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it is good to die

2003-07-10 - 9:54 a.m.

"I envy those chroniclers who assert with reckless but sincere abandon: "I was there. I saw it happen. It happened thus." Now I too, in every sense, was there, yet I cannot trust myself to identify with any accuracy the various events of my own life, no matter how vividly they may seem to survive in recollection...if only because we are all, I think, betrayed by those eyes of memory which are as mutable and particular as the ones with which we regard the material world, the vision altering, as it so often does, from near in youth to far in age."
These words are the opening lines to Messiah, by Gore Vidal, first published in 1954, but they could be the opening lines to any diary ever written.

"Someone" did not suggest that I read this book. I recall perfectly well who suggested it and what he said. "If you can ever find it, you should read a book called Messiah by Gore Vidal. But it isn't about the messiah." Then he stopped, apparently unsure of how to describe what the book was actually about, and after a few moments, we were interrupted and the conversation went on to something else.

In the late 80s and early 90s, we were loosely associated with R., who had a crystal shop and operated various psychic/UFO discussion groups. He was a Vietnam veteran, a former salesman who had apparently gotten rich and then lost it all in the Glenn Turner Enterprises "Dare to Be Great" scandal of the 1970s, a former newspaper reporter, a former UFO chaser. I have no idea of why he recommended this particular book to me or what it meant to him or if, perhaps, he recommended it to everyone, although I can't imagine the more "woo-woo" element in our circle reading very far in this book or any other Gore Vidal I've encountered.

In part 2 of Chapter One, Vidal discusses the UFO hysteria of the post World War II years, including this mention:

"I myself, late one night in July of the mid-century, saw quite plainly from the eastern bank of the Hudson River, where I lived, two red globes flickering in a cloudless sky. As I watched one moved to a higher point at a forty-five-degree angle above the original plane which had contained them both. For several nights I watched these eccentric twins but then, carried away by enthusiasm, I began to confuse Mars and Saturn with my magic lights until at last I thought it wise to remain indoors, except for those brief days at summer's end when I watched, as I always used to do, the lovely sudden silver arcs meteors plunging make."
The Hudson River Valley remains a UFO hotspot to this very day, and Vidal captures the experience so perfectly in so few words that I couldn't help but wonder if the professional skeptic himself had actually seen a UFO -- an impression only enhanced by fact that the POV character is, in many ways, based on himself, most obviously because he is working on a history of Julian and ten years later Vidal himself would publish one of his best-known historical novels, Julian.

A page or so earlier, he discusses the July 1952 sightings of multiple UFOs over Washington, D.C. which were witnessed in the actual case by thousands. History would repeat itself in the 90s when a million people witnessed multiple UFOs and even filmed them over Mexico City, Mexico, leading to questions (in my mind, at least) about just how many people have to observe an event before we accept it as true. The usual explanation for these events is "temperature inversions," but there are temperature inversions over Washington every summer -- and I'm guessing over Mexico City as well. Hmmm.

"In daylight, glittering objects of bright silver maneuvered at inearthly speed over Washington, D.C., observed by hundreds, some few reliable. The government, with an air of spurious calm, mentioned weather balloons, atmospheric reflections, tricks-of-the-eye, hinting, too, as broadly as it dared, that a sizable minority of its citizens were probably subject to delusions and mass hysteria. This cynical view was prevalent inside the administration, though it could not of course propound such a theory publicly since its own tenure was based, more or less solidly, on the franchise of these same hysterics and irresponsibles."

There is a hole in human perception. BF says it is the fact that we cannot see randomness, just as a frog cannot see stillness. If we don't understand what we see, our brain makes up pictures to fill the hole. Messiah promises to tell the tale of what happens when "hysterics and irresponsibles" (the human race) learn that, "it is good to die."

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