Tuesday, March 08, 2011

thegrowlingwolf Deals With Books He Found on the Subway

Foto by tgw, "New Facade vs. Old Facade," New York City, March 2011
From C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, "The Mass Society":

The institutional trends that make for a society of masses are to a considerable extent a matter of impersonal drift, but the remnants of the public are also exposed to more 'personal' and intentional forces. With the broadening of the base of politics within the context of a folk-lore of democratic decision-making, and with the increased means of mass persuasion that are available, the public of public opinion has become the object of intensive efforts to control, manage, manipulate, and increasingly intimidate.

In political, military, economic realms, power becomes, in varying degrees, uneasy before the suspected opinions of masses, and, accordingly, opinion-making becomes an accepted technique of power-holding and power-getting. The minority electorate of the propertied and the educated is replaced by the total suffrage-and intensive campaigns for the vote. The small eighteenth-century professional army is replaced by the mass army of conscripts-and by the problems of nationalist morale. The small shop is replaced by the mass-production industry-and the national advertisement.

As the scale of institutions has become larger and more centralized, so has the range and intensity of the opinion-makers' efforts. The means of opinion-making, in fact, have paralleled in range and efficiency the other institutions of greater scale that cradle the modern society of masses. Accordingly, in addition to their enlarged and centralized means of administration, exploitation, and violence, the modern elite have had placed within their grasp historically unique instruments of psychic management and manipulation, which include universal compulsory education as well as the media of mass communication.

No one really knows all the functions of the mass media, for in their entirety these functions are probably so pervasive and so subtle that they cannot be caught by the means of social research now available. But we do now have reason to believe that these media have helped less to enlarge and animate the discussions of primary publics than to transform them into a set of media markets in mass-like society.


Never on a Subway
There are many things I've never picked up on a subway. Like, a woman, for instance. Though I can name two people right off the bat I know intimately who met their "lifemates" (a new word I hate using) on the subway--one such person my own closest still-living relative.

Another thing I've never picked up on the subway is a book--much less two books. But the other night, after an evening of much beer drinking (Stellas), Mexican food gulping, ribald discussion, and music listening with a couple of my Uptown friends, upon boarding a half-empty #1 train at the 79th & Broadway station, I swung around on the pole and into the vacant seat just inside the way I entered--you have to have a knowledge of subway riding to know what I mean--like entering the subway and grabbing the hold-on pole closest to you and swinging around on it to plop your ass over into that sacred seat, that first seat next to the door. Anyway, as my ass was plopping down in that sacred seat, I noticed these two books on the seat next to it. So after I had secured the sacred seat and settled my butt into its butt-cheek-molded imprint, the butt grooves in those max-tacky eye-ease slime-green plastic subway seats, I picked up the books and scanned their titles. One was a rather brand-new looking book entitled: Music Lovers Guide to Europe, a Compendium of Festivals, Concerts, and Opera, Roberta Gottesman, editor, 1992, John Wiley & Sons. It's interesting to note that as far back as 1992, John Wiley & Sons--formerly an NYC publishing house, their NYC offices still over on Third Avenue behind the old Daily News Building--their building also housing the New York Governor's NYC offices and many Federal government cop agencies, like the FBI and Homeland Security--gave as their addresses: NYC, Chichester, Brisbane, Toronto, and Singapore.

