“. . . seeing the Nothing from which he was made . . .” (Pascal)

1-IMG_4991College writing teachers face an impossible choice between allowing free thought and insisting on a despotizing formalism.

I wish I had a dollar for every student essay I’ve seen in the tutoring center that had an inverted triangle at the top drawn in conference by the professor with the instructions, “begin with the general and move to the specific as the thesis for your essay.”

I have never formally studied logic. My understanding of what such instructions mean is guesswork, but I think they are aimed at getting a student to write an essay using inductive reasoning, that is, “the process of estimating the validity of observations of part of a class of facts as evidence for a proposition about the whole class.” The student is invited (well, no, ordered under pain of a low grade) to demonstrate through their observations of a “class of facts”―ideas of their own or ideas they have gleaned from approved sources―that their proposition is valid, that their thesis is plausible.

Okay. So my thesis (proposition) here is that it is better for me to have contact with other people―friends, relatives, neighbors, anyone―than to spend a 24-hour period at home alone. I could have begun with general statements about the way one can spend time (or specifically the way I might spend time), or found a clever quote from some psychologist about the necessity for social creatures to be in contact with other social creatures. Then I might have moved carefully step by step to the proposition that  I  should not have been alone for the past 24-going-on-48 hours.

But I’ll jump right in, a flat line instead of a triangle. I will use as evidence first the class of facts around the tasks I have not performed today because I had no deadlines. My breakfast dishes are not yet washed. My laundry is not done. The floors are not vacuumed. I didn’t take a walk (for that I have an excuse: thunderstorms were moving through the area). If I were a college English student, all of that would be the first of the three obligatory “body paragraphs” before the conclusion.

I might use my second body paragraph to estimate the validity of what I did accomplish. I spent about six hours researching International Humanitarian Law on Collective Punishment in a given territory by an occupying power. (You can read the result of that work HERE. ) I read a couple of chapters in my current in-progress book, Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson (which I highly recommend). I played Sudoku. I took a nap. All of these things are worthwhile, but I didn’t need to spend the entire day at them.

I’m not sure my third body paragraph “estimate(s) the validity of a part of the class of facts” or fits my argument. While I was having lunch, I turned on CNN for company as I often do. I’ve never watched an episode of “The Voice,” so I’d never heard of Christina Grimmie until today. I had to search for her online when the news turned to an item about the man who killed her last night. And yet I wept at the news. Yesterday I heard on the radio and saw on TV much of Muhammad Ali’s funeral. I wept. I heard Lonnie Ali and others say with apparently absolute certainty that the Great One is now in heaven. I’ve been thinking about death today. Calmly, but not with detachment. The truth is I think quite a lot about death, trying to get my mind around the idea. I’m going to be dead soon. Even if I live the 97 years my father lived, I will be dead soon. If you’re 50, you’re thinking, “Why does he say ‘soon’? That’s 25 more years.” A 50-year-old thinks that’s logical. It’s not. We’re all going to be dead soon. This is not cocktail party conversation. Or a chat on Instagram. Many (most) people reading this will think either I’m some kind of Goth or I need psychological help. When I was in about 7th grade and finding my feet as an organist, I played and sang with great gusto and conviction

This world is not my home I’m just a-passing through
my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
the angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door
and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

I can still sing the first line with gusto and conviction. The rest, not so much. Some time ago I read an article (I did not save the reference) that quoted a passage from Blaise Pascal (of “Pascal’s Wager” fame). I saved the passage.

For in fact what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from him in an impenetrable secret; he is equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up. (Pascal, Blaise, 1669, Pensées, Sect. II, 72. trans. W. F. Trotter. The Harvard Classics. New York: P. F. Collier & Sons, 1909–14).

This third body paragraph has all of the problems a student paragraph could have: too many ideas, not a logical progression, straying away from the topic. Too long. Disorganized.

