Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Instant News Cycle of the Soul

In January, I posted these words:

But for all of . . . his many words, Moon has merely circumscribed rather than penetrated, eluded rather than engaged, his nascent passion for pure invention, for a lyric life, he once knew beyond cavil would govern his every breath until the grave. . . .

Moon realizes now the fundamental flaw in his founding scheme . . .: he cannot write beyond the sentence that looms, the instant thought; he cannot craft language worthy of even his own attention unless he sublimates all of his grander aspirations into the discovery of the next word.

So how much creativity has MoonOverPittsburgh reflected of late? None. Zero. Zip. I've been sounding off on Schiavo and the like along with every other law- or policy-minded blogger, adding my redundant shouts to the cacophany. I could just as easily have directed everyone to the various other sources I've consulted and been done with it; the blogosphere is not wanting for people who share my views, any more than it is wanting for people who think my views are heretical -- in this instance and others.

And but so here I am, saying what's already been said just to say it, it would seem. And it's not just Schiavo: so much of what I've written in the past few weeks looks the same to me. "Who cares?" isn't the question. I do. But that's not enough. The signal to noise ratio at MoonOverPittsburgh has dwindled, and I care about that -- thousands "care" about Terri Schiavo, but only I can care for my little sliver of spectrum.

In a recent post, Zulieka wrote:

It's the sharing of ideas, the passing of information, the traffic of up-to-date stories and sex scandals and political views, that really, I think, dilute our individualities, make us move in synchronous twitches and jerks. Photos and rumours spread like spilled little black seeds disappearing, reappearing, never completely lost.

In this excerpt and the balance of her post, Zulieka examines matters I weighed in the months prior to instantiating this weblog. What did I hope to gain? What did I have to offer? Is blogging so much masturbation? Of course it is. The more probative question, however, concerns whether it might be of the gratifying self-indulgent variety or the rushed, fatuous sort, a brute expression of urgency rather than an elegant urgency of expression.

I'm pretty sure this is the latter, and to no one's benefit, least of all mine.

Zulieka's weblog serves for me as one of several models of what this medium can be; I look forward to each of her posts as I might to my next opportunity to sit down with a good book. Zulieka Unstrung confirms that offering ourselves around -- in whatever composited or disguised form -- can add something worthy. Aesthetically, I suspect the milieu is no different for the deliberately artistic blogs than it is for writing generally. And I reluctantly reject the idea that everyone is a writer. No more than everyone is a painter, or a violinist, or a cooper, is everyone a writer. And if I'm not a writer, I will derive no pleasure from this. There is no lifetime membership in that company, however: with each sincere effort, it is reaffirmed; with each compromise it is diminished.

I have come late to the blogosphere; initially, I found it most engaging as a source of political scuttlebutt and analysis. But the writer in me kept worming his way to the surface and steering the little arrow elsewhere, and I found, here and there, sites of fine vintage, like new friends with histories and aspirations and fears to gently discover and unwind, with idiosyncracies and tics, with voices, worth reading for their simple honesty (even in their fiction), for what they have to teach about other people and the world -- writerly blogs that reveal, engender, leave red marks like the ghost of someone's imploring touch on the winter-pale skin of my arm.

But how quickly I settle into the proprietary mindset that attends adding one's voice to a chorus, a inward-turning provincialism, and each day I find this site more infected with ineffectual jeremiads about ephemera, throat-clearing affirmations of my existence, things that in quiet moments I'm not entirely sure I care about, or care to express. Even some of those things I write about myself fail to pass muster; confessional, per se, is masturbation of the fatuous variety, the work of idle hands, an idle mind. The instant news cycle of the soul.

In how many different ways do we strive to create the illusion of community? Each new technology -- the wheel, the steam engine, automobiles, airplanes, computers, wireless telephony, the internet -- is used either (or both) of two ways: to aggrandize the illusion of our interconnectedness, or to bring violence to others, itself a negative function of community.

This communitarian yearning is so much of what drives the blogosphere's LiveJournal contingent. There is something to be said for the other aspects -- media criticism, information gathering and promulgation -- and there is something to be said for the proliferation of voices serving this latter agenda, but at some point there are simply too many voices, talking over each other, digressing, throwing dinner rolls at each other and storming from the room.

