The deal, unwittingly, was to trade imagination, nuance, and doubt for the sanctimonious safety of dogma. For a few months I attended The Jefferson School in New York City, taking Marxist courses in such light-weight frivolity as Dialectical Materialism or Subjective Idealism and the Masses. Neither, your average beach book. The classes were at least half-filled with F.B.I. agents probably reporting on each other. Ironically on the other side of the wall was Dashiell Hammett teaching a class in I know not what. He was the author of one of my favorite films, The Maltese Falcon. My road not taken.
The very name Jefferson attached to this school reveals their faulty thinking. Jefferson was an elitist polymath slaveholder who did not include Native Americans or African Americans in his lofty words having inalienable rights. Apparently the American Communist Party was blind to his hypocrisy just as they ignored the oppression and ruthlessness in the Soviet Union.
Of course I had no idea what I was missing. After reading the assigned books about Marxist philosophy I had a firm grip on Materialism and it had an even firmer grip on me. A certain rigidity had set in. I had all the answers but forgot the questions. The key phrase was the primacy of Objective Reality. Looking back I suppose this was the basis of establishing the undeniable plight of workers in the class struggle. It could not be denied or wished away. Objective Reality affirms the truth independent of perception.
Yet there is a price to be paid for such tidy thinking. It doesn’t accommodate the full range or reach of the imagination. It refuses entry into messy humanity where art begins. It settles for the rational and abhors the inexplicable. In her masterful novel, To the Lighthouse, Virginia Wolff explores this other dimension of subjective reality, the free-floating ramble of one’s inner life and its startling connectivity. She goes beyond Materialism and deposits her readers in irresolution, that country of elsewhere to fend for ourselves.
Wallace Stevens created a world where Reality and the Imagination are in a continuing irreconcilable marriage. Reality is what he calls the Necessary Angel which grounded him yet Seeming allows him to fly. It accounts for that green cockatoo in the poem, Sunday Morning and communion by way of late coffee and oranges in a sunny chair.
Objective Truth need not be absolute but is more than an agreed-upon lie. Context matters. We are not allowed our own set of facts to suit our purposes. This is now Saturday morning in Los Angeles. It cannot be decreed Thursday night.
Now we have the phenomenon of Donald Trump out of whose mouth comes a litany of self-serving lies. He has tortured Truth in his reign of tyranny against the English language. He has a profound disregard for both the Science of Objective Reality and the full flowering of artistic sensibility. He could be a poster boy for nescience. Another four years of him will revive the Marxist axiom of Objective Truth reminding us of what we have abdicated. I’d hate to think I've returned to that place where I began.