I will make my mandatory conclusion strong since the body is hopeless (even though I have, in fact, provided “a class of facts as evidence for a proposition about the whole”). It is obvious that I should not spend 24 hours alone. I cannot keep my mind from wandering to topics like being dead. I’m pretty sure my “audience” (another despotizing college writing idea) doesn’t like thinking about my thinking about being dead. It’s not healthy for me to sit at home alone contemplating death. Or to end an essay with a sentence fragment. Even though that’s the topic of the essay. A fragment.

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“. . . and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up . . .” (Pascal)

“. . . They . . . turned me into A file . . .” FREE DAREEN TATOUR!

❶ Israel Places 27 Palestinians under Administrative Detention ❷ 7 elderly Palestinians indicted for ‘incitement’ at Aqsa . . . . . ❷― (ᴀ) Israel bans Palestinian travel from Gaza to Aq…

Source: “. . . They . . . turned me into A file . . .” FREE DAREEN TATOUR!

“. . . tomorrow looms over us, nearer and nearer . . .” (‘Abd al-Raheem Mahmoud)

❶ Cabinet Condemns Execution of Pregnant Mother, Brother at Qalandia Checkpoint . . . . . ❶― (ᴀ) Israeli forces kill Palestinian woman and brother, armed with knives: police ❷ CHAOS  CONTINUES  AT …

Source: “. . . tomorrow looms over us, nearer and nearer . . .” (‘Abd al-Raheem Mahmoud)

“These are the chickens you let loose one at a time. . . “ (Kay Ryan)

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The Palestinian Sky at Sousia Bedouin Village. (Photo: Harold Knight, Nov. 15, 2015)

Poet Kay Ryan read some of her work a couple of days ago at Southern Methodist University, and told a about herself in the same way she writes poetry. That is, less is always more. I have been smiling at, giggling out loud at, and all-but weeping at her poetry for years. Her images and insights are precious to me, the more so because we are virtually the same age (I am eight months her senior) and she so often that it’s uncanny says exactly what I was thinking and didn’t know how to say (I think that’s the definition of great poetry).

I am grateful to have heard her read and talk a little about her poetry because I now know my intuition was right―her delightful, funny, strange little poems are “about” something. They are about the kinkiness of living in this world, and about the mixture of joy and pain getting old―among other realities―brings. At least that’s what I heard the other night.

All the ideas, experiences, (mistakes?) of 70 years I’d like not to remember seem to be taking over my life. The chickens are, re: the old cliché, coming home to roost. It’s not only the bad chickens. It’s all the chickens, even those ideas, experiences, and accomplishments I’m proud of. This is not good or bad. It simply is. In Kay Ryan’s words, they are “all the same kind,” and they are all coming home “at the same speed.” Her poem “Home to Roost,” exemplifies the poet’s―a real poet like Kay Ryan, that is―ability to say all of this precision and elegance (and humor).

“HOME  TO  ROOST,”  by  Kay  Ryan  (b. 1945)

The chickens
are circling and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,
the sky is dark
with chickens,
dense with them.
They turn and
then they turn
again. These
are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
and small—
various breeds.
Now they have
come home
to roost—all
the same kind
at the same speed.

This reminds me of a poem by Ogden Nash. It’s fair to quote him because Ryan quoted one of his poems. The last two lines of his poem “Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man,” comparing sins of “omission” and “commission,” are

The moral is that it is probably better not to sin at all, but if some kind of sin you must be pursuing,
Well, remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing.

If all the chickens coming home to roost turn out to be of the same kind, returning at the same speed, what difference does omission or commission―or being or not being sinful―make?

Poets make connections between ideas and images that you and I would never think of until we read them in poems. My mind makes connections, but they are not elegant and certainly can’t be turned into poetry.

About 25 years ago in Boston I taught a college music appreciation class. One of the students was a young Palestinian man. He was had to leave this country soon because his student visa had run out. Unfortunately, the First Palestinian Intifada was just winding down, and his parents had managed to escape and were living on Malta, but he could not go there. He had no passport from Israel. Long story short. Details are not important―it’s complicated―I learned from him about the Nakba, about the Palestinian refugees, about the crushing oppression of the Palestinians before 1967, and about the totally untenable circumstances of their lives since then. He disappeared to Tunisia, and I’ve wondered since then what became of him.

