Friday, September 29, 2006

October Harvest

The fatted smoke of burnt offerings,

the sacrifices in memory,

chokes your heart, and you wonder if you

dowse it with the three raindrops on a coat sleeve,

the expressive spatter of mud on a boot's shank,

the bleating of an ewe. From such a place, speak.

The dance steps are broken, the dancers renew

but the sound of the empty hall echoes in the sighs of the wallflowers,

the rumble of the chairs, and two balloons left over,

the humid car on a rainy evening, and the gravel of the train tracks.

As dark breaks free from the horizon hills

and sweeps you into its heart, shuffles you away,

ever away,

the night fires start, the signal men rouse themselves from their cabins,

and the priest mops the spilled blood from the sacrifice of the wedding party.

(My apologies. No, I don't think this is good. I just think it's an explanation of the last week or more.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Exampli Gratia

Because the previous two posts (look down, dang it) may seem like more academic muttering, I've decided to give just examples of what happens when the world goes wrong and people, left in a mass, an undifferentiated and unmotivated mass, start to define their own clubhouses. Trust me: I'm not being fey. This is important in its consequences, even if there is nothing apparent in the way of solutions. (That said, it's always nice when you know what the real causes are, because only this will prevent the unforgivable hydroencephalitis of mounting a crusade against "PC" or "fundamentalists" or other persons who are merely being persons who have retreated to the safety of their tree forts. (If I never close my parentheses, I can never die.)

I regard any other web or computer identities I might have as irrelevant both to my life as I live it and to ideas and cultural history, and yet I have seen a perfect illustration of my point recently, and so I have to give in and mention the world of e-people. In general, I like dogs much more than people. ("History is more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than friends," as Alexander Pope said.) As little as I care about people, I care about e-people even less.

In this web encyclopedia, a number of rules have been growing for the last few years, and sometimes new behaviors show up that aren't covered. That has meant that some of the administrators react quickly, without consideration of any procedure, and do so because they know best. This has prompted other administrators to oppose them. The first group then set up an IRC channel simply to talk to each other. Since the group was founded on the basis of "the rules are onerous and get in the way of what's best," the discussion in that IRC channel is propelled by presitge earned by showing greater and greater scorn for the opposing administrators and regular users. Because it came into existence for people who think they know best, the participants have to know better than the best of each other, have to keep moving the down marker, keep saying worse and worse things about regular folks and acting in more and more outrageous ways.

Or, let's consider a college, or even a church, set up along the lines of being "real Christians." The very definition is contrary. It is built on not being like the others -- the others being the "false Christians" or the "humanists." Therefore, one moves up in these ranks by being less and less in conversation with the rest of the society. It begins with disallowing Halloween celebrations, goes briefly to avoiding R-rated movies, and then cheerfully mows down all music not in the "Christian" rack, television, most radio, most novels, etc. Soon, greater and greater public avowals of religion turn to religiosity. It is spiritual pride that didn't start out with self-love at all. Instead, it started with rejection, with exception, with umbrage. It began not with any desire to make oneself the holiest, but rather a desire to be least like the plainly degenerate secular world.

I know it wasn't clear, before, so let me try one last time: When any group is founded on umbrage, on exception, on rejection, that group is going to gain momentum in its divergence until it ends in absurdity and frenzy.

The socialists began by rejection of the decadent capitalists of the everyday society, and soon they begin sniffing out counter-revolutionaries and insincere bourgeoise apologists. The feminists begin by being more free than the male dominated and masculine-identified world, and soon they are declaring that all heterosexual women are subjugated. If the founding principle is fear, disgust, or reform, the ultimate conclusion, if there are no checks, will be solitariness, harshness, and a competition to be extreme.

Perhaps I am being too general. Perhaps I am being hasty in saying that this must happen. However, it must happen to the degree that exception and umbrage are the only ideals and motives. If there is a normative value connected to the rejection of the wickedness, then frenzy may not result. If there is a utopia to distinguish from the dystopia of the real, then there is a chance that the group will become Shakers. It's all a question of whether fear and persecution are the only impulse or not and whether such rejection can achieve satisfaction without compromise. Even when excepting groups have normative and utopian visions, they have to fight against those who compete for negation.

