Paul and Helene and Narcissus

HELENE by Darwin
by Darwin Leon


For Helene, mere appearances, which she judged good or evil according to her prejudices at the moment, were almost everything. For fear of feeling diminished, she could not afford to entertain her own contradictions to understand the underlying crisis or hypocrisy of humankind, that perfection is impossible, that her ideal of herself did not and could not exist, that it was not really her ideal in the first place, but was merely a conventional reaction imposed on her by society’s dissatisfaction with the human condition, that of being born into the sin of individuality contrary to society’s falsifying ideals.

Helene’s saving grace was her respect for intelligence and creativity in others as expressions of the absolute power everyone worships in different forms. She had for herself the creativity and intelligence of a wild creature, a thing that she feared and endeavored to discipline by playing a contrived role lest she go stark raving mad. In fine, she was no narcissist as popularly defined; she was histrionic. The world was for her a stage, and she perceived herself as an actress upon it although she complained that she could not perceive herself as she really was. And she was a fine actress thereupon, a natural born saleswoman as long as she managed to repress her duplicity with faith in her product, which she placed, above all, on a pedestal. The Product no matter what she was selling was none other than Helene, whosoever she might really be.

Paul, on the other hand, withdrew inward to his grandiosity, hence is another sort of narcissist himself, a self-stimulating narcissist, an introverted narcissist, a true narcissist in the sense of the myth of Narcissus, the Bewildered or Confounded One. The classical Narcissus did not desperately crave approval, he did not need others to worship him. Indeed, he spurned the water nymphs and the echoes that would have allured him with their charms were it not for their imperfections. He would know no other but himself, so the pleasures of sexuality born of the need to propagate the species were absolutely introverted in him, to his ultimate doom.

In truth one really loves his self in others, so Narcissus lives on in us all, but not to his full extent. Tragically, no other but Narcissus, divided as an in-dividual, could reflect Narcissus hence the insoluble problem for him was that no other, which he vainly sought in his reflection in the pool, was good enough for him, because he himself was flawed; whenever he touched his own image, the image was distorted before his eyes.

If only he had placed his hopes in others, Narcissus would have been a male Madame Bovary, falling in love with his high hopes projected unto one woman after another, none of which would satisfy him, but at least the command to go forth and multiply would be fulfilled.

In the final analysis, that of his dissolution in the reflecting pool, the prophesy of the blind seer came true, that he would live as long as he did not know himself, for he perished when he discovered he was nothing without another besides himself. That is, the self alone is nothing at all.

Wherefore Paul’s grand experiment in unconditional love, which he thought was an intentional, philosophical endeavor, was his last unwitting attempt to save himself from his own doom, that is to say, from knowledge of the essence of his being, which was nothing without any relationship at all with another. According to his hypothesis based on the Doctrine of Hypocrisy or the underlying crisis of human beings, any other, the first woman he encountered who was willing, would be good enough to that end in itself.

That other for him was destined to be Helene, whom he by chance or by the wiles of the three fates who reside behind the moon met on Miami’s People Mover. Helene was perfect for his purpose despite her superficial flaws. Every friend has flaws, and every friend is free to have them, for the root of “friend” is “free.”

She happened to be the light of his life, a reincarnation of the flame of the Western World, and it was his good fortune that she was the only one who would put up with him.


