Thursday, March 3, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 37 (Herman Melville)

Melville, Herman
Pierre, or the Ambiguities

Not sure where I bought this one. It will serve as a nice segue back to the story of P. It was P. who first introduced me to Pierre. P. was a huge fan of Jack Kerouac. He'd read every book by him and every book about him.

Being a gifted (and hilarious) story teller, he would often recount famous incidents from Kerouac's life. One story he told was that Kerouac, after a night, or several nights, of heavy drinking, would say farewell to his companion and then, having crossed the street or walked a certain short distance away, would stop, turn around, and call out, "Hey, Moby Dick is not Herman Melville's greatest novel." The companion would inevitably shout back, "Which one is it?" "Pierre," Kerouac would shout back, "Or the Ambiguities," before he stumbled home.

In the late nineties, just as I was leaving New York, P.'s politics began to take a conservative turn. The process began, it seemed to me, with his disenchantment with left-wing intellectuals, specifically a few of our friends, who one might in a generous mood describe as sanctimonious.

P. was always quite sincere in his convictions, left or right, and he had little patience for the kind of ironic distance cultivated by many of our intellectual friends. I think his rightward turn began as a reaction against specific people and attitudes but then grew into something else.

He co-produced an NPR political talk show for a while, where part of his job was preparing interview questions for the host. The host was a liberal and all of the guests were conservatives. P. had to read all of their books. Slowly but surely they began to convince him. By the time the Iraq War began he'd become a full blown neocon.

The strain on our friendship was immense. For several years our (mostly phone) conversations were tense. We'd inevitably start talking politics and the effort to keep from chewing each other's heads off took its toll. We started to go longer and longer without talking to one another.

While this was occurring I had moved to Buffalo. When I first arrived I had no transportation, so when I wasn't at school I was usually at home. My roommate decided he wanted cable TV. I refused to pay for it because I didn't want to have a television in the house. But I soon discovered that Buffalo cable carried all 162 Yankees games each year. Before long, when I wasn't studying or going to poetry readings, I found myself watching baseball.

I became obsessed. I think I watched every single game of the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons.

Part of this was boredom, part of it interest. Another part was a desire to connect with something I enjoyed in my childhood, when my father was still alive. But another part, the one that pertains to P., was that I wanted to remain friends despite the widening gap in our political views. I can't say why this seemed important to me other than to say I value his friendship more than I value the rightness of my political views.

Eventually, we tried to avoid the subject of politics altogether. When I called, we'd talk baseball. These were the glory days of the Yankee Dynasty in the late nineties and early aughts, so we had plenty to cheer about and talk about. We'd cover every game all season long and then talk trades and signings over the winter.

The funny thing is that neither of us is truly, truly devoted to baseball, but our interest in it helped put the friendship on a different footing after some of our views on the world had changed. His conservative views hardened after 9/11 and the beginning of the war, as did my liberal views. After a time, it seemed that baseball was all we had between.

That also changed.

from Pierre, or the Ambiguities

THERE are some strange summer mornings in the country, when he who is but a sojourner from the city shall early walk forth into the fields, and be wonder-smitten with the trance-like aspect of the green and golden world. Not a flower stirs; the trees for-get to wave; the grass itself seems to have ceased to grow; and all Nature, as if suddenly become conscious of her own pro- found mystery, and feeling no refuge from it but silence, sinks into this wonderful and indescribable repose.

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