One of the chickens that has come home to roost for me is my delay advocating for the Palestinians. In 1984 I had seen what outspoken advocacy could do for an international star when the Boston Symphony cancelled a performance by Vanessa Redgrave because of her advocacy for the Palestinians. I had no international stardom to fall back on.

But the truth of that situation would not let me go. When the Second Intifada was winding down (2003), I decided I had to see for myself. I went with a delegation of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (their Palestine/Israel delegations are now independent as Interfaith Peace Builders). It changed my life. More aspects of my life than I thought at the time or than I realize even today.

Some of those chickens came home to roost.

My lifetime peripheral dedication to the cause of justice became in some ways an obsession. I’ve been back twice.

Since I cannot be a rabble-rousing activist, I have one little almost-private method of staying involved. I put together a blog about daily events in Palestine. Virtually every day. In the year since February 15, 2015, I have posted 255 times.

As far as I can tell, “the sky is dark with chickens, dense with them.” I have done much that might be considered “wrong” (by the Baptists I grew up among). I have done much that seems “right.” Most of my life at the moment seems “all the same kind.” My life is as it is.

My relationship with Palestine InSight is as it is. I simply do it. I’m not sure how many people read it. I used to beg my friends to read it. I wanted it to float to the top of Google searches. My purpose is to provide a place where Americans can see a tiny (tiny, tiny) slice of what’s happening in Palestine that might shed some light on their struggle―and to make available every day a poem by a Palestinian poet. Every day, a poem.

For a while I worried that no one was reading it, that I was wasting my time (about 2 hours a day). And then I realized the blog needs to be there whether anyone reads it or not. If someday someone finds it and loves the poetry or understands something about the lives of the Palestinians, so much the better.

If not, it is part of my “sky [ ] dark with chickens, dense with them.” There. Only there, not to worry about. Do it. Let ‘em loose one at a time.

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Lifta Palestinian Village, Jerusalem. (Photo: Harold Knight, Nov. 12, 2015)

“. . . to do battle with the powers of evil . . .” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Saddam_rumsfeld

Rumsfeld/Hussein (Dec. 20, 1983). “Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.” George Santayana, Life of Reason (1905).

The Iowa caucuses prompted me to write an essay (OK, let’s not elevate the language – a blog post) about my fear of (yes, I mean that – “fear”) Ted Cruz’s candidacy, even if he does not win either the Republican nomination or the Presidency.

However, I am stuck. No matter what I write, it ends up sounding exactly like the kind of language (therefore, ideas) I want to speak against.

The sentence I wrote from which I took the title above is

During Hitler’s rise to power, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Fanatics think that their single-minded principles qualify them to do battle with the powers of evil” (Bonhoeffer, 4).

Ted Cruz’s only “single-minded principle” is, it appears to me (remembering I am often mistaken about almost anything), a lust for power, a kind of power not unlike the power he rails against. He wants power of one of two kinds which I cannot sort out:

1) Power for himself personally
2) Power for the Fundamentalist christians in this country who call themselves “Evangelicals” but are in fact “Reconstructionists” and “Dominionists.”

Is Ted Cruz doing battle with the powers of evil? Or is he simply using Americans who want to do battle with the powers of evil to access the power he lusts after?

What―exactly―does Ted Cruz believe? What is his understanding of what he is doing? Is he using the Fundamentalist, Dominionist christians to win power for himself, or does he  believe his father’s teachings that find “in Genesis a mandate that ‘men of faith’ seize control of public institutions and govern by biblical principle” (Dubose, Web).

Dominionism is the idea that conservative Christians have the right ― and the responsibility ― to take dominion over all aspects of life, including the government. The term springs from Genesis 1:26-28, a biblical pas­ sage in which God instructs Adam and Eve to “have dominion” over every living thing on Earth. This “dominion mandate” has been popular in certain fundamentalist circles for decades, but it leaped onto online debating forums in August [2010] in connection with Perry’s Christian-fundamentalists-only, prayer-and-­fasting rally at Houston’s Reliant Stadium (Conn, Web).