There are a couple of remarkable things about this book. The first one you notice is its volume. It's 434 pages long. One of the cover blurbs says this massive little travel tome (it's one of those long and narrow heavy-papered paperbacks) lists 600 events in 300 locations. The second remarkable thing you notice about this book is that in 1992 this "Travel/Europe"-category book sold for $14.95. A remarkable thing that leads to the third remarkable thing about his book and that' s the fact that though the book was printed in 1992, it's still like brand new, like it was just-purchased before it was accidentally left on that subway! And this roundaboutly pops up the fourth remarkable thing about his book: its obsolescence. It seems to me that this book was obsolete before it was even first printed. Like how long did it take Roberta Gottesman (remarkably a lawyer with only amateur musical training) to amass this compilation and write up the blurb-like info that tags along with each entry? I'm sure in 1992 she had a computer of some kind--an IBM PC--or a Mac Quadra--but anyway, she did probably work on a computer. And let's see...she could have easily compiled all her entries and stuff from festival postings in newspapers, press releases, from other travel guides, even maybe from on-line Web sites listing such festivals and events in those days--those days of Windows 85 or Classic Mac 8.0, and WordPerfect, and Quark, and those early pre-Google search engines. So let's say, if Roberta hurried--I'm sure she had an associate--yes, there's one listed on the cover--and we hope Roberta got a good advance so she could pay for copyrighted info and stock photos, etc., and hire factcheckers and proofreaders--so, if Roberta hurried, she could have had her Ms ready to print after a year of compiling and editing, etc. Let's say the idea hit her after she and her fab husband returned from one of their European vacations where they attended one of those fab European music festivals and on the way back, Roberta just happened to say to her husband, "Hmmmm, you know, honey, somebody ought to do a 450-page guide to all those fab musical events and festivals and such like we just enjoyed while visiting Europe...I mean, sweetheart, just think if we'd'a had'a guide like I'm contemplating when we were enjoying all these wondrous fabby musical events in glorious old mother-father Europe." "Please, Roberta, you're getting ecstatic. You know what Doctor Riviera said about your getting ecstatic...though, er-ah, sweets, it's a splendid idea...one I think you've got plenty of leisure time to do...I mean you had those two big settlements with those tobacco companies--I mean it's how we're able to jaunty about Europe going to these fop festivals...so, you know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna talk to old Bill Chisler over at John Wiley & Sons...or have they transferred him to Chichester yet? Or, let's see, Pete Trimmer's over there, I can talk to Pete...he owes me big time...Skull & Bones stuff, you know?" I'm sure that's how the idea was conceived...BUT...and I stutter here it seems so obvious to me..."B-eh-b-eh-bah-bah...uuuuttt" isn't this sort of guide totally out of date by the time it's printed and distributed? Yet one must admire the amount of time and effort Roberta, a lawyer with lots of leisure time, put into this. Yet, twenty years later I find it on a subway still looking as though it has never been opened it's that just-off-the-shelf new looking--still shuts-tightly bound--still slick--no bangs, creases, corner bends, tears, rips, binding splits, pencil marks, etc.--and I look at it and I think, this is totally useless to me except for eye-cruising through it and just simply stopping occasionally and reading about some festival (like maybe a Slavic Accordion-Playing-While-Dancing and Magyaran Cattle-calling Festival in one of Leopold the Hog-faced's castles). You see how easy it is to spew jive on this book? I just flipped this book open to the entry for the Festival Atlantique, a 2-month-long songfest festival in France, and the entry says, "Recent performers include Shirley Verrett...." Miss Verrett died back in November of last year. I know, I know, my sarcasm is not substantial evidence that this festival isn't still extant and richly evolving into an infinite future, but it does make my point that this big-little volume is totally obsolete in an up-to-date sense--and I know, I know, of course, Roberta perhaps "upgraded" her obsolete masterpiece every year--and surely it may still be in publication. Jesus X, the corners I paint myself into with these posts. And, yes, I know, our blog expert has told us to cut our posts in more than half...to which an addicted writer responds, "But, Herr Doktor, it takes page after page after page to say what I gotta say!"

The other book I found on the subway...and this brings me to a book of a different cover, the other book I found on the subway. It, too, is a paperback book published many years ago--in the Vintage Contemporaries first edition, 1991, one year older than the guide book to European music stuff. WOW, still that was 22 years ago.

