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The God Choice Awards 2065

A spoof by Dustin Pickering

1

Everyone knew the apocalypse was coming someday. After all, the Christ told us the endtimes were due and he left a few signs for us to look for. Some thinkers speculated that the endtimes already happened during the times of Paul the Apostle. Jewish scholars often tempered their arguments against the divinity of Jesus with rhetoric concerning Paul’s eschatology.

In the year 2025, it was announced that the final days were upon us. Television anchors and newscasters were in doubt — how could it be? The Holy Scriptures were right? The secular world was aghast in outrage. God could not come to our planet. He was made of fairy dust and he corrupted our world with his dogma. Freedom was a joke under his thumb. The concept of the endtimes had declined in popularity and people developed their own religions and thoughts around new concepts. St. Paul’s eschatology indicated that the end already happened when Jesus was buried and resurrected. No one, I mean no one, trusted the announcement of the endtimes.

It came over a large speaker.

“Attention! Attention all civilians! Civilisation has reached maximum corruption. We are the most decadent race in existence. Humanity must be redeemed, and the world forgotten. There is something new ahead of us. The end is near! The end is near! Beware of falsehoods and faithlessness. We are in the final stages of civilised decay. Continue on your path. Do not renounce your dreams. Salvation is at hand. Beware! The future of humankind is above us.”

After the dozens of wars recently fought, the birth of neo-colonial far right identitarian policy imposed from above, the races were in riot against one another. There were continuous earthquakes and floods all over the world, increase in diseases and famines, poverty at a height not seen in hundreds of years, and cruelty among the masses at its worst ever, hopelessness flooded humanity in a way never seen before. Even the Scripture was tossed into the fire. People doubted their own faith and deities and stopped trusting one another. The apocalypse would emerge soon.

The spontaneous emergence of fear and desolation accompanied by hope and revelation: the apocalypse. How can these two streams of being flood the universal human soul at once? They had for thousands of years. The Lord picked up these trippy vibes in the air—the twelve currents of IsReal, mistranslated into twelve tribes, were actually states and phenomenon, not political entities. However, the future of human awakening bled into the text of Scripture and the word “tribes” became the source material for Zionism. The shifting realities within the human soul, dubbed “IsReal”, became manifest in the country of Israel in 1948. The United Nations reluctantly acknowledged the country as its kibbutz were struggling to fight off Arab warriors. When the British visited the small villages to assess the situation, they were chased off by Jewish farmers who believed strongly in Israel. For years, they had toasted to “Next year, in Israel.” Now the Zionism they dreamed, that beautiful mountain of the soul, became a political reality and utopian visions melded with truth in splendour.

To his chagrin, Michael Drezier lost his doubt. A stern atheist for most of his life, he decided to visit Israel to see this new political reality. If it was everything said of it, he would turn over his agnosticism for good. He would convert to the ways of Christ. God was already at work on his destiny. His head was blessed with golden fire.

Michael spent six weeks in the country of Israel in the year 1952. This was prior to the Six Day’s War. Hostilities were not at their peak. Yet Michael talked with the Prime Minister.

“We all believe this is God’s land and we are God’s people. It is our holy mission, we tell others, to bring God into the world,” PM Ariel Bleikowitz told Michael. “The Jewish people are survivors. In your country, a survivor becomes a whiner. We always had hope that God’s justice would come to fruition through us.”

Michael asked, “What if you are destroyed? Do you have enemies? Why the violence?”

“We must protect what we have. God ordained our mission. He gave us this land. We are bringing the next state of being into the world as we did when we wrote Scripture.”

“But Scripture, as you call it, is human. A human hand held an instrument and composed it. It was edited, translated, and anthologised by humans. How am I supposed to believe it is truly God who speaks from it?”

“Much of what the Scriptures told was meant for us, strictly. Books were removed that did not contain the universal message of salvation.” PM Bleikowitz blinked sullenly. She didn’t really have the answers.

“But why do you not believe in Jesus Christ? Most of the Western world believes in his divinity. Even the Arab people believe in him as a prophetic voice. However, you deny him as Savior.” Michael paused. “If he isn’t the Savior of humanity, all of Scripture is based on pretense as I have often argued.”

“Michael, I consider the Gospel to be a kind of midrash.” She paused and scratched the sweat from her brow. “I cannot explain this. It is a mystery. The truth is Jesus was one of us—a Jew. We are tired of being slaughtered and mocked. He is the very face of us. Was he real? As real as Israel. I cannot confirm any more than that.”

The sun shone into Michael’s eyes and he grew tired and impatient. As an atheist, he was often rebuked concerning his views on Biblical texts and it annoyed him. He couldn’t buy that God descended and expected his worship, him, a small man in a lousy world.

“You know, we are a tiny fraction of this entire being in life. We are small creatures cast by God into a large universe. We aren’t alone, though, I know it.” The Prime Minister smiled, deep sorrow in her eyes. “The pogroms were bad enough. I had some grandparents who were tortured during them, their houses burned to the ground. A certain mystic in Russia advocated Jewish extermination. That book—Protocols of the Elders of Zion? He wrote it. To dismiss our mission. The world hates us. Why, Michael? We are people trying to live. We want the best for everyone.”

Michael had tears in his eyes. In his heart, he felt for this person. She continued to talk to him, his ears open.

“After Hitler, what was next? Our people have grieved the loss of God’s land since before the Christian era. God promised return. We have returned.” Prime Minister Bleikowitz sighed. “I can’t discuss this anymore. Enjoy your visit.” She closed the curtains to block the light and heat from outside. She then looked Michael in the eyes directly, calmly. “Michael, it is the end. Don’t doubt this. This is my faith.” Something in her words struck Michael deeply. When he left her presence, he was not the same.

Late night, at his hotel Michael smoked a cigar. When it reached its final ash, he stuffed it into the ground and went to his room. When he got to his bed, he pulled a notebook from the drawer. He picked up the pen on the dresser and began to write. What he wrote is considered the last of the Solemn Prophecies.

War after war challenged the legitimacy of the State of Israel whose flag stood tall in spite of the death toll. As humanity rolled into the next millennium like a limousine into an impoverished neighborhood, fear escalated, and people lost their minds in the millions. Energies were at their height when finally, something happened that relaxed things. Hope sprang eternal.

Michael died and left the paper he wrote with his family. He requested it be opened on April 1, 2065 by the eldest of the sons. When the son opened it, he passed out on the floor. It echoed what had taken place for the previous 100 years and noted what would take place in the coming months. The text follows.

“Sons and daughters of humanity: a moment has struck me anew. The State of Israel will face war after war and will struggle relentlessly on Yom Kipper. The Suez Canal will be the end of the British Empire as we know it. After the wars, America will become the world power. After the year 2000, American power will begin its decline while the dollar remains steady. An unpopular president will be elected who will move the American embassy to Jerusalem, signifying an attitude that will dominate until the end of the world. Israel’s struggle to exist will end as the Son of Man returns.

In the year 2065, a plan will be unveiled yet to be disclosed. This plan will finalise the existence of humanity within the ideality of its preconceived intention, before darkness sets over its eyes. You will find this prophecy buried under the Hill of the Skull where Jesus Christ was crucified. It is there the contest of the endtimes will take place and determine the fate of the world.”

In November 2016, President Trump came into power. His hair slightly messy and numbers short at his inauguration, he still appeared suave and strong. He would be the one to begin the end.

II

President Trump had been locked in a cryogenic mold for the previous four decades. His mind, it turned out, was so brilliant that science needed to study it. His ability to negotiate revealed itself in his second term.

In November 2020, after the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) struck down multiple laws concerning reproduction that were abysmally stupid, President Trump was elected to a second term. The blue cities turned red with rage and began destroying everything. Riots went on for 30 days and 30 nights. Finally, the President issued a proclamation.

CNN reported in full. “My fellow Americans! Please do be bold and stop this despicable behavior. I do not plan to take your rights, your dreams. You may continue your lives with the rule of law sacrosanct. My first term was dirty with the Mueller report, the investigations following, the violence in Russia that annexed Ukraine, the entire world set ablaze after climate change was revealed to be a hoax. I promise you peace, so please have a seat. Come to the White House, pay me a visit. Send your emissaries. Let’s discuss. I have knowledge as revealed in the President’s book only I have access to. It is time to reveal the 12 secrets only I know, only other presidents know.”

This shook the country. Rioting stopped.

ANTIFA (Anti-fascist political movement) negotiated carefully with its allies to determine who would visit the White House on their behalf. Comrade G. Stern Woody was finally appointed. The leaders of the alt-right finally admitted they were a satirical art movement designed to infuriate the left, but even they appointed their own ambassadors to hear the 12 secrets. AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations)
appointed Don Drummand to visit. Each organisation voted for their own emissaries to the White House.

President Trump cooked hamburgers himself. He said his wife made a “mean salad” for everyone. Everyone nodded delightfully as they stuffed their faces.

The President pulled the curtains and smirked. “Folks, you are here for a reason. Many wondered why I moved the Embassy, why I had Schiff assassinated, why I did all the things I did. Yes, I even dismantled the Federal Reserve. But I am not the one in control.”

“Mr. President, who is?” said Mr. Drummand. “If not the leader of the once free world, who?”

“I don’t know,” the President responded, “but I can say I know things. We are here to hear what I can reveal.”

Everyone nodded as they stuffed their faces.

“Most of the 12 secrets are irrelevant.” He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. It was soft and wrinkled. He unfolded it carefully. “Sorry, it’s been washed a few times.”

