Thursday, April 12, 2007

Richard Ford's "Existence Period"

After the slew of comments provoked by my last post, I am once again free of public opinion. My private opinion of myself, it goes without saying, is too private to publicize. Suffice it to say that the less I think about myself the better I feel. Thus to have an opinion of myself is dangerous and can be a symptom of depression.

Speaking of mental illness, I was happy to read that 39% of Americans admit to hearing voices--mainly inside their heads, I assume, the article wasn't clear--it brings my past psychoses and present mind closer to the middle of the Bell curve.

I just read Richard Ford's "Independence Day" for the first time and admired his concept of "The Existence Period," though I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the book, both its substance and style, just as I was by the culture and credo of the mid-nineties when it was published, when we became preoccupied as a nation with a stain on a blue dress. I remember a quote from one of Clinton's staffers back then: "Did she have big hair? Big tits? Oh no!" The whole country seemed a part of the Seinfeld Show back then.

As for Don Imus and his "nappy-headed hos," The real obscenity is our Captain Ahab's belief in pursuing the white whale of a feudal society with high tech weapons. It would take half a million troops to govern Iraq, and that would be an uneasy peace at best. Bosnia may be the only example of a war mainly quelled by air power. Ground troops are what are always needed. What I find hard to believe is that with our volunteer army we can't even deploy 500,000 troops--roughly the number of Americans who died in WW II. In any case, a "surge" is a ridiculous obscenity. Forget Imus. The real obscenities come from the administration's mouth. What I can't fathom is how John McCain can be so craven now, torpedoing any chance of a nomination, hoping for the Bush core support. "Toadies for president"--kiss up to the money. Obama raised 25 million by not kissing up, though he is extremely gracious. But I digress--what a blog is for, of course.

I find myself sometimes going to other literary blogs and bagging on poems by the famous, getting angry about nothing, as in the case of Adrienne Rich at Sam Rasnake's blog. Afterwards I have regrets, but I'm too ashamed to return to my post and try to erase it, especially if the blogger has already commented on it. Mea culpa. I know better than to go with my first gut response, but sometimes I lose that caution and wade in with mortars. I attack before I bethink. I want to be more reasonable and circumspect, but I fear it is my nature to jump on the horse before offering it an apple.

One line repeated twice in "Independence Day": "It was like a metaphor that stood for something else."

Back to that book. Having recently been reading Chekhov and Bellow and O'Connor, the superficial, Seinfeld-like self involvement of Frank Bascombe is so hard to imagine deserving of 400+ pages when compared to things that really matter. Sure, there is the dark background of a son who died and a painful divorce, but the real answer for Frank is not in these things but in the mild discipline of real estate. He is not lost; he is satisfied to tread water. The birth of new passion implied at the book's ending is not sufficient to overcome the ennui of the first 400 pages. But this is what passes for importance nowadays, for realism, for relevance. And I found his prose style at times sloppy and certainly choppy.

One of those books I got through because it was considered important, when in fact its importance is that it glorifies what is not important.

Here's to poor Frank Bascombe; I'm glad there's passion in my life, of which my disdain for the Bush administration is but a part.

As to mood, I'm still fragile, but not fragile enough to belabor it. Still, struggling with depression is not an "Existence Period;" it is a life-and-death battle, trying to come out of what Coleridge called "life-in-death and death-in-life." No one wants to be a ghost suspended between pole and tropic.



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