Thursday, June 6, 2013

"great books" an essay

This essay began in 2001 as the original draft of the Idius as a praise of great books and as a model for the type of books I hoped to write. I’ve redacted it a few times, and added a few sections, with the latest sections being added within the last year. The shift in style over the years encourages me, but I am refreshed at the starry-eyed aesthetics that set me on the path of writing philosophy in the first place. I will also add that this essay cost me acceptance at graduate school – part of it was not PC: the teachers were mixed on whether to accept me; some approved but others wanted no part of me. The latter won out in the end.



Great Books


            You are butterflies winged with written pages. The flight of life over mundanian rock comes with the litheful wings of literary imagination. Read. Reading, after all, is man’s wisest investment. With reading, we unite with the greatest minds of history, minds centuries gone open before us. The wisest men, the greatest hearts, the staunchest heroes, and the saintliest philosophers present themselves to us with a splendor to which mere speech can only flush in jealousy. These men labored for the perfect words to present their genius. We have in them the wisest ideas of the known universe. A few staunch books are the greatest creations mankind can boast over.

            Each book is the phoenix of its author's genius. The ashes of the phoenix, burned through passion, scatter upon white pages. We devour those ashes before that raptor arises, and as they swim through our veins, the bird emerges, and we are new. Apotheosis is a literary venture.

            It is clear, though, that most books are dross. Close to a million publications a year, and maybe one worth reading. For while the mindful man can enlighten from any text, words, or lyrics, he will profit much more from a great book. Such great books cannot be read just once, for they are wellsprings of revelation, lifting us higher with every reading. It is good to choose ten to thirty such books to read over and over throughout our lifetime. Choose the time tested greats of the Western Canon, from Plato to Nietzsche. Sense the greatness of a book by the continual feeling of confusion, curiosity, enlightenment, and intrigue it arouses. Choose a book who like a spouse grows with you.

            There have been about two hundred magnificent minds who have written a record, and they have constructed philosophical, scientific, or poetical systems through their writing. These hundreds of systems and religions can be studied profitably and read so many times that they are memorized: they shall never disappoint. They include Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, and Emerson.

            Choose your close books as your close friends, choose ones with which you seek utter intimacy. For to fully read whatever can be read—book, speech, play, poem, treatise, sermon—this requires intimacy. What books are worthy? Great books, those giants of meaning. They speak of great ideas, relevant to us, and are infinitely plethoral.

            The four virtues of a work are importance, simplicity, richness, and musicality.

            Life is written. Whether in memories, in DNA, in stone, in architecture: man writes. And the idols of men, the great holy scriptures and the written Gods they create, these too are writings, writings and nothing more—writing and nothing less. Piety is in the written word; so is revolution. The most powerful men wielded pens. The greatest influencers are writers: first the poets who guess, next the philosophers who prove (Homer necessarily precedes Plato).

            If the “great book” you are reading does not make your whole world into a great book—chuck it! Look again for a better set of eyes. What use is Argos if his every eye is blind?

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            No mint is worth a good library. Gold, in itself nearly useless; diamonds, merely a shiny piece of worry; pearls, boring; books, infinitely precious. Once you find your one book, your one person, your one text, your infinite onion, sell everything for that. That is yours to play with and work on for the rest of your life. Study is growth, and growth is infinite.

            Personality is infinitely interesting to us. The human mind is made to create nouns out of sense data, persons out of experiences. Thus we can say that insofar as “infinity” is a human experience, it refers to personality.

            What makes a book infinite? It captures an insoluble personality.

            The more pearl-onions a book contains, the more intricate their layers, the more they fascinate and enthrall. Such complex ideas must be fully explicated somewhere.

            Darwin had essentially one idea: evolution. It is wide-reaching and important, is still investigated daily, is the fountain of scientific research today and has been for over a century. Darwin shows how a narrow focus on one idea can succeed. His books Origin of Species, and Descent of Man, are indeed among the greats of our Western canon.

