Thursday, August 8, 2013


Sometimes I read Rob Brezsny’s Free Will Astrology, mainly because I like his at-time amusing way with words, and his way of—ok, ok—stroking the ego of us Leos on a regular basis.  And if you know nothing about Leos you should know they need plenty of stroking, just like a big puddy-cat.  Anyway, I’ve also noted the way one of the great Leos of our time—Van Morrison*—has from time to time worked his leonine nature into his songs, most notably on "Listen to the Lion"—do you have to be a Leo to feel that one as a theme song?—and more recently on "The Lion This Time."  Both of them always sound good to me when we reach this time of year—the time leading to my birthday, “another year older and deeper in debt” (as “Sixteen Tons” would have it).

I mention Brezsny because sometimes he seems to be keen to crux my biscuit, so to speak.  A few weeks ago he said, with no equivocation: “Hurry up, please. It's time. No more waffling or procrastinating. You really need to finish up the old business that has dragged on too long.”  That was in mid-July, at the time when I was trying to finish off the last bits of business attached to my ms. on Dylan for Scarecrow Press (due out early in 2014) which should have been done in June, at latest.  He also made some cryptic remarks about doing away with things that are sapping my energy, or something, and I have some definite thoughts about that, but let’s not get into it here.

What has me reffing him now is that he has come out and said: “The coming weeks would be a good time for you to think about adding a new twist to your nickname or title or self-image.”  Advice that would mean nothing to me as I don’t think of myself as having a nickname, and, as to self-image, I don’t know that I tout one particular identity in that sense.  And title?  Let’s not go there.  But he goes on to add: “I'm thinking of something like Laughing Tiger or Lucky Lion or Wily Wildcat.”

Now, those of you who, like me, have more than a nodding acquaintance with Nietzsche’s highly expressive, one-of-a-kind wisdom text Thus Spoke Zarathustra (I feel certain RB has read it) will at once recall that one of the key last images of the book, a sign for the “going beyond” of himself that Zarathustra aims for, is … the Laughing Lion (“lachende Löwen”).  Made a big impression on me when I cut my teeth on that book back in 9th grade I must say, particularly as I didn’t have many avatars for my inner daemon, so to speak.  And that seemed one that was much in keeping with (I was reading Nietzsche largely because of Hesse) Steppenwolf’s view that the great lesson for Harry Haller—morose, bourgeois-manqué romantic that he was—was the ability to laugh.

Zarathustra says he doesn’t want to be associated with “men possessed of great longing, great disgust, great satiety” but “stronger, more joyful men”—“laughing lions must come!”  And, finally, one shows up: as Zarathustra is groping his way out of his cave, his hand grabs onto a thick mane and he hears a great roar in front of him.

And in truth, when it grew clear before him, there lay at his feet a sallow, powerful animal that lovingly pressed its head against his knee and would not leave him, behaving like a dog that has found his old master again.  The doves, however, were no less eager than the lion with their love; and every time a dove glided across the lion’s nose, the lion shook its head and wondered and laughed.

This is the sign Zarathustra was waiting for, and later the lion growls again and frightens off “the Higher Men” (those guys with the great longing, disgust, and satiety), so that Zarathustra reflects that his “great sin” was Pity for the Higher Man!

My suffering and my pity – what of them! For do I aspire after happiness?  I aspire after my work! [Mein Leid und mein Mitleiden – was liegt daran!  Trachte ich denn nach Glücke?  Ich trachte nach meinem Werke!]

So, the Laughing Lion.  A few posts ago, I interfaced with Nietzsche’s last text, Ecce Homo—where he makes lots of extravagant claims for his Zarathustra—and reading that again, sort of on the spur of the moment last month, made me think about reading TSZ again, which I haven’t done since Alexander Nehamas led an in-depth seminar on the book in my first semester at Princeton (yes, Tigers), which was fall of 1989.  I don’t know what I would get out of reading it now, but I certainly see RB’s comment as a prod in that direction, maybe even a prod with a chair while holding a whip.  “OK, Lion, let's see you laugh….”

In Mendocino County, thought I saw Thomas Pynchon at the end of the bar
No, that’s just Rob Brezsny writing his “Free-Will Astrology” column.
—Cracker, “Where Have Those Days Gone,” Greenland (2006)

*note: I knew Van was born in August and assumed his birthdate fell in the period of Leo in the zodiac. But he was born on the last day of August which, in any system I've seen, falls in the "Virgo period." Oh well. Maybe he just thinks of himself as a lion for other reasons having nothing to do with the zodiac. Fair enough.


Andrew Shields said...

Ah, that Nehamas seminar! That's how we met, after all. :-)

Donald Brown said...

I wondered if you'd remember that. It surprised me a little when I remembered it because that meant we didn't know each other when we took it. Long, long ago. I remember you were in the U of P contingent that traveled up from Philly.

A former student of mine was accepted into Princeton's philosophy PhD program, and spoke a while with Alex when she visited, not knowing we know each other. Sounds like he's still his wonderfully engaging self.

Andrew Shields said...

Well, as I remember it, we became friends in the course of that seminar. And then you told me about Longenbach's course in the spring.

Donald Brown said...

And the rest is history...