Saturday, October 15, 2011

It's a Jungle out There

When you were a kid, at about the age when you were aware of the nature of sexual attraction because you’d already begun to feel them, a popular sub-genre of B movie was set in the jungle.  Never mind that the “jungle” was probably the back lot not twenty miles from where you lived.  The jungle movie had as its mcguffin the safari or trip through the deepest, most dangerous part of the jungle.  Most such films had at least one obligatory scene in which a tribal elder or a cynical white guide would cock his head, as if listening to something in the distance, at which point some film editor’s assistant would include two or three bars of drum music on the sound track.  The preternaturally attractive, non-sweating, neatly dressed female love interest (why else would she be there, right?) would ask, “What’s that?”

Even then, you’d wanted the tribal elder of cynical guide to say, “The fuck’s the matter with you, you can't tell what drumbeats are?”  But the screenwriters had him say instead, “Native drums.  The natives are sending messages.”

If you’d had any sympathy for the love interest at all, it would be out the window when she’d invariably ask,” What are they saying?”

Of course your respect for the tribal elder or Stuart Granger type safari leader would vanish as well when he’d say, “The natives are restless.”

You can still recall the rest of the dialog.  “They know we’re here and they resent our coming to bring our ways to the jungle.”

“You can tell all that from the drums.”

“Lady, the drums are their literature.  Just because they can't read the classics doesn't mean anything out here.”

Even then you’d begun to connect literature with a culture, story as a means of keeping the people and special events in their lives preserved.  Although the persistence of sexual attractions provided you with any number of distractions, symptoms, regrets, and fulfillment over the years, you were not distracted from literature for long.

One of its many souvenirs is the ongoing gift of surprise it offers you, making you lean toward the notion that literature has a sense of humor.  This is closely followed by another notion, also humorous in its way:  you are still, at this stage of development, incredibly naïve.

A startling example of your naïveté came when you succumbed to an inducement to subscribe to a literary journal, based on a well-written letter that arrived in your mail not too long ago, promising intriguing articles on a number of topics where you have unresolved curiosities.

The journal arrived with an article from an individual you believe to be among the five top book reviewers in America.  He had a memorable piece on Stephen Crane, which you promptly tore out of the magazine and filed.  Soon, you discovered the truth about the magazine.  The truth is that you and it are on differing political vectors.

Thumbing through the second volume in your subscription, you find an interesting enough article on Lawrence Durrell to think of saving.  But the editorial and much of the contents and arguments of essays do little to relieve your sentiment that you are not getting on in major ways.  Nor does it help that some of the material you find disagreeable is well written.

Thus these words describing your sentiments about the humorous intent of literature and your own sense that you still remain naïve.  Literature is a vital force; humorous literature is, you believe, even more vital and forceful in considerable measure because of the ways it portrays and copes with the foibles and pretensions of a particular culture.  There are mischievous potentials for you being caught up in your own preoccupations and interests in literature to the point where your ignorance and naiveté are exposed.  What lively circularity.  Literature is, among other things, a series of records of voyages of discovery.  Literature is also the revelation of hubris, ignorance, and naiveté.

The inner natives are already restless.  You can hear it in their drum messages.  They are talking about you.


Post a Comment