29 February 2004
I thought I would take a break from writing essays.
Ever since I started my website, these essays have been writing themselves, it seems, about once a month, and transcribing them onto the site became an evening pastime until the end of 2003 offered me a sense of closure or at least no compulsory obligation to continue down the road I had been taking for the last several months of that year.
Thus, two months have gone by without any particular outcry from the reading public on the World Wide Web. Instead of correspondence, I receive daily emails wondering if I might pay someone to "analyze my layout" or whatever, and suggest improvements to attract "web engines," if not actual readers.
I suppose I should be content with "virtual readers," quantified by "hits" to the website, but somehow with Emily Dickinson I prefer thinking of myself writing "my letter to the world/ that never wrote to me." It gives me the freedom of thinking I may have finally said my piece, made my peace, or perhaps, lifted the absurd burden I seem to carry as a writer. As my subjective world becomes more and more self-contained, the hope is that it might congeal and become less of an obsession. Then I could finally focus on the more practical, though no less pressing, matters of everyday reality.
But as Rolf Aggestam, the Swedish poet, puts it: "We live in at least two worlds/ in the third . . . ." we are constantly assaulted with signs and symbols. A far cry from "Le Temple" described by Charles Baudelaire, our third millennial world seems to me cluttered with freaks of Nature and promiscuous popular corporate media images of "arts and entertainment," rather than Keats's "grand symbols of a high romance."
This year Hollywood chose Sunday, February 29th, for its annual orgy of glitz and in-your-face glamour: their Academy Awards, the Oscars. . . . If only Oscar Wilde himself were here to host these annual extravaganzas. Stand aside Billy Crystal (and Bob Hope), who extend(ed) an imperious legacy of studio-system values long past their prime. Witty commentary has always been the weak point of the Oscars because it only provides an ounce of critical thinking (sanitized by heavier dozes of manufactured envy) between searing flashes of celluloid cuts and starlets dressed to dazzle with megaton blasts of shock and awe. No use trying to stick to the media equivalent of the ICBM treaty or think about outlawing land mines. Global warming must proceed unabated. The media wars, where all is fair, constantly prove that the show must burn on!
But after hours and hours of self-flattery and repetitive commercial breaks, Billy Crystal had one memorable quip: "Since we are thanking everyone tonight, I want to thank all the residents of Long Island." Yes, it's an established fact that the credits never, never, never end, and we are all listed somewhere--thanks to Andy Warhol and Campbell's soup cans.
What do I have to contribute to this highly-edited, epic-driven cavalcade where all eleven nomination for Lord of the Rings produced on-stage entrances and exits for smiling lines of Hobbits, Orcs, Dwarves, and other assorted freaks from New Zealand? Might not "the ring" in such instances be used harmlessly to make a few of these media moments disappear? For just a little while, maybe?
Well, long before I was aware that it was Oscar night, I was thinking most of the day about Gioacchio Rossini's birthday, which happens to be February 29th, and thus can only be celebrated "officially" on our local classical radio station every four years. Long-lost overtures, recitatives and arias got lots of air time for a change.
Then it occurred to me a day later, wouldn't the quadri-annual plan be a better precedent to establish for the Oscars? Counterintuitive though it be for a town that endlessly adds more glitter to its clutter and never declines another way to accept new awards, we might learn, at last, a little more about Robinson's Jeffers' "value in rareness?" What worked for my wife's cousin when she and her boyfriend chose February 29th to get married (which reminds me to congratulate them on their ninth anniversary thirty six years later) might lead to fewer divorces and disillusionments with falling "stars." Anything to create gaps in media exposure and preserve our own subjective half-lives, however briefly they may occur for us.
I don't think this is a matter requiring a constitutional amendment, as advocated by those wishing to let Arnold Schwartzenegger run for President, or to hold out against the courts on same-sex marriage. But I am conservative about maintaining my own vision of the world, even if I have to swim against the tide of, or wade in up to my neck again in, media hype.
I guess I, too, have found a way to stretch my fifteen minutes of fame out to infinity. So here goes: " I'm breathless and shocked by this sudden catapult to stardom, and I want to thank the parents who adopted me and who, from the moment I rolled over in my crib, never stopped offering me advice about how to get to Modesto. I also want to thank my worst enemies, especially my second grade teacher, Miss Highfield, who shrieked having noticed me absentmindedly taking off my clothes when I was only supposed to remove my jacket and snag it to a hook on the wall in the cloakroom. (See "A Boy Undressing in the Second Grade Cloakroom" /EyeExam.html ) No wonder I couldn't manage to read a word aloud in her class. And I accept the Academy's award for having arrived in Modesto long before George Lucas ever even dreamed of American Graffiti."
The imagination is its own best guide to Narcissism (and the best antidote to it as well), and a long study of poetry should count for something here. John Donne in "Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," though widely traveled, forever remained linked to his wife by metaphoric compasses and "gold to airy thinness beat." The same golden treads seem to have led William Blake repeatedly to Jerusalem's wall, and William Stafford, with more delicate handling lest the treads break, to "any nearby suburb." Keats again: "Already with thee! tender is the night."
Speaking of gold and rings of fire and J.R.R.Tolkien and clean-sweep years leaping from Ben Hur and, more like six years ago now, Titanic, how can a film that is so nostalgic for itself from the very first shot of the third part of the trilogy become worthy of so many awards? Has Hollywood decided to go Kiwi on us, dividing most of the other awards as well to ex-British colonials (while wonder what to say about Mel Gibson's Passion from Down Under)?
The answer seems clear enough: where American Manifest Destiny stumbles in the era of George W. Bush, good-cop Hollywood will pick up the slack and revive shaken Anglophonic alliances as a kind of "loyal opposition" to bad-cop pre-emptive strikes. The PRE-SHHI-OUS ring must be destroyed, eventually, in the deadly volcano in the land of Mordor, but power is excruciatingly hard to let go of--especially when it comes to Oscar-acceptance time.
Nostalgia, in fact, might be defined as the longing for the sense of power we all felt in childhood or in other subjective moments when we were "centered in our world," if not really the "center of the world." This mania for awards seems to validate our childhood dreams--or California, or American ones. If we could only get enough sunshine and become rich enough, we could escape mortality. But most of those dreamers eventually discover that California isn't sunny enough, and they go on a gambling binge in Las Vegas, or island hopping in Hawaii in search of the paradise of the ultimate lei-greeting.
I have a less expensive way to immerse myself in subjective revels and revelations, but like virtue, it must be its own reward. Or rather the existing rewards are hardly worth mentioning when compared to multi-million-dollar contracts in Sports and Entertainment.
It might be well to remind the award givers, though, that Tolkien started as a Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, and he wrote about Bilbo Baggins in a light-weight, there-and-back-again story for his children. The trilogy that grew later from The Hobbit was as much a surprise to the author as it was to everyone else. Steeped in Celtic and Teutonic lore, Professor Tolkien knew when the Ring Wraiths appeared that the ring that had driven Gollum to desperation and degradation wasn't just an amusing toy for disappearing acts. It was somehow the center of the balance between the demands of the subjective world over the world of others asserting their own versions of subjective reality or participating by strength of numbers in a socially-imagined collective order of rewards and punishments. God forbid that we take all this stuff too seriously!
So, Billy Crystal and Bob Hope, you might as well join Woody Allen and Thomas Chatterton in my own freakish search for Modesto. And maybe write another essay. Das muss sein.