January 2002 Archives
The universe is dark, unforgiving, and random. But I never saw much to this argument. Everywhere I look I see patterns.
I took randomness to heart when I was young. My photography teacher in high school took a sabbatical, after I graduated, and I used to go visit him. He was always so light and free when it came to matters of art and literature, and his constant advice to me was that I should lighten up and have some fun. He helped me with Milton and Blake, and he helped me relax in my worries about finding a “voice.” I think that's one of the reasons why I've always felt drawn to teaching. This man, and a few more, really changed my life. I was particularly inspired by one project he did while completing his MFA.
He took a map of the city and drew a grid of 52 squares. He developed a procedure where he would use a deck of cards to pick a location, a time, and a direction to point a camera. Then he’d make a photograph there. He took a proof sheet of 36 images made in this fashion and blew it up to 30”x 40” and then displayed it next to a description of the process. At the time the University of California at Bakersfield was filled with many of the movers and shakers in the conceptual art field, and this project was well received.
The point of the process was to show that art is everywhere. Even taken totally at random, these photographs had a singular beauty. The same teacher introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut, who asserts through one of his characters that “life would be little changed if I had done nothing more than carry a rubber dog bone from room to room for sixty years.” I suspect this is true as well. But it doesn’t make the patterns stop.
So I believe in randomness as a way of life, not as a way of death. The inevitable conclusion of reading a lot of Sartre is “What’s the point?” The question, restated by my teacher would be “Does there need to be a point?”
She didn’t seem to understand my resistance to proofs of pointlessness. There’s a subtle distinction there. In her world view, the universe was an evil machine bent on her destruction. A tornado ripped her home apart when she was growing up. Medical mistakes screwed up her body. She seemed to be quite relieved with by the thought that there was no point behind it. On the other hand, I want to believe that there is something behind the patterns of beauty in this world. Though I suspect that they are indeed random, I don’t see them as dark and unforgiving. I think forgiveness is the glue that holds it together. No, there doesn’t have to be a point. But there are indeed patterns, even if sometimes we fudge and forgive to make things fit.
The pattern between us followed her belief system, not mine. I couldn’t overcome it. When you want the universe to be dark, cold, and unforgiving— things do have a tendency to turn out that way.
I don’t believe they are equivocal. Equating them begins a carefully reasoned path into religion. Starting from the fundamental questions, St. Augustine gets right to the core in his Confessions:
What, then, am I my God? What is my nature? A life that is ever varying, full of change, and of immense power. The wide plains of my memory and its innumerable caverns and hollows are full beyond compute of countless things of all kinds. Material things are there by means of their images; knowledge is there of itself; emotions are there in the form of ideas or impressions of some kind, for memory retains them even while the mind does not experience them, although whatever is in the memory must also be in the mind. My mind has the freedom of them all. I can glide from one to the other. I can probe deep into them and never find the end of them. This is the power of memory! This is the great force of life in living man, mortal though he is!
Augustine goes on to propose that we do not recognize things unless we remember them. Therefore, qualities like joy and happiness can only exist in the mind because we experienced them somewhere before. There must be an origin, a God to explain why these qualities seem so familiar to us. If you buy that thinking and remembering are the same thing, then human experience is a closed thing dependent on an original experience, an experience of God— because if the mind is infinite but based on memory, then the memory must be of the infinite.
I’ll bet you didn’t think I could get here from there. The line of argument can also be tied into the debate of nomos vs. physis between Plato and the Sophists. If all thinking is memory, then how do things get named? The Sophists, like the postmodernists, believed that language was arbitrary. They asserted that there is no one “correct” name for anything. It was depends on the ethics of the situation, nomos, a sort of little t truth. Nomos is is truth only when it works; humans are free to rename things when the renaming works to clarify the situation, because the only truth that exists is the truth inside each of us. Plato and Aristotle championed physis a physical capitol T truth that lies outside, that can be discovered, that can be correct at all times for all people. There is a metaphysical hierarchy, perhaps only vaguely remembered by humans, which assigns all things one and only one proper name.
To name things is to reclaim them. Protagoras, the oldest of the Sophists, was also perhaps the worlds first agnostic. He felt that “God” couldn’t be proved or disproved, but more than that, that it really didn’t make any difference in our day to day lives. We define and name our world each day as we travel through it, without the need for outside guidance. This comes from a distinct difference in the view of language. To embrace memory as a guiding force, and reasoned correctness in naming, is to accept that spirituality is not only possible but essential.
But it can be a maddening concept, especially for an artist. It sounds like so much new age hokum to say “you must find your own voice.” Maybe lemon and honey will help? I don’t think so. The term is used to denote a form of self, a self that we express. The trouble with the concept is that it implies that each artist has just one proper “voice.” Writers use the term in the same way, but they don’t really take it so seriously as visual artists. Writers work with multiple voices that can be generated once you find a “center” to work from.
When I think about it, this makes the model of self that Dr. Anderson proposed on Monday really fit well. While postmodernist theory tends to suggest that there is no self, only interaction with others, Dr. Anderson suggested that there may not be a self, but rather multiple selves. It seems interesting to lay these out in terms of a molecular model. There is a core of genetic predisposition, perhaps, which accounts for a particle in the nucleus. Somehow, experientially, we develop other particles that do not change much over time. However, revolving around this mass there are hundreds of other selves that rotate and interact dependant on situation that modify and develop over time.
Dr. Anderson’s proposal was tied to a model of what happens after trauma. He suggested that traumatic experience causes a collapse of all these multiple selves into one self— a self that bases all its concepts in relation to trauma. The healing process then is a return to multiple selves, an expansion back to the larger discursive space that non-traumatized individuals inhabit.
In an oddly related tangent, I was thinking about how photography works. I was a chemistry and biology kind of guy before I became an artist type. I knew, going into my first photography class, that a photon entering certain silver halide compounds would cause a disruption in the orbital path and form a latent image. Then, subsequent chemical reactions could be used to isolate and reveal these disruptions. That’s one perspective that a chemistry teacher (who also taught photography) shared with me.
But when I took the class, it was taught by a former English teacher. The first day, when he slid the paper in the tray and an image would start to appear, students all around squealed in delight and asked “how does it do that?” The teacher just smiled and said:
“It’s magic!”I liked his explanation better.
Being a more pragmatic person these days, I was thinking about the difference between these two explanations. Let’s see, in the first explanation, a hypothetical particle (I’ve never seen a photon, have you?) impacts with other hypothetical particles and they change orbit. The tricky thing is, it isn’t necessarily a particle. Sometimes it acts like a wave. Sometimes it seems more like a packet of energy. There exists reasoned proof that we cannot really know what it is— because the act of constructing an experiment to figure it out dictates the result. Uh, photons sound like magic to me. Something outside our understanding, or the possibility of our understanding if you listen to some. I still like the English teacher’s explanation better. It’s shorter and cuts to the heart of things without the complexity. It is a valid explanation. However, to make better films and papers, delving deeply towards the limit of what we can know is the best strategy. Magic doesn’t seem to make better films or papers. But magic makes better pictures.
I was watching White Man’s Burden this afternoon, and though it’s an appallingly shallow film, it reminded me of some issues that have come up in teaching. My classes are about 50% black, and it hasn’t been a problem for me. As the final core course in writing, all the writers I’m dealing with are of a fairly high level, and if I had to make a value judgment about it, I’d say that the black writers are all on the high side of normal when it comes to skills. The university is probably about 25% black on the average, so it was odd to hear from some of the other new teachers that their classes were nearly 70% black. Writing is writing, as far as I’m concerned, though I must confess that the percentages made it clear to me that when selecting essays I needed to make sure that there was a healthy assortment of black writers present. It’s not a matter of setting quotas, but more a matter of making sure that something “connects” with the students in my classes.
I have a fairly broad background in literature so it’s not a difficult task to think of good pieces to use, though I must admit that I fight the temptation to include 18th and 19th century stuff because I’m afraid they just won’t get it. I did use Phyllis Wheatley (the first published African-American poet) in class last week though, because she is just too good to be missed. Another teacher chose Maya Angelou. After reading one of her pieces, she said that a burly white student announced:
“That SUCKED!”She actually felt fear for his safety in the predominantly black classroom. The teacher in question is a very small young white girl, but outspoken. She immediately interrogated his appraisal:
“Could it be that you think that because you’re a rich white boy from Sylvan Hills?”Sylvan Hills is a privileged white neighborhood filled with private schools, and luckily the guy had a sense of humor, and just said “I guess so.” Many of my black students come from private schools, and it’s just weird to see the dynamics of a large urban University at work. The spread of experiences that comes across in the essays I’ve heard so far is just staggering. A person needs a shotgun approach to reach them all.
There’s just a shock of immersion that all these first year students are dealing with. It’s a different universe, where there is no real power or privilege dynamic other than the usual teacher/student one.
The swap of power dynamics in White Man’s Burden reminded me of the oddity of having more upper class black and lower class whites in my classes, and there is just no such thing as “typical” as far as I can see in the makeup of our classes. I’ve always been a bit of a generalist, and so far that has been a big advantage in trying to hold things together and connect with people. But this also has made me notice a rather scary thing when searching for web resources.
Women writers are well represented on the web. Lots of stuff to choose from, much of it arcane but still, lots of useful stuff. But in looking for some favorite African-American writers, I can’t find anything by Eldridge Cleaver, little from James Baldwin, and most of Martin Luther King’s catalogue is also noticeably absent. I’m sure that when I dig a little deeper I will be able to find some Henry Louis Gates, but even the sites that focus on African-American lit are just shallow puddles compared to the wealth available in other areas. Maybe it’s copyright issues, but this just doesn’t seem right. There is just too much good stuff out there to keep it under lock and key. It bugs me.
There’s always a story.
