A letter to George Stanley that turned into a Dooney’s column. Eh, go figure.
Friday, Oct. 19, 2018; Oct. 20, 2018
As you can see from the date above, I started writing you a letter yesterday morning, but got so distracted by the various unspectacular and other unnotable events of the day that by the time I’d had my afternoon nap and watched the CNN late-afternoon news, my energy for letter-writing had run out and instead I was thinking of things to put in the oven for dinner. (By the way, the CNN Int’l channel I get in Berlin is filled with the voices of women with English or Australian or South African accents – since they’re often sitting or standing in studios in Atlanta, Georgia, and while I admire CNN Int’l’s attention to gender equity, I wonder how they find so many women with non-American accents to move to Georgia to be CNN Int’l anchors in order to make us “viewers around the world” a bit more comfortable, in auditory terms.)
This morning I started off (as I often do) thinking about me as I began reading something about the “world” (in this case, my re-read of Rorty’s Contingency, Irony, Solidarity – will this be my last re-read of this particular book? a side of my mind concerned with mortality asked – I’m in the Orwell chapter at the moment) and then, for some reason, I began thinking about my own Reading the 21st Century book, which, since a copy was on my desk, I opened and began re-reading, zipping through the introduction about the decline of reading, the chapter about Larry McMurtry and Walter Benjamin (which begins in Bobbie Louise Hawkins’ kitchen in Bolinas – she, who is no longer with us in this “world”), and the beginning pages of the chapter about Philip Roth’s Human Stain (another person no longer in this world). Then my mind split in two.
I thought, Damn, this is pretty good (literary critical) writing, maybe I should write an essay called “Re-reading Myself” which would be about what a damn fine book this is and that it’s woefully underread and that the fault is with you, meaning all my unfaithful potential readers. And the other half of my mind began thinking, Maybe I should write the sequel book, Women (and Men) I Read: Reading the 21st Century Further; Books of the Decade, 2010-2019, beginning with, after the intro, Michel Houllebecq’s The Map and the Territory (2010). In the intro I could mention that my plan is to write a book about books for each decade of the 21st century (or until books disappear completely sometime within the century), and I could also mention that, given my advanced age, there’s a slight possibility that I may not be able to bring this project to conclusion, in which case I’m sure a successor would pick it up since it’s obviously such a great idea. And then I began noting down on a piece of scrap paper the names of some books, authors and themes that could go into this book. (Prediction on whether it will get written: less than the predicted prospect of the Democrats retaking the Senate in the mid-term elections next month, less than 20%.)
At which exact point I received an e-mail note from George Bowering saying he’d just finished reading with pleasure “Let’s Keep Doing This,” the festschrift in honour of me, (me, me, me!), and remarking that many of the pieces brought back “the old pleasure of reading for more than pleasure.” I wrote back that his cheerful and cheering note encouraged me to finish my review of the festschrift, which is titled “This time it really is all about Me… well, sort of”.
Which raises the question, How could a mind like this ever get out the front door of his apartment, or even the balcony door? The self becomes a coil that coils into itself. Where to stop? Ths is known as the “redundancy problem.” Stop when the redundencies no longer yield new or interesting material. Yesterday evening, I went up to Ilonka’s (she’s in Bochum, near Dusseldorf, for a couple of days) to feed the cats (there are two of them) only to discover that one of them was missing, and then to discover that the missing one was out on the netted-in terrace/balcony and the door to the terrace was locked and I had no idea where the key was, and now not only has the light changed nto fall-light, but the temperature has changed into fall-temperature, about 5 degrees Celsius at night, and the cat might freeze to death “on my watch”! Actually, on second thought, I’m pretty sure cats don’t freeze to death if they’re locked out at night when it’s 5 degrees C. So I had to go downstairs and phone Ilonka, and the explanation — arrived at through pure deductive reasoning — was that her father was feeding the cats in the morning and she had asked him to water the plants on the balcony, and one of the cats had slipped out on the balcony, but he hadn’t noticed and had inadvertently locked the cat out. Ilonka told me where the balcony key was (on a magnet attached to the fridge) and I went back up to her apartment on the top floor (fortunately, there’s now an elevator in the building so this didn’t turn into a stair-climbing nightmare), found the key, opened the door with difficulty, rescued the cat, and more or less re-locked the balcony door (Ilonka told me in a subsequent phone call that locking the balcony door was “tricky” – which is why it’s not securely locked, but locked enough to keep cats from escaping, if not secure enough to keep burglars from entering.) Tell me that “life” is not sufficiently complicated! (Oh, the cat went straight to its bowl, which is what the cat is supposed to do, and began eating dinner. Mission accomplished!) Now, if I was a “grand master of data” as it says in the Nigerian ad on CNN Int’l for some internet provider, I would insert a photo of the cats I had just taken in situ with my cellphone, or “Handy” as they’re called here in Germany. Fortunately, I don’t know how to do any of these tekkie fundamentals any contemporary 4-year-old child could perform, nor do I even have an unhandy Handy Thus you are spared a cat photo (more or less).