My Helene’s Tree Prophet

Graphic by Darwin Leon







Helene did not know Paul’s acquaintance and consultant of sorts, a man around Lincoln Road Mall sometimes known as Richard the Tree Prophet. Nor would she have wanted too meet him, for Richard was everything in a man Helene despised, a despicability summed up by the word homeless.” As far as she was concerned, any man without ample money and a home to live in was worse than worthless, and this great nation of ours would be even greater if they were loaded into trucks and liquidated, for the expense of keeping them housed was not worth their insults to manhood and especially fatherhood.
Yet Helene, as director of fundraising for the Miami Association for Battered Women, expressed a quite different sentiment for the flat broke and broken women at the nine women’s shelters operated under her organization’s auspices. Her sympathy was indeed with the weaker sex. She had been battered within an inch of her life by so-called gentlemen; that is to say, rich and powerful men. She deified such “gentlemen” because they had terrorized and chastised her throughout her life. She had been a good girl for them, and in the end she herself had been left without a mansion to live in, hence she actually had to work hard for a regular paycheck – Helene was by nature a hard worker, born and groomed to serve men, but women seldom get excellent references for working their domestic tails off for their families. After her fall from the heaven of her gods, she said she lived in her $1,500 month rented condo as a matter of choice; she said she liked it very much, but in fact the smallish one-bedroom apartment was as beneath Helene’s accustomed way of living as sleeping under a bridge would be for her principal hero, George Bush, Jr.
As far as poor Richard was concerned, he was comparatively well off. He had his mental disability check every month, and his so-called life on the street was, when you got right down to it, much better than life in the shelter he had been tossed out of one day during a bout with a fifth of demon rum. He hardly considered himself homeless, thereafter, for he had nested himself and his few possessions in a big tree overhanging the canal, sleeping in a hammock by night and pulling up fish and cooking them in the mornings. He supplemented his income collecting and selling coconuts, and making little dolls out of palm fronds, a big hit with the kids – unbeknownst to Helene, Richard was the faceless, contemptible homeless man who had been stripping the young palms outside her condominium building.
Furthermore, Richard supported his love affair with booze by attending all the art openings where free drinks were served throughout the city. He glanced at the art and engaged in small talk with art patrons, but the main attraction was the open bar, where he drank prodigiously of everything from cheap table wine to designer vodka. Much to his indignation, in addition to being called Richard the Tree Prophet he was dubbed ‘The Man Who Comes To All The Art Openings’. On one occasion he passed out on his feet, keeled over backwards, was declared dead when Emergency Services arrived, but then came to with a jolt and has not missed a single art opening since.
Richard was not out of his element around art. His brilliant mind, dampened by alcohol, had not rendered him entirely incoherent, and the spirits helped inspire him to write several books of rather good Impressionistic poetry, mostly on the subject with which he was best acquainted: Love. Unfortunately, however, poetry readings did not go well for him, as he had lost his front teeth and spat out his words with ample spittle; he sounded like Bugs Bunny, which ruined his chances of striking the right public mood – alas, Governor Bush had cracked down on the false-teeth fund for impoverished people, and the private collection taken by friends had fallen way short of the exorbitant customary price for partials demanded by local dentists..
The poetry of love had brought Richard to Florida on a Greyhound bus from Tennessee. He had a good job in Nashville until his woman sent him out for a bottle of Black Label on Saturday night. They began to argue while polishing it off. She smashed the bottle over the back his head. He turned around and slapped her one. She called the police. He was arrested and charged with battery. She got a restraining order pending the court date. She called him over to get his clothes out of the house, and reported his violation of the restraining order when he showed up. He evaded the police and fled her and the state, hence wound up with the rest of the poor white trash that blows around the most civilized nation in world.
Paul had met Richard at the decrepit old ‘Potemkin Library’ in Collins Park, a virtual day care center frequented mostly by vagrants. Richard sauntered up to him while Paul was reading an entry on Occassionalism in a dictionary of philosophy.
“Hey, excuse me, sir, I’ve seen you around here a lot. I wonder if you would do me a favor. My check is coming this Friday, and….”
“Excuse me,” Paul interjected, “I’m as broke as you are, and I’ll be on the street unless I get a job right away.”
“No problem. My name’s Richard, I’m from Tennessee.”
“I’m Paul, from my mama’s womb, been traveling ever since.”
“Are you going to find a job in that book?”
“Just avoiding reality and realizing that I’m not to blame for it.”
“I hear you. Hey, if things get bad, you can get a place to stay and food real easy, some money too.”
“How’s that?”
Richard explained that all one had to do was to buy a pint of booze, swig it down in front of the CVS store on Lincoln Road, smash the bottle on the sidewalk and start yelling incoherently. “The police will come and process you. Bemoan your addiction to alcohol, plead for help, say you want to stop drinking, and you will find out how to get into rehab. If you follow the procedure and also play the mental disability game, you will wind up with shelter and food and a social worker, who can get you some money for your mental disability.”
“But I don’t drink, smoke, or use other drugs, and I’m not mentally disabled,” Paul responded.
“That’s beside the point, and you’ll be better off, showing how you quit drinking but are still incapacitated,” Richard said with a big grin.
“Oh, I get it.”
“What do you like to do?”
“Write. I’m a writer.”
