Diary, 4/20 to 4/23/19

Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

The Trial
Anthony Perkin in The Trial, directed by Orson Welles

{4/20/19}  Weight not measured.

Going-away party for Salomé last night.  [I] Came to my place with Pablo, to meet with J and go on via taxi, which we did.  For most of the ninety minutes we were there, there were about a dozen people including D and C, J2, and several I didn’t know.  Salomé gave me a card that she had made for my birthday, and I gave her a printout of my checkbook spreadsheet that she had previously requested.  Guacamole and chips were available and I had a little of that, and I had a black russian.  Then J2 and I played pool.  It was appalling, we both were really terrible.  I felt very awkward and uncomfortable in trying to line up my shots.

Seeing people dancing and having such fun made me think that I really needed to take lessons, though this morning I’m quite indifferent to the idea.  Pablo’s singing (karaoke) was quite good, though on a later song I thought he didn’t do very well.  Salomé signed up to sing, but didn’t, saying she was “waiting for her friends”—J and I discussed that.  Anyway, we left, again by taxi, Pablo staying on at the club, which was called “The Junction.”  $42 for taxis.  I babbled something silly, comparing the prices of the two rides, which I later thought I had gotten wrong.

J stayed the night here, since it was close to eleven and the buses weren’t running at that hour.  We’d planned for this, but he had to sleep on the floor.  He at first asked for a pillow, but then insisted on using his coat as a pillow.  He’s a strange duck at times.

Finished reading van Vogt’s Monsters; the final story, “Vault of the Beast,” was less impressive than I’d remembered, but the collection as a whole is pretty good vV.  Received three new vV books yesterday, including the one I wanted to read, The Wizard of Linn.  I got Null-A 3 for free from the dealer, a really terrible effort from Van’s declining years, which I don’t intend to read, but I’m more or less trying to collect all his books again.  Previously I had about fifty, including his Reflections, which I don’t anticipate getting again because it’s scarce now.

Watched The Trial of Orson Welles.  It’s certainly visually interesting, with locations and settings that are, by turns, bleak, astonishing, and weird, following a general progression from banal and boring to unearthly.  But the story is thin and many situations and events seem to make no sense—presumably deliberately.  The very beginning is disorienting since the credits are in French and make no mention of Welles or Kafka that I could see—unless I miss my guess, they are credits for a retelling, illustrated by cartoons, of Kafka’s short story, “Before the Law.”  Then begins, I might say, the movie proper.  It’s frightening, a nightmare scenario of peril under a police state.  I found myself growing impatient and bored, and finally I was dozing through much of the first hour.  After that, it got somewhat more interesting with the introduction of Welles as actor.  One cannot divine his purpose [as director], and the later events seem to bear little resemblance to Kafka’s novel, at least, not as I dimly remember it.  Finally, the ending is strange and puzzling.

I’ll be in no hurry to see this movie again, though the TCM introduction said it was Welles’s favorite of his films, or perhaps he pronounced it his best, I don’t quite remember.

{4/21/19}  Weight 221.0.

5:06 am.  Nearing the end of my “bedtime reading” of Tony Judt’s Postwar:  A History of Europe Since 1945.  The final section (pages 768-776) of the chapter “The Varieties of Europe” discusses what I may call “the Disneyfying of History in Europe (without Disney),” that is, the nostalgic sanitizing of all darkness and shame from the memory of the momentous, catastrophic events of the twentieth century.  This insomnia-driven reading just now was a delightful and enlightening experience.  While I am more than ready to be done with this book, it seems that the best has been saved for last—one more chapter remains to be read, “Europe as a Way of Life.”  It’s a very long book, and while most of it will be lost in the mush of my overstuffed memory, certainly it has increased my general but still vague understanding of the period and the place, and especially of the problems of modern Europe.  I wanted to write this note of appreciation for an uncommonly rewarding experience.

