Monday, June 28, 2010

Crime and Punishment

This novel by F. Dostoevsky is remarkable because it's philosophical, investigating the psychology behind life and the observations of a man. Chris McCandless carried this book to his death and he asked his friends to read it probably because it best represented his observations. Not that he was a murderer but that he was deconstructing the natural barriers we put up between one another and it became overwhelming. He probably thought that if someone could read it then they could get an idea of how he was thinking. It doesn't capture a "character" like Confederacy of Dunces does and so it's not as enjoyable a reading experience, but I did find myself laughing out loud as things go from bad to worse for Raskolnikov. There's one funny passage, "So we have this creature, a horrid, singularly awful monster, despicable, detestable. One should kill her and use her wealth for good. Is it not justified? Is it not better?"

Actual text: “Listen, I want to ask you a serious question,” the student said hotly. “I was joking of course, but look here; on one side we have a stupid, senseless, worthless, spiteful, ailing, horrid old woman, not simply useless but doing actual mischief, who has not an idea what she is living for herself, and who will die in a day or two in any case. You understand? You understand?”

Am I the only one who thinks that is funny?

And what I love is that he captures the desperation of all involved. The painters in the room and the horses dying in the mud and the slack mouthed sister who is beaten and the rags, everyone is dressed in rags, drinking, cheating, waking up covered in sweat, sick, disgusted. It's amusing because the writing is so casual. There isn't a heroic figure in the thing. It's an existential novel written from the pits of despair.

"It was clear that he must not now suffer passively, worrying himself over unsolved questions, but that he must do something, do it at once, and do it quickly. Anyway he must decide on something, or else…

“Or throw up life altogether!” he cried suddenly, in a frenzy—“accept one's lot humbly as it is, once for all and stifle everything in oneself, giving up all claim to activity, life and love!”

You see the black and white debate raging inside this man's head? This is a tortured person as the author himself was tortured. I know that being tortured myself is not enough to give me the ability to write a tortured novel, but it's as important as reading about solar power if you want to write about solar power. I don't think I'm tortured because I want to write about tortured people. I do suspect there is an element of torture to living and if one invites that element into his life, even under the auspices of study and edification, then it will grow nevertheless like cancer until it consumes him such as Raskolnikov is consumed by his own pondering. Now then, is this a human characteristic? Is this something worth investigating? I think it is if you can approach it differently than a master. If you can add something to it. If it helps you find peace.

The problem, something Fyodor would've been nice to mention, is this: by the time you have reached a total comprehension of philosophical self-torture then you will be so far out of touch with the practical world that writing a novel is exactly the kind of impossibly practical thing you can't do. Why write? Fuck the world. Fuck the ignorant horse beating mob with the crack whores and shuffling hobos and CEOs with their granite countertops all cleaned and polished by pregnant Mexican maids. FUCK ALL YE! They don't deserve this work of genius that I'll never finish. And so, the madness is replicated inside the writer's mind until he is, to himself, a knight of honor, stripped naked in his sweltering apartment (or abandoned bus), drinking vodka and beating off to cobwebbed memories, raging against the injustice of this squirrel being killed or that turtle being crushed or that mountain that can never be climbed or that mine that leaches acid or that oil well that pollutes the world! Fuck it all. This torture is mine! You can't have it! The wisdom I learned in the fire of philosophy is for me alone and I'll not draw a map or a fancy picture for you cheap, light beer philistines to enjoy or benefit from.


And this is what separates Fyodor from the rest of us. He definitely plunged into the madness of the world, embraced it and examined it from the pinhole of his rheumy eyes and STILL refused to submit to his demons. He fought them, for what? He had good reason to withhold his writings from the world but he still wrote. Why? He found a reason. He had to write. That must be it. He had no choice. The little resistor in his microchip brain chemically impelled him to write instead of wallowing in his own torture or protecting his bounty like a greedy pirate. But this is where those writing magazines do not help a man alone on his rooftop. You can't talk down a jumper from the faux-philosophical confines of an academy. You think Dostoevsky enjoyed writing? You think he was like John Updike and pranced around in white tennis sweaters to Harvard and Yale giving guest lectures on the writer's craft? I love Updike but Fyodor is unparalleled in his craft. Why? Because his torture went to a place people do not return from. But still he sent back postcards, stamped in Hell.

I think it all goes back to the classic mountaineering adage, "Reaching the top is only half the climb."

It's strange, I thought it had been weeks since my last rant and it's only been two days. I mistakenly read several dozen random blogs (there are 118 million blogs now) and the snapshot of the lives and thoughts of others who have never heard of the Man in the Van made me see the futility of everything. I was repulsed by the keyboard and only with the help of a fictional murderer and a tortured author have I found my muse again. What does that tell you?

The two homeless heroes jump out of the VW van and divide Oggy and Isabelle.

“Stop it! Both of you!” Yells Kim in her most assertive, take-no-shit tone. She is practical when it comes to physical attacks and has learned to channel the dominant parent to get adult children to respond. In this case, Isabelle’s will to inflict as much injury on those around her enables her to ignore Kim’s command. Isabelle kicks Oggy with the might of a place kicker in the NFL.

“I will not fight back!” Yells Oggy. “You are only hurting yourself.”

“Am I? Does this hurt me?” she stomps on Oggy’s bad foot, the one that is deformed and crippled. Oggy yelps in pain as Isabelle nods triumphantly.

Kim times her attack to a moment when Isabelle is distracted by Oggy’s howls. Kim knows that Isabelle is beyond diplomacy. Only physical means will resolve the battle. She takes one slow step toward Isabelle to make sure she has a clear route of attack and then she moves cat-like and low, taking Isabelle out at the knees with a shoulder tackle. Robert determines that Oggy is not the provocateur of the conflict so he assists Kim in subduing Isabelle. This takes both of their full efforts as Isabelle swings wildly and Mary suddenly awakes from her daydream and notices two people are wrestling her daughter.

“Get off my baby!” she screams and douses Robert’s face with the remaining pepper spray in a can she carries for encounters with unpredictable limp dick speed hustlers under the railroad trestle. Lefty quietly takes this opportunity to slip away into the bushes and vanishes from the scene, grumbling and discontent with his lot in life. He plunges into the bushes, twisting his ankle on discarded aluminum cans, and staggers in the direction of the social services office.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.