Saturday, January 24, 2009

The City Mouse and the Country Mouse

As I mentioned in my previous post, and I should go on record as saying that the most annoying thing about blogging is that the newest is on top, and so there is reverse apparent chronology, I lived in da Branx for a few years. I was praised frequently for being "brave" for moving from Goldsboro, North Carolina, to New York City, New York. (The Bronx address was simply a matter of finding an affordable apartment. I would like to say, loudly and clearly, that I loved my landlord there: he was a good egg, a good guy, and an honorable person. I was very lucky.) There was no courage involved. Is a city going to hurt you? What a dumb thing to say.

Anyway, I meant to tell y'all about a dream. I dreamed that I met Death. He was vague, so don't ask me to tell you what he looked like. He was also, by the way, a he. In all the odd protest about "foregrounding" in language and assuming that people must be male unless otherwise specified, I have not once heard anyone protest at the way that most societies (all?) assume that Death is male. This is especially surprising, when you think about it, because Death keeps his pelvis covered, so how do we know Death is male? It's not like there are any secondary sexual characteristics left... or primary, for that matter. Anyway, Death was male, blobby gray but male (look: I'm blobby, myself, and I'm male), and I said, "I have been waiting for you all my life, you know." (I see now that that was a joke, but, in my dream, it wasn't intended to be a joke, and Death, who is reputed to have no sense of humor, didn't get it.) Death said that he wasn't free to come and go whenever people thought about him. I asked him, then, who exactly is in charge of him, and he said, "Mostly, it's you." (I don't think he meant me, particularly.)

I started to think that was a cool answer. In my defense, people, I was asleep. Anyway, I quickly began to have some brain function and told him that was a stupid, 1960's answer. That, unfortunately, woke me up. It was a choice of not getting to call Death on his B.S. or not getting to talk to him.

When I lived in da Branx, I used to play a game. I woke up every morning at about 5:30, and I was on the train by 6:15 AM to be at work. I absolutely LOVE THE SUBWAY! Yeah, I know -- death, trains, tunnels, mysterious houses, etc., but we're not talking about death now, so get your mind out of the dirt.

>Hey! Close the cell phone. Don't answer that text message: I'm trying to tell you about the game I played.

Ok, so I had this game. The objective was simple. Without using headphones before the train was in motion or after it came to a stop, could I journey from my home in Pelham Bay to my work beside the Guggenheim Museum and return at the end of the day without once hearing the "F word" used in anger? If someone used it in a joke, or as an interjection or ejaculation, that would be acceptable, but I couldn't hear it as a weapon in the whole time. I lost. In two years of working, I never won the game once.

I moved from New York to a really dangerous town, Baltimore, and then came down to a suburb of Taulkinham. I went from 8,000,000 people in my town to 394. I think that was brave. I also went from riding the train to work every morning and afternoon and reading books to driving a car every morning and afternoon and listening to CD's. I'm agitated by that, because I can find more interesting books than interesting CD's these days, but it puts me back into Mainstream Merica. Merican's drive, and I drive. Mericans have bumperstickers, and I have one, too. I went to a church where no one noticed to one where I get phone calls about every event and where my denomination was almost a majority to where my denomination is frequently confused with alcoholism.

I also developed a new game. The Branx game wouldn't be interesting, as hearing that word used in that manner ever, here, would be a special occasion. Instead, the game is getting to and from work without seeing Death. Opposums, nature's speed bump, are ubiquitous enough that they are difficult to mourn. Somehow, these creatures must have adapted their reproductive cycle to the natural predation of the automobile. (Q. Why did the chicken cross the road? A. To prove to the 'possum that it could be done.) Armadillos show up, too. They don't belong here, and they're really, really good at digging up plants, so no one frets over their tiny eviscera scooped into their shells on the roadbed. Deer, too, lie beside the road -- their dead eyes gazing down the highway as if they were searching for a destination. Most distressing, to me, are the dogs and cats, and there are far too many of them. Some have collars, most do not. Whether their deaths are grisly or "clean," they are dead, and all the love and joy they could bring is dashed, all the love and joy they had elided.

Do I win this game? Yes. Sometimes I make it. It's not often, though.