There is no answer for this, by the way. I said that the answer is to ask the town what words mean, but there is no force on earth that can prevent people from dividing up into neighborhoods with neighborhood patrols. Therefore, the only answer I know of is an individual one. I can't stop the persecuted from becoming persecutors, and neither can you, but you can ask yourself, every time you find a new group that wants to include you or that you want to join, if the group offers something to be, or just something to not be.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Gimme Back My Umbrage pt 2

So, is everyone good and drunk? Fat and happy yet? If this post makes no sense, it's because you folks are drunken gluttons.... Or it could be because you didn't read "Gimme Back My Umbrage" first. (The possibility that I am incomprehensible will not be admitted.)

"He that complies against his will,
Is of his own opinion still." -- Samuel Butler, Hudibras
The problem with a town that splinters in its language is not merely that the linguistic community is no longer cohesive, and therefore that language's meaning is weakened. It is not that introspection over words begins to take precedence over speaking to communicate. Those may well be problems, but they are tangential to the psychological and anti-social component of such a rupture. Why do people change their minds about terms? The terminology we have been discussing before are "identity politics" terms and general onomastics. Those change because of the projection of a group onto itself, or sometimes a projection of an individual onto him or herself. Therefore, succeeding at it gives an alternative identity, but it succeeds not because folks agree with it, but because the general speech community fears offense, and they do that because it threatens their peace.

Once there is success along these lines, then we set up a race, a race to take umbrage. Each person who needs additional esteem or wishes to reverse a political or social wrong, are encouraged to go as far as fast as they can. (Of course, where there is demonstrable and unquestionable social persecution, no one is going to disagree with any harmless effort at reversing such differentials, or erasing them. Thus, the "negro" to "Black" change -- part of "Black is Beautiful" -- was something everyone could get behind, while my dog's self-esteem is unaltered by becoming a canine American.) The race to offense is my topic in general. Once we set up power for the offended, we make offense more attractive than negotiation or forgiveness.

I'm reminded, inevitably, of what happens when religious communities gain power by being more "primitive" or "reformed" than the others. It begins with an overburdened and corrupt establishment, but it quickly gets to the Committee for Public Safety. It begins with selling indulgences and ends with shattered stain glass windows. In the Islamic world right now, the always shaky doctrinal authority has been superseded entirely by the race to be more restrictive and "holy" than the next fellow. The Koran might mention purdah (as Leviticus does, and as early Christian documents do in a lessened form), but that doesn't mean much. It says that women ought not be showing off their bodies and keeping male worshippers from paying attention and encouraging other women to get into a fashion show. Fine. So, one Islam group says, "Veil? You horrible heathens! We make our women cover their whole head!" The next says, "Head? You can still see their breasts, you dogs! We make ours wear robes!" The next says, "Robes? You have no faith at all. We make our women wear full sheets!" The next says, "Those sheets are awfully alluring. We make our women wear trashbags over their whole bodies!" Next will be burqahs without eye holes.

Lest we engage in fashionable Islamobashism, let's remember Christian and Jewish communities that have done much the same. Remember our beloved "Pilgrim Fathers" in the United States, who began wanting to get rid of the accidental confusion of intercessory saints and angels with idolatry and quickly (very, very quickly) got into a similar contest of umbrage? "You people got rid of saint statues, but you have saints in your painted windows!" This is followed by the tinkling of broken glass. "You just break the stained glass windows? We think singing is pride!" Down comes the choir loft. "You got rid of the singing, but you send your priests to seminary instead of relying entirely upon inspiration of the moment? You heathens!" No more apostolic succession, then. "You still have your women worship with the men, though," says another Puritain group. Welcome the single sex non-monastic religious houses.

What is the power of Jerry Fallwell and Donald Wildmon? Is it his attractive good looks, soothing voice, and doctrinal expertise? What was the power of Mary Whitehouse in the UK? What was the power of even Flush Limbaugh? These people all have the power of offense. They have the power of endless piety through eternal restriction. By advocating little but shouting and pounding out their philippics constantly, they attract those who seek to define in contradiction to the speech of the wider community. The "culture" is "seccalar hoomanist." By whittling, by carving a group away from the block of humanity and then a group from that and then a group from that, the power is in the attraction of being offended. If you are most offended, you are most pious and empowered.

