Monday, October 8, 2012

BOOK SPOTLIGHT OF THIS MOBIUS STRIP OF IFS BY MATHIAS FREESE



Title: This Mobius Strip of Ifs.
Authors:
Mathias B. Freese.
Publisher:
Feb 15, 2012

Date Published:
Wheatmark
Purchase Book:
Amazon, Barnes & Noble



About the Book:

In this impressive and varied collection of creative essays, Mathias B. Freese jousts with American culture. A mixture of the author's reminiscences, insights, observations, and criticism, the book examines the use and misuse of psychotherapy, childhood trauma, complicated family relationships, his frustration as a teacher, and the enduring value of tenaciously writing through it all. Freese scathingly describes the conditioning society imposes upon artists and awakened souls. Whether writing about the spiritual teacher, Krishnamurti, poet and novelist, Nikos Kazantzakis, or film giants such as Orson Welles and Buster Keaton, the author skewers where he can and applauds those who refuse to compromise and conform. A psychotherapist for twenty-five years, Freese conveys a unique combination of psychodynamic thinking and Eastern philosophy while examining Existentialism, alternative education, and Jewish values. His award-winning novel, The i Tetralogy, is a groundbreaking contribution to Holocaust literature and a critically acclaimed work of "undying artistic integrity." His short story collection, Down to a Sunless Sea, was published in 2008. At the core of these essays is the author's struggle to authentically express his unique perspective, to unflinchingly reveal a profound visceral truth, along with a passionate desire to be completely alive and aware.


Read the First Chapter:

