MEIN KAMPF – Reading & Art

Adolph does not think much of persons who read, ponder, think and conclude. After going through all the words of this book, most of which are forgettable and destined for oblivion, the reader must conclude that Adolph had trouble reading; he did not like to read; he had a reading impairment; he had problems putting together the logical bases so German sentences would make sense. He was never able to take a book (and likely never this book) and distill its arguments into words of his own. Adolph was bewildered and frightened by those who could discuss ideas, and use books and facts as frames and as references to support an argument.

People who read “possess a mass of ‘knowledge,’ but their brain is unable to organize and register the material they have taken in. They lack the art of sifting what is valuable for them from that which is without value, or retaining the one forever, and if possible, not even seeing the rest, but in anywise not dragging it around with them as useless ballast.” [A] “ reader now believes himself in all seriousness to be ‘educated’ to understand something of life, to have knowledge, while in reality, with every new acquisition of this kind of education, he is growing more and more removed from the world until, no infrequently, he held up in a sanitarium or in parliament.” (page 35)

This paragraph suggests that Adolph believes all readers are like himself. Give a book dedication and great study, and the text sits in Adolph’s mind clogging it, and interfering with extraneous superficial chattering and false sentimentalities that Adolph wanted to hear, like eating cream topping pastries sprinkled with sugared cinnamon.

Adolph believes that a human being can be retarded and become a moron. But rather than use knowledge to his best benefit, Adolph derives new terms for being intellectual (the first, six pages earlier didn’t take):
[W]hat a difference between the glittering phrases about freedom…beauty, and dignity in the theoretical literature, the delusive welter of words seeming expressing the most profound and laborious wisdom, the loathsome humanitarian morality – all this written with the incredible gall that some with the prophetic certainty – and the brutal daily press, shunning no villainy, employing every means of slander, lying with a virtuosity that would bend iron beams, all in the name of this gospel of a new humanity. The one is addressed to the simpletons of the middle, not to mention the upper, educated, ‘classes,’ the other to the masses.(page 41)

It appears that Adolph is intimidated by “the glittering phrases about freedom…beauty, and dignity in the theoretical literature, the delusive welter of words seeming expressing the most profound and laborious wisdom, the loathsome humanitarian morality…” Adolph was incapable of reaching those levels in speech, and he was incapable of attaining them by other means.
Remove glittering phrases, dignity, beauty, profound wisdom and humanitarian morality from and language, and it becomes dead. There is no communication.

What became most amazing was the rush to Richard Wagner and a few other immortals expressing German culture [some of Wagner’s folklore was Celtic (Irish/Welsh) origin, a fact lost on Adolph]. Wagner was definitely mad enough for Adolph to love him without much alteration, although one wonders how many Nazi big-wigs actually made it through 4 1/2 hours of Goetterdammerung. Americans are forewarned by Mark Twain, “I’ve heard the first Act of each Wagner opera with pleasure.”

Adolph has failed to advance logic, reasons and conclusions why the finer points of language and writing ought to be neglected, all the while, wholeheartedly, endorsing the lyrical mediocrity of Richard Wagner.

SPEER – A FINAL VERDICT, Joachim Fest

The last chapter of this book, the conclusion, is a masterpiece. What is Albert Speer’s life worth apart from being Adolph Hitler’s architect and munitions minister? Not much, unless Speer can be used as a model of an early twentieth century German boy, man, adult to explain why the Germans, each of them lemmings, ran off the cliff again, after the horrible tragedy of World War One. This biography gives suggestions but does not provide a thorough analysis.

The book reveals little about the Nazis, although one anecdote is noteworthy. On April 24, 1945 Speer met Heinrich Himmler, SS honcho, who believes wrongly he is to become Hitler’s successor. After saying good-bye to Hitler, Speer has just left  Berlin, now under assault by the Russians. Himmler dresses down Speer, telling him he won’t be part of the new German government and since no building will be done in the foreseeable future [bombed out Germany in April 1945], Speer’s services as an architect won’t be needed. Knowing that Himmler is an abject coward, Speer offers him his plane so Himmler can visit Hitler one last time and say good-bye. Himmler refuses the offer.

