Studies in Classic American Literature, by D.H. Lawrence

I almost always tire of Lawrence when I dare to read him, and this wasn’t an exception. Although I had wanted to read him for along time because of his interpretation of Moby Dick which I had read about somewhere. But what tires me about his writing is his sarcasm, I guess you could say. This is from a section on Walt Whitman


What do you make of that? I AM He That ACHES. First generalization. First uncomfortable universalization. WITH AMOROUS LOVE.! Oh, God! Better a bellyache. A bellyache is at least specific. But the ACHE OF AMOROUS LOVE!

Think of having that under your skin. All that!


Walter, leave off. You are not HE. You are just a limited Walter. And your ache doesn’t include all Amorous Love, by any means….


…. Reminds one of steam-engine. A locomotive. They’re the only things that seem to me to ache with amorous love. All that steam inside them. Forty million foot-pounds pressure.”


He comes off like one of those Amazon critics (I forgot their names — I think it’s the Vines) which make it a point of denigrating writers and insulting them as personally as possible. I have no idea why this phenomenon exists, but it has always seemed to me that writers in particular are subjected to vicious and exaggerated attacks because it is such an intellectually challenging art. People want to bring writers down a notch just because they are, generally, better thinkers than their critics. Certain writers, like Will Self, deserve to be brought low. But I’m reminded of the joke about Jackie Kennedy Onassis editing Gravity’s Rainbow and writing a note to “Tom” Pynchon, “Love the first line.” How do you edit Pynchon? And with Lawrence I find him to be protesting too much. Because he himself is guilty of idiosyncratic descriptions like “Blood-knowledge” and “upper” and “under consciousness;” “mind knowledge,” to name a few.

But he is most adamant about the fact that Americans believe themselves to be masterless, while he believes everyone serves some master or another. I really don’t know if I agree with that. I’ve heard it said many times before, but I’ve also heard it said that “everyone believes in a higher power,” and I don’t, unless you’re talking about the sun that makes every day possible.

Anyway, the main essay I wanted to read was about Moby Dick and I found that one to be enlightening. When he notes that the three main bowmen are a Pacific Islander, a large black man and a native American, he correctly points out that they (and the entire crew) are the symbolic representations of the crushed natives that Europeans suppressed. And Ahab is the white madman — making his own obsession into the obsession of everyone else on the ship. Lawrence sees Ahab’s desire as the death wish: the need to destroy his own whiteness and take everyone down with him. But I think Lawrence was or is a little too quick to judge America as a suicide and I think people in general are a little too quick to invoke Thanatos when judging other people’s behavior. I don’t think that people who cliff dive have a death wish. I think it’s possible they don’t see death in the way others do. And it’s not like most people go up Mt. Everest in order to jump off.

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I’m getting more ideas for a story. This one just involved a nightmare I just had. I went to a restaurant that was on the first floor of my old building. I had an appetizer and dinner, but weirdly, at least 3 different couples sat down next to me and had dinner and with each one, the man looked in a bag and yelled, “These tickets are for a musical!” And then the woman would say, “Yes but…” and then go into an explanation of how it was so good, etc.

Then I realized that I had tickets for a show, “Hairspray,” (though I couldn’t remember the name.) So since my bill still wasn’t there, I walked up to the waitress in the front room and asked her for my check. She looked at me strangely but I went back to my table. When she didn’t come again, it started to dawn on me that I might now have actually eaten there. So I much more cautiously walked up front and found her, interrupted her conversation, and said, “Did I actually have anything to eat.” “No,” she said. So I yelled at her, “Why didn’t you say so? Why did you let me sit there and sleep?” And she was just as angry and yelled back, “You didn’t.” I was confused, but because I had the theatre to get to, I left. I had my two dogs with me and I was trying to get uptown to get to the theatre, but there were no cabs to be had anywhere. I looked at my watch and all the numbers and dots were missing, but the hands sort of indicated 20 minutes after 6 or 7 — it was hard to tell. And I couldn’t remember if this show started at 7 or 8. So I decided to take the subway. With my dogs in tow I went down three levels to the very bottom level. (This is a recurring dream I have.) where I was on the wrong side of the train and had to jump through a very narrow opening and then scramble up onto the platform in order to get on the side where the doors open. Even then, the doors open and close so quickly that you have to jump during the tiny gap when they’re open in order to get in.

