A Brautigan Blog on the IndraNet:
(Overcoming self-censorship. Raison de Bloger Part 1).
In his novel, The Abortion: An Historical Romance(1966), Richard Brautigan (1935-1984) imagined a library where anyone could submit their manuscripts as long as they were unpublished. The library welcomed the “unwanted, lyrical and haunted volumes of American writing.” The books were then kept for posterity, shelved between large jars of Mayonnaise. It was a wonderfully democratic notion, in which one could imagine the joy and sense of fulfillment the countless submitters felt, knowing that their life work was being preserved for future generations.
In 1990, Todd Lockwood brought fiction to life by founding an actual Brautigan Library in Burlington Vermont, mayonnaise jars and all. I was doing a master’s in history at that point in Montreal. Upon hearing about it, and having read the book and loved the idea, I knew I had to go. Go I did. It was housed in a small building off the main square and was already chalk full of manuscripts. I pulled a few of the bound tombs off the shelves and perused and found myself overwhelmed with an emotional joy as I read the stories, however poorly written, of grandfathers telling their life stories to their grandchildren; of young men’s motorcycle journeys across the country; of young girls’ visions of the future. Each book was like a snapshot into the soul of an individual living in the late 20th century. Each of the authors trying to figure out, as one of the titles’ of Brautigan’s original classification system put it, the meaning of life.
From a historical point of view, I found it a treasure trove for future generations to see the mind of the common person of this period, their hopes, their dreams, and their fears. I imagined some future historian being able to obtain a more realistic picture of the times from some of these fantasy stories than from almost any previous historical document. If ever a historian asks: but what did life mean for people in the richest, most powerful nation on earth in the late 20th, early 21st century, they will find answers here and they will be refreshing.
But even then, this very public library was already in dire straits financially. The founders were looking for donors. Pinned next to the donation notice was a newspaper article. The article explained how local Doonesbury cartoonist, Gary B. Trudeau had been approached for a financial donations and moral support, but that he refused both with a quite nasty little quip that the last thing the world needed was more bad writers. Rather than promote its chances of survival by speaking for it, he went and spoke against it.
By 2005, the volunteer staff and public donations ran out and it closed its doors. The manuscripts went into storage. But then in 2010 it was moved to Vancouver, Washington and rescued by The Clark County Historical Museum and the Creative Media& Digital Culture Program (CMDC) directed by Susan M.G. Tissot and John F, Barber, where it is being digitised and put on line and I hope continued. (See http://dtc-wsuv.org/brautiganlibrary/?page_id=1134).
I choose this story to introduce my blog because it explains two ways of seeing the world that have often conflicted in myself: on e a deep love of democratic pluralistic creation, and two, a cynical critical censorship, which too often crushes creativity. Recently a Mr. Jonathan Budd put this up on facebook,
it seems to sum up this division in relation to education and thought. Obviously there are good structures within society, and they help further a better understanding of the world and to make a better world. There is art and writing that achieves a higher level and brings us up to a higher level. And there is terrible art. However, often the critical and structured view stops the development process, and prevents the deeper genius from flourishing. We know great writers like Kerouac were stifled by criticisms like Truman Capote’s “That’s typing, not writing.” In his bestseller, A Map of Time, Felix J. Palma analyzes the angst H. G. Wells goes through after a harsh review, saying:
A writer’s most powerful weapon, his true strength, was his intuition, and regardless of whether he had any talent, if the critics combined to discredit an author’s nose for things, he would be reduced to a fearful creature who took a mistakenly guarded, absurdly cautions approach to his work, which would end up stifling his latent genius.
The Historian Henry Adams, got so hung up on perfection he never wrote more than one book. External criticism of the soul revealing arts too often results in creativity crushing internal self-criticism.
I say this division rages in myself, because my own creativity in the realm of fiction has has often been crushed by the fear of others’ criticism, stopping the very act of even beginning to write. I do not wish to go into where I developed my own insufferable, internal critic because that is a complex issue involving everything from an (at times) small minded, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-like peerage, to a few years of university creative writing classes, where I learned among other stunting thoughts (and many valuable, excellent lessons): my beloved Richard Brautigan, with his lyrical and haunting visions was not a respected writer! He was an unwanted in the realms academia and literary criticism. No doubt this is one reason he hitched-hiked out of life too early. And it is fear of such spirit-crushing denigration that I hesitate to write even a blog. Is my vision, my spirit unwanted?
I think all of us feel unwanted at times. And yet, I think it is so important that all the voices be heard. I think of writing as a healing process, our own personal way of psychotherapy. Of course what Gary Trudeau and thinkers of his ilk are questioning is should that therapy be public? My answer is hell yes. Why not? Celebrate everything. We are all interconnected and we can all learn from each other. It is only the hierarchical view that places one person’s words above another’s, or one person’s value above another's, that prevents us from experiencing the oneness of the universe and the experience of right now. One song I wrote, Nothing, Something, Everything (2006) has 3 verses whose last lines end respectively:
1. Everything is nothing.
2. This nothing is something.
3. This something is everything.
It is a Buddhist view of the universe like Indra’s Net, in which we are all interconnected and reflect to each other the nature of life. We are all each other’s teachers. To quote Alan Watt’s:
Imagine a multidimensional spider's web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image.Alan Watts, Following the Middle Way 3, alanwattspodcast.com 2008-08-31.
Or in the Avatasma sutra as translated by Francis H. Cook in Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra, Penn State Press, 1977.
Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering "like" stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.
In this way every voice matters, as Rohinton Mistry ‘s character Valmick says to the main character, in A Fine Balance "There is no such thing as an uninteresting life." For only when we listen to all can we see the patterns that help us comprehend the whole. I think this is the underlying theme hidden so mythically in Brautigan’s novel In Watermelon Sugar. Without quite understanding the book, you get the sense if you did, you would, as a character in Dean Koontz’s novel One Door Away From Heaven, suggests: “unlock the secrets of the universe.” That is my deeper conviction: all our stories interconnect to provide a vision of the oneness. In the lingo of Brautigan’s era, let it all hang out, and then we can see for ourselves what is good and not, or that the not so good may be shadowing to the highlights of brilliance.
And yet, the counter voice says this: is this permissiveness of trash not part of the problem with the United States now, where Fox is allowed to call itself news and people are not able to sort the fact from the garbage? But I am not talking about news, nor prime time corporate owned and sponsored broadcasting with political aims, but of individual self expression and openness in writing, in a medium which people may choose to read or not. And voices may be picked at random from the Indra’s net of the internet, and people may peer in the dew drops of other’s thoughts and find something sweet, or inspiring, or hopefully enlightening that reflects some aspect of their own life. This is the aim of this blog.
The blogosphere is a way to share our thoughts and to leave for posterity a rich legacy of the human mind, imperfect as it is. Sometimes I think there is too much information and self-publication. Other times I feel, well what the hell? Let the natural chaotic ramble of the imagination color our world like the image above, like nature itself, rather than have the well ordered sanitized dry tidbit of socially accepted censored society.
So this is my justification for inflicting the world with my nauseous Mr. Nobody thoughts and reflections. It is not that I think I am somebody important, it is that I think everybody is somebody important. I believe that we need to share our thoughts so we can learn from each other, so we can see our collective sanity or insanity and find ways to deal with the complex puzzle of existence. I agree with Brautigan not Trudeau. I am for a very public library of the mind made available for us in the blogosphere.