<= 2002.01

2002.03 =>

[FEBRUARY 2002.]

out there

Julia K. writes:

one must walk in new york city. or else be driven (by taxi, bus, subway, or ferry). there is more.

Seems plausible. I'll let you know how it was once I get back.

 

zärtlich—einen schädelbohrer

An anonymous Schoenberg fan writes, re: the title of yesterday's entry,

P Lunaire! w00t! my favorite is the, ah, schaedelbohrer / echten turkschen tabak one, Gemeinheit I think it's called.

Indeed it is. Schoenberg picked twenty-one poems (in German translation) from Albert Giraud's Pierrot Lunaire sequence to set for soprano and a tiny orchestra. The poems use a set scheme of repeated lines, follow the stock vaudeville figures of Pierrot the clown and his nemesis Cassander, and without exception are delightfully demented. "Gemeinheit!" (which I've seen translated as "Vulgar Horseplay!" and "Mean Trick!") is the sixteenth. In English:

In the gleaming skull of Cassander,
as he shrieks and cries blue murder,
bores Pierrot with hypocritic kindness—
and a surgeon's borer.
 
And then presses with his finger
very genuine Turkish tobacco,
in the gleaming skull of Cassander,
as he shrieks and cries blue murder!
 
Then screwing a cherry pipestem
firmly in the polished surface,
at his ease he puffs away,
puffs on his genuine Turkish tobacco
in the gleaming skull of Cassander!

The music uses Schoenberg's odd vocal technique of Sprechstimme, halfway between singing and speech, and this combines with the overall dissonance and lack of a key center to make it useful when you would like unwanted guests to leave. But after a few listens it starts to make sense, and it is so good.

Tomorrow morning I am leaving for a long weekend in New York with Lauren and others. I doubt I'll be able to post while I'm there; it is not clear that we will even have blankets to sleep on. The pretext for the trip is this weekend's Magnetic Fields show at Lincoln Center, but more generally it is an excuse to visit a city I have only visited once before, for a couple of days in the eighth grade, and most of that time I was running a fever so I don't remember it well.

I am going into this not expecting to be impressed, so that if I am impressed it will be a pleasant surprise. Although the city is the namesake of the only newspaper and the only magazine I regularly read, I still fail to understand the mystique of New York, or of urban life in general. I certainly can't imagine wanting to live there, unless you work in some specialized industry that requires it. My urban experience is limited to San Francisco, where I lived only briefly, but that was enough to convince me that cities are wrong. It is wrong to be driving on a road with five hundred other human beings, and to see those five hundred people as nothing but obstacles, and to have those five hundred people see you as nothing but an obstacle—and in my experience, this is what happens. It poisons your psyche. Everything is expensive and some of the people you pass on the street will judge your hipness based on your pants and other people you pass on the street will want to murder you. And I didn't even have a job or anything—I was sleeping on our bass player's couch—so imagine how it would have felt if I had been working.

So far as I can tell, the advantages of cities are 1) proximity to large and important Cultural Institutions, 2) proximity to large and important stores, and 3) one's general sense of "I am urban, I am hip, hear me roar." 1) is made problematic by the fact that one must work like a tool in order to afford urban life, and that even if one can make time to visit a Cultural Institution, all kinds of logistical problems (traffic, parking) interfere, unless one is much wealthier than I or any of my friends. 2) is becoming irrelevant now that the web has made it possible to live in Apache Junction, Arizona, and buy the entire set of Schubert lieder, or whatever. An argument could be made for restaurants, but again, logistics and money. 3) I suspect to be a largely specious media-created fiction. I guess there are people who really do live to go clubbing on the weekends and pay too much for drinks and wear sparkly shirts and jump up and down on the dance floor, thinking "God damn I'm great, I'm in a club!" next to a hundred other people in sparkly shirts who are jumping up and down and completely ignoring you because they're too busy thinking "God damn I'm great," etc. I don't see the appeal, but I swear to God I've become a 35-year-old trapped in a 23-year-old's body, so you may want to ignore me. My prejudices are showing. If you can handle cities, you're more resilient than I, and more power to you. A large part of me would just like to buy a trailer in the desert and be Edward Abbey for an indefinite period. I don't know what to say.

We had talked about visiting ground zero on this trip, but apparently you have to get tickets. They're free and everything, and it makes sense as a way to regulate traffic, but it's still a little too weird to handle.

 

o mutter aller schmerzen

Ginny sends in this large composite photograph of the world at night. Check out North America, western Europe, and Japan compared to the rest of the planet, especially Africa. And Siberia is sparse enough that you can actually see the outlines of the major trade routes.

I know you want to hear all about the special chastity-enforcing Mormon underwear.

O let them take down the major labels; O let them.