A kitten was wandering around the parking lot of the bar. One of the bouncers, a big soft-hearted fellow decided to rescue it. The promoter, a cat hater, decided he wanted to play pool and knock the cat into the corner pocket. But the bouncer was larger beast, and didn't let that happen— the kitten chose the corner pocket on its own. He wasn’t put there by a person with hatred for shy and retiring beasts, because that promoter respected the larger beast. Bouncers are assertive beasts who usually get their way.
So are presidents. I made the mistake of watching part of his state of the union address. It was like seeing Joe McCarthy’s ghost. “And in her prayers, she said ‘Semper Fi’” Uh oh, I smell a master narrative. And the poor little boy sent his football to heaven . . . I got angry and then I got nauseous. Missiles will save us, yes, that’s it. We’ve got to spend more money on high tech weapons, to fight those who might go down to the corners store and buy some fertilizer and force their opinions on us explosively. Yes, we must root out the filthy communists, er, I mean terrorists, from every corner of the globe. They’re everywhere. Maybe there’s one sitting next to you right now . . .
The question is always there as to which story to believe. Who believes the triumphant Johnny comes marching home bit? But it’s always a persuasive story. It isn’t that we believe it, really, I think, it’s just that we want to believe it so badly. The promoter really didn’t offer to knock the kitten in the side pocket. If I remember correctly, he wanted to take it skeet shooting and use it for a target. But that was a joke, and everyone knew it. Too bad we can’t figure out that the “war is good” narrative is bullshit too.
Woke up this morning to read a great article, “Narration as a Human Communication Paradigm: The Case of Public Moral Argument” by Walter Fisher. It opens with a quote from Kenneth Burke:
The corrective of the scientific rationalization would seem necessarily to be a rationale of art— not, however, a performer’s art, not a specialist’s art for some to produce and many to observe, but an art in its widest aspects, an art of living.
I don’t care for Burke much, but in looking at this fragment I see a fundamental premise at work. The corrective for one rationale is another rationale? This is a side-step, an evasion of more fundamental oppositions, which are dealt with by Fisher. It made me think of the 18th century method of dealing with the emotions— to rationalize and apply logic to them— which was totally overthrown in the revolt of Romanticism. The comparison of reason vs. the emotions, or rationality vs. magic, or any other convenient lumping strategy may be just a diversion from other core issues. In order to make Burke’s stratagem effective, a redefinition of what constitutes reason is in order, which is exactly what Fisher suggests.
The core assumptions of the article are easy for me to accept. Fisher asserts:
“Humans as rhetorical beings are as much valuing as they are reasoning animals.”A quick check of web behaviors confirms this pretty clearly. Hot or not? We question value more often than we apply logic, it seems to me. Reason is a factor, but not the central issue in most of our decision making behaviors. But still we call them reasoned choices, or as Fisher labels it, we employ “good reasons” for making decisions. Fisher defines good reasons as “those elements that provide warrants for accepting or adhering to the advice fostered by any form of communication that can be considered rhetorical.” He groups this with a fairly common definition of rhetoric: rhetoric is practical reasoning. Note that in dealing with practical reason, Kant also admitted the potential influence of transcendent concepts, magic if you will, on this practical reason— because, as I have often observed, there is just no accounting for taste.
Fisher’s usage of paradigm must be clarified. While I think it works well in the linguistic sense (a set of available elements), he defines it more broadly as “a representation designed to formalize the structure of a component of experience and to direct understanding and inquiry into the nature and functions of that experience.” The structure of the classical world is represented as the Rational World Paradigm:
- Humans are essentially rational beings
- The mode of decision making is argument— clear-cut inferential structures.
- The conduct of argument is ruled by situation— legal, scientific, legislative, etc.
- Rationality is determined by knowledge and skill.
- The world is a set of logical puzzles which can be resolved by the appropriate analysis, argument, and reason.
Rather than adopting Burke’s construct of man as a symbol making creature, Fisher proposes the metaphor of homo narrans, man the storyteller. The narrative paradigm alternative proposed by Fisher makes a lot of sense:
- Humans are essentially storytellers.
- The mode of decision making is “good reasons” which vary in form among situations.
- The production of “good reasons” is ruled by history, biography, culture and character.
- Rationality is determined by the nature of people as narrative beings.
- The world is a set of stories which must be chosen among to live the good life in a process of continual recreation.
I do believe that this is a paradigm I can work with. It’s a wider view of humanity, and in my opinion a more truthful view. It also dovetails nicely with some theories of self that Dr. Anderson was working with last night. More to come on all this, I am sure.
Monday is my 7am to 9pm day. But it was a good day. I love working with writers. I heard several essays with potential today, and I can’t wait to read the final drafts. I tried to convince everyone to take responsibility for their writing, to ask questions, and not accept “I like it” for an answer. They just don’t know how lucky they are, to have people who have to listen to what they have to say. Real life isn’t like that. That’s the great thing about school.
I really need to get going on my templates for Movable Type, that will cure the comments problem I suspect, but is bound to create others. Technology is a good thing, but so many of the people in my class are scared of it. I tried to convince them that using blogger is no more difficult than using a telephone or a microwave oven, and that’s the way they should think of it. So far, about half of both classes have started blogs. I think it’s a good thing.
But the real treat of the day was the long night class. Three hours of textual analysis for the most part, trying to draw distinctions between “healing narratives.” A bunch of good stuff, dealing with the levels of language and levels of displacement when people tell stories about traumatic events. I can’t discuss most of it here, because I have taken the “vow of secrecy” but I certainly will elaborate on the theoretical aspect of it as I dig in. Language is really a magical thing.
One of the oddities was the usage of the naming function of language, which had me constantly flashing back to Wordsworth’s poems on the naming of places. Another thing was a rather unique slant on the complex nature of the postmodern self. I really liked the introduction to a collection of essays called Healing Narratives edited by my teacher. He deals rather well with the problem posed by taking the “self” out of writing in the postmodern classroom. I’ve often remarked here that I don’t think we can be expected to be purely cogs in the Marxist discourse machine. I’m glad Dr. Anderson feels that way too.
I love taking apart writing to see what makes it tick. Especially when it isn’t my own.
I could weave a tragic narrative around the photograph I posted yesterday, but I won’t. For those who might wonder, yes, unless otherwise credited all the photographs on this site are mine. But it’s kind of the “other me,” the me that I’m still having problems dealing with. Once upon a time, I was a photographer instead of a writer. I’m hoping that one day in the future I will be both.
Sometimes I think the most powerful force in the universe is loneliness.
Sometimes I think too much.
Sometimes I feel too much
I can’t honestly think of a time that I stopped thinking or feeling.I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t thinking about love or loneliness.
Sometimes, I’d like to get out of the memory business.
I’ve never been asked to write an essay about why I took a particular class before, but I just did— 2,000 words worth. Still fighting the depression. Writing workshops tomorrow, in the classes I’m teaching that I need to produce handouts for. More material to read for other classes. Got up early and did laundry, oh joy.
I hesitate to tell people what I’m feeling when things get this dark. Synthesis has his fingers on the pulse of many threads regarding self-reflective blogging. There is an aspect of “writing oneself into existence” but there is also an element of “exorcising the demons.” Both elements are a part of the writing process itself, not just blogging. So the web has the potential to make people more scattered and chaotic than ever before— if this is the case, why did it take the addition of a temporal element (blogs) to make it come together as a mass communication medium? Writing is usually an attempt to force cohesion where it didn't exist before. It summons the angel in us all, in the desire to reach out and touch our fellow humans. But what if you don’t want to summon your demons?
“If I exorcise my devils, my angels may leave too”
Tom Waits has his finger on that. Most of my essay dealt with issues of displacement in writing. We displace ourselves from reality when we use metaphors to describe it. We displace ourselves from reality when we make up stories or allegories based in real experiences to give them closure, to force them to make sense. We displace ourselves from telling people what we think when we do little more than link, either by quoting or hyperlink, to the ideas of others. In an odd fashion, we bring ourselves closer to becoming by separating the knower from the known. But there are different levels of displacement. Teasing out the levels of displacement may be part of my project for the class. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but there’s got to be a way to codify it, to compare types of displacement on a more abstract level.
But maybe not. After all, consciousness is a sort of magic. That’s why I often make comparisons to poetry. A great poem, for me at least, is a poem that is barely held together by the relationships which it attempts to contain. At any moment, it can fly apart into incoherence, if only the slightest link is broken. Nobody likes things that are too easy. The obvious isn’t much fun.
Time for a drive. Over six hours of writing in a row is just too much. The magic idea, however, is neither freaky nor too much. Sometimes, there just isn’t any other explanation.
I had forgotten the Homer Simpson axiom that “beer was the cause and solution of all life’s problems.” The odd thing is, I usually only drink beer when I feel good. When I feel bad, it’s hard liquor. The resulting hangover usually forces the epiphany: “I’m too old for this shit...”
I finished my synopsis/reaction to Opening Up by James Pennebaker. If you’re interested in the subjects of trauma, confession, and inhibition be sure to check out the links provided by Michael Rubin. I know I will. Thanks Michael!
And I must give a major hug to Shauny, for her constant reassurance that I am not writing in a vacuum. I urge everyone, even those who (like me) don’t believe in awards, to vote for her in the Bloggies. She is indeed, one of the best kept secrets out there. Reading her musings keeps me well entertained, though I’ll say, as I often do— I am easily amused.
I woke up to what seemed like an Indian chant: “Hih-a-tee-yah” but it turned out to be just the neighbor's kids upstairs. It was freezing, and I forgot to turn on the heat. But I’m warmer now, now that I’m getting some things done. There's so much I want to write about these days. Maybe I should cut back on the sleep thing?
Thanks for reading. I do appreciate you all.
I was talking about suicide notes and such last May, brought about by viewing Girl, Interrupted, and noticed that the mental hospital involved in the story, McLane, seemed to have a major literary pedigree.
