Review of The Denial of Death

We leave a worryless life and emerge from our mother’s womb and learn many new sensations that must at first feel rude and grating. We scream as we gasp air for the first time, are dried, are held by not all sides. Somehow we innately now knowing that we must eat to continue to exist in this world. To quell this state of terror we transfer onto our parents our own sense of self. We map what symbolic values they and the culture associated with them onto ourselves, while repressing the arbitrariness of it through psychological repression that people who do not practice mindfulness techniques rarely notice. Thus begins a critical response to Freud through the lens of Soren Kirkegaard and Otto Rank, Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death.

I found much of the commentary by Becker on Freud’s character similar to that of Walter Kauffman’s. They diverge, however, in their appraisal of Freud’s correctness in the base cause for the manifestation of anxieties in human character and thus what at base most motivates us as humans. Becker discount’s what he sees as Freud’s hedonistic interpretation and instead proffers one based on heroism of personal expression rather than inherited cultural roles, religious roles or the pursuit of wealth by explicating Soren Kirkegaard’s novelistic insights to human’s self-motivation and Otto Rank’s reflections on his own therapy practice.

The divergence of perspective has a number of large effects but the most important could perhaps be summed up as follows: whereas psychoanalysis seeks to alleviate as much as possible the neurosis that prevents the normal functioning of areas in life which the patient seeks greater control; a more appropriate means for achieving fulfilment, gratification and community is through the pursuit of a heroic ideals. Depression thus becomes a matter of courage, the inner artist failing to must their talents and energies. The neurotic, born through the choking off of action, need only keep acting in the manner that takes them on what they most want. The manner that Becker puts it is, I think, better: “When the person can no longer convincingly perform his safe heroics or cannot hide his failure to be his own hero, then he bogs down in the failure of depression and terrible guilt.”

As the human begins to develops to its highest potential, rather than just along the axis of its neurosis as process begin, the following begins to become the inner drive of our consciousness: “The self must be destroyed, brought down to nothing, in order for self-transcendence to begin. Then the self can begin to relate itself to powers beyond itself. It has to thrash around in its finitude, it has to “die,” in order to question that finitude, in order to see beyond it.” Having recently read the Seducer’s Diary I was pleasantly gratified when reading Becker’s commentary on the story of Coredelia and K in Either/Or as it was aligned with my own thoughts about his depiction of a weak spiritual fortitude. Becker even has a name for it, which is important as it becomes the point at which he turns his attention from desire, fulfilment, anxiety and character to develop his model of human health.

Jonah Syndrome is a state of consciousness that leads one to believe that lasting happiness is not only something that is impossible but that proximity to it will lead to one to be ”shattered, disintegrated and even killed by the experience”. To guard from this they pull back and away from what would in a better adjusted view would be a fount of. As it is the destruction of the self that is actually a pre-requisite to being able to achieve lasting happiness, that person soon lapses into depression and neurosis. The solution to the problem of neurosis is Goetheian: Make a game of the world and play it in the fashion that one most wishes. One may not like the cards they are dealt, but grit and perseverance will get one there.

Becker’s extensive exposition of Rank’s views of the artist are both profoundly insightful and beautifully written. Rank, like Hubbard, exalted the artist as the highest embodiment of human potential. Establishing a balance between the self and the world means thus following one’s hero project wherever it may lead for the whole of one’s life. The creative solutions that we come up to get that is the genius possible within our species being and truly being dedicated and convicted people may come to know the artists that are inside them.

 

Interview with Ariel Voyager

I began interviewing artists and writers from or based in South Florida about two years ago as I felt that there weren’t enough outlets to showcase and promote creatives and their projects that I felt were worthy of a larger audience. The idea was, in part, that through our conversations those works could take on a clearer relationship to the artists and their views which would, hopefully, engage people intellectually in a way other than the art form of choice and hopefully bring them some patronage.