            In distinction to Darwin is Aristotle, whose scientific writings covered everything yet known. Aristotle talked at length of biology, poetics, physics, had an encyclopedic mind, never lost in details, but essencing everything into intelligent systems. Both men, indeed, were attentive to detail, with minds that systematized what intrigued them. They are both scientists. They both scrutinized the world.

            Other writers, such as Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Mozart, and Emerson, indeed hold to themes, hold to styles. Yet their range of ideas is worldwide, their range of styles variegated—but indeed, all four of them are monomaniacal stylists, and their influence, more than anything, is due to their own individuality as stylists. For to say it plainly: each man stands for essentially one idea, and applies that to everything. His series of attitudes make a temperament, his types of beliefs make a belief, his range of styles make a personality, his behaviors make a character.

            Sometimes we can formulate the idea a man stood for. Thus, Emerson is focused essentially, as he said, “on the infinitude of the private man,” allowed through self-reliance. Nietzsche stood essentially for the power of the noble soul. His extremely critical eye on everything else makes sense only in relation to this. Shakespeare stands for the rhetorical strength of personality transformed and allowed through speech. Mozart stands for the playful grandeur of melody.

            The strongest personalities are indeed monomaniacs. But for those who are full of ideas, those overrich poets and bipolars—we too are monomaniacal, in our method, single, looking at many different ideas, like a single lens focused over a million ideas. Such books as these are difficult and often unpopular but perennial.

            Beware then of cult books. The bestsellers of all time, and the most popular books of all time, include The New Testament, The Koran, The book of Mormon, the Dhammapada. Other books such as Atlas Shrugged, and Dianetics, in themselves have sold well these last 50 years. Each and every one of these books, which relies on cults to praise and adore them, is ultimately a second rate book. They are popular by propaganda. They are mediocre books, regurgitations of original ideas. Not a single one is Great Writing. The Bible for instance, contains many poor books and chapters that piggy back on Job and such. Propaganda pieces, however, are unoriginal. But they will be ever popular because of packaging. The best writings in the world are not formed by a church council, nor voted by deacons and priests. The greatest writings in the world, the best of the best, will never be bestsellers. Sniff them out. They belong to you. What is deepest to the soul is not handed out at bus-stops. What is truly your own will finally come upon you, albeit by a thousand indirections.

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            As it is, we have millions of texts produced each year, but no books. There are a million texts, and maybe in a decade a single work. Perhaps in your lifetime you will see one, maybe two true works. These are the books so wise and dense with meaning that they would break time’s tooth.

            “Examples!” you demand. Very well. But first, an intro into what makes a great book great. You might not recognize it at first if you are new to the field. For instance, if you pick up Plato or Aristotle, and then pick up a book written in the last ten years about Plato or Aristotle, you might think the second is better written, or at least much more accessible. In fact, if you assign two students to read Aristotle, one to read the first book of his Nichomachean Ethics, the second to read a guide to the same Ethics, and teach the class on what they learned, (I assume they are undergraduates), you will probably get a better teacher out of the second student, who read the guide. This is because greatness does not equal immediate accessibility. Far from it. Some of the greatest books ever written are in fact inaccessible. Some great books you will spend a decade with, and read every year afresh, till finally, heaven opens up and the shaft of insight graces your forehead like a butterfly's kiss. Yes, you will have to work for it, but no commentary, guide, nor lesser work can do this for you. Read a thousand commentaries about the Bible, and then fall on your knees for forgiveness for wasting Life. Then dust yourself off and read the Bible in the flesh, and there, now you begin to see why it spawns religions.

            What is true for the Bible is even more true for the books greater than the Bible. What is true for scripture is true for poetry, science, and history. For there is this strange fact of genius: it is untranslatable. I do not mean from language to language. I mean you cannot make genius common. You cannot tell the common undisciplined man the highest truths, no matter how thoroughly you know them nor what pain you take in simplifying and perfecting a textbook on the subject. Burn the textbooks, they are cheatbooks and will deceive you. Get at the Books themselves. If your students demand textbooks, you have in fact no students. Feed grass to the sheep and give them diplomas—and then never speak of it again.

