Posts Tagged ‘hero’

Still Stalking Hard Numbers Through Eternal Energy

16 Jul


Pied Piperettes


Ones and zeros folks, ones and zeros. He’s the One. We’s the zeros…I have a ques­tion, why is the plur­al for hero, heroes, and the plur­al of zero, zeros? Is there a hid­den mes­sage here? Does the silent E in heroes have sig­nif­i­cance? Hell, no. Some­body just made a rule. And that’s how it goes with polit­i­cal dynamism. Some­body issues orders and rules. Oth­ers fol­low them. It does­n’t have to make sense, be con­ve­nient, syn­chro­nize, feed the mass­es, kill the bad guys, low­er the sea lev­els, repair the bridges, make con­ces­sions, wink at the oppo­si­tion, flood the mar­kets, ink the con­tracts, bust a rhyme, or bury the dead. It’s just the result of an order some­one some­where some­how issued. It’s just the result of a rule some­one some­where some­how enforced. How many among us have stopped what we were doing long enough to lodge an attempt to wipe the slate clean? Very tough indeed, eh. Some of us used to know this was the game in which we were pawns to be and for­got, or found life eas­i­er just play­ing along with what­ev­er ones and zeros were plug­ging for pow­er at any giv­en time. Some of us tried to wipe the slate clean but it became impos­si­ble once we real­ized that EVERYONE around us is pass­ing out orders and mak­ing them rules, and it final­ly dawned on us that we nev­er can tell who will turn out to be our ene­my, so as we cling to the old blue­prints, we just set­tle into the grooves our heroes and our zeroes have cre­at­ed with hard num­bers and left for us, insur­ing the Silent E is no longer “even” among us…a metaphor­i­cal fugue in one Face­book para­graph.

Jack London’s Hundred Years War

06 Oct


Young Jack Lon­don


The name Jack Lon­don con­jures up dreams of the Great Yukon, fero­cious wolves, per­ni­cious gam­bling, allur­ing danc­ing girls, and an occa­sion­al drunk­en and bloody bar brawl, time­worn icons of the Amer­i­can tam­ing of the Wild West, and a pro­gres­sive polti­cal mind. The com­mon response most casu­al read­ers hiber­nat­ing in the dark, dank lit­er­ary cav­erns of Amer­i­ca to those rugged writ­ers who lived life as if it were a pro­gram of per­ilous escape and bea­con­less fren­zied aban­don, is exem­pli­fied by the endur­ing myth of Jack Lon­don, the turn-of-the-cen­tu­ry adven­tur­er cul­tur­al­ly trans­formed into a mild seda­tive for ram­bunc­tious boys. A fan­ci­ful string of Walt Dis­ney films depict­ing the tumul­tuous capers of an inno­cent lad bent on civ­i­liz­ing his fel­low out­doors­men has enchant­ed the eager hearts and minds of any­one who ever dreamed of rub­bing two wet sticks togeth­er to warm them­selves and their pals, or to roast a marsh­mal­low and a wiener on a cool Octo­ber evening with­out the usu­al con­ve­nience of news­pa­per, lighter flu­id or a half-dozen match­es.

These over­ly-sen­ti­men­tal­ized adven­ture flicks tick­led the boy­ish imag­i­na­tion. Usu­al­ly told in first per­son, the sto­ries gave courage to those of us who cow­ered before the bark­ing voic­es and effec­tive forces of pound­ing fists offered by the local neigh­bor­hood bul­ly. Intro­spec­tion by the hero of our sto­ries was always light-heart­ed, boy­ish, some­what pro­tect­ed from the beast­ly nature of beast­ly men and women. Amer­i­can film. Always a hap­py end­ing.

As George Orwell point­ed out in an essay writ­ten in 1943, Lon­don is one of those rare writ­ers of genius like Edgar Allan Poe who enjoy a more prodi­gious rep­u­ta­tion out­side of the Eng­lish-speak­ing world than in it. While Poe is crit­i­cal­ly respect­ed both in Eng­land and France, the author of Mar­tin Eden has been great­ly admired by Ger­man, French, and Russ­ian read­ers.

Orwell points out that Lenin’s wid­ow described in a short biog­ra­phy she wrote of him, of how she used to read sto­ries to her hus­band on his deathbed as he lay par­a­lyzed. On the day of his death she was read­ing from Dick­ens’ clas­sic A Christ­mas Car­ol, but he was put off by the bour­geois sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty of it all. The last words Vladamir Lenin ever heard were from Jack Lon­don’s Love of Life.

