Friday, October 22, 2010


The next logical step in this literary discussion I’m having with myself was supposed to be about Jim Welch, but it’s going to take me a while to reread “The Death of Jim Loney” enough to be coherent. Instead, consider this list:

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn; or Huck Finn and Jim, the slave.
Two Little Savages
Penrod and Sam (Tarkington -- anyone remember Tarkington?)
Lone Ranger and Tonto
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
Cisco Kid and Pancho
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson
Vladimir and Estragon,
Gilbert and Sullivan
Mason and Dixon
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Achilles and Patroclus
Gilgamesh and Enkidu
David and Jonathan (Book of Samuel, Old Testament).
Natty Bumpoo and Chingachgook
Ishmael and Queequeg
Mr. Favor and Rowdy Yates (Rawhide)
Lewis and Clark
Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock
And finally, Deleuze and Guattari, who have been called the “Laurel and Hardy” of French philosophers.

This trail started out with Tim Barrus and the poetes maudit, went to Dirck Van Sickle, then his professor Leslie Fiedler, back to Fielder’s infamous essay entitled “Come Back to the Raft, Huck Honey,” and then a “raft” of downloads that I’m busy marking up in three colors.

Part of the task is to separate out the pairs above into types of male/male relationships: those that are simply erotic; those that are deep friendships including the production of symbiotic and synergistic work; those that are defined by familial relationships like twins or brothers or even cousins. What is new to me is the idea that the “family romance” of father and son is specifically capitalist, but it’s easy to see it’s because of inheritance: the father amasses an empire and leaves it to the son; or the father is helplessly impoverished and therefore the son is over-motivated to redeem him. Plus a lot of variations, like whether the son is capable of maintaining an empire he didn’t create or the father hates the son for showing him up. It’s a three-part series internal to “Montana Gothic.”

I’m drawing on an essay in the “Australian Humanities Review” called “Odd Couples and Double Acts, or Strange but not Always Queer: Some male pairs and the modern/postmodern subject” by Jennifer Livett. I can see that a woman has an advantage in writing about male/male pairs since presumably she need not be defensive. And yet I find myself constantly defending my wish to be in a male/male pair while remaining female. That is, to have a relationship of equals, which causes me to quarrel with top/bottom or adult/child relationships. Curiously, I find it pretty tough to find another thinking woman who doesn’t try to force those configurations: maybe mother/daughter or professor/student, even when it’s not to their advantage. There are two sub-genres of lesbian love writing (they tell me -- I do not look for it), one in which the two women are take-offs on Kirk and Spock and one in which they are Sherlock and Watson. I take them as efforts to escape anatomy into equality, both personally and socially.

Deleuze-Guattari call a relationship that is not Oedipal/capitalist/big/little “schizoid” after the root meaning of schism, to split away. (This is a broader concept that schizophrenia which is a junk category anyway.) If we are to get past this octopus of global economic entwining that capitalism has become, we’ll have to think of some other system configuration. I was raised to believe in cooperatives, as in prairie grain marketing. But as one of the village philosophers here says, “We’re not looking at socialism anymore -- this is fascism now.” (Cue Pasolini) Things are moving so quickly that communication across the generations is problematic. Economic scale is lost. How does a son explain to a rancher or miner that he has made billions by sitting in a dark room listening to loud music and “engineering” something no one can see? How do terrorist sons explain to their compromising (thus surviving) fathers? (Jim Welch)

Here’s a highly political version of horizontal (equal) relationships, probably assuming male-to-male. (I apologize for not recording where I got it.)
• The widespread notion of a "clash of civilizations" along traditional historical "fault lines" is woefully misleading. Violent extremism represents a crash of traditional territorial cultures, not their resurgence. Individuals now mostly radicalize horizontally with their peers, rather than vertically through institutional leaders or organizational hierarchies. They do so mostly in small groups of friends — from the same neighborhood or social network — or even as loners who find common cause with a virtual internet community.
• Therefore, a coherent program to counter extremist violence should focus on peer-to-peer efforts, not elders trying to teach youth about moderation or the Koran. It will take mobilizing the purpose-seeking, risk-taking, adventurous spirit of youth for heroic action. Today, "Happiness is martyrdom" can be as emotionally contagious to kids in a forlorn urban African neighborhood or to a lost youth on the Internet as "Yes, we can." That is a stunning and far-reaching development that we must learn to steer in the right direction.

I was really with this until the last sentence. “We must learn to steer in the right direction?” Who are “we?” And who decides what is the right direction?

I’m not quite willing to go to the political dimension. It presses me mostly through economics (cost of living), but I still don’t have much of a vision of what the future should be like. Instead, in retirement, I’m reflecting on personal relationships, many of which I’ve left behind. You can sort out for yourself which pairs on the list above are erotic, which are unequal, which are equal, and which are productive. (Are Tonto or Pancho really the “lesser” ones of their pairs?? Are “ethnic” men just stand-ins for women? Or the other way around?)

I can only start from what I know: being in uniform, being in the pulpit, being the “boy” in a relationship with a much older powerful man. And being friends with Tim Barrus who has struggled with generational and factional issues all his life. His struggle has been physical, body to body. But what he and I share is entirely in print -- not even on the phone. Theories, stories, images. Books, emails, blogs, the occasional photo, and -- from Tim -- videos. That’s it. Thins down the traffic enough to see what’s going on. One can go back and reread, print out a photo and tape it up to study, like a cop show detective. But it’s paradoxically just a fast version of writing letters, a form that precedes the Bible.

The puzzle Tim is confronting is how to get abused boys to treat each other as equals, friends who support but don’t dominate. In the past someone strong prevailed and kept order. Some boys would just as soon remain children and others want to take over but are impatient with persuasion. I’m sure everyone is relieved that none of the boys are named Mephibosheth, the name of Jonathan’s son, and also grateful that David didn’t kill him (he was crippled) but rather seated him at the table. This is the very early roots of what is called “Deuteronomistic history,” the roots of Judaism.

It’s a Prince Valiant story: David comes into the court to see King Saul -- still clenching the blood-dripping head of Goliath he has just sawed off. Saul’s son Jonathan is impressed. “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father's house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.” Since then various cultures have been pushing and pulling and interpreting these bare bones. Something parallel shows up even in Blackfeet mythology where the Jonathan role is sometimes the Morning Star and sometimes a beaver. Two men, equals, collaborate, meshing their different skills to achieve a common goal.

Writing through conversation (not editing each other) means being equals. Co-writers. It is a philia without eros. Livett suggests, “While ‘hero and pal’ narratives are centrally concerned with social action [Lone Ranger and Tonto], particularly epic or dramatic [Lord of the Rings], the odd couples largely abandon physical activity for mental gymnastics and dialectical engagement.” “The essence of the odd couples’ unity is difference-within-similarity, especially of outlook, ideology, Weltanschauung.” If this writing odd couple is heterosexual, one of the best things about it, imho, is that it’s unique to the point of being outrageous. Tim’s used to that.

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