            A true student is rare like a great book, but thankfully not quite so rare.

            The great original students really can have no teacher. They make best use of the best minds, and cannot be stopped, no matter how fervently the fodder-profs try. They will have the truth at any price, and like Adam says, “I will give my life for truth.” Well then: you have met the student.

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            Great books beckon with occult power. A great book is weird. It could never be predicted. It could never be written but by that exceptional genius who gave it life. It is an infant God, it contains eternities. You cannot sum it up. You read it thoroughly and wish to tell your friend of your joy therein. But your tongue betrays you. You speak of it, and your friend looks unimpressed. He is charitable and says, “Yes, like a book I read recently,” and you curse and say, “No, not like your book. This is different. This is brilliant. This is life. It is thus and thus,” but you find yourself unable to tell the secret. The best kept secrets keep themselves. But don’t worry, the book will shine in your hands and grace in your steps as well as echo in your indirect words. It is not, after all, your book, but a book you have learned from.

            A great book is original, infinitely rereadable, weird, deep, indispensible, and ever-relevant. Yes, and to what books will I grant these honors? I will speak first of my own personal experience, and be direct and true. Then I will speak indirectly and of what has been recommended to me by those I trust.

            My favorite writers are Emerson, Whitman, and Nietzsche. Each confounds and complicates me, and invigorates me to read again and again. My style grows in their light. They are kin to me.

            I also have found the Godmind in Shakespeare, Plato, Aristotle, Milton, William James, Henry James, the Tao Te Ching, Homer, Machiavelli, Whitman, the Eddas, the American State Papers, and Blake. Of these men and woman, I have no end, but will leisure in their grace till I return to the Body of the Mother.

            The recommended Works I will list in no particular order: Chaucer, Aquinas, Plutarch, Kant, Hegel, Darwin, Marx, Dostoevsky, Spinoza, Virgil, Dante, the Rig Veda, the Dhammapada, the Koran, the Upanishads, The Analects of Confucius, the Bhagavad-Gita, and their peers. Such reading lists and canons are best made by authors citing their greatest influences.

            There have been written few indispensible books. The 20th century may indeed be a dark one for genius. I haven’t for a long time heard a rumor of God.

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            Culling some adjectives from traditional literary criticism, a great work contains the sublime, the inexhaustible, the strange, the original, the inevitable.

            Sublime. The sublime is lofty, excellent language that confounds our judgment, eclipses the merely reasonable, is imperious, irresistible in force, swaying the reader despite himself, enthralling him so that he cannot take his attention from it, and, when it is finished, remaining forever in his memory. To do this, it expresses the right emotion in the right context, flowing from the situation, and from a genuine passion in the writer, or from the poetic madness of a deep soul. It says more than it says, it suggests as much as it reveals. It picks out the essential accents of a situation and evokes a whole episode with only the most vivid and explanatory details. It hides itself, as great rhetoric doesn’t seem like rhetoric, concealing its own artifice.

            Strange. The strange in a poem or writing is when you experience the consciousness of an alien mind. This writer sees the world in such a way that it takes you outside of your own mind, and gives you an uncanny perspective. It gives a framework for going beyond your limits.

            Inevitability. The plot must unfold in a way you cannot predict, but once you have read it, you realize it could not have happened any other way. Or in a poem, the words are not predictable, nor cliché, but exactly the way the words had to be made, because the “argument” of the idea could not be worded in any other way.

            Originality. The idea must be first and best conceived by the author himself, and thus have a stark individuality. Insofar as the author is writing his own mind, it will be original, and unprecedented in all of history.

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            “Writing” expresses the highest and most sophisticated forms of communication—writers are humanity’s darlings, the most human of humankind. We are at our hearts universal, but we identify with groups for power. We are European, Asian, in, out, man, woman.

