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Andy Nowicki’s The Columbine Pilgrim

2,644 words

Andy Nowicki
The Columbine Pilgrim
San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2011
112 pages
Hardcover: $25, paperback: $16

“Anyway, the day I was there I saw this huge cockroach crawling across the floor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger, more repulsive-looking bug in my life. Without even thinking, I just smooshed it with my foot, and then all of a sudden Tony got really mad at me.

“I’ll always remember this moment. He gasped, like he’d just witnessed an awful atrocity. Then he looked at me with an expression of . . . just stinging reproach. ‘Isn’t nature cruel enough already?’ he practically shouted, ‘without us adding to the cruelty that’s already there?? What’d that roach ever do to you, anyway???’

“Then he tenderly picked up the dead roach body with his bare hand. He gazed at it with forlorn pity, and I thought he was about to break down crying. It was weird as hell.” — From Andy Nowicki’s The Columbine Pilgrim

It’s not surprising that Tony Meander, the insect patriot of the passage just quoted, a man for whom the word “introverted” is as sadly inadequate as the man himself, should suddenly express tender concern for a cockroach.

He is the hero, or at least the protagonist, of The Columbine Pilgrim, a novel by Andy Nowicki, self-described “reactionary Catholic” and author of The Psychology of Liberalism as well as proprietor of the Dyspeptic Myopic blog; it’s also the first work of fiction published by Greg Johnson’s estimable Counter-Currents Publishing house.

Tony might be said to have peaked in high school, but not in any football hero sense. He is the ultimate Loser. His torments at the hands of his teenage cohorts, excessive but emblematic for all that, have stayed with him, endlessly revisited, becoming the hard core of what passes for his identity. Eventually he finds some ways to deal with them, including Nietzschean megalomania, until he finds the inspiration he needs in the Columbine shootings. He visits the scene, like Hitler laying a wreath at Bayreuth, then returns to what passes for “home” to wreak his vengeance.

In purely literary terms, I would describe the writing as straightforward rather than flashy, in keeping with the models it appropriates — the lone gunman’s journal and nonfiction crime — although the hallucination scenes, featuring taunting figures floating in the middle distance, perhaps show the influence of Philip K. Dick (Ubik, Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch). But leaving aside literary thrills, this is a book whose themes and ideas will need to be grappled with and overcome by those who think of themselves as being against society and on the Right.

Superficially, but as we shall see, only superficially, Nowicki’s Pilgrim seems another example of the twentieth century’s unique contribution to art, which I have called Cockroach Literature. In this genre our “antihero,” smugly superior or sympathetically put-upon, does battle with the uncomprehending and unappreciative Yahoos of his particular society.

But unlike the hero of a Grail romance, or a Raymond Chandler detective story, or even a conventional “middlebrow” novel, our boy (it’s almost always a boy) has no sense of defending the Truth and the Right; in fact, he is precisely “smart enough” to know that there is no Truth, no Justice; Truth and Right are the tools of oppression, and really, “everything’s phony.”

Nor, like the protagonist of a German Bildungsroman or Scandinavian “family business saga,” does he eventually learn that society, or some particular institution that holds him in its grip, has, after all, some reason, some right, of its own, and so find his place in it.

While Jim Dixon, Kingsley Amis’ angry young yobbo battling Lucky Jim’s academic stuffed shirts, might finally earn his ironic nickname with an implausible job offer to London (a sign of Amis’s latent conservatism; the true Cockroach disdains anything like a job), usually The Man triumphs through prison (Judaic Paul Newman’s blond haired, blue eyed Cool Hand Luke) or the mental institution (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) or the draft board (Richard Farina’s masterpiece of hipster Castroite misogyny Been Down So Low It Looks Like Up to Me); or else he accidentally blows himself up in a gas-filled attic, like Beckett’s solipsistic proto-slacker Murphy, or jumps on a bus to anywhere as we fade out (The Graduate). Think of the contrasting worlds where first James Gould Cozzens’ sympathetic study of wartime airmen dealing with boredom and duty in Guard of Honor, then Joseph Heller’s malicious hatchet job on the same theme, Catch 22, could be both best selling and showered with honors. Never heard of Cozzens? — that’s my point.

The archetypal Cockroach is, of course, Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and this is quite appropriate, since the Cockroach and his literature is both the product, and the instrument, of the Judaic strategy of demoralizing goyische society by “uncovering” the “truth” behind its ideals.

But as I said, the resemblance is only superficial; neither Nowicki nor his protagonist is a Cockroach. However, before Gregor Samsa awoke from his uneasy dreams, there was Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man.