 

orc and urizen

The other day Caterina linked Louis Wain's descent into schizophrenia as indicated by cat paintings, and I have not been able to get them out of my head. It's as if this guy repeated the horrific transition from the nineteenth century to the twentieth inside his own skull. By now conversation circles seem to have exhausted the links between creativity and illnesses like manic depression (a correlation, yes) or schizophrenia (probably no link)—and yet the "psychotic" paintings are far more interesting, and in their way more beautiful, than the "normal" paintings. I'm particularly drawn to Psychotic Cats Nos. 2 and 3, though they frighten me as well. You can see the obsession and fear latent in the intricate, jagged symmetry: to arrange these minute shapes was his charm against dissolution of the mind.

See, the problem with the globalization debate is that its most visible participants are the evil plutocrats on one side and the stupid extremist millenarian leftists on the other. (The book in question appears to be a typically turgid mélange of Marx and Foucault that ultimately calls for "an affirmative violence" to usher in the post-capitalist era.) If we could just get these people to accept that the process of globalization cannot be denied, maybe we could start an intelligent conversation about better ways to do it. (International free trade also constitutes—you guessed it—another way for meat to be unsafe.)

 

puce goose

So we went to see the local production of The Seagull last night, and it more or less did everything you would want Chekhov to do. We're all such bad lit students that none of us knew the plot, other than it being the source of Chekhov's famous dictum that once a gun is brought onstage, it has to go off at some point. So we watched two relatively light acts, followed by two morose ones, waiting for the gunshot all the while. It also helped that the subject matter was so topical, one of the principal characters being a writer whose writing makes him miserable:

Here I am with you, I'm quite worked up, and yet not for a single moment do I forget that there's an unfinished novel waiting for me. I look over there and I see a cloud shaped like a grand piano. At once I think I must put it into some story or other—the fact that a cloud looking like a grand piano has floated by. There's the scent of heliotrope in the air. I make a note: "sickly scent, flower—the color of a widow's dress—mention when describing a summer evening." I snatch at every word and sentence I utter, and every word you utter too and hurriedly lock them up in my literary pantry... I feel as though I'm devouring my own life, that for the sake of the honey I give to all and sundry I'm despoiling my best flowers of their pollen, that I'm plucking the flowers themselves and trampling on their roots.

At length the gun went off, in typically apocalyptic Russian fashion, and we went to the Sanctuary.

"They say Americans have no sense of tragedy," Marlowe said as we were leaving. "But damn it, Russians have no sense of comedy."

"Steve," I said, "that was a Russian comedy."

Meanwhile, Nik breaks the news that the long-delayed Tanya Donnelly album is finally out. Huzzah!

 

the parrots of the pantanal

It's all crap when it comes to tax time at Casa Metameat. They don't withhold anything from my fellowship during the year, so how much I owe the Feds is all guesses and giggles until I sit down and do the math. And oh boy do I have less money than I thought. Come May, I'll be staggering into Reno with just enough for deposit & first month's rent on an apartment, if I'm lucky.

However, austerity must be waived for this super-limited-edition Rasputina covers EP, available only over the web. I think the poor dears may have been dropped by Sony and lost their distribution, which is a pity because there is such a niche market out there for corset-wearing cello rock, if only they could connect.

Nestlé Crunch looks like this:

It's based on neuroscience and semiotics, or "semiotics," as people say around here, holding their fingers up in quotation marks, and then giggling.

 

the universal language

Well I'm sorry, but I'm not interested in gold mines, oil wells, shipping, or real estate!

"If you want a haliq"—a boy for sex—"you have to follow the boy for a long time before he will agree," said Daud, smiling at Fareed in a hostel where the two consented to give an interview. "At first he was afraid, so I bought him some chocolate and gave him a lot of money," said Daud, laughing. "I went step by step, and after about six or seven months, he agreed."

The Taliban took care of homosexuality by resorting to an ancient punishment prescribed by the Islamic laws of the Sharia: They pushed a wall on top of anyone found to be homosexual. Odd as the punishment sounds, it resonates with many Afghans who live in a world of mud-and-wattle walls, many of which have long since lost their usefulness. There are plenty of earthen walls 3.6 meters (12 feet) high and 60 centimeters (2 feet) thick waiting to be toppled.

 

from the rama-lama-ding-dong

Michael Moore, doing what he does best, has gone after Bush/Enron in detail. If you can get past the hyperbole (he uses the phrase "fat cats" without irony and references Peter's denying Jesus, of all things), Moore links a series of about twenty-five mainstream articles that, cumulatively, are utterly damning.

They sure are nice people at the Dharma Farm, though I probably should have checked them out about a year ago, seeing as I have only three months remaining in this town. They keep hours that are a little early for me (I know, most people have jobs), but we'll see. My dopamine circuits are leading me around by the nose, and we can't have that.