            As for the clichés that women know more but can say less. “I know all and say nothing” -- one Friday goddess spoke – they can buffet the common complaint that woman know nothing but never tire of saying it. But here we resort to the old myths where a man thinks with his head, but a woman thinks with her whole body, a man talks with his mouth and hands, a woman talks with everything, a man understands only what he can also articulate, whereas women “intuitively” know the whole story from beginning to end. Most of gender is instinctual and inborn, but enough of it is cultural to make it interesting, to give it a future, to lead feminism out from its futile stance that woman ought to imitate man – be strong, brave, independent – and explore what is better than man, what is the deepest a woman can be.

            Hold to you own, envy nothing you cannot imitate, love most your own soul, your incipient potential, and drop the rest. Speak mostly one language: your own. The Greeks did thus, and invented all genres. They did not bother learning foreign tongues, but differentiated themselves from the world by their own tongue. All other people say “bar bar bar” and are therefore barbarians. To be Greek means, above all, to speak Greek. Greatness is by speaking well your mother language, and learning other languages only insofar as this shines more light on your own.

            Drink from your roots. There is no stronger inspiration than your personal ancestors. The Nazis were powerful because they were Tuetons, and had the history to prove it; they could not so scar history without a tradition to back them up. The Jews, in turn, remain intellectually formidable because of their own racist, ethnocentric views. The black authors that matter are very blackish about their black roots, have “black pride.”Everybody must find their center of arrogance, the one thing (at least) that they permit themselves to pride over. Well then, don’t overlook race, culture, or, say, if you are a Christian, then a strong understanding of the wide and rich Christian tradition, from Augustine and Aquinas, to all the other theologians, poets, sinnersaints, etc. The white race is the universal race, stands for humanity, stands for the pride of all the races, and does not rally itself with pride parades or history months. In this, they must not be merely one sect, one of many, but universal – and the best in each race will feel likewise. We are most universal when we are most individual. Somewhere in the middle are the group identifications with gender, sexual orientation, race, heritage. These mediary forms are useful and empowering only if they allow the flow of the selfish into the universal.

            All these things that are central to your identity, your heritage, drink this up. There is no stronger external inspiration than being part of a cultural tradition. This is why, for example, the modern anti-Americans who wish to damn early American history are in fact cultural disintegrators. They claim pity for those hurt by conquest, or racial inequality, when in fact, they enjoy tearing into the intestines of a great nation. “The school of resentment,” they poison all, with the demoralizing poison of guilt.

            Well then, know how to be intolerant. Know how to be elitist, how to be elite. For whatever extra chip you can put on your shoulder empowers you. What matters most is creative power. Insofar as you can honestly interpret the facts to strengthen this, you do good, you enact virtue. Self-love, and the love of a line of culture, a line of race, a line of history—this makes for greatness.

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            All hail man, and among men, the fountain-mouths. I call them 'Gods,' but they are better than Gods. They are always a minority, but these few will ever be, these the originals, and the rest echoes. They are creators. They are the giants of the time, and darlings of posterity. Such a man is neither right nor wrong, is above such distinctions; he is original, he is the source. The sun is neither right nor wrong, it is the forehead of the Mother which livens the world with the brush of her hair.

            Those who say "moral" or "ethic" or "law" or "worship" say that from necessity, because this is their proboscis into the skin of man. They wish to limit and allow their portion of man, to drink in the best, but not die from over-purity. They take in what man has made, and call it 'God the Unknowable.' But all the gospels and psalms are written by men, just as all the songs, dances, operas, sculptures, skyscrapers, aqueducts, internet, satellites—all  that is of worth to us—comes from man. Such comes from our collective efforts which are epitomized best in the most solitary among us.

            The true man walks alone. Such ones know they are dangerous to mankind, as fire is dangerous, as electricity is dangerous, as poison is dangerous, which needs harnessing for use in oven, electrical outlet, and medicine. They walk among you but they are not of you. It is for you to praise and obey. I say this with disdain for men, who wish a taste of the highest, but not pay the cost of the highest. Love your life, love your daughter, love your job and duty, and bow your head when a Fatherless one crosses your path.