There is a sense in the biography that Speer’s IQ ran ten points higher than anyone he dealt with, until May 1945. There is no confirmation in the biography. An elevated IQ will cause restlessness in a young man as thoroughly as wine, women, drugs and mental illness. Was there recognition that the boy, Albert, was bright other than excelling at school, and everything he did came to him easy?

Apparently not. It is not part of the biography. To give a sense of Speer and the society he grew into as an adult, one must write a Life and Times book – sociology, cultural affairs, religious matters, academic successes plus biography. A boy usually gets his initial bearings from his family, but Speer’s parents were distant and not affectionate. A boy is exposed to society though institutions – schools, social organizations and churches. Speer was never religious, but what of the other institutional influences? The book suggests that Speer had no anchor and no safe harbor, despite being married, until 1931 when he heard Hitler speak: First speech – reasonable; Speer joins party. Second speech – distasteful; Speer didn’t like it. Third speech – offensive; Speer remains in party. The party was someplace to be.

There is the statement that joining the Nazis and accepting architectural commissions was the easy way. Nature had made life and society easy for Speer, someone who did not know how to work through problems: Solutions came to him easily. When life comes to an individual easily there is a human tendency to claim self-righteousness and being right, all the time. Yet, Speer’s problem was after April 1945 when life, events and circumstances, and his psychology was not easy to handle or deal with, and for a long time about many issues Speer was lost forever. 

The problem with the biography and in German history with the rise of the Nazis becomes 50 million lemmings ran Germany off the cliff – a highly cultural, highly educated, a sophisticated, intellectual people could not see the the Nazi danger, avoided observing what was going wrong and continued to follow until foreign armies had crushed the country. If it were one person who had gone off the cliff, that would amount to nothing. If it is 50 million, that is a story that needs telling in full. 

WRITING TRIALS ARE OVER

Think of the social and psychological pressures over the last two months hitting a writer.

Thanksgiving: A sleeper event. Usually this is the last time most Americans visit grandma’s house [or house of a relative living in a distant place] – over the hill, through the vale, along the Interstates, aboard an airline with the whole family: Kids, dog, goldfish. And Americans usually make the effort, something they will never recover from: Too much food, cholesterol, and fat. Loads a disagreeable conversation and too much familiarity. Too little sleep, relaxation and escape from the terrors of normal life.

Americans do Thanksgiving because it leaves the year end holidays, a true family event without the many annoying relatives. For a writer there are three dreadful, situational questions: What are you writing now? For the unpublished writer: When are you getting published? For the published writer: I saw your book [at the library], [in a bookstore] or [borrowed it]. I read a few pages and didn’t like it. I put it down. [Inference is: Why don’t you give it to me?]

Americans like to tell themselves about Thanksgiving, It’s only one day a year.

Religious Holidays in December. If each religion stuck to one day and kept it itself, everything would be fine. But, SHARE. We all live in the same world. The writer has less control over his life. Some persons like myself send Christmas [Season’s Greetings] cards and get a 20 percent return, which is pretty good these days. Older people get better returns, but my parents are considering paring the number of cards sent by 50 percent.

The mixing of the holidays means a relentless round of open houses, dinners, spiked punches, egg nog, cookies of all shapes and tastes, and other odd looking offerings which are undistinguishable except they are sweet. [How about fruit cake soaked for five months in 190 proof rum? That’s aging for the glutton.] There are also gifts guests and invitees bring. The appropriate response to these December “gifts” [including the liquor] should be a Congressional Act: The last Saturday of the year shall be known as NGSD – National Garage Sales Day.

There is a movement afoot to put Christ back into Christmas. Those proponents have one great obstacle. They believe Christmas has become too commercial, too festive and too irreverent. I mostly agree, hence I’m writing this post. BUT can anyone propose cutting back on Christmas giving and festivities: The American economy would grind to a halt. Certain proposed measures would discourage Americans from giving and spending. It is an unAmerican movement to broadly propose such a path.

