Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Could we be Heroes?


How many aspects of your character go unchallenged? How many teen-aged thoughts and conceptions still fill your head? Would you be better or worse without them? What are you clinging on to, and why? Big fat questions like these have been keeping me up at night lately. Some heckling homunculus at the back of my brain just loves to start shouting after, say, 1AM, on cue, like a barking dog.

I thought my pal JB would enjoy the Philip Roth interview I heard on Terry Gross' Fresh Air show yesterday. Roth is so strangely and completely convicted to his bleak notions of life and death, and I found the way he speaks, his sage inflexibility, fascinating in that superficial LA -driving-and-listening-to-the-radio way. But JB, who acknowledges Roth's greatness as a writer, was fairly non-plussed by the interview which he listened to with a gravity I'd not anticipated. Too grim, too spiritless he thought. That Roth has no poetry in his voice, no curiosity, or questions for the universe, no room for religion or even the possibility of even entertaining such "delusions" as he calls them, left JB mentally activated but also stuck with a lingering earfull of ugliness.

Why am I telling you this? Because my friend's sober reaction made me acutely aware of a part of my own system of delusions. Something might come of this.

You see, I had expected JB to share in my passing awe of Roth's outlandishness. But JB doesn't do awe or idols the way I do. He's really good at removing talented and high-achieving people from the pedestals we place them on, and relating to them on an equal footing. When you see someone this way (eye-to-eye instead of looking up their nostrils) the glow fades, the atmosphere is no longer warped, and fatal flaws and ugly truths can be extracted from the talent and the pixie dust. Is it a way of being able to say "no" to the good so that one day you might be able to say "yes" to the best? Is it a way of neutralizing the power of others? I'm not sure, but it's an important thing to be able to do as an adult: see people as people.

I guess I hold on to adolescent notions of heroes and idols. The act of looking up to people, fuels my imagination, and illuminates all sorts of interesting pathways I might take in order to achieve a similarly exalted status to the people I admire. I enjoy the buffer of fantasy this implies in dealing with the future. It appeals to my romantic nature and I can see that it's done me some good. I've taken risks I wouldn't dream of taking if I hadn't been egged on by my heroes. Somewhere in the processing plant of my perceptions, these people cease to be real people. They become externalized projections of the best of myself, calling to me from some imaginary, actualized future, like muses, or perhaps, sirens on the rocks?

But I am equally thrilled by the notion of living without heroes. Without external referents. Without buffers or dreamy tactics for evading the present. I can see the empowering effect such a choice has had on my friend. Of course, maybe I'm just idolizing again. Making someone else's grass as green as it can be. More stuff to keep me up at night.

There's a nice epigram by the Polish aphorist, Stanislaw Jerzy Lec. It goes...

"When smashing idols, save the pedestals... They may come in handy."

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