This is serial number 2 of the novel The Confessor of Littlefield. Thanks to all of the intellectuals who have ever held high talk with me, both teachers and pedestrians. We help conceive each other amidst all the traffic noise. It is you who have helped me conceive this story. This excerpt has more poetry in it than any of the excerpts, so I included tags for poetry in case this posting is of interest to those who feel like reading short poems. The style is loosely aphoristic, with sections marked with a “Z” between them.
The Confessor of Littlefield
serial number 2
(Voices at arm’s length)
Adam Umbrian – the narrator. He is 44 years old, a Puerto Rican/Chinese American who grew up in foster care homes in any small town that pockmarks the Great Lakes. His narration is of a Freudian nature as he attempts to order the story he is writing. His narration begins as a search for coming to terms with the deeply structured prejudices and resentments of the language used by others in daily life. He seeks contentment in resolving the problem of the language of alienation by sculpturing a novel representative of what he perceives. Part one of the novel is Adam’s recapitulation of characterization and stereotype. The Cliffnuts, Jimmy, Sgt. Ross, the Latinos who live in the upstairs apartment, as well as Deputy Drumpf, each contribute aspects of themselves to the characters Adam creates in the story he tells of Bill Dinklpfuss and John Hapflik in the second half of the novel..
The Confessor – the loner in the midst of company. He is both author and narrator, persona and shadow. He is the multifaced self and the one who orders all the faces. He mistreats his characters to show things about himself he is loathe to face. The loner who is sort of despised by others but usually for the wrong reasons, based on prejudice, fear, and hate.
Different archetypes of this type of creature:
The gargoyle looks like an angel, or is the real face of an angel but in local idiom becomes the face of evil, the adversary because of the fear of the other based on appearance.
Edwin Umbrian – He is a straw man, the confessor in that he is the object, the symbol by which those who come into contact with him address their own shadows. He is their conception of a part of self that is loathed. He is a Lutheran shepherd for the lord and an atheist, both author and subject. He is the other, the Jungian shadow, at once, gargoyle and Buddha, archangel and fallen angel.
Bill Dinklpfuss – person who collected the notebooks of his friend, John Hapflik and tried to write a novel about him but appears to have given up. Bill writes with a personal poetic diction. His poetry and notes about the activity and environment have provided the information used to conceive his persona.
John Hapflik – Bill’s classmate, born in the same month, August, 1941. The Hapflik’s move to Littlefield when John is in the 2nd grade and take over the auto repair and salvage business started by Bill’s father, Rupert, in the 1930’s.
Virginia Dinklpfuss, nee Haskins (Virgie) – Bill’s mother
Rupert Dinklpfuss – Bill’s father
Clara Kinsdorf – Virgie’s lover, only person Bill experiences as a mother
Hiram Hapflik – John’s father and Bill’s father figure. Bill admires Hiram and presents him as an even tempered man, open to different ways people look at things, willing to allow for differences; qualities which he doesn’t identify with Rupert. In fact, he is happy his dad left him as a 7 or 8 year old, and expresses gratitude for it toward something he calls “the infinite,” which sounds like a God of philospher’s value, not a preacher’s.
Rita Hapflik – John’s mother. She is of an unshakeable evangelical faith. She lost 2 brothers in WWI. She grew up with MacArthur as the family and local hero. Her older brother Ralph moves to Littlefield in the early 1950’s and frequently visits his sister. With their conservative and nationalist views, the two are antagonists to Hiram’s unionionist sentiment.
Calvin Christian Dyme, Calvin Christian Dyme II, Calvin Christian Dyme III – Baptist dairy farmers who act as witnesses for their lord by talking about redemption and being saved with everyone they meet. They are Bill Dinklpfuss’ lifelong antagonists.
Main theme: Identity and alienation. The I and its homunculus, the We and its homunculi.
Building the Homunculus
Edwin Umbrian lives upstairs. I hear the floorboards jeer when he walks. He wears a moth-feeding coat, greenish more than brown, as if it were being worn inside out. His face sags melting, ginger pock marked skin over tight jowls; a slight, close trimmed mustache quivers over stained teeth and there is always a bilious drool on his lips. He is a gargoyle in blue moonshine when he dredges the Cliffnuts’ pool at night. I lie to myself I am dreaming when I see him.
It is unclear what I see as him. Tickles of fear shock the arches of my feet like electrodes of emotion jolted by the touch of an unseen mover from another dimension; myself perhaps, a higher or separated watcher, overseer; what I formerly referred to as intuition. This unseen power that orders, configures, creates a body into being: where does this originating power come from, this power I use to create others?
He lurches, springs and recoils when he talks, enunciating gestures of that unseen other who at times betrays its existence with disharmonious intention. If I can see him so can others; and each to his own greets him as though he were known by me. For I know it is me when I am seeing the appearance of another, and the things I see in him are the things I see in myself; mood and emotion as the aging baby on your back pleading and demanding to make something of yourself in the eyes of others because all others have their own separate other.
Edwin Umbrian descends the stairs; the steps squealing like a gaggle of penguins given laxatives. Edwin Umbrian on stick legs and stooping, smelling of aqua velva; he lifts his lip in condescension. “Have you given yourself to the lawd?” he spews. The gargoyle on his shoulder gives me an evil leer as Edwin inclines his ear.
“I think you got dog shit on your shoe,” I say. “A pity, and on the lord’s day.”
“Gawd don’t give a damn whatcha smell like,” Edwin fumes.
“God ain’t Mrs. Cliffnut,” I sigh. “Or perhaps, you, with shit on your shoes, know more about Mrs. Cliffnut than I.”
Edwin Umbrian looks back at me as he crosses the yard and steps over Mrs. Cliffnut’s flower bed. Yes, I see you Edwin, sneaky as the breeze, your internal organs like a worm swathed in a shaggy tent, cradled in the branches of a tree. Go forth from your tree tent and alight like a glow worm to a small desert town where they take more kindly to itinerant preachers. You can share the bible, teach tai chi to panhandlers until you wear out your welcome.
With what words does he speak to you, Edwin, the one who tells you who you are? Who sorts out your compartments of functionality and marks them with euphemisms? Who is it who tells you to say things that you do not wish to say but must for some reason? Does he wish to see everyone understanding and learning, debating, and learning from their disagreements, while accepting that we must kill one another at times? Did this other teach you that killing is very much agreeable when it comes to hate? I have hate, Edwin, for that which I am not strong enough to condemn, and for which I must mollify by extending a hand of self effacing respect. I am a funerary agent for an advanced culture of micro organisms; an exemplary executor of public protocol; organizer of throngs, of litmus tests for injustice to our being and existence. But I will not be the deacon who offers you the wafer on Sunday and an eviction on Monday.
Edwin, who is the funeral assistant with the constant snarl and the ten thousand dollars worth of jewelry on his fingers as he offers a slack hand shake; do you take your clothes off for him, or does he, for you?
Edwin the seer
looks at the girls with a leer
and for the who man passes by
and gives him the eye
a passive aggressive sneer
Edwin Umbrian, yours is a peculiar fate
with a garden hose in one hand
the other holding the gate
for Connie Cliffnut
Mrs. Cliffnut will look at you through the window sometimes when you don’t see, and shake her head and mouth words that for the life of me are the words I would hear from some mean football or basketball coach, looking ridiculous as can be in a suit and tie and layered hair that doesn’t seem to breathe. “I just can’t understand anyone who won’t get out “there” and compete,” I once heard the woman in a suit and tie say as she glared. And I couldn’t help but stare at the manly way her hair stood at attention above her ear. I felt sorry for her. I heard she died quickly after sinking into Alzheimer’s disease.
“All the world around you is depraved, not just men and women,” Edwin’s baritone voice bellowed. If it weren’t for the Lawd you’d all be spending an eternity living a life exactly as you awr; only it would be interrupted every ninety years by a period of limbo from which you emerge as an infant again and you have forgotten who you are.
Once you realize the sound is coming from your mouth, Edwin, does it still tell you what to feel?