New Years Day: This was once a period when unhappy people would cash out – drink and drive recklessly and kill themselves. Whereupon state legislatures realized that big money was to be made in drunk driving most of them raised fines and penalties. And law enforcement has commendably improved tactics to prevent many drunk drivers from killing themselves and hurting or killing others.

Americans use this day to make Resolutions – gone by Day’s end. Look back and rid themselves of memories. Face the unknown bravely. The flaw – Americans party with like-thinking friends, acquaintances and strangers. The reflection comes from a mirror of the past  – the restart of the football season after Christmas. Betting and pools. I’ve seen surveys about the drop in business productivity because employees are research and choosing terms, watching, arguing and moping about poor performances. It is egregiously perplexing when someone’s mother-in-law concerned about the grandkids, the family and who volunteers at the local library wins the loot. Everyone can speculate how she picked her teams. I tried to pay no attention to the games, except to observe that Stanford sucked in the Rose Bowl.

January. This was once a month when lives crashed. Nothing has happening. The January blues. People could reflect, meditate, take an inventory, and move on.

    Martin Luther King. Celebrations are no longer on his birthday, January 15, but whenever it will create a three day weekend. The day has become part of the January celebration rather than supporting the historical January tradition. President Obama started out well by defining the day as one of service – a message less apparent this year. Because the day is on a weekend now, it has become intertwined and lost along the Professional Football playoffs. No local parade will save it.

   Professional Football. This sport has overtaken January as its own. Note this occupation is in the middle of the Professional Basketball Season.

   Entertainment. There was once only the Oscars [Academy Award] ceremony in the late winter. It is passé and meaningless. Now January has become award-event month. Every week is a ceremony offering somebody, something: music, special effects, acting. Not only do movie ads tell how many Academy Award nominations have been received, but also they give a litany of previous awards – Golden Globes, Director’s Guild, Writer’s Guild, Janitor’s Guild [top trophy goes to best use of used condom].

   State of the Union. It was too long. If President Obama has wanted anyone to remember the speech and what he said, he would have spoken for 15 minutes rather than 65 minutes. Even that is too long to get noticed. Better yet the President could have put it to music and given us a rap song in 3 minutes. Best yet, the President could have devised an aphorism, no longer than 20 words, something everyone would want to carve onto stone. 

Super Bowl. This is the true end of social and psychological confrontations disturbing writers. It’s the big game which will go on much too long. Americans will attend parties, overeat, over drink, talk about golf, and look forward to a time for rest and relaxation.

I will watch none of the game because (1) it is only a football game. I only need to know the result, not how someone won. (2) There are too many ads. (3) This it not a football game which should last only 2 1/2 hours. That game has its own pulse. The teams can get into a rhythm. One can go into a slump. (4) The whole spectacle is too commercial, apart from the ads. (5) There are too many ads disrupting the game.I don’t want to watch babies selling diapers or a stock brokerage firm. (6) Also, let’s watch men beat one another up. Perhaps a player will die; they’ll drive him off the field in a golf-cart [Hence the natural golf-football crossover.] A few players will get injured. Too many will suffer permanent physical injuries which will increase Workers Compensation costs. An unknown number will suffer head injuries aggravating previous injuries and leaving them unable to live productive lives after their playing days. (7) I’ve decided against watching gladiator sports only a month after the religious holidays. Why watch the carnage? 

I know I shall be culturally deprived. I will miss the Super Bowl Ads. I could record the whole show and run through, watching the ads. But I’ll leave advertising where it is [last year’s ads were mediocre]. I hope to do something useful for myself or for others.

February: The end of the season.

I know the Winter Olympics are coming up. They seem a let down after the rip-roaring action of the previous two months.

I know that Valentines Day is coming up. Love, hearts and dripping sentiments seem a let down after the rip-roaring actions of the last two months.

