Are we Ali Baba or the Thieves?

Dear CF,

Intimate terms with the object. This helps. Maybe this is what distinguishes the explorers of yore—Lewis and Clark, Columbus, Ponce de Leon et al.—from the new ones. They (we?) don’t really want to bring back potatoes and spices and the Hottentot Venus. Quite the contrary—it’s more about hoarding. This is a different impulse, a quest for private communion. Except that “communion” might be the wrong word, since there’s nothing common about it, and the worst outcome is really that the beloved object will become mainstream. At best, we’re like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. We might share with those who know enough to know that there is a code.

I get the impulse to ferociously protect one’s private bond with something. In my case, though, it’s almost a defensive move, because I’m wounded when someone I show it to doesn’t like it. What puzzles me about the Firecrackers is that the object with which they’re intimate is lessened when someone whose opinion they don’t respect does. According to your lover analogy, this would be something like harlotry. Loverly jealousy?

I think you’re dead right about the demographic problem: is it that “communion” has become distasteful because we understand advertising too well? Is it that, in liking the same thing as someone we don’t like, we watch marketing boxes converge, so that we’re all in the same target audience? Is it that we want to “go off the grid” like Freegans do, to cheat The Demographic the way our parents fought The Man?

Obvious point about nonconformist conformity: Our parents became The Man, and it’s the tragedy of a lifetime when we’re catapulted out of our rugged individualism and pegged squarely into a round demographic hole.

It reminds me of John Marcher in Henry James’ “Beast in the Jungle.” Do you know this story? He goes through his whole life hubristic, complacent, a ruminant dilettante filled with an almost religious certainty that something remarkable is going to happen to him. His life will be defined by an Event, what James’ father called a “Vastation.” Marcher subjects May Bartram, the woman in love with him, to a lifetime of audiencehood. She’s his chief witness, the only person to whom he confessed his secret belief, and she honors him by believing it, and she waits with him her whole life.

He’s a believer in Destiny, in Greatness, in the fact that he has been uniquely Marked. His tragedy—the revelation, at the end—is that nothing ever happens to him. The whole Greek tragedy he built himself has no oracle. There’s no destiny, there’s no Event, there’s just a long life unpunctuated by anything except empty nouns, somethings, successive clauses, unseized opportunities.

God. “Pocketful of Miracles” it is. I need them.



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