The President spoke carefully and concertedly to the crowd of emissaries.

“The 12 secrets. I am going to give you the gist of the plot. Lyndon Johnson killed Kennedy. This signaled the end of the American Dream. Johnson was a Soviet spy all along. Nixon, the one I modeled my presidency after, turned out to be perfectly innocent. The entire thing was a setup. The powers created the illusion necessary to get him out of office before he saved the world. Nixon had a lot of connections. Reagan didn’t exist. He was a talking head on Animal Planet they just pasted a mask on. He didn’t even know the Star-Spangled Banner. Finally, the end is near.”

“Mr. President, what end?”

“The end of our world as we know. You know, the REM song.”

Within hours, the rioting stopped, the economy drastically improved, wars ceased completely, and everyone was happy until 2065 when the Solemn Prophecy was read. All faces turned sad.

Scientists revived President Trump so he could dig up the final prophecy.

“I’ve been asleep for decades! Call this beauty sleep,” he joked. They flew him to Israel. They had already dug under the Hill of the Skull and found a plastic box which was possibly 3000 years old, and it was sealed with dry bloodied fingerprints.

“The blood of Pilate.” The President wiped his teeth as he adjusted them. “Yes, that was one of the 12 secrets.” He paused for a moment. “Let’s sing the Star-Spangled Banner.” The world sang.

The President solemnly opened the box. The lid was tight. Finally, his frail hands lifted it as it broke from the box itself. He wiped the dirt off. He pulled a scroll from the center of the box. “The Seventh Scroll.”

Former President Trump read the writing.

“The contestants for God of the Year are Loki, Hammarabi, Venom, Jesus Christ, and Marcel Duchamp. How do you vote?”

The world voted for Jesus Christ.

“Jesus Christ, you are the winner. Please come forward for your trophy and give us a speech.”

Jesus appeared at the top of Mount Golgotha. He held the trophy in his hands. He lifted it. It was a golden hammer on marble stone. In the stone was carved “God of the Year 2056”.

Jesus smiled. “Thank you all for this award.” The world cheered. “I would like to thank the committee that sponsored this! Thank you, former President Donald Trump. Now, this contest promised to be the final one. I tell you, there’s one thing the world forgot years ago.” Everyone was silent. “I can’t tell you enough how unfair the world has been to you all. I know this, I suffered with you. I carried my cross and you have as well. Be a good sport! I have to tell you, though, you have everything wrong.”

There was silence as the world waited for Jesus to tell them why they were wrong.

“You can’t vote for God. This contest is a fraud.”

There was universal outrage.

“I have always been your god. You can’t vote for me or vote me out. Godhood is not a democracy. You can’t vote for the outcome.”

Jesus’s ratings fell significantly, constantly, for the remainder of the existence, yet he steadily remained God and did not give a damn.

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

Categories
Essay

Without Protest : On the meaning of Searching for Truth

By Dustin Pickering

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the root of the verb protest is “to make a solemn declaration” or as a noun it refers to a pledge. Throughout The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Mohandas Gandhi notes the oaths he carried with him at various lengths. In Part One: Chapter VIII, he resolves to never steal again after he began atonement and reconciliation with his father. At a young age, he shows devout courtesy to truth. He dedicates experience of life to the pursuit of truth hence the book’s subtitle.

Later he swears an oath to his mother to not consume meat while visiting England. His Hindu faith, of which he claims ignorance, requires vegetarianism. He studies and reads on his visit to learn dietary regulations on his own that keeps his promise. When he returns home, he learns of her passing. Throughout his life he continues a strict diet without meat or milk, and his wife Kasturbabai, is also expected to abide. Even under severe threat of losing her life, Kasturbabai refused the doctor’s advice to have beef broth. Gandhi demonstrates such commitment to his ideals that he writes, “Let no one cavil at this, saying that God can never be partial, and that He has no time to meddle with the humdrum affairs of men.” His abidance to truth and oath seem to uncover God’s existence within the human sphere.

The land of India has not changed much since Gandhi’s protests and life devotions. What then is the purpose of a man of God? Gandhi notes the lack of sanitation and negligence of the poor. He is appalled that Indians would defecate in the sacred of river Ganges. He opposes the caste system and refuses to wear the sacred thread until Hinduism improves and serves the people’s well being. However he is not a bigot as he notes, “In matters of religion beliefs differ, and each one’s supreme in himself.” Gandhi’s dedication to moral improvement becomes a passion he shares with his fellow countrymen by founding schools to eradicate prejudice and ignorance so that the poor can become stronger in their self-reliance. Gandhi is not just a political activist as we understand it, but he is also a moral leader and a clear signal that God indeed exists and is concerned with human affairs.

India’s national life and character may not have improved according to Gandhi’s liking or expectations. He frequently suggests that God allows his efforts to flounder. He cannot explain why but suffers his disappointment gladly. He offers this piece of wisdom that all religions aspire to express, “The salvation of the people depends upon themselves, upon their capacity for suffering and sacrifice.” The people of India have their leader and learned to love him—however, the next important task for them is to learn to reverence each other in their habitude. It is always up to a people to secure their own blessings and reconcile with the Spirit.

Satyagraha, or passive resistance, is not a tool of destruction or self-interest. In the Autobiography, Gandhi expresses that passive resistance intends to improve the enemy’s well-being also. This is a powerful statement of political reality, that to resist you must hold the deepest compassion for the opponent and maintain moral strength and fearlessness. In the world today, such moral sacrifice and leadership appears to be absent.

In the United States, riots and violence broke out in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. The movement Antifa, a decentralised ideology and tool, wages violence with right-wing counter protests in a display of moral cowardice. Without securing blame, these street battles escalate and small businesses are ravaged. Government buildings are burned to the ground. A legal analyst on CNN requested that the viewers not focus on the destruction of property because the pain of the Black community is of greater importance. This response was in reference to the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, Georgia. In his drunk fear of being sent back to prison, Brooks stole a taser from police and resisted arrest, eventually being shot by the officer who then tried to administer CPR.

Some scholars of literature compare Black American fiction to dalit fiction. Dalits are the untouchables of the Indian caste system. Gandhi’s social mission was to unify people of all castes, faiths, and walks of life. Frequently meeting with people of different faiths, his life effort was in understanding and showing compassion even to those with whom he disagreed. The caste system was something he wished to see overcome so that Hinduism could bear equal measure to other faiths. As mentioned earlier, he would not wear the sacred thread because he felt it was a symbol of superiority. He disavowed himself of self-righteousness.

His ideal State is one without violence, yet he maintained realistic understanding of the nature of the State. He wrote, “If national life becomes so perfect as to become self-regulated, no representation becomes necessary.” For this writer, such anarchism is the height of mature political ideals. Gandhi served this ideal of a nonviolent state with utmost clarity and dedication.

Finally I must refer to the great statement in the Autobiography on language. As a poet, I am deeply engaged with the thought presented, “Human language can but imperfectly describe God’s ways.” The devotee of Truth must recognize that our world is predicated on falsehood and deceit. Truth, it seems Gandhi suggests, is a lifelong pursuit in virtuous effort and suffering. Sincere willingness to undergo the difficult pursuit of Truth was Gandhi’s mission: however, in no way has he completed it for us. After all, it is our own choice to renounce the world and defy it’s injustices.

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

Categories
Essay

What Use is It?

Dustin Pickering argues that Joyce is what we need during this pandemic

James Joyce’s oeuvre is an extravagant literary experiment in stretching the bounds of language. Ulysses, for instance, is colourful and surreal in its use of stream-of-consciousness as we walk with the central characters through an actual Ireland Joyce recreated from memory. Finnegans Wake is linguistically complex yet satisfying to read only for enjoyment. These works are often criticised as being too obscure for readers, but I will argue that such obscurity is an essential force of the novels which resonate in today’s reality as much as in the times they were written. Ambiguity grants flexible interpretations, so in the spirit of Joyce, I will define how his work could relate to contemporary conflicts. This essay will present critical ideas that balance opposing approaches. Joyce’s literature is in dialogue with works of the past which present similar conundrums.

Structuring his novel Ulysses against The Odyssey creates a full loop culturally from the ancient western literature to modernist fixtures such as T S Eliot and Samuel Beckett. The novel was put on trial in the United States in a famous case that helped liberate literature from rigid legal definitions. Ulysses also challenges old fashioned perceptions that define a human being and suggests pivotal questions that flood the reader with exciting emotion. In and of itself, the use of image, myth, and form make the novel a tricky read but challenging as well. Any reader who decides the novel is worth exploring may find that he or she is Odysseus himself in the Protean sea of literary accomplishment. 

Chapter three, the Proteus chapter, can be construed as Dedaleus’ philosophical confrontation with identity. However, identity is interrogated philosophically, not politically, and the young Stephen presents the adolescent’s crisis of personal growth. He is sharp and inquisitive but not afraid of the tough questions. His perceptions suggest androgyny and continuous flux to identity as the narrative courses between thought and material reality. His interrogations are not just philosophical refutations. The use of stream-of-consciousness stylistically may serve an alternate purpose. 

Nicolas Berdyaev writes in The Destiny of Man, “It is with the greatest difficulty man learns to discriminate between personal and collective responsibility.” The question of the measuring rod of reality is brought to trial—was George Berkeley correct in asserting the primacy of the ideal world thus negating the material world? Does external prodding of self-image from peers and strangers construct identity socially? In a time that has turned this question upside down, the 21st century can benefit from this healthy skepticism. 

Sartre writes in the essay Existentialism, “We definitely wish to establish the human realm as an ensemble distinct from the material realm.” As moral creatures, humans establish value systems on principles of free will. Kant writes in Critique of Practical Reason, “For the moral law in fact transfers us ideally into a system in which pure reason, if it were accompanied with adequate physical power, would produce the summum bonum, and it determines our will to give the sensible world the form of a system of rational beings.” Perhaps Stephen’s own deliberations lead us to accept the premise that moral law is ultimately social. Human ability to reason and develop complicated societies is mimetic, but the final question is where do we derive our freedom—in the absence, or in the presence, of divine omnipotence? Meaning itself seems derived from moral foundation. 

Kant further suggests that material principles cannot lead to the moral law, and thus places moral foundations with a transcendental order that also creates freedom. Through these constructions we are granted the “categorical imperative.” Kant recognises the division of our nature into personal and social responsibility, but also that individual choice is founded through free choice. 

Stephen Dedaleus is plagued with guilt and restless yearning for truth, but that yearning is his own. The social world shapes it to a degree. However, Marx would offer that the individual is free only through the foundation of social relations, centrally the means of production. These questions are disputed fervently throughout western history. The previous century is rife with argumentation on this subject. In the world today we come in confrontation with this abstract freedom of will and are closer to renouncing it in favour of collective moral purpose. Ulysses provides a imaginative perspective for thought. Joyce’s life work is centred on language and its social reality.

In Finnegans Wake he explores the construction of language, but in Ulysses literary device does not offer conclusive formulations. The progress of the novel is embedded with this conflict. Even in Bloom’s moral crisis with his cheating wife, he appears to be alone with his emotions, yet we recognise that humanity’s struggle for freedom and happiness are universal especially when we don’t recognise the collective existence.

My own reading of Ulysses was without assistance from annotated guides. I enjoyed the language and the depth of imagination. Its impact is emotional and leads to intriguing self-discourse. In and of itself the book is worth examining for its carefully wrought structural dynamics. The Protean chapter plays interesting logical games with the reader. Perhaps the purpose of confounding so many questions into one literary space is to demonstrate their futility. The sea is described by Buck as Stephen’s “mother” although Proteus is male. Perhaps this skilful tactic of ambiguous symbolism anticipates many of the same questions asked today concerning sexuality.  Gender is conceived as “fluid” rather than fixed by a growing swath of intellectuals. 

Stephen Dedaleus lost his mother in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and is probably burdened by guilt for his defiance on his mother’s deathbed. “I will not serve” is Dedaleus’s rejection of orthodoxy; however, clearly his emotions are hither and thither. In the opening chapter, Stephen is in Martello Tower with two boarding mates. In the characterisations of these young men we observe differing understandings of time. Mulligan is insensitive and only recognises the near future while Stephen is more reflective and seemingly harmless in his introversion. We learn that Stephen is a deeply conflicted man, apparently searching for a kind of surrogate masculinity. In today’s world we are also questioning what masculinity means and how it affects men’s interpersonal behaviour. 

We see that Ulysses is almost a herald of today’s confused and hostile world in transformation. Today’s sociopolitical reality is lost within violent flux. Ulysses portrays a mock-heroic venture to define one’s reality in spite of turbulence. The novel also characterises Irish history and culture. By uniting the particulars of Ireland within the general presentation of complex reality, this literature challenges the reader in philosophical, not just literary, terms.

Joyce also employs stream-of-consciousness in his most difficult work Finnegans Wake. World languages are synthesised into brilliant puns as Joyce explores Irish history with mythical grandeur.  The title comes from an Irish ballad about a drunk named Finnegan who falls from a ladder and is assumed to be dead. He comes back to life when whiskey is accidentally spilled on his “corpse” at his own funeral. The cyclical structure of the book indicates a surreal resurrection. The central dreamer, HCE (Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker), is buried by sleep only to wake into the world of the damned again. A strange variety of theological, philosophical, and scientific explorations are developed within 12 years of writing. In essence the novel demonstrates the baptism of languages in their own fire. Finnegans Wake is Menippean satire and parodies much of the frailty of human incompetence or hubris. Several extenuating allusions to war and political fratricide coexist within the pages. The complexities of language are apparent as the reader experiences HCE’s dreamworld. 

In Teaching and Researching Listening, Michael Rost writes, “Whenever multiple sources, or streams, of information are present, selective attention must be used. Selective attention involves a decision, a commitment of our limited capacity process to one stream of information or one bundled set of features.” Perhaps the name of the protagonist (Earwicker) signifies the nature of the unconscious as an ambiguous language, a system of thought unavailable to the conscious mind. In itself, the inner ear practices selective attention as the reader by nature also selects particulars of the created dreamworld. 

William James wrote, “Everyone knows what attention is. It is taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies a withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.” Consciousness in itself is perhaps selective hearing of the mind. The modern world is assailed with continuous information and data, most of which is useless. In reading this masterpiece of Western literature, we see our unconscious realm as thick and convoluted. This potentially admonishes the reader into carefully considering valid input from the external world. Again, we see how much of ourselves is left in the dark, yet we recognise the importance of the individual mind, and reflect on our massive blindness to how much we don’t know of what we don’t know. The conundrum is bare before our eyes through the Finnegans Wake text.

Joyce’s wife once pointed out that his writing is too obscure even for her reading. However, the obscurity is its carnal delight in facing reality and truth. Obscurity should not deter us from our own experience in reading these two masterpieces. Today’s world is more in need of obscurity in literature. Mystery encapsulates the world and literature is a powerful force to help define and interrogate it. 

Joyce’s literature is certainly not the exception but rather the proof of this rule. His literature abounds in ambiguous logic and allusion, thus making it fruitful for our ripening contemporary minds. Using complex but intriguing language concealed in moral and philosophical contemplation serves as powerful incarnation of truth. For the truth itself is dialogic. As he defines the distinct characteristics of the novel, Bakhtin writes, “A crucial tension develops between the external and the internal man, and as a result the subjectivity of the individual becomes an object of experimentation and representation.” Bakhtin also elaborates on humour’s ability to bring its object closer to us so we are able to laugh and mock. In this act, we liberate ourselves from the things that we least understand and wish to confront. 

These imaginative and complex novels of James Joyce present the noblest truths of human existence in a light that is not cruel or pretentious. For these reasons, they are fascinating books to read and enjoy even in the confused and hostile contemporary atmosphere. In fact, such perilous times are the greatest of times to appreciate literature.

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Humour Poetry

Upon Leaving the Tavern

By Dustin Pickering

(With due apologies to Amir Khusrau and Omar Khayyam)

I left the tavern empty cup in hand

seeking my only love in the land.

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I follow behind the earthly caravan

as eyes from the Beloved blissfully command.

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My bare feet draw solace from the sand.

What love was left is now forever damned.

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The moonlight scolds my gaze to reprimand.

I quietly fill my belly with wine from Your hands.

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Once drunk I understood love’s immortal bands.

A song filled my heart, both true and grand.

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Essay

Time is a Holy Substance

By Dustin Pickering

If any diagram were even to suggest my meaning, it would be a spiral, with unity to begin with, a spiral enlarging itself as a consequence of its selective open-ness to the press it responds to. The image of rings of growth in a tree would be helpful if they did not suggest more or less even growth around a center, when in fact concrescence witnesses to the fact of its uneven career in the environment. Thus, the ground for affirming the continuity of the datum-person (a) with the subsequent growth now (b) is that (b) is a unity with datum-person (a) with (b) as its new change growth. The route or series of successive experiences is possible because each moment in the succession is the original and creative unity that is able to maintain its essential activity-potentials as it interacts with its ambient.

 — Peter A. Bertocci, “The Essence of a Person”

In truth, in the actual present the self transcends change or mutually external time-lapses, through the act of synthesis by which it grasps a succession as one and continuous. The simultaneity, or so-called timelessness of a self, consists in this power of continuous synthesis.

 — Joseph A. Leighton, “Time, Change, and Time-Transcendence”

Our notion of time, then, is the empty form into which we project from the living present the continuity of our interests, aims and values. Actual time can have no more continuity than human ideas and purposes and the ideas and purpose of other psychical beings may have. Time is the shadow cast by the unsatisfied will of man across the world of becoming. It is the mark of the incomplete moving towards completion. And the so -called direction of time’s flow is determined by the tensions of human interest and aim. Hence, the movement of history and biography appears as an irreversible series of qualitatively individual acts and never-to-be repeated events, in contrast with the reversible character of a purely mechanical system.

 — Joseph A. Leighton, “Time, Change, and Time-Transcendence”

The doctrine of the Trinity is difficult and perhaps there is no way to firmly master it. However, the creative potentiality in the human mind enables reflection and steady thought on deep subjects. If we apply our reflections to God as essentially one in essence but three in Personhood, we can arrive at a few conclusions concerning the nature of time, the limitations of Being, and the wisdom of our destiny.

The human mind is both conservative and liberal in its tendencies. It both desires static predictability and motion forward. Our minds individually are therefore two value sets within one another. We want motion and change yet long for the past and its certainty. Time is an empty concept without its tensions. Its ability to both Be and Become, to sustain moments while lifting out of them to the next enjoyment, is something unique about the experience of living. These steady tensions make advancement possible and preserve the good foundations of our being.

It must be noted that these tensions originate somewhere. We can safely attribute them to motion and flux throughout time—that is, Becoming. Yet we know Being has its place too. The present moment is composed of the fading past and the emerging future. This seems to imply that time can be both divided and united through the same dichotomy.

This dichotomy is the dissolving crux of Being. The continuous flexing of moment after moment offers an array of possible definitions. We “will” them into existence. Time creates its own environs but it is the human mind that interprets and decides the fact from the excess. History is an accumulation of determined patterns reconciled with human nature. The facts are arranged to suit narratives that are pre-assumed by values. These values shape our thinking and organize events into lucid structures. We are able to affirm and imperil powers depending on values we choose. Our constructs serve a larger purpose of arranging and envelope planning and expectation. We are thus limited on how we imagine events because our nature is confined.

Perhaps it is possible that the Trinity creates an environment of divinity similar to how time creates one for us? The three-in-one essence defies logic on first glance. But what if these three persons create a set of relations: that is, an environment where creativity emerges? There is more to divinity than mind or thought. Essence is an all-encompassing question that ambitiously defines selfhood. An environment is a structure one relates to and with, and it also limits the person within it. Will is free but also limited. You must circumcise your dreams before they can fly.

The Trinity then, by being three Persons united (and thus creating Selfhood), initiates a constructive conversation between the Godhead and His separate aspects. Are these roles chosen for the Ultimate? No, because then they are chosen by the Ultimate. What after all is timeless existence? In one verse, God is described as “the Alpha and the Omega.” Beginning and end are the determinants of causality and God is the Ultimate. Therefore, the end of time is the final recognition of all that takes place—that cyclical, static embrace. Time is shot like an arrow and as in the poem, “falls I know not where.” The seemingly aimless nature of time is actually due to its hidden dimension as God. God is an extension of reality rather than the embodiment of it. An appropriate analogy is the unconscious mind that conceals yet drives being overmuch.

Time then, as we know it and conceive it, is a phenomenon chained to itself and unable to escape the influence of our creative mind. Mind (is it true?) is a substance, a mere signifier for material processes. Language structures are hardwired into the brain and form a complex sum of orientations. If language is mind’s product, then it is a product developed and sustained by the neural structures of the brain. Their patterns of being and developing are what make language possible for an individual.

Now I may interject that I believe God is a substance. That is, what T. S. Eliot called a “stillpoint.”  It is a feathery substance but a highly charged, hyper-velocity, moment in the purity of being itself. Its fundamental nature, however, is as we described. Underneath the dense layers of our physical existence, within them, is an intense reverberating energy that individuates all things. Although the human capacity to think is granted in our divine nature, self-awareness stops short of perceiving its source. Limitations are natural to that which is created but not to that which is self-created. All is the fluctuation of mind, yet the mind is not ours. Our imperfect ability to perceive, understand, and know is due to being separate of God yet of the same essence. We know the Tree of Immortality is guarded by a cherub with a flaming sword.

This individuation is the product of a triple tension: a tension that springs from duality, and a third that releases creative potential. The third tension is the Son released into the world. All three have existed since time immemorial but remain within the material our known being constitutes. This divine conversation is the height of what is holy. In Hinduism the Trinity exists as three separate beings known as Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; together, they form the essence of Godhead which is Being that unites, calibrates, and also tears apart order to restore it. The Godhead floats through being as Being itself. The supreme Godhead is never found. Rather it is felt through its powers. It’s being is substance, but its actions and motions are ephemeral and glorious. Is Desire something transformed, or something we can understand logically?

Holiness is something beyond our own understanding because our being limited through its engagement with the divine. This dialectical understanding is a communication between Creator and Created. It is this relationship that develops our free will and determined existence. All things must have foundation for the sake of stability. The foundation of Godhead is groundless being. It restores and spans eternity. To communicate with it through your individual existence is the most powerful and blessed thing offered to the human frame.

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Poetry

Volcanic Night, Ashen Light

By Dustin Pickering

Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Essay

This Independence Day, Let’s Celebrate the Apocalypse

By Dustin Pickering

Independence Day Celebration in Centre Square, Philadelphia, by John Lewis Krimmel, 1819

“…rather these question marks arise when the human condition is so improved and ameliorated that the inevitable mosquito bites of body and soul are found to be altogether too gruesome and gory, and in the poverty of their experience of actual pain, people will even take being troubled by ideas to be suffering of the highest order.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyous Science trans. R. Kevin Hill

This essay is a reflection on the current crises and my own proposed approach to handling them positively. I also attempt to offer some meaning to them while keeping within the tradition of American constitutional liberty. I also invite the reader into my own experiences.

If the reader is adverse to controversial ideas that challenge prevalent assumptions, then I suggest passing on this personal essay. I plan to shake assumptions concerning the direction of the United States and talk about things that matter and how our country and culture are reckoning with them.

Trump emerged as a Black Swan President in 2016, completely shattering liberal hopes of the first female president. Most of his supporters were white, seen as uneducated rednecks and put on display for ridicule. He was the anti-immigrant candidate, the one saying that “bad, bad hombres” were crossing the border. He told us that he could shoot someone on the street and his constituents would still love him, demonstrating a casual arrogance found in every other politician we have come to know. What makes him different? 

President Trump is an arrogant man who has courted authoritarian regimes of various stripes including North Korea, India, and even the Russian government is pleased to have him in power. This could signal a global paradigm shift in power relations altogether. Trump is not the problem, but he is the response. By reflecting the face of Caliban back to our souls, he leads us to think on matters of importance.

After President Obama created the Syrian refugee crisis with the aid of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, what sort of leadership was needed to counteract the ensuing instability? Bernie Sanders suggested importing thousands of people as climate refugees and writing a blank check to cover expenses of an increasing welfare state. Even the controversial Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who this writer admires) suggests major changes in fiscal policy guided by Modern Monetary Theory. Infrastructure needs dire improvement as it crumbles. What better time to create something entirely new from the old patterns?

Let’s also talk about injustice. How we have treated others historically. How we continue to marginalize people. Why are we only now reckoning with our own hideous reality that we created?

Society needs a culture to help it identify itself. It requires art, both commercial and fine arts. It requires attitudes and stereotypes to fit our lazy thinking habits. It requires political economy, adjustments to government and its relations to industry. A country is a thing much larger than itself.

Nationalism, a word I have often despised, means what a country identifies as should be held at high value by its citizens. Pride in one’s country is not inherently exclusive. Critics of the United States on the left have offered a great number of reasons to reconsider our global supremacy. Post-globalization society will be much different; it will need to be strong and fit to survive, but it will require openness. It will need to be robust, but multicultural. Open criticism helps us adapt to growing cultural pressures.

*

July 4th, Independence Day, is a celebration of the penning of the Declaration of Independence which declared the 13 colonies of America separate from the tyranny of British monarchial rule. Later the founders were to establish a new government after coming short with the Articles of Confederation.

In creating a stronger central power capable of collecting revenue to pay the debts of the Revolutionary War, the United States engaged in a radically new political mode of being in the world. After centuries of European wars over religion, the Enlightenment sought to empower the individual and empirical science.  The ideas of the Enlightenment  from thinkers such as Rousseau, Locke, Voltaire, and others established a new precedent which emboldened culture and science.

The founders were familiar with these ideas. After rational debates concerning the new government, the United States Constitution as we know it was written. The ideals presented of rational discussion, free speech and assembly, not only founded this majestic country, but were the very staples of its founding. Free press was established to help circulate ideas. Common Sense by Thomas Paine was a leading factor in persuading the colonists so free press was also beneficial to the American Revolution.  These ideals are something to make us exceptionally proud.

*

This writer is a left-libertarian when it comes to ideology, but we must look beyond ideas. The metamodernists convey that reality and text are different things, but not mutually exclusive. How we conceive ourselves matters. With Donald Trump in the White House, a man who has shady dealings in the past as everyone does, a political outsider whose rhetoric is extreme but powerfully honest, a reality TV host who admittedly has helped our culture decline into laziness, we have come to firmly reckon with not just our history but our present as well. There has never been more open, honest discussion in the public domain as now. I see people defying the conventions that have long held them down. Ideology is an enemy, a bad conscience. However, it is a necessary component to our being. It contextualizes and celebrates our caveats.

President Trump has put in front of us what so many past presidents have hidden in private. In doing so, he is caused us to think more deeply on our predilections. Broad cultural shifts are taking place that wouldn’t have without such an impetus. The mobilization against Trump is as powerful a catalyst as he is himself. Let’s not be dogged by ragged assumptions.

With this said, I plan to vote for Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen to make a point that I want to preserve the ideas of liberty, independence, and freedom of thought. I cannot empower the left or the right in my vote with reasoned conscience. Identity politics has triumphed as a reaction to racism, sexism, and the various evil isms setting one’s “identity” as political collateral in a battle against history. This leftist dogma does not suit me, and I cannot empower it by voting to uphold it and its culture.

I respect Trump and admire some of his accomplishments. I have discussed them in writing. However, I cannot vote to uphold Trumpism either. With writers such as Anis Shivani I believe Trump is a man of the people, although his responses to coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement are tepid. A recent NPR (National Public Radio) article discussed by FEE (Foundation for Economic Education) suggested that experts have failed to properly address an issue yet again, and making comparisons to the expertise that lead to the Iraq War. Government authority clearly is human, and not divine.

I was an atheist after hearing Bad Religion for the first time at age 13. Raised strict Catholic, I merged my traditional and revolutionary tendencies into Christian humanist anarchism, my own variety of metamodernism.

