There's cloning on the one end. Frankenstein monstering. And at the other a kind of fever dream of robots or zombies or uploaded souls. Still with the full knowledge that these could never approach the absurdity of Christ's resurrection, and before that His virgin birth.
And people do aspire to believe these things, quite "literally," or so that term does get abused. These, of course, are people who by definition can't read, and so you're left to wonder what literal could possibly mean here. You can find it in the Left Behind series, which does earnestly and without apparent effort that which Saturday Night Live can only accomplish with heroic labor. You find it in Ray Kurzweil's absurd celebrations of man's dominion; a scientist overcome with himself and the manic dream of creating the one thing nature never will endure - a geometric expansion which sustains rather than destroys life.
I say, imperiously, that they can't read, so we'll have to wonder just what reading is along the way toward resurrection and creation out of nothing. Let's just say, for now, that to read is reliably to place a set of words in their proper context. A joke occurs along with the jarring of words quite out of context. A joke on oneself when words are misread and contexts traded. People lounging on chaise, say, or when liberal education is thought to relate to books and liberaries (sic). We all do this, and manage to endure, despite the ridicule of our betters.
But when you extrapolate full out, you gain a sense of just how difficult reading really is, and how absurd such phrases are as "absolute truth" or "faith". And how unlikely, at the fringes, that anyone really can read another soul. Or in my case, that I can even read myself.
So "Left Behind" and the "Singularity is Near" are cosmic pratfalls among people who simply don't know how to read. They are those roobs who fall for the magic trick and then want to buy it for use at home. "Disappear your wife" in five simple steps.
But I guess the Jesus story endures because it does provide, somehow, that limit. That end beyond which there must and can only be God. A cosmic joke for sure, but also a true endpoint to what we can and should and will ever read and true against what can only be very personal and limited experience.
Science provides a trueing along the way, of readings we must share. I mean this ever so simply, as to describe those things, like knowing that the ground underneath our feet will support us, on which we must agree. By abstractions to the max in our mathematical descriptions, and reductions to the very most economical structures, we seem able to arrive at many many understandings (English is so punny - but not, I assure you, as much as is Chinese) which have that wondrous quality to be universal.
These understandings describe the same reality in any cultural setting, and presumably across the cosmos, though we may not be quite ever finally confident in our ability to translate these to technological controls. There's so much confusion between these two pursuits, especially now that we have become so overcome by our own technological prowess, that we have almost forgotten the science. Scientifically now, our wonder at ourselves will ecologically if not by geometric release of nuclear fissions or fusions (same thing monkey boy) only destroy us.
There can be no question now that the scientific enterprise not only did not but could not have developed in some other culture from that of the Christian European West. Post modernists can and do go fuck themselves, but this trivial observation (that science is culturally grounded) takes nothing from the universality of scientific conclusions, properly made. (It's the "properly made" part which makes those post modernists right almost all the time, but their language is just so damned annoying, and itself always a parody of what they rail against).
So faith starts there, with feet on ground, and finally gets rendered up to what it is we confront in contact with another human being. How much can or do we know that person? Or a book. Or perhaps an entire ideology (what a word, that one!). God? I think not! (therefore I am)
It's never so trivial to trust that to which we're attracted in another soul. They might turn out robotic, like that sociopath next door. Or we might discover that we're turned off by their feet when we do finally get in bed together, and then the thrall is done for. There's divorce and much worse utter foolishness to pay for these mistakings.
But hanging back from ultimates, many many friends if not lovers do prove true. I guess because the expectation is so much less. The navigations and negotiations so intermittent; the in and out from other's lives so much less quickened. And friendship is capped by that fine taboo at end of day that you never ever will or would get in bed with one another. Sure, in a pinch, you might for survival, or even intimately resuscitate, mouth to mouth. But if there were a quickening there in bed, I think the friendship must end, don't you? Or blossom.
But it is that impossibility in principle which defines friendship at its limits, and enables a kind of constancy. Don't worry chum, I'll never stop at your home for more than a few weeks at a time, along the road to somewhere else. But we'll share better times than you will ever have with your wife - that much is certain. And our souls will come much closer and merge more fully simply because there is that boundary to define, contain, and shape our perfect pairing. Nothing lost, but geometric expansions and progressions gained in that most true conspiring. There need never be any subordination at all. There is perfect parity, and no struggle between and among, say justice and relating, the male and female roles, however sexed.