HISTORY AND FICTION

bitch. cover

When I went to write Bitch. (iBookstore, michael ulin edwards), I was determined to make it autobiographical. I learned after three major drafts and a long process of 20 years, that autobiography was impossible. It would make a bad book. Some of the reasons can be found in Twentieth Century Journey, William L Shirer, vol. i, Preface; Autobiography of Mark Twain, U.C. Press, Berkeley, 2011, vol. 1, on writing memoirs/autobiography.

I was motivated to write the life and times of Berkeley, 1968-1973. While there I had forces coming at me. I determined they would best be represented by FIVE major characters, plus subsidiary characters folded into the stories of the FIVE. At that point the book could not be autobiographical; it could not be biographical. It could be history. Recount events as truthfully and accurately as I could, but the characters had to be representations. [Readers have commented that they know these characters.]

As much as I ran from place to place in Berkeley, observing and stuffing everything into my memory (which is not entirely why I almost flunked out my first year – I was also taking the wrong classes and my perspective on learning was horribly distorted), I could not tell the story of Berkeley with one character being everywhere at once: Peoples Park Riot Day, May 15, 1969 – in class on the north side of campus; in the riot itself; at the swimming pools in Strawberry Canyon; wandering around Dwinelle Hall. The FIVE characters and others were useful to convey what had to be said.

It is also impossible for a individual to tell his story when hormones, urges, the environment, economics are exerting influences affecting the person. What is the order? What is the priority? What is important? Those day to day, sometimes hour to hour or minute to minute considerations which may or do change affected human being senses – hear, see, smell, feel, taste – will shift the ground and upend any story.

If the reaction to life under those circumstances is the same, that makes for a dull human being. If the reaction to life under those circumstances whipsaws the human being into incapacity, he becomes confused and worthless. If the reaction causes the human being to take the brunt of it and react intelligently, predictably or making-do, that is the easier story to tell.

IMG

In 200,000 words I came up with the FIVE characters, two guys and three women, living and telling their lives (some aspects of my life) in Berkeley from September 1968 through the summer of 1973. They lived through riots, demonstrations, classes, drugs, life, city and academic events and state and national actions, all told within this novel. [There are 450 notes and a bibliography.]

Also, I could not tell my own story for a personal reason. Who could be truthful about being psychological creepy and sociology awkward then, (probably eccentric today) in a terrifying place. That doesn’t describe the discomfort, the violence and the shock of watching crap on the streets being played out and the acceptance of it by everyone in Berkeley. About 20 years ago I talked to someone I knew as a student. He tried to fit in and spoke the language as a student. His evaluation of those times upon meeting him again was reduced to one word: “Strange.” He didn’t want to talk about what he thought or was doing as a student, which was likely “creepy” and “weird.”

It seemed I was the only person who considered everything going on was strange, weird and ill for society. I may have been suited for a college campus in the 1920s, but I was stuck at Berkeley. I did not want to be a statistic and a loser: Someone told me when I entered that the average stay of a student at Berkeley was four quarters. (The University is much more mellow today which is why it is not a place of excellence.)

While a student at Berkeley, I didn’t like and actually detested loud music, drugs, and the recklessness of students, their lives a step from the street. Everything seemed reenforced by the citizens of Berkeley. Condemning this gross, communal lifestyle is a theme of Bitch.. Indeed, I dislike any communal styles, community standards, something my generation embraced and never let go of, and something which has been passed onto to their children and grandchildren: The collective.

We are not raising children today to be individuals, to think on their own. They are accepting, too much of collective action, group-think, the so-called common good. They have been taught, It Takes a Village – Collective actions are the bases of all advancement. Those are  wet dreams rolling from the Left of the Sixties and from Radical Feminism. (See Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex.)

Finally, I did not want to be like any of the FIVE. I put a lot of distance between myself and Berkeley. Not in the novel is: at the end of my Berkeley studies, I wanted to be a composer, but I had injured my left hand and couldn’t play the piano. I was lost to the activities I was prepared for. Law school intervened, but within ten years I had turned to writing.

This post is the second using the cover and the diagram (outline) that I have made. The subject is different because the text differs.

