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- Nonsenseorship - 5/23 -
Frankenstein God, the Frankenstein virtue is still enshrined in the Heaven of the Copy Books. And we find the proletaire still worshipping, albeit with the squirmings and grimacings, a horrible idealization of itself.
The Thou Shalt Nots have escaped. They increase and multiply with a life of their own. Logic is the most irresponsible of the manias which operate in life. Logic demands that ideas be carried to their climax and this demand, as inexorable as Mr. Newton's law, has made a Frankenstein of the unsuspecting Galilean.
Hypnotized by the demands of logic, bewildered by the contemplation of this code of backworldism which he himself seems somehow to have created, the ballot maniac stands riveted at the polls and sacrifices to his own image by hitting himself on the head with further virtuous restrictions--a gesture necessary to prevent his own image from giving him the lie. He must, in other words, prove himself as virtuous, whenever public demonstration demands, as the Frankenstein platitudes proclaim him to be.
The Puritanism of the nation, remorselessly upheld by its laws and its public factotums is an extraneous and artificial pose into which the blundering proletaire has tricked itself. There are innumerable consequences. We have, firstly, the spectacle of the masses disporting themselves slyly in the undertow of cynicism.
"Modesty," bellows Sir Frankenstein from pulpit and press, "is a cardinal virtue." "Right O," echoes the feminine contingent and promptly bobs its hair, shortens its skirts, and rolls down its socks.
"Abstinence, sobriety, are an economic and spiritual necessity," bellows Sir Frankenstein. Whereupon the male contingent votes the land dry and gets drunk.
From the foregoing we may derive glimmers of truth concerning the public tolerance of iconoclasts. "Main Street," a volume fathered by Mencken, Freud, and the other Chaos-Bringers, leaps into prominence as a best seller. It is devoured and acclaimed by the ballot maniac who reads it, smacks his lips over its "truths" and sallies forth to vote further canonizations of hypocrisy into the legal code. Even I, who ten years ago prided myself upon being as indigestible a type of the Incoherent Young as the land afforded, find myself for one month a best seller [Footnote: "Erik Dorn," Mr. Hecht's first novel.--Ed.] on my native heath. Woe the prophet who is with honor in his country! He will flee in disgust in quest of hair shirts and a bastinado.
Thus, the citizens. With the left hand they greet the iconoclasts and hand them royalties. With the right hand they pass further laws for the iconoclasts to denounce. A phenomenon results. With the thought of the masses becoming more and more neutral in the highty-tighty war between Good and Evil, the laws created by these same masses grow more and more rabid. But it must be borne in mind that although the masses, carried away by flagellant impulses, assist in the creation of these laws, in the main, they are laws, self-created platitudes which give birth to new platitudes. Logic is the most pernicious of the Holy Ghosts responsible for the conception of undesirable Gods.
I am prepared now to make further revelations. The foregoing, although bristling with inconsistencies, seems to me, nevertheless, a ground work. I will begin the apocalyptic finale with a resume of the choir-leaders, the high priests, the Mahatmas of Sir Frankenstein.
Item one: It is obvious that the laws of the land being the ghastly climaxes of artificial logic and not of human desires or biological necessities, therefore the salaried apostles of these laws must function similarly outside nature.
The high priests, it develops indeed upon investigation, diligently lickspittling to Sir Frankenstein, have no following. The masses are not going to Heaven in their wake. They, the high priests, are magically out of touch with their worshippers. And from day to day they grow further out of touch until they are to be seen high in the clouds tending the fugitive altars that are soaring toward God on their own power.
These high priests are the creatures elected, commissioned and delegated by the proletaire to perpetuate its grandiose and impossible image. And this they do. They are the custodians of the public morals, meaning the protectors of the huge trick mirror out of which the complexes, neurasthenias, and morbid fears of the public stare back at it in the guise of Virtue, Honor, Decency, and Love. These custodians are also, to leap into the denouement, the censors here under discussion; censors not only tolerated but insisted upon by the people to annoy and harass them and inspire them to further ballot flagellations in order that they, the people, may be spared the disaster of discovering themselves different from what two hundred centuries of self-idealization have driven them into believing themselves to be.
This, the high priests do. In every village, hamlet and farm they have their say. They chastise. They make things fit for decent people to see or wear or drink, and people flattered to death at the idea of being considered decent submit piously to the distastement infringements and taboos.