Obvi­ous­ly, Lenin was ini­tial­ly drawn to Lon­don’s polit­i­cal writ­ings. He remained an ardent Social­ist, and, as Orwell points out, one of the first Amer­i­can writ­ers to pay any atten­tion to Karl Marx. His rep­u­ta­tion in Europe is main­ly found­ed on anoth­er of Lon­don’s books, The Iron Heel, a remark­able book of polit­i­cal prophe­cy pre­dict­ing the rise of Fas­cism. Lon­don under­stood that when the work­ing-class move­ments began to take on expan­sive dimen­sions and appeared to be tak­ing over con­trol of the world, the cap­i­tal­is­tic class would hit back. And until Hitler came ful­ly into his own, most Social­ists imag­ined Marx­ism would sim­ple swarm over the earth with­out a resis­tance.


Mar­tin Eden by Jack Lon­don

In Lon­don’s book, Mar­tin Eden, the pro­tag­o­nist, Mar­tin has weath­ered a poor work­ing class upbring­ing‚ his play­ground was the dirty streets of Oak­land in the first years of the new cen­tu­ry‚ his pals scrap­py street fight­ing lads like him­self, his girl­friends coarse and prof­li­gate. But Mar­tin Eden was look­ing for a way out. As a ded­i­cat­ed mer­chant marine, he accepts the chal­lenges he places before him­self with gus­to. Voy­ages upon the harsh high seas for eight months of the year before dock­ing off on extend­ed fur­lough took their toll.

When back on the hill he stayed with his sis­ter and her hus­band to the ambiva­lent reluc­tance of every­one involved. Robust yet uncouth, igno­rant yet yearn­ing for knowl­edge, Mar­tin is intro­duced to a young mid­dle class socialite named Ruth. She is the eter­nal rose, the effer­ves­cent source of beau­ty and redemp­tion who lights a bril­liant flame in young Mar­tin. After hear­ing Ruth read from a col­lec­tion of Swin­burne’s writ­ings, our young feisty street punk, the bright­est and the strongest grub­bing up from the rib­ald and murky bow­els of noth­ing­ness is trans­formed, in a sense, bap­tized by the fiery spir­it of lit­er­a­ture and fine per­fumeries Ruth brings to him, and cer­tain char­i­ot wheels of grace for Mar­tin Eden are set in motion. The brit­tle romance is chart­ed very plain­ly by the author. Resolv­ing to edu­cate him­self, the slate of mid­dle class val­ues and struc­tures make their way into the agen­da of the young Mar­tin in search for a group of peo­ple he can call his own. Burn­ing the mid­night oil, abid­ing a strict sched­ule of three to four hours of sleep per night, Mar­tin Eden first feeds his intel­lec­tu­al star­va­tion by devour­ing the clas­sics. After sev­er­al alter­nat­ing tours of duty at sea and in the mim­ic­ked words of the mas­ters he con­sumed, he begins to write down sto­ries of his adven­tures, pour­ing his soul and sen­si­tiv­i­ties into pages which began to mount into an inhu­man pile of rejec­tion notices.

His rela­tion­ship with Ruth began to sour when it became appar­ent that she was unable to com­pre­hend or suf­fer the intense strug­gle against the gods of moral and intel­lec­tu­al respon­si­bil­i­ty he was grap­pling with and would con­tin­ue with until a vic­tor had been pro­claimed. Her father and his polit­i­cal friends were hope­ful­ly tied down to inef­fec­tu­al sta­tus quo meth­ods and argu­ments. Their con­de­scen­sion only fueled the young aspi­rant until a chance meet­ing with a group of rev­o­lu­tion­ary anar­chists and social­ists invig­o­rat­ed his spir­its briefly. Before long even this more edgy crowd, edgy to be sure, but just as pompous and pre-occu­pied with sta­tus with­in the ranks matched only by its end­less word­play dis­heart­ed him. Yet he still believed that there was more to life than all this use­less rhetoric and sense­less destruc­tion-ori­ent­ed pro­pa­gan­da caught up in a war of words rather than the toil of sweat, blood, and tears. Unde­terred, young Mar­tin Eden pressed on.

jack-london-stampTime, how­ev­er, began to with­er the young author’s com­pul­sion. It seemed an impos­si­ble achieve­ment to gain access not to the wis­dom of the sages, which he knew he already pos­sessed but to the class of peo­ple who upheld the rules and ves­tiges of that wis­dom. After his breakup with Ruth in a mutu­al dis­sat­is­fac­tion of per­son­al tastes, and a hasty explorato­ry expe­di­tion to his old neigh­bor­hood gang, Mar­tin decid­ed that only the pos­tur­ing fame and accom­pa­ny­ing new for­tune soci­ety bestowed upon an excit­ing, fresh­ly dis­cov­ered, trail­blaz­ing young writer could sus­tain his inten­si­fy­ing­ly decep­tive thirst for social and intel­lec­tu­al accep­tance. He begins to write more earnest­ly.