Ted Cruz’s political take on the Rushdoonyite theology/philosophy was all too apparent as he spoke after his caucus victory in Iowa. Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001) was the guiding light in Christian Reconstructionism, the precursor of Cruz’s Dominionism.

[In his first book Rushdoony] had already articulated the essence of Reconstructionist theology. The truth of biblical revelation is the only guiding presumption that will yield true conclusions, and the law of biblical revelation is the only viable framework for organizing a society: “All facts being created facts, factuality can only be understood in subordination to God. But to understand factuality, man needs a norm, and this Scripture provides.” This was Christian Reconstructionism in a nutshell (Worthen Web).

Worthen, who is perhaps the most thorough and unbiased writer on Rushdoony, warns against the somewhat irrational fear-mongering about Reconstructionism in the press a few years back (after Rick Perry’s rally at Houston’s Reliant Stadium). Her writings are balanced and informative.

However, I personally am more than mildly concerned knowing there is some possibility that Ted Cruz could become President, or is at the very least the leader of a movement who has as his rallying cry,

Let me first of all say, TO GOD BE THE GLORY. Tonight is a victory for the grassroots. Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa, and all across this great nation. Tonight the state of Iowa has spoken. Iowa has sent notice that the Republican nominee for the next president of the United States . . . . will be chosen by the most incredible powerful force, where all sovereignty resides in our nation by we the people . . . . courageous conservatives across the state.

. . . . tonight is a testament to the people’s commitments to their yearnings to get back to our core commitments, free market principles. The judeo-christian values that built this great nation (Lind, Web).

  • Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letters and Papers from Prison. New York: Touchstone, 1997, 4. Print.
  • Conn, Joseph L. “Dominionism and Democracy.” Church & State 64.9 (2011): 10-12. Web.
  • Dubose, Lou and Hannah Harper, “Ted Cruz’s dad has a very sketchy resume: Rafael Cruz’s credentials are exaggerated, at best.” Salon. salon.com. Oct 19, 2015. Web.
  • Lind, Dara. “Iowa caucus: Ted Cruz echoes Ronald Reagan in victory speech.” Vox Policy & Politics. vox.com. February 2, 2016. Web.
  • Worthen, Molly. “The Chalcedon Problem: Rousas John Rushdoony And The Origins Of Christian Reconstructionism.” Church History 77.2 (2008): 399-437.
    cruz commandments

    “We defended the Texas Ten Commandments monument, [which] stands on the State Capitol grounds,” recalls Cruz. “Until an atheist — a homeless man — came along and sued the state, saying it offended him to gaze upon the Ten Commandments. We defended the Ten Commandments, we took the case all the way to the Supreme Court … and we won, 5-4.”

    Please visit my blog Palestine InSight. Thank you.

“. . . a solipsist of the highest order . . .” (Michael Blumenthal)

Bette_davis_the_little_foxes

I can’t quote a single line. (Photo: “Bette Davis the little foxes” by RKO Radio Pictures. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons)

Amateur bloggers are told not to include too many hyperlinks in their writing―that puts people off. My life is a series of hyperlinks. At the very least the stream of my (un)consciousness is.

The poet Michael Blumenthal told me in a private email on November 28, 2013, “I’m so glad ot have you as a reader and the ONLY member of my fan club!”

I quote this because I am as much a name-dropper as anyone else. I left the typo to show that even highly-esteemed poets and law professors sometimes need editors, and it gives me hope that I, too, can be a published author some time.

I know saying “some time” when I’m 71 seems beyond the realm of possibility, but my sister’s sister-in-law Kiyo Sato won Stanford University’s William Saroyan prize for the best NEW writer of the year in 2008 when she was 85, and she is still going strong.

I AM a member of the Michael Blumenthal fan club. I love his poetry, and I like what I know of him as a person (from our few friendly email exchanges). One might think his is the only poetry I ever read (besides Kay Ryan’s and May Sarton’s, about whom I have written here). All one needs do is look at my other blog and note the couple hundred poems by Palestinian poets I have quoted there to know that is not the case.