I managed to do that, but then the train only made it to about 34th street and construction on the tracks forced us to the top. Above ground, everything was a mess with construction. It was impossible to get around and then I couldn’t remember what street the theatre was on, or what name it was. And I could only remember the finale of the show, “You can’t stop the beat.” I pulled out an Ipad to try to look it up, but it only had an unresponsive set of pictures or icons and I couldn’t get it to go back to the main screen. So I finally decided to go over to 8th Avenue and about 43rd Street where there was an acting studio or acting classes. This building roughly corresponds to one where musicals hire spaces for the actors and dancers, especially, to work. I can’t remember the name of it but it’s real. It might be further over and higher. I went to the pitch conference there.

So I’m running all through the building trying to find someone to help. I couldn’t.I still had my dogs so I put them down. I kept looking at my watch and the dots and numbers were still missing but it looked like it was about a quarter to the hour. I finally found some people in a room and I begged them, “Please, I’m trying to get to that show with that song ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat,’ but I can’t remember the name of the theatre or the street it’s on. I left my dogs in the other room.” Well these guys were theatre lovers and they were both like, “Oh that show sucks, you’ll hate it.” And I said, “I know but I still have tickets,” so one went to look and then I remembered the theatre had been renamed recently and that’s why I couldn’t remember its name. I said to the guy who had stayed behind while the other went to look up the information, “Oh I think the theatre’s been renamed.” He smiled but was otherwise gay bitchy to me. Then finally the phone rang, and the bitchy gay guy picked it up and said, “Yes. Uh huh.” Then he put the phone to his shoulder and he said, “They can’t find your dogs.”

And then everything dawned on me. I said, “They don’t exist. In fact, I don’t think I have tickets for anything. If you look in my bag, I don’t have tickets.” He came over to me and looked in my bag — a kind of old and filthy New Yorker cloth bag — and there was nothing in it but crumpled up paper. He looked at what I called my “Ipad,” and it was just the screen of an ipad with a piece of paper taped to the front. He looked at my watch and the watch hands had been drawn onto the back of my wrist. And then I started to say aloud, “I don’t have dogs. My dogs died many years ago. I don’t walk them every day.” (An image came into my mind of me walking around my old neighborhood with a leash dragging behind me.) I don’t feed them every day,” (Another image set in where I had put down fifty or sixty cups of food — flies buzzing everywhere. And then a flood of images of my real life — me sitting in the restaurant pretending to eat while the staff looked at me, not certain of what to do. Those couples who had been seated next to me, staring warily.) And in an instant I realized I had lost my mind and that I had been living in a fantasy world for many months — perhaps six. And although I was lucid and reality had re-asserted itself, I could not think of what precipitated this — when this schizophrenia had begun. And then I thought, maybe it was New York City that did it.


So that was my nightmare. I woke and felt very frightened. But mostly I was aware of how fragile this world is and, as the Buddhists like to say, “Everything is perception.” I think that’s why Jung was so adamant that you have no right to say that someone’s predilections or peccadilloes are “wrong” or “immoral.” (Did Jung say that? I don’t know. But I know that if someone walked into a Jungian therapist’s office and said, “I am the greatest piano player in the world,” a proper Jungian therapist would not discount the possibility that it might be true.)

I will write about D.H. Lawrence and eventually Barbie next time, because I have a few thoughts that may not have been written about thousands of times over already.

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Union Square Riot

So there was a quasi-riot in Union Square, when thousands of fans of some Twitch streamer showed up because he promised he was going to be handing out free playstations and game consoles, etc. They were all pretty much under the age of 20 or 18 and the police had to mobilize at Level 4 (which kind of means at their highest level of control — they will arrest anybody who doesn’t disperse, that kind of thing. Act, arrest and let the judges sort it out.)

But what really stood out for me was the fact that so many decisions now are being driven by technology. Twitch is a gamer’s and young people’s television. I have a twitch account but I don’t watch it very often. I find it tedious and impossibly strange and I simply don’t understand why people want to watch other people play games. (My nephew is one of these people, but he plays games that almost no one wants to watch.)

But if you look at what caused this, it’s not so much the gamer’s lies about handing out free gaming consoles, it’s about how technology is influencing behavior. It’s the Marshall McLuhan thing all over, but in a different way. The medium is still the message. While people like Alexander Novotny are being jailed for decades by Putin for “disrespecting the Republic,” “Influencers,” as they’re called, are making millions posing for their phones and streams. Wanna be influencers are trying, but failing, to achieve millions of followers. One I just found is named Brian Christopher and somehow he has amassed 1 million followers by playing slot machines in various casinos. He has a staff of 10. For people to watch slot machines. Someone passed him and asked him how he was able to make a living off this “sport,” and he said, “Having a million followers helps.”

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are a scourge on all of us. Musk and Zuck are evil.