The point of these games, though, is not merely satire. The reason I'm telling you about them at all is that both were violence, both force. Both the hate and anger I heard, eructations of unquiet souls, and the dead who lie in the median like passengers waiting for their conductor to stop the train, were compulsions to the world. The book blurred, and the song goes to hiss and noise, when these interruptions come. I cannot then pretend that I am traveling alone, that there is beauty or wisdom to go with me. If I listen to a delicate Brahms air in my car and see the crushed animal, or the animal pointing its broken snout at the yellow line, then Brahms is a liar, and if I were reading Shelby Foote's chivalrous prose when Angie screamed at Tricia that she was a bad person, then Foote fled.

Death said that he mainly waited for me, that I was in charge. What a stupid lie. The bastard interrupts.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


It sickens me that "slonganeering" is a word, but I'm pretty ill to begin with, so it can hardly be the only pathogen.

This morning, the BBC said something quite innocent, and I have no fault with it, but it set me to thinking. They were speaking of My President Obama, and they said that "he has a way with words" and therefore expected a grand inauguration speech from him.
That's the thing, folks. Words don't mean anything, and yet American business and Americans themselves have concentrated on words as if they are the primitive, runic spells that we find on lintels saying, "This house will stand." Magical words and words as magic... this stuff is old, and we're somewhat past it in general. I think there are "magical" words, in that if you call my name, I will answer or look, and so the word by itself has done something. In such a way, the divine invests some words the way that I invest my name. However, it is not the word that did that, but the divinity.

Anyway, there are all sorts of people who look at Barrack Obama's speeches and decide that what they need is "rebranding" and that he is a "brand." It doesn't help that Obama's people allowed all those "Hope" posters up. I'd like to think, though, that the one word posters were the magician's moving hand -- distractions for the audience -- because I know that they didn't sway any voters, and they were nothing to My President Obama's speeches.

If you don't believe I. A. Richards, who said that a word carries no meaning, that a word's "meaning" is only a listing of its potential syntactic positions, then perhaps you'll believe St. Paul, who said, "
Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (2 Cor. 3:6). Richards, by the way, was saying that "meaning" in a dictionary is simply a list of positions, for a word has no meaning outside of a sentence or an utterance.

Imagine some poor fellow with a brain injury who shouts out, "Martians!" every few minutes. Is there a meaning to that word? Will he increase awareness of life on Mars? During the Democratic primaries, and then during the General Election, all anyone could say was "Change." Every comedian had a joke about that, and I had my own memory that made me wince every time I heard them get a verbal spasm.

You see, I used to live in da Branx, in New York. (More about that when I get a chance.) Lotto playing was a plague there. I used to go to a tiny bodega for...magazines. The thing was one body width wide and four steps deep. The magazines I wanted were at the very end of the shotgun shack. Anyway, panhandlers were common there, in Tremont Square, and I was used to them. Next door to the bodega was a "doughnut shop" that I went to every day. (In NYC, donut shops are usually diners, and diners are restaurants, and restaurants are bars.)

Anyhow, one day, there was a haggard and repulsive woman in her fifties outside the bodega. She shouted, in the most nasal tones, "Change?! Change?!" People would give her a dollar every so often. She would then take one step, inside the bodega, get another scratch off Lotto card, rub off squares, lose, throw the card on the ground, and shout out, again, "Change?! Change?!" That's all she did. She was begging to play Lotto. She had a home. She had a family. She had some kind of major neurological disability.

Anyway, I kept hearing her when the candidates put up their "Change" banners.

Barrack Obama's magic is not words. Let Republicans and lesser Democrats imitate his words, if they want. In Baltimore, they went nuts for a "Believe" bumper sticker. It didn't do anything. Let corporate weasels concentrate on "brand images." It won't help their products. They will simply grab another Lotto card, have no luck, and go back to more "change" in their "brand."

