Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Annoying exchange at Enlightened yet intellectually dishonest bookstore

Namaste, fuckers.

I'm about to be too hard, and I'm sorry about playing the curmudgeon and bah humbugging all over Xmas Eve. But you know this kind of place - the air cloys on incense so exuberantly floral you half expect your Auntie walk over and pinch your cheeks as she demands a sloppy kiss. Likewise, the gilded effigy of Kuan Yin bears too much faux brass to maintain real elegance. The hyper polished rounds of rose quartz and cheap amethyst are relying on support from varnished oak trivets, and while expressing a "gratitude" that is de rigueur for the culture of these stones, such ugliness saps their dignity. There are ill-crafted stained-glass jewelry boxes, gothic rings, crystal skulls, daggers with scalloped edges, and too much velvet in sordid jewel tones and new-age hippie kitsch. Classes and services offered by "initiates" flank the entry - feng shui, auric field clearing and tarot spreads to realign, cleanse and prognosticate.

And I like these things occult. I dig it, man. It's interesting stuff, but there is something seriously amiss with the Wicca and the New Agers. Too flimsy. Too airy-fairy. Too "earthy" without being grounded. I don't know if I've bothered you all with my theories on poor aesthetics and psychological dissonance, but the gist of it is that I inherently distrust the health of religions or other groups whose decor and taste nettle my sensibilities. It's not so superficial as it sounds, as I really believe there are cues in the makeup of constructed things. A woman with crooked lip liner is not sane. A church ostentatiously festooned with bijoux and garish marble is fleecing its flock. A corporation draped in grey flannel and framed in hard edges is unlikely to be a wellspring of creativity. Scientology employees who all seem to dress like Mormon missionaries cannot be both free and "clear." A dude in a trucker hat and two hundred dollar jeans is a douche, even if his music's, like, really really good.

But I am here for books on martial arts and hoping to find a copy of psychologist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl's classic, Man's Search for Meaning, a book which a dear friend claims is the most significant of his life and is considered to be one of the ten most influential in the United States. I have not read it, but with a recommendation like that, it will be difficult for me to ignore. Because my favorite local boutique bookstore is out of the title, and I loathe massive chain stores (my experience at Borders a few hours later is daunting and fraught with dislocation, disorder and disappointment, at best), I have risked the murky aesthetics of The White Lotus, as I'm certain they will have a good selection of Eastern Philosophy, if not much from the academic arm of the Psych disciplines.

Me (to clerk): Do you have Victor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning? I can't find it over here.
Clerk: Who?.
Me: (I repeat the title).
Clerk: Don't know it. (dismissively)
Me: Oh, ok. It's a pretty well known psychology title, but no problem.
Clerk: Who's the author?
Me: Frankl.
Clerk: I really prefer Jung.
Me: Oh, so you've read Frankl?
Clerk: No, but Jung's just so much more... more.. what's the word?

(lonnnnnng pause)

(...and at this point I'm struggling to suggest an adjective for him, or a phrase. Something, some quality that would explain his aversion to a man he's never examined. It's getting uncomfortable for me, because I'm grappling with the fact that he's making a comparison to what is for him a phantom concept. It's completely galling. Don't recall asking for his opinion, yet I'm trying to bridge the gap of comprehension before I despair entirely. What does he mean? He likes Jung's use of mythology? His optimism? His grasp of humanity? Should I tell him I'm familiar? Why is he taking so long? He seems bloated, amused at his "insight," and I don't enjoy the pomposity. I don't even like the word. I dislike that I even wrote the word.)

Clerk: ...esoteric.

YOU KNOW, in SPACE no one can hear you SCREAM.

The word esoteric has, in itself, become a red flag when used in casual conversation. Expressed most often with the guile of nonchalance, it intends to inform the listener of the speaker's knowingness, while simultaneously proving that the speaker in fact knows very little because the meaning is so inscrutable they have actually expressed nothing. Ironically (another red-flag word), in this way the word perpetuates its actual meaning, in spite of the speaker. And so the arcanum remains quite safe from the smugly dumb and the dumbly smug.

