The Road of Excess:
False Alternatives Always Seem Real
Fiction by Victor Wolzek
I would rather have noise and thunder and storm-curses than this cautious, uncertain feline repose; and among men, too, I hate most of all soft-walkers and half-and-halfers...
-- Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
After philosophy class that afternoon, Matthew, Nigel and Xavier, walked back to their dormitory as they always did, quick-paced, silent, together but each absorbed in his own thoughts. Walking side by side, Matthew seemed small and nondescript between the two more eccentric fellows.
Nigel Vassylich, an aspiring young botanist, proudly strode to Matthew's left. In addition to his bourgeois confidence, Nigel carried a brown leather briefcase, leaving him only one free hand with which to push back his wire-rimmed glasses.
To Matthew's right wandered Xavier Moore, a high-spirited English major. He professed to be "desirous and willing to do everything at once." Xavier, like a character out of a Kerouac novel, never yawned or said a commonplace thing, but "burned, burned, burned..." Strangely, if he wasn't engrossed in a conversation of grand proportion or raising hell while fumingly drunk, then he was dead silent. Daily chit chat and talk of mundane routines, Xavier was fond of saying, registered only as "blah-blah-blah..."
The three boys had met, as is often the case, by chance. They were assigned a dormitory suite together and grew to be great friends, their eccentricities complementing one another's. But on this day, after their philosophy class, they shared an uncomfortable silence. Nigel's mousy face was as cold and intent as always. Xavier walked quietly in what seemed a state of self-imposed transparency. But something was different in Matthew. He was still engulfed by the stream of thought that had begun to flow in his philosophy class.
"Shall we stop beneath this tree for a moment so that I may enjoy a cigarette?" asked Nigel, leaning against its large trunk with a cigarette pinched between his lips. He began searching the pockets of his sport coat for matches.
"Sure." Xavier replied, kicking a small pile of brown leaves. Matthew implied his consent by stopping. His mind was still occupied, oscillating between various degrees of curiosity, exuberance, apathy, and disgust. He looked up at the large, classically round-topped tree. He stared at the tree for a few moments and, to the surprise of his friends, flew into a rage and began pounding its bark, his face flush, eyes darting madly.
"What on earth is the matter?" Nigel said as he took the cigarette from his mouth, not concerned enough to move from his restful position against the tree.
"Why can't I see it as I should?" Matthew screamed to his friends, though he felt the question directed elsewhere.
Nigel and Xavier stood speechless. Matthew stepped back, calmed himself, pointed to the object of his fury and gently asked: "What is it?"
Nigel smirked. It was obvious: "A tree."
"No, no. That's what we call it," Matthew's hands trembled. "What is it?"
Something in Xavier stirred.
Nigel puffed his cigarette. "I'm hungry."
"Look at it!" Matthew screamed, his interruption so swift that Nigel felt a sudden loss of breath. Matthew leapt backward and threw his hands in the air as wide as he could as if to encompass the tree at its greatest width.
"Look at it!" he continued, "This ... this...thing burst out of the soil. It is twenty times our size and looms over our heads everyday. It is not just a tree. It's...more...it's indescribable...ineffable...And yet we pass by it every day as if it were commonplace, ordinary, boring."
"Perhaps, then, we're existentialists," Nigel rolled his eyes mockingly, his face twisting into what appeared to Matthew to be an obscene caricature. "They're supposed to feel, oh what's the word -- Nausea at such things, aren't they? Well, the Sartreans anyway."
"You're so fucking blind, Nigel."
Nigel dropped his cigarette, crushed it underfoot, and reached into his shirt pocket for another.
Matthew's nostrils flared. He often enjoyed Nigel's callous sarcasm. He found it amusing, even empowering. But now was different.
"You don't understand anything, do you, Nigel? You don't want to understand anything."
"Au contraire, my friend, I do believe it is you who fails to understand. For, you see, the way in which you wish to envision this tree -- if don't mind me effing the ineffable -- is quite unnecessary."
Matthew's eyes sharpened.
"You see, Matthew, as biological creatures our foremost function is to survive. It is necessary for us to understand this tree solely for its practical use. Before we can appreciate its beauty we must first build a house with its lumber, a fire with its branches, make a meal of its fruits. We are programmed to weed out superfluous sensory data and to focus on that which will ensure, or at least prolong, our survival. This tree," he pointed at it, his cigarette clasped steadily between two fingers, "is, in every way other than its practical use, fundamentally superfluous. That of which you speak belongs properly to the fictitious whimsy of poets and has no place in serious discourse." Nigel lit his second cigarette and inhaled it triumphantly.
Matthew was silent. Part of him was in agreement with Nigel; he could not deny the necessity of the tree's practical aspects. However, illogical ideas flooded him, ideas which seemed to make perfect sense and yet to utter them would scramble them into absurdity.
Matthew remained silent. Unable to formulate his intimations into coherent, logical sentences, he was rendered mute.
Xavier, though quiet up to this point, was very moved by Matthew's struggle. With each of Matthew's words Xavier heard a voice he had only found -- until that moment -- only in the distant words of dead authors. The voice of a longing, struggling desire to experience the world as one should -- raw, passionately, excessively.
Xavier had remained silent to let Matthew express his lingering conflict. He had remained silent to hear each word soothingly affirm his own sanity. But now the words stopped and the silence was devastating.
"How can you be a scientist and hold such sterile views?" Xavier asked Nigel in a deliberately calm, passive tone. Nigel's face jerked in Xavier's direction. Nigel had observed Xavier to be rightfully uninterested in the conversation and was irritated by his failed observation.
"Excuse me?" Nigel asked, needing a moment to organize his thoughts.
"Great scientists have always been so awed by the world that they dedicate themselves to wondering about it, exploring it, questioning it. How can you be a scientist and yet view the world so lethargically?" Xavier glanced at Matthew, whose face was beaming.
Nigel quickly pushed his glasses to the bridge of his nose and replied: "Xavier, I realize you are fond of early American transcendentalism and things of that sort. Indeed, Thoreau hasn't a bigger fan. But I think you are mistaking my 'lethargic' view for what I would declare a realistic one. And what you are referring to as the 'world', I'm afraid, is not the world at all, but rather a frilly illusion you have chosen to champion in place of it." He put his cigarette in his mouth, inhaled and retracted it with his other hand. "What you fail to understand, Xavier, is that perceiving the world in this hypersensitive manner is, well, abnormal. It would be both a psychological and physiological error."
Xavier's pulse raced.
Nigel continued: "As I was explaining to Matthew, we are designed to ignore the very aspect of things which you are attempting to defend. If one were to walk about gawking at tree all day long what would ever get accomplished? Thales fell into a well, you know. Such admiration for the mystery of the world is possible only because of the leisure afforded us by the rigors of science. Such experiences are, again, fundamentally superfluous. And though they may be enjoyable, they should not be taken too seriously. Take acid now. You'll be graduating soon."
"No!" said Xavier, "The world is not to be analyzed from afar, not to be prodded as if it were merely a thing in a petri dish. Mother Nature" -- Xavier's face became maniacal -- "Mother Nature is our incestuous lover. The more excessively we probe her depths the more juicy and intoxicating they become!"
Nigel went pale.
Matthew's spirit soared as he heard the beginnings of his chaotic thoughts being etched into language, as if prophetically spoken in tongues through his dear friend.
Nigel cleared his throat and merely said, "Absurd. What you are saying is meaningless."
Xavier lost all sense of boundary. The foundations of the ordinary world were crumbling all around him.
"Absurd? Meaningless? How can you call our frigid, sterile way of life rational? Jesus Christ, Nigel, have you ever given a second thought to what it is to live? to be? Think about -- No! Feel it! We exist in... in..." Xavier threw his arms about trying to draw attention to everything at once... "Yet we never even notice it. Is Being mundane? Is walking through life in a somnolent stupor rational?"