Mind the Mud

The sensational, the gruesome, the weird and the curios are in the papers, on the news, crossing the Internet and everywhere in entertainment. I suppose it is human nature to seek out what or the how-did-that-happen stories and know that it did happen. It is a guilty pleasure to read the details of a law school classmate who embezzled client funds again, again and again. So much for professional responsibilities and legal ethics. Americans put distance between themselves and the act. Americans are acquainted with Michael Jackson’s death, but what about a STRANGE, VIOLENT EVENT: The psychological evaluation of the Sandy Hook elementary school killer and an accompanying evaluation of his enabling mother: She frequented the local bar and talked about gardening, guns and target shooting and  her brilliant sons. One son was home making his reality shoot-em-up computer games.

American interest in acts of perversion, terror, violence, illness and crime is limited. Our understanding of why, what and when is superficial: X killed seven pedestrians while fleeing the cops in a car-jacked Porsche with a baby in back. Forget the trial. Wow, someone can write a book and make a movie, which will obliterate the actual events and make new reality. Perhaps Americans know; perhaps they don’t: There is a wide, deep morass of procedure, time and law consuming every single criminal act before trial and before society’s resolution comes.

Americans simply lose interest [except those concerned and those victimized]. They hear the outcome two, five years later and believe there is an ending. If behaviors, actions and society must change, Americans have to know more than the beginning (the act in the news) and the end years later. Americans must follow the whole process. We cannot rely on a cadre of interested attorneys, doctors, politicians, lobbyists, Warren Buffett, businessmen, accountants and journalists to represent and do good for the country.

My reaction to the current blitz as a writer, is to organize my mind before writing a story. Usually I sit and observe everything. I lose track of steps C -X. I’m diverted trying to be sure what I spend the most time on has merit and quality. I watch movies of quality; I visit museums; I read good books of fiction and non-fiction; I hear great music. I collect as many facts, words and impressions into my mind until I’m frustrated and need a release – filter through the garbage, selecting, and put something on the page. That logjam is released slowly. With luck I’ll organize it well as it comes onto the page, but frequently reordering is necessary many times afterward.

Likewise Americans hear of these horrible events and occurrences; they are exposed to loads of trivia, minutae, tripe and are pestered for long periods of time with nonsense. It is no wonder they hear of the act, shameful, violent, outrageous, an enormity, and let it go, perhaps hearing the end if they ever make the connection. Those Americans don’t have the release I have. I write. Everything within them is bundled tighter and tighter. It is further no wonder that Americans seek all diversion from the terribles and the troubles of this country. I can not blame them.

Americans go so far in their entertainments that they only become aware when a big shock hits the news, an act mindless and futile as the death of any child killed in a crosswalk, frequently a non-news incident. What is happening in this country is THIS: Our imaginations are not as active and adventurous as the stimuli we receive. Human beings have not evolved that much. For instance, October 9, 2013 was a non-news day: No assassinations, no wars, no terrorist attacks. Consider items I found on the Internet that day:

Teen shot while having sex

Eight year old pleads with 911 dispatcher while Mom dies

40 year old mom found nude in teenage boy’s closet

Montana Fishbourne says Twitter hacked – she didn’t out Jamie Foxx

28 men may be charged in 11-year old’s rape

16-month old dies after being dropped in boiling water

The news hasn’t gotten better. On the last weekend of the year cross-racial adoptions senselessly became an issue.

Nobody in America wants to watch this movie or TV program. It is easier to ignore it to our detriment. Ignorance and silence suggest consent – do your own thing; let it be; there is nothing anyone can do; don’t be judgmental; these are trifles. This is the tripe Americans now accept. It is wrong.

In 2014 Americans can do better

LARRY

“The logic of Michelangelo’s David, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Einstein’s Physics [has] been replaced but that of the Stock Exchange Year Book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” Eric Ambler, A Coffin for Dimitros

The naked guy was a student who used to walk onto the Berkeley campus wearing only shoes and a day pack. He went to class. I saw him once or twice. He wasn’t bothering anyone, but he eventually was disciplined and left the campus.

