Somewhere This Side of Hell

He felt like howling. —Harry Crews, A Feast of Snakes

Some writers hold a dark mirror up to your face and speak to you so close that their breath is your breath, their thoughts are your thoughts, their lives are your life. Harry Crews brought that home to me in a way that is not good, but real. Sometimes looking back at where you came is more terrible than gazing down the pipe at where we’re going. Having crawled out of the snake pit of my own past I learned to hate it, despise it and the people who like shadows of another world inhabited it. And, yet, I could never quite disown it or displace it. Like anything else in life there are some things you just have to grow out of rather than escape.

There is no redemption for people like us, instead all there is can be summed up by the word hate. But that’s not a bad thing as some might suppose, because sometimes hate is what spurs one on toward another kind of life. Not believing in so called progress, or human improvement I’ve come to realize the best we can do is learn a few defensive tricks against the stain of existence. One doesn’t seek salvation, only ecstasy of pain. When Nietzsche spoke of Dionysian pessimism he was a little off-his-rocker, for no one in his right mind would want to live over and over and over again the Same thing, the Same life to all eternity: that would be the masochist’s dark salvation. And, for most of us, there can be no redemption; not even the redemption of violence. That, too, is a myth of our American exceptionalism: a sort of road way kill zone to eternity. Yet, the one central fact of existence is its violence, and some say it’s the one redemptive clause in an eternity of darkness.

Instead one has to look into that dark mirror with stone cold eyes so one doesn’t forget what one is, something like a character in Mystic Georgia somewhere this side of Hell:

“Maybe it was because of the trophies, the signed game balls that had been bronzed and mounted, the High School Back of the Year award for all of the state of Georgia, the certificate for playing in the High School All-American Game in Dallas, Texas, and two whole shelves of trophies and certificates from track. As a stranger might have, he watched them now above his sister’s nearly covered face with only the dark hair and frightened eyes showing. They seemed, those bronzed images of muscled young men caught in straining, static motion, they seemed in no way to have anything to do with him, nor ever to have had anything to do with him.

“They seemed in fact to have been an accident. Like his sister’s madness. It had just happened. Nobody knew why or apparently would ever know. He was stronger and faster and meaner than other boys his age and for that he had been rewarded. He had even suspected that he was smarter, too. For whatever reason, though, the idea of studying, of sitting down and deliberately committing facts and relationships to memory was deeply repugnant to him. And always had been. Unless it had to do with violence. He liked violence. He liked blood and bruises, even when they were his own.”

– Harry Crews, A Feast of Snakes

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