Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Catcher in the Rye," Leonard Cohen and the Global Economy

I passed 50,000 visitors some time ago and have five posts left to make 600.

Naturally during my silences my readership has fallen, but as I have before stated, this blog is therapy for me, and obviously my absence is a good sign--I have not been in need of therapy. Still, in re-reading a few random posts today, I am pleased with the breadth of this blog--from psychology to religion and literature to science and football and current events--the number of topics is legion, though all tied together by my inherited illness, the suffering of which has been the main concern, and likely attracted the most readers.

I suppose it obvious that I have a rather abstract mind, though I hope that my writing contains enough concrete experience (and/or figures of speech) to keep the reader interested. Of course you must be a select reader to come here; as was said of Camels, "They're not for everyone." My perorations can be abstruse, though I try to write clearly. Clarity is what I most prize in prose, why I think Milan Kundera should win the Nobel Prize. Like John Steinbeck, and for similar reasons, I love Kundera's lack of adornment. I cannot say my own writing has progressed to such, but then I am lousy at fiction in any case.


In 54 years I have never been able to complete "Catcher in the Rye," and this has haunted me, so I bought a new copy and am past pg. 200, which gives a healthy prognosis to my completing it. What turned me off before, and what I can barely stand now, is the self-hatred of this adolescent narcissist. Everything he projects on others ("phonies, selfish, unfeeling") is exactly what he thinks of himself, of course, though he is unaware of the irony. Puzzling is his lack of preoccupation with the female body as a teenager, but many have commented on this in terms of latent homosexuality. If so, that self-hatred is buried even more deeply in his unconscious--he cannot begin to touch it. The only redeeming aspects of Caufield's character are his love for his sister, dead brother, and his admiration for his older brother, although he thinks his older brother, a writer, imprisoned among the Hollywood "phonies." And what is a phony in H.C.'s book? Anyone who is not feeling exactly how he is feeling at that moment.

I can see why this book held America by the short hairs; few have exposed the adolescent psychosis of extreme narcissism so well, and I wonder at what age Salinger wrote it. (Ah, the miracle of the net in instant research! As "Catcher in the Rye" appeared in 1951, Salinger would have been 32 when it was published, still close enough to recall adolescent agony.) To recall such inner experience so vividly requires a great amount of insight, and to portray it requires a great amount of skill. I couldn't have maintained this voice for more than ten pages as it ultimately sickens and bores me.

No wonder so many teenagers, in their developmental nihilism, are so attracted to the book. At 16 I was a proto-human whose boundaries between self and others and God were often magical and evanescent, who believed one thing one moment and another thing the next. What stands out most from that year was my conversion, which unfortunately forestalled the completion of my adolescence into my thirties.

For Leonard Cohen fans, or even if you're not, I want to take a moment to recommend his new, two-disc "Live in London." It averages five stars after 67 reviews there. Truly a wonder, especially considering the man is 73. And what a back-up band, nine pieces, incredible. Kathleen gave it to me for my birthday present (Oct. 17) alone with a new CD player to plug into our ancient van's cassette player, a pleasure she can only partly experience, mainly through rhythm, while we drive (for the uninformed, my wife was born profoundly deaf).


I would also like to share a passage I recently discovered in an obscure SciFi book entitled "Sykaos," by E. P. Thompson, on the human economy:

Of Money (by the alien, Oi Paz)

If property is the Rule, then 'money' is its Messenger. It is money which commands obedience. All life on Sykaos is a service on its errands. It is money which opens the door to property, and without which one is a holeless person.

Some money is a thing. It is round discs of a base metal such - or gold, which any smith might make, or ‘forge,’ but which it is forbidden to any to forge except an officer known as the ‘chancellor’ whose servants labour at forgery night and day in the ‘Treasury.’ So that he may give out money to those whom he favours and confiscate it from others by a means known as ‘tax,’ which tax is extorted from the general public in papers known as ‘cheques,’ for which reason the Chancellor's palace is known as the 'Ex-Chequer', from which exactions he passes an excess (or ‘excise') to the Pee-Em who has built from this store a handsome palace in the country named as 'Checquers'….

But the greater part of money is a no-thing. It is (like property) ¬a kind of awe, whose worship is performed in bumples known as ‘banks,’ which bumples are to be found in great numbers ~ every street.

