THE YANKEE’S FIGHT WITH THE KNIGHTS
I was a champion, it was true, but not the champion of the frivolous black arts, I was the champion of hard unsentimental common sense and reason.
One day, while I was painting the walls and varnishing the paneling in my office, Tim, bearing a jug of wine, walked in and sat down. The weather was fine, and I had opened all the doors and windows to air the place out. Tim was amused by the mouse traps, boxes of rat poison, and spray cans of insecticides which I had collected, out of harm’s way, on the mantelpiece.
“I’ve always felt I could judge a person by the way he decorates his mantelpiece, Arthur,” Tim laughed.
“Could be,” I replied, setting out glasses on my writing table.
“Have you visited the Ashram recently?” I asked.
“No,” Tim said, pouring. “I have given up trying to talk to that crazy son of a bitch. He’s really out of his mind.”
I mentioned Haines’ latest move: getting rid of the pretty girls and moving in the Lumbering Behemoths.
“I just don’t trust broads who let themselves go like that,” I said, sipping. “They must be filled with grievances as well as fat globules. We can’t afford to have people like that around. We’re not geared for it.”
“Yeah, I talked to one of them. Karen something. Pretty bad.”
Sure enough, this particular lardass, a graduate student at SUNY New Palz where she was preparing to become a psychologist, later volunteered to testify against us in the conspiracy case just for the glory of it all, or something. Girth appeared to have become Haines’ main test for the admission of camp followers to his family circle.
We talked awhile about the usual stuff, and then Tim abruptly changed the subject.
“Did I ever tell you what happened to my first wife, Arthur?” Tim asked. It was a grim story. He had come home one afternoon from work at the Kaiser Psychological Clinic in San Francisco, where he was director of research, and found the corpse of his wife lying on the floor with a note next to it reading, “I cannot live without your love.” I was shocked. It was the first time I had heard Tim volunteer anything about his personal life that wasn’t self-congratulatory and exemplary.
“Jesus, Tim,” I said. “That’s one of the most terrible things I’ve heard in a long time. Well, at least things like that never seem to happen around here, whatever other problems we may have.”
In order to expiate guilt, Tim had to act as if he loved everyone, and try to make everyone love him. The LSD experience had to be interpreted in a manner consistent with these requirements. From which, in standard psychoanalytic twists, followed much of Tim’s history, including the return of the repressed, the cyclical build-ups and let-downs of his supposed loved ones and much else, if you want to push it. Yeah, sure, and so what? It didn’t mean Tim was right or wrong in anything he said or did.
We chatted a while and then Tim went out to fish off the bridge and I went back to my interior decoration. A few minutes later, Billy Hitchcock walked in.
“Kleps, I just heard one of the most incredible things I have ever heard on this property and I have heard some pretty incredible things. I can’t believe it.”
Billy almost always built up his stories in advance. A true salesman.
“What, what?” I asked.
“Well, Tim’s outside fishing off the bridge. When I stopped the car to say hello, he turned around and lifted his finger like this (Billy demonstrated) and said, ‘Art Kleps is the only sane person on this property.’ Come on. Let me in on it. What the hell did you say to him?”
Nothing special that I could remember. I was just as surprised as Billy, who had driven over to invite us to the Bungalow for dinner. Aurora, who was spending more and more time in New York because of Billy’s increasingly non-domestic habits, was back. Sam and Martica were in attendance. He also wanted me to meet a business associate, Seymour Lazar. I called Wendy from upstairs and we took off in Billy’s car. As we crossed the bridge, I saw Tim paddling out towards the center of the lake in the small boat I kept tied underneath the bridge. Tim and Susan were invited also, Billy said. It would be quite a mob.
“I still don’t believe it,” Billy kept muttering as he plowed his big Cadillac through the narrow, leafy tunnel of the shortest gravel-road route between the Gatehouse and the Bungalow, flushing small game and one or two deer (there were two herds on the property, whitetails and a small, red German variety) right and left as he went.
“Oh, come on, Billy,” I said. “If it suits his purposes, he’ll say I’m hopelessly insane tomorrow. You know Tim.”
“Besides,” Wendy added, “saying someone is sane around here may be a left-handed compliment.”
True. I think it was just a matter of Tim taking a break from the Slobovenoid Blobovenoidal nonsense and amateur psychologizing he had to listen to back in the hills. Every now and then, he had to get loaded, relax, and say what he thought, whether it supported his political agenda of the moment or not. On the other hand, maybe he just wanted to get me drunk before dinner.