Now, I find out that John Nash also did time there. The Atlantic now has a nice interview with Alex Beam, author of Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America’s Premiere Mental Hospital. One of the primary driving forces behind treating mental illness at the time this hospital was founded was the removal of troubled people from crowded urban surroundings. There has been a big shift in my thinking since I left California, and sometimes I wonder if this is really a good thing. Its been theraputic though, even if it wasn't what I expected.
There is a shift in perspective, far from the madding crowd. Reading Kurt Vonnegut’s thoughts on being a “Middle Westerner,” I think it has more to do with world-view than just the removal of distraction. Sometimes Arkansas seems like my asylum, though with “territorial vanity” I am always quick to declare myself a Californian. California is a country all its own. California is the end of everything. Go west young man? There isn’t any further west to go. It’s a closed space, shut off by oceans and mountains and deserts. So it’s self contained. Californians feel that there isn’t much need to look outside its borders for much of anything. California has it all. Or does it?
California is nearly rootless, because it’s roots wither in the ocean, the deserts, and the mountains. There is no sense of America. Vonnegut describes this succinctly:
Anglo-Americans and African-Americans whose ancestors came to the Middle West from the South commonly have a much more compelling awareness of a homeland elsewhere in the past than do I— in Dixie, of course, not the British Isles or Africa.
What geography can give all Middle Westerners, along with the fresh water and topsoil, if they let it, is awe for a fertile continent stretching forever in all directions.
Makes you religious. Takes your breath away.
Arkansas is not Middle Western. The land is green, and filled with hills and variegated territory. It isn’t the South, either. Shortly after I got here, I drove to Memphis, Tennessee. Home of Elvis and all that. A friend here told me, there’s just something about Memphis— “It’s the smell,” he said. I ventured into Mississippi, down the infamous Highway 61. Now that’s the South.
I drove to Missouri a couple of years ago. It scared the crap out of me, a land of pick-ups with gun racks and CB radios. I’ve never heard a CB radio in Arkansas. People use cell-phones (and even have indoor plumbing!) around here. Missouri is the Midwest, or what I’ve seen of it, but I must admit a desire to check out Lawrence, Kansas, which is not that far and the home of William S. Burroughs. Recently, I went tripping through East Texas. Each of these trips took less time than a trip from Southern California to San Francisco, and the change in terrain and attitude was just breathless.
I don’t suppose I really felt like an American, until I came here. There’s more to it than I ever dreamed. I’ve been thinking about continuing this pilgrimage east, though Dr. Kleine keeps urging me to consider the Midwest, or the North, where I’ve never been. It’s been my therapy. Going back to California isn’t on my list, though I talk about it all the time. It’s just my point of reference, my territorial vanity. There are places that form us, and I am glad that my make-up is now more complex. For all his time in London, Luke is still Australian. Perhaps if Australia goes on a bender, I might even end up there.
For now, I’m enjoying my time in this asylum. A few white-russians, and some cheesy movies, and I could be anywhere. We're all allowed our territorial pissings, now aren't we?
I overslept. I wasn’t late for class, but I had to forgo my shower. I felt like hell. It’s chemical. I’m a pretty classic case of manic-depression.
It’s dark. There’s lots of positive things going on. People seem to be giving me compliments that I don’t feel I deserve. I’ve received e-mails from people I haven’t heard from in a long while, saying that they miss me. My ex-wife tells me that I can’t handle success. She says I shoot myself in the foot every time things start to look good. Someone cast a spell on me. But it’s not working. I still feel horrible. But there’s no reason for it. It’s chemical.
Sleep sounds good, but I know if I lay down I won’t be able to stop thinking. William Styron got it right in his book, Darkness Visible. It’s like noise. I struggle to find ways to cut through the noise. Studying complex things helps. I bought three more books today, a Cambridge textbook on discourse pragmatics, a philosophy book on the Sophists, and Kurt Vonnegut’s latest book of short stories. Bad chemicals. Vonnegut knows a lot about that.
I need to finish the entry on Pennebaker’s book. I need to write an essay for a class on Monday. But all I can think about is an essay, or a blog entry, that I want to write about switch plates and outlet covers. It’s hard to explain; it’s just one of those ghosts of incomplete experiences. Maybe tomorrow. Tonight, I think I’ll just watch a newly downloaded copy of Barbarella. I think I’ll just roll around in the noise for a while. I know it will lift.
I appreciate the comments from new readers lately. I’m sorry I’m not more entertaining right now. It’s chemical. It will change, it always does. I know myself pretty well. I surf a chemical roller-coaster; I’ve done it all my life. But when things are good, they are damn good. That’s why I learn to live with the noise, and skip the chemical levelers.
At the bottom of every hill there are old lovers. Reading “Lovers Anonymous” by Vonnegut, I laughed when he described a club made up of guys in love with the same woman, Sheila Hinkley, that was formed when she married another man. Old lovers become emblems, but lose their urgency. I like the way Vonnegut describes it:
“Sheila Hinkley is now a spare whitewall tire on the Thunderbird of my dreams”
I would have never read a book like Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions by choice. However, it was assigned for one of my classes, and now I’m glad I did.
Want to feel like blogging is a good thing? Take a look at this book. It offers conclusive, scientific evidence that disclosing yourself (rather than hiding behind a persona or writing about trivialities) is healthy. The subject is a complex one, however, and it covers a lot of fascinating territory.
According to my prof, Dr. Anderson, James W. Pennebaker is the major expert in the field of writing and healing. Reading his book, I can understand why. Despite the “Oprah Book Club” style title, it contains a great overview of what happens when we confess.
Elegies, and the literature of grieving has long been a fascination of mine. Not for the psychology, but for the sheer power of expression involved. Coping with the powerful emotions of grief is a tough thing, and words do help, though I'm still searching for theories of why.A rough overview by chapters
“You can’t find the words?” Dr. Brown suggested.
There was a tinge of anxiety in the healer’s voice, and he shifted about, putting body English on whatever Eliot was about to do.
“I can’t find the words,” Eliot agreed.
“Well, said the Senator, “if you can’t put it into words, you certainly can’t use it at a sanity hearing.”
Eliot nodded in appreciation of the truth of this. “Did— did I even begin to put it into words?”
“You simply announced,” said the Senator, “that you had just been struck by an idea that would clear up this whole mess instantly, beautiful and fairly. And then you looked up in a tree.”
“Um,” said Eliot. He pretended to think, then shrugged. “Whatever it was, it’s slipped my mind.”
Kurt Vonnegut, God bless you, Mr. Rosewater
I was re-reading the end of On the Road again. I was thinking about Dean Moriarty. I was thinking about the kind of friend that could write you 18,000 words in a letter, hitchhike halfway across the country to see you only to be left by the side of the road in a moth-eaten coat. I was thinking about God as Pooh-Bear.
I was fighting the urge to call California. The phone rang. It was a friend from California. Then the sky split open. The power went out for a few moments, and I timed a thunderclap that took 30 seconds to subside. And the rain poured.
It was calmer when I hung up the phone.
You have no respect for cognitive reverie you know that?
Yes, but pizza, now pizza I have enormous respect for— and of course beer.
I have respect for beer!
There is a word
Which bears a sword
Can pierce an armed man -
It hurls its barbed syllables
And is mute again -
But where it fell
The saved will tell
On patriotic day,
Some epauletted Brother
Gave his breath away.
Wherever runs the breathless sun -
Wherever roams the day,
There is its noiseless onset -
There is its victory!
Behold the keenest marksman!
The most accomplished shot!
Time's sublimest target
Is a soul "forgot"!
Emily Dickinson #42
That charge isn’t an easy one to answer. Some things just can’t be explained any other way. For example, I was reading an article by Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede called “On Distinctions Between Classical and Modern Rhetoric” today. It offers the thesis that in the classical world, the perception of what constitutes necessary or universal truth, or episteme, was fixed and thus, there was a truth that was independent of what we say about it. The function of the rhetor was to convey truth. However, for modern rhetoric:
Connections among thought, language, and reality are thought to be grounded not in an independent, charitable reality but in the nature of the knower instead, and reality is not so much discovered or discoverable but instead constituted by the interplay of thought and language.So, the next time you burn yourself, or stub your toe, you can tell yourself that it didn’t really happen. You just constituted your reaction based on what you thought would happen. When you close your eyes, the world actually disappears, and all that rubbish. Like it or not, we’ve got to deal with this dualism. There is what we think, and then there is a world that is. Maybe we can’t know it— and negative capability is what we need to get by. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Okay, so if reality is constituted by thought and language, then it is also contingent on our point of view. “A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees,” to quote William Blake. It seems not a difficult leap to see that the representation, in pictures or language, of reality is by its very nature iconic, or an idealized view. However, given what we know about the fallacies of the universal, that makes these icons also phantasms, eidolons constructed from moment to moment based on “the interplay of thought and language.” There is really nothing dualistic about something being at once ideal and imaginary; it only becomes Platonic when the real is considered to be imaginary, and the ideal a separate knowable thing.
That’s why Plato expelled poets from his republic. Because they created a competition for the real, by creating imaginary ideals. The concept of eidolons is not Platonic in the slightest. We’re constantly told that truth is an unknowable thing in the postmodern world, that it is constituted from moment to moment through the processes of history. Truth is relative. Ultimately, if this is the case, then philosophy is useless.
The schism between Rhetoric and Philosophy is this: Philosophy deals with absolutes. Rhetoric deals with possibilities. In the grandest sense, postmodern philosophy is not really philosophy but rhetoric. Clear as mud?
How about this, from Michael Polynyi (cited by Lunsford and Ede)
We must inevitably see the universe from a center lying within ourselves and speak about it in terms of a human language shaped by the exigencies of human intercourse. Any attempt rigorously to eliminate our human perspective from our pictures of the world must lead to absurdity.This is what language based philosophy, or rhetoric for that matter, are all about. People see some things as ideals, as icons. Icons are always flawed, and phantasmagoric precisely because they aren’t real— they are constituted by consciousness. It’s not a duality. It’s our constitution of reality. Rhetoric wants to understand and shape these icons to its own end. Philosophy wants to take icons apart and see how they work.
