“A salamander can be only a salamander, an elk an elk, and a bush a bush. True, a bush is complete in its bushness, yet its limits, while not nearly so severe as some foolish men would believe, are fairly obvious. The peasants of Aelfric are like bushes, like salamanders. They were born one thing and will die one thing. But you... you have already been a warrior, a king, and a serf, and from the looks of it, you aren't through yet. Thus, you have learned the secret of the new direction. That is: a man can be many things. Maybe anything.
“It was man's jealousy of woman that started it,” she said. “They wanted to drive the goddesses out of Olympus and replace them with male gods.” “Is not Pan a male god?” asked Alobar. “True, he is, but he is associated with female values. To diminish the worth of women, men had to diminish the worth of the moon. They had to drive a wedge between human beings and the trees and the beasts and the waters, because trees and beasts and waters are as loyal to the moon as to the sun. They had to drive a wedge between thought and feeling, between the lamplight by which they count the day's earnings and the dark to which our Pan is ever connected. At first they used Apollo as the wedge, and the abstract logic of Apollo made a mighty wedge, indeed, but Apollo the artist maintained a love for women, not the open, unrestrained lust that Pan has, but a controlled longing that undermined the patriarchal ambition. When Christ came along, Christ, who slept with no female, neither two-legged nor four, Christ, who played no musical instrument, recited no poetry, and never kicked up his heels by moonlight, this Christ was the perfect wedge. Christianity is merely a system for turning priestesses into handmaidens, queens into concubines, and goddesses into muses.”
Not once during or following a perilous escapade did it occur to him that the unpredictability of the moment of one's death might provide life with its necessary tension.
Lousiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air—moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh—felt as if it were being exhaled into one's face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing. Honeysuckle, swamp flowers, magnolia, and the mystery smell of the river scented the atmosphere, amplifying the intrusion of organic sleaze. It was aphrodisiac and repressive, soft and violent at the same time.
Perhaps the most terrible (or wonderful) thing that can happen to an imaginative youth, aside from the curse (or blessing) of imagination itself, is to be exposed without preparation to the life outside his or her own sphere—the sudden revelation that there is a there out there.
“Rude? Yes, they were plenty of that. But, you see, a long time ago, far off in the west where I come from, I met two rude characters, one a shaman, one a god, and though each treated me disagreeably in the beginning, one gave me special courage, the other special fear, both of which I required for this journey that I am on. Those who possess wisdom cannot just ladle it out to every wantwit and jackanapes who comes along and asks for it. A person must be prepared to receive wisdom, or else it will do him more harm than good. Moreover, a lout thrashing about in the clear waters of wisdom will dirty those waters for everyone else. So, a man seeking knowledge must be first tested to determine if he is worthy. From what I have gathered, rudeness on the part of the master is the first phase of the test.”
“Here they teach that much of existence amounts only to misery; that misery is caused by desire; therefore, if desire is eliminated, then misery will be eliminated. Now, that is true enough, as far as it goes. There is plenty of misery in the world, all right, but there is ample pleasure, as well. If a person forswears pleasure in order to avoid misery, what has he gained? A life with neither misery nor pleasure is an empty, neutral existence, and, indeed, it is the nothingness of the void that is the lamas' final objective. To actively seek nothingness is worse than defeat; why, Kudra, it is surrender; craven, chickenhearted, dishonorable surrender. Poor little babies are so afraid of pain that they spurn the myriad sweet wonders of life so that they might protect themselves from hurt. How can you respect that sort of weakness, how can you admire a human who consciously embraces the bland, the mediocre, and the safe rather than risk the suffering that disappointments can bring?”
They didn't speak of it again, but the déjà kept right on vuing.
There are apparently few limitations either of time or space on where the psyche might journey, and only the customs inspector employed by our own inhibitions restricts what it might bring back when it reenters the home country of everyday consciousness.
A city that was primed for the Age of Reason, a populace that was beginning to put Descartes before des horse.
If New Orleans is not fully in the mainstream of culture, neither is it fully in the mainstream of time. Lacking a well-defined present, it lives somewhere between its past and its future, as if uncertain whether to advance or to retreat. Perhaps it is its perpetual ambivalence that is its secret charm. Somewhere between Preservation Hall and the Superdome, between voodoo and cybernetics, New Orleans listens eagerly to the seductive promises of the future but keeps at least one foot firmly planted in its history, and in the end, conforms, like an artist, not to the world but to its own inner being—ever mindful of its personal style.
His knuckle began rapping at his eye patch like a mongoloid woodpecker drilling for worms in a poker chip.
Who could guess the identity of any of the costumed or the masked? And wasn't that—and not the lust and the gluttony—the true beauty of Mardi Gras? A mask has but one expression, frozen and eternal, yet it is always and ever the essential expression, and to hide one's telltale flesh behind the external skeleton of the mask is to display the universal identity of the inner being in place of the outer identity that is transitory and corrupt. The freedom of the masked is not the vulgar political freedom of the successful revolutionary, but the magical freedom of the Divine, beyond politics and beyond success. A mask, any mask, whether horned like a beast or feathered like an angel, is the face of immortality. Meet me in Cognito, baby. In Cognito, we'll have nothing to hide.
“No, my friends, what bothers me today is the lack of, well, I guess you'd call it authentic experience. So much is a sham. So much is artificial, synthetic, watered-down, and standardized. You know, less than half a century ago there were sixty-three varieties of lettuce in California alone. Today, there are four. And they are not the four best lettuces, either; not the most tasty or nutritious. They are the hybrid lettuces with built-in shelf life, the ones that have a safe, clean, consistent look in the supermarket. It's that way with so many things. We're even standardizing people, their goals, their ideas. The sham is everywhere.