have imagined the wind farm I can see from this village: red skies at night, soaked by the warning lights on the turbines. They never could have guessed it would be owned by an ostensibly Irish company that brazenly uses American land condemnation means for the common good (the notorious “takings”) to create a profitable high-tension tie-line into Canada so it can hook up to the continental grid, exporting energy and money.

But I think Dirck van Sickle DID see the beginnings of this, so tomorrow I’ll review “Montana Gothic,” a book as influential in its own underground way as “The Big Sky.”

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