Love’s shadow’s death; impossible, superfluous without death. Love, most tender, most vulnerable.
Nail the word down!
Nail the world down!
Bang, bang, bang!
Hammer it down!
Five penny nail, Bang!
Five penny nail, Bang!
Five penny nail . . . a dime!
(Build a floor;
Frame a door;
Chuck both: key and time!)
Slam! Bang, bang!
Slam! Bang, bang!
Slam! Bang, bang! BANG!
In the Morning
Tucks an apple
In my bag and
Plucks a kiss
From my cheek;
Leaves fall and
Its The Fall
And I leave
school’s out and
an open mind
is an empty
the chain link fence,
lands and kicks
an open base-
in his pockets,
his hope and his shoes
walk home, joey.
it must be
getting dark soon and you are Sun-
burned and dusty.
(in the X
-ant climbing the mountain
That I Am
We have little problem when a Dostoyevski brings us up a set of stairs to bury an ax in an old woman’s head. But when Nabokov brings us on a little tour of the United States and has Humbert Humbert bury himself in his insane fantasy of a twelve year old nymphet, we are quick to call Nabokov an immoral pervert who encourages pedophilia. Indeed, when vandals attacked the St.Petersburg museum dedicated to Nobokov, they left a note which read, “How can you remain unafraid of God’s wrath promoting Nabokov’s pedophilia?”
Yet even literate readers level a similar charge against Nabokov.
Just this week, I debated a scientifically-minded philosopher on the topic. He told me that Nabokov is a horrible man for penning such immoral smut. He told me that such a book does not belong on any shelf a teenager might peruse. He admitted that he had not read the book.
Having got his confession, I told him that when my one year old daughter is literate and mature enough, I want her to read the book — the sooner the better. I want her to be wise to the Humbert Humberts of the world.
We should be thankful that we have such a beautiful, moral book as Lolita. We should be thankful we have this first-person account so that we may explore perversion sublimated par excellence. I for one am thankful for having been made wiser to the world for having read this first person account of a cruel, mad mind, driven to divine idolatry.
Countering, my philosopher friend gave an account of a scientific book which gives us to understand how rape is an unsavory impulse embedded in our genetic pattern, and that understanding this scientific account can help us to understand why we should not throw gasoline on that little red coal which burns in the darker corners of the human genome, of hotels, and of Hollywood.
And yet he did not think his scientific book an immoral book. Yet he, like so many, considers Lolita smut, perverse and pornographic.
I pressed him to distinguish why Nabokov’s account of a child rapist is a sick and immoral account, while the scientific account is not.
I asked him if it had to do with presentation, if it had to do with our relation to pronouns, if it had to do with the fact that a scientific account is not given in the first person, but is rather given in the third person or in the passive voice, in which the personal pronoun is neatly and happily hidden, like so many in our culture.
(According to Humbert Humbert, some seventeen percent of men have enjoyed a nymphet — yet Humbert Humbert is not a scientist. He is an unreliable narrator, and Lolita is unreliably narrated.)
My philosopher friend considered, and we have yet to conclude this conversation. Nonetheless, this lively debate led me to think about what we fancy Literature to be, and what we imagine Literature to give us. Scientific Literature, the prejudice goes, gives us knowledge — impersonal, sane and sanitary. Literature Literature, on the other hand, can give us a Humbert Humbert — but not knowledge.
Literature Literature alone can present for us the first person account, alone can present us with precision an individual, and alone can widen our understanding, knowledge, and humanity as the third person or passive voice cannot. Literature Literature can show us with precision what the scientific imagination alone cannot.
“A writer should have the precision of a poet, and the imagination of a scientist.” —Nabokov
As anti-theological as my philosophy is, I would not make the strict argument that religion and philosophy should not mix. There is, for example, a branch of philosophy which is called the philosophy of religion. My philosophy of religion is such that I have ruled out the very distinctions which positing a god presupposes.
Specifically, I have ruled out the appearance/reality distinction, for both epistemological and political reasons. In matters of epistemology, the claim that there is an unseen, untestable reality — which is at the heart of the appearance/reality distinction — is a dangerous claim, as it is not verifiable, let alone falsifiable, and so threatens freedom. That is, it is not the kind of claim that I can check out for myself — at least, it is not the kind of claim that is suitable for a public claim.
Perhaps I can have that kind of experience. But I never have. All I have is the testimony of others, which fail to stand up to scrutiny. Some person of authority simply tells me something is so, and I am expected to accept and abide by this other’s judgment?
Then suppose I do have this kind of experience. Why would I presume that others should just accept my claim, not having themselves had this experience? That would be an unethical presumption. I do not have the right to force others to follow anything that they have not been able to verify or examine themselves.
At the heart of the matter is the famous “problem of induction.”
To hold that there is another reality, different from what appears to be the world, rests on a mighty shaky induction. What evidence do we have that there is a hidden reality? Perhaps it is better to naturalize the problem, and say that where we have discovered that the world is different than we thought is simply to say that we just thought about it in a wrong or insufficient way — there is nothing to support the claim that there is another reality, except a strange induction.
God supposedly dwells on the other side of the appearance/reality distinction, and people expect that we should live according to what He tells us, though we have not spoken with Him directly. This is a formulation for tyrannical structures, a demand that we submit to unfounded authority.
If authority rests on nothing more than this, what limits a privileged few, who claim to know God’s will, from hijacking — the allusion to 9/11 is deliberate — the culture, nation, or world?
Theology is inherently anti-democratic. It is slavish, cowardly, and stupid. But this does not disqualify it from being philosophy. There are plenty who would argue for a religious philosophy, and I respect their right to have their own philosophy.
But science is a different matter. There is no room in science for religion, for the assumptions of religion will cause science to break down.
(It is funny, though, how many scientists take the priest-like position of having a special position to tell us what reality is — behind the appearances. Fools, the lot of them!)