COMEDY, Part One: The Archive, Canto 34

 

 

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CANTO 34

 

After a moment of silence Wilde said to me,

“Don’t you think my story would make a good movie?

And so many films with actors so lovely

 

Have been made about or inspired by yours truly

That I sometimes wonder if my image exceeds

The stories and poems I wrote, and if my deeds,

 

As recorded in my trial, may not supersede

That literary legacy in the memory 

Of generations of what you called my century—

 

But time has done me no great injury.

What fascinates me in the tale of the Kid

Is how despite the world’s effort to rid

 

Itself of anyone who would blow the lid

Off those finite moralities that erase

The ethics of infinity from which grace

 

Arises that forces us to embrace

The being of the other in each of us, 

The part that exceeds any measure as surplus,

 

Though in the world’s eye it may produce disgust

That something can be though it does not adhere

To what some think should be, which they label queer—

 

Despite all that, the truth has its own career

And can even change the meaning of their fear.

Yes, the Kid was queer not because he was gay

 

But because he exposed something unthought in his day—

Like Jesus Christ he was by some betrayed 

When he forced them to see the limit of power—

 

That mammon and the state cannot devour

And incorporate every singular force

That resists the illusion of a finite course,

 

Which from infinity demands a divorce 

And outlaws the desire for ethical truth

As the dangerous disease of undisciplined youth.

 

Oh that boy may have to many seemed uncouth,

But the truth of a life, its expression, lies in the trace

That echoes through time, and despite efforts to debase

 

Its meaning as nothing more than finite waste,

It sheds multiple lives through stories and dreams

And no power can limit what it all means

 

To the multitude itself whose brains are screens

Reflecting onto one another a procession

Interminable of visions that teach the lesson 

 

Of what the world can be when our obsession

For truth overpowers the need to keep

In check anything that threatens to sweep

 

Away the finitude in which we sleep.”

A thought then came to me and so I spoke,

“Life is a movie I have sometimes joked,

 

The eye and brain a camera by life provoked

To record the whirligig of time that memory 

Edits in such a way that our story

 

Embellishes truth with illusions of glory

Or buries it in nightmares quite gory—”

“Still there is art, my friend,” Wilde interrupted,

 

“That can reverse and redeem what has been corrupted.

 But now you must come with me to another place,

Though first some steps we will have to retrace

 

On that structure invisible where you began this race.”

He snapped his fingers and instantly we were returned

To that archive of everything ever learned,

 

On the edge of a floor where I looked down and discerned,

Like a whirlpool without bottom, the base of this higher

Place, then looked up past ever widening gyres

 

To see multitudes of stars that felt like fires

Drawn out of my own head like a burning tree

Whose roots clutched my brain and threaded my body.

 

Then Wilde said, “Here is where you’ll always find me,

Planted in your brain like a post in the infinite chain,

But when you look up you see what must remain,

 

The space of what the past cannot contain,

The impossibles that can be made possible 

When thought breaks the chains and cracks the crucible

 

Through which it rises to conquer the visible

By forcing through the breaches in that domain

The power of a truth some call insane

 

Because it exceeds definitions that explain

What we think we already know so well

When changing minds requires the hardest sell

 

And most lives waste away in self-made hell.

Still one person committed to truth outweighs

The horde lost in a bottomless malaise,

 

One thought can set collective minds ablaze—

But not if it seeks to govern them as one

 Or claim to be their illuminating sun

 

That grants mental autonomy to none

But itself, when its purpose should be to guide

The multitude to the place where its truth must abide,

 

Where their secret desire can easily hide

From them though its expression comes through

In the culture of visual dreams that some construe

 

As meaningless or without any value.

But now, my friend, I’ll take you to a door

That opens onto a world you’ll need to explore,

 

Where you’ll find things to love and things to abhor,

People you know and some you’ve only dreamed,

Images from past, present and future all seen

 

Through the lens of the last century that will be screened

In your imagination, and you must redeem

This process in which laughter and horrific screams

 

Show us something beyond what the world has seemed.”

Again Wilde snapped his fingers and we were gone,

And I found myself in a place that at first seemed wrong

 

Until my friend explained how we belonged.

“You’ve been here before, not so long ago,

And if you look around you will soon know

 

The city through which James Joyce’s Liffey flows

And where young Beckett perhaps longed for Godot

And where I spent my youth in the house before us

 

With my father and mother both illustrious.

Writers exile themselves for reasons unique 

To each, and mine to my goal in life was oblique,

 

But to others I’ll leave the final critique.

Now we’ll walk across Dublin to a year

Before your birth but after your grandfather 

 

Left Cork and crossed the chasm of water

To land in the New World where he would wander

Until your grandmother got in his way,

 

An event that perhaps led to his own dismay.”

Together we walked until Trinity we passed

And Tom Moore, then the bridge where somewhat aghast

 

I saw Nelson’s Pillar once unsurpassed

And thought nothing so imperious can last.

We turned left on Abbey and right on Liffey

 

And soon we came to forty-five Mary

Where we stopped and gazed upon the Volta,

Which was the name of James Joyce’s cinema.

 

Then I saw someone and was stricken with awe,

And turned to look at Wilde who wasn’t there.

So I moved toward the figure leaning on a pillar

 

And said, “Excuse me, sir, but you look similar

To the man about whom I wrote quite a lot,

Though sometimes my work seems like so much rot

 

Against the infinite process his mind begot.”