I forgot to mention to George Bowering, but I’ll mention to you that the e-mail program on my machine now auto-provides, when someone sends you an e-mail, a series of potential replies (or beginnings of replies) to the e-mail, presumably on the grounds that you’re so mentally depleted that you can’t think up a reply. It also provides a line to “report” any suggestions-for-replies that you find “offensive,” but doesn’t provide a way to tell them that the whole thing is offensive beyond belief!!! This little “helper” is so insane that it provides one of the few rational grounds for committing suicide!
You notice I have now written an entire letter without mentioning You-Know-Who. But at the same time, I can’t figure out why the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmon, the infamous “MbS,” has had the former Saudi insider and subsequent mild-mannered journalist Jamal Khashoggi murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. I needn’t reprise the whole mess (the story, CNN Int’l decided, takes up the first 15 minutes of every half-hour newscast this week – and you watch a 2-second loop of Closed Circuit TV tape mindlessly showing Khashoggi walking into the consulate from which he will never exit again and again and again until your mind is hot-ice numbed). There’s a non-credible cock ‘n bull story – or “narrative,” as people like to say these days – issued by MbS’s crew – posted in this morning’s New York Times even as I write this, which reports a significant number of arrests or dismissals of Saudi secret cops, but it makes no sense whatsoever. It’ll no doubt suitably alter as the day wears on, still making no sense, but the main point is to get MsB off the hook instead of being charged with first degree murder by some international court of justice, but even more important, to permit You-Know-Who to declare the story credible, and thus not interrupt the sale of billions of dollars of arms to Saudi by the U.S.
The only thing I saw that made some sense, earlier in the week, was NYTimes columnist Tom Friedman attempting to answer some anchor’s question about, Why did they kill Khashoggi? Friedman said that we have little idea of how deeply MsB’s inner circle is into wild conspiracy theories, and that it was only through some nutty paranoid fantasy that these goons could work themselves up into a murderous plot against a relatively harmless mild critic who had piqued the Crown Prince. Yes, I thought, that makes sense: you have to cook up or semi-believe some conspiracy theory to commit such a murder. Of course, to believe in the fantasy is as insane as ordering the murder itself. The Crown Prince was merely annoyed, and that’s enough to order an orgy of hellish murder.
Okay, it’s noon. I’m exhausted. I realized I was writing a column for Dooney’s Café rather than a reply to your last letter, so I’ll respond to that later, although your mention of a Persian restaurant in your dream that you’d like to take me to (I’d be happy to go! Dining in other people’s dreams! Even better than Tele-dining.) reminded me of an actual Persian restaurant in the Moabit district here in Berlin that I used to go to with Thomas and Nadya, that had great chicken dishes in pomegranate sauce. Meanwhile, this evening Thomas, Nadya, the kids, and I are having dinner with Scott Watson, who’s in town for the next six months, presumably, “to write.” Writing, the only insanity worth having!
love (which, as you say, “is not an algorithm”),