            It is ours to dine solely on angel's milk. Jesus' wisest word: “He who has shall be given more; he who does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away and given to him who has.”

            The great men, the giants, the originators are called “profounders”; the rest of society are called “repeaters.” The profounders are self-paid for their efforts. The idea of a paid philosopher is silly. The universities hire no philosophers, just secretaries.

            Listen then to these men talk. There are two shapes of focus: ideas and personalities. Of ideas, there are a limited number in which all others are categorized; among personalities, there again are a limited number of types in which others are contained. Ideas and persons, numbers and letters permeate our tradition.

            The pride of the West is in the great conversation, that our great authors read and respond to each other.

            In philosophy, we trace the Genealogy of an idea as it developed through the great minds, how its definition danced.

            In literature, this means we trace the allusiveness of the great tropes as they were adapted into fresh works of art.


            What great works will we take as our own? A great work is an absolute omnivore and cannibal: to be whole it takes the whole world on its fork—all ideas, all books, all people—for it cannot plagiarize the ideas that really belong to it.

            A great book is a universe unto itself. A great work contains the whole, and so is everdense, full of meaning, ultraprofound, untaskable, impossible, perfect. A great book is the child of the author, is as alive as he was. There are fifty such books in existence, perhaps more.

            Ah, the Confucius who would regulate family and government in his Analects; Plato who would dimensionalize the mind in his Republic, Apology, Phaedra, never sparing his exuberant imagination; Aristotle who categorizes every idea, shining best in his Nichomachean Ethics, who had a second coming in Aquinas, who categorizes in the same manner, mixing with it the light of the Jews; Shakespeare who, manic with energy, poured his genius into every speech and turn of phrase. These minds sum the ages.

            As for the Great Works of the Western Canon, these overachievements that ought to be read by every man, how do we know them? They speak of great and important ideas, ideas which have made and continue to make culture, saying best what they discovered first, written in the language of creation, and so being replete and inexhaustible for every reader, continuing the Western tradition of Dialogue and Conversation, being written in the form of weird and stark individuality.

            As we noted, Darwin offered essentially one idea. So did Copernicus. Some geniuses take a single idea and follow it through. They concentrate. Other authors are overrich in ideas, and, manic, they would have every idea. Shakespeare, Emerson, Nietzsche.

            I take in all light, digest this in chaos, feed that into my starchild. I flash so manic fast, I pluck a butterfly from the sky, smudging not a scale of dust. I have him speak with me. He is kin.

            In the Quran we are told that every nation is given its prophet. Rather, every nation is given its God, and that God inks his word into the blood of the people. Muhammad exemplifies this for his nation, Moses for his, Homer-Plato-Aristotle for Greece, and who for America? Who else but Emerson, the first American God. And every nation that accepts its God will allow returns and revisions. In this, I am the second American God.

            And so I call out for my precursors: my favorite writers are as my blood, my nation: Nietzsche, Emerson, Whitman, James and James.

            And so you too are readers and writers: I call you Authors, you butterflies, like winged pens above a green parchment. Time is now. Enjoy.

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            We submerge ourselves in Nature, we immerse ourselves in this World of persons, but at our heart is the book. A great book is a mansion, a world in a pocket; fall into the mind of a god and the very walls breathe: every sip and nibble -- ambrosia and nectar. You must know how to read to see a book that way. You must be patient, must be humble enough to take a few authors on trusted recommendation. The great books, the ever-reads, the once-again twice-again, friends for life, these are worth the search, and like a dozen dreadful exes, are repaid in the glory of a perfect marriage.

            Some of my favorite books took years to read. I wasn't patient ever for a chapter. I felt I had to finish it, slowly did, grudged it, but once I dropped that final page, I was ready to read it again. My favorite authors first bored me. Now they inform the liveliest hopes of my mind. The flash-sellers, the pop sensations -- leave dead honors to dead authors. A great mind finds its audience, and the best minds conquer worlds.