Part of this is probably sociology. If you put people into a very crowded auditorium, they will soon created a living room sized space out of it.

However, the critical thing for me is that "PC" and shouting out objections to the decadent society of "political correctness" are the same fundamental action in terms of language. Both attempt to create an alternative discourse by refusing the terminology of the wider culture. Both empower by using umbrage. The general culture acceeds to these requests for fear, for desire of peace, but the end result is that the cohesion of the underlying communication is weakened even as the possibility of cultural progress is destroyed by that culture's being made up not of a whole, but of factions and fractions. The inherent hypocrisy (that each group needs to reject and vilify the culture as an imagined whole) is apparent, but the danger lies not in that as much as in the way that this tendency renders all our words meaningless.

Now, sober up and go on a diet.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Gimme Back My Umbrage!

Gimme back my bullets.

My roommate's gun got nine bullets.

I'm sick of umbrage being taken, and I think it's time for umbrage to be given. The great Holy Spirit covers us, and dawn shows his brooding over the world. Let's all sigh, raise a glass of hackles, and show our bristles, for we make a bloody world thereby.

(The photo on the right is just a backyard of a house I lived in. Pretty, isn't it?)

We are surely cursed by our own genius. This blog entry will be part of a series, I'm afraid, although each time I hope it's the last I have to say on the subject. Unfortunately, it blends in with the two posts on deconstruction and the prednisent, below/above/before. The actual subject here is interpretation of language, again, but this time in an examination of what happens when we don't ask the town what a word means, or when the town is constrained by half of an ideology of niceness.

It used to be en vogue to kvetch about "political correctness." Students today searching the world wide web will probably stumble across one or another of the old Jeremiads and be puzzled. They won't know what "PC" is. What's more, they won't be able to figure it out from the rants, either. They'll encounter Limbaugh setting up a hue and cry against it. They'll find William Bennett yelling about it, and George F. Will. They'll even find Lewis Lapham upset about it, and they'll all be right, or seemingly right, but I doubt anyone will be able to figure out who the "politically correct" advocates are from those rants. Who on earth had been in favor of this absurdity?

No one was, of course, and yet everyone was. Oh, one minor tea light of intellect or another might have campaigned for one piece of what came to be called "PC" or another, but no one actually proposed all of the things that worriers (like me, I admit) were against. One feminist might have proposed "wymyn" for "women," and one person may yet propose "canine American" for "family dog," and, among the converted in the audience, there might be widespread approval. The pre-selected audience members who go to hear that fringe feminist or that animal rights person will agree, but they knew what they wanted before they came and are only being served with popular demand. It's only news when the fringe speaker turns out to have a more social and conversant position, like head of the Humane Societies of the United States. That's not the issue, though (and that "canine American" thing was in use before, so he didn't invent it or first propose it). The issue is that these terms get adopted by those outside of the choir loft. That's the issue, and that issue has nothing to do with rights campaigners. All along, the shotgun blasts being aimed at the "PC" were misdirected. You can shoot Gloria Steinem with your rhetoric all you want (even though she has been moderate and sane all along in language issues), but Andrea Dworkin and Wayne Pacelle aren't the proper targets. Like Dick Cheney's supporter, they're not quail. "Accidents do happen," in the words of the resilient Harry Whittington.

The underlying problem behind "PC" is much worse than a person whose "fancy gets astride his reason." Indeed, the problem seems to be that "there is a peculiar string in the harmony of human understanding, which in several individuals is exactly of the same tuning" (same author, but here). When one note is struck, it hits unison and harmony from others, so Wayne LaPierre shouts out that libruls and commies want his guns, and a host of frightened militiamen shout "amen." That seems to be it, but it isn't. The note that is sounded is not what you think it is. If it were, we would simply segment into thousands of groups of true believers who cannot communicate with others and therefore cannot achieve any social change or trend. Rather, the problem is that we already have had such groups long before they sound their chords, and we are much molested by them. I hate to stick solely to Swift's great work, but I must: we all prefer peace and superfices in most things. We do not want to dig, for nothing seems improved that way. Furthermore, when we dig into the flesh of a subject, it reacts. We wish, most of all, to not be in an argument with the true believers. As T. S. Eliot said, "The majority of mankind is lazy-minded, incurious, absorbed in vanities, and tepid in emotion, and is therefore incapable of either much doubt or much faith."

