Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Sunday Drive

There is breathtaking news. Driving around, I saw that McRib is back. This is simply great stuff.

Here: read a quote while you absorb the gravity of the situation.
"Nothing worth putting into my journal occurred this day. It passed away imperceptibly, like the whole life of many a human existence." -- James Boswell, London Journal.
That's Boswell, saying that nothing happened, but, man alive, when something did happen, by his reckoning, it was pretty outrageous. London Journal reads like a frat boy with unlimited funds on a year long Spring Break. Can you imagine what Boswell's "worth" is? The man obviously lived in the days before blogs, as they seem to exist precisely for housing the nothing worth putting down.

Boswell took his title and money and went to London and climbed upon everything in a skirt and blamed women for all his medical ailments. However, he also worked with Samuel Johnson on a Tour of the Hebrides. There was a lot of that then, and now: writing travel books. It's all about what the inn is like, who the local lord is, the weather, the character of the people (back when people had characters different from one another), etc. I think perhaps we still read travel books because we hope that there are places with character, that there are nationalities and ethnicities that are 1) different from us, 2) educational for us, 3) home for our moods.

As GloboCultCorp spreads itself evenly and consistently across the whirling face of the deep and dry, we get that ennui of cosmopolitanism. The Hellenes suffered it first. They invented the "citizen of the world," and they invented the problem that comes from knowing that, wherever you go, it's pretty much like being at home. You go from Athens to Alexandria, and you speak Greek, meet Greeks, worship Greek gods, read Greek scrolls, etc. It's a standard side effect of empire. The empire of corporations produces a different problem. Commodity ennui.

So, we read travel books, because on the fringes of Mindanao or Budapest there are people who are different from us. They rinse themselves in salt water. They are sullen. They have three drinks to toast all guests. They paddle around in boats with no keel. They speak slowly. They walk upon their hands. They have their heads in their stomachs. They dance every time the moon is full. They wear elaborate headdresses and share their porridge, which you must never spit out....
McRib, meanwhile, has been voyaging. He had adventures untold, I am sure, on his voyage. He met many unusual people and influenced generations. He is back now, though, and we all welcome him.

I'm joking, of course. A friend of mine tells me that the proper reading for the phrase is not "McRib has returned," but "McRib equals back." Now, of course, the ribs of a hog do go to the back, but it is also possible that McRib is back bacon (or "lardon," apparently).

So, imagine someone reading a travel book somewhere. "There are cultures in America where they have a McRib, and they do not know what it is, except back."

In fact, I have to say that there are some peoples left, some cultures. There is the bored ethnicity, the angry culture, and, my own, the phlegmatic. In fact, I can easily imagine a new product that will match the culture as fittingly as the McRib: the Ford Phlegmatic transmission. It will shift from first to second, but it's not like that's any better.

You see, the nature of commodities in the new world and the New World's new world, is to match up with the culture. You know you are in a cultural group by the goods for sale, not by the characteristics or attitudes of the peoples.

While some things, like bananas, know no season or region, as they are available to the potassium starved subject of the Northern Lights and the salt-poor sweat baron of the American South alike, other products are "special." They, it seems, testify to our uniqueness. We have a unique taste for the McRib, and so the product "demo's" in front of our pot bellies. The lobster roll at McDonalds tells us that we're in Maine. The special DLites fat-free juice bar tells us we're in the ultraswede of midtown Atlanta. Therefore, I think that the Phlegmatic should be introduced.

Think of it: It goes from zero to fast enough. It doesn't get great gas mileage, but who cares? It has four doors, but one of them comes already stuck shut. The windows don't much matter. You see, I have to admit, that what we have around here is not so much culture as humor. Our humor is decidedly black bile and yellow.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Gold Encompass

I've been silent for a while, as a semester has intervened, and I'm sure that all of you are waiting to see if I have anything to say about Mr. Pullman's The Golden Compass. After all, fundamentalists of all sorts are upset at the film, and e-mail is flying. Worse still, unlike other campaigns of shock and "awwww," the fundamentalists are correct: Philip Pullman did, indeed, write his books to be atheist fables. Before condemning them, I decided to do the unthinkable and actually read the first novel, the one that has been filmed, and then come to a conclusion.

I may not be a New Critic anymore, but I was trained by New Critics and still do their stuff first. Therefore, my instinct is to say, "I don't care what the author wanted to do, or what the author said he did; the book is the book, and that's that." Therefore, I wanted to read the book to see if the book, and then potentially the film that resulted, would achieve this goal Pullman claimed. This is aside from the other active issue of whether going to such a movie encourages other commissions which funds and rewards the endeavor, etc. That's a different argument for different people to have, and it's one that I may approach tangentially, below.

"Ye see your state wi’ theirs compared,
And shudder at the niffer;
But cast a moment’s fair regard,
What maks the mighty differ; 20
Discount what scant occasion gave,
That purity ye pride in;
And (what’s aft mair than a’ the lave),
Your better art o’ hidin." Robert Burns, "Address to the Unco Guid"

What struck me first about the book The Golden Compass was, "Wow. I could never do that." This is a common reaction when I read a book, but moreso when I read a book from a genre that I do not find natural. Science fiction and fantasy are alien to my internal fictionalizing. My personal fantasies are hackneyed and predictable. I rarely think of grafting in massive blobs from the Thule Society's acolytes into a language of "what if the Reformation never happened," and therefore when I met the novel's imagining of such a world, it struck me as very detailed.

It was interesting. If the Reformation had not occurred, would Calvin have become a Pope? Would the universities in England have retained their ecclesiastical orientation? Would "science" have never developed as a thing independent of church concerns? "Well, that's fun," I thought. "Oh," I thought, "I can certainly have enjoyable arguments about whether this bit would have occurred, or this, and I'm sure that this is wrong."

By page 200, I was face to face with the Problem of Science Fiction, though. Soon after that, I met with the Problem of Fantasy Fiction. These two things meant that the fun of pp. 1-50 was having to pull more and more against two fat monsters sitting on the other side of the teeter-totter.

In brief, then (and in bullets):
  • The problem of science fiction is that such authors tend to be excellent at plot. They have endless action, and the action points are quite diverse. They have the detective novelist's knack for making tenuous details swing large acts. They also have fantastic pace. Their inner ears are highly attuned. As sensitive as the protagonist of "The Black Cat," they can hear a reader yawn from a hundred pages and a thousand days away. This doesn't sound like a problem, but it is. Plot is unrealistic. Plot, by its nature, involves an editorial vision, and therefore highly or tightly plotted works inevitably bounce a message against the reader's unconscious and whisper: "I have a point, here. I have a message. I have a goal. I am deferring or speeding a conclusion." Plots are always teleological. Plots are, of course, good. However, the heavier and more obvious the plot, the more that whisper becomes a speech, then an harangue.
  • Science fiction authors stink at character. They really do. Almost invariably, they produce wooden characters. If they have any complex characters, they limit the cast to one or two actual minds, and the rest of the characters are less character than impulse. Villains are impulses, and heroes are impulses, and love interests are desires, and few have regrets, considerations, motivations, or observations, and they never change.
  • Fantasy authors do very well with inventing or adapting history and beliefs in the supernatural. The prince of this must remain Tolkien, with Lewis as his viceroy, but even before Tolkien the job of the fantasist was to take a known codification of the uncanny (night hags, cautionary tales, infant mortality hidden by folk tale, marital infidelity, etc.) and either combine many together or expand them into an active plot. However, these remain pastiche. Although they may create a new system of the uncanny or may merely exploit it, and although they can achieve a new landscape of potential plots and actions, where quotidian motivations and desires can be amplified or made morally unambiguous, they remain pastiche. Therefore, they can only have value to the degree that they succeed in making plain something hidden in the originals that they have borrowed.
  • The heroes and heroines of fantasy works, and especially those aimed at young audiences, are uncommonly stupid. No, really. They're unbelievably stupid. Unlike folk tales and tales of tricksters, fantasy figures have to possess unbreakable blindness. The reader sees ahead of them, and yet the fantasy figure never thinks, never considers, and definitely never learns.
Oof! That's nearly as bad as the wordy intellectualism below, and I'm trying very hard not to be all self-indulgently brainiac and stuff. Here. Look at this picture.