My President Barrack Obama is amazing because of his sentiments, thoughts, expressions, speeches, utterances, and feelings and that is not a matter of a word.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Unborn

I have been thinking about birth and its rights, members, and appurtenances whatsoever. More particularly, I have been thinking about how we talk about birth.
Thou know'st, the first time that we smell the air
We wawl and cry. . .
When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools. -- King Lear

Indeed, we are "born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed," as Thomas Fuller said, and certainly I have done my bit along those lines. That said, there is a term that bears consideration, for we have increasingly begun to use it in a novel manner. That word is, as you can foretell from the title, "Unborn."

On a literal level, "unborn" makes no sense whatsoever. It is the opposite of being "born again," despite the number of people who call themselves "born again" who worry about the "unborn." To be unborn is to reverse birth, to undo delivery, to return to sender. To be placed back in the womb.

Some smug psychoanalysts would say that being "unborn" is the source of all our desires. Residual fetal memory, you see, is the source of the concept of the Garden of Eden, Marx's idea of "primitive Communism," and any other lost idyll. Therefore, getting un-born would be every human's greatest desire.

That, of course, bears no relation to the meaning of the term "unborn." "Unborn" does not mean unborn. It means "not yet born human being." As such, it is a begging the question term in a political argument. The abortion argument, after all, is not an argument about when life begins. No one is fool enough to say that the zygote isn't alive. The argument about abortion is about when "human life" and "separate human life" from a legal standpoint begins. The term "unborn" suggests that there is a "person" in there, waiting. It therefore presupposes the answer to this question of whether a fetus is a "person" or a collection of cells. If you use the term "unborn," you are very definitively stating that the lump is not a part of the mother, that it is a person who simply has not yet experienced birth.

The abortion "argument" will never be solved by science, because the question is not scientific. The question is purely legal: when is something attached to the mother's body not the mother's body? When is the potentiality an actuality? These are questions palliated, slightly, by holding to standards such as "viability" (when can a fetus survive being removed from the placenta?), but those questions are only attempts at achieving the real need: social consensus on a social designation.

I assume everyone has her or his own position on the matter. I do not. I haven't a clue. I know that I won't have to have an abortion, and I know that I wouldn't want one, but that's about all I know.

The odd thing about "unborn," though, is that it was conceived and delivered in politics. It was a very precise statement of a position, and yet the news media have employed it, as they have generally given the anti-abortion forces more camera time than those in favor of the status quo, and now we see the term being used generically to mean "fetus." Congresses in various states and in Washington D.C. have attempted to normalize the term, as well, by passing laws making it a crime to kill an "unborn" human in the commission of a crime (e.g. killing a pregnant woman makes you guilty of two murders). These measures seem superficially acceptable -- who doesn't think it's worse to kill a gravid woman than otherwise? -- but they sneak in the concept that fetuses have the same protections as the born.

The point is that this political term, this rather nonsensical one, that was so obviously a statement of beliefs, has gone somewhat neutral.

There is a movie out now called "The Unborn." The premise of the film is that, once upon a time, a woman was pregnant with twins, but only one of them survived in utero and was born. The one that did not survive then haunts and strips naked the living one for ninety minutes. The film is directed by Michael Bay, so you know it's deep.

Now, there is something profoundly odd about this premise. I have nothing against spectacle. Ok, I do, but not every time. However, there is some seriously odd metempsychosis being implied here. So, we have a fetus that has a soul. We have another fetus with a soul. Sketchy...but alright. Now, one twin gets more nutrients from the placenta than the other. Alright: this happens frequently, and it's why our hearts are broken so regularly by the runt of the litter. The term "unborn" is here obviously a euphemism for "stillborn" or "aborted." The villain in the film is stillborn or aborted.

So far, although it's a rather icky thing, we're dealing with a familiar, natural, and infinitely sad question of reality, except that, in this case, the "unborn" child is literally unborn. It goes back. The soul that migrated into the zygote must go "back" to wherever it would have migrated from, and, from that perch, start looking for other types of "birth," such as possessing precocious ten year olds, mirrored glass, and shower stalls.

How odd is it that we have "unborn" used as a euphemism for natural abortion or failure to thrive or stillbirth, and then extend that to the idea of a soul hanging around, looking for a body, and then getting royally annoyed by the wait for flesh?
"No one recovers from the disease of being born, a deadly wound if there ever was one." -- E. M. Cioran

"Birth," in the context of this movie's discourse, has nothing to do with gestation. It is purely a matter of some sort of pre-existing entity that employs a mother and father as a method. The problem there, and I know some of the eschatologically minded will be annoyed that I say this, is that it is, prima facia, absurd.