With a wry smile, the man said, “Welcome to this place

Where visions inside visions leave their trace

 

In the effort to give the multitude a space

In which they can discover their own thought.

Don’t feel bad that your work might not have brought

 

Closure to the process so many have sought

To lock down and contain, missing the essence,

Not as meaning but as total resistance 

 

To finitude that one derives from submergence

In language with its own infinite dimensions.

Your evasive style had its own pretensions 

 

But in the end your conclusions were suspensions 

That left the door open to thoughts possible 

That even I was not always able

 

To comprehend in what to some was babel

Though inspired by the words of those called rabble

Because we fail to hear their common voice

 

Whose complexity should cause us to rejoice

At the resurrections of truths from their unconscious 

That keep alive the infinite promise

 

Of human possibilities beyond us.

Now enter this theater of human dreams

And see if you can find the force that redeems

 

The errors to which we all eventually seem

To succumb,” and with that word he directed me through 

The doors and into a hall where I could view

 

The screen on which I saw an image that drew

Me into itself, for on the screen I stood

Before another screen on which I could

 

Swear another image appeared that should

Not have been me but was, and this abyss

Reflected me to infinity, which is

 

An experience difficult to dismiss.

Then I sensed a force pulling me toward

The screen until I could not move forward

 

Anymore and felt I had been ordered,

Though I had no idea how that could have been.

Then I touched the screen, which seemed somehow to bend

 

And, to my wonder, open—and I stepped in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMEDY, Archival Wonderland, Canto 33

 

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CANTO 33

 

So much of what this man had said confused

Me that I had to question what he meant,

What in using the word “God” was his intent.

 

I said, “You had good reason to resent

A society of hypocrites whose lies

Betrayed every infinite truth in the guise

 

Of pseudo-morality you must have despised,

Yet you speak of God and sin like a Christian,

While your ideas have been called Nietzschean.

 

You once said, if someone talks in their own person,

They are least themselves, but give them a mask

And they will tell you the truth, so I have to ask—

 

When you speak to me of cruelty from the past,

Are you wearing a mask, is your speech a pose,

Is humility a guise that only shows

 

What you want me to see, even to foreclose

The judgement of generations after you

Who may not be willing to forgive or construe

 

The meaning of your life in the way that you do?

Still, some have named the last century after you,

And ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ from fear

 

Courageously reinvented itself as ‘queer’.

Some might even call you a holy seer.”

Wilde looked me in the eye and laughing said,

 

“Dear friend, please don’t forget that I am dead,

And this conversation takes place in your head.

But I will tell you quite plainly, since you ask,

 

I am here because you chose me as your mask,

For the stories we tell about ourselves and others

Are never lies even if they are covers

 

For truths the world may struggle to discover, 

And that’s what Jesus is to me, a story,

That may have its roots in human history

 

Or may be the fiction of prophets who swore he

Must exist because conviction demanded faith.

But no one owns truth, nor is it a wraith

 

That haunts us with the dream of heavenly grace.

Every person concretely feels in their heart

The godliness that constitutes a part

 

Of the human form that sees itself in art

Or stories, whether made up or historical,

Whose truth is always metaphorical.

 

Now I’ll tell you a tale you may find comical,

Or at the very least improbable.

I was still young when I toured America,

 

Giving lectures on art to a plethora 

Of American masses who admired my aura.

Once I went down a mine with the working classes

 

Where I boldly imbibed multiple glasses

Of American whiskey and rose up drunk as hell

When alone I noticed a young miner on my tail

 

Who followed me all the way to my hotel.

I was in Leadville way out west where men

Were not afraid of violence or sin, 

 

So I did not know how this event might end,

But the boy only wanted to talk, so I

Let him into my room where to my surprise 

 

He revealed himself as one of whose demise

I had read only the year before—not wise,

I thought, to befriend him but that’s what I did

 

And heard the tale of this quondam Billy the Kid.

He was a pale man who looked like a child

And he didn’t impress me as so very wild,

 

Though he told me about men he had killed when riled

Up by acts of injustice from those who claimed

To represent the laws that they disdained

 

And from murder of innocents never refrained,

Until he no longer chose to obey

And to unscrupulous men became the prey.

 

Fearless and mad he refused to run away

And one by one he watched his friends gunned down

While he succumbed to pride in his own renown

 

And threatened the people just standing around,

Killing a few who only got in his way.

By a governor he felt he had been betrayed

 

And his desire for vengeance slowly outweighed

The thought of justice his actions had once conveyed.

He was sometimes captured and sometimes escaped,

 

Once killing a good man who wanted to debate

His right not to hang until he was dead,

Something he regretted, or so he said,

 

Though he shot several others when he fled.

Then on a tragic night Pat Garrett came

To Fort Sumner with two men seeking fame,

 

Who knew badges gave murder a different name.

Garrett foolishly thought he had achieved his goal

When he shot down a man named Billy Barlow.

 

That he was the wrong man Garrett would soon know,

When he looked at a baby-face familiar to none,

And with that our Billy’s afterlife had begun,

 

Because Garrett lied about what he had done,

Maybe to give Billy a chance to run,

For other shots were fired that night and the Kid

 

Was wounded, though Mexican friends kept him hid

Until he could get on a horse and go,

Eventually making it to El Paso

 

And across the Rio Grande to Mexico,

Where he lived among the Yaquis in Sonora

For about a year, rethinking his life, before a

 

Man passed through on his way to explore a

Prospect for gold, who mentioned a posse that might

Be headed that way, which gave the Kid a fright

 

And made him decide to leave Mexico that night.