Edwin Umbrian says that there is a priest at the gate where you enter each day who judges your fate and sends you on your way. He makes you do good despite yourself. I despise myself. I despise you, Edwin Umbrian. I do good things because they make me feel good. You see the children as I see them. All crouched over, always on the run. And the eyes that look after you when you walk away. What is the source of the presumption in your air when you look at my shabby clothes and squinch? You have personified others, to be fair; I cannot be the first. Perhaps I am a convict, a cur, or some other immoralist. You who stopped to hear my smokened toothware (sometimes accompanied by a boozy stare) from one whipping post to another, in union through no fault of our own; one, an atheist, the other, convinced he is Calvin and Jonathan Edwards rolled into one; together in a death match between good and evil.
“Plato said we are born with innate ideas, the spark of knowledge. And to my unrefined mind Chomsky says the same thing with his deep structures. Chomsky implies we all have the ability to understand language as precognition. It could imply either creation or evolution. Plato begins at the dawning of our awareness and Chomsky brings the same sort of world of forms to present day. Plato plays God the Father and Chomsky, Jesus Christ.”
Professor Cliffnut is erudite and a bit of a bore at times. He dismisses my analogy and starts in.
“Innate ability doesn’t mean the forms have been hardwired in the brain. “Folk mythology and Pop science are usable to attain knowledge. For example, Henry James holds value for the intellectual historian. Linguistics and psychology are both built upon philology and the ontology and epistemology of systems of past thought. A Dionysian or an Apollonian can stamp his forms on Sandburg’s sergeant urging his soldiers, “come on, you sons of bitches. What, do you wanna live forever?” Both can come round to mean anything.
“Plato, with his spark of knowledge and the primary forms that exist outside the material world is an early human attempt at the psychology of language. Flash forward to the twentieth century where Saussure looks at the I and how it articulates itself with its langue and parole. You have Chomsky looking at deep structures, surface structures, the sentence as performance…”
The professor can be a long winded motherfucker and I have to admit that sometimes his voice is like a wave of particles upon which I am floating. Once in a while a feel a tug on the line and I go under and then come to. My network of awareness tunes in, extending feelers and sensors for information; for a performance that would lead Professor Cliffnut to believe that I am following him.
I am a creature of language, Edwin Umbrian. I cannot make myself invisible even if I can’t see myself in the mirror. My mind is a compartment of modules that cannot be split, only hidden in a funhouse of mirrors. My brain has two hemispheres joined by a corpus callosum: the spark across the divide; the father and the son. Like Descartes, I am aware of myself comprehending and I accept myself. I make new sentences which I haven’t heard before. I am maker of the exact and inexact, words against a wall that fall into Being. I come into Being through my own sentences spoken to myself; each idea proceeding from the source across the divide. My mind is its own finger of the father in Michelangelo’s painting emitting energy across synapses. Material and motion is started; symbiotic network in conjunction stutters forward. The father’s finger is poking at my palm as mom rocks me in the carriage. I awaken to my little hand around his thumb.
The serial killer is not interested in field work; his is an issue with syntax; how to best serve the master who has created him. He gives his life for his characters and kills them; causes them to expire at his whim. All day, trailing in the wake of thought, ideas and motivations not acted on, only considered, he plays “what if” with controlled scenarios; what if the control groups are altered this way and that. His is the story of the fruition of idea.
The BTK killer had a frighteningly soulless face; a blank slate which even the cleverest programmer couldn’t bring to life; the face that made the I appropriate hate and bring it to bear with its bare hands. Face in the mirror is the master with a slave massaging its brain. Mind and language are one. Natural I, appropriated I. How many selves a person’s history could uncover, conceived or perceived, can all be perceived differently than I have conceived or perceived them
“Plato or Chomsky?” asked Professor Cliffnut. “Innate forms or innate ability?”
I say Chomsky is the observer tuning in mid-film and seeing all of the sentence structures that point to the universal ability to distinguish syntax; the evolved noun combinations, adjectives and verbs that speakers enjamb, conjoin and adapt to create sentences. But to say one is born with the forms in the brain, or that a universe of forms are imparted or taken possession of sounds like Edwin Umbrian’s possessive Calvin Christ unconditionally granting grace while calling his children rebellious for seeking understanding on their own; for taking possession of their forms pragmatically.