Mike Sanders has been ruminating on issues of pleasure as they relate to blogging. It jogged my brain cells back to a text I've spent a lot of time with, Percy Shelley's Defence of Poetry. Shelley saw man as a harp, stretched tight and blown by winds both inside and out to produce songs of pleasure. The good, to Shelley, would always be naturally reinforced by this process because it was the most pleasurable. There is no need for ethics or morality, if we only follow our pleasure. Of course, Shelley was branded as being immoral, because he denied the moral sentiments any place in his poetry. I like his argument on the subject, because I believe that life itself is a poetic act.
The whole objection however of the immorality of poetry rests upon a misconception of the manner in which poetry acts to produce the moral improvement of man. Ethical science arranges the elements which poetry has created, and propounds schemes and proposes examples of civil and domestic life: nor is it for want of admirable doctrines that men hate, and despise, and censure, and deceive, and subjugate one another.This cuts to the core of my hatred of prescriptive theory. "Admirable doctrines" don't do much to further the cause of man. I think the poetry of observation must remain aloof from prescription. Poetry indeed, rules.
But poetry acts in another and a diviner manner. It awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world; and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar; it re-produces all that it represents, and the impersonations clothed in its Elysian light stand thenceforward in the minds of those who have once contemplated them, as memorials of that gentle and exalted content which extends itself over all thoughts and actions with which it co-exists.There is a peculiar oxymoron here— Mind is awakened and enlarged, and yet it is rendered— reduced or purified, until it becomes the receptacle of unapprehended combinations of thought? That is indeed the way that I feel when I read some people's blogs. I love seeing how others connect the dots. It lifts the veil of strangeness from some, and exposes the beauty of others.
The great secret of morals is Love; or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action or person, not our own. A man to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own.
The great instrument of moral good is the imagination: and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause. Poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new delight, which have the power of attracting and assimilating to their own nature all other thoughts, and which form new intervals and interstices whose void forever craves fresh food. Poetry strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb. A Poet therefore would do ill to embody his own conceptions of right and wrong which are usually those of his place and time in his poetical creations, which participate in neither.
Poetry has been working on my organ for a long time now. I like it. It feels good. But blogging is a newer pleasure, and it's interesting to compare the attributes. Blogging, as a flexing of the mental faculties, is related to the type of pleasure which Shelley was on about. Stretching the mind, outside itself and into the otherness that surrounds, is a good thing. Reading the thoughts of others, and contributing my own becomes a sort of cooking and eating. I'm always hungry for good food.
So, I thought I'd put up one of Weston's entries, oddly enough concerned with writing:
July 4. 4:30 —with rain-like fog: not so pleasant for weekenders. I arose early, to be alone, to see my new work now mounted, to write and think quietly. Always someone sociably inclined to drop in for morning coffee,—Sonya, Cole, an early riser, Everett Ruess, camping in our garage,— a boy who has potentialities in painting and writing, and though I agree morning coffee can be a delightful ceremony, it is the one time I wish to be alone. Every day I must write with chattering all around me,—no wonder I feel like destroying as poorly-said my entries of the day before. This sounds like a poor excuse for poor writing, maybe is. I should not attempt to write then?—but I must write— Well, what luck! Here comes Sonya at this ungodly hour—couldn't sleep with a bad cold and Everett rushes from the garage with paper in his hand bound for the woods on a hurry call— I am finished again —just this one thought-if my technique in writing was as strong as my technique in photography could I not write despite confusion?—for I am usually surrounded by near or distant confusion while photographing. I lack technique in writing, hence weak or incomplete expression. I have to think—and one must not think—have no need to while creating. Yet I go stumbling along, and someday may arrive.This entry from 1930 cuts to the core of the crisis of writing. Not knowing how can impede you, and thinking about how to do it also causes a wall. Creation only comes with a certain freedom from thought. That's why techné must be internalized. Weston, of all people, really knew that.
I still haven't forgiven Sontag for trashing Weston. His daybooks, and his photographs were a big inspiration for me. So, the whole modernist project was flawed? Show me a human who isn't.
We all go stumbling along, hoping one day to arrive.
Next Friday, I think I’m going to challenge a lot of people’s beliefs about a cultural icon. I’ve decided that I really have to tell them the truth. Martin Luther King was a plagarist.
Many people in the United States get tomorrow off, because Reagan signed a bill into law declaring a holiday in memory of Martin Luther King. He was an incredibly skillful rhetorician, and as the negative connotation of the word implies, there is a distinctly untruthful side to his life. He had many affairs. He plagiarized much of his work toward his doctoral dissertation, and the case could be made that he’s one of the worlds most successful liars. But should this tarnish the luster of a man that galvanized a nation to stand up for fundamental human rights?
Perhaps it shouldn’t, but it does. Like Bill Clinton’s skillful evasions, the indiscretions will survive the good that his tenure as president produced. I must admit that the commodification of King troubles me more than his use of stolen words. Why is it impossible to gain access to his sermons without paying for them? Should words of peace and freedom be just another product on the marketplace? The behavior of his family “protecting the King legacy” is shameful.
But all that aside, his words have a power that should be taught. As borne out by the researchers at the King Papers Project, there is also a consistency to them, regardless of their source. There is much to learn from Dr. King. I do feel that he deserves his holiday, for his rhetorical power alone. I will use his 1964 Nobel Prize acceptance speech to teach the structures of logical argument, the power of parallelism, and the overwhelming strength of belief.
I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.
“And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.”
I still believe that we shall overcome.
This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.
Martin Luther King
Slouching towards Bethlehem? I suppose so. The lesson of rhetoric is that truth can only be measured relatively, and I can forgive his cheating at school. But that doesn't make it right. But discounting his legacy of peace and freedom gains nothing. It makes us lose a precious moment in history, a moment that should be commemorated.
Words are fun things, and of course the core of many acts of communication. Lately, I’ve been exploring the context and development of a bunch of them, trying to reach a deeper understanding of what they’re all about. I thought I’d jot down a few notes on the subject.
Crisis, a word all too familiar these days, seems to be a relative of krisis, a Greek word meaning judgment. How appropriate is that? Judgment has been the subject of quite an ongoing crisis.
Theory, a word that I spend a lot of time with, comes from the Greek theoria which has several nuances lost in the current usage:
Contemplation is the strongest connotation that survives, though speculation is often appropriate as well. But lost to us is the tie to spectacle, which is a fruitful association. I think that this tie needs to be kept in mind, for the same reason that Barthes sought to attach the word spectrum to the emanation of the photograph. The word is related to theoros, or spectator, and also to theoric, which means pertaining to spectacles or displays. Theory, it seems, is taken in through the eyes. It comes from watching, not just thinking.
This discovery made me remember a distinction proposed by Pythagoras. In the arena there are three classes:
Pythagoras explained that the spectators were the highest class of men, because they were above the spectacle both physically and metaphorically. A person watches a show because they like it, or even love it. There is no gain involved. They are the amateurs— outside and above the realm of the professionals.
- The performers who sell their talent.
- The merchants who sell their wares.
- The spectators who watch the show.
The more I think about it, the more I want to retain my amateur status. Intercourse, without hope of gain, holds different values than the goal oriented motives of commerce.
The whores hustle and the hustlers whore
Too many people are out of love
The whores hustle and the hustlers whore
The city’s ripped right to the core
Theory rips me up. Descriptive theory, I can handle fine. The theory of the spectator, or of the lover. But prescriptive theory bothers me. It’s the theory of the hustler, the theory of the whore.
I met a seer,
Passing the hues and objects of the world,
The fields of art and learning, pleasure, sense,
To gleen eidólons.
Put in thy chants said he,
No more the puzzling hour nor day, nor segments, parts, put in
Put first before the rest as light for all an entrance-song of all,
That of eidólons.
Ever the dim beginning,
Ever the growth, the rounding of the circle,
Ever the summit and the merge at last, (to surely start again,)
Ever the mutable,
Ever materials, changing, crumbling, re-cohering,
Ever the ateliers, the factories divine,
Lo, I or you,
Or woman, man, or state, known or unknown,
We seeming solid wealth, strength, beauty build,
But really build eidólons.
Walt Whitman, "Eidólons" (1-20) from Leaves of Grass
Synthesis seems to be concerned about photographs produced by bloggers. It's funny how these things come together, because as he suspected, I connect the dots in a different way.
I was motivated to read Whitman after I first read Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes. It was because of a one word connection: eidolons. The dictionary provides a wonderful clue why the word eidolons was used by both of them. The word has two meanings, and both fit.
The primary connection between all photographs is that they are indeed, eidolons. Whitman wrote of the mutablity of all human creations, like Shelley before him. The word he chose to describe those creations has great resonance for photography, and it was used by Roland Barthes to great advantage. The root, eidos, means things which can be seen, but the implication of eidolons is that they are outside the real. Barthes teases out distinctions between the experience of the photographer, the photographed, and the spectator, applying postmodern thought to the perception of images:
- A phantom; an apparition.
- An image of an ideal.
The Spectator is ourselves, all of us who glance through collections of photographs— in magazines and newspapers, in books, albums, archives . . . And the person or thing photographed is the target, the referent, a kind of little simulacrum, any eidolon emitted by the object, which I should like to call the Spectrum of the Photograph, because this word retains, through its root, a relation to "spectacle" and adds to it that rather terrible thing which there is in any photograph: the return of the dead.Whether taken by trained or untrained people, all photographs convey a spectrum, an eidolon, of the object photographed. It's a frozen resurrection of the thing itself, but not quite, because unlike its original moment, it is frozen dead in all its imperfection. Barthes was right to connect it with death, in my opinion, and each time we view an image it represents a reconstitution, tied deeply to the act of viewing. An individual viewer fleshes out their own interpretation of its spectrum.