Later, I found out I had won a “sanity contest.” The kids had put up a list of candidates in the Big House kitchen and I had won, hands down. Tim had neglected to mention this.
As promised, we had a full table that evening, including a straight and snotty cousin of Billy’s who made comments like “sure, we know, Tim” whenever Tim made a cryptic or quasi-paradoxical remark. The cousin had the look of a man who has just discovered shit on his shoes.
This character seemed to consider himself a genuine Mellon of Pennsylvania and/or Virginia, as distinguished from these semi-civilized Hitchcock half-breeds who tolerated the likes of us.
Everyone except the legitimate Mellon was stoned and half-smashed on grass and wine, and merrily yakking away in consequence. The unadulterated Mellon’s waspish asides acted as a sort of contrast or counterpoint or punctuation to the rest of the talk. I was sufficiently spaced so I could actually appreciate this, in a way. Added depth or resonance or something, sort of.
Tim finally took notice of the authentic, true, pure, holy and fully documented Mellon’s hostile commentary. “Well, I’m perfectly willing to admit I’m a charlatan,” Tim said, grinning and opening his arms in acceptance. “We’re all charlatans aren’t we? Don’t you agree, Susan?” He swung around to face his daughter, who was seated at the foot of the table.
Susan had her head down. She shook it abruptly and negatively and ran out of the room, clutching her napkin. Tears glistened. It had been a mistake to invite Susan to the dinner. Tim got up and followed, to explain what he meant, I guess.
Did he say it was all a game and we had assigned ourselves different roles to play? Maybe. But why call that charlatanry? Did Tim mean, Snazzm, that one can do nothing but delude oneself, that is, “have” a dream? I doubt it. That isn’t charlatanry either.
Charlatanry, which is deception, requires the appearance of a world of particulars about which one can tell the truth or lie, and this is true in any Zmm. Dream figures may lie to one another, and mythic beings tend to lie like crazy, with some specializing in the profession. There are truth tellers and liars in dreams, just as there are good guys and bad guys in dreams.
One good way to define veracity is to say it is what telling lies isn’t. Truth is a characteristic of some sentences, that’s all. One tells the truth about one’s impressions and ideas to the extent that one gives an accurate report of them and does not intentionally mislead. Fictions are neither true nor false, per se. Fictions and errors remain distinct even if, as sometimes happens, a fiction turns out, in whole or in part, to be factually correct about something or other.
These distinctions, so important to beady-eyed philosophers, Tim brushed aside. Words were to be used to soothe or stun, and to paralyze reason, and above all else, to prevent Tim from being fingered for anything. All usages had to be made vague and safe instead of sharp and dangerous in order to provide a cloud-shrouded littoral where he and other pirates could not be distinguished from honest fishermen, at least not from a distance.
Explicit, systematic rationales for intellectual charlatanry are hard to find, although the sentimental glorification of professional and pathological liars and crooks is a major theme of what might be called the cumulative Hollywood House-Tree-Person test. This Judaical neurosis has also played an important part in American literature, good and bad, for a long time and has now (1994) reached a blatantly psychotic level in the mass media. Not only are professional swindlers glorified, as usual, but so are serial killers and brutal cops. The rest of the world should erect every barrier possible against this shit and “quarantine” the United States if necessary.
The philosophic justification for making fraudulence and mendacity one’s guiding stars in life, such as it is and as best as I can make out, seems to go something like this:
If, as it seems, it is all an illusion, then it’s all a fraud which means that you are a fraud and I am a fraud so let us all freely lie to one another, each in his own charlatanic fashion, and may the best pretender prevail. The underlying premise is the supposed equivalence between “illusion” and “fraud.”
But there is a great difference, obvious to most nine-year-olds, between an illusion or a fiction or a dream on one hand and a lie on the other, a distinction neither Tim nor his hero Aleister Crowley nor a lot of other con artists seem able to grasp. Appearances are appearances for naive realists and solipsists and dreamers and the awake and the enlightened and the unenlightened alike. They are all one has. Superior theories, those that get us anywhere, about how particular things work, “save” (explain) the appearances they deal with, while inferior theories leave all or some of the same appearances out in the cold.