“I knew it! I’m a poet. You can find a copy of my recent poetry book at Books and Books. I’m about to get a big contract with a publisher. Get yourself on the program, man, and write whatever you like.”
“I appreciate the information, Richard. I sure wish I could give you a few bucks for that info right now. I’m having a bad run of luck. I’m unlucky in money and love lately.”
“Love? That’s my favorite subject. What’s the problem?”
“Ah, well, never mind, I can’t talk about it.”
“Shush!” a library patron yelled.
“Hey, shut up over there!” shouted another.
“Come on, it’s best to consult a stranger on these things,” Richard insisted. “Let’s go outside and you tell me what’s up.”
Paul, always glad to talk to someone in hopes of getting an interesting story, followed Richard outside and sat down with him on the front steps.
“It’s a woman.”
“What is she like?
Paul described Helene briefly and in very general terms, taking care not to mention anything that would identify her, nor did he mention her feminist cabal to take over Miami politics.
“She got mad and dumped me because I did not know it was her birthday last week.”
“Never, ever, forget a woman’s birthday,” Richard sagely advised.
“I didn’t forget it. I didn’t know it was her birthday. I left my cell at home, and she left an e-text message on it that it was her birthday that day. I spoke with her on a regular phone during the day, but she didn’t say it was her birthday, having supposed that I got the earlier message. I got home and found out it was her birthday, and tried to reach her by phone several times, leaving several messages, but she had turned off her phone. I went by her place. Her lights were on – she said later that she was not at home – she never leaves her lights on when she goes out – but there is no intercom system so I could not get in to knock on her door. Two days later I got an e-text message from her. She said I was an abusive man and that I had stalked her on her cell phone.”
“Okay, so you did not forget her birthday, but you were still wrong,” observed Richard, “for not having your cell phone with you, in which case you would have known. Instead of pestering her, you should have simply apologized and gotten her a little gift. I make nice little dolls out of palm tree fronds,” he offered.
“But that’s not all. I saw her Wednesday, on the street, riding her bike towards me. She was wearing her tight exercise outfit. We stopped and chatted. She invited me up to her place. She likes to watch television a lot, so we were watching LOST, which is entirely pointless so one doesn’t have to think because trying to figure it out would drive you crazy. She was nice at first, but started drinking wine, and got belligerent on the third glass.”
“You let her get into the third glass? Sounds like you made another mistake. You should have taken advantage of the wine, had your way with her.”
“Yes, what, that’s the question. What did you really want to do with her? Visualize the scene. Was she sitting down?”
“On the couch.”
“How did she look to you?”
“Well, she looked sexy, come to think of it. Her dress was up a bit above her knees, which were slightly parted, and her face was flushed.”
“So what happened?”
“We got into an argument, or rather she attacked me.”
“What should you have done if you had followed your feelings?”
“Now that I think of it, I should have gotten down on my knees in front of hers and…. Never mind, she’s not that kind of girl.”
“How would you know if you don’t try?” Richard quizzed.
“She’s a prude. She is slighted by the slightest sexual innuendo. She is very intimidating and I can’t keep it up for long when she’s like that.”
“What is said is one thing, what is done is another. So what was the argument about?”
“She started screaming at me, said that I had abused her on her birthday, that I was no gentlemen. She yelled at me to get out and to never contact her again.”
“I said she was behaving foolishly, and I tried to explain how I felt. She said she did not care about how I felt or what I said, that she cared about what I did.”
“There you go. You should have been on top of the situation by then.”
“And she said she would never forgive me for what I did, abuse her on her birthday, the most important day of her life. Then she went on and on about how I was no gentleman, so I said the kind of gentlemen she probably loves are the ones who beat the hell out of her then rape her to make amends. And I left.”
“That’s it?”
“Yes. What do you think?”
“I think you’re on a one-way street. She’s selfish, and that’s her right, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you should forget her. There’s nothing in the relationship for you. She’s a taker, not a giver.”
“Well, when I asked what sort of a man she liked, she said she was so sick and tired of giving all her life that she wanted a giver and not a taker.”
“So you’re too late – she’s a taker now. Take my word for it if not her word. She doesn’t give a damn about you or your opinion on anything at all. When it comes to social class, she looks down on you like you were common scum. The only thing she likes about you is your creativity, and she will do her best to stifle it in the end, so you will not be able to get it up for any woman again. Don’t waste your time, because if you want anything from her, you will get hurt.”
“But I don’t need anything from her. And she’s fun to hang out with when not drinking, and she feeds me good food.”
“A sexual relationship would probably be orgasmic dynamite, probably too much for you,” proclaimed the tree prophet. “You would wind up a as limp rag, never fully satisfying her, and she would laugh and shame you, or you would die of a heart attack.”
“I love her because underneath it all I know she is like me, and I love myself a lot, so there is nothing I really want except myself, but it would be nice to have company. The differences between us are superficial, the products of our conditioning.”
“Okay, then. But expect nothing from her. If I were a writer with your feelings I would beat around my bush until I found an attractive and affectionate woman who likes to converse and does not bicker, someone who is sincerely interested in your interests, and hopefully financially independent so she doesn’t have to work and can be your companion.”
“Find? Where would I find a woman like that?”
“Your heart is in the right place. Read some of my poetry. My work is very romantic and spiritual. Thanks for telling me your story. I’m going fishing now. See you later.”


