January 28, 2010

Quitting smoking

If you’ve never felt it, it is hard to describe. Every day, I would find a different word for the feeling. Most days, I thought of it as being a kind of itch. A longing existed in my chest and in my mind. From the first rush of gas I would wait for a finger of smoke to slowly rub down the groove of the esophagus, and then branch once at the bronchial tubes. Then more and more branches until the lovely chemicals crossed the barrier from air to blood. A quick route through the body and the itch is scratched from the center all the way to the extremities.

The itch does not go away. It comes back and needs to be scratched. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty times a day or more that itch came back. I smoked two and a half packs of Camel Special Lights a day, enough so that all the new hires at the KwikTrip learned my name their first week. The minute I walked in the door, they would pull two packs from rack behind the register to ready my purchase. If I did that here and now, the cost would be $22.50 a day. Such a frequency works out to over eight thousand dollars in a single year. The good news is that I no longer feel the itch.

No, I no longer feel the itch, but getting rid of it was one of hardest things I’ve done and one of the things I’m most proud of doing. Friends and loved ones and coworkers had been marveling at how much I smoked for years. I was barely able to afford it, but as an addict the cost did not matter to me. I took a sort of pride in smoking so often, and embraced the possibility of the early death awaiting me. One of my favorite jokes was that the warning on the pack was more like a fortune cookie that you knew would come true: heart disease, emphysema, and lung cancer. I grew older.

Stains on my fingers and teeth were no longer points of pride. Empty pockets did not pay the bills; stairs were not climbed because the effort was too great. There was no epiphany on a sunny day, but eventually I realized I needed to quit. I had too much pride and self-respect to continue. I first tried through force of will. On a cold Monday I decided just not to buy any. That Tuesday I bought more cigarettes. Later that year, I stopped for a month. I found excuses to start again. I sought help with loved ones and coworkers and doctors. I took the right pills and sucked on cough drops and suffered and the itch faded. I could not be happier, but I could not have done it alone.

January 26, 2010

The End of Art

The realization, or at least the thought that the truth you seek is that there is no 'truth' is the most aliening thing possible. This is why the project is outside of the mainstream and had been limited to people in academe. For example; in science theory leads to practice which feeds new theory. Theory and practice reinforce each other in a 400-year quest to fill in the gaps of our knowledge. There are still some big things science doesn't know, but many of these are testable.

In art, as is my experience, theory leads practice -the actual artistic objects - to and over the abyss. Critical theory loosed from reality does not fill in gaps as scientific practice does, but creates more uncertainty. To compare, I would like to look at a specific scientific endeavor. Someone, somewhere at some time had a question. What are stars made of? A pretty simple question which has been debated and given over to a part of knowledge until people start asking the right questions and challenging the wrong authorities. Thank you, strivers of the Enlightenment. So now, with the right equipment and knowledge people all over the world can measure the emission spectra -the light given off - of even a dead star and figure out what elements came together to create this star that is no longer in existence. This neat little trick was available even before quantum theory solidified the understanding of the mechanism of how we are able to determine this. In this scenario, theory leads observation which helps drive theory.

In art, two observers in the same room can view or experience the same art, no matter the media or mode and you would be surprised to find parallels in the interpretations, let alone find that your two observers came about with the exact same data to 'explain' what is being observed. Forget Heisenberg, this is the artistic uncertainty principle. This subjectivity is brought to light even if the two observers are trained critics using the same critical mode of interpertation and discourse (ie. Two marxist, two femminists, two deconstructionists, etc.). This is not to say that these modes do not have explanatory power or that they can not help us appreciate art in any way. This is fundamentally untrue, but the problem here is that these interpretations, no matter what the framework used or how interesting or suprising the end product creates, are intensely personal.

Part of the problem here is that you step away from the act of creation and you allow 'no meaning' to have a meaning in of itself. If there is no qualification of the art in creating a metric of value, I feel that your system of measurement has slipped out of your control and is essentially valueless. In not making value judgements you slip away from the functionality of citicism and lose the majority. If just just by naming what a work of art is, we give credence to a functional criticism. The American Film Institute ranks films by quality or genre, but we have to have common consent what a quality film is before we can claim any sort of value to these rankings. By one metric, the best films ever are _Titanic_, _The Dark Knight_, and _Avatar_. Now, few critics at the papers or the academy will have the same top three, but to have a valid argument we need to first understand and accept the criteria we judge these lists on.

