Saturday, December 17, 2011

Class, Christopher Hitchens...and Genpo Merzel

In all the latest hoo-hah about Genpo Merzel - about which there isn't really nothing really new, just an acknowledgement of what's been going on for a while now - news came that Christopher Hitchens died.  And so here's a blog post considering what that all might mean - as if it has to mean anything at all.  It doesn't - but it's interesting to juxtapose unrelated things now and again.

I was one of those who applauded Hitchens lefty Trotskyite past, but was a bit startled when he attacked Clinton.  To me it was obvious  and strange and dangerous what was going on with the Clinton impeachment proceedings - it was an attempt to achieve by other means what could not have been achieved at the ballot box, even with the wildly rigged American rules favoring the wealthy.  But given Hitchens' stance as one of Clinton's critics it didn't surprise me when he went gung ho for the Iraq war. (For the record, I too, was appalled at the treatment of Salman Rushdie, so let's put that right-wing chestnut into the fire for good.)

What I became aware of most acutely in the last few months, though was that Hitchens was one of those upwardly mobile folks who kinda sorta catapulted into the social mesosphere of the top 1%.

I know that kind.  Their kids hang out in neighborhood bars on the upper East Side, before or after going to whatever downtown clubs they go to.  This kind of social set is best rendered by Christopher Buckley's rendering of his time with Hitchens in the New Yorker:

David Bradley, the owner of The Atlantic Monthly, to which Christopher contributed many sparkling essays, once took him out to lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown. It was—I think—February and the smoking ban had gone into effect. Christopher suggested that they eat outside, on the terrace. David Bradley is a game soul, but even he expressed trepidation about dining al fresco in forty-degree weather. Christopher merrily countered, “Why not? It will be bracing.”
Lunch—dinner, drinks, any occasion—with Christopher always was. One of our lunches, at Café Milano, the Rick’s Café of Washington, began at 1 P.M., and ended at 11:30 P.M. At about nine o’clock (though my memory is somewhat hazy), he said, “Should we order more food?” I somehow crawled home, where I remained under medical supervision for several weeks, packed in ice with a morphine drip. Christopher probably went home that night and wrote a biography of Orwell. His stamina was as epic as his erudition and wit.
When we made a date for a meal over the phone, he’d say, “It will be a feast of reason and a flow of soul.” I never doubted that this rococo phraseology was an original coinage, until I chanced on it, one day, in the pages of P. G. Wodehouse, the writer Christopher perhaps esteemed above all others. Wodehouse was the Master. When we met for another lunch, one that lasted only five hours, he was all a-grin with pride as he handed me a newly minted paperback reissue of Wodehouse with “Introduction by Christopher Hitchens.” “Doesn’t get much better than that,” he said, and who could not agree?
It is true that in my day I quaffed one or more with an editor of Rolling Stone in the local bar on E82nd St. - I believe it was the night that OJ went on his car ride, in fact, the night I called Herz to ask if they rented white Ford Broncos, because their chief spokesman was in one on I5...oh I digress, mais ça va sans dire.

All of which is to matter how much Genpo Merzel charges for his silly seminars, he's never, ever, ever going to be admitted to this club into which Buckleys and Hitchens and their whole social constellation can  linger all day and talk about Wodehouse.  I don't care if he married and got divorced (or did he?)  from some descendent of Joseph Smith.  I'm not going to be admitted to this club, and I know people who have places where  I can always crash in if I happen to be summering in the Hamptons.