Again superficially, our Pilgrim’s tale does resemble Notes from the Underground at least in structure. Part One of the latter gives us the voice of the Underground Man, narrating his current feelings and the events of the recent past. Part Two, though still his narration, allows us to see the Underground Man in action, his “rescue” of a prostitute, with whom he can think of nothing to do but ruin her life anyway.

Likewise, Nowicki’s Prologue gives us the voice of the Pilgrim himself, traveling, making his titular Pilgrimage to the very site of the Columbine shootings, compulsively thinking and reminiscing, ultimately unto the point of hallucinatory madness in a Hunter Thompson-style hotel freak-out. This is followed by Chapter One (the only chapter, oddly, although I think we will eventually see the reason here) which abandons first person narration and gives us a presumably objective account of his re-engagement with “objective” reality, if revisiting your Columbine-worthy high school tormentors via a convenient reunion can be called “reality”; desperate, murderous actions, narrated as if in a “true crime” account.

While Dostoyevsky may have created the template for the Cockroaches to come, his work, like Nowicki’s, is decidedly different. They are not examples of Cockroach Literature but desperate attempts to understand and overcome it. Dostoyevsky, and his U-Man, know that he is a cockroach, suffer from such knowledge, and most importantly, will know the reason why.

Notes is conceived at a frontal attack on rationalism, secularism, progressivism, and their smug public face, Optimism.

Nowicki is not as straightforward in laying out the grounds of Meander’s grudge against the world. His high school humiliations, though rendered in toe-curlingly abject detail, seem almost programmatically complete, running the whole gamut from pants-pissing to “faggot” cat-calling to cheerleader emasculation, and involve most races and both sexes.

Yet even so, they are more common than not, and hardly any real world victims return 15 years later to execute their tormentors (who, also programmatically, are all present and literally accounted for in the handy sign-in book).

This should tell us that Nowicki has more on his mind than critiquing high school fascism and contemporary educational theory, and the clue is Meander’s turn to philosophy in college, and to Nietzsche in particular. Tony Meander, like Hesse’s Harry Haller (The Steppenwolf being another work, in the shadow of Dostoyevsky, but saved from Cockroachhood not by Russian Orthodoxy but by the informing presence of Nietzsche), is one of those who are not just born out of time, but fated to suffer their time more than the others around them, right to the dregs.

What makes them suffer is what Nietzsche called nihilism, the loss of man’s center consequent on the loss of God and the “higher world” in exchange for, as the New Testament would say, “the whole [finite] world.” Titus Burckhardt has succinctly described the origin and stages of the crisis:

The image of man . . . is succeeded by the image of autonomous man, of man glorifying himself. . . . This illusory autonomy implied from the first the ‘loss of the center,’ for man is no longer truly man when he no longer has his center in God; thereafter the image of man decomposes; first it is replaced, as regards dignity, by other aspects of nature, and then it is progressively destroyed; its systematic negation and disfigurement is the goal of modern art. . . .

As soon as man’s center, the contemplative intellect or the heart, is abandoned or obscured, his other faculties are divided among themselves… thus, Renaissance art is rationalistic . . . and also passional, its passion having a global character: the affirmation of the ego in general, a thirst for what is big and without limit.

Thrown back on himself, the artist sought new sources of inspiration . . . he released a new force, independent of the world of experience, uncontrollable by ordinary reason, and contagiously suggestive. [1]

Nietzsche taught the self-overcoming Overman as the alternative to his version of the Cockroach, the Last Man. Nowicki’s Pilgrim passes through the stages Burckhardt descried, first the rationalism of philosophy, then the affirmation of the Ego without limit (“Du bist Gott,” his God-hallucination helpfully informs him) and then violence, uncontrollable and contagious.

“He was conscious of himself changing, of becoming a self-made creation, his own God,” claims one student. . . . “Tony would say he was God some days, then would laugh it off, like he wasn’t sure how seriously to take himself. But I could tell that these were ideas that he was scrutinizing very closely. I had a feeling that he was at the point of making a major decision.”

Still looking through Dostoyevsky’s prism, we can usefully contrast his Underground Man with Nowicki’s Pilgrim. The Underground Man’s revolt is brief, futile, and rather than rescuing a fellow human being he even makes the prostitute’s life worse; ultimately its all tears and delusions. Our Pilgrim is better organized, perhaps due to the guidance provided by the Columbine Alte Kämpfer. He gets to line up his old enemies, humiliate, and destroy them, while also getting, though grotesquely, the cheerleader. Even that remaining high school fear, teenage pregnancy, metamorphoses into a posthumous triumph:

All of them have confirmed that Patricia is far from traumatized, but instead is “nearly euphoric” over the news.

“She can’t wait to be a mom,” said one friend.

“Patty never wanted a kid before,” commented another. “She thought it would be a drag, and that it would make her look fat. But now she’s incredibly excited. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve seen in my life!”

