Return to the Backyard Fence: Bridging the Gap Between Generations, Woman to Woman
Just back from the past.
There is never a war alone. Years and bodies. Right where I want you. Please print out and insert for the fullest picture. We apologise both to Nicholas and Philip. Born twenty years after Andrew Crozier, I was lucky indeed to have heard him read his poetry, and that Colin Still was there to film it.
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It had been said that he had renounced public readings, but, perhaps only the presence of Carl Rakosi, over from San Francisco in England in to read from The Earth Suite, made him momentarily deflect from what he had foresworn. He declined the reading he was also offered. He also declined my offer to publish a chapbook of poems. But he did agree to introduce the programme of readings, and thereby state his views on etruscan books.
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Eight years later I asked four poets, all connected with Andrew, to read his poetry. He had been a close friend with John James from , had collaborated with him and had included his work in A Various Art ; he had also had a long and close association with Wendy Mulford, who had published his Printed Circuit and High Zero at her press, Street Editions. The four poets read; Colin Still presented a rough master of the reading, and recorded the afternoon reading, which had a gale running against the windows. It is that memoir that is reproduced here. As feared, I was made literary executor for Johannes Boanerges in the summer of A chaos merchant himself, his papers were are in chaos.
And yet, and yet, at each stage he was often the most brilliant of exponents for these fads which have on occasion lingered into our present. When challenged for his inconsistency he would quote Nietzsche, his favourite creative writer: If I contradict myself, well, I contradict myself. He was happiest when promoting anti-philosophy, following in the footsteps of Lucretius, Montaigne, Nietzsche, and, on occasion, Rosset, urging us to see truth as nothing more than an army of metaphors on the march, a veil cast over the unpalatable real. Again, I ask you, under such conditions who would relish the sentence of having the duty in their remaining years to organise what cannot be organised, represent what is beyond representation, in the hope that amongst such sift the pearls of wisdom which may yet save you, me, the planet, are to be found.
The real Johannes Boanerges I am convinced will ever remain a mystery — for we can know man, but not any single man Rochefoucauld. We have the texts, and a few accomplished doodles, and in them, I believe we have much more than the facts of an extraordinary life, that was, if I may be permitted the hyperbole, the twentieth century encapsulated. If we do not follow the question through to a conclusion as soon as we can, or, as I would prefer to say, follow through to a compromised reconciliation that refuses to face THE TRUTH, then there will be no arrival, merely the death of another species, our own, special or otherwise the question before us.
Johannes had much to say on what it is to be human, although not quite as directly as we might wish. I am still at the early stage of ordering and cataloguing his materials, as I have said, so really the request for this essay, which I have take upon myself in his name, comes at an inopportune moment. Nevertheless, it does provide an opportunity for me to experiment with some thematic strands on which to hang the novels, poetry, pseudo-memoirs, theatre script, libretto, emails Boanerges — an early advocate , public and private letters, and other ephemera.
JB remained open to new forms throughout his life, right to the end, what fortitude! The diversification of media, the possibilities of many-to-many communication heralded by the brilliance of the Internet, he foresaw as an untrammelled force for good it always took him a decade to move on to the next big thing, so he had yet to lose his enthusiasm for electronic interconnectedness, as I had done early on.
Our arguments around this were more general. He told me that different media facilitated a more rounded representation of TRUTH, not different truths, just as his resort to textual ventriloquism aided him in seeing the TRUTH from all angles. But we know this to simply be false. Did not the telescope and the microscope — new ways of seeing — tell us that the world was different from what we believed?
These did not add to the sum of human knowledge, but changed our view forever.
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We keep changing our views, changing our media, changing our metaphors. I would fling it in his face. I would have no choice but to leave, our arguments forever irreconcilable, but not our friendship, most importantly, for he would inevitably call me forth to dinner, prepared by his well-treated contrary to popular opinion companion and amanuensis, Victor ia. As part of this preamble I should perhaps forestall what you might see as a natural resting point. At the age of surely he had intimations of mortality and was intent on bequeathing to humanity what was wisest and best in a conclusive, hopefully pithy, epigram.