The General Lie


The dystopia 1984 was premature: the title should have been 2084. The year 1984 has past but the spirit of 1984 is still at work in capitalism despite the failure of the national socialist and communist campaigns. But not to worry. The number of dissident intellectuals who worry about the evils of The System diminishes because their minds are being submerged, nay, are being assimilated and absorbed by the homogeneous, gelatinous gray matter, the Borgian Blob beneath the gargantuan mechanical carapace.

Who needs a liberal education or a self-education? The human race has already been systematically liberated by science and technology. We near the end of human history whose objective is freedom. WE are almost free enough to totally obey now: The System is freedom in obedience. The once adamantly independent intellectual has joined the amorphous population of irresponsible credentialed narcissists staring into the corporate pool of Echo’s tears. Credentials, indeed. The sausage-factory graduate is handed a pigskin at the commencement exercise: “Here is your brain.” With this football he or she can proceed to beg in hyphenated broken English at corporate back doors:

“Extremely well organized, detail-oriented, highly self-motivated, ambitious, career-minded team-player with a can-do attitude and excellent communication skills seeks key place on winning team. Highly energetic self-starter. Eager to hit the ground running to meet deadlines long before they arrive for cutting-edge, rapidly expanding, fast-paced company. Works best under pressure. Dynamic, multi-tasking, customer-driven, high-expectations environment preferred. Loves constant change and long hours without overtime pay. Willing to make sacrifices: integrity, conscience, family, and three chickens a week.”

What communication skills? and to what end? Never mind, just push the right sequences of buttons and everyone will get it and obey it and produce it and consume it. The hackneyed phrases of form letters no matter how inapplicable to particulars will more than suffice when ‘integration’ and not ‘integrity’ is the key word. We are racially, politically and economically integrated now. We do not worry so much about our liberty for we find virtual liberty in our freedom to choose from an amazing variety of optional dressings on goods and services mass produced by virtue of scientific management. Fascists and communists and capitalists alike loved America’s scientific management scheme. Yet the intellectual roots of modern business administration are not in America but in Europe, in the Jesuit’s educational ‘conspiracy’ hatched in monasteries and cultivated in universities and military schools.

Today’s neo-liberal masters of business administration are jesuitical monotheists devoted to the disciplined rational pursuit and compound accumulation of an overarching abstract value: money. Money is god because it gives any person no matter how honorable or dishonorable power over things and persons. It is not so much the thing as the power that is wanted. Money is worth dying for and profit is salvation. Profit is frantically sought no matter how many heart attacks one survives: we look at the fast-paced businessman and say, “He is a walking heart attack,” but he does not know his condition; if he does, he just keeps on going anyway, like that battery in the commercial. Money comes not in peace but with a sword to destroy not only the family but traditional morality with its plural values. Morality becomes a pretense as exchange value replaces it. Profitable individualism is perfected in the universal hypocrisy of This Lying World of Ours. In any event, the army of workers must be organized and managed undemocratically in order to reduce costs and increase sales so that the kept class may be kept up with unearned income – the executive officers who aspire to join the kept class are entitled to obscene salaries and perquisites whether they lose or win the battles.

No doubt with the advance of technology many benefits trickle down to obedient employees as a consequence. As a matter of fact, there exists an open dirty secret: if the furnace were allowed to go full blast and the products were broadly distributed, poverty would be eliminated forthwith. But we must not allow that to happen, because people are basically lazy and prefer to lay around all day, smoke pot, drink booze, shoot up drugs, gamble, and fornicate. In fact, they would stop working without the fear of poverty to motivate them. Civilization would soon be destroyed. Therefore a system must be maintained, a system based on the scarcity principle – if there is no real scarcity, a false scarcity must be created.

The System is painful at times, but as long as the masses are systematically preoccupied with bread and circus, with standard trash, junk, and garbage, the elite are secure in their luxurious compounds furnished with custom-made things. We are an option-rich people, therefore we are free to choose between things. The choice is between buy and buy, or consume and consume; and to have that liberating choice one must sell and sell, or produce and produce, or be born rich or otherwise come into some unearned money. The surgeon general of the United States defined mental health as leading a productive life, and recommended mind-bending prescription drugs for those who cannot stand it. As long as one goes along, one is free in his or her obedience. There is always freedom of thought and conscience, and in the creative imagination, even in prison where great libertarian tracts have been written. If one can find enough leisure in voluntary poverty or wealth, religion or art-for-art’s sake might set one virtually free.