Not only uncommon, but actually unique, was the very surprising experience of encountering my own words in someone else’s book:  Stanley Corngold:  Walter Kaufmann:  Philosopher, Humanist, Heretic, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2019, is the book, and the words from the first page of the Preface are as follows:

There is furthermore a wider audience that, to take one special case, is poised to read Kaufmann’s celebrated work The Faith of a Heretic.  The Amazon website lists twelve enthusiastic reviews by readers in the past who describe the book as “the best critical study of religion available,”…and, finally, with pungent incisiveness, “Eat this book!”  The commentator develops his thought:  this is “probably the most important and meaningful book I have ever read or am likely to read.”  (p. vii, my ellipsis.)

The words beginning “Eat this book” are mine, somewhat edited by Corngold.  A link is given as reference, but I am not named, unfortunately.  On checking the reviews on Amazon, I found not twelve but about fifty [actually 25], and mine (from 2004) is not the most popular.

If the history of my intellectual development is ever written, Walter Kaufmann should loom large.  I would guess that, including the many pages of Nietzsche translations, I have read more words by Kaufmann than by any other philosopher, with the probable exception of Bertrand Russell.  Given that I read Bertie’s A History of Western Philosophy three times, in addition to his three-volume Autobiography and many other books, I suppose he should get pride of place.  It may even be that my generally philosophical approach to life and thought owes more to Russell than to Kaufmann, but I consider it certain that Kaufmann has had more influence over my, if I may say it this way, heart and soul.  That is, Kaufmann’s books dominated my most ambitious reading for a period of years, and he comes closer to being “my guru” than any other person, including Henry Thoreau.

Of course, I read Walden about twenty-two times, and Henry’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers about eight times, and all other of his works at least once (except all but two volumes of the Journal), so by actual page count I guess Thoreau takes the prize.  But Thoreau is more poet than philosopher.

Much silliness in this entry, because I was trying both for a somewhat “elevated” style and to make definite statements where they weren’t quite warranted.  Kaufmann and Russell and Thoreau were all very important to me, but so were Fritz Perls and Leo Tolstoy and even A. E. van Vogt.  And before all of these came Edgar Rice Burroughs, who offered no explicit thoughts, but many conventionally moralistic stories, and TV’s Mr. Peepers and a couple of characters from comic books, whose lessons are completely forgotten.

Which musing of course neglects the native soil of my life, my parents.

Once again demonstrating my gross stupidity, I went to the bus stop believing that I knew what I was doing, that the schedule on a holiday is the same as the schedule on weekends.  WRONG!  So I ended up wasting half an hour, feeling pissed about the “bus pulled from service or just really, really late”!  Thinking that you know, when you’re wrong, then learning the truth, is so painful.

The next time I buy a copy of Cindy Crabb:  The Encyclopedia of Doris, I should buy two copies—one to keep, and one to give away.  That way I’ll always have a copy, not that I would read it every day, or even every year, but this is a book that I must have on my shelves.  The thing is, I want to give a copy to Salomé as a going-away present.  [I previously gave a copy to Z.]

It’s been a long day (now 8:00), but I’m not done here yet.  The Hemlock Club got a late start, but Salomé showed up, with R in tow, and J2, then J and Pablo.  The next hour or so had R dropping music names like mad (e.g., Lady Gaga and Adele) for a solid hour, enthralling Pablo (apparently), while I focused on Salomé and offered some hopefully-not-idiotic ideas for her memoir book plans.  After Sal left, I got on the Internet for a while, feeling perhaps a bit hostile about the still-talking R.  Eventually it was nearing 3:00 and we had to leave [because Dagny’s closed at 3:00 due to the holiday].  Pablo and I more or less decided to go to Del Taco, but he invited R, and as I waited for Pablo and he came out the door, I asked if R was coming to DT.  He was.  So I told Pablo I was going home, and at this point R joined us.  I was walking ahead and Pablo pursued me, cluelessly asking why I had changed my mind.  Aware that R would likely overhear, and being only moderately unwilling that he should do so, I told Pablo in the gentlest honest words I could think of, that R had become odious to me, which words are now forgotten.  And so I left.  Was I really there from 10:30 to 3:00?  Ye gods.