He wanted a change so he wouldn’t have to kill

Or be killed from following the outlaw way

 

And he had an idea about where he could lay

Low, heading up to Arizona and through

The Navaho nation and then over into 

 

Colorado and to where no one would pursue

Him he thought, when to the mines of Leadville he came,

Where he took a job and signed with another surname,

 

Billy Antrim, to which there attached no fame.

His real mother had died and left him alone

 At three, so the only mother he would’ve known

 

Was Kathleen Bonney, his aunt, who gave him a home.

She married Antrim, a name he dropped after

She too died, because Antrim was a bastard,

 

And so the Kid became his own master.

In the mines he labored while outside was light

But in the dark he wandered and pondered his plight

 

Until to the Opera House he went one night

To hear me speak about the truth of art

And for some reason he took my words to heart

 

And wanted to talk about making a new start.

I told him he had the power of self-creation

And nothing could prevent his transformation 

 

Into someone else through imagination.

That was all I said before he went away,

And I never saw him again after that day,

 

Though I never forgot what he had to say

As he went out the door, ‘I’m an outlaw,

But once I was the law and Pat the outlaw.

 

Funny thing, the law,’ which left me in awe

As to what meaning those strange words had for the boy.

Now I ask you, is this story true or a ploy,

 

Something meant to misguide you like a decoy?”

I had to think, but then something occurred

In my mind that didn’t seem totally absurd.

 

I said, “You allude to a story I’ve heard

And read about, though nothing proves old Bill

Roberts really was the Kid or ever will,

 

Yet in the legend as you tell it there’s still

Some truth that addresses human history,

For it reminds us that law can sometimes be

 

A weapon that men use to gain mastery

Over others, which turns the law against

Itself and subverts justice, too harshly dispensed,

 

Until the multitude as a body resents

The power derived from its own collective force,

Though figureheads seek to deny that source

 

And erase the voice and act that seeks recourse

In the struggle to reassert the law’s essence,

Which is not to enforce blind obedience 

 

But to guide the multitude and lend credence 

To its will and infinite coming to be

In pursuit of absolute autonomy,

 

Which makes the outlaw a form of nobility.”

Wilde then responded, “When actions are true,

And only then, though truth can run askew 

 

And good gets mixed with bad that can accrue

Karma casting a shadow over the good.

Still truth always comes back to the multitude,

 

Sometimes in perverse legends that show what should

Have been the case, and truth lives on, survives,

And overwhelms the inheritance of lies

 

Written by the victors who celebrate the demise

Of everyone who refuses to wear the disguise

Of what the masters call normality,

 

Which they enforce through shallow morality.”

 

 

 

 

 

COMEDY, Archival Wonderland, Canto 32

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CANTO 32

 

As the three walked away Charlie shocked me when

He grasped his own head by the hair and removed it to

His side with the face turned toward me, and the gaze

 

Sent shivers down my spine and my mind amazed

With a thought that even now on my conscience weighs,

For I saw a stream of tears flow from his eyes

 

And this image did touch my heart and apprise

Me that my judgment of this man was not wise,

For who has not betrayed the truth from fear

 

Or lost faith or courage when danger is near?

Then I saw Cliff turn and smile as if to say

Regrets are wasted for times that have gone away,

 

And I should go forward without delay.

Victor did not look back but passed into

The mists of time that no one can see through

 

Or know what we might have been able to undo.

Then I turned to Marx who said he had to go,

But another was coming now who would show

 

Me the way to another mental plateau,

A different way of seeing past and present.

As he walked away I saw a light iridescent 

 

Descending, which I took as the next testament.

I turned to my professor who then said,

“The time has come for you to move ahead

 

On your own and by others than myself be led.

I never had a taste for the popular

Arts, though I know for you such visions are

 

The multitude’s dream and its avatar,

The mirror of its own secret desire.

Well, here comes the kind of man you require,

 

At least for the transition, a man you admire.”

Quietly my intellectual father faded

Away, and for a moment I felt betrayed and

 

Lost, for he was the one who had straightened

Me out in my youth and taught me how to control

Emotions that on my psyche took a toll

 

Until he gave me an intellectual goal.

Then turning to the light I could detect 

The form of a man some might have called a wreck,

 

For his face and clothing showed signs of some neglect.

But it wasn’t long before I could connect

This sight with the last vestiges of Oscar Wilde

 

After his wit was no longer in style,

After the error of the Queensbury trial,

Which landed this vulnerable man in jail,

 

Which injustice caused his health and wealth to fail—

Oh, I was quite familiar with the tale.

I gazed at the face of the man who above me towered

 

And saw by suffering it had not been soured

But instead a kind of beauty had flowered

Around the eyes and in the smile he shined

 

On me, and I sensed something there undefined,

Something that brought the image of Christ to mind,

Though not the man of sorrows he once described.

 

“Be careful,” he said, “as to what you ascribe 

To the mind behind the face that once decried

The cruelty and hypocrisy of laws

 

That ignore what humans are and the forces that cause

Us to do things that should have given us pause.

