Monday, November 2, 2020

Yet Another Ghost Story

I have a folder on all my computers called "The Great American Novel." The great novel is meant to be American. But - literally now - I can't write my novel until the novel is dead. A novel is what Jill Lepore calls a narrative, 

"— caught between the medieval and the modern—and placed, at its center, an individual plotting a course through life, making sense of the mysteries around him."

Well for sure my life has read like a novel. But nobody, apparently, wants to read my life. Anyhow, Lepore documents a transition into a different kind of truth telling. Detective work and procedural justice were and are, of course, coterminous with the novel. In her- to me - breakthrough work of 2005 called New York Burning, she documents how upwards of 80 black slaves were publicly hanged or burned at the stake because of the creative fiction of their conspiracy.

Slaves weren't thought to have agency. They couldn't bear witness. Of course they were not and could not be authors of their own lives.

This is an amazing work, not just as a history, but as a documentary about how history gets written, and therefore, how literature and history are one. Lepore is a literary critic as much as an historian.

The question arises, front and center for me, what sort of similar transition are we undergoing at this very moment? In history? I have absented myself from the city during this election. My reasons were fickle and real. I am waiting for the apartment I'll rent to open up, and I've been living meanwhile in my daughter and son-in-law's new house. He has to quarantine due to travel. I wonder if and how he'll vote.

There really wasn't sense to be there during the mandated 14 days of travellers' quarantine mandated in New York, and so I've taken most of what I own with me. There is some drama, and not just the nervousness all of us who have any sense must feel about whether there can be a repeat of 2016. A repeat of the Y2K disaster which got GW Bush selected.

There is also a winter weather advisory. I should be set since I stocked up on food for last night's ghost story around the fire gathering for Halloween. It was truly a blast, if really a little too cold. No one wanted to be inside though, what with the plague and all. 

Someday soon I will finish Camus' book, as well as Defoe's. They make the same sort of background terror which the sound effects made last night around the campground. Most, if not all, are clearing out today. That will leave me alone with all the gunshot noises hereabouts. Are they practicing? For what? Isn't it expensive to go through so much ammo. Maybe there's a gun club nearby.

OK, I can relax somewhat. There is indeed a shooting range just over the ridge. I sure do hope that Trump is wrong to predict bedlam. Insanity. But I may be in the safest spot!

About ghosts: I've always said that ghosts are real, but that I will never see one. They're as real as just about anything else. We constantly perceive things that are proven unreal pending the next scientific correction, don't' we, after all? 

But the reality hasn't changed. Just our perception of it, right? Well, maybe not so fast. We're in the realm now where things that we can't possibly perceive are declared real. These are pure 'mental' constructs; abstractions. Sure, I'm talking about quarks and bosons, but also things like merit or race, or jetpacks over LAX which would once have been declared UFOs.

Now I'm no complete stranger to ghosts. I've translated ancient Chinese tales of the supernatural and fantastic which were written as factual. I once participated in a ghost writers circle. Of course I felt the odd man out, since I wasn't so taken by astrology, or the brands of spiritualism practiced at nearby Lily Dale. I once tried to get a reading there, but they can see my type coming a mile away. I wanted to believe. I really did. 

I did also train for the Buffalo ghost walk. Certain of the tales told along the way comported nearly perfectly with my friends' stories about the house they were rehabbing. And there was no known connection between my guide and them. Well, except for whatever vague history of the house might have made the rounds.

The felt reality of a phantom limb might be the best metaphor for ghosts. It's one that my new favorite consciousness theorist has used. Riccardo Manzotti has moved beyond mind/body subject/object dualisms. In so doing, he has also rid us of pesky and unproductive fantasies about how much can be created "in the mind" apart from physical, perceptual connections to the real. 

These fantasies are clearly (to me at least) descended from the concept of a soul as something humans magically have, but animals (and formerly at least, black slaves) magically don't. It may well be that the proportion of our population which believes in ghosts is about the same as that which believes in holy ghosts. I know from personal acquaintance that these are often not the same people, or at least that many ghost believers veer far away from traditionally organized religion.

So it would seem an easy stretch for me to claim that the epistemic shift that we are now undergoing has something to do with this razor's edge between which is fantasy and which is real. The balance may well be precisely as precarious as that between the Democrats and the Republicans. 

As Michael Sandel has pointed out in his Tyranny of Merit, both parties share more beliefs where it counts than they would have us believe. Certainly both are believers in meritocracy. And, if you follow Sandel, our current brand of meritocracy as best expressed by President Obama, is precisely what's gone wrong with the common good. We are increasingly divided between those who fantasize that their outsized weath is their due, based on superior meritose, and the losers, and especially those easily identified and even self-identified as belonging to a class of losers, who must introject their own particular lack of merit. 

