Monday, January 14, 2013

I am willing to be persecuted

Gilda.  Of the Stone Rooster.

Until recently I didn't know that what I am doing here is travel writing. When I first began writing here, meaning the internet, I was interested simply in recording the story of backpacking the Appalachian Trail. As the years have worn bu, and I near my decade anniversary of blogging, I've continued to analyze—some days, obsess—about this new, strange genre. It is many things to many people, and the internet's ability to morph as it reflects human behavior is unexpected and immeasurable, but for me the constant is a record of an alien sojourning a strange land.

I am almost always more interested in places than I am in people. Perhaps that admission makes me suspect. I shy away from people as I travel, being drawn into contact with them, despite myself. I find myself in the middle of all my best stories, dragged there kicking and screaming.

Travel writing is omnivorous. In writing about a place, I am able to write about history, and geography, and geology, and about food, and animals, and God. Rural America is as interesting, as, say, rural Belize, or Poland. I am as interested in Brilliant, Alabama, as I am by Quincy, Massachusetts, and everywhere I go I want whatever food is quintessentially Alabaman, whatever beer is unequivocally local, whatever experience the locals are already bored by. Each place is unique in its narrative, the fingerprint that anthropology and time have made at that latitudinal nexus. Who knows whether I'll ever pass a particular crossroad again.

What I look for most as I travel is authenticity, and everyone knows that authenticity is like the Holy Grail. It cannot be found, can't even be sought. And an authentic experience, when you hunt one out, is something that has been shorn of any extraordinariness. If I were to hunt out an authentic American meal, I would find myself eating at McDonald's.

Nonetheless, I seek it. I have been apologetic about this in the past. I intend to be so no longer.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

One night back

Crooked Island, right now, courtesy of KO.  Wish I was there.
Well, they’re going to the country, they’re gonna retire
They’re taking a street car named Desire
Looking in the window at the pecan pie
Lot of things they’d like they would never buy
In my ongoing thesis about Bob Dylan's plagiarism, I have new evidence, this time from his new album that I have yet to buy or listen to. And from a new interview with Rolling Stone. After Mikal Gilmore, the interviewer, confronts him about the accusation, Dylan concurs:

In folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition. That certainly is true.”

Then Gilmore cites instances where Dylan stole from specific authors, Japanese novelist Junichi Saga and Civil War poet Henry Timrod. Junichi Saga's books were out of print when the plagiarism was discovered, and have since been reprinted, a point that has always seemed important. Dylan agrees with me:
And as far as Henry Timrod is concerned, have you even heard of him? Who's been reading him lately? And who's pushed him to the forefront? Who's been making you read him? And ask his descendants what they think of the hoopla. And if you think it's so easy to quote him and it can help your work, do it yourself and see how far you can get.

Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff. It's an old thing – it's part of the tradition. It goes way back. These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you've been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified. All those evil [an unprintable word for ‘people’] can rot in hell.
Dylan added:
I'm working within my art form. It's that simple. I work within the rules and limitations of it. There are authoritarian figures that can explain that kind of art form better to you than I can. It's called songwriting. It has to do with melody and rhythm, and then after that, anything goes. You make everything yours. We all do it.
Before I die, I'd like to write one book, just one, where I analyze the layers of quotation and reference in a Dylan album. “'Love &Theft'” is the one I've chosen, because of the elegance of its quoted title, because of the way that Dylan makes the theft overt, even in the album's name. Frankly, though, a single book may not be long enough for even one song.

Take “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum.” If you're a regular reader, as I'm sure you are, you'll know that I've been quoting this song for a while now, the first of “'Love & Theft.'” The consensus among critics is that song is referring to Bush and Gore, at the time the song was written, in 1999, the two candidates for president. An apt parallel to the goofy twins of Carroll, for sure. So in the content of the song itself, we have an echo of contemporary politics. It's fun, too, to imagine Bush and Gore doing all of the things in the song, retiring together in the country, window-shopping for pecan pies.

But the title itself also echoes Alice in Wonderland, of course. And a simple internet search reveals that lines from the song also quote those of “Easy Rider,” perhaps only thematically:
Well, you boys don't look like you're from this part of the country.

That was a UFO, beamin' back at ya. They've been coming here ever since nineteen forty-six--when the scientists first started bouncin' radar beams off of the moon.

Oh, yeah, they're gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em.

We're rich, man. We're retired in Florida, now, mister. Whew.
Maybe you can't see the subtle linkage there, even if google can. But is it any coincidence, that Easy Rider, too, is about two men on a quest, hunting after America? Is it difficult to imagine Dylan, late at night, watching Easy Rider on AMC, noting the connection between Billy & Wyatt, and Bush & Gore, and Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum?

Or are these merely archetypes, the links between them existing only because they exist in our deeper, inborn layer?

Because, of course, Billy & Wyatt echo Huck & Jim, who echo Don Quixote & Sancho Panza, who echo the knight & his companion from time immemorial. And now we're into the archetypal realm.

For the first time, after discovering a copy of Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious by Carl Jung, in a box in my parents' basement (perhaps some archetypal resonance, even there {and still more, in that Joyce called Freud and Jung Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum}), and after many years of obsession with him, I'm actually reading it. More on that—much more—in days to come.

A quick definition of the collective unconscious, by Jung himself:
A more or less superficial layer of the unconscious is undoubtedly personal. I call it the personal unconscious. But this personal unconscious rests upon a deeper layer, which does not derive from personal experience but is inborn. This deeper layer I call the collective unconscious. I have chosen the term “collective” because this part of the unconscious is not individual but universal. It is identical in all people and constitutes a common psychic substrate of a suprapersonal nature present in every one of us.
Easy Rider ends in New Orleans, where “A Streetcar Named Desire” begins. And that carries with it a whole new train of associations, like the first monkey pulled from a barrel.

Nothing new under the sun,” says Ecclesiastes. Bob Dylan stole everything, because all stories are old stories. All songs have been sung. All characters are tropes. All ideas have been used. So artists steal. They plagiarize from the collective unconscious, and the more they can unite their consciousness and their unconscious, the more creative fertility they find.

TS Eliot allegedly said: “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.”  But the line may have been stolen.