Friday, March 13, 2009

My Sandwich Board End of the World Comment

I know, I'm sounding like a sandwich board man, pounding the pavement almost invisibly, since everyone already knows what I'm going to say. I accidentally re-read something I wrote here a while ago, and didn't quire realize how much I'd already said what I thought I'd just written brand new.

So, I should retreat from this field, and spend more time on "the book."  On learning more seriously how to write. I should calm down already, and spend a little more time emptying the trash, paying the bills, cleaning the bathroom, and otherwise getting ready for transition. I inhabit a mole's warren, if there is such a thing.

Still, stuff keeps coming my way, like this article from yesterday's New York Times, which follows nicely on my George Carlin comment, and makes me laugh out loud. It's about a subversive pun which made it past the famous Chinese Google/Cisco -aided information censors in the guise of a children's cartoon tale. The really hilarious part is that this children's song, which has a childish surface meaning, can be heard as - I can only guess since they don't publish the actual words, and I haven't bothered yet to Google it - a really really smutty one. 

Reminds me of Popeye, which I'm pretty sure got its start as a very adult series of shorts for the movies. I know it's still full of visual and verbal double meanings. It must have been what perverted my mind as a kid, since that's what Saturday mornings before Mom and Dad got up were made of. (We were only allowed TV on weekends, something I have to honor them for) You can only control so much, and Saturday mornings might be all you've got!

There was a time when I could have done a better job expanding on the very long Chinese tradition of getting words past the censors. Poetry writing was elevated there to such a sublime art that no one could be sure of mastery to the level of certainty that he actually knew how to read. There was a very formal process for co-optation (talk about selling your soul) into the centralizing bureaucracy, which radiated from the Emperor, symbol as much as person, giving meaning to the rectified words of all his ministers.

An elaborate examination system developed over the centuries, rivalled, perhaps, in scope and power by the Catholic Church in its elevation of priests from the Latin. There is at least an analogy there which might bear some fruit yet. Central to this examination, by which literate men were promoted to eligibility for positions of power, was the ability to read and write good poetry. 

This meant countless hours mastering the classical texts. Learning calligraphic skills with brush, and rectifying written characters across as many years of writing as existed. Along the way, you also learned to penetrate some secrets in these texts, which had bypassed generations of censors. You learned to laugh at double meanings, and perhaps could not resist trying your own hand, likely while drunk for cover, making fun of the fool at the center. In ways to exalt his sublime beauty in the guise of some courtesan you admire. 

How well I do remember sleuthing the stacks at the massive Sterling Memorial Library, honeycombed with private cubicles for serious study. I'd learned enough to know just where might be that illustrated pornographic original copy of the subversive romance we were studying. 

Narrative, other than for orthodox history, was never a part of the proper study of letters. It made its way in along with the unsettling messages of Buddhism. And this Buddhism, kind of, bridged some gap between the Confucian state system of orthodox letters, and the yin-like Taoist tradition of reclusion away from the Center. Where the Way that can be followed is not the eternal Way. The Word that can be spoken is not the eternal Word. No challenge to power but in literary Taoism's turning away, retiring from all formality to replace court clothes with rags or nothing. The well defined center with some silent knowing.

Eventually, after printing presses expanded the reach for literacy, narratives became attractive amusements. Literate folks, anonymously for certain, wrote picaresque works just as in the West. And what could be more amusing and subversive than pornography. More certain to be read. Less likely to be noticed as subversive, since as is still the case the world over, meaning is utterly denied beneath the belt.

Even Karl Marx, whose own body was famously alien to himself, would agree to that. (Did I already tell you about how Jesus was once routinely depicted in flagrante hardon, later airbrushed out from grand masters' painting).

I can't tell you how exciting it was to find that book. I'd been initiated into something, and as I always do, I shortly turned away. I'll bet that book is long gone, since economic pressures have expanded Yale's cohort of Chinese language students at least an order of magnitude beyond what we were then. I was respectful, even of the sanctity of the cubicle. I left that book where I found it.

These pinnacles of orthodox understanding may all be crumbling from the dissolute power of so many vulgar authors. Where surfer dudes routinely shatter the ivory towers of received and hard-earned wisdom. Where the emperor, routinely now, gets pointed out for naked. Where some will want to know if to match his red shoes, the Pope now sports a red Speedo too.

Wasn't there some Pink Floyd opera about all this? I was probably too stoned to remember . . . 

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