Oh, and Gosford Park was just fine, though I agree with the Bellona Times that the hunting scene in La Règle du Jeu will stand as definitive. Unfortunately, what has stuck in my head from Altman's film is one of the Ivor Novello songs. I guess Novello and his work are still respected in Britain (e.g., the annual Ivor Novello awards), but I cannot deal with a tune that goes:

If you wonder what a duke should be,
Won't you take another look at me?
I'm doughty, and gouty—

 

indelible, inedible

Update: fear springs from delusion. I am all right. I don't know what it is about these mornings, though.

The sky is the color of thrice-used bathwater. I will not allow it to harm me. This is the problem with subscribing to moral systems—you start to suspect that despair is a sort of sin, and you will be held accountable. But I may not have gotten out of bed without that motivation, so I guess it's good. Mercy, mercy, Mr. Percy, there ain't nothing back in Jersey.

And once again I am I will not say alone, no, that's not like me, but, how shall I say, I don't know, restored to myself, no, I never left myself, free, yes, I don't know what that means but it's the word I mean to use, free to do what, to do nothing, to know, but what, the laws of the mind perhaps, of my mind, that for example water rises in proportion as it drowns you and that you would do better, at least no worse, to obliterate texts than to blacken margins, to fill in the holes of words till all is blank and flat and the whole ghastly business looks like what it is, senseless, speechless, issueless...
—Beckett, Molloy

 

psy-ops

Photo website ZoneZero wants you to know:

On February 20th something will happen that will never happen again: At 8:02 p.m. that day, for one minute only, it will be 2002-2002-2002, or more accurately 20:02,20/02,2002. Because there are only 24 hours on the international clock, this will never happen again. So why not celebrate this event? Please send us your pictures taken at that exact moment in any place you find yourself. We will publish it here in ZoneZero it will be fun to see what happens. Please send the images in jpeg format 640 x 480 pixels to the following address: bravo@zonezero.com Please do not forget to include your name and where the image was taken, or anything else you might wish to write.

Er, they're also trying to start a Ministry of Information in the Pentagon, so's you know.

But the new office has also stirred a sharp debate in the Pentagon, where several senior officials have questioned whether its mission is too broad and possibly even illegal.

Those critics say they are disturbed that a single office might be authorized to use not only covert operations like computer network attacks, psychological activities and deception, but also the instruments and staff of the military's globe-spanning public affairs apparatus.

Mingling the more surreptitious activities with the work of traditional public affairs would undermine the Pentagon's credibility with the media, the public and governments around the world, critics argue.

See, I thought that "Stoned Soul Picnic" was just one of the random phrases they stuck on the cover of Pavement's Westing (by Musket and Sextant)—but no, it is a song from a Laura

when at night the nurses left

Today I meet another agent. I don't think the last one thought so much of me. This one has already read my manuscript, theoretically, so ugh. I keep buying these irises and they keep dying without opening. What am I doing wrong?

I had another rant about this place going, but at the moment I have neither the time nor the energy to post it. So I will content myself with wishing a happy 21st birthday to my little sister, who will now discover the sudden lack of interest and mystique in legal alcohol consumption. But it's still a boon, since she lives in Reno and there is absolutely nothing to do in Reno if you're underage.

Marlowe was talking about personal theme songs last night. He was convinced that his is "Vehicle," by the Ides of March, while Josh McCullough's song is U2's "Bad." (Josh was upset to discover that it's about heroin.) I would probably have to pick a Leonard Cohen song, mainly because of this Leonard Cohen documentary I saw at Nik's place in Tucson a few visits back. The documentary was not so good, but the disturbing thing was to see Cohen in his twenties, when he was just making the career move from poet/novelist to musician. He was small and scrawny and dark-haired and looked very Jewish and... rather like me, basically. He also seemed to have all of my geeky mannerisms and laughed too loud at everything and got drunk off his ass and played guitar and led a sing-along in his hotel room. It was uncanny. As far as a particular song I'd have to pick "Teachers," though it doesn't really make sense unless you hear the frantic/creepy fingerpicking line underneath, especially if you're listening at five in the morning after coming down from [reference to youthful indiscretion removed]. Back when I was going to write a story collection about the mental hospital I was thinking of using "When At Night the Nurses Left" for the title, but that idea has been scrapped.

Another piece of music that expresses how I feel a lot of the time, though it's not really a theme song, is the "Montagues and Capulets" section from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet suite (RealAudio excerpt here: track 5, though they don't play the best part, which starts around a minute-thirty). It summons up the darkness of love—or more precisely, the dark contingencies that love forces upon you: the jackbooted march of the damned.

 

schlafen

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile!

So those who sleep eight hours a night die younger than those who sleep less, or something. The study's methodology seems a little slapdash, and no one's sure exactly what it's saying. One suggestion is that "...doctor's recommendations that everyone get eight hours of sleep a night may have been partly influenced by the drug companies that make sleeping pills."

