Recent update/explanatory note: what follows is not merely "Philly bashing," not exactly -- more so, it's an imitation of the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard's ranting style, with recent frustrations related to Philadelphia in the writer's crosshairs instead of annoyances re: Austria. Now that it is warmer and brighter and the clocks have changed, it's clear that many of the perceptions below were the product of a pretty acute case of seasonal affective disorder that seems to have eased a bit lately. More on all this later . . . We might keep expanding on this . . .
I live in Philadelphia now instead of NYC, Philadelphia instead of NYC, and so if I want to attend, for example, a reading in NYC, since I now live in Philadelphia instead of NYC, much money and time are required to bridge the distance, instead of walking to the train and spending four dollars on round-trip travel and walking through semi-exciting NYC parts, the way I did when I lived in NYC before I moved to the so-called Middle West before I moved to Philadelphia, instead of subwaying and walking to a reading in a matter of minutes, now it takes hours to drive or bus or train to the City from the city I live in, and this past Sunday I decided to make what would be a pilgrimage, an actual pilgrimage, into a city I love (NYC) from a city I've had some troubles with (Philadelphia) to see a simple reading at the KGB bar, and making this trip as soon as I decided to make it began to feel like a religious pilgrimage, a pilgrimage that ended up taking twelve hours round-trip by car and train, and it seemed like a pilgrimage as soon as I decided to make it probably because I recognized right away that I was in pursuit of the Good, or God, or beauty, or truth, when all I had decided to do was drive and train into NYC to see a reading of writing by Thomas Bernhard, the Austrian who died in 1989, who influenced Sebald and Gaddis and others (but not Stephen Dixon), who you will learn more about if you keep reading this rant, but first I think to make this a semi-valuable rant, I first need to rant about how badly I have been ranting about the city I live in recently, and yet I'm hesitant to launch into the complete rant because this city does not need anyone to come down hard on it, not even someone like me, not even someone like me typing this for a shitty little website, considering it seems like Philadelphia is hanging by a string and any more negativity might snip it, and yet my contempt for this city is matched by my compassion for it, they're inseparable, actually, but first it is important, I think, to provide some background about my current psychogeographical state if what I have to say about Bernhard is to make any sense, that is, for it to make sense a psychogeographical state should be relayed and understood, a psychogeographical state that moved into its recent stages when my psyche moved into current geographical position, that is, when I moved to Philadelphia in early July and loved it at first, and found bars and restaurants and cafes and bookstores I admired at first, and after two years in the so-called Middle West, the Vietnamese places on Washington Avenue blew my mind at first, as did the urban decay, the sprawl, the grit, at first, the major league stadiums within walking distance, all of it at first, until it got colder and the city started to become smaller and I seemed more sequestered to my South Philly neighborhood where I decided to move at first because I found a third-floor studio for under $500, two windows facing east, a tree out front (which now features a red-tailed hawk on sunny afternoons), a softball field, and on the other side of the park, a pair of famously dueling cheesesteak purveyors, Pat's and Geno's, and I chose to live in this neighborhood because at first it most reminded me of the Italian section of Williamsburg and was a quick walk to Center City and South Street and the subway and the Italian Market (all for under $500), and I chose to live in South Philly also because I didn't like Northern Liberties (seemed too in flux and yuppie-hipsterish) or Fishtown (desolate) or West Philly (too removed, college town, murderous), and I don't make enough money to live more toward center city like in Queen Village or the Art Museum area or what's lovingly termed the Gayborhood, so once I made some happy discoveries at first and settled into the place, what had seemed at first like an endless city started to become small, and then, second, I started to get the sense of the place, the vibe, and that's when I started to feel enthusiasm sort of seep from my soul, a feeling that came after the initial stage of discovery stalled and I moved into a second stage living in this city close to where I grew up in western NJ, but even when growing up in western NJ, much closer to Philadelphia than NYC, all my momentum headed toward NYC, not Philadelphia, except for sports, and so now living in Philadelphia my psychogeographical sensitivities pick up the accent here really for the first time and other particularities that are very particular here, more or less the glaring rareness of human hotness (men seem to do better than women, as a visitor from NYC pointed out, maybe because it's a masculine town), and so my psychogeographical sensitivities as I moved into a second depressive stage after moving here after a joyous stage of discovery after arriving in early July, started to discover much about the people and the place that seemed sort of depressing, regardless of socioecomonics indicators, the rich and poor and in-between were found equally contemptuous, and so for most of the fall and the winter I have experienced this terrible psychogeographically sensitive mixture of compassion and contempt aimed at so many of the people rich and poor and in-between I see on the street, since 99% of everyone rich