Posts Tagged ‘alienation’

The Underground

March 19, 2020

Half a century before the Russians mustered enough rebellion to  depose the Czar, a deep current of discontent had begun oozing up from somewhere deep down in those thawing Russian steppes.

Since that era, we have come to call what that discontent represents: The Underground.

Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevksy caught and early wind of it. In his 1864 novel, Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky identified and fictionalized an uncomfortable alienation that (he noticed) was mounting up among certain attentive and sensitive citizens of that restive country.

This alienation has, since then, become a characteristic of modern life.

In our day and time, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson points out that Dostoevsky and other writers (most notably Friedrich Nietzsche) detected this early alienation and wrote extensively about it.

There was, you see,  a deep, dark void in the European soul.

It was there. . . deep down in there, somewhere in the metamorphizing life of the 1800’s . . .  a sense that something was missing . . . something important, something—it must be something— essential.

Where some spiritual or soulful entity had, through many ages, carried European civilization along a certain path of cultural development, now there was nothing.

“Nihilism” is a word that was brought in to identify that void.

In our day and time, Jordan Peterson explains the development of nihilism—how it is related to the lapse  the Church, which had formerly evolved as a religious matrix around which the framework of European civilization and culture had manifested across almost two millennia of time.

Dr. Peterson attributes the identifying of this nihilism primarily to those two 19th-century writers, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. In his lectures, Dr. Peterson often mentions that these two prescient thinkers predicted—or one could almost say “prophecied”—the horrible carnage of our 20th-century wars.  Our two modernized hyper-mechanized destructive wars broke out as modern men desperately strove—through futile attempts at communist and fascist totalitarianism—to establish a meaningful State, or Society.

Instead of—let’s just say— the Church. Comprenez-vous?

Denizens of “the Underground” are those misplaced souls who have searched elsewhere—apart from the Society or Culture at large—for their own meaning or identity.  Even further than that, they will likely work collectively with other fellow travelers, striving for some collective opus that enables us—if not now, in the future— to live and thrive together.

When I was a young man, I composed a song about some of these deep urges toward meaning and liberty.

Underground Railroad Rides Again

I have empathy for the Undergrounders of this world, although some of them have, from time to time, carried their discontents too far, beyond the rightful constraints of decently civilized life. The Weather Underground of the 1960’s, for instance,  crossed that line of acceptable protest when they began making home-bombs,  one of which enabled one Undergrounder to blow up himself and his whole dam NYC apartment building, in spring of 1970.

But hey! Life goes on, in spite of all the abuse and injustices people pile on one another. In spite of all our myriad societal dysfunctions. The world persists in its predictable revolutions, whether you approve the changes or not.  Nations change. Seasons come and go. Our winters of discontent always as mellow out as . . .

a new wind, a fair breeze, and this year’s equinox a day early!

Now in 2020 A.D., about midday on this first spring day, 19  March, I was strolling along our local greenway, here in our little town of the Blue Ridge, observing obligatory social distancing protocols mandated by the COVID-19. When my walk began, the weather was dreary, misty and chilly. But as I neared the turnaround point of my 3-mile path, the sun was peeping out from behind the clouds, the air turned amazingly warm and dry, and suddenly! spring has sprung!

‘T’was then I encountered an Underground of different sort:

Molehills

This springtime sprung-up version of the Underground has been popping up with alarming regularity for a very long time. . . far longer than we homo sapiens have been struggling to find meaningful identity in our civilizations.

As I beheld these silly-pilly little dirt mounds, I disclosed the discovery to myself . . .  (as they say on the video spy dramas) what we have here is mole!

King of Soul

The Troubled Waters

July 26, 2016

TroubledRiver

Paul Simon presents a grim solemnity as he croons his old tune, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, for the convened Democrats yesterday in Philadelphia. In  sharing with them this classic, well-loved anthem that he wrote, Paul imparts a  sense of profound desperation. But the weary, hopeless person whose dire circumstance is so poetically described in the song receives, in the end,  a deliverance. Hope shines through when a caring friend intervenes.

Paul’s tender message of friendship is well-received by the Democrats. They take the inspiration to heart by joining in, and swaying to the music’s gentle rhythm.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v12fPV6QmeU

While viewing this scene on YouTube yesterday, I noticed Paul’s grave countenance, and I was a little surprised by the obvious aging that has reshaped his face.  Many years ago, I was greatly moved–as many of my boomer generation were– by his poetic, prophetic songs. Here is one from back in the day, for which he is perhaps most well-known:

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDIjj7CQYZw

 That was Paul Simon then, in 1965; but this is now, 2016. The world seems to be a very different place.