So, there's Pullman, reminding me of both the limitations of the fantasy author and the limitations of the science fiction author. I was impressed primarily because he is a science fiction author and a fantasy author, and both of those are outside my mindset. However, the borrowed elements were obnoxious, the pastiche had no hortatory or heuristic value, the plotting was severe and yet seemed to lead only to the next installment, and the character stupidity was simply overwhelming.

The novel goes on and on and on about The North. The North, you may recall, is "Ultima Thule" and "Hyperborea." If that's not creepy enough, then the heroic anthropomorphism in the book is a bear, from a race of bears known as panserbjorn. Ill yet? Hearing the gentle, soul numbing strains of Richard Wagner? Obviously, some faction of the Wagner hallucinations is involved, and there are "Gyptians" about as well. They're nice folks, of course, so I'm not implying that any of the racialism is grafted in. No. Instead, the source is much more immediate, much more amnesiac. Our other great set of supernatural figures are the witches, and they are every bit the witches that Madame Sosostris would know. Contemporary "pagans" unwittingly (generally) take in vast draughts of Thule Society, Wagnerian, and Theosophist flotsam and stitch it all together into a self-laudatory opiate. Mr. Pullman seems to have been keen on their fantasies for his fantasy novel.

The fantasy novelist's love of characters with the intelligence of an overripe rutabaga shows up in Lyra, the antiseptic and antisexual heroine of the book. (When I say that she is anti-sexual, I mean that she is asexual, of course. More of that anon.) She has no awareness of her own sex, no experience of gender, no interactions with the world that would indicate that she is more than an abstraction, and no expressions of thought beyond, "Oh, dear" and "My darling." She meets a big Polar Bear who can take down a castle with his paws, and she wants to hug it. She interacts with the bear for a few pages, spends perhaps two days in its company, and then, from being very tentative and constantly afraid, immediately begins referring to it as "Dear" and "Darling" and "my love." I suspect that even a tween reader will notice this sudden change. (Oh, and that cuddly wuddly bear returns the affection zero-fold. Never mind: the heroine is too stupid to notice and too poorly conceived to react.)

Ever since Jack the Giant Killer, fantasy characters have done things for no better reason than a wild hair. Lyra is no different.

Finally, Pullman the atheist propagandist does show up in the novel. I was reading with a weather eye out for this, and, had I not, I might not have noticed it quite so much. Generally, the book is about as anti-Christian as Vanity Fair. The man thinks himself a thinker, I guess. I think myself one, too, but I do not presume to write novels. At any rate, when he has adult characters talking metaphysics, all halts. Everything bogs down as two people lecture one another about Pullman's concept of quantum mechanics, choice, multiple event universes, contingency, and will. It is not only wretched, but it is no more aesthetic than Frankenstein's neck.

Another break for another dance:

My verdict? Well, it's an interesting book with an intolerable heroine, clumsy efforts at philosophy, and a background in the shabby inheritors of theosophism that should make anyone with any moral or intellectual sense wretch. It's not, however, "anti-Christian." I understand from some fairly unimpeachable sources that the really explicit atheist propaganda occurs in books 2 and 3 of the set. Therefore, on the subject of whether fundamentalists should be avoiding the film or book because of potential spiritual damage to the consumer, I would say that they are wrong. There isn't even significant intellectual damage. There is a weakening of defenses against nonsense, and it might make more of that dreadful "neo-pagan" stuff seem less obviously idiotic, but that's no reason to boycott.

If we're worried that putting money in Pullman's pocket will result in more efforts to destroy the Faith, then I have nothing to say. He already got paid, and he won't get more or less if you go or do not go to the movie. When it comes to that, though, I should say that the films that posit a moral universe with rampant evil and an absence of God do more harm than even one trying to stick its tongue out at Christianity, but that leads me to what I really wanted to talk about today, which is actual atheism vs. what Mr. Pullman is.

I know this post is long. I do apologize. I understand if you go have a Coke right now, so long as you promise to come back.

Mr. Pullman is, he says, an "atheist." Well, that's bunk. He's not an atheist at all. He's an anti-theist. There is a big difference. An atheist does not believe that there is a god of any sort. Therefore, he or she has no thoughts on those who believe in a god. In general, I myself am an aatheist, which is someone who lives in a world without a belief in those without a belief in the divine. This is different from an AAtheist, which is a person who lives in a world of twelve step programs.

Argument by analogy is dangerous, but I'm going to try to be fair with this one. Let's suppose the subject is not God, but rather something neutral or indifferent: Baffin Island, Canada. I say there is no Baffin Island. I've never met anyone from Baffin Island. I think the claims made for it can be answered more logically another way. I think that those who drew it on the maps were operating out of ignorance. Therefore, I think there is no Baffin Island. I am in a minority in my society in being an aBaffinist, surely.

So? As an aBaffinist, I just go about my business. Oh, it comes up in conversation sometimes -- particularly in dormitory common rooms -- and I quickly find out that neither I nor my Baffinists can prove the case to one another. I can't convince them, and they can't convince me. I quickly, therefore, come to a modus vivendi.

What would make me change from an aBaffinist to an anti-Baffinist, though, would be if 1) Those who believed in Baffin Island insisted that I agree, 2) They constrained my free action. Following the analogy, an a-theist would become an anti-theist if he believed that the World were forcing him to agree. I see no evidence that this is the case. Additionally, an atheist might say that he or she is unable to be employed or unable to run for office without having faith. I do not accept that my prayer forces the atheist to pray, nor that the rash of politicians claiming faith can be attributed to the faith's philosophical and theological claims. I don't think that "In God We Trust" amounts to forcing the atheist to believe, as the atheist believes there is nothing there to believe in.

So, Mr. Pullman's novels are filled with The Church. They are at great pains to speak of Original Sin. They are avid about Angels. They require killing angels. They have great amounts of church control.

This is atheism?

It's anti-clericalism, and there's a fine tradition of that from Christians. It's anti-authoritarianism, and there is a fine tradition of that, too. It's anti-theism, as well. This, of course, only confirms the object being argued against, and Mr. Pullman is either too dull or too passionate to care that he must affirm the divine to have his character "kill" the divine. He must affirm the power of faith and the meaningfulness of it to have his characters fight against the organizations impelled by that power. There is nothing atheistic involved in these works. There is something Satanic in the most literal sense, because there is an acknowledgment of God and a desire to do Him in. It's a world with flying witches, talking bears, nature spirits, and all sorts of things, but it is also one that explicitly rejects a unifying supernatural. Oh, lots of little ones are ok. One big one, though, would mean authority.

Like I said, the vision is not "humanist" (and I cannot tell you just how aggravating it is that atheist societies are calling themselves "humanists" -- do they actually want to make my job, and the jobs of other Christian Humanists, impossible by tarring us with their brush?), because the entirety is hinged on the soul, ghosts, eminence, prophecy, and all sorts of tatters of contemporary magical theory, and what is glorious in the books is most emphatically not the human. If it were, then the human desire to connect with the divine would be praised at least as much (more, in my view, given the results of that love in art) as the human desire to manipulate the environment with tools. Instead, though, we have the framework of theology used to protest that someone once told Mr. Pullman that he had a bedtime.

