April 12, 2017

Preface for a Never-Written Book


Every time I start writing a book I imagine it will be my last. That I will be dead before it’s finished or shortly thereafter. Somehow I need this fantasy to convince myself to start writing. To make the book I am starting feel important, not just one more in an endless series of the same. So now, as I begin writing this book, I once again imagine it will be the last. That if I make it to the end I will be making it to my end as well. I suppose we all need fantasies in order to help us get things done.

It goes without saying that everyone eventually dies. But, for the most part, it is stated only occasionally. It’s somehow not profound. If only one person died, and everyone else lived forever, that one death would be a spectacular event. However, the startling frequency makes it, in one sense, unremarkable, though in another sense it overwhelms us with its one-of-a-kind intensity. It is often said that human life is sacred and I’m never quite sure what precisely is meant by this sentiment. People die all the time, in war and through every kind of societal neglect. Perhaps saying that life is sacred is just another way of saying: I don’t want to die.

I remember a long time ago hearing an interview on the radio with a writer (I no longer remember who it was) who said that what every writer was most afraid of was dying in the middle of a book, of leaving their final work unfinished. But I think it would be perfect to die in the middle of a book, to leave something absolutely and irredeemably unfinished. Because, in reality, what is ever actually finished. René Daumal died in the middle of writing Mount Analogue. In a 1968 City Lights edition of the translation, the first version of the book that I read, the last paragraph is as follows:
‘I was dumbfounded. But they explained to me how it had all happened, according to the findings of the commission. They made the statement impartially, objectively, and today I would even say leniently, categorically. The old rat I had killed fed principally on a species of wasp common in that spot. But beyond a certain age a rock rat is no longer agile enough to catch wasps on the wing. Therefore he lived for the most part on the sick or weak insects who dragged themselves along the ground and could barely fly. In this way he destroyed the wasps that were malformed or carriers of disease. His unsuspecting intervention protected the colonies of heredity or contagion. Once the rat was dead, these afflictions spread rapidly and, by the following spring, there was scarcely a wasp left in the region. These wasps, visiting flowers in search of honey, also fertilized them. Without the wasps, a large number of plants which play an important part in holding the terrain in place
The book stops there, right in the middle of a sentence. So if I die in the middle of writing this book, publish it anyway.

Previous to the experiences recounted here, I did not ever think I would die because a bomb fell on me. Or even through a terrorist act. (I think terrorism is a government fiction. When we bomb its war. When they bomb its terrorism.) I thought I would die by cancer, a heart attack, a stroke, or some other phenomena that falls under umbrella terms such as unhealthy living, natural causes or old age. I particularly thought I would die of cancer. Almost everyone I know who has died has died either from suicide or cancer. Cancer is not a natural disease. Cancer is an environmental affliction created by man-made chemicals in our air, water and food. Therefore, we should not be searching for a cure for cancer. This is a red herring meant to distract us from the real culprits. Instead we should be protesting, legislating and prosecuting the corporations that produce and profit from the chemical world in which we live. Cancer is to our times as lead poisoning was to the Romans. A clear sign that the empire is falling. Thoughts like these had a lot to do with the basic reasons for my trip.


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