What Does It Mean When My Crowd Is Bigger than Yours?

Obviously, that I am a better, more deserving person than you. Or maybe that, unbeknownst to myself,  I am a narcissist, which, using a standard definition, means I partake of an “inflated sense of (my) own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others.” Because of my “fragile self esteem,” I am likely to wreak terrible, self-aggrandizing havoc everywhere I go. 

Several years ago, in my brief, but exciting academic life, I published an article in Psychoanalytic Review, “A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Ovid’s Myth of Narcissus and Echo” (Winter 1992). I had no practical  knowledge of or investment in narcissistic personality disorders per se, but I felt strongly that Narcissus got a bad rap and that Freud was to blame.  I wrote a paper detailing an aetiology of the disorder based on a correct reading of the Narcissus - Echo encounter. Which I won’t get into here, but in effect, it excused Narcissus from his behavior, or at least called for another look at the possible roots of the disorder. 

I never expected the paper to be other than a curiosity. It wasn’t based on case studies or even a strong sense that narcissism was misunderstood, misdiagnosed or inappropriately treated. It was all about Freud playing fast and loose with Ovid! Misappropriating myths. Cheap tags. Anyhow, I was not at all surprised that the paper plunged into the churning moil of everybody else’s pet ideas. 

Until, as happens with churning moils, it reappeared recently. And here’s where I have to ‘fess up to my own card-carrying narcissism. My habit of googling myself, that is. The more specific the search, the better the results.

And what do you know? Me and Narcissism—it’s a go. 

The Societá amici del pensiero Sigmund Freud (The Society of Friends of the Theories of Sigmund Freud, I assume) held a three-day conference, December 2014, in Urbino, Italy (where was I when they needed me???) to discuss NARCISSUS BETWEEN MYTH AND PSYCHOPATHOLOGY - THE FREUDIAN CORRECTION. And, a substantial section of my paper was offered in the Introduction. I’m not kidding. Check it out yourself.

Yup. Another imagine my surprise experience. Which fed into another of my cherished mantras—just do the work, get it out somewhere, somehow. Trust in time. Believe your efforts will bear fruit, or they won’t, and either outcome is fine.  Meaning also, don’t be googling yourself. Let it go… Let everything go. 


Postscript: Knowing what I know now—and even what I knew then, I would never try my tiny hand at rehabilitating narcissistic personality disorder. It's a ticking time…

 

Are the Old Ways Passing?

In many ways, yes. Granted, the problems (might or will- take your pick) always be with us, to paraphrase Jesus, in John’s Gospel. Perennial problems of freedom, justice, equality. Over the centuries, individual cultures approach these universal biggies in the language and images of their particular time and place. Not to belabor the obvious, but cultures change, and ours has changed mightily in my lifetime. 

As I’ve said here previously, I think in categories I learned decades ago, while my mind was eager and impressionable. These categories stuck because they made sense to me at the time (they were certainly better than anything else I’d heard) and because in subsequent reading, I sought out writers who think using similar terminology. A rarer and rarer breed. 

I’m not complaining. Really. If I casually inject a classical allusion into a poem, especially one which, to my mind, works on multiple levels, I must be willing to live without the readers who feel shut out of that poem. It’s a big world with lots of readers and lots of writers. Fine. The only lesson to be drawn is that with the erosion of mythological, historical, Western Civ-type allusions and their ability to blast open huge philosophical and age-old moral quandaries, political poetry has lost a major tool.

Preaching over. Now, a what-on-earth-are-you-talking-about example. My gratitude to Lori Desrosiers, editor of Naugatuck River Review, for recently publishing “Take with a Grain of Salt— cum grano salis.” Lori does an outstanding job curating narrative poems, many of which begin in a moment, of equal narratable and surreal potential. 

For example, on a recent visit, my dear sister-in-law Kathy (wife of Phil Casey of Scuppernongaree fame—Like them on Facebook) asked a simple-on-the-face-of-it question, where did I keep my salt. Since the dedicated salt cellar location in my kitchen had not yet been established, this question set the universe spinning. On a bad day, I’d berate myself, “What kind of an idiot doesn’t know where her salt belongs?” On a good day, I’d quickly pronounce, “Here,” and point to any old vacant spot. But on a truly excellent day, I’d take a mental sidetrip and realize how incredibly interesting and multi-layered a question that was—and how telling that yet another domestic event led to questioning morality in the public sphere. 

Take with a Grain of Salt
    cum grano salis

After frying her morning egg
the Turkish way—rolled cigar-like,
my sister-in-law cleans my counter,

Where do you keep your salt? 
Oh, I answer, stick it anywhere.
My mother kept her salt

next to the cinnamon she’d mix
with sugar for special-day toast,
far in front of the summer salad

paprika. My grandmother kept
hers on the counter, next to the gas
stove where she browned Sunday’s 

pot roast. I don’t know if my great-
grandmother had a special place for salt, 
but according to all accounts, 

she herself was salt of the earth. 
I have one daughter whose salt
never wanders and another whose

salt floats free.  Women in our family
are worth their salt in the kitchen. 
Roman soldiers were paid in salt

from which we get salary, necessary
perks and lucre. None of the above for
Cincinnatus. Our George Washington 

thinks that’s cool. Back to the farm after war. 
No, to power, to dictatorship. No to salt, 
not even to rub in an enemy’s wounds. 

 

What Can You Say, If You’re Not Rumi?

