19 January 2012

On Enemies

It snowed yesterday and over the course of the day the wind blew and the air turned very cold. This morning as I walked out to Walden the snow crunched under my feet and my steps left a trace on the frozen ground cover. The moon is 17% full and so the sky remained fairly black, though the stars shone calmly, even tauntingly bright in the sky. The food in the bowl I leave for the black cat had frozen and I have placed it on the tea warmer to see if it will thaw enough to become available for its breakfast. I worry where it sleeps at night, but it will not enter the cabin even in the full light of day. The cat stares at me through the windows and sits expectantly outside the glass door, but it runs into the brush to the south of the cabin whenever I move in its direction. I want only to offer it some warmth, but it does not appear to trust me though daily it appears for its meals.
In I Married A Communist, Zuckerman journeys to Zinc Town where Ira Ringold introduces him to his friends Horace and Frank, taxidermists extraordinaire. The walls of their meager shack are covered with the stuffed remains of all sorts of plain and exotic animals. Zuckerman watches as Frank skillfully skins a fox that he will soon mount whole. And Zuckerman retrospectively considers that the simple lives of these two men exude a good-naturedness and humor that Zuckerman admires. And Nathan wonders if perhaps these personalities “who didn’t have to get stirred up and go through all that Ira-ish emotion to have a conversation wasn’t the real, if unseen inactive Ira . . .” Because the Ira that Zuckerman knows is contentious, argumentative, confrontational and often rude in his public advocacy for the working man, a class to which ironically, by marriage he no longer belongs. Though at his shack in Zinc Town and through the people with whom he associates there, and who once in their lives belonged to that oppressed working class and have since become society’s outcasts, Ira remains in contact with his past.
And Zuckerman wonders if perhaps Ira had lived a more conventional life, remained close to the land and to manual labor and self-sufficiency, that maybe he might have lived a less troubled existence. “The respect and fondness that Ira had for Horace Bixton suggested even to me, a boy, that there was a very simple world of simple people and simple satisfactions into which Ira might have drifted, where all his vibrating passions, where all that equipped him (and ill-equipped him) for society’s onslaught might have been remade and pacified.”  But Zuckerman considers that if Ira had been more like Horace, without enemies that “life might have been more impossible for Ira to tolerate than it already was." Ira needed enemies. Having read all of the Zuckerman novels, I do not think that Zuckerman ever achieved any such peace. And perhaps that peace remains unavailable to someone like Zuckerman and like Ira who require enemies to make life tolerable.
What good are enemies?  Yes, the world is too much with us late and soon, and I think our enemies afford us some means to direct our angers outward rather than inward, and to focus our rage against the world and give that rage substance. Our enemies make our lives difficult, but without them perhaps our lives would be reduced to stuffing dead animals and selling rocks from the deserted quarry. We ought not to hate the world, and we should certainly not hate ourselves, but perhaps it is wise to maintain some enemies to save us. But I suppose we should choose our enemies wisely, which seems to represent some absurd contradiction.
I think I am the enemy of the black cat.


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