There are two kinds of people, those who think there are two kinds of people and those who do not, but of course, the latter group are wrong. The very taxonomy of human being, that state of existence so bullied, bloodied, disparaged, idolized, hated, loved, condoned, copied, studied, spied, watched, ignored, rejected, classified, identified, distinguished, too often extinguished, and so totally misunderstood, is incomprehensible unless you use this simple tool. There are two of you and no more.
Some may disparage this realization as the petty enlightenment of a sophist. But sophistic or not, it is true and truth bears a great weight of its own. Many people, too many people it appears, are unable to make a simple choice between good and bad. They choose to make no choice at all which is a choice in itself.
I once knew a fellow who thought there were three. This is very similar to the phenomena you may have experienced at the eye doctors when looking at the chart. It is a physiological illusion. But this fellow persisted. Nevertheless, he repeated, there are three. There are those who do and those who don’t and those who do not care. This delusion did not keep him from constantly coming to binary conclusions in his everyday life, it simply made it possible for him to disagree. Which he often did. He is, or was, a curmudgeon.
There are those who can ride a horse and those who can’t. You can parse the quality of the horsemanship all you like, but it still amounts to the same. I am one of those who can’t. This is not to say I won’t, as in ‘will never,’ though that is very likely the case now that I have gotten to an age that does not bend as well as I once did, but simply that the opportunities for this particular endeavor of human being are now diminishing.
I say, I once knew a fellow. That is because I do not know him now. This happens. It is not so much forgetfulness as lost faith. You thought you knew someone but you were wrong. It is an important point. There is no omniscience in making distinctions. You are either right or you are wrong. You can load the judgement with preconditions and assumptions, but this does not change the outcome. This is the beauty of the matter. The clarity. The learning. You make your call and then act upon it. If you are correct, you may be pleased if that correct judgement is something you wanted, and if you are not correct but are of an open mind, you may still be pleased because you have discovered something you did not know before and moved from one category to the other—those who know and those who don’t—and this may be called progress, so long as you are of the mind to want to know. There are those who don’t, you understand.
The known universe is made up of countless examples of judgements just like this. I can’t speak of the unknown universe, naturally, (though some do) but of what is known, we can quickly determine the facts by applying this simple rule. And remembering, any good rule is a tool, and a rule that is not, is not a rule at all. And this methodology, which is the basis of all science, art, and good cooking, is actually the same one that has been applied to the marvelous development of computer language.
And this then is key to our moment in history: the secret of the zero and the one.
A preamble in The Republic of Books, portions of which may be found elsewhere on this ethereal site.
There is a wonderful quote from a fabulous movie of long ago, often repeated but seldom fully appreciated: “Oh, no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”
Perhaps it’s strange to you that I apply a quote from a movie to the death of the book, which is the greater subject here. Then perhaps you should look more closely at that movie. It was not technology that killed the book—nor the internet, or digital reproduction, or any of those contrivances that you’ve heard complaints about. They were only means. Mere tools. ’Twas beauty. The nature of the book itself, that was the reason and cause for its destruction. Such a beast could not be allowed to survive. With writers having sacrificed their responsibility in favor of favor, and acceptance, such a perfect art could not co-exist in our authoritarian world. With the very climate itself having been made political, the ‘author’ had become another tool as well, and the need for the book, that hairy sublime that we had known, especially in such an age as this, was made doubtful.
Certainly the tag, ‘book’ will be carried on. And ‘pages.’ And ‘word.’ Orwell predicted all that too, as meanings are altered to suit the need of authority. But now we have arrived at that last moment in time. The great misbegotten beast that was the book lay dead on the street in New York. And all the things that the book once was, nasty and cruel and true and kind, are dead, along with that industry of editors and publishers, critics and agents, and not least, the authors themselves who once believed in their own veracity and perspicacity. All gone. Deceased. As dead as the once wild beast that made them possible. A computer can now write as well as the graduate of a university writer’s workshop. Garbage in, garbage out. Compassion made to order. Empathy on demand. There’s a formula for that, don’t you know.
Art has now evolved beyond postmodern, to postmortem.