The essay cited by Synthesis is a clever one, but in my opinion the summation of William J. Mitchell's How to Do Things with Pictures is a hollow muckraking assertion that has not come to pass in the eight years since it was written:
The growing circulation of the new graphic currency that digital imaging technology mints is relentlessly destabilizing the old photographic orthodoxy, denaturing the established rules of graphic communication, and disrupting the familiar practices of image production and exchange. This condition demands, with increasing urgency, a fundamental critical reappraisal of the uses to which we put graphic artifacts, the values we therefore assign to them, and the ethical principles that guide our transactions with them.I read the book that Mitchell's essay originally appeared in when it was new, and I didn't believe it then either. I looked around for the book, but I think I sold it. I was quite hostile to postmodernism at the time, but now that I understand it better, I realize that postmodernism doesn't have to try to rewrite the nature of photographs, just how we look at them. They have never been facts, but they have always presented evidence of a very etherial sort. The nature of eidolons has not changed since the time when Whitman wrote: "Ever the mutable, / Ever materials, changing, crumbling, re-cohering" But even through change, photographs do follow conventions, orthodoxies neatly ordered in Mitchell's essay:
Thus the rules that societies have evolved for acceptable and effective usage of photographs in acts of communication are both clear (if not always explicit) and widely understood. These rules valorize photographs as uniquely reliable and transparent conveyors of visual information and concomitantly structure familiar practices of graphic production and exchange--among them the practices of photojournalism, feature illustration, advertising photography, photo-illustrated fiction, the legal use of photographic evidence, the family snapshot, photographic portraiture, photo identification, medical imaging, and art photography. Photography has established a powerful orthodoxy of graphic communication.I have yet to see anything in digital photography, photographs on blogs, or picture-people trading cards that goes outside these conventions. If the postmodern revolution predicted by Mitchell is here, I fail to see any evidence. There has been no disruption of the familiar practices of photographers: selecting a point of view and manipulating images were common a hundred years before postmodernism questioned their ethics. There has been an acceleration of production, yes, but no respite from orthodoxy. In my opinion, photographers on the web are just as orthodox as photographers who aren't on the web.
There's a good reason for this orthodoxy. People learn a language by hearing and internalizing it, and these schemas have been with us for a long time. Photographs on blogs have a sense of immediacy missing from other forms, the same quality shared by blog writing, but they do not operate outside orthodoxy. Photographers, especially new ones, imitate conventions which are often stale, and largely stolen from photo-illustration, snapshots, and "art".
Same tune, different means of transmission. The medium may massage, but it really isn't sending any new messages. The only real difference is accessability; now rather than just family and friends' snaps, we can see the efforts of millions.
Revisiting Mitchell's essay, I can now recognize how much of it is taken from literary criticism. Doing Things With Texts is the name of a book by MH Abrams, and the mirror analogy in the first paragraph is also taken from Abrams, whose landmark book was The Mirror and The Lamp. When I was just a photographer, I never noticed this. I have always questioned the postmodern approach to use, value, and ethics regarding photographs. Critical approaches are useful for the interpretation of language artifacts, including visual ones, but they do not reduce or change the fundamental utility of them.
Are blog photographs different? No more different than the difference between doing it for money (professional) and doing it for love (amateur). That distinction has been around since Whitman too, and blogging certainly hasn't changed it. Attributing the difference between blog photojournalism and professional photojournalism to anything more than the difference between pro and amateur is just chasing an eidolon.
It's always fun to click on a link and find out that it's in my own backyard. Three teachers just lost their licenses due to sexual misconduct. Great, it means that the job market is getting better... But why is it that I always hear about it happening in Arkansas, or the Central Valley. There was another case in Fresno.
Is it a coincidence that after writing December 20th about the male bodies proclivity to porn and pizza, quoting Drew Carey, that today I read that Canadian prison inmates were given porn and pizza on New Years Eve? This is just odd.
Conservatives might argue that they should have listened to Britney Spears, who claims that chocolate is just like an orgasm. Uh, I beg to differ. Otherwise, those teachers would have been hanging out in a candy shop instead of seducing 15-year-old girls. Even 400 pound pigs will die for sex.
The pronunciation of "tea" has been the main subject of discussion lately on the C-18L list. Evidently it is pronounced "tay" in Gaelic, and Alexander Pope rhymed it that way. I find it hard to think of myself as a "tay" drinker. Tee hee. Tay was the original pronunciation in Dutch, were the word originates, so leave it to the English to reinvent it. Remember, as Monty Python says, that the Dutch don't really have a language, they just gargle and call it a language.
However, the real fun came in when they were seriously debating how big a barrel of oysters was. I found out that oyster barrels are indeed of a different size than you'd think, holding four dozen oysters. Not a very big barrel, I'd say.
In other news, Neil Young's new album is going to be called "Are You Passionate?". A rather silly question, for anyone who knows me. I also discovered that Concrete Blonde has reunited, has a new album that came out a couple of days ago, and now has an official site. Wow, I knew there must be a reason why I dragged out those old dusty albums a while back. I can't say that I'm all that impressed with the single posted at the official site, I'm not a big ballad guy. But I'll buy the record. I'm a sucker that way.
However, I got really pissed at the diary section of the site. It's dark red text on a black background, and tiny text at that. I had to bump up the font size, and highlight it to be able to read it. Has anyone ever heard of usability?
Enough carping. I'm done now. I suppose I'm just looking for some grain of sand to turn into a pearl, but the world isn't cooperating lately.
And it wasn't for want of the price of tea and a slice...
The Old Man and the Sea was one of those books that my father made me read before he would talk to me. It was a weird game we played. "Hey, kid you don't know shit until you've read . . ." It set me on a Hemingway binge, and I read a lot of his novels growing up. I just loved the writing style, terse and short. To the point.
It reminds me of a conversation I've been having a lot with other teachers. I don't want to teach "fru-fru" writing. You can probably figure out that I have a severe allergy to flowery description, and inflated emotional rhetoric. There's nothing wrong with emotions, it's just that life isn't a hallmark card. Cut to the chase, damn it. Like Hemingway.
How can you go wrong with a name like A Gallery for Fine Photography? While I wish they had a snazzier web site, at least they have a fine line-up of photographers.
I turned on the TV. The Waltons were on. I remember really hating that show growing up, though my mom loved it. I found out later that my Dad hates Ralph Waite. Maybe I got the "I hate the Waltons" gene. It only took about thirty seconds to hear: "Girls who say gosh, golly, and darn will wind up sleeping alone in a barn." While I may admit the truth of this statement, I really prefer girls who say "Holy Shit!" and "Damn" myself.
Speaking of "Holy Shit!," there's been a big discussion on the Nassr-L list about the nature of the "Pleasure Dome" in Coleridge's Kubla Khan, regarding whether it is a dome floating in mid-air, unsupported, or if it is meant to be a bedouin tent. One of the scholars on the list pointed to new archeological findings in the summer issue of National Geographic. They've found some glass, thought to be part of that dome. Cool stuff, I wish there was more information online somewhere. Personally, I think the tent hypothesis is pretty lame.
Concerning the damned, Ron Asheton of the Stooges has a great interview at Perfect Sound Forever. Also, according to Rolling Stone several important Sonic Youth records are going to be remastered and rereleased. Damn, now I'll have to buy them again.
Also recently unearthed, is a rave review of my favorite album of 2001, Steve Wynn's Here Come the Miracles. I wish Steve Wynn wasn't such a secret to most people. He builds some mighty fine pleasure domes himself.
Morning class went pretty well, but though I prepared what I thought was enough material for a class and a half, I got through it all pretty thoroughly with five minutes to spare. I've got to work on this. I don't want them to get into the habit of leaving early. This time though, I gave them the Mary MacLane excerpt and an article from the New York Times. I bet the dictionaries will have to come out for the Times article. And this is a good thing. I thought since Mary MacLane makes the outrageous claim of being a genius, it might be fun to figure out what people think genius really is.
I hadn't thought about the word that much lately, until I read an essay, and a blog entry today.
In a Dark Time wrote in "The Last Reincarnation" that the shift in "attitude" from his students was one of the reasons why he gave up on teaching. He felt he could no longer deal with it. Coming on the heels of discovering Joseph Epstein's article You Got Attitude?, it was one of those weird web synchronicities.
I like attitude. That's the reason why I chose to assign Mary MacLane in my classes. She has attitude, an attitude I like. Badger was writing about music as a lifestyle choice, and of his preference for passion in music writing. I agree wholeheartedly. Anyone who thinks that they can write dispassionately about something that is created, by design, to move the emotions is practicing the worst form of self deception. The no-attitude attitude? There's no such thing. Growing up in the desolate aftermath of the 60s, I thought as a teenager that there were hundreds of lifestyle choices to be made. Looking back, I think it's less a matter of lifestyle, than attitude.
When I was a salesman, one of those hokey motivational signs that hung in the break room queried:
Attitudes are infectious. Is yours worth catching?I think this is something worth thinking about. Maybe we should all smile more. Maybe we should recognize the fact that we all have attitudes, attitudes that have been selected largely through emulation. We look to others to gain perspective, and we wear the attitude that we think will serve us best in a given situation. Sometimes, shifting our attitudes can make life a lot easier to take. I don't believe that we are ever too old to do this, though the patience that it takes is often hard to find. That's why I don't want to teach below college level. I don't think I have the patience to deal with the WWF attitude, or the rap attitude. Everyone in college tends to have a "I want to make my life better" attitude. And this is a good thing.
*A late night addendum: In Rhetorical Theory tonight, I stepped up to "play" one of my favorite rhetoricians, Protagoras. This means I get to present his point of view, as if I were him. We joked a bit about wearing togas to get the right "attitude." As a side benefit, I also get to play his primary opposition, Plato. This will be fun. I've been reading Plato with Blake's "infernal method" for a long time. I'm not sure why, but I also volunteered to be Jurgen Habermas. I'm not quite sure how I'll play that one...