and poor and in-between I see on the street or in the subway (sadly named "Septa" instead of something less septic-seeming) seems sad and insecure, as I am sad and insecure, and this sadness and insecurity so often manifests as such superficial toughnessness as tattoos galore and an infamous predilection for complaint and vulgarity and sometimes even actual cruelty toward one's fellow man (this isn't even considering the homicide rate or the city's history of catastrophic neglect of those in need and political/police corruption), a complete and total lack of brotherly love seems celebrated here over fledgling instances of grace and elegance and goodwill, but the main problem with Philadelphia is actually a LACK of people, sad and insecure, rich and poor and in-between, on the streets, in fact so often the streets are empty of anyone -- sad, insecure, otherwise -- and so you can't walk for hours and fall in love a hundred times a mile as in NYC and be reminded of some semblance of goodness in life or at least potential goodness or even the omnipresence of a sort of suffering most likely much worse than whatever temporary seasonal and environmental shit you're going through because the streets are empty of anyone, and that's really the most significant problem I have with living in Philadelphia instead of New York City, it's not just that the streets are empty of anyone but in Philadelphia there's this sense of New York's gravity-pull, tractor-beam, undertow of culture and excitement and a sense that NYC is one of the centers of the world, and that while living there I rarely thought about here but now that I am here I tend to think way too often about there because when I lived there instead of here I was really actually sort of happy in part because impossible things occurred that only occur there and would probably never occur here, impossible things occurred there that I won't relate here and now because they were implausible and wonderful then and there, and also 9/11 occurred when I was there, implausible and terrible, requiring a period, a full stop now -- a moment of silence -- at the end of this sentence. Semi-excited, more or less, just walking to the cornerstore, more or less, for four years, more or less -- there was a sort of pride to it, less in Manhattan, more in Brooklyn, and mention of Brooklyn brings up an issue people in Philly have about NYC (see: Mikey Wild's "I Hate New York"), in that most people I meet who love Philadelphia dislike NYC, often in part because they find NYC fake whereas they feel Philadelphia is real, which in itself is a fraught division that indicates pretty well the sort of thinking that might be common in Philadelphia, a sort of thinking that does not recognize that Brooklyn is twice the size of Philadelphia and pretty damn real everywhere except maybe for Bedford Ave in Williamsburg and parts of 7th Ave in Park Slope, or maybe what people mean by real as opposed to fake is that what struck me when I went into NYC on Sunday for the first time in a few months was that I was actually surprised that people were smiling on the street, and this sight seemed like such a rare and refreshing sight to me now after so much time here, and an awareness that the lack of that refreshing sight of random happinesses on the street has infected me, the lack of such happinesses has clearly filled me with something bordering on hatred even, a hatred caused in part by this city's highly refined culture of complaint, as though I have been infected clearly and terribly by what seems like a sort of etiquette of idiocy that's celebrated here, something I have grown to absolutely hate even after I decided to try to be amused by it, though I need to admit that I have also grown to absolutely love the old-fashioned Italian hoagies at Sarcone's Deli on 9th & Fitzwater (perfect sandwiches that make all other sandwiches seem sorry in comparison and make life before having this hoagie almost unlived because a bite into this hoagie signals the beginning of one's real life, at least in terms of evaluating the awesomeness of sandwiches), the slices at Lorenzo's on 9th & Christian (perfect slices of pizza wherein all ingredients are integrated and fused so each bite makes you wonder if they smear the dough with tons of butter, it tastes so more like butter, when really it is just all the ingredients achieving the ideal of a pizza slice, thereby transforming the taste from something like so-called pizza into something more like butter), and the Chapterhouse Cafe on 9th & Bainbridge (clean and well-lighted with good art and comely waitstaff and good taste all around that almost makes Philadelphia seem worthwhile or a place with some hope if this place exists in it and is somewhat a part of one's ritual), and other places and streets and things around, of course, that are odd or amusing or unique or authentic or just plain good and should be celebrated here, but I find it hard to be amused by or think good of, for example, the way the cheesesteak is celebrated here, the way people in Philadelphia rich, poor, and in-between stand in line for thirty minutes on weekend evenings to precisely order (in english at Geno's) a $7 sandwich served in less than fifteen seconds and then celebrate it, people rich, poor, and in-between celebrate the accrual and consumption of these sandwiches and make it part of their ritual, an important communal experience passed down and even celebrated generation to generation, when for the same money anyone could get the most amazing pair of eel handrolls, prepared with care, but if these ritualistic consumers of cheesesteaks were presented with a certainly more healthy and possibly even more scrumptious alternative to semi-boiled strips of low-grade steak slapped on a roll and completed with whiz or provolone or american cheese and perhaps a spatula dash of underdone, uncaramelized