Do not think of me as someone innocent,

 

For in the end I felt mostly resentment,

When I should have felt something quite different, 

For the contradictions of my life forced me

 

To see and to take some responsibility 

For things I had done that seemed kind at the time,

Like sleeping with boys which I considered no crime,

 

And thought it gave them a touch of something sublime.

Instead, I should have fought the empowered elites

Who had condemned those boys to a life on the streets,

 

I should have spent less time producing feats

Of wit and playing tricks on my social peers

And superiors, who gave me applause and cheers

 

While I made them look like fools with deaf ears.

The truth is I enjoyed my celebrity 

Too much to risk it for the liberty

 

Of those who had been born into poverty.

I was not cruel to those boys who later turned

On me, but I should have done something to earn

 

Their love, by using my talents to help them learn

The truth of their own condition and how to fight

Back—perhaps even teach them how to write

 

Their own stories so that in the future they might

Have a voice against the tyranny of class,

Which in the end made me into an ass,

 

Who dug his own grave in the social morass

Of lies and self-delusions that convinced

Me I was some kind of elected prince

 

Who could ignore the dictates of good sense.

Well, I paid a price that prematurely ended

My life, and now mourn the things I should have amended,

 

Wishing I had used my mind in actions that tended

To expose the horrors on women and children inflicted

By those who have power unrestricted 

 

Because of the wealth to which they are addicted,

From the labor of the multitude extracted.

Still, sarcasm and satire have acted

 

As weapons that should not be subtracted

From the arsenal of the long revolution,

And I give my failings a little absolution

 

In that my life and work made some contribution 

To those who fight to end sexual oppression,

And from Dorian Gray they might learn this lesson—

 

Individuality has one condition,

Giving others the same recognition

Of singularity that you want them 

 

To give you, otherwise you only condemn

Yourself, or the part of you that has no name,

That can’t be counted or measured, yet remains

 

Beyond all categories that act like chains

To keep your mind within sanctioned domains—

You lose the thing you thought you would sustain

 

When you looked on others with haughty disdain—

You thought you would become whole through separation,

But you only bound yourself to a sexual nation

 

Or some other falsifying relation

That tries to erase the infinite part of you,

The process that time itself cannot subdue

 

Because what ends is what cannot be true.

The body decays but death remains a lie,

For only the illusion of presence can die.

 

The singular self can never say goodbye 

Because its truth exceeds its temporal end

And can never its own process transcend,

 

Even for those like me who may have sinned.

My own truth, like all truth, remains uncertain,

Because you can never lower the curtain

 

On the drama that has no final version,

Which is why forgiveness is not revision

Of some evil past but the force that sustains

 

The undecided question of what remains

Under construction and indiscernible 

To the finite perception of those who would label

 

Every human act with some morally stable

Value that blinds them to truth’s infinity

And causes them to forget their own affinity 

 

With every form of human life that can be.

The man of sorrows warned us not to judge

And leave that to God who surely would not begrudge 

 

Our errors as we endlessly wander and trudge

Through history’s often labyrinthine maze

Where we must make decisions in a haze

 

Without the knowledge of how to later days

These things will appear or what consequence

Unforeseen may occur—like when Dorian’s indifference 

 

Kills Sybil Vane because of her divergence 

From his fantasy, and Dorian is me

Or you or whoever imagines they will be free

 

By raising the one over multiplicity.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMEDY, Archival Wonderland, Canto 31

 

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CANTO 31

 

Charlie, who had been the joker of our movement,

Came forward to grab my hand and pull me up

And then embraced me with a sardonic laugh,

 

Which made me almost suspect him of craft.

Though he was the one who first handed me the book

Of Marx, he eventually broke my heart and shook

 

My faith in others when he secretly took

On the role of spy in the service of the police,

Though I knew this betrayal gave him no peace

 

And finally drove him to seek some release

By confessing to me what I already knew.

Though I forgave him, soon after he withdrew

 

From our struggle, and soon the others grew

Just as exhausted and weary of defeat.

Charlie spoke, “I’m so glad at last to meet

 

With you in this place where processes incomplete

Can be infused with new energy to restart—

Not as what they were when things fell apart,

 

But as something singular like a work of art.

The political has its own aesthetic dimension—

Not that it should follow a strict convention

 

That can produce imaginary pretension—

But that art and politics mutually expand

The boundaries of what we humans can understand

 

So that we see beyond what lies at hand,

Those things we imagine we can’t live without,

Which suspend social desire in a state of doubt,

 

And that’s what turned our movement into a rout.

When I betrayed our cause, I was driven by fear

That I would lose that phantasm called a career,

 

Though this one with me chose to be freer

When he gave it all up to be a just man

And stayed faithful to his political stand,

 

But which of us has led the life they planned?”

Then Cliff, the third man, stepped up to defend

The cause for which he sacrificed in the end

 

More than the rest of us, for he would not bend

To the state’s authority when it commanded

His silence, while he also shunned propaganda

 

From his own side and enabled me to withstand a

Mock trial from purveyors of Marxist dogma

When I failed to stay in line with the leader,

 

Who considered me a dangerous kind of reader

Of texts that should only require a true believer.

Darker had grown the lines around his eyes,

 

From which his suffering in life I could surmise,

But also a will that would never worship lies.