At first glance, my contemptuous appraisal of this the subway-proffered second book, Lewis Percy, by one Anita Brookner, led me to classify it as a Harlequin-type novel for the unwashed and horny housewife reader--those romance treacle-laced novels written by the most neurotic of love-found-and-lost women writers. That's how I was evaluating it all the way back to my apartment. I had no idea who Anita Brookner was. I'd never heard of her and that's unusual since though I no longer read the NYTimes Review of Books, nor do I frequent the booksy-wooksy artsy-fartsy sites on the Internet, I still am fairly familiar with who the current "top-of-the-ladder" authors are--though there are so damn many of them--as hard to keep up with as newborn and reborn and born-again rock stars and starlets--or keeping up with those constantly coming and going boy bands--or keeping up-to-date with the technology in the iPhone and iPad world of constant upgrades. Anita had slipped under my radar.

I, unlike so many of my male contemporaries (especially Norman Mailer), have never looked down my nose at women writers. I have always suspected thanks to self-analysis that I am more woman in the sense of character than I am man. In the company of males I am the bothersome cynical interjecter. In the company of women I'm the crooning balladeer. In the company of males I'm the defender. In the company of women I'm the romantic fling. Seems like any way I look at my characters I come out the male irritator, the female soother, the ridiculing male comedian in a audience of males, while the male REALIST with women, the reverent balladeer...and in using "balladeer" I'm more meaning troubadour--the guy who writes the scripts for the Cyranos of the male world.

I even admit to my own search for a writing style started with my marveling over the writing of Gertrude Stein--that introduced to me through another of Miss Stein's writing-class students, Ernest Hemingway. I quickly became enamored with her concept of the continuing present as exemplified best in her short Picasso portrait. Writing simply being a putting down on paper left-to-flow-free words that continue tumbling out rhythmically on that continual present tense-- in a narrative sense and not a historical narrative sense, the "Once upon a time" sense, but in a NOW narrative sense--and ironically in this area of sensitivity, you make National Organization of Women out of the word NOW--a clever aside as I ponder over this continuing present (the I AM NOW) in which I try and unspool this continuing present tense of thoughts being churned up in the thick creamy areas of my brain over women writers. And Gertrude was a Social Science major at Harvard with a major in Psychology, the American psychology of William James, her mentor at Harvard, a man to whom there was only REALITY--if you see the squirrel on this side of the tree--aha! the squirrel in real time is visibly where he is at the moment you see him for sure--but say the squirrel darts around to the other side of the tree--the invisible side--aha! that's when imagination takes over--YET it stays in the NOW by conjecturing--and admittedly, yes, based on historical grounds, but historical grounds housing a now probability. Whatever that squirrel was doing when he was on the visible side of the tree is probably what he's doing on the invisible side of the tree--unless he is conscious of being observed by another animal, an animal he knows quite well having lived among him for centuries, and while in such a position decides he needs to maybe evacuate the overindulging in acorns he's just pleasured himself via--instinctually this savage little beast will move around to the hidden-from-view side to do his nastiness--and shitting to most all animals is an embarrassing state to be in--to be caught shitting by a predator--this is why most animals can shit on the run.

Turns out Anita Brookner reminds me of a lot of women that have almost met me on parallel lines. Her bio deems her in a class of women I attract--and, please, any women who are dear to me now, be understanding in whatever sensitivity to this you may experience. Miss Brookner is of Polish descent, both her father and mother were Polish Jews who immigrated to England where her father owned and successfully operated a tobacco factory. She grew up an only child. Therefore a neglected lonely child, though she grew up in a bookish world and she did go on to Cambridge from which she graduated in the early 1950s with a degree in History, Art History her specialty. Beneath her excelling as a historian she had a basic instinctual desire to write. Not history books, but rather novels. She got a late start at novel writing, not writing her first novel and publishing it until she was 53 years old. She never married. She dedicated her life to her academic career and taking care of her aging parents. After she started writing novels, she became a novel-writing phenom, writing and publishing a new book a year over the next 30 years of her life. She is now 82 years old. Plus, too, looking at old photos of Miss Brookner (her mother changed the name from Bruckner to Brookner because of Bruckner being too German in a time in England when anti-German sentiment was at a boiling point), I find her to be a beautiful woman. A gracefully though contaminated-looking beautiful woman.