Xavier dropped his books and ran out into the center of the wide green lawn behind the tree. He twirled, dancing on the grass. "What is all of this? We call it by names and act like it's commonplace -- Jesus Christ -- look at it all, really look at it! It's right in front of us and yet beyond us all at once!"
Xavier stripped off his shirt."
Good God," said Nigel, "Xavier has lost his mind."
"No," Matthew whispered, "he's opened it."
Xavier dropped to the ground, rolling his body and gliding his hands through the thick, lush blades. "Life is not an chore to be endured; it is tremendous, it must be lived tremendously! A tree is not just something to use, to climb, or to contemplate; it is also a being to be felt, inhaled, tasted, eaten, revered, and made love to..."
"Yes!" Matthew exclaimed."
You two are out of your minds," Nigel said.
"Nigel, don't you understand? How Xavier feels right now -- that is reality. Think about our philosophy class today. How can you deny that there is something blasphemously superficial about someone who, after engaging issues fundamental to their very being, can shut up his books and gallop on to his next class simply because the clock suggests he do so? Practicality kills."
Xavier was again dancing. Blank-faced students with arms full of books began to congregate at the side window of the building adjacent to the scene. He screamed to them, "How can we look at the sky and not crumble in despair? How can we look at the same sky a second later and not shriek with bliss? Existence is extreme! Fuck Aristotle, there is no time for moderation. The meaning of 'the mean' is death!"
"Think about what he is screaming," said Matthew. "Think about how we address ourselves, others, the world."
"What do you mean?" Nigel asked.
"People are alienated from themselves by the barriers of this 'natural' or 'normal' behavior you are suggesting. How many people take time to feel, touch, and taste themselves? How many have bathed in their own excrement, reveled in it for being part of them?"
"That is disgusting," insisted Nigel. "It is foul and infectious."
"Everything is beautiful! The only thing vile is that which alienates us from this beauty!"
Xavier ran back toward Matthew and Nigel. Nigel pulled his briefcase to his chest as if it were a shield. Breathing heavily, Xavier climbed the wide trunk of the tree. He gripped a large branch, pulled himself up and sat among its regal arms with a grand smile. He looked down at Nigel and Matthew who were peering up at him.
In a soft tone Xavier said, "Don't you see, Nigel? The real world is not the world we pass by with indifference. It is the world at which the psychotic screams, the neurotic cries; it is that on which the catatonic transfixes his gaze; it is that which the schizophrenic cannot concentrate on at all but that constantly diverts his attention. It is that which makes us cower in a corner and at the same time compels us not to sit still...an immense playground of contradiction and unity, of beauty and chaos..."
Matthew felt as though he had just emerged from a confining womb and stepped into a fabulously lit arena of unending possibility. He felt transparent as the world unfolded itself through him.
"Death being our very means makes life our only end," Xavier said in a riddle.
"Life is an Oedipal Complex," he continued. "We must spend it slaying Father Time as we ravage Mother Nature, exploring her, consummating our relationship with her. We must view the world incestuously as the Mother through whom we are born, in whom we must live, and on whom we shall engage in the most perverse yet most sacred acts. The world is to be made love to. And like the frustrated lover who desperately tries to kiss the soul of his beloved but who can get no further than the flesh of her lips, we must not fret the futility of our quest. But instead -- kiss harder! Bite into the flesh of the world!"
Matthew was silent. His eyes were closed.
The conversation among the three friends, as they always do, came to an end. The exuberance, the passion, the chaos, was over. As the three boys resumed their routine course back to the room from which their day began, Nigel's skin of arrogance slowly grew back and thickened, Matthew nursed a quiet despair and Xavier hummed a tune. Little else was said among them for the rest of the day.
Pompous, self-important, sheltered, and vain. Bored, alienated, deracinated, and numb. Feminized and ahistorical. Able to connect to nature only via recycled, amped up, quick-cut, Hippie delusions, with a new and improved special effects package. No clue where their ideas stop and reality begins, and no sense of the value of the difference. Yep, it was clear. Jewish, liberal "education" had driven these well-meaning White boys absolutely bonkers.