It's very difficult to respect such things.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

(If you look closer you can see) The Tracks of My Train

I have been enjoying a series of novels immensely. I have to quote from one, right now, or I'll burst:
Hamlet snorted disdainfully, then thought for a moment before adding, "If the real world were a book, it would never find a publisher. Overlong, detailed to the point of distraction -- and ultimately, without a major resolution." -- Jasper Fforde, Something Rotten
That is Hamlet's impression, anyway, and I frequently explain to others that "poetic justice" doesn't mean convenient plots, but, rather, that the poem shows us, according to Aristotle, "what must or should occur" as opposed to merely what does occur ("Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular"), in Poetics IX.

What merely does happen is. It is what? Well, you can argue that it all has meaning, if you rise far enough above the particular. You can argue that it all makes sense, if you look at the whole society or whole world. You can argue that it makes sense in the past but never in the present. You can argue that it never means anything at all in any sense but the sense-making capabilities of the human mind.

I tend toward that last view, but with the caveat that the human mind's sense-making may be something more than delusion and illusion. Per my digression on digressions and the Big Chitlin, below (or above), I rather think that pattern matching, matrixing, and all those other dismissive words may reflect something semiotic, and not just something that represents the extension of desire. I can't be sure of this, obviously, and I cannot trust any certainty that I got of it, for the same reasons. However, it seems right to me to believe, and not to believe merely the way that the Baltimore Police Department wished me to.

I have been struggling, ever since early college, to try to understand these things. I have thought about time, in particular. Why should it disgorge meaning? I have had episodes in my life that seemed to be meaningful only in the context of having them nullified by time, but why should time's sequence also control meaning? Why should distance be necessary? I know that the difference between an ironist and an actor is the distance of commitment to meaning, the intention, in other words, and therefore the difference between a fool and a sage can be that the former is willing, while the latter is detached from things, and I recognize further that many people, having honored these elementary lessons, have shaped plans of action, personal philosophies, and social agitations on their basis. It is even the precursor lesson for some forms of self-abnegation and mysticism, for those who decide that they will dwell only among the universals and purely among the verities have to consciously reshape their consciousness to desire only that which can only ever be eternal and not existing. (N.b. I entirely agree with them that it is active and actual, but it also cannot be embodied in time. The mystic's revelation must be a general telephoning orders from the back lines of the battle.)

Some people got sick of poetic justice, of plots that make tidy parcels, of good's unrealistic rewards and vice's wishful losses, and they opted for the dynamic and utterly committed real. Their decision to adopt stream of consciousness was a rude flatus shot at the social engineers and priests of mannered behavior, as well as at the very idea of an eternal truth that perched on its peak like a vending machine, waiting for the supplicant to make a pilgrimage and plop in the proper set of questions. Never mind the desire for justice: that was bourgeois, and hating them is the beginning of wisdom. The train of thought would be carefully written (and invented), with each noun or verb attached by connotation and memory, and the taxonomies of true and false would be replaced with what is big and little.

The stream of consciousness and the train of thought are both utterly worthless.

They're not worthless literature, mind you, but they silently agree to time. They are not merely linear but sequential. Of course there is no way to avoid such. For myself, I have no train of thought. I have a dune buggy of thought. I also have no stream of consciousness. I have an ocean of time, where each bit of water is like the others, where the hierarchy is squished beneath immediate needs and revulsions. Desire, aversion, memory, consequence, and all of the rest bubbles, and each does, indeed, rest in a drawer of index cards with call numbers, but each also infects neighbors in irrational, sometimes madcap ways.

Before your fingers right now, reader, is the most significant alteration of the perception of consciousness in many years. You have before you the capability to move not only in lines and segments of lines of your own devising, but to do so incompletely.

Let me demonstrate. You can read any bit you like of this, or stop, or go ahead, or wander off to return later, but the sneaky truth is that you always could, you always have.

The reading experience is a replication of experience itself, but with senses suppressed. There is no reason for you to value the sequence above the jag, the movement over the jerk, except that you choose to. Knowing this, knowing that you have always chosen full sentences over fragments, lessons over experiences, meanings over data, I hope that you realize that, like me, you have every reason to believe that your time is your own, that sense making is more than random. You don't have to, of course.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Choice and Chosen

One person famously said that, if you want a happy and successful life, you should choose your parents carefully. There is great iron in that irony. I respect my reader too much to explain the statement, and I respect myself too little to believe that there is anything I have seen in it that is obscure.

As my life has continued to play, I have come to a conclusion that is, I hope, far in advance of its conclusion, and that is that, if one wishes to be happy, one needs to choose one's memories very carefully as well. I may write as if I were in my eighties, look as if I were in my twenties, and act as if I were an arthritic teen, but I am in between those decades, in physical age. I write these essays, usually, with the benefit of a weekend morning, unusually with the benefit of a stiffer of B&B, and nearly never with anything more to my tally than unaccustomed sleep. This afternoon, it's Grand Marnier. In my previous, I suggested that the self that must be sought in the haze of drink and drug must be a very slippery fellow indeed, if one can only apprehend him when he's too drunk to move. My analogy, perhaps, was not so ill chosen, for that, I believe, is the purpose of those self-discovery benders that people occasionally ride when they are miserable or confused. They're not trying to forget. They're trying to stultify the man or woman within so that her or his lapels can be seized and the lights may be shone.

My mother and father have both just passed the three score and ten years that we are allotted in the flesh, and they are both beginning to show signs of what doctors and other observers promise us all. Their strength is not labor and sorry, but their memories are tumbling. There is a somersault of the past that all who live to age discover.
"For honest merit to succeed amid the tricks and intrigues which are now so lamentably common, I know is difficult; but the honor of success is increased by the obstacles which are to be surmounted." -- Rutherford B. Hayes

The truth is that when we are young, the sensations which sink most deeply in our minds are those which are most recent. Each item that occurs creates an impression equal to each other, and therefore memory and recall are alike dominated by the history of the moment and the momentousness of the present. There is little hierarchy, for there is no meaning yet to subordinate any memory. As we get into mid-stride, we develop two tracks of memory. There is the memory, which is a narrative of a life and a treasure house of pleasures and a counting house of afflictions, and a present. This "present" is nothing like the moment of existence. Instead, it is the surroundings of the existential moment, the "action," and it contains within its bounds "reasons" and "what's next" and "expectations" and "objectives" and "guilt" and all of the other things that can be summoned instantly to guide the ongoing agon of the endeavor of living.

At a certain point, though, the memory grabs the ego and begins to throttle it. At a certain point again, memory steps forward according to rhymes of action, indexes of words, and the like. Therefore, you hear of a poorly aimed telephone call, and a memory, some monster of youth or delight of teen years, rushes to your lips, and you feel again those sensations that gave this experience of yours such power.
I have seen my parents, and before them I had seen my grandparents, remember scenes and incidents from their childhoods with the power of a lucid dream and the vividness of a storm colored sunset. I have witnessed friends with horrors of childish embarrassment or shame washing over their adult bodies, and they were wracked by things that did not matter at the time and cannot heal or harm now, but which created a hollow pocket in their minds, a pocket that was now seeking expiation.

What is it that has made the past such a wilderness? What is it that makes it come to our present lives, its empty cup thrust forward, demanding alms? Traumas? I know few bruises that reappear so long after the event. The critical moments that make us selves? I doubt that, as well. Two nights ago, my mother relived her only occasion of being in trouble with a teacher in elementary school, where she was treated unfairly by a petty tyrant. Another student by her would likely have thought it nothing, and yet, at age seventy, she was put upon the rack of that moment again, and she could not choose to forget it or explain away its power.

What memories will leap frog over your taxonomies? Which ones will arrest you and hold you hostage until you pay them their two pennies? The moments of joy come to pay their respects as well as the humid, intemperate, shameful episodes of spiritual death.