What explains such relative success? Perhaps, our Pilgrim has chosen better myths.

One clue may lie here:

Certain witnesses report that he appeared to be laughing to himself at some unknown joke, and one even claimed to hear the exact words he muttered to himself: “Huh! Eleven. One for each disciple. Every apostle a martyr. But not any more. No bullet for Judas. Huh!”

Indeed, there’s a lot of laughter for a book of this sort, about 30 occurrences in a little over 100 pages.

Indeed, he now laughed, easily, as a man sitting on the couch watching his favorite sitcom drinking a beer after a hard day might laugh. He was having a grand old time.

Who is it that laughs easily, having a grand old time, at a massacre, especially a massacre of saints and apostles, even if he’s doing the shooting? One answer comes to mind: The Joker. Indeed, the idea of crashing a party, lining everyone up, humiliating, killing and (at least by implication) raping the cute ones, while cracking oneself up with bad puns and insults, is a pretty clear Joker trope.

As Trevor Lynch has insightfully noted in his review of The Dark Knight, the Joker weaponizes the ideas of Tradition, using “irrational contingency” to shatter the chains and illusions of planning and Progress. By contrast, Dostoyevsky’s Christianity, the ultimate root of the idea of Progress and God‘s Plan, renders the Underground Man’s revolt futile.

And like the Joker, the Pilgrim is not afraid of death. [2]

Still, the Joker analogy fails, or rather, Tony is not able to live up to it. He is too much the man of ressentiment, in Nietzsche’s terms, too fixated on his past humiliations, too self-pitying. It’s the Cockroach again. The film Joker mocks this tired old trope with his ever-ready, ever-changing accounts of his “origins.” The Joker has transcended any concern for his “past” while Tony is still living in his high school locker.

Tony’s ressentiment makes him a sucker for Christianity and its myths of transcendence, the “long suffering” Jehovah or his vengeful Son. Always the fixation on origins and debts to be repaid (while the Joker just burns his stack of money).

Unable to transcend himself, Tony must die, but his death does not result in the Christian fulfillment he may have expected.

Just as we can re-purpose his life of ressentiment for ourselves, making it a test case of how not to overcome, we can also form our own understanding of his death. Like many modern men, he has been mistaken about his myth. He is not fated to be some sacrificial Jesus, as he thought, but rather to be Sigmund, and his own son (“‘It’s definitely a boy’ . . .”) conceived in violence and betrayal, will avenge his dead father and bring down the (false) gods. [3]

And now we know why there is only one chapter here . . . the rest is to come. As Burckhardt says, the violence unleashed is contagiously suggestive.

But we will not have long to wait. Having moved from the inadequate Christian mythology of the One Lord, our Siegfried, like the original mythological hero, is born and reborn every day, everywhere. We will hear from more “Me-anders,” everywhere, and soon . . .

Earlier, I called the writing merely straightforward. But then we don’t go to writers like Dostoyevsky for modernist verbal fireworks. To a aesthete like Nabokov,

Dostoevsky’s . . . monotonous dealings with persons suffering with pre-Freudian complexes, the way he has of wallowing in the tragic misadventures of human dignity — all this is difficult to admire.

But real people like us turn to literature for some insight into our lives, and maybe some guidance. Can we admire such a madman as Tony Meander? Surely not; yet as Lynch has also observed, such criminals, lunatics and monsters are the only channels that Tradition has to express its ideas within what Dick called the Black Iron Prison of liberal cultural hegemony.

There are many like the Pilgrim in or attracted to the “rightist” milieu, and Nowicki gives us some insight into where they come from, what makes them failures to be avoided at all costs, and how we can learn not to become them ourselves. It makes a fine addition to that small, wholly admirable genre: the literature of the Outsiders.

Notes

1. The Essential Titus Burckhardt: Reflections on Sacred Art, Faiths, and Civilizations (Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom Books, 2003), pp. 141, 197.

2. There may also be an echo here of what Baron Evola writes in his book, Saggi sull’Idealismo Magico (“Essays on Magical Idealism”), published in 1925. As paraphrased at the Gornahoor.net site: In this trial, he must destroy every such mental and emotional support. He must “deny every faith, violate every moral land social law, scorn every sentiment of humanity, every love and generosity, every passion, affirm an implacable and all-pervasive skepticism, reaching finally a conscious and critical madness.”

3. One might also find a hint of make your own Hitler plan in The Boys from Brazil as well. As an intermediate form, we might consider Taxi Driver, the creation of Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese, whose backgrounds — strong, religious communities — have provided relative immunity to the Cockroach. De Niro’s Travis Bickel refuses to join the cockroaches in the streets, and successfully, though murderously, rescues the child prostitute; he even, ironically, fails at suicide and becomes an urban hero.

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