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Over the Eyes of Men
Crackpot Mailbox: Carlos and James Discuss the Iliad, Reading and a Life of Action
Does engagement with physical reality promote better reading?
Tue, Jan 14, 9:12 PM (12 hours ago)
Hey James, Carlos from a diverse and tolerant city here. Thanks for your reply to my last question about the degeneration of writing , especially with the Greek setting. It's helped with my studies.
Anyways, I got a question about reading, and how you've found living a life of action, with many experiences and choices to make, has shaped how you interpret different writings. I can't imagine many people today lost in escapist fantasies would have the emotional maturity to really absorb something like a tragedy, or an epic, With something like philosophy, I'd imagine without engagement in action, you won't have opinions of your own to form and will be easily mislead by whatever lies you're told, etc. I have an inkling you'd need to have lived a life worth living to appreciate these things, and I hope you can expand on this general idea. In fact, do you think books can be detrimental if you don't actively engage with the world? Thanks in advance (If you've read the Illiad multiple times, it would interest me to hear what you've found most impactful from and if that changed with different readings).
What motivated this question was a quote from the Illiad about blackness coming over the eyes of men before death. that's always lingered in my mind from my recent reading of it (I read it once 3 years ago, and how I interpreted it changed alot). Also a former friend trying to embarass me infront of a girl I was about to fuck on his couch (I was only grabbing her titties). Below are those two personal anecdotes, and how they brought the poem to life for me in my most recent reading.
When I was 18, I was angry. I worked out alot and trained on my own for boxing inspired by Mike Tyson's "Undisputed Truth". Anyways, this older and bigger Jamal on the bus says I bumped my bag into him. My emotions were unhinged, so I called him a faggot. He attempted to walk away, as if he was showing me mercy. So I kept calling him a faggot in offense. Off the bus now, ,midway up the stairs on a small platform from one staircase to the next, he leans up against me. I do my naive hand push away "hey back off". AWWW SHIEEEET.
"WHY YOU TOUCHIN ME, DONT TOUCH ME". Shaniquides sucker punched me close to sleep. Blackness came over my eyes. Then I saw light again. Up the staircase horrified onlookers watched as Tyrone, son of Shaniqua tried to stomp my knee in while I'm on the railing. Kicked my chest, kicked my face. At that moment, I wanted to scream, but knew no help would come. So I got up half conscious, and luckily this guy threw really wide hay makers exposing his sweet chin. I kept giving him right hooks right on the button, as he swung wildly, I also managed to pivot myself in such a way that his back ended up facing the stairs, so I hoodied him and beat the back of his head. He had no shirt beneath his jacket, and then he ran down the stairs, man tits flapping, into the cold winter. I was really proud of that. The next day I got my health card photo taken with a bruised face. Anyways, that particular experience always comes back to me when I read homer, his description of combat always seemed too vivid to not be inspired by the real thing.
Also I fucked 5 girls in a week this December to restore my honor, because a former
"friend "got mad I was gonna fuck a girl at his party (she would have been the fifth that week), so he tried to humiliate me in front of her , but it didn't work, her titties were in my hand. I went to take a piss and this faggot managed to make the girl leave because he wasn't getting any. I refuse to call a little bitch like that my friend, so he is no longer. At the time I just began re-reading the Iliad, and took note from Achilles standing up to Agamemnon. I learned emasculated penis wielding flesh sacks in positions of power really are as petty as Agamemnon, and try and throw their more masculine counterparts under the bus in front of others to flaunt their rank.

I think this prompt might represent the full circle of our inquiry here, from Ilium to Harm City.
Congratulations on having conquered in your adventures.
The blackness you have described I have experienced secondarily as concussions in fights in which I kept fighting unconsciously, going in and out of blackness, and primarily due to sleep deprivation, when after 40 hours or so, streaks of blackness, like shadow rays, begin encroaching on my peripheral vision and sometimes blot my entire visual field out for a moment. By day five I blacked out regularly while walking, working and talking, but when fighting on that Saturday [the videos are on youtube with Damien and I going at it with machetes on the red carpet] clarity was mine. I have also experienced this with various seizures, five, I think, three being in childhood, 2 in church and 1 in school.