But the ultimate faith, of love, of marriage, in God, just for a few examples. That one is a leap so long that only fools attempt it. The rest of us find ourselves pinnacled and without place to go but down down down, and still along the way there has never been worse terror than to lose oneself that way. It would be so utterly foolish. So like the man who would dive right through the ground. Buckaroo Bonzai!!!! And away. . . .
I must and do confess that I am terrorized by the act of sex. Not quite in the sense you think. I am not nerdy sexless, nor timid in the act, and would some safely aloof former partner quite allow it, there are no limits to what I wouldn't like to try (hohohaha!). None. But it's the implications terrify me. They are so much forever. Not just disease, but possibility for hurt and misunderstanding, and fallings out, no matter what the interval. That moment is sheer terror. That aloof moment where you realize that yes, it was only physical. Or chemical. Or instinctual, and in any case not forever or even a day. Or far worse, that the deal you'd meant for a moment won't ever stop. Ever. The deal does not get any simpler, young friends, as you grow older.
In that interval right there, gentle reader, in service to writing's worst enemy (necessity for taking a dump) and on the toilet reading the New York Times while I still can (yes, it was on my phone, OK?? So, put me in jail already! Throw away the key, I both read on the toilet, and don't pay any attention to internet ads. At all!) before its also necessary demise, I am saddened almost beyond reason to learn of the death by suicide of Sylvia Plath's son sweet Nick sweet son. I know nothing of either of them, yet enough to understand the dimensions of this tragedy. And I must apologize to you that I have been diverted from this writing in and by the act of writing species of love letters toward human contact of the sort which terrifies me more, apparently, than to be alone forever and anon. You just aren't there, you see. I have not yet, and despair I ever will, that kind of faith. That there is a reader.
But I still do make this pledge: That my writing and living and direction will never tend in that particular direction. I will never make that secret pact to end on some high note because I fear my ability to endure the lower lows. It is to life and love and light alone that I direct myself. Alone. All one.
Now where was I? That faith which is so hard to conjure. I do actually believe, you know? That in extremis, when finally I must leave my job because there is no more room for me there. Up against that wall where, let me now enumerate, love is not possible across the taboo of workplace, though that's the least of it. Where faith is superstructured by the only living remnant of medieval monarchy to outlast enlightenment (though I actually have no problem with that, it's just that this particular institution's perversions remind me much too much of the Sadean version). I cannot live in public any longer what I mock so hard in private.
And I will surely never trust myself in love again, after once tripping over my own feet on the way toward what became a lifetime of indentured servitude, and another time in pursuit of what never was in the first place attainable. These twinned poles represent for me all that is possible in the falling out from sense and good friendship's underpinnings. I retreat now and again for long intervals into some sort of mild cocooning, and I'm not even sure that it's time yet to molt again and again and again.
But I do trust - have faith even - that it's the right time now to refuse any more work or love in which I am not quite myself. Extravagant though that is, and I'm not after "authenticity." I want only to be just one me, cliched and ordinary dull though my character might prove to be. I must strap myself to whatever mast I have (it's rotting) or can find, to resist temptations for comfort and repose and six figure rescue from the necessity to disburse a lifetime's debris of bicycles, boats, books and papers papers papers, though these I can and do and have uploaded to that proprietary cloud whose stewardship I perversely trust so much more than tangibles in my possession.
I refuse, I do, any further servitude in maintenance of my slack body and it's sprawling messy dishevelled extensions. (The real estate lady demurred a bit when she came for a visit, that perhaps we can start showing "next week" after I manage to dispose of a few more things which make it difficult to navigate the space. Not so bad, please, as those left behind houses of demented souls having pathways through piles of newsprint and garbage to some inside nest you can't conceive.) Just the look of a house vacant all weekends because in the end, my remaining at-home daughter just cannot endure teenage occupancy alone with Dad in the wilderness. That is not a sentiment I care to contest. At all. And so I write only weekends, apartmented in the city. Wondering where and when and how I'll find either the time or energy to wash the windows and overall brighten up my latest silly womb with but dim view. My house in the country I now must leave, in preservation of what time I've left to write my way out of this ethereal paper bag.
So, that's the faith I have. That at this post-half-century turning point, I have become proof against ever taking another day job act. Against ever again so energetically pursuing love that I shave my beard and trim my hair and my rhetoric too and wear other more presentable clothes, or God help me, endure the indignity of a younger babe so easily mistaken for my daughter. These things make me just cringe anymore. I cannot but be myself. It's less the finding of my authentic self, than the drooling paunch of no more choices, but I'll take it.