I simply can’t stomach what’s going on in society.

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The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray

There’s a very interesting history behind this classic book, which was published about a year before Oscar Wilde’s trial and imprisonment. It was even used as evidence against him, although some of the more obvious passages were removed by Wilde and the publisher. They’ve been put back in and although the “vice” is never mentioned by name, it’s alluded to with terms like “abomination,” and references to “filthy places where sailors can be found along the docks.”

I’m pretty sure it was Wilde who came up with the phrase, during his trial, “The love that dare not speak its name.” It’s not mentioned, ever, in this uncensored book.

In Maurice, I think it was, they are reading something from ancient Greece and when one of the boys gets to a certain passage the teacher says, “Please skip the section about the abominable practice of the Greeks.” (Maybe they were reading The Satyricon.)

Anyway what I found interesting about this book — I don’t think there can be “spoilers” at this point — is how widely misinterpreted the book is. Everyone says, if you stay young looking well into adulthood, “You must have a painting in the attic.” They’re referencing Dorian Gray, thinking that the painting of himself that was hidden in the attic aged while Dorian did not. No, the painting did not absorb the ravages of Dorian aging into an older man, what the painting absorbed was his sins. And much of that sin included sleeping with men (or sailors — is about as close as they come to saying it outright). I think this could only be Wilde’s awareness of his Id trying to express itself, with Wilde’s Superego being the judge, jury and executioner. In my copy of The Ballad of Reading Gaol the person who wrote the introduction said that nothing is more boring than Wilde writing about Jesus or religion. And I think there’s a lot of truth to that. This book has a great deal of rattling on about the soul and the devastation of the soul through immoral acts — all of which wind up in the painting. But really it is about class. And in England, probably because of the monarchy and accents, you really can’t get away from class. Julian’s sin is actually that he is shaming himself in front of his peers — and they are shunning him because of what he’s doing shamelessly down at the docks. In fact, it is in some respects because of the fact that the hidden painting absorbs all his sins that Dorian is able to go wild with his basic desires.

I don’t think Wilde was ready to understand this. He may have come to understand it at some point, but when you’re in the middle of a system — a society — it is rather hard to see it. It’s like water to fish, or air to us hoomans.

Anyway, I enjoyed it. I could have done without the footnotes, but the introduction is well worth reading.

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I haven’t written anything in at least a year and a half. I could probably judge by the date of the last version of whatever chapter I was working on in Impaired which is on a different computer. I’ve been trying to kickstart myself into writing again by reading about writing, by just reading, and by attempting to get rid of the sorry for myself feeling I have. I just reached a point, I think, where I suddenly thought “Why am I putting so much effort into this when no one cares about what I do?” And the direction society has gone, especially because of the internet and streaming, etc., books seem like an antiquated notion — isn’t that cute, kind of thing. “Influencers,” stream themselves posing or playing casino games or doing this or that and everyone is interested, it seems. They get a million followers. And so the Bud Light people decide to send a few cans of Bud Light to a transgendered woman and all the hateful people in the country light up and starting shooting their boxes of Bud Light. It’s just so hard to believe and unbelievably stupid.

But I still want to try, and too often I find myself with nothing to do and then some depression sets in and all the usual problems that writers have. So I think I’m going to try to write a short story about Larry Myers and call it The Fraud. Because that is what he is.

(Update: 9/11/23). I thought I’d call it The Fraud before one review after another came out about Zadie Smith’s new historical novel called… “The Fraud.” However, I went to my local bookstore (192) after a week since the first review and asked if they had it yet. She did, but she said she wasn’t allowed to sell it until the next day, but she said she’d sell it to me anyway. And then when she went to get a copy she said, “Oh these ones are signed.” So I got a first edition, signed, of her new book “The Fraud,” and now I have to wait until I can buy a second edition so I don’t spill something on this one!

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Parties. Lea Michelle. Barbie.

I am having an open house which, ostensibly, is to welcome people and neighbors to your new home and let them know they are invited to be your friend. The only reason I am having this party is because my sister insistered (pun intended) that I have this party. Ironically, even though I think of myself as being a loner, we’re expecting about 40 to 50 people.

I simply can’t wait for this to be over. I think it’s actually been in the back of my mind for the last month and a half. I don’t like parties – I never have. When I was a stupid teenager I used to hate parties because I thought that not being invited to a party was a fate worse than death. Later, in college, I gave a party with the help of someone else, and I simply got drunk and crawled into bed and stayed there until they all left. Tomorrow, I hope I can summon up some of that enthusiasm that Sagittarians and Leos have. But in my chart, there is no fire, and probably one of the reasons I don’t want to be at this party — a party I am giving.