We want peace, and so we spend much of our time negotiating the minefield of discourse, trying neither to spill the soup nor trample on the toe of someone bigger than we are (or someone with friends). So, it only takes one nasty afternoon spent in accusation and guilt to stop saying "girl" and start saying "wymyn." It takes less time to stop saying "Black" and start saying "African American." One or two PeTA paint splashes, and you'll be saying "canine American," too. We want to be nice. We want to call you whatever you want us to call you, because we don't want to have to fight it out.

When we ask the town what a word means, we can resolve as the town does. If the town is split up between a series of neighborhoods, each of them calling a bagel something different, we learn to call a bagel a flurry of names.

Believe it or not, I didn't want to talk about PC. I really didn't. I set out to talk about Christian education. Don't believe me? Go get a cup of moonshine and a Moonpie, and I'll connect the two. I'll wait.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Geogre Reads a Who

Pelham Bay, Bronx, NYC, NY

Yesterday, I had one of those experiences that refuted what Seneca once wrote...or maybe it confirmed it:

"It is when the gods hate a man with an uncommon abhorence that they drive him into the profession of a schoolmaster." -- Seneca

I took a relative to the hospital. We had been told to do so, told to get admitted, and then to get tested like crazy and let all the chemists run all the fluids and tissues through every instrument in the joint. Ever obedient to authority figures, especially those with spiffy white coats, we went two and a half hours by car to the hospital. We then waited an uncomfortable and bone jarring three and a half hours on insufficient furniture meant for those moribund and unconscious.

No parent should bury a child, and yet all children are expected to bury a parent. It's one of the rites of age. I've got to tell you, if you haven't done it yet, it's not easy, and I think no parent should bury a child because all parents have had to deal with their own parents' losses. I am, blessedly, not anywhere near this position yet (well, it's hard to say, but there was a reprieve). I have gone from a clueless and hesitant maturity to a baffled middle age, but I suppose I am not alone. The most assured of us are simply choosing to pretend to know what we're doing and then find that the pretense has value.

Anyway, I had three hours there. I noticed that others had been in that examination room before us, and they had been as uncomfortable and bored as we. It's always assumed that one is not the maiden illness of an ER suite, but this time I had evidence. Ron had been there. Ron had been bored, and Ron had been equipped with a sharp implement and a ballpoint pen, for, inside the door, Ron had written:

"Ron was hear" -- Ron.
He had then carved "RON" in a FUTHORC on the door's simulated wood. I quipped, "I'll bet Ron never wrote on the inside of the schoolhouse door."

Driving back the 2.5 hours after we were kicked out of the hospital by an overworked attending, I played the antonym game. The antonymn game is a game of my own invention, invented last night, and I recommend it to anyone driving through a city. Here's how it's played: every time you see a sign for a commercial venture, you must come up with a new name that is composed of antonymns of each of the words in the original name, and these antonymns should capture, if you're good, something witty. For example, I went by the Econo Inn. Now, you could offer up "Richie Out," but that would be inferior to my final candidate last night, "Waste Away." "Taco Bell" can be inverted with "Souffle Cup," as a souffle is a dome opposite of a taco's parabola, and a bell is a cup until it's struck.

So, there I was, thinking how much more clever I am than Ron and how lucky I was that Ron wasn't in my class. Then again, Ron is one of my best buddies from my years in college. Ron mowed lawns for a living and constantly dreamed of doing better. He and his brother lived in a small apartment, and Ron was a great spirit, a wonderful person and the real salt of the earth. He was honest, harder working than I've ever been, and fun to be with.

One night, my band was playing at an "alternative lifestyle" club back in the 1980's, and we didn't have a term like "alternative lifestyle" to talk about such clubs. The thing was, punk rockers and gay clubs were fast allies from the start. The most culturally adventurous people with refined taste (and with horrible taste...what's with all that wretched disco?) were in the gay community. Anyway, it was "Ladies Night" at The Celebrity Club. There was exactly one woman present, and she came with us. However, there were quite a few convincing drag queens and a few transgendered people who were quite well integrated. There were "girls" in miniskirts and fishnet hose dancing on the bar. Ron arrived to support the band, and I think he even liked our music as well as us personally, and he and I sat down for a beer.