Besides Gertrude Stein, I've read with delight a host of women writers. The most memorable being: Mary Austin. Willa Cather. Kate Chopin. Carson McCullers. Joan Didion. Jane Bowles. Edna St. Vincent Millay. Lillian Hellman. Mary McCarthy. Elinor Wylie. Virginia Woolf (her Mrs. Dalloway one of my all-time fav books). Anais Nin. And, yes, I've read Edith Wharton. Collette (hey, there's one for you!). Diana DiPrima. H.D. Molly Haskell. Francois Sagan. Nicky Giovanni. I'm currently reading Toni Morrison's Jazz, a marvelously and strangely written book. Nathalie Serraut. And, I almost forgot, Charlotte Bronte. And maybe I'm trying to relate Miss Brookner to Charlotte Bronte.

Finally, I got back to the apartment with this second found-on-the-subway book, a book I was contemptuously thinking of as a Harlequin-type ladies romance novel--"His chest muscles were heaving...I could feel his manhood quivering against my raging stiff-nippled breasts...." I apologize. Typical male satirizing of female writers--of which I would include Jackie Sussann, who Mickey Spillane called a truckdriver in drag (or was it Truman Capote who called her that? --and if it was, then I apologize if I've maybe misquoted Mickey. Let's see, how about Grace Metalious in whose mind Peyton Place was conceived? But then I checked up on this writer, checked her Wikipedia entry, and read the blurbs around on this book's cover, one from Anne Tyler who called it Miss Brookner's "most finely wrought novel," and decided from that info that maybe I should give it a shot--in the dark--but at least a shot.

So I started reading Lewis Percy by Anita Brookner. What am I expecting? First of all Miss Brookner is British and as most who know me know I'm hard to please when it comes to Brits. So I'm starting off reading her ready to bash her as longwinded, too poetic, boring...and sure enough, I'm reading deeply cynically as I struggle trying to Handel in the Strand my way through what I found to be a finely complicated introductory chapter to this male character, Lewis Percy, a man created in the mind of a woman. And that's what kept me reading this book. And keeping that in mind, the book grabbed me--out of that first chapter's filmy shadows and dreamy afterthought sequences and into the glaring light of the second chapter--and suddenly this woman-created man, this mama's boy, so dependent on his mother and his back-home nest--mother, mother, mother, mother--until suddenly he finds himself alone. And NOW I'm beginning to see Miss Brookner's affection for her mother, Maude, coming out--and also a turning of her back on her father coming out--and I'm getting Freudian in my normal way--when this woman writer blows open a new door for me by suddenly out of nowhere to me but out of her writer's mind killing off the mother with a heart attack! Hot damn, now this woman had me. And now I'm 64 pages into this story. This tale of a woman-created Adamic character. Like I have always considered myself created by and raised by women. My father's loins and the seeds it produced the only important part of his role in my creation and raising. My father, who I'm just like, was in his own world as a man in those days of WAR CLOUDS hanging over us--same as Anita Brookner was born and raised under the same WAR CLOUDS and the same horrible threat that Nazism posed for the rest of the world should they successfully have conquered it. [We shall soon find out maybe here in the USA what that will be like--where currently our version of the NeoNazis (Libertarians)(stricter than the Neo-Cons, though they work well in cahoots) are on the march and beerhall putsching and itching to give us a Chancellor in 2012 in the coming racist/States Rightest/Nazi-like in terms of lies presidential campaign that is starting in only a few weeks.]

