Today's contribution to the maintenance of my sanity has been made by: my own curiosity, Google, and Nelson Algren. Mr. Algren has been a regular supporter of my effort not to go screaming bat-fuck crazy, although, as One of Those Insanely Talented People Who Are Not Me, he has just as often acted as a goad and a reminder of how many million miles I still have to walk before I can get -anywhere- at all. But today, after reading a couple of his essays for the n-hundredth time without knowing for sure about whom he was speaking, I looked up "Alfred Kazin" and "Norman Podhoretz", each of whom had been referred to in one of the essays I'd read. I also, because I'd been re-reading that as well, Googled "Toni Morrison Beloved analysis".
Well, I learned that Norman Podhoretz is one of those neo-con clowns whose opinions boil in the same stew-pot as the Fox-News hack claque; so I shrugged him off, which seems fair, as it's no more nor less than what he'd do for me. Besides, what made me look him up was something Algren quoted, which is too long to reproduce here but which gave me an important insight even before I typed his name into a search box: The man can't write. I mean, the excerpt Algren quoted? Should have been taken out back and shot, then given a decent burial in an unmarked grave at midnight. (Having said that, I suppose I'm now duty-bound to include the quote in this post; after all, you can't just go around giving a man's excerpts the firing squad and then not let the spectators hear the reason why. As if there were any spectators; but that's another story. Writing this blog, or mostly anything else, I've dispensed with the fiction that people are actually reading it; but back to Podhoretz.)
"What then are the reasons for the connection between the study of literature and the contempt for success? The noblest of them is undoubtedly that the study of literature encourages a great respect for activity which is its own reward (whereas the ethos of success encourages activity for the sake of extrinsic reward) and a great respect for the thing-in-itself (as opposed to the ethos of success which encourages a nihistically reproductive preoccupation with the 'cash value' of all things). To acquire even a small measure of independent judgement is to understand that 'successful' does not necessarily mean 'good' and that 'good' does not necessarily mean 'successful'. From there it is but a short step in the world to the ardent conclusion that the two can never go together, particularly in America and particularly in the arts." (Making It, Norman Podhoretz. Bantam Books, 1969)
So...yeah. That's Podhoretz. No wonder Algren didn't like him. I can only imagine he'd feel more strongly so today.
Then there was Kazin; Googling him led only to some boringness, so I Googled "Alfred Kazin Nelson Algren" and was rewarded richly. That search led me here, which was mildly interesting; more interesting, though, was a link to Seven Stories Press.
It's been a while since I've been able to do any serious book-shopping. I mean, I pick up whatever's at the thrift store for $2, or at the second-hand bookstore in Orland; but I remember when I used to just go hunting through Amazon.com by topic, or read through the Daedalus catalog for hours. Some of my best memories are from when the Quality Paperback Book Club was just starting, back when they advertised in Utne Reader and Harpers', and most of their nonfiction was super left-leaning. I'd buy STACKS of books back then. And then the summer JP and I got together (twenty years ago this summer, and just someone ASK me what kind of meltdown I'm having about THAT) when I went through the Niles Barnes and Noble fiction section in alphabetical order, trying to seduce him via books. I'd spend whole mornings there, finding books I'd pass to him when I was finished with them. I didn't make it too far through the alphabet--I was only somewhere in the C's, if I remember correctly, when we got found out and I had to leave my husband, and from then on the money was tight and then there was that nasty little heroin habit we both embarked upon not too long after....I still have some of those books.
My point is: I'd forgotten how good it feels, to look at a selection of books and to see myself represented there. It made me realize that someday I won't be in this situation: won't be in this basement, tripping over CR (who, yes, I do love dearly) and his insistence on Fox News, Mancow, every right-wing asshat he can find--all watched in the name of so-called "opposing views" which, I've begun to suspect, he doesn't much oppose at all. I'm in favor of knowing what the other side is saying, don' t get me wrong, but I don't feel the need to immerse myself in their brand of hate, nor to accept their hypocrisy, their lies, their rhetorical excesses and unchecked spin--nor do I enjoy having to explain, excuse, or apologize for any similar lapses on the part of the people who share my views. Someday I will be in a place where, when he turns on O'Reilly or Hannity, I'll be able to go into another room and read a book--maybe even a book about women's rights, or something multicultural--and not feel like a stranger in a strange land.
I've gone on and on here about Podhoretz and Kazin, and haven't even touched on "Beloved", which search led me to a really awful place; but that's going to have to wait for a little while. Right now I'm just grateful for a momentary glimpse into a future where my real self is still alive. Right now, that's good enough.