And the movie industry is dead as well—not coincidently, using the same formula. A King Kong cannot be imagined today, (I reference the 1933 masterpiece, not the modern abortions) only copied—and badly at that. Computer graphics can now simulate almost anything but real life—but then, that was once the subject of actual authors, not authoritarians.
I read years ago that the actor Steve McQueen, a favorite of my youth, refused a movie role because he would not cry on demand. I respected him the more.
It is in that spirit of not crying on demand that I write this book.
You are here, at a rest stop. The arrow marks the spot on the highway map.
‘All hope abandon, ye who enter.’
Dante said as much.
But I would like to say a little more.
The problem is that the two major political forces of our age, socialism and capitalism, are rotten to the core. Ostensibly, socialism is the ‘public’ ownership of property and capitalism is the private ownership of property. In practice, neither is true. Capitalism, functionally the private accumulation of wealth for private means and purposes, becomes a tool of government objectives and a beneficiary of government favoritism as it attempts to make the greatest profit through the cheapest measures. Socialism, given that a true democracy will not function if there is an objection by the majority, assumes total power ‘for the people’ in the hands of the fewest politicians, and inevitably becomes a dictatorship not of the proletariat but of the meanest bully.
It may be argued that there are other political forces at large. Religion, for instance. Currently the strong horse in that field is Islam, largely advantaged by the fact that it is both a religion and a philosophy of government. Both socialism and capitalism see this development as an aberration. It will pass, as it has before. But historically, it does persist. The problem with Islam is that it is an automatic dictatorship and thus has an automatic enemy within—anyone in the population who does not agree. The great advantage of Western society is that it has found an alternative in allowing disagreement to fuel change. This will inevitably make Westerns societies stronger even as they might suffer the wounds of revolution.
It is true that, historically speaking, ‘Western’ society started out with it’s own flaws. Slavery, for instance. Sure, Islam has this flaw as well but in that philosophy slavery is made out to be a natural portioning of mankind, as is the subservience of women. In the West, involuntary servitude was always seen as a wrong, a punishment, and the result of a defect to be repaired. Western society too has had its religions. ‘Christianity’ is the broadest umbrella of these. What is ‘Christian’ was a matter of debate from the start, of course, and the cause of much murder. But it is difficult to read the words of Jesus Christ and imagine from them the great harm they were to engender. Yet, one blessing of that turmoil has been a breeding of independent thought. This sense of individual responsibility for ones’s actions dovetailed very well with the Hellenistic rites of independence. And this joinery has much more to do with what is ‘Western’ than any other heritage. As bloody and nasty as the process has been, it has resulted in change, and an appreciable betterment of the human condition. Eastern societies, dominated by philosophies begging for patience and acceptance of fate, have enjoyed much stability by comparison. Such harmoniousness resulted in thousands of years of essentially the same state of human subjugation to authority before the onslaught of Western expansion and now seem, in retrospect, to be some sort of ideal to a few—especially those with Western trust funds.
All of this is shorthand, of course. You can read more about it in Herodotus, Thucydides, Gibbon, Smith, and Tocqueville. History told without the very visible hand of political purpose is difficult to find but it is there. A shadow of the powers that be will always ‘dim the portal of enlightenment,’ but even moonlight is better than darkness. In our own time, with so many purporting to be the bearers of truth, it can only be beneficial to question assertion and assume an agenda wrought by prejudice.
My own prejudices are surely greater than any truth I know. My one virtue, I think, (often seen by others as another fault) is my willingness to question. I am proud of my doubting Thomasness and have always seen myself as the fellow in the Caravaggio painting with his finger poking at the wound. This is perhaps some odd vainglory, and perhaps my bete noire, but it is at least a particular sense and the faith that sustains me. When I have failed it has always been for lack of inquiry.
The problem is, then, that there is so little time to study and so much to do. My own answer may not satisfy others. It is to do the best I can and go on, with my eye out for a good book along the way.
My guess is that most of you did not even know he was sick.
Sadly, the great filmmaker, Otto Biedermeier has died, and it is perhaps parody that killed him.