Depends, as does the proverbial red wheelbarrow. Williams’ poem and this editor’s comment (see May 15, 2016 blog where I recount how I once had an editor tell me, “You can’t write that unless you’re Rumi” ) persist as personal rocks and hard places between which I floiter (my new portmanteau for flounder - loiter). I was going to say they are my spiritually aesthetic Scylla and Charybdis, but I’ve come around to agreeing that using obscure classical references locks readers out. Of course, these references will become culturally even more obscure from lack of use, but I’m starting to forget them all anyhow. So we move on…

What can any of us say? And where? And on whose authority? In the September 2016 issue of Harper Magazine, Alan Jacobs of Baylor University concludes his probing article, “What became of the Christian intellectuals?,” with the comment, “I think that, from the Fifties to the Seventies, American intellectuals as a group lost the ability to hear the music of religious thought and practice. And surely that happened at least in part because we Christian intellectuals ceased to play it for them.”

Likewise, I can’t help but ask, where are the Christian poets? And their interesting subset, the Catholic poets? Dana Goia, former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), met this question head-on in “The Catholic Writer Today” in the December 2013 issue of First Things. He remains hopeful for a renaissance in the Catholic literary imagination but admits “contemporary American letters has little use for Catholicism, and Catholics have retreated from mainstream cultural life.” The solution, “the renewal of Catholic literature will happen—or fail to happen—through the efforts of writers.” Not only in isolation, but in the forging of new communities. 

I wonder what these communities will look like, with the diminished role of the Catholic intellectual. Or if I can even allow myself to think this, the diminished freedom of the Catholic intellectual. 

 

Jacobs’ article can be found here
Goia’s article can be found here

How Do You Say Anthology?

 

I say aunt hō lō gee a, equal stress on all syllables.  Only in my head, of course, where things fanciful and apocryphal pass for normal.

I do love anthologies, though. And their long history. The first one compiled by Meleager of Gadara in 60 B.C., a collection entitled Garland. And the nailed-it! etymology of anthology: a logos (story, collection, study, all-purpose word) of anthos (flowers). Hence, the Garland translation. As a side note, Latin coined a parallel term, florilegium, based on the same metaphor, but anthology became time’s victor.

I love reading anthologies, especially themed ones, to relish the fecundity of human imagination, in thought and aesthetic. So much variety, no matter how narrow the theme.  I love having my work included in anthologies, to be in the midst of the play. Which is why I report, with great pride, that my poem, “Eureka! Corner Drugstore, Slushy March Afternoon,” has been published in The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology, edited by Jerry Bradley and Ulf Kirchdorfer, from Lamar University Literary Press. 

What kind of flowers be these, you might ask. Brash, upright ones, with here and there a thorn. Sheltering among the many stand-outs in this anthology is a great privilege. At the risk of being ungrateful, though, I regret that the press did not send author proofs before publishing the book. Some of my poem’s formatting was lost in transmission, but most importantly, “Eureka!” was previously published in minnesota review and that fact was not acknowledged. Hereby acknowledged, with apologies to the minnesota review, such a terrific journal, which is published out of Virginia Tech, with only a historical relationship to Minnesota.

I sense a poem in that incongruity. And that’s the energy of  The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology: poets drawn to  unmask discrepancies between presented reality and perceived truths. In the book’s introduction, the editors write, “The wise ass poet holds his own court and exerts whatever influence he or she has on the page, both animated and frozen at the same time” (p. 2). While this can be said of most poetry, it is true, that the angrier I become, the more I turn to humor. As one of the first satirists wrote, difficile est saturam non scribere. It is difficult not to write satire, given the current provocations. Thank you, Juvenal. 


 

Who Said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it?”

George Santayana, in The Life of Reason (1905), and some thirty billion people afterward. My poem, “Highly Fungible,” published today at the rock-star NewVerse.News site, might suggest that I follow suit and see our current political situation as akin to Rome’s infamous decline from robust halcyonic Republic to debased, doomed, vulgar Empire. Yes, and no.

First, it’s the prerogative of political satire to ignore substance in favor of style. Over-the-top style. How else to ferret out deeper truths? But, political satire is different from cultural analysis. It will take years for a serious critique of current political phenomena to develop.

Still,  I don’t want to leave on the public table the notion that I think we are witnessing another round of Fall and Decline. In some ways, Trump (supposedly) offers antidotes to what brought Roman society to a halt: for instance, the “bread and games” mentality and the corrosive Roman patronage system. Trump wants to bring jobs back that will allow people to work and participate in rebuilding the economy and renewing the social fabric. He says over and over that he is funding his own campaign and that he will therefore not be beholden to special interests. Very nice. UnRomanEmpirelike, and strangely reminiscent of Bernie Sanders.

Trump may be a great person. Certainly, his wife, children and many friends and associates think he is. Certainly, he seems sincere in wanting to make America great again. And dare I discern some altruism somewhere? Who can judge? But I think we can judge what he represents as a Candidate and speculate that he is reifying a nasty element in our national psyche, and, conversely, that the current political scene is bringing out the worst in Trump. So henceforth, here, when I speak of Trump, I am talking about this crazy projection of a leader that he purports to be, and I am leaving the personal Trump to discover between him and his Maker if there is ever need for forgiveness.

With that in mind, I would say that Trump represents late-stage Patriarchy. White, of course. (And I have no evidence that it’s late-stage; I’m just hoping.) When he is on your side, the sun shines, shines, shines. It helps if you are similarly endowed. Or the Beautiful Wife of a Success Story. We all like Success. And the rest of us can weather the various storms by Following the Rules.  Or else. If he’s not on your side, then yes… the playground bully and the abusive husband hurtling home. Watch out. The Romans wrote the book on patriarchy. A seductive, appealing version of patriarchy sometimes, but nonetheless a ruinous system for half the world’s population. Actually, all the world’s population, but that’s another soapbox.

The final word on this political season is a long way from being written, but one cliché that I embrace without equivocation—we are indeed living in “interesting times.”