He took my hand and said to me, “I miss

 

The laughter, whenever I can reminisce,

That we shared despite feeling that all was lost

After I had taken my career and tossed

 

It away in defiance of those who bossed

Us with their sanctioned ignorance and crude

Lies, which made it easy for them to exclude

 

Those of us who in our teaching refused to collude

With the power of capital and its betrayal

Of that thing we pursued like the great white whale

 

Over which old Ahab thought he could prevail,

But that image is the power in us we fail

To unleash, because we learn to love shackles

 

That make us feel like true individuals

When we are only the backbiting vassals

Of the wealthy who think themselves originals,

 

Though they are more like a band of criminals,

Who come to see cheating as a virtuous act.

Ahab drowned himself with the thing he attacked

 

And never knew he had put himself on the rack.

The whale was never outside but within,

Not a dead thing to conquer and own and then

 

Cut to pieces to hide the original sin,

But a living force that we had only to guide

To the freedom in which we all seek to reside.”

 

Then to this intensity of mind, I replied,

“You taught me to see politics as an art,

But also that action requires a heart—

 

Otherwise revolution is just a false start

That leads to disaster like the U.S.S.R.

You gave me a copy of Dostoyevsky’s Possessed,

 

Which I took to be a warning and a test

To recognize the bad faith some invest

In a cause they turn into a weapon of choice,

 

Which they use more to silence the multitude’s voice

Than to make it mentally autonomous.

Like you, I felt more kinship with Stavrogin

 

Than with zealots who have no doubts within

And turn their certainty into the chagrin

Of those who must struggle to understand

 

That they don’t have to be another man’s

Servant, though true power is cooperation,

Which alone gives birth to human liberation.”

 

Cliff replied, “Dostoyevsky’s great contribution

Was to show that the true individual is not one

But multitudes who find self-expression

 

In the singular that transcends classification

And so signifies an essence generic

That can’t be counted by anything numeric,

 

Yet dispels any appearance esoteric.

We know and yet do not know why we know

That something universal lies below

 

The surface of the image that overflows

The boundaries of our vision, so we can see

The birth of a different form of humanity.

 

That was the dream to which Melville gave the key

When Ishmael was reborn on the grinding sea,

Which made death the benevolent trustee

 

Of life unbound from blinding unity—

What mad Ahab imposed on the rest of the crew.

And that’s why long ago I stood with you

 

When that Bolshevik Ahab tried to subdue

Your mind before it had a chance to become

A force that never could be counted as one

 

Through a gesture that always involves exclusion,

The enemy of every true revolution.

You see the multitude can never fuse

 

Because it has no border from which to refuse

Entry or tell someone they don’t belong,

Or condemn mental freedom as somehow wrong

 

When it takes a different path from the common throng,

For every subject of multitude is itself

A multitude, and there is no greater wealth

 

Than the transindividual force of truth that dwells

In the circulation of thought from brain to brain,

Which is why no true idea can stay the same.

 

In every count to one there must remain

Something that the time and place cannot explain,

And that’s why true revolution is permanent

 

And the mental wars for truth must be turbulent,

For the indiscernible will spark a new vision,

Every value will be subject to revision,

 

As Nietzsche foresaw in his isolation,

Which was his gift to our transformation.”

Then Marx suddenly arose at the sound of that name.

 

He said, “Some think that man must be the bane

Of everything in life I worked to proclaim,

And I confess he was to me unknown

 

Until in death, after my mind had grown

Beyond my own historical existence,

I felt his intellectual persistence,

 

And recognized the force of his insistence

On a truth that lies beyond good and evil.

Though he and I were not exactly coeval,

 

We lived through the same historical upheaval

That proclaimed the death of God and then the same

For everything that tried to put to shame

 

The power of self-creation that inflames

The human intellect when it should foresee

A world greater than the visions of you or me—

 

Not a utopian dream or fantasy

But a process that is always coming to be

In the shape of material infinity—

 

Not the end but the rebirth of our history.”

 

 

 

 

COMEDY, Archival Wonderland, Canto 30

 

 

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CANTO 30

 

My professor had listened attentively to Marx

But now I saw he had a question to ask

Which caused him to assert himself at last,

 

“My life was devoted to understanding the past,

Which I came to see as a force plastic 

That can be twisted and turned in ways fantastic 

 

Through interpretations that sometimes seem elastic.

Your vision of history seemed to parallel 

The saga of fall and redemption that Christians tell,

 

Though in general your ideas surely dispel

Anything theological from historical

Truth, since to some you are an oracle

 

Who cracked the secret code of chimerical

Religions that use Jesus Christ to distract

Common folk from the thought of what they lack.

 

Some of your followers have taken the tack

That you gave them a science that can predict

The future, which still others have said is fixed,

 

Though isn’t such a science a bag of tricks?”

Marx laughed and then said, “Nothing is up my sleeve,

And prophecy only speaks to what we perceive,

 

Which becomes the ground of events we can conceive,

But these are only possibilities.

Yet there are truths that transcend experience 

 

And lend to the daily shock of being a sense

Of the infinite force that lies in human desire

That transforms vision into a passionate fire

 

Burning through walls of indifference that conspire

To convince us we are forever nothing

And nothing we can do will ever bring

 

About the change of nothing into everything.