Sure, it does help that my hormones no longer rage. Not quite so old as "brother" Cohen, I still have no real regrets for leaving that garden I never did quite enter and therefore won't have to leave. It was only ever thorny for me. (Well, OK, so invite me in and we'll just test my resolve)
It helps also that my mind is aged by cigarettes and wine and never enough time nor energy to read the things I really should. Not near so much capacity in dissipation as say, that self-same Leonard Cohen, but I feel the same dimming he talks of but does not show. The structures for mind's youthful blooming recede, and I haven't the energy, even in principle, to elaborate just what I mean when I talk about particle physics or Chinese poetry or other pursuits on whose trail I once was hot.
I doubt I will ever have that energy again, though I guess it's not impossible. I mean, if someone were to pay me for it, I surely would re-systematize my knowledge. But the university is not open to my paltry accomplishments. I don't own those degrees of freedom, and even if I did I'm just not so sure that there wouldn't be still more constraint there than on my own; with political pathways up, and narrative trueings so much more constrictive and less open to surprise than even the most extreme cases of anti-global-warming-conspiracy-of-dunces-theorizing.
I must remain unbounded. Promethean in my reach if surely not my grasp. But I am so lost with torch burning down and noplace yet to alight my spark.
You see, these folks are quite right in at least one reductive sense. (I had dinner finally just the other day for the first time after almost seven years with my good friend and ultra conservative Catholic neighbor, and had to endure, though it cost me absolutely nothing in good humor, his fulminating rhetoric about the global warming hoax) Approaches to scientists will automatically fall flat and dead at that point where you wish to implicate them in their research.
I do believe that there is one most false branch to science; cosmology. It is there alone that science cannot go, but demands to still. It is there alone that science will and does and has, would it but wake up to that fact, find that it is measuring only the mind of the observer.
Oh, I hate these personifications, as though "science" were some "them." Science does not "say" anything, and scientists, surely at the limit of cosmology, are so unlikely to have read the stuff they really need to comprehend before they peer off into the readings out from instrumentation at least 17 miles in diameter (was it circumference???) and declare any findings.
I do know from hard experience, that it is equally difficult to talk to - just for example now - a disbeliever in global warming, about science, as it is to talk to a scientist about the end(s) of science. They are simply not prepared for that particular surprise, so invested must they be in towering edifices of accumulated understandings and trued arcane verbiage and degrees of distinction from everything and everyone here below in the muck of direct experience.
So I was and remain chastened now, this Easter morning, by last night's meeting with my former student. I'd tried to teach him Chinese once so long ago (though I was and am a fraud, I did have and could teach, at least, perfect pronunciation, and build a good foundation, demonstrably, for more native ministrations), and then as headmaster, by the skin of both our teeths, to get him some degree.
He surprised me to tell that he never did earn any single degree. Not high school. Not college, though he often teaches theater there. And I am chastened, not just because I feel so lucky proud to have pulled what degrees I own back from the temptations, always, to chuck it all (it took three rough passages through Yale before they let me out. Sanctioned my outing, is more like it). I am chastened because he has become so fully my teacher now. And because my failure was not his.
I came to him for help to stage my "Womb with a View" (working title, please) monologue. And he, upon only the very briefest hearing, shot back authors and plays and readings so erudite that I had to beg him please to email the names, since I had no hope of recall.
I held his door last night - the house was absolutely packed with only one last seat for me. I only snoozed a moment this second time to witness his terrific play. I think I snoozed because I felt the beginnings of some relaxation to my quest. There will be those who know so much more than I do, can help to true what words I have. There will be help along the way.
And so I think it time for me to de-cocoon once more. I don't know about spreading any wings of Icarus or surfactin-stimulated butterfly, as was the manner for my little peanut daughter to survive her own way-too-early escape from her mother's womb; butterfly wings and kisses. It must be the same substance. For my daughter, at two pounds she was very lucky that her mother's doctor missed the textbook case, and left her and mom both traumatized in the womb so that when she finally was hacked out (it was that bad - I was there), her lungs would not stick together which is what is the worst for preemies.
Lucky for me, I should properly say, since she would be her no matter what had happened, but now she provides me such bright pride and joy and even company. She listens to my words and claims they make sense to her, which is way more than a father ever could deserve, since the obligation is so much the reverse. And she never did try me that way. Always so easy to understand. Such a joy. So perfectly articulate.