The day went great, and ended on a fine note with Shauna's literary observations. I really must agree. Obviously, somebody's not doing something right.
There isn't time to write out the course of the day, but it sailed along smoothly. I think I'm really going to have fun teaching, though I must admit it's hard to find well written articles about dentistry. It's hard for me to not want to assign some literature stuff, and I want to get as many people as I can turned on to blogging. So, I'm going to give people some excerpts from The Story of Mary MacLane and see what sort of reactions I get. I think I'll leave out the parts about her being a radical bisexual bad girl, and let them figure that out for themselves. It's hard to find male diarists to quote that aren't so far out that they won't identify, but surely everyone is interested in the diary of a young girl?
I'll find out. If you haven't checked her out, you might be surprised. There's no Anne Frank style stuff here, this woman had a firm grip on life. I want to provide balanced readings from both male and female authors, but, the more I review stuff I come to feel that guys are just boring. Maybe it's because I'm a guy. And I have been accused of being boring.
I like girls. Sorry, I can't help it.
This is going to be fun. I showed up for class fifteen minutes early to find that there were already 18 students in the room. Eager people, I like that. By the time 8 am rolled around, there were 22 out of the 25 registered people there. Both of my classes are full. Way cool.
So now I’ve got fifty people to get to know. I think I’m going to like this. The only thing odd is the high density of dentistry majors. Now there’s a subject I know very little about! Should be fun. The preliminary writing I had them do shows that they are concerned about making A’s too. That’s a good sign. I hope I can oblige.
Damn, this is going to be a long day. I have to go back shortly for my second class teaching, then there is a seminar tonight until 9pm. Now that’s a day: 7:45 am to 9 pm. But I may duck in here from time to time. There’s no telling.
For those who don't recognize it, the Wipers logo is actually a play on Ohm's law. It's more than fitting for perhaps the most electric of sounds I've ever heard. I'm so glad I got the chance to see him. He doesn't play out much, and there's almost a sort of religious quality to it. But it's certainly an electric church. Many of his songs just cut me to the bone, like "Window Shop for Love."
There is also an unofficial site with some interesting interview snippets. I particularly liked this bit:
Standing on the small stage, playing to fewer people that his accomplishments deserve, Greg Sage turns up his guitar and his swooping, soaring songs. It's a beautiful noise of a power that seems larger than life, with an interior cry, like the eye of a hurricane. As Sage says, it's a "falling effect, but also like catching yourself in a fall."That about says it. Other than Neil Young and Crazy Horse, I've never heard a more powerful noise. But no one falls like Greg Sage. I like that. I like that a lot.
I thought it had to be a joke. CDNow listed a Wipers Box Set for $7.49!
I ordered it, of course, and am just blown away. It's not one of those lame "greatest hits" things at all. It's their first three albums, complete and in order, plus bonus tracks.
The Wipers have long been one of the best kept secrets around, known only to musicians mostly. They were the vangard of what later was called "grunge."
It's not quite punk. It's not quite rock. But it is perhaps the best definition of what I call intense.
Three CDs of suicidal angst, what more could a person want?
The original albums were all short, around 30 minutes, so the addition of the bonus tracks makes it three CDs of pure genius that clock out at close to an hour each. $7.49? Sold!
I remember a visit to a record store in Mesa, Arizona, where a guy was just amazed that I asked about Greg Sage. "He lives a few blocks away. I call him the 'mad scientist' cause he always comes in in a white lab coat. He's got a studio in his house, and he seldom leaves." I drove past the house a few times, and thought about the strange experiments that must go on inside.
I met him a few months later, when he opened for Nirvana. He wasn't playing live much then. He cut a hypnotic circle on the left side of the stage, drilling the most amazing chords into the floor. That's where my jaw probably still is. One of these days I'll have to go back to get it.
The C-18L list has provided another fun diversion. While most literature people will be familiar with the phrase "Grub Street Hacks," it takes on new meaning when you actually read some of their work. Rictor Norton has compiled some excerpts from early 18th century newspapers guaranteed to amuse. I was particularly taken by the description of some visiting Cherokee in 1730:
Friday night about 11, the Indian Prince walking in Covent Garden, was pick’d up by the infamous Jenny Tite, who took 2 rings off his fingers, and made off with them. — I think this Lady for the future deserves the title of the famous Jenny Tite, on account of this amour with his R. Highness, who not knowing the use of money on these occasions, might present her with these 2 rings.There's always a Jenny Tite somewhere about, now isn't there?
There's just too much great stuff here to mention, Sodomites, for example. A letter to the editor suggests that they be punished in a rather severe way, "that a skilful surgeon be provided immediately to take out his testicles, and that then the Hangman sear up his scrotum with an hot iron." But there are also some touching love stories too:
William Gardham and Mary Langhorne, that were taken [in bed together] at an inn in this city, and after examination were committed to Newgate, the former on suspicion of poisoning his wife, and the latter of poisoning her husband, were try’d at York the last Assizes, and both acquitted; thereupon they were immediately married.Sounds like true love to me.
What are you looking for when you read? It’s a behavior that requires a certain amount of effort, and if you’re like me, you always want to be effected in some degree commensurate with the time you spent applying yourself to the task. Much has been written about the short attention span that web reading promotes. Is this really the case? Every few months I get an e-mail from someone telling me that they spent hours on my site, something that they claim they never do. Sometimes, I read an entire site myself.
It takes a certain sense of connection. I begin to wonder if the web actually promotes these connections by its sheer diversity. When the audience is so broad and multi-leveled, the chances of stumbling onto someone that satisfies your own peculiar needs as a reader are greater. However, the formula for effective web writing seems to be well quantified.
Effective Web Writing by Crawford Killian brings together the question of audience needs, and the means to satisfy those needs. Most of it is stuff that will be familiar to web writers, but it’s good to see it gathered together in one article. I especially liked his description of the “hooks’ for increasing readership:
Another hook he noted was the usage of quotes. I wonder why this is true? Do we surf into sites looking for something that someone other than the site writer has said? That seems so counter-intuitive. Why bother, if this is the case, why not just read a book? I think that the sea of information the Internet represents is an entirely new way of contextualizing experience. I think I’m drawn to quotes, because I want to know why the person selected it. I want to know how this piece of information relates to them, as a person.
- questions - they make us seek the answer,
- unusual statements - we love surprises,
- promise of conflict - we love fights,
- news pegs - to tie content to the coattails of some big current event, and
- direct address - we love personal attention.
Sometimes the web seems like a multi-chambered stomach, were everyone digests things in different ways. Quotes are often like those bits of undigested corn, pieces of reading that persist because of their hardness, their resistance to being broken down any further. This feeds the “short attention span” theory nicely. We pick quotes because we can't improve on the message they transmit, or digest them further without losing their essence.
But what about the other end of the scale? Why do people spend long periods of time at some sites? Maybe it’s because they take us outside ourselves. The popularity of novels in the romance genre, and the psychological factors that go along with it suggest that we have a need to be transported, to identify with someone we’re not. Perhaps it’s only when you find someone that you identify with that the attention span lengthens. I don’t know, but with increasing access to unique personalities, it seems likely that chances of identifying with someone are greater.
A new link I’ve added to my literary section on the sidebar is Corvey Women Writers on the Web. It documents 1,071 works by 471 women writers whose works were available from 1796-1834. This is only one section of a major library collected by a reader whose tastes fell outside the scope of standard popular faire. It’s a window into a neglected literature, a literature of transport and transformation, not just a literature of correct taste. The drive to find the things that we identify with operates outside the condensation of feelings into easily quantifiable quotes. To see the web as a reducer of attention spans ignores that there are some who do indeed read, and care about diversity and depth. This, is really quite an old thought, buried by the pursuit of the new.
I can remember when Friday nights were spent having a good time, instead of waiting for a dryer. What life-starved idiot does laundry on a Friday night besides me?
Site traffic has dropped like a rock, and it landed on my toe. I was looking at something though.
I seem to attract the unresolved. I'm not sure what to make of that.
It is nice to see that Australians like me though, and that non-prophets do to.
Though I wish I was big in Japan, the fact that there are commercial visitors bugs me. But I'll just hope it's people who are avoiding work. I can identify with that. I'm doing it right now.
If it wasn't for dear Shauna and Nicole, I'd feel like I was writing in a vacumn sometimes. But it's not fair to have expectations of a readership; this is just life-blather. Every once in a while I try to join a conversation, or say something of interest to someone besides myself. But this place exists mainly to clear my head about things. I'm pretty unresolved, and it often shows.
Sorry for the "lonely guy" post. I try to keep myself to only one or so of those per month. I've recieved several letters of encouragement in the past few weeks, and there's no reason for what I'm feeling. But I feel it, so I just had to get it out of my system. Mopping up the lake just isn't helping matters much tonight.
It must be bad luck day. First, my site has been down a great deal of the day. Now, the toilet has flooded half the apartment. It's going to be a long night. It takes a boat to get into the bathroom.
I’ve had the patio doors open all afternoon; it’s been in the high 60s, and the sky is clear and blue. But then, so am I. HBO is running all five episodes of the first season of Six Feet Under. This time, I’m sticking a tape in the VCR so I can get buried when I feel like it.
Rachel Griffiths just does it for me in her role as Brenda. I have a thing for brilliant women. And I have a thing for bittersweet stories. What can you say about a show that always has death as it’s centerpiece? Love and death is the stuff that most stories are built upon, and it’s refreshing to watch a show that doesn’t cloak these things. There is comedy in both, if you know where to look. And that’s a good thing, because otherwise we’d all just run around sniveling.