And it is for that reason alone that his death is the subject of the sudden novel I have just completed. You see, I was happily in the midst of another story when the news reached me. There seemed to be nothing else to do but put other matters aside and pursue the truth of it. He would have done the same for me.
The year 2016 was a tough one. Still, it was better than I deserved. Howbeit, Otto didn’t make it through. I thought the reason might be important to some.
As most years do, 2016 started in the year before, when I first discovered Angel’s Envy. The Bourbon’s are a malicious lot—those that are not delicious. For some, their revenge is best served cold but the best are better than the finest of whiskeys, and Angel’s Envy is to my taste one of those. You can drink it neat as I do, or as sloppily as you like. However you do, it lubricates what is dry.
It is easy for me to believe in a forgiving God, because I have so much to be forgiven for. And because I have discovered Angel’s Envy in a time of need. I’m thinking that was meant to be. But Otto had a pass, his own ‘Letters of Transit,’ as it were, and might have made it out alive. But he chose another course. And the angel’s sang.
Now I’m back to my exposition of The Republic of Books, a rather nice place to be, withal. Too nice, perhaps, and difficult to leave but for the occasional death. Perhaps sufficient bourbon will see me through this next annum and to that nettled tale complete at last.
In the mean time—that being evenings when the mental juice has died up and all that is left is the sheen on the glass of my ounce or two—I continue to try my limited patience in the court of last appeal, the getting of The Knight’s Tale published through Createspace, as I did more than a year ago with The Dark Heart of Night. This is a task seemingly well beyond my grasp so I will need to reach exceedingly. And once I have that done, perhaps the other tales that live now in the dropbox of dreams past will be easier to do as well, or even better, if I might. Though I would like to hear the angels sing, they have little to envy here just yet. Here there is just the work.
With Otto Biedermeier gone, there is no excuse now not to get this done. Unless I look for one.
The move from Abington, Massachusetts to Lee, New Hampshire has been better than feared, but perhaps ultimately worse for the simple demonstration of fact that I haven’t the energy, muscle mass, or psychological stamina I once had. There has been an attrition, beginning with moving the old store and that massive accumulation of 30 years from 339 Newbury Street, back in 2003, and then the fire in the business below us at 353 Newbury that ruined the hopes of our new location shortly after, the subsequent move of what was salvaged to warehousing and our apartment in Brookline, and then the later move to Abington in 2006, all of which took more out of me than I wanted to admit. Confessing it here is not by way of an excuse, but a recognition of facts as they are. I am still learning to deal with it. Perhaps too slowly. read more…
(Oh yes, oh yes. Yet another potable portion from a chapter, this one newly posted with A Republic of Books, the novel in progress to be found elsewhere on this site.)
By the bye, the category I have chosen for my work is ‘honorificabilitudinitatibus,’ as it is found in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, if for no other reason that it allows me the citation as well as the use of three possessives in one sentence: “O, they have lived long on the alms-basket of words. I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word; for thou art not so long by the head as honorificabilitudinitatibus: thou art easier swallowed than a flap-dragon. [Costard, act 5, scene 1]. This was, according to the first edition published at London by Cutbert Burby in the year 1598, “A Pleasant Conceited Comedie called, Loves Labors Lost,” and presented before her Highness Elisabeth the First the previous Christmas.
By God, flap-dragons! read more…
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Henry Sullivan has made a simpler life for himself, finding and selling books. There is little room in it for either love or murder.
I have been informed by trusted authority that the short quip which I have placed here for the last year or so, by way of biography, lacks gravitas. “Over-paid by others for hyphenated jobs such as lawn-work, snow-shoveling, house-painting, office-boy, dish-washer, warehouse-grunt, table-waiter and hotel night-clerk–I’ve since chosen to be a writer, editor, publisher, and for most of my life, a bookseller, and even managed to occasionally pay myself. Hound is my first published novel.” And so it does. It is hard to be serious about so unserious a subject as oneself. But herewith, and keeping the ‘nasty bits’ (Brit expressions are so brilliant) to myself, I offer then, this ongoing post begun as posts at Small Beer Press. If anyone is interested, from time to time I will add something at the end to bring the epic closer to the present moment.