Why do I single them out, when I could be annoying many more people than that? Well, a lot of people have a very, very particular understanding of the anti-Christ. They believe that the anti-Christ is an already-existing entity that dwells in Hell and who will be born in a sinister mirroring of the Incarnation. I will take no time arguing with them that they are wrong or resting on incredibly slender theological legs. The actual Incarnation is special, because Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. I do not in any way accord Satan equality with God, and therefore I do not see how there was the Word and an anti-Word from the beginning. If Satan is going to have a child, I think it's going to have to be by possession or infusing with infernal soul, and not be incarnation.

You see, sperm and egg unite and create a nearly always unique combination of genes that are further expressed in pretty unique ways due to conditions in utero. Whatever the creature is who results from fertilization, he or she needed both sets of genetics to get there. If he goes back, he goes away. So, if there is a soul that waits for parents to be expressed, then it's only a soul, not a "person." In Michael Bay's profound cinematic universe, though, it's a creature, and Mommy was merely a way station.

Mothers and fathers are only carrying cases? This takes the assumptions of "unborn" to the most irrational position it has ever occupied.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Last on the ship

Note: I had hoped, prayed, and even believed that I would be done with the character sketches. It's a nasty business, even if "Difficile est satiram non scribere" (Juvenal, Satire I, 30). However, they come to me: I do not go in search of them.

"He that complies against his will,
Is of his own opinion still." -- Samuel Butler, Hudibras

There are professional disciplines that have gotten into the habit of experiencing revolutions. "Revolution" and "habit" should be antonyms, but, for some, the cycle of revolution is roughly the same as the cycle of rank-and-tenure committee appointments. I am not talking about the tiresome, petty, pettifogging tedium of "theory" of any sort, either.

Harold Bloom is the saint, in a way, and the visionary of the perpetual revolution. I do not mean to suggest that the phenomenon waited for The Anxiety of Influence or the egoism of "strong readings" to begin, but he is the Ann Coulter of avid sniping in academics. As you will recall, Bloom suggested that each poet despises the previous generation's greatest poets. He related this to a sort of Oedipal struggle: each generation of poets has to kill its daddy to have its mommy, although I never did figure out what consummation was devoutly wished in Bloom's scheme. Without the prospect of having the desired mother, it's not really an Oedipal struggle: it's homicide. However, the book stated a widely observed truth in new lingerie, so it worked for him:
"Envy's a sharper spur than pay.
No author ever spar'd a brother;
Wits are game-cocks to one another. -- John Gay, Fables

The point is that some professions have to have new ideas, because new ideas, not the application of old ideas, are easier to recognize and make greater headlines. Of all of the fields riven by perpetual tumult, the most astonishing to me is Education. I recall being told, authoritatively, that the traditional classroom is a disease, an act of aggression, an offense against liberty, equality, and sensibility, that it is, additionally, a method by which no one may learn. (This sentiment, by the way, is commonplace. It may be surprising to anyone not taught "pedagogy," but consensus is universal that the one thing that can never work is the method of Aristotle's Academy.) I thought it was an astonishing thing to hear, and I suspected that the person telling it to me could not possibly believe it, as he had himself been the product of the traditional classroom. Was he telling me that, in fact, he was uneducated?

This is a widely held belief, as I said, and I'm not going to defend the "stand and deliver" lecture or the "sage on a stage" or the other commercial jingles that get sung. I don't much care. If there is some superior method, I want it. I'm sure most teachers approach their goals with as much vigor as possible, strive as diligently as they are able, and devote as much of their lives to educating as the world will afford them, and I doubt the good will of no teacher. I cannot say the same, however, of a field that achieves its revolutions solely by questioning the motives, methods, and intelligence of every previous practitioner of the trade.
"It is tiresome to hear education discussed, tiresome to educate, and tiresome to be educated." -- Attrib. William Lamb

What I find particular and noisome about the recent revolutions in Education is that they all begin with the premise that each and every colleague is a fool, at best, or a dupe of the Empire. This is a horrid thing to think, and it is fated to produce intolerant individuals and either low morale or low individuality. A person whose starting point is the conclusion that all other individuals are knowing or unknowing villains is going to see himself or herself as a hero who must achieve by defeating the rest. It is a philosophy that does not demand tyrants and bullies but which is a welcome fit for them.