Is it community when the entire raison d'etre appears to be identifying, airing, and flogging our differences ad nauseam? Are people really all that amenable to persuasion, or have we sublimated our baser instinct toward face to face combat into a new form tailored to the information age, a fight to the death waged with facts and figures? Amid all of this, have I so easily lost my way, motivated by no more than the desire to hear myself speak, draw ever more visitors, and in this way confirm my worthiness, even if in doing so I somehow dim all that is singular about me, my voice, my abstract sensibility?

In law school, in whatever passed for socratic method in a given lecture, nothing pained me more than listening to the sophistry of those students who reflexively parroted points made by other students or the professor just to be heard, to earn the obligatory pat on the head. For undergraduates class participation counts. In law school, however, speaking in class is so much idle tongue wagging unless you have something original to say; grading is anonymous and class participation counts for nothing. Yet, knowing this, people persisted in this way for three years, unrepentant.

. . . synchronous twitches and jerks . . .

In an odd turn of phrase Zulieka distils this magpie phenomenon to its gossipy, inconsequential essence, and never has this been more evident than during the Schiavo fiasco, everyone writing one of two or three or four things, information (and mis-) flying around the room disencumbered of context's stabilizing gravity, shattering against the hearth and windowframes like ghost-flung furniture, and to what end? Poor Terri. Poor us.

More Zulieka:

Yes I believe in sharing, but much is not worthy of sharing, you know? A self-inflicted censorship or ostracization where no influence or inspiration sneaks past the bars—this is valuable. To sit and stare at the rising gray walls, to panic at my own delusions, to have only one person's companionship and listening and help and input, the person of me, that is lost here. Here, an attempt at self-reflection and a crowd of strangers grimace back from the mirror.

Coincidentally, Zulieka wrote me a short message days after I began to work this post out, directing me to a Yeats poem, a "Moon poem for Moon," as she put it. Her brief note and the poem put me in mind of a long passage I would share -- with her, with you:

Magically, the world tips. I'm led to think that only those who grow down live [. . .], but I find I write that only those who live down grow; and what I write, I hold, whatever I really know. My every word's inverted, or reversed -- or I am. I held you, too, that way. You were so utterly provisional, subject to my change. I could inflate your bosom with a kiss, disperse your skin with gentleness, enter your vagina from within, and make my love emerge like a fresh sex. The pane is cold. Honesty is cold, my inside lover. The sun looks, through the mist, like a plum on the tree of heaven, or a bruise on the slope of your belly. Which? The grass crawls with frost. We meet on this window, the world and I, inelegantly, swimmers of the glass; and swung wrong way round to one another, the world seems in. The world -- how grand, how monumental, grave and deadly, that word is: the world, my house and poetry. All poets have their inside lovers. Wee penis does not belong to me, or any of this foggery. It is his property which he's thrust through what's womanly of me to set down this. These wooden houses in their squares, gray streets and fallen sidewalks, standing trees, your name I've written sentimentaly across my breath into the whitening air, pale birds: they exist in me now because of him. I gazed with what intensity . . . A bush in the excitement of its roses could not have bloomed so beautifully as you did then. It was a look I'd like to give this page. For that is poetry: to bring within about, to change.

--William H. Gass, "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country" (from the collection of the same name)

In addition to providing a fitting response to Zulieka, it also is a passage from the short story I most admire. It reminds me what words can be, do.

I don't disavow the politics and law. I'll continue to read these things, and sometimes I'll write about them -- particularly the law, in which I am peculiarly invested, about which I am at somewhat knowledgeable, and toward which I feel all the fondness and exasperation one feels toward a long-term lover. But neither will be MoonOverPittsburgh's primary constituent; it's simply not that often that I have anything material to add to discussions best left to people better informed than I. Quality over quantity: if I have nothing unique to say, I'll say nothing at all.

At my best, I write in a spine-arching sense of wonderment at the incidents and coincidents of the quotidian. Even in horror there is wonder, and in banality's infinite variation as well. I write not just to convey this wonder, but also to preserve it and to sustain it as the only effective defense against creeping ennui. And if, as Zulieka worries, strangers grimace back from the looking glass, so be it -- they, too, are wonderful.

[3/22/05 - 3/24/05]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe we need to cultivate silence.
i wonder if somebody had listened to Jeff Weise , would things have been different?

12:09 PM  
Blogger Moon said...

perhaps you're right, but i supppose it depends on how much he was really prepared to say (note time stamp on his last post).

hat tip.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Zulieka said...

Buddha and Jesus went out into the wilderness but then made a lot of noise when they got back. That's what enlightened people do.

But I suspect most people are like me and don't know who they are unless they are making a lot of mostly pointless noise.

11:41 PM  

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