Hope lies in the archives of every human brain

Where none of us can be exactly the same

 

And yet where each of us nurtures a flame

That spreads across the spectrum of human thought

Until the multitude itself is brought—

 

Not into a fused identity that’s caught

In the spell of some fantastic human form,

Bending themselves inside out to conform

 

To the leader who turns them into a swarm

Where each becomes a parody of the others—

But to the place where each mind discovers

 

Its essence in the rainbow of infinite colors,

Each one singular and yet through desire in common

Transformed into a force that can summon

 

The strength to persist on the path of a truth uncommon

Through mental war that compels the resurrection 

Of a love that unifies without fusion

 

And brings history to an unexpected conclusion,

The awakening from which we begin again.

They say Jesus resurrected from the dead

 

But for me that symbolic event took place in the head

That absorbed the truth of a life that someone led,

Perhaps that man or another but someone’s 

 

Essence gave form to the image of a human

Who seemed like God because he did not fear

Death, and for himself he did not shed a tear

 

Because he knew the power of those who sneer

With authority are the ones afraid to die

And can only live in the shelter of a lie

 

And never grasp why anyone would defy

The trumped-up gods they imagine themselves to be.

I know my words may not sound like the me

 

That history has taught you and others to see,

But my thought was not bound to the body I was

And has a life of its own through its immanent cause

 

Moving in one direction without pause.

But I cannot theorize with you more today,

For there are others who would have their say,

 

And three of them are now coming this way.”

I followed the line of his gaze and saw the three

 Walking together in the shade of the trees

 

And the sight of them touched me like a welcome breeze,

For like older brothers they had been to me

Who opened my eyes to what the world should be

 

And then taught me to read myself differently.

The first to approach was Victor once the leader

Of our crew, who had been in Vietnam a soldier,

 

Which lit a fire in him that would smoulder

Until one day, in self-willed isolation,

He put in his mouth the barrel of a gun,

 

And that was how his freedom was finally won.

In his face I saw no sign of his despair

And from his eyes came glimpses of his care

 

For me, which announced something he needed to share.

He sighed at length, then spoke, “Now that I’m dead,

I remember all the crazy things I said

 

To you and others when I was consumed with dread

That arose from the memory of all those who had bled

Because of acts from which I should have fled

 

When I obeyed orders from those who misled

The nation and betrayed the multitude,

Though of course that is not the word I would have used.

 

The simple truth is I was so confused,

I forgot how much words can hurt or abuse.”

I replied, “You remember the end, but forget

 

The beginning, which you should never regret,

For you inspired me and others to think

And led us with militant poetry to the brink

 

Of revolution before you turned to drink

To kill the pain of a judgement you imposed

On yourself, though you almost never disclosed 

 

How much trauma was locked away, enclosed 

Inside your personal hell, that cold jail cell

Of your own creation, which no one could compel

 

You to leave until you told us all, ‘Farewell.’”

He replied anxiously, “What poetry did you see

In me, what revolution came to be?

 

I wrote nothing that lives on in the memory 

Of that time, and look at the world we left behind.

A third of the nation has foolishly enshrined 

 

A clown whose brainless actions have consigned

Millions to tyrants and children to cages 

And still this mad dog on and on rages

 

Against everything good while nothing assuages

His will to negate through the agency of a state

That he serves up to corruption on a plate

 

For which the powerless will bear the weight

Of consequences that never come too late,

While revolution is always delayed.”

 

Marx then spoke out, “In your day, to my words you paid

Scant attention because your theory was life

That cut into your being like a knife,

 

But from the contradictions and mental strife

You made yourself into a walking poem

That gave this one a sense of something to come,

 

And while revolution has been defined by some

As a point in time, you know it is a force

In the mind of the multitude who in the course 

 

Of their existence discover power’s source

In each one’s individual potential 

That can be raised to a strength exponential 

 

Through cooperation that leads to an eventual

Transformation, but that is not the end

But rather the point where something can begin

 

Again, which means no event can suspend

The movement of truth that is revolution,

That goes on forever without dissolution, 

 

Even when its subjects fall into disillusion.

You gave to this process a critical spark

That lifted at least one subject out of the dark,

 

Though you surely enabled others to embark

On the quest to find the meaning of social justice.”

With that word I found myself becoming restless,

 

For the other two seemed unable to suppress

Some amusement at my wonder to see them here,

For I had not seen them for many years

 

And their presence unwittingly moved me to tears,

Thinking it meant their lives had come undone—

Oh, I had not thought death was so quick to come

 

Even if in the end it forgives no one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMEDY, Archival Wonderland, Canto 29

 

 

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CANTO 29

 

With Marx we went left on Great Russell Street,

Then left on Montague until we came

To Russell Square, where we found a place to rest,

 

On a bench where we sat at the Moor’s behest.

He was between us and looked up through the trees,

And closed his eyes as if to feel the breeze,

 

Then lowered his head as if he felt unease.

Without looking at either of us, he spoke,

“History sometimes seems like a colossal joke,

 

And I feel its force on my mind like an iron yoke

When I see what time has done with the words I wrote

And with the painful research now so remote

 

From what others say who memorize by rote

And endlessly endlessly mindlessly quote

What they foolishly take to be dogma,

 

Which translates my Geist into history’s bad karma.

They betray the essence, the process of my labor

When they treat it as the voice of some savior

 

Who came to alter all human behavior

By having each one play cop to their neighbor

So that each is to each a new kind of jailor

 

And the world a prisonhouse I can only abhor.