Well because so many family members are here, we went to see Funny Girl with Lea Michelle and I am the only person who saw Beanie Feldstein perform the role when the production opened. I can’t say that Lea Michelle’s interpretation wasn’t better, it was, or that her singing wasn’t better, it was, or that her acting wasn’t better, it was. But I have a tiny sense that Beanie’s comedy was a little better. They were very close. But what was so annoying and probably made what would have been a spectacular and maybe even historic performance by Lea Michelle were the fans… sadly. The spectators at Broadway shows, when a famous person is involved, hinder their artistry. In this case, Lea Michelle is one of those who can “belt” — like Liza Minelli, Barbra Streisand, Jennifer Holiday, Judy Garland and to a lesser extent Jennifer Hudson and some pop singers. But because so many people have gotten their culture from GLEE and television shows, they start SCREAMING before the singer has even reached that point of adulation. In Funny Girl, the big moment is when she sings “no nobody, no nobody, is going to rain on myyyyyyyy paaaarrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaade.” (I tried to indicate how long some of those notes are meant to be held.) But when the audience starts screaming like banshees on the first P of the last word, you don’t get to hear the vibrato or the wobble or even just the length of her ability to hold the note. And what’s even more depressing, is that most singing and artistry is done with the vowels. The consonants are kind of like “stops” that allow the singer to move to the next musical phrase. So for that phrase, it’s more like this: “no noooobodeee, no noobuuudeeeee is gonnaaaa raaain on maaaaaaahy paaaaraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaid.” Anyway, Lea Michelle did a wonderful job in spite of her fans. It would have been nice if I could have heard her above the screaming.

I’ll talk about Barbie some other time, suffice to say, I wasn’t impressed.

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Oppenheimer, by Christopher Nolan, Kai Bird and Martin Sherman

I think it will be pretty much agreed when all is said and done in Christopher Nolan’s long career, that Oppenheimer will be the greatest movie he’s ever made. And it will also most likely be Cillian Murphy’s greatest performance.

The look on his face at the end of the movie (it’s the last shot but it’s not a spoiler because it’s in so many images that have already been released) is the look of someone who has haunted himself to complete mental destruction. I don’t know if that’s a little embellishment — he spent his final years in St. John’s and did a lot of sailing — eventually died of throat cancer.

But as far as an arc of a movie, it’s an absolutely brilliant ending because of course, he and his scientists created the atomic bomb and ever since we’ve been in an arms race: first between Russia and the U.S. but then other countries — North Korea is the latest. And I think the movie very clearly points out that it was a terrible thing that nuclear weapons became part of the world’s killing arsenal. We live under its threat to this day.

That there was no choice but to go ahead and create it isn’t too debatable. Russian scientists were working on it and the Nazis were also working on it.

But the movie goes much deeper into the main character and his terrors as a young student, his womanizing, and later, his expulsion from the government agency that was established after atomic weapons were made — and the congressional enemy that got him investigated and rescinded of his Q level clearance.

Still what’s most impressive about the entire movie is the long arc of going from enthusiastic scientists and technicians basically having a Mickey & Judy “let’s put on a show,” moment, to finally realizing, in fascination and horror, at what they had done or accomplished, or maybe both. Joseph Campbell talked about how certain horrific things can be sublime — probably one of the reasons we are drawn to buildings imploding — or explosions. The trinity bomb was the biggest explosion ever made. 2 more were to come. 220,000 people were killed or died of radiation poisoning.

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A Fraud

I had a teacher when I first entered college who claimed he had a PhD from Yale or some place, in theatre. He had been hired based on that credential. The University of Cincinnati had a small theatre department, but one of the reasons I went there, initially, was so that I could have a double major, which UC allowed.

I always knew I was going to move to NYC, and after I got accepted at NYU, I moved there for my Junior and Senior years. Many of my credits didn’t come with me — only some of my English and French credits, so I had to go for an extra half year. I also discovered that the GPA in my minor (Journalism) was not high enough. I really hated journalism and wans’t good at understand the concepts. I was too complicated and journalism is about simplicity. The simple, well written sentence.

Anyway, I chose English because NYU didn’t do double majors and that was a good thing. But I heard later that Larry Myers, the teacher I was talking about, had been fired from UC because he hadn’t, in fact, obtained a PhD. He was a fraud. After firing him, U.C. took what was left of the department and absorbed into its much more successful and vaunted CCM (Cincinnati Conservatory of Music), which spat out Broadway stars writers like there were too many of them. One, in fact, was my music partner in Men’s Glee, who went on to become a Tony winner: Stephen Flaherty.

