Robert Stone’s Prime Green wasn’t what I’d hoped for from the author of the marvelous novels Dog Soldiers and Children of Light, but I was surprised that he’d write a memoir of any kind. It was surprisingly light, and falteringly written. He begins the book with an account of the various ports of the southern hemisphere, and how the American sailors are received variously, with differing degrees of admiration and disdain, and yet it seems antique to Stone, and to me, that he didn’t suffer either extreme—neither greatly admired nor greatly disdained.
I don’t know what it means to be against the current war. Believing I am against it, I am able to go about enjoying the benefits of America with very little contemplation. When I counsel my graduating high school students about college, the military is never mentioned. We talk about other things. (Though two former students, that I know of, are in uniform.) On KCRW this morning, a commentator mentioned that the U.S. Army has raised the entry age from 32 to 43. Since I am merely 35, my direct participation in the war is voluntary, and will remain so eight more years. What conclusions am I to draw from this? Are my days spent as an alternative to participating in the war? Can I truly claim to be against the war? Would it not be more sensible to join the U.S. Army and then refuse to serve?
This is a reading-related chain of thoughts from this morning’s Los Angeles Times, which runs two obituaries back-to-back. French theorist Jean Baudrillard rubs his chin on B15, and on B16 Brian Freeman, an Army Reserve Captain (link to L.A. Times article is unavailable) from nearby Temecula, hugs his children. Baudrillard wrote about the ridiculousness of America, then died of cancer; Freeman was abducted from a base in Karbala and executed by Shiite insurgents disguised as (creating a simulacrum of) U.S. soldiers.
I dug Baudrillard when I was an undergraduate. Among the French theorists we were told to read, he alone interested me or seemed relevant. Because my focus as a reader and a writer has always been poetry, it was permitted for me to not understand current theory, to my relief. Looking at the poetry and fiction of my generation, at least that which I prefer, it’s hard to see much influence. However it’s also hard to see much critical observation worth their salt. Notable exceptions are in poetry, The Lichtenberg Figures and Angle of Yaw, by Ben Lerner; in fiction The Seas, by Samantha Hunt. And of course, Mailman, by J. Robert Lennon.
But mostly the writers I admire, the best writers of today, are sleepwalking.
I have found in my sleepwalk retreat books about mystery and, in the best sense of the word, wonder. In some earlier life I hope I was enthralled by alchemy. Too much science (which I also only lightly understand) exists now, or at least this afternoon, to be enthralled. It takes work, patience. Lawrence Weschler is a proponent of it: just finished Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, about the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, which I’ve visited five times since moving to southern California. It made me pull from the shelf two books I treasure, A Long Desire and The White Lantern, by Evan S. Connell. The two books of essays were collected as the Aztec Treasure House in 2001. Another marvel on the topic is Escapism by the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan. All of these projects about wonder are forms of geography, trying to locate what is hard to pinpoint, what refuses to be witnessed fully.
Escape. That’s what many people I know have been looking for the last five years, in poems and stories, and elsewhere.