I’m sorry, R, but you make everyone else look like a brilliant conversationalist.  If he shows up for future meetings (which I presume was not really his purpose today) I will want to advise him that it’s a discussion group, not a lecture session.  Which isn’t quite fair, but oh well; and I’m not likely to say anything unless he gets on another jag.

“Pungent incisiveness” are words I am likely to remember for a long while.  On rereading my Amazon review, which I posted in 2004, I find it long on enthusiasm but short on specifics, or in other words, not terribly good.  Alas, I neglected to copy it, so I’ll have to put it here in a couple of days.  Corngold is a professor of some sort at Princeton.

A quote from Eleanor Roosevelt rings true and makes me feel good about myself:  “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss persons.”  I sometimes criticize Pablo for loving to gossip about writers and other personalities, and the quote crystallizes my dissatisfaction with his conversation.  I found the quote in the profile of a Twitter account I followed today, then posted it as a graphic tweet (not my graphic, of course).

But then, what have I done there [meaning this entry] but “discuss persons”?

A snippet from Corngold’s Kaufmann is a quote from Kaufmann’s Discovering the Mind:  “All three men—van Gogh, Kafka, and Freud—were distinguished by an amazing capacity for detachment from themselves and could see themselves from above.”  See Corngold, p. 618 n8.  Since this is what I aim to achieve in Kick Me, and because the first two at least have deeply impressed me at times, and because Kaufmann in particular was so important to me in my thirties and forties, the quote is of special interest.

And so I’m faced with yet another reading dilemma.  Corngold’s book is important to my philosophy, but it’s looking like I’ll want to do more than just read it as I did Bair’s bio of Anaïs Nin, that is, I’ll want to study it (as much as I ever “study” anything), and likely pursue it concurrently with a reading or rereading of some of Kaufmann’s writings.  These are things I might consider if I weren’t trying to focus on The Common Good.  Likely compromise:  make Corngold my new bedtime reading.  Already, though, the book has me all excited…and here it is, 9:30.  Since I had a late nap, I may stay up a while yet.  “Ideas coming thick and fast.”

Eight minutes later and I’m yawning.

A word I encountered today, “rhinitis,” may be the name of what I’m experiencing:  a frequently runny nose following the cessation of my last cold.  “Frequently” there meaning two or three times a day.  In my sixties I often noticed my mother blowing her nose as a routine thing.

So many thoughts, so few written.

{4/22/19}  Weight 221.6.

The two missing van Vogt books arrived today.  So, now what?  I should send them a check—unless they have already withdrawn the amount from my account (after refunding it).

Watched a show on agriculture and greenhouse gases.  My takeaway is, can I find an alternative to the cheeseburgers I’ve been eating routinely for dinner?  In addition, if I could cut down or eliminate cheese, that would be good.  Thoughts so far:  grilled cheese sandwich; quesadilla; mini-pizza (English muffin + pizza sauce & cheese); peanut butter & jelly; pasta; baked potato w/cheese.  See below for thoughts on chicken.  Any of these would be more palatable with a side dish.  Buying prepared foods, too, and looking into alternatives to FoodMaxx.

For breakfast I have three eggs with a slice of cheese; I could replace that slice with a sprinkle of parmesan, because the point (mostly) is for flavor.

I believe there is something called “soy cheese”; I should look into that and alternatives.  I need to work on this, and probably won’t.  A good start would be a vegetarian cookbook and other books (which, of course, is how I start all new projects).

Another thought is to find alternatives for breakfast, so I could occasionally have eggs for dinner.  And, fish or chicken instead of beef would be an improvement.  I used to do “chicken on a bun,” which was very easy.  I keep buying frozen fish, then throwing it away when it gets too old, so, clearly, when I buy fish or chicken I need to not have burger patties in the freezer, or otherwise limit my freedom to eat alternatives.  The point is to make a commitment when shopping, rather than buying something in addition to my regular choices.  In other words, work smarter.

Something like that.

{4/23/19}  Weight 220.6.

