Stanley Cavell, 91, has died. An unparalled, original writer whose influences included Wittgenstein, Thoreau, Emerson, Austin, and a range of popular mediums including photography, movies and music filled my life with a succession of essays and books as exciting and relevant as any written during the past five decades. A few tributes trumpeting his brilliance are listed below. If you don’t know his work, give him a look and you’ll probably want to read more.
From the The New York Times, from the The New York Review of Books…Google Cavell’s books on Amazon. A lifetime of stimulating, human questioning of the big ideas, discussed in penetrating ordinary language, awaits you.
“Three-fourths of philosophy and literature is the talk of people trying to convince themselves that they really like the cage they were tricked into entering.” – Poet Gary Snyder
This is an excerpt from my unpublished travel book, part of a series of vignettes.
The Babylon Club is open and there’s a chaotic clash of beautiful Asian ladies and a scattering of Thai hipsters, expats and visiting foreigners. You’d never believe it, unless you were here to witness the scene that unfolds every night. It’s what brought back all the old foreign farts, especially the Americans. Most of them went through Vietnam. Now they’re collecting pensions and sowing the last of their sperm bank. A lot of them had Asian Romance curled into their genes before they’d had real girlfriends, a return visit guaranteed, at least for the die hards, the ones who believed in the 60s, who knew acid wasn’t just a leisure drug. It was the Burning Bush.
Emerson, Huck’s escape, Thoreau’s escape. Such people have watched four decades of the Real America evaporate before their eyes. Those that should and could live in the East now, content to jump into the flow, roll with the waves, lock in to the clock in their mind and body, for all it’s worth, or die trying. Like where Dylan sings, “We’re gonna drive until the wheels catch fire and fall off.” That Dylan unconsciousness, summoning Kerouac’s lonely highway. Three beers or a few straight shots of Mekong Whiskey will burn out the old farts’ fire for the night.
It chills me how many old men I see at the hospital and recognize them as night prowlers. Standing up from a table for them is damn near as embarrassing as looking in the mirror. The ticking clock, nearly God Damn frozen already, including their privates. But give credit where it’s due. If it weren’t for the inventor of Viagra, there would be a hundred thousand fewer old men living in Asia now.
Let’s see now, The Tonic Rays band is cranking up. Tasty musicians and magicians. You can get enough 60s music here in one night to awaken a month of memories. Now here’s two grinning punk Thai hipsters circling two Chinese girls. Fun seekers are staring hard now, and what do they see? This old guy with baggy jowls, flaccid muscles around the biceps, white hair, a paunch belly and lips so frozen they forget how to smile, a cardinal sin in the Land of Smiles. I ask myself why do I look this way? Who’s that? It has everything to do with that rainbow-colored, psychedelic wheel that’s spinning around the day-glow Buddha image behind the bar, garish as hell, postmodern religious symbolism, perfect for the Second Millennium, right? Buddha and Marley. And Elvis, and you name it.
With time, you’ll walk in my shoes too, punks, just liked I’ve walked in yours, to far better music if I do say. Why does all the good music go back to my generation? I’m in paradise now. We’ve got the Marley portrait behind the bar, the green, red and yellow Rasta colors everywhere you look, the white and red Chinese lanterns swaying high in the trees, Chinese and Thai hookers, even more amateurs prowling around, wives and lovers, horny young and old men, all nodding to the Rasta beat. It astounds the Asians how the old farts are even awake this time of night, much less looking for the sweetest ladies here.
Tonight there’s something new. Israeli Army soldiers, probably on leave, close-cropped black hair, still tensed up in military postures, plus a few Afghanistan War exes, all with the same brooding, silent pose, unsure around the casual, fun-loving, friendly Thai lovelies. One American, a giant of a man, a walking oak tree, circles a table of Thai ladies several times. Thinking he sees the future, he grabs a tiny Thai lady and throws her over his shoulder while spinning in circles. Her girlfriend, rising only to his belt buckle, screams at him to put her down – “she’s afraid.”
The Jolly Green Giant puts her down, embarrassed, gives her a monstrous wai with both hands clasped, chastised, as thought balloons appear inside his comic skull – he doesn’t have a clue. He was just playing out a movie scene.
I can’t take my eyes off the light’s rich, yellow glow from the table candles infusing the glasses and beer and liquor bottles scattered around, turning the tableau into a liquid underwater still life. The place is a Chinese poem, scrolling, scrolling. Sing song girls. Crossroads. My wife is into her second Blue Margarita as a chorus of Eyeeees! erupt from her and her niece when they see the eyes of the two Israeli soldiers focused on the niece, newly enshrined in her uplifting bra. A semi-blind man suddenly stands beside me, not saying a word. He stares straight ahead. Silent. Impassive. His empty beggars cup speaks for us all.
The Israeli doesn’t realize he could have a beautiful Thai wife with only an hour of decent conversation and some karma. He smiles weakly and nods. The Chinese girls at the next table, real beauties, what used to called “road flowers,” are wearing tight miniskirts. Their ivory-white skin casts a glow as they get up and start to boogie around their table, throwing back shots of tequila, arms raised, stabbing upward into the night air. Movie star auras. One flicks a look through me, which thrills my heart and sends a faint signal to my past. Ok? In the surface of things is the heart of things. I’m not dreamin’ about sweetcakes in the sky. Come on, all of it.
My little secret is that this, my life, is working out exactly like my dream. If only I could be young forever–and always in love, the love of the hunter under a spring moon, forever. Copyright@Roy Hamric