I don't know—I'm starting to think that sleeping patterns connect to local magnetic fields or something. Out here in Iowa I can't seem to manage on less than ten hours (like Descartes, who died at fifty—and also Goethe, I am told, though I can't find any documentation), which is ridiculous. I'm not that depressed or malnourished, I don't think. In Nevada I run on a more reasonable 8.5 hours, though this still places me in a high-risk group.

I can't figure out exactly what the Self-Identification System is supposed to do, as the English is inexpert, but I am nonetheless intrigued. You enter data about yourself, like "favorite philosopher" and "preferred position during the coitus," and this somehow places you in a ranking system.

2. Looking for an authority.
Open the Self-Identification System. Carefully look through the best twelve identifications. Select one of them which can serve as incontestable authority for you. Write the items down. Try to remember it. Try to understand motives which directed the person who selected this set. Repeat this identification with another name. Compare your power and power of your authority. Draw a conclusion.

3. Duty as authority.
Make sure that you are the member of the best-twelve society. This is a honorable status which at the same time is a complicated responsibility to be an authority for other candidates for successful identification. Open the frame "talking". Give your name and password, write a new message. You can do it without changing your data and lose your power. Try to give good advices to those who can not stand the struggle for life.

 

resin

These humans: they're pink, and warm, and I still don't know how to manage them at all.

 

my name is arnold snarb!

No one will ever love you honestly.

"I'll tell you what I know, then," he decided. "The pin I'm wearing means I'm a member of the IA. That's Inamorati Anonymous. An inamorato is somebody in love. That's the worst addiction of all."

"Somebody is about to fall in love," Oedipa said, "you go sit with them, or something?"

"Right. The whole idea is to get to where you don't need it. I was lucky. I kicked it young. But there are sixty-year-old men, believe it or not, and women even older, who wake up in the night screaming."

"You hold meetings then, like the AA?"

"No, of course not. You get a phone number, an answering service you can call. Nobody knows anybody else's name; just the number in case it gets so bad you can't handle it alone. We're isolates, Arnold. Meetings would destroy the whole point of it."

"What about the person who comes to sit with you? Suppose you fall in love with them?"

"They go away," he said. "You never see them twice. The answering service dispatches them, and they're careful not to have any repeats."

Nevada's my adopted home state at this point, more or less, and the Yucca Mountain fracas still reads to me like so much carping. They have to put it somewhere, people.

I missed this the first time Juliet posted it, but I do love Mathematical Patterns in African-American Hairstyles.

 

calendar of martyrs

This holiday has never done me no good nohow. (A summary of previous years.) But the man from Lint Van Lines proved to be young and dashing, wearing a really nice gray suit, and he complimented my taste in music. This was an improvement on many of my dates in the past.

Pet replication? What the fuck? Okay, I know there's no essential moral difference between a cloned cat and a cloned sheep, but the cloned cat hits you a little more viscerally. And you know where this is going. The year is 2065 and 80-year-old Denise is on Boots version 5.0. "He's a little more temperamental than Boots 4," she tells you over cookies and chai, "but at least he doesn't have the growth on his eye that Boots 2 did, back before the technology was perfected." Shiver.

 

father and mother

Three copies, 154 pages each. Do not fail me now, wee Canon Multipass, for I must print my novellas—a form which (I was told yesterday by the agent) is completely unpublishable given the current state of the industry, particularly from a first-time author.

My shopping cart at the HyVee this morning included a couple of candles and a single iris wrapped in the gratuitous Valentine's paper that their floral department is using right now. "Looks like you got something special planned," the guy bagging the groceries said, and gave me a sly grin. "Ha ha," I answered cheerfully, unable to tell him that they were for the meditation altar.

The composer Allen Shawn (Jamaica Kincaid's husband) has written a new biography of Schoenberg that looks absolutely kickass. Some of the treatises on the major works might be of interest only to music geeks, but you know.

And of interest only to hardcore music geeks: a detailed breakdown of Radiohead's guitar equipment. Current through the end of the OK Computer tour, looks like.

 

there is no-one what will take care of you

Have not yet read the stories for today's workshop. Also meeting an agent who will apparently laugh at me unless I have a novel to give her, which I don't. Thesis due tomorrow. Apartment a mess & kitchen smells bad. Peculiar hollow feeling in the chest.

The Donnas, the Donnas. We were supposed to open for them once, because one of their mothers was Chris's writing professor at the expensive university. It didn't happen.