Yesterday in Philadelphia, the assembled Democrats responded empathetically to Paul’s solemn presentation of Bridge over Troubled Waters.      

But We Americans are a diverse collection of people. Those communitarian Democrats represent a certain segment of our population. There is, however, another strain of us Americana whose emphasis is not so much on community and everybody getting together to solve society’s problem.  I’m talking about the rugged individualists.

About the same time–mid 1960’s–that Paul Simon was so profoundly poeticizing our youthful alienation, there was– on the golden horizon of seasoned celebrity– another very popular singer. He was a smooth crooner whose older, mellowing generational zeitgeist had arisen from a very different historical time and circumstance.

Here’s a clip of Frank Sinatra, the original crooner a la 1940’s, as he belts out the song that became a theme for many, many Americans of his generation. It is a tune that expresses the determination and perseverance of his generation–the same generation that ran the Nazis and the Fascists back into their holes over there in old Europe.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnXIPV6Jh4Y

Ole Blue Eyes Frank made it big during his given time. Back in his day it was all about celebrating the good times that settled in after the War, getting all dressed up, having a few drinks, and laughing.

A couple of decades later, the sensitive poet Simon, like Dylan and others, came along, touching the troubled nerve of a booming generation that couldn’t seem to find its place in that old way of viewing the world.

So, seeing yesterday, ole Paul as he lead the communitarians in wailing that tender tune–this had an meaningful impact on me. Finding myself now in a never-never land between two obese political parties, I am alienated, wandering, looking for the party, but unable to find one that celebrates what I know to be true.

Stranger in a strange country, I wonder as I wander. . . out under the darkening sky.

But every now and then I encounter something or someone that partly expresses what I dimly discern in this land of  troubled waters– a stubborn, though fragile, life that is draped in mystery, yet with occasional glimpses of our sure mortality, and a hopeful longing  for immortality.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuXb4She_sU

Glass half-Full

The way of the World

July 24, 2014

Just rip my heart out o me

will ya? Go ahead and

snuff out any hope of justice or

mercy in this world,

as we hear of hundreds clueless

passengers get shot down because

ukraine is bleeding thirty-eight thousand feet

below,

and hundreds more of Gazan kids get blown to

kingdom come,

while ISIS caliphators purge Christ

from Mosul. Just

rip my heart out will ya?

Once again just rip my

heart will ya while

the Innocents get nailed to crooked

damn cross

between power and purge,

between them that are bad and

them that are worse.

Makes me wanna curse

but I won’t cuz it been done already

enough.

Just send in the

hearse

will ya?

 

Smoke

the Bloomsbury angst

March 5, 2012

Luminary lady of the Bloomsbury literary clique, Virginia Woolf, published her novel, The Years, with Harcourt, Brace & Co. in 1937.

On page 296, Nicholas, the mysterious Polish sage, is conversing with Eleanor, Digby’s niece. In the story, the year is 1917; German bombs are dropping on London whilst they sit in a cellar at Westminster discussing the soul:

“But how…” she began, “how can we improve ourselves…live more…” she dropped her voice as if she were afraid of waking sleepers, “…live more naturally…better…How can we?”

“It is only a question,” he said–he stopped. He drew himself close to her–“of learning. The soul…” Again he stopped.

“Yes–the soul?” she prompted him.

“The soul–the whole being,” he explained. He hollowed his hands as if to enclose a circle. “It wishes to expand; to adventure; to form–new combinations?”.

“Yes, yes,” she said, as if to assure him that his words were right.

“Whereas now,”–he drew himself together; put his feet together; he looked like an old lady who is afraid of mice–“this is how we live, screwed up into one hard little, tight little–knot?”

“Knot, knot–yes, that’s right,” she nodded.

“Each is his own little cubicle; each with his own cross or holy books; each with his fire, his wife…”

“Darning socks,” Maggie interrupted.

Eleanor started. She had seemed to be looking into the future.

What is sad about Nicholas’ and Eleanor’s dilemma is that they never, in the story or even in their lifetimes, harken to the example of the couple in whose home they are sitting. As the two soulish seekers speak of things that matter, with words that must be said, Renny and Maggie snuggle the children in bed upstairs, which marriage endeavor is the antidote to Nicholas’ and Eleanor’s loneliness and alienation.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress