Feral

A Return of Harley Psalter whose correspondence with Felix Culpa and Anne Senhal has graced our pages over the years.

Dear Felix--

You and I once noticed a horse standing zombie-like in the rain, staring out the fence of its corral. We commented on the aptness of the phrase "broken" to describe a domesticated animal.

And I agree, we are broken, useful. It may be true that it's impossible to go truly "rural," to cleanse the stain of modernity. I would offer only that it is possible to become feral. This word becomes more meaningful to me all the time. To be in society and not of it means: to be honest with oneself (in the face of the world's dishonesty). To be in some sense "on the side of nature" means: to have a sense of context. And act on it. To be feral is to act on your honesty, which immediately puts you at odds with civilization, a tissue of lies.

"Going rural" would then be mostly a kind of sentimentality, attachment to appearances. For myself, recently I've donned suit and tie five days a week to diddle in the buying offices of a department store. I see no contradiction in this. I am convinced that I do more to aid my cause (our cause?) by going among these people, listening to them, and responding to them honestly, than I would in decades of boycotting, leafletting, or bombing the building I work in.

To be feral. To be in society and not of it.

The first place I "went rural," up in Nun's Canyon in the Sonoma mountains, was a 100-year old house in the redwoods. The backdoor was missing; the roof leaked so much that mushrooms grew in the kitchen carpet. The whole house was actually tied onto the hillside with a steel cable. Until the first frosts began to hit, the old man who lived there and rented it to me slept on a shapeless, colorless sofa on the front porch. The architecture in which we lead our lives conditions us to think in terms of inside and outside; but our houses are not nearly as impermeable as we think.

We are always outside.

The way we landscape our cities is the same. If humans were not constantly moving, poisoning, trapping, pruning, in half a year our cities would be unrecognizable, in a generation rural. The green insurgency of life goes on constantly, in our backyards, in our basements... in us. It is even possible that I am being over-idealistic. This does not change the fact that I am also partly right.

Bees have made a hive inside the couch on our front porch. If a human is in the way, they buzz near the entrance, waiting for the human to move its fat butt so they can enter.

    Yours, Harley

PS--The interesting and beautiful thing about noir films is their presentation of a protagonist who is at the mercy of his own neuroses--the narrative is a rigorously logical progression-- he makes one decision and after that no more choices are offered him. This is interesting and beautiful when it is perceived existentially; not so when (as I think it was by those known as "existentialists") it is perceived as an aspect of contemporary life.

Because in fact we have a choice about our situation, a thousand choices. I remain convinced that psychologically we are cavemen, and civilization is an accident that could be corrected at any moment. The stain of modernity is far from indelible. Every situation stares us in the face like a whipped dog, offers a choice.

Existentially, as opposed to situationally, I feel there is only one choice; I feel that all the unbearably ghastly situations are results of this choice; and I feel that this choice is not made just once, but must be made a thousand times a day. One way of expressing this choice would be: To be honest or dishonest. With oneself (first).