Since I just self-published a book of poetry, I decided that I would take an hour and interview myself for the same end. In order to do this I’ve decided to name the author of the poetry book Ariel Voyager whereas the interviewer will be Ariel Sheen. This is to allow me the ability to have some humorous back and forth as well as for some somber reasons that will become apparent in the interview. I took an hour to write this, and it should take no more than 10 minutes to read.

*

Ariel Sheen
So when were you first introduced to poetry?

Ariel Voyager
I guess you could say at birth. My namesake comes from the British poet Percy Shelley. There’s a biography of Shelley by the same name that my father had read while in England studying with L. Ron Hubbard. Shelley signed the bottom of his correspondence Ariel, a character from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest because he so resonated with that character.

Ariel Sheen
Poet from birth then, eh?

Ariel Voyager
Something like that. When I first started to write regularly I was 16. I became involved in the West Palm Beach Poetry Slam community and for several years participated in performance poetry competitions.

Ariel Sheen
I presume you know that your collection of poetry basically has the same title as Pablo Neruda’s most renowned collection. What was the reason for that?

Ariel Voyager
Being coy I’d respond that it’s just a simplistic thematic description of what’s inside… Being candid I’d say the contemporary poetry market is something that’s ultra-niche and that if name recognition is enough to encourage someone to buy my book then so be it. The artists of today are always re-working the content of the past based on the needs of the present, so to me there’s nothing wrong with this.

Ariel Sheen
So over how long a period did you build this collection of poems?

Ariel Voyager
About 15 years. I think it shows too. You can definitely see some growth both emotionally and aesthetically in them.

Ariel Sheen
And were these all “real love poems?”

Ariel Voyager
What you do you mean by “real love poems?”

Ariel Sheen
Well excepting the ones that seem to be more about social issues related to love – like Dowry Street and Hipster Pedagogue – were most of these poems that you wrote for someone, you know, while you were in love with them?

Ariel Voyager
I’d say that most of them were written with someone that I was involved with in mind, but despite the title of the collection whether or not I was in love with them is a different story.

Ariel Sheen
What do you mean?

Ariel Voyager
Well I’d just mentioned emotional growth on my work. The majority of these poems are from my early twenties. Now being in my early thirties I would define this as a period of my life when I was emotionally stunted.

Ariel Sheen
How so? And if that’s the case, then why share them?

Ariel Voyager
I wanted to share them because though the sentiment behind some of them aren’t always “loving” in the sense of adoration and appreciation they’re still compelling as writing.

Ariel Sheen
And how has love changed its meaning to you over time?

Ariel Voyager
A lot…

Ariel Sheen
Care to go into specifics?

Ariel Voyager
Well. It’s just that that’s a big question. Do I start talking about how as a child, the period of life when most people have that modeled for them, by saying that I had no standard presented to me as to what romantic love was?

Do I start during my pre-to-late teens, when the relationships both my parents were in weren’t based on what I would call a robust feeling of love but resignation to responsibility and desire for security? Or do I begin in my early twenties, when I set my mind on being a writer and then devoured the works of Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Milan Kundera, and Friedrich Nietzsche? Do I detail how I felt intoxicated by the ideas and narratives they presented and how it had deleterious effects on my romantic relationships, my perceptions of what love is, what it could be and its relationship those seeking to pursue a life centered around the Belles Lettres?

Do I open in my late twenties, when the accumulated pain from that world view was pushing me to read psychology and counselling books so I could have a new view of love? That doesn’t seem appropriate either as it took a while for that to really seep in. Perhaps I should commence from more or less the past year, when those vacillations between the adolescent and mature world views finally stopped because I can say that I have a mature understanding of the term based upon reading and experience? I don’t know…

A page from my early 20s notebook

 

Ariel Sheen
Well, that certainly gives me an idea of how your views have changed. I’d asked as I noticed drastically divergent perspectives on love in poems like A Simple Request and the Ode poem compared with ones like Those Skeletons and Silk.

Ariel Voyager
Yes, well, those were all for different people at different times in my life. The latter two from when I was a teenager and was obsessed with the British Romantics. The former I wrote when in my early twenties and believed that selfish, amoral behavior was the manner in which to embody love for oneself (thanks Nietzsche!) and also up the quality of adventures that would be grist for future creative works.