Do we like The System? Not really. If people were allowed to pitch tents or to build lean-tos, huts and cabins wherever they liked, without paying rent or mortgage payments, the residential real estate bubble would burst – there would be no affordable housing shortage. But that cannot be. That is why the military junta of Myanmar, for example, wants everyone to live in regular Western houses instead of bamboo houses that can be built in a day if they happen to burn down because a woman is not careful smoking her cheroot – she was once the freest woman in the world, the envy of British women who visited Burma.

However, something is wrong with the the dark view of our race, especially with the allegation that humankind is a kind of sloth – that is a lie. We are not all lazy prostitutes: we do not work for the money alone or the thing that it can buy. We are not natural born bums and wicked welfare recipients. We know wealthy and poor people who love to work. We love action. We are natural born creators and builders. We cannot stop building when we should stop and be as lazy as a sloth sometimes appears to be. Moreover, men and women have built up fabulous fortunes not merely for love of money or power but because they love to be building something for people and they just cannot stop themselves; and those projects have enormously benefited our kind. So there.

On the other hand, the restlessness has gotten out of hand, and we are right to criticize it, to give ourselves a break, to take more and longer breaks from the compulsive make-work that consumes so much time in the ‘advanced’ economies of the world. Making work just to work is presently working the ruin of the physical, mental and spiritual resources of the the world, and does so in the false name of inevitable progress to a nebulous, indefinite utopia or X, but we know better, for we residents of This Lying World of Ours are hypocrites.

The utopia of our modern forefathers is here; we know it is rapidly becoming a dystopia. Yet we praise it. We put up a pretense that it is a good thing, for instance, to welcome change; to be welcome mats for somebody else’s perpetual innovation; to change for the sake of change; to upgrade everything just to keep our jobs; to spin our wheels producing superfluities just to have private crappers; – to do all this falsely, on command from the top down, in the name of individual liberty. It is the liberty of an army ant. We are just going through the motions. We have no idea where the the military-industrial complex will strike on its next pre-emptive, self-defensive campaign to save the world for its own good whether the world likes it or not. We know the generals are lying through their whitened teeth; one lies to the whole world because he has high office; the other to the American people because he wants high office. The generals know they lie, but here we go again, we prefer the lies. The general’s colleagues warn us: they say he an untrustworthy, ambitious, self-infatuated liar, but otherwise he a good general. The “otherwise” is good enough for us. Hypocrisy has become the norm, hence ‘hypocrite’ has ceased to be the epithet the Alexandrine Jews and Christians made of it.

We are uneasy. Our wealthy friends feel the malaise or malease precedent to the outbreak of mortal disease; they continue to gain weight. The much less well off know what they are afraid of and are accordingly terrified and stunted in their growth. The dogs are behaving in a peculiar fashion; Californians are are beginning to freak out; a quake impends. The world is working hard on the verge of another major heart attack. We must take a break and reflect on the meaning of hypocrisy. We must drop the false pretenses and admit that we are at an either/or crisis in human history. Either life and truth; or death and lies. No, everything is not black and white – there are gray areas. But in this case we have Truth and Lie separated by a void. The lying and spinning must stop. We must pause, rest, reflect, withdraw from the deceptive course. We are lying to ourselves and to each other. The lies we tell to protect ourselves, to give ourselves separate and important identities as individuals and as groups, have been repeated so often that they are almost believed; we know better because of the spark of light in the emptiness, yet we continue apace. Thus has lying and pretense made devils and hypocrites of us all in This Lying World of Ours. It will not be easy, but that much can be changed, and at the grass-roots level.


