Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Fixed (More Or Less) Between Three Points Of View

"American literature was taught as a collection of sincerities, which was quite wrong. Thoreau was thought to be a very great man - I regarded him as just a bum, like the kids of the 1960s." Paul Fussell, profiled by The Guardian, here. Link thanks to ALD.

"Piece in
Whole Earth Review by Anne Lamott about the death of her five-month-old boy. She allowed her three-year-old son to see the body, etc. Americans are so experimental." A notation in Brian Eno's 1995 diary, A Year With Swollen Appendices.

I've now mentioned three names who inspire in me a great many ideas: Brian Eno, Anne Lamott, and Paul Fussell. Thoreau is in there, too, but I haven't read much of him, so I'll avoid comment, except to confess that because Fussell holds him in disdain, my knee-jerk reaction is toward suspicion. Consider it a second-generation "critical" response. Clearly, the people who engage our imaginations have tremendous residual power.

The lynchpin in these three names is Anne Lamott. This summer I read Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts On Faith, a book that is as difficult to categorize as it is to put down. At times it comes across as a mad memoir; at other times, it reads like a collection of poetic sermons. When I finished, I felt as if I'd read a confessional - this woman confesses to everything, even a faith in God that seems weak, shallow and anti-intellectual. Who could possibly take pride in such an enterprise as "faith" after reading this?

Writing like hers clearly sets Fussell's teeth on edge. And I've taken some comfort from his writing over the years, because every word has been fueled by a fury and shame that came with soldiering as an American for the Allies in World War II. In the profile above, he smirks that there isn't a political party in existence that wants him, because they know he won't hesitate to flame them, along with their opponent - another trait that endears me to him. My hunch is he isn't so much put off by sincerities as he is by false pieties, which have a way of spelling out a great deal of trouble for a great many people.

His critical acumen is the sort I hold in a reverence that is, perhaps, to my own detriment. For all his imperial bile, I'd say he has something in common with Lamott: a sorrow over his own humanity. In his own angry way, he is as confessional as Lamott.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this (you might want to come back in a few days to see if I've "improved" this entry), but I find myself drawn to Lamott's notion of faith as something a person simply can't take pride in - it's impossible to do so, in fact: if you're proud of it, it ain't faith. At the core of "faith's" character is an increasing recognition of one's own weakness, with an attendant recognition of the larger power of forgiveness, grace ... love.

As for Eno, you dont have to read much of his diary to realize that his comment, "Americans are so experimental," is an understated expression of awe. Eno prizes experimentation in every arena of life. The diary is gruff, engaging, ego-ridden, stimulating, and (incredibly) inspirational.

Hmm - "Tri-une" stimulation, perhaps...

Post-note: I'm also digging this blog, courtesy of the Multiple Blowhards.

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