I have never yet tried my hand at writing a novel with a woman protagonist. Even though I consider myself more woman than man, I'm not secure in how I think a woman thinks. In other words, sexually I'm very male--macho male--no brag, just fact. But creatively--I know, I'm stomping around in a pigpen of semantics here--but creatively, if I think like a woman I can't seem to prove it, especially through my writing, which, I dare say, can get off into sexually explicit realms of nature that I know I didn't get from reading women writers, except that I saw a lot of sexuality in Gertrude Stein's Lesbianistic intent (i.e., Tender Buttons) and like Hemingway confessed many a time his sexual attraction to Gertrude--she was a big round earth-woman--mother-resembling in Hemingway's experience--with a strikingly pretty face. But then were all the best women writers manly sexually? Jane Bowles, who I really dig reading, for instance is full of sexual desire for forbidden women same as a man, though Jane in physique was a very sexy and pretty woman--saying that having sex with a man was so easy and blase--yet having sex with another woman, especially a forbidden-type woman was an ultimate and continual sort of ecstasy--like in her husband's novel about her, The Sheltering Sky--where she commits the ultimate sin against the Islamic God's way and is punished horribly but very erotically for it. Anais Nin's diaries and later in her book of sexual dreams, showed me a feminine sexuality presented in a supernatural sense--men have to live up to fucking Anais even in her dreams; whereas, another woman is already in those heights in reality or dreams.

All of this palaver to tell you that I am now readily ensconced in Anita Brookner's Lewis Percy and I'm already a picker-up of her novelistic tricks--one of which has a male-alluring aspect--one that is intriguing me--she's just now revealing that Lewis Percy, the mama's boy who suddenly finds himself alone and on his own after his mother unexpectedly dies, is a 23-year-old virgin who is becoming more and more eager to lose such a male embarrassment. And then Miss Brookner is now in my reading her beginning a discussion of virginity--from a female-created male character's point of view, which I'm erotically assuming is Miss Bruckner's point of view also. And suddenly again I'm realizing though I don't think I think creatively like a woman, that, no, yes, I do really think that way--thinking like a woman writing out of a woman's trick bag, writing with words being thought out that way, the way of a woman, a woman who is writing continuously, as is a woman writing continuously who has to keep on writing what she is continuously writing.

I've read several male writers trying to write as women, Booth Tarkington's Maude Adams comes to mind. I've written a couple of Mss. with women as the main idolization characters--idols in the eyes of male adorers. I've tried to express why those women were so adorable--and in one of these novels, the male protagonist has a female competitor for his Galatea, a competition I portray through dialog...and, yes, I'm a pretty good dialogist--even in my women characters's dialogical use of defense mechanisms and retorts and rejections and projections.

I continue on trying to understand my feminine self...as a writer.

"In this contest between the established and the imported, it was the women who won him over every time. To them he owed his lasting conviction that women were a congenial and passionate sex. As they welcomed him with his camembert and bag of cherries, with apparent enthusiasm, an enthusiasm that seemed to contain a peaceable indulgence for his youth, his obvious lack of sophistication, and his enquiring and participatory smile, his heart expanded, and he felt himself to be in a company that had in it something maternal, something undemanding, even something slightly pitying. In later life he was to accept this as the very climate of femininity. It was what he had known in his mother's house, and it never occurred to him to question this. Modest and timid, he looked forward all day to what he thought of as his homecoming. It was not the salon that constituted home. It was the women" [pp. 3-4, Lewis Percy, Anita Brookner, Vintage Contemporaries Series, First Edition, 1991].

And to me that paragraph is very revealing in terms of what a woman senses as the way a man should approach women--those in whom he is looking for a mother replacement. He is looking for a mother replacement companion--to attend to him as his widowed mother attended to him, the fatherless only son as created in the mind of an only child woman, an immigrant lonely young woman, suddenly trying to cope with father/other males/uncle domination while at the same time creating this perfect man--Lewis Percy--in her lonely, marriageless, maybe even still virginal mid-fifties, when she finally had to let this her male creation out of the box, her Adam to her Eve.

for The Daily Growler

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