Why We Write

by Darwin Leon – stolen painting

Jean-Paul Sartre was looking for himself in The Family Idiot. His theme is that Gustave Flaubert, the so-called realist, had turned his imagination to the wrong end, to “Nothing” instead of “Existence” as the ground of “Being.” He opined that Flaubert, not wanting to engage in the existential struggle one way or the other, chose to merely criticize it; that is, he was a pacifist or coward instead of an activist like him.
Sartre diagnosed his dead patient as “pithiatic,” a neurotic disorder named after the hysterical antics of drugged Cretan nuns called Pythias used as oracles at Delphi in ancient times. Their shrieks were interpreted by Apollo’s priests into answers to questions put to them by leading figures concerned for their futures. Greek states banked their treasures at Delphi, and were wont to bankrupt the politico-religious center when funds were wanted for war.
Shall I win a war I want to wage? I might bribe a priest for a favorable answer. The wily priest would render the Pythia’s rant into an insipid, ambiguous poem, favorable to me or not depending on one’s prejudice, therefore my campaign is divinely sanctioned, and the oracle has an out in case I lose.  
It is meet to recall that Sartre’s feminist “pythia,” Simone de Beauvoir, who wrote the fascinating book, The Ethics of Ambiguity, declared that it was impossible to find an ethical system in Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. In The Second Sex, while discussing the “myth of the family,” she declares that “a woman’s body—and specifically the girl’s—is a ‘hysterical’ body in the sense that there is, so to speak, no distance between psychic life and its physiological realization.”
Everybody knows that women are hysterical and males are reasonable; how else would women have survived if they had not thrown fits to get their way and “civilize” men in process?
Pithiatism has its passive and active aspect. The process if guided by an analyst may result in the “persuasive healing” of a troubled person by employing the power of suggestion to cultivate a positive or constructive mental attitude causing one to be proactive, to participate in world affairs.
That was the philosopher Jules de Gaultier’s take on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.  He purged her of the arsenic she was taking, turned her around with some reasonable persuasion, nudging her in the right direction. She was, thought he, indeed exemplary of a social malady; she was its passive victim. The harm was not in the power of suggestion itself; one could make active use of it to effect a cure; wherefore he prescribed what he called Bovarysm as the solution to the culture’s misguided inclination. In short, Jules de Gaultier’s Bovarysm takes advantage of Madame Emma Bovary’s neurosis to prescribe a healthy response to the foolish romantic uneasiness of her time. Her neurotic tendency was in effect a betrayal of the Imagination.
On the other hand, a pithiatic subject might withdraw into a corner to brood and poison oneself with nihilism if not arsenic, as Flaubert was said to do. Not that he did not have a great deal of fun in his youth, travelling in 1848-1849 with his wealthy friend Maxime du Camp about North Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East, fighting off thieves, consorting with belly dancers, native girls, and prostitutes. Du Camp consequently produced what may be the world’s first travel photography book.  Eventually Flaubert would brood at home in Rouen between trips to Paris, where he enjoyed himself one way or another. Yet his experience with humankind overall, and especially with his countrymen at the subjugation of France by Germany, gave him nothing to have faith in except nothing itself, which would be something if nothing actually exists. If not a nihilist, he was a cynic and skeptic. Flaubert, by the way, contracted syphilis in Beirut; that may help explain his negative attitude.
Many authors, neurotic or not, naturally sympathize with literary giants such as Gustave Flaubert and Jean-Paul Sartre, both of whom were rather realistic in their preoccupation with writing. Flaubert is celebrated as a Realist, a label he was not comfortable with, but he was really a frustrated romantic. Most people do mature to be more or less realistic, yet as idealistic children they were fond of popular romances and adventure stories, their imaginations captivated by heroes and villains and monsters.
Family influences matter, but family is not as deterministic of one’s fate as its enthusiasts believe. Indeed, the mythical nuclear family is a pious fraud, as can be seen by lifting the roofs off homes and peering into the virtual snake pits. Heredity largely determines an individual’s intelligence and temperament hence his fate, not the collection of traits found in a particular family. It was of little avail to our ancestors to exterminate the families of criminals, to burn down their homes, kill their livestock, and uproot their crops. Ridding society of the nuclear patriarchal family altogether might even benefit society according to some radicals.
Jean-Paul undoubtedly saw a bit of himself in Gustave while peering under his roof, albeit in a different light, inasmuch as he was pampered by the dominant male in his own household. The Family Idiot is unfinished hence inconclusive, but Sartre wanted to demonstrate among other things that a person’s family is in fact the determining factor in his or her life; hence he partly exonerates Flaubert and himself for faults.
The redundancy of his the ten-year, unfinished project may be in part due to Sartre’s use of a combination of aspirin and amphetamine that perked him up as he peered, like narcotized Narcissus, into a mirror of his own ‘hysteria.’ His autobiography, The Words, portrays his early struggle against insanity, a jihad that would lead to his existentialist affirmations.
His father died before he was two. He was a lonely, sad, and sickly child, half blind and wall-eyed, spoiled by his patriarchal grandfather, who treated his mother like a slave in chains. He did not have kids to play with so he escaped from the lack, reading trashy adventure novels supplied by his mother, books he preferred to the serious tomes of his grandfather’s large collection. In order to elicit praise for precocity, he pretended he liked authors such as the romantic/classical tragedian, Pierre Corneille.
“I was a fake child. I could feel my acts changing into gestures. Playacting robbed me of the world and of human beings. I saw only roles and props.”
Flaubert, on the other hand, had plenty of kids to play with; playacting was his favorite pastime; he wrote a play about satanic monster called Yuk: Flaubert evidently appeared to be a phony to Sartre.
Sartre called his escapism “death by ecstasy.”
Sartre started writing monster stories at age eight, letting his imagination run wild, and he soon realized that he himself was the toady monster he had imagined. He finally found some kids to play with when he went off to school, but the madness of writing to “forgive” his existence had already determined his arrogant and despairing manner of existing.
Both authors were profoundly influenced by war. Gustave Flaubert and his home in Rouen were left unscathed by the war between France and Germany of 1870-1871 except he was emotionally traumatized by the behavior of his “stupid” countrymen.  For Sartre, World War II was an extremely unpleasant personal experience. His residence had been bombed after moving in, he had suffered being a prisoner of war, and so on, but being a member of the Resistance was worth it.
Sartre never forgave or “let go” of his existence. He endured it and survived the circumstances, and found consolation in philosophizing after the war in a basement jazz cellar. An American journalist asked a singer what people were doing there.
“Just existing,” she said.
Thus was the cradle laid for “Existentialism.” Existentialism was not a philosophy or ideology to begin with. The Existentialists denied they were Existentialists at first, and then accepted the label for convenience of being recognized as influential collaborators. Camus never embraced the tag because it was definitely absurd, as can be seen by the metaphysical jibber jabber about the difference between existence and being, and being and nothingness.
To just exist means the individual disregards socializing concepts as beings by placing existence before such being. Sartre like any bourgeoisie intellectual worth existing resented and despised bourgeoisie being. He leaned to the left, but abhorred Nazism and Stalinism.
There is no God to rely on:  Man is responsible for himself. Nature does not care: life is absurd. Ethics are incoherent: ambiguity is the rule.
What choice is there but to exist as responsibly as one can?
What can a writer do?
Write to resist, write to free people including ourselves from mass hysteria.
That is why we write, or so we think.