The other factor in recent Education that makes for discomfort, for me and for many, is the external pressure of what No Child Left Behind means. It is very, very hard to find a defense of NCLB. It is a mooncalf. The only defenses I have seen were, in fact, defenses of selected portions, vague aims and goals of the thing. It is otherwise universally dispraised, and rightly. That said, even those who most despise the thing seem to have adopted its central message: documentation and statistical evaluation is the only valid method of assessing education.

This is a shocking thought, if you're not trained in Pedagogy.

Reader, think for a moment. Can you prove that you are educated? Can you come out of a meeting and statistically validate the amount of the message you have absorbed? Can you prove not only that you have learned, how much you have learned, but at what pace? What about pointless meetings? If a meeting seems pointless to you, a waste of your time, would you still be able to weigh, measure, describe, and quantify the information you got from it?

This is the same of education. Just as some meetings seem "stupid," so some classes seem that way to students. Is it because the class is stupid, or because it's not applicable? Are all educational processes equally efficacious with all humans at all times? If they are not, is that the fault of the educational method? Is it, in fact, a fault at all? Well, the formalist (it does not deserve to be called "empiricist") rage in Education assumes a "Yes" to all of these questions and, in fact, demands it.

For twenty years or so, state secondary education has moved to more and more "proof" of education, and "proof" is a number. The naive, hopeless belief in numbers is either charming or jaw dropping, depending upon how far away from it one is, but it is everywhere. Whether it comes out of a "CYA" impulse or some genuine belief that "Johnny Can't Read" because Johnny's teachers haven't filed their lesson plans with the District Office on North Avenue in time, it is a legal and institutional imperative now -- an imperative that has folded into the core of educational philosophy and pedagogical pedagogy.

I hope to bore you less, always, and, believe it or not, this really is a character sketch. I needed to establish these features only to explain the environmental conditions necessary to create a particular character (or to foster such a character).So, let's assume that a profession now encourages all of its stars to believe that they are the sole possessors of the truth and that all of their colleagues are hideous affronts. Let us assume a profession that encourages its leaders to look at all other departments as obstacles. Add to this a true believer in quantification. Quantification is not, of course, the philosophy, but it is the background against which all philosophies must emerge. The individual star of Education may believe in peer-centered-education, holistic grading, computer-mediated-communication, the curriculumless classroom, or whatever else, but each and every one will either be predicated on the need for forms or will have as a part of its core the generation of forms and, most importantly, compliance among all practitioners.

It would not be surprising, then, if someone who is drawn to such a field were a bully, common or uncommon. It would not be surprising if a person drawn to it were an expert at passive-aggression or the carefully lodged complaint. This is not because the study of education is in any sense wrong, but only of the dual functions of tenure depending upon revolutionary ideas and the external pressure to ossify education, the verb, into a noun that fits on a spread sheet.

Personally, I have had three Professional Educators (meaning people in charge of setting educational policy) that I have worked near (never with, because one only works for or near such a person), and all three of them have been tyrannical. I do not say this with hyperbole, and I am not particularly anti-authoritarian. I am not given to taking umbrage much, either. However, I do believe that I received education, and I recall both lecture and discussion and group discussion, and I recall that none of those methods mattered a whit, except that each was what the educator felt most inclined toward. I also realize that my education lagged quite a bit behind my classes, that no one, least of all me, could have said what I had learned from any class, that "learning" was something that could only be assessed in recollection.