            What a strange discipline is reading! If a man staring at little symbols for five hours a day is not some bizarre hypnosis, than that word has no meaning. He is entranced, he has left the world, entered other worlds, or maybe not even worlds, but dimensions of thoughts. He is wrestling with otherworldly people, playing through layer upon layer of some god's game. There is nothing better than reading, unless it be writing.

            We come to see in life that nothing is in itself a crime, nor a sin, nor a bad thing, not universally, but some exception disputes it. The right style makes any act shine. The best style could not be rephrased, has so perfected the language, that to tip a sentences a little to the left would be to lessen its effect. Every subtlest thought and each finest of feelings is expressed in the master language. Most of what we say is implication, the greater part in tone of voice. Somehow the flat cold letters on a book have tone, have warmth, have life. I think a man could live in a cabin for a decade, and so long as he received regular mail, not feel alone. These little symbols, these little marks, bring man to man, life to life, mind to mind. This is true magic, better than any staged tom-foolery. This is real power.

            A man's spirit is breathed into words. All books are god-breathed, as seers can see. All language is already a god -- the holy spirit, Lux. The charisma of the author, his numinous charm, the entrancing female beauty in the manly face, this is the magic of verse, this the hold of the book. Or if a staunch machismo is preferable, the language brings that too. There is nothing in man that cannot be said, nothing in mind that can't be voiced, nothing in all the universe that can’t be translated into language. Logos is the basic property of all the universe, everything is sayable, and if anything seems to be Tao, I doubt it can so stay.

            "Genius is religious. It is a larger imbibing of the common heart. It is not anomalous, but more like, not less like, other men." Yes, but somehow the term genius got associated with a high "IQ" score, -- a despicable use of the word. Any computer can ace an IQ. The genius is a Daemon, the spirit of inward creativity not in some men, but potentially in all men. Any man can become a genius if he knows how to unlock his own potential. Greatness should be understood in relation to your own potential, not to others situated differently in the world. A self-made man who earns his first million has reason to be proud, but the one who inherited his millions and was taught how to make a million more, he may be richer, but he is the lesser man. It is conceivable that if you compare all men in how each relates to his own inner potential, then another class entirely is due the greatest honor, and we can see it, we know our own, we know who triumphs in life. It’s not in the exposés, it’s not hypocritical celebrities, though it could be in a few of them.

            So each of us when we read and write brings our own genius to the work, and will draw close to us a true genius, one wed to each our own soul, mine for me and yours for you. And yet not just any writer is a genius. There are only a couple hundred divine books in all of history. If another happens to speak to you, more power to you, but that says more about you than the book at hand. What partakes of the mind of Man, the mind around the whole sphere of the world, what he teaches to the Motherverse around us, these are the books worth study. Study to excess. Show some immoderacy.

            To be moderate in all things would be immoderate. Every man should seek extremes, should represent the extremeness of an idea, a circumstance, a way of life, either to folly or wisdom, so long as the truth is wrested from the depths. One man dares follow his idea to its limits. He is called mad, he really is mad, and that is the best thing about him. Was it considered shameful to be mad? I would be ashamed to say I had lived my whole life sane. Each of us is a microsphere, an emblem of the all. We ourselves take on a micro culture between us, in our small group of friends, and beyond them it extends through the wider network, each person managing his own external religion, each in his place, each guiding his time. This is not a subculture, but an overculture, a wink, a sigh, a smile, a kiss. Our very friendships are literary. Our lives have the simple austerity of good books.

            The best books are simple and comprehensive. And yet they don't seem simple at first. Perhaps maddeningly irrelevant. All over the place. Scattered. Fragmented. The greatest beauties are the hardest to see. The slick and ready beauties in the magazines are not only sickening -- if you could see it! -- but actually boring. The longest spell, like a computer program that must be coded exactly right, when finally spoken will be forgotten, and the simple word we have gained is a key to all life's doors. That is the way of all discipline. Do it the long way, show your work, sweat the details, get it slowly and exactly right. Then repeat it, better. Keep at it until you can create a world with a gesture, or make the angels sing from that cat-gut of a violin.