“But don’t forget, God’s grace is limited,” says Edwin.
“No, it’s not, Edwin,” I respond. It’s in the produce section. A fresh batch is delivered every day.”
The cones and rods of the eyes give the brain some primary colors to use. The brain would have to be hard wired to utilize the information from the eyes’ cones and rods, unless I am to believe that the eyes have superior functionality to the brain and have programmed themselves to transmit data in some useful way to the network. Who intends the eyes into their function; the eyes themselves or the brain that directs their use and organizes the data?
The I and the We, the authors of Me, interconnected to conceive with reason for an evolving gene on an intragenerational rampage, being and conceiving at exponential rates, the education of an entire generation but a few moments of summary in a survey course. Language at the speed of light exploding, rocketing forward with reason hanging on for deal life, with its Freudian language of I, We, It, and the voices in the mind’s I conjuring straw figures.
To be or not to be is not a question, Sartre dismissed it and jumped straight to I am and I do not have a choice of being or not being. I am a common man, Edwin Umbrian, you have told me so countless times. And I admit it is so. If I dismiss language for a moment I see a man preparing food and eating and digesting until the snake in the cage whines again for something to devour. In between feedings its other motivations are sluggish, with the energies of life being appropriated by a We of values that we reflect by our successful involvement in consumerism.
I am not an activist, like Edwin Umbrian. All I things become politics when the We starts batting them about and sizing them up for context. My words become causes and signifiers of signs for ideas. The I and the We, identity and alienation are the natural processes of a network of symbiosis feeding on words and making them holy. Consciousness, awareness, material reworking itself, always reprogramming, deprogramming, restructuring; a network of adaptive modules with a sense of self. There is a mysterious holder of a spotlight on my human structure as I perform some sort of action. It is the chief node in a network of sensations, reason and will; an appointed provincial representative, subject to the legislative actions of misfits and dysfunctionaries always in the midst of some quibble or another.
Bishop Ishmael brings forth the blessing, while the collective wooden folding chairs of the country congregation quiver with infirmity. A gaggle of old ladies clucks over a screeching child while Bishop Ishmael kisses the cross. At that moment, the infant’s breath is taken away.
A shelf in the library marked:
AMERICAN INTELLECTUAL HISTORY
On the shelf is a video course titled: The American Mind
The voice of other this evening is a professor of American intellectual history, a historical revisionist who dismisses all American intellectualism as ending with Josiah Royce. He dispatches Emerson’s influence as an intellectual by erroneously presenting him as a hater of books and misconstruing the intention of the American Scholar. He offers that Emerson had no need for scholarship and denounced books and writing.
That is absolutely false.
Emerson presented the American pragmatic theme of finding out for yourself; taking responsibility for the things you say and do instead of simply accepting what you are told. To suggest that he means to stop reading and stop studying, stop researching; that is something I imagine a foreigner would say who was disingenuous about truthfully understanding the mind, let alone the common American intellectual from the Great Lakes. I am thinking of Tocqueville’s criticism of American life.
I read Stephen Whicher’s essays on Emerson’s American Scholar and learn Emerson, along with being from a line of Calvinist ministers, was influenced by Coleridge and Carlyle. I imagine he must’ve read them in order to be influenced by them. The professor of the American Mind also attacks Harvard for its institutionalization of scholasticism, making the point that there are other universities of import in American intellectual history. The professor is a voice of We. He is sarcastic towards the individualism of Emerson and attacks him to tie up loose ends for his neoconservative presentation.
For a few weeks I find myself at the library, stepping into the mid 1800’s and examining the values and standards of academia, summarily studying the history of the Great Lakes, wallowing in its structure, language of generations of newspaper editorials; the popular language of period and the ideas of art and literature which they reflect. (R)Calvin, (L)Luther, (R)Aquinas, (L)Augustine, (R)Plato and (L)Aristotle. Where would Emerson fit into the intellect of someone from a Great Lakes small town 150 years after his death? As I age, I empathize with the stages of Emerson’s thought; I have become more skeptical about my hopes for humanity. Yet, it’s potential has infinite possibilities. The Calvinist values of Emerson’s lineage always checked him like a group of vicious women looking on from a distance and snickering about something or another.
