The Philosopher as a Young Madman

Each day that I remain trapped in the garbage I forget a little more what it is to cross the line…
…..– Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation

There’s a madman inside me and he’s hacking away, hacking and hacking until he strikes the final discord. Pure annihilation, as distinguished from lesser, muddier annihilations. Nothing to be mopped up afterwards.
…..– Henry Miller, Black Spring

Hell yea, might as well admit it: there came a point in my life when I entered that zone of no return, when I dipped below the register of custom and convention, when I exited the cage of the Human Security System and went totally bonkers. Yet, for some reason I worked through it, discovered in the great push to know things, to know God, to know the Absolute meaning of Life; all the bullshit and crapology of a typical madman…  yet, through it all there was something in me that kept me anchored, some apotropaic charm that defended me from myself, allowed me to annihilate my earlier selves and walk away unscathed, thought tinged and scorched by the torch of the Abyss.

Then I became godless and free, and like Henry Miller: a “Happy Chinaman!” One of those happy campers of the street, who like the troubadours of another ear wandered the among the worlds singing of pain and love. The laughter of goats, a sarcastic crap-artist a la P.K. Dick – a sort of psychotic druggy who’d pushed passed the barriers, entered the Abyss and discovered he and the abyss were one and singular. Taken my “night journey” down the rabbit hole and come out the other side if not clean as a whistle, at least a changed man… what else could one ask for? A tattoed man in reverse: the markings were rippling across time and space like a serpent with wings, hopping between the voids like a thought of being… Nietzsche’s “laughter of the gods!”. A post-nihilistic rocket-man with neary an axe to grind, but a lot of questions still unanswered. A Hessean Steppenwolf wandering the freezones of some parallel timeline… in search of strangeness.

It all started one bright sunny day when my mother asked me to come with her to the store. I followed her to my father’s old Biscayne Chevy he used for work, slightly moon-dust blue – if you like, with a radio that seemed to play nothing but Country twang – metal kettles and the zing of rhinestones. I remember sitting there in the car waiting for what seemed like eternity (my mother having gone back inside to retrieve something, telling me to wait that she’d be right back). So like an obedient son I sat there waiting, and waiting, and waiting: Sonny James blaring out of the hop-box… finally I’d grown impatient, hungry, tired, and downright hot. Beginning to think mom had abandoned the project, left me dangling in the car like a rodent snipping at the feeder cheese: she’d left me something like the Cheetos we have on the grocery shelves now, just closer to pig-skins dusted with cheddar, crunchy and cheesy.

Well, I got tired of this and decided to go back in and look for her. Bad mistake. I went in found my Dad slugging down a fifth of Bourbon he hid under the kitchen sink, my sis and grandparents sitting in the dining room chatting (yes, it was Christmas Eve of all days!), and from the other end of the house I could hear what seemed like and endless wailing coming down the long hallway leading to my parents room. I rushed down there and was about to enter when I saw my mom sitting up in bed, her hair disheveled, her make-up dripping down her face, and tears streaming out of her eyes as she shouted: “Get out of here! Now!” I was so frightened and disturbed by this sight I ran to my room and locked the door. I stood there in the dark for a few minutes, and then realized a couple things: my Dad was slugging whiskey, my Mom was crying, my sister and grandparents were joking and laughing as if nothing were happening. In my thirteen-year old mind I began piecing things together fast.

Funny how shocks will telegraph thought, bring extraneous, anomalous shreds and fragments of reality, memory, thought together in what seems like a momentary organized flash. I knew my father was cheating on my mother. I knew he was leaving us. I knew he was a louse. In that moment of realization I burst from the room and went out to the kitchen where he was still slugging down the whiskey (yea, he was a drunk to boot!). I then ran up and began hitting him, crying, and calling him every name in the book. I’ll not repeat that.

Then I remember running back to my room, turning off all the lights, getting down on my knees and praying not to God but to the darkness, to evil, to hate… to the negativity bouncing around in my brain till something happened, and I changed. I was no longer quite right in the head after that, a little out-of-kilter, out-of-joint, beside myself, a sort of walking dead man, a cool-cat psychotic in the nightmare just before the monstrous dream wakes up for real…. I’d entered a dark place from which it would be years before I returned, not to the same innocent kid but to someone who’d pushed the limits to the end of his tether, gone all the way to hell and back – not literally, of course; but the same thing, I’d gone a little mad. Thing is I hid it pretty well for a time.