I had a "bad patch" in the middle of the 1980's. It seemed like I might have pulmonary hypertension. That would have meant a heart transplant. I began to read books on death. That's when I read strange items like The Egyptian Book of the Dead (apparently, I was in a hurry) as well as more sensibly depressing things as The Sickness Unto Death. I also read Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych. It's a mere 50 pages.

It turned out that I didn't have pulmonary hypertension. Oh, I had stuff going on, but not that. I learned some things from my run through the rapids of death literature, as well. Tolstoy's work was interestingly admonitory. It was clearly not designed for people who were aware of how soon they would be still and dance no more, and so it pointed out clearly that, if you wish to live and have a meaningful life, you must live and live meaningfully. Ilych's only consolation at death is memories of snowball fights as a child. All of his accomplishments meant nothing.

I decided then to go to graduate school. I was going to be happy and live as I wished to live and never defer my happiness until certain conditions were met. I vowed to not hedonism, but existentialism of a epicurean sort. I cannot tell if it has made any difference.
All that I know is that I have made a darned poor job of having chosen. What will meet me, interrupting the ice tea and biscuit on my plate, overrunning my conversation to a care giver or electronic ramble, is most assuredly not going to be a major event like September 11, 2001, but some mordant glance in a school cafeteria, some inappropriate stride in a bad place, a mugging at age fifteen behind the Omni, in Atlanta, or, of course, being the spider's abdomen in a hospital bed. At seven, I had some surgery beyond the customary. My friends in the hospital ward with me died. I had a three week coma. Veins began to slide and slip beneath the phlebotomist's needle, my elbows taped to planks of wood, drains in my sub femoral vein, and many doses of liquids into those sites. I was cheerful enough through it, having been brought up on tales of "men." Men were not merely possessors of Y-chromosomes. They were without remorse, and when they had "nerves," it meant that they were even more remorseless, and not that they were capable of suffering any physical pain -- for they were completely lacking, there. However, I had an irrational reaction to the situation that may, indeed, have been as rational as anything else. I saw myself as the center of a spider. Tubes going out and coming in, draining pus and transporting in antibiotics, saline, and glucose made me an immobilized tick's body, the arachnid whose web was not her own -- which is to say the fly in the web.

I have little doubt that that, which I have placed in a box stored beneath the shelf of conversation, will rattle and throw off its lid, shatter its chains, and clamber on top of me at some point in a decade or two. I can only hope that others, the conscious others, the ones fashioned as good times, will compete successfully. Perhaps pillow talk with a lover, the scent of a room, or even a horrible fight with a lover will manage to vault my consciousness as well as such horrid powerlessness, for they are preferable, each.

Know, then, your past. Perhaps telling the stories of our worst moments before our memories flip on their heads can make them so boring as to take away the only thing they all seem to have in common: the fact that we don't want to share them with anyone.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


"I am grown peaceful as old age tonight.
I regret little, I would change still less." -- Robert Browning, ''Andrea del Sarto''
It's important to know where you are. I have often remarked upon this fact, and many sage philosophers before me -- minor footnotes to my genius -- have done the same. Now, Socrates thought that the trippy shrike at Delphi was onto something when she said (remember: no Greek characters at Blogger), "gnothi seauton." Well, she probably didn't say it. Socrates probably didn't say it, either. They say that Socrates said it, and it was carved above her cave, They say. Despite all that, I maintain that "know yourself, man" is only one of the problems to be solved. The other is, "Where you at?"

Now, it's tempting to see the Delphic oracle's slogan as perhaps not an admonition or exhortation, but rather as an explanation. After all, here was some nice girl who went into a cave and breathed magic healing vapors that almost certainly made her hallucinate like a hippie, and I never have figured out how some shopkeeper's daughter would go from shy virgin to voice of Apollo. Did she elect herself? Was she elected by others? Was she unmarried by a certain age and therefore set aside in a face-saving move? Was she just the daughter of someone without sufficient dowry? I think it's at least plausible that she picked herself by being a first class cryptic goth girl. What do you do with your Plath-loving sad chicks? Well, the very best of the best, the one with the most uncanny insight and poetic expression might well go off to a cave to get to, like, really know herself. She would therefore have merely been the mother of unnumbered generations of sensitive souls taking drugs to get to know themselves. (One supposes that the self to be known is very hard to know indeed, if it takes becoming blotto to get near it.)

However, I will resist that temptation and instead hold forth on the philosophico-spiritual and temporal need of cartography. Have you not noticed that you are here? In fact, you are always here. Even when you're there, you're here.

No, I haven't been breathing magic Vap-o-Rub. I mean that all maps are constructed around you. They all have, in the center, "You Are Here." This is both an orientation marker and an assurance. Yes, you are here. Relax, man, because you're still here. No matter where you go, you can open any map and find that you are still here. The map inevitably offers a profound reassessment. So long as the map is in your hands, the world is known, the surroundings are known, and, most importantly, you are outside of the world. You are the eye in the sky. You are the stationary object in a world that flops about in eighteen impossible trifolds. You're ok. You're still here. All of that space is out there, down there, around there, but you're here, and you're safe.

There is a bit of a kerfuffle about whether or not the earth is the center of the universe. To me, that's a non-starter, and the problem with the church that hollered at Galileo is not that it was wrong, but that it was dogmatic about it. Had they been flexible in their thinking at all, they'd have known that the earth most assuredly is the center of the universe, because it's where the map makers are. If you go to London and you watch the TV news, you may well see a globe or a distorted Mercator's projection behind the readers. What you'll notice is that England is centered. Why wouldn't it be? The Southern Hemisphere is below chair level. Why not? If you watch a film and see the "Universal Pictures" (warning... stupid flash there) globe spin round, you'll notice that it stops with the sun shining on Hollywood. Of course. That's because You Are Here is the center of the map. Wouldn't be much of a map if "you are down there, below the edge of the paper" were displayed. So, if the universe is infinite and all, then it keeps going from its center in all directions, and therefore there really is no center. You'd have to know where the edges are to measure back to find the center, and if it's limitless (or a torus or a Taurus (and a paper on how the universe is a Ford motorcar is easier for me to understand than the one on polydimensional space)), or if it reflects, or if it hooks back on itself like a Klein bottle (my whiskey always comes in a Klein bottle), then any single place could be the "center" as easily as another, and, since we're the jerks making maps, why not here? In fact, why not right over my computer? It's as good a place as any other for center of the universe.

I didn't want to write about the universe, though. I wanted to write about directions. Above and left, I have a picture of The Big Chicken. The Big Chicken is far outside of Atlanta, GA in the independent freehold of Marietta, Georgia. (Dadgummed scarred me so much I was nearly Not Here when I saw that site.) Anyway, Mariettians and Atlantans having to pass the border into the Republic of Newt would need directions, and for decades such directions were given in terms not of where a person was, but in terms of the Big Chicken. Turn right at the Big Chicken to go to a particular car dealership (where the manager always needs his "crying towel" because of the deals the ignorant children give customers). It was an effective object d'art for that reason. In fact, the place was to be torn down every few years (and it didn't even start out as a chicken restaurant), but it got preserved due to its utility and tackiness.

Where I live now, there are some thousands of persons living in the city limits and some thousands more who travel in to shop. However, there are few landmarks to guide them.
"Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail;
And I will cry with my loud lips and publish
Beauty which all our power shall never establish,
It is so frail." -- John Crowe Ransom, Blue Girls.

Instead, the people of the town have this eye-catching billboard.
It has been the subject of many glares and many more averted eyes. It remains there, warning us all that our colons are filled with polyps and that there are some gunslingers in town with the Old West mentality necessary for removing these villainous growths. We've been invaded by the Cavendish Gang, and they're out to kill our men folks. Fortunately, the folks at Mid-Atlantic Biopsy and Cow Punching are ready to go in there and clean it out for us.

