/ Literature /
Her wicked stepmother having degraded her position (her natural (and legal) father being, like all Grimm fathers, a no-pants nebbish) Cinderella accepts magic to sneak her way into the royal ball. Her fairy godmother, at least there’s a good mother somewhere above ground, provides her gown and carriage but stipulates that she has to be back among the cinders at midnight, the scullion once again.
Well, of course the prince loves Cinderella, despises her porky inlaws, chases her, picks up her shoe.
Leaving things well-begun but unfinished is the essence of Cinderella!
and of pk too.
(Or should that read “all of us”?)
(And it’s imposed on her, not designed by her.)
In grade school I didn’t read at all. My mother would give me hardcover editions of Cooper, of Twain: what a dirty trick to play on a kid, to give him a book for Christmas: I slather for a toy truck; I get Deerslayer: with illustrations by NC Wyeth. (No, no, wait: I did read as a kid: I read the backs of the books on the shelf: the spines that is, title and author, and whatever graphics wrapped the dustcover. Imagine my disappointment when I pulled down Man and Superman, found lots of GB Shaw but no Superman, and not any Clark Kent either. Or, I looked at the wrapped graphics on the back: Tolstoy’s soldiers in the snow as Napoleon retreats from Moscow. I still remember the nightmares I got from that fragment alone.)
It was around the seventh grade that my reading addiction took hold. My friend Rudy read Bomba, the Hardy Boys, Tarzan, Mad comix … He’d pass them to me when he was done. Meantime I inherited a huge anthology of Damon Runyan stories from my sister, read them late into the night. I got my own huge anthology of science fiction stories, edited by Groff Conklin. I’d be told to go to sleep, school tomorrow: sure, I’d think, just as soon as I finish this story … and the next one. (My mother wasn’t gonna wake me up in the morning: who was gonna wake her up?)
The worst was Tarzan. I’d promise myself to turn the light out at the end of the chapter, but at the end of the chapter Tarzan was hanging at the edge of a cliff: I had to turn the page to find out … oh no, that’s right, Jane is pinned to the bole of a tree by a giant snake! or Boy is tied-up and watching the cannibals prepare a giant pot for him …
By the ninth grade it was much worse: at eleven Steve Allen would promise an appearance by Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy wouldn’t actually play till three minutes of one, the show’s sign-off. Next night it was Errol Garner who was promised at eleven but who didn’t play till three to one.
But, all along I knew it was all right not to sleep, not to eat breakfast, to run for my ride without my shoes tied, because I’d be at the school till three: I could sleep till then: then get back to my records, my books.
Point is, pk wasn’t Cinderella: pk finished the damn song, the damn sentence, the damn paragraph, the damn page, come hell or high water. I finished the Tarzan chapter, read the next one, finished the novel. Read the next one. And if that were it for the rest of my life I wouldn’t be writing this now. As a kid, if I started the Bible, I finished the Bible, then read it again. Once I did read that Man and Superman I finished it, and read it: again, and again. Shaw! Jeez!
But no, a fundamental change did come, and it came with college. Never mind whether I saw Miles on Steve Allen, or whether I stayed in Birdland till it closed at four AM: Monday, the Iliad was assigned: twenty four books: with foreign names: it takes all day to read one page. Wednesday, Virgil was assigned! More poetry, all alien. (Note: with a little practice those books gallop, exhilarating, exalting; but not the first reading.)
The next Monday Rabelais was assigned, and on Wednesday Cervantes. (Let me skip ahead: now I’m seventy-six! and I still haven’t finished Don Quixote! But: I’ve now read all, honestly, every word, of Book One! (I have yet to read any of Book Two!))
The professors tested us on our reading: but I was on an assembly line, the college didn’t want anyone to fall off the assembly line. (Besides, the professors liked what I wrote: I didn’t have to read much of the book, natural born bullshitter.) There was a way though to estimate how much of the assignments I was reading: look at my library! When I was assigned a book, and another book got assigned before I was 10% finished with the first one (that is, every assignment!), I’d go to the bookstore and buy two big fat books, take them to my room, put them on a shelf. By my junior year I had books floor to ceiling. Now: calculate how many I hadn’t finished!
So: I’m thirty. I look at my book shelves, a whole room of my beach house, floor to ceiling. By this time I’ve read (that is, finished) some of them, hell, many of them. But there are many, plenty, I’m only “half” finished: and plenty I haven’t yet read page one of. For decades, I pick out a book from the half-finished category, swear to myself, I’m gonna finish this! And I do. And I no longer go out and buy ten more books for any one finished; what I do is download six more books and put them on the HD (and on the Kindle).
And it occurs to me, this is not symmetrical. At some point shouldn’t the world have started adding at least some of my books to the library of world’s books? If my first novel isn’t published, how are these morons who run the Nobel and Pullizer prizes to even guess at what’s been plagiarized from me for the last half-century?