So, it must be this same substance on butterflies' wings, which must get discharged in some precise quickening before the molt. Why cocoons must never be warmed. Why term is at all costs to be allowed before the labor is begun. Why sometimes, with luck, too early de-cocoonings, like even that one for me from boat so long ago, can still be survived provided further artificial incubation.
For me, all artifice has ended (Well, lash me to some mast, we'll see). Perversely, I will endeavor to refuse all offers of comfort - at least those even where I only have to torque my soul a tiny bit (metaphorical, since I don't have faith now in the literal one) to represent someone else's brand. Not Church. Not government. Not China which does not know herself at all. Not startup internet business even, unless it wants me as I am. I'll whore for anyone, provided the deal is honest. Now there's the rub.
It is only you, gentle reader, that I can or will but also surely must have faith in. It is you must be resurrected here. Your context for some reading. Your willingness to make that effort (I do know that it is extreme, and beyond all reason what I ask) to read. To listen. To watch. To make some sense. Not of me and what I write (don't be a fool!), but of what is now so out there. You really have to be perverse, and bound to rigid stupid absolutist words - I guess simply because you're so afraid that you might be fooled? - not to read it. Right off the web, the wall, the street, the news. Just learn to read is all.
And you, gentle friends or daughters, who must trust that Howie or Dad has not now finally lost his mind for good and ever, and isn't marching off perversely into some chip-on-shoulder spiting of himself. That I will never refuse love when offered, nor to offer it to my full capacity, which might not be very much. But I'll try. I do try. I am very limited is all.
Let's hope it's true what says AARP, that there is life after 50. I sure do hope so. My younger daughter is my very best companion. And yet I want her so much to be free that I hang back criminally from enough guidance. I offer no discipline. She does far too much what she pleases.
But I do, I guess perversely, still have faith that it's the love that counts. Love expressed in seasons turning, a conspiracy of life entire, which guarantees that the moment for the peepers is just the right moment for decocooning. That there is more than just her father to mediate her growth. And that what she needs most from me is more gentle than those stern and fearsome words I got, which still did no good against my own transgressions and fallings short. Though I won't blame them for that. Nor their deliverers. The times were different, is all.
If Dad has lost his mind, he might yet be in good company. There are readings all around (I'll get them shortly by email) which move in the same direction. I guess there might be enough surfactin now that I can fly myself, alone, flittingly, for just a moment before the season turns again.
I do believe, you see, that there is so much more to life than what can be accomplished alone. That mankind's flight is made of words, though words alone, whether those of science and its instrumental extensions, or the true distilled and very litterary great essence of our greatest minds, cannot describe the flight. For that there must be face to face and much more quickened turnings.
And as my young former student (and now my mentor) did so charmingly wonder, why is it that actual presentations must be lower on some scale than literary readings? He had become somehow aware that in our past - and I think this is true - those who could read were regarded with suspicion. Those who could read silently to themselves were thought possessed. Out of commerce with where life actually quickened, and where profundity could be found first hand. Only priests were sanctioned to read, leaving witches, demons, perverts and other outlaws as the only other possibilties. More dangerous than revered for what they might know.
And now this equation is so fully reversed. To where televised presentations cannot, and likely do not, even potentially possess anything near the power of the written word. But why not? Why not YouTube? Why not theater again? Why must it be contained in and by words, this truth we would approach, though never, because it would blind us and melt our wings, quite touch?
Well, because the metaphor is wrong is all. Truth is not a thing can be approached. There is no Omega endpoint to this questing. That's misplaced words. There is no absoluting truth. There is only trueing, and for that we need each other, alive and stimulating and responding and being and here. And there. Which is neither here nor there, silly reader.
Do I leave you now, alone. Having fallen this far short? Were you expecting some great final revelation through these words? (If I did not doubt it, then I would not dare to write it, surely!) Well, if so, here it is. That punchline I never can remember, or even reconstruct. That final turn of phrase which captures, just right, that moment of apprehension you used to go to Church for. That apotheosis of the Word. Made flesh. Was God.
Well, here, then, it is. Here it is. You'll have to read it all again. And again and again and again and anon.
There's really nothing more to say, though I will keep trying, poor gentle reader. For life. For love. For my daughters. I will make you pay me, too, since what choice do I have? What choice do you have?
Well, Happy Easter, and I do pray for your resurrection. I really do. Turn off that one-way television. Turn the projector on yourself, and YouTube it to infinite regress. But then please do go outside. It's a beautifuly day to be alive!
Happy Easter, you nonexistent fool you. Happy Easter!