                    
Babbling Books and Motion Pictures
     I thought it might be of interest to me, perhaps to you, to give the classic bibliographical list of books and films that are very much current in my mind, and for that matter, in my literary and cinematic genetic database. Here, first, is a list of books, stories or authors that have impacted upon my thinking and feeling. When I was a history major, I used to enjoy reading the bibliographical essays at the end of a book in which the author let his hair down and made comments about what he had read. I enjoyed the good-natured criticism or pleasure that the author had in excavating his pearls from the select oysters he chose. So it will be here.
     Living is not to be learned from books. Living has to be lived and learned from second to second. Memory is not living; recall is just a mnemonic device. I struggle to put away books and to go long stretches without reading them because they lose in comparison with a rigorous effort to attend to the moment, or what Krishnamurti called what is. His influence on me has been significant. Krishnamurti’s Think on These Things opens with a short essay, “The Significance of Education,” which is a dynamic and scathing indictment of what is taught. The kind of essay I’d give to a student of education and after he is through, I’d tell him to stop studying teaching and get a life. The Flight of the Eagle is a brilliant treatise (wrong word) about seeing, and the difference, if any, between the observer and observer, profoundly revelatory if you go with it. And finally, I’d suggest you read The Awakening of Intelligence, of life’s pressing questions done through dialogues in several European cities over the years. Krishnamurti was a remarkable human being and he writes with telling insight. If you play life safely, stay away; if you want him to embroil you into life, stay near. Not for the weak-hearted, and not for the dependent human being.
     As to plays, Sartre’s The Flies is the clearest statement of atheistic existentialism ever and a terrific play. The best introduction I had to Existentialism and a goddam delight to read. Miller’s Death of a Salesman moved me but Miller pulled his punch. It was a play about a Jewish salesman, for I feel Miller sanitized it for the public as he also kept the fact he had a retarded child away from the public as if some slur on his self (my personal crankiness about him). If you get a good translation, Moliere’s The Misanthrope is a soaring and scathing commentary on what each of us has to do to defeat the grind. It is also called the French Hamlet, although it is often performed as high comedy. I am trying only to list those artistic works that bring a sweet or sharp taste to my mind after all these years.
     As to short stories, I am always charmed and swept into the arms of Conrad, remembering his “The Lagoon.” Crane’s “The Open Boat” is a seamless story in which not one word is out of place, pure as a crystal goblet. Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles for its remarkable creation of a world; Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, absolutely brilliant science fiction psalm, title story in the collection. I am only, again, citing books that have moved me in one way or another and sometimes I remember only snippets or the tone and sometimes forgetting who wrote the story. What I consider perhaps as the greatest collection I’ve read for sheer humanity is Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. If you want epiphanies and glorious and practical insights about human beings, read and study him, in fact, Hemingway did just that and never gave Anderson his due.
     I move on. As to novels, Mary Renault’s volumes, The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea are magnificent recreations of ancient Crete in all its glory. I remember reading her description of a gem-encrusted saddle and I could almost touch the facets of the jewels; you want to learn how to write description—seek out that one paragraph (epic). The Nigger of the Narcissus by Conrad is profoundly psychological and it is like reading one of Freud’s works but it had magic for me and I was thrown off by its depth and brilliance, insights dripping off like juices on a sizzling steak.
     In middle age I read the book, but it had lost its initial hold on me, not its power. When I first read it, I knew I was in a room with a genius, not only a literary one, for this was no mere writer of sea yarns. He knew men. He knew their minds. The book, if it had Freud’s name under the tile, might very well serve as the master’s statement about group psychology. And while I’m on Freud, his Moses and Monotheism and Leonardo Da Vinci ate brilliant excursions into anthropology, history and literary criticisms, although recent scholarly discoveries have proven them in significant error. Both are examples of amaster at play whose data later on proved unsound but whose prose is wonderful
     One hasn’t read psychohistory until you read that very short essay that Freud wrote about Michaelangelo’s Moses holding the Decalogue; within a few pages he bombards your mind with sound conjecture, history, analysis all within that prose of his that winds about you. Seek it out. In fact, psychohistory began with this essay.
     A friend of Krishnamurti was Nikos Kazantzakis – all the great minds get to know one another. His three books saturated my mind – The Last The Last Temptation of Christ, Saint Francis and his confessional, Report to Greco. The writing is luxuriant, but not ornate; the great issues for each of us are explored and examined. Kazantzakis’s injunction, “Reach what you cannot,” has been my guiding light. I often cite him in my writings, to wit, “Overdraw me, Lord, and who cares if I break!” The man’s soul is a transcendental pomegranate, bejeweled with insight and feeling. Above all he make you feel! He wrote most of his novels in his seventies and long before that he wrote two volumes in verse describing the further adventures of Ulysses and by all accounts, he equaled Homer. I am indebted to him as a writer.