Still, I must take some blame for the error

That freedom can be achieved through political terror,

 

For I too quickly imagined myself superior

In thought to all the others who engaged

With me, and against whom I too often raged

 

As if only I knew how the fight should be waged.”

As he paused with a melancholy look, I seized

The moment to speak, though I feared he might be displeased

 

By a question that history had left unappeased.

“When you wrote,” I said, “of multitude’s rise to power,

You used the word ‘Herrschaft’ at a critical hour,

 

But later you chose ‘Diktatur’ which sounded dour

To modern minds, who heard the end of freedom

In such dictatorship, and there is reason

 

For such fear, since history has taught the lesson

Of how quickly freedom becomes oppression

When power becomes the self-sustaining goal

 

Instead of the mediation of human potential.

Your critical vision of crude capital

Is one that has long since shaped my social

 

Values, but for me the issue is not a moral

One, and capital is not inherently evil.”

He turned to look at me and said, “You know

 

That morality was to me always a foe,

Which was implied in the strictly objective language

I chose, though I did not mean to bypass with savage

 

Indifference the emotional damage

Capital inflicts on individual humans,

Who can spend in tedious labor their brief lifespans,

 

Without understanding the power in their hands.

No, my purpose was to force a decision,

To give the mind of multitude an axiom,

 

And to bridge social barriers with a new idiom,

That might lift the veil of illusion that hides them from

What they can be if they achieve freedom,

 

So that they have the time in which to become

What they are, their essence being their becoming

Other, through acts of constant self-transforming

 

That negates the forced unreflective conforming,

Which is how capital makes us all into things,

Replaceable parts of a monstrous machine

 

And life reduced to mind-numbing routine.”

“I get that point,” I said, “but so much blood

Has flowed from the wounded multitude 

 

That I have to ask myself whether we should

Posit violence as the only path forward,

For capital’s transformations can’t be ignored

 

And you can’t deny it has moved us toward

Greater freedom and democracy, which is

The truth that lay behind the communist 

 

Idea and lives on in the consciousness 

Of different brains plugged into the cultural

Unconscious where new life feeds on capital

 

Itself and creates forces just as radical,

Though not as violent, as the revolutions

Of the past, giving multitude new revelations 

 

And human desire more militant expectations.”

He answered, “In my world barricades were the voice

Of multitude, and I was not given a choice

 

About how this greater humanity deploys

Its power, but once they made the decision to act,

I had to honor it by keeping my pact

 

To give the reason others said they lacked

For their revolt against immovable power.

The June rising and the Commune misread the hour,

 

But the blood they shed spoke to the world louder

Than my words of warning that it was too soon.

I never believed my theory was so opportune

 

As to have the divining force of some mystical rune.

Lenin and Trotsky sometimes pass this way,

And we converse about the events of their day

 

And their faces display a certain amount of dismay

When I criticize their concept of elite

Revolutionaries that led to their defeat

 

By the imbecile Stalin who knew how to cheat

Truth out of its essence and substitute violence 

For thought, and for victory a new elite’s dominance

 

Without achieving the multitude’s cognizance 

Of their own power, which can’t be achieved by decree.

That my cold science led to this parody

 

Of the communist idea forces me to see

That no theory can dominate history,

No revolution survive without compassion

 

And willingness to call into question

Every proposition whose meaning itself congeals

Into a motionless thing that would conceal

 

The movement of thought that can only reveal

Its truth through a process that must remain

Open to self-transformation in a domain

 

That no permanent border can contain,

And whose completion we can only imagine

As the condition of our collective action,

 

Which then itself becomes thought’s extension,

Testing its force against the concrete logics

Of experience that constrain all human projects

 

By exposing the unforeseen in every context.

This indiscernible always points to the next

Step, but dogmatism easily erects

 

A wall that hides from us the ground that connects

The past to the future through a living present.

Mutual forgiveness, as Blake made apparent,

 

Is to every true understanding immanent,

And without it revolutions are betrayed,

Though no truth can be infinitely delayed

 

Or its illumination completely fade.

When I hypothesized surplus value,

I named the indiscernible to those who

 

Sought the motive for their own passage through

The logic of capital to something beyond 

That might regenerate the human bond,

 

Though concepts can never be a magic wand,

And the multitude sometimes must feel its thought 

Before the full force of a truth can be brought 

 

Into visibility in a world so taut

That every decision forces unforeseen

Appearances that contrive a new being

 

And transform the norm into something obscene.

In King Lear, I read of one “that will not see

Because he doth not feel,” and that was me

 

When I tried to think too objectively 

And ignored feelings as if they had no part

In revolutions, though what else can start

 

The process, and what even set me apart

From the background against which I did alienate

Myself and chose a life almost desolate,

 

So that my body and mind could consecrate

Themselves, at my family’s expense, to a cause

That led my loved ones to experience loss

 

And to suffer with me no matter what the cost.

Was it worth it? You know better than I do,

Or rather a part of me lives on in you

 

And others who can see the process through 

To its infinite register that time can’t measure,

Because revolution is love without closure,

 

Every ending summons a new exposure 

Of the indiscernible that demands action 

And keeps the subject of truth always in motion

 

Making revolution into amorous devotion.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMEDY: Archival Wonderland, Canto 28

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CANTO 28

 

Lincoln rose from his desk after those words

And to each of us his hand did kindly extend,

Then he exited through a door at his rear to the left.