You are HERE, the sign tells us. Fortunately, so are they.

Quick on the draw, the posse of gastroenterologists will gather in the saloon and chase down those varmints.

Me? I have no problem with the sign. I think it's important to know where you are. It's probably just as important to know where those guys are. Anyone creeps up behind me should have good intentions, and I know that they do: they have the best of intentions. My problem is only the sign's location. It's between a Wal*Mart and a Lowe's on a road with no nearby intersection. Therefore, it can't really be useful for telling travellers where they should turn. You can't say, "Well, go to the Big Chitlin and hang a left." I think they should move the sign in toward town some, or at least at the site of the local eternal road construction, because then we can use the sign as an object. We can make it a feature.

We can use it for directions and forget for a moment that it's a map.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

In Praise of the Pause

Security is an insipid thing, and the overtaking and possessing of a wish discovers the folly of the chase. -- William Congreve, Love for Love

Let us take a moment to celebrate the vitality of nothing. The future perfect particle is one of the most life-sustaining and indispensable components of language. It is the catch that occurs in the mouth rather than the throat, and it signals the world that what comes soon is not currently not available. Give me, uh, a second, because, um, the thing I want to explain is, uh, not really, sort of, fitting right now in the words that, um, are at my, my, fingertips.

The particle testifies both to hope, faith, and regard. It says that I want to, um, improve, or at least polish what is about to rush out, and that I think I can, well, do it. You are important to me, or, uh, I want you to think so. You probably are important to me, but, um, what I'm trying to do here is important, and I have the, uh, well, utmost regard for my task and my listener. You need to believe me, or, at least, um, believe in me.

Speaking of which, there are times when the future perfect particle is used in a different syntactic position. If you see a woman breast feeding at church, you may be overwhelmed. Why, you may wonder, is she breast feeding? Are her breasts hungry? They appear well fed as it is. What is the expression on that baby's face? Is it different from the expression you wear with a hot fudge sundae? You may think that it's natural and begin revising your impressions and holding back the flood of quips with your mental thumb in the mental dike. It is, um, natural, and, uh, there are many natural bits of the biological nature that we prohibit in public, so should you pull the thumb out or go get the mortar? Is church, like, a better or, uh, you know, much, much, much worse place for this bit of nature? Is this so she can attend the sermon more closely? The baby isn't really, uh, listening, and, uh, you know, none of the others on the pew are, either. Is she trying to avoid distracting people by going outside with the baby? Really? Because, you know, it kind of seems that the distraction is, uh, really, kind of happening anyway.

So, you go through the future perfect particle, but it isn't being used that way at all. Instead, the same particle has an entirely different function. Here, it is the orientation interjection. It is the, uh, anchor morpheme.

Speaking of morphine, sleep, which is Morpheus's domain, has always kept the human mind awake. As Roethke points out,
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go. -- "The Waking," by Theodore Roethke
If we do not sleep, we doze. If we do not dream, we hallucinate or die in life, for "Youth dreams a bliss on this side death," as Matthew Arnold wrote (a neglected poem). Go without sleep for seventy-two hours in a row, the way I did when studying for the final exam in "The Rise of Rome," and all sorts of things will happen to you, although only a few of them will be real. (They're still offering the class, and I made a C.) If you want to be alive, invested, present, and pregnant with or nursing your emerging ego, you had better sleep. In sleep, we clear cut the forest of free standing, new growth facts and sensations. We take the vet visit, the veterans on TV, and the fete we attended and clear them out, ejecting the noisy hangers-on of our memories. We expel all of those trivial sensations, the superfetation of tis en (sorry, but I can't figure out how to get Greek characters...that was supposed to be witty reference to T.S. Eliot), trailing clouds of fooling from our ears and napes, thereby evacuating the floor for new dancers in the daily dance of stuffing out brains. Morphemes have their own shapes and cast their own extraneous little shadows.

The pause that flees, the hidey hole of meaning, enables our verbal acts and our exclamations, so let us now praise the most meaningless of particles, the most useful of noises, the mantra of the extemporaneous speaker, the mane padme hum of "Um."

Sunday, September 16, 2007


When psychologists with 6 volt batteries and a stable of monkeys they didn't mind torturing figured out that there was classic "stimulus/ response" and that some rewards were better than others, we were all screwed. The psychologists might have claimed noble motives more than Nobel motives, but what they had discovered was why we gamble. Needless to say, the gambling palaces have since been the hungry beasts sucking from all the addiction scholars. Every time someone studies "what makes suckers into victims," the golden palaces read it and try to use the research to make more suckers into dependents. Let's face it: if you, Mr. Common Good Psychologist, find out that payouts at exactly 8.6% are associated with the most addicted gamblers, the casinos are going to change their slot machines and tables to offer a payout of 8.6%. If you think anything else will happen, then you are the sucker.

Today is Sunday, and Sunday is the Christian sabbath and the first day of the week. That seems fitting, to me. (Christians, by the way, are not let off the hook about the sabbath, but most of my co-religionists think they are -- if they even realize that Saturday is the 7th day.) The service today coincided with something I've been thinking about. From Collect to readings to sermon, the subject was forgiveness and sin. That's not the usual thing in my denomination. We're a more light hearted lot than the ranters. However, I've been thinking for a long time about a particular basic human desire and how it leads to the other addictions and mistakes.

The myth of perfectibility is one of the most important functional truths of our lives as individuals and our agglutinations as societies. Don't get me started about perfectibility and Original Sin. (Really: don't. I'm semi-pelagian. That will come up later, probably.) No, not that, but the binary concept of ultimate depravity vs. perfectibility goes through all recorded history, both western and otherwise. How bad are you? How much of that is inevitable? Is it possible to be better? What is better?

Should I break this into pieces?

Start with the obvious: the hope of amelioration is necessary for motion itself. If you don't think things are better over there than here, then you're not moving. If you don't think that you'll be better off with the pay than without it, you're not working. If you don't think that your bodily desires are better with a partner than without, you're not sacrificing for one. In other words, movement in all our senses is motivated by dissatisfaction and the hope of improvement. Additionally, parenting is all about better. It is largely what learning is about, as well. We waste time talking about unconscious things, though. The sort of better that is pathological is the sort that has as its end point the perfect.

You gamble because it's fun, but you keep gambling because there is enough regularity that you believe you can master the game and enough chance that you never can. You keep beating at Wikipedia because it seems like you have a real chance at a fair game and can make a perfect entity. The success of Wikipedia, in particular, is related to this hope of perfecti
on. Why would the author of the article on the Death Cap mushroom write it on Wikipedia? Is it that this kind of above-journalism and below-specialist prose has no journalistic home in a contemporary Life Magazine? Is it because print encyclopedias would never allow such a contributor who was not a professional myconologist? Perhaps both of those things are true. Perhaps, also, it is true that we have more competent writers alive today than ever in the past, that we lack journals and paper enough for all the good writing. However, there is something else involved. The print encyclopedias are a rigged game, in most people's minds. They demand superbly qualified writers and then demand that they write at a superficial level. The person who is a true expert on fungi is not going to be strained, except negatively, by trying to write a general, "I Am Joe's Bad Shroom" article. At the same time, the people who have a skill for gathering up a hundred details and writing a compact narrative will have no access to the print editions. Furthermore, the author may think that the print piece is requiring an artificiality: the permanent record.

You see, what Wikipedia actually offers its authors is a double hook: instantaneous gratification and the mirage of perfectibility. First, it lets the person get "in print" instantly. Like the slot machine, there is the sound of spinning wheels, the flash of lights, the aroma of a chair cushion that is well worn and deeply imbued, and then a "ping" as the article appears. However, it also provides the intellectually defensible position that there is no permanent truth and that, therefore, it is more reliable and useful to the world to offer up an article that is cont
inually in revision and perpetually sliding toward perfection than it is to write a draft, mail it off to the encyclopedia, and then see it in print three years later.