     I’ve enjoyed Mailer who puts his balls against the wall, who takes risks. He is very free and open in his writing. I admire his guts. I recall reading in the dull Fifties The Naked and the Dead. In order to be published Mailer had to substitute “fug” for fuck; at sixteen and very naïve I couldn’t make head nor tail of the word. At sixteen I also read Stendahl’s The Red and the Black, and I could not grasp the content but I did learn that Julian Sorel was a “parvenu,” and that one word has stayed with me for decades.
     Other writers come to mind. Buber’s I and Thou is a religious existential syrup as opposed to Sartre that draws you into the chocolate depths below. The appeal of existentialism was made in my twenties and I stil lam charged by its vigor and bravery in facing the stony silences of life and death. “Existence precedes essence.” You bet, it does! Camus’ essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” is forever intellectually thrilling. When a Nazi is at your throat and a church is not there, when god is absent, when asignificant other is not there, there is only you, and if you can fall deeply into that you will emerge stronger and freer. You will have defined yourself, regardless of your destiny. You will be inner-directed. And you will have no need to escape from your freedom.
     I enjoyed reading John Hersey’s The Wall, a terrific recreation by a non-Jew about the Warsaw Ghetto; his identification with the Jewish mentality was spectacular, his ability to identify really remarkable (a man of great humanity). Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is far from a children’s book but a very dark and scathing depiction of human beings, its misanthropy is a delight and pungent. At the end Gulliver is so sickened by human nature that he at first refuses to be rescued at sea—now that is a darkness to be relished. A masterful statement of how corrupt and forlorn we are as a species. After all, he wrote “A Modest Proposal,” a tract so tongue in cheek it was at first thought a serious effort which suggests in no uncertain terms that we eat little Irish babies so we can save capitalistically. The word Yahoo comes from Gulliver’s Travels, those lustful and licentious living groins beating their tummies for heavy-hitting sex.
     Let us casually move on to other tomes. Elias Canetti’s, Crowds and Power, is probably one of the best books of the 20th Century dealing with the psychological and sociological and emotional analyses of human beings in groups—he was a Nobel Prize winner, a novelist and it reads beautifully. His chapter on the African tribe, the Xhosas, “The Self-destruction of the Xhosas,” will make your shudder in its retelling of an actual event; his prose is impeccable. An uncanny and original work of science driven by the engine of a literary mind, what better introduction to real cognition and intellect.
     St. Exupéry’s small series of essays, Wind, Sand and Stars, is a mystical reflection on flight and simply sweet existential musings. In one essay he is forced to land on a sand dune in the desert. It takes off from there (no pun intended). Mysticism is hard to communicate in prose, but this small book captures something of that in a meditative series of short essays about flying over Saharan wastes, often at night. The moods are intense and the questions posed are for all of us.
     Loren Eiseley’s The Immense Journey is forever fabulous, poetic and science-driven in a palatable and often mystical brew. This is a man who was involved in the unearthing of a child’s mummy and then leaped into the vault and held the mummy close to him as the Egyptian day began to close, because he wanted to sense what it was like to experience this as if it were 3,000 years ago. This is a mensch! Eiseley was capable of communicating to the reader in wonderful prose the passage of millenia.
     Combining the thinking of a scientist who writes like the poet he was, his prose is entrancing. Again, all of the above left reminiscences within my mind, traces of having read something that touched me and that returns not necessarily to haunt or nag at me, but to wash across my mind in pleasure and fond remembrance.
     As a child I would often wander as part of my daily adventure into the local library across the way from the Tuxedo movie house on Oceanview Parkway just before the avenue turned to go into Coney Island. Here I took down from the shelves Harold Lamb’s book on Robin Hood. I plunged into it, deeply, profoundly, as its narrative swirled about and within me. Not one of the movies about Robin Hood contains what I am about to relate. Later in the book Robin Hood is wounded and is bled, which is a terrible mistake. Weakening, sensing his death upon him, he asks Little John to get his bow and give it to him. Lying next to a window, Lamb describes how this once physically powerful man who could string his bow in one move with one hand, with one strong flex of the bow, barely lifted it now and feebly shot an arrow through the window. It landed next to an oak and Robin tells Marian and Little John to bury him there. I believe the book ends with the bow draped across his marker with an epitaph. The death of Robin Hood told affectingly and with no schmaltz touched me deeply. I was very moved by the romantic sensibility of it all—I associate to Don Quixote and his library of romances. Something seeped into me, at that time, at that age, that shaped a sensibility in me. I did not have a similar experience until the late Sixties. I allowed myself to be transformed.