Thereafter, the University of California at Berkeley had nothing cultural or artistic to offer the world. Nothing was engagingly odd, alluring entertaining or unique. The campus needed something to contribute to American culture. One day in the mid-1990s a black guy named Larry showed up with his drums and a stool. Larry sat in the middle of Sproul Plaza from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and pounded his drums. Some passer-bus claimed that Larry varied his beats and rhythms, but most knew Larry had one routine and it was very annoying and loud. University employees in the west facing offices of Sproul Hall, in the Student Union and in the nearby cafeteria were crushed: Pounding every academic day of the semester, day after day, hour after hour, second after second.

Larry would talk to people and acknowledge others as the parade went by. He claimed to be a drum teacher and was in Sproul Plaza drumming up business. The pun was intended. From the campus police station in the basement of Sproul Hall came authority, after about a year. An arrangement was reached. Larry would move 150 feet sound to the intersection of Bancroft and Telegraph. He could pound his drums all he wanted on City of Berkeley property.

If the University of California had known and correctly realized where City of Berkeley property started in 1964, there would have been no Free Speech Movement.

Larry moved south and changed his hours, 11:30 a.m. into the evening. Same drumming, same parade and a different audience hearing the pounding, heart rendering thunder now across the street from second story apartments. Larry could be heard two blocks away, over traffic, voices and the business of the city. 

Larry was there a long time, a new students wondered why the noisemaker was tolerated and allowed to disrupt the peace near the campus. There were complaints, but the University cops laughed, and the City police had more important matters than objectionable art to fuzz.

I had my car near the University a few years later. I was driving a friend from Boalt on the east side of campus to BART near the west side of campus. It was a warm and pleasant fall evening as we drove west on Bancroft Avenue. As usual I had to stop at the traffic light at Telegraph.

To our right about 30 yards ahead on the sidewalk was Larry pounding his drums. My friend has a voice that can carry a quarter mile. I said, “Tell Larry he sucks.” Down came with window.

As I peeled out, my friend boomed, “LARRY, YOU SUCK!” 

We had driven a half block when we heard the drumming stop.

Shortly thereafter Larry stopped drumming at Telegraph and Bancroft, period. It was the end of any contribution from the University of California at Berkeley to American culture. Imagine an artist stopping all effort because a complete stranger yells, “YOU SUCK! It happened, and that is the only possible result when the artistic effort and cultural contribution is ephemeral, for the moment, temporary and offensive. It’s foundation was based on public indifference backed by the worst of all human attitudes: Let him do his thing.

Americans are unwilling to draw distinctions; they don’t want to be judgmental. But all art and surviving culture is judgmental; What exists and survives is excellence, not something that people have ignored it. Yet Americans usually will pay to witness mediocrity. The choreography by cheerleading squads at most high school football games exceeds that of dancing by song-singing rock stars. Yet people pay big bucks to see the two-stepping lip-syncing robots on stage. There is one feature not available from the high school units. If the dancing and songs are not catchy in music performance, perhaps removing clothes, using drugs or being arrested for beating up someone will attract fans..

And what of the great talent from the music world. Some of it isn’t much better than Larry’s drumming. In a writing by a blogger this month, he wrote that classic music should just die. He correctly pointed out that concert halls were expensive and musicians were always asking for money. He omitted a egregious, parallel comparison: The money spent to build stadiums for professional athletics to benefit owners and athletes. The money spent there dwarfs the money spent on concert halls and symphony orchestras, and no one, if ever, tears down or stop using a music hall. Whether professional athletics is a worthwhile cultural activity is an issue I will not deal with here.

But to the doubting blogger, does he know how long it takes today’s musicians to put together an album of 75-90 minutes? It took George Frederick Handel 25 days to compose Messiah, including the orchestration, about 150 minutes of the arguably best choral music ever composed. Or try being blind and old and compose arguably the best choral music ever composed: Bach did it in the B Minor Mass. Or be DEAF for eight years and compose music that became the best symphony, and perhaps the best music ever conceived and composed: Beethoven did that in the Ninth Symphony. PLUS Beethoven may have been unhappy with the fourth movement of that symphony and considered writing a movement without a chorus. Listen to the whole symphony and wonder why Beethoven may have been unhappy.