Anyone who “follows” this blog can surmise why Blumenthal’s phrase “a solipsist of the highest order” has meaning for me―more than “meaning”―it captures the ever-present essence of my solipsistic reality. I write about it fairly often.

I’ve spent most of my life since second grade, when I experienced the first of my seizures, trying to figure out if life is real or not. I live in/with so many contradictions it’s no wonder I can’t figure out what’s real. I’m a gay man who has never been to a Bette Midler concert and cannot quote a single line from a Bette Davis movie (and can’t for the life of me figure out why one of their names has two syllables and the other only one). I’m a kind and generous man with rage issues. I’m a Christian who doesn’t believe in God. I’m basically depressed except when I’m flying high as a kite (there’s a name for that). I’m a love addict who has lived alone for 13 years. Well, you get the picture.

The question is, do these contradictions cause my solipsism or are they the result of it?

I must say here, lest someone think I’m even less perceptive and intelligent than I am, I know Michael Blumenthal’s poem is not about depersonalization disorder or derealization disorder. It’s something about the impossibility of making a connection with a person one is in love with, or at least lusting after. Or it’s about our absolute inability to see others, even those we’re in love with, as real human beings, to care about making a connection with them, so that everyone’s experience is that everyone else looks “right through me into the wall, where large hieroglyphs of motions I am not making lead her to some fabulous beast.”

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With my first and most complicated de-constructionist dancing partner. (Photo by some family member, 1969.)

Michael Blumenthal and I are so different, our lives are actually so contradictory of each other, that we ought not be able even to communicate. He’s a young man of 68, I’m an elderly 71. He’s straight and I’m gay. He’s a celebrated published poet and both a creative writing professor and a law school professor (!?!). I am a retired church organist and first-year English composition teacher. He lived for a year in Africa saving baboons. I’ve lived in mostly pedestrian American cities all my life. He’s Jewish, I’m Gentile (and an activist on behalf of the Palestinians).

If Michael Blumenthal has a seizure disorder, he has not written about it (that I’ve seen).

But seizure disorders and lust and love and dancing aside, as we all learned in our Philosophy 101 class, it’s impossible to think about nothing. Just can’t be done. As long as we are/have something, we can’t imagine nothingness. Even if all we have is a thought.

“Nihilism has no substance. There is no such thing as nothingness, and zero does not exist. Everything is something. Nothing is nothing.” Hugo, Victor. Les Misérables (1862). Pt. 2, bk. 7, ch. 6.

There is no such thing as nothingness.

Even in moments of my most intense depersonalization disorder or derealization disorder (if, indeed, I “suffer” from those presentations), I do not feel “nothingness.” Solipsism, according to Dictionary.com, is “the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.” In my moments of derealization I do not want to know that the world exists. I simply want to know for sure that I exist. That does not make me a solipsist. It’s simply my desperate hope to cling to reality.

My guess is that even those who do not have some clinical presentation like Temporal Lobe Epilepsy have moments of that desperation, moments when we “. . . think [we are] leading her along to some rhythm she could not possibly find on her own . . “ but knowing it is “. . . she who has seen through this subterfuge . . .”

I want to establish and reestablish some hyperlinks soon. I want to find the money (Oh! the reality of money!) and the time to fly to Asheville, NC, to visit one of the men I have most enjoyed dancing with in a deconstructionist tango, then on to Washington, DC, to re-start a research project I began two years ago on the composer David Diamond, then on to Morgantown, WV, to shake Michael Blumenthal’s hand just to be sure he exists, and finally to Cincinnati, OH, to reconnect with another of those men I danced with once (about 1970).

Perhaps if I establish and reestablish these hyperlinks, my dancing with anyone―with everyone―will seem much more real. My hyperlinks may put you off, but they are my only hope.