I’d always been somewhat of a loner, a solitaire. Why? Not by choice, no – I figure it had a lot to do with my drunk dad who had a hard time keeping down a job. We used to move almost like clockwork from city to city every couple of years, so that by the time I’d adjusted to school, made a few friends, developed the usual light affair and rapport with the opposite sex… boom, we moved, and I had to start the process all over again. I think there came a time when I just gave up, quit trying to get close to people, began turning away, learning to live with my own thoughts, wander into the woods, desert, etc. just to not have to deal with the endless problems of overcoming emotions, prejudice, newness of being the “new kid on the block”. Maybe I’d always existed in the “in-between,” caught in the infinite loops of “and,” and… and… a sort of feed-back circuit that kept short-circuiting itself before it could get stuck in time. The “rotary drives” with a merciless movement between two abysses. Pandemonium expressway through an infernal paradise.

My parents were not religious per se, my mom had been a Methodist most of her life, yet during the fifties the Church had changed and become apocalyptic, preaching evangelical rapture and Billy Graham style sermons about the end-times, atom bombs, Russia, and the Devil coming back to take the world over, etc. Real fun stuff for a young kid, right? Wrong? By the time I was thirteen my head was filled with visions of hell and terror, H.P. Lovecraft and his progeny lined my book shelves. Crime novels, cartoon mags… all the super-heroes, anti-heroes, et. al. floated through my mind like some kind of endless reality TV show. That alternate world seemed more real that the one I lived in. So began my slow devolution toward a psychotic break…

Why am I bringing this up now? Confession time? No. Who gives a shit about some crank wannabe philosopher/poet and his whinny childhood traumas? No one, no one at all. Rather sometimes you just have to get the crap out, let it dangle in the wind, let the leaves drop where they may. I’ve talked about it before: I was a pulp-reader and never cracked a book from the cultural hives till long after I’d become an adult, long after my mad years, long after Viet Nam, my foray in University etc. No. I was just a bag of idiocy, a time-bomb waiting to go off.

That day in my room long ago when I gave myself over to darkness sent me into a nosedive. I began doing things I’d never done before, angry things, belligerent, rebellious, anti-Christian, atheistically and scientifically downright secular: I began reading popular science and books on death. Rock & Roll was in its sixties period and I soaked up Black Sabbath, the Stones, etc. I remember the day Rock-a-billy John Gale “Johnny” Horton crashed on bridge, driving a little too fast. When John F. Kennedy right there in black-and-white was shot. So many other little deaths here and there forming bits and pieces of a screwed-up narrative in my mind. And, most of all was the 1954 wreck my family went through when I was two-years old, my sister just a baby.

It had been a late night. My parents were coming back from Lubbock, Texas to Odessa to meet my Grandparents for Thanksgiving when some young punks decided to play a game of “chicken“. Three teenagers in a pick-up late at night were barreling down the road at 90 m.p.h. toward our car. My mom, sister, and myself were asleep. My Dad was little tipsy and sleep, too. Yet, he could see what was happening and began trying to slow down, as well as maneuver our old Pontiac out of the way. We were on the Andrews highway just out of town where they’d planted a few trees, shrubs, and cut some deep ditches on both sides of the high-way which kept my dad from moving off-road. Instead everything happened so fast that he tried to turn toward the trees, exit into an area in-between two of them, but too late, the pick-up bashed into the side of our car at 90. My mother’s door flew open, her neck broken in two places, her leg falling out, door then closing to almost sever her leg at the knees. My father plunged into the steering wheel cracking several ribs but staying conscious long enough to pull my sister and I from the wrecked vehicle. I’d been throw across the sit breaking my legs. My little baby sister had been thrown under the sits that had crunched up. She almost died of suffocation. My dad seeing my mom figured he better not try to move her so did his best to place his coat and clothing around her neck and stop the bleeding. The he passed out on the high-way where motorist found him. Called the county. All the rest is history.

Things like that must have an effect on one’s life. I don’t remember any of it. Just what was told years later when I began hearing about it. Some of my first memories were of my mother returning home for the first time after a year-and-a-half in the hospital and rehabilitation. Let’s face it this was 1954 and medicine was in the dark ages. Well, not that bad, but pretty bad in small town America. I remember her mouth had a funny clipped look about it, she didn’t speak or smile. Later I found out they’d stapled her mouth shut because of her broken neck and jaw, etc. Even after that long she was in a neck brace, harness, and crutches; bald headed, and pins sticking out of her skull where she had to hang by two chains at different times to take the pressure off her neck as it healed. Long story for another age….