I am impressed as hell that Johnny Cash covers a song by Will Oldham on American III: Solitary Man. I would have thought the whole Palace thing was several notches too indie to show up on Cash's radar, but apparently his surveillance equipment isn't so antiquated as I imagined. (According to his autobiography, he was the first American to learn of Josef Stalin's death, as he was in the Army transcribing Russian Morse Code at the time.) Or maybe Palace isn't actually that obscure and I just thought so because they were introduced to me by a DJ at KZSU, which played all kinds of genres I knew nothing about, like skronk and gabber.

Also, the All Music Guide just spat this "factoid" at me:

Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop swear one of the strangest experiences of their lives occurred when they were invited back to Brian Wilson's house after a party. Wilson led the three in a half-hour repetition of the nursery rhyme "Shortnin' Bread." The song was also included on the Beach Boys' L.A. (Light Album).

Job tip from Peyton:

The police force in Humberside, England, has hired a special officer—the department's first "poet in residence." Police Constable Ian McMillan will work regular patrol duties, but will also be the force's official poet. "We are on the edge of a cultural renaissance," McMillan claims. A sample of his work: "Here's PC McMillan on the beat / Policeman's boots on his poet's feet / PC stands for Poetic Chap / And on his poet's curls there's a copper's cap." (Reuters)

 

necessities, contingencies

I am not going to stop harping on this point that "celebrity is a mask that eats into the face" (J. Updike) until I am satisfied that it has thoroughly saturated this place.

There's an industry out there, sprung up around writers. To many, writing is not so interesting as being a writer, and when writers go on tour, it reinforces people's belief that it's all a package: you create something (details saved for future memoir), you get out there and network and promote it all the way to success, because success is the American Way.

In my [Ann Beattie's] opinion, writers have been overexposed, caricatured, asked specious questions to elicit amusing answers, their faces printed on coffee mugs. There are too many of us, and M.F.A. programs graduate more every year, causing publishers to suffer snow-blindness, which has resulted in everyone getting lost. There are those who maintain that bookstore chains have made things more difficult for individual writers. We are all inundated with endless appearances from writers who become Mary Poppins every time they publish again: they drop out of the sky to be booked anywhere and everywhere, say sensible things (the opposite is also nice, and will suffice), then disappear.

Think: you could be—

Four of the 27 men described their experiences here for the first time since they were nabbed in an early morning attack Jan. 24 at a local school and a district government office that Pentagon officials described as outposts for al Qaeda and Taliban hold-outs. Twenty-one other villagers were killed in the assault and one U.S. soldier was wounded.
 
[...]
 
The gunfire and shouting outside the building jarred sleeping policemen awake just before 3 a.m. Rauf—who had a job similar to his current one before the Taliban took power in his province—recognized loud American voices. "They are our friends," a relieved Rauf told his frightened men. "Don't run. They won't do anything to us." Several minutes later, Rauf said, he was curled on his side fending off boot kicks to his back and knee jabs into his chest. He screamed in Pashto, "We're friends! We're friends, friends, friends!" Rauf, who places his age somewhere between 60 and 65, heard one of his ribs crack, and then, he said, he blacked out.
 
[...]
 
Rauf said a U.S. military officer told him during his third and final interrogation session two days before the release: ''We are sorry. We committed a mistake bombing this place." Rauf, huddled under a brown blanket in a corner of his mud-walled house, said he still can barely stand because of the blows to his kidneys. ''I can never forgive them,'' he said.

 

this is not my beautiful house!

From synthetic zero, that old warhorse "creativity and the troubled mind." But see, it's topical:

Psychiatrist Nancy C. Andreasen of the University of Iowa College of Medicine is the first investigator to have used modern psychiatric diagnostic criteria to explore the relationship between mental illness and creativity. In the early 1970s, Andreasen completed a study of 15 topflight American writers at the prestigious University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and compared them with others matched for age, education and sex. Ten of the writers had histories of mood disorders, compared with only two from the comparison group. Two of the 10 were diagnosed as manic-depressive, and almost all reported mood swings, including manic or hypomanic (mildly manic) states.

Andreasen has continued the study during the past 15 years, expanding the sample of writers to 30. According to a recent report, the proportion of writers treated for mood disorders has increased to 80 percent, compared to 30 percent of the comparison group. Forty- three percent of the writers had some degree of manic-depressive illness, as compared with 10 percent of the others. Alcoholism, which is very high among sufferers of manic-depression, afflicted 30 percent of the writers and 7 percent of the comparison group. Two of the 30 committed suicide during the 15 years of the study. "Issues of statistical significance pale before the clinical implications of this fact," Andreasen says.

"Topflight?" Ha ha! Ha! I am one of the unmedicated, uncounseled 20 percent, but only out of stubbornness. (Unless they mean that percentage to include past history as well.)

