Grumbles from the Grave and Cats that Walk through Walls

Robert Heinlein was one of the most famous artists in the genre we call science fiction, fading at times into the realm of fantasy, but also a somewhat avant guard social philosopher with a taboo busting Freudian perspective.  His principle characters tended to be cantankerous and overly affectionate but perpetually bickering libertarians.  One of his novels, “Stranger in a Strange Land” spawned a religion, albeit an extremely liberal religion.

I enjoyed him a great deal before I started to write myself and then, well I came to find his dialogue (my weak point I’ll admit), stifling and petty and suffocatingly cloying, like drowning in molasses.  Still, conceptually on a number of levels he was brilliant and from time to time, spewed out real gems.  Actually, not just from time to time but frequently.  He is gone but, as one expects of masters in their fields, if not always in their crafts, his legacy lives on.

In “The Cat Who Walks through Walls”, one of his final novels, he gathers together most of the more famous characters in his adult novels (as well as those of some of his most famous predecessors) and, on page 359 of its first (1985) edition, he defines an “intellectual” as “a highly educated man [I think today he would also stipulate woman, or transgender person, or non-gender person or optional gender person] who can’t do arithmetic with his shoes on, and is proud of his lack”.  Obviously not a flattering caricature but one that seems all too accurate in today’s world.

“Purported” intellectuals are not in high regard nowadays given the current irrelevancy of truth or facts, the inflation in academic titles and the disdain with which “purported” intellectuals treat others.  While many “purported” intellectuals are certainly superficially adept in their fields (and may well handle arithmetic adequately), the spirit of Heinlein’s description certainly seems apt.  Indeed, it applies not only to “purported” intellectuals but to the new purportedly savant class of internet educated “experts”, purported experts without any real experience in living, in real work or in struggling to raise a family on limited resources and with limited time.  Too often, people meeting that description stare back at us from our own mirrors as we, the easily manipulated and totally polarized modern men, women (and transitionally-gendered), ride the current whirlpool of social suicide into seas of apparent perdition.  Authors of dystopian novels certainly seem prescient and while Heinlein’s work are much too optimistic to fall into that literary genus, he seems prescient and depressingly wise as well.

The author of “Grumbles from the Grave” clearly saw where we were heading but was perhaps exaggeratedly positive concerning the ability of some among us to save our bacon.  Of course, that may have been the fantasy side of his vision speaking.  None of his heroes though would seem to derive from our current self-anointed “intelligentsia”.  And we are desperately in need of real heroes, real role models rather than the pretentious crop of cartoonish would be leaders with which we are cursed.

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© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

Reflections on “Shalimar the Clown” during a Cold Day in Early Spring

A quote from Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown seems to me to capture the political reality under which we live.  Perhaps the reality under which we’ve always lived; at least those of us deluded into thinking we’ve lived in a democracy:

…in this occult soil the seeds of the future are being planted, and the time of the invisible world will come, the time of the altered dialectic, the time of the dialectic gone underground, when anonymous spectral armies will fight in secret over the fate of the earth.

It involves an observation set in 1968, that magical year when everything seemed possible and we were set on changing the world for the better, when we profoundly believed that in our time, the phrase “idealistic utopian” would cease to be a pejorative; the time before the 70s and then the 80s when most of us were tamed by the traditional responsibilities of family life and children and all that that entails and we unexpectedly and suddenly became our parents and grandparents and other things less positive, the things against which we once thought we fought.

Perhaps, based on his own all too interesting life, Rushdie may have been reflecting on that unstructured structure that constantly strives, as do memeplexes of diverse flavors, to survive and grow and amalgamate everything around it, and, as around becomes grander, perhaps merely everything.  Perhaps, even unbeknown to himself, that is what he felt when he published Shalimar the Clown in 2006.  During that 2006 when a deep state within a state within many states, ironically already feeling itself all powerful, or at least more powerful than ever (after the convenient events of September 11, 2001), still concealed, was extending its tendrils through shadows and echoes and deep, dark smog. 

Shalimar the Clown focuses on a paradise gang raped and despoiled by rising powers but mirrored in other places today.  It tastes and smells of divided India invading the body of divided Kashmir and there planting its seed of mixed Jewish and French and American chromosomes in a metaphorically paradisiacal womb generating a disturbing progeny, kin to disturbing progenies planted in too many elsewheres.  Too many times.

As in all of Rushdie’s books, it is rife in sensorial splendor with sights and sounds mixed with flavors and aromas and caresses and blows in a stew of historical facts and philosophical speculations spiced with peppers and in this case, Himalayan salt.  A book in which to lose oneself and wake wiser.

A book certainly worth reading and rereading and rereading again, as I’ve done, as are all of Rushdie’s gifts to us.
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© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.