So, yes, it would seem that whoever the poet was that we know as Homer, had experienced head trauma and sleep deprivation, which is no surprise considering that every free youth and man in Hellas was expected to box.
In terms of Philosophy, it should be noted that Aristotle held class under the covered walkway around the wrestling and boxing grounds, and his school was known as the walking school. I have always hated the idea of philosophy because it is, in modern context, the act of idealized fantasy engaged in by a person who hopes to influence someone who has or gains the levers of power to bring his utopian vision in to reality, making it a proxy, proxy pipe dream, the ultimate sissy act, which we generally know according to such labels as sociology, political science, ideology and more specific labels such as communism, fascism, nationalism, globalism, which are all fantastical attempts to scale up or destroy the natural human framework of tribalism—or community. In these pursuits even the idea of brotherhood is corrupted to extend to people one does not know and cannot trust.

The Iliad I read:
-1. in my 20s I read it cover-to-cover and found that I reread and enjoyed most Achilles against the River, where he slaughters so many Trojans that the River Meander rises up against him in protest to having his waters choked with dead. I enjoyed the Odyssey more, identifying more with Odysseus.
-2. in my thirties I data-mined the Iliad for The Broken Dance project, reading lightly most of the book and focusing on The Funeral for Patroclus and the use of chariots. My favorite chapter was actually the inventory of the invading force, as a thing I re-read a lot to put the struggle and main characters in broader context.
-3. in my 40s I used the Iliad as a reference book and only took time to reread The Rage of Achilles [bringing to mind your breast-filled hand on the couch of unwelcome], which I related to at that disenfranchised time of my life far more than his fight against the river.
-4. in my early 50s I took the Iliad down to Brennen's bar and read it cover-to-cover, annotating it while drinking beer, refereeing, judging and serving as fact-checker for debates among elder negroes of an athletic sort, good men, coaches and mostly readers with college degrees. In this reading, perhaps being older and on the wane, I found myself captivated by the final chapter in which Priam confronts Achilles about recovering the body of his son, Hector. The eloquence of Achilles is the most striking aspect of this encounter and I believe the book is a stair to this pinnacle of human interaction, in which the poet managed to weave together the text that sanctified state-sponsored war and the subtextual heroic war protest in a way that transcends both. I used this reading in pulling together Of Lions and Men.
-5. in terms of reading, I have gotten to what I call the postmortem stage, where I only read for my writing, and will read nothing if I do not think it will advance the craft or serve a specific project. Other than checking passages for reference, I will probably not revisit the Iliad, as my eyes are failing and I have so much left to read, books that are totally neglected, and bear also on our shared past.
I have likewise reread the Bible and Robert E. Howard's works approximately every decade since I was a teen, and my life experience and stage of awakening has greatly influenced my reading each time. This week I begin rereading the Old Testament for the last time, pretty certain that from here on out, my powers of investigation will wane with old age rather then deepen with experience, which is to say, that I agree with your premise, that reading without a life of action limits the extraction of meaning from the text.
Is reading only, as escapism and in philosophy, with no life experience to measure against the text and an unlikely chance of even noticing the subtext, is harmful?
I won't go that far. Because reading at least requires the activation of our vision-shaping capacity, rather then deadening it or using it as a delivery system for crippling hysteria and emotion like movies and TV. Any reading is good, as opposed to none. To the younger reader I would say to look at books as more than a storehouse of information, but rather a furnace for the forging of the key to extracting that information and sorting true from false from sloppy, with your life experience being the set of files necessary to retool that key to work in various locks discovered in your inquiry.
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winter of a fighting life
pillagers of time
buzz bunny
the combat space
the first boxers
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