There's no point even going there, to try to engage that pretense of thinking you'll fit in.  Even if you see Tom Wolfe in the Islip Airport VIP lounge, it doesn't mean you're one of his kind. I'm not one of their kind, and I'm a lot more one of their kind than Merzel will ever be. True, I've never lived the Palm Beach lifestyle, where you have to get the police to bring you gas to your convertible on the road in the early morning hours of Sunday because you're on your way to an orgy with two beautiful...oh wait, I'm ripping off Hunter S. Thompson again. 申し訳では無。 (Bet Htichens couldn't do that!) But the day-to-day tripping the light fantastic life is just not my lot in life, and I'm really glad for that, simply because the life I do have is far more rewarding and interesting, and the people I have met and live with are far more important to me than the dolphins of the Upper East Side.  Don't get me wrong; I like to visit and go back there, and especially to dine in the French bistro right near the Zen Studies Society (such a convenient location!)  But I'm a former New Yorker now (i.e. resident of Manhattan, for those of you who don't know);  I'm not quite a tourist and will never be when it comes to New York.  My son prefers the weather of the Pacific Northwest to that of the Northeast, and uses words and phrases that are indigenous to my current habitat.

So I'm kind of slightly amused at the accusations by some "Big" "Mind" apologists towards me on this thread.  I get the feeling some folks might think I have some kind of need to want what Merzel "has."  But I'm not overly surprised. Nevertheless I'll respond to one comment on that thread here:

you have a way to tell a Zen authority from a huckster? Does lineage make a Zen authority, and preclude the huckster? Does being a huckster preclude being a Zen authority?

OK, here's the answer: Do your own homework.  Lineage doesn't make a Zen authority, but like having a Ph.D., it has "intial value." (If you've studied differential equations you get the metaphor in the pun.) Lineage does not preclude being a huckster. Being a huckster of Zen precludes being a Zen authority.  To some extent, you see, in the system we have we all have to promote ourselves somehow, sometimes.  But peddling feces as shinola, especially in regard to things that are dealing with the intimacies of how one lives ones interior and exterior life really goes against all that I think is the whole point of the orientation of practicing the Way.  It's not a question of being attached to picking and choosing and avoiding, because we can't but pick and choose and avoid in this existence.  But it is a question of what we pick and choose and how much we are concerned with what we can pick and choose and what results.


NellaLou said...

I found Glen Greenwald's take on Hitchens quite apropos.

Christopher Hitchens and the Protocol for Public Figure Deaths

To become part of that rarefied echelon takes a life time of work and a great deal of sucking up to and massaging the powerful. The massage generally consists of giving attention, entertainment and validation. Hitchens was good at it until he became bad at it and it became transparent with his fawning over and attempting to justify the war mongers with his atheist screeching. Ironic that the war mongers are so whole heartedly Christian. The hypocrisy is so self-serving and laughable.

Genpo will never be included in that crowd because he expects to be the one fawned over. He would at best be tolerated as an amusing entertainment provider and/or spiritual conscience soother just as Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle are. If they think those in the box seats for their presentations hear what they say or moreso actually take it to heart, then they are far more deluded than the rabble in the orchestra pit.

Mumon K said...


You're absolutely right. Other folks never in that rarefied echelon include folks like Henry Miller and Dalton Trumbo, folks that wouldn't have wanted be fawned over nor would have wamted anyone to fawn over them.

But I think Genpo got his (formerly 10's of thousands, now just thousands of) dollars precisely because his whole schtick was a kind of narcissistic fawning. But it's not the kind of thing that gets him a table at the Four Seasons with Lloyd Blankfein, or even Larry Ellison.

J said...

Mixed feelings we have for Hitchens --tho wd agree with Mumo the trotskyite Hitch. was superior to the later BushCo-ite Hitch. He was not one to tolerate spiritual hucksters--a point lost on many of the self-sytled boodhist hustlers, like the pathetic phonies at New Worlds, who suddenly have become great defenders of Hitch.--without having read one of his books or Slate rants. Even white-supremacists have decided Hitch. is kewl (as in the case of McMax's little NWs gang).

That said, on inspection, Hitch. was....a literatteur-- and semi-talented, glib journalist-- rather than profound philosopher (or scientist) tho' mistaken as such by those who don't know Hume's writing from their fave IHOP.