     Reading that book was like having my feelings kneaded by the powerful arms of a baker. I was touched, moved, wallowed in regret and sadness, sorrowed, very sorry for Robin, hurt deeply by the reading of his death. The power of his epitaph, the bow, and his last words gnawed at me in glorious Technicolor. So, as I look back I see the Sixties as touching upon this early imprint at eight or nine, revivifying its capacity to let in, absorb, surrender, give into, engage and be. And so I say to Jane who wrote a telling comment about my first reminiscence about the Sixties, it was an amalgam of a childhood revisited, of the conscious and feeling substrates within us all that carry a magical perfume that no manner of disparagement can damage.
     “Knowledge is death”—Nietzsche
     As to the movies of my mind before they became art works to be studied. I was deeply affected by movies. In the late 40s and all of the 50s my childhood was not glued (I actually played in the streets) to the TV set but to the actual seeing movies on the screen where they had much more impact. For its emotional impact, The Thief of Bagdad grabbed my heart. Starring June Duprez, John Justin, Conrad Veidt, and Sabu, the greatest screen adolescent ever, the film is now seen as one of the great epic fantasies ever put up on the screen—I can still hum a few notes of the magical score (The thematic music by Miklos Rozsa is deliriously sinuous, Borodin on steroids.), revel in the glorious Technicolor and find Veidt’s performance as the evil vizier and magician lithographed in fear and acid—a remarkable performance.
     I first saw Welles’ Citizen Kane at the Lakeland, an old movie house affectionately called the “Dumps,” in the 40s and I knew on some level I was watching something very special. How special? The burning of Rosebud burned in me for decades until I finally put it to partial rest by writing a few articles about it as well as other articles about early movies that moved me deeply. In fact the publisher of an old movie magazine that published some of my essays in the 80s just retired and published a book about his film magazine. Sure enough I’m listed in the table of contents. Goddam! The circle is complete. Got to buy that book! One other movie, The Search, starring the appealingly gentle Monty Clift, is about a soldier tying up with a waif in postwar Germany who is searching for his mother. This was unsettling and eviscerated my gut. The loss of a parent is mind-boggling and Zinnemann caught that in his direction as well as the Freudian undertones of abandonment, attachment and separation, as I reconsider it now. Remember when you are 8 or 9 you are in many cases just an empty vessel for what is put into you. It takes centuries of psychic time to turn all of that into feelings, observations and sympathies.
     I just got a 50 inch HDTV. Both my fiancée, what an odd word at my age, and my son, Jordan, 31, have urged me to make the purchase...so I have made merry. When Ben Hur makes his big move in the hippodrome, the chariot wheels brutally cross my bed. Films such as “Black Narcissus” (Michael Powell, director) come across vividly, and my childhood avatar, Sabu, plays a horny prince infatuated with the poor man’s Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Simmons. The psycho-sexual tones among the nuns is delicious as well as the repressed sexual hysteria. (Remember Simmons in “The Big Country,” Lean’s “Great Expectations,” and especially in “Spartacus.”) I am of a period and time some years before TV, the postwar years, in which movies ruled. I actually got in at a local theater for $.18. Expensive movie going in Brighton Beach was at the Tuxedo or the Oceana, here paying $.25.
     In any case, I’d like to share some movie titles with you, whether you are 25 or 75. I turned my son on to the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and he gave me Nirvana. So for you cineastes here is a selection for you to consider, some mild annotation, of course. The Man in the White Suit, savage satire of capitalism with a delightful Alec Guinness; Bitter Rice, with Sylvano Mangano, with thighs to rub deli mustard on and devour; The Red House (again, music by Rozsa),a sleeper with Edward G. Robinson, saturated in Freudian sauce; the ending is an unreal performance by Emanuel. See his Wolf Larsen in The Sea Wolf, amazing. Did you know he spoke eight languages? The Thing with James Arness as the carrot-like creature monster; Song of the South which is difficult to come by in these politically correct times. The title song, “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” won an Oscar and was wonderfully rendered by James Baskett, a “negro.” I was delighted by that film as a child, but then I never knew Jackie Robinson was a “negro,” he was just Jackie. Lumet’s The Pawnbroker, probably the best American film on the Holocaust, in which Rod Steiger lost out for an Oscar to Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou. Philistines ruled that year. Of course, Citizen Kane blew my neurons at the age of 8 or 9 in wonderful black and white.
     I’ll stop here and say that I still feel that Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is one of the greatest Westerns ever made; that Roy Rogers made carnal love to Trigger; that Flash Gordon as portrayed by Buster Crabbe with Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless is forever fabulous, art deco action gone wild. The Clay People who emerged and reemerged from cavern walls mesmerized me as a young boy. And for those that appreciate great sets and great sci-fi, see The Shape of Things to Come, screenplay by H.G. Wells. Pay particular attention to the last exchange of dialogue at the end, for it tellingly reverberates through all these years.
And this passionate spate is over.






Connect with the Author:

http://www.mathiasbfreese.com/

1 comment:

  1. this sounds like a great book

    teechbiz at gmail dot com

    ReplyDelete

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