What? Oh, where am I? Let me not go mad!
Sweet Heaven, forgive weak thoughts! If there should be
No God, no Heaven, no Earth in the void world;
The wide, gray, lampless, deep, unpeopled world!
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Cenci, Act V, Scene IV.
This is Bear. Bear and I have kept company now for over half a century. I like to think I am holding up better than Bear has done, but I could be wrong.
Thomas Disch keeps company with a bear named Mortlake. That, at least, is the name the bear seems to have given out. Most bears guard their true names as they would their lives, lest in disclosing them they give away some power over themselves. The circumstances in which a bear's true name may be revealed are said to be contained in the Tibetan Book of the Bears, although no man living has actually seen that fabled and terrible volume. Better safe than sorry, my bear is Bear and Bear he shall remain.
Mortlake is reported to have become most agitated over the the recent unpleasantness in the Sudan in which the British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons learned of the dangers attendant to the naming of bears. The British are not so bellicose in the Gordon Brown era as they have been in others, so there will be no "War of Gibbons' Bear" to join the "War of Jenkins' Ear" in the history books.
Recently, I have been concerned for Bear's mental equilibrium after Mr. Disch posted a new poem, "The Mad Teddybear," which begins:
I met a teddybear the other day
who'd lost his mind. They lose their minds,
some elderly bears, before they lose their lives.
It comes from being left alone
and staring too long at the ceiling.
Bear is not, I think, mad, only quiet. I think he spends his time on his shelf communing with his little household gods, Bear's lares. He has always been one for keeping his own counsel. Mortlake, for his part, harbors imperial ambitions, often mistaken for madness but not really the same thing at all.
Although I have only recently found his LIveJournal pages, led there by John Crowley, I first mentioned Thomas Disch here over four years ago. A rifling through the pages of Amazon reveals that several of my favorite Disch books -- includng Clara Reeve and The Castle of Indolence -- are not currently in print. He does, however, have a new novella -- The Voyage of the Proteus: An Eyewitness Account of the End of the World -- due out next week, and in July will reveal "the intimate details of his sudden elevation to Godhood" in The Word of God: Or, Holy Writ Rewritten. He, like the bears, bears watching.