            Once we have submitted to an art, have put down our guard, in that passive aggressive way that we do, challenging it, distrusting it, but being formally polite, only with the violence of an intimate touch do we see that art evokes the state of mind which created it. A perplexing matter. You, poet, were you in love when you wrote that romantic poem? I feel it is so, but your biography says you weren't. Ah, but even you don't know when the poem was written. You fancy the time of the pen was the inception of the verse. You wrote it your whole life, every stray emotion, every feeling, every fever, every second of your life gives vitality to those words. You most wrote it a few years back, though you might not remember. We never know when we are happy; sometimes a decade passes before we realize we were ecstatic with life. Experience is deep in the heart, where memory touches need. We get a glimpse of it, maybe nothing at all, we get sensations, but the reactions of Need, the creations of Need, are sometimes slow and deliberate. Yes, I feel your drugged mania, Hendrix, in your guitar solo. Yes, Blake, I feel your righteous fury. I feel it all, I live it, your mind communes with mine, you are very much conscious at the very moment when I read you, in the same manner you were when clothed in flesh; you talk to me, and my genius talks to your genius, mind to mind, soul to soul. Authors never die.

            I think the poorest man, the most diseased, the ugliest, could be the best, so long as he doesn't identify with any of that, so long as he has no humility at all, so long as he takes great pride in himself -- the very earthworm has cause to boast! -- that he achieves the greatest possible for him to achieve, breaks his limits, goes beyond his bounds, self=overcomes. He may be a genius. The aristocrats come from all races, all directions -- don't sell your soul to get into heaven!

            Intellectuals think the same things others do, but at a higher level. We too think of sex and blood, love and fighting, intoxicants, hard work, lazy breaks, all the things anybody talks about, and we are not better than you, nor worse than you, who prefer the same, except the difference between us is how we relate to our potential stacked next to how you relate to your potential. I think a hard working honest laborer could be worth a thousand university professors. But I think an honest and brilliant university professor could be worth a thousand common laborers. It’s not official rank, nor income, it’s not prestige, nor anything anybody gave you. No god can bless it to you, no parent inherit it to you, no criminal take it from you -- it is your own inner potential, your own inner necessity, which calls out to your mind, necessity to freedom, needs to will -- nobody can face your innermost secret with you, no ears shield you from your dreadful truth. No man can hide it from you. But before you are ready for such a moment, come dine with us, see how we challenged our own beasts, dove into our own innermost. We write these books for you, we wish you the best, we would see you triumph. We would triumph ourselves. We would have you join us.

            The intellectual beauty is higher, the intellectual taste divine, we do get a higher joy out of things, but not if we aren't careful, not if we aren't honest. A great man can do more good, a great man can do more wrong. I think no man enjoys life more than the artist, I think no man suffers life more than the artist. Were you given a gift, were you spoiled? Count it as a loss. Only what you worked for day and night can you own, the other you stole must go. These great books, they do not give you the answers, these scriptures give you not a single divine truth. They only show you how to write your own bibles. They only show you to be your own gods. Perhaps you weren't ready for that. That was the secret of the next life, to sink into your center and muse it out alone. So I give you a waft of wonder, I tell you a secret. I know I won't be believed, so I will be as bold as I care. Read into things. Read into great books. And if you meet a great man, read into his eyes and smell his ambrosial soul.

