Okay, I said, after we'd exchanged greetings and I'd sat down in the chair and been informed she would be relocating her office south of the Circle, and started talking.
I got home after the second of two busy nights, cold bike ride home, turn on the telly, flip around for a while, come across Gregory Peck as the gambler attempting to reform himself, and next up is Kurosawa's version of The Idiot (Dostoevsky, both of them.) The premise, the man faces a firing squad, reprieved at the last minute, becomes an idiot, an epileptic. A saintly sort of alter-ego, who sees deeply into people, who, although he is an idiot about the basic adult stuff of life has that rare quality of wisdom. Wisdom beyond the everyday. Like he compares what's in the eyes of this femme fatale/kept woman, whom three or four men are fighting over--Dostoevsky seems to have a particular vision of the dramatic torn woman character--with the eyes of a prisoner he saw executed in the very same firing squad episode. (Eyes of deep pain.) He sees far deeper than anyone else sees, or he's more sensitive, but, spot on in his observations. People sense they can go to him for his opinion.
In the story, he's friends with the most fiery and passionate suitor, and in the meantime, though the femme fatale loves the idiot, he becomes involved with a younger woman. And Kurosawa, in this setting where the snow is everywhere, piled on roofs, great drifts, snow banks, gives us the battle, the amazing back and forth in the younger women, taking all different sides, incredibly dismissive of him, and then a few minutes later admitting that she feels she's too hard on him. And this, well, it's something I've seen in my own sort of artistic eye. (I wink at my therapist when I begin to get pompous about my artiste qualities.) The proud beautiful young woman who goes through things in her own mind letting interested parties know, the news flashes of how she feels about you. A woman's prerogative. Kurosawa is great at this, cuts of her talking, him silently looking at her, one after another. Giving him total shit one minute, then from another angle, other thoughts... Oh, that's right... He had sent he a letter, humble, innocent, almost childlike, a realization of feelings for her... She sees the sincerity of it. But, it's a long process, and unfortunately at the end the horrible thing happens when the young beauty he's finally about to marry insists on going to see the femme fatale, as if she were the thing standing between them, when she doesn't seem to be, but... Well, there's no happy ending, horrible to the point of almost becoming comical without being comical, very Russian, I guess.
One is left with a sense of vision, how the Idiot is able to compress the sensory and figure it out. Like when he senses eyes watching him, the passionate suitor gone mad and out to kill him. The Idiot knows things, sees things. And of course Dostoevsky himself was spared from the firing squad at the very last minute, and also suffered from epilepsy ever after that and the Siberian prison camp.
But there's something in it which we recognize, the capability of vision when you are a sort of idiot in society's estimation. Unable to make choices, child-like, innocent, even kinda dumb, but on the other hand getting the moral sense of things. And from my own idiot experience, you know, which I've not been as good talking to you about as I should, out of shame, my own shame, I know how out of some stressful sort of passage you sort of awaken to your idiot savant condition. Or maybe it's that there's a quality to this idiot condition that makes you oddly passive, as if something happened in a frontal lobe or something... And maybe that passivity is part a sentimentality over the Christian message of turning the other cheek and Jesus' obvious suffering in the garden, a kitschy sentimental pretense of being "Christ-like."
But after being put through the usual well-deserved rigamarole with a fiery intelligent proud young lady, I don't know... I became passive. I didn't stand up for myself. I didn't stand and make my intentions or my feelings better known, more obvious, more in plain English, or ask them to be treated with more respect. And you also fall in with the rest of humanity and do stupid things like drink the shot your "old buddies who haven't seen you in a while" inflict upon you, or smoke a puff of weed on the sidelines of a football game when she's over there waiting for you to sit down next to her, but she hung up on you passionately enough the night before... You're dumb and you kind of surrender, or go off sadly without a fight...
And what does it all mean, that you would be so, on the one hand, observational and sensitive and tuned in and aware, and on the other hand sad and passive and unable to make it happen even as you try, because different sides of you listen to different sides of her...
So what are you left with but to be some form of unhappy unsatisfied Buddhist trying to meditate away the fact you let everyone down, that passivity does not lead anywhere...