Blacks are finally awakening to this reality, and not because Ivy League professors schooled them. Ghosts are white. Dead already, and I do mean morally dead, which is the only dead that counts. Otherwise, just like phantom limbs, they just keep coming back.

I've watched the building shrug. I know it will come down. The charges have been set off. So what will be constructed in its place?

Easily, it will have to be a structure which doesn't so much favor the finance industry. It will have to be LEED certified, and of course I mean this all metaphorically. No-one who sends jobs overseas because they have no choice because everyone else is doing it will get to blame the Chinese for the destruction of our own communities and of our commonwealth.

This is why we have government. Our government must have a say in where the boundaries stand between life and deadly overwhelm. Economy must be defined in ways far larger than meritocratic capitalism allows. I see the ghost of my brothers and sisters as we were in the dreams of our founders. But mostly I see the ghosts of the already dead and gone regime. They yammer meaninglessly on TV. No longer real, as time will prove. 

Well, so of course the ghosts I now experience are experienced by everyone. We are all lock-synched in time and imagery. It won't be a trivial task to convince you that ghosts are real, when the real is real for everyone all at once. I mean, we once did have a truly personal real, which was the real of individual survival. Where ghosts may have helped. Loved ones did die so often, for reasons moral or not. 

But now there is no love lost, and we delegate our reality formation to the digital overlords, no matter which side of what polemic we come down upon. We don't consider ourselves locally competent to challenge the ones with a license to make shit up. No wonder our government is peopled with those just as afraid of death as we are, but in a better position to make shit up and be believed.

The wind now howls and I can't know if I have battened down sufficiently. Always I make small improvements to my tiny house. Before those dawn on me I am trapped in the insufficiencies of my rig. Yesterday it was a coat hook which I'd carried around and previously tested for a different purpose. Today it was another set of stiffer lines to hold the awning in check. So far so good, but the winter storm will come at night when I may be sleeping. A rare pleasure that I do so cherish.

The rain is mixing now with snow. I don't think I'm afraid of ghosts, nor afraid of death. I am afraid of not sleeping. I don't wish to be awakened or to be kept awake by noise and my nervousness about its meaning. The only other camper now drives a pickup truck with Trump flag erected with expertise, and probable care. I think I might know what that feels like, but I would have to project myself back to the days of chariots and horses.

Of course the novel is dead. There is no more personal struggle as Lepore called that out. We are legion and we have all become some form of artifice. Ours is an artificial intelligence. The robots who replaced the slaves for our living wages have been internalized. 

And so what will remain to write about? Will it be poetry again. Is there hope in that, or is there only more stratification away from actual workers with actual lives?

I am at the edge of connectivity. It is a cobbler's job to watch a movie, or to keep a moving image of the Bills on TV. I was afraid of having no connectivity at all, and having to return to civilization not knowing what was happening on the city streets. Will they be overrun by pickup trucks and guns? Will there be anyone in charge? 

Charge! I've got that covered by solar panels in case the grid dies.

I would have evidence of the life which has passed. I know that these woods and these browsing deer, so near now, are no longer real. They are all partakers of preserves where it might still be easy to turn back time in the mind and not to play close enough attention to where the power is. Chariots are less than even mosquitoes against Blackhawks, or whatever now stands poised to churn our air. 

How interesting, to me at least, that our aircraft last so very long. Certainly up against more consumer-grade products. Certainly up against digital. Wouldn't aircraft be where high tech gets to show its stuff? Like the grounded 737 Max which tried to replace the old warhorse, say?

I, too, am but a ghost of my former self. I fade. No longer much of an object for love, though I do still make up a decent story off the cuff, around the fire. Will we really have to start over that way? It is hardly comfortable. The wood can never last. The smoke stings still, and yet there was love.

No, there is a difference between a phantom limb and a real one, though the phantom feels just as real. Just like the ghost of your departed spouse who must appear where once they were before, object of your love, Or murder victims resurrected by the house they once did occupy. They become part of its perceptual aura, perhaps. 

Will it be some relief that no winner may be known tomorrow? Will that give the nation time to sort out what is real? The president will have been elected. We just won't know which one. Both so faded. Who is it that we channel? Which school-time image? I have such a hard time imagining that Benjamin Franklin might not always have been a very nice fellow.

The rhetoric is hackneyed. It reflects no personal struggle to 'make sense of [any] mysteries.' There is no more novel to be written, once we are more subject to our fellow man than to any agency of our own.

My prayer is that the nation I still do love has not already been ghosted. That it will be palpably back sometime soon. And that it will have finally moved beyond the pettiness of race, and merit, and wealth as a differentiator. 

Not all the wealthy are job creators. Most are probably job destroyers now. We must relearn how, properly, to discriminate. Job creators care about community. They value all members. They keep money out of politics. And they don't try to own your purchasing decisions.

Do you see the ghost? Are you spooked? Or do you feel the love? The hurt? The injustice?

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