Blind for the last fifteen years of his life, the secret books are barely legible, and written more often than not in his native Livonian language. When he died, there were fewer than twenty speakers of Livonian one of the Uralic languages , although Boanerges always maintained that only he was alert to its subtleties and the others might as well be deceased for what they could bring to our understanding of the language.
It is true that on occasion my friend would attempt the Scots dialect, which he had tried to connect with the Uralic language family, but there is no evidence that this found its way into his writing. It is infuriating that we cannot ascertain with certainty his final judgement. Johannes, of course, would never have been so direct.
That is our loss. Victor[ia] suggests that if I must insist on inserting a consonant for the smudge, then Johan could be referring to the death [or not] of the Livonian language, or Livonians. I have no truck with biographical underpinnings. I trust by that time any new information coming to light will not affect what I have to finally say about the man. I hold my tongue better to profit humanity. I will give her no more text time here. Always — on this he was insistent — he hated them. From a young age he ate as much meat as he could. We know of his religious upbringing later rejected and how he felt in his very marrow that man truly had been given dominion over the earth, over animals.
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Man — more than animal, less than an angel in the Great Chain of Being — Man — Semi-Divine — chomping his way through the animal kingdom. This, Johannes maintained, God had decreed. I can only see this as a species of sarcastic pride — Socratic pride, daring by his actions to force God or the animals to retort. Even his brief and only spell in India, there as a journalist reporting on the Beatles, did nothing to convince him of the spiritual merit of vegetarianism.
But I concede Victor ia may be right at least on this point.
Of the many references to animals in his writing, we here relate just two items. The first item, as is well known, is his pig-husbandry. He kept pigs and never ate the ones he reared. Sure, he would taunt them with the waft of bacon emerging from his kitchen, and brazenly eat his beloved BEST  in front of them, and this may seem to some of us cruel.
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He would turn to walk away, then suddenly turn back to see if they were talking about him, to see if they had conversation, culture, ideas. But nothing. He would give them the best of his thought. There is a yearning in his pig diaries covers made out of pig skin! And if there is no God, or Gods, and no angels, reasoned Boanerges, a position he came to like many others after knowledge of the nature of the Shoah crept up on an unbelieving world after — is this what it is to be human? As we can observe at this distance, such questioning was the background to that major unfinished opus, What if?
I know that Victor ia , who had just come into his life in , attempted to apply some racist excuse, blaming it on a backwards Africa, to jolly him out of this renewed slough of despond and fourth suicide attempt.
And it is true that for a while even the events in Rwanda did not quite end his belief in a discontinuous but positive outcome to the project of Enlightenment; he held his judgement in abeyance. But then came Srebenica the following year and the slaughter of 8, That was it. The arguments over a certain moral equivalence between perpetrators and victims simply reminded him of the ongoing arguments over the Armenian genocide of a million plus people. He would have to look elsewhere. The second item relating to animals is the image sound of snow monkeys in winter.
David Attenborough can be heard describing the look on their faces as they wait for the winter ice to melt. They are waiting , not in an intense predatory way, as a creature attends upon its prey, but just sitting around waiting. The word that Attenborough uses to describe the look on their faces is boredom. An animal could not be bored in its animal existence Boanerges once wrote. And here they were — nothing to do with their ability to pass on knowledge of potato-peeling, an earlier Attenborough film that had impressed Boanerges and many had taken as evidence that culture — the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next — existed in monkey world — here were bored monkeys.
His pigs had never been bored in their animal existence.
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These monkeys knew about the nothingness at the heart of human existence, the nothingness that only humans know. He may have shifted from a position of human arrogance to one of appreciation for the larger mammals and primates, but all that happened was his justification when I pushed him shifted: to eat an animal is to respect it, to take it into your body is to merge with the animal. Did this mean that we were no more than animals?
A child of seven could have told me this. He seemed to have gone backward in his thinking.