The Karate Kid

Having a sense of purpose. A customer had asked if I would be his POA and executor of his estate. Two or three years later he had a debilitating stroke; two or three months after that he died. In those couple months I felt an extraordinary sense of purpose and direction and was busier than I had ever been. Visiting the hospital, calling the financial adviser, calling the insurance, mailing and copying documents, meeting at the bank, picking up records, family, emergency rooms, consulting with doctors, what could be done about the aphasia, what could be done about the nausea, “you’re the only one who can understand what I’m saying,” he would say, “no: it’s getting better,” I would say. One of the funny stories that came out of it was that, waiting for him in the second of the assisted living facilities we’d placed him in, I’d stretched out on the bed, waiting for him to return from his breakfast — tired, and I would need to be at work soon — when a nurse came in and told me it was time for my insulin shot.

Read Alyosha The Pot (Tolstoy), about the short life of a simple worker, and felt I had some of that same spirit in myself but muddled and impure. Looked up Alyosha The Pot, having wondered if Dostoyevsky had used this as the basis for his own Alyosha, but if anything it was the other way, this story having been written late and published posthumously, wikipedia said. Invoking the name of ‘holy fool’ in its description of the character (which recalled Nietzsche’s attacks on the ‘holy fool’, which was part of his feud with Wagner) the article indicates he was likely based on a mentally impaired servant of the Tolstoys. (“We all have Alyosha and Fyodor and Ivan in us — one degree or another,” is thought: “duty, intellect, appetite.” And, I suppose, our Smerdyakovs, I might have added.)

“One degree or other”: If there had been more physical work and less television in my youth… is thought. Then I was thinking in an academic vein about footnotes — academic, but it may importantly pertain to the structure of this work. Envision each page here as a footnote but you don’t know what it is a footnote to, that information having been lost — the central text has been lost, the central text may not exist, the central text may not be existible or may be “me” and not a literal text — which would be dissatisfying or maybe not as it’s all the same water or “case” being sloshed to different sides of the filthy yellow mop bucket […] (There is an Over Voice to my Interior Alyosha, which at once makes me more authoritative, and worse — which is Ivan. One can neither go forward into independence nor backward into obedience. One had never really been a child: there had been this adult despondency, depression, all the way through, since adolescence, an oppressive intimation of sex — Mitya) Next envision the footnotes as opened windows in your browser, each page a window. This perhaps too gimmicky to pursue, what am I thinking? Sort of narrative that can only be read on an electronic device perhaps, as it is impossible to read in sequence, the thing being not meant sequentially. Each time you appear at the site it randomly presents a new window — the book is opened at random. For example:


[The Karate Kid is an interesting movie. He cannot see the girl’s desire for him because in her too he sees the strong monster who desires the girl. The girl’s strong desire for the Kid cannot overcome the Kid’s strong fear of the monster who defends her.]  [In real life, there isn’t any monster and there isn’t any girl, there is just the indelible imprint of those two entities grafted and irremovable from ourselves, fear and desire, the three of us metamorphosed into rocks unrecognizable as human, a geochemist required to unbake and distinguish the original elements of this curiously pied hunk of stone and crystal, which from your point of view is experienced as an omnipresent gas, a vague feeling of never quite being yourself, of being free to move but trapped, always winding up at the same place in the maze, though once in a while there do seem these moments of escape: neither gas nor stone nor monster nor girl but ones own substance and self and free. Free to fight monsters, free to love girls.] But was fear and desire the problem or was that the bad movie version of the problem? It was this fossilized fear and desire that had somehow become one with oneself…

Perhaps this spectation the computer offers is the reward and consolation for those who have fled the monster… One has seen and desired the girl. One has found the girl is the possession of the monster. One knows one cannot defeat the monster, one knows one cannot get around the monster, and because the monster is so much stronger and faster and more cunning than you, it occurs to you he’s simply better than you and it’s so frustrating you’ve made her or him into the figure of a monster, some unimaginable thing (what is so monstrous really to you is the situation which, desiring what they have, you can’t compete.) “Whatever — doesn’t matter.” You think “I’ll simply leave this girl and this monster and find another girl without a monster” but you also come across the same monster with any given girl. Maybe they are not yet there, with this particular girl, but they will be there, and his or her potential presence is as terrible as the actual presence. So one cannot only not reach that girl, one can reach no girl. So one thinks well is there something more important than girls and power and sensual pleasure and all those obviously secular things, is there god and community and charity and satisfaction in just being above ground, and so can’t I just go away and not have to do with monsters and girls, but all that too lies beyond the monsters, for by ‘girl’ we’ve meant to indicate just those things, the symbol of any kind of desired thing, any kind of realized success, and by monster we’ve meant something that makes such a success impossible, and so in fleeing the monster and the girl and in fleeing all monsters and girls one discovers the same: one can live for a time, one can eat and drink and carry on and be bad and go to jail or be good and win the praise of the mayor himself but ultimately you only demonstrate to yourself — and this is what the story of Jonah is to me about, and why it abides with me as a kind of favorite — there are somethings from which one cannot runaway. The girl will be there, unwon, the monster will be there, unbeaten, so long as one fails to be a hero, and that is the creeping displeasure of your life.

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