Ariel Sheen
So then Menagerie, which is clearly about your ex-wife… Was that one of your mature poems about love?

Ariel Voyager
Heh, not really. I wrote Menagerie two plus years after our divorce while single. Towards the end of our relationship I’d been reading a lot of books on communication skills for couples, how to overcome fear of vulnerability, how to forgive, how to develop emotional intelligence. You know, the things that schools don’t always do because parents are supposed to but don’t always do. With this in mind I decided to write what I wanted the relationship to be like since the actuality of our life together was so divergent from what’s expressed therein.

Ariel Sheen
That’s, well, kind of sad.

Ariel Voyager
What happened, yes. But it was my fault for marrying someone that didn’t genuinely love me in a mature sense, let alone herself. To be fair I don’t think that she was alone in that. I certainly was dealing with some issues then that deserved correction. After all, we were engaged after two months of dating and two months later moved to Barcelona on a whim.

As for the poem, a couple of my friends expressed similar sentiments so I get it. But I think at this point in my life that it’s important to really understand the workings behind such an attraction and unraveling as it helps people to process the experience and guard from it’s recurrence. I’ve known far too many people that have found themselves suddenly single and broken mentally and emotionally and seem unable to move on. It was just a coping mechanism.

Ariel Sheen
Interesting. So you writing as an exercise in catharsis.

Ariel Voyager
Not just me, but scientists as well. Writing and other forms of creative outlets have a purgative effect of the negative energies we feel.

Ariel Sheen
True. Which is a good transition for the next poems I want to ask you about slash check if my periodization of your poems is correct. That means your last two poems Un/Binding and The Ascent of Icarus…

Ariel Voyager
Are the only genuinely recent poems in the collection. They are in part about my refutation of the character/caricature I’d adopted by identifying with such literary masters.

Ariel Sheen
I knew it! So you still think of them as masters?

Ariel Voyager
Absolutely. I can appreciate their craft while being critical of their content. They informed my world view at a deep level for a long time in a way that I can’t deny.

Ariel Sheen
Can you tell me a little bit more about those poems? They’re the only ones that seem to exist as a pair, they speak with the greatest urgency, they seem to display the maturity you’ve been talking about and they’re the only poems that have an element of time in them – excepting what’s clearly an addendum on Notes.

Ariel Sheen
Well, I re-connected with a former lover from my early twenties about two months ago. My muse from that period of my life. More than that, really, as I’ve not had another one since and despite several “serious” relationships. She was the only one that I felt truly understood me on a spiritual level – which speaks rather poorly to my choices for romantic companions as they were chosen more for presentation rather than personality.

Anyway, we’d first met when I’d started to fall under the spell of those writers that I talked about before. Yet despite this she elicited in me a willingness to be vulnerable – a quality I’ve struggled to embody as it makes me feel uncomfortable – and we shared what I felt to be a profound intimacy. I’m normally very intense and high energy, but when I was with her she calmed me down and I felt at ease. It wasn’t just that we had some similar issues in our upbringing, but where all of my other lovers have sought to make me their project – a lawyer, a professor, a therapist, a politician – but she just accepted me as an aspiring artist on a journey.

Which is ironic as after graduating from FAU and I sought adventures like those I’d read about in On The Road, Off The Map, The Thief’s Journal, Journey to the End of the Night, You Can’t Win, Tropic of Cancer, Sexus and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I traveled abroad in Europe for a long while and in the mean time she moved several hours by car to pursue a new career.

Ariel Sheen
So that’s the story behind the line “I proffered naught but hope a decade plus ago/That when we next see each other again it’d be like it was”

Ariel Voyager
Yeah. I’ve since looked at my journals from the time so know for sure that I rationalized my breaking off contact with her as a combination of “I’m doing her/us a favor as the distance between Jacksonville to Fort Lauderdale makes this unsustainable” and as I was hurt I was no longer able to see her. I thought I was being mature at the time and moreover realize now that then I started to shut off those parts of myself down that I’d later see as necessary for a healthy relationship to work. For a long while self-sabotage, unfortunately, was a bad habit of mine when dealing with emotions I didn’t know how to properly process.

