8.31.2009

Coincidentally...

Multiple Choice Quiz:

1. Who said this?: "It is I who am the light which is above them all. It is I who am the All. From Me did the All come forth, and unto Me did the All extend. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find Me there."

A. Jesus
B. Walt Whitman

2. Who said this?: "You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, but I shall be good health to you nevertheless, and filter and fibre your blood. Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you."

A. Jesus
B. Walt Whitman

But, really, I mean -- c'mon. That's pretty interesting, no? Especially since Jesus didn't really say that until 1945 (after Walt), when the Nag Hammadi text of the Gospel of Thomas was discovered.

For a long time, my favorite line in "Song of Myself" has been this one: "The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnent bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck." It's my favorite because it demonstrates so precisely that principle of perception I have called "the ethics of seeing." No one could write that line who has not looked closely, without shame or judgment, at just such a prostitute.

Remember yourself as a child, visiting the big city. You looked that closely, at the beggars, the prostitutes... but if you were like me, your Roman American parents urged you not to stare, to mind your own business, etc.

I acknowledge that there does seem to be an ethics of doing. It would be nice to support legislation meant to assist that permanent underclass of prostitutes and pimps, beggars, etc. But I think there exists an "under-ethics," a kind of structural foundation to the whole game, that often goes unremarked (as, perhaps, it must). It does not require action; indeed, we might say it requires a lack of action, if the action of moralizing and judgment may be considered action. Simply the looking. Is it testable?: can I write one line of poetry evincing half the sympathy that manifests in Walt's line about the draggling prostitute?

It may be that a government can coerce certain kinds of apparently-ethical behaviors. But I am still convinced that the kingdom of heaven is within, and no government can touch (or remedy) that. The end of the Bush era was a welcome change. But I am still wary of the moralist who speaks confidently of the next reform bill in Congress, still tempted to mutter, "Reform thyself."

4 comments:

Wishydig said...

ooh ooh let me play. ok. who said this:
"well, maybe like casy says, a fella ain't got a soul of his own, but on'y a pice of a big one... then i'll be all aroun' in the dark. i'll be ever'where -- wherever you look."

and who said this:
if you should ever find someone new,
I know he'd better be good to you
'cause if he doesnt, i'll be there. don't you know, baby, yeah yeah.
i'll be there.
i'll be there.
just call my name. i'll be there

Casey said...

Nice. Does this mean I've discovered my fate...? I haven't read Grapes of Wrath in a long time, and I had to look that one up. I don't remember a "Casy" character. Casey/Casy. Weirdly great.

Wait. Michael Jackson was the One too!? AND Mariah Carey!?

Wishydig said...

casy was jim casy. reverend jim casy.

j.c. eh? eh?

Casey said...

Oh yeah. I remember him now... I guess I should re-read it. I liked East of Eden so much more, because it felt less preachy and certain, less commie, y'know?