I noticed Ron's eyes drifting upward, slowly climbing the legs of the dancer. I said, "Ron, don't." He said, "What?" I said, "No. Seriously, Ron: don't." "Whaaat?" he asked. I shook my head and tried to figure out how to explain to him why, beyond the usual rules of decorum, he should keep his eyes on his beer, but Ron used that thinking time to try to get some profit.

"Oh, man!" Ron shouted.

"I told you!"

"I thought you were...."

"No," I said. "I meant it."

"Oh, man! Oh, man!"

So Ron's a great guy. (Of course, the Ron I knew wouldn't have carved on a door, and I think he could spell difficult words like "here.") I thought, as I played the antonymn game on the way home, "I don't need to teach Ron anything. He can't spell, but it doesn't matter." Ron's inscription was much more literally true, much more of a synonymn game than my original sneer gave him credit for. What, after all, is the point of this blog? What is the point of any graffiti (which is what the blog is)?

Ron was heard. Ron was there eternally. He was always in that room, always waiting for the doctors to pay attention to him. He was visible in a way that other patients weren't, because he was part of the room now.

That's where my sermon-like blog essay should end, with this "aha" moment. After all, I have achieve my ironic counterpoint, and you have seen how clever I really am. I have demonstrated my superiority to Ron and my sympathy. I've proven that I'm humble at the same time that I've shown my pride. That's not where it ends, though.

First, the realization of my own complicity in this rhetoric is an occupational hazard. However, there is more and worse. I sat patiently for three hours in that 8x10 room while my loved one ached on an uncomfortable "bed" and struggled to breathe. I cheerfully openned a book and read to my loved one, trying to pass the time. I jotted notes in a notebook. I looked at papers to grade (and didn't grade them; for some reason I was distracted). I had a pocket knife, and it stayed in my pocket.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Union Square

"He, therefore, betook himself to that true support of greatness in affliction, a bottle; by means of which he was enabled to curse, and swear, and brave his fate." --Henry Fielding, Jonathan Wild.

I wish I had done so. Instead, I mutely and numbly stood, like so many thousands of others, and wondered how I was supposed to react. The contemplation of the reaction overcame the reaction itself, and thus I simply delayed and determined how I would really react.

It was a gorgeous day. Everyone who was there should tell you that first. It was a perfect day. I can seldom recall a more clear blue sky or temperatures more perfect. The morning was crisp, exhilirating, the sort of autumnal day that makes young men dream of play and old men remember walks with lovers, the day too fine for work, and many people played hookey from work and therefore lived through the day. I remember riding the #6 train south from the Bronx, where I lived, and looking out on Manhattan, memorizing every building that appeared on the huge turn on the bridge over the Bronx River. Piece by piece, the architecture appears, breaking itself free from the window frame and displaying like a debutante in a parade as the train takes the turn into the east side of Manhattan past Hunt's Point.

Let's be clear: I was not there there. I was more than two miles away. I was on east 89th Street, teaching computers to behave at an all boy's middle school hard by the Guggenheim Museum. New Yorkers know the place, I'm sure, and they know their own geography. Instead of parks and flowers, New York has buildings, and they are every bit as entertaining and engaging and interesting as flowers, though not as functional sometimes. For those who have not spent years there, though, Manhattan is hilly, sloping generally up to a peak around 96th Street. That means that the area below the grid (the streets south of 1st St. (i.e. Greenwich Village and Alphabet City)) are lower in elevation as well as "lower Manhattan." The avenues run north-south, and the streets run east-west. From 89th Street, I could look straight down Park Avenue.

At 9:30 AM, I was done with a class and had a bunch of repairs to do, so I decided to sneak out and grab a cup of coffee and a bowtie (only not by Dunkin' Donuts...those things are gross; this was the bodega on 89th and Park). I love bowties. I love that coffee. I insisted, every day that I worked at that school, on getting that combination every morning. Five years ago today, I got the combination and stepped out to enjoy the fantastic weather. I looked down Park, and I saw what looked like a candle snuff. It was only one of the world trade towers. I didn't see the other very clearly.