“It will be seen that among the objects with which we are acquainted are not included physical objects (as opposed to sense data), nor other people’s minds.” (Bertrand Russell)
The central liar in Mary McCarthy’s The Groves of Academe is a lot like Tim in lots of ways. Here are some quotes, run together from different places in this minor masterpiece:
And at bottom he did murkily consider all attainment, idealism and so forth, to be a sort of speciousness; the upper world, for him, was divided into admitted frauds, hypocritical frauds, unconscious frauds: this fraudulence, in fact, to his glazed-pottery-blue eye, constituted the human, and below it was the only animal activity, which was of no interest or amusement to the observer. Every relationship, therefore, propelled itself for him toward confession and mutual self-exposure; the slurrings and elisions of his voice conspired toward this end; even in his ingratiating mood, his talk had a sidelong motion, suggestive of complicity … One begins by persuading oneself, and this germ of persuasion is infectious. He has a remarkable gift, a gift for being his own sympathizer. It’s a rare asset; it would be useful to him in politics or religion … He’s capable of commanding great loyalty, because he’s unswervingly loyal to himself. I’m not being sarcastic. Very few of us have that. It’s a species of self-alienation. He’s loyal to himself, objectively, as if he were another person, with that feeling of sacrifice and blind obedience that we give to a leader or a cause. In the world today, there’s a great deal of free-floating, circumambulate loyalty that fixes itself on such people, who seem to offer, by their own example, the possibility of a separation from the self that will lead to a higher union with the self objectified in an idea. It’s his fortune or his fate to have achieved this union within his own personality; he’s foregone his subjectivity and hypostatized himself as an object … The criteria of truth and falsity, as we know them, don’t exist for him. He doesn’t examine his statements from the point of view of the speaker but from the point of view of the listener. He listens to himself as you or I might listen to him and asks himself, ‘Is it credible?’ Even in private soliloquy, credibility is the standard he applies; that is, he looks at truth with the eyes of a literary critic and measures a statement by its persuasiveness. If he himself can be persuaded he accepts the moot statement as established. This is real alienation. In the critical part of his mind, he’s extraordinarily cold with himself, cold and dedicated. Hence his incessant anxiety, like the anxiety of a military commander or an author or a stage director; he’s busy with problems of reception, stage effects, cues, orchestration; his inner life is a busy rehearsal and testing for activity on the larger stage of tomorrow, where the audience, as usual, will miss the finer points. Immersed in all these difficulties, hung up on the snags of production, he’s impatient, understandably, with outside interrogation. ‘Is it true?’ you want to know, but the question’s irrelevant and footless. Do you ask an amber spot whether it’s true? Or an aria? At bottom, he doesn’t give a damn … what you or I think, any more than a general cares about democratic opinion. We’re not his critics or even primarily, his audience; we’re amateurs whom, unfortunately, he must use in his production, since the great Commander we will act under saw fit to send him no better.
The day after the Great Pretender vs. the Magnum Mellon dinner, Wendy and I went to Millbrook, where I got a haircut and a marriage license from the same person. Wendy would take the bus to New York and return on the appointed day with her parents, sister and brother-in-law. I sat with her drinking coffee in the Millbrook Diner until the bus came.
I walked back to the Gatehouse from the barbershop. It was a walk I always enjoyed, past the supermarket, and then uphill past an old-fashioned drug store, several modest but well-tended houses, and the Episcopal Church. Once I was over the brow of the hill, an uncluttered prospect of fields and woods opened up with “my” charming Gatehouse, looking like a toy construction in the middle distance, occupying center stage.
On my next visit to the Bungalow during my vacation from the marital condition, I walked in to find a political harangue, of all things, in progress. Since every Psychedelian I knew on the estate disbelieved and/or despised the official line on almost every subject, there usually wasn’t all that much about politics to talk about. This seemed to be as true at the Bungalow as it was at the Ashram. Maybe it was different back in the hills but I doubt it.
Billy owned a Spanish-language newspaper in New York called Il Tiempo, which had a wide distribution not only in the city but in several Latin American countries, particularly the Dominican Republic. His editor, who was holding the floor in front of the bar, had apparently come up to Millbrook to give Billy and anyone else in earshot the benefit of his views on the latest political crisis in that country.
Billy, Tommy, Sam and Seymour Lazar, who had impressed me as quite a pain in the ass the night before (a “feisty” little prick with lots of “chutzpah,” I suppose one might call him), were sprawled around the living room looking bored and sullen while the editor shook his fist and delivered a rapid-fire series of pronouncements. The women and the children, I could see, were outside by the pool. The editor had his coat on and seemed about to leave. Judging by the number of empty glasses and cigarette butts in view, it looked like the editor had been holding forth for some time.