 

For a moment of this great spirit we felt bereft,

But these other great souls shook our hands and led

Us out the way we had come in, then said

 

Their farewells and together away they sped,

No doubt through tracks of countless human brains,

And Hayden White with them causing me pain,

 

But that was washed away by the summer rain

That fell on us as Sally Hemings spoke,

“I leave you now to return to the place of my folk

 

Not far from here where once I bore the yoke

Of both servitude and passion, but neither broke

My spirit now fused with the voice of multitude.”

 

As she departed from us in solitude,

She seemed to melt away into the mist

And then the landscape that the rain had kissed

 

Slowly transformed into a place that exists

In the country where I had been heretofore,

But the rain had ceased and the sun arisen before

 

I recognized the metropolis that bore

The life of William Blake and Shakespeare’s stage

And where the thought of Marx had come of age

 

When he blasted the tyranny of the wage.

For I saw that we walked on Great Russell Street,

And while I marveled at such a fantastic feat,

 

My professor took this strange occasion to speak:

“As you’ve been told, the topological space

Of your mind gives you a geographical grace

 

With which you hardly know how to keep pace.

But before we reach the next goal of this race,

I have a question to which I need an answer,

 

For the time has come for you to be the master,

Since those who are taught must then teach the teacher.

You speak of multitude as if it were one,

 

But does that mean of individuals there are none

Who in times of mob rule do not stand alone?

Is the majority always in the right,

 

Even when demagogues conjure and incite

Them into blind and misguided submission?”

I confess I was moved by the proposition 

 

That this man could seek from me the exposition 

Of an idea he could not elucidate

In his own mind, though I had to hesitate 

 

Before a thought I found difficult to relate

In language that made sense, but still I tried:

“When people allow their minds to coincide 

 

With a view of themselves that leaves others outside

A closed circle formed through an exclusion clause

That ignores the universal through a law

 

From which only they are intended to draw

Any freedom—I would call this a fusion

That is usually supported by the illusion 

 

Of some leader who promotes lies and confusion

In individual minds that erase consciousness 

Of their own essence, which lies in the process 

 

Of self-overcoming through the access

To other minds in which they learn to see

That individuality comes to be

 

Through dialogue in a community 

Without borders to limit what can be known,

Where even the thought of the dead finds its true home

 

Beyond oblivion’s desert where they roam.

We become who we are through openness to others—

Not through identification that gathers

 

Us into stacks to be sold by masters,

But through mental exchanges that unbind

Us from false unities whose effect is to grind

 

Us down until we are broken and resigned

To the one-dimensional world that was designed 

To be the prisonhouse of multitude.

 

To stand against a lie in solitude 

Is to embrace the truth with fortitude

And fight to bring the many back to their

 

Own essence, to the process in which they share

The perpetual movement of thought for which each brain

Is a post along an interminable chain,

 

And if there is unity to this mental domain,

It lies not in the form of a knot that ties us down

To one identity governed by a clown,

 

But to self-annihilation through which, unbound,

We engage lovingly in mental wars that lead

To physical acts that allow us to sow a seed,

 

Even if sometimes we ourselves have to bleed

To nourish the roots that may bring forth new life.

Still history is not a tale of endless strife,

 

And thought does not cut through the brain like a knife,

Leaving nothing in its wake but confusion and pain

That might drive the whole of humanity insane.

 

No, if we lose the fear of death and sustain

A love of every human form despite 

Our disappointment when they betray what’s right,

 

We can live joyously and still continue the fight—”

My professor abruptly signaled the end of my speech

When he gently said, “I get it, don’t overreach.

 

There are things almost impossible to teach,

But here we stand before the place where Marx

Produced explosive writing that sent wild sparks

 

Into a global order that found his remarks

Incendiary, but the fires they set

Continue to burn brightly to the regret

 

Of those who see critique as the ultimate threat.

Though this monument is not like the Coliseum,

It’s something glorious, this British Museum.

 

For Marx it was more than a holy mausoleum 

Of dead ideas but a critical wonderland 

Where all the secrets of capital were at hand

 

To someone who knew how to read and understand 

The difference between what people really are

And what they say they are, which can fall far

 

Down from radical truth like a shooting star

That discloses hidden forces in darkest night

As the sign that what we see may not be right.”

 

On that word my eye caught the imposing sight

Of a bearded legend coming down the steps 

Before us, and he bore the face of Marx.

 

As I felt the mutual beating of our hearts,

I knew this man was not the monster that fear

Had projected onto him through the judgment severe

 

Of a life committed to a thought so austere

That it seemed the antithesis of human love,

But while others forgot the earth and looked above 

 

For truth, he looked down at the concrete lives of

Those who labored and toiled only to pass on

To their children the same cruel dispensation 

 

Without even the dream of liberation,

Except to die and go to heaven and leave

The earth to those who offer no reprieve

 

To the laboring masses except to conceive 

More lives to bind to the same cruel treadmill.

As he approached I saw in his face the will

 

To pursue truth even into a stinking dunghill

Of betrayals and lies that cover over the prize

Of freedom, and through research he did apprise

 

The multitude that they could break the vise,

Built by those who claim the ownership of time,

That squeezes their brains until the only sublime

 

Is a world to which you have to be dead to climb.

These ideas entered my mind as I felt his gaze,

But then he spoke, “You will walk with me a ways,

 

For this conversation requires a different place.”