By the next hour, I knew. My colleagues were very worried. Some of them had children working in the WTC. More to the point, our children were from very wealthy families, mostly in the financial sector, and that meant that some of our students were likely orphans now. Therefore, we had to whisper to each other whatever news we had heard, while we kept everything else as secret as we could. As soon as students would leave our rooms, we would turn on radios or televisions, and then turn them off when students were nearby. By lunch, the clever 8th graders, who are all-knowing and possessed of a seering cynicism had figured it out. They told each other that there had been an attack on the Statue of Liberty. We confessed that they were too clever for us.

At the end of the school day, we herded all the students to the gym and held them. No child could go home without a parent picking him up. This would be our only way of knowing who didn't have a parent.

When I left work, it was strange. New York City isn't supposed to be silent, and yet it was. No planes overhead. No cars. No trains rumbling. No buses rolling. No noise at all, except lines of ashen faced people like me wondering how they were supposed to feel, and an endless line of useless cell phones held up to ears. The cell repeaters had been on the towers, of course. The land lines would stay busy and overloaded for a day to come, at best.

Everyone in America knew more about what was happening than we did, really.

The trains began running again, and I got on a different #6 train for home. Everyone was quiet and polite. New Yorkers generally are nice to each other, despite what the rest of the world thinks. We're just nasty to tourists. Well, Manhattanites are polite. The outer boroughs are more thuggish.

The trains took detours, and the loss of the WTC hub had thrown a lot of chaos into the system. A young woman in a dirty t-shirt on the train with me told me that she had been at #7 Liberty. She was small but tough, an artist, a woman too busy and intelligent to worry about being pretty but pretty all the same. She was in a shirt that was dirty before the morning and now filthy and hanging loosely on her trunk. She looked up at me and the other fellow, as we were talking in hushed tones, and said that she had seen something I had not yet heard and didn't initially believe: people were jumping out of the towers. She had seen them. She had seen them land.

The smell of the cloud was difficult. I cannot explain it. It was a salty smelling cloud, not overly morbid or decayed, but not traditionally ashen, either. Every time I smelled it, I knew that I was smelling things that were bad.

For most of the days to come, the wind blew to Brooklyn. On a couple of days, the wind blew up toward work, and one day the wind blew up to the Bronx all day and night, coming in my window air conditioner. The next morning, we were assured by the Bush administration's pin-up girl that the air was safe. I don't think anyone was fooled by that, but what choice did we have? The bridges were closed, and no one could stop breathing. Public health officials told us that everyone in Manhattan on that day was due for some serious depression and difficulty. What choice did we have in that, either? Most of us were kind of numb and wondering why we weren't more disturbed or less.

Today, I talked to three classes of 18 year olds about the moment that defines their generation, one way or another, and I held a moment of silence. I haven't done that before. I also told my story, or as much of it as I've said above. I did not go any deeper, as I don't see what good it would do them.

You see, I'm stuck on the images of those people jumping. It's not the leap, necessarily, or the horror, although both hold my mind fixed agape. After all, I cannot imagine the fear and evil experienced by the passengers on the planes. Their terror had to be unimaginable. The leapers, though, had a deliberate horror, a slow certainty of death and the agony of burning air ripping their lungs from within.

They jumped. They preferred clear air and being able to breathe their last as they plummeted to their deaths to the rending heat of the towers.

What obsesses me is whether I could have been one. Those who died by the crush of the building collapse, those who died by the explosions, they died horribly, but would I have chosen the jump to death? That, though, is just one of those moments of cowardice that I reproach myself with, as I know that I would not have been one. I would have stayed inside, believing that ingenuity or miracle would keep me from the inevitable and had that fail. That is not it, though, for I cannot say even that it was bravery or defiance or freedom or doom that was involved in those who jumped.

The problem is always that they landed, that there were people down there, that some people had to witness the most horrible sight ever. They had to watch a person fully alive and then, less than a second, much less than a second, later, dead and gore. They had to see the split second of impact, the life dashed out, each life individually, and not in an abstract mass. No "2,973 dead," but "that face of that person falling, and that person dead."

