Freudian Jazz

This is a picture of abstract art. I've used it because it complements my surreal story.

Sometimes I wonder if I live in an apartment or an oubliette. I mean, there’s a cushy couch, rose-colored chintz curtains, a PS4 with myriad games I haven’t played yet, cigarettes and wine, but there’s this sense of feeling imprisoned. Maybe it has to do with a non-existent purpose. There’s jazz playing in the background. Benny Goodman or Art Blakey or somebody great. I think it’s Goodman’s ‘Sing Sing Sing.’ I hear the beat leading up to the feet tapping Big Band sound, and then the clarinet kicking in and then the drums again. The music plays like a movie – scene after scene. Characters in the form of bars of music or minims or crotchets dance, but I’m not dancing with them. I’m drinking again. It’s been a while since I was sober. The wine’s a cheap Indian one. I can taste the sediment in it and maybe that’s all I taste. The sediment of losing my freedom, the sediment of myriad crushed paper hopes. The sediment of dreams finally meeting hard, stony earth and I, bruised with flayed skin scuttling on roads of fire, howling like a rib-cage showing, wounded mongrel. I think I’m asking the famous existential question but without any panache – Why am I here in this place and space, slowly and steadily slipping into oblivion?

It’s Art Blakey and his quintet playing Wee-Dot. Not Benny Goodman. Or maybe it’s Benny Goodman. Jazz is like Casu Marzu: Maggots crawling all over the rotten cheese, but a delicacy, nonetheless. But lately, the wallpaper looks like moldy cheese and spiders flit around. I can see their eyes watching me: Little brothers monitoring my every movement. I’m in a dystopian, postmodern 1984. And why do I have this postcard saying, “I had a great time yesterday.” I don’t have friends or lovers. I open the refrigerator and find a severed hand! Fuck! It has beady-eyed spiders all over it, and it’s made of skin and cheese. And there’s this ringing in my ear. Make it stop! Please! Is this real? Is anything real?

The wallpaper envelops me, and I become larva in a cheese and spider cocoon. I eat my way out; biting through both the cheese and the spiders. It tastes like a corpse. But how do I know what a corpse tastes like? I escape, but the ringing in my ear is fucking killing me! The shadows look like severed arms now. I pick up the postcard. It says something else now: “You know that man isn’t free. Sartre was a liar. Dostoevsky spoke the truth. The truth will haunt you forever.” What does that mean? I start weeping, but tears don’t fall, spiders do. I crush them, and they become cheese. I put it in my mouth, and they become spiders again. They taste ugly and sore. There are spiders all over my hands with little beady eyes. The ringing becomes classical music, and then it goes back to jazz. I smell cigarettes and piss and shit. My apartment suddenly looks like a smoky jazz bar. What is going on? Why is life so complicated? Why did Adam fall? Why did Lucifer fall? Weren’t all things considered good? Then how could Lucifer deflect unless creation and God were always flawed? Or did God withdraw grace and is cruel but justifies things by using the term ‘greater good’. Damn the Elect and the reprobate! Damn Calvinism and free will! Damn the Cheese and the severed hand!

I decide to sleep, but rest isn’t forthcoming, and so, I pop a few Valiums and soon, I’m sleeping on my sofa. I wake up, and it’s morning. I snip the edge of a carton of milk and drink it straight from the packet, the white liquid drenching my shirt. I go outside and find the newspaper lying on the ground.

‘Archaeologist killed in Cheese Factory,’ the headline screams. I read on: “An Archaeologist was found dead in a cheese factory. His arms were severed.” I’ve read enough. What the fuck is going on! I feel a rush of vertigo and collapse. I dream of my mother and how I was sexually attracted to her. My father collected spiders and loved cheese. I hated the man though he was good to me. Nausea overwhelms me. I run to the bathroom and puke. I then don’t wash the stains away because of an image of a psychoanalyst that floats in my consciousness. I call my mother.

“Did you read the news lover?” She says.

“What the hell is going on!” I shout into the phone, “I’m hallucinating, and I’m terrified!”

“I’ll be right over sweetie. I’m bringing Dr. Hansen,” she says, in a voice riddled with mad ecstasy.

Why would my mother be excited? Here I am, standing on the shore, preparing for the waves of insanity to sweep over me and drown me, and she’s thrilled! I feel disgusted but then think of the things my mother did for me. But what has she done?

