it took me so long
to find out.
I found out.
day tripper ~ beatles
"The Sphinx Without a Secret" is the title of a nasty little story by Oscar Wilde. I thought it nasty, anyway, when I discovered it five or six years ago. It's about a mysterious woman. A woman about whom there turns out to be no mystery at all. It seemed to me the story was... uncharitable, to say the least. It seemed to be saying something I was unprepared to accept: that this woman had built herself, as from a kit, and cloaked herself with an obscurity suggestive of great depth, but that there was nothing behind the screen.
Interesting metaphor. Let's say you go to see a film and are greatly moved by it. If afterwards you go backstage and explore behind the projection screen, are you a fool to feel cheated to find nothing there? More than a fool: a moron. What were you thinking to even look? Mon Dieu! The movie moved you because it was a cleverly constructed illusion. If it moved you greatly, we might even say its construction was artful.
I have no desire to wade into the morass of dissecting, you know, Art: what it is and isn't, what it does and doesn't do, what it strives for, when it falls short. Leave that for the longhairs and poseurs in the sparkling salons of the idle rich. From this far dumpier salon of the idle poor, my interest does nonetheless bear upon intent. Is the artist's purpose to somehow touch the heart and mind, or merely to appear to be doing that? As art exists and works within the very domain of appearances, it is the best place, bar none, to practice deception as divulgence. Assemble a collection of abstruse icons, symbols, semaphores. Arrange them on a carefully prepared palimpsest of partially excavated previous attempts. Annotate the lot with animal familiars, arcane alphabets, phases of the moon. Is it real or is it Memorex? Pay close attention: my fingers never leave my hand!
I would argue that this kind of artistic sophistry -- making The Bogus appear The Profound -- has a special allure for the Mystic Bourgeoisie. I would say it almost constitutes a definition. And they construct themselves this way as well. There are even manuals.
Don't prefer your current reality? Surely you can cobble together something better. Or at least something that appears better, plays better. Something deeper, denser, darker, more intelligent, more spiritual. Yeah, that's it: full fathom five! For after all, is all not Maya, the veil of dream, the play of illusion? As the Dalai Lama said to the hot dog vendor: make me one with everything.
You can be what you want to be.
On Cloud 9.
When Marx said religion was the opium of the masses, he hadn't even scratched the surface. Communism is to skin-popping as Spirituality is to shooting mainline.
You might want to check your seat belt at this point, as we're coming into a sharp curve. Hang on.
So there I was a couple nights ago, listening to the audiobook version of Indigo Slam, "An Elvis Cole Novel" by Robert Crais. It was first published in 1997, which is important for my purposes here. My purposes are archeological, you could say, with my personal history as the dig site.
Elvis Cole is a P.I. -- that would be Private Investigator to you. He's a helluva guy, emphasis on the guy part. He's 100% American Male. He was in Nam, baby, and he learned a lot of heavy shit in country. Firearms and munitions and martial arts. You don't want to fuck with this LA gumshoe whose business card says "World's Biggest Dick." He's a firecracker. He's a whip-sharp wisecracker. Yet Elvis is also a sensitive guy. He cleans, he cooks, he philosophizes, he does yoga. And he doesn't screw around; he has relationships. Elvis, as Robert Crais tells us in three-foot-high letters of glowing neon, is an...
This woman I once knew (and about whom I've been writing here in pseudo-stealth mode all along) turned me on to Robert Crais in 2000. At first, I was surprised that she'd read that sort of pop pulp fiction. Then slowly (duh!), I got it that Elvis turned her on. Not to mention his sidekick, Joe Pike, who is much darker and, it is hinted about 3000 times, far more dangerous -- but who is also a vegetarian.
Despite my snide tone here, I've enjoyed these books, and I've read them all. Crais is a decent writer in a genre littered with people who can't write for shit -- and that includes many of the biggest bestsellers. I loved Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, and over the years have looked for more contemporary authors who come even close. Crais comes close.
