Monday, November 26, 2007

Who Shot Who in the What, Now?

It wouldn't be too far from the truth to say that I'm in love with ignorance. I like the gape of it, its dim invitation. I like the way it trails off, the way you can't see its horizon, the way you can slip downward into the grey muck of it when you thought you were strolling on solid ground.

It also drives me frantic. Waiting for the toaster to ding (when? when?) is a terrible purgatory. Losing yourself on unfamiliar roads is throat-stopping. Then there's the moment you think you have a handle on yourself, your life, and your desires, only to have some monster emerge from the trapdoor in your stomach, claw its way up your extremities and shake loose your grip. Suddenly there you are, launched into the air, fat and new and silly as a red balloon.

Recently I read a mediocre book by Tom Wolfe entitled "I Am Charlotte Simmons." Despite its female protagonist, the book was really about men: male prerogative, male power plays, male relations. Fights for status -overt and covert- between men were described lovingly, with near-pornographic focus:

What did Adam the tutor amount to? He amounted to a male low in the masculine pecking order who is angry, deserves to be angry, is dying to show anger, but doesn't dare do so in the face of two alpha males...JoJo had enjoyed this form of unspoken domination ever since he was twelve. It was a source of inexpressible satisfaction. Literally inexpressible.

For the first time, it dawned on me that there was a whole realm of male interaction I'd been missing. More than missing; I hadn't even dreamed its existence. It was the observer effect: insert yourself into the scene and forever change whatever it was you'd come to study. This not only got me wondering, it got me mad. HOW COME I NEVER GOT TO SEE IT? Not that I really wanted to observe frat boys going mano e mano, but my ignorance -past, present, and future- seemed colossally unfair, some gross miscarriage of justice on the part of the universe.

I've calmed down since. Because ignorance is not only a liability; it's bliss. Show me a lack of knowledge and I'll show you the creep of imagination. Show me a deficiency in understanding and I'll show you the upwelling, warm and dark and wet, of possibility.

In honor of ignorance, then, part of a poem (not mine). You guess the rest.


From Albert Goldbarth's "Imperfect Knowledge"

The structure of the billowing Portuguese man o'war: I don't know.
And: why isn't it ever enough to be "ceased," why
add the "de-"?: I don't know. Whitman:
given his later fascination with serious (what we would see
as "protomodern") dance, what might we learn
if only we had a visual record of the movements
in performances he'd watched, and could compare these
to whatever slide and stomp and swirl was his,
between the type-set table and press, in his time
as a printer?: no one knows. (Some experts
could "hazard a guess.") If even that eludes us...
how to "read" the huge balletic leap of a beast
on the wall of Paleolithic cave, its clayey umber self
part-trailed like a comet in its wake
[you see? "balletic" ... "like a comet" ... "self ... and so
we'll never know]: that cave and this one,
where my brain conducts its little introspections,
may not have one flapping bat of thought in common.

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