*

My mother, also an atheist, lost her mother to a drunk driver at age eighteen when I was a toddler. She and my father separated. Courts ordered my father to pay child support for which he never took responsibility. Custody was granted to my grandmother and aunt. Court documents from the Chancery Court of Monticello, Mississippi I dug up a few years ago reveal that my grandmother was given custody because she would raise me in a “Christian atmosphere suitable to the court.” She raised me exceptionally well, but held strong patriotic tendencies and for many years I despised her politics. She read Ann Coulter as she was passing away and I selfishly argued with her. Independence Day was always cause for argument over American Empire.

She had a heart of gold. She had an intellect that the world did not fully glimpse, and I only understood in retrospect. An independent woman can take many forms.

My father hates liberals so I grew into one, naturally. Now I renounce the left as a sworn leftist. I will not stand for attacks on free expression. I will not passively watch our country slide into extremes. I will not, I cannot, let this happen now. I will pray for my own redress. The world needs God. I need God.

It is often said that the founders did not like religion. This is only partially true. Jefferson’s own writings mock the clergy. However, Madison was a devout Anglican. Washington was a Mason. Even the radical democrat Jefferson praised religious tolerance as the means to spread truth, thus the creation of separation of church and state.

Is it time to separate church and hate? Enough of the religious supremacy. It turns people away. Embrace the shifting world. One can be strong in faith and reasonable in heart.

*

It is time that we celebrate independence of thought, free discussion, and individual liberty again. These ideals must be vindicated. The Enlightenment emboldened science, elevating it to a cause of its own. However, it did not leave a strong legacy of criticism of science. Science, however, offers criticism of itself. As it creates its own church with dogmatic expertise in the name of consensus, we sometimes forget that it’s mind is human.

*

I released a poetry collection called Salt and Sorrow several years ago. I even boldly sent a copy to the White House as a gift to the new president, asking him to end the longest federal shutdown in American history. The book’s basic idea was to restore Western values to their Platonic Idealism. After reading an introduction to Plato’s Collected Dialogues that notes how these values have saved Western civilization over centuries when it was at its most crucial moments, I thought to add some Christian humanist Idealism to our culture. The book was well received. The President sent me a thank you card which he signed personally. I have it hanging on my bedroom wall. The book is an easy but thoughtful read and worth discussing.

I announced to the Cosmic Poets Society that I had sent the gift to the president, and the day after the tracking number showed it was received the shutdown ended. Many people suggested I may have persuaded the president, although I humbly doubt it.

*

In the aftermath of Black Lives Matter and the ongoing battle against all forms of bigotry, lightning struck the Washington Monument. The monument stands as one of the world’s tallest structures in memorial to the United States’ first president, General George Washington of the Continental Army.

For years, I prayed justice would come to halt the world. I know God knows what He is doing as He has been doing it for an eternity and will continue to do it. The world stands.

Perhaps the astounding loneliness penetrating my soul and the soul of humanity found a course for its reckoning.

*

Again, all ideas have their faults and we should be willing to critique them. Ideals are important especially in the United States where slaveowners boldly declared independence from tyranny. Words are powerful. Over the course of American history, movements have developed to challenge bigotry and discrimination. When we fail to honor “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and forget that “all men are created equal” (even the language is a tad sexist, though the idea is powerful), we relinquish our ideals to the dustbin. The founders were imperfect, and they were trapped in world history with all its faults.

We can discuss slavery in 1776, and forget that sex slavery still exists in this country. Children are sold and trafficked across the border. We can continue reckoning with our history, and forget that its spectre still haunts us in myriad shapes. It is important that we shape our identity to suit the growing multicultural globalism before us.

Liberal democracy is a faith. It has proved to help us ascertain the human condition and address it assertively. Ideals are to be cherished; they guide us. Independence is not to be relinquished.

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Essay

Chipping Away At Time’s Edifice

By Dustin Pickering

#Minnesota, Sketch by Dustin Pickering

“…history is potent enough to deliver, on time, in the medium to long run, most of the possible scenarios, and to eventually bury the bad guy.”

Nassim Nicolas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness

This essay assumes a personal and historical tone during time of global unrest. It is my response to the murder of George Floyd and seeks to re-imagine what could be from what is.

My great grandfather on my dad’s side loved Black people. He was respected in the small Mississippi town of Monticello where he frequented Black churches at night. As a Southern Baptist, it was an odd thing for him during that period to appreciate the Black community. This was during a time prior to the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s.

My grandmother grew up in that era and married at age 13. Her husband was involved with Klansmen. She told me stories about violence against Blacks including an incident where she saw a Black man run into a field followed by an angry mob of white men that included the town sheriff. The sheriff told her not to worry about what was going on. She told me in confidence that when the Civil Rights Act made it possible for Blacks to run for office, she voted for a Black woman running in a local election. She told me stories of Blacks being chased from sidewalks and vapidly discouraged from smiling casually at white women, treated as second-class citizens, jazz clubs being raided, Black musicians portrayed as negative influences on youth and women for smoking marijuana, and newspapers with severely racist headlines. The picture was distant to me other than history books. She told me about the first time she witnessed a sit-in. Her shock was outrun by her admiration. She owned the Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley.

These stories will come as no surprise to Blacks, I’m sure. The Black community has suffered repression by white supremacists and societal conditions imposed on them for hundreds of years in the United States. It seems unjust that even Nature is not even-handed. For instance, the COVID-19 virus and AIDS disproportionately affected Black communities. I attended a short discussion with Tantra Zawadi, an activist and poet, several years ago during which she showed a documentary film about the suffering of Black people due to the AIDS virus. I asked her why she thought it hurt her community particularly. She responded that the Black community has learned to not care for itself. That is a long and frightening discussion.

***

It is often assumed that the American Civil War resolved the problems created by slavery. President Lincoln is reported as stating, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races … I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” This was quoted from his debates with Sen. Stephen Douglas on September 18, 1858. This statement was made in defense against the Democrats who believed Lincoln would abolish slavery, what was then a radical suggestion.

Frederick Douglass said of class struggle, “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

The Black Codes of the Reconstruction era did just this. Even before the Civil War, such codes were designed to protect the institution of slavery. Blacks were expected to turn their guns over to white men upon the white man’s request. Through convict leasing, private parties could employ the free labor of convicts. This practice provided immense revenue to southern states. Time Magazine writes, “Prison privatization accelerated after the Civil War. The reason for turning penitentiaries over to companies was similar to states’ justifications for using private prisons today: prison populations were soaring, and they couldn’t afford to run their penitentiaries themselves.” In fact, the Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery except as punishment for a crime. Privatized prisons historically targeted Black males. African American families still suffer from policies such as the Drug War. The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act created tougher mandatory sentences for possession of crack, a drug that was cheaper and easy to transport than powdered cocaine, though not much different in substance. Media hype of the 1980’s created the illusion of a “crack epidemic”, thus leading to the tougher sentencing law. This law was amended by the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act. The Sentencing Project Records the racial disparities of incarceration.

Some statements from The Sentencing Project:

“One contributing factor to the disparity in arrest rates is that racial minorities commit certain crimes at higher rates. Specifically, data suggests that black Americans—particularly males—tend to commit violent and property crimes at higher rates than other racial groups. Other studies, however, demonstrate that higher crime rates are better explained by socioeconomic factors than race: extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods experience higher rates of crime regardless of racial composition. Because African Americans constitute a disproportionate share of those living in poverty in the United States, they are more likely to reside in low-income communities in which socioeconomic factors contribute to higher crime rates.”

“The United States government’s War on Drugs has perhaps contributed more than any other single factor to the racial disparities in the criminal justice system.”

***

We continue to remind one another to “beat our swords into ploughshares.” We must be hungry.

***

In the 19th century prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, factions of anti-immigrant sentiment developed and coalesced into the Know Nothing Party. They were generally working-class nativists who resented Irish and German Catholics for economic reasons. They came from industrialized cities in the North and spread into the South. The Party was founded in 1844 and rose to prominence in 1853 until the Dred Scott decision and John Brown’s raid proved slavery was a central issue to the nation rather than immigration. John Wilkes Booth was a member.

Once the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) replaced congressional edict with popular sovereignty regarding slavery in territories included in the Louisiana Purchase, what is now known as the Republican Party emerged in the North among anti-slavery advocates and Freesoil debaters. Nativists in the South became entrenched in the Know Nothing cause. Such nativist sentiment evolved into the strict anti-immigration policy in the 1920’s that was oddly lax on northwestern European flow into the United States.

It is a commonly understood fact of history that the northern economy was less dependent on slave labor, and more on the surplus capital provided by taxing the products of slave labor. In Hylton v. US (1796), Justice Patterson wrote, “The constitution declares, that a capitation tax is a direct tax; and both in theory and practice, a tax on land is deemed to be a direct tax… The provision was made in favor of the southern states; they possessed a large number of slaves; they had extensive tracts of territory, thinly settled, and not very productive. A majority of the states had but few slaves, and several of them a limited territory, well settled, and in a high state of cultivation. The southern states, if no provision had been introduced in the constitution, would have been wholly at the mercy of the other states. Congress in such case, might tax slaves, at discretion or arbitrarily, and land in every part of the Union, after the same rate or measure: so much a head, in the first instance, and so much an acre, in the second. To guard them against imposition, in these particulars, was the reason of introducing the clause in the constitution.” (bold emphasis is the essayists)  

In 1895, the Pollack case redefined direct taxation to include taxes on property and income, and the 16th Amendment restored the original definition of taxation whereby to allow the progressive income tax and other measures.

