Bears and Sugar Worlds
A Whiteheadian Tribute to Lou Reed
Bears and Sugar Worlds:
The Scrimmage of Appetites Everywhere
The poet Delmore Schwartz, Lou Reed's teacher, speaks of earth as the heavy bear who goes with me. This bear is the secret life of belly and bone, hungry for a world of sugar, howling for a fix. If it cannot get a fix it kicks a football.
If earth is a bear, then heaven is the sugar world. It can be found in candy, anger, and sleep. Candy is ecstasy, anger is edginess, and sleep is sleep. Each is euphoric in its way. At least this is what Delmore Schwartz invites us to imagine in his poem The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me.
Schwartz quotes Whitehead at the beginning of his poem. In our bodily life, says Whitehead, we hunger for satisfaction and thirst for novelty. He calls it appetition.
Appetition is immediate matter of fact including in itself a principle of unrest, involving realization of what is not but may be...Thirst is an appetite towards a difference, toward something relevant, something largely identical, but something with a definite novelty. (Process and Reality, 32)
Lou Reed knew appetition well. In the later years of his life, after battling with addictions, he became an avid practitioner of Tai Chi. He came to realize that, with a little practice and discipline, the bear can dance with heaven. This dancing does not eliminate death, but it makes it possible to endure death and pass into the other side, where the dance can continue. Who knows, maybe there's novelty in heaven, too. A wildness that cannot be tamed by stagnant forms of order.
In any case, even in this life, Lou Reed never lost his understanding of the place between the bear and the sugar world. His gift was to help us awaken to the life we live, whether broken or sugar-filled or both. He knew that there is something beautiful about intensity itself, about walking on the wild side. He had a fat soul.
A fat soul grows wide by the taste of beauty. Here is how the novelist Patricia Adams Farmer, a Whiteheadian thinker, puts it:
Beauty is all about intensity of feeling, the kind that emerges from mutual relationships of respect and reverence and tenderness. Beauty thrives on contrasts and differences for sake of intense harmonies....A beautiful soul is a large soul, one that can overcome the smallness and pettiness of our human condition. A really fat soul can welcome diverse people, ideas, and ways of being in the world without feeling threatened. A fat soul experiences the intensity of life in its fullness, even the painful side of life, and knows there is something still bigger . . .” (Patricia Adams Farmer in What is Fat Soul Philosophy?)
Lou Reed had a certain kind of fat soul, albeit with an edge to it, and this fatness was what attracted him to Delmore Schwartz. It was a fatness that was big enough to appreciate what Schwartz called the smallest color of the smallest day. In his later years, when Lou Reed had mellowed into a lower Manhattan elder statesman, people would see him riding bikes and taking photos. But we learn from the NPR interview that he could still be cranky. He reminds us that edginess is not contrary to intensity. He was impatient with people who could not see the way the light comes and goes so quickly when it is golden and ephemeral, and therefore perfect. early in the morning or at dusk, in the New York he loved. We might wish to walk calmly with him on an April's day, but we we need to be on our toes, lest he sense that our souls had lapsed into thinness. Time is the fire in which we burn, says Delmore Schwartz. Always the burning is a yearning for beauty, and often it turns into music, whatever the color or tone, even velvet. As Delmore Schwartz puts it in the Heavy Bear poem, there's a scrimmage of appetites everywhere.
-- Jay McDaniel
Calmly We Walk through This April's Day
Each minute bursts in the burning room,
The great globe reels in the solar fire,
Spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.
-- Delmore Schwartz. Excerpt from Calmly We Walk Through This April’s Day * (Selected Poems (1938-1958): Summer Knowledge. Copyright © 1967 by Delmore Schwartz.
The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me
By Delmore Schwartz
“the withness of the body”
The heavy bear who goes with me,
A manifold honey to smear his face,
Clumsy and lumbering here and there,
The central ton of every place,
The hungry beating brutish one
In love with candy, anger, and sleep,
Crazy factotum, dishevelling all,
Climbs the building, kicks the football,
Boxes his brother in the hate-ridden city.
Breathing at my side, that heavy animal,
That heavy bear who sleeps with me,
Howls in his sleep for a world of sugar,
A sweetness intimate as the water’s clasp,
Howls in his sleep because the tight-rope
Trembles and shows the darkness beneath.
—The strutting show-off is terrified,
Dressed in his dress-suit, bulging his pants,
Trembles to think that his quivering meat
Must finally wince to nothing at all.
That inescapable animal walks with me,
Has followed me since the black womb held,
Moves where I move, distorting my gesture,
A caricature, a swollen shadow,
A stupid clown of the spirit’s motive,
Perplexes and affronts with his own darkness,
The secret life of belly and bone,
Opaque, too near, my private, yet unknown,
Stretches to embrace the very dear
With whom I would walk without him near,
Touches her grossly, although a word
Would bare my heart and make me clear,
Stumbles, flounders, and strives to be fed
Dragging me with him in his mouthing care,
Amid the hundred million of his kind,
The scrimmage of appetite everywhere.
The Withness of the Body
Schwartz’s epigraph is a reference is to the unity of mind and body in the work of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. See this excerpt from “Process and Feeling” by Jeremy W. Hayward:
Process philosophy was first proposed by that great English gentleman, mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, fifty years ago. Whitehead takes great care to show process philosophy to be a natural outcome of the Western tradition and to provide solutions to many of the seemingly intractable problems that had arisen in that tradition. It arises as a criticism of Berkeley, Hume, Locke, and Descartes, especially, but goes all the way back to find its roots in Plato and Aristotle. Whitehead himself is regarded by many as the greatest Western philosopher since Plato.
Lou Reed, the principal singer in the Velvet Underground, a band that had profound impact on the high-I.Q., low-virtuosity stratum of alternative and underground rock around the world, has died, his literary agent, Andrew Wylie, said on Sunday. He was 71.