Saturday, March 12, 2011

Umnak Island, 7 July 1944


My Darling...
 
I am rereading Point Counter Point. I have found in the first two hundred pages many things I did not remember from my college scanning. But so far the perversions—so many times debated—have either been normal (normal perversions? what gives here?) or latent. The lesbians and leprechauns cavort with each other instead of sticking to their kind.
One short passage I like particularly. It deals with an old man’s recollections of his dead wife, but it could almost as well cover the loneliness of any separation, the desperate longing which produces the blank-faced, hopelessly wishful Aleutian state: 

“Between her remembered image and the moment of remembering, the abysses of time and separation were vaster than any other gulf between the present and the past. And by comparison with the past which he had shared with Isabel every present seemed dim…”
Amazon.com Review
When it was published in 1928, Point Counter Point no doubt shocked its readers with frank depictions of infidelity, sexuality, and the highbrow high jinks of Aldous Huxley's arty characters. What's truly remarkable, however, is how his novel continues to shock today. True, we may hardly lift an eyebrow at poor Marjorie Carling leaving her husband to live in sin with--and get pregnant by--her lover Walter Bidlake. And the sexual exploits of Lady Edward Tantamount or her daughter, Lucy, seem quite in keeping with the behavior expected of such exalted persons by readers inured to the exploits of the British Royals. If the varieties of sexual experience on display in Huxley's novel seem tame by current standards, his clear-eyed dissection of the motives behind them are thrillingly fresh--and his commentaries on everything from politics to ecology sometimes chillingly prescient. Take for example, the wisdom of amateur biologist Lord Edward Tantamount on the subject of non-renewable resources:
"No doubt," he said, "you think you can make good the loss with phosphate rocks. But what'll you do when the deposits are exhausted?" He poked Everard in the shirt front. "What then? Only two hundred years and they'll be finished. You think we're being progressive because we're living on our capital Phosphates, coal, petroleum, nitre--squander them all. That's your policy. And meanwhile you go round trying to make our flesh creep with talk about revolutions."

I got the book yesterday at the post library. Senor Juan and I went over after dinner, hitchhiking over and walking back…a long walk. The library here is inferior to that at the old post: smaller, noisier, and although I would not have believed it possible even more incongruously catalogued. Alexander Woolcott’s The Murderer’s Companion is found on the shelf headed “Useful Hobbies.”

The two other books I bore back to camp are on Mexico. Both should be amusing. One is entitled “Mexico Before the Bar of Public Opinion.” It is a collection of American editorial opinion on Mexico during the period of the oil expropriation. The author is a former digester for the defunct Literary Digest, and the foreword says that he labored not for love but for Standard Oil Company in manufacturing this monograph. The impudence of the title: Mexico Before the Bar of Public Opinion. And not even international opinion at that. I imagine I shall be able to forget my loneliness momentarily in a few monumental rages.
The other books is, I think, one of those I picked up at the second hand store on second avenue the day I cleared their shelf on Mexico. It is written by a diplomat’s wife and deals with life under the Diaz regime and during the days of the revolution. …

Senor Juan makes me feel old. He is so incredibly like Krego: Esperanto, Romance languages, longing for travel, family troubles, everything. He is more like Craig than Craig would have been if, at twenty-two, he had spent four years in the Army. He must possess great powers of aloofness to keep from being conditioned to acceptance of the GI pattern.
One of his linguistic enthusiasms is Basic English. He is much more interested in Churchill’s references to it than to his more political pronouncements such as the “I come to praise Franco” speech of last month.
"Basic English is a carefully wrought plan for transactions of practical business and interchange of ideas, a medium of understanding to many races and an aid to the building of a new structure for preserving peace." Winston Churchill, 1943
This afternoon Senor Juan came to the hut with one of the Service Force reprints: Plato’s Republic translated into Basic English. He was proud as a pup retrieving its first stick.
Senor Juan is, like Craig, interested in poetry and foreign literature. Unlike Craig he is trying to write. He has done a series of short, Ogden Nashish poems which he calls “Bits of Class” (although he likes Whitman). Those which I have read are not bad, although I can’t remember any of them well enough to repeat at the moment. His reading in the Romance languages is eccentric in one respect: he has read many of the modern Anglo-American writers in translation, including Lady Chatterley’s Lover  in Spanish, and Look Homeward Angel in French. He says Tom Wolfe reads better in French. Translation unseen, I am inclined to think it probable; in Bantu those books might even be good enough to forgive.
Last night I went onto the graveyard shift. The work was even arduous but the night was very long. In making the change from days to swing I neglected to get any sleep. That and a five mile walk, part of it against a strong, cool breeze, left me ready for sleep long before the trick was over.