But I've never read this kind of stuff what you might call "critically." I read mysteries the way people who have televisions (I don't) watch Lost or Battlestar Galactica -- or the way the truly discerning (I am) watch Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Summer Glau, if you're reading this, please get in touch!
Sadly, we can't all be ADULTs.
Which rather nicely brings us back to our emerging theme. It's pretty clear that some group of high-powered market researchers got ahold of a sample of my non-adult DNA, and engineered Summer Glau's friendly robot terminator character to slot into it perfectly. I mean, I like the series. A lot. I think it's well written, well acted, well done all around. But there are times when Cameron (the aforesaid anti-Terminator) does something, says something, makes some move that leaves me not only willing to suspend my disbelief, but positively poleaxed with desire. It's uncritical in the extreme. I can't help it.
However, my point here is not to convince you I'm a dirty old man. You knew that. No, my point involves market research. My erstwhile lady friend's sexual attraction to Elvis Cole was engineered by highly skilled semioticians who were reconstructing her unconsciously preferred reality by remote control.
While it does get hormonally translated into sex appeal, Elvis Cole's main attraction is, for lack of better language, his political correctness. But maybe there is better language. Perhaps cultural correctness is closer. Elvis always conducts himself correctly. Sure he kills the living shit out of the bad guys. Sure he has lots of guns and knows 29 ways to permanently maim you. But he's always a gentleman in his relationships. That's the key thing. And he has one in this book. Bigtime. With Louisiana lawyer Lucy Chenier. In fact, it's a relationship that carries across quite a few of Crais's other novels, e.g., The Forgotten Man, The Last Detective, L.A. Requiem, Sunset Express, and Hostage.
So there I am a couple-three nights ago, listening to Indigo Slam. It's a book I've read before, but all of a sudden I'm hearing it differently. I'm hearing this unmistakable thread of cultural correctness running through it. It's not only unmistakable, it's consistent. There's a template, a framework, an ethic, a set of, you know, values. So when that one's done, I queue up The Last Detective, and listen for that thread more closely. Was it just the one book? Nope. At the end of this one, Lucy breaks up with Elvis. It seems that violent mayhem is not among the needs Lucy seeks to get met. Bummer. But Elvis is brave. Just as he can handle his booze -- a crucial element in the skill set of the All-American Male -- so can he handle his feelings. His heart is broken but he understands.
The Last Detective didn't come out till 2003. That was after the woman who turned me on to Robert Crais had broken up with me. She discovered that my own unique brand of nonviolent mayhem was not among the needs she needed to get met. Unlike Elvis, I did not understand. I was like, "So? Who gives a flying fuck?" I did not handle my feelings well. At the very end of The Last Detective, there's an existential dream sequence in which Elvis discovers his Inner Child. Unlike Elvis, I discovered my Inner Borderline. It wasn't like I Hate You, Don't Leave Me, the classic work on the subject for the intellect-impaired. It was more like I Love You, Eat Shit and Die You Fucking Crack Whore!
No, I did not understand. In fact, when she was breaking up with me she said, "You don't know anything about communication and relationship!" Except it came out sounding more like...
Like it was a total girl thing. Like the frosted lettering on top of the sheet cake they maybe had when she first made the cheerleading team. Go - Fight - Win! Mom, God and Apple-Pie America. All T&A and pom-poms flying. Truth is: I never stood a chance.
As I listened to Indigo Slam, I started thinking -- the one activity I usually read such books to avoid. I stopped the player. I went to Amazon to see when it was published. Aha: 1997. Three years before we got (back; it's a long story) together. So it was at least possible that this culturally correct framework, this set of values, had served to um... inform our experience of each other. Or at least hers of me. Then I fell asleep.
On waking, I realized that I must have been thinking more about all this in my sleep. For the first time in six or seven years, it occurred to me to google "communication and relationship." Was it possible that this had been some sort of code-phrase not included in the boys' version of The Junior Woodchucks Guidebook?
