Wednesday, October 4, 2017

(Be true) "to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge."***

If I ever appear smart it is because I allow Maria Popova, brilliant editor of the newsletter Brain Pickings,* to do the heavy lifting.  Maria reminds me that it can be satisfying to think.  She’ll quote a phrase “ fighting the cowardice of cynicism” ** and my mind takes a gleeful u-turn from my diet of vapid.   Of course.  Cynicism is a cowardly and lazy exit.   But I love it so. I'm cynical about everything: marriage, parental love, the flu vaccine. etc.   I wish there was a cooking show that served up irony and cynicism.  Chicken pot irony.  Cynicism alfredo.  Yum.

This week, Brain Pickings  reintroduced me to e.e. cummings, the poet most remembered for using quirky punctuation.  He was much more. Cummings was a slayer of cultural repression, a rebellious son of puritanism.  This is how he mocked Harvard and Cambridge as the epitome of stifling respectability.

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church's protestant blessings
daughters,unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow,both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things --
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
....the Cambridge ladies do not care,above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless,the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

This is almost exactly how Tom Wolfe mocked the New York establishment decades later in Radical Chic.

Cummings became a member of the Lost Generation, following Hemingway and Fitzgerald to Paris and eventually settling in Greenwich Village to capture the Bohemian mystique of literary and sexual experimentation.   He made the establishment angry.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, not many poets were offering lines like this:

i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows....

Here is one of cummings’  more annoying poems:










is upon a gra





Someone described this poem as letters falling from a cliff.

Cummings was showcased in Brain Pickings this week along with quotes from Seamus Heaney “involves being true … to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge.”and even Nietzsche, “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,” because of his enduring message to be yourself and defy any culture that rules through fear. 

This direct quote from this week's newsletter is my contribution to the citizens on both sides of the current political battle that are cowered by fear of reprisal or physical harm from expressing their true selves.

Every generation believes that it must battle unprecedented pressures of conformity; that it must fight harder than any previous generation to protect that secret knowledge from which our integrity of selfhood springs.  But much of it in the century and a half since Nietzsche, and especially in the years since Heaney, is an accurate reflection of the conditions we have created and continually reinforce in our present informational ecosystem — a Pavlovian system of constant feedback, in which the easiest and commonest opinions are most readily rewarded, and dissenting voices are most readily punished by the unthinking mob.

** Caitlin Moran
*** Seamus Heaney

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