Someone has already responded to this article, and others like it, by pointing out that correlation is not causation. True. Ask any of the Topflight Writers who have gotten on psychiatric medication within the last year (i.e., the majority of us): your work gets steadier and more emotionally broad once you receive treatment. Suprisingly, you are no longer compelled to write about death & suicide all the time if you're not suicidal yourself. Also there are problems with trying to maintain a consistent artistic output while suffering from a syndrome that causes you to spend hours lying on the couch with a mind as blank as the overcast Iowa sky.

But I wonder if they're still doing these studies at the Medicine College. I wonder if they pay.

 

run away

To a coffee shop, to a brighter world. Mediocre prose on a deadline. This is how it is.

Wir empfehlen... Riemann hypothesis! (No proof yet. But possibly soon!)

André Weil, sister of Simone Weil, compared the mathematical enterprise to sex: "Every mathematician worthy of the name has experienced, if only rarely, the state of lucid exaltation in which one thought succeeds another as if miraculously. Unlike sexual pleasure, this feeling may last for hours at a time, even for days. Once you have experienced it, you are eager to repeat it but unable to do so at will, unless perhaps by dogged work." For many mathematicians the pleasure of practising mathematics outweighs almost any other mental or physical pleasure. Andrew Granville, an English mathematician working at the university of Georgia, told me: "It's the beauty that justifies things... you just have to do it."

 

what a clean city

For the next few days I will have to reduce the amount of energy allotted to this site. Crunch time on the novella. I have put my characters on a plane to Seattle, and while I received a lot of good Seattle info from Ms. Gaw (this was over a year ago; these projects move like molasses), I have yet to determine what happens to them once they disembark.

Here are yesterday's Niels Bohr documents, for those who get off on primary sources.

The University of Georgia is using chicken fat to heat its campus (from Justin). Does this mean that vegetarians are now ethically obliged to buy space heaters, or is this actually a harmony-with-the-earth practice, like using every part of the buffalo?

The Nobel Prize in Literature will only destroy you. Cf. Sinclair Lewis:

The prize only intensified disdain for Lewis, and he, and later Pearl S. Buck, would thenceforth provide evidence for those who argue that the award is hollow. Critics who would otherwise have been charitably disposed toward him couldn't help comparing him unfavorably with those they thought more deserving.

 

words, words, words

I have a hot Valentine's date with the man from Lint Van Lines, who is coming over to see how much it will cost to put my crap in a truck and put the truck in Reno.

Newly surfaced letters by Niels Bohr put a new spin on the mysterious September 1941 meeting between Bohr and Heisenberg in Copenhagen, and more or less refute Heisenberg's claim that he was trying to destroy the German atomic-weapons program from within. So the Michael Frayn play Copenhagen loses some historical cred, but what the hell, it's coming in a couple of weeks and I'd still like to see it. Except even the student tickets are $30, so nobody will want to go. I know how this works.

The troop buildup in the Philippines continues and Filipinos get nervous, recalling U.S. military campaigns a century ago.

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, cited as an example a dinner he attended last week with people who work on intelligence issues and have connections with the intelligence community. The dinner conversation ranged in part on how U.S. military commander "Black Jack" Pershing used Islam's prohibition on pork to help crush an insurgency on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao after the Spanish-American War at the turn of the last century.

In one case, Graham explained in an interview, U.S. soldiers captured 12 Muslims and killed six with "bullets dipped into the fat of pigs." After that, Graham said, the U.S. soldiers wrapped the Muslim rebels in funeral shrouds made of pigskin and "buried them face down so they could not see Mecca. Then they poured the entrails of the pigs over them. The other six were forced to watch. And that was the end of the insurrection on Mindanao," Graham noted.

 

sir pump and sir brazil

The first piece of literature that really got to me was the last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner. Being eight or so, I didn't understand where the undercurrent of melancholy was coming from—of course, now that I've had six years of college-level training in literary analysis, I can say the subtext is that Christopher Robin is finally growing up and leaving behind Pooh & everyone else. Endings.

They walked on, thinking of This and That, and by and by they came to an enchanted place on the very top of the forest called Galleons Lap, which is sixty-something trees in a circle; and Christopher Robin knew that it was enchanted because nobody had ever been able to count whether it was sixty-three or sixty-four, not even when he tied a piece of string round each tree after he had counted it. Being enchanted, its floor was not like the floor of the Forest, gorse and bracken and heather, but close-set grass, quiet and smooth and green. It was the only place in the Forest where you could sit down carelessly, without getting up again almost at once and looking for somewhere else. Sitting there they could see the whole world spread out until it reached the sky, and whatever there was all the world over was with them in Galleons Lap.
 
[...]
 
"Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred."
Pooh thought for a little.
"How old shall I be then?"
"Ninety-nine."
Pooh nodded.
"I promise," he said.
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh's paw.
"Pooh," said Christopher Robin earnestly, "if I—if I'm not quite—" he stopped and tried again—"Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won't you?"

