A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Methuselah's Daughter Is Curious

As well she should be, for the writer is pretty damn curious, too, a puzzle to himself, in fact, if not to others. So, to probe my depths, she sent a series of questions about books and reading, a subject which, as you will see below is a matter of some personal nostalgia and regret.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

The Tale of Genji, the world's first novel, written by a deft, fastidious woman, Murasaki Shibitsu, and still one of the best books in the world. Genji was always her truest lover, and she makes you wish that you were Genji, not only because he was the handsomest and most cultivated man in the world, but also because he was the lover to Murasaki. If you read it yourself, get the Modern Library version translated by Arthur Waley.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Plenty. Crushes-R-Us. Let's run down the media.

In film, the first shot of Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca melted my heart, as it has melted many a man's. She was also scrumptious as the leading character in Notorious, flabbergasting Carry Grant in public at the races with, "And then I slept with him," in reference to her new husband, the Nazi spy, Claude Rains, the marriage having been stage managed by Grant himself as an American intelligence ploy. And, of course, Rita Hayworth in Gilda.

Two Weimar girls were also my crushes in film: Marlene Deitrich's Lola in The Blue Angel--whatever Lola wants, Lola gets--and Lisa Minelli as Fraulein Sally Bowes in Cabaret: "Zee girls are beaudiful, zee music is beaudiful, even zee band is beaudiful!"

Then there was the plain Gulietta, who turns into a stunning beauty every time the world causes her to flash her radiant smile, in Fellini's Juliet Of The Spirits. Finally, the beautiful, aristocratic, ghost who seduces the peasant potter in Ugetsu.

In television, of course, Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel in The Avengers, whom I fell as hard for as did the intelligent half of all the young boys in America, when the show first got here in the 1960's.

In photographs, (the models are always real, but the characters are always fictional--even when they have the same names as the models) painter Georgia O'Keefe in the photographs of Alfred Stieglitz; Mrs. Herbert Duckworth (Virginia Woolf's mother) photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron; and fashion model Suzy Parker, in the Dior Look, photographed by Richard Avedon.

Then, in painting and printmaking, we have Berthe Morisot as the barmaid in Manet's "Bar At The Follies Begere," as well as her direct, fresh, dressed in black portrait, also by Manet. Toulouse-Lautrec's publicity lithographs of Jane Avril at Le Divan Japonais, as well as many a nameless Degas ballerina. Then there is "Lady Agnew of Locknaw", by Sargent. And, finally, Pablo Picasso's "Girl Before A Mirror".

In books, a sultry redhead, whose name I do not remember, in the short story by Raymond Chandler called Trouble Is My Business, "She didn't look hard, but she looked as if she'd heard all the answers, and remembered the ones she thought she could use sometime." The face I place to her, of course, is that of Lauren Bacall.

Then there is dark, ugly, vivacious, and curvateous Marian Halcombe in Wilkie Collins', A Woman In White. As well as Carmilla, the lesbian subtext vampiress, in Joseph Sheridan LeFanu's short story of the same name. Of course, there is also Ada Veen in Nabokov's Ada, perhaps the most erotic novel, in the true implications of that word, ever written in English, as well as the best science fiction not recognized as science fiction, ever written. And, speaking of science fiction, there is the time-traveling piece of heartbreak (once again the name has vanished) in the C.L. Moore & Harry Kutner story Vintage Season.

The unnamed vixen in e.e. cummings' poem "my girl's tall with hard long eyes", also commanded my attentions. It one of the few such poems which seem to be about a real woman and not about the poet's own crush on a fictional character, like Yeats' on Maud Gonne. The fictional character and poet H.D., who was created by the real woman Hilda Doolittle, broke my heart in poem after poem. She was the Muse incarnate.

Then recorded song. Once again, the singer is always a fictional character who has the same name as the real entertainer: Alberta Hunter with "It Don't Make No Difference After Dark", Edith Piaf crying and laughing on "Milord", Billie Holiday's "I'm A Fool To Want You" on Lady In Satin, Ella Fitzgerald singing "Black Coffee" on The Intimate Ella, Diana Washington covering just about any blues tune, Etta James in the live album Etta Rocks The House, and Miss Peggy Lee pinning me to the wall with "Fever", along with what must be half the world--"Be it farenheit or centigrade!".

Of course there was Janis Joplin belting out "Ball and Chain", "Piece of My Heart", and "Summertime" (an exact literal transcription of soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet's version) on Cheap Thrills, and "Bobby McGee" on Cosmic Blues; Joni Mitchell throughout the entire album Blue and the marvelous single "Coyote Waits"; Linda Ronstadt pouring out syrup and heartache in "I've Been Cheated" and "The Dark End of the Street" on Heart Like a Wheel; and Rickie Lee Jones on her entire debut album, as well as her mischievous duet with Dr. John, covering "Makin' Whoopee" on his album In a Sentimental Mood.

Bonnie Raitt unbuttoning your pants in "Good Enough" and "Are You Ready for the Thing Called Love" on Love In The Nick Of Time: "I ain't no icon carved outta soap, sent here to clean up your reputation."

Steamy Holly Cole with "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday" and "Je Ne T'aime Pas" on Don't Smoke In Bed, Diana Krall with Nat King Cole's "Frim-Fram Sauce" on All For You, Natalie Merchant doing "Candy Everybody Wants" with 10,000 Maniacs Unplugged, and Suzanne Vega with "Caramel" on Nine Objects of Desire.

Among many others.

The last book you bought is:

Buddhahood Without Meditation, by Dudjom Lingpa, an extraordinary "terma" or revealed teaching on the profound Tantric practice of Dzogchen. I later gave it to a fine lady fellow practicioner, and Vajra sister, at my Dharma Center.

These days I don't buy books and I had to sell 98% of what I owned, to help make ends meet, at the beginning of the 2000 recession. This was about the fourth time I've had to do this in a highly checkered life. I doubt I will ever buy books again.

The last book you read:

Buddhahood Without Mediation, by Dudjom Lingpa

What are you currently reading?

Nothing at the moment. It frankly feels, and has for some years, like I've already read, seen, or listened to everything worthwhile in the world. This is an illusion, I know, but most pleasures, besides religion and contemporary politics, have faded from me. This is the slow consummation of what I have prayed for these past twenty years, in order to prepare for death. These days, I read the news and the palimiset of nature in my town, and my own backyard.

Five books you would take to a desert island.

The Torch of Certainty, by Jamgon Kongtrul the Great

The Life of Marpa the Translator, by Chogyam Trungpa and the Nalanda Translation Committee

The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, by Garma C. C. Chang

History of the Sixteen Karmapas of Tibet, by Karma Thinley

Bardo Teachings, by Lama Lodo

I doubt I'd read much. I'd be too busy taking the wonderful opportunity to be completely free from the world to do more direct meditation.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Well, Zsallia, I doubt I have three persons to pass it to. You are the third of my three readers. But if The Anchoress, and Dave Schuler over at The Glittering Eye want to take it up, I won't stop them. And anybody else who happens to stumble in can pick it up and leave a follow-up note on my comment page, if they wish.


Blogger Dave Schuler said...

Hmmm. Okay, I'll take up the gauntlet but it will take a little reflection. I take it that the “Fahrenheit 451” question means a supremely great book?

9:15 AM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

Well, Zsallia didn't think so. She chose something rather obscure as the book so good that people who hate books think it worth burning. So, I suppose, we are all free to develop the answer in any direction we please to reveal ourselves.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Dave Schuler said...

I've posted my responses.

10:20 AM  

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