Through some form of Facebook magic (Thanks Zuckerberg!) she popped up on my “People You May Know” feed. I liked one of her photos and we started talking again that evening, making plans to see each other two days later.

In the lead up to seeing her I was more nervous than a drug mule at a pat-down check point at the border. Over and after lunch all was great between us and the day after next, as I did not do so in person, I confessed my shame over my behavior on the phone and told her that she’d grew into the woman that I always thought she would – which was true.

She said something to me that cut me to the core. She said that the way I treated her years ago made her believe that she was “just another girl” to me. I told her there and then she was wrong, but didn’t go into the details about it that I have here. Instead I wrote those two poems with hopes of getting to know her again.

Ariel Sheen
It sounds like you still love her.

Ariel Voyager
I mean, yeah. I do. Shortly after the new year I even found myself going through old notes to find a passage I’d copied from a book I’d read not too long ago that touched on what I was feeling:

“Romantic love offers not just the excitement of the moment but the possibility for dramatic change in the self. It is in fact an agent of change… Romantic love takes on meaning and provides a subjective sense of liberation only insofar as it creates a flexibility in personality that allows a break-through of internal psychological barriers and taboos… It creates a flux in personality, the possibility for change, and the impetus to begin new phases of life and undertake new endeavors. As such, it can be seen as a paradigm for any significant realignment of personality and values.”

But I’m also aware enough of my thoughts now to recognize that an element of this attraction is my idealizing of our past, wanting to make amends and, most importantly, that her interpretation of what we shared has a very different emotional inflection than my own.

Ariel Sheen
So what do you think will come of it?

Ariel Voyager
Oh I’m doubtful anything will other than a gradual falling off. Were any of my former lovers to contact to me with such a story as the one I’ve told above I couldn’t honestly see myself giving them the opportunity to demonstrate they’ve changed. Now there’s major, major differences between them and her and of course, and the phrase “Sometimes second chances work out better than the first because you’ve learned from your mistakes” certainly comes to my mind, but I can’t downplay the truth of how hard it is for someone to shake away a negative view that’s been accepted as true for so many years. That’s brain chemistry. Years of specific neuropathic associations. I may be forgiven, as she’s told me that I am, but those make my desire to test the waters have to work extra hard against that well worn track. Plus, our physical distance makes an easy re-acquaintance impossible. I may be willing to make the effort to see and be with her, but whereas ten some years ago that was what was wanted I feel that now it just comes off as, well, weird despite my having no real desire to stay in South Florida and have because of the uniqueness of my job the ability to move wherever I’d like. Ironic when you think about it…

Ariel Sheen
Finding irony amusing instead of fighting for what you want? That doesn’t sound like you. It sounds like you’ve given up! Isn’t love worth fighting for?

Ariel Voyager
I think love conquers all, yes. But that’s not what we have now. Maybe there’s some mutual fondness over long past memories and pleasure in conversation, but beyond that I’m can’t honestly say there’s more to it. I’m a romantic, for sure! But I’m also a realist that can see that while something more would make for a great story, it is, however, unlikely.

Ariel Sheen
How does that make you feel?

Ariel Voyager
There was a time when I would have fixated on it and felt pain for not getting what I want. But I know that this would lead to another round of depression and self-medication and I’m so over that cycle so I’ll take a longer view and take comfort in the memories and the unforgettable reminder not to lower my standards as to the qualities that I should be seeking in a partner that fits my particularities.

Ariel Sheen
Ok. Interesting. Look at you Mr. Mature. Let’s move on to some other poems. I was wondering about the poem The Hipster Professor, The Leftist Demagogue and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. That poem, which has many of the qualities of a short story, seems so be referring to real people rather than placeholders for common academic stereotypes. Am I right?