I got out my iPhone and did a quick Wikipedia. "... first published serially in The Russian Messenger between 1868 and 1869... considered one of the most brilliant literary achievements of the 'Golden Age' of Russian literature." So that's this one hundred and fifty year old long winded flight of literary outburst speaking to what makes me feel badly about myself on a daily basis, no one's fault, but my own solely and exclusively, all my bad. And if there were a condition, or a clear cause, or, say, oh, you've got "idiocy" then you could at least shrug and say, oh well, a physical brain condition, much like or part of epilepsy, when your brain freezes or overheats and you go shaking into a trance, as if struck by the heavy truth of reality as we might chose not to look at directly, and which leads you with your mind even less made up as far as what to do. Jesus Christ.
This is why I feel like I'm sort of shocked, by reality, that I'm so stupid that I can't figure out what to do in life, that I can't make decisions, am not capable of knowing what's going on in that adult way of needing to make practical calculations. Maybe I'm shocked by falling so low, from a well-read fairly privileged childhood son of a nobly engaged professor of plant biology and a thoughtful mom who then went and got her own good degree, and what the hell have I done with my life... nothing. Nothing that would make me even remotely eligible for even going on a date. The prospect of on-line dating, I don't know, just seems silly or wildly inappropriate for an idiot like me. And my nerves, yes, I see reality clearly, I see faces and eyes and what goes on in them, and that makes me think of how Jesus was supposed to have been able to see the devils that resided in different people and shoo them away, begone.
I guess this is why Dostoevsky ended up with his typist, maybe because she could see all the poor bastard was enduring in his own mind--having to type it all out--and had to take pity on him lest he explode out of not being able to get the words of them down in a proper way, obviously something important to the man, a man sort of blown free of ego by what had happened to him, a woman being sensitive to that state of connecting with nature and feeling a part of it.
But you're probably as tired of my worthless literary fantasia tangents as I am, doc.
Or, on the other hand, is there something here that's a central human issue, one that, for the novelist at least, cuts down through all the layers of news events to the things going on within, as they used to say, the human soul.
(If we thought of the artist, a novelist, a cartoonist, a painter, a musician, as revealing the soul, yeah, people'd be less inclined to go shoot them?)
I've become, out of passivity, a hod carrier, or maybe those are the prospects that await the Idiot. The film touches upon the subject. "What's he going to be able to do to support her," they laugh at him early on. "Shovel snow?" Or tend bar. Or write useless novels that seem to have nothing to do with the times, that aren't viewed as a form of gainful entertainment... Or just sort of sit around wondering what to do with himself, realizing it's too late to do much along the lines of what were once perfectly reasonable and reachable goals and desires...
I can expose my shame to you, doctor, and that's helpful I suppose to get it off my chest, but it doesn't help me change from being an idiot who's overwhelmed by things, who doesn't know what to do with himself. Most certainly am I an idiot, and every time I go out of the house it's clear I am one, and only through my being careful am I not greater taken advantage of than I already am.
I don't know how he wrote it, but maybe it was a flash of insight and intuition into his own self, a creative self, that his own literal epilepsy had this deeper quality basic in his nature, that looking at his life, back on it, presently, forward, he saw himself as an idiot, but with this incredible sensitivity, this sense of the value of everything and everyone you come across in daily life. Shocking. Overwhelming. Dizzying. But incredibly clear, once he'd matured enough to master it as a tool of insight, to grasp what's going on deep within people's hearts and stuff. I would gather it's such a creative insight upon the self that would be the only thing to fuel a big wordy book like that. I can't imagine any other force being strong enough. Being as firm and fixed and undoubtable as everything else is doubtful or doubtable, stuck in the complicated instances of mixed outcome and intentions of human circumstances, nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so and we all think too much. It's a horrible thing to be an idiot, but a true thing. The certainty, the very realness of it sort of rings through life, however life is lived. The idiot puts up with good and bad; what can he do?