It’s getting cool outside, so it’s time to close the doors. Rain is coming in later in the week. I love the endless variety to the weather around here. There’s no time to get used to anything. Just like the short span between life and death, and the brief flash between love and estrangement. It must be natural I guess, after all, this is the Natural State.
Someone from the Mike Watt mailing list typed it in, and in order not to lose it I decided to save it here. Jeffery Lee Pierce is quite a guy:
"People who take things that seriously should just go out and commit suicide. I was drunk when I wrote most of those songs - I don't remember anything!"
Now that's a good excuse
Though it seems more like a writing workshop exercise than literature, there's just something engaging about it. It's like a little fast-food blog. Thanks for mentioning it, Nicole.
It's nothing more than a collection of paragraphs, really. Some of them flirt with coffee-house profundity, some of them are silly, some of them just seem right.
The perfect book for just flipping through, when you think you write about stupid things. It's an exercise in conciseness, a quality I so often lack.
It demonstrates why I have such a love/hate relationship with contemporary literature. Parts of it are just self-involved navel gazing, parts of it are just delightful. Some of the thoughts I can identify with:
September 29, 1996
If I had two dwarves who followed me around and inquired endlessly into my philosophy, I'd want them to be named Munley and Leffage. And I'd say to them, "Munley and Leffage, I have no philosophy, or none I'd want anyone else to know about. Why would I want anyone else to know my philosophy — I'm no Emperor, and my life is not something which should ever be repeated."
I used to think that way most of the time. So many mistakes, but at the same time so many discoveries. I guess I'd rather embrace the discoveries rather than the mistakes. Some thoughts are better kept to oneself, though.
April 1, 1997 (April Fools Day)
Such a hot day, my balls are hanging so far down, I can't help but think of the chosen one, the one whose face was made to bear witness to this hanging down — the lips, the soft cheeks, the softly closed eyes, the eyelashes, the chin, the face fated to absorb that delicate pressure — my balls being dragged slowly, slowly across the forehead, down the brim of the nose . . . Where art thou? Where art thou not?
I've never thought about writing about my balls. That takes a certain amount of, well, balls. Come to think of it, I've never written anything about body parts at all. Most ideas I have can't be contained too well in a single paragraph. I admire people who can do that though, so that's why I find the book to be quite fun. Because it isn't me at all; I like things that aren't me these days.
Looking around for readings for my comp classes I found the one I think I want to open with, courtesy of the Vocabula Review. It's just well, nice. I've been told many times to remove certain words from my vocabulary because they are little more than verbal filler, and the article provides a nice explanation why certain words can be problematic for writers. My favorite rant on that score was from Dr. Marc Arnold, who suggested that we remove "very" from our spell-check dictionaries, and when we've accidently used it to substitute "damned" for it. I try to follow that advice, but I slip sometimes.
Nice Distinctions cuts quickly to the core of language change, and the resistance to it, and the awkward shifts of meaning that have occurred. The cool thing is that I know that many students will misread even this, and miss the point.
No one can stop the process of change, but these sorts of issues are good reason to choose one word over another, in order to communicate most clearly.
BE DRUNKEN, ALWAYS. That is the point; nothing else matters. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weigh you down and crush you to the earth, be drunken continually.
Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry or virtue as you please. But be drunken.
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or on the green grass in a ditch, or in the dreary solitude of your own room, you should awaken and find the drunkenness half or entirely gone, ask of the wind, of the wave, of the star, of the bird, of the clock, of all that flies, of all that sings, of all that speaks, ask what hour it is; and the wind, wave, star, bird, or clock will answer you: "It is the hour to be drunken! Be drunken, if you would not be the martyred slaves of Time; be drunken continually! With wine, with poetry or with virtue, as you please."
The problem is, today I feel like I have a hangover.
Sometimes, going to new places can shift you back upon yourself. They can help you find your voice.
I was struggling to make some sense of myself through photography. I'd stumble through streets and alleys, all too often photographing the same things over and over.
I'd put the pictures up on my walls, and try to make something out of them. I wasn't "trying" to be a photographer, it just sort of happened that way. I liked looking at things. I liked things that bugged me. But miles of film weren't showing any growth, or change. Just the same old things, restated.
Then Rex took me to Venice Beach, California. An hour there netted me more things to think about than I had achieved in the five years that preceded this. It was as if I found my voice.
I went back a lot. But the change impacted my whole life, even when I wasn't there. I just saw the world differently. Sure, Bakersfield didn't have chainsaw jugglers and girls on skates. But it had light, shape, and shade. The trick wasn't in the scenery, but the perception of it.
Some places just exude a "sense of place." For others, it's a subtle quality that you miss when you live there everyday. Every place is special, and you don't realize that until you are confronted with the oddity of places that aren't home.
I did grow to feel at home in Venice, but I never lived there. I often fantasized about renting a place and staying there a few months. I never did.
Since that time, I've found a few places where I really feel at home, Santa Fe, New Mexico, for example, but I've never lived in one. I think that finding my voice had a lot to do with becoming comfortable with the idea that for me, there would never be a home. When I became comfortable with always being a visitor, a stranger, no matter where I stood, then I figured out who I was. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable? There's just something odd about that. But then, being odd is a large part of my identity too.
So a big sigh was uttered when I read this offer on the C-18L list:
Wanna hobnob on the conference circuit but don't have the funds? Need aplace to stay for the short-term while you research at UCLA, Clark, USCLibraries?
I have an unusually large two room apartment in commodified-beatnik VeniceBeach. Borders Santa Monica. I am offering a room (but you get the runof the whole place) for short-term stays (up to a week) at $30-40/day (grad.students/asst. profs/independent scholars) and $50/day (other profs.).Price includes breakfast. You can rent the whole apartment for $100/day.Cheaper than a hotel. Full kitchen, bath, etc. Free internet access.Fax machine. Nice sunsets from front windows. 5 minute walk to beach.Shops, dive bars, and trendy restaurants within minutes. Near 3 major bus lines(30 min. to UCLA; or 10-15 minute drive by car). This part of LA is oneof the only areas where the buses are actually decent.
Apartment also has 20 vol. OED, most scholarly eds of all 17th and 18th-cmajor British poets (California Dryden, Yale Johnson and Pope, etc.), plusmuch of the major criticism and biogs., etc. A mish-mash of everythingelse.
I was thinking that the first place I live where I feel comfortable in having a 20 vol. OED will be home (I'd get one, but I certainly don't want to move it!). Maybe someday. But for now, I'm comfortable with being a stranger, drifting around, doing my best to notice what is strange and wonderful about each place I pass through. Few places scared me as much as Venice though, because I just felt so damned "right" there. I say scared, because perhaps feeling "right" would be the death of me. It certainly worked out that way the last time. I ended up in Arkansas.
It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who can't hold a pencil correctly. I'm a dismal failure at pencils, and chopsticks. I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere.
Sometimes, only knowing part of the story doesn't help. For example, how did the man get seperated from his penis found in the freezer? Uh, was he resting it there to cool down, and have to cut it off to get free? Or, is there some other explanation? Weird stuff. However, some of the news I stumbled on this morning wasn't quite as funny. A missing 13 year old girl was found tied to a bed by some sick fuck she met on the Internet. Personally, I found the Internet a great tool for meeting people; shit like this is just scary. Maybe it's having good instincts, or because I'm not a 13 year old girl. Or, perhaps it's just the way that the media work at spinning the news. CNN has decided to increase it's journalistic integrity by declaring that Paula Zahn is sexy. That helps me trust her to deliver the truth in a timely fashion.
I'm not sure what the answer is. A high school in Swaziland is requiring chastity pledges, but that does seem a bit odd coming from a King who was fined one cow for violating his own chastity pledge, by marrying a 17 year old girl as his ninth wife.
Enough of this nonsense, next I'll be talking about the false rumor that Britney Spears is going to pose nude for PETA. Keeping dumb animals safe and all that. Maybe we should protect fat men from the kissing chimp too.
Enough! or too much.
Driving last night, I was awed by the carpet of stars, and dark country roads leading hundreds of directions in Arkansas. Then, in my e-mail tonight comes a quote I haven’t heard before:
Those dark Arkansas roads, that is the sound I'm after. — Miles DavisI’ve got to remember to take Kind of Blue out with me next time I go for a midnight drive. The quote is a preface to an article on the Key West Literary Conference. But at the bottom of the story, there are some good thoughts about trying to grasp a sense of place through writing.
People often say that writers write what they know. They also write what they love. And no one loves in general. One loves in particular, in a distinct landscape, with its own weather, shaded or exposed by specific trees, at one time and not another, in an idiosyncratic language spoken a certain way and all those details evoke what is most important, most fleeting, most missed.
. . . About what I advise aspiring writers and students of writing: I advise them to begin a daily practice of reading and writing and to allow the books they love to enter their regular lives.
— Mona Simpson
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that blogging represents a quantum leap in writing practice, because of its very nature: frequency is the key, more than brevity or connection with current events or dialogue. And there is no denying the power of passion, only it’s lasting power. Sustain is a major issue, and looking at people with the longest lasting and most consistently interesting blogs like not.so.soft and What’s New Pussycat shows that it takes a balance of involvement and detachment to keep things moving smoothly. The dynamic of that is interesting to me, because after time reading blogs, I genuinely care about the happiness and well being of the people who write blogs only when there exists enough of them to have some sense of pathos, an identification with pieces of their personality that I connect with. However, without detached consideration that these things are, after all, only words— things grind to a halt; excessive feeling can cause paralysis.
I’m grateful that some people like to read me, and I try to balance my overthinking with some things that are at least a little amusing. I felt a serious connection with some of Barry Lopez’s comments that closed the article about the Key West Literary conference:
In my experience, if you want to write, nobody's going to stop you. . . .
Working with language is just a part of your personality. The public makes a judgment as to whether it's relevant to one or 40,000 people.
Read widely and deeply.