All-powerful are the censors. But despite this all-powerfulness they labor under a wretched handicap. They are stupid. Stupidity is the paradox to be found most often in all-powerful Gods. They are stupid, the censors. And the Devil is clever. The Seven Arts which are the Seven Incarnations of Dionysius, the Seven Masks of an unrepentant Lucifer, elude them in the horrific struggle. Or at least partially elude them. Occasionally a cloven hoof is spied and sliced to the bone.
* * * * *
We return now with proud and tranquil ease to the beginning of this tale, to the phenomenon of a tolerated literary iconoclasm in a land alive with caterwaulings of virtue.
As hinted above not all the Arts escape, nor do any of them escape all the time. Music, whose sly and terrible vices were for centuries unperceived by the high priests, has been brought to earth in places. "Jazz Incites to Sin. Syncopation is Devil's Ally." Discovered! One reads the morning paper and feels a return of hope. The High Priests are aroused. They have disembowelled an ally. There is hope then of a bloody fray. Another Edition and they will be on our own heads, swinging their snickersnees. Mencken will be arrested and burned in public. Anderson will be strung up by the heels and his estates confiscated. There will be war--red war, and we in the army of the iconoclasts growling impotently at each other will face about and have at them with hullaballo and manifesto and snickersnee in turn.
"Nude Painting Banned From Window. Nab Store Keeper." We read on. The snickersnee swings towards the vitals of Hollywood. "Movie Magnate Charges Work of Art Cut; Sues Censors. Seeks Redress in Courts."
Valhalla! They are closing in. Another forced march and they are upon us.
Alas, our coffee cools as we wait impatiently for the alarms to sound. We are intact. Mencken still lives. Anderson still lives. The tide of battle sweeps us by, passes us up, and there's the end to it.
Again, our victory rankling, we cast about for reasons. Do not the censors read our books? Yes, the censors read our books. And scratching their necks pensively and immediately below their left ears, the censors fall asleep. Our books were over their heads. Our broadsides aimed for their vitals whizzed by their ears and lulled them into slumber. A hideous victory is in our hands.
Voltaire blew God out of France for a century. But that was because God was still an emotion in his day and not a Frankenstein of logic. He blew up the high priests. But that was because the high priests still had enough intelligence in that time to know what constituted an epoch-shaking explosion.
Our enemies the censors, the hallelujah flingers, commissioned, elected, delegated by the proletaire are not worthy our steel. Having no longer any contact with the masses, they need no genius to perpetuate themselves. The masses care not what they are so long as they are. Figureheads for Frankenstein, they need only shriek themselves blue and their will, will be done. Shrewdness, intelligence, are qualities non-essential since virtue, no longer feeding upon shrewdness and intelligence, fattens upon its own monstrous logic.
The high priests are vital to the lie which man has created for himself as a heaven and out of which his own image leers godlike back at him. They are vital for nothing else.
Therefore our immunity. Since they need no grey matter, they have none. And unable to understand us, they ignore us. And if we grow too insistent, as has Mencken, they put an end to the business by embracing us and pulling our fangs by disgusting us with their stupidity.
Given free reign under the conditions herein outlined, the youth of the land is abandoning itself to a safe and sane orgie of iconoclasm. Satanic epigrams cloud the air of the very market-place. Poets, column conductors, hack literary reviewers, hack romancers, lecturers, realists, imagists, and all are gloatingly engaged in sacking the Temple, in thumbing their nose at the taboos.
In fact so widespread is the unlicensed and unrebuked iconoclasm of the day that a great disgust is being born in the hearts of the pioneers. Every dog has his paradox, every hack his anti-Christ, they bewail. And surveying the horizon despairingly they see no enemy rushing upon them with the wind.
There are, of course, scattered here and there among the keepers of the Seal, observant priests. They omit isolated groans. They launch Quixotic sorties. But they retire and collapse without waiting combat. To their denunciation of "degenerate, sinful and corrupting cesspools of alleged art" (I quote from a review of some of my own work appearing in an issue of the Springfield (Ill.) _Republican_), there is no answering response. They are left abandoned, the Fiery Cross burning down to their fingers and flickering out. They cannot be glorified into an enemy.
On the whole I fear for the result. Ideas favor a bloody battle-ground for birthplace. And here we stand, drawn up in battle array discharging broadsides of "Winesburgs, Ohios," "Main Streets," "Cornhuskers" and the like; flying our colors valiantly--but there is no battle. The enemy sleeps. Or the enemy wakes up and issues an indifferent invitation that we stay to tea.
Comrade Dreiser may demur at all this and, peeling his vest, reveal us wounds, honorable wounds acquired in honorable battle. And further, he may regale us with tales of hair shirts and bastinadoes suffered by
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