Sunday, April 27, 2014

Franz Werfel: Star of the Unborn, Pt. 2

What will humans and civilization be 100,000 years from now?

The planet is unrecognizable to someone from the 21st century.  For the most part, the mountains have disappeared and the world is uniformly flat.  The ground is covered by something that sounds like artificial turf, grey and flexible.  It is also the main means of transportation.  The people have a device that they can enter in the coordinates of any spot on the planet and they will be transported there.  Actually, according to F. W., their destination is brought to them!  Just how this was done and just  what would happen if two people in opposite directions both wanted the same destination at the same time was never explained.

Most people now live underground.  It's seems as though this happened centuries ago before the present time of peace and prosperity was established.  Constant warfare made it necessary to build homes underground, rather than build above ground with some sort of underground shelter.  It just seemed more practical to go underground at that time.  Today there really is no need, but habits and traditions are hard to overcome, especially, it seems, when there's no real need for them.

The people are uniformly beautiful, if small statured and slight of build, reminiscent of the Eloi, one of the two human races found in H. G. Wells' The Time Traveler.  Most seem to have little to do except enjoy themselves, as most of their needs are free.  The human race at this time seems fragmented. and while F.W. spends time visiting the other groups, he spends most of his time with those whose life is spent in leisure. 

Various groups have their own domiciles, separate from each other and the general population:  the Roman Catholic hierarchy, Scientists and Scholars, Workers,  Jews, all live in their own ghettos, separate from the population.  There are rebels also.  Parts of the transformed earth seem to be reverting back to its wild state, and there are those who have abandoned contemporary civilization and moved into these jungles, as they are called by the rest of the population. 

Most animals and insects have disappeared, except for some that have been modified to form dwarf versions.   The many varieties of dogs have disappeared, and those that are left are physically similar, as well as being able to use a limited form of speech.  They seem to be obsessed with acting like humans.  However, there is one species that hasn't changed.  They are still the same size, still come in a variety of colors, and still act as they always have--the cat.  For some inexplicable reason, humans have been unable to modify the cat.  And, more and more cats are disappearing into the "jungles."  As usual, the cat goes its own way.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is one of the most unique SF novels I have ever read.  It is not an easy read, but it's well worth the effort.  It is on my reread list.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Carl Sandburg: Southern Pacific, a poem

Southern Pacific

"Huntington sleeps in a house six feet long.
 Huntington dreams of railroads he has built and owned.
 Huntington dreams of ten thousand men saying: Yes, sir.

 Blithery sleeps in a house six feet long.
 Blithery dreams of rails and ties he laid.
 Blithery dreams of saying to Huntington: Yes, sir.

 Blithery sleep in houses six feet long."

 -- Carl Sandburg --
 from Harvest Poems

It's a common enough point, but one that can't be made too often.  Thomas Gray made it also:

"Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
 Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
 Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile,
 The short and simple annals of the poor.

 The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
 And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
 Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
 The paths of glory lead but to the grave. 
-- Thomas Gray --
from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"

Death is the great leveler

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Eric Hoffer: Troublemakers

The following are aphorisms taken from the chapter "Troublemakers" by

-- Eric Hoffer --
from Reflections on the Human Condition

"It is cheering to see that the rats are still around--the ship is not sinking."

Of course,  they won't leave.  It's their duty to save us from ourselves by showing us their road to paradise (and make a few bucks lecturing, appearing on talk shows, and selling books at the same time). 

"Right now it seems that they who have a truth to reveal also have a lie to hide."

This reminds me of numerous books whose titles begin with "20 Lies Your ______ (Parents? Teachers? Religious Teachers?--fill in your favorite here) Told You."  I found a copy of one of them at a used  bookstore for twenty-five cents.  After reading it, I felt like going back and asking for a refund.  The lies? fell into two categories.  The majority of them were the type that belong in a category with  Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, George Washington and the cherry tree,  etc.  In other words, most adults, in fact most teens, no longer believe these things.  The other type, I found, couldn't be verified or came from dubious sources and also had an obvious political agenda. 

"Though dissenters seem to question everything in sight, they are actually bundles of dusty answers and never conceived a new question.  What offends us most in the literature of dissent is the lack of hesitation and wonder."

I never met a true dissenter who didn't believe he/she had a direct line of communication with the Deity and  as well as being gloomy and inflexible.

"Nonconformists travel as a rule in bunches.  You rarely find a nonconformist who goes it alone.  And woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform with nonconformity."

 I remember the hippies in the '60s who insisted they had broken out of the conformist trap and were becoming their own person, unique and individual unto themselves.  What was funny was that one could always identify these unique individualists by their uniform--jeans, t-shirts, headbands, beads, long hair, and sandals.  The women were slightly more individualistic as they alternated between granny dresses and jeans, usually cutoffs or with numerous holes.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Wallace Stevens: "From the Misery of Don Joost"

From the Misery of Don Joost

I have finished my combat with the sun;
And my body, the old animal,
Knows nothing more.

The powerful seasons bred and killed,
And were themselves the genii
Of their own ends.

Oh, but the very self of the storm
Of sun and slaves, breeding and death,
The old animal,

The senses and feeling, the very sound
And sight, and all there was of the storm,
Knows nothing more.

-- Wallace Stevens --

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Wallace Stevens intrigues me.   Possibly part of his attraction for me is the problem I have with his poetry.  I find them, to a great extent, mystifying.  I'm not speaking here of any deep, dark underlying symbolism, but of the overt, sometimes literal, meaning of his poems.

This one I find a bit more understandable, thanks to a clue I found in the Wikipedia entry on this poem.  Don Joost, according to a letter Stevens wrote in response to a question about "Don Joost," is a "jovial Don Quixote."   I agree with the author of the entry that this may be Don Quixote, but he certainly isn't jovial.  Don Quixote's struggles with the giants and warlocks and enemy armies were all in his mind.  He creatively transformed mundane reality into something magical and marvelous.  In a sense, this is what the poet does or tries to do--to transform mundane reality so that one sees it anew, sees it differently.  Joseph Conrad expressed a similar desire  when he wrote "by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel... before all, to make you see. That – and no more, and it is everything."

The overall sense, as I read it, is the end of life or perhaps of his creative life.  All is gone, sight and sense and sound and feeling.  Nothing is left and even the storm, perhaps the struggle between creativity and mediocrity, has ended.

In addition, the seasons, which may stand for the seasons of life, a common and universal symbol for the ages of man in poetry going back long before Shakespeare,  have ended and were the cause of their own ends. They could not last forever. 

I can almost see the title as being truncated: the full title might be "Escape From the Misery of Don Joost."   The only lasting escape from the struggle to be, to do, to create,  is death.

But, then again, I have often been accused of over-reading, and this may be just another example of one of my besetting sins. It is for you to decide.