Monday, May 12, 2008

Point of Reference

Ezra kindly pointed out that my last post sounded like I'd died. If any of you have been maintaining a vigil on my behalf, you have my thanks and reprieve. I am in fact, so to speak, resurrected.

In fact, I'm one of the last people not to disappear. Most of the other ETA's have returned to the land & home of the free & brave, but we are pushing the envelope of sanity! Ellie, Zoe, Len, and Joe -- far from the madding crowd. Though whom we are tying to woo I don't know. Maybe it is an experiment in post-modern reason. I feel like leaving therefore I should stay. Curse you, emotional tyranny!

But at this point we are the stayers. We have stayed. And so I bear that mantle lightly as I go -- haunting Anna and Gwynne's vacant apartment with its excellent number of rooms for reading. Also Gwynne's Norton Anthology of Postmodern Fiction, which has many excellent read rooms.

We have been fortuitously supplied with the kawanest of kawans, Mariah, whose love of fish exceeds even the Malays. She has a proper Fulbright with a lab and everything . . . but still must rely on her rapidly developing Malaydar to figure out whose bullshit is hitting which fans. Bravo Mariah, ye defender of scientific integrity, ye champion of proper lab safety.

As for them wot is departed -- you have assumed the celebrity of America in our eyes at last. Graduate schools, burritos and other such extravagant joys are foreign exoticisms. I can't decide whether to protest your over rich pie or sail to America on a leaky freighter to have my own fat slice. Have Malaysia and its troubles become quaint in the hush of law and the cool of aesthetics?

It is certainly a hot, sleepy country. A contented country with absurdly violent dangers. The snakes and centipedes have gathered the malice abandoned by humans. The tigers and crocs claim whatever stores of efficiency the land contains. Even the mosquitoes have monopolized subtle infection and deceit. What place remains for human evil? No, Malaysia is primarily a country for mischief.

I too have grown mischievous -- more prone to slack and harbor small suspicions. But perhaps my heart arrived stained with a darker evil. If so, the jungle has claimed it. Certainly I struggled and continue to struggle. Certainly parts of this culture disgust me. But if so, I do not fear them; I feel they are that sophisticated sort of play Malays call belief.

Even my take of the American election, certainly the most jaded process in history, has become totally benign. And I wonder: can I ever thrive in the West so bemused and so drained of cynicism?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Long Sleep

Well, I'm in Penang trying to fill up the ten minutes I have remaining on the hour I bought at this internet cafe. It's 6 a.m.

I'm beginning to understand how my grandfather must have felt when he reverenced my grandmother. Despite treating her to all of the nastiness a cantankerous alcoholic can produce, he constantly praised her merits and emphasized his reliance on her. His catchphrase: "I believe in God, the U.S. Government, and my wife. But not in that order." I used to wonder why he didn't just do as she said, then, or maybe demonstrate some of that respect.

Well I think that men come to rely on their wives, because women - feminists be damned - have a broad generosity towards men, a seemingly endless gulf. Sure there are plenty of "enlightened" women out there who "refuse to be walked over." And of course many of them are right. But there are many good, strong women like my grandmother who saw that the truth of the matter was the unattractive field they married could yield a rich crop, if believed in hard enough.

That is one interpretation of the closing episode of "The Grapes of Wrath." Steinbeck's least endearing character, Rose of Sharon, suddenly blossoms with the mantle of motherhood expressed in as archetypal a scene as I've ever pictured. She ceases to be a girl not with marriage, nor journeying, nor child-birthing, nor working; any of which would be singular moments in male life. Instead Steinbeck (granted, a male author) allows her to blossom through selflessness.

Now, maybe it's chauvenistic and idyllic, but what I think it clearly expresses is what my grandfather, and assumedly Steinbeck, viewed as female nature. It is how men view women. Women are the hope of men. They are the tangible evidence of religious belief, ala Joyce's Portrait of the Artist. Stephen Daedelus redirects his religious fervor into female love, and the consequent guilt drives him back again and again into the fervor-sex cycle. Freud conceptualized it as eros and thanatos - the sex drive and the death drive, the only two. And for men, both of these drives involve women. So do the sixteen year olds have it right? Are women really the reason for living?

Now scientists have postulated that, in humans, evolution itself depends upon not only random mutation and selective retention, but also the conscious decision to choose one mate over another. This decision may take into account many factors to which physiology is blind, including abstract moral and social constructions. It is a process that is structurally generative - a little perpetual engine - in which social / cultural forms are developed and reinforced just as a result of their own process of selection. So from the very beginning, virtual reality existed in tandem with physical reality. The eventual paramountcy of virtual forms and economies was predicted all those years ago when the first cave man admired his mate enough to exaggerate her qualitites to himself.

And now I understand because Zoe believes in me from love, rather than evidence. She has faith in me - a position that she most significantly occupies because unlike my father or mother, she had a choice in specifying me. So maybe what my grandfather failed to express was that the love he experienced from my grandmother - that was his god. I've always wondered: if God is so wonderful and we so weak, why does he need us to constantly lift him up, exalt him, etc.? Why doesn't he/she/it exalt human beings, particularly those poor who shall inherit it all anyhow?

Whatever feminists may claim, most women are still mysterious, powerful, magically charged creatures whose roles include instilling purpose in men. And men still live for them, and they till die for them and at bottom nothing else.