The northern industrialized economy continued to exploit Black labor. According to thehenryford.org, “No single reason can sufficiently explain why in a brief period between 1910 and 1920, nearly half a million Southern blacks moved from farms, villages, towns and cities to the North, starting what would ultimately be a 50-year migration of millions. What would be known as the Great Migration was the result of a combination of fundamental social, political and economic structural problems in the South and an exploding Northern economy. Southern blacks streamed in the thousands and hundreds of thousands throughout the industrial cities of the north to fill the work rolls of factories desperate for cheap labor.” The population of Detroit nearly doubled between the years 1910-20 with a significant increase in the Black population. The Great Migration provided companies like Ford Motors with cheap labor from African Americans.

Clearly slavery shaped the United States economy and was a major catalyst of dispute as well as change. Some may argue it was necessary for the New World; however, religious groups such as the Mennonites were abolitionists as far back as 1688. Along with immigration and taxation, today’s Republican Party has utilized these antiquated hostilities; yet, the Democrats have convinced a segment of voters with other reasons. They became the party of ‘civil rights.’ Encyclopedia Britannica defines civil rights asguarantees of equal social opportunities and equal protection under the law, regardless of race, religion, or other personal characteristics.” A July 12, 1964 article in the New York Times states, “…the pressure exerted by militant Negroes had become so great that many businessmen had dropped racial barriers in their establishments. Many others were waiting only for the excuse provided by the new law.” The spirit of the times was changing to oblige equal rights. Some may argue that law does not guarantee equality or fair treatment. However, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King stated in a rebuttal to Goldwater’s “change of heart, not legislation” approach that he agreed with Goldwater, and although legislation cannot make a man love him it can in fact prevent him from lynching him.

We should not define bigotry, xenophobia, and racial injustice along party or regional lines as the usual contemporary narratives have it. My grandmother and I used to argue about the Old South in contrast to the “New South.” A few years ago, Newsweek ran a cover article along those lines. The changing attitudes of young people and the decline of traditional narratives favoring “states’ rights” were the article’s focus. After reading, I called my grandmother to discuss it with her.

She didn’t seem to agree that the South was changing significantly. She often spoke against the Democrats and their effect on the South historically. Democrats caused enormous civil unrest during the Reconstruction Era, including at the Battle of Liberty Place where white supremacists defeated US troops in an attempted coup against elected governor William Pitt Kellogg. Kellogg was considered a “carpetbagger” by white southern Democrats because of his years collecting customs at the Port of New Orleans. The White League, as the paramilitary white supremacist force was known, intimidated Blacks to prevent them from voting—no poll tax or literacy tests! Reconstruction era Democrats used violence and intimidation to oppose Black emancipation! The grandson of a Confederate soldier, President Lyndon Baines Johnson who passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, supposedly remarked, “These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don’t move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there’ll be no way of stopping them, we’ll lose the filibuster and there’ll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It’ll be Reconstruction all over again.” It is sometimes said President Johnson was simply navigating the political realm wisely, much like President Lincoln.

This began the era of “Southern Strategy”. The term “dog whistle” was used to indicate the new rhetoric of “state’s rights” employed by the GOP. “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger’. By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busingstates’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites,” Lee Atwater stated to explain states’ rights. Atwater further states, “But Reagan did not have to do a southern strategy for two reasons. Number one, race was not a dominant issue. And number two, the mainstream issues in this campaign had been, quote, southern issues since way back in the sixties. So Reagan goes out and campaigns on the issues of economics and of national defense. The whole campaign was devoid of any kind of racism, any kind of reference.” Does making race a central issue hurt or help the cause of equal justice? Have we forgotten the importance of racial dynamics in shaping this country?

I remember as a child in the Reagan 80’s I was tutored to read and write by a Black woman who came to love me as her own. This was in Mississippi, the heart of the Dixiecrat struggle only decades before.

***

In 2013, a high school in Jacksonville, FLA initiated a name change. It was originally named after Confederate general Nathan B. Forrest who was known to have cut off the arms of surrendered black soldiers. My father was at the forefront of keeping the name. I reluctantly signed a petition he created to keep the school’s name even though I strongly disagreed with it. The school’s African-American student population grew to over half the student body. The school used a Confederate flag in its pep rallies. I can see why the name, which was suggested by the Daughters of the Confederacy in the 1950’s, would upset Black students. Nathan Bedford Forrest was also the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. I signed the petition in a lukewarm decision to support my family, believing it was a lost cause. I was later told that the petition would not be used because only current students and their families’ voices mattered in the decision process. My father was irate.

I agree with the decision to change the school’s name. Who wants to be subjected to seeing the symbols of racism—watch videos from the Civil Rights era—symbols used to oppress and intimidate Blacks, or have a school honored after the KKK’s first Grand Wizard who was not even from Florida? I learned of my own temerity and indecision during this dispute. While the petition had few signatories generally, I was one of them. My decision to sign went against my conscience.

The high school is now known as Westside High School.

***

As a matter of general observation, it seems that political grievances are not resolved only politically. 

Continuous police brutality against Blacks throughout history from Emmitt Till to Amadou Diallo, from Rep. John Lewis to George Floyd, is a serious concern. Blacks are 2.5 times as likely to face police violence than other racial groups. In 2019, 1,098 incidents of police homicide were recorded. According to mappingpoliceviolence.org, Black people were 24 percent of those homicides while only being 13 percent of the population. In 2017, 1,117 police homicides occurred with 27 percent of them being Blacks. According to a National Institute of Justice study, 50.6 percent of police surveyed believed that it is not unusual for police to turn a blind eye to police misconduct and disagreed that police report abuses of authority at 58.5 percent of those surveyed (Police Attitudes Toward Abuse of Authority, 2000). This study notes that 65.6 percent of those surveyed do not believe the “code of silence” is necessary to good policing. This suggests that in spite of the numbers, our police forces have integrity.

The Black community even retaliates against other Blacks, but Black violent crime is more likely to be interracial. Some solutions to these problems have been suggested. A February 4, 2017 NPR article reports that “as the ration of black officers in police departments rose – up to a certain threshold – so did the number of fatal encounters between officers and black residents… The tipping point appears to be 25 percent. When black officers reach that ratio in the force, the rate of fatal police-involved incidents levels off. The study also found that once a police department became about 40 percent black, the trendline flipped – the more black officers a department has after that point, the less likely the incidence of fatal encounters with black people.” Varieties of strain theory suggest that criminal activity could be due to strain on families, institutional and societal demands on the individual, the Ferguson effect (increased distrust of police due to police violence), and other factors. The National Review reports, “In reality, a randomly selected black man is overwhelmingly unlikely to be victim of police violence — and though white men experience such violence even less often, the disparity is consistent with the racial gap in violent crime, suggesting that the role of racial bias is small. The media’s acceptance of the false narrative poisons the relations between law enforcement and black communities throughout the country and results in violent protests that destroy property and sometimes even claim lives.” The data at mappingpoliceviolence.org notes that Black Americans killed by police are more likely to be unarmed. The broken windows approach encouraged in the 1994 Crime Bill puts undue pressures on poorer communities through increased policing of them. Some suggest juvenile delinquency is caused by the readiness of illegitimate opportunities compared to honest work.

Bloomberg reports a novel addition in this national conversation. Sarah Holder writes in “The City that Remade Its Police Force” that community policing has enabled peaceful protest. Holder writes, “Homicides in Camden [New Jersey] reached 67 in 2012; the figure for 2019 was 25.” With the assistance of New York University’s Policing Department, the police in Camden developed a new manual for use-of-force. (The manual can be read here.) Camden is hoping the rest of the country’s forces follow suit.

***

It seems in recent years there has been some improvement for the Black community.  Graduation levels improved under the Obama administration and Black unemployment is at historical lows under the Trump administration (prior to COVID-19). Economist Walter Williams in The State Against Blacks notes how government policies such as minimum wage and affirmative action have worsened conditions and discrimination. Since the book was written in 1982, unemployment among Black youth is still about 50 percent. Redlining began under FDR by housing authorities has also contributed to impoverishment of Black families. The Community Reinvestment Act, passed in the 1970’s to combat redlining, is even said to have played a role in the Great Recession of 2008 by encouraging subprime leasing.

The riots and demonstrations going on in the United States today as a reaction against the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was not resisting arrest and cried for his life while an individual officer’s knee clamped on his neck, are not historical anomalies. The problems faced by the African American community are rooted in a history that affects us all as Americans. The cheapening of Black lives, the destruction of their communities, and the ignorance prevailing concerning these matters and their causes should be openly discussed.

***

Aside from institutional violence, other policies have impacted the Black community disproportionately.

Conservatives believe abortion is rooted in the eugenics cause. As evidence they mention Margaret Sanger, a eugenicist and founder of Planned Parenthood. According to a 2017 study by American Journal of Public Health, black women had the highest rates of abortion even though white women had more of them.