Jung was not esoteric, rather he explored and sought to instruct on esoteric matters and with esoteric methods. By trying to shed light on the unconscious realms, he sought to illuminate life's mysteries, with great respect for what is not entirely knowable, not keep them secreted away in ritual halls behind sliding panels and hidden passages. And I don't think he intended for it to be shared with only the select few.

I want to say, "Well good for fucking Jung," a man I quite admire. But I keep my trap shut and my face as unexpressive as possible (not good at this, or so I'm told), not that he's even looking at me.

Clerk: (wait, there's more to this?) ...and SO much more than FREUD.

Me: Sure. Well, yeah, Freud...

Clerk: Freud's just entertaining.

(I want to say: He's just the father of psychoanalysis, that's all. Furthermore, Jung gave his mentor ample credit. I disagree with Freud about certain things, but he was no buffoon. In any case, even though Frankl comes out of the Viennese school, he's not Freud. More importantly, how can you compare Frankl to ANYONE? I thought you'd never even heard of him. You don't know him from Adam.)

Do you really get to have an opinion if you are unfamiliar with someone's work? It's an academic crime, in my view, and probably a form of plagiarism, only worse, because at least with plagiarism, there is some attempt to try to be analytical, logical, it's just that you can't think of your own thing to say on the matter. But in this case you are arrogant enough to think you can put in your two cents, but too lazy to learn the substance of the opinion you are stealing, and too dismissive to think actual knowledge even matters.

And when I asked the guy which of the two books, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai or Bushido: The Way of the Samurai would be better as a gift for a friend who is investigating martial arts, he starts out by telling me they are very different, and then elaborates by saying one is about the philosophy and the other more anecdotes that show the inner life and rules of the samurai.

Um, so how are they very different?

And then he asks me if my friend is "spiritual by nature." I really hate this sort of question, about as much as the description "old soul," unless of course it's used in a Vanity Fair fluff piece about an actress, in which case it's absurd enough to be vexingly amusing. How does anyone know such things?

Aren't we all, "spiritual by nature" in your very own definition of "being," you pony-tailed, "truth-seeking," amulet wearing poser?

But hey, at least he's all spiritual, and shit.


Citizen H said...

They're everywhere. If I come across as a bit too short-fused it's from wading through a sea of assholes just like him every day.

It's amazing how much the world is shaped by the whims of the uninformed.

Happy muthafuckin' Kwanzaa, y'all!

kissyface said...

What's that saying - a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing? It's not so much that he was uninformed as underinformed. The truth is, I don't encounter this so much, but when I do it surprises me, and then I'm surprised that I'm surprised. Then I feel bad about it because I know I'm judging someone for being dumb. In fact, that has been a consistent shock in my adult life, that there really are just so very many dumb people out there, even though I don't expect it to be the case. Fortunately, as much as I adore wit, it's not even close to the most important quality in people, so it's not so bad after all.

Merry Christmas, H. Hope you're enjoying your holiday. But quit making fun of Kwanzaa, it's just a festival of light like every other one going on round the world right now.

huckleberry said...

I'll bet you one hundred thousand million dollars that your clerk there confused "esoteric" with "erudite".
Every time someone tries to foist "esoteric" on me -- almost always beyond the limits that friendly context would allow -- I ask what that word means.
Every single time, the reply goes along the lines of "insightful, intelligent, deep," etc.
As far as Hagakure vs. Bushido, I'd suggest either the former or both as a package, because the latter is based upon the former.
Both excellent books though.
Merry Christmas homie!

bulletholes said...

About thirty years ago I went eclectic when I meant to go esoteric.
Now I'm happy just being erudite.
I've really tried hard to stop pretending I know things that I ...don't.

bulletholes said...

Oh, I just went and looked up'm not that either.