His speech was straight, hard-line anti-Communist ranting of the old school. “They” could do no right and “we” could do no wrong. The monstrous American genocide then under way in Vietnam was too restrained, we could kill twice as many of the godless commies if we really tried and so forth and so on. When the editor uttered the name of Fidel Castro, a tremor passed over his swarthy features and his eyes popped out a little. He didn’t just disapprove of Castro, he hated his guts. It was the only time I heard anything like it at Millbrook.
Billy responded with a series of half-hearted uh-huhs, yeahs and mmms and sank lower and lower into the couch, and Sam and Seymour behaved pretty much the same way. I could hardly believe my ears. On the few occasions when Billy and I had talked about South American politics, usually in reference to Marco, he had expressed the usual liberal wisdom on the subject. Sure, he participated in the big rip-off in various ways, as did anyone with 50 cents in the bank although few knew it, but he didn’t deny for a moment that it was a rip-off.
“Come on, it’s obvious isn’t it? Have you ever seen how those people live down there? Anyone who thinks things are going to go on forever as they are is kidding himself,” Billy had said. “Of course they’re going to go communist or socialist or whatever you want to call it sooner or later. I’ve taken that for granted for a long time.”
Billy, like most of us in those days, tended to underestimate the power of the Euro-American cosmopolite oligarchy to manipulate its tame and timid captive moronocracies through monopolistic control of their mass medias. At the time, because of the good coverage given to the war in Viet Nam, it was actually possible to think that TV made it harder for the establishment to deceive the public, and many of us thought exactly that.
And Billy, like most people, overestimated the intelligence of the average voter, here and abroad. If I, an experienced tests-and-measurements psychologist who should have been fully aware of how dumb most people were, made this error, as I often did (“Jesus Christ, they can’t be that stupid,” I would say to myself), how could I expect anyone else to not make it? On hearing the Tories had won an election in England, where the Mellon family had many close connections in ruling-class circles, Billy had slapped his hand on his forehead, and laughed explosively. “What? Those fucking thieves got in again? I can’t believe it! Where’s the phone?”
So why all the uh-huhs, yeahs and mmms?
When the editor left, Billy went up to the bar and poured himself a stiff one.
“Schmuck,” he said.
“Yeah, I hate to listen to that shit,” Sam added.
“Well, what the hell, Billy,” I asked. “If you didn’t like what he was saying, why didn’t you tell him he was full of crap? You have a controlling interest in the paper, don’t you?”
“So this creep is your employee, right?”
“Sometimes I wonder.”
“Does he write editorials like that?”
“Well, why don’t you fire him and hire someone who represents your views? Why not be social-democratic and libertarian?”
“You don’t understand business, Kleps,” Billy said.
How true, but as time went on I learned a few things. Although the paper consistently lost money, that had nothing to do with it, and may even have been a plus. As a matter of fact, Seymour tried to get control away from Billy a year later. It was worth having because of its political influence in the Dominican Republic and in other Spanish-speaking American “client states,” and for no other reason, except possibly that it was the best kind of “write-off,” that is, an asset that appeared to lose money as far as the public and the IRS could or wanted to see, while actually making a lot of it. If the paper told stories agreeable to those who owned and managed the client states, and did not tell stories disagreeable to them, the owners of the paper would be rewarded in various ways.
When Billy visited the Dominican Republic, he didn’t stay at a hotel, he stayed at the Presidential Palace. If, for example, the concession to rent out seat cushions at soccer matches was to be sold off to make a fast buck, President Baleguer, or whoever, would not tell Billy to go stand in a corner with his face to the wall, but instead would allow him to make a bid on an equal footing with the other capitalist parasites who were hanging around. The right to “wave the kapok” was worth big bucks to those leeches who had wormed their way into the core.
No newspaper representing Billy’s actual views would be worth anything, because it couldn’t have been sold in the Dominican Republic or anywhere else in the region. The newspaper represented the system in virtually the same way Federal Reserve Notes represented the system. Billy could no more alter the political orientation of the paper, in which resided its true value, than Hugh Hefner could print a picture of a syphilitic sex organ on the cover of Playboy. He would have been sued and he would have lost.