I send some of my work--not all of it--off in an email to what comprises my inner circle, such as it is. I don't even know how much of it gets read. I don't know how much the expectation of me simply doing another great work causes people to take that for granted and say nothing after they've read it. I do know that when that is the case, your enemies, who are trying to end you, suppress you, and who of course say nothing, can be similar to your friends and family, such as they are, in that the latter also say nothing. Those meaning harm, those wishing well, can say nothing, ever, for different reasons. Which is much harder than people might think. Or people who imagine how they would think if they could do what you could do. Sometimes I include Emma on these emails now, though she never checks her email. If I am overseeing part of her development, and I suppose I am, so certain vantage points, window views, might be useful. I also view her as a little friend; not really a full-on friend, because there is a huge power disparity there, so the relationship is limited in some ways--I am, for instance, very careful about what I reveal from my own life. The highest compliment Emma will give something is "that was dope." She finally plucked "chickchick" out of her inbox last night, and it attained that lofty critical laurel via a text of hers. (Of course, earlier in the day, she also texted and called me a bitch--puta--in Spanish.)
I believe I composed that story three weeks ago. You put that in The New Yorker, it will go viral, as they say. People will lose it over that story, and it's the kind of story that people who didn't read it would know enough about the idea of it that they'd want to weigh in on the discussion, too. But will anyone see it? When? Again, that is the hardest part here. Even a child can see it for what it is. It's startling as a work. So, I think that was three weeks ago. I wrote "Pillow Drift" in December, and that story feels like something I wrote on day one of my career at this point. And you still see the occasional Christmas wreath still hanging up outside of buildings.
But "chickchick" was composed in the spring, I know that. I believe I had written the short story "Linesman" the week before. Yesterday there were two essays--on a video game and a painting from 200 years ago. Last week there was an op-ed on how the word "rant is used incorrectly and the labeling of something of a rant is a means to try and grab power. Everything right now is about power. If you've been single for a long time, you've doubtless noticed changing trends as you're single. You're hyper-aware of the various forms that coupling takes while you're single, right? At the moment I am seeing so many attractive, educated women--you can tell by how they talk--with out-of-shape, dumb guys. Why? Power. No, I don't think it's one unlikely, shaggy dog love story after another. I wrote a book last week. I wrote a 4000 word personal essay on a computer game this spring. I am about 4000 words into a new personal essay on my Monument climbs. I wrote an essay on an M.R. James ghost story. I wrote an essay on F. Scott Fitzgerald's "May Day." If the God of Reality said to me, "Okay, I'm authorized to cut you a deal. So, you're going to be treated fairly, that is, you're going to ride or die with your work, which is going to get the average chance, but the deal is, that work is going to be confined to what you do in a single week. Not your career. Not six months, not a season. One week. But it will get a fair shot in the world, and you'll have backing an no suppression but rather advocacy. Do you want the deal?" Yeah. Fuck yeah. I only need what I can do or have done in a single week and a semblance of a chance. I don't need anything else to make it work.
And this morning I wrote a 2000 word essay on Jesus. Excerpt:
Jesus was at the “summit of human greatness,” as “a man of surpassing greatness.” Renan was always careful to gender Jesus, if you will. The man part doesn’t matter, the human part does.
He is someone “we may call divine…in the sense that Jesus is the one who has caused his fellow men to make the greatest step towards the divine.” That divine representing, in actuality—and this is the rub—a life of evolution, of self-awareness, of service to others, of character, courage, sacrifice, thralldom to truth. Renan’s point was precisely that if you make this dude super-magical, son of the way-up-in-Heaven guy, you undercut his real power, his real message, his real artistry, as a human who lived a life that transcended what we normally mean by being human, but which we are all capable of.
That is both the human mystery and the human reality of the divine. That’s your Jesus for you.
You get the sense in reading this book that he was someone like any of us, having a wank in the bathroom in a free moment, thinking how he could advance himself in what was tantamount to his career.
Things get nicely fuzzed up. Look, we—and the media—cannot accurately report the news here in 2019, with cameras on everyone all the time. How accurate do you think the stories of the Bible are to us? Who knows—maybe Christ was tied to a cross, popped down later in the day, some buddies said, “sure, we’ll say you’re back from the dead, that will help build your platform for your message, which is the larger point.” But it doesn’t really matter. The model matters. The parables matter.
The idea is that a human can both be fully human and, as a result of that full humanity, something that is practically post-human. New. Which is to say, like Christ, as Renan posited him when he started out.
If love was the foundation for the most radical art of the last couple millennia, I believe an art founded on truth will be the foundation for a few thousand years, once it kicks in.
Truth is even more advanced than love, because it is discovered in and disseminated through love for one’s fellow humans, so it has that built into it. And he or she who starts the revolution of truth will have to be possessed of great stores, hard-earned and deserved, and yet not vainglorious, of self-love, for much courage and faith in who they are will be required.
The current publisher of Renan’s most famous work is Prometheus Books, the leading issuer of atheistic texts in this country, a note of irony to savor. This is the most purely religious and spiritual book I know. It just elevates beyond and above directives to quote scripture or say some Hail Marys or swallow that wafer, things that, really, are bullshit so far as your soul and your humanity goes. These days atheism is often a pose, a “Look at what I don’t believe in, ma,” stance for attention. We always want the attention now. It provides us no substance, our white-hot need for it often makes us depressed and unwell, it breaks us, makes us kill ourselves, even, but we fork our lives over to it until our lives cease to be lives and become existences.
I meet a lot of people with advanced degrees, who study art, who think they are artists, and it’s all but a given that they will remark that they are atheists. And I think about so many of the great, true artists, the vast majority, and their reserves of faith in something bigger than they were. Renan’s Christ is a useful model to consider with the idea that there is something beyond us as humans, that can touch us—or, more to the point, we can touch—that makes us more human.
Bach understood that he could not write music like he did simply because he he had some chops and some vision. Mozart, Joyce, Beethoven, Van Gogh, Keats, Dickens, Shakespeare. They knew it wasn’t just solely, more maybe even mostly, because of them. They didn’t necessarily care about a son of God or any of that hocus-pocus, because none of that really matters, and Renan’s Life of Jesus was the first book that had the balls to go there and say that.
Now I am going to get my long hair completely shaved off. Not because I am in hieratic mode, but because at this point it's too long to not have to wear a beanie to keep it out of my eyes and from looking ridiculous.