Realize that you can go to workshops and learn about the technique but you can't learn how to be somebody.
Pay attention to learning who you are and what your deep interests are, and pursue those things.
“Get out of town.”
. . . Put yourself in places where you don't feel you have the answers, because there are no answers.
. . . You can't teach people hunger and discipline. If you don't have that, being a writer is just not going to happen.
Find out what is alive in each person and try to bring it to life.
When I got a sandwich this afternoon, I was thrilled with the clerk. She was a large black woman who rattled off the options with the focus and directness of an airline pilot reading a pre-flight checklist. When she got to the “name” part, she said: “Thanks Mr. Jeff, I’ll call you when it’s ready.”
Mr. Jeff, I kind of like that. I’ve been dreading the idea of students calling me Mr. Ward, because Mr. Ward is either my father, or me when I get into trouble. When people call me Mr., it’s never a good thing. So I think I’ll put that on the syllabus for my classes: Jeff, or Mr. Jeff, not Mr. Ward, unless you’re pissed at me for some reason.
Tracking down a light dimmer, it suddenly struck me just how weird this place is. Virtually everyone talks to each other, and you can’t go shopping without having at least a few conversations in the stores. For a Californian, this is just plain weird. In California, people mind their own business and don’t nice each other to death. But it does make it seem warmer here, even when it’s cold.
But the real day-maker was the stop at a convienence store where a tall man with a strong resemblance to Michael Jordan was wearing and enormous white fuzzy fez. It actually looked quite wonderful on him, even if he might resemble a flattened black-stemmed Q-Tip.
Ah, it's much better in here now. Dimmers also lower the color temperature of the light and the room is warm, friendly and comfortable. Now, I've got to get to work!
So, it was a weekend filled with frivolous things. Lots of just plain life, unmediated, perhaps slightly focused. There are plenty of story ideas, and a perceptible shift in priorities, just in time for school to knock me back in line anyway. Still, for the first time in many years it felt like a real vacation. I needed it so badly, to back away and get perspective on some things. I feel positively cleansed. What did I do? Nearly nothing, except getting the hell out of town.
So, I’m easily amused. But for the first time since I can remember, the experience wasn’t related to words much at all. It was more about sunsets and stars, about wheels turning outside rather than inside my head. Yeah, so it was just a few days. The other wheels never stop for long, but it was nice to give them a little rest. Maybe I’ll generate something tangible from it, but that wasn’t the point. It felt good to be moving, and stopped at the same time. Coming back into the city, the flickering lights reminded me that it’s just damn pretty around here, even with a few oddities. You just have to open your eyes.
But I must admit that seeing the "Hickory Shopping Center" just outside of town is now "Hick enter" Okay, so I lied; that’s at least slightly word related.
Catching up with Wood s lot brought a visit to Christopher Green's Where Did the Word "Cognitive" Come From Anyway? Though Green claims that the word has a well-wrought meaning, the dividing line is a finely teased one. Considerations of emotions are, for cognitive psychology anyway, limited to those which influence “truth-evaluative” behaviors. And that, is the reason why Kant was forced to leap into metaphysics to explain why they influence our thinking. There’s a problem, an antimony that can’t be resolved, though it can be explained:
In literary studies, Mathew Arnold raised the idea of touchstones, pieces of literature that acted as loci for comparison regarding the quality of writing. This would be the antithesis, based on the idea that an imaginary “consensus” would agree that all these dead white guys are the primary sources of words to consider and compare. Taste then, is an acquired concept, built on communicative resourcefulness: Taste is the realm of those in power, who convey it to us from on high.
- Thesis. The judgment of taste is not based upon concepts, for if it were, it would be open to dispute (decision by means of proofs).
- Antithesis. The judgment of taste is based on concepts; for otherwise, despite the diversity of judgment, there could be no room for contention in the matter (a claim to the necessary agreement of others with this judgment).
But how can such a thing ever be evaluated? It depends purely on the “sample” of the people whose opinions you admit. Because someone else doesn’t like what you do, does that make them wrong? I don’t think so, so that’s why I lean toward the thesis, that there is no way that taste can be subject to “concepts.” However, how can you explain that people can, and do, agree? Kant fell back on a sensus communis, a kind of public sense that falls outside the realm of concepts. Because such metaphysical speculations do not willingly submit to the “truth-value” test, we’re left with faith.
Therein lies the paradox. Cognitive approaches must, in order to embrace emotional decision making, place some value on things suprasensible, which effectively violates the dictum that they only be concerned with “truth-evaluative” behaviors. There’s just no accounting for taste, in the truest sense of the word.
Apart from the late night stupiphanies, I’ve been doing too much thinking about the old reason vs. emotion thing. This keeps leading me back to Kant, not as a trigger, but as perhaps the progenitor of the cognitive approach to emotions, and the questioning of the subject/object nature of feelings.
A review I read a while ago, To Feel and Feel Not by Simon Blackburn, addresses a point of view that seems quite Kantian. Without emotion, our decision making processes are at a standstill, so it seems that any theory of judgment or reason must embrace the emotions as a cognitive faculty. This can be done without “emotional sogginess” of the therapy industry, as Blackburn so succinctly puts it. Feelings do impact on an instinctual “fight or flight” level, but most important to me is consideration of what overrides that basic form of emotional cognition: our perception of the sublime and the beautiful.*Warning— I feel an R-word festival coming on*
It occurs to me that there is a difference between reflexive feelings, and recursive ones. Some feelings fold back upon themselves, constantly rethinking themselves, reevaluating themselves, reprocessing, reordering, refiguring, etc. Roland Barthe’s A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments is a perfect example of that. Some feelings, like love, are just so self-reflective that they seem to develop a life of their own, outside the stimulus that provoked the emotional arousal. Lust, on the other hand, seems to be more purely reflexive, a response to a stimulus that fades fairly quickly once the stimulus is removed. I was also thinking about the way that my brain processed situations when I was photographing them.
Instinct, in the flavor that I embraced, was not a static thing. It was a constant revaluation of the scene, emotionally, not logically, which constructed sets of probabilities regarding the best place to stand, and the best time to press the button. It went far beyond simple stimulus-response behaviour. It wasn’t just a matter of an instant, but a sort of stepping into the flow of a situation, recursively revaluating it each instant, not for logical possibilities, but for emotional ones. Shit happens. Be prepared, be there, before it happens. There is a nearly imperceptible delay between when you press the shutter and the image is seized; you have to anticipate, and it becomes a sort of mind-reading activity. I used to think of it as reflexive, but I’m reconsidering this. I’m beginning to think that it’s recursive. Decisions based on a continuing response, not a momentary one, to emotional arousal.
Love reinvents itself; lust does not. Left with no object to react to, love turns away to other things, into life itself, sustaining itself without the need for external stimuli, or governance. That is of course unless you’re a pathetic romantic suicide like Werther: to think that love is dependent on anyone’s reaction to it, is the tragic mistake. As Shelley said in Prometheus Unbound “all things are subject, but eternal Love.” Maybe it’s the recursion. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
In general, our first impressions are true ones— the chief difficulty is in making sure they are the first. In early youth we read a poem, for instance, and are enraptured with it. At manhood we are assured by our reason that we had no reason to be enraptured. But some years elapse, and we return to our primitive admiration, just as matured judgment enables us to precisely see what and why we admired.
Thus, as individuals, we think in cycles, and may, from the frequency or infrequency of our revolutions about the various thoughts form an accurate estimate of the advance of our thought toward maturity. It is really wonderful to observe how closely, in all the essentials of truth, the child-opinion coincides with that of the man proper — of the man at his best.
Edgar Allan Poe
I really need to read more American lit. This reminds me of some things that I was thinking about regarding the predictable patterns of writing. It’s as if the thoughts go round and round, and assume forms which we become comfortable with. Perhaps it’s instinct at work, trying to show us where our real concerns are, what impulses are the valid ones, etc. But people get locked in bad cycles too, so the problem remains: how do you tell? Maybe it just takes time, watching the wheels go round and round.
I don't think reason really helps much in that respect, but maybe it's just me.
I was thinking about some stuff, and flipped through some old paperbacks found from a used book store. Years ago my reading was much more random, less focused than it is now. But there seems to be an odd pattern to the randomness, an enjoyment of frivolity. More than ever, I like the feeling of being outside.
Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of “time” and “space” and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men. It has reconstituted dialogue on a global scale. Its message is Total Change, ending psychic, social, economic, and political parochialism. The old civic, state, and national groupings have become unworkable. Nothing can be further from the spirit of the new technology than “a place for everything and everything in its place.” You can’t go home again.That’s why I think categorizing blogs often fails. Keep Trying made some very interesting observations, particularly about the attention-span of blog dialogue, and proposed some categories, with suitable fuzzy boundaries:
Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Massage (1967).
It seems that blogs fall into three major types
1) Blogs with links to interesting and funny stuff and people
2) Blogs expounding opinions
3) Blogs which focus on self discovery
Many blogs combine all three of the above. But I think it is the everyday logging nature of blogs which distinguish them. The need to publish on a regular basis. The structure that the most current blog entry is first. This seems to me what distinguishes blogs from personal web pages.
I agree with the focus on temporality here. Perhaps time has not been overthrown nearly so completely as space, by the new technology. There is a certain mortality to writing when it’s presented in this format, a reality that makes it about life rather than just a means of exchanging ideas, because like life, blogging is temporal. Perhaps the dreamed of release from temporality only comes from death, or in the “petit mort.”
Something has spoken to me in the night, burning the tapers of the waning year; something has spoken in the night, and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying:
“To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth—
—Wheron the pillars of this earth are founded, toward which the conscience of the world is tending— a wind is rising, and the rivers flow.”
Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again
I suppose that’s what bothers me most about the theorizing about hypertext. You can’t overthrow time, except through death or orgasm. Theories of writing that don’t include the temporal aspect seem to be hopelessly doomed.