When it comes to ideas, I am the proverbial kid in the candy store.  I’d rather have superficial knowledge of a thousand books than a deep understanding of two—though I’ve read Walden twenty-two times and The Stranger fourteen.  Well, waking up at 2:45 and getting up at 3:15, I picked up Robert D. Richardson, Jr.’s Emerson:  The Mind on Fire, which has been sitting untouched on my shelves for a year.

Twenty years ago I read Richardson’s Henry Thoreau:  A Life of the Mind and thought it magnificent.  Having now read a dozen or fifteen pages in this one, I am amazed at how much it impresses me with the mind of the writer, which is to say, not Emerson but Richardson.  I leafed through it, enjoyed the many pages of illustrations, read with deep pleasure the section on Emerson’s reactions to the death of Thoreau, then the brief but pungent chapter on the last week of Emerson’s life, and finally the very impressive, very sketchy Preface and Prologue.  One quote from Emerson by way of the Prologue in particular excited me:  “Believe in magnetism, not in needles.”  (University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1995, p. 4.)  I find that I strongly affirm the opposite:  believe in needles, not in magnetism.  I do not aspire to be a transcendentalist but a scientist-philosopher.

If the last chapter is “pungent,” which I doubt, the Prologue is something else—astonishing and touching.  It tells of Emerson disinterring the corpse of his late wife, who had been seventeen at their engagement and twenty at her death, disinterring her after a year and two months of deep grief, in some Poe-esque kind of exorcism-gesture.  I don’t know what to call it, but it was striking and weird.

In looking for the proper adjective to replace my very awkward “Poe-esque,” I came across “poete maudit,” a term that seems well worth knowing for the one occasion it might be dropped into a conversation to score a point.  I can imagine laying it on Pablo and seeing him adopt it for his use as a self-descriptive bon mot.

And it’s now 4:30.

I read biographies very rarely, typically only of those writers who I find most worthy of a more general knowledge than their own writings provide—a few of Thoreau and one of Anaïs Nin are the only specifics that come readily to mind—but now I have two that I want to read, the Emerson and the Kaufmann:  the former for Richardson, the latter for Kaufmann.  On reflection, a few others come up:  I didn’t manage to get very far in Troyat’s Tolstoy, though I’d like to, and there was one of Richard Feynman’s autobiographies and van Vogt’s Reflections, and the Ben Franklin less than half finished that I’ll get to “any day now.”  Oh, and of course the three-volume autobiography of Bertrand Russell, which seemingly passed through my eyeballs without leaving a trace.  And there was Greenblatt’s Shakespeare which was beyond excellent.  Further, I’ve often pondered reading a biography of Einstein, but likely never will; and Gandhi’s “experiment in autobiography” tempted me twice and quickly bored me twice.  One longs for an autobiography of William James, though not a biography.  There were memoirs, too—the recent Fat Girl and Desert Sojourn and one by Marya Hornbacher, frinstance.  Okay, maybe that “very rarely” should be just “rarely.”

I started van Vogt’s The Book of Ptath, and am sorely tempted to give it up because it’s rather like an anemic Edgar Rice Burroughs—that is, a total fantasy, with already a capture-and-preposterous-escape.  The only vV trope so far is that “Ptath” is a vV superman instead of a Burroughs hero, and that’s not exactly enough to tempt me to continue.  It’s more like, “Gee, I’d kind of like to know all of Van’s books.”  But I don’t think I’ll finish it.

A House committee has subpoenaed Don McGahn (?) to testify near the end of May.  Gee, what’s the hurry?  (satire)

7:58 after a return to bed, and a dream:  the view was through a sliding glass door on a sunny day, close to the floor, and there were many cats, both “ours” and a neighbor’s, including one missing an ear.  Then I was almost awake, remembering or dreaming of the singer in The Snake Pit, a scene that usually chokes me up because she’s singing “Goin’ Home.”  And after getting up I have a twinge of sadness and almost weep because I have no home to go to any more, just this house where I keep my stuff and spend most of my time.  “Down, wantons, down!”  [The singer is Jan Clayton, and the clip is available at YouTube.]

Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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