The doorbell rings, and I see my mother standing with Dr. Hansen. Who’s Dr. Hansen by the way? He looks familiar, but I can’t place him.

He smiles, and says, “We’re here to help you, son. Don’t worry.”

“Mom, I’m scared. Help me!”

“Quick! Don’t waste time, doctor! He finally admitted that he was hallucinating today! We need to act! Now!” My mother yells.

The doctor and my mother lead me to my bedroom.

“So, you finally have insight into your condition. Now’s probably the best time to tell you the truth, but before that, I need to ask you how you feel about your mother,” Hansen says.

“I felt sexually attracted to my mother. It led to nausea and vomiting. I’m unwell. Just tell me what the fuck is going on!” I say and look at my mother who’s in tears.

“My sweet darling. My honeysuckle. Oh, how I’ve waited for this!” My mother squeals.

“You were always sexually attracted to your mother from the time you were three. It’s called the Oedipus complex. You hated your father and wanted to replace him as your mother’s lover. As you grew older, those feelings never subsided, but luckily for you, your mother reciprocated your feelings. She initiated a sexual encounter with you when you were fourteen, and then the two of you regularly had sex. One day, however, your father walked in on the two of you, and beat you badly, before leaving your mother shortly afterwards. He never spoke about what he saw to anyone, but your hatred towards him grew with each year, and you needed a way to escape, and so you envisioned a world that revolved around the objects your father adored like cheese and spiders so that you could destroy it repeatedly. You’d return to sanity without insight now and then, but when wounded, you’d go back to this world. During periods of hypnosis, you’d claim to see a severed hand too, but I never understood the significance of it, until you blurted out – during a period of regression when we monitored you – that you’d like to see your father’s hands chopped off because he beat you with them.

“Your love for Jazz and classical music comes from your mother playing it when you made love to her. She did it initially to make it look like she wasn’t home, and you were in your room alone listening to music. But after the divorce, she continued playing it during the lovemaking sessions because it symbolized that something special existed between you two – a connection beyond an ordinary mother-son relationship. You also reported hearing a ringing sound. That’s common in mental illness sufferers. Now, I’m not a conventional Freudian therapist, and so, I encouraged your sexual relationship with your mother because stripping you off it would have robbed you of identity altogether.

“Recently, you surprisingly regained sanity immediately after you heard that your father met with an accident. But you relapsed when you heard that he recovered fully. So, that gave me an idea. Now, I don’t care about ethics. I’m a man of pure, unadulterated science. I wanted to help you heal completely. You were my most fascinating patient, and I wanted to make a breakthrough. And so, I asked your mother to kill your father. But to do it in a unique way that involved cheese, spiders, and severed hands.

“And so, your mother and I managed to lure your father to a cheese factory on the pretext of her suffering from severe mental illness, and how it would be beneficial for her prognosis. Your father was reluctant and angry at first, but I convinced him by saying that she was always mentally unstable, and he’d only failed to recognize this. I told him to meet us at a cheese factory. The mob – with whom I have deep ties with – introduced me to the owner. The owner knew that someone was going to die in his factory, and so, he fled. He’s currently the prime suspect.

“While your mother, I and your father explored the place, your mother showed your father a spider and told him that she’d started collecting them. Your old man was still angry but calmed down a little when he heard this. He then took the spider in his hands. Your mother then grabbed a machete we’d already hidden on one of the shelves and hacked your father’s arms off with it. She then proceeded to shove a lot of cheese into his mouth to muffle his screams.

“Now, please register what we did and the way we did it carefully. Process and think. And also, recollect.”

Tears run down my eyes now. My past is lucid. The cheese and the arm and the spiders will never haunt me again. “Oh, mother! Oh, mother!” I sob in joy. She holds me. The doctor plays some jazz and leaves us. We sigh, and we moan, and we finally find closure.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

On Meditations by Aurelius

This is a picture of a statue of Marcus Aurelius. I've used it because my essay critiques his philosophy.

I like Aurelius. I like his notion of withdrawing into yourself irrespective of the space and time you’re in, his idea of mortality and fatalism, and a few of his thoughts when it comes to controlling impulse with reason.

I love his philosophy of the present, and never adding more to an unfortunate circumstance. But I disagree with his concept of this being the best of all possible worlds, or the Whole, or the absolute Reason. This world we live in, is often more absurd than fiction, and it doesn’t take rocket science to figure that out. Things go unexplained and you’re never going to find answers or that quaint room with its beautiful symmetry and archaic charm.