In the field of human achievement Messiah, the B Minor Mass and the Ninth Symphony surpass artist achievements in most media. Americans could learn and appreciate much if they knew these works – if Americans replaced and oriented themselves to them rather than let themselves languish and linger, YOU SUCK in the bogs of professional sports and their rock concert fore-times, half-times and after-times.

I would rather spend money on fitful classical musicians than waste money on fitless professional athletes. 

SILLY CULTURE

“The logic of Michelangelo’s David, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Einstein’s Physics [has] been replaced by that of the Stock Exchange Year Book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” I like this sentence from Eric Ambler’s A Coffin for Dimitros. 

What does it mean? It can be stated as a sinking bottom line i.e. when there is no foundation there is no building and no edifice. The meaning can be found in other ways. I must paraphrase H.L. Mencken: No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. A third way of saying the sentence comes from Georges Clemenceau covering the American Civil War for French newspapers and in World War One French Prime Minister: (paraphrased) America went from barbarism to decadence without the usual intervening period of civilization.

A question always arises is the relative importance of culture and its excellence to society, the economy and to a nation’s well being. Until 1870 France was becoming a stilted, static place. After a crushing military defeat in 1870 and a harsh peace of 1871 France transformed itself initially by culture. In the fine arts French painting, music and sculpture excelled and pushed the envelope in those media. France became the place to write, paint, sculpt and compose, a reputation it maintains. France is the most obvious example telling the importance of excellent culture and artistic output and those significant influences they have on the people of the country. In short excellent culture allowed France to rebound quickly and strive ahead.

When culture and art become idleness, slight entertainments, annoying diversions or amusing ephemera, it represents nothing more important than something produced on an assembly line – pieces of throw away stuff. How often do Americans hear about a one-time “priceless” work of modern sculpture sold for its scrap-metal value, like a Pentagon weapon system gone bad or an awry government computer program? Art is supposed to entire forever, not be dismissed because it has served its purpose: The artist [creator, originator or mechanic] has been paid and has garnered more commissions off the recognition of the sale. Yet Americans continue to treat music, painting, writing as something thrown against a wall, and if it sticks it will be there offending until it the environment forces it to fall off.

Culture allows a people to backstop problems, issues, events and potential solutions. It lets people retreat to what is good about the society, perhaps live a fantasy or a dream, while the pile emits its bad or good seeps from it. What has a solid footing and does not seem obviously derivative, inordinately temporary, brazenly artificial may survive, be accepted and become part of the lives of the people. But that seldom happens. Today what remains of art produced 10 years ago? About artists I know of, musicians, which pieces of music introduced in 2004 are played today other than franchise themes? Music to TV shows, ads, ditties on computers. The best anyone can say about America is that it is in a rut; it is at sea without an anchor. The backstop supposedly holding American culture is actually a canyon into which we empty more and more stuff. 

Alarmingly, Americans seek solice not in the excellence of human activity and production, but in religion, faith or secularized philosophy. No one can disagree with those individual choices, but they provide and afford few, if any, comprehensive solutions. Religion, faith and philosophy are terrific means to provide comfort to individual means and to guide individuals, but extending those belief systems are not conducive to acceptance or they are offensive to persons with contrary religions, faiths and philosophies. Imposing laws are to force compliance is coercive and debilitating. It results in less respect for law. Because law seems not to work, Americans attempt to rectify imperfections by voting solely for representatives who believe in their religion, faith or philosophical systems.

The so-called Right has justly been accused of voting this way. The so-called Left also votes this way. The commonality of Left and Right is the means of obtaining money and power, but no community remains – Right or Left. And there is no culture except a buzz, a ring, static, a din. And Americans are left to accept the meager entertainments coming to them cheaply and engaging them momentarily. None of it feeds the spirit, the enlightens the soul and fills the essence. None of it braces an individual for the uncertainly of tomorrow.