Ariel Voyager
Yes, those are real people! The Leftist Professor was Simon Critchley and the Hipster Demagogue was Micah White, who would later be one of the two co-founders of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. I met them both at an academic conference at SUNY Binghamton several years ago.

Ariel Sheen
Besides being critical of them, you seem to be somewhat critical of yourself there.

Ariel Voyager
Yes, well, that’s because I was. I’d wrote a draft for that poem years ago and when coming back to it was of a very different mindset. That said I still think their politics are shit.

Ariel Sheen
How do you think that love ought to operate on a social level?

Ariel Voyager
That’s a bigger question than one I’m ready to answer now. For now I’ll say that I think love relates not just to the people you choose and who choose you as a romantic partner but is evident in social values as well. In Heaven’s Mansions I try to show how selfish it is to build beautiful spaces meant to be enjoyed and wall them off. In Dowry Street I try and point out the absurdity of a society that keeps so many people close to poverty that they’re willing to turn a sacred ceremony into a means of supporting themselves. These are aspects of love, at a larger scale than exists between two people, that I think are worthy of recognition and discussion. I write about this in more detail in some of my more explicitly political poems.

Ariel Sheen
Do you have any other creative projects in the works right now?

Ariel Voyager
No, because after all of the above came to your awareness in a manner that you couldn’t avoid, you killed me.

Ariel Sheen
True. Though you have to admit it was a long time coming…

Ariel Voyager
True. So at the end of this interview let me then ask you, do you have any other creative projects in the works right now?

Ariel Sheen
In deed I do! I’m taking a break from the serial novel project I’ve been spending the past year or so doing character and historical research on to work on a comedic screenplay in hopes of it being adapted to film one day. Golden age of film and all.

Ariel Voyager
A comedy? Wow. That’s quite a divergence from your rather serial novel project.

Ariel Sheen
Yeah, well, I need a change from working on what I hope will be as impactful as Atlas Shrugged and I’ve had enough people tell me I’m funny that I think I might be able to get paid real money should I get it in the right hands.

Ariel Voyager
Well, I wish you, and thus me, the best of luck in your endeavor.

Ariel Sheen
We are not the same, but I thank you nonetheless! Bye Felica!

Noam Chomsky’s Love Poem to His Wife

That desire felt by imperialist Europeans when
First discovering a resource rich region
With a population still primarily organized along tribal lines
And no modern military apparatus
Is nothing next what I felt when I first laid eyes upon you.

My heart burns hotter for you
Than the napalm dropped
On civilian non-combatants and crops
Of Vietnamese and Cambodians
So that the U.S. could maintain
Military and economic influence
Near the regional centers
between with the world’s largest populaces.

Oh so unlike the hundreds of bodies
Of indigenous Guatemalan villagers
Tortured, killed and dumped in mass graves
By soldiers trained
At the School of the Americas
In order to protect U.S. investments
And overthrow yet another democratically elected
Avowedly socialist government,
I’ve never tried to hide my feelings for you.

Whereas newspapers
Such as the Wall Street Journal,
Washington Post and New York Times
All publish to serve the interests of the capitalists that
Control the world’s countries through their political cronies –
I have never said a word that could be construed as a lie
So when I say that I love you until the end of my life
You know that this is true.

Whenever I am around you
I feel like I am glowing –
A sensation similarly reported by those children
That have spent time playing on and around
The Russian tanks destroyed by the US’s
Depleted uranium shells in Iraq during
The first Gulf War –
And my life anxieties disappear
Like environmental activists in
South and Central America and Africa trying
To bring attention to the dispossession of indigenous peoples
And the destruction of their means of subsistence
For the benefit of foreign oil and mineral corporations.

Though you’ll never depend on me
In the same way that many
Third world satraps of US interest do –
For I cannot provide you with loans, guns, tanks, bombs
Computers, training, helicopters to throw dissidents out of,
Lists of people to be dealt with and other such spook stuff –
I hope you know that should things ever get rough
I will be the rock on which you can rely upon.

**

If you enjoyed reading this poem consider purchasing my first collection of love poetry or the first part of my serial novel.

**