Cinderella leaves her shoe. The prince finds her and fits the shoe to her. But has the world just become just? Is Jesus now in the White House? Are no more geniuses getting threatened with torture? Does the University of Paris finally understand 5% of what Abelard said?
Or is everything just as muddled as Dostoevsky presented it among the brothers Karamazoff: in 1880? Clinton is with Monika and the wicked step-sisters run the wars.
Classics Visited and Revisiited
Finally, there are books I supposedly should have read years, decades ago, that I’ve now gotten to: Willa Cather, O Pioneer!
There are books I’m proud to have now iintroduced to Jan, reading them aloud to her: Light in August.
Today 20014 09 14 I am rereading a wild bunch: The Brothers Karamazov, Proust, Mann’s The Magic Mountain …
And I’ve still got Don Quixote nearby, ready to proceed with Book II.
And there are whole categories of books bk gave me on the kindle or has attached to me by email that I’m devouring, enjoying the hell out of with Jan, learning from, that I wouldn’t likely have stumbled on in my dotering age by myself: Garden of Beasts, Hitler’s 1933 Berlin …
Immersed in Dostoevsky I think, I’m in Tolstoy again too, and George Eliot like never before, and Faulkner, and Cervantes; how can I not also be rereading Magic Mountain? So I go to gutenberg.org but can’t find Mann! So I dig my hardcover out of the mildewed shed: et voila, the print to too small for me to see! Oh well, just seeing some of the characters’ names brings a lot of it back to me: Settembrini, Naphta, Peeperkorn … And of course that all brings me back to Nietzsche! God, was I obsessed with Nietzsche when I was nineteen or twenty.
Note that the standard path of inheritance among kleptocratic patriarchies is primogeniture: that is, property accrues to males, passes to males. Cinderella is a female, a slave even without a wicked step-mother; but: her father owns the estate, the house, the scullery … Property does not pass to females. So: Cinderella does not qualify to inherit the property, but absolutely her father’s nth wife does not. So, the house belongs neither to Cinderella nor to the step-mother, but it absolutely does not belong to the stepmother whereas it only sort-of-doesn’t-belong to Cinderella. In other words, things are “morally” upside down in this household. And it’s the father’s fault: where are his males?
The prince is kind of a schmuck too: how come he doesn’t know about the up-side-down wickedness in the Cinderella household? What good is kingship without omniscience? Whoops, no, no: don’t go any further, it doesn’t bear examination.
A wonderful moment came last night: I was watching a French biopic of JS Bach. They cast an astonishingly beautiful Russian as Anna Magdalena Bach, Bach second wife, seventeen years his junior. One of their jillion daughters asks Mama why girls can’t learn to play a musical instrument. (The girls can form part of the choir, but the orchestra-side of things is as male as the king’s palace.) Anna Magdalena answers that she can affirm the truth of it, not explain it.
A day or two later I’m still thinking how beautiful that actress was, how perfect of face, how perfect for little virgin Anna Magdalena. Eighteenth-century fashion showed plenty of her bosom, and that’s nice, of course; but bosoms are common, they all look alike: except for the nipples where there are still only a few varriaitons: I like the little pink ones, somebody else might prefer the big brown ones. Nevertheless, that face is extraordinary: her modesty, her talent, believable and extraordinary.
(One inaccuracy in the film I applaud: the boys in the orchestra were portrayed as competent to play the Bach! Ah, if only. Poor Bach never (or seldom) heard himself: except when it was keyboard and he was playing it!
This Bach biopic triggers something in me I’m truly grateful for, something I hadn’t expected. All of Bach’s music is a form of worship of some kind: much of it, maybe most of it, is worship of the familiar kind. Bach was taught as a child what I was taught as a child: there is no better thing you can do than to worship God. Worship is good. Man is best on his knees. Worshipping God, you can’t overdo it: you can worship God the way Jack Nicholson can act! all out.
I don’t believe that any longer, but I believed it as a child. Furthermore, it seemed obvious! right! true! And never more obvious and true and right than when I was worshipping God through Bach’s worship of God. It was clear that the whole choir felt that way, it seemed that the congrgation felt that way. It felt that way the more with my child’s undevoped mind.
I was just blabbing about Richard Dawkins changing horses midstream: he considers whether this or that monotheistic tenet is “true”: then suddenly he switches to whether or not religion is “good” for you. I’m telling you, I’ll tell Dawkins, when I was a kid and I was worshipping God through Bach, being religious, wow, did it feel right. Good. True. Good for me: all those things.
2016 10 24 Dawkins thrills me and outrages me, has for decades and decades; but the other night I 99% loved him. I forgive him his sins. For the time being anyway.