But Larry Myers was now in New York, supposedly teaching at Johns Hopkins in Jamaica, (although you can never quite tell) and over the years he’s just become one of the most insane and vainglorious people on earth. He continually makes up identities so he can comment on issues in the New York Times and it’s always the case that what he writes, as this other person, never has anything to do with the article. Over these 30 years or more, I’ve come across probably 20 to 30 “comments” in various places and in various disguises.

I used to see him when he lived on Commerce Street (I lived nearby) but the last time I saw him he looked terrible — stricken — and he was walking down the street and seemed to be in a daze. He made up a story about having two laptops stolen at Port Authority, but there was police footage showing that he didn’t have laptops when he entered the building. He called it a senior moment.

But the real fraud for me was that I had been taught by this shipwreck of a human being for 2 years — and nothing he said was true. We had a book in which we studied ever play in it, EXCEPT for the black writer: Amiri Baraka, which Larry said was “just a black anger play.”

We used to go see his performances, but Larry would laugh the loudest at the jokes because he said it got others to laugh. I finally decided not to go anymore, because I didn’t like him. He remains one of the worst teacher, if not the worst, that I have ever had and although it was decades ago and he’ll never talk about the people he misled from that part of his life, it’s a damn shame our paths crossed.

I have Covid by the way. Almost no symptoms except fatigue. No fever or cold or flu. Somewhat achy neck and upper back.

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“Asteroid City,” by Wes Anderson

The one sheet (poster) for this movie explains just about everything . Tons of stars that all want to work in a Wes Anderson movie, and motionless people. Even the character who is in a jet pack of some type is being held down — not allowed to fly.

Some day, I suppose, I’ll come across an article about Wes Anderson and his movies and this brilliant critic will finally explain to me what his movies mean, and I will understand why it is I can’t see his brilliance or genius.

But until that critic arrives and finishes my education, his movies feel like a kid that’s playing the game Minecraft. Or in the real world, building something from Legos.

For me it’s simply pointless. I do not understand them. The last one I saw (The French Dispatch) was impossibly boring and I finally decided I had had enough of his wasting my time. I’m no fan of Pauline Kael, but when she agreed to a private screening of his first movie Rushmore (1998) she said to him, “Well I don’t know what you have here,” or something to that effect. I looked for the quote online but couldn’t find it. So I guess it’s not a quote.

I did like The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel. But I think I will probably be extremely high if I ever see another of his films.

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Chess Story, by Stefan Zweig

This is a short story which I believe was one of the last things Stefan Zweig wrote. (Update, it is the last thing he wrote.) And it was so interesting because it started out as just a story about a remarkable chess player prodigy, but one who could only play when he had a board in front of him. He can’t imagine or “see” a board in his mind to anticipate future moves. The “Shannon Number” is the number of possible moves in a game of chess and it is somewhere between 1o to the 111th factor and 10 to the 123rd factor. That’s more moves than there are atoms in the universe.

Now on some sort of cruise ship that the narrator (an observer of the story, like Tom in The Great Gatsby), notices an arrogant man that can’t believe this prodigy could win every game, so he starts betting and doubling down when he loses each time. On one of these games another observer butts in and says, “no don’t do that, you must do this,” and so on, and more or less explains the best he can hope for is a draw.

This man is Dr. B. and the narrator prods him to explain how he came about his extraordinary knowledge of the game. Dr. B., it turns out, is a holocaust survivor — having been isolated in Austria with absolutely no outside interaction. The only interaction he has is with a guard who brings the good. To prevent himself from going crazy, he swipes a book on chess with all the most famous games. He starts playing them, but unlike the prodigy on the ship, he “sees” these games in his head. He doesn’t need an actual board to play them. Finally, when he finds himself bored by having memorized all the games, he starts making up games in his head between himself and an alternate version of himself. This leads to more insanity, and once he is free, his doctors advise him never to play chess again.

The story is a very fine story I think, and it really captures the way the mind can trip itself up, especially when Dr. B. gets to the explanation of how he had to try to think with two personalities and try to pretend he did not know what the other was thinking. So a little story like this ends, which was originally titled, “The Royal Game,” ends up being another condemnation of the Nazis.

Stefan Zweig killed himself (his wife killed herself also) about 3 days after he sent this story off to his publisher. The story doesn’t really depict the despair he felt about Europe and the end of the Hapsburgs, but it doesn’t suggest he was struggling very hard with his mind when he was in Brazil.

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