onions, instead of choosing the elegantly prepared alternative, people here would shout awcummawn and they would shout ah come on because healthy and possibly scrumptious eel handrolls have nothing to do with the ritual, make no sense here, seem too fancy and awcummawn they're Asian, not American, not served in seconds, and awcummawn are not a sort of disgustingly good indulgence that is celebrated here maybe because it staves the demons that orbit according to the gravity-pull/tractorbeam of complaint and dissatisfaction that seems in fact to actually sort of retard the citizens of this city and make their motto and most prevalent response to life awcummawn instead of something else they might say if not exposed to a lifetime of cheesesteaks and cocaine and mentholated cigarettes and daily consumption of gallons of lite beer, crappy television, and tantalizingly exciting but ultimately endlessly disappointing professional athletics, not to mention the occasional indulgence in an exciting roadtrip to Atlantic City, win or lose, this could go on and on, and without such things maybe people would not shout awcummawn but instead of going on and on with my own personal sprawling textual elaboration of awcummawn, I will switch gears suddenly to when I emerged from the train tunnels into oh such an enlightened Penn Station where classical music plays to subdue super-stressed travelers and then seeing people smiling on the streets, me too smiling on streets, randomly turning my head in one direction and then the next, and with each turn seeing another example of alluring sisterhood, and then to have an eel handroll on 4th Street and then to a very red bar packed with folks ready to listen for two hours to people read from the work of one of the most bile-smitten writers of the 20th Century, and oh the simple uplift of knowing that such people exist, that Dale Peck and Ben Marcus and others are reading Bernhard and bringing down the house laughterwise, reading Bernhard's long and obsessively repetitive rants that have the effect of cathartically exaggerating my own recent obsessive rants about my position in Philadelphia and by extension my life as I have been living it here this fall and winter and since Bernhard provides an exaggerated literary example approaching an ideal Austrian elaboration of awcummawn it thereby sort of eases things for me entirely, just the way reading nearly all of Bernhard and enjoying Woodcutters, The Loser, Yes, Old Masters, and Correction as much as I have ever enjoyed any of the best books I have ever read, has at times eased things for me entirely, because he is so consistently and completely disappointed by the fact that daily life doesn't match his ideal and therefore makes everything around him seem comparatively false and petty and cruel, and so ultimately all his characters are either suicides or talk about their suicided friends -- what fun! -- to wit, from the very end of Wittgenstein's Nephew -- a 100-page, paragraphless eulogy -- Bernhard writes: "He called the government, parliament, and the whole of the nation into question, as well as the creative and so-called interpretative arts, just as he constantly called himself into question. He both loved and hated nature, just as he loved and hated art, and he loved and hated human beings with equal passion and equal ruthlessness," and so it is idealism (love, passion, hope) that causes ruthlessness, that causes separation from life, because life so rarely approaches the ideal, and so Bernhard's ranting is actually an expression of the highest hopes and supreme love for the world and truth, also the reason he doesn't bother with formal conventions and blasts away at the page with an unrelenting representation of consciousness, because formal conventions undermine the ideal, too, while such paragraphlessness lets him emphasize ideas over and over in eddies that give the reader a break here and there and allows for a rhythmic tact of theme and variation before he bursts from those repetitive eddies into renewed fits of vitriol, and so last Sunday I made a pilgrimage because I was so completely and entirely tired of hearing myself rant about the dissatisfactions that come from living in the wrong spot, in a city whose primary culture is a culture of awcummawn, and yet no matter how terribly I have absolutely and semi-unapologetically felt like I have obliterated the relentlessly dissatisfying spirit of Philadelphia I've sensed, it doesn't compare to what Bernhard did over the course of his career to the country of Austria, consistently obliterating Austria and Vienna in particular in every book, and yet at the reading on Sunday, someone from the Austrian consulate read his work in the original German and it all seemed to leech the seething a little and I returned to Philadelphia after twelve hours of travel to begin thinking about ways to make it out of this place, to return to Brooklyn where the sense of what's real and true and beautiful in life comes closer to what I think is real and true and beautiful, closer to the ideal, than the sense I have of things in this city that celebrate complaint, same as Bernhard maybe celebrates the necessity of complaint in his novels, a necessity to seethe or else that has taught me, same as Bernhard, what it is I need in life and how shitty it feels not to have such things abounding, same as Bernhard, same as Philadelphia, and how important it is for me at least to take steps to have those things less than eighty-eight miles away, to live again in what feels to me at least as the center of gravity instead of the seething peripheries, same as Bernhard, same as Philadelphia, where people seem to seethe with an almost Bernhardian sense of dissatisfaction with the world, rightly so, as currently expressed now and probably, sadly, forever.
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