And then, when I was eighteen, I read John Gardner:

To write with taste, in the highest sense, is to write with the assumption that one out of a hundred people who read one's work may be dying, or have some loved one dying; to write so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs; to write, as Shakespeare wrote, so that people understand, sympathize, see the universality of pain, and feel strengthened, if not directly encouraged to live on. This is not to say, of course, that the writer who has no personal experience of pain and terror should try to write about pain and terror, or that one should never write lightly, humorously; it is only to say that every writer should be aware that he might be read by the desperate, by people who might be persuaded toward life or death. It does not mean, either, that writers should write moralistically, like preachers. And above all it does not mean that writers should lie. It means only that they should think, always, of what harm they might inadvertently do and not do it. If there is good to be said, the writer should remember to say it. If there is bad to be said, he should say it in a way that reflects the truth that, though we see the evil, we choose to continue among the living. The true artist is never so lost in his imaginary world that he forgets the real world, where teenagers have a chemical propensity toward anguish, people between their thirties and forties have a tendency to get divorced, and people in their seventies have a tendency toward loneliness, poverty, self-pity and sometimes anger. The true artist chooses never to be a bad physician.

I need to believe that some moral good inheres in the process of writing, because the insular and introverted existence necessary to this vocation is exposing me to all kinds of moral dangers: narcissism, selfishness, self-obsession. If none of this results in any benefit to the world—if personal fulfillment or (minor) literary celebrity are my only hopes in doing this—then I ought to throw in the towel right now and go devote the rest of my life to feeding orphans or something. I am trying to figure this out. I had the start of a dialectic going:

Q: Would it have been a greater benefit to the world, had Joyce or Yeats abandoned writing and devoted their lives to feeding orphans?
A: No.
Q: Am I Joyce or Yeats?
A: Unlikely.
Q: Does one need to be on a par with Joyce or Yeats for one's work to have a definite moral good? If not, where is the cutoff? How do you know?

 

lacuna lorelei

During the football game we saw an advertisement for 40 Days and 40 Nights, in which the protagonist attempts the supposedly arduous feat of going without sex during Lent. All of us alienated grad students found this very funny. Forty days? What a lightweight.

We plants are happy plants.
If you don't ask me out to dinner I don't eat.
Has sex ever really moved you to a different place?
Airport closed. People coughing yellow phlegm.
Words on a gravestone: I waited but you never came.

Somehow, this is exactly what I expected Susan Minot to look like.

In elementary school phys-ed class I'm afraid I was a type: tortoiseshell glasses, picked last for teams, you know. It wasn't the physical exertion I minded—I could run, and so on—but the psychological pressure of team sports. If the ball (any sort of ball) got near me, I'd fuck it up somehow and incur the wrath of my teammates, so generally I tried to stand in an unused corner of the field and outwait the game. Now and then an enlightened teacher would let me be scorekeeper. This was brilliant because I was suddenly unaffiliated. It was now a matter of neutrally observing the game, tracking its progress, noting which situations led to scores and which didn't. It was a matter of analytically extracting generalities from specific instances and attaining the sort of comprehension that the people playing the game would never have: they were in the thick of it, their viewpoint was wrong. But I, non-participant, was outside its scope.

I am starting to suspect that the choice of writing as a vocation has placed me in a similar position with respect to life in general.

 

charge of the light brigade

The man behind the clown makeup, Victor Trujillo, 40, says degenerate clowns enjoy greater freedom of speech than straight-faced commentators in ties. Now that Brozo has a prominent place under the nation's big top, Trujillo aims to use it to speak out on the people's behalf. "Comedy has always seemed the best way to deliver hard news," Trujillo said. "And within the realm of comedy, the best personality is one who is not vulnerable to attack. Brozo is misogynous. He is an alcoholic, a drug addict, irresponsible and dirty. There's nothing anyone can call him that he has not called himself." It is a little early to judge the Brozo show a hit, but its ratings in Mexico City have so far outstripped those of its rivals.

Also: hiding inside this rather long, hawkish article is an all too believable suggestion:

Yet with all due respect to Karl Rove's claim that his boss George W. Bush is no different from what he always was, what happened on that most fateful day obviously effected a transformation in the new President. One hears that Bush, who entered the White House without a clear sense of what he wanted to do there, now feels that there was a purpose behind his election all along: as a born-again Christian, it is said, he believes he was chosen by God to eradicate the evil of terrorism from the world. I think it is a plausible rumor, and I would even guess that in his heart of hearts, Bush identifies more in this respect with Ronald Reagan—the President who rid the world of the "evil empire"—than with his own father, who never finished the job he started in taking on Saddam Hussein.