If the public health officials were right, if every year that goes by the horror of that day inches closer to the surface of my mind, it's no wonder. I did nothing. I was powerless and helpless and useless. I was another passenger, another passive observer, and whatever goes on now is just another case of really having no option.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Explanation of today's blog post

Buddha in the Sand, Carrboro, NC

It occurs to me that the post below (the earlier one, the one that one would say "see above" about, except that it's below) natters and fritters and smokes and says not much, and therefore I wish, in the spirit of outrage, to explain it.

Language, words, only mean something because we agree that they do. Trying to study the structure of a language is nothing less than trying to map out all of the agreements a people have and can have made. What's more, these agreements limit the things that a people can think about, think about themselves, and think about thinking. The interior of the mind is, therefore, built of inherited verities, in the form of words and grammar, and it is unique only in the way that a pattern of cast sticks can be unique. The more sticks you cast on the floor, the more likely the resulting pattern to be unique. A grain of sand is just a grain of sand, but if you get a whole big mound of it.... See above.

No one asks our opinion of whether the blue house is blue. We are told that blue is the carrier of that color experience. It is sad, some people think, that so much is coerced, but it is not, in fact, sad or happy, for it cannot be otherwise, and "sad" and "happy" are just as inherited as "blue." You can't sit there with your thumb in your mouth, either.

Ah, but what if we play with language and refuse to go left to right and top to bottom? Can we not see every unsaid word between the said words? Indeed. And when you defy the gods of signification, what is the result? Is it freedom? The freedom of the freezing savage or the freedom of Buddha?

You see, words mean because we are social. We are unfree because we are unalone. How do you know the house is blue? Simple: ask someone.

That's the thing: you can answer many interpretive questions by the simple method of asking the town. (The President is overruling the town, and he is therefore a mocking mirror image of the "originalists" and "fundamentalists" who try to examine words with a loup and determine "what the author meant" without considering the town they're living in now. They're both hilariously wrong, except that one of them has a gun, and the other has a prison system.)

Neocons Bash Decons

The image to my left is a tree beside a path beside a creek adorned by a sign explaining that one would be more than half in love with easeful death to drink from, play in, submerge in, or paddled upon that water. It has nothing to do with my topic, apparently.

Rhetoric is king. Structuralism is a con. Langue is a joke. Parole is fact.

It's hardly seasonable to worry about words. We have bigger marlins frying than the ancient anxiety of political correctness and hate speech. We have an executioner executive who has reduced all language to fiat. From "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is," we have gone to "I have never said there was a connection between al Qaeda and Saddam." We have gone from Clintonian gridlock to Bush league signing statements and the "I had my fingers crossed" [ed. Read that; really] of government and "I call take-backs!" of jurisprudence.

Crossing your fingers says you didn't mean it. The body with crossed fingers overrides the mind with its semantic freight. I said I would halp you fight the bully, but it's your fault you got clobbered, because you didn't look behind my back to see that my fingers were crossed. You cannot believe in the structure of meaning, the sentence or statement, we learn as children, for meaning is in the speaking moment alone -- meaning is in my fingers, my nasal whine, my narrowed eyes, the rock in my shoe, or in my hands. In fact, I might have been high, so why do you believe me?

I personally want to thank the Prednisent for making an eloquent argument against Jacques Derrida. The deconstructionists start with princess Ferdie and his General Linguistics. Distinguish twixt langue and parole. Know your diachronic and synchronic descriptions. Oh, but a word is a sign, and signs don't have any posts to stand on! They slip, the poor dears, and therefore it's dear season all year round. Long after Wittgenstein in Traction asked if a blue house is a blue house if it's read, we hear that it's whatever we want it to be, so long as the damn thing isn't blue.

A friend told me of a friend who said that deconstruction was like looking at a bridge over a polluted river under an electron microscope, seeing all the electrons bouncing about, and then announcing, "It's mostly empty space, this bridge, and therefore all who step on it will fall!" The point he was making, I assume, is that all that movement was between points in a very firm constellation, that the nodes (or modals or nucleii or bonds or monads or quiddities) were glued tightly together, even if there was some shifting of position, and one's foot is much, much larger than any space. In other words, langue was less mobile than any single component of it, and langue is a reliable human construction. Additionally, any given speaker is speaking in a moment that is singular, not diachronically active, and each speech act is entirely nailed down by its system in that moment.

