Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One.
Whatever the case, it wasn’t that I was anti-popular culture or anything and I had no ambitions to stir things up. I just thought mainstream culture was lame as hell and a trick. It was like the unbroken sea of frost outside the window and you had to have awkward foot gear to walk on it. I didn’t know what age of history we were in nor what the truth of it was…As for what time it was, it was always just beginning to be daylight and I knew a little bit about history, too–the history of a few nation states–and it was always the same pattern. Some early archaic period where society grows and develops and thrives, then some classical period where the society reaches its maturation point and then a slacking off period where decadence makes things fall apart. I had no idea which one of these stages America was in. There was nobody to check with. A certain rude rhythm was making it all sway, though. It was pointless to think about it. Whatever you were thinking could be dead wrong.
Balzac was pretty funny. His philosophy is plain and simple, says basically that pure materialism is a recipe for madness. The only true knowledge for Balzac seems to be in superstition. Everything is subject to analysis. Horde your energy. That’s the secret of life. You can learn a lot from Mr. B. It’s funny to have him as a companion. He wears a monk’s robe and drinks endless cups of coffee. Too much sleep clogs his mind. One of his teeth falls out, and he says, “What does this mean?” He questions everything. His clothes catch fire on a candle. He wonders if fire is a good sign. Balzac is hilarious.
[I] went into another room, a windowless one with a painted door – a dark cavern with a floor-to-ceiling library. I switched on the lamps. The place had an overpowering presence of literature and you couldn’t help but lose your passion for dumbness. Up until this time I’d been raised in a cultural spectrum that had left my mind black with soot. Brando. James Dean. Milton Berle. Marilyn Monroe. Lucy. Earl Warren and Khruschchev, Castro. Little Rock and Peyton Place. Tennessee Williams and Joe DiMaggio. J. Edgar Hoover and Westinghouse. The Nelsons. Holiday Inns and hot-rod Chevys. Mickey Spillane and Joe McCarthy. Levittown.
Standing in this room you could take it all for a joke. There were all types of things in here, books on typography, epigraphy, philosophy, political ideologies. The stuff that could make you bugged-eyed. Books like Fox’s Book of Martyrs, The Twelve Caesars, Tacitus lectures and letters to Brutus. Pericles’ Ideal State of Democracy, Thucydides’ The Athenian General – a narrative which would give you chills. It was written four hundred years before Christ and it talks about how human nature is always the enemy of anything superior. Thucydides writes about how words in his time have changed from their ordinary meaning, how actions and opinions can be altered in the blink of an eye. It’s like nothing has changed from his time to mine.
Now lets hear from Thucydides himself
To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defence . . . and indeed most people are more ready to call villainy cleverness than simple-mindedness honesty. They are proud of the first quality and ashamed of the second. (Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War III, 82, trans. Rex Warner, The Penguin Classics, pp. 209-210)