When one looks back at that long dark foreground of what made one what one is it is usually not some idyllic world of paradise. No. It’s usually hell on wheels. Maybe that’s not true for everyone. At least I hope the hell not. But for me it was. Long before I’d read all those existentialists about death, freedom, and all the other intellectual garbage philosophers like to codify into reasonable linguistic traces… I’d lived it. More like a Kafka without the parables, more of a Celine in America – the violent ones instead of the Wild Bunch or Asphalt Jungle of the old 50’s cinema. Yet, for me it was growing up in little town Texas, Odessa… where everything was supposed to be normal: where the patriot worlds of mythic Leave it to Beaver and Andy Griffith told us that life was the American Dream. For me it was the Twilight Zone and Outer Limits – an nightmare America where things were more like Murphy’s Law – “If anything can go wrong, it will!”: whatever could go wrong usually did, and fast, and hellish in my world. No room for childhood games and sweet dreams. Oh, sure, I exaggerate: we did have fake birthdays, Christmas, vacations, etc… a sort of 50’s playback culture of TV commercialism played out in the home like a copy world of Capitalism in World of Tomorrow Disneyland.     

After my parents divorced. Yes, he ran off with a woman to California, left my sister, mom, and myself penniless and destitute. My mom working two jobs to make ends meet, too full of pride to accept help from my Grand Parents – else, just too embarrassed that they’d always been right about my dad and his abusive relation with alcohol, jobs, and life. Course he’d grown up with a drunk for a Dad, a mom that was a complete kook – she was a clean-nut, washing and re-washing her hands, his hands, furniture, floors, etc. trying to wash away her on whoreish ways (i.e., she’d begun selling her body for cash here and there, then pimped herself out to make ends meet when my dad grew up), an only child, etc. So he was probably already doomed before he met my mom. Pure animal instinct and seeking to marry into money: my Grandfather being an Oil Man, etc. LOL.. My grand dad died almost penniless, too, having bailed his brothers (five) out over and over… barely leaving my Grand Mother enough to live out her remaining days. Another story there…

So this brings me up to the edge of madness, of daemonic possession, LSD, my years wondering through communes, hippiedom, love-wet nights lost in the flesh of strange women, walking back alleys in search of a quick fix, being medicaled out of the Navy, etc. Blind, dumb, and alone: mind emptied and ready for something, anything; a shock. Shock therapy, or mental masturbation? Possibly the long turn back toward those pre-cursors of the dark mind, those laborers in annihilation and sleeplessness. Those philosophers of the night who discover in their own bleeding flesh the key of some strange life…

But I’ll have to tell that tale another day… enough of this… some may wonder: why the hell all these intimate details. Well, to expose oneself to ridicule, to open one’s self to everything, to show people what brought me to the philosophical point-of-view in my life this seems about the best way. Most people are afraid to expose what they were in that strange and tormenting world of their pasts, afraid of exposing the madness, the pain, frustration, beauty, love, light, darkness…

Maybe Henry Miller got into my blood, D.H. Lawrence, Lawrence Durrell, P.K. Dick, Rimbaud, Whitman, Burroughs, Ballard, Cioran and a multitude of others… who knows… then before all those I came upon Nietzsche, my  crime lord and demon master… he above all was my soul’s soul… the viper in the tongue, the bone in the craw, the crazed loner in the void of being… the shot in the dark of pandemonium that finally came home to roost, awakening in me a life, a death, a power – if not good, at least unbearably bearable: a paradox of madness finding its way out of the cage of despair, a wolf howling at the moon of the soul’s last chance, a violent gesture toward the emptiness of some energetic abyss… where all those daemonic harpies of the mind could fine release in another type of restlessness… no peace for the wicked in this or any other life, only the endless drift of pain and love, hate and joy.

This was my youthful nihilism… long before I entered the long haul into all those networks of books, friends, lovers that led to the mode of being I now AM…

to be continued…

7 thoughts on “The Philosopher as a Young Madman

  1. You write so beautifully. I think those dark nights of the soul tend to give people a powerful voice, one that simply insists on being heard, because it has a story to tell, it is a song in the making. I wish this wasn’t true, I wish no one had to suffer, but without all that angst, misery, and woe, without confronting those demons, there can be no great love songs or beautiful poetry, either. Heck, without endless heart break there would be no country music at all, which may well please some people, but the point being, there is great beauty to be found in our ashes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing. This lends gravitas to your philosophizing and poetics elsewhere. Damn, what is life!?!
    Yes, to hell(s) and back. Holding it, shaping it, recasting it, making sense of the chaos, shining a light into, speaking to the darkness(es)..

    Liked by 1 person

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