So, how to Bush?

It's obvious, isn't it?

Neocons beat decons by crossing their fingers and showing conclusively that other langue determines the parole. The speech act means because there is more than one system involved. The one system that is always determinant is power. A word means whatever the man with the gun says it means. Spend some time in camp X-ray and you'll agree.

Better than that, see the freely floating signifiers of the GOP campaign strategy. What does "cuttenrun" mean? What is "Islamafashiz?" Better far, how is there "absolutely none" in re the connection between 9/11 and Iraq and yet "significant ties" between them? How can redeployment in Iraq be giving in to "terrists," if terrorists aren't trying to take Iraq? (They're not, you know. They can't. Terrorists are destroyers and destabilizers. They cannot rule anything.) (Wait. I'm not done. The IRA couldn't rule, so it became Sinn Fein and disavowed terror. Hezbollah and Hamas have the same problems. Triumph doesn't empower terrorists: it ends them.) (This is not to suggest that we should leave Iraq, but the idea that "the terrorists win" is linguistically and logically problematic, if you take some time to think.) In fact, how can we give them what they want in any case, if we don't know who they are and they don't know what they want? It doesn't matter: the statements are as meaningless as a Derridean critique, and they are as meaningful. You see, they have power through a reference that is absolute and not free floating at all. These phrases refer to the body, to emotions, to id, and to the unmistakable, unfurled, unreasoned, single finger the Prednisent is waving.

The single speech act is paradoxically the only meaningful thing because it is an act of will, desire, threat, fear, force, pity, and defiance. The isolated grunt of the Prednisent surpasseth all understanding, all constitutional restraint, because it is an act of power.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


This week, I've begun waking up at 5:00 AM, and that means waking up before most creatures of the daytime world. I go outside to walk my dog when it's completely dark, look at morning stars, then finish the first cup of coffee and go back out when dawn is just breaking. I hate being sleepless all the time and having to go to bed before anything worth watching has been on the television, but pre-dawn is almost worth it.

This particular Saturday morning, I slept until just before dawn, and I went outside to walk the dog down the street before anyone else has a dog outside. I heard a mockingbird right by the house. I had startled it awake, and it was singing. Unfortunately for the bird, it was the first avian up.

Mockingbirds are mimics. Everyone knows that. They get mentioned in Southern literature quite often, even before Harper Lee. It's a bird often complained of in blues music, for example. Even faux Southerners like to say something something mockingbird. For people who grow up in the south, mockingbirds are notable only when you're trying to be accurate, because they generally disappear. After all, they're mimics, so you never know they're there.

Bull. Mockingbirds are not mimics. They're prima donnas. They are not ignorable, either. Mockingbirds set themselves up in prominent places, low down, make sure no one else is around them, and then begin to show off. Songs are to mockingbirds what clothes are to famine fashionistas. They sing everything from chainsaws to car alarms to finch songs to titmouse songs to warbler songs. Notice, however, that they never finish a song or leave well enough alone. If they were mimics, if they were camouflaged by their songs, then they'd just sing the Pine Siskin song and flash their wings, so other mockingbirds could say, "Whoa, great imitation... had me fooled until I saw your white wing bars." That's not what they do, though. They do siskin, then do a quick change and come back with the Black capped chickadee, then segue into bulldozer (no link available for the usgs guide to bulldozers in the wild). What mockingbirds are doing is showing off and preening (if you'll forgive taking a taken metaphor back).

Going out at 6:00 was bad this morning, because I saw the runway model naked. The mockingbird had no clothes to flash. It could only sound like itself, and what it sounded like was hoarse, unattractive, and repellent. The bird was shouting at me to go away, that he was not ready, that I was in his dressing room. It was the fury of a fashionista caught with only her own body to show. In fact, it was so ugly a noise that it would make me, if I were a bird, want to sing my own song, sign the air with my voice, just to show him how it's done. That, of course, would allow him to go to his knock-off textile factory and try to steal my fashions.