Wikipedia is thus a very Catholic form of perfection. It is the gamer's encyclopedia. Like a video game, it promises infinitely growing mastery and infinitely nearing perfection. Plato suggests the basis of his belief in the singular god in Timaeus, where he gets it from, of all things, the number line and the great Lambda. The thing is, his perfection -- his god -- is an infinite zero. It is the wholly self-contained perfection that never moves, never does anything. It is all being and no existence, because existence is inherently imperfect. When you get nearer to perfection by following along an eternal scale, you repeat Plato's regression to zero, and your only consolation is that you know that you'll never get there without winking out of existence.

You can aim for perfection of the "prevenient grace" sort, where the perfect finds you and overwashes your imperfections, or you can go for the work-for-it grace, where grace just tells you you really should start cleaning up your act. This distinction, tied as it is to the concept of total depravity of mankind, is reflected in the sorts of habitual vs. conscious attempts at perfectibility that hook people. On the one hand, you can desire the whole person makeover of a new screen identity -- this time one with friends and good looks and body image -- or by becoming king of the discussion board or top posted feeb at Slashdot. You can take up the challenge of really, really, really, really knowing your omphalos, or you can feel the perfection coming on you as you eat another lettuce leaf instead of french fry. Diets are a form of perfectibility, and so are meditation courses. There is the perfection of enlightenment and the perfection of education, the perfection of rebirth and the perfection of mastery. However, what is critical, what is vital, what is most hidden and yet most central to all forms of human perfectibility in existence is that they must not work.

Remember: gamblers give the casino their all because they get random rewards, because there must be the appearance of an even game and yet the impossibility of ever getting a even break. Wikipedia has generated "wikiholics," just as Slashdot did before it (slashdotters, of course). These things follow on late from the unlamented CB radio, which rests in an empty tomb of its own. CB was the first to give us all "handles" and fun rendezvous with hookers and outsized personalities that bore no connection to our own. It offered up that new you with a simple investment long before the www came along. None of this can work, though.

Think for a moment. Really, do. What would happen if the implied promise were made good upon? If you could win at blackjack with a simple guide, there would be no more games. If you can have a perfect Wikipedia article, then all of those people eager to be just like you will have to be shooed away. If you can have a new life with your screen name, then everyone else must, too. If you can be the life of the party and the honored and beloved hero, then there won't be any admiring crowds, because they'll be the heroes, too.

If you hit the perfect, you wink out of existence and join Plato's infinitely regressive zero.

This kind of perfectibility is both unworthy of the effort and an addiction that will drain, rather than fulfill you. On the other hand, there is sufficiency, activity, and power in grace because, as I said above, it is the perfect reaching out to you, not your trying to become the perfect. Essence is possible. Essential salvation is real. It is not, however, to be found by your mastery of a technique, nor, alone, your actions.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Concusion of the foregone

It's one thing to rant and rave about kids today, shaking one's cane furiously as the children make splatters of dog feces running after their whiffle balls in the yard and tearing up the daisies and... Anyway, it's easy to yell at all of you for using computers as surrogates for hope, but there is a time to put one's vitriol where one's hands are.

Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I announce:

and encourage every other Second Lifer, every Wikipedian, every Thing2er, every Slashdotter, every "social" engineer of every sort and stripe to follow my lead.

I may continue to post to this blog, as it is at least an honest monolog, with neither the pretense or desire of audience or input, but I'm going on strike. It won't make a difference to anyone but myself, but it isn't designed to make a difference to anyone but myself. Why?

First, because the others aren't real. They're all segments of an inchworm, all phantoms of personae, all poorly scripted hauntings. Second, because those who are motivated to type online for psychological need or social deficit are not going to follow the call of anyone. They can't. Even though they are not getting actual calories from the simulated foodstuff of websites, they are getting their hunger pangs blunted (and no other alternative is as easy). Third, because, while it can happen to me, it can't happen to them. They're too self-aware to get disgusted. Fourth, because, if it were possible to persuade anyone of anything by this means, it wouldn't need to be quit. Fifth, because I am the only one in the room when I'm typing.

Why, then, bother to tell you about it? What good is it to announce a strike to people who aren't reading, won't care, and can't follow Norma Rae out the door in any case? Well, I can hope that you, individually, are better than all those other people. Yes, I mean you. While the other clowns who read this blog are hopeless cases, there is some small chance that you can see that striking is a way to remind the network that it is made of actual people who are presenting only a single profile, and you may also see that striking will enable you to feel, and possibly make up for, the pains that you have been palliating with this dope.

Don't let me down. Copy the image above (released free, no copyright) to every web endeavor you are expected upon. Do not answer questions. Do not make demands. This is not about trying to get something from the boss: this is about simply declaring independence and the third dimension.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Hey, Bebby, let's fornicate with our second bodies...

I want to thank everyone who responded with the correct Spanish for "quiet is healthy." I should have entitled the last post "Senex est habilis." Regardless, I have to respond to one of the most common queries I get on this blog. "Hey, The," my readers write, "tell us more about your sex life." At the risk of overloading the web and being the first person to ever talk about sex on the Internet, I will offer the following prurient and scarifying tale of lust and sweat.

I dated a student of mine, once. Ok, I had a student once. I should say that, first. Then I should say that I had a female student. Then I can reveal that I dated her, once, when she was no longer in my class. You see, I was five and twenty, and she was in the bloom of physical perfectibility at nineteen or twenty. I understand that the massive gap in ages makes my confession shocking, and that we had no chaperon makes it all the more alluring. This is what comes of letting your daughters attend a secular college. What makes it even worse is that she had known me prior to becoming my student. She had even been, she said, a "fan" of mine! I mean a fan of me, particularly, and not our future-gay singer, future married drummer.

Obviously, the lady had troubles.

Anyway, she thought I was witty, intelligent, and cool. I thought she was unbearably cute, lively, interesting, and with a compelling, but worrying, back story. (Her father was not the nicest person in the world. Something about having been in Laos in 1967 in action, even though, of course the US was not in Laos then, but maybe that was just a coincidence.)

We had one date. We had exactly one date.

There was no break up, because there was nothing to break. The chemistry could not have been worse for dating, and in the post-mortem I think I figured out why I felt so bad. Why she felt bad is instantly understandable: I'm not worth any woman's time and biological resources. I am desperate, though, so why wasn't I heartbroken?

The thing is, you see, I felt like only part of a person (and that's no good, no matter how you slice me). Witty, cool, and intelligent trapped me. I had always presented that face, and now it was the basis of her attraction. As long as I was around her, I couldn't like bad art, couldn't be wrong, couldn't enjoy stupid music, couldn't watch dumb movies, couldn't praise sports on television, couldn't be bland. A single, consciously inflated but genuine, part of myself was going to have to mask the rest of me. It was wretched. It wasn't the pressure. I was a teacher, and a popular one, so I was accustomed being engaging and smart for hours at a stretch. I couldn't have fooled her into thinking that I was admirable if I didn't have some admirable or shiny bit in my corpus.

Rather, I was not satisfied with this much sacrifice of freedom. The freedom I needed was the freedom to be who I am, in whole and various, rather than the freedom to do some particular thing.

Self-determination may be overrated, but when it comes to the making, handling, distribution, and consumption of love, I find that it's somewhat critical. I also find that the amount of time one spends with another person in the postures of love, the more of the designed self gets eroded, and the nearer the core gets to exposed. This is why being selected by a partner for an attribute is absolute doom. Unless the lover pulls back the layers and likes each one, or at least most of them, there is no hope whatever. If you try to become the attributes that the lover likes, you'll go mad. In fact, you pretty much are mad. It is delusional and mentally ill, as well as dishonest, to try to become the projected image.