The study, which also notes a decline in the number of abortions in the USA between 2008-14 says, White women accounted for the largest share of abortions among the 4 racial and ethnic groups examined (38.7%), although they had the lowest abortion rate: 10.0 per 1000. Black women were overrepresented among abortion patients and had the highest abortion rate: 27.1 per 1000.” It has been noted that clinics tend to be in poorer communities, granting easier access to minorities who tend to be economically disadvantaged.  Sanger herself notes the reason for her activism: “If THE WOMAN REBEL were allowed to publish with impunity elementary and fundamental truths concerning personal liberty and how to obtain it, the birth control movement would become a movement of tremendous power in the emancipation of the working class.” (from “Suppression”) Abortion is a socioeconomic issue more than a race issue. The mistake is easily made when we forget that race and class intersect in the United States.

In spite of these facts, Sanger wrote in “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda”, “As an advocate of Birth Control, I wish to take advantage of the present opportunity to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and the ‘fit’, admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit though less fertile parents of the educated and well-to-do classes.” While it is true that the poor tend to have larger birth rates with less means at their disposal to care for the children, this passage indicates Sanger’s early commitment to eugenics.

California’s prison system employed the decision of Buck v. Bell to forcibly sterilize 148 female prisoners without consent between 2006-10. Huffington Post writes, “In the past, sterilization of vulnerable populations in the name of ‘human betterment’ was carried out with legal authority and the backing of political elites. What current and past practices share is the assumption that some women by virtue of their class position, sexual behavior, or ethnic identity are socially unfit to reproduce and parent.” (“Sterilization Abuse in State Prisons: Time to Break with California’s Long Eugenics Patterns”, 7/23/2013) PBS.org states, “While California’s eugenics programs were driven in part by anti-Asian and anti-Mexican prejudice, Southern states also employed sterilization as a means of controlling African American populations.” (“Unwanted Eugenics and Sterilization Programs in the United States”, 1/29/ 2016)

However, Coretta Scott King had this to say about Margaret Sanger upon accepting the Margaret Sanger Award for Human Rights on behalf of her husband: “There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts.  …  Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by non-violent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her.” NPR recognizes in their Race Card Project that “black babies cost less to adopt” because of supply and demand. In other words, there are more black children prepared for adoption and less interest in adopting them.

***

Why have we come this far without questioning ourselves, white friends, white family, white society? It seems when the world turns a mirror to us, for us to look at ourselves, we would rather forget, argue, debate, make excuses.

I am not any better. I admit. I am not any better. It is a tough thing to look at yourself and say, “I can do better. I can encourage more equity.”

***

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about the United States. It isn’t about capitalism or socialism. Research South Africa, for instance, and find that the violence against white people is a result of a system that clearly is in favor of white people. Even post-Apartheid, Blacks are being shafted of opportunities. School books are free for white children. White farmers are wealthier and rely on the work of Black people.

This is an issue with humanity. This is an issue with the world. This is not an issue with specific groups, countries, or factions. I framed this essay in the context of my country, the USA, because this is where I see the most immediate effects of the problem. Being in the center of European imperialism and colonialism from the beginning, the United States is responsible for the lack of equity faced today.

In Timbuktu, Islamist insurgents torched two libraries containing historic manuscripts in 2013. Some of the material in the libraries dates back to the 13th century. On the edge of the Sahara, Africa preserves some of its vital history. In a battle for civilization, extremists torch the buildings. These documents include important translations of Plato, Hippocrates, and other Western thinkers, as well as writings on medicine, art, and philosophy. There are also Medieval copies of the Qur’an. Many of the manuscripts were evacuated with financial help from multiple organizations such as the Ford Foundation founded by Edsel and Henry Ford in 1936. Recalling my comments on Ford Motors earlier, perhaps we have come full circle and things are improving although only slightly? Are Blacks being recognized as independent, fully competent individuals now as compared to the Civil War era?

***

It is a difficult and sobering thing to let go of power. In order to see the reflection of one’s skin and the haughtiness of one’s attitude and acts, one must look into the eyes of another’s experiences.

***

Capitalism, emerging from the products of slavery through rapid industrialization, left many people out. Since the founding of the United States under the words “All men are created equal, entitled to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” there have been struggles to make this ideal into reality. Once John Jay, founding father, argued that ownership of property should be the sole criteria in considering the right to vote. The values of a capitalist society include the right to the product of one’s labor, free enterprise, and to do with one’s property what one decides in a fair and just manner.

The US Constitution declares we have a right to security in our persons and property. The US Constitution also declares we have a right to freedom of speech, religion, association, and peaceful petition. The world has been inspired by this model of democratic republicanism. The product of many noble minds put together through rational argumentation, the American federalist system provides a positive model for the world in struggles for freedom, as well as great abundance. With its checks and balances, both across government and the economy, the American system is constructed to encourage fairness and rational decision-making among free parties. The right to utilize one’s gifts is the epitome of justice. Human action, not time, will bring these ideals to greater fruition.

The American system is not inherently segregationist, but we still await justice to wash away this culture of supremacy entirely.

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The author thanks Dr. Reza Parchizadeh, Dr. Troy Camplin, and henry 7. reneau, jr. for their editorial contributions and guidance. 

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Review

‘God is a circle whose centre is everywhere’

Book Review by Dustin Pickering

Title: My Poetic Offering

Author: Manab Manik

Publisher: BooksClinic Publishing, 2019

Manab Manik’s My Poetic Offering is clearly an invocation to the Divine. Manik seeks the bosom of the Eternal Lord present in all religions and poetries. In this delightful and unpretentious presentation of sonnet-styled verse, the poet reminds us that divinity is not a fruitless quest. To seek the divine is the heart of poetry itself and the poet in these verses makes it abundantly obvious that he is presented with divinity in his soul. Edgar Allan Poe writes in The Veil of the Soul that the definition of art is “the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul”.

These verses are formal in character and not for the frivolous minds. These poems are not for indulgence but rather for enlightened thought. He writes in the opening poem ‘Prayer to the Almighty’:

Oh Lord! I have a simple prayer to thee,

I pray to thee,

I pray to thee,

Not for my own happiness and peace,

But for those,

Who remain in darkness,

Who are half-fed, unfed, and badly dressed.

The composition style is direct, formal, and delightful to read. Manik’s verses often are intoned with Wordworthian splendour in the “tranquil remembrance of emotion” to paraphrase the famous statement.  

Wordsworth writes a seeming reflection on the thought in ‘The Solitary Reaper’. He writes

“Behold her, single in the field,

Yon solitary Highland Lass!

Reaping and singing by herself;

Stop here, or gently pass!”

Manik seeks in solitude to enrapture himself around the question of divinity. These verses are not so much seeking, as expressing what is already found by the poet. God becomes a teacher and muse as in poems such as ‘Thorny Way of Thy Life to Immortality’ where the poet writes this sublime verse: “In my mind’s eye glows and glows thy life and thorn, / Leaving bloody foot-prints thou invent a wise morn.” Nature is seen a book in several poems such as ‘Thy Inspiring Eternal Voice’ and ‘Shining Pages of Thy Life-Book’.

The inspiration for My Poetic Offering is not the crowd of believers. Manik writes to the earnest seeker, but his work is consecrated to the power of God, and to God Himself in the most eloquent of commendations. We do not read about the poet in My Poetic Offering. This collection is not confessional and does not intend a social message. It is what it claims to be on the cover: an offering to God through poetry.

However, we question throughout how the poet comes to know God. Does he provide any clues?

Life’s indeed a pamphlet, not a great book tho’,

Its pages can be turned o’er and gone thro’ at one go.

But the pages of thy life-book’ll ne’er end and stop

Thy book neither white ants nor Time can tear and chop.

By invoking Nature as the presence of white ants, the poem endears the reader to a sense of gentleness and eternal love. Even the smallest creatures are life’s guidebook. However, something eternal and essential to life exists in the Beyond. The poet indicates eternity can be perceived through Nature.

With these notes, do we even conclude the poet knows God? In what sense does the poet know God? We understand through the lines of verse that the writing speaks for itself and is a consecration to divinity. However, we cannot assess how the poet concludes God actually exists. We can only surmise this through his eloquent and dedicatory verse written in passages such as:

The stars, planets, satellites’re lone in cosmic address,

But in my mind’s cosmos thou art crowned with laurel headdress.

(From ‘My Apollo’)

The individual mind grasps intuitively, or through faith, what is not revealed. Within each person, there is a universe; as microcosms, we contain infinitely small things within us.

Manib Manik is not a seeker himself but appears to one who is found. It is written in the Bhagavad Gita that, “Maya makes all things: what moves, what is unmoving. / O son of Kunti, that why the world spins…” and Jesus Christ speaks to the crowd thus, “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.” (Matthew 6:28, KJV)

When someone is curious and lacks conceit in God, the Creator may make His presence known. However, it is a choice of the poet to use his gift to acknowledge the beautiful God within us all. In his designations and mythical allusions, Manik completes the circle of what we call divine humanity. St. Augustine wrote, “God is a circle whose centre is everywhere, and its circumference nowhere.” These poems express heady and highly refined sentiment toward God. With such spiritual fervour does the poet write that the reader may only listen to what he or she already intones within the soul.

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Interview

A Renaissance Poet in the Twenty-First Century?

Dustin Pickering in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty

He talks of love and religion and writes poetry that is often critiqued by some as similar to verses from the past. And his role model is from the Renaissance — Michelangelo. To some, he is a loyal friend in need, a person who whips up essays and articles on demand. He is often published within India, which could well be his second literary home. He is prolific with his writing and publishing. He also does paintings and sings songs with a guitar on you tube. Some might have guessed by now — he is Dustin Pickering.

Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press. This year one of their books, Neon Apolcalypse by Jake Tringali, has been nominated for the Elgin Award 2020 along with names like Ilya Kaminsky, Marge Simon and Brian Dietrich. Pickering is also the founding editor of Harbinger Asylum, which  was nominated for best poetry journal by the National Poetry Awards in 2013. That same year, Pickering participated in Houston’s Public Poetry reading series and was interviewed on 88.7 KUHF. He has been a featured poet for Ethos Literary Journal, a contributor to Huffington Post, and has published essays in Cafe Dissensus, Countercurrents, Borderless, Journal of Liberty and International Affairs, as well as reviews in The Statesman (India), Tuck Magazine, Lost Coast Review, World Literature Today, and Inverse Journal. He placed as a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal‘s 2018 short story contest, and was a Pushcart nominee in 2019.

His books include The Daunting Ephemeral, The Future of Poetry is NOW: bones picking at death’s howl, Salt and Sorrow, A Matter of Degrees, Knows No End, Frenetic/No Contest, The Alderman: spurious conversations with Jim Morrison, O’Riordan: spurious conversations with Dolores, The Madman and Fu, Be Not Afraid of What You May Find, The Red Velvet Robe, The Forever Abode, and a collaboration with Dory Williams called Imitations of Love Poems. He recently attended New York City Poetry Festival, and has been a reader at Austin International Poetry Festival many times. He hosts the interview and oddities for authors site thedailypoetsite.com. He co-edited the anthology Selfhood: Varieties of Experience, and published its companion Epiphanies and Late Realizations of Love. He has written introductions for books by Amit Saha Sankar, Kiriti Sengupta, Bitan Chakraborty, and Jagari Mukhergee. He was given a Jury Prize at Friendswood Library’s Ekphrastic reading in 2019, and was awarded with honourable mention by The Friends of Guido Gozzano in 2019. He lives in Houston, Texas, USA. In this exclusive, Pickering reflects on his journey as a writer.

Why do you write?

Within me, there seems to be a deep passion and yearning for something inexplicable. I also write to combat doubts, leave a record of my thoughts for myself, and to tell the world whatever interior mysteries I uncover within my own mind and studies.

When and why did you start writing?

Very young. One boring day at home in 1st grade, I asked my grandmother what sort of activity I should do. She suggested I write a story about something I wanted but didn’t have. I wrote a children’s book called The Little Red Wagon about a child who loses a wheel on his wagon. He looks everywhere for it and finds it behind a tree where he least expected to find it.

What form came to you before — poetry or prose?

Prose, but poetry is always more natural to me.

Lots of your essays and poetry have to do with God or spirituality. What makes you weave these into your lore?

I was raised Catholic, and as they say, “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.” I model myself after an early hero of my teen years, Michelangelo. I consider myself a person of Renaissance nature. I also believe we are in a pivotal moment in human history where the guidance of God and Spirit is needed. I think poets are the best people to bring this message to the world, that science and faith are compatible.

You have a whole book dedicated on God, I believe, which did rather well — Salt and Sorrow. Do you believe in God or are you an atheist? Do you believe in any religion? If you are an atheist why do you write on God?

I counted myself an atheist for many years, beginning at age 13. I was probably led there by the punk band Bad Religion and may have inherited it from my mother whose father was also an atheist. Yet some part of me felt connected to the mysteries of Spirit I could not apprehend and did not want to. Something moves the world and the universe, but I believe that is something I am inclined to believe is sentient, not merely pure accidental motion. I believe this because my life has always felt purposeful to me. I also borrow from Christian humanists such as Erasmus, the Renaissance artists, Shakespeare, many others who share a love for humanity and a sense of purpose for our existence. Although Macbeth did say:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

The use of the word “signifying” is mysterious to me. It seems to designate a sense of randomness or entropy — perhaps humankind is the idiot? Yet life is a tale told, passionately!

You have published Salt and Sorrow in India. Was there a reason for that?

I connected with publisher Kiriti Sengupta a few years ago after publishing the acclaimed Indian poet Usha Akella’s masterful work The Rosary of Latitudes. He saw a lot of my Facebook posts at the time concerning spirituality and asked me to write a collection that brought out “the God of the Bible.” For some reason, perhaps my sensibilities, I have developed a strong presence in India. I have never visited, but I hope to someday!

You often refer to fossil in your poetry, especially in your upcoming collection, The Skin of Reality, you have a poem that says, “I stare but see an empty fossil:/ what is final is never the end.” To what purport do you see the fossil? Is it a relic from the past? Why do you use the image of fossil?

The simple answer is I am fascinated by rocks, fossils, embodiments of history. What came before. It is still present in the very earth we walk on. I believe the human genome is a record of where we have been, and it also records where we are individually and contains a lot of animal history. Jung’s archetypes and collective consciousness seem to indicate this as well. As a child age 5, I used to sit on the playground where there were a lot of rocks. I picked them up, observed them. I kept some but the teacher told me I could not take them home. I told her they were fossils. She examined them herself and agreed, surprised. She allowed me to take one home. I still have it. That line seeks to illumine the truth I see that death is not final—who we are leaves an impression on the world irrevocably.

Where will you be bringing out this collection? In India or US?

I don’t have a publication plan right now. It is still in its infancy.

Where do you find/seek your inspiration?

Most of my ideas come from a lot of readings and thought. I don’t even entirely understand a lot of what I read, but it shapes my creative impulse in an extraordinary way. I am very forgetful too, so I have to continuously reinvent myself and how I choose to express my ideas. A lot of my imagery comes from life, including my long battle with mental health struggles.

Which writers fascinate you the most? Have any of them influenced your writing?

I cite as my primary influences in thought and writing the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and The Holy Bible, particularly The Old Testament. I also am intrigued by mystical writings from the Kabbalah, St. John of the Cross, sacred Hindu texts such as The Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, St. Francis of Assisi, and the endless list of mystics. I also found metaphysical poetry interesting in my college years. I accidentally stumbled upon John Donne and found him interesting. Milton influenced me in my teen years as well. My senior yearbook quote was, “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a hell of heaven, a heaven of hell.”

I love the surrealist poetry of David Gascoyne. I read all of William Blake, W H Auden, and a long list of others, but those seemed to have left the strongest impression. I’m also interested in psychoanalysis and have read a lot of Anthony Storr, Freud, Jung, Kay Redfield Jamison, and several others.

I appreciate philosophy too, and enjoy works by Plato and Aristotle, Heidegger, Sartre, Emerson, Burton, and many others. Among fiction writers, I enjoy Henry James, Tennessee Williams, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Hermann Melville, Dostoevsky, and many others. I especially love Dostoevsky’s psychological acumen in The Double. I tend to prefer short fiction but have read all of Joyce. Nietzsche has invaluable insights into the art of writing, but you have to mine them.

You bring out a popular quarterly, Harbinger Asylum. Did you start that? When and why?

I founded the journal in 2010 with my longtime friend Alex Maass who sometimes writes the “Not Quite a Political Column” and suggests themes. I started it after a poetry gathering at University of Houston-Clear Lake. I was invited by my new friend at the time Dru Watkins, who was an early contributor, and after coming home I thought about how I could better serve the literary community. The journal started with an anarchist bent and I published a lot of libertarian writing. I also included writing by friends. Over the years, we’ve had submissions from highly regarded poets such as Simon Perchik, Joseph Bottone, and others whose names I ran across before getting their submissions. Later on, we acquired two new editors Z. M. Wise and Stuti Shree. Z. M. is my good friend and business partner, and Stuti is a university student in India.

You run a blog that belongs to Transcendent Zero Press. It is a strange name. Any reason for calling it as such?

Transcendent Zero Press is the company through which I publish Harbinger Asylum, as well as other books. It’s the name of my publishing company. Years ago, it was my punk band that never happened. I liked the concept. So, I re-made it into the publishing company.

It began with a word I read in the dictionary combined with the popular song “Zero” by Smashing Pumpkins. I thought it had a distinct conceptual flavor. Ultimately, I also designed the logo to be conceptual. On one side of the zero, there is a dark crescent. The other side has a bright crescent. This symbolizes Ultimate Nothingness, the idea that all is in harmony. Essentially my own mystical concept. Then a “T” crosses it, symbolizing the axis of the universe. I also conceived of God as having the qualities the Tao ascribes to great leaders. A person who does nothing yet let’s all happen. Lao Tzu wrote, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.” Zero signifies such an approach to life.

What are your future plans as a writer, editor and publisher?

We recently expanded into publishing literary criticism. So far, the books have dealt with Indian works in English. I would like to publish more literary criticism but about literature in other countries. We will soon have an anthology of Albanian poetry released. I’m interested in Southeast European literature as well. I may publish a broad collection of Edgar Lee Masters’ lesser known work. I have a friend, Dr. Ryan Guth, who plans to work that out for us.

Any message for aspiring writers?

My English teacher in high school Mrs. Teltschik used to say, “Write because you have to.” Something in you must answer a call. Write to contribute but write for yourself. It is hard to break in at all. Don’t shoot high if you are young unless you have exceptional talent, connections, or both. Work your way through. Don’t be afraid to learn. Be thankful and mindful of all your successes, and consider failure and rejection an instructor, not an obstacle. Don’t fear revision. Stay focused. Write a lot. Read a lot. Find what makes you spin rapturously and write about it. Keep a journal, especially if you are young. Don’t throw away your writing. Mine old material or edit when you are dry on inspiration. Most of all, learn to enjoy! Live as well as write. Travel!

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.