            "The soul of God is poured into the world through the thoughts of men" -- that may well be said. But everything God is parable, all of religion is a lie. Scoffers say they promise too much, but the wise man knows they promise too little. Because they imagine such a limited finality, such a small heaven—celestial suburbs--the reader keen on truth knows each man by his God, sees the length of the man's imagination by his theological possession. The world stands on ideas. Great powers must balance, and so you push it all out on the universe, on gods, on governments, not knowing that your private battle is more important than all those things -- you must self-overcome. Mattria praises her children, she never admonishes, nor needs to, but Ama wields a scalpel pressed to your inner heart. You must purify yourself, not by following commandments, not by submitting, not by losing yourself, but only by becoming yourself, becoming more yourself, purifying yourself from the external, taking in only what you can use. Become at last a drug, become a pharmakos, your personality a nexus of ideas. Be human medication. Ideas cohere around your mind, you become the savoir of this world, like so many before, and just as necessary as they. Hermes, Baldur, Jesus, aspects of the same, the son of god – I call him Eru -- you should realize who these figures really refer to. Imagine being alone in your grave, for a million years alone in your thoughts -- will it take so long to sort out this riddle?

            To master a situation is to own it, to use it. Episodes repeat, problems in life become predictable. I anticipate your move, I get better at the game. I dazzle you off your feet because I've met you in a dozen forms, I know what you're about. I seem a God, I am a God, but I am the same as you.

            Yet life is too stark for such ideas, too mundane for all that. Play the part of a family member, play the part of a religious devotee. I don't grudge you that. Read your myths. The myths meant only for you will certainly come to you. A myth, a true myth, is an infinite text, because it is open to the widest possible set of interesting interpretations, and yet limits them; there is yet a wrong way to interpret a myth. Sublime literature demands an emotional, not an economic investment. Do you think you could repay an author for what he wrote? Do you fancy any great mind profited from his words? It would take low Johnson to write for cash, and Freud stupidly guessed the writer wanted sex, as if he lacked a mirror in his bathroom! The book, the great book -- just some paper, or some bits on the internet, or borrowed from a library, pirated, stolen, who cares--that's not the point. You can't rob an artist, no matter how much the recording companies try to. Power delivers power: the only way to have the power is to do the deed.

            The greatest artist attempts the most, self-overcomes again and again. A tolerance for confusion and uncertainty measure the depth of an artist. Not that his work is confusing and uncertain -- that wouldn't be art, it would be postmodern -- but that he himself has wrestled with the ugliest of unresolved frustrations, and returned to tell the tale. We intuit in the art the intellectual and passionate work required to produce it. Having never labored that way ourselves, we cannot at all see it in another. Fool bachelors give advice to their married friends, childless couples are stupid enough to tell mothers how to raise their kids. But for the one who knows, who really knows, he doesn’t advise you, not directly -- such a thing is tasteless -- but he makes the slightest remark, on something else even, and you know exactly what he means, and he knows you know.

            Jung said maturity is the desire to seek and know great men. Understanding great art is a part of this. Nothing can come out of the artist that is not in the man. The artist need not be a saint, for he is something better than a saint, the very god, in his indirect way, who inspires the saint to his piety. Art exists for the glory of its creator. The one who understands great art has already recreated it in his soul. We speak the same language, we dream the same dreams. Having a language is having control over others -- words are magic. Language is irresistible. And like Merlin teaching Vivian, we know that our love gives too much power to an unlearned heart, but unlike Merlin, these lovers we draw love us, and gain power to love us better.

            I've heard that Hegel claimed the Persian Wars were fought to inspire Thucydides to write their History.  Suppose such a thing is true. Suppose that the great events of life are meant to be abbreviated, perfected, lifted up, made sublime, in literature, in books, and those perfect books, the very annuls of each our heart. The soul too is a book. We are the book of life. We may use and misuse the celebrity as common intellectual property -- and gossip without guilt about that man. Such, we say, is the price of fame. Will we let our own inner souls be so rudely handled? How is it I am both democratic and for each man, but aristocratic and only for the best? For I believe democracy lets each generation’s aristocracy rise.

            Imagine a mine that grows more gold. Each time you descend, the well is richer still. Such a mine is literature, such a mine your soul. Take to heart the great works of genius, read them constantly, be patient, slowly learn the language -- each great book ultimately speaks its own peculiar tongue -- and finally you will have added a citizen to your heaven, found a friend for eternity, and a companion for Earth.



\~ @M@ ~/


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