When favor final­ly arrives, the newest bon mot on the lit­er­ary scene is quick to dis­cour­age the usu­al fare of band­wag­on jumpers, those who had reject­ed his pieces only months before‚ now clam­or­ing for more, more, more! Not­ing the irony, he held to his guns when cer­tain edi­tors insist­ed on see­ing any man­u­scripts still lying around, man­u­scripts already once reject­ed by these very same edi­tors. More truth was dawn­ing upon our young adven­tur­er.

The nov­el, Jack Lon­don insist­ed, was an attack on indi­vid­u­al­ism, the fierce indi­vid­u­al­ism of his era. Being aware of the needs of oth­ers, of the whole human col­lec­tive need, Mar­tin Eden lived only for him­self, fought only for him­self, and, if you please, died for him­self.
Sud­den­ly all the wares of the world are at his feet. Old cohorts quick­ly emerge from the cracks of end­less walls he had nev­er been able to tear down with either his bare fists or the rest­less but youth­ful ener­gy rolling off his tongue. Now his words were famous. Now every­one under­stood. Now every­one want­ed to be his friend. Jack Lon­don was a born rebel whose manip­u­la­tive per­son­al­i­ty demand­ed the imme­di­ate grat­i­fi­ca­tion of his con­tra­dic­to­ry wants. His dialec­tic of appetites wore on with­out a syn­the­sis of sat­is­fac­tion. He once con­fessed to want­i­ng to dri­ve forty hors­es abreast with the thou­sand strong arms of an army. He was a heavy drinker. He died rel­a­tive­ly young.

Mar­tin Eden is Lon­don’s most auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­el. His ear­ly death at age forty brought on by his exces­sive bouts of drink­ing and expo­sure to the ele­ments is fore­shad­owed by the char­ac­ter, Eden, who hurls him­self into the ocean depths in route to a trop­i­cal island he had recent­ly pur­chased. Although I am aware of no sup­port­ing evi­dence, per­haps this book is where the poet Hart Crane derived his idea for his own self-inflict­ed drown­ing some twen­ty-four years after its ini­tial pub­li­ca­tion.

The nov­el, Jack Lon­don insist­ed, was an attack on indi­vid­u­al­ism, the fierce indi­vid­u­al­ism of his era. Being aware of the needs of oth­ers, of the whole human col­lec­tive need, Mar­tin Eden lived only for him­self, fought only for him­self, and, if you please, died for him­self.

An irony of the book resides in the fact that it is the only one of Lon­don’s fifty books that his pub­lish­ers, Macmil­lan, has kept in print in a cloth edi­tion for sev­en­ty years, while it has invit­ed the most chaf­ing crit­i­cism from the pro­fes­sion as being too pes­simistic, den­i­grat­ing cap­i­tal­ism and self-improve­ment and ambi­tion with­out pro­vid­ing any alter­na­tives. Lon­don was con­fused with the hero of his book.

Turn of the Century Writers

Turn of the Cen­tu­ry Writ­ers

Indeed, Mar­tin Eden is a clean read, swift in its sit­u­a­tion­al cur­rents and col­or­ful­ly deter­mined in assess­ing the prob­lems the indi­vid­ual faces in his exo­dus from the bat­tle­fields where intel­lects clash and flesh recoils in a nev­er adjourned meet­ing of forces. To stand head­strong on a frozen tun­dra against the ele­ments or to bob just above a watery abyss to test the very nature of con­tro­ver­sy, mea­sur­ing the bonds and covenants between life and death, is an event reserved for the rare few who dare engage with full intel­lect both the demons with­in one­self and those with­in the soci­ety in which one strug­gles to com­pre­hend.

In his time Jack Lon­don lived and died as a strik­ing con­trast to the Hor­a­tio Alger and more recent Ronald Rea­gan myth of hard work, love, suc­cess and respect. Where­as Alger inspired, Lon­don depressed the read­ers of ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca. The sim­ple fact is that one must find solace in the tribes as they exist, that one must have faith in the unlove­ly, seem­ing­ly mechan­i­cal soci­ety in order to pros­per. We exist in time and place sim­ply to count out mea­sure until we evolve into some­thing else, hope­ful­ly bet­ter equipped to face our­selves as we real­ly are indi­vid­u­als marooned on a island sur­round­ed by a sea of hope­fuls.

Find a copy of this book. You are prob­a­bly some­one he has writ­ten about. A cen­tu­ry lat­er, we find lit­tle solace in real­iz­ing that Mar­tin Eden’s impas­sioned plea for a more redemp­tive man­ner of liv­ing still remains part and par­cel of the age­less quar­rel all reli­gion, art, and pol­i­tics seeks to address: can we real­ly help our­selves once we know who we are?


"Ignorance and virtue suck on the same straw. Souls grow on bones, but die beneath bankers' hours.""