 

A COFFIN FOR DIMITROS – Eric Ambler

“The logic of Michelangelo’s David, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Einstein’s Physics [has] been replaced by that of the Stock Exchange Year Book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” The author sets out a story – the “special conditions which exist” – to develop this theme. As I view the world, Ambler may as well be writing about the Clinton, Bush and Obama years in the United States of America.

Protagonist, Latimer, is a writer of detective stories. In Istanbul he meets a Colonel of Turkish intelligence who has outlined a detective story but can’t write it. He gives it to Latimer to write. He also offers to show Latimer the body of an international criminal, Dimitros. Latimer sees the man and learns what the Turks know of his activities – spotty before 1924 and a blank after 1924. Latimer decides to learn about Dimitros’ political, criminal and financial activities in those missing 14 years. 

For 100 pages the story is an obligation to read. It could be improved by Ambler telling of Latimer’s curiosity to investigate as a writer. Otherwise, Latimer seems flat and a gadfly. Also when faced with dead time in a story, an author can improve the tale in one of two ways: Tell a better story, OR improve the language used in the telling of the story. Ambler finally ponies up with the second method:

       1. Who is the mastermind becomes “who paid for the bullet?”

       2. Darkness of human existence became “baroque of human affairs.”

       3. “wrinkled flesh” is “raddled flesh”

       4. A sentence “People were dying faster than if you had machine-gunned them.”

       5. An adversary learns that Latimer’s passport says he is a writer, and he says, “…writer is a very elastic term.”

If some of these phrases and sentence offend, the time of this novel is Europe between the Wars. There is a chapter on white slavery and drug dealing in Paris, circa 1930. Many of the victimized prostitutes were from Eastern Europe. I thought this novel was a prequel to the movie, “Taken.”

Tomorrow I shall blog more about the gross statement of the theme of A Coffin, but this book demonstrates with little effort and few additions to the text that something of substance can be included in a tale of international crime. Ambler makes his book a statement of his times, a mirror of society. 

What does the first sentence of this post have to do with crime and A Coffin? When one person or hundred of persons are allowed to shirk the law, step over its lines repeatedly, make fortunes, become prominent and be protected, that makes for a very different society than the one popular in political mythology: Everyone plays by the same rules, has the same opportunities, can pursue happiness, can contribute to the general weal and gain the esteem due a member of society. In the first described society, select people abuse and take advantage and rob. Under the political myth, it is assumed there is organic growth to the betterment of everyone.

Most Americans prefer the political myth, but they don’t always know how to achieve it. They neglect standards, criteria and values. One area where Americans have abandoned all caution: Countless American entertainers and artists, purporting to be part of the community, are abusing the system: They don’t entertain; they aren’t artistic. But why denounce easy targets in the United States?

Look overseas to Russia and the band Pussy Riot. In a church that band decided to perform a desecrating concert and publicize it. The performance was devoid of art and was bad entertainment. If Pussy Riot does not shock with the band’s name, it shouldn’t perform in a church for “more shock value.”

They were prosecuted and imprisoned, which only enhanced their name in the West. Pussy Riot became a cause celebre. Rock and roll musicians asked they be released. I do know if Pussy Riot committed the crimes like trespass or malicious mischief, but years in prison seem long. Although devoid of art and being poor entertainment, the West is ready to bestow awards, riches, fame and adulation on Pussy Riot. That is a mistake. There are no standards, no values, no excellence, just publicity. The West, especially America, cannot give Pussy Riot a big- welcome, you’ve-held-up-our-values, you’re-important-to-human-existence. The West, America and the remainder of the World have done that justly and recently. Who out there has the gall to compare the comparative worth of Pussy Riot to Nelson Mandela?

What does Eric Ambler say? If society does not abide by its heroes like Nelson Mandela and conduct, respect and uphold supporting values and standards, society will end with the standards, values and excellence of Pussy Riot, “the Stock Exchange Year Book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.”