The Birth of Travel Photography Flaubert and DuCamp


A Note To Myself About Writing Novels




If writing novels is your calling and you write an ideal novel, you will be not only a philosopher but an artist as well, for only a lover of wisdom and revealer of truth can write an ideal novel. The great ‘poets’ of old were philosophers, ‘makers’ not of truth but of revelations – for the truth is always there to be seen after the chisel is applied to mute stone.

Other than writing poetry, what occupation could be more divine than novel-writing? And today the best novel might be a freely styled prose-poem. What? Never mind. You will be the creator, the creating, and the creation, namely, Maya. You will be the author, and, in the process, the several different characters under your investigation. You will be the synthesis of the universal and particular. What could be more godly than this sacred calling?

Do not worry about your lack of credentials. Great novels have been produced with a grammar school education. Mind you, however, that schooling in “grammar,” in the broadest sense of the word, means nothing less than the study of the best world literature produced by human beings. If you want good criticism, why seek it from amateurs? Compare your work to the finest work of the best masters. Let the virtual universe of the best discourse be your mother’s milk. Then build your mental field and even social scientists will come to play – philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, psychoanalysts.

And do not worry too much about your own sanity if you would succeed – but please do stay out of mental hospitals and prisons, and keep yourself tethered to at least one understanding yet realistic friend. It actually helps to be a bit mad to be a productive author. At least if you are mad about writing you will not be constipated by writer’s blocks; if anything, you will suffer bouts of logorrhea. Don’t throw anything away at first, no matter how incoherent it seems, then find yourself rooting around the garbage can for the good ideas that looked bad because of a bad mood. Let your natural excretions dry out for awhile, come back to them, play with them, mold them into blocks, then apply the chisel – you might wind up with some of your best stuff.

‘Madness’ might be the wrong word for the writer’s motivation, but, my dear Altar Ego, let’s not go nuts over finding just the right one. Let us say, to put it euphemistically, that a person must be ‘neurotic’ to withdraw from reality to make a living writing novels, especially now that the civilized world is filled with competing neurotics and inflated with twin delusions of persecution and grandeur – who would want to persecute a nobody? The world really is out to get you one way or another and will get you in the end. Taste the narcissus for relief and gaze into the pool to know thyself. Don’t worry, listen to Socrates: the cosmos is in the microcosm – a global psychology can be found in a single case study. But remember, just say “yes” to the nymphs.

