I asked my friend Frank Dixon if he would be my first guest blogger here. He agreed. The following text, which is excerpted from his e-book The Several Roads to Serfdom, is his contribution. Frank has previously published another (physical) book titled Spinoza's God. I'm pleased and honored to have Frank appear on my blog.
I do not intend to burden you with long excerpts from the novel, only a small part Catherine particularly enjoyed and about which she made a remark pertinent to the story unfolding here. The words Catherine liked were spoken by my novel’s hero during a disturbing period of his life. He was mourning the proximity of the St. Elizabeth’s asylum and a sewage treatment plant to a beautiful flock of geese he had seen flying in over the Potomac River. His lamentation refers also to a derelict man my hero had seen sitting on the curb, crying into his hands at Laurel Race Course in some distantly prior time. I have to print the excerpt here so you can understand Catherine’s comment, and so I can relate her comment to my inquiry into Hayek’s book.
Ever since Joanna [the hero’s current lover, not another name for Catherine] seduced from me the words describing that broken man, a thought has started recurring, unbidden. It’s of the birds and their sunlight, and of the asylum. Maybe this stretch of road also helps the image appear. When I pass this way I’m turned from my internal gears and pulleys and shoved out into the world of feeling things. I start thinking thoughts far different from those of the machine who sees numbers and bets accordingly.
We’ve deluded ourselves into believing the birds and the morning light atone for the stench of Blue Plains and for the depressing idea of St E’s. We believe the beautiful things of the world are somehow separate from the ugly things, that pure, God-like forces and evil, satanic forces, working apart from each other, create separately identifiable molecules of reality; and we believe that if we can make ourselves rich enough, smart enough, thin enough, or numb enough we can completely surround ourselves with the products and notions of goodness, and all ugliness will disappear.
Artists create similar illusions. The painter isolates a flock of geese, takes it up out of the world and sketches it on canvas. The edges of his picture separate the beautiful scene inside from the horror beyond. Framed there, the birds exist simply as a flight of geese, elegant and unconcerned. But in the artless world of horses and men, the real geese appear in the same frame with the metaphorical geese cooped up behind the fence at St E’s. Only one picture exists, only one world, the beautiful and the grotesque kept apart by a kind of blindness. And no matter how many mechanical routines I put into place to insulate my life, I cannot separate the ugly and the beautiful. They’ve fused into an amalgam of themselves, destroying the possibility of parts. The bright shining wholeness that contains geese-geese and human-geese as beings occupying the same universe, pours over the edges of the frame, into everything outside, dazzling and stunning the frail view of prettiness to which the simplicities of the eye fasten our gaze. Staring into the light of that brightness, I cease my existence as an imperturbable machine and enter the world of sorrow, not simply brother to the man crying on the curb, but substantially, actually, him.
Catherine reminded me of the persona confusion the passage may create in its readers. “I do not normally think of horse players as people who speak that way, or think that way.” But I let that part of her comment slide. Persona relates primarily to matters of style; it typically has nothing to do with meaning. That part of her comment was, in any event, only an oblique mention. The important thing she said about the piece had nothing to do with style, and everything to do with meaning.
“You’re a Spinoza freak, and that explains the dual aspects you have given the asylum, the sewage plant, and those ‘beautiful’ geese. You’ve made St. Elizabeth’s and Blue Plains sound like bad things, when actually they’re good. Try to imagine all those crazies running loose, all that sewage piling up in the streets. And those geese! God, but they sh_t a lot! [She actually deleted the profaning letter.] You clever devil! You’ve taken those beautiful institutions, and those ugly geese, and have shown how our minds can be made to tremble back and forth between the two different ways those things, and all things, can be made to appear, the beautiful and the grotesque together, their physical reality overlaid by feelings.”
Compliments come my way too infrequently to be cavalierly cast aside, so perhaps I should not tell you that Catherine gave me credit where none was due. But truth is too dear to be shucked for a kind word. I may not know what Neil LaBute had in mind when he wrote The Shape of Things, but I swear that Catherine’s thought was nowhere near the mind of Frank Dixon when he wrote that lyric. I had actually traveled the Anacostia Freeway. I had actually seen that man sitting on the curb at Laurel. I had felt the recurring, pulsating depression. The scene was not created. It was reported.
But Catherine was right. I am a Spinozista. I should have been conscious of the way the eternally reverberating appearance of things and thoughts about things distorts reality. I should have seen that everything that attracts our attention comes packaged in an envelope of emotion. And even as I write these words, I begin to see that even if the scene from the novel were reported, it was not merely reported. The words of the report—each individually selected—were products of an emotionally driven process. I may have intended to write an objective account of a series of phenomena, but more than the objective world made its way onto the paper. I could not separate the words describing the things I intended to report from the ocean of feelings in which they swam. As the piece makes clear, all is One, even those things which seem isolated from the rest.
Copyright © 2012, Frank Lonzo Dixon, Jr.
I am self-educated, having graduated without honors from Murphy High School in Mobile, AL in 1949. I worked many jobs at gradually increasing pay, and retired in 1994 as a computer security guru. I live now with my dear wife Bonnie in the Virginia Blue Ridge. I look vaguely like the attached pic which was taken about four years ago. The date of my death is not scheduled.