The worshippers of money are divided into many sects and factions, each of which pay tribute to a different bumple, but I could never decipher the difference in their doctrines except that ¬in one sort the priesthood promise to their devotees that they W’’~ ensure that they are among the Elect after death--by which they are known as 'Life Ensurers’--whereas the other sort is more this-worldly in its catechisms, offering to believers the 'interest’ of their prophets, with much wild language exhorting the people to 'conversions' and 'savings', and calling upon them to surrender to the prophet’s their 'deeds' and 'wills.'

These prophets (or 'profits') were once great persons in antiquity, or founders of bumples and the authors of their books of faith, or 'bibles', whereby they were sometimes known as '¬'book-keepers,’ or 'bookies'. But now, as with all things Sykotic, they are degenerated to common servitors. It is their office now to stand like counters in a line behind little grilles where they hear the confessions or worshippers. And when the worshippers have given a tribute of money, they confess their sins in whispers through the grille and are 'paid' according to their merits .. with a penance (or 'debit') or an exhortation to faith (or ‘credit’) which is all set down in a computer as a 'balance' for the final Day of Reckoning. And some few, who are favoured by the profits, are given dispensation with the return of a little money, which they carry out of the bumples in their pockets and bags.

There are thus two kinds of money, which are known as ‘cash’ and 'debt'. The cash goes around in bags and pockets and passes between counters, in the form of papers, discs, cheques and other such forgeries. But the greater part is debt, or a fiction stored in the computers of banks, as a record of penance and faith. It is a promise of a hereafter, which the chief profits shuffle around in a continual circulation (or 'currency') between promisers and askers, believers and sinners, until all enquiry is perplexed and all that is left is awe.

We must note two remarkable qualities of money. The first is that the less cash there be, the greater the command of 'credit', and the greater the power of awe. For it happens sometimes that the person has no credit and is 'broke', from which qualification he may set up as a private profit or 'broker', and by cunning balancing of one promise against another (although there be nothing in these promises but air) he may in a short while erect such a structure of fictions that he is accounted by the computer to be one of the 'richest' men in the land.

The second quality of money is that it breeds or multiplies according to its use. For that small portion which is cash and which passes from bag to bag is infertile and grows daily less from use. But that great part which is fiction swells and procreates in the computers. So that a great moneylender, such as a broker or the chief profit of a bank, who instructs the computer to imagine that his money is some nation's debt, may lie all year in bed doing nothing and yet at the end of it his money will have multiplied. And it is pretended that this man (but in truth his money) now owns great extents of lands and trees and buildings and flocks of beefs. Which 'properties' he has never seen and cannot use.

All this goes on above the heads of the people, who worship it as a sacred mystery. For the greater part of them have no more business with the banks than to take to them a weekly tribute for their profits and to make confession. And yet all their goings and comings are ordered within the Rule of Money.

This is all as I have observed, and I set it down as exact science. What, then, is money? If it be a measure, then what quality—as colour, or weight, or heat--does it measure? A person pretending to learning will say that money measures 'value;’ but if one asks what value is it will say that value is what a thing is 'worth' or honoured; and if one asks how worth is determined and who apportions honour, it will reply that it is done by 'price'; and price is the name of the scale of money. So that it is money which apportions honour and which measures this whole planet in its scales.

And as they pretend to 'own' nature, so also they measure in money all their creature-intercourse. Except within the secret life of their little series-sets, or families, they have no concept of gifts, or fair trading in which honour is the measure and the increase of the social sum is the end. They do not, in obedience to the Festive Fairs of the Colleges, send out their carriages laden with votive offerings. One sees in the streets no casual exchanges between givers, each anxious to outvie the other in generosity, and so to come better out of the deal. There are no troupes of dancers, or flautists, performing in the squares, and richly rewarded by the street-walkers' joy. There are no poets, galloping on unicorns, hastening to serve their writs to the multitude without any thought of any 'quid.’ No: every duty, every service, every obligation, all are met, not with an equivalence of courtesy, but with a few dirty discs, a scrap of paper, or a promise of hereafter whispered to a profit in confession. As if Oi Paz [the alien narrator] were to write this grave tome, and indict these weighty sciences, and expect in exchange for all his pain and labours, not the awe-struck deference of the Club of Critics, but a few lumps of gold like chuckall's dung. As if Oi Paz were to write for money!

I have never read such a prescient precis' of the global economy.

1 Kilobunny,

Craig Erick

Unexpected Light

Unexpected Light
Selected Poems and Love Poems 1998-2008 ON SALE NOW!