The Latest Freed Man — And No, Wallace Stevens Wasn’t Writing About Being “Woke”
In Tropic of Capricorn, Henry Miller writes, “to be accepted and appreciated you must nullify yourself, make yourself indistinguishable from the herd. You may dream, if you dream alike.” These days, the herd is accepting without question the diktats of the politically correct social justice politburo. Or else. Nietzsche: “What is the price of moral improvement? Unhinging of reason, reduction of all motives to fear and hope (punishment and reward).” Systemized cultures demand that you conform to a belief system that has little or no tolerance for dissent from the majority, as we’ve recently seen with the Google kerfuffle or Peter Thiel receiving a bad review on the Facebook board from Reed Hastings for supporting Donald Trump. Or else.
Gosh, what’s an individual to do?
Literature, for the most part, teaches us that conforming, surrendering to the herd, almost always leads to the destruction of the individual, which is why postmodern critical theory teaches that there is no such thing as the self. The self is a social construction. Sure, whatever. Think of each system as a landscape; each landscape has a belief system, whether it’s the academic landscape, the corporate landscape, or a political landscape. Wallace Stevens: “there is a doctrine to this landscape.” This line is from his poem, “The Latest Freed Man.” Here’s the poem:
Tired of the old descriptions of the world,
The latest freed man rose at six and sat
On the edge of his bed. He said,
“I suppose there is
A doctrine to this landscape. Yet, having just
Escaped from the truth, the morning is color and mist,
Which is enough: the moment’s rain and sea,
The moment’s sun (the strong man vaguely seen),
Overtaking the doctrine of this landscape. Of him
And of his works, I am sure. He bathes in the mist
Like a man without a doctrine. The light he gives —
It is how he gives his light. It is how he shines,
Rising upon the doctors in their beds
And on their beds… .”
And so the freed man said.
It was how the sun came shining into his room:
To be without a description of to be,
For a moment on rising, at the edge of the bed, to be,
To have the ant of the self changed to an ox
With its organic boomings, to be changed
From a doctor into an ox, before standing up,
To know that the change and that the ox-like struggle
Come from the strength that is the strength of the sun,
Whether it comes directly or from the sun.
It was how he was free. It was how his freedom came.
It was being without description, being an ox.
It was the importance of the trees outdoors,
The freshness of the oak-leaves, not so much
That they were oak-leaves, as the way they looked.
It was everything being more real, himself
At the centre of reality, seeing it.
It was everything bulging and blazing and big in itself,
The blue of the rug, the portrait of Vidal,
Qui fait fi des joliesses banales, the chairs.
“To be without a description of to be.” Literature is about the struggle of becoming an individual, the risks, rewards and failures of that struggle. In order to change the ant of the self into an ox, to become the latest freed man or woman, we have to break away from the descriptions and live in the moment, the sun’s light blasting away the restricting doctrines as we revel in what the morning offers: color and mist, rain and sea and oak leaves, and become like the sun, which is like a man without a doctrine. Like the man in the poem, we will then see “everything bulging and blazing and big in itself,” via Stevens’ reformulation of Keats’ concept of negative capability (see note below), everything, even those beautifully banal chairs.
Without the struggle to break free of the doctrines and descriptions holding us hostage, we all become well, social justice warriors, academics, “scholars of one candle,” instead of artists of Arctic effulgence. That’s from another Stevens’ poem, “The Auroras of Autumn”: “The scholar of one candle sees/An Arctic effulgence flaring on the frame/Of everything he is. And he feels afraid.”
In the contemporary landscape of academia, literature has little or no power to touch us as human beings. According to race, class, and gender obsessed professors, the author is dead, or a privileged cultural construct, or a member of the dominant imperialist, racist, misogynistic mindset, to be celebrated only by the accident of his or her birth into a politically correct and idealized minority. Criticism of literature becomes a tool for social and political indoctrination and has little to do with individuality or freedom, you know, those white privilege values. There is no emotional dimension to literature, except the emotions of hate and resentment against evil white male overlord privilege. In this landscape, the self is a simulacrum of the real, fooling the cave wall-facing Yahoos living in the Matrix (see note below). The bureaucracy of leftist lockstep literary studies has ruined any enjoyment or enlightenment students could possibly gain from literature, destroying the chance to have an emotional relationship with a book — or poem — that could change their lives for the better.
- Keats defined negative capability as “being able to exist in a state of uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Nassim Taleb’s concept of the Antifragile is the 21st century version of Keats’s poetic concept. For Taleb, the fragile “could be expressed as what does not like volatility, and that what does not like volatility does not like randomness, uncertainty, disorder, errors, stressors, etc.”
- One of the pillars of postmodernism is Baudrillard’s concept of the simulation: nothing in the world is real, but only a simulation of the real. Baudrillard published a book called The Gulf War Did Not Happen, in which he argued that the Gulf War did not happen but was merely a simulation produced on television screens across the world. Yes, and Neil Armstrong never walked on the moon. Academics love this shit, seeing simulations everywhere, the slippery self just another simulation, even though Nietzsche dismantled this idea a century before Baudrillard’s moment in the spotlight: “To renounce belief in one’s ego, to deny one’s own ‘reality’ — what a triumph! not merely over the senses, over appearance, but a much higher kind of triumph, a violation and cruelty against reason.” Notice that there’s a copy of Baudrillard’s Simulation on Neo’s bookshelves in “The Matrix.”
- In White Noise, Don DeLillo’s satire of postmodern academia (which academics, of course, have misread and canonized as an example of the postmodern novel), Dana Breedlove, Jack Gladney’s first and fourth wife, reviews fiction for the CIA, “mainly long serious novels with coded structures…the work left her tired and irritable, rarely able to enjoy food, sex or conversation.” This is the effect of the great paranoid hunt for hidden coded structures, which academics and SJWs are seemingly obsessed with.