Truth is relative, experience is mutable, but the nail is real (at least, when it pierces your foot).
I’m trying to be less pedantic about this sort of thing, and so, in a certain sense, I’ve let the later stories of the bad collection by Douglas Glover, Dog Attempts to Drown Man in Saskatoon, wash over me. It is remarkable, I think, that John Metcalf placed this book on a list of the 40 best Canadian collections of short stories produced in Canada up to the 21st Century, but maybe less remarkable when you consider that I don’t know anything at all about John Metcalf. Giving this book equal footing with Munro is blasphemy, especially since it contains passages like this one, which I think unsuccessfully crosses the line from self-conscious to sentimental:
“Name’s Red Mulvaney,” he said, gesturing with his cigar. “I build shopping centres, drink and whore all the time, and if I keep it up, the doctors say I’ll live another five years—tops. Hell, I got a lotta living to do!”
The reason I picked up Dog Attempts was its titular story, which about 18 months ago I read and liked. It’s placed near the end, though, and the closer I get, the more nervous I become.
Do not let every orator and rhetorician sway you, but neither should you close yourself to every argument. The passive man lets himself be dictated to by circumstance and by his associates. The desire to leave is a desire to escape the self. The self can be escaped. Likeness is a symptom of association. Heterogeneity and homogeneity should be avoided: one should not be too like his fellows, nor too distinct.
Anna, I left you at the station.
I am Hungary. In the morning off the coast of Hungary I watched a steamer churn up the green waters. The whale’s road was in a flurry. I turned to my lieutenant who was not enjoying himself. He turned away from me so that I could not see his face. I asked him was he serious. I told him the documents were sitting on my desk, and that I would take a pen to them that afternoon. He sat down by the water. His epaulettes looked golden. He would not look at me. I am Hungary.
What is a clear example? I can’t think of any clear examples. No examples are clear. This is an exercise. I have no faith in exercises. I lack faith. I am an empty vessel. There is no truth in anything. “He found Kierkegaard,” as Anders says of his insane brother in the Danish film Ordet. As far as I know, I have never read Kierkegaard, but it’s possible that I have read Kierkegaard, a small amount of Kierkegaard, and just don’t remember that I have. How can Kierkegaard cause a man to lose his faith? Or is it a question of having too much? Anders’s brother believes himself a saviour. Why? Do all of those who do not conform believe themselves the saviour? Can a saviour not conform? Is conforming good? R.D. Laing is famous (among psychologists) for proposing something that seemed very radical for the time—this was in the Seventies—and that is perhaps less radical now (according to those same psychologists): the idea that the estranged and maligned member of the family is often in some sense saner than the rest of the family. This is the one who passes under the veil and through to the other side. Being outside a thing can help one understand a thing. Insanity is a practice. Like all things, Laing’s proposition is not always true. And it may not be possible to crawl out of a thing entirely. Even as you gape at the moon, chains and shadow puppets surround you. Truth is not relative but truth is relative. Plato lied. Objectivity is an invention, a myth created to obliterate the human practice of myth. If it cannot be diagnosed it cannot exist.
I am alive.