This post is one in an ongoing series to which I will add posts from time to time, sometimes in flurries, sometimes with varying intervals between, under the general title of “The Traffic in Trauma.” Each post in the series—or, in some cases, sub-series of interconnected posts under that general series title–is designed to be read independently from the others, yet all are meant to resonate together with one another, in an ongoing deepening of meaning. All the posts in the series explore, from various perspectives, the unifying theme of what we might call “the institutionalization of trauma.” The idea for the entire series came to me on a recent short visit I made with my wife to Las Vegas, to join our daughter and son-in-law as they also visited there. The trip proved to be very profitable to us all, and a number of the posts in the overall occasional series make use of my winnings from that trip.
This particular post is the second in a sub-series on “Reading Hopkins in Las Vegas.” Accordingly, readers may want to start with my immediately preceding post, the first of that sub-series.
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As I said in my preceding post, Las Vegas is a great place to go if you want to get your ego boosted, but it’s also a great place to go if you want to get your ego busted. Either way, when you go there, to Las Vegas, you put yourself at considerable risk. Those not already practiced in either ego boosting or ego busting, depending on which they’re after in going to Las Vegas, are better advised to stay away. Those unprepared are likely to lose their shirts if they go to Las Vegas—and more than their shirts. Regardless of what the city may say about itself to draw visitors there, Las Vegas is not for amateurs.
No sooner have I said that, however, than I feel the need to take it back, at least from one perspective. That is the perspective surprisingly opened up for me when, by chance, I found myself reading a biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the 19th century English poet, in Las Vegas. The accidental, coincidental conjunction of going to Las Vegas, the self-styled City of Sin, on the one hand, and my happening to choose a biography of the ascetic, Jesuit poet Hopkins as my reading selection to take along on the trip, on the other, unexpectedly allowed me to gain deeper insight into both Vegas and Hopkins–and beyond. Indeed, it actually allowed me to see more and more deeply and broadly into the realities—realities far deeper and larger than an individual piece of Nevada real-estate and a solitary, depressed, repressed, 19th century converted English Catholic Jesuit and poet—for which both Vegas and Hopkins themselves beautifully function as metaphoric condensations.
Part of what it let me see is what gives me reason to think about taking back what I said above, that Vegas is not a place for amateurs, whether at ego-boosting or at ego-busting, to go, as soon as I’ve said it. That’s because, as reading Hopkins in Las Vegas occasioned me seeing, amateur ego boosters or busters who make a trip to Las Vegas, only to lose their shirts and more, are in fact more than likely to find themselves drawn back there again–again and again and again, in fact—until they eventually lose even their amateur status itself. Expressed just a bit differently, when amateurs at the game of ego-boost and/or ego-bust do once go to Las Vegas, then, however it may be with what happens in Las Vegas while they’re there, they will find themselves staying there. Or at least they are likely eventually to discover they may as well have just stayed there from the start, to save themselves the added time and expense of having to make a long series of return trips otherwise. Thus, amateurs who go to Las Vegas at all may as well just stay there once they go, until they find that they have ceased to be amateurs at all any longer, and have joined the ranks of the proficient instead—at which point they can then leave when they choose, with no need ever to return again.
Sometimes, of course, to put the point one way at least, those who, consciously or not, are aspiring to such proficiency keep returning to Las Vegas till they’ve got it, return there by going, in fact, somewhere else. Without ever going back to the specific piece of Nevada real estate that goes by the name of Las Vegas, they go back to Las Vegas by going, in effect, to some other Las Vegas. They return to Las Vegas by going, perhaps, to some other piece of real estate in Nevada, maybe Reno. Or they may even go to Las Vegas by going somewhere in some other state, maybe to Atlantic City, in New Jersey–or, for that matter, maybe to Wall Street, in New York, New York (I mean the New York, New York that’s in the state of New York, not the New York, New York that’s in Las Vegas, Nevada). Or maybe they even return to Las Vegas by going to Main Street at Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida. It doesn’t really matter. All those places are really just one and the same. They are all really just Las Vegas.
The glimpses of truth that reading Hopkins in Las Vegas let me see also included this: that once you’ve managed to find your way to Las Vegas the first time, however difficult that first trip there may have been, you find it’s really easy to go there again. You don’t even need to leave home, to get back there. You don’t even need to get up off your own couch, if you find yourself zoned out in front of the TV in your own living room. (All that is a matter I’ll blog more about in some future post).