Tonight there was a bullsession at the hut. Lee Thornton, the boy who looks like Ladd, did most of the talking. He is tightly-knit, dark-blond, grey-eyed young man in his mid-twenties, a good mimic and a natural though somewhat stylized lifeoftheparty talker.
Part of the time we were talking about men who had made their Section Eights (i.e, been discharged for mental troubles). I told of the legendary figure at APO 980 who goofed off on every task assigned to him. He did incredible things like mistaking Rinso for rice when on KP, water for oil when on stove detail, and a latrine for a command post when delivering messages. At one time he bawled out an officer for not letting him get enough sleep (this after nine straight hours) and at another he jumped off a bridge into a river when he thought some approaching MPs were after him. His crowning achievement came when he was assigned to carry some 2 by 4s into a new building. A lieutenant gave him his carrying instructions and just to make sure he didn’t foul up when along on the first trip to point out possible obstacles.

When the lieutenant warned our hero against breaking a window, he managed to turn to look at the speaker. So doing, he drove the 2 by 4 through the pane. The officer howled in anguish and our hero turned back quickly, thereby swinging the plank sharply against the back of the lieutenant’s neck, knocking him cold as a shad.
For such things the unfortunate was about to be handed his civilian clothes. But at the last moment someone remembered something and looked up the man’s college record. He had taken his master’s in abnormal psychology. He is still in the Army and, if legend does not err, still in KP.

Thornton matched my fable with one of his won about a redheaded rookie named McCarthy who as a civilian had been an archer rpt archer. He brought his long bow and a quivverful of arrows to camp. Whenever a noncom became abusive, McCarthy threatened to porcupine him at fifty paces. McCarthy had trouble distinguishing his left from his right foot, an aberration which did not endear him to any of the corporals or sergeants with whom he came in contact. One day one of them forgot he was dealing with a reincarnation of Robin Hood and polished him off with a few well chosen profanities. McCarthy dropped his rifle and ran back to the barracks. He returned just in time to see the sergeant dashing for the dayroom. McCarthy twanged a few arrows after him but fortunately he was about as bad at his old profession as at his new one. He only casualty was a pair of fatigue pants hanging on a line beside the dayroom. A few minutes later two MPs ambushed the archer and , still later, the chaplain made him promise not to shoot at anyone again. He kept his word until after he was handed his release from the Army. Then he shot the CO with a paper wad. 

How our discussion went from archery to politics, I don’t know. But before I left for work we were off discussing democracy in theory and practice. I said that nation was most democratic which inculcated in its citizens a respect for the rights of others. Thornton said a nation was democratic if it left freedom for the alert, aggressive individual to better himself. We beat each other over the head with these rival concepts for about an hour and both emerged bloody but unbowed. He said my idea was socialism; I said that his ideal democracy would be found at the time of the disintegration of the Roman Empire when any smart robber chief could become a feudal lord and the sire of stalwart family of anemic bluebloods. 

I doubt that the conversation would quite match those of Plato, but the talk was fun and Thornton’s arguments much more mature and developed than I indicated in presenting them so baldly. The atmosphere in our hut is much better than that in Hut 18. One little but important difference: the arrangement of the beds against the wall leaves enough space for a man to walk around as he talks. 

I must get back to work, my darling. In my next letter—or soon, anyway—I’ll tell you about Thornton’s arrival in the Pacific Northwest, a strange tale, that. And also about Al Hesse, your classmate at Lincoln, who has stomach trouble and an urge to write for The New Yorker.

Every day I miss you more, my Nanny, and every day realize how much just being with you means…that we may be together soon, little one.
I love you,
M

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