“DANCING WITH A DE-CONSTRUCTIONIST,” BY MICHAEL BLUMENTHAL
She thinks I am only there
for her benefit, so,
when we move this way,
to old Motown and Rolling Stones,
it is as if there is no text at all,
and, though it seems to me it is I
who am leading her across the de-carpeted floor
of this apartment in East Cambridge,
there is in her eyes the glint of someone
alone with their best pleasure,
a solipsist of the highest order,
and it is as if she is looking right through me
into the wall, where large hieroglyphs
of motions I am not making lead her
to some fabulous beast, a wild subtext
taking her, better than I ever could,
to where she most wants to be. And so,
in a certain way, we are both happy:
I who think I am leading her along
to some rhythm she could not possibly find
on her own, and she who has seen through
this subterfuge of hips and legs
as if I were pure spirit―which is how,
in some way, I had wanted it all along…
and the Supremes and the Rolling Stones
secretive among the speakers, taking it
all in, helping us to forget what it was
that brought us here to begin with.

Blumenthal, Michael. Against Romance. (reprint) New York: Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press, 2006.
Quoted in: Blumenthal, Michael. “Voices neither High nor Low”: Some Thoughts on Diction in Contemporary American Poetry.” Legal Studies Forum. Jan. 2007: 433+. (This article, by the way, is not attributed; however, who else would write an article about poetry in a law journal?)

fish fucking
“FISH FUCKING,” a Michael Blumenthal companion poem to “DANCING WITH A DE-CONSTRUCTIONIST.” Museum Victoria has excavated 380-million-year-old fossil fishes from Gogo, Western Australia. This page describes how these early fishes were reproducing.

Ursala Le Guin v. (Republican) terrorists

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Mule deer in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Pay my thinking no nevermind (it’s 4:30 AM, after all), but . . .

Is it not tragic that the  R E P U B L I C A N S  who rail against government overreach MANAGED WITHOUT DOUBT TO POISON thousands of children in Flint, Michigan, and probably to cause a fatal outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease there—did it by legislatively

S U S P E N D I N G  D E M O C R A C Y

and GIVING DICTATORIAL POWER to Republican Governor Rick Snyder?

And isn’t it monstrously hypocritical that  R E P U B L I C A N  t e r r o r i s t s continue to defy the Constitution by CONTRAVENING THE RULE OF LAW and seeking to forcefully

S U S P E N D   D E M O C R A C Y

in Oregon by occupying land and buildings owned by the public and steal it for their own use?

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Flint children demand clean water in an October protest. (Photo: Danny Miller /The Flint Journal-MLive.com/AP)

A message to all of the “patriots” who accuse President Barack Obama of Constitutional overreach in his executive orders: nothing he has done is for his own benefit, and all of his actions are well within established protocols, designed

. . . to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . .

not to further the self absorbed political goals of white power.

Ursala LeGuin says it about as well as it can be said:

The Oregonian’s A1 headline on Sunday, Jan. 17, “Effort to free federal lands,” is inaccurate and irresponsible. The article that follows it is a mere mouthpiece for the scofflaws illegally occupying public buildings and land, repeating their lies and distortions of history and law.

Ammon Bundy and his bullyboys aren’t trying to free federal lands, but to hold them hostage. I can’t go to the Malheur refuge now, though as a citizen of the United States, I own it and have the freedom of it. That’s what public land is: land that belongs to the public — me, you, every law-abiding American. The people it doesn’t belong to and who don’t belong there are those who grabbed it by force of arms, flaunting their contempt for the local citizens.

Those citizens of Harney County have carefully hammered out agreements to manage the refuge in the best interest of landowners, scientists, visitors, tourists, livestock and wildlife. They’re suffering more every day, economically and otherwise, from this invasion by outsiders.

Instead of parroting the meaningless rants of a flock of Right-Winged Loonybirds infesting the refuge, why doesn’t The Oregonian talk to the people who live there?

Ursula K. Le Guin

Northwest Portland

For the REPUBLICANS who apparently weren’t listening when they read this at their swearing-in in Congress: They should read Article III, Section 3, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or . . .”
xxx constitution

Please read about the one place in the world where the United States approves of and “gives aid and comfort to” the total S U S P E N S I O N  OF  D E M O C R A C Y.