No, you’ll often find yourself in a space that’s disjointed and fractured from your convictions: a room with yellow wallpaper, and yes, please catch the allusion, or a frightening, unnerving blurred mass enveloping you with zombies and tricksters breaking free, threatening to bite through flesh, and chew on your bones. And this isn’t paranoia. Just one panoramic glance with keen insight and you’ll see it: the horror, the miasma of living decay that’s abominable choking you, making you want to retch.

And I also dislike his insistence on man being social. Being social comes with both its flaws and its breakthroughs. Sure, it’s good to meet people, but finding yourself in a clique that stereotypes, or a group that hates with an unwarranted agenda makes void the entire notion of socializing being something always productive. He says it’s terrible to fracture yourself from society, but you find artists who’re are complete misfits or loners, giving you masterpieces. I think this is related to his notion of the divinity of man, or looking within to find the light. Now, I always interpret the latter in a very general way, and never make mystical or spiritual connections to it. You must look within to change, but that’s pretty much it.

I don’t believe in human divinity because when I see the world, I see a swirling mass of darkened grey. I use this color because humanity is prone to wickedness although it’s capable of good. The notion of humanity’s inherent nature is a subject that’s hotly debated ever since the first man and woman came into existence. Some say Adam’s fall led to a shift in balance and total depravity; others say we’ve not connected with our innate goodness, but I think both views fail.

We’re not totally depraved, and we have the freedom to choose, but we’re not innately good either. Just one glance at the holocaust tells you enough of the anti-divinity that’s present in man, unless you say that divinity itself is evil. I think man has no divinity, but I agree with Aurelius on the concept of a soul. But his overemphasis on morality puts me off. It’s preachy and becomes self-righteous. But then again he’s addressing himself. Also, is it humanly possible to exist with absolute mastery over impulse and emotion? Still, all said and done, concepts like embracing death without fear, knowing that you’ll be forgotten one day, and that it’s pointless weeping for the dead since they aren’t coming back makes sense.

But the idea of us being recycled by the universe, and just being reduced to mere atoms is only partially true, in my opinion. Sure we’ll all die and go back to dust or ashes, but that’s only the body. I believe that the soul lives on, not one with the Whole, but in another dimension. You can call it heaven, hell or purgatory, but the soul is immortal, but definitely not divine. But I’ll contradict myself here and say that it’s possible that complete soul-annihilation takes place. Hell, I’m open to change.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Onion

This is an abstract painting. I've used it to depict personality and identity because they have myriad layers to them. One can never truly comprehend another person fully.

He was odd, to say the least, and he would walk around hunched, with this peculiar gait that made him look like some wounded war-veteran who limped. He seemed so absorbed with himself, and I often wondered whether thoughts buzzed around inside his over-sized head like flies circling a pile of garbage. He had this effeminate way about him, but his voice was a rich baritone that reminded me of the Euphonium. It still shocks me that he took his own life because nobody really hated him, and some in fact nicknamed him “a man with a thousand reflections,” and wanted to get to know him better, to put together the hundred pieces that made him so unique, so that they could finally get a glimpse of the solved puzzle. Having said that, loneliness isn’t about being alone in a dimly lit room with a back against a wall, smoking a cigarette; it is being surrounded by different unique realities, or a hundred faces – each with their contours, pimples, wrinkles and facial hair (or lack of it) – and still seeing this thick impenetrable fog that threatens. Was he lonely? I don’t know, but then again what do I really know? I’ve lived with my wife for fifty years and even though she’s been so forthcoming, I think I’ve only peeled a few layers of the onion. Every man’s mind is a galaxy in itself, with ideas and constructs orbiting the core that makes him. Sometimes I wonder if he really was that complex, if he was really an instrument like the piano, with its tuning pins, soundboard, keyboard, bridge and case, or if he was just this hollow reed we mistook for a flute. The naïve often have this enigmatic charm about them that makes them so alluring, and makes us see them from all kinds of vantage points, thereby giving us a blurred reality. Maybe it was just us, looking through glasses, or a microscope when we should have seen him plainly for who he really was. Nonetheless, none of it matters now. He sleeps and with him rests an over-analytic mind that calculated the steps he took to reach the college canteen from the classroom, or an introspective one that told him that there was no escaping the frightening hands of fate; or a creative one that made him think that he was like a character out of a fantasy book: grey in every sense, or a simple straight forward one that couldn’t get past some obstacle, and hence caved in.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)