Ah, but what accounts for us? I watched a PBS Independent Lens piece about bullying... (Lee Hirsch's "Bully.") Why do some kids get bullied? I rode a pretty quiet school bus, a short one, with the rural farm kids, and it was a calm one. I was lucky. I did not get bullied. I was a popular kid in high school, adaptable. They put up with me. I was student council, honor society... I fit in. I guess I grew more eccentric later on. Maybe that's why I become a barman, to prove that I could get along with everyone.
Stand up, or everyone's going to use you as a punching bag, the lesson of a father to a bullied son. And yet, one sees the dignity in the kid picked on. Standing up, we all must do in our own way, I guess.
That's the first day off of the week for you. Cold. I did some laundry, some yoga. I wondered if somewhere along the line I'd adopted a visible self less likely to be bullied than a truer self, the one interested in letters, poetry, the things that could happen when I wrote just for its own sake. The presented self was a creation of college days, an attempt to fit in with the jocks and so forth, with the social tradition. But even then I compensated, by allowing my truer self to come forward in the quiet time when I studied. I was dedicated to the study of literature, to its inner workings. One problem was that this self was not particularly successful despite his scrupulous behavior. This self was rejected, even, by a professor or two, even as it had been fostered and encouraged, loved and cared for. I fell in with the wrong people, it seems, those being not the most sensitive kind.
It could be said that I adopted a sort of schizophrenic mode. Maybe you have to, as an artist without recognition. A side that placates all the normal things you're supposed to attend to, the jobs and so forth. If you rebel too much, following your self and your spiritual inclinations, well, what happens to you?
Where the upper classmen seemed to appreciate me and my various personas, the more ambitious underclassmen didn't see me as much of a role model or just plain didn't like me or took to subtly being down on me, like a very mild form of bullying, which I had too much dignity to respond to, I think anyway, though maybe that's not how they saw it. When I walked across the stage to get my diploma I had the best round of applause, subdued, but from all corners, at least it seemed that way to me, and the President of the college said to me, 'you're a good man, good luck to you,' with a nice smile. And I looked the part, scholarly in the rented gown.
Then, I don't know, I went home, not knowing what to do with myself. I suppose I wouldn't have minded being a country poet over farmland, gone to the college library when my dad went up to his office, been a sort of Faulkner to the Mohawk Valley... But, you know, the Reagan economy was just beginning to hit Central New York, not in a good way obviously.
I suppose I most wanted approbation from her, from my intelligent super sharp college princess, but in my attempt to be cool I shrugged her off when she was feeling sympathetic, I guess. So I only got the rejection part of the female inner dialog, really as if I were a genius at it, getting only the negative, retreating when I could have received some positive. You know, wavelength, that's how everything is...
So around that time, I gravitated to the literary aspect, the hidden, of life. Like my mom's tell of taking a poetry class with Ted Hughes that winter when she was a freshman or a sophomore and he was in Amherst because Plath was teaching at Smith. Or the context of a Milan Kundera, an exile who feels the need to stand up against the apparatchik regime, through, what else, literature, the form of the novel, the study of human reality, that sort of a thing.
And I was, let's see, a clerk with a job bussing tables at night, and then, in order to write, as I saw it, a bartender. Staying active, running around, as a way to avoid the depression...
But this is the problem, the physical law, the Christian reality behind the story, inevitable, that we can only become, that we are the novel itself, that our own story is inseparable from us, from it. You are who you are, and you have to show that to the world as a sort of truth, or a sort of lesson in humanity. It's the same as light. Light has its properties, its wavelength, its speed. The Christian story is the Christian story, Ernest Hemingway's story is Ernest Hemingway. And maybe this is the sort of thing that is real, that keeps empires from running away with themselves, that keeps labor from being exploited, lined up as inconvenient.
Emily realizes herself in the poem.
A writer is a physicist, taking measurements of his reality, to show what a human being is made of. Like Shakespeare, but without so much need of the dramatic form. Perhaps he is unreadable to all but other scientists who get the basic issue. The intuitive self-portrait's scientific quality...
That the norm might take you to be a jerk or an idiot, weird, odd, well, that's just another aspect of the thing. But other philosophers, people like those who said 'that all men are created equal,' I guess they appreciate the science...