It ends with a rather unsettling prescription:

Consider: the campaign against al Qaeda required us to topple the Taliban regime, and we may willy-nilly find ourselves forced by the same political and military logic to topple five or six or seven more tyrannies in the Islamic world (including that other sponsor of terrorism, Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority). I can even go along with David Pryce-Jones in imagining the turmoil of this war leading to some new species of an imperial mission for America, whose purpose would be to oversee the emergence of successor governments in the region more amenable to reform and modernization than the despotisms now in place. Like Pryce-Jones, I can also envisage the establishment of some kind of American protectorate over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, as we more and more come to wonder why 7,000 princes should go on being permitted to exert so much leverage over us and everyone else.

And who knows, it might end that way. The current situation can't last indefinitely. Getting there sure will be a long road, though. Ugly. Ugly.

 

out of the sky, into the dirt

At home, hiding from the evil gastrointestinal bug that's causing people to throw up like 25 times in the space of an hour. I've never watched a Super Bowl in my life, and I'm not sure it's in my best interest to start now.

The intellect of the man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story's finished, what's the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day's vanity, the night's remorse.
 
—W.B. Yeats

It's misleading to term any artwork "perfect," I think (and you tell me what in the hell a "perfect life" is), but the basic premise is sound. Having spent all my recent time writing, I am now the least interesting person on the web. I was too lame to drink anything at Gabe's last night, and also too lame to go to the Foxhead afterward. I came home and drank four glasses of water and went to bed. I don't do anything! I have nothing to tell you! Go read someone else's site!

 

book of changes

Recently I've been getting these minor anxiety attacks during zazen. I think this is a good thing. They tend to happen about ten minutes in, at which point my vision is usually so obscured with green and purple retina clouds that, although my eyes are nominally open, I can barely see the dresser in front of me. It starts with losing a bit of body consciousness, usually in the hands or face, and that seems to trigger the usual symptoms: elevation in heart rate, sweaty palms, and so on. The trick is simply to treat the fear as another object of meditation, as it can't stand observation for long. If you look at it directly it skitters away, like an electron. I don't know whether the anxiety is caused by an unaccustomed shift in brain-state, or whether it's just an accumulation of sublimated fear that needed to get out somehow, but after going through it I'm much calmer for the rest of the day. I think it's like a control burn in forestry.

So yesterday, as I was coming out of the fear and entering a calmer state, a car alarm went off right under my window. (It was probably Mika's or Aimee's car; I haven't asked.) This was the sort of alarm where the horn honks once a second or so. After my initial irritation I decided to try and treat the sound as an object of mindfulness, and made the following observations:
—The horn is not a single tone, but two tones at a dissonant interval (minor second, I think).
—The lower tone persists a fraction of a second longer than the higher.
—The sound has the consistency of a solid object; there is a palpable emptiness in the air after it ceases.
—This horn is really pissing me off.

In fact I discovered that I could observe my irritation at the horn in addition to the horn itself, so that after every honk I'd have a little spurt of pique, and I got into a nice rhythm of HONK [pique] HONK [pique] HONK [pique], etc. This went on for a couple of minutes and then the horn stopped, leaving me completely disoriented. I'd lost my focus. I could feel myself leaving the meditative state for a shallower stretch of consciousness, and... there is really no way to talk about these things without sounding trite and New Agey. For a second I was confused enough to lose the conscious desire for a deeper state, I guess, and in the absence of that desire everything clicked. I seemed to scratch the surface of the "nirvana is samsara" idea (good, kind of lengthy analytic discussion here), but imagine that concept not expressed in words but welling up as something organic and viscous, like milk. No, that's a terrible metaphor. Anyway, it was a (very minor) bit of insight, and I don't think it would have happened without the car alarm. It might be analogous to a Zen master slapping his student during meditation. The moral of the story, I suppose, is: congratulations to Mika or Aimee or whoever. You've got Buddha in your car.

 

lapidary and effete

Yeah, Boong Ga Boong Ga (courtesy Nik) is just about typical. You cram a virtual finger up a virtual ass. In my day, parents were worried about Donkey Kong.

More agents are visiting in the next couple of weeks, including a guy who's worked with Ha Jin in some capacity. Salivate, salivate. It's Pavlov's Workshop around here. You try to feel relevant, and then you discover that Paramount is swallowing Simon & Schuster whole. Maybe they'll buy the Star Trek fan fiction I wrote when I was thirteen.

Book Critics Circle nominees: Franzen, Sebald, Patchett, Whitehead, Munro. The Corrections will probably win this one too. I've finally figured out my problem with that book—it reads like a watered-down and more accessible version of Infinite Jest. Wallace made all the same points about American society in 1996, and for my money he presented them much more innovatively and incisively, was much funnier, and sustained a deeper emotional core once the narrative pyrotechnics faded. But the book was a thousand pages long and used words like "kyphotic," so they sure as hell weren't going to sell it at Target. I guess this is how all the Pixies and Sonic Youth fans must have felt when Nevermind first hit it big. Well.

 

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