Arguing for an instrumental criticism I think is rooted in my sympathy for Aristotle and my own scientific background. He was a scientists, perhaps the first that we can speak truly and give that name. For him, a work of art was something to be observed, no more or no less. His _Poetics_ stands next to his scientific 'philosophy' as observations and judgment on what works and what does. The arguments once you lay the criteria for judgment on a binary or spectrum is whether the object under observation fits. "Is this a fish or fowl?" then becomes the same question as, "Does this work move you towards catharsis?" or "Are the unities obeyed?". You naturally have to set comparison into definitions. This is not to say that art should have been set and static since the classical age. Art tests boundaries. Without these boundaries art has nothing to drive against nor towards. My feeling is that you have a situation where everything speaks to everything else but ignores it and pretends to be separate but is not; forever suspended in this liminal space that isn't "Il n'y a pas une texte, Il y a une texte"

If you ask me, and no one is, I think the main divide between modernism and its later manifestations that we now collectively call 'postmodernism' is not stylistic. The divide is not temporal. I do not want to fall down the intentional fallacy slope here, but the difference artistically, not critically is one of attitude and intent. For me, in the vein I have been arguing, the sense is that the modernist writers and the painters and the composers and poets and playwrights had a much more noble sense of earnest-ness in the art that they were creating compared to the more modern 'post-modernism'. I know that this is not a new criticism, but it is important for me as I continually structure and define my world around myself. The irony pervasive in the art today disables the acolyte of the former modes of expression. I blame Flann O'Brien. I think he woke up one day and decided to mock himself. Art is much worse because of that morning.

The question remains to be asked: "What now?" And I have to throw up my shoulders in a shrug. I feel that we are at an artistic and theoretical dead end that has persisted for twenty years or so. We may have proclaimed the "End of History" too soon, but are we at the end of art?


I am a poet
If I had a longer
attention span and fewer
stories to tell
I might
be a successful novelist

January 20, 2010

Obama and the Democratic Party

I knew that he wasn't as radical as many people wanted him to be. He is a good politician, and we've seen that. Just when the right started painting him Red, I think some people on the left started to believe it too. The fact that he has accomplished a lot is true, but there are many groups that supported his candidacy who feel left behind and not supported over the course of the last year.

E.G. Gays hate that DOMA and Don't ask - don't tell are missing; unions hate that the employee free choice act is out of mind; economic liberals think the stimulus was too small; healthcare advocates are angry that single-payer was abandoned without a fight; anti-corporatist balk at the handouts to finance, healthcare, insurance, and pharmaceutical industries; many deep-blue democrats hate that the republicans are dictating what is going on. And these are people who voted for him.

Obama sold himself to the American people I feel as more of an image than a specific set of policies. A vote for Obama was a vote against Bush (Makes me think of the escalation in the wars; pacifists hate that he has extended foreign conflicts) more so than a vote for anything particular. In that setting, the real Obama and his actions will be a disappointment from whatever your ideal Obama was. ... See More

People are coming to terms with this. I for one, who didn't vote for him, am much happier that he is in there and not his closest challenger. That being said, I understand the panic from the left as they lose their nominal supermajority needed to pass anything it seems. My two biggest villains right now aren't amongst the Democrats in Mass, but the two-party system that keeps centering the economic and moral problems somewhere to the right of center, and the antidemocratic parliamentary rules in the Senate. And this is not just a stance from expedience, wanting to see my own personal agenda to pass, but I spoke out against the filibuster in 2004 when the democratic minority was using it to block judges. Also holds placed on nominees and seniority rules erase the myth of egalitarianism in our republican chambers (small 'r'). It makes me think of that old chestnut: "If pro is the opposite of con, what's the opposite of progress?"

And now we are left with no good options on passing a watered-down healthcare bill. It looks like the public interest will lose out again, in the face of the possible.