I searched and searched, but nothing really jumped out at me. Then I tried it on Amazon and found this...
While, true, this does capture the general flavor of the concept -- a bunch of fruits out of their tree -- who the fuck ever heard of Joseph A. DeVito? No, I was looking for something with a far greater degree of cultural magnetism. So I pressed on. I may not know anything about communication and relationship, but I'm hell on wheels with a search engine. And finally, my efforts were rewarded.
Oh ho! In retrospect, I guess I should have guessed. But I never paid any attention to that kind of horseshit. Obviously. Thus my abject failure in the Communication and Relationship Departments.
But back to Robert Crais. (Bear with me, as I'm trying to stitch this all together somehow.) Say you're him, and you notice that the Romance genre is getting way hotter, so to speak, than the straight private eye shtick. Maybe you could... hmmm... combine them! Yeah, but wouldn't it be cool if there were some sorta prefab market research just lying around for the taking to model the characters on? Well, dude, there's Mars and Venus practically jumping off the goddam shelf at ya. Hey, it's almost like paint-by-number fiction!
Lest you wonder if the Mars/Venus books really had all that much cultural impact, the first book remained in hardback for 12 years, and purportedly sold something on the order of 14 million copies in that time. Add in the new paperback version, a dozen other books mining the same rich seam, plus innumerable CDs, VHS tapes, DVDs, conferences, workshops, websites, and spin-off "therapies" ... and it becomes suddenly and painfully clear that I must be the only person left in the known universe who has not been deeply touched by this man's uh... work.
More to the point, I now discover that I was deeply touched by the Mars/Venus craze. Only I didn't know it.
Elvis Cole, you turncoat little cocksucker!
I hope the foregoing serves to explain my sudden interest in Dr. John -- Dr. John Gray, that is; not to be confused with Dr. John, The Night Tripper. I mean, to look at the guy, he seems a total dweeb. But hey, he holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree, and he still advertises it proudly to this day. For example, this clip is from the cover of his most recent book, Why Mars and Venus Collide: Improving Relationships by Understanding How Men and Women Cope Differently with Stress.
But why do I say "to this day"? Well, it's because the institution that granted that vaunted "Ph.D," Columbia Pacific University, was shut down in 1999 by order of the Marin County Superior Court of the State of California. See, e.g., Court Orders Columbia Pacific University to Cease Operating Illegally in California (via Quackwatch). And his undergraduate "degrees" were granted by... well, here, let's let Wikipedia tell it...
In 1995, Newsweek reported that Gray had spent nine years as a celibate monk and secretary to New Age cult leader Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In 1997, Time magazine revealed that Gray earned B.A. and M.A. in the "Science of Creative Intelligence" from the Maharishi European Research University in Switzerland, a field of study created by the Yogi himself, purported to be the "scientific theory for the development of higher states of consciousness, which naturally develop through the practice of Transcendental Meditation." Neither the school nor the degree field is accredited.
In response to my belated discovery of this connection between John Gray's libido-planetary delusions and the hallucinatory wig-droppings of the Maharishi Freakpuke, just allow me to say: Vishnu H. Krishna on a pogo stick! Is there any corner of our fast-shrinking world that has not already been psychically terraformed by these stealth religious zombies? Is there no quarter they have not colonized with their total and utter bullshit?
Describing Gray as a "a man who must have left his humility on Mars when he fell to Earth," Time magazine said of him in June, 1997 (Tower of Psychobabble)...
He announces proudly that the new book [Mars and Venus on a Date] took him a grand total of seven weeks to do and that it is "without a doubt in my mind the greatest book I've ever written." Relaxing in the living room of one of two houses he owns in Mill Valley, Calif., Gray sounds awestruck by his own wizardry: "I'm sitting there writing, and these beautiful ideas come out."Yeah, beautiful, baby. Don't ever change!
But here's an idea. Fuck communication and relationship. Do something useful for a change...
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SPECIAL THANKS TO
New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)
Friday, January 30