Indeed, when looked at from the proper perspective, if once you manage to get to Las Vegas, you will stay in Las Vegas, whether you wish to or not. Once you’re in Las Vegas, the only real way to leave there is, as the saying goes, “in a pine box,” the same way Nicolas Cage’s character finally manages to do it in the movie version of Leaving Las Vegas. Whoever goes to Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas–till death does them part. (I’ll also blog more about that, sometime.)
To sum up, then: Amateurs who go to Las Vegas will find themselves, whether they like it or not, unable to leave there the same way they came—namely, as amateurs. Before they will be allowed to leave Las Vegas, they will have ceased to be amateurs, and will have become experts instead. In that sense, Las Vegas is the place where, once they go there, no amateur ever comes out again alive.
What’s more, in yet another ironic twist of fate, or at least of how that fate gets put, whoever has stayed in Las Vegas long enough to lose amateur standing and then be given permission at last to leave again, will have lost, along with their amateur status, all need or desire to get out of Vegas at all any longer. That is, the only time any amateur who goes to Las Vegas is finally allowed to leave again, is after the erstwhile amateur has ceased to want to leave. Once you go there, whoever you are and regardless of why you went there, you can only get out of Las Vegas when you no longer want to!
All that applies equally to all who go to Las Vegas for either of the reasons I’ve discussed. Thus, once you go to Las Vegas, regardless of whether you go there to get your ego boosted or to get it busted, you will not be allowed out again, no matter how much you want to leave, until you no longer want to get out.
That brings me to yet another fatefully ironic twist, perhaps the most ironic and twisted twist of all, which is that, regardless of why you went there in the first place, whether for ego-boosting or for ego-busting, by the time you are finally allowed really to leave there again you will find that your ego has in fact been simultaneously both boosted and busted. Indeed, you will discover that your ego has been boosted all the way to busting—and then boosted even beyond the bust. That is what I was pointing to at the end of my preceding post on reading Hopkins in Las Vegas, when I said that the ultimate truth of the matter is that, contrary to everything said about the place–including especially what it says about itself to drum up business–in Las Vegas the House, poor thing, never wins!
La Vegas is Ego itself. It is the 100% pure distillation and absolutely maximal concentration of ego as such. It is the veritable black hole of ego. That is why whatever of ego goes to Las Vegas, even if only to the most outlying suburban reaches of the City of Sin, will never leave there alive again. As the gravity of a black hole is so strong that, once drawn into its orbit, not even light—no “information” whatsoever—can ever escape it again, so can no ego at all go anywhere near Las Vegas and have any chance at all, however infinitely thin, of getting out again.
Precisely because Las Vegas is Ego itself, the only way for any ego to leave, once it has gone there, is in a pine box. Because it is Ego, it is the graveyard of all egos. As I put it a while ago, any ego who goes there, regardless of why, will find itself trapped there, to be boosted till it busts—that is, till it explodes or implodes, it doesn’t really matter which, and simply vanishes without trace, as all phantoms of our dreams do once we awaken. As I already said, Las Vegas is the place to go, whether you want your ego boosted or you want it busted. Either way, you’ll get just what you want in Las Vegas, with the other thrown in, free of charge (which, of course, is truly a miracle in Las Vegas, the place where they’d sell you the air you breathe if they could only figure out how). That’s why, as I’ve also already said, Las Vegas is not only such a great place to go if you’re into self-indulgence, but also an even greater place to go if you’re into self-mortification, as, say, Hopkins was.
That’s the good news about Las Vegas. The bad news, on the other hand, is that if you go to Las Vegas for any reason whatever, whether to boost or bust your ego, or just on a lark or by pure accident (maybe your plane to Poughkeepsie gets diverted there for an emergency landing), you will stay there forever, never to return alive. Since you, after all, are, your ego, your “I”—that’s just what the word ego means after all: Latin for “I,” whoever “I” may be, including you—that means you had better stay out of Las Vegas, if you value your life.
If only you could! If only you could stay out of Las Vegas!
But you can’t.
That is the very worst of the bad news about Las Vegas–that you cannot not go there. (And that, too, I’ll blog about more sometime.)
That’s what I learned, at any rate, from reading Hopkins in Las Vegas.