No sugar that night, then.

That's not the issue, though. I'm not really writing this blog entry about my date or passing on my words of wisdom to the lovelorn or love handled or short horned. What I'm actually writing about is the fact that screen names and screen identities are self-projections. They are what we think of as the diamond inside us, when we hold the cutting knife. They are also the bit we wish were inside. Either way (self-selection or fantasy), they are projections of attributes or aspects onto a screen. Like all projections, they are two-dimensional, and social websites are these screens. They allow lateral movement, but they never allow stacking meanings, contradictions of action, paradox, frustration and aspiration. They never allow hope. They have no history. They are a continually dragged out "now," where, interestingly, the moment is ineluctably pre-defined by the attributes contained in the screen name. In a sense, the screen name is the moment.

They have the ability to seem like social life in exactly the same way that television can persuade the gullible that soap opera characters are real. (This, incidentally, is not a small amount. Don't you dare laugh at the woman in the line at the grocery store getting Soap Opera Digest and expressing audible fears about Monica's baby. You are no more clever than her.)

Suppose you do the wish self, the conquering hero(ine) self. If you chose your online self when you were thirteen and looking to get chicksman ("Chicks, man"), then you gave yourself the name Cooldude (because we all know that chicks like the cool dudes), and that is your present moment. For the rest of your time with that name, you are thirteen. Or you're Catherine de Lily, the impetuous belle for now, and now forever. For the rest of the time online, you are Cooldude or Lady Catherine, and all the scribble and dribble you did at that age, suffering as you were from testosterone poisoning or green sickness, is your present moment.

Suppose, instead, you take the shining gem star of your heart and do that. Stampman15 and Birdergirl3 have singular interests. They can't have mortgages to meet. They can't lose jobs that they do not admit to having. They cannot be swamped by PTA meetings or have to rush to arrange a relative's funeral or decide, most of all, that stamp collecting is fey and birding is too expensive. No: they're locked down. That neglected corner of the user's soul that needed watering is now claiming the whole pot.

Above, I argued that avatars are inherently psychotic. This is what I meant. It isn't your avatar that is psychotic, and it isn't that psychotics create avatars, but rather that you have gone out to date the entire universe of computers with a tenth of a personality. More, you have decided to stay there. You can be glamorous and say that you are an actor stuck in a role, but that's wrong. You are a liar stuck in a lie. You have decided on the role yourself, written it, and now cannot change the script. Even if you could change the script, though, and even if you could correct the lie, you would only have the binary choices of one or the other or the other or the other. You are in a two-dimensional society. You are flat. You must be forever operating as a pair of ragged claws surfing across the surface of prattling seas.

Is that how you want to spend your free time? Is that personality? Is that a second life? Is that life at all?

Give me a rocket or a big red switch.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Silences est saludas?

I can't speak Spanish. I don't even know if it's true, but I saw a movie that was pretty bad, and it featured a professor explaining, in a Latin American History class, that in the midst of the disappearances of Chile, there was, coincidentally, a public health campaign to cut down on noise pollution. Thus, just as people were being killed for free speech, there were signs up saying, "Silence is health."

Now, for myself, I'm given to inner debate, or ... You know, that's not true. I just wrote a lie. I have almost no inner debate. Like most middle aged men, I'm over arguing with myself. In fact, what stands between me and contentment is inner judgment, not inner debate. It's as if there is a court room with a judge, no jury, and no lawyers -- just edict after edict and evaluation after evaluation. It is a tyranny of the self, in its way, because the internal dictator has been chained to the internal criminal -- the petty potentate (ugh, I'm so sorry for that alliteration, but this is the kind of thing I'm talking about) is handcuffed to his most impotent and inept critic. They don't argue. It is simply the actions of the fool and the condemnations of the censor, groaning away, and each has the power to make the other miserable, while neither has the capability of making the other better.

I'm rather sick of words. I'm sick of them in two ways, and one of these ways is prophetic, or at least bellwether.

First, I'm sick of my own words, as you should be sick of yours, if you have any sense of shame at all. Every day, every place I go, I feel as if all the words I have uttered, the lies, jokes, stories, witticisms, ill graced vitriol, preparatory patter, stuttering interjections, curses at misfortunes, comparisons between things, evaluations of history, valuations of artworks, deep readings, shallow readings, eunuch pleasantries, lustful compliments, disjointed non-sequiturs, sing alongs with the car radio, growlings at editorials, strings of words that must follow, choices of words that make fresh points, and all the rest of the symbolic junk are there. It's all there, all the time. It's all there, everywhere. It's all there, getting in front of my eyes, filling my ears, crawling on my cheek. Words, everywhen. Words, like a cloud of gnats that cannot be swatted.

Silence would be health indeed, and you should agree with me, because every time I see you, I see the swarm around your head, too, you know. All of those words are history for both of us, and they're the flood. If you concentrate on floating, you're sure to sink, I was told when I was tossed in the swimming pool.

The other way that I'm sick of words is the Internet. You know me, though: I'm always going on about symbolic abstractions of rhetorical constructs of semiotic deferrals! Oh, that's me, alright, in a nutshell.

Well, see, you do know me, but you know this me, which is nothing but a system of words. I know you, too, the same way. People on the Internet are not people at all. They are no more than constructions of rhetoric. They're symbol streams. If I am LordViper on Wikipedia, then I have not only fashioned a self, but I have ... and this is important, so do please pay attention... destroyed a self at the same time. The Litgeek cannot speak of himself, if he's LordViper. The past, hopes, insecurities, desires, balls and brains of the Litgeek must be omitted in LordViper's discourse. LordViper may get to have things that the Litgeek lacks (a criminal record, for instance), but he loses massive amounts, and therefore Litgeek cannot be himself as LordViper. Those who meet LordViper don't know Litgeek. They will never know him. They only know a selection of propositions -- the truth of which are self-verified and meaningful only as they are enacted rhetorically -- that are projections of a rhetorical "I."

Well, I'm sick of it. First, most of these authors suck as fictional biographers. Second, the rhetoric is uniform. Third, I like people, and therefore I like e-people in inverse proportion to their rhetorical sutures. They are all very fundamentally sick.

No, I don't mean they're all neurotics who need "avatars" to be whole. Who cares about that, anyway? No. I mean that the avatars are sick. Because they cannot have pasts, futures, and aspiration, they cannot be whole. They are fractures of personality. As such, no matter the "real people" back there, hanging around e-people is a day trip to the asylum. Since they are only words, silence is health.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


I was driving by the local community college, bar, and grill, and my eyes were taken to their extremely large, highly animated electronic sign announcing, in letters large enough for Godzilla to have written in kindergarten, QUICKBOOKS. They're going to teach students how to master Quickbooks. They're also going to teach them accelerated Excel. Those boys in the software world have always been good at names. From Eudora being named for a short story in the engineers' college textbooks (but which they didn't read) to software makers calling themselves Richochet (gun games) , Black Isle, and Oblivion (role playing games), they've been experts at the art of naming, if not branding.

So, if the Quickbooks is another example like Eudora, where the people behind the name were only half-informed, what is the secrete exegesis of it? Well, there is, of course, the problem that no book is quick. It sure isn't quick to write one. If it's quick to read one, it probably isn't a book, after all, but a pamphlet. Then again, it is, I suppose, a relative term. A week spent reading War and Peace is quick, while a week spent reading Hop on Pop may not be (three links, there: you absolutely have to click on "on" and "Pop" to understand).

"Quick" also means "alive," though. You may "cut me to the quick," if you work for Diebold (or Die Hardest). I can end up exposing the quick, when I bite my fingernails. Can I have a living book? Can I have a book that is perceptive, organic, dynamic, or one that grows? If I have one that grows, can it mature, dodder, and die ("Growth for its own sake is the ideology of the cancer cell," Edward Abbey said, but it was reiterated and expanded by F. Kaid Benfield et al.)? If so, I suppose that's Wikipedia, which is well on its way to droooling down its shirt and mourning the fact that it doesn't get around anymore.

Speaking of names and their selling power, though, perhaps no title has been as successful in drawing in readers who have no business there than that masterpiece of Egyptian and Tibetan branding, the Book of the Dead. What, you ask, do I mean the Necronomicon? Why yes, I do. Next to "The Necropolis" (very 3-D one), it has to be the biggest branding success in history. Along with "The Catacombs" and other terms that had to walk through a hundred penny novels before being redefined, "Book of the Dead" is a great example for "QuickBooks" to aspire to.

You see, I got tricked into reading the Egyptian one. It's about preparing corpses. I've also been to my share of necropoli. They're graveyards. I've even been in catacombs. They're graveyards.

So, let's suppose, instead, a new type of Quick Book -- a book for living. What would such a thing say? "Eat, sleep, reproduce (optional), cease?" Would it say, "Know yourself, for time is running out?" Would it say, "Serve, and know that service is freedom?" Would it say, "Abide?" Would it even say, "Worship your creator, for that is your purpose?" If you're of the atheistical and Beatles bent, would yours say, "Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans" or "All you need is love" or "The love you take is equal to the love you make?" I must say, if any of those were to be the case, even the authentically Orthodox one, I would be quite disappointed. Nor would I read a quickbook that said, "Close up thy Byron, open thy Goethe" (and, implicitly, "go do something passionate").

Thing is, life doesn't seem to need a book, as it happens without its own willingness and continues against any superimpositions like will. You might be tempted, then, to say, "Forget your quick books: living needs no guide." Well, Mr. Smartypants, the dead don't need no stinking book, neither. They're going to go right on being dead without anyone painting on their coffin lids. They can't see the pictures of beetles (or Beatles) and be inspired to hop up.

My long time reader will recognize that there is some barb coming, some moral, and it's going to be corny. My attentive reader, if I had one, would look at the calendar. Yes, I admit it. It's going to be cheap.


Ok. After I went by the commie college and bar & grill, I hooked onto a state highway (this was in pursuit of my mandatory feast for the day, which was a triple burger du fromage (link takes you directly to the direct thing that sent me to the restroom for hours after)), I saw a number of churches. I collect what I call "populist expressions of admonitory or exhortative religious sentiment" (sorry about the Southern slang, there), so I pay attention to marquees. I noticed, though, that the various churches, which are usually in competition with one another on these matters (and the best is an AME Church nearby, where the pastor has very literate and nice sayings) were in accord. Most had "He Lives" up.

The coincidence was nearly too much. First, QuickBooks, then "He Lives" various places. Naturally, I thought instantly of the old (1988) John Carpenter film, "They Live," which, I was told, had been misread by some of our Southern scholars as "they live" (with the second word an adjective rather than verb). It was a natural jump, especially since that movie is all about signs, too, and it features instructions for profitable living reduced to simple imperatives.

However, I thought that the proper meaning of "He Lives" was a great contrast with this absurd mental drift of mine. In fact, the two concepts exist like a metaphor. Metaphor, acorrding to my understanding, is the distance between the actual words and the implicit or virtual words used. The tension between them is the message of the metaphor, and metaphor is, in fact, the only way that the infinite is apprehensible. We see the shadowplay that Plato talked about, and we do not guess the forms outside. Instead, the real forms and their shadows differ from one another, and the difference is the apprehension of the real.


Ok, let's go back to something concrete: He Lives. This is the meaning. He Lives, and the way that He lives is eternal and not a process. It is organic, and yet it is essential. It is infinite, and yet it is perceptible. It is always the same, and yet it is each person's individual and particular salvation. The single sacrifice and passion takes away the "sins of the world" not as a series of particularized children on Santa's naughty list, but as a single forever event, an event that is always in the present because outside of time, and always particularized in the subsuming of all mankind into one suffering, rebellious, and misguided thing. The Quick Book is merely to be, not to live as a series of events or a line through time or a track through the waters, but to be a whole statement at all times. Mind you, there is nothing you can do to achieve this. You're already doing it. All you can do is be aware of it, to know what you say, and to mean, and you mean because He Lives eternally.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Have I mentioned to you folks before that I have an enemy? I can't recall now. I do, though. It's a person I despise. The worst student I've ever had, with some brains but nearly pathetic laziness, total unreliability, and an ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong time that is peerless keeps following me around. Or perhaps I follow him around (it's a male). Everywhere I go, it's the same giant already there or right on my heels. The giant isn't Nemesis (male) and doesn't seem to be persecuting me for any particular crime, except making him what he is. Obviously, I'm talking about William Wilson.

Anyway, today is springtime for William Wilson and recrimination. It's a morning full of haze, in which no one can wake with a full spring in the step, and the air feels like a humidifier stuck on full, already warm at six AM. The Tarheels lost in the round of eight last night, thanks to my wearing unlucky boxer shorts. (All yellow underwear is unlucky and should be worn only when no matter of consequence is uncertain.) Coach Williams was very upset, and so was I. It's a bad time, I suppose to go "off meds and out of therapy," as one State Department official said of a Department of Defense fellow. "Night entangled trees" give way to thick fleshed flowers making a dim mosaic through the fog of a day just getting a running start on becoming a blister.

Could the same air, the same flowers, the same dim dawn, be a florid melange of scents and delirium, if things were better? I'm not sure even Walt Whitman could have enjoyed these overbred southern mornings.

At any rate, William Wilson (the bad one) has dictated to me. It is in a fog that we meet, after all, and in the fog that shots could be fired, but, of course, they never are. Instead, there are two who go in and two who come out. I have always had a kind of out-of-sync S.A.D. Most people get bummed in winter and cheer in summer, but I get bummed in Spring and Fall. As the hazes and blooms appear and vanish, I get out of sorts, physically and emotionally, and my doppleganger nears me, pistol drawn. Poe's fog (I'm referring to a story here, you know? I have been throughout... does no one click on links?) is assumed to be the result of psychology. It's supposed to be confusion. I don't think so. I think it's a fog made of mist. Also note that it thickens by rivers and schools, which is another piece of verisimilitude, because I think William Wilson hangs out by the schoolhouse most of the time.

September is usually pleasant. April is not. September's massacre of vegetation always seems to me to be a scourging. The world sheds its display and recants its boasts. The trees drop their lies and pretenses and go back to being trunks and limbs. Bushes stop all the deception and trickery and leave the bees alone. The only unpleasant part is the lawns of the great middle class (from $18,000 to $950,000 per year in income) dying. They go brown and tan in a truly hideous scrofula of vegetation in Autumn, but the fault lies not with the season but with the lies of the people who sacrificed six months of ugliness for three months of constant care and green ground for hiding animal defecation. Autumn merely shows them the truth and strips away their braggadocio.

Spring, though, has the activity of a shout, the truth value of an orgy. Every lifeform begins to sacrifice for display. The world becomes an amorous bachelor or hopeless maiden at a singles bar, going into debt to look nice. Animal and vegetable alike put on their hairdos and hope that the rain doesn't wash them out. They go for broke with their credit cards and arrive at destitute, and all for the chance at a chance at releasing their pent up sex.

"Birds build -- but not I build" is the most bitterly rending line in all of poetry. At times, I could pray with the poet for rain, but virtually never can I understand how he can find a growth that appeases the pain of Spring. Instead, I go back into the fog and haze of an intemperate morning and conclude that the real problem with William Wilson is that he's a lousy shot.