Miami Beach Selected Best of All Possible Cities







“There are an infinite number of possible cities, of which this one happens to be necessary and therefore the best because it has been intelligently chosen. It is the optimum city,” pronounced my interlocutor, who had engaged me in conversation at Terranova’s Big Reveal Block Party. He was a blue-eyed blonde decked out in orange shoes, green pants and an orange shirt.
“Pray tell, by whom was it chosen?”
“It was chosen by The Hundred Jews.”
“Who are They?”
“They are the secret masters of the material world,” he declared in a conspiratorial tone, giving me cause to believe he was yet another South Beach nutcase. Madame Blavatsky would spin in her grave.
“Is Terranova’s Stephen Bittel one of them?”
“I cannot say.”
“He seems to believe that the world is an orange,” I said, having decided to go along with his nonsense while Beatrice was getting another round of mojitos.
“Orange is the optimistic color. Orange encourages us to aspire to be the best, to take risks, to compete with one another to make this the best of all possible cities in the best of all possible worlds.”
“I thought you said this was already the best of all the possibilities.”
“It is, indeed, the best if all cities that presently exist, and of all possible cities at this time, but the world does not stand still for our city, therefore The Hundred Jews had to save it from the Great Flood at the last election. Jews now control the commission, and Cubans run the city as usual.”
“What? Does the best of all possible cities proceed on a racist agenda?”
“It is not racist at all. In fact, it is racial harmony at its optimum material composition. More potassium was needed on the commission.”
“Yes, Cuban-American physiology has not completely rebounded from the potassium shortage suffered when sugar cane was favored over bananas in Cuba. Former Mayor Herrera Bower, for example, was quite lightheaded, fatigued, and spasmodic at times, as was former Commissioner Michael Gongora. They are presently eating a high orange diet and have subscribed to the Orange Theory. They are expected to recover in about three years.”
“I see. That makes sense, but why have Cubans run the city if they are that way?”
“They do not all suffer from Hypokalaemia. They more than anyone understand the necessity of dictatorship. Therefore they cherish our strong city manager charter. Besides, considerable negligence and erratic behavior in government does people a lot of good. And other Latinos with a banana-rich heritage offset the deficiencies.”
“Well, that makes sense too. Still, if the City of Miami Beach is the best of all possible cities, why does it seem to be more like a ghetto every day, with the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer? Just look at the misery on the streets and in the parks.”
“Are you so miserable?”
“No,” I averred, “not as miserable as the increasing number of vagrants squatting in doorways and parks. I still am miserable in my own way. That I know not what I want, is the cause of my complaint: if I had any known want, I should have a certain wish; that wish would excite endeavour. When I see people pursuing one thing or another, I fancy that I should be happy if I had something to pursue. But, possessing all that I can want, although that is poverty to most people, I find one day and one hour exactly like another, except that the latter is still more tedious than the former.”
“You are among the very few who have openly complained of misery in our happy city. Your complaints have no real cause. You should know from the misery that you see that you should highly value your present state because you are better off, and to be better off than others is the meaning of life to be pursued in the best of all possible cities.”
“The very sight of these miseries should give you something to desire,” he continued, “and that is why the police chief pulled off the sidewalk foot patrols, so that people can see how well off they really are in this best of all possible cities. Vagrants are even placed at the entrance to the city to encourage us all to maintain the status of our city as the best of all possible cities.”
“Yes,” I said, simulating increasing enthusiasm, “I should love to see poverty, the pregnant women sleeping soundly the park, and the joy that homeless people find in getting drunk.”
“The more of that the better,” said he, “to prove by way of contrast that this is the best of all possible cities. Great good cannot be had without great evil.”
“You know, ads should be placed in the papers and homeless people bussed in to further illustrate the wonders of the City of Miami Beach. I remember a commissioner said that is what tourists come here to see, what makes the city so colorful.”
“You’ve got the picture. You have something to be happy about!”
“By golly, I thank my lucky stars! I have shelter, my own bed, a pot to pee in, all for only 80% of my income. My best local friend dumped me because she said I am a loser, but she should have realized that I am a successful loser at least!”
“Thank the new city manager, the new mayor, the city commissioners, not your lucky stars, and thank the organization of selfishness that creates the conditions that make the best of all possible cities possible.”
“I shall do just that. And thank you for restoring my confidence in the leadership and my eagerness to follow the Big Plan. Perhaps Terranova will offer me a public relations job. Now excuse me, I must find my friend now.”
“Glad I could be of help,” he said as I hurried away.
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