From a distance, each object of value is collectively made into a fiction, a zombie straw monster acting out whatever stupid thing the group has grasped hold of, to tear down, to dehumanize. Every self is a real person with whom few have any meaningful dialog but it doesn’t matter because that person is just acting out an assigned value to them.
The video professor suggests Emerson was an entertainer orator in an age when that sort of thing was popular. The professor begins talking about Emerson’s influence on Whitman and I reflect: the grain of spirit, the spark of the father in Michelangelo’s painting is likened by Emerson to the spirit given by God. Emerson, more accurately, was a spiritual pragmatist; a biographer of the intellect. He was a Doctor of Divinity from Harvard and perhaps that is what the professor on the video really doesn’t like.
He also identifies Emerson too strongly with the Transcendentalists. Emerson was not a Transcendentalist later in life. His letters reveal a dislike for the group; Amy Bronson Alcott disliked his selfish idealism, he was appalled at her one size fits all ideology. Whitman, it should be noted, is also given cursory notice in this “History of the American Mind.” My own assertion is that most American poetry is given its place in history because of Walt Whitman. Emerson is at least the shadow spirit of the American poet.
Emerson with his spirit born in the mind gives me pantheism or monism, depending on how I order my ideas. Nietzsche was inspired by Emerson’s themes; the estrangement of the individual and society, the battle to become, to understand as much for the self. Nietzsche and Emerson believed in the will to self power. Both were children of a lineage of ministers, Emerson’s Calvinist, Nietzsche’s Lutheran. Good children learn responsibility because they have to survive. It is the responsibility of individuals to be their own scholar and to assume leadership of their own education. The voice of the divine is not that of the pope or the minister, but that which is in the heart.
Don’t look at the written word to describe nature, said the Empiricists, look at nature. The Royal Society of England in 1662, under King Charles II, as well as Galileo said, “don’t look in books.” This is the same spirit which Emerson alluded to in American Scholar. This doesn’t mean to give up scholarship. The reference is to an Aristotelian scholastics that taught formal knowledge from the classics. Empirical studies are necessary to know the world we live in. Knowledge isn’t to be gained by memorizing formulas. The Enlightenment is what Emerson was thinking about when he repeated the words of Galileo and of the Royal Society of England in the American Scholar.
Dionysus – passion overwhelms the character
Apollonian – the pictorial imagery of the spectacle
Nemesis – the divine punishment that determines the fall or death of the character.
Plastic arts – Apollo
Non plastic arts – Dionysus
The Professor Wrongfully Asserts That Emerson Had No Use For Books
Proferring dispossesing dualist phonemes
with dentals bruised by laryngils,
pincers of teeth and a tongue that lashes the laurels
of oracular denizens dismissively,
He c”Ack”lz with an “AX”cent disquietly spoken
so as to arrange a row of ducks
in the barker’s mouth as he calls his sentences
with the pulled together fingers
of a professor enunciating
I see, I see, over and over;
there, it is not walt whitman
standing by the cabbage and
brussel sprouts but allen ginsberg
with his eye on a baby cantalope
and some fuzzy peaches
Edwin Umbrian, who gave you a job
which they could depend on you to perform
with decorum and diffidence
to your superiors
when you recognize no superior?
Who formed the hair you wear,
the weight you bear,
that stiff ass you sit on
do you remember when you almost hit me
coming out of the driveway
and I was just driving by and looking away
and when you stopped your car
short just in time
and you mouthed some foul words
and assured me they were God’s?
You who will not be judged by any other
than the one who created you
not your mother’s nor your father’s God
Remember, that is what you told
the mother of the two men
you shot with a pistol
after inviting them off the road to fight
because one’s girlfriend
who was driving the car
was engaged in a tit for tat battle
with you, and the boys were sticking
up for her
It’s not that you won’t be judged
it’s that you won’t accept judgment
because you are most certainly being judged
by everyone. The We your I is a part of is
The Me of your We be judged
local court has its own jury
while an eagle,
nasty beast of the air,
sits at the top of the sky
keeping an eye out
To read the rest of the novel just go to roamingsnyder.com. The novel is the landing page.