Michael Zeleny (larvatus) wrote,
Michael Zeleny

pornographic imagination II

    Now that I have your letter, I understand both your reluctance to send it, and your delay in doing so. The former reflects my own resistance to reopening the subject so thoroughly excavated in our collegiate dialectics thirteen years ago. I refuse to mirror the latter in delaying this response, begging only your forgiveness for casting it in vague generalities, to which your bel esprit is fortunately far more susceptible than the otherwise pliant mind of the honnête homme.
    Likewise, in referring to dialectics, I run the risk of chasing away the few remaining readers of these screeds. But I know that you will stick around, as you have done through our confrontations with yonder raging and savage beasts of masters. As the bard droned once upon a time, you’re gonna have to serve somebody. For us, who repudiate the religious choice between serving the devil and serving the Lord, the alternatives reduce to the social and the moral. In the moral plane, I know and admire the effort that it takes you to submit the imperatives of desire to the rule of reason. For that very reason, I am disappointed by your failure to draw the correlative social conclusions.
    Voltaire once wondered whether it is not worth a thousandfold to be a lackey in a respectable household, than to be a wit amongst lackeys, « s’il ne vaut pas mille fois mieux être laquais dans une honnête maison que d’être le bel esprit des laquais. » (Les honnêtetés littéraires, 1767, in Mélanges, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris: Gallimard, 1961, p. 967.)
Discontent with serving as a lackey in a respectable household, you are equally resistant to displaying your wit among lackeys. In keeping with our previous discussion, this is one of very few instances where my empathy measures up to the pain of my fellow man. But if contempt serves us as an invaluable medicine, its utility dwindles with the failure of application to its dispenser. You refuse to waste your life on grim stoicism; fair enough. But wasting it on flippant self-indulgence is far from a superior alternative. It would be awfully nice to restrict our functioning to contexts where we are welcome and appreciated for the gift to the world that we are. But I fear consigning myself to the society of simpering nincompoops, oblivious in their selfless worship of my heroics, of the toll that my gift exacts of the world. In an obvious application of Groucho Club Principle, the society that admires me so unconditionally, is unworthy of reciprocal attraction.
It could be different for you. But it’s not. The maturity upon whose attainment you congratulate yourself, comes as a consequence of association with your betters. This association is impossible when you give up on the struggle to be welcomed and appreciated against the initial impressions.
    In order to be worthwhile, admiration must consume, and hence compete for, scarce resources. The catoptric self-regard of Narcissus is deficient in two interrelated ways. It is ill suited for therapy and learning alike: the mirror shows you only as you are at the moment of facing it, affording no aid for anamnesis or prognosis in virtue of lacking connections to the past and insights into the future, and being therefore as inadequate for diagnosis and treatment of whatever ails you, as it is of bringing out the legitimate aspects of pride in your nature and accomplishment. In further reducing you to the exclusive society of self-regard, it isolates you from correction and elevation by your betters. And this onanistic aspect of narcissism brings me to the point of my oration.
    You have mentioned giving up literary theory unrepentantly. I am happy to endorse this move in any writer. Great literature is as likely to come out of writing about great books, as great love, from masturbating to the tale of Abelard and Héloïse.
In either instance, whatever outcome might be expected, it is ill served by the object of its attention. Writing about the writing of your betters undercuts your solitary creation, just as inflaming yourself with the thought of an illicit passion that abuts at its protagonist’s castration would undercut your solitary recreation. But it would be as foolhardy to abjure your inspiration in great literature, as to forgo your education and promotion by the society of your betters, the society that you can only enter wearing the mien of deferential obeisance, in sublating your entitlement to obsequious veneration by your audience. I know you to be as capable of this sacrifice, as you know me to be. From all our discussions of love, I now recall your account of your first wife. You had pointed out that erotic passion must transmute into an attraction founded upon shared history and mutual responsibility, as a condition for creating a successful marriage. More recently, we have discussed Tolstoy’s response to this predicament. You reminded me of his mention in his diaries, of coming to grips at long last, in his early sixties, with his raging and savage dominion by sexual desire.
I am reminded instead of wishful thinking about family happiness, embodied in the eponymous novella that he published at the age of thirty-one, three years after his heroic military service in the Crimean war, and three years prior to his own marriage. In treating this subject, Tolstoy expresses a conservatism ill-supported by his personal proclivities. Woman’s happiness in marriage stems only from transmuting her romantic idealism into stern submission to duty, by way of sublimating her sexual excitement through the toil of housekeeping and the pleasures of raising children. The moral, spiritual, and physical distancing of the spouses is to be negotiated in a sudden recognition of this bargain, for this strained satisfaction:
С этого дня кончился мой роман с мужем; старое чувство стало дорогим, невозвратимым воспоминанием, а новое чувство любви к детям и к отцу моих детей положило начало другой, но уже совершенно иначе счастливой жизни, которую я еще не прожила в настоящую минуту...
― Лев Николаевич Толстой, Семейное счастье, 1859
That day ended my romance with my husband; the old feeling turned into a precious, unrecoverable memory, and the new feeling of love for my children and the father of my children gave rise to a new life, altogether different in its happiness, which I have not lived out until this very instant.
― translated by MZ
This same wishful thinking that you once wistfully extolled in connection with the breakup of your first marriage, I now commend to you in connection with the provisional extinction of your academic career. You are blessed in having, in your daughter, the sole subject of unconditional love and care capable of distracting you from the need to seek unconditional love and care in every social setting that you enter. You are fortunate in enjoying the reserves of strength and the resources of judgment that enable you to refuse the bane of self-indulgence that might have destroyed a lesser man. You are gifted in a growing capacity to extirpate the trappings of inane flippancy and sardonic humor that undermine egotistical diction of the congenitally self-indulgent. And so, in the irreligion of our fathers, it remains for me only to urge you, with Voltaire, to stamp out the last vestiges of the toxic cult of the self that flourishes in the absence of true gods.
     « Écrasez l’infâme ! »
Tags: bullshit, friends, onanism, sex, vanity

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