What I write, above, is not intended as an indictment of this or that person, but, rather, a warning about a social phenomenon that is, at present, either creating or drawing persons who, in the name of Education, forget the goal, forget knowledge, forget freedom, forget talents, and turn to the method, the method first and last, and hope to achieve not enlightenment, but obedience. These are people who will produce data, not information.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Dangers of Tuberculosis

In the original, 1967 film "Bedazzled," Mephistopheles, played by Peter Cook, urges a pigeon to defecate on a vicar. He explains to Stanley/Faust, played by Dudley Moore, that he gets a two-for-one that way: pride from the pigeon and wrath from the vicar. You see, the real danger of evil is that it provokes more evil. This is something Proverbs knew well, and so did the author of the Letter of Peter.

However, when one works in the Tower, nothing is more common than the Spanish Cloister's ground molars or the slap fight of impotent malice. I have always watched these dramas from the sidelines. Lord knows, I've gotten in my fair share and more of them in various online incarnations, and I'm glad, in a way, for the nights of insomnolent rage at various arguments with assorted dullards on useless bulletin boards and the tiresome Mobius strip arguments I had on Wikipedia. These gave me an inoculation against some of the more trivial games of the workplace. This is important, because these spit contests at work have grave consequences, while those online grunt-and-heave fights have nothing behind them or ahead of them, really. Melanie Klein argued that the real value of art was that it allowed for a fantasy realm in which we may safely work out the impulses that are too dangerous for reality. At least I remember that as being her sentiment. It could have been Antonin Artaud, for all I know. That I take to be the value of online argument, too.

However, some diseases are worse than others. In particular, one must avoid Typhoid, Cholera, and Tuberculosis. Typhoid is a disease found most often in Philosophy, English, History, and Political Science departments, although it has been known to strike even law schools. I would include Schools of Education in the list, but I'm not sure, in those cases, where the disease begins and the patient ends -- ignorant as I am about the workings of such places. The primary symptom, though, is fever. It's highly communicable, but there are, of course, carriers. This is what makes the disease dangerous. A person will have an idea -- that all traffic signals are expressions of power designed to destroy the feminine, for example -- and this idea will produce an ague as some grow hot and others do not. Generalized lassitude will eventually occur, as the constant exercise and vexations of the vessels by the fever eliminate all reserves of operating cash and tenure procedings. This can result, ultimately, in paralysis and death. The carriers, in these cases, are those who appear calmest in the storm. They can normally be detected by looking for extra titles after their names. They are not the professor of linguistics, but the Germaine Greer Professor of Applied Linguistic Field Resistance Theory. Two tents, the infected and the uninfected, pop up like mushrooms.

Cholera, at first glance, seems the opposite of typhus. It is not dyssentary, and it is not what happens when departments sit for too long. Instead, it is the private mania. Any academic department can fall victim to this disease, and it is quite fatal. Unlike typhoid, it is not communicable. Victims are not carriers and do not spread it to one another. Instead, they share a single stream of funding, and it allows them to pursue their own interests to the exclusion of all else. The result is that the students become increasingly odious. They are distractions. Maintaining academic disciple becomes difficult. You were hired to teach labor relations in the 20th century, but, you know, that's simply not very interesting anymore. Instead, you really want to do a survey of web comics. You were hired to do the survey class in basic Chemistry, but, after a while, that just seems so empty that you'd rather have your freshmen working on pieces of the puzzle of denaturing high fructose corn syrup. Your colleagues sometimes make you go to meetings, but they're annoying.

Both of these diseases result in death, but the one I had been unprepared for is George Spigott's pigeon: Tuberculosis.I realize that my anatomy lesson is going long, and I don't want to make my parishoners late for lunch, but I really must warn them about the dangers of TB. Tuberculosis seems to be commonplace anywhere there is an existing crisis. It is usually a single-point infection, but it is not called "consumption" for nothing. The primary symptom is an inability for department members to communicate, as tumors choke off the air supply. Effectively, the effort to push aside these tubers causes everything else to grind to a halt, and, eventually, the same lassitude, paralysis, and death occur as in typhoid.

Fever may or may not be present, but TB gets inside and immediately insinuates itself into the function of the metabolism. If a person steps into a crisis by volunteering to sort things out, then that person achieves an indispensible position, whether qualified or not. TB, in academia and business, is when a person becomes the conduit for everything, and yet no one remembers ever deciding to cede that power or those decisions. This person may or may not bring a Big Idea or Grand Unifying Theory or Major Task. It isn't necessary. All that is necessary is that staffing be insufficient or funding be insufficient. As those two conditions are pandemic, all patients are vulnerable to an infection by TB. In the name of exigency, emergency, or efficiency, tubers spread across the whole body. What's amazing is the inexorable and sluggish nature of death.

We need not read The Magic Mountain to know how agonizing a death by TB is. It takes years, causes inordinate attention, requires vast armies of helpers, and results, in the end, in death. It is like age itself in the way that it marches forward, grabbing more and more of the vital systems, until the cells are either cut away or die on their own.

I confess, I have always been, like the vicar, given to wrath in the presence of those tumors. They are now infecting me, and I have begun to loathe the very idea of them. I shall seek peace of heart and mind, but I hope not indifference to injustice. The balance is a fine one, and I accept all good wishes toward finding it.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


If I had a hammer, I'd hit my thumb with it every day. That would be justice, the danger.

If I had a bell, I'd take out the clapper. Bells are more interesting when they cannot ring, when their gentle parabola clangs the louder without a peal.
If I had a song, I'd sample it and make it a pre-programmed setting for the latest Studio Magic (TM) console. That way, I could be sure to infect every hit single without once having to perform for anyone.

If I had a hammer, I'd break the cell phones, just to see who lives inside them.

If I had a sword, I'd fall on it.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Accidental Leisure

As is customary with me, I used part of my leisure time to think about ontology. Of all aspects of metaphysics, I find it the most becoming. Part of this is that I have been haunted, ever since I met him, by my never-met mentor, Odo Marquard, and his essay on the "accidental." He and his generation of Germans had a powerful reason to feel anxiety about the distinction between purpose and accident, between existing and being, and his lovely books emerged at a time when Americans, at the end of the last century, were ready to feel as unhappy with the "splinter in your mind."

Oh, post-mortism had already been announced, practiced, perfected, and become pop culture by then. "History is a flat field" -- yes, yes, how fun. "Fragments are made into wholes by the unifying consciousness" -- quite endearing, that. "Existentialism has run its course, and now we're all ironic" -- no doubt, but do you mean it? Scientists had even joined the chorus. It's a wave! It's a particle! It's two great things in one. Yes, they had their pave or their wart-icle. Whatever it was, they had it, and then they wanted to have it some more. Why? Because they could.

It has been an age of proliferating unnecessary causes. You can put power generation near the consumer, or you can get superconductors in your power cables. You can regulate speculation in energy and reclassify it as a staple good, or you can go way the heck out in the ocean to drill. You can try very, very hard to "make it new" and come up with new imagery that is both communicative and discursive, or you can have Richard Nixon playing marbles with Mussolini in Trieste, while Enrico Fermi plays flute in the background. (Don't get me wrong: Tom Stoppard is the best of them.) It's not that any of these warticles or post-mortist achievements is not worth the effort, but each and every blinkin' one of them is somehow more effort than achieve, and each is more testimony to a nervous will than a desire.

(It was a clever idea, having the
font color taken from Britney
Spears's tanned midriff, but
it didn't work too well.)

I have been thinking, in my unhappy way, that all the explanations fail. So has everyone else. For a few years, now, I have taken the approach that accidents proliferate to such a degree as to prove an unconscious intent. In other words, if we sum all of the accdidental actions, all of the things people are unaware that they are doing, and if we add in all of the chance conditions of existence (time of birth, meeting the right significant other or not, meeting the right or wrong temptation, the irrational time you punched a friend), then we get a meaning. It is not a satisfactory meaning, of course, for that would give a great equals sign and "balance the equation" (to keep the Matrix allusions).

It's a warticle, and we're trapped in it.

We live in an age fated to be accident prone. More to the point, we are determined to be determined, insistent upon insisting our will be obeyed. We will have more post-mortem novels, more plays with John Donne sung by Robert Oppenheimer, more dances done in mechanics coveralls, more poems made up of soup can labels, more superconducting children's toys, more bathos and extremity. In this constant yoking of absurdities